I can only guess how bad Fox News talk shows are because I don't own a TV (hurray) and consider TV watching as being, at best, a poor use of my time. But I suspect Alexander is being somewhat unfair in casting the Right's TV as being more egregiously propaganda than the Left's TV. Since the Left's Narrative still holds the (admittedly somewhat weakening) commanding heights of allowed starting assumptions people on the Left who are trying to be rational (and I think Alexander is trying very hard and with a highly capable mind) are still blind to a great many problems with #TheNarrative.
However, leave all that aside, because I think Alexander recognizes a big and quite problematic process that is fully at work splitting apart American society:
And whenever I mention this sort of thing, people protest “But Fox and Breitbart are worse!” And so they are. But I feel like Vox has aspirations to be something more than just a mirror image of Fox with a left-wing slant and a voiced fricative. It’s trying to be a neutral gatekeeper institution. If some weird conservative echo chamber is biased, well, what did you expect? If a neutral gatekeeper institution is biased, now we have a problem.
Roberts writes that “the right has not sought greater fairness in mainstream institutions; it has defected to create its own”. This is a bizarre claim, given the existence of groups like Accuracy In Media, Media Research Center, Newsbusters, Heterodox Academy, et cetera which are all about the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions, some of which are almost fifty years old. Really “it’s too bad conservatives never complained about liberal bias in academia or the mainstream media” seems kind of like the opposite of how I remember the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The way I remember it, conservatives spent about thirty years alternately pleading, demanding, suing, legislating, and literally praying for greater fairness in mainstream institutions, and it was basically all just hitting their heads against a brick wall. Then they defected to create their own.
Alexander points out there is a vicious cycle at work: as more on the Right give up on mainstream institutions the more the remaining customers or clients of those institutions tilt Left and demand purity of Leaf-leaning viewpoints. This of course drives out even more right-leaning people from the Left's institutions and perpetuates the cycle. The moral disapproval across the partisan divide and the misunderstanding (especially by the Left about the Right) will keep growing.
I subscribe to the NY Times even though it is getting even more partisan (while pretending not to be) as right-leaning people abandon it. I find it quite useful on some non-partisan topics. I also find useful and important to keep track of what the "mainstream" (i.e. big) media and top policy makers think they ought to sell and what they believe. For similar reasons I subscribe to Foreign Policy, which has neocon and neoliberal Middle East war hawk writers.
I think the big media are becoming steadily more deluded and steadily more isolated in a bubble. See that article. The decline of local newspapers has concentrated reporters in a smaller number of highly liberal big cities. This is one of the reasons the bubble isolation is steadily becoming more severe. This drives more extreme trends in bubble thinking (e.g. Open Borders and Safe Spaces where speech is restricted for those who commit thoughtcrime).
As I've argued many times previously, I do not see an end to this vicious cycle. Leftists certainly don't want to live near people who they wouldn't want their kids to marry. To get a sense of the extent of the migrations within the United States to live near like minds read The Big Sort by Bill Bishop. Within nations people are sorting to live near like minds.
Between nations of hugely different living standards people are quite willing to move to places with higher living standards but conflicting values and loyalties. So the biggest influxes of unlike minds and incompatible values come due to immigration. But those influxes will also sort in later generations to again co-locate with like minds, except where lower classes want to live near upper classes in order to get higher wages. That sort of migration will be limited in left/progressive areas by restrictions on construction (e.g. San Francisco). So for quite a few years to come I expect the upper class left should be able to still live mainly near like minds and like educational levels.
The response to Trump is part of a larger phenomenon that preceded his rise. The violent attack at Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking is also part of that larger phenomenon that notably includes a long run pattern of shutting down right-wing speaking events by leftists that stretches back many years. There is considerable support by media leftists for the violence against right wing people they detest. Is the motive really aimed at shutting down free speech of non-progressives? Here is an interesting interpretation: the aim is to prevent freedom of assembly that would allow like minds of a particular faction to boost each others' morale.
Free assembly can be twisted into an individual right -- for a particular person to congregate with his fellows in some group -- but the natural interpretation is that it is a right of an entire group to manifest itself somewhere, sometime, for some purpose. It wants to pump itself up, get the members resonating on the same wavelength, and come away from the gathering stronger and more unified.
Denying the group to gather in this way is not meant to restrict their communication about beliefs and opinions, but to weaken the group by leaving its members feeling more isolated than unified. Collective action by such an atomized "group" will not be possible, and the assembly disrupters will be able to push their own agenda as a team with ease.
By contrast, the Right did not organize attacks on the Women's March. And, aside, it is truly bizarre that a co-leader of the Women's March is pro-Sharia Law, makes light of prohibition of women driving in Saudi Arabia,and vehemently opposed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Is this a fearful rage against the loss of narrative control? But I think the attempts to silence right-wingers precedes the loss of narrative control. So the loss of narrative control is only part of the cause of the increase of illiberalism on the Left.
The rage against Milo bears the hallmark of impotence that comes from the loss of a narrative. The entire narrative of the Western left is one of structural, systemic exploitation by the forces of patriarchy, economics, and social-conservatism. Milo, regardless of how odious and abhorrent some of his views may be, is a living antithesis to this narrative. He is a charismatic gay icon, with a tremendous ultra macho conservative/libertarian male follower base. His followers, contrary to conventional wisdom, include leftists as well as right wingers, classical liberals and neocons, both men and women, joined by a common cause of defending free speech and opposing Islamism.
Assembly in secret is still possible if you trust the people who you assemble with to keep it a secret. In San Francisco Bay Area some on the right wing already do their meetings in total secrecy out of necessity: Bay Area Conservatives Keep Meetups Secret Fearing For Their Safety.
The big emotional upsets about Trump which you will find in the mainstream media aren't just a simple reaction to Trump. A lot of changes had to happen preceding this moment in order to make media and academic elite and tribal reactions so intense. Brendan O'Neill thinks the deep emotional reactions are a result of the breakdown of the media's power to filter and interpret events to give people a greater feeling of safety. As he explains, many are not handling this well. Read this essay.
I find this response to Trump intriguing. I also think it is too widespread and honestly felt to be written off as stupidity, or ‘snowflakeism’. Something more serious is at work. What I think we’re witnessing is the end result of the dismantling of all the filters through which people once viewed, experienced, understood or kept at bay the political world. Where once we had ideology or institutions with which to interpret or simply protect ourselves against the vagaries of life in modern society, today, with the decline of ideas and corrosion of institutions, things seem to come at us more directly. Unfiltered, untranslated, psychically rather than politically.
This is all made much worse by the postmodernist teachings about safe spaces and microaggressions. First, convince the kids that they shouldn't ever have to hear views they disagree with and convince the kids that lots of neutral statements are really attacks. What happens? Academia and the media produce a society that gets upset a lot more easily.
Also read The Hindu interview of economist-mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb: ‘Trump makes sense to a grocery store owner’.
Also read a few Scott Adams posts on cognitive dissonance: The Time That Reality Forked Right in Front of You, A Lesson in Cognitive Dissonance, and The Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb.
Scott Adams thinks we are living thru a period of severe cognitive dissonance for Hillary Clinton supporters and that this period of emotional upset will pass. Well, will it? It is not clear to me. Peter Turchin is forecasting a surge in political violence in the 2020s. If he's right then what we are seeing now is a run-up to a more violent future.
Check out this Reuters article:GE, Boeing, Oracle form coalition to support Republican border tax.
These aren't companies I would expect to be in such a coalition. What is their benefit? Oracle? Are they trying to protect Sun server sales? I do not understand why Oracle is going to be part of this coalition. Boeing: Do they want to put up barriers to import of Chinese passenger aircraft? Boeing is one of America's biggest exporters. They taking this position against Airbus subsidies?
Still, big companies taking a position that isn't as globalist as one might expect. What they might see in it: some Republicans are proposing a cut in US corporate income tax funded by tariffs on imports. That is an interesting proposition. US corporations currently get taxed domestically for profits earned abroad. They see this as an unfair competitive disadvantage and they want to be able to bring back money they made abroad. So basically lower the tariff on imported foreign profits but raise the tariff on imported foreign goods.
Retailers will oppose tariffs as will some manufacturers who have moved much of their manufacturing capacity abroad. But a tariff would be great news for robot makers. Higher tariffs would drive up the demand for equipment that cuts labor out of manufacturing. A tariff would probably speed up the rate of innovation in robotics.
This is a year where a lot of previously frozen solid political deals and rules become unfrozen. A lot of rules are in play. We can expect to see new alliances pop up in business and politics. It is hard to guess just how much the fortunes of different business interests will change. But Trump's changes are likely to cut supply and drive up demand for less skilled labor. That will, combined with the push by Democrats to raise the minimum wage, drive up demand for equipment that automates work.
Executive orders aren't dictatorial abuse of authority. They've been used since the beginning of the republic. They are subject to overturning by the Supreme Court and by a veto-proof majority in Congress. Don't panic. Ignorance causes much emoting.
Abrams connects the shock and media frenzy based on Trump's executive orders to a lack of political history education in the US, amplified by outrage in social media. For young people, particularly, he says, the outrage feels brand new, even though protests over executive orders have a long history.
I suspect we are in for a very emotion-filled year.
Executive orders are a subset of all executive actions. In the first 12 days Obama signed more EOs than Trump.
In America a lot of more politically motivated people who feel very strongly they are in the moral right are going to tend to assume that their moral preferences must be constitutional and the opposing view must be unconstitutional. How can the law be anything but fair? How can my moral preferences be anything but the best and highest moral views possible? Plus, I've got so many like-minded friends and social media acquaintances who agree with me that surely anyone who disagrees with me is the hell spawn of Satan. Such is the level of reasoning we can see among many angry people.
The more I read the fewer people with whom I'd want to discuss politics, history, or human nature. There is just too much appalling ignorance out there, proud self-righteous appalling ignorance.
My worry in all this is that the level of dogmatic certainty is rising, especially on the Left and that rising and expanding set of doctrines held to be true is putting the Left and Right on a course of ever increasing bitterness across partisan lines. I've said this before: read Bill Bishop's The Big Sort. Left and Right are increasingly segregated from each other in different counties and different states. They do not know each other and think worse of each other every year.
Moral psychology researcher Jonathan Haidt appears to be turning pessimistic about the prospects of lowering rising disgust that each major faction in American politics feels for the opposing side.
I fear America has attained critical mass: an unstoppable process of reciprocally escalating outrage & disgust, justified via social media— Jonathan Haidt (@JonHaidt) January 26, 2017
I've been concerned for years now that migrations are creating physically separated Left and Right in America that deeply distrust and misunderstand each other. The animosity could build and cause a split of America into separate countries. The secession of one faction away from the other might even prove beneficial as each faction could rule only members of its own faction and therefore the two new societies could be higher trust than the single united society we now have.
Picture the world in 1975. It looked like China and Russia were going to stay hard core communist places for decades to come. Few thought otherwise Then move forward 20 years. How did the world look in 1995? Kinda unipolar with communism a discredited historical relic fading quickly except for a few small hold-outs. People tend to overweight the current state of things as the way things will continue to be.
But not everyone sees the world in such a static fashion. I'm slowly reading (slowly since I cycle between lots of books reading small pieces of each) Samuel Huntington's 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. It is impressive just what a great job he does of not getting caught up in the current moment and looking at big trends, recurring patterns, and what causes them. I highly recommend if you haven't read it already.
Some people are shocked and very upset by the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. I think part of the upset is that it threatens faith in some imagined historical inevitabilities. These people would have a better time coping if they could learn enough about history to develop an appreciation for how many seemingly destined outcomes (e.g. continued rule of the Roman Empire or of the West over the Rest) turned out not to be. It wasn't all that long ago that fascism and communism were seen as on the march as well.
As a sign that our civilization is losing its most valuable attributes consider the turn against free speech. Older liberal social democrats are bemoaning the rise of anti-liberty postmoderns who demand space spaces (places where people can't be honest if they disagree with a postmodern doctrine). Conservatives are left watching from the outside while in academia liberals get threatened and cowed into silence by postmoderns.
One should really not take one's civilization for granted. Its preservation isn't just a matter of getting the right message to the masses to strengthen their faith. If the elites have to continuously reinforce faith in one's civilization then that civilization isn't built on very stable ground.
Progressives are more willing to implement supposed improvements to Western civilization with the assumption that their changes will only do what they intend and won't undermine the foundations. Their faith in the rightness of their cause and the inevitability of their way of thinking comes across as the dogmatic faith of the true believer in the one true faith. But in a way, political correctness is a sign of fear and vulnerability because is a recognition of the threat faced by their preferred form of civilization. People who try to enforce progressive norms of speaking and thinking have got to know that the norms they hold to be self evident really aren't self evident or else they wouldn't be trying so incredibly hard to suppress other points of view. Their values aren't destined to win.
Just as communism came to be seen as a failure so will postmodern progressive thought. We are actually nearing the end of an intellectual era. The foundations of progressive belief are increasingly threatened by demographic changes, economic developments, and discoveries in science. This isn't to say some other of the factions of the West's internal culture war will necessarily win. Demography is destiny and for Europe especially it looks like the old civilization is headed for replacement.
If world values aren't going to converge then that's bad news for the West. We've peaked in our influence on the rest of the world.
I've been reading a lot of books and articles to understand why, in academia and mainstream media, the West is going so wrong. In academia the lunatics are increasingly in charge. Also, in foreign policy the elites are pushing liberal universalism in spite of running up against increasing resistance. Elite promoters of the spread of liberalism (e.g. George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton) refuse to process and learn from the last 20 years of consequences from US interventions. Parenthetically, what's a bit strange about the push for liberal universalism at the global level is the extent to which this is happening while the cultural left in America are increasingly against free speech, reason, and truth.
Some secular liberals think there is a single right set of liberal values that everyone in the world will some day embrace. Some call this liberal universalism. But my favorite phrase to describe this is liberal manifest destiny. It seems to capture the idea better. In the 19th century manifest destiny was the idea that the USA was destined to rule north America coast-to-coast. This was a triumphant, expansionist, and justifiably confident view of America since its advocates actually won. Today's liberals and progressives believe their values are destined to sweep the world and the more hawkish among them (e.g. George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton) willing to use military force to achieve their manifest destiny.
The problem is that today's liberal manifest destiny is not so destined to succeed. Liberalism even seems to be going into retreat for a number of reasons including varying degrees of rejection of liberalism by other civilizations, most notably the Islamic realm. Samuel Huntington, in his Clash Of Civilizations, argued that liberal universalism was a cause of conflict between the major world civilizations because liberalism isn't really universal in appeal. I agree with that view.
Huntington points to China and the Islamic countries as the two civilizations which are most willing to resist Western civilization. As the US and Western countries have intervened in Islamic countries the resistance to the the West has grown and taken a number of forms including terrorism. Liberals and progressives are having a hard time trying to reconcile their universalism with the demands and anger of Muslims. The most left-leaning see all of the world in terms of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Many of them have tried to Islam fit within their belief system by painting Muslims as the oppressed. This allows them to claim that morally inferior oppressors in the West are to blame for why Muslims are unhappy with the West. This view demonstrates a failure to understand the extent of incompatibilities between civilizations and the intractable nature of these incompatibilities. Here is an essay on this topic: Islam is the rock on which the liberal order broke?
THIS challenge proved most difficult for Western liberalism to process; large numbers (probably clear majorities) of Muslims simply did not accept the most fundamental assumptions of the post-enlightenment Western worldview. This was such an alien thought (especially to those on the Left side of the liberal spectrum) that it was repeatedly obfuscated under other categories ("poverty" , "colonialism", etc). For this resistance exposed and undermined the universal validity of the whole liberal project. And it continues to do so. And as these events multiply, they evoke rethinking in other groups. The emperor can start looking ragged, if not completely naked.
This rejection of liberalism outside of the West (and by immigrants from other civilizations) is happening while at the same time classical liberalism is under an escalating attack by postmodernists within the West. These postmoderns hold a number of other values above free speech and truth seeking. The "Safe Spaces" postmoderns in universities - and increasingly in other institutions - are attacking free speech and free thought and the unrestricted search for truth. See this video: "Two incompatible sacred values in American universities" Jon Haidt, Hayek Lecture Series
For another excellent discussion of what's going wrong with the Left and academia see: Joe Rogan Experience #877 - Jordan Peterson
It is a long discussion but worth your time.
Why has the Left gotten so crazy with safe spaces, microaggressions, and political correctness? Are they aware they do not make sense? Razib Khan argues they know they aren't making sense but see their absurd arguments as boosting their power and increasing their odds of victory. The cultural Left do not pretend to be liberal any more and we are watching The Ending of the Liberal Interregnum. This makes the use of the term "liberal" problematic. With a rising fraction of the Left no longer like 20th century welfare state liberals, let alone like 19th century classical liberals, terms like cultural Left and cultural Marxism seem potentially useful. Also, progressives as a separate sort of creature from liberals also seems to make more sense.
The failure of communist economic systems and the growing success of capitalism damaged the Left's faith in their own Marxist manifest destiny. But they did not want to just give up. So they shifted tactics and strategy. With reason no longer on their side they responded by attacking the Enlightenment and reason. They promoted philosophers who attacked the Enlightenment. Political correctness is a manifestation of this, an attempt to assert power by defining what is morally legitimate to say and therefore control which policy options are morally legitimate.
Academics who are anti-enlightenment and anti-Western have grown in number and conquered whole departments and disciplines. The left-leaning professors who value open debate and truth have been put very much on the defensive. These increasingly archaic liberals on the Left fear speaking honestly to students and to present thinking that contradicts assorted progressive doctrines. Democracy-supporting liberals are faced with losses on that front as well. Support for democracy is declining globally. Also, countries that are democracies go thru periods of declining support of democracy before they cease to be democratic.
Some of liberals are trying to organize a defense of truth-seeking, viewpoint diversity, open debate, and free speech. See Heterodox Academy as a notable attempt. I think they are fighting a losing cause because their opponents are more numerous and far more dedicated to winning than to truth. The truth seekers probably need to surrender some universities and cluster in a smaller number of other universities where they could possibly establish an academic majority against postmodern progressive intellectual thugs.
You can see how absurd academia has gotten under the postmoderns by following RealPeerReview on Twitter.
How can you have a utopia if some people might think thoughts that throw into question the idea of a perfect society? Progressive utopia is conformist. Its just a new kind of conformism.
Legutko’s thesis is that liberal democracies have something in common with communism: the sense that time is inexorably moving towards a kind of human utopia, and that progressive bureaucrats must make sure it succeeds. Legutko first observed this after the fall of communism. Thinking that communist bureaucrats would have difficulty adjusting to Western democracy, he was surprised when the former Marxists smoothly adapted—indeed, thrived—in a system of liberal democracy. It was the hard-core anti-communists who couldn’t quite fit into the new system. They were unable to untether themselves from their faith, culture, and traditions.
I think some of the dissidents are driven more by contrarian natures and strong innate independence of mind. People who have more independent minds could cluster together and become majorities in some existing smaller nations. This would allow them to escape the drive for conformism. However, by their absence every nation they leave will become easier to mold into conformity of behavior and thought.
I do not have a solution to offer against the growth of stifling political correctness other than build a separate society for the politically correct and then let them live in it.
Unfortunately, many key drivers of learning appear to reduce student satisfaction and vice versa. As long as universities continue to measure satisfaction but not learning, the downward spiral of lower expectations, less hard work and less learning will continue.
Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?
For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college
Is this true across IQ levels? How much of the lack of improvement is due to:
- Lower intelligence people have a lower capacity to learn and thereby improve.
- Heavy IQ loading of Collegiate Learning Assessment (measuring IQ rather than learning)
- Students taking worthless subjects or watered down courses in potentially useful subjects.
In other subjects a replication crisis makes many taught findings questionable. At the same time, colleges are becoming more ideologically uniform, making dissent from dogma more difficult. In his essay The Ending of the Liberal Interregnum Razib Khan suggests that the cult taking over universities will drive educational privatization.
Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendancy of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost.
Retreat from institutions that are being overrun by the far left. Regroup in institutions that are still sane. Create new sane institutions as necessary.
Study more practical subjects and you will reduce your exposure to propaganda. Practical parents who want their kids to be able to make a living are starting to have their say:
“I’ve heard from many colleges that there is now a disturbing amount of parental pressure against the liberal arts.”
But the liberal arts aren't so liberal any more. Might as well study STEM.
Back in 2011 Alex Tabarrok laid out the numbers for how college has been oversold. A 50% increase in college enrollment without an increase in STEM graduates. The scaling up of college enrollment is just scaling up the number of students who sit in classes where propaganda is taught.
In his Cleveland speech, Thiel pointed to what should really matter – issues of community, of economic opportunity and, yes, pride in being a citizen of the most powerful republic in world history. Many in Silicon Valley and the media prefer that the big issues are those of gender, race and sexual preference. But Thiel rightly consigned them to secondary importance, saying: ‘Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?’
But so far these culture war distractions have been quite effective in distracting the intellectual plebs (i.e. those with humanities and social science degrees working mid to lower scale white collar jobs). Props to the propagandists.
What's different this time: The divisions in America are not a two sided split any more. We've got multiple splits, deepening distrust, and growing mutual incomprehension. We are in Peter Turchin's disintegrative phase of civilization.
Feeding this process: We are in a slow-growth world where factions can't get bought off by handing out slices from a growing pie. Check out the graphs here. Check out also the employment:population ratio by education level and ask yourself what are the less educated thinking about their positions in life. No wonder they want to Make America Great Again.
Signs of economic stagnation have elicited a lot of commentary from economists and others about what it all means.
Read the whole thing. It’s illuminating. The most important insight I found in it is that the sense of security for middle class people is gone, or at least severely compromised. I can see that in my own life and circles, and not just economic security. There is a pervasive sense that everything is in flux, that everything could change because of economic and cultural forces beyond one’s control. That there are no guardrails anymore, and that hard work and playing by the rules doesn’t guarantee nearly what it used to.
A lot of movement conservatives think Trump will lose and then they'll get control of the Republican party yet again and eventually national power again. I think they are wrong even if Trump loses. The Republican party is going down and splintering. That's partly due to immigration making the Republicans the minority party. But other factors are at work. The religious faction is weakening as younger generations are less religious. Also, the middle class is shrinking and under pressure. The middle class feels stressed and is not inclined to follow Republican elites who are not looking out for their interests.
My guess (really just a guess) is that Hillary Clinton wins the White House in the November 2016 election. One of the less obvious consequences of this turn of events: The press will not go negative about the economy. We can experience a much bigger decline in the fortunes of the less skilled with a Democrat in the White House without triggering a serious discussion in the Democrat-dominated mainstream media. More imported cheap labor, more depressed wages at the bottom. This will lead to interesting consequences in 2024.
We have some pretty severe employment outcomes on the horizon wherever $15 minimum wage is passed. Suppose Hillary or Tim Kaine is in office in 2022 and robots are rolling out into fast food restaurants in response to $15 min wage and Otto trucks are replacing long haul truckers. That will start a debate for 2024. What politics does that cause in the 2024 election? If a populist fails to win power via the Republican nomination path in 2016 does a populist win the Democratic party's primary in 2024? With what policy proposals to deal with the inability of a substantial fraction of the workforce (or wannabe workforce) to compete for jobs against rising automation?
Some historians argue that taxing by the Roman Empire was good for economic growth. Their reasoning is unsound, which is a sign of the academy's leftward shift. But the economic critique of that reasoning offered by Mark Koyama at GMU seems incomplete.
I read this sort of piece now through the lens of Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War. Reading Turchin makes me wonder about two causes of Rome's decline:
- Elite over-production.
- General populace hitting the Malthusian ceiling.
If an elite gets too big then too many members of that elite are competing to get at the tax revenue and positions of power. The central government does not get as much money because the local rulers keep a bigger slice. Corruption rises. The competition within elites gets more brutal.
An even bigger problem is the Malthusian Trap and what happens when general population growth causes the population to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. If a farm field is producing twice as much as farmers need to survive for a year then there is a lot available to skim off for the Roman legions and administrators in cities. But suppose for centuries population grows in peaceful conditions. Eventually the farms can no longer grow enough food for the people who live on them, let alone for the elites Poof goes the surplus.
Turchin argues that many areas went through repeated cycles of prosperity followed by excess populations leading to breakdown, war, population loss. Populations would shrink far enough that recovery could begin. The cycle repeated. He used 14th and 15th century France as an example of this repeating cycle. I'm leaving out a lot of detail. Read the full book and it will change the way you look at history.
But the decline of the Roman Empire has lots of other potential explanations. For example, Ibn Khaldun's assabiyah (or asabiya if you prefer): the will to engage in collective action. Did the Roman Legions cease to be motivated to fight for the empire? Did the empire's elite lose a sense of common interest and common identity? Were they just too many generations removed from the Republic?
Update: On Twitter Mark Koyama suggests to me that the problem for Rome wasn't over-population because the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD slashed the Roman Empire's population. He doesn't think there was a larger population by 350-400. But I am skeptical of our ability to know that. It is not just a question of how many lived in Rome itself. How many lived in Gaul? Egypt? Roman Hispania? If we could go back and watch, say, the rate of flow of grains from Egypt and olive oil from Hispania every decade we could know. Or if we could measure Gaul's population in each decade we could know. This seems beyond our ability to know. I really want a time machine that would just let us watch without intervening.
Around 13 percent of hourly workers in 2001 and 2004 reported an "irregular schedule," for example. After 2009, that number increased to more than 15 percent. The proportion of workers who reported "varying hours" jumped to 29 percent after the recession, from 21 percent before.
The workplace future of the cognitively less able looks quite grim. What's the fate of college drop-outs 20 years from now? They won't drive delivery trucks, long haul trucks, garbage trucks, or taxis. They won't drive farm tractors or pick fruits and vegetables. They won't work in factories. They probably won't work in fast food restaurants. I'm doubtful that they'll work even in Wal-Mart (humans would need to still shop there and the shelves would need to be stocked by humans).
So what jobs will still exist for high school drop-outs 20 years from now? Housing construction? Suppose full home construction isn't automated until 30 years from now. High school drop-outs could work in housing construction. But there'll be too many o them available to get them all jobs building houses or roads.
I think manual laborers face the same fate as horses of 100 years ago: no longer needed by the economy.
The big name neoconservatives are thrilled about Hillary and this does not bode well for US foreign policy.
Few reputable critics would argue that Hillary is herself a neoconservative. Far more plausible is that she’ll enable the implementation of a neoconservative foreign-policy agenda by casting the neoconservatives’ goals in liberal-interventionist terms, thus garnering Democratic support for initiatives that would face widespread opposition were they spearheaded by a Republican president.
Members of Hillary's foreign policy inner circle are keen to ramp up America's intervention in Syria and overthrow Assad.
If Assad is overthrown and Syria gets put back together under a single government then likely that government will be Sunni majority and more repressive toward minorities and women than is the Assad government. Eventually it could become a more formidable threat to Israel (which the neocons seek to protect) than Assad's regime.
Hillary's foreign policy probably won't be her area of biggest damaging mistakes. Though that depends in part on whether US jets start shooting down Russian jets. She could make really big mistakes in foreign policy, bigger than helping more fundamentalist Sunni regimes come to power.
Hillary's biggest mistake is likely to be Open Borders. Bring in a much bigger lower class even as software advances automate more manual work. Throw in higher minimum wage and an expanded welfare state to support all the unemployed and America becomes even less a republic of limited government and even less a democracy of the people.
Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk think the decline in support for democracy in Western countries does not bode well for the continued existence of liberal societies.
According to Foa and Mounk, these numbers do not reflect growing indifference to liberal democracy, but growing opposition. In the surveys, young people increasingly express openness to authoritarianism—especially young people who are rich. An astonishing 35 percent of wealthy young Americans say it would be “a ‘good’ thing for the army to take over” the country! This is a profound change from prior generations, in which “affluent citizens were much more likely than people of lower income groups to defend democratic institutions.”
Elite indifference or contempt for the non-elite manifests partly in a step away from democracy. After all, in a democracy it is conceivable that the majority could elect leaders who won't do elite bidding.
The Foa and Mounk paper in the Journal Of Democracy looks at Pew World Value Surveys data. It is entitled Democratic Disconnect:
How much importance do citizens of developed countries ascribe to living in a democracy? Among older generations, the devotion to democracy is about as fervent and widespread as one might expect: In the United States, for example, people born during the interwar period consider democratic governance an almost sacred value. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a democracy,” 72 percent of those born before World War II check “10,” the highest value. So do 55 percent of the same cohort in the Netherlands. But, as Figure 1 shows, the millennial generation (those born since 1980) has grown much more indifferent. Only one in three Dutch millennials accords maximal importance to living in a democracy; in the United States, that number is slightly lower, around 30 percent.1
I am guessing that an authoritarian regime in America would not appreciably increase the legitimacy of the government. One problem is that there is no longer a single shared moral code and set of assumptions about what is sacred.
Jonathan Haidt gave the American Psychological Association APA Convention Keynote 2016 how American society is splitting into two hostile factions which are moving apart and reducing their exposure to and understanding of each other.
Many fundamental forces are deepening the split between the people who identify with the two main political parties in the United States. Not just the liberals but also the conservatives now have their own news sources. Immigration increases diversity which decreases shared identity. Migration of people to live with like minds reduces exposure to other views. Improved use and effectiveness of negative advertising makes people on each side view those on the other side in a negative light.
The increasing ideological purity of academia makes academics cheerleaders of on side of the split against the other. Increasing education of the cognitive elite and their shared experiences separate from the cognitively less able make them view the world with different values and with less sense of shared community with the less cognitively able (and the resulting condescension increases resentment by lower class whites in particular).
Similarly, the end of the military draft and reduction in the size of the US military eliminated military service as a source of shared experience, at least for men. Also, the decline of community service organizations (Kiwanis, Lyons, Rotary, etc) eliminates a place where people across a community interact and work together.
I do not see how Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. What could reverse the trend toward deeper partisan divisions, declining trust in major institutions, and even declining support for rights including freedom of speech for those with different views? In the last couple of years the safe space movement in colleges has reached an absurd level with no end in sight.
My reaction to all this is that perhaps we need to split societies up into separate societies of those who are similar in their moral sensibilities and tribal loyalties. Got any other ideas?
A week ago you compared ugly Donald Trump with ugly Hillary Clinton and declared them a visual tie. That matters because our visual “brain” generally wins against whatever part of the brain is pretending to be logical that day. But once we got a look at the entire Trump family, acting as a group, our visual brains started seeing them as a package deal. And when you compare the entire Trump family’s visual appeal to the entire Clinton family’s visual imagery it’s a massacre.
Would you prefer seeing Bill and Hillary Clinton decompose in front of your eyes for eight years, or watch the Trump family develop their dynasty? Entertainment-wise, that’s no contest. And people usually vote for entertainment over policy. They just don’t realize it. That’s the biggest news from the convention, and you won’t see it in any headline.
People are way less rational in their political thinking than they'll admit to. They are also way way less rational than open borders supporters assume. The wheels would definitely fall off given circumstances that our elites and libertarians would like to create.
The American Left has painted itself into a difficult position. It has spent decades looking down at lower class whites. Those who were condescended to certainly noticed - for decades. The American Right has done the same. It took those lower class whites for granted while it globalized the economy (with plenty of bipartisan help from Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama). The Republican calculation was that those lower classes were so demonized by the Democrats where else did they have to go for a political party? But now someone comes along and expresses real affection for them and this guy happens to be a master persuader. Oops.
It occasionally happens that the personalities and skills of individual political actors matter a lot. I think that happens less often than political junkies imagine. For example, Reagan's deregulation really got started under Carter with deregulation of aircraft, trains, and trucks. A Republican or Democrat in the White House was going to sign world trade deals in the 1990s. The Presidents aren't as different as they are made out to be. But Trump is a wild card. He's really moved the Overton Window on a few big issues, especially if he gets elected.
Adams thinks Clinton's pick of Tim Kaine reeks of beta boy husband who gets verbal tongue-lashings from his wife. So Kaine will make it even harder for Hillary to get men to vote for her.
But the persuasion filter says the real reason men don’t like Clinton is that they can’t stand listening to her. Her speaking style reminds men of every bad relationship they have ever had with a woman. We’re all irrational sexists on some level, and Clinton sounds to many male ears like a disgruntled ex-wife, or perhaps your mom who had a really bad day. That’s a problem if you need the male vote. Now add Tim Kaine to the mix. In our irrational minds – where we compare everything to our personal experience – Kaine will play the part of the beta male husband whose wife can’t stop complaining about her terrible co-worker, Donald Trump. No guy wants to hear eight years of that. They get enough of it at home.
Suppose Hillary chose a hot woman as her running mate. Probably would have hurt her with older women. But would have helped her with men. Problem is that the hot political chick with right background for Hillary to choose her and old enough for the VP slot probably doesn't exist. The Democrats don't seem to have an ideologically acceptable alpha male for the VP slot either.
I think Trump has gotten what he needs from the "bull in a china shop" phase. He is going to play a much calmer game until election day. But if he's elected then I think he may find the need to do more Overton Window shifting and massive persuasion just to prevent the MSM from reestablishing control of the narrative. So I think we'll see him do more rampaging thru china shops if he makes it into the Oval Office.
Edward Luttwak, who literally wrote the book on Coup d’États. points out the incompetence of Turkey's coup leaders: Why Turkey’s Coup d’État Failed And why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s craven excesses made it so inevitable.
But perhaps that scarcely mattered because they had already violated Rule No. 1, which is to seize the head of the government before doing anything else, or at least to kill him.
The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was left free to call out his followers to resist the attempted military coup, first by iPhone and then in something resembling a televised press conference at Istanbul’s airport.
Idiots. Read Luttwak's full take on Erdogan. It is devastating.
Erdogan's Turkey is already headed in a bad direction. Turkey is in 9th place for ratio of jailed journalists to total population. All those journalists sitting in jail have got to be thinking they've missed out on a great reporting opportunity. But perhaps they'll get to interview some coup leaders in jail.
Andrew Finkel argues Turkey was already undergoing a slow-motion coup – by Erdoğan, not the army. This is true. Erdogan is now speeding up this process, imprisoning thousands of judges, prosecutors, and others who are opposed to his rule.
The Gulenists are going down. Not sure if they are better or worse than Erdogan. My guess is they are better because they were holding power more diffusely. Now it is getting concentrated. Turkey is becoming more Islamic both because Erdogan is concentrating power and because the Muslims are making more babies than the secularists. The secularists are clearly big losers. The Kurds too and other non-Turkish minorities.
Will recent events cause Angela Merkel to think twice about letting Turkey into the EU? She seems immune from learning she's made mistakes and so I do not expect she'll alter course.
Turkey should serve as a reminder that liberal universalism is a delusional fantasy. Some countries and some parts of other countries are an unavoidable tragedy.
Ross Douthat wants to know Are We Unraveling? He slices and dices the question. But before I get to that I'd like to discuss my reading style. I cycle around between a few hundred ebooks and read them in parallel. I highly recommend trying this. Causes all sorts of mental connections. It expands my awareness about a wide range of topics. Though some of these books will only get finished if I live a long time. One of my many partially read books in my tablets describes a previous period that seemed like it might lead to a societal unraveling.
Bryan Burroughs, in his Days Of Rage describes how back in the 1970s lots of groups were trying to spur a revolution. Also, starting in the 1960s crime surged. America was quite crazy in the 1970s in ways that younger generations seem oblivious to. From Burroughs:
Between 1964 and 1969, assaults on Los Angeles patrolmen quintupled. Between 1967 and 1969, attacks on officers in New Jersey leaped by 41 percent. In Detroit they rose 70 percent in 1969 alone. In congressional testimony and press interviews, police officials in cities across the country blamed the rise in violence squarely on the Panthers and their ultraviolent rhetoric.
So I think we've seen worse than what we are seeing lately. Granted, 5 police officeres were just gunned down by a black sniper in Dallas (and the press helped create the environment that'll cause the easily excitable to do this sort of thing). But I bet being a police officer today is much safer than being one in 1969. One of the reasons for this: The population is much older today. The young men with surging testosterone are a lot fewer in number. Plus, we lock up a much larger fraction of the violent population (though the Left is trying to reverse this). What's different today is that not only the revolutionaries but also even the mainstream liberal press see the general public as less morally legitimate.
Back in the 1970s our angry people thought they could bring the masses over to their point of view. We had lots of political bombings but few deaths. Unlike today, the revolutionaries identified with the American population and the revolutionaries were trying to inspire the masses to rise up (really). What they did was amazingly crazy:
The underground bombings of the 1970s were far more widespread and and far less lethal. During an eighteen-month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, nearly 5 a day. Yet less than 1 percent of the 1970s-era bombings led to a fatality; the single deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people. Most bombings were followed by communiques denouncing some aspect of the American condition; bombs basically functioned as exploding press releases.
What has changed since the 1970s? Many things. An aging of the population makes revolution less likely. Old people are more set in their ways. Plus, they are heavily dependent on entitlements programs. But there been (and continues to be) a long term decline in trust in institutions. A widening gap of interests has risen between the transnational elite and the people who live in particular places (accompanied by a great deal of elite condescension and moral delegitimizing of their opponents). Conflicts of values between different civilizations, in particular between Islam and everyone else, as Samuel Huntington expected.
A big development has occurred within American society: A rise in identity politics. We have witnessed The Big Sort (see Bill Bishop's book by that title) where the Republicans and Democrats moved to separate neighborhoods, cities, states, regions and have less experience with each other and more distrust and dislike of each other. We also have a nation where the Democrats are trying to win a permanent electoral majority through immigration. Looks like they'll succeed too. What the Dems do with that majority will make the other side even more bitter even as the Dems cheer on development of resentments and Dems in the academy teach the politics of grievance in their own coalition.
So what happens next? What's noteworthy is that many of our trends that are creating the fracturing haven't run their full course yet. Universities are still moving left. Identity politics of many types (and a feeling of grievance of many of those types) is celebrated by our Left. We are way past the age of the world working class. Now its people of color as victims. Feminism as demonization of men. Trust is still declining.The population is still aging. The nationalist-transnationalist fight is escalating with the reaction taking such forms as Brexit and Trump.The elites can't buy off unhappy factions because they've tied up so much spending in entitlements that all other forms of spending are shrinking.
Seemingly as an aside the elites have decided to push some (high crime) people out of urban areas so (upper class and educated) others can move in. This is driven by the preferences of upper class liberals who are playing their part in the Big Sort.
At some point the reactions to these battles have got to start taking new forms. Other trends will kick in. I'm not sure which ones they'll be but I think communications tech and smart machines will play big roles. I see a few possibilities. One is the use of information technology to opt out and make private cultures and private trading networks. Bitcoin might allow traders to escape dependence on government currencies. Some of the transnational workers might cluster outside of the big powers and create clusterings of different kinds of like minds (e.g. libertarians or conservatives or transhumanists). Robots might so break the connection between capital and large working classes that the capitalists will abandon the very Western nations they now seek to control. The lower classes left behind could be quite enraged as they take control of hollow husks of former greatness.
Update: I think the current form of national/transnational split such as the London-vs-England split over Brexit is a more dilute form of some of the splits to expect in the future. Technological advances will change the nature of the divisions by reducing the number of lower class workers needed in the knowledge worker cities. Back in the 1940s and 1950s the engineers and factory workers lived in proximity by necessity. The engineers and managers needed large staffs of workers to build what they designed. But the factory workers are gradually getting replaced by robots.
Blue collar workers still repair cars, stock grocery store shelves, collect the trash, and provide other services to knowledge workers. But the blue collar service workforce is going to get automated out of most of their jobs just as the blue collar factory workforce has been. The dependence of office knowledge workers on blue collar workers will therefore plummet and their need for geographic proximity will plummet as well.
It seems to me the knowledge workers could become a lot more mobile, fleeing the blue collar workers to go live in places the blue collar workers can't go. The nature of that flight will depend on whether existing political entities can secede from their nation states (e.g. independent London) or whether an industry could take over a small country and help its lower classes to move somewhere else. Panama? French Guyana? Or settle for Iceland with a native population that isn't poor and has very low crime? High housing prices are another way to separate groups. It falls short of political secession and short of a formal border but very definitely separates out people. San Francisco is very popular for this purpose and the liberal upper classes love it. But it comes with very high taxes.
Will robots make the welfare state sufficiently affordable that the upper classes will remain in the same countries as the lower classes? Or will the upper classes use either secession or immigration to separate themselves into their own states and city-states?
Note: I do not ask any of these questions in order to advocate for a particular future. I am trying to guess how various factions and groups will view their options and interests 10-20-30 years from now. What seem like not legitimate choices today could become very legitimate choices in the future. For example, I see groups that today do not see themselves as candidates for international migrations going thru a big shift in perspective in the future. A lot of alignments and loyalties will be broken and new ones will form. So I'm thinking we could witness the birth of new polities and new and novel alliances. Some of the rare political situations of today (e.g. Singapore) could become a lot more common in the future.
The European Union does not want other countries to follow in the UK's wake, Therefore the EU will seek ways to maximize Great Britain's pain from EU withdrawal while minimizing the EU's pain from the same. Ideally the EU would like to see Britain give up the attempt.
I think the EU has some advantages and tactics it can use to make the cost of Brexit fall much more heavily on Britain:
- If Britain's withdrawal causes a drop in trade between Britain and the EU the drop will be larger per British citizen than per EU citizen because the British are fewer in number.
- The EU can select industries to be hit by higher tariffs based on the ease with which the production in Britain can be shifted to the continent. Britain loses economy of scale on any product that gets blocked from trade between Britain and EU by EU-imposed tariffs.
- Britain has a much larger diplomatic job to do to work out the withdrawal. The EU already has trade agreements with various nations around the world. Britain lost its own such agreements when it joined the EU. Now Britain has to negotiate lots of agreements.
- Britain's own elites (notably including diplomats who will have to do the negotiating) aren't going to be eager to work hard to negotiate new terms for Britain with the EU and with other nations around the world.
- The elites in Britain's traditional ally the United States would like to see Britain fail in its attempt at EU exit. So the government of the USA will probably drag its feet at negotiating new trade deals with Britain.
What Britain needs is some leaders who can rally around them civil servants and business leaders who are eager to negotiate new terms for Britain in the world economy and who are also eager to capitalize on various forms of flexibility that Britain gains from Brexit. What I think British leaders could do to nullify the EU's attempts to punish it:
- Rapidly negotiate trade deals with other major countries (Brazil, India, Canada, Australia, Japan, China if possible, USA if possible, maybe even Russia) that take automatically effect upon Brexit. The more deals it makes the stronger its negotiating hand will grow with Brussels. I would even go so far as to argue that it should negotiate those deals and only then invoke EU article 50.
- Develop alternative financial regulations that will attract financial firms to Britain (and think about Bitcoin/Blockchain and other alternative payment mechanisms in this context).
- Identify the most innovation-hostile EU regulations and craft replacement regulations to go in effect upon Brexit.
- Identify industries in continental Europe that could be enticed to relocate to a more friendly regulatory and tax regime in Britain.
- Change immigration policy to brain drain the world. Do not allow in lower skilled workers but make it very easy for the very brightest and highest skilled workers to be brought it. Make Britain a desirable place for companies to set up research and product development facilities.
- Grant stronger privacy rights for corporate data in corporate data centers. Make Britain a desirable place to build very large data centers.
If Britain very rapidly codifies all the changes that take place upon Brexit well in advance it will actually create a large business constituency for Brexit. Businesses that discover they will stand to gain from Brexit will then become boosters for Brexit.
To make this work the British government should ask British companies to each draft proposals for changes they would like that would become possible once Brussels no longer calls the shots. For example, lots of product standardization regulations could be repealed that the EU passed to make many products all the same across countries. Allow more diversity and ease of exploration of alternative solutions to problems.