Once upon a time there lived a scholar named Andrei Illarionov, a prominent free market economist who at some point became a senior economic advisor to the Russian government at the end of the 1990s. Yet, in the early 2000s, he quit on the new Putin regime. Illarionov became disgusted with the growing authoritarianism of his boss, who was slowly but surely squashing private businesses, increasing the powers of the secret police (who are the untouchable ruling elite in current Russia) and enlarging governmental bureaucracy.
The place that gave Illarionov a chance to pursue his scholarship and to further exercise his criticism of the Putin regime was Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC that hired him in 2006. Hiring a prominent dissident scholar who quit a lucrative and well-paid governmental position and who was raising his voice against the autocratic regime is very commendable and very libertarian. Furthermore, after securing his position, Illarionov returned to Russia a few times, where he took part in the antigovernment street protests, firmly supporting anti-Putin opposition forces.
The professor also became active in social media and on YouTube, drawing millions of viewers on various Russian-language channels and sites. Besides, he regularly published his pieces in a personal LiveJournal. I liked and agreed with some of his assessments, especially the ones that analyzed the 1990s reforms in Russia, and Putin’s crony capitalism. I also became drawn to his insights into existing threats to the values of Western civilization coming from the current US and European woke mainstream that increasingly breeds intolerance, “tribalism,” racial animosity, erodes the rule of law, and undermines constitutional values. At the same time, some of his other assessments aroused my skepticism.
As a popular social scholar, Illarionov became part of current debates in the Russian-speaking internet community, speaking on topics ranging from the Putin regime to the notorious corona and to the woke cancel culture that currently suffocates American pollical, intellectual, and cultural life. Some people agreed with him, whereas other rebuked him – a normal process in a normal democratic republic. And everything was OK in the life of the scholar until January 6, when the “storming” of the Capitol building took place and when suddenly the Cato Institute decided to quickly get rid of him.
Now I must expand on what Illarionov said about the January 6 event. This is not to convince the reader whether he was right or wrong but to give some context to the story that will be unfolded below. For this reason, I ask you to bear with me. First, the scholar dared to question the validity of the voting in the five swing states and suggested in his Russian-language blog that the whole “storming” business and the passivity of Washington DC officials and the Capitol police, several of whom let the “insurrectionists” in, somewhat reeked of the so-called Reichstag fire – an incident that had opened doors the ascension of totalitarianism in Germany in 1933.
Then, in the same posting he dared to come up with a few other “uncomfortable” statements. For example, Illarionov remarked that, if we went by the one person-one vote rule, the winner of the US elections was clearly Joe Biden; yet, if one went by the constitution (the electoral college), the results of the elections in swing states were rather murky, considering the lax corona mail-in voting rules that were railroaded into our society at the last moment. By refusing to even consider Trump elections lawsuits, the US court system failed to play the role of an independent umpire and missed the opportunity to validate the quality of the presidential elections in the eyes of people. Illarionov stressed that, since about 40% of American voters, including 73% Republicans, questioned the results of the swing states’ elections, it was essential to take extra legislative and judicial steps to check and verify those results to regain the popular trust into US electoral, judicial, and political system rather than to simply jump to announce the winner of the 2020 elections.
Illarionov also drew our attention to another “uncomfortable” fact: none of the “insurrectionists” who broke into the Capitol building used weapons against police. Later, FBI confirmed that among all arrested for “storming” the Capitol no one faced firearms-related charged and no arms were recovered. It was in fact the Capitol police that shot one of the protestors: a veteran air force officer named Ashlie Babbitt; Illarionov nevertheless found it necessary to add that a Capitol police officer was hit in his head by a fire extinguisher, which turned out to be a fake information spread by the mainstream media, including New York Times. In reality, the man died after the incident and the cause of his death was completely different. Yet, the mainstream media and democratic legislators for the whole month cynically exploited the original “fact” of his death to amplify “insurrectional” dimension of the January 6 break-in and present the officer as a martyr for the cause of democracy.
A few days after Illarionov came up with those and other LiveJournal remarks, popular Politico condemned him , distorting his utterances and ascribing to him what he never said. Politico insisted that the scholar denied the results of the US elections and argued that January 6 event was a trap set by police following a deliberate provocation by BLM activists with a silent agreement of Democrats. Ironically, after Cato rushed to ditch Illarionov, it was revealed that, besides Trump supporters who rushed into the building, there was indeed an Antifa and BLM sympathizer, a provocateur named John Earle Sullivan, who too took part in the “storming” of the Capitol. Sullivan was arrested for vandalism and directly inciting violence while being inside the building. Dressed in a “Trump garb,” he was caught on tape by encouraging the right to be more assertive and aggressive. But the story does not end there. An additional and cruel irony was a publication in Time magazine, a mainstream liberal publication, which literally bragged about how Democrats, “decent” Republicans, Big Tech, and their radical Antifa and BLM informal allies worked together in a united “shadow campaign” to orchestrate changing election rules, purging media of “wrong” opinions, and enhancing mass street protests to “fortify” the elections in the “correct” direction for the greater cause of “saving democracy.”
What was stunning in that situation was not Politico’s public condemnations and bot the content of the scholar’s utterances but a reaction of the Cato Institute, Illariniov’s employer, that too denounced the scholar and began an internal investigation of what he said about the 2020 elections and how he said it, which led to his immediate dismissal a few days later.
The whole Illarionov incident reveals not only how quickly our intellectual mainstream has degenerated for the past year by moving fast forward toward the elimination of the constitution’s first amendment. What is the most appalling here is that it was the administration of the libertarian think tank that, instead of dismissing outright any attempt to penalize the scholar for what he said and how he said it, followed the lead of an academic snitch, initiating an investigation and purging him in a lightning speed. It is hard to figure out what drove the minds of the Cato scholar-bureaucrats when they made an instant decision to crucify Illarionov for saying things they did not agree with. Did Cato fear that, being in the den of the DC “deep state” area where 91% of people vote Democrat, they could be cut from the available publicity venues and networks they established in the Washington area? Or could it be a simple opportunism – a fear that Cato could become a target of the woke mob if it did not throw the sacrificial lamb to the pack of the cancel culture wolves?
I never heard about progressive scholars losing their jobs over calling Trump an illegitimate president and insisting that the 2016 elections were a fraud perpetrated by massive Russian interference; in fact, it was an acceptable mainstream discourse for the past four years. Moreover, neither academic nor state and federal bureaucrat was penalized by losing his or her job for endorsing BLM, whose mass rallies last summer were responsible for urban pogroms (destructive property damages in the amount of more than $1 billion, 25 people killed , and 2037 police officers wounded). No academic or politician was disciplined for raising funds to bail out “racial justice” rioters that were looting and burning stores, court houses, smashing statutes, and intimidating people. Both the left and the right know full well that, except spent time, public posturing as a “civil rights activist” or “minority advocate” hardly cost a person anything morally, politically, or financially. In fact, in government and especially in academia, which is currently held in tight grips of the left hegemony (I have borrowed the latter word from the leftist jargon), such posturing can be an excellent career booster. The first analogy that comes to my mind in this case is the officially endorsed and politically correct activism, which motivated millions of opportunists and would-be young apparatchiks in “good” old socialist countries of Eastern Europe and Soviet Union.
I am sure many in academia carry the abovementioned activities on their sleeves as the badge of honor. In fact, as early as 2011, in several universities, left-leaning instructors began incentivizing students by trying to make a participation in demonstrations for “progressive causes,” including the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings, part of their social science course work and offering students brownie points in a form of extra credits. By the way, among the leftist protesters who “stormed” the Capitol that year, 227 were arrested for obstructing the hearings and harassing congress people they did not like. Nobody (and rightly so) ever thought about treating them as insurrectionists, and their only penalty was meager fines of $35 to $50. Better than anything, such state of things tells us about who currently represents the power elite in the country and who really calls the shots in our political, intellectual, academic, and cultural mainstream.
The Illarionov incident is not something extraordinary. It is unfortunately a manifestation of the systemic (another favorite word of choice among the current left) impact of the cancel culture or, putting it simply, an ideological witch hunt, in our cultural and intellectual mainstream. The cancel culture flourished in earnest last summer, when those people who refused to endorse urban pogroms and false BLM claims about thousands of unarmed black people being murdered by white police were routinely silenced, ostracized, and fired. National Association for Scholars recorded 128 of cases in US and Canadian universities, where people with predominantly conservative and libertarian views (along with several leftist academics!) were silenced by their schools when they expressed “incorrect” opinions on various racial and political issues. Among them one can find, for example, Professor Gordon Klein, UCLA, who “incorrectly” responded to a request to postpone final exams for black students in his online course (in the wake of the George Floyd death) by saying that he intended to treat everybody equally irrespective of their skin color. Legal scholar John Eastman from Chapman University made a mistake to speak at the January 6 rally that prompted the university to force him into retirement. In its turn, Duquesne University immediately fired its professor of educational psychology Gary Shank for using N-word in his class to simply illustrate how the word was used in the past: the professor wanted to make a point about the progress of race relations in US! Even though several of the fired people were restored in their employment, the draconian McCarthyism-like message is very clear: toe the line or else.
Petrified of potential accusations in racism and bigotry, corporations, universities, state institutions, just in case, literally bow down to the aggressive woke mob, morally disarming themselves and the whole society, planting in our midst the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship that reeks of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China during their “best” days. Not infrequently, for the past months, we have been witnessing the communist-style practices when “progressive” people have been routinely denouncing their colleagues and relatives (on many occasions retroactively for past “sins”) for being “reactionaries” and “racists.” Moreover, most recently, the cancel culture practice has reached grotesque proportions, when family members report to FBI their relatives if they happened to be participants of the Trump January 6 rally.
The Cato Institute that shut down Illarionov should remember the famous “First they came after” confession credo from German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who referred to the cowardice and compliance of German intellectuals and clergy during the time of national socialism. And sure enough, we already have radical voices among Democrats who have suggested to phase out and deprogram not only conservatives but also libertarians. If current woke censorship and self-censorship escalates further, tomorrow there might be nobody left to protect Cato. This liberty institute claims that it works to enlighten our society to “better understand and appreciate the principles of government that are set forth in America’s Founding documents.” Something tells me that the woke mob, which does not care about these founding documents, will not spare the cautious and politically correct preachers of constitutionalism.
For the past several weeks, Casey Peterson, an electrical engineer in prestigious Sandia Labs (one of the hubs of the federal military industry) has been risking his career to fight mandated ideological training that promotes the systemic racism conspiracy theory and requires from white employees to exorcise their “whiteness.” Pushed by “diversity” commissars from equity/diversity departments, this reeducation campaign based on the Critical Race Theory (Cultural Marxism) spreads like fire over our federal, state, and corporate institutions. Any objections to the mandated indoctrination are considered insubordination and involve disciplinary actions. Many intimidated employees of the Labs secretly showed Peterson their support. But the “diversity” commissars retaliated, putting him on an administrative leave and removing his security clearance. Peterson does not give up. Will he become an American Andrei Sakharov? This Soviet nuclear physicist put his career and elite privileges on line to challenge the suffocating communist ideology in the 1970s-1980s; the Soviets retaliated by removing Sakharov from his job, stripping him of his awards, and putting him under a house arrest.
Politically Incorrect Research: What Scholars Have to Say about the Diversity Propaganda Industry
The recent critical research of the diversity industry, which was conducted by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (2016), American and Israeli sociologists, has confirmed existing concerns about the corrosive effects of mandating this industry. These scholars, who explored the mandatory diversity programs in 816 companies, came to conclusion that command-and-control diversity quota-oriented programs were counterproductive. Set to reward, discipline, and punish managers and employees, these programs were in fact breeding fear, animosity, and distrust. The scholars also stressed that, neglecting an individual merit approach, such mandated diversity amplified gender, ethnic, and racial “tribalism.” The ultimate verdict Dobbin and Kalev issued was quite devastating for the whole multi-million diversity industry in the United States.
Particularly, they stressed that, contrary to rosy mainstream perceptions, American experience in enforcing diversity miserably failed, and it could not serve as a policy blueprint for other countries. The researchers have also suggested that the best possible option in this situation would be to “decentralize” the whole diversity machine and let people on the ground decide for themselves how they wanted to reach its goals. My assumption is that in each university, corporation, school, and institution people should be free to choose and vote (by a secret ballot) on whether they want and need the “diversity” training. From what we saw in the Sandia Labs, the employees had no say about the reeducation campaign the corporate diversity commissars arbitrarily imposed on them.
Although wrapped into a cautious academic prose, research conducted by a group of social psychologists headed by Leigh Wilton (Wilton 2018; Jacobs 2018; Good 2018) produced even more devastating conclusions, which in fact had been obvious to any critical-minded person. For the first time targeting the entire multiculturalism ideology, the Wilton research team set out to explore whether the promotion of “diversity” reduced or enhanced a fixation on race on a popular level. Exploring two large groups of people (students and adult non-students), Wilton and her colleagues found out that making people think about racial and cultural differences on a permanent basis hammered in their minds the idea that these differences were central, vital, and crucial. Obviously, to safeguard themselves, Wilton (2018) and her team included such disclaimers as “We do not mean to imply that multiculturalism should be universally discarded” and “Neither multiculturalism nor color blindness offers a simple panacea for improving diversity.” Still, they have been adamant in their conclusion that, as an unintended consequence, the engineering “diversity” from above enhanced racial essentialism and that “the primacy of Multiculturalism as a mechanism for prejudice reduction or racial inequality is not without question.” They also stressed that, in contrast to a color-blind approach that mutes the fixation on race, the whole “diversity” message amplifies group differences and may lead to negative inter-group outcomes.
One of the natural political side effects of the persistent cultivation of “non-White” identity, attempt to impose it on the rest of society, aggressive rhetoric against “white privilege,” and the promotion of the systemic racism conspiracy theory was the emergence of so-called alt-right White Power movement – a mirror image of the Black Power, Latino Power and similar identity movements among the people of “color.” Left writer Anis Shivani stressed that by inflaming and empowering the racial and ethnic identity of the “underprivileged,” the cultural left opened the identitarian Pandora’s box, which naturally leads to legitimization of “blood,” “soul,” and “soil” agenda in American politics. Shivani, who became upset about the identitarian turn of his comrades, has stressed that under those circumstances, it is quite natural that “the rise of each group in terms of recognition encourages countervailing reactions amongst other groups, so that recognition becomes simultaneously self-inflating (breeding reactionism and irrationality) and an impossible ideal to attain. Again, the rise of white nationalism recently is a testament to this tendency, a natural corollary to the very logic of identity politics.”
Intellectual Sources of the Diversity Industry
One of the major intellectual sources of the mandated “diversity,” which has been superimposed on our society, go back to the frustration of the left about traditional class-based socialism that had occupied the dominant position in the old intellectual mainstream. The ole left privileged the industrial working class (or proletariat, according to the traditional Marxist jargon) as the primary victim of and simultaneously the humankind’s redeemer from capitalism. To the dismay of the left, Marx’s prophecy about the skyrocketing misery of the proletariat under capitalism miserably failed. On the contrary, the Western labor dramatically improved its living conditions and lost its revolutionary vitality.
For this reason, in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Western left were gradually ditching the industrial working class, finding instead new kinds of “noble savages” in the Third World and at home among such groups as people of “color,” women, gays, and later in the alphabet soup of newly emerging groups that too claimed a victimhood status. Along with the Third World, these segments of population were singled out as the new victims of and simultaneously redeemers from the capitalist oppression. To be exact, since the 1960s, for the New Left it was not so much capitalism but rather the entire Western civilization that became the major culprit. In contrast to the old left who were fixated on material progress, the New Left, on the contrary, came to criticize progress and materialism as spiritually corrupt to authentic and progressive lifestyles. Such new attitude helped make an ideological switch from the class-based economic agenda to cultural issues.
Since in the past the domestic people of “color” in Western countries and the Third World people were the objects of Euro-American racism and colonialism, progressive proponents of the Critical Theory (Cultural Marxism) take it for granted that such things as bigotry, racism, oppression are “white” Western phenomena. As designated victims, the emerging Third World nations, domestic people of “color” along with sexual minorities are thought to be on the righteous side incapable of any wrongdoing. In other words, the cultural left created the “aristocracy of the outcasts.” This explains, for example, why the left frequently downplay the brutal treatment of women and gays in Islamic societies and so-called hate crimes (and crimes in general) perpetrated by the representatives of the “victim” groups inside Western countries (for example, Muslim immigrants in France and Sweden or blacks in the United States). To the most ardent proponents of “diversity,” non-Western societies serve as carriers of profound spiritual wisdom and collectivism that serve to educate “rotten” and “materialist” West about better forms of life.
The Rise of the Diversity Industry and the Multiculturalism Ideology
By the end of the 1970s, American administrative and judicial system saw the emergence of “commissars of diversity” – a network of federal, state, and educational bureaucracies that were empowered by laws, institutions, and media outlets to police racial, ethnic, and gender representation both in public and private sector. The regime of the racial segregation that had existed in the South prior to the 1950s offended American sensibilities to such an extent that both the congress and the “white” majority, driven by the profound guilt feelings, voluntarily accepted special measures designated to correct historical injustice and uplift people of “color.” Little thought was given to the fact that to fight racism and sexism with racism and sexism was a flawed strategy and that well-meant and benevolent measures did not necessarily produce benevolent outcomes.
The system of job, business contract, and education quotas and preferences introduced in the 1970s through affirmative action programs were thought to be temporary measures that were to “upgrade” selected minorities. Yet, as it frequently happens, the temporary measures were institutionalized and eventually became a permanent part of American polity, producing an overall corruptive effect on society. It not only led to the emergence of the alphabet list of new groups that were eager to claim a victimhood status to secure moral, political, and economic benefits, but it also resulted in mass economic and educational fraud. For example, thousands of dark-skinned immigrants began posing as “black” to fit in the officially established “ethno-racial pentagon” classification that was introduced by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) in 1977 for policy goals.
This OBM Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (“Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting”) pigeonholed Americans into specific racial categories, which people were encouraged to fit themselves in: white (WASPs), black (African-Americans), brown (Hispanics), yellow (Asians), and red (Native Americans). The official goal was to standardize available statistics to conduct efficiently affirmative action and other race-conscious policies. One can consider the year of 1977, when this directive was introduced, a symbolic landmark when “diversity” became the guiding light for the entire political and economic establishment in US. Eventually, this ethno-racial “pentagon” system became so entrenched into American polity that it came to play the role of standard lenses through which both Democratic and Republican elites began to screen their decisions on all kinds of economic and social issues.
At this point of our history, we already can talk about the existence of the mainstream multicultural ideology that crusades against Western values, and that is fixated on promoting group identity at an expense of an individual. This ideology uses the slogan of toleration to maintain itself as the hegemonic force (pardon my leftist jargon) in our society. Consequently, those who object that ideology and call for the treatment of people as individuals based on their merit are labeled as racist and intolerant people. This explains the reticence and fear both in society and especially among bureaucrats to question the dubious nature of the whole project. By the way, that was precisely the niche that Cultural Marxists from BLM were able to use to wiggle themselves into the mainstream and to successfully intimidate a large part of American society into submission.
The “diversity” machine and the multicultural ideology created by that machine by now acquired a life of their own. It is a vivid an example of how seemingly benign initiatives, which had been originally established to resolve an specific urgent problem, lead to unanticipated consequences. As such, the whole situation serves as the illustration of the old wisdom: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In addition to influential racial and ethnic lobby groups, this machine now includes a large apparatus in federal, state, university, and corporate institutions. For example, by 2018, at the University of California, Berkeley, the number of diversity bureaucrats increased up to 175 people. Many of them generate high salaries. Thus, a diversity chief at the University of Michigan makes $385,000 a year (“The Rise of Universities’ Diversity Bureaucrats”). For this omnipotent bureaucracy, amplifying identity politics and dramatizing ethnic, racial, and gender issues became one of the major ways to stay in power and secure the continuing flow of finances both from government and private donors.
One can divide the institutions that promote the “diversity” creed in the United States into three large units. The first is represented by watchdog institutions (Human Resources (HR) and Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) or equity departments) that gather statistics on how well major racial, ethnic and gender groups are represented in all walks of life. HRs and equity offices are weaponized institutions that not only collect relevant data and set codes of behavior but also police and penalize bureaucrats and individuals who do not comply with prescribed ideological regulations and imposed quotas (Jeb Kinnison, Death by HR (2016). The HR and equity/OEO desks share the job of supervision over personnel and its activities. Like HR, equity desks and offices exist in all American federal, state, educational, and in many corporate institutions.
The second group of institutions is represented by various Multicultural desks and offices that are specialized in popularizing non-Western cultures and lifestyles by organizing, for example, various ethnic, racial, and gender festivals and fairs. These cultural events are usually focused on the valorization of selected cultures and their representatives, which are frequently set into the context of victimhood, oppression, and resistance. For example, my first introduction to one of such festivals, which took place in Ohio in 1994, was a visit to a Latin American multicultural festival that was celebrating generic Latino legacy. At the entrance, visitors were welcomed by a huge banner with the following phase, “Latin America: 400 Years of Resistance.” To this, my Puerto-Rican colleague sarcastically remarked, “Why resistance? Resistance to what and against whom?” A small example of cultural activism supported by those desks is a campaign of moral shaming of people for so-called cultural appropriation. For those who are not yet familiar with this most recent meme of the cultural left, I want to explain that any “white” person who publicly dons “non-Western” garb or attire (e.g. Mexican sombrero, Japanese kimono, Afro-American dreadlocks) automatically becomes a racist “colonizer” who “steals” and “appropriates” from the victims of “color.”
The third component of the multicultural “diversity” ideological machine is represented by various identity studies departments such as Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Women Studies (Bruce Bawer, The The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind (2012). Pioneered in the 1960s as special university-based programs that were expected to inject existing college curricula with non-Western and female perspectives, many of them eventually acquired not only the status of regular university departments but turned into ideological units. These programs openly declare that their major goal is not traditional academic pursuits but rather activist scholarship. The latter heavily relies on the above-mentioned Critical Theory methods, which had been pioneered by Herbert Marcuse and like-minded post-Marxist writers
In other words, identity studies are focused on providing an ideological back up to specific racial, ethnic, and gender agendas. The practitioners of identity studies are preoccupied with the critique of what they define as “white” Western civilization and hegemony. Simultaneously, they valorize non-Western cultures and lifestyles that they define as progressive and spiritually enhancing. From the partisan “diversity” perspective, the cultivation of ethno-racial consciousness and solidarity for designated “non-White” and “non-Western” groups is progressive and desirable, whereas a color-blind individualistic approach is treated as racist and reactionary.
Moreover, for the past fifty years, mainstream humanities disciplines such as sociology, literary studies, American studies, geography, anthropology, social work, and especially education acquired a similar ideological “diversity” bent that one can find in abundance in the identity studies. The social scholarship too heavily assimilated Critical Theory into its methodology and became fixated on searching for the signs of racial, ethnic, and gender oppression both in the past and in the present in all walks of surrounding life.
The threat to our liberty comes from the fact that the greater part of the cadre, which now works in our government, law firms, and corporate world, are former college graduates who internalized memes and precepts propagated by the Critical Theory scholarship and made them the new normal. Many of them are sincerely convinced that they must change the surrounding life according to the ideological prescriptions of “multiculturalism” by promoting the group (racial, gender, ethnic) justice and arbitrarily dividing our society into the classes of the “oppressed” and “oppressors.” The latter, according to Marcuse who was one of the founders of the Critical Theory, must be shut down and canceled by all means available. This means that the core values of the Western civilization are now at stake (the rule of law, freedom of speech, checks and balances, and the very institute of elections).
On a final note, responding to the rising tide of mandated “diversity” reeducation programs, on September 4, the US Office of Budget and Management issued a memorandum to stop wasting tax dollars for all race-bating “training” that is based on the ideology of the Critical Theory and that is focused on bashing “whiteness” and Western values. Of course, it is ridiculous to assume that one can simply ban an ideology; it will take years and years to dismantle the “diversity” industry and its ideological apparatus. Yet, as a first step, that measure is essential for our entire political and economic system. The current administration has sent a clear signal to the “deep state” bureaucrats, who are opportunistic by their very nature, that the woke “repressive tolerance” of the cultural left will not be tolerated anymore. If we push further in this direction, there is a hope that we shall overcome.
Political/ideological debates have a lot of moving parts, and there are a lot of timely issues to address. Given the marginal impact of anything we do in this sphere (e.g. voting, sharing a blog post on Twitter, or being a solitary voter in a vast sea of the entire 6200 people in this country), it’s only natural that we have to economize on information and argument and that results. We can’t help but deplete the intellectual commons.
What are some low cost ways to improve the quality?
Value Intellectual humility.
Devalue the sort of behavior that makes things worse.
It bears repeating: value intellectual humility. It’s not easy. I’m as drawn the confident claims as you are. I’ve got a lot of smart people in my bubble and when they boldly declare something, I tend to believe them. But the “I honestly don’t know” posts deserve more attention and are less likely to get it. Let’s adjust in that direction. I’ll try to write more about things I don’t know about in the future (although I don’t know what that’s going to look like).
It’s a statistical impossibility that, of all of the people burned at the stake for heresy or witchcraft or whatever, nobody deserved some punishment received in an unfair process. Don’t get me wrong, witch hunts are a bad thing in general, but we can’t discount them as entirely (maybe just 99.9%) unjustified. But cancel culture is, like good old fashioned witch hunts is doing a lot of harm to the intellectual commons. I’m they catch more bad guys than 17th century Puritans, but lets not leave cancellations up to Twitter mobs. Particularly when it comes to cancelling ideas.
Far be it from me to peddle unreplicated psychological research (confirmation bias alert!), but I tend to believe that there’s something to the claim that the extreme poles of the ideological landscape exhibit some unsettling traits: narrow-mindedness, authoritarianism, and apparently Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.
“Narcissistic psychopath” is not a label I’d like to see bandied about because it’s just too close to ad hominum. But “authoritarian” is a term I’d like to see more widely used as a pejorative, regardless of the position taken by would be authoritarians.
Let’s quit with the shouting, cancelling, flag waving, and blindly taking reactionary positions. Invite debate, and invite holding people accountable. But letting Twitter be the last word is as absurd as letting Helen Lovejoy-esque moral scolding decide how things should be.