- Attention, fashion, and false consensus Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- In praise of negativity Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
- My only complaint: this should be anti-Communist Party rather than anti-China Shashank Bengali, LA Times
- The Belt and Road Initiative as an anti-imperialist discourse (pdf) Ying-Kit Chan, CJAS
I had an unusual experience yesterday and today, a civilized exchange with a liberal. It was on Facebook. I think it’s worth sharing, maybe only as curiosity.
Jacques Delacroix to S.R.S.: I am reading you and your accomplices between the lines. Is it true that you have trouble imagining any Trump supporter as reasonably intelligent, reasonably well informed, and well aware of Mr Trump’s rather obvious shortfalls? Just asking.
S.R.S. to Jacques Delacroix: Speaking only for myself: I don’t have trouble imagining that at all. It helps that I have maintained FB friendships with a number of them, obviously including you, but also others, some of whom I know (or once knew) in real life and not just on FB. I certainly understand that there are those out there who like tax cuts for corporations and individuals (even when slanted toward the already wealthy), who generally want to repeal government regulations on business, and who want highly conservative judges and Justices–all standard Republican fare and key accomplishments of the Trump administration.
I assume many of these conservatives are well aware that Trump has a “room temperature IQ” (quoting you, I believe, but I’m not positive of that), that Trump talks before he thinks (let alone consults with actual experts), and that his rhetoric borders on xenophobic and authoritarian. The mantra is: “don’t worry; he’s not DOING those things, and his talk won’t hurt anything; or at least it will hurt less than if a Democrat were in the White House.”
I’m deeply opposed on the policy positions, and I’m sometimes baffled by some typical conservative positions (e.g., deficits are anathema except when it is a Republican President), but I know there are intelligent people on both sides.
As I said (earlier in this post or somewhere similar), I’m more concerned than those conservatives about the long-term damage being done by the authoritarian and arguably xenophobic rhetoric coming straight from the highest office in the land.
And in general, I’m very concerned about the demonization of political opponents (“Cheatin’ Obama” is one case in point, or calling his political opponents and the reporters in the press “evil” people). Trump didn’t invent it, and the Democrats do some of it too. But I believe the rhetoric has grown exponentially under Trump (after all, a constant refrain of his campaign was that he would imprison his opponent), and I think it is highly corrosive to the possibility of genuine democracy. I am saddened, and scared, by the fact that most conservatives in power and their supporters on the ground either don’t see this as a problem, or see it as less concerning than the possibility of a moderate Democrat in the White House.
Jacques Delacroix to S.R.S. Thanks for taking the trouble. I recognize most of what you are saying and I even agree with some. Certainly, this includes the deficit spending pre-dating the epidemic. Mr Trump is certainly not my idea of a good conservative. (More on this below.) I am baffled by your description of him as authoritarian. He has used executive orders much less than his predecessor. (“I have a pen and a phone.” Obama) He has not bragged about doing so. He has not tried to circumvent the constitutional order. (Whatever he has said, including recently, he has not tried.) I am open to instruction on authoritarianism. It really matters to me. There is nothing I detest more. But, please, limit yourself to deeds; I already know about the logorrhea. As for his being “xenophobic,” it’s one of those political correctness inspired statements I suspect is devoid of meaning. I am obviously a foreigner. “Yes but you are white.” My wife is a woman of color. She voted for him; she will again, without compunction. I feel (feel, don’t know to corroborate it) that your distaste and that of your tribe, and shared by some Republicans, is something else, something like caste rejection. I stated that Mr Trump is not my idea of a good conservative. In this connection, I, but also you, are faced with the following two quandaries about the functioning of our political institutions.
First, how could Mr Trump -with his obvious personal shortcomings – have so easily triumphed in a field of 18 other Rep. candidates, most of whom looked viable? In this connection, I think his ascendancy among blue-collar workers needs to be explained. The Dem Party should do the explaining.
Second, how could the Dem end up producing the enormously damaged good that is Mrs Clinton in 2016. (I know you don’t appreciate name calling, but she is obviously a major crook, in my book.) How could the higher ranks of the Dem Party openly scheme against Sen. Sander? (He is a man I know well because I used to be him, when we were both 25.) I think he is a little dumb but no doubt honest. Plus, his program was clear. He would have given Mr Trump a run for his money, including among people like me who are used to choosing between the lesser of two or more evils. Furthermore, how can the Dem Party, only three years later, come up for a candidate with the mental shipwreck that is Mr Biden? This is downright strange. Conventional explanations just won’t do. As I explained recently [here – BC] , I smell a rat, here again.
PS I don’t think I said that Mr Trump had a room temperature IQ because I don’t believe it for a second. Rather, I must have attributed this belief to liberals. PS2. There are different kinds of name calling. Mr Trump’s schoolyard variety is entertaining and rather innocent as compared to everything else. If it makes his adversaries lose their cool, that’s fine with me. In the 19th century, there was an inspired politician who claimed that his opponent’s sister was a “Thespian.” I like that. Thank for your attention.
S.R.S. declined to pursue this further. He mentioned two books.
- Why do Ron Paul’s racist newsletters from the 80s and 90s still matter? Steve Horwitz, Bleeding Heart Libertarians
- A great profile of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Christopher Sandford, Modern Age
- Hayek’s tragic capitalism Edward Feser, Claremont Review of Books
- An observation on semiotics in national dialogue Mary Lucia Darst, NOL
- The plight of the political convert Corey Robin, New Yorker
- Fine grain futarchy zoning via Harberger taxes Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
- What happens to cognitive diversity when everyone is more WEIRD? Kensy Cooperrider, Aeon
- StarCraft is a deep, complicated war strategy game. Google’s AlphaStar AI crushed it. Kelsey Piper, Vox
The verbal assaults against Pres. Trump, both oral and printed, have become almost mechanical. The concerted attempt to make his presidency seem illegitimate has largely become successful for much of the America population thanks to this systematic demeaning of the man. The above-board conspiracy has mostly won. I am not referring to criticism of Mr Trump’s policies based on facts and analysis. That’s fine and necessary, of course. (I have done some of this myself, right on my FB and on this blog.) I refer to personal attacks. Individuals with zero achievements, many demonstrable morons themselves, routinely call the president a moron. (I am not making this up; I could name names; perhaps I will, right here.)
When opponents are not content with opposing President Trump but insult him too, they also insult me. I voted for Mr Trump for the same reasons million others did. First, his name was not Clinton; second, I thought it was important to seize the chance to appoint a conservative Supreme Court Justice (or two). Since he has taken office, Mr Trump has surprised me pleasantly. There is no doubt in my mind that the current general American prosperity has a great deal to do with his policies, beginning with the general tax cut. Incidentally, I am well aware of the fact that the drop in unemployment began with the Obama administration. Another administration might have stopped it, or slowed it down. So, I have had two years to recant my vote. I have not. If you call the man I voted for a moron; you are calling me a moron.
I am not inclined to be indulgent with respect to the insult because I believe I know where it comes from thanks the many hours I spent at the faculty club. It’s a social class reaction; it’s the offended retort of those who think they are superior because they have read three books. It’s the cry of anguish of the semi-washed against the great unwashed (the “deplorables” in Mrs Clinton precise and unforgettable formula). Those who insult Pres. Trump, and therefore, me, are elitists with little reason to consider themselves an elite of any kind. Obviously, those who merely oppose his policies don’t need to call him names; they just have to describe that which they object to.
The daily name calling is wearying. It will leave a mark on my soul. I am far from sure that I will find it in me to forgive, or if I will ever forget. I think a ditch has been dug that will not be filled.
Doing the economist’s job well, Nobel Laureate Paul Romer once quipped, “means disagreeing openly when someone makes an assertion that seems wrong.”
Following this inspirational guideline of mine in the constrained, hostile, and fairly anti-intellectual environment that is Twitter sometimes goes astray. That the modern intellectual left is vicious we all know, even if it’s only through observing them from afar. Accidentally engaging with them over the last twenty-four hours provided some hands-on experience for which I’m not sure I’m grateful. Admittedly, most interactions on twitter loses all nuance and (un)intentionally inflammatory tweets spin off even more anger from the opposite tribe. However, this episode was still pretty interesting.
It started with Noah Smith’s shout-out for economic history. Instead of taking the win for our often neglected and ignored field, some twitterstorians objected to the small number of women scholars highlighted in Noah’s piece. Fair enough, Noah did neglect a number of top economic historians (many of them women) which any brief and incomprehensive overview of a field would do.
His omission raised a question I’ve been hooked on for a while: why are the authors of the most important publications in my subfields (financial history, banking history, central banking) almost exclusively male?
Maybe, I offered tongue-in-cheek in the exaggerated language of Twitter, because the contribution of women aren’t good enough…?
Being the twenty-first century – and Twitter – this obviously meant “women are inferior – he’s a heretic! GET HIM!”. And so it began: diversity is important in its own right; there are scholarly entry gates guarded by men; your judgment of what’s important is subjective, duped, and oppressive; what I happen to care about “is socially conditioned” and so cannot be trusted; indeed, there is no objectivity and all scholarly contribution are equally valuable.
Now, most of this is just standard postmodern relativism stuff that I couldn’t care less about (though, I am curious as to how it is that the acolytes of this religion came to their supreme knowledge of the world, given that all information and judgments are socially conditioned – the attentive reader recognises the revival of Historical Materialism here). But the “unequal” outcome is worthy of attention, and principally the issue of where to place the blame and to suggest remedies that might prove effective.
On a first-pass analysis we would ask about the sample. Is it really a reflection of gender oppression and sexist bias when the (top) outcome in a field does not conform to 50:50 gender ratios? Of course not. There are countless, perfectly reasonable explanations, from hangover from decades past (when that indeed was the case), the Greater Male Variability hypothesis, or that women – for whatever reason – have been disproportionately interested in some fields rather than others, leaving those others to be annoyingly male.
- If we believe that revolutionising and top academic contributions have a long production line – meaning that today’s composition of academics is determined by the composition of bright students, say, 30-40 years ago – we should not be surprised that the top-5% (or 10% or whatever) of current academic output is predominantly male. Indeed, there have been many more of them, for longer periods of time: chances are they would have managed to produce the best work.
- If we believe the Greater Male Variability hypothesis we can model even a perfectly unbiased and equal opportunity setting between men and women and still end up with the top contribution belonging to men. If higher-value research requires smarter people working harder, and both of those characteristics are distributed unequally between the sexes (as the Greater Male Variability hypothesis suggests), then it follows naturally that most top contributions would be men.
- In an extension of the insight above, it may be the case that women – for entirely non-malevolent reasons – have interests that diverge from men’s (establishing precise reasons would be a task for psychology and evolutionary biology, for which I’m highly unqualified). Indeed, this is the entire foundation on which the value of diversity is argued: women (or other identity groups) have different enriching experiences, approach problems differently and can thus uncover research nobody thought to look at. If this is true, then why would we expect that superpower to be applied equally across all fields simultaneously? No, indeed, we’d expect to see some fields or some regions or some parts of society dominated by women before others, leaving other fields to be overwhelmingly male. Indeed, any society that values individual choice will unavoidably see differences in participation rates, academic outcomes and performance for precisely such individual-choice reasons.
Note that none of this excludes the possibility of spiteful sexist oppression, but it means judging academic participation on the basis of surveys responses or that only 2 out of 11 economic historians cited in an op-ed were women, may be premature judgments indeed.
- Russell Brand: a host who (surprisingly) demands intellectual honesty Graham McAleer, Law & Liberty
- What linguistics can tell us about talking to aliens Sheri Wells-Jensen (interview), Scientific American
- World War I and British fantasy literature Iskander Rehman, War on the Rocks
- The history of Ireland has moved out of its traditional comfort zones Patrick Walsh, History Today
- Would the British Raj simply be replaced by a Hindu Raj? Brent Otto, JHIBlog
- Signal, noise, and statelessness in India Ameya Naik, Pragati
- Our insular British culture Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- Toward a new “Ostpolitik”? Ulrich Speck, Berlin Policy Journal
- Liberals don’t know much about conservative history Geoffrey Kabaservice, Politico
- The American right wing Arnold Kling, askblog
- In defense of endless war Christopher Hitchens, Slate
- Remembering the French war in Afghanistan Olivier Schmitt, War on the Rocks
I was alerted to this piece in n+1, a left-wing publication, on the decline of reading and writing in Western societies thanks to the newfound power of Twitter and the prominence this power gives to the op-ed (h/t John Holbo over at Crooked Timber).
There is one really good point in an otherwise predictable piece, but first I’d like to highlight why I continue to maintain that the Left is still the reactionary ideology of our times. The editorial’s complaints about technology (Twitter) giving a voice to radical factions (right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and the Fox News brigade) are just the same ol’ excuses served up by the Leftists of yore to censor views they don’t like. It’s ho-hum all the way down.
At any rate, here is the part that really grabbed me:
Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random. Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context — why else would they be spending time in the comments section of a blog that looked like 1996? Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless.
I find myself in aesthetic agreement with these reactionaries, again. I’ve always found myself more drawn to the tastes of leftists than conservatives, whose tastes are often too crass for me. (A dead animal’s head on your wall? Really?) And today, I find the internet arbitrary and charmless. Op-eds, and their charmless cousin, the jargon-laden academic paper, are everywhere.
This is part of the reason why I continue to blog. I know that blogging is becoming less and less popular. I understand that clicks and traffic and attention are more important to most people who take time out of their lives to write. I get it.
The intimacy that a blog affords, though, is too good to pass up, especially for someone like me. I like reading voices from Argentina like Federico’s. I enjoy Jacques’ posts on sex and politics. (A true Frenchman, that one, no matter how hard he tries to be otherwise.) Rick, the Canadian-turned-American living in New York, always manages to bring a smile to my face. I like being able to read Michelangelo, an authentic voice from Los Angeles, the crown jewel of the American Empire.
The conversational nature of the blog is not in vogue right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Indeed, if anything, it means that the conversations that continue to play out over what’s left of the blogosphere will be far more important to far more people in far more places than the latest Twitterstorm. Twitter is an incredibly useful place for mining knowledge, but it’s worthless for shaping that knowledge into something useful and precious for today and tomorrow. Only writing can do that.
Op-eds aren’t going anywhere. There’s no use trying to delegitimize them, or ban them. You can choose to ignore them. That’s what I do. Instead of reading an op-ed, I continue to browse the blogosphere, where conversation about ideas and events remains as boisterous, and relevant, and as ever.
PS: I hope you are enjoying my “nightcaps.” The Notewriters have all reached out to me to let me know they’ve got something in the pipeline. Life gets hectic. People get busy. But writing notes on liberty will never get old.