As I see things: When institutions are decayed, and stewardship involves addressing systemic problems with short-term incentives, and where technology pushes towards relentless ‘now’ bubbles and ‘moral crusades,’ you can end-up with a mess.
I remember watching the split in the conservative movement between the rising, populist Trump (border issues, economic growth, personal attacks and hucksterism) vs the Republican crowd (pro-Bush, pro-D.C., sometimes never Trump). If you think a small government is better precisely because it helps avoid such issues, you may feel like an individual lost in the wood, or a member of yet another competing faction jostling in a sweaty pit.
It’s mostly gotten worse.
I’m still bracing for a potential surge from the populist Left, against establishment politics. Obama often played the activism cards subtly (rule of law and sometimes anti rule of law with a lot of energy on controlling his image and placating different factions from a minority position). Joe Biden has been in D.C. for a few generations and is perilously old and grubby. We clearly have an institutional structure which likely reached its highest growth with peak Boomer influence (early to mid 70’s). It seems to have been calcifying ever since.
With general movements away from religion towards secularism, away from the family towards (S)elf, and away from Natural Rights/Law towards postmodernism and moral relativism, this wouldn’t be surprising. I figure we’re on currents heading towards a more hierarchical, ‘class-based’, slow-growth politics and economics, in the academy and media especially. The New Left (60’s surge), the New, New Left (identity movements), the dirtbag Left (glamorously nihilist), and the newer pro-speech Left (Weinsteins, Greenwald, Taibbi) are not particularly pro-Boomer.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Much is politicized into moral crusades: Many in The West have taken up Ukraine as a flag-waving cause (against the oppressor…so very brave), while some others have become vaguely pro-oppressor (are you really for Putin’s conception of Russia as chief mafia boss, oligarch and ex KGB ethno-nationalist?)
It’s a brutal campaign. The Russian military is likely trying to consolidate gains in the East, and they wiped out a city there, where bodies rot on the street. The Georgian/Belorussian playbook has faltered, and been altered. The Ukrainians are in an existential crisis, and fighting to win (though negotiation might still be a possibility).
The European response has been solid, and the border countries are handling this wave of humanity pretty well (the cause is pretty just and the war unnervingly close). Most of the refugees are women and children (nearly all Ukrainian men have been mobilized to win), and about one-quarter of Ukraine’s population of forty million have been displaced.
When people tell you their opponents are evil, that the world is a Messianic battleground, and that speech is violence in the quest for power, you’ve been warned.
You’ve been warned repeatedly. Much of the academy and the media have fallen into this particular trap of secular idealism, undercut by radical activism, captured by purity spirals and endless demands to destroy what has come before (gratitude and humility, Dear Reader).
You can’t count on such ‘leaders’ to not slip into soft and hard forms of authority against their enemies and for their moral lights in the wake of such ideas.
Elon Musk, so far, has said he will try and open up shop on Twitter, and stand for speech. If he maintains this much more tried and true method of maintaining freedom, I’m all for it. Claiming to stand for the most marginalized through sentimental idealism, or cynical radicalism, or ideological purity, is a recipe for further chaos, and further politicizes the new communication channels.
As you may have noticed, we have enough politicization of the personal and bad incentives on Twitter. Let’s figure out what this platform does best, utilize it, and maximize the best of it with clear rules.
Horses I pleasurably beat: It’d have been nice if the old liberal guard within our universities had said something like ‘no‘ to many of the radicals roiling in front of them. ‘You are still required to read The Canterbury Tales by the 25th.’ ‘Also, you have to let other people think and speak.‘
This old nag: Many a rationalist, secular humanist, and liberal idealist likely believes that while activists get carried away, the cause is mostly just. Religion is still poisoning everything, and the new fields of knowledge can bear the weight of humanity’s ignorance, suffering and hope. Math + data + new social science research + applied policy + conventional wisdom through the academy and media = sufficient moral orthodoxy. The moral force of change against injustice can be directed into a liberal order all individuals can get behind (and not be ground under).
The Appaloosa is a proud breed. I’m skeptical of the view that marginalized people, the meekest and poorest among us, are generally served by the kind of inverse religious logic a radical Marxist employs, even as the Marxist goes too far. The prediction I hear from the liberal mainstream is this: Such malcontents can be kept below deck. (S)elf still comes first, but (S)elfhood will require allegiance to the old/new institutions as long as these are run by the right people with the right moral lights. In the control room, where the sea spreads before the best and brightest, (H)istory is capable of producing the right men to steer the Ship of State.
It’s odd to have those who conserve finding themselves out of conservation, wishing for the roiling and disruption of existing institutions, still while being called ‘Hitler.’
Populism is all around, and for good reasons.
More like a draft horse: The pipers calling are human nature, truth and reality. Can you hear the tune?
Many radical discontents exhibit the chaotic minds, troubled souls and controlling tendencies of the all-too-familiar religious zealot (always there amongst the pews). We still live in a world of limited resources and hard choices where life ain’t fair. Politics calls forth a few 1st-rate men but a majority of ambitious 2nd and 3rd raters who think they’re 1st-rate (a surprising number of scoundrels).
In lieu of an older, more religious American idealism, a new moral and moralizing force forms in the gaps, where old money gets co-opted by new zealots. A lot of change, very quickly, compels towards new rules and new authority.
This is coming from Left and Right, and the newer Lefts and newer Rights.
I guess I don’t trust any one man, (this is why we have our Constitutional constraints and separation of powers).
We’ll see about if my hope for better speech rules have been misplaced…
The previous two cents and two cents more gets you close to a nickel: Twitter as a platform is what it is (especially good at brief bursts of condensed information, data gathering, and disasters). It’s the kind of internal, open chat platform within a company, scaled more broadly. All you need is a device, free software to download, and voila, you’ve become a node on a vast network. This has advantages.
Communication, however, is obviously a pathetic prosthetic for human contact and real conversation. I suspect the people curating Twitter of playing a dumb, dumb game by favoring their favored biases (like all of us, to some extent) instead of just letting speech flourish.
If the people driving change want to burn everything down, good luck to you, fellow citizen. The resulting chaos will not be good for us. The ethos of majority blocs in Pacific Northwest cities leads to policies which lead to these problems.
A return to journalistic roots requires trying to report on what’s happening.
As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.
The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, we’re f**ked.
A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals. The deeper map of human nature is seriously off.
I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.
It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.
I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.
Our authors may be following Charles Murray’s lead, which he outlined in ‘Coming Apart:’
‘In fact, a key part of the explanation for the struggles of today’s working and lower middle classes in the U.S. is delayed marriage. When the trend toward later marriage first took off in the 1970s, most of these young men and women delayed having children, much as they had in the past. But by 2000, there was a cultural shift. They still put off their weddings, but their childbearing—not so much. Fifty-eight percent of first births among this group are now to unmarried women.’
Many women in college and in the professions are delaying marriage and child-bearing. They can generally afford to put off marriage in pursuit of education and career (though they can’t wait too long and many are accruing tremendous student-loan debt). The women without such opportunities and who aren’t in college or the professions, generally aren’t putting off having children for too long on the analysis above, but they are putting off marriage.
This can have consequences for all of us.
One of the things we’re potentially doing: Creating a two-tiered society, one of low-skilled, lower educated folks whom we perhaps ought to encourage into marriage, and the other full of higher skilled, better educated folks who will probably get married anyways, after putting career first.
Of course, implicit in the above quotation is the idea that conservatives are already losing the debate: The coveted sweet spot in the middle and upper-middle class mind in America, which tends to guide our social institutions, laws, and politics is not currently well occupied by particularly religious, nor traditional, nor conservative ideas.
For better or for worse. Til’ death do us part.
The newer social model (often driven by radical discontents) hasn’t addressed many problems that the old social model may have addressed. On Murray’s view, perhaps we’re in danger of losing much in the way of economic dynamism as a result (to which I’ve found very few women in my time who wish to go back to 1963, which Murray doesn’t suggest we do, and relatively fewer women willing to call themselves feminists or address the radicalism inherent in feminism head-on).
Our authors continue:
‘But to truly move forward, educators, employers, policy makers, parents, entertainment leaders and young adults themselves need to join together in launching a national conversation about bringing down the childbearing rate of unmarried women and men in their 20s. Such campaigns aren’t just talk. They worked for dealing with teen pregnancy, and they can work again.’
The ending comes off a little weak.
Here’s Murray discussing Coming Apart:
***Having been asked to watch a few clips of the then-popular HBO series ‘Girls, I suspected the show could be seen as a product of the post 60’s, literary, post-post-modern beat/hippie/hipster culture that comes with a pedigree. There is a deeper current of Western individualism (Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism) running through Western culture. First, perhaps, Mary Shelley, then the Bloomsbury group, then Oberlin political radicalism and eventually…Girls.
Maybe. Maybe not. That’s probably a stretch.
Admittedly, this helps keep many chatterers chattering away who see their own selves and causes (feminism especially) reflected therein. I can’t say I care that much for the subject matter, though I will generally support artists who stay true to their art, as religion, polite society, politics and ideologues of all sorts should be transcended if that art is going to last.
According to the Atlantic: Why are 58% of first-births to unmarried women in lower middle class households? Of course, it might have a lot to do with taking marriage apart, and replacing it with…whatever’s here now. Naturally, being politically liberal the focus at the Atlantic on making more income equality.
My current predictions: The modern quest for the socially constructed, feelings first (S)elf, oppressed by (F)orces, is going to feed into identitarian and collectivist political movements. These movements will continue to place upward pressure on the married, stable and ambitious folks who find themselves as gatekeepers in many important institutions. As it already has, this will lead to a lot of talk about ‘society’ and the ‘latest moral cause’. Sometimes this discussion will appeal to parents and children (and maybe most families), but often it will have to appeal to the anti-family, anti-Nation, anti-oppressor base (usually radicals who won’t allow anyone to speak of the importance of family and personal responsibility).
For the poorest and those with the fewest options, fewer signals will point towards family, home, tradition and honor (duties to other people which freedom requires). Many more signals will point towards ‘community,’ State, do-whatever-you-want-until-you-can’t and a kind of rationalistic utopian political ideal (we make the rules and then you get your freedom within the collective).
My very un-hot take: The deconstructionism dominant in the academy scoops out all kinds of meaning from texts and lives, with an ever-present focus on the (S)elf (not necessarily the individual). Many very good artists this past century have flirted with Communism/Socialism as an alternative organizing system within this existential void, or have retreated to a kind of nihilism (the idea that there is no objective reality).
Some of their art, often reaching highest levels, lives beyond them.
This intellectual milieu partly informs what is replacing the previous educational ideas we had at many levels of American society.
Teaching younger folks, especially, tends to be people-oriented and requiring of patience, sensitivity to developmental and behavioral issues, and interpersonal communication. This tends to attract a higher proportion of women (this disparity is mentioned in the video below). Many good women, in particular, and many good people (minds, characters, habits), have implicitly or explicitly supported feminism as a means of more freedom the past few generations. Much feminist doctrine has quite radical ideas about the family, the Nation, and the aims of education, which also helps produce good people.
Good teachers tend to aim at higher things with humility (like knowledge, personal growth for themselves and the students, as well as duty…to some kind of ideal). You never really know what they think personally, but they encourage you to think well. Americans have been a particularly idealistic civilization.
In my experience, many less good teachers only aim at rising through the educracy, or at a job with a pension, or maybe easy enforcement of existing ideas without having to do too much. Incentives matter.
More broadly, some people are just unstable and without identity, finding primary meaning within radical and destructive ideologies. They embody the beliefs and live through them. Some of these doctrines are finding their way into some curricula in our schools and the results will not be pretty (I think of them as the new postmodern religionists, who are incredibly hostile to all outside their ideology).
It’s be nice if we could just say these are some of the costs of change, without blaming those who reason from a position more skeptical of change. I’m not holding my breath.
‘Students are leaving as well. Since 2020, nearly 1.5 million children have been removed from public schools to attend private or charter schools or be homeschooled. Families are deserting the public system out of frustration with unending closures and quarantines, stubborn teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, and the low standards exposed by remote learning.‘
‘Generally, political inertia and public worker unions combined to keep government in the Blue Age even as the rest of the economy moved on. Today, the experiences and the expectations of people in the private sector and people in the public sector are quite different. There are many results, including taxpayer revolts against public sector benefits and pay, but from an urban policy standpoint the key one is this: the government job machine is no longer an escalator to the middle class. In fact, the dependence of the Black middle class on government work is going to be one of the chief threats to the health of the Black middle class as we’ve known it’
I had a ten minute conversation with a professed Marxist on the street this past weekend, as he was agitating for Starbucks employees to form a union.
His views, as I understood them: Science has advanced, but Marx’s thinking can still be defended as a form of ‘Scientific Socialism’, (this sounded, to me, like boilerplate he hadn’t fully digested. ‘Back then Science was Natural Philosophy, you see‘…I’m not sure I understood the point he was making).
He then went on to bring up ‘Empiricism’, but I suspect only as a layman. For better or worse (he was weakest here), I doubted he had experience in scientific practice nor lines of empiricist thinking through Hume, or maybe Searle. Rather, he was using ’empiricism’ as a stand-in for something like ‘fact.’
His action steps: He was trying to get signatures to petition the Seattle City Council to allow Starbucks employees to unionize. These are the exploited workers, providing all the labor and value and getting none of the reward. Only through unionization, and the help of Marxists, could they challenge those with all the capital, leveraging local government (already pretty leveraged towards such a direction). Then could this injustice be made more just.
Where his views might overlap with many on the Left, Left-Liberals, and some Liberals: He harbored a deep, animating suspicion of all things business, corporate and ‘capitalist’. There was a lot of talk of the moral good involved in helping the marginalized and poorest among us. He stated at least once that human nature can be shaped deeply if only the right social conditions are created. There was no talk of God nor Natural Law/Rights, obviously. (M)ankind, or perhaps, (H)umankind (all of us, conceptualized) are living only in a material world, with only the here and now to make our marks (though Marxists take this much further in their brutal struggle).
Out of curiosity, I asked him about the poor elsewhere. This was primarily to see where theory might fade into reality (we can all have trouble with reality). He gave what I would call the standard Romantic Primitivist (Noble Savage) view of tribal Edens existing in past and present. He claimed there have been and are groups without oppression, exploitation, hierarchy, and war (pretty much like the utopia Marxists wish to achieve, in The Future). I asked for empirical proof of such societies.
**FWIW: Amongst two academic feminists I’ve known, the impulse to find or found ‘matriarchal’ societies was a recurring theme. I imagine this overlap to be due to the desire to reach from one’s epistemological foundations and grasp towards where the theories aim.
Where we agreed: Nature is pretty rough. Something’s going got to get each of us sooner or later (viruses, natural disasters etc.). We were both thankful for our health and the decent weather.
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
I’ve been asked to comment more on the Ukraine conflict. I don’t know what to tell you, but I often think about which kinds of leaders I could potentially trust, and what life would be like if I were the one asked to fight. From where I am, I can only hear a lot of noise.
Thanks for reading.
‘It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.’
‘This type of treatment began in the nineteenth century, when Burke was invoked as an antidote to the confidence of the French Revolution by liberal thinkers who prized its principles, saw their narrowness, and required a sense of historical development to situate them properly in a viable civil society. It was continued when Matthew Arnold tried to treat Burke as a (pre-Home Rule) Gladstonian spokesman about Ireland. It went further still in the twentieth century, when Burke was pressed into service as a counter-revolutionary agent in the anti-Communist cause, and when the twenty-first dawned some treated Burke as proponent of postmodernism.’
Via a reader (begins at min 23:00). Some insights on Ukraine from someone with family on both sides on the ground. There are some decent insights relative to mainstream sources.
As previously mentioned, the United States, under Obama particularly, but for the last fifteen years, has removed much of its footprint from the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and now even Europe. Domestically, U.S. political leadership has calcified, becoming brittle and old, while (from my perspective) new factions of deeper, further New, New Left and New Right are forming outside of a weakened mainstream. We’ll see how bad the weakened institutions get and who comes into authority, and with what ideas (worst case is the Platonic map I’ve been using…). Public sentiment cleaves much closer to nihilism/existentialism in the postmodern soup, these days. Anarchy and libertarianism, from my point of view, are finding much wider audiences.
The ‘economics-first’ Euro-zone (primarily a German/French alliance) has been counting on old treaties and American leadership. All while buying gas and trading with the folks in charge of Russia. There also seems be the same ideological true-belief found in the gears of liberal techno-bureaucratic institutions everywhere (liberals and radical Leftists are often in conflict, even while working against their traditional/religious/conservative enemies). Keep an eye on energy policy, green-belief and inflation (what leaders do vs. what they say) as well as gas prices here at home.
As for the media these days, new technology, and the Boomers/Gen-X/Millenials management issues, I like the idea that people tend to fight more and more over less and less, and the less there appears to be. I often imagine to whom I would look if I were coming of age in such a chaotic environment. Dear Reader, I do worry about many over-promised, under-delivered youth dealing with such institutional failures and realignments. This requires me having hope in the basic soundness (body/mind/judgment/character) of younger folks I know, rather than trust in ‘systems’.
As for information, it might be better to just aim for basic online survey courses (with who knows how high an error rate) over ‘public-opinion experts’ and public education if you’re an average Joe. The two major parties and public discourse have devolved into vindictive finger-pointing.
I’d advise picking-up a book or two and find the better sources if you’re so inclined.
This is, alas, a blog in the land of Substack (and whatever’s next). You’ve been warned.
So, what about the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S….and the rise of technology?:
‘Let’s talk about the social impact of these changes. Those stagnating median wages basically translate into a guy who had been working in the auto industry or the steel industry at $15 or $20 an hour but is now a very downwardly mobile checker at Walmart. So does the government have a role in protecting that kind of individual?’
At the moment, it’s tough to see where all the people who relied on clerical, manufacturing, textiles, etc. go…
And Thiel on higher education:
‘There’s an education bubble, which is, like the others, psychosocial. There’s a wide public buy-in that leads to a product being overvalued because it’s linked to future expectations that are unrealistic. Education is similar to the tech bubble of the late 1990s, which assumed crazy growth in businesses that didn’t pan out. The education bubble is predicated on the idea that the education provided is incredibly valuable. In many cases that’s just not true.’
And on parts of the problem, with some mention of Leo Strauss:
‘It’s a mistake to simply fixate on the problem of political correctness in its narrow incarnation of campus speech codes; it’s a much more pervasive problem. For instance, part of what fuels the education bubble is that we’re not allowed to articulate certain truths about the inequality of abilities.’
Perhaps that’s what makes Thiel lean libertarian; many people on the Left will likely only address the inequality of abilities through the pursuit of equality, usually through Statism. I suspect that political correctness isn’t going anywhere, and will simply become more entrenched in our institutions and drive political and social change. It’s in the interest of many people backing it to do so.