On the Measures of Meaning

This post was inspired primarily by a liberal acquaintance–we’ll call her Juliet.

picture-6Since the election, Juliet has been suicidal. I don’t mean she’s actually tried to commit suicide; (suicidal women very rarely actually commit suicide, unlike suicidal men.) I just mean she’s posted a lot of angst-ridden things on the internet about how she wants to die because Trump is going to destroy everything in a giant fireball, and literally the only thing she has left to live for are her 3 dogs and 10 cats.

Juliet is one of those people who thinks that we are one heavy bootstep away from Holocaust 2.0 (despite such a thing never having happened in all of American history,) and that the US was an oppressive, horrible, quasi-genocidal place up until 4-8 years ago. (She’s the same age as me, so she has no youth excuse for not knowing what life was like 10 years ago.)

I think this is a side effect of really buying into the BLM narrative that the police have just been slaughtering black children in the streets and we are finally doing something about it, and the perception that gay people are a much larger % of the population than they actually are and assumption that forbidding gay marriage inconvenienced people far more than it actually did. (Buying the BLM narrative is understandable, I guess, if you aren’t familiar with crime stats.)

Poem by "ECC" http://ecc-poetry.tumblr.com/tagged/edited-to-reflect-my-latina-status
Poem by “ECC

Now, I have lived through elections that didn’t go my way. My side has lost, and I have felt quite unhappy. But I have never rioted, set things on fire, or decided that my life is meaningless and begun envying the dead.

So I got thinking: What gives people meaning? Why do many people feel like their lives are meaningless?

Meaning can come from many sources, but (I suspect) we derive it from three main sources:

1. Worthwhile work

2. Family

3. Religion

1. Worthwhile work is work that is valuable and inherently satisfying. Farmers, for example, do worthwhile work. Worthwhile work creates a direct relationship between a person’s efforts and the food on their table and their physical well-being, where working harder results in a better life for oneself and potentially one’s friends, family, and community.

Marx (who was not entirely wrong about everything) wrote about how modern industrial factories disassociate the worker from the product of his labor. No individual worker creates a single product, and the individual working harder than expected creates no appreciable effect on the end results. Workers have no control over factories, cannot (typically) implement creative ideas that would improve products or production methods, and basically live at the whims of the factory owners and broad economic trends rather than their own efforts.

(There’s a great irony that Marxism, as actually implemented, just scaled all of the problems of the factory up to the level of the whole society, making entire nations miserable.)

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that people desire to do things that result in eating and don’t really want to obey others in huge, impersonal systems where their actions don’t have any obvious impact on their personal well-being.

Due to technological changes, most of us have far nicer, healthier, well-fed lives than our ancestors, while simultaneously our jobs have become far less instinctually fulfilling, because we simply don’t need that many people producing food or hand-making clothes and furniture anymore. So few of us–my acquaintance included–are likely to have actually fulfilling work.

2. People live–literally–for their families. Throughout the entirety of human history, almost 100% of people who survived infancy and lived long enough to reproduce and continue the human line were people whose families cared about them and took care of them.

Yes, women post inordinately about their children and grandparents babble on about their “grandbabies,” but this is exactly as it should be; from an evolutionary perspective, your descendents are the most important thing in the world to you. All of our efforts are ultimately aimed at the well-being and survival of our children; indeed, many people would sacrifice their own lives to save their kids.

To give a personal example: having kids (well, one at a time, so kid) was probably the single most significant event in my life. Not just because of the predictable changes (less sleep, more diaper changes,) but also because of the not-subtle at all but somewhat difficult to describe complete and utter re-orienting of my entire “self.”

In real life, I am a very shy, retiring person. A few weeks into kiddo’s life, I became concerned that something was wrong, and at that moment, I knew that nothing and nobody would stop me from getting my child to the doctor. My normally shy, fearful personality was dust before the needs of my child.

People talk about “female empowerment.” This was empowerment.

(Luckily, everything turned out fine–colic is a very common problem and in many cases can be treated, btw.)

Perhaps not surprising, all of the people I know who are distressed because their lives lack meaning also do not have children. Indeed, the person I know who went the furthest down this road was a father whose wife left him and whose small child died, leaving him utterly alone. Without any purpose in his life, he stopped working, stopped interacting with the world, and became homeless: a kind of living death.

The devastation of loneliness is horrible.

And yet, despite living in the richest society in pretty much all of human history, we’ve decided en masse to cut the number of children we have. Gone are the days when children had 7 siblings and 40 cousins who all lived nearby and played together. Gone are the neighborhoods full of happy children who can just walk outside and find a playmate. We moderns are far more likely than our ancestors to have no children, no siblings, no spouse, and to live 3,000 miles away from our own parents.

Juliet, as you may have guessed, does not have any children. (Hence the cats.)

3. The power of religion to bring meaning to people’s lives almost needs no explanation. Religious people are happier, more fulfilled, and live longer, on average, than atheists, despite atheists’ strong concentration among society’s richest and smartest. I’ve even heard that priests/ministers have some of the highest work satisfaction levels–their work is meaningful and pleasant.

In times of suffering, religion provides comfort and soothes distress. It provides the promise that even horrible things are actually part of some grand plan that we don’t understand and that everything will be all right in the end. The idea that death is not permanent, your sins can be forgiven, or that you can influence divine powers to make the world a better place all make people happier.

Now, I am not saying this because I am a religious person who wants you to follow my religion. Like Juliet, I don’t believe in God (though I do believe, metaphorically, in GNON, which does let me attribute some “purpose” to the grand variety I see around me. Things do not always go my way, but unlike Juliet, I live in a world that at least makes sense.)

 

Work, scaled up, is the business of taming the land, building homes and cities and ultimately a country. Family, scaled up, is the tribe, the clan, and the nation. And religion itself is highly grounded in both land and family.

Juliet, being a very smart, sensible person, (who does not believe in sexist nonsense like evolutionary psychology,) looks at all of the things that give meaning to people’s lives and dismisses them as absurd. Religion is obviously delusional; having children is an inconvenience; and while she’d love a meaningful job if she could get one, these are hard to come by. Having rejected or been denied all of the things that normally give people meaning, she finds that life is meaningless.

We do have one source of meaning left: politics. As Moldbug famously noted, liberalism is neo-Puritanism is the religion of America, simply shorn of that Constitutionally inconvenient “God” business.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

cara-delevingne-support-the-bring-back-our-girlsWith nothing else to provide meaning to their lives, not even the mild nationalism of thinking their own country/society a generally nice place, lonely atheists with empty jobs have turned to politics to fill the void. If they can save the whales, or the refugees, or the gay people, then they will have achieved meaning. In reality, this dedication is often quite shallow, a fly-by-night concern with the lives of strangers that lasts until the next pressing hashtag pops up.

It’s as though the desire to care for one’s family does not dissipate simply because one is barren, but instead gets transferred to strangers (or animals) who are unlikely to return the favor.

I mean, take another look at that poem, which I’ve seen about a dozen SJWs post. How many of these women are going to have even one child, much less an army of them (mixed race or not)? How many of these women are already married and are effectively declaring that they intend to betray their own husbands? How many of them could, after having babies with a dozen different men, afford to raise and care for them by themselves, without depending on the horrible, Trump-run white-supremecist state for help? (Suing men for child support is depending on the state.)

No. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people posting the poem have no intention of acting on it. Someone else can do the actual work of making babies and raising the next generation of social warriors.

Juliet’s suicidality stems from the fact that she cannot achieve meaningful political change (or even just attach herself symbolically to it) because she lives in a democracy where the majority of people can just vote to do something else. Everything she has worked for, her entire identity as a “good person,” everything that provides meaning in her life has been destroyed just because some guys in Ohio are concerned about feeding their families.

 

This post is over, but I want to add a post script: Juliet is not even remotely Jewish. Her family is not Jewish; she has no Jewish ancestors; she has no connection to Israel. People blame a lot of stuff on Jews that I see Gentile women also doing, while plenty of religious Jews are perfectly sane people. The meaning deficit affects people of every religions/ethnic background.

Happy 500 posts! (We’re having a party) Open Thread

tjnsqlmNot counting a couple of guest posts, nor a few regularly scheduled posts that I haven’t written yet but will go up between the writing and the reading of this post, I believe I have just finished my 500th post!

(That means we are halfway to 1,000 posts!)

Since this blog would be a much duller place without my great readers and commentators, tell me about yourselves:

Where did you come from? (How did you find my blog?)

Which posts here do you like best? Like least?

What would you like to read more of?

Do you read any similar blogs (if so, which?)

Tell me something else about yourself!

In interesting links from around the web, we have:

The Oldest, most Complete Bible on Earth is in Ethiopia:

The world’s earliest known illustrated copy of the Gospels, the Garima Gospels, has been saved for centuries in a remote Ethiopian monastery.

Experts believe the Garima Gospels are also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages.

Experts believe the Garima Gospels are also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. …

Legend says he copied the Gospels in just one day because God delayed the sun from setting so the monk could finish his work. The incredible relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery, near Adwa, in northern Ethiopia at 7,000 feet.

Incidentally, Ethiopia also claims to have the Ark of the Covenant.

c2tuujzxeaamu3jMapping the Spread of Mounted Warfare, by Turchin et al.

Look at their map! Isn’t it great? Yes!

Does selection for short sleep duration explain human vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease?

Compared with other primates, humans sleep less and have a much higher prevalence of Alzheimer ’s disease (AD) pathology. This article reviews evidence relevant to the hypothesis that natural selection for shorter sleep time in humans has compromised the efficacy of physiological mechanisms that protect against AD during sleep. In particular, the glymphatic system drains interstitial fluid from the brain, removing extra-cellular amyloid beta (eAβ) twice as fast during sleep. In addition, melatonin – a peptide hormone that increases markedly during sleep – is an effective antioxidant that inhibits the polymerization of soluble eAβ into insoluble amyloid fibrils that are associated with AD. Sleep deprivation increases plaque formation and AD, which itself disrupts sleep, potentially creating a positive feedback cycle. …

unicorn sheep
unicorn sheep

And A Meta-Analysis of the Self-Control-Deviance Link:

Results

A random effects mean correlation between self-control and deviance was Mr = 0.415 for cross-sectional studies and Mr = 0.345 for longitudinal ones; this effect did not significantly differ by study design. Studies with more male participants, studies based on older or US-based populations, and self-report studies found weaker effects.

Conclusions

Substantial empirical support was found for the main argument of self-control theory and on the transdisciplinary link between self-control and measures of crime and deviance. In contrast to Pratt and Cullen, but consistent with theory, the effect from cross-sectional versus longitudinal studies did not significantly differ. There was no evidence of publication bias.

c17gyrmuoaallvaOn to Comments of the Week! (Gosh, this is hard, because you guys have left some excellent comments this week!)

August Hurtel in Democracy is America’s Religion:

But I also think it is a true observation. Democracy is damaging to Christianity. it does function like an idol.

I would have trouble with a response to ‘convert me’ too, though. Much of evangelism you see I think is caused by democracy and a sense of free resources. This idea that a sudden revival would be great- meanwhile, the average local church doesn’t have enough of an economy to handle it’s own children. Kids need to grow up and see a productive path forward, get married, and continue the church in time. Modern Christians don’t understand this, for some reason. Churches shut down due to lack of ability to think inter-generationally. Of course, this is a problem for much of secular America too. …

imnobody00 in the same thread:

Very close, but false. Democracy is not our religion. Our religion is the Enlightenment religion, which is a polytheistic religion.

The main god of this religion is the Self. The highest good is doing what the Self wants to do (instead of doing what God wants, what tradition states, what the community wants). The next god is Pleasure (derived from Self).

There are a row of second-tier gods: liberty, equality, relativism…

I also liked the other comments in this thread, but that’s enough quoting.

Over in Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories, August Hurtel notes:

If we pay attention to the history of science, we would see that it includes a huge chunk of time wherein in Christians said ‘God did it’ and then they went about trying to figure out how God did it.

This really wasn’t much of an problem until the 1800s as the revolutions supplanted what was left of the nobility, and we became stuck with bureaucrats at the apex of our societies. Now, suddenly, what you believe or don’t believe is so ridiculously important. …

and Anon opines:

I think the “race is a social construct” people are 100% right, but for the wrong reasons. Unless you’re an essentialist (which is basically a type of creationism), categories do not exist in a mind-independent way. In other words, they are socially constructed. You may cleave at the joints, but you’re still cleaving. The issue isn’t social construction, it’s whether a the construct is arbitrary or based on reality.

You say the Answers in Genesis approach to species is unobjectionable. And it is. But this just highlights the socially constructed nature of the scheme. It’s easy to think of other approaches that yield different results and are also unobjectionable. A chihuahua and a great dane can’t breed (in vivo), but it’s not due to incompatible gametes..what do we do in that case? Depending on the situation, we may wish to group dogs and wolves together, or split each into their own group, or treat dog breeds separately. …

Democracy is America’s Religion

So I was thinking the other day–Why are Westerners (particularly Americans) so introverted about their religious beliefs? I have on occasion posted “Convert Me” open threads in which I invite people to give me their best arguments for following their religion, and gotten very few enthusiastic responses. Even the Jehovah’s Witness who visited my thread only made a half-effort just to humor me, not because she actually wanted to convert me.

(I can already hear you asking: Why would I post such a thread? To which I reply, Why not? I enjoy discussing religion. If the religious are correct and I am convinced to join them, then I gain something good. If I am not convinced, then I lose nothing, for I am already an atheist. I have no reason to fear discussion with a theist.)

Mormon missionaries occasionally ring my bell. I always make an effort to be polite and listen, and even they really just want to hand me a pamphlet and hurry on to the next house.

The only people who have ever really, seriously tried to convert me are Muslims (and I must note that they did so in an entirely friendly manner.) Where the Christians ask, “Why would you want us to convert you?” and the Mormons say, “Well, I think there are lots of religions because God gave each group of people their own religion best suited to themselves,” (actual quote from a Mormon missionary, I am serious) the Muslims will happily pester you with a whole slew of websites about why Islam is correct, how the Qu’ran is full of good science, how lovely the Qu’ranic poetry is, etc.

(Of course, you’re not going to get a Jew to try to convert you unless you tell him your mother was a Jew and you really wan to return to your Jewish roots.)

Frankly, I think Americans find the whole idea of being devoutly religious–much less discussing religion with the non-devout–vaguely embarrassing. Sure, maybe that elderly lady down the block who hands out Chick Tracts instead of Halloween candy would like to talk about Jesus with you, but can’t the rest of us please just talk about football?

This blog was practically kicked off with the observation that devout Christianity is low class, while a kind of vague, multi-faith “spirituality” is the religion–if you must have one–of the upper class. A quick look at some demographic data makes the picture:

From Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/income-distribution-within-us-religious-groups/
From Pew Research Center

Not a whole lot of surprises, though I will note that it does matter how you break down the groups, and I think I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere for Muslim-Americans.

Of course the flipside of Muslims being really keen on spreading their religion is that sometimes things go quite badly and violently.

And if you’re an American (or French, or Swedish, or German, or whatever,) this feels awfully unfair, because after all, when have we ever blown anything up in Mecca in the name of Jesus?

But then I got to thinking: obviously we have bombed Muslim countries. We dropped quite a few on Iraq–and for what? For Freedom? For Democracy?

We didn’t want to convert Iraq to Christianity (not the vast majority of us, anyway.) We wanted to convert Iraq to democracy.

You know, we destroyed a perfectly innocent country–killed thousands of people–and we barely feel a pang of remorse. Why? Because we did it to help them? We though they’d be happier if they just lived in a democracy, just like your office mate with the Chick Tracts thinks you’ll be happier if you just accept Jesus as your savior and Muslims think you’ll be happier if you become a Muslim.

Christianity and Islam (or certain branches of Islam) are not at war. They can’t be at war because Christianity isn’t fighting. Not in the West, anyway. Maybe in the Philippines or South America or somewhere, but certainly not in the West.

Now here I should stop to note that several Islamic countries are democracies, more or less, and many Muslims also believe in Democracy. So this is a conflict within Islam as well as without. But this post isn’t about Islam–I am not an Islamic expert and don’t feel comfortable writing about Islamic issues.

However, this is a post about the West, and how Democracy has become our chief religion, taking the place Christianity once occupied.

(I am sure my readers are split between “Well that is nothing new; Moldbug said that ages ago,” and “What a stupid idea. Democracy can’t be a religion.”)

Trump has re-forged the old Democratic alliance of FDR, and he’s done it in the ruins of the Republican party

Those of you who remember history may recall that the South used to vote solidly Democrat. FDR and his ilk represented an alliance of poor southern farmers and norther factory workers against rich capitalists. This was the triumph of American socialism, the proletariat united against the bourgeois.

This worked until LBJ, with the Civil Rights act and Immigration Act. After LBJ, southern whites began voting Republican. Democrats haven’t gotten a majority of the white vote since LBJ. Republicans became an alliance of rural, poor, morally-oriented Christians and rich, war-mongering assholes like George W. Bush. Dems have often questioned this coalition.

Dems have been an alliance of working-class unions, college-educated, and minorities.

Trump captured the Dem’s working-class whites, who have felt increasingly alienated in a party that has been focusing on “white privilege” to the exclusion of “poor people’s economic problems.”

Whites are a steadily decreasing % of the population, and they’ll be a minority first in the Democratic party. Traditional white union concerns, exemplified by Sanders, lost out to racial politics, exemplified by Hillary’s “If we took down the banks, it still wouldn’t end systemic racism,” speech.

Trump didn’t capture a significantly larger share of the white vote than Romney did, and Romeny lost. He did snag disaffected white-collar voters in swing states who had previously voted for Obama. He simultaneously lost well-off whites, like the entire neocon establishment.

Hillary couldn’t drive turnout the way Obama did because she isn’t black or POC, and her party’s strength is now dependent on getting out the non-white vote. The Dems are increasingly, like South Africa, a party where the leaders are an ethnic minority with little legitimacy in the eyes of their base. Dems need candidates who energize their base to get the turnout they need.

(Funny that when Christian whites vote in favor of Christianity and we end up destroying Iraq, that’s sort of okay, but when poor whites vote in favor of their economic interests, that’s suddenly “racist” and people are protesting in the streets.)

Hillary lost twice now (to Obama in ’08 and Trump in ’16,) not because Americans are sexist, but because she is white.

Trump has re-forged the old Democratic alliance of FDR, and he’s done it in the ruins of the Republican party.

I’m Bloody Tired of the Classism Inherent in the Election

Is the darn thing over yet?

No?

Damn.

American politics are deeply, fundamentally classist.

Those who want to sound high-class (or are) adopt the rhetoric of the liberals. The working class go Republican.

You know what? Screw it, I don’t even want to pull up data on this. If you don’t believe me, go stick your head back in the sand and believe whatever you want. Tell yourself that you despise conservatives because they are Bad People and not because they are Low Class and not Good People Like You. And conservatives can tell themselves that they hate liberals because liberals are Bad People who Hate Americans.

In reality, of course, most people are good people (except for the one who work in HR, who should all be shot–NAHRALT, of course.)

When people hear that I write about “politics” they tend to assume that this means that I enjoy reading/debating about electoral politics. The truth is that I basically hate electoral politics.

Most of what passes for “political debate” is really just tribal signalling. Tribal signaling need not be wise, thoughtful, or factually correct; it need only signal “my tribe is better than your tribe.” I might be able to stand this kind of inanity if I felt comfortably a member of one of the big tribes and basically hated (or had no friends in) the other tribe. Of course, I have to have friends from across the economic system.

Working class and prole whites are convinced that elite whites hate them. Elite whites are convinced that prole whites hate just about everyone. And blacks, Muslims, etc., are probably pretty concerned about proles hating them, too. Family members are voting for the people they think are on their side against those bad people on the other side. Friends are voting for different people whom they think are on their side against those bad people on the other side.

Almost no one I’ve talked to is voting for a particular side because they’ve undertaken a careful study of the particular issues under discussion and decided that one of the candidates has the best policies. How many Democratic voters agree with Hillary’s stance on the Iraq War? How many Republicans agree with Trump’s opinion on the same?

The most vocal Trump supporter I know was talking about how we need to do more for immigrant children coming from Latin America just last year, and has told me that they don’t actually want to see anyone deported. They just hate liberals, and they are voting for Trump to stick it to the liberals.

No matter how I vote, someone gets fucked.

America: Unraveling at the Seams

It’s hard to concentrate on genetics when you feel like your own society is coming apart at the seams. I am very glad today that I am not in Dallas; I can only imagine what the people there (police and civilians,) must be feeling, but it can’t be good. Likewise, having seen the video of Philando Castile’s death, I am sure the African American community is likewise distressed.

From BLM to Donald Trump, racial tensions are on the rise and whites are usually blamed:

Picture 21

(This was tweeted the day after 9 police officers were shot, 5 killed, in Dallas.)

Or, more subtlely:

Cm9AymZWcAAs9PT

This post is not an exhaustive look at the dynamics of race and violence in America (I haven’t the time or resources,) but here are some links on the subject if you want them:

Slate Star Codex: Race and Justice: Much more than you wanted to know, (a review of just about everything on the subject Scott could find;) The Color of Crime, (2016 revised edition;) the Bureau of Justice crime stats website; and from the NY Times: Surprising New evidence shows bias in police use of force but not in shootings. And more, Study: BLM is wrong about police.

CnCpWS5VIAAvFuSRather, this is a quick look at the demographic reality vs the narrative:

Alton Sterling, a black man, was recently shot by police officer Howie Lake (white) and Blane Salamoni (medium-hued Italian.)

Philando Castile, (black) was recently shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez, (Hispanic.)

George Zimmerman, (Hispanic) shot Trayvon Martin (black.)

The recent spree-killing at an Oregon college that killed (IIRC,) 7 people, was committed by a black man.

The Fort Hood Army Base shooting was committed by a Muslim man. The San Bernardino Christmas Party shooting, which IIRC killed 14 people, was committed by a Muslim couple.

CmBL4F7XEAAt_GcThe Orlando shooting, which left 49 people dead, was committed by a Muslim man; most of his victims were black and Hispanic. Most likely all of his victims were gay, (but apparently the shooter himself wasn’t. I am not totally convinced, though.)

6 police officers were involved in the death of Freddie Gray, black. Half of those officers were black, half white. The entire chain of command, from the Baltimore City police force to the Attorney General to the President himself is, of course, heavily black.

Cm8-vNWVMAA3uuEPolice officer Peter Liang, Asian, killed Akai Gurley, black. The judge who threw out Liang’s guilty verdict, Danny Chun, is also Asian.

Mike Brown, black, was shot by a white cop.

Eric Gardner, black guy, strangled by white cops

Spree killer Eliot Roger was half Asian/half white.

The Virginia Tech shooter was Asian.

Mass-murderer Dylan Roof: white guy, black victims

Batman theater shooter: white guy, many victims

Cm798o-WgAAnLIOThat guy who shot up a kindergarten was white. Victims weren’t chosen by race.

Violence by protestors (Hispanic, black, and white?) against Trump supporters (mostly white.)

In the recent anti-cop violence:

The five police officers recently shot by a black guy in Dallas included 4 whites and one Hispanic (Zamarripa.)

An Asian guy ambushed a police officer (I don’t know the victim’s race.)

A black guy ambushed two police offices (victims’ race unknown.)

Black guy attacked police officer’s home, officer’s race unknown.

Three police-related people + one civilian shot at a Michigan courthouse; 2 dead.

CnGf0lvUEAAZimHWhy do people who think that whites are racist against minorities simultaneously try to increase immigration from non-white countries, instead of recommending that non-whites stay very far away? It doesn’t seem like Asians and Hispanics are refraining from shooting blacks, even if whites are the ones who get blamed for it.

Note that these are just the cases that have been prominent in the media/I have heard of/that come immediately to mind. The data, as you are probably aware, shows that most crime is of the far more conventional variety of black on black and white on white, but see all of the links above if you want real crime stats. Also, I have refrained from opining on guilt.

trust

Forgive me; I forgot where this came from. Please let me know f you recognize it so I can properly credit it.

Elections and counter-tribal signaling

338-0731191115-bush-no-new-taxes

It’s no secret that politicians make a lot of campaign promises that they don’t keep. Bush Senior promised not to raise taxes; Bush Junior promised not to engage in nation building; Bill Clinton promised to give everyone health care; Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Department of Education and not to deal with terrorists–like Nicaraguan Contras.

(Reagan apparently also once stated that “Trees cause more pollution than cars,” which makes me seriously concerned about the judgment of the American people.)

And Obama made promises like, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what,” and “I don’t want to pit Red America against Blue America. I want to be the president
 of the United States of America.”

Obviously there are many reasons campaign promises get broken, from outright lying to naive overconfidence in the president’s powers.

But I was thinking today about campaign promises–and arguments–that people voting for the candidate outright treat as false. For example, when Bush Jr. promised not to engage in nation building, Republicans did not rear that he would actually refrain from invading other countries. To the extent that anyone thought much about this promise at all, it was probably taken more as a claim to dislike the way Bill Clinton went about intervening in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. (Interesting that in all three of these cases, Clinton intervened on behalf of Muslims,) rather than the entire idea of invading other countries.

Anyone who seriously believed that Al Gore would have been a country-invading hawk and Bush Jr. an isolationist dove based on “the legacy of Clintonian nation-building” vs. Bush’s campaign promises must have been sorely disappointed–but I have never met anyone who claims to have held such views.

More recently, I’ve seen Democrats arguing that Hillary Clinton is a “conservative hawk” for her support of the Iraq War and other military interventions in the Middle East, and “a Republican” for her speech on “super predators” during the ’90s crime wave, her support for anti-crime policies that lead to the mass incarceration of African-Americans, and ’90s support of DOMA,

Meanwhile, the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, claims to have been against the Iraq war.

As I mentioned two posts ago, you can construct all sorts of “liberal” arguments in favor of Trump. “SJWs have been suppressing freedom of speech by suing bakers for refusing to bake gay marriage cakes, so Trump will restore free speech.” “Population growth => environmental destruction, and American population growth is being driven almost entirely by immigration. Therefore, if you care about Global Warming, we must Build the Wall.” “Racist, exploitative employers would rather hire illegal immigrants whom they can force to work at less than minimum wage without any benefits or safety precautions than hire blacks, whom they hate. Immigration has destroyed jobs and wages for America’s poorest and most discriminated against minorities so the 1% can get richer. Build the Wall!” “Jeb Bush wants to get into WWIII with Russia. Hillary Clinton supports the Iraq War. Only Trump will save us from nuclear armageddon!” “Amnesty for illegal immigrants punishes all of the legal immigrants for obeying the law.” “Muslims tend to favor very conservative stances on free speech, abortion, gay marriage, women, etc., so Trump’s plan to halt Muslim immigration is really in defense of liberalism.”

Of course, no one actually buys these arguments; certainly Trump’s supporters have no fear that he is secretly a raging SJW whose true concerns are the environment and African Americans. Likewise, no one on the liberal side is really afraid that Hillary Clinton will actually act like a Republican, launch Iraq 3 and promote an anti-gay and anti-black agenda. No one was really afraid that Bush Jr. would be a dove or that Obama wouldn’t help his fellow blacks. Come election day, Bernie Bros will turn out for Hillary, and Ted Cruz’s supporters will line up for Trump.

Why this disparity between what candidates say (or what people say about them) and what we actually believe?

I propose that the answer is fairly simple: tribalism. Once a candidate has established their tribalist credentials (or has the tribe securely arrayed behind them,) nothing they can say will convince members of the other tribe to vote for them, even if they are actually saying things that are explicitly meant to.

Die-hard Democrats aren’t going to vote for an evil Republican just because he happens to spout a few transparently glib platitudes on liberal values, nor will die-hard Republicans vote for an evil Democrat for the same reason.

But moderates can be swayed.

During the primaries, a candidate has to convince members of their own party to vote for them. At this stage, we should expect debates over who is the “true” liberal or “true conservative” as candidates try to outdo each other in a bid for their party’s dedicated, die-hard voters.

By the general election, candidates assume the support of their own party; they are now fighting for the nation’s moderates.

So Bush Jr. downplays his conservatism (branding himself a “compassionate conservative” and promising to eschew nation building,) in order to sound more like a moderate. The Gore campaign did similarly, leading Ralph Nader to loudly assert that there was no real difference between the two. Of course there was; in retrospect, it is almost unimaginable that a Gore presidency would have turned out identical to Bush’s.

Obama also campaigned as a moderate–he did not need to explicitly vow to pursue a pro-black agenda to get 99% of the black vote. Blacks already knew he was on their side; only moderates needed convincing.

Trump can take a position that is significantly more dovish than both the other major Republican primary candidates and Hillary Clinton and pundits still act like they think he is the most likely candidate to get into a major war, just because his personality yells “I will bomb my enemies back to the stone age.” (Meanwhile, no one takes seriously the other Republican primary candidates’ promises to get into WW3 with Russia–everyone assumes they are just lying to shore up support from their own side.)

Trump is not playing the primaries; as the front-runner, he is playing the election.

This brings us to the interesting dynamics of the Clinton/Sanders race. At the beginning of the primaries, Clinton likely believed, quite reasonably, that she was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. So Clinton has been playing her endgame for some time, trying to build up a record and reputation as a moderate–even a hawk–who can appeal to moderate conservatives.

Then came Sanders, who suddenly made her actually fight for the nomination. Sanders positioned himself as the “true liberal”–even a socialist–against Hillary’s supposed “conservatism.” The tactic has worked well for him; since Hillary can’t out-socialism Bernie, she has been forced to become more explicitly SJW as a result:

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?”
“No!” shouted her audience.
“Would that end sexism?”
“No!”
“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”
“No!”
“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”
“No!”
“Would that solve our problem with voting rights, and Republicans who are trying to strip them away from people of color, the elderly, and the young?”
“No!”

This isn’t Hillary claiming not to favor socialism so much as claiming to be even liberaler than Sanders.

Likewise, the Republican party establishment, before Trump entered the race, assumed that one of their front-runners would get the nomination, and so put their money behind three candidates with Hispanic credentials (Cruz and Rubio are actual Hispanics; Jeb is married to one and speaks Spanish,) in order to play the general election endgame and try to win the Hispanic vote away from the Democrats. This failed, however, to inspire Republican voters, who are rather crucial for wining the primaries.

Thus the eternal debate between candidates who appeal to their bases, and candidates who appeal to moderates. The more explicitly tribalist (Red Tribe or Blue Tribe) candidates motivate their base to turn out; the moderates attract more mainstream and cross-aisle votes.

Has anyone done a study on whether candidates with stronger support in the primaries (folks like Dean or Sanders, had they gotten the nomination,) do better or worse in the general election?

Donald Trump and the Death of White Identitarian Politics

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t this the beginning?”

Mainstream American conservatives (perhaps all conservatives) are essentially reactive. Not reactionary, mind. That word has a different meaning in this context. Just reactive.

Liberals come up with new ideas, and conservatives react by opposing them. Liberals are high-class, in-party; their ideas make it into university curricula and influence the nation’s movers and shakers. By the time conservatives (who do not usually run in liberal circles, nor read much from university presses,) notice a liberal idea, it has already become quite widespread. And nothing makes an idea seem old and passe quite like having it suddenly associated with the out-party, the politically low-class and uncool folks who vote Republican.

BTW, if you are the “homophobic uncle” or “racist grandma” at family functions, try to turn this into a secret power: make ideas sound bad just by talking about them. Global warming? Caused by immigrant-driven population growth! Rising wealth inequality? Clearly capitalists would rather hire illegal immigrants than pay blacks a living wage–build the wall! You support Hillary Clinton because she voted for the Iraq war! Etc.

Report back to me if it works. I’m curious.

But back on subject: the upshot of this is that by the time the Republicans notice something and start making a big deal out of it, it is already too late. The trends are already in place and moving inexorably against them.

Back in the ’80s, we witnessed the rise of the “Christian right;” throughout the 90s, “conservative” and “Republican” were synonymous with “Evangelical Christianity.” They ran on platforms that included banning abortion, reinstating prayer in school, replacing the theory of evolution with Biblical creationism in school textbooks, and general opposition to “Godless liberals.”

They have failed pretty spectacularly. While they have made some piecemeal hacks at abortion, it is still basically legal through out the country. Creationism and “Intelligent Design” have both been struck down as unconstitutional due to being blatantly religious. And you probably know the story on prayer in school even better than I do.

(This is a little disappointing coming out of a party that could count among its recent accomplishments normalizing relations with China, nuclear reduction treaties with the Soviets, and overseeing the peaceful collapse of the entire USSR.)

Conservatives of the ’80s and ’90s could tell that the country was becoming increasingly secular, and reacted accordingly by trying to force it back to religiosity. Unfortunately for them, increasingly religious => fewer and fewer people who are even interested in their religious agenda. Despite the fact that abortion is still legal and school prayer is still illegal, even conservatives have moved on to other priorities.

During Bush II, Republicans launched a big push to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The measure failed; gay marriage is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected.

No one bothered with passing an anti-gay marriage amendment back in the ’50s, when Republicans could have actually gotten the numbers necessary to do it. Since the vast majority of people thought homosexuality was immoral, there was no push to legalize gay marriage, and so no one would have bothered with passing amendments against it. Once enough people were in favor of gay marriage to put it on the national agenda, the trends were clear: soon the majority of people would favor gay marriage, and an amendment did not pass.

It was the last, desperate thrashing of a cornered beast.

Today, people have noticed–finally–that America’s demographics are changing.

Of course, the time to do something about this was before the demographics changed. In 1900, the US was about 88% white, 12% black, and <1% Hispanic. Today, whites are 64%, blacks are still 12%, and Hispanics are 16% of the population. (Asians and others comprise an additional 8%.)

According to the census bureau, in 2012, American infants were 50% white and 50% non-white–about 25% of American children are now Hispanic.

The time to care about changing US demographics was 1965, when LBJ and Ted Kennedy’s Immigration and Naturalization Act quadrupled the number of (legal) immigrants per year from 250,000 to 1 million. 1975 and 1985 would also have been good years to start caring.

In 1950, there were 500,000 Hispanics in the US. Today, there are 5o.5 million. Even if you built a wall between the US and Mexico yesterday and deported 11 million illegal immigrants, that would still leave 39 million newcomers and their children whom you cannot get rid of.

By 2050, the US will be less than half white, and American children will be only 40% white.

Interestingly, the last time a Democrat won a majority of white votes was 1964–LBJ. Republicans have been the “white” party–though they may not have realized it–since 1968.

But this does not mean that whites vote overwhelmingly for the Republicans. Even blacks occasionally vote for Republicans–about 5% of them voted for Bush II. As whites near 50%, even 10% voting for the Democrats will consign Republicans to the losers, while an identifiably “white” party will have difficulty attracting non-white voters.

No matter how much effort the Republicans put into attracting white voters (and likely they will put a great deal of effort into it over the next few elections,) the numbers are moving against them.

You can’t maintain a majority with a shrinking % of the population. (Though, of course, we are talking about a process that will take decades.)

But we live in a two-party system, and the system will re-assert itself with a new set of balanced coalitions that can win, perhaps a system that pits Hispanics and Asians against whites and blacks, or some other random thing. (I am not guessing.) But that won’t happen until the Republicans are weak enough that Democrats can safely split.

 

Presidential Poison

The Founding Fathers never intended for the President to be all that big a deal–each state was supposed to basically do its own thing and mind its own affairs, Congress was supposed to take care of the matters that required interstate coordination, and the President was just supposed to be there for those times when we really needed a single guy to do something, like present a coherent foreign policy to foreign sovereigns.

Since then, of course, the Presidency has increased both in power/scope and in the amount of attention people pay to it. People who can’t be bothered to vote for the mayor or city council that runs their cities somehow find time to watch endless news coverage of presidential debates, buy t-shirts and tote bags promoting their favorite candidates, and broadcast their presidential preferences all over every social media platform they have available to them.

I was reading this morning about cuts to the services disabled people receive in Oklahoma, and (as you might expect) more generally about economic malaise throughout Appalachia.

Whether Obama or the Democrats can do anything about joblessness in Greater Appalachia is a matter of some debate; whether they should is another. But people have gotten so fixated on their hatred of the President and the Democrats more broadly that they are willing to vote blindly for the Republicans, whether the Republicans actually accomplish their goals or not.

The inverse is also true in liberal areas, where people vote Democratic because they hate Republicans.

This fixation on hating the president instead of paying attention to and trying to improve one’s own community is a kind of poison. At best, it’s a worthless distraction; at worst, you give up your own self interest in order to symbolically defy someone living in another part of the country.

Just to give an example of such politics in action:

7% of Americans like Obamacare, but dislike the Affordable Care Act.

9% of Americans dislike Obamacare, but are fine with the Affordable Care Act.

And according to Reuters,

Reuters/Ipsos polling reveals a remarkably high level of approval for nearly all the provisions of the act, often in the 80 percent range, even though respondents oppose the legislation, commonly known as “Obamacare,” by 55 to 45.

Chances are, the average person has no idea what is actually in the bill; support or disapproval is based entirely on political identity–if you think abortion is bad, then you think “Obamacare” is also bad; if you think abortion is good, then you probably think Obamacare is also good.

Of course, this is an idiotic way to determine health care policy.

You know best your own business; second best, your friends’ and loved-ones’ businesses; worst, strangers’. We do the most good by serving our local communities–caring for our families, helping our friends, cleaning up our own streets and being decent to others. But instead we spend our energy watching TV and complaining about health care plans we don’t understand. We want to “fix” schools we’ve never set foot in, without the slightest idea what’s wrong with them. We invade other countries and expect them to thank us for the favor.

And who wins?

You? Me?

Probably not.

How many years of Republican voting have resulted in a preservation of anything Republicans hold dear? Job, society, religion?

Oh, yes, we got tax cuts for the rich.

 

Elections chose for ability to win Elections

So I was reading about the building of the trans-continental railroad (and Napoleon) and wondering to myself why so many of our politicians seem utterly lacking in leadership skills like actual competence or ability to get things done.

Napoleon rose to the top of the French Military (as far as I know,) by winning battles. Railroad tycoons got to be railroad tycoons by building railroads. Steve Jobs got to be famous by … innovating in product design? Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb and understood the necessity of building a universal power grid so he could sell them to everyone.

George Washington was a leader, not a politician. He got into office because everyone involved decided, based on the job he’d done leading the army during the Revolutionary War, that he’d be a good national leader in peacetime.

But systems have unexpected consequences–you get what you select for, not what you intend to select for. The founders wanted voters to simply come to a rational agreement about who would be the country’s best leader. Since then, we have accrued dozens of layers of complications–political parties and primary votes; super pacs and campaign ads. I have no doubt the founders would have despised it all.

In our case, the electoral system now selects for people who are good at winning elections.