Here we show that de novo origins of simple multicellularity can evolve in response to predation. We subjected outcrossed populations of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to selection by the filter-feeding predator Paramecium tetraurelia. Two of five experimental populations evolved multicellular structures not observed in unselected control populations within ~750 asexual generations. Considerable variation exists in the evolved multicellular life cycles, with both cell number and propagule size varying among isolates. Survival assays show that evolved multicellular traits provide effective protection against predation. These results support the hypothesis that selection imposed by predators may have played a role in some origins of multicellularity.
If we evolve multicellularity in response to predation, then the inverse–a loss of multicellularity, a splitting apart, can happen when predation is removed.
The Democrats have faced a bit of controversy lately over the comments of Ilhan Omar (for the non-Americans in the audience, Ilhan Omar is a recently elected representative of Somali Muslim origins.) As Politico reports:
Then, after being seated on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar was lampooned for a 2012 tweet in which she wrote during an Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
Omar then made an idiotic non apology — “she claimed ignorance of the anti-Semitic trope that conceives of Jewish hypnosis.”
Whether Omar knew it is a trope or not is irrelevant to the question of whether or not Omar was saying something anti-semitic–and even that is not necessarily grounds for an apology, because people apologize when they actually feel contrite about something. Omar most likely doesn’t.
Muslims have their interests; Jews have different interests. The existence of Israel is a big deal for Jews–it helps ensure that nasty incidents like the Holocaust don’t repeat. The existence of Israel is also a big deal for Palestinians, many of whom, I assume, would be living in the area if Jews weren’t.
Conflicts over land are nothing new in human history, and it doesn’t require a degree in astrophysics to realize that sometimes groups have conflicting interests. Americans of the non-Jewish or Muslim variety also have their own interests (many desire, for example, that Israel continue existing for their own religious reasons–not hypnosis.)
The left’s coalition requires different groups to work together (to ally) in their own self-interest, which works if they have bigger enemies to fear. It doesn’t work if they are strong enough to stand on their own feet (or if someone is too dumb to recognize the value of teamwork.) The ideological justification for allying is “intersectionality,” a term which has been bastardized well beyond its original meaning, but is now used to mean “all forms of oppression are really the same thing, so if you oppose one oppression, you must oppose them all.” So if you are against wife beating, you must also be vegan; if you are opposed to the police shooting unarmed black men, you must also be in favor of hijabs. “Interlocking systems of oppression” work to identify a single enemy, a necessary component for unifying people into something like a voting block or a military.
And it works as long as there actually is a single enemy.
It falls apart when you don’t have a single enemy, which is of course the world as it actually stands, because lots of groups have different interests and would like each other’s stuff. There isn’t actually anything magically special about cis-hetero-white-Christian-omnivorous-etc-men that makes them any more or less the oppressors of others. Over in Africa, Africans get oppressed by their fellow Africans. In Islamic countries, chickens get eaten by Muslims. In China, Christianity isn’t even remotely significant.
There is no real way to decide between these two points of view. The vast, vast majority of Muslims believe that homosexuality is a sin, and a school that goes out of its way to teach something counter to that is obviously running up against the students’ and parents’ right to their beliefs. Yet gay people also believe, with equal fervor, that homosexuality is morally respectable and they have a right to advocate on their own behalf and have a perfectly sensible desire to reach out to gay Muslims.
The difficulty with victory is you don’t need your allies anymore; like the US and the USSR at the end of WWII, victorious allies are apt to turn on each other, fighting for what remains of the spoils. This is true of everyone, not just the left–it is just more interesting when it happens on the left because I’ve been pointing out that this would happen for years.
Of course, some people react to this and say, “clearly the solution to our group splitting apart is to split our group apart; once our group is split, we will all have the same interests and no one will ever fight, just as children never fight with their siblings–hey knock it off in there STOP PUNCHING YOUR BROTHER you have to SHARE THAT TOY–“
Lack of predation => splitting doesn’t just stop at any particular level.
The other difficulty with splitting is that we live in a shrinking world. Up until the 1950s, the entire world had fewer than 3 billion people; today we have more than twice that many, and we’re still growing. Our cities are bigger, communities are expanding, transportation is better and faster, and more people have the money necessary to move to new places. More people than ever before are on the internet, watching TV, or otherwise interacting.
Voting is tribal. People vote with their group, for the interests of their group–and these groups happen to correspond surprisingly well with race and ethnicity.
This pattern has been going on for a long time–blacks have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since FDR, and whites have voted Republican since 1968. Even though whites are a majority and vote Republican, Democrats have been elected president 5 times since then.
And as far as whites are concerned, the electoral situation isn’t improving, because whites don’t have a lot of babies, and democracy is fundamentally a numbers game:
The situation is true globally, as well. As Flexible Solidarity: A comprehensive strategy for asylum and immigration in the EU reports:
“In 1980, the EU-15 had more people than sub-Saharan Africa; today, sub-Saharan Africa has twice-and-a-half as many people. Within the next two generations, sub-Saharan Africa should reach 2.5 billion people, 5 times more than Western Europe.”, h/t @SomehowUWill
Studies of the electoral behaviour of immigrants in Western Europe and North America have revealed a remarkably coherent cross-national voting pattern. Immigrants from the non-Western world hold a strong preference for left-of-centre parties. This unusual expression of group voting is so stable over time that it has been referred to as an ‘iron law’. There is, however, a dearth of scholarly research on this phenomenon. This article tests two explanations for the left-of-centre preferences of immigrants in Norway. The first is that the ideological and socio-economic composition of the immigrant electorate explains the preference for left-of-centre parties. If so, these voters’ ethnic or immigrant background is not in itself decisive on Election Day. The second hypothesis is that immigrant voters engage in group voting, in which one’s ethnic or immigrant background is significant and trumps other concerns when voting. This would express itself in a coherent voting pattern that cannot be explained by other factors. We also expect those who engage in group voting to favour candidates with similar ethnic backgrounds as themselves. The group voting hypothesis finds the strongest support. The immigrant vote appears to be driven by group adherence, rather than by ideology or social background.
This paper examined the election and voting pattern in Nigeria with particular reference to 2015 Governorship election in Bauchi state. … The findings of the research empirically proved that voting pattern in Bauchi state is more greatly influenced by ethnic and kinship affiliation than party, issues and ideology. On the basis of findings of this study, it is recommended that, there is urgent need for public enlightenment by appropriate authorities on the dangers of voting based ethnic consideration. Voting a candidates is supposed be based on credibility and competence of contestant not ethnicity, religion and other parochial sentiments.
Canadian politicians make a point of courting immigrant voting blocs far more than their counterparts in the U.S., Kurl said. “They haven’t really figured out marginal minority politics in the way Canadians have,” she said in a telephone interview. “The parties in Canada at least pay lip service to, or really do double down on, courting and franchising the minority vote.”
Other Angus Reid polling found Trudeau won the overall immigrant vote due to a substantial lead among recent immigrants. The agency also found that its polling category of “other” religions — including Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist voters — skewed heavily for Trudeau.
Canada also has a number of regional parties, such as the famous Bloc Québécois.
Do Kenyans vote according to ethnic identities or policy interests? Based on results from a national probability sample survey conducted in December 2007, this article shows that, while ethnic origins drive voting patterns, elections in Kenya amount to more than a mere ethnic census. We start by reviewing how Kenyans see themselves, which is mainly in non-ethnic terms. We then report on how they see others, whom they fear will organize politically along ethnic lines. People therefore vote defensively in ethnic blocs, but not exclusively.
In recent years immigrant origin ethnic minorities have become a non-negligible electoral group in Belgian cities. … We investigate whether non-EU immigrant origin voters have a particular party preference which cannot be explained by other background variables such as educational level or socio-economic position. We also look into the issue of preferential voting for candidates of immigrant origin. According to the theory on political opportunity structures, one would expect a lesser importance of ethnic voting in the Belgian context (in which ethnic mobilisation is discursively discouraged). Ethnic voting, however, turns out to be quite important in the Brussels’ context.
The only major exceptions I can think of to this pattern are countries that are very homogeneous or have no elections.
The ideal of democracy holds that people vote for the ideas and policies they think will be best for the country. Tribalism destroys this ideal, because people start voting for whatever benefits their own group, even if it hurts everyone else. Democracy works if everyone feels like they have a stake in the system; it breaks down if people become convinced that the other side is betraying them or if they won’t vote against an obviously corrupt and incompetent leader just because he’s part of their tribe.
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” –James Bovard
Tribal voting is why you’ve been so stressed since Trump got elected–Trump is your tribe’s enemy.
Now please imagine, for a minute, that you believe a crazy idea like “abortion is murder” or “we should talk about Jesus, a lot, in public.” I know, I know, just roll with it. These are values that really matter to Republicans, just as your values matter to you. Suppose, also, that you live in a Red State where the majority of people vote for conservative policies. This is your culture, your people, and you’re happy with things the way they are.
Now take a look at the maps at the top of the post. What happens when a few million Hispanics move into your state?
It flips from Red to Blue.
That’s what happened to California, homeland of Ronald Reagan.
“Sounds great! I didn’t like Reagan anyway.”
Yes, but put yourself in their shoes and think strategically. If the majority of non-whites vote for the Democrats, why would a Republican want any immigration from any non-white country? The perception that Democrats are trying to rig the system by importing voters only leads to increased polarization and anger on the other side.
We can reverse this thought experiment. Let’s suppose you’re a Democrat. You want Affirmative Action, gay marriage, abortion, and legal protections for trans people. And you live in a Blue State where all of this is pretty much guaranteed. You vote your conscience and you like it here.
Now suppose a few million very conservative Russians immigrate and flip the place Red. No more gay marriage. No more abortion. Affirmative Action for Russians, not blacks.
Even if you love Russians as people, you might come to the conclusion that more Russian immigration is not in your self-interest. You might even come to the conclusion that since America is your country and not Russia’s country, that you have a right to vote for a self-interested immigration policy that limits the number of hyper-conservative Russians showing up in your neighborhood.
And thus we have tribal voting.
“But that’s hypothetical Russians,” I hear you saying. “Who cares if 90% of blacks vote for the Democrats? They’re just voting for their own self-interest. I don’t care about tribal voting.”
For starters, I don’t believe you. I think you care deeply about tribal voting.
90% of blacks voting for the Democrats is usually regarded as fine and dandy. Appropriate. A logical response to white racism.
For the past two years, the American left has been haunted by a number: 53. It is the percentage of white women who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. In the sectors of the left where the figure and its implications have become a perennial theme, the number is treated both as disappointing and darkly unsurprising, a reflection of the conventional wisdom that white women would rather choose the racism espoused by the Republican party than join in the moral coalition represented by men of color and other women.
And that’s just women–do you think it is morally acceptable for white men to vote overwhelmingly for Trump? Or is that racist?
Even though his opponent was a white woman?
In reality, everyone is okay with tribal voting for their own side and deeply disturbed by tribal voting by their enemies: tribalism for me, not for thee.
This doesn’t happen because we’re in a democracy–once one side starts voting tribally, the other side will follow. Let’s take the simplified case where our population is 90% whites, who are split evenly between two parties, and 10% blacks, who vote Democratic. In this case, the Democrats capture 55% of the vote and win every time.
Of course, Republicans aren’t going to put up with this–they’ll change their policies to attract more voters from the middle ground. Since even conservative blacks vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the easiest group to win over is centrist whites. If 56% of whites vote for the Republicans, then the Republicans win.
In 2018, 77% of Asians and 70% of Hispanics voted for the Democrats. As the white share of the population has decreased relative to nonwhite populations that vote more Democratic, Republicans have had to capture an increasingly larger share of the White vote to remain electorally competitive.
(You are fooling yourself if you think the Republicans can make a more appealing offer to black and immigrant voters than the Civil Rights Act. Maybe they could pass “mass reparations,” but then they would lose most of their white base. Remember, the black voting pattern has been stable for over 50 years–if Republicans could figure out a way to attract black voters without losing whites, they would.)
But attracting a larger percent of the white electorate shifts the Republicans to an even more obviously white-favoring party, the Democrats even more obviously to the non-white party: tribalism intensifies.
White votes were split between the two parties about 50-50 in the 1970s — but in elections since 2000, that has become closer to 60-40 in favor of the Republican Party.
“But purposefully trying to attract more white voters is immoral! Republicans should act morally–just resign themselves to losing, with dignity, forever.”
This is not going to happen. If you set up the rules for the game so that the only way for your opponents to win is by being immoral, then you shouldn’t act surprised when your opponents behave immorally.
In a multi-ethnic democracy, if you don’t play the tribal voting game, you lose.
“Eh, groups voting their interest all works out for the best in the end.”
Tribal voting is terrible.
Tribal voting makes people anxious. It makes people cranky. It convinces people that if their enemies get into power, they will be slaughtered. We saw this in 2016 when liberals were convinced that Trump’s election meant trans and LGBT people would be dying in the streets. Well, it’s been two years and I’ve yet to see any rivers of blood, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrational to fear your enemies getting into power.
That same anxiety was at play in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, when a white nationalist became convinced that Jews were promoting Hispanic immigration in order to flood the electorate with Democratic voters and responded by murdering 11 people.
Tribalism is ugly.
What happens to multi-ethnic democracies?
Do you remember Yugoslavia?
In 1980, Yugoslavia was a poor but peaceful country in central Europe (Belgrade is further west than Helsinki.) Demographically, it was about 36% Serb, 20% Croat, 9% Muslims (mostly Bosniaks), 8% Slovenes and Albanians, 6% Macedonians, etc.
Then Tito died, ethnic factions began voting, Milosevic road a wave of Serbian anxiety to power, and in a move that still confounds quick summaries, the entire country fell apart.
A dominant minority is a minority group that has overwhelming political, economic, or cultural dominance in a country, despite representing a small fraction of the overall population (a demographic minority).
Examples of market dominant minorities include:
Ashkenazi Jews, 2/3s of whom were killed in the Holocaust.
The Tutsis of Rwanda, 70% of whom were killed in 3 months in 1994.
The Alawites of Syria, who have been under attack by ISIS (of course, ISIS attacks everyone who isn’t ISIS, but the Alawites constitute Assad’s ruling government, so if they fall, they’ll be slaughtered.)
You might have noticed a trend. Market dominant minorities do great–until they don’t.
Back to America:
In America today, Democrats are the inner party–the party of the bureaucracy, the party that runs all of the government’s actual day-to-day functions–and Democrats are explicitly “anti-racist“. This is how we know America is not a white-supremacist state.
Republicans are pro-white (in the sense of not being anti-white), but they’re the outer party. Sure, sometimes they gain control of this or that branch of government, but the inner party always thwarts the majority of their agenda. This is why, despite Trump being president and having a Republican-controlled Congress for two years, not a single issue of importance to conservative voters has passed–not Trump’s narrow “Muslim ban,” much less a complete ban on all Muslim immigration; not the wall; not a halt to illegal immigration; no abortion ban. Gay and trans rights have not been rolled back; affirmative action has not been outlawed. No one has been nuked. The Federal government has not been reduced in size until you can drag it, kicking and screaming, to a tub and drown it.
If Trump had any real power, antifa would be mowed down by tanks.
So we have a situation where whites are hurtling toward market dominant minority status and the inner party is anti-white.
This is a bad combination.
“You’re just afraid that POCs are going to do to whites all of the terrible stuff they’ve done to POCs, aren’t you?”
I am far more afraid of people whipping up irrational, unfounded ethnic hatred simply because it nets them short-term economic, social, or political benefits than I am of Native Americans accidentally infecting Europe with diseases that wipe out 90% of the population.
You know, like in Rwanda. And Germany. And Yugoslavia.
“But whites have it coming,” I hear you saying. “They deserve it for all the things they’ve done to other people. Besides, we’re a nation of immigrants.”
If you’ll excuse me, I’d prefer it not be my head on the chopping block. I don’t think you want it to be yours, either.
The idea that whites are uniquely evil on the scale of human history–that non-whites have never enslaved, conquered, or committed genocide–is ahistoric nonsense. The Mongol invasions killed an incredible 5% of the world’s population, and 1 in 200 people alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan’s immediate family, but Mongolia still builds enormous statues in honor of Genghis Khan, because Mongolia isn’t sorry.
Non-whites did not simply spring from the earth fully-formed in the places they currently reside, sit down, and never move. The Inuit conquered and killed off the Dorset (the “Skraelings” the Vikings met and wrote about.) The Aztecs conquered and atetheir neighbors. The Bantus are not the original inhabitants of central, western, and southern Africa–they conquered it, killing the original Bushman (San) and Pygmy inhabitants as they went. The “Taiwanese” are not the original inhabitants of Taiwan–the Aboriginal Taiwanese are, but immigration of Han Chinese since the 1600s has reduced them to a mere 2% of the island’s population.
If America is a “nation of immigrants,” then so is Taiwan, so is Japan and so is India. The Navajo and the Inuit are immigrants. We’re all immigrants because all human groups have moved around in the the past 300,000 years.
That doesn’t mean we want to be conquered.
“Wait. Wait. America isn’t going to descend into anarchy and genocide. Forget what I said earlier. We’re just going to turn into California–the progressive wave of the future!”
I assume by “progressive utopia” you mean “a place with social and economic policies that make life better for everyone, especially the poor and oppressed.”
Unfortunately, California has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the nation. In other words, while California does have a lot of billionaires, it also has a lot of really poor people. (This explains LA’s typhus outbreak.)
Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest public school system in the country, is more than a sprawling collection of campuses — it’s one of the nation’s largest depositories of child poverty. About 80% of the more than 600,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. When I heard from Supt. Austin Beutner that nearly a quarter of the students at Telfair last year were classified as homeless, I began visiting the school and the neighborhood, hoping to give some human shape to the numbers. …
But the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the decades, said fifth-grade teacher Sandra Tejeda, a former Telfair student who has taught there for 29 years. Tejeda still lives down the street from the school in the house she grew up in.
“Oh my goodness, things were beautiful,” Tejeda told me as we sat in her classroom after school one day. “People had front lawns, everybody owned their house, we knew who was in each house and we knew we were safe.” …
“It used to be single families,” said first-grade teacher Gricelda Gutierrez, another former Telfair student who stopped by Tejeda’s class to join our conversation. “Now you see multiple families in a home, in a garage, in makeshift shanties.”
But perhaps these newcomers are just starting out poor and on their way up, destined for California’s upper class? Some of them are, of course, but overall, California’s economic mobility is only average–the low immigration states of the upper great plains have America’s highest rates of economic mobility. Meanwhile, California has some of the nation’s most expensive housing–cutting its poorer citizens out of the equity game.
The only reason people think California is nice is because as the rich hoard all off the housing, the poor leave:
Over a million more people moved out of California from 2006 to 2016 than moved in, according to a new report, due mainly to the state’s infamously high housing costs, which hit lower-income people hardest. …
Housing costs are much higher in California than in other states, yet wages for workers in the lower income brackets aren’t. And the state attracts more highly educated high-earners who can afford pricey homes.
California is such a paradise that the people progressives are supposedly helping are straight up leaving, but hey it’s great because immigration flipped it Blue and put the Democrats in power.
What happens when we run out of states for people fleeing failed policies?
“Okay,” you say, “maybe there are some potential downsides, but what do you want? Closed borders? White supremacy? An ethno-state?”
Look, I’m just the messenger. I’m trying to warn people. This is like asking what to do about Global Warming. There’s not a lot you can do–besides invest in Alaska.
Even if you close the border today, major demographic shifts are already underway inside the US. Besides, the US can’t get its act together and agree to shut down the border with an actual caravan of people marching toward it.
The demographic trends point to the US becoming Mexico 2.0 within a few decades. A few whites will move to places like Idaho or Montana, but these places will remain unattractive to most because they are not economic powerhouses, and anywhere that does become an economic powerhouse will quickly attract outsiders.
I believe in Aristotelian ethical moderation, and I want neither open borders nor mass expulsions. I want to minimize ethnic tensions.
Right now, we’re fighting for seats in the lifeboats on a sinking ship when we could just fix the ship.
Recognize that the tension/anxiety you are feeling is a result of democratic voting systems inherently dividing on ethnic lines, not a result of Republicans or Democrats being uniquely evil.
This is a global phenomenon, not limited to the US.
Recognize that mass immigration cannot continue indefinitely as global population keeps growing–there is a limit to how many people can fit in a country before you run out of food and water.
Let the other side have a little space for themselves, where they can run their lives the way they want without getting in a fight with you.
Promote incentive structures that solve human problems by aligning with good behavior rather than conflict.
“What on Earth does that mean?”
Democracy incentivizes conflict. That’s how it works. If one political party came out in favor of cute puppies and kittens, the other party would rail against rabies and dog bites. You’d have pundits on TV demanding to know why the president won’t stop the epidemic of pitbulls eating babies. The first party would demonize the other as a bunch of fanatics who want to load unwanted pets into gas chambers at the local for-profit kill shelter.
Now imagine a system where most of the day-to-day running of the local municipality is done by a local for-profit institution, similar to a university.
Most people I talk to’s strongest sense of nationalism is attached not to their country, state, or even city, but to the college or university they attended. I therefore conclude that universities are doing something that appeals to people’s basic sense of tribal identity, even though they are not democracies–maybe because they are not.
Maybe Elon Musk and Peter Thiel buy up a bunch of land, attract investors, build houses and schools, and the next thing you know, you have Irvine, California:
In 1864, an investor named James Irvine bought a big tract of California land. Over the next century, his heirs formed a group called The Irvine Company to develop it further. They got their big break in 1959, when James’ grandson Myford Irvine cut a deal with the University of California to build a college on the still mostly-empty land, virtually guaranteeing it would grow into a town. The Company planned out their ideal urban utopia, raised some money, and built it according to plan. Now Irvine is the 16th largest city in California, and Irvine Company head Donald Bren has $16.3 billion and is the 80th richest person in the US. Irvine consistently tops various “best city” and “highest quality of life” rankings and manages to balance some density (the listed density of 4,000 is probably an underestimate because of the deliberately preserved wilderness areas; other parts are much denser including a few 20-story buildings) with a very safe, suburban feel. It’s also very good at attracting tech companies: Blizzard, Broadcom, Allergan, and the US headquarters of Samsung, Sega and Toshiba are all located there. It’s also an outlier in new housing construction, growing its housing stock at (informalestimate) 5% per year – twice the rate of Austin, three times that of Seattle, and five to ten times that of San Francisco.
China is doing something that will likely turn out similarly in Africa:
Universities are nice places. Since people pay to attend them, they work hard to attract students. If students decide they don’t like a particular university, they can leave, or apply elsewhere. The ability to chose your university is powerful–and students at almost every level have many options available.
Neocameralism is a proposed political system (coined by Moldbug) in which states are essentially corporations; to the extent there is voting, it is done by shareholders to elect the CEO. There are many potential problems with such a system, I admit, (mostly the difficulty with getting the federal government to let people try it, which is why such states are most likely to be founded outside the US,) but there are also many upsides–chiefly, clear ownership.
When a thing is jointly owned by many people with no clear ownership, we end up with tragedy of the commons; in many neighborhoods, we have the Tragedy of the NIMBY.
The Tragedy of the NIMBY states that when ownership spread widely and authority is unclear, people default to doing nothing because they see themselves as more likely to suffer from wrong decisions than to benefit from good ones. If no one derives a direct, obvious benefit from development, then everyone demands the ability to veto new development–and nothing gets built. Infrastructure crumbles, new housing gets nixed, liability looms on every corner.
Neocameralism proposes to fix this problem by giving people–investors–a clear ownership stake and thus clear benefits from local improvements.
Not all neocameralist states need to look like Irvine or your local college. Some might look like Singapore, others like Vermont. There are thousands of potential state designs. Nor do neocameralist states need to be entirely independent–some sort of mutual defense pact seems very reasonable. The point is just to align people’s incentives so they provide good governance–good roads, excellent hospitals, clean air, etc.–not exacerbate ethnic tensions.
Our society has managed to simultaneously discover identity politics and that identity groups tend to vote together:
“We’re just like you! Make society friendlier to us!”
“Okay, but why do you all vote for the party I don’t like?”
Even when you control for ideology, ethnic voting still shows up. This graph shows only conservatives–conservative blacks are still extremely unlikely to vote for Republicans. Conservative Asians and Hispanics actually do vote Republican on balance (in this particular poll), but about 40% of them still voted for the Democrat.
Non-Jewish whites are the most loyal conservative voters, even among self-professed conservatives.
The problem with immigration is that we live in a democracy.
Republicans now regard immigration as a massive attempt to demographically swamp the electorate by bringing in new voters who’ll vote Democrat because this is the functional result of immigration. Whether intentional or not, that is absolutely what it does.
Identity politics and awareness of identity-based voting are incompatible. “We’re just like you, we just vote for everything you hate,” is not a winning argument.
Polite society often requires politely not noticing or not pointing out other people’s differences. A store clerk helps an customer find a “flattering dress” without mentioning the customer’s obesity. A teacher helps students catch up in school without calling them stupid. And we don’t mention that different ethnic groups have different political ideas.
“They’re just like us,” and “I don’t see race,” are both lies people tell to try to get along in large, multi-ethnic societies. Obviously ethnic and racial differences are easy to see, and different groups have different cultures with their own norms, values, and beliefs. Chinese culture is different from Ghanian culture is different from Chilean culture is different from gay culture is different from video game culture, and so on.
The pretty little lie of democracy is the idea that people vote based on rational, well-thought out ideas about how government should be run. In reality, they vote their self-interest, and most people see their self-interest lying in solidarity with others in their ethnic group. Even when they aren’t voting pure self-interest, cultural similarities still result in voting similarities.
The insistence that people must see race was accompanied by increased demands for racially-based benefits/an end to racially-based harms–that is, the change was triggered by a perception that being more racially aware would benefit minorities. But this leads, in turn, to increased visibility of ethnic voting patterns, explicit vote-counting by ethnicity, and ethnic voting conflict.
Admit that ethnic differences are real and that everyone is voting in their own self-interest.
Admit that ethnic differences are real and get rid of voting.
Option One is the Left’s strategy. These are the folks who insist that “race is a social construct” but at the same time that “white fragility” is real and that “whiteness needs to be abolished.” They’ll also threaten to send you to gulag for stating that Affirmative Action exists because blacks score worse than whites on the SAT. (True story.)
Option Two is the Alt-Right strategy. If the Pittsburgh shooter’s motive remains opaque to you, here it is: the majority of US Jews vote Democrat and support immigration policies that will continue giving Democrats a majority.
Option Three is NeoReaction aka neocameralism. Remove voting and you remove the incentive to shoot each other over demographic cheating (perceived or not.)
(This blog favors Option Three, the strategy that doesn’t involve shooting each other, but we understand why others might not.)
ETA: Perhaps there ought to be an Option Four: People stop arguing so much and try harder to get along. I’m not sure exactly how this would come about, but I know there are people who believe in it.
Make no mistake: Nichols is annoyingly arrogant. He draws a rather stark line between “experts” (who know things) and everyone else (who should humbly limit themselves to voting between options defined for them by the experts.) He implores people to better educate themselves in order to be better voters, but has little patience for autodidacts and bloggers like myself who are actually trying.
But arrogance alone doesn’t make someone wrong.
Nichols’s first thesis is simple: most people are too stupid or ignorant to second-guess experts or even contribute meaningfully to modern policy discussions. How can people who can’t find Ukraine on a map or think we should bomb the fictional city of Agrabah contribute in any meaningful way to a discussion of international policy?
It was one thing, in 1776, to think the average American could vote meaningfully on the issues of the day–a right they took by force, by shooting anyone who told them they couldn’t. Life was less complicated in 1776, and the average person could master most of the skills they needed to survive (indeed, pioneers on the edge of the frontier had to be mostly self-sufficient in order to survive.) Life was hard–most people engaged in long hours of heavy labor plowing fields, chopping wood, harvesting crops, and hauling necessities–but could be mastered by people who hadn’t graduated from elementary school.
But the modern industrial (or post-industrial) world is much more complicated than the one our ancestors grew up in. Today we have cars (maybe even self-driving cars), electrical grids and sewer systems, atomic bombs and fast food. The speed of communication and transportation have made it possible to chat with people on the other side of the earth and show up on their doorstep a day later. The amount if specialized, technical knowledge necessary to keep modern society running would astonish the average caveman–even with 15+ years of schooling, the average person can no longer build a house, nor even produce basic necessities like clothes or food. Most of us can’t even make a pencil.
Even experts who are actually knowledgeable about their particular area may be completely ignorant of fields outside of their expertise. Nichols speaks Russian, which makes him an expert in certain Russian-related matters, but he probably knows nothing about optimal high-speed rail networks. And herein lies the problem:
The American attachment to intellectual self-reliance described by Tocqueville survived for nearly a century before falling under a series of assaults from both within and without. Technology, universal secondary education, the proliferation of specialized expertise, and the emergence of the United States a a global power in the mid-twentieth century all undermined the idea… that the average American was adequately equipped either for the challenges of daily life or for running the affairs of a large country.
… the political scientist Richard Hofstadter wrote that “the complexity of modern life has steadily whittled away the functions the ordinary citizen can intelligently and competently perform for himself.”
… Somin wrote in 2015 that the “size and complexity of government” have mad it “more difficult for voters with limited knowledge to monitor and evaluate the government’s many activities. The result is a polity in which the people often cannot exercise their sovereignty responsibly and effectively.”
In other words, society is now too complex and people too stupid for democracy.
Nichols’s second thesis is that people used to trust experts, which let democracy function, but to day they are less trusting. He offers no evidence other than his general conviction that this change has happened.
He does, however, detail the way he thinks that 1. People have been given inflated egos about their own intelligence, and 2. How our information-delivery system has degenerated into misinformational goo, resulting in the trust-problems he believes we are having These are interesting arguments and worth examining.
A bit of summary:
Indeed, maybe the death of expertise is a sign of progress. Educated professionals, after all, no longer have a stranglehold on knowledge. The secrets of life are no longer hidden in giant marble mausoleums… in the past, there was less tress between experts and laypeople, but only because citizen were simply unable to challenge experts in any substantive way. …
Participation in political, intellectual, and scientific life until the early twentieth century was far more circumscribed, with debates about science, philosophy, and public policy all conducted by a small circle of educated males with pen and ink. Those were not exactly the Good Old Days, and they weren’t that long ago. The time when most people didn’t finish highschool, when very few went to college, and only a tiny fraction of the population entered professions is still within living memory of many Americans.
Aside from Nichols’s insistence that he believes modern American notions about gender and racial equality, I get the impression that he wouldn’t mind the Good Old Days of genteel pen-and-ink discussions between intellectuals. However, I question his claim that participation in political life was far more circumscribed–after all, people voted, and politicians liked getting people to vote for them. People anywhere, even illiterate peasants on the frontier or up in the mountains like to gather and debate about God, politics, and the meaning of life. The question is less “Did they discuss it?” and more “Did their discussions have any effect on politics?” Certainly we can point to abolition, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the Revolution itself as heavily grass-roots movements.
But continuing with Nichols’s argument:
Social changes only in the past half century finally broke down old barriers of race, class, and sex not only between Americans and general but also between uneducated citizens and elite expert in particular. A wide circle of debate meant more knowledge but more social friction. Universal education, the greater empowerment of women and minorities, the growth of a middle class, and increased social mobility all threw a minority of expert and the majority of citizens into direct contact, after nearly two centuries in which they rarely had to interact with each other.
And yet the result has not been a greater respect for knowledge, but the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else.
Nichols is distracting himself with the reflexive racial argument; the important change he is highlighting isn’t social but technical.
I’d like to quote a short exchange from Our Southern Highlanders, an anthropologic-style text written about Appalachia about a century ago:
The mountain clergy, as a general rule, are hostile to “book larnin’,” for “there ain’t no Holy Ghost in it.” One of them who had spent three months at a theological school told President Frost, “Yes, the seminary is a good place ter go and git rested up, but ’tain’t worth while fer me ter go thar no more ’s long as I’ve got good wind.”
It used to amuse me to explain how I knew that the earth was a sphere; but one day, when I was busy, a tiresome old preacher put the everlasting question to me: “Do you believe the earth is round?” An impish perversity seized me and I answered, “No—all blamed humbug!” “Amen!” cried my delighted catechist, “I knowed in reason you had more sense.”
But back to Nichols, who really likes the concept of expertise:
One reason claims of expertise grate on people in a democracy is that specialization is necessarily exclusive. WHen we study a certain area of knowledge or spend oulives in a particular occupation, we not only forego expertise in othe jobs or subjects, but also trust that other pople in the community know what they’re doing in thei area as surely as we do in our own. As much as we might want to go up to the cockpit afte the engine flames out to give the pilots osme helpful tips, we assume–in part, ebcause wehave to–that tye’re better able to cope with the problem than we are. Othewise, our highly evovled society breaks down int island sof incoherence, where we spend our time in poorly infomed second-guessing instead of trusting each other.
This would be a good point to look at data on overall trust levels, friendship, civic engagement, etc (It’s down. It’s all down.) and maybe some explanations for these changes.
Nichols talks briefly about the accreditation and verification process for producing “experts,” which he rather likes. There is an interesting discussion in the economics literature on things like the economics of trust and information (how do websites signal that they are trustworthy enough that you will give them your credit card number and expect to receive items you ordered a few days later?) which could apply here, too.
Nichols then explores a variety of cognitive biases, such a superstitions, phobias, and conspiracy theories:
Conspiracy theories are also a way for people to give meaning to events that frighten them. Without a coherent explanation for why terrible thing happen to innocent people, they would have to accept such occurence as nothing more than the random cruelty either of an uncaring universe or an incomprehensible deity. …
The only way out of this dilemma is to imagine a world in which our troubles are the fault of powerful people who had it within their power to avert such misery. …
Just as individual facing grief and confusion look for reasons where none may exist, so, too, will entire societies gravitate toward outlandish theories when collectively subjected to a terrible national experience. Conspiracy theories and flawed reasoning behind them …become especially seductive “in any society that has suffered an epic, collectively felt trauma. In the aftermath, millions of people find themselves casting about for an answer to the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people.” …
Today, conspiracy theories are reaction mostly to the economic and social dislocations of globalization…This is not a trivial obstacle when it comes to the problems of expert engagement with the public: nearly 30 percent of Americans, for example, think “a secretive elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world” …
Obviously stupid. A not-secret elite with a globalist agenda already rules the world.
and 15 percent think media or government add secret mind controlling technology to TV broadcasts. (Another 15 percent aren’t sure about the TV issue.)
It’s called “advertising” and it wants you to buy a Ford.
Anyway, the problem with conspiracy theories is they are unfalsifiable; no amount of evidence will ever convince a conspiracy theorist that he is wrong, for all evidence is just further proof of how nefariously “they” are constructing the conspiracy.
Then Nichols gets into some interesting matter on the difference between stereotypes and generalizations, which segues nicely into a tangent I’d like to discuss, but it probably deserves its own post. To summarize:
Sometimes experts know things that contradict other people’s political (or religious) beliefs… If an “expert” finding or field accords with established liberal values, EG, the implicit association test found that “everyone is a little bit racist,” which liberals already believed, then there is an easy mesh between what the academics believe and the rest of their social class.
If their findings contradict conservative/low-class values, EG, when professors assert that evolution is true and “those low-class Bible-thumpers in Oklahoma are wrong,” sure, they might have a lot of people who disagree with them, but those people aren’t part of their own social class/the upper class, and so not a problem. If anything, high class folks love such finding, because it gives them a chance to talk about how much better they are than those low-class people (though such class conflict is obviously poisonous in a democracy where those low-class people can still vote to Fuck You and Your Global Warming, Too.)
But if the findings contradict high-class/liberal politics, then the experts have a real problem. EG, if that same evolution professor turns around and says, “By the way, race is definitely biologically real, and there are statistical differences in average IQ between the races,” now he’s contradicting the political values of his own class/the upper class, and that becomes a social issue and he is likely to get Watsoned.
Jordan Peterson isn’t unpopular or “silenced” so much as he is disliked by upper class folks and liked by “losers” and low class folks, despite the fact that he is basically an intellectual guy and isn’t peddling a low-class product. Likewise, Fox News is just as much part of The Media as NPR, (if anything, it’s much more of the Media) but NPR is higher class than Fox, and Fox doesn’t like feeling like its opinions are being judged along this class axis.
For better or for worse (mostly worse) class politics and political/religious beliefs strongly affect our opinions of “experts,” especially those who say things we disagree with.
But back to Nichols: Dunning-Kruger effect, fake cultural literacy, and too many people at college. Nichols is a professor and has seen college students up close and personal, and has a low opinion of most of them. The massive expansion of upper education has not resulted in a better-educated, smarter populace, he argues, but a populace armed with expensive certificates that show the sat around a college for 4 years without learning much of anything. Unfortunately, beyond a certain level, there isn’t a lot that more school can do to increase people’s basic aptitudes.
Colleges get money by attracting students, which incentivises them to hand out degrees like candy–in other words, students are being lied to about their abilities and college degrees are fast becoming the participation trophies for the not very bright.
Nichols has little sympathy for modern students:
Today, by contrast, students explode over imagined slights that are not even remotely int eh same category as fighting for civil rights or being sent to war. Students now build majestic Everests from the smallest molehills, and they descend into hysteria over pranks and hoaxes. In the midst of it all, the students are learning that emotions and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert, or intellectual will ever be able to breach.
At Yale in 2015, for example, a house master’s wife had the temerity to tell minority students to ignore Halloween costumes they thought offensive. This provoked a campus wide temper tantrum that included professors being shouted down by screaming student. “In your position as master,” one student howled in a professor’s face, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students… Do you understand that?!”
Quietly, the professor said, “No, I don’t agree with that,” and the student unloaded on him:
“Then why the [expletive] did you accept the position?! Who the [expletive] hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!” [emphasis added]
Yale, instead of disciplining students in violation of their own norms of academic discourse, apologized to the tantrum throwers. The house master eventually resigned from his residential post…
To faculty everywhere, the lesson was obvious: the campus of a top university is not a place for intellectual exploration. It is a luxury home, rented for four to six years, nine months at a time, by children of the elite who may shout at faculty as if they’re berating clumsy maids in a colonial mansion.
The incident Nichols cites (and similar ones elsewhere,) are not just matters of college students being dumb or entitled, but explicitly racial conflicts. The demand for “safe spaces” is easy to ridicule on the grounds that students are emotional babies, but this misses the point: students are carving out territory for themselves on explicitly racial lines, often by violence.
Nichols, though, either does not notice the racial aspect of modern campus conflicts or does not want to admit publicly to doing so.
Nichols moves on to blame TV, especially CNN, talk radio, and the internet for dumbing down the quality of discourse by overwhelming us with a deluge of more information than we can possibly process.
Referring back to Auerswald and The Code Economy, if automation creates a bifurcation in industries, replacing a moderately-priced, moderately available product with a stream of cheap, low-quality product on the one hand and a trickle of expensive, high-quality products on the other, good-quality journalism has been replaced with a flood of low-quality crap. The high-quality end is still working itself out.
Accessing the Internet can actually make people dumber than if they had never engaged a subject at all. The very act of searching for information makes people think they’ve learned something,when in fact they’re more likely to be immersed in yet more data they do not understand. …
When a group of experimental psychologists at Yale investigated how people use the internet, they found that “people who search for information on the Web emerge from the process with an inflated sense of how much they know–even regarding topic that are unrelated to the ones they Googled.” …
How can exposure to so much information fail to produce at least some kind of increased baseline of knowledge, if only by electronic osmosis? How can people read so much yet retain so little? The answer is simple: few people are actually reading what they find.
As a University College of London (UCL) study found, people don’t actually read the articles they encounter during a search on the Internet. Instead, they glance at the top line or the first few sentences and then move on. Internet users, the researchers noted, “Are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed, there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”
The internet’s demands for instant updates, for whatever headlines generate the most clicks (and thus advertising revenue), has upset the balance of speed vs. expertise in the newsroom. No longer have reporters any incentive to spend long hours carefully writing a well-researched story when such stories pay less than clickbait headlines about racist pet costumes and celebrity tweets.
I realize it seems churlish to complain about the feast of news and information brought to us by the Information Age, but I’m going to complain anyway. Changes in journalism, like the increased access to the Internet and to college education, have unexpectedly corrosive effects on the relationship between laypeople and experts. Instead of making people better informed, much of what passes for news in the twenty-first century often leaves laypeople–and sometimes experts–even more confused and ornery.
Experts face a vexing challenge: there’s more news available, and yet people seem less informed, a trend that goes back at least a quarter century. Paradoxically, it is a problem that is worsening rather than dissipating. …
As long ago as 1990, for example, a study conducted by the Pew Trust warned that disengagement from important public questions was actually worse among people under thirty, the group that should have been most receptive to then-emerging sources of information like cable television and electronic media. This was a distinct change in American civic culture, as the Pew study noted:
“Over most of the past five decades younger members of the public have been at least as well informed as older people. In 1990, that is no longer the case. … “
Those respondents are now themselves middle-aged, and their children are faring no better.
If you were 30 in 1990, you were born in 1960, to parents who were between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, that is, born between 1920 and 1940.
Fertility for the 1920-1940 cohort was strongly dysgenic. So was the 1940-50 cohort. The 1900-1919 cohort at least had the Flynn Effect on their side, but later cohorts just look like an advertisement for idiocracy.
Nichols ends with a plea that voters respect experts (and that experts, in turn, be humble and polite to voters.) After all, modern society is too complicated for any of us to be experts on everything. If we don’t pay attention to expert advice, he warns, modern society is bound to end in ignorant goo.
The logical inconsistency is that Nichols believes in democracy at all–he thinks democracy can be saved if ignorant people vote within a range of options as defined by experts like himself, eg, “What vaccine options are best?” rather than “Should we have vaccines at all?”
The problem, then, is that whoever controls the experts (or controls which expert opinions people hear) controls the limits of policy debates. This leads to people arguing over experts, which leads right back where we are today. As long as there are politics, “expertise” will be politicized, eg:
Look at any court case in which both sides bring in their own “expert” witnesses. Both experts testify to the effect that their side is correct. Then the jury is left to vote on which side had more believable experts. This is like best case scenario voting, and the fact that the voters are dumb and don’t understand what the experts are saying and are obviously being mislead in many cases is still a huge problem.
If politics is the problem, then perhaps getting rid of politics is the solution. Just have a bunch of Singapores run by Lee Kwan Yews, let folks like Nichols advise them, and let the common people “vote with their feet” by moving to the best states.
The problem with this solution is that “exit” doesn’t exist in the modern world in any meaningful way, and there are significant reasons why ordinary people oppose open borders.
Conclusion: 3/5 stars. It’s not a terrible book, and Nichols has plenty of good points, but “Americans are dumb” isn’t exactly fresh territory and much has already been written on the subject.
People like to signal. A LOT. And it is incredibly annoying.
It’s also pretty detrimental to the functioning of the country.
Take Prohibition. The majority of Americans never supported Prohibition, yet it wasn’t just a law passed by Congress or a handful of states, but an actual amendment to the Constitution, (the 18th) ratified by 46 states (only Rhode Island and Connecticut declined to ratify. I assume they had a large Irish population or depended on sales of imported alcohol.)
Incredibly, a coalition driven primarily by people who couldn’t even vote (women’s suffrage was granted in the 19th amendment) managed to secure what looks like near-unanimous support for a policy which the majority of people actually opposed!
Obviously a lot of people voted for Prohibition without understanding what it actually entailed. Most probably thought that other people’s intemperate drinking should be curbed, not their own, completely reasonable consumption. Once people understood what Prohibition actually entailed, they voted for its repeal.
But this is only part of the explanation, for people support many policies they don’t actually understand, but most of these don’t become disastrous Constitutional amendments.
What we have is a runaway case of social signaling. People did not actually want to get rid of all of the alcohol. People wanted to signal that they were against public drunkenness, Germans (this was right after WWI,) and maybe those Irish. Prohibition also had a very vocal group of people fighting for it, while the majority of people who were generally fine with people having the occasional beer weren’t out campaigning for the “occasional beer” party. It was therefore more profitable for a politician to signal allegiance to the pro-Prohibition voters than to the “occasional beer” voter.
Social signaling leads people to support laws because they like the idea of the law, rather than an appreciation for what the law actually entails, creating a mess of laws that aren’t very useful. For example, on Dec. 12, 2017, the Senate unanimously passed a bill “to help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets.”
In the midst of increasing crime, an opioid epidemic, starving Yemenis, decimated inner cities, rising white death rates, economic malaise, homelessness, and children with cancer, is the return of assets stolen 75 years ago in a foreign country really our most pressing issue?
No, but do you want to be the guy who voted against the Justice for Holocaust survivors bill? What are you, some kind of Nazi? Do you want to vote in favor of drunken alcoholics? Criminals? Sex offenders? Murderers? Racists? Satanic Daycares?
Social signaling inspires a bunch of loud, incoherent arguing, intended more to prove “I am a good person” or “I belong to Group X” than to hash out good policy. Indeed, social signaling is diametrically opposed to good policy, as you can always prove that you are an even better person or better member of Group X by trashing good policies on the grounds that they do not signal hard enough.
The Left likes to do a lot of social signaling about racism, most recently exemplified in the tearing down of Civil War Era statues. I’m pretty sure those statues weren’t out shooting black people or denying them jobs, but nonetheless it suddenly became an incredibly pressing problem that they existed, taking up a few feet of space, and had to be torn down. Just breathe the word “racist” and otherwise sensible people’s brains shut down and they become gibbering idiots.
The Right likes to social signal about sex, which it hates so much it can’t shut up about it. Unless people are getting married at 15, they’re going to have extra-marital sex. If you want to live in an economy where people have to attend school into their mid-twenties in order to learn everything, then you either need to structure things so that people can get married and have kids while they are still in school or they will just have extra-marital sex while still in school.
Right and Left both like to signal about abortion, though my sense here is that the right is signaling harder.
The Right and Left both like to signal about Gun Control. Not five minutes after a mass shooting and you’ll have idiots on both sides Tweeting about how their favorite policy could have saved the day (or how the other guy’s policy wouldn’t have prevented it at all.) Now, I happen to favor more gun control (if you ignore the point of this entire post and write something mind-numbingly stupid in response to this I will ignore you,) but “more gun control” won’t solve the problem of someone buying an already illegal gun and shooting people with it. If your first response to a shooting is “More gun control!” without first checking whether that would have actually prevented the shooting, you’re being an idiot. (By contrast, if you’re out there yelling “Gun control does nothing!” in a case where it could have saved lives, then you’re the one being an idiot.)
This doesn’t mean that people can’t have reasonable positions on these issues (even positions I disagree with.) But yelling “This is bad! I hate it very much!” makes it much harder to have a reasonable discussion about the best way to address the issues. If people can personally benefit by social signaling against every reasonable position, then they’ll be incentivised to do so–essentially defecting against good policy making.
So what can we do?
I previously discussed using anonymity to damp down signaling. It won’t stop people from yelling about their deeply held feelings, but it does remove the incentive to care about one’s reputation.
Simply being aware of the problem may help; acknowledge that people will signal and then try to recognize when you are doing it yourself.
In general, we can tell that people are merely signaling about an issue if they don’t take any active steps in their own personal lives to resolve it. A person who actually rides a bike to work because they want to fight global warming is serious; someone who merely talks a good talk while flying in a private jet is not.
“Anti-racists” who live in majority white neighborhoods “for the schools” are another example–they claim to love minorities but mysteriously do not live among them. Clearly someone else–maybe working class whites–should be forced to do it.
Signalers love force: force lets them show how SERIOUS they are about fighting the BAD ISSUE without doing anything themselves about it. The same is true for “anti-abortion” politicians, eg Kasich Signs Law Banning Abortions After Diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. Of course Kasich will not be personally adopting or raising any babies with Down’s syndrome, nor giving money to their families to help with their medical bills. Kasich loves Down’s babies enough to force other people to raise them, but not enough to actually care for one himself.
Both sides engage in this kind of behavior, which looks like goodness on their own side but super hypocritical to the other.
The positions of anyone who will not (or cannot) put their money where their mouth is should be seen as suspect. If they want to force other people to do things they don’t or can’t, it automatically discredits them.
Communism, as in an entire country/economy run by force in order to achieve a vision of a “just society,” ranks as the highest expression of social signaling. Not only has communism failed miserably in every iterations, it has caused the deaths of an estimated 100 million people by starvation, purge, or direct bullets to the head. Yet communist ideology persists because of the strength of social signalling.
Local optima–or optimums, if you prefer–are an illusion created by distance. A man standing on the hilltop at (approximately) X=2 may see land sloping downward all around himself and think that he is at the highest point on the graph.
But hand him a telescope, and he discovers that the fellow standing on the hilltop at X=4 is even higher than he is. And hand the fellow at X=4 a telescope, and he’ll discover that X=6 is even higher.
A global optimum is the best possible way of doing something; a local optimum can look like a global optimum because all of the other, similar ways of doing the same thing are worse. To get from a local optimum to a global optimum, you might have to endure a significant trough of things going worse before you reach your destination. (Those troughs would be the points X=3.03 and X=5.02 on the graph.) If the troughs are short and shallow enough, people can accidentally power their way through. If long and deep enough, people get stuck.
The introduction of new technology, exposure to another culture’s solutions, or even random chance can expose a local optimum and propel a group to cross that trough.
For example, back in 1400, Europeans were perfectly happy to get their Chinese silks, spices, and porcelains via the overland Silk Road. But with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the Silk Road became more fragmented and difficult (ie dangerous, ie expensive) to travel. The increased cost of the normal road prompted Europeans to start exploring other, less immediately profitable trade routes–like the possibility of sailing clear around the world, via the ocean, to the other side of China.
Without the eastern trade routes first diminishing in profitability, it wouldn’t have been economically viable to explore and develop the western routes. (With the discovery of the Americas, in the process, a happy accident.)
West Hunter (Greg Cochran) writes frequently about local optima; here’s an excerpt on plant domestication:
The reason that a few crops account for the great preponderance of modern agriculture is that a bird in the hand – an already-domesticated, already- optimized crop – feeds your family/makes money right now, while a potentially useful yet undomesticated crop doesn’t. One successful domestication tends to inhibit others that could flourish in the same niche. Several crops were domesticated in the eastern United States, but with the advent of maize and beans ( from Mesoamerica) most were abandoned. Maybe if those Amerindians had continued to selectively breed sumpweed for a few thousand years, it could have been a contender: but nobody is quite that stubborn.
Teosinte was an unpromising weed: it’s hard to see why anyone bothered to try to domesticate it, and it took a long time to turn it into something like modern maize. If someone had brought wheat to Mexico six thousand years ago, likely the locals would have dropped maize like a hot potato. But maize ultimately had advantages: it’s a C4 plant, while wheat is C3: maize yields can be much higher.
Teosinte is the ancestor of modern corn. Cochran’s point is that in the domestication game, wheat is a local optimum; given the wild ancestors of wheat and corn, you’d develop a better, more nutritious variety of wheat first and probably just abandon the corn. But if you didn’t have wheat and you just had corn, you’d keep at the corn–and in the end, get an even better plant.
(Of course, corn is a success story; plenty of people domesticated plants that actually weren’t very good just because that’s what they happened to have.)
Japan in 1850 was a culturally rich, pre-industrial, feudal society with a strong isolationist stance. In 1853, the Japanese discovered that the rest of the world’s industrial, military technology was now sufficiently advanced to pose a serious threat to Japanese sovereignty. Things immediately degenerated, culminating in the Boshin War (civil war, 1868-9,) but with the Meiji Restoration Japan embarked on an industrialization crash-course. By 1895, Japan had kicked China’s butt in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Japanese population doubled–after holding steady for centuries–between 1873 and 1935. (From 35 to 70 million people.) By the 1930s, Japan was one of the world’s most formidable industrial powers, and today it remains an economic and technological powerhouse.
Clearly the Japanese people, in 1850, contained the untapped ability to build a much more complex and advanced society than the one they had, and it did not take much exposure to the outside world to precipitate a total economic and technological revolution.
A similar case occurred in 1821 when Sequoyah, a Cherokee man, invented his own syllabary (syllable-based alphabet) after observing American soldiers reading letters. The Cherokee quickly adopted Sequoyah’s writing system–by 1825, the majority of Cherokee were literate and the Cherokee had their own printing industry. Interestingly, although some of the Cherokee letters look like Latin, Greek, or Cyrillic letters, there is no correspondence in sound, because Sequoyah could not read English. He developed his entire syllabary after simply being exposed to the idea of writing.
The idea of literacy has occurred independently only a few times in human history; the vast majority of people picked up alphabets from someone else. Our Alphabet comes from the Latins who got it from the Greeks who adopted it from the Phoenicians who got it from some proto-canaanite script writers, and even then literacy spread pretty slowly. The Cherokee, while not as technologically advanced as Europeans at the time, were already a nice agricultural society and clearly possessed the ability to become literate as soon as they were exposed to the idea.
Likewise, contact between Europeans and groups like the Australian Aboriginees did not result in the Aboriginees adopting European technology nor a new and improved fusion of Aboriginee and European tech, but in total disaster for the Aboriginees. While the Japanese consistently top the charts in educational attainment, Aboriginee communities are still struggling with low literacy rates, high dropout rates, and low employment–the modern industrial economy, in short, has not been kind to them.
Along a completely different evolutionary pathway, cephalopods–squids, octopuses, and their tentacled ilk–are the world’s smartest invertebrates. This is pretty amazing, given that their nearest cousins are snails and clams. Yet cephalopod intelligence only goes so far. No one knows (yet) just how smart cephalopods are–squids in particular are difficult to work with in captivity because they are active hunter/swimmers and need a lot more space than the average aquarium can devote–but their brain power appears to be on the order of a dog’s.
After millions of years of evolution, cephalopods may represent the best nature can do–with an invertebrate. Throw in a backbone, and an animal can get a whole lot smarter.
And in chemistry, activation energy is the amount of energy you have to put into a chemical system before a reaction can begin. Stable chemical systems essentially exist at local optima, and it can require the input of quite a lot of energy before you get any action out of them. For atoms, iron is the global–should we say universal?–optimum, beyond which reactions are endothermic rather than exothermic. In other words, nuclear fusion at the core of the sun ends with iron; elements heavier than iron can only be produced when stars explode.
So what do local optima have to do with diversity?
The current vogue for diversity (“Diversity is our greatest strength”) suggests that we can reach global optima faster by simply smushing everyone together and letting them compare notes. Scroll back to the Japanese case. Edo Japan had a nice culture, but it was also beset by frequent famines. Meiji Japan doubled its population. Giving everyone, right now, the same technology and culture would bring everyone up to the same level.
But you can’t tell from within if you are at a local or global optimum. That’s how they work. The Indians likely would have never developed corn had they been exposed to wheat early on, and subsequently Europeans would have never gotten to adopt corn, either. Good ideas can take a long time to refine and develop. Cultures can improve rapidly–even dramatically–by adopting each other’s good ideas, but they also need their own space and time to pursue their own paths, so that good but slowly developing ideas aren’t lost.
AI typically refers to any kind of intelligence or ability to learn possessed by machines. Malevolent AI occurs when a machine pursues its programmed objectives in a way that humans find horrifying or immoral. For example, a machine programmed to make paperclips might decide that the easiest way to maximize paperclip production is to enslave humans to make paperclips for it. Superintelligent AI is AI that has figured out how to make itself smarter and thus keeps getting smarter and smarter. (Should we develop malevolent superintelligent AI, then we’ll really have something to worry about.)
Note: people who actually study AI probably have better definitions than I do.
While we like to think of ourselves (humans) as unique, thinking individuals, it’s clear that many of our ideas come from other people. Chances are good you didn’t think up washing your hands or brushing your teeth by yourself, but learned about them from your parents. Society puts quite a bit of effort, collectively speaking, into teaching children all of the things people have learned over the centuries–from heliocentrism to the fact that bleeding patients generally makes diseases worse, not better.
Just as we cannot understand the behavior of ants or bees simply by examining the anatomy of a single ant or single bee, but must look at the collective life of the entire colony/hive, so we cannot understand human behavior by merely examining a single human, but must look at the collective nature of human societies. “Man is a political animal,” whereby Aristotle did not mean that we are inherently inclined to fight over transgender bathrooms, but instinctively social:
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces—the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to a bird which flies alone.
Now the reason why man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere sound is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state. –Aristotle, Politics
With very rare exceptions, humans–all humans, in all parts of the world–live in groups. Tribes. Families. Cities. Nations. Our nearest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, also live in groups. Primates are social, and their behavior can only be understood in the context of their groups.
Groups of humans are able to operate in ways that individual humans cannot, drawing on the collective memories, skills, and knowledge of their members to create effects much greater than what could be achieved by each person acting alone. For example, one lone hunter might be able to kill a deer–or if he is extremely skilled, hardworking, and lucky, a dozen deer–but ten hunters working together can drive an entire herd of deer over a cliff, killing hundreds or even thousands. (You may balk at the idea, but many traditional hunting societies were dependent on only a few major hunts of migrating animals to provide the majority of their food for the entire year–meaning that those few hunts had to involve very high numbers of kills or else the entire tribe would starve while waiting for the animals to return.)
Chimps have never, to my knowledge, driven megafauna to extinction–but humans have a habit of doing so wherever they go. Humans are great at what we do, even if we aren’t always great at extrapolating long-term trends.
But the beneficial effects of human cooperation don’t necessarily continue to increase as groups grow larger–China’s 1.3 billion people don’t appear to have better lives than Iceland’s 332,000 people. Indeed, there probably is some optimal size–depending on activity and available communications technology–beyond which the group struggles to coordinate effectively and begins to degenerate.
The trope that the likelihood of an accurate group decision increases with the abundance of brains involved might not hold up when a collective faces a variety of factors — as often happens in life and nature. Instead, Princeton University researchers report that smaller groups actually tend to make more accurate decisions, while larger assemblies may become excessively focused on only certain pieces of information. …
collective decision-making has rarely been tested under complex, “realistic” circumstances where information comes from multiple sources, the Princeton researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In these scenarios, crowd wisdom peaks early then becomes less accurate as more individuals become involved, explained senior author Iain Couzin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. …
The researchers found that the communal ability to pool both pieces of information into a correct, or accurate, decision was highest in a band of five to 20. After that, the accurate decision increasingly eluded the expanding group.
Couzin found that in small groups, people with specialized knowledge could effectively communicate that to the rest of the group, whereas in larger groups, they simply couldn’t convey their knowledge to enough people and group decision-making became dominated by the things everyone knew.
If you could travel back in time and propose the idea of democracy to the inhabitants of 13th century England, they’d respond with incredulity: how could peasants in far-flung corners of the kingdom find out who was running for office? Who would count the votes? How many months would it take to tally up the results, determine who won, and get the news back to the outlying provinces? If you have a printing press, news–and speeches–can quickly and accurately spread across large distances and to large numbers of people, but prior to the press, large-scale democracy simply wasn’t practical.
Likewise, the communism of 1917 probably couldn’t have been enacted in 1776, simply because society at that time didn’t have the technology yet to gather all of the necessary data on crop production, factory output, etc. (As it was, neither did Russia of 1917, but they were closer.)
Today, the amount of information we can gather and share on a daily basis is astounding. I have at my fingertips the world’s greatest collection of human knowledge, an overwhelming torrent of data.
All of our these information networks have linked society together into an increasingly efficient meta-brain–unfortunately, it’s not a very smart meta-brain. Like the participants in Couzin’s experiments, we are limited to what “everyone knows,” stymied in our efforts to impart more specialized knowledge. (I don’t know about you, but I find being shouted down by a legion of angry people who know less about a subject than I do one of the particularly annoying features of the internet.)
For example, there’s been a lot of debate lately about immigration, but how much do any of us really know about immigrants or immigrant communities? How much of this debate is informed by actual knowledge of the people involved, and how much is just people trying to extend vague moral principles to cover novel situations? I recently had a conversation with a progressive acquaintance who justified mass-immigration on the grounds that she has friendly conversations with the cabbies in her city. Heavens protect us–I hope to get along with people as friends and neighbors, not just when I am paying them!
One gets the impression in conversation with Progressives that they regard Christian Conservatives as a real threat, because that group that can throw its weight around in elections or generally enforce cultural norms that liberals don’t like, but are completely oblivious to the immigrants’ beliefs. Most of our immigrants hail from countries that are rather more conservative than the US and definitely more conservative than our liberals.
Any sufficiently intelligent democracy ought to be able to think critically about the political opinions of the new voters it is awarding citizenship to, but we struggle with this. My Progressive acquaintance seems think that we can import an immense, conservative, third-world underclass and it will stay servile indefinitely, not vote its own interests or have any effects on social norms. (Or its interests will be, coincidentally, hers.)
This is largely an information problem–most Americans are familiar with our particular brand of Christian conservatives, but are unfamiliar with Mexican or Islamic ones.
How many Americans have intimate, detailed knowledge of any Islamic society? Very few of us who are not Muslim ourselves speak Arabic, and few Muslim countries are major tourist destinations. Aside from the immigrants themselves, soldiers, oil company employees, and a handful of others have spent time in Islamic countries, but that’s about it–and no one is making any particular effort to listen to their opinions. (It’s a bit sobering to realize that I know more about Islamic culture than 90% of Americans and I still don’t really know anything.)
So instead of making immigration policy based on actual knowledge of the groups involved, people try to extend the moral rules–heuristics–they already have. So people who believe that “religious tolerance is good,” because this rule has generally been useful in preventing conflict between American religious groups, think this rule should include Muslim immigrants. People who believe, “I like being around Christians,” also want to apply their rule. (And some people believe, “Groups are more oppressive when they’re the majority, so I want to re-structure society so we don’t have a majority,” and use that rule to welcome new immigrants.)
And we are really bad at testing whether or not our rules are continuing to be useful in these new situations.
Ironically, as our networks have become more effective, our ability to incorporate new information may have actually gone down.
The difficulties large groups experience trying to coordinate and share information force them to become dominated by procedures–set rules of behavior and operation are necessary for large groups to operate. A group of three people can use ad-hoc consensus and rock-paper-scissors to make decisions; a nation of 320 million requires a complex body of laws and regulations.
(Journalist?) Angus Johnston provides moral justification for this act (to save space, I’m going to quote instead of screenshot most of the thread):
It’s not just a speech act. It’s a test. It’s a test to see whether you can get away with it. It’s an attempt to shift boundaries. It’s an attempt to frighten, to cow, to subdue. It’s a challenge: “Are you going to stop me?” It’s not “political speech” in the way we typically think of that term. It’s not simple advocacy of Nazism. It’s street harassment. …
I think it’s the same as a woman pepper-spraying a man for accosting her with sexual insinuations while she walks to the subway. I think it’s the same as a gay man punching the guy who threatened him and shamed him for kissing his boyfriend goodbye. I think it’s the same as clocking someone you see yelling at an old Jewish lady, telling her she should have been gassed like her mom.
We can distinguish coherently between different kinds of speech, and how we respond to them. We do it all the time. …
Before I consult with a lawyer about whether a police officer would consider these cases equivalent, I would like to point out that people do, in fact, wear Nazi symbols on a regular basis–even in Johnston’s vicinity–and normal people definitely do not punch the wearers unless they want to die right now.
Yes, I am talking about outlaw bikers and their ilk.
That said, Johnston is right about one thing–it is a shit test. I highly doubt the average Vagos (or other outlaw) actually cares that much about promoting the 80+ yr old military ideology of a foreign country, but they do care about declaring that they are the biggest, baddest bad-asses in the area and that therefore you shouldn’t mess with them. Wearing the most offensive symbols possible sends the message: I am so bad-ass that you can’t stop me.
The entire point of criminal gangs (outlaw motorcycle clubs included) is to control territory; with territory come resources and (most importantly) women.
And I guarantee you Johnston and the other antifa are not going to punch the Vagos in their faces, because while they want to keep “Nazis” out of their spaces, they know they can’t stop the Vagos.
“But what about Free Speech?” I hear you asking.
You get Free Speech when you control a space.
Let’s take a look at this video: Black girl decolonizing the space around the president – Evergreen State College. Normally, the president of a college owns that space. But as you can see, this black student has decided to claim his space, and there is nothing he is willing to do to stop her. He has relinquished his space. He has surrendered.
The world “decolonize” is specifically chosen to signify the removal of white people, who own the land Evergreen State is built on by virtue of having conquered it. Of course, since black are not indigenous to the area, a black person taking it over is equally “colonialism.” True “decolonization” would return the land to the Native Americans who once owned it, not black newcomers. But the point here is to drive out whites from white spaces, with bats and tazers, if necessary, not to benefit the Indians.
Free speech is a luxury you enjoy after you secure a territory.
While you were laughing at the whiny cry babies with their “safe spaces,” liberals were using “victimhood” as the justification to mark their territory: places where you and your ideas are not welcome.
1,500 students at four-year universities were asked if the First Amendment protects hate speech (The correct answer, based on 200+ years of law and Supreme Court rulings, is “Yes.”)
The student’s answers:
“Hate Speech not protected”: 44%
“Don’t know”: 16%
Men who answered correctly: 51%
Women who answered correctly: 31%
Republicans who answered correctly: 44%
Democrats who answered correctly: 39%
Think “shouting so that the audience cannot hear” is an acceptable way to oppose an unpopular speaker: 51%
Think violence is acceptable: 19%
Let’s be clear: it’s not just any ideas that are unwelcome. The most unwelcome ideas are directly related to the question of Who should be allowed in the country/region? We are literally arguing over who should be allowed in the US (and Europeans over who should be allowed into their countries.) The vast majority of what people are calling “Hate Speech” is actually speech aimed at stopping foreigners from entering an area or advocating that they should be expelled.
Professor Weinstein’s crime that sparked the Evergreen State riots wasn’t wearing a Nazi armband or advocating his own gassing, but his disinclination to leave campus when the SJWs decided to have a symbolic day of kicking all of the white people off campus. It is literally about tribal control of space and violently kicking out everyone the SJWs don’t like.
Do conservatives do it, too? You betcha. Here’s what happened when Richard Spencer tried to occupy a space and give a speech:
“I’ve made it very clear that I worked with the police, and instructed them to do everything they could, to make sure the protestors were able to exercise their right to free speech… We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
Now let’s go back to the beginning, because I do want to address the legal question implicit in Angus Johnston’s claims: Having consulted with a lawyer and a police officer, I can say with certainty that Johnston’s argument is “legally garbage.” Punching people just because they happen to be wearing Nazi armbands is definitely illegal and you can go to prison for assault if you try it.
Blocking traffic, as the BLM protesters have often done, is also illegal. So is burning and looting, as the Berkley protestors did. Johnston is not offering legal advice (and I don’t recommend going to him for legal advice;) he is speaking from the perspective of someone who believes that the police will look the other way and allow you to break the law by punching Nazis. Since he believes that the Nazis are entering his territory, he believes that the power structure in his territory will support violently driving Nazi invaders from his territory.
Conservatives tend to be several years behind liberals. Conservatives are still talking about Free Speech, while liberals are talking about Controlling Territory. You have to control the territory before you can have free speech. Otherwise you get whatever speech the people who do control the territory allow you.
Take Twitter: Do you have free speech on Twitter? No. Twitter has banned or censored thousands of accounts. You have what speech Twitter decides to allow–in the name of “safety.”
The biggest question of the Trump Presidency–the question that drove him into office–is territorial: Who owns America? Who should be allowed in? Who should benefit from America’s wealth? (The same questions are being asked across Europe.)
And this is precisely the conversation the left is trying to shut down.
In multi-ethnic democracies, political parties don’t represent ideas about how the country should be run. They represent ethnic groups. Free speech is downstream from territory.
I’ve spilled a lot of ink trying to figure out why people hold the political opinions they do–Genetics? Neurology? Game theory?–but maybe it’s just the fact that we’re tribal creatures stuck in a two-party system.
The US is legally set up as a two-party system. Doen’t matter how much you like a third party: our system of counting votes makes it nearly impossible for it to win.
A two-party system means that whatever one party supports, the other party–if it wants to win–opposes. It doesn’t matter what you support. You could be the Cute Puppies and Kittens Party, and your opponents would start writing diatribes about how “cute” puppies and kittens are a serious menace to society. “Millions of babies have been smothered by puppies and kittens!” the headlines would scream. “Why won’t the Cute Puppies and Kittens Party acknowledge the dangers of flea-borne BUBONIC PLAGUE?”
And we, being tribal creatures, believe that it is absolutely critical to support their own tribe against that other, awful evil tribe that is clearly evil because of its obviously EVIL stance on puppies and kittens.
If you don’t want to play this game, then guess what? You aren’t going to win votes.
The Democrats have increasingly focused on race and other identity-politics issues for the past 8 years or so, (culminating in the BLM protests.) The initial Republican strategy (embodied in Hispanic-friendly candidates like Jeb, Cruz, and Rubio) was to try to win by attracting Hispanic voters. But Cubans aside, being the “slightly welcoming to immigrants” party isn’t good enough to woo immigrants away from the “Open borders now” party, and it’s going to alienate all of the voters who are concerned that immigration is too high.
By not opposing the Democrats, Republicans left themselves open to internal sniping: hence Trump’s takeover.
A lot of people blame Trump for the Alt-Right, but the AR existed long before Trump. The AR emerged as a response to the left’s SJW-Identity politics, politics mainstream conservatism had no credible answers to. Trump is simply a product of the same forces.
It’s bad enough when tribal lines are being drawn over puppies and kittens. Throw in actual ethnic and group identities and you are asking for trouble.
Now add to this the fact that democracy is essentially how we are trying to run our country. “Want to get something done? Want to improve your pet issue? Vote!”
We are incentivising people to OPPOSE GOOD IDEAS because if they don’t, someone else who DOES will GET ELECTED INSTEAD.
Spencer I regard as somewhat like the Boogeyman: journalists like to pull him out when they want to scare someone. He doesn’t represent the Alt-Right inasmuch as the Alt-Right is mostly a vague collection of people/groups on the internet who don’t fall into mainstream conservatism, rather than a coherent entity with a single leader.
I am not personally well-acquainted with Spencer’s work–if I’ve read any of it, I’ve forgotten it–but he is famous enough that I am familiar with the gist of it.
According to Tablet:
…alt-right luminary Richard Spencer declared himself to be a “white Zionist.” Just as Jews want a state of their own, the Charlottesville far-right organizer argued, he merely seeks a state for white people.
“…you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
So far, so good: this sounds a lot like things Spencer has said elsewhere, eg, Wikipedia says:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer has advocated for a white homeland for a “dispossessed white race” and called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture. To this end he has supported what he has called “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent”, an “ideal” that he has regarded as a “reconstitution of the Roman Empire.”
The white nationalist wants a white nation. Sounds tautological. But this is where Tablet gets interesting:
It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one. …
Essentially, the alt-right maliciously appropriates the deeply held values of liberals and minorities in order to attack them. This is not because the alt-right shares those values, but because it wants to troll those who do.
This is quite the claim! It’s one thing to claim that someone has appropriated a cultural item, such as a white person performing a style of music invented by black people or an Asian person wearing a Mexican hat. “Cultural appropriation” is a logical mess in practice, but at least it rests on the somewhat coherent idea of “this is my culture, we do and make these things, therefore these things belong to us.”
What does it mean to appropriate someone’s values? “You can’t be an environmentalist, only people whose ancestors were environmentalists are allowed to care about the environment?” “I’m sorry, but since Freedom of Speech was not originally enshrined in your country’s laws, you’re not allowed to want it.”
But if we read the paragraph again, it becomes clear that Tablet doesn’t really want to accuse Spencer of appropriating liberal values, (which it thinks he does not hold) but instead the logicalarguments used to support liberal positions.
And for what purpose? Here Tablet’s answer is simple: to troll them:
This disingenuous dynamic of using liberal values to troll liberals has been documented elsewhere by journalists who have followed the alt-right. … As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1946 treatise Anti-Semite and Jew:
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. … they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.
Spencer’s doing it for the shits and giggles, folks.
To be fair, the alt-right is full of trolls and jokers, and many of them are anti-Semitic. Spencer himself is probably anti-Semitic, or at least anti-people-who-write-for-Tablet, but anti-Semitic trolling of the frogs-and-gas-chamber-memes-variety doesn’t appear to be his primary concern. He seems to be primarily concerned with promoting white nationalism. (It’s almost as though “alt-right” were a vague, poorly-defined term that includes a lot of people who might not even believe in the same stuff besides a general dislike of both the mainstream left and right.)
If Spencer is just trolling you, then what is his real intention? In this case, we have nothing–nothing but sound and fury, blustering for no reason. What’s the point? Does Spencer have secret reasons for promoting white nationalism other than white nationalism?
In my many years of trying to figure out why people believe and advocate for the politics they do, I have observed two things:
People often ignore each others’ arguments, respond to arguments their opponents didn’t make, assume their opponents are lying, or lie themselves about their opponents’ arguments
People I disagree with make more sense if I assume they are generally trying to be truthful
For example, in a debate about abortion, one side might argue, “We think women should have the right to control their own bodies,” and the other side might argue, “murdering babies is immoral,” and then side A responds, “You hate women and want to force them to be breeding cows,” and side B shoots back, “You hate babies and want to murder them.”
But it actually makes more sense to assume the anti-abortion side is opposed to baby-murder than that they’re interested in using women like cattle, and it makes more sense to assume the pro-abortion side is more interested in controlling whether or not they are pregnant than in maliciously murdering people.
Interestingly, conservatives tend to understand liberals’ motivations and reasons for their political beliefs better than liberals understand conservatives’. As Haidt reports in The Righteous Mind, (quoted on The Independent Whig):
In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right.)’ …
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan [i.e., conservative] narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people, and gay people. He’s more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.
I find this holds among people I know in real life: the conservatives tend to understand what liberals believe, while the liberals tend to despair that they live in a country full of evil psychopaths who voted for Trump.
There has been a lot of debate (and public marching) lately about Free Speech, especially whether people like Richard Spencer should have free speech. It seems that some people see even their political opponents as basically honest and well-meaning, their political opinions therefore something a good person might believe if they had different life experiences or were just working with different information.
By contrast, some people see other people as fundamentally dishonest and malicious, their “opinions” as just justifications or deflective cover for being a bad person. (Would you debate the ethics of murder with a serial killer?)
If you fall into the first camp, then the principle of Free Speech makes sense, because knowledge and experiences can be conveyed. But if you fall into the second camp, then there are positions that you think are not honestly argued nor susceptible to logic or debate–in which case, there’s no point to extending “free speech” to such ideas.
Will this shift lead to a less diverse Eidolon? Our writers always have been, and will continue to be, a diverse group. Our writer pool has excellent diversity of race, age, gender, professional status, and sexuality. … we’ve been accused of not being “ideologically diverse.” This charge is a common one, but I think it is misguided, in addition to being morally bankrupt. Making ideological diversity a primary objective is fundamentally incompatible with fighting against racism, sexism, and other forms of structural oppression, and we choose to prioritize the latter.
In other words: liberals don’t think conservatives deserve free speech because they assume conservatives are basically lying to cover up their real agenda of hurting various minorities.
But why are liberals more susceptible to misunderstanding their opponents than liberals? Let’s return to Tablet, which makes two interesting arguments. First:
Thus, [the alt-right] wrenches causes like affirmative action, black pride, and Zionism from their historical and moral context—as defenses of minorities against long-standing majority oppression—and inverts them to serve white supremacist aims against minorities.
Well, I don’t think Spencer mentioned affirmative action in this article, but the rest is sensible.
In general, American conservatives tend to believe that moral principles should be applied universally–to quote Kant’s categorical imperative:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
Tablet is in effect saying that nationalism is not meant to be a universal political value, but particular to specific groups in specific contexts. The universalizable principle is not nationalism, but, “Nationalism for minority groups in order to protect them from majority groups.”
By this logic, American whites shouldn’t be nationalist vis American non-whites, but South African whites would be perfectly justified in nationalism against South Africa’s black majority. This rule does not tell us, however, whether a group that expects to become a minority in the future is justified in pre-emptively trying to prevent this or look out for their future interests.
(Incidentally, US infants are already majority non-white, and the entire US will be majority non-white around 2050. NPR also estimates that about 20% of the 2060 US population will be foreigners. By contrast, the nation was 84% white back in 1965, before passage of LBJ’s immigration act.)
“Nationalism for everyone” is at least a clear principle that doesn’t get hung up on such nuances as “Are we a minority yet?” or “Are we sufficiently oppressed?” Unfortunately, it leads to other questions, like “Should Basques have their own country?” or “What about Northern Ireland?”
But to return to Spencer and Tablet, it appears that Spencer is working under the assumption that “nationalism is good” is a universal principle applicable to all peoples, while Tablet is working on the assumption that “nationalism is a defense for minority populations against oppression.”
Tablet unnecessarily muddles the waters by adding:
In this manner, the return of Jews to their indigenous homeland is recast by white nationalists, who are not indigenous to America, to justify kicking Jews and other minorities out of the country.
Whoa whoa whoa. “Indigeneity” is a whole different argument. If anyone gets to be called “indigenous” in Israel, it’s the Palestinians. Genetically speaking, claiming indigeneity based on having lived somewhere 2,000 years ago is nonsense–during the 1,900 years of diaspora, pretty much all Jewish groups intermarried with their neighbors and are now about 50% “non Jew” by DNA (most of that on their mothers’ side, as men are nigh universally more likely than women to travel long distances and then take local wives.) Ashkenazim–the majority of Jews–are about 50% Italian, having taken wives from among the Romans after their expulsion from Judea following the destruction of the Second Temple.
For that matter, I would like to point out that the majority of Jews are genetically “white” and that Jewish culture has been part of European culture for almost 2,000 years. (I don’t know how to politely express just how dumb I think two different groups of whites arguing about “white nationalism” is.) Jews have been living in parts of Germany for almost as long as the ethnic Germans, having been officially invited in during the Ostsiedlung. If Jews are indigenous to anywhere, they have a much better argument for Germany and Poland than Israel.
Luckily for me, I think “indigeneity” is a stupid argument and that countries should exist because there exists some entity with the military power to secure the area. By my logic, Israel gets to exist because it does exist: Israel is the only entity with the military strength to control the area, and denying this would just destabilize the area and lead to more deaths.
Likewise, Americans (whites included) have a right to their country because they are already here and controlling it.
Tablet’s justification for why it thinks Spencer (and the alt-right generally) is lying about being interested in white nationalism, or perhaps that white nationalism is comparable to Zionism, is that alt-righters tend not to like Israel or Jews:
That the alt-right does not genuinely support Israel or Zionism—that “they delight in acting in bad faith” on the topic—is readily apparent from how its members talk about Israel when they are not engaged in trolling.
(Here the article quotes several people from Twitter saying negative things about Zionism or Israel, none of whom, I note, are Spencer.)
But I don’t think Spencer (or any other alt-right spokesman) ever claimed to care about Israel. Just because someone believes in the generalized concept of “nationalism” does not mean they care personally about the national ambitions of all peoples. In fact, I wager a Serbian nationalist and a Kosovar nationalist take pretty dim views of each other. Kurdish nationalists have difficulties with Iraqi nationalists; Northern Irish Catholic nationalists don’t get along with Northern Irish Protestant nationalists. An American nationalist may not care one way or another about nationalist ambitions in Guatemala or Indonesia. And white nationalists are under no obligation to care about Jewish nationalism, nor Jews to care about white nationalism.
Here, I think, is the crux of the matter: the point of Zionism is to benefit Jews; the point of white nationalism is to benefit whites. If white nationalism results in Jews getting hurt, then that’s a pretty big practical difference (from the Jewish POV) between the two ideologies. And this, of course, is why Tablet would prefer that you not use Zionism as a justification for an ideology that is–at the very least–filled with people who are anti-Zionist.
“Nationalism for everyone” is a clear principle, but “nationalism for me but not for you,” benefits me much more. This is true for everyone. The only reason whites probably don’t generally think this way is that we’ve been the majority for so long.
But what’s best for the whole of society? It’s easy to say, “Hey, let’s do what’s best for the whole of society” when your group already is most of society. What about minority groups in that same society? Should they–as in the Prisoner’s Dilemma–cooperate with others for the greater good? Or should they look out preferentially for their own good? And what happens in a multi-ethnic society where no group has a clear majority? Can you convince people to cooperate for the greater good, or does the inevitable presence of some people who prefer to cooperate only with co-ethnics and defect on strangers inevitably drive everyone apart?
Long term, how does a multi-ethnic democracy prevent itself from breaking down into everyone voting for their own tribal self-interest?