Keeping up with the FITs, 1/11
Jonah Goldberg on Jan. 6; Emily Oster on diets; Razib Khan and Chris Arnade; Joseph M. Keegin on NatCons; Tyler Cowen points to a Web3 skeptic
First, my periodic note to new subscribers that FITs stands for Fantasy Intellectual Teams.
I was asked to write about what January 6, 2021, taught me about the right and the country. The challenge for me is that that day taught me little. But it confirmed a lot. Specifically, it confirmed for me that narrative maintenance—constructing or sustaining stories that serve the psychological needs of political combatants—is the defining project of American politics today.
Up until the 2020 election, Goldberg and I were on a different page. He was a strong #neverTrumper, and I wasn’t. But I agree with his take here. That is, I think that Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud, which he could never substantiate through recounts or other legal proceedings, were reckless and damaging.
From my perspective, the “stop the steal” movement was not made particularly worse by the events of January 6th. But it seems like the best thing that Mr. Trump’s supporters can say for the demonstration in the Capitol is: “It wasn’t an insurrection. It was only an idiotic farce.”
Matt Taibbi pivots from January 6th to the larger issue of leaders exploiting alleged crises.
We’re living through a period where an unpleasantly likely outcome for the ordinary American is the invocation of emergency powers to eliminate basic rights.
…The second emergency of course is the pandemic…it’s become part of a widening propaganda campaign designed to enlist the wine-cave MSNBC set behind full-blown Big Brother governance. …have you noticed the total disinterest of pundits and politicians in trying to distinguish between anti-vaxxers and people who merely have anti-mandate or anti-passport attitudes? It’s all the same obstructionism to them.
On an issue that people really care about, especially in January, Emily Oster looks at data on diets.
The simplest diet, then, is just … eat less. This is best epitomized by a good book I once read called The Economists’ Diet. The primary message was that to lose weight you need to weigh yourself every day and eat less. And, also, that you’ll be hungry a lot of the time. It was sort of beautiful in its simplicity, but I can see why this hasn’t caught on.
The message “you’ll be hungry a lot of the time” sounds right to me. It says that you have to accept hunger and push through it.
I have not yet listened to Razib Khan and Chris Arnade. But Razib links to Arnade’s substack, which is really interesting. For example, there is Arnade’s walk through Florence, South Carolina. Although my wife and I once spent a night in a motel just off the highway there on our way to Florida, we never got to the black neighborhood that Arnade tours.
Truly diverse. Not in a transactional way, like how diversity plays out in New York City, or DC, where wealthy white Upper East Siders have food delivered to them by black guys from East New York. But in a ‘we kinda both live the same type of lives, shop in the same stores, like the same shit, work the same jobs, and read the same Bible’, way. Although we do live on different side of the tracks and probably do vote differently (if we bother to vote).
It’s hard to use one excerpt to capture the entire essay.
Arnade plays a cameo role in Joseph M. Keegin’s long essay on the NatCon conference. Keegin’s bottom line:
Indeed, for a movement that has declared the professoriate its enemy, there remains something airlessly theoretical about the whole endeavor. The conference marked the development of a newly energized political tribe, to be sure, but unless the think tankers and political commentators who lead it can forge real connections with a broader base, it’s hard to imagine it surviving as anything but a vehicle for stoking intra-elite hostility while occasionally marshaling electoral support for status quo millionaires like Youngkin and Cruz.
It is tempting to compare Keegin to David Brooks, who also wrote entertainingly and at length about the conference. Keegin has some of Brooks’ eye for significant details, but he writes with more of an edge. Where Brooks is most at home among smug elites, Keegin is disgusted by them.
Tyler Cowen, who I think of as being a blockchain-believer, or at least blockchain-hopeful (his co-blogger Alex Tabarrok is a full-on believer), nonetheless links to Moxie Marlinspike’s take-down of Web3.
Given the history of why web1 became web2, what seems strange to me about web3 is that technologies like ethereum have been built with many of the same implicit trappings as web1. To make these technologies usable, the space is consolidating around… platforms. Again. People who will run servers for you, and iterate on the new functionality that emerges. Infura, OpenSea, Coinbase, Etherscan.
I think it is important to ask. Why did web1, which was supposed to be decentralized, end up with so much concentrated wealth and power? The web3 enthusiast’s answer is that we just messed up somehow, and now we’re going to do better.
Moxie’s answer is that (a) individuals do not want to run servers (I would say that it turned out that server management has huge economies of scale) and (b) centralized platforms can move fast and break things, while decentralized systems depend on protocols that become really hard to change once they have been in place for a while.
Making a seemingly different point, Moxie concludes with
At this point, software projects require an enormous amount of human effort. Even relatively simple apps require a group of people to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, every day, forever. This wasn’t always the case, and there was a time when 50 people working on a software project wasn’t considered a “small team.” As long as software requires such concerted energy and so much highly specialized human focus, I think it will have the tendency to serve the interests of the people sitting in that room every day rather than what we may consider our broader goals. I think changing our relationship to technology will probably require making software easier to create, but in my lifetime I’ve seen the opposite come to pass. Unfortunately, I think distributed systems have a tendency to exacerbate this trend by making things more complicated and more difficult, not less complicated and less difficult.
If it’s a lot easier to write code for Web2 than for Web3, then don’t bet the farm on Web3.