Keeping up with the FITs, 3/26
Ben Thompson on idea aggregation; Peter Zeihan on oil; Radoslaw Sikorski on Ukraine; Peter Savodnik on America; Noah Smith on American Putinists
the ability for anyone to post any idea has, paradoxically, meant far greater mass adoption of popular ideas and far more effective suppression of “bad” ideas. That is invigorating when one feels the dominant idea is righteous; it seems reasonable to worry about the potential of said sense of righteousness overwhelming the consideration of whether particular courses of action are actually good or bad.
In a world where every speaker has a soapbox, power accrues to the entity that tells you which soapbox has priority. That is the power that Facebook, Google, and Twitter have today.
Noting that Russia was canceled by some Internet backbone providers, Thompson writes,
I can’t help but worry about a world where every level of the Internet stack feels empowered to act based on political considerations, and it makes me think that my Framework for Moderation was wrong. In a world of idea aggregation the push to go along with the current thing is irresistible, making any sort of sober consideration of one’s position in the stack irrelevant. The only effective counter is a blanket policy of not censoring or cutting off service under any circumstance: it’s easier to appeal to consistency than it is to make a nuanced decision that runs counter to the current thing.
Even in the sunshine and unicorn scenario that Putin duct tapes himself to a lawn chair and throws himself into a pool, and a random band of kindly kindergarten teachers take over the Russian government, we should not expect the energy supply situation in Russia to begin to stabilize before 2028, and for us to return to what we think of as the status quo before 2045.
. . .The disappearance of some four to five million Russian barrels of daily crude production will all by itself kick energy prices up to at least $170 a barrel. A global energy-induced depression is in the wind.
He predicts that in order to hold American consumer prices down, Washington will enact a ban on oil exports.
On Yascha Mounk’s Persuasion, Polish politician Radoslaw Sikorski says,
Putin invaded Ukraine because he wants Ukraine as part of a new empire, but also because he wanted to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful, Europeanizing democracy. This he has done for an understandable reason: he correctly fears that if Ukraine becomes successful and increasingly integrated with the West, the people of Russia will eventually want the same. So my prediction is that if Ukraine succeeds—I define that by defending its democracy and keeping the great majority of its territory, and getting rid of Russian troops from its soil—then I think eventually Putinism will fail, and we will have some kind of new opening in Russia.
I remember hearing the same argument about the Iraq war. That is, having Afghanistan and Iraq functioning as democracies on either side of Iran would cause the Iranian regime to fall. The hubris of that frightened me.
Sikorski also says,
You know more about internal US politics than I, but I couldn't help noticing that Ukraine, after China, has become perhaps the only other issue on which it is legitimate for Democrats and Republicans to agree with each other. The condemnation of Putin I think passed unanimously. When did you last have such a vote in Congress? And of course, if you have bipartisanship, that takes oxygen away from the ideological wings, from the populists.
In early 2022, hating Russia, which is the flip side of loving Ukraine, is like brandishing one’s pronouns and triple-masking: it has become a way of signaling that one believed whatever one was supposed to believe right now. Tim Cook sporting the correct colors. Russian pianists barred from competition. McDonald’s pulling out of Russia. Ditto Ikea. Ditto Starbucks.
. . .As if Russia were Harvey Weinstein.
He also talks about the crazies on the right who admire Putin. I wonder if, outside of Twitter, real America neither likes Putin nor gives a ^***)% about Ukraine. I suspect that the Twitter mob’s Ukraine infatuation is about as resonant with normal America as listing your pronouns.
Normal people just want America to produce more energy. And maybe when it’s all said and done, that’s the most humanitarian thing we could do.
If Putin defeats the Ukrainians, the conservatives that are standing against Putin will look ineffectual and weak. The Trumpists will then be able to solidify their control over the GOP. And it also means a victory for raw power and will (perhaps implying that efforts like the January 6th putsch are the preferred method for attaining power). But if Putin loses, then Trump and his allies who for years praised and defended Putin’s regime will be discredited. Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan. Even more damningly, if Putin loses, it’ll be a success for the globalist order — sanctions and aid to Ukraine will represent a triumph of international cooperation. Exactly the kind of world order the Trumpists want so badly to smash.
As for leftists, if Putin wins, it’ll represent another failure of what they perceive as the American empire. As with the pullout from Afghanistan, failure to stop Ukraine from being overrun with military aid and sanctions would show that America is a paper tiger, has feet of clay, blah blah blah — pick your metaphor. Frustrated by Joe Biden’s triangulation of some of their economic ideas (just as communists were enraged by FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s), leftists have been hoping to score anti-establishment victories in the foreign policy realm instead. If Putin defeats Ukraine, it’ll be a debacle for Biden and the establishment, and perhaps a socialist candidate will be a little closer to winning the next primary.
The Twitter mob and the establishment have raised the stakes in the war. Whereas early on it might have been acceptable to reach a settlement in which Mr. Putin saved face, now the goal is his defeat and humiliation. If this goal is not attained, then what? In the meantime, the liberal order is inoperative, at least as far as international trade is concerned. Economic sanctions will seem imperative as long as Mr. Putin is in power. And our desire to cordon off Russia will lead us to want to court everyone else, much as we have courted Venezuela, Iran, and even China during this crisis.
And if Mr. Putin is deposed, I do not think that we would return to the 1990s. Instead, I fear that the forces of illiberalism on the left will be emboldened. For example, the same corporations that imposed private sanctions on Russia will be pressured into imposing sanctions on dissenters in this country. Within the United States, the liberal order will end up weaker, not stronger.