Keeping up with the FITs, 4/29
Freddie DeBoer on political orphanage; Gabriel Brown on self-definition; Martin Gurri on sex; Scott Alexander on sex; Richard Hanania on plutocracy
this is the trouble with opposing the politics of affiliation: doing so makes you a betrayer to whatever group you might most naturally belong to without attracting any new supporters. You quickly end up, well, like me, a political orphan. I’m a decently well-read and well-informed socialist and I’ve been organizing in some capacity or another for over 20 years, and perhaps you might think that would rule in terms of who sees me as a fellow traveler. But in the day-to-day prosecution of politics, who you’re personally cool with feels more visceral and more reliable than actual beliefs.
It used to be that if you got into a conversation with someone, call him Freddie, you would find his opinions to be an unpredictable mishmash of views from the left and right. That was normal, and it was natural to be able to say, “I agree with Freddie about X, but not about Y.”
But I fear that for too many people today, that sort of nuanced view of another person’s politics does not form. Instead, you get your impression of Freddie from the Internet. And if he once said something you don’t like, you never forget and you never forgive.
Gabriel Brown writes about a teacher’s lesson in an acting class.
There is no one way to be a lesbian,” she explained. “There is no one way to be Jewish. There is no one way to be a smoker. Those are all what you are. Give me a description that you can play. Who. Are. You?”
With that, the gears in my head began to grind. I could feel my perspective widening. Playing someone—being someone—is not about what you are. What was I in that moment? A student, a daughter, an actor, an Australian-American, a volunteer… None of those things said anything about me—about who I was. They didn’t capture how my silly side comes out when I’m with my brothers versus my friends, or the fire I spit when I get lost in anger rather than forgive, or how I reveal different shades of reverence and spirituality in choir as compared to yoga, or how I cry when I listen to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
The essay vividly says that meaningful differences exist among people within broad identity categories.
There can be found, inside every American, a miniature Puritan yearning to grow large and seize control. We long to put sinners in stocks for using the wrong pronoun and attach a scarlet letter on every patriarchal cis male (which is different, I hasten to add, from wearing your pronouns on your lapel). And, in the digital wonderland, we crave to turn the shiny black screens of our smart phones into the mirror of Narcissus.
But releasing our inner Puritan will only convert us into lethally dull and annoying persons, to ourselves and to others. If we want to fight, we can do better than pronouns. If we want to mate, we should dispense with them. Life is short, and love is fleeting.
I’m planning a crotchety post for my birthday, but I’m afraid it won’t come close to Gurri’s level.
On the topic of sex, but making a very different point, Scott Alexander writes,
Physics is stuck in an annoying equilibrium where the Standard Model works for almost everything, and then occasionally we come across some exotic domain where it totally falls apart and we know that reality must be something deeper and weirder. I feel like psychology is the same way: you can explain almost everything with your standard scientific toolkit. Then you look at sex, and you realize you’ll need something much more complicated and worse.
Plutocracy has the fewest problems, mainly because rich guys are smarter, less neurotic, and have higher testosterone levels than activists and bureaucrats, and they have achieved their success through market processes, which is more indicative of an ability to solve problems than success in academia, government, or activism. Someone who builds rocket ships, or founds PayPal, or gets oil out of the ground is likely to have better ideas on how to run society than someone who has successfully navigated a bureaucracy or whose career has been based on succeeding at “peer review,” or writing words on paper that are approved by other people who have also gotten where they are by writing words on paper that were approved of by others who wrote words on paper, etc. Moreover, unlike Caesars, economic elites can’t start destructive wars on their own. Plutocracy is not a perfect system, but if one rich guy just buying Twitter solves the problem of internet speech against the wishes of nearly the entire bureaucratic class, we will have to consider that a strong argument in its favor.
I’m not sure how his model deals with George Soros funding races for District Attorney, or how he feels about Bill Gates’ politics. I also wonder how his views relate to the apparent success of what North, Weingast, and Wallis call open-access orders.
Hanania's plutocracy idea is extraordinarily bad under the best reading. I think the best case he's arguing is that entrepreneurs should be in charge
> "Someone who builds rocket ships, or founds PayPal, or gets oil out of the ground is likely to have better ideas on how to run society than someone who..."
Set aside for the moment the large number of plutocrats who probably just got lucky (not all of them, but some), and still the whole point of governmental institutions is to make something enduring and stable. Entrepreneurs become plutocrats because they find profit by upsetting existing orders.
And entrepreneurs stay plutocrats by maintaining the existing order they've created. And the heirs of plutocrats typically have even less interest in such innovation and more interest in preserving their plutocracy.
In short, a first generation plutocracy run by dynamic entrepreneurs will almost of necessity give way to a later generation plutocracy run by statists who are hostile to dynamic entrepreneurs.
Freddie would likely strongly agree with Gabriel (often a man's name), who notes at the end of her fine, short piece:
"Whereas all I used to see were people’s superficial identity markers, I had now begun to see individuals defined by their character, words, and actions, and I actively sought to keep seeing them that way. I started making friends with people I had once cast aside because they didn’t identify with the same labels I did, and I often found we had more in common than not. Those I had once thought were “intolerant” because they held views different from mine were actually more welcoming than those I had originally identified with. I also lost friends because they couldn’t understand why I would want to strip myself of labels or engage with others who weren't like “us.” It was often difficult, but it was growth, and it was worth it."
Martin well notes: "Can a person born a human male become a female? Only approximately, but yes. It involves self-mutilation and medication for life. The same is true in the other direction. The process is irreversible, regardless of regrets. Those desperate enough to attempt it deserve our compassion and understanding."
I think he's wrong a bit, here. A male may reject being a "man", but even with mutilation never becomes a real "woman". I felt compassion for Walter becoming Wendy Carlos (Switched On Bach), but we need new pronouns for such male-to-female trans folks. Q'she has rejected being male, but never has q'her "time of month", because q'she's a quasi-woman, a q'woman, not a real woman.
Lia Thomas should not be competing against real women. States should get rid of "male" sports, and replace them with open sports to allow women, q'women, and q'men, along with men, to compete equally. In most cases only men will become professionals in such open sports.
Women's sports should be for XX females who are women.
Another great Gurri quote: "Once you’re worried about the splendor of your titles, liberty, equality and fraternity get chucked out the window."