Keeping up with the FITs, 7/17
Freddie deBoer encounters the moral dyad; Tanner Greer on social strife; Justin Smith on the surveillance state; Yuval Levin and Balaji on left-right paradoxes
to watch these same predominately white, largely affluent progressives parent is to witness a very strong belief in the preeminence of individual agency. They may argue that poor Black children cannot escape the influence of their environment, but they teach their own kids that they are the guarantors of their own fate.
See my review of The Mind Club. I write,
The authors call this combination of an innocent feeler and a guilty doer the moral dyad. It consists of an agent and a patient, an intentional thinking doer and a suffering vulnerable feeler.
In the moral dyad outlook, blacks (or other members of oppressed groups) are like babies, capable of feeling pain but incapable of doing anything about it. White males are like robots, incapable of feeling but having strong agency.
The moral-dyad view of capitalism is that ordinary people have feelings but no agency. Corporate executives have agency but no feelings.
Or consider the moral-dyad view of Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis have agency but no feelings, while Palestinians have feelings but no agency.
We need to have the wisdom to recognize that all humans have both feelings and some degree of agency.
Tanner Greer disputes the claim of Jonathan Haidt and others that social media is a major factor in our social strife.
too many baby boomer observers chalk radicalization up to the procedural machinery of twenty-first-century politics instead of their generation’s own leadership failures. The answers to hard questions such as, “How much immigration can America accept before it undermines our political order?” or “What must we sacrifice to bring black America the prosperity and security most Americans take for granted?” cannot be to stall, equivocate, or start talking about the retweet button.
The trouble is that the national problems that the extremists fixate on are, for the most part, real. Their solutions are, for the most part, coherent and emotionally compelling. Those who believe these solutions are nevertheless wrongheaded must come out and prove them so. Someone who has determined, for example, that woke politics is destructive should use his wisdom and intelligence to demonstrate why the woke program trends toward disaster—and to provide saner solutions to the problems that wokeness purports to solve. Unlike procedural reforms meant to shore up the control of a passing demographic, these arguments might provide us with the intellectual tools needed to fight off the radicals even after boomer centrists exit the scene.
To me, Greer is making it sound like you could just sit down with Woke activists, have a reasoned discussion, and come up with solutions that are acceptable to them as well as us fuddy-duddy boomers. I wish that I could believe that.
Scott Sumner points to Justin Smith, who writes,
The last great regime change happened after September 11, 2001, when terrorism and the pretext of its prevention began to reshape the contours of our public life. Of course, terrorism really does happen, yet the complex system of shoe removal, carry-on liquid rules, and all the other practices of twenty-first-century air travel long ago took on a reality of its own, sustaining itself quite apart from its efficacy in deterring attacks in the form of a massive jobs program for TSA agents and a gold mine of new entrepreneurial opportunities for vendors of travel-size toothpaste and antacids. The new regime might appropriately be imagined as an echo of the state of emergency that became permanent after 9/11, but now extended to the entirety of our social lives, rather than simply airports and other targets of potential terrorist interest.
Before 9/11, libertarianism appeared to be on an upswing. The Internet seemed to point the way toward decentralization. But 9/11, the Financial Crisis, and the virus crisis all turned out to produce Higgsian ratchets, expanding the role of government.
Justin Smith, though, blames capitalism.
a significant portion of the decisions that, until recently, would have been considered subject to democratic procedure have instead been turned over to experts, or purported experts, who rely for the implementation of their decisions on private companies, particularly tech and pharmaceutical companies, which, in needing to turn profits for shareholders, have their own reasons for hoping that whatever crisis they have been given the task of managing does not end.
Once again, in an important sense, much of this is not new: it’s just capitalism doing its thing. What has seemed unprecedented is the eagerness with which self-styled progressives have rushed to the support of the new regime, and have sought to marginalize dissenting voices as belonging to fringe conspiracy theorists and unscrupulous reactionaries.
This is a bootleggers and baptists model. The bootleggers are those who personally profit from COVID policy. The baptists are the “COVID maximalists” who treat getting COVID as an indication of sin, as if it were an STD.
you’d have to say that the Left and Right have switched sides a few times in the course of our history. But at least in the latter half of the 20th century, the Right tended to see itself as the “inside” party — the party of propriety and standards, that sought to defend the institutions from invasions by barbarians, vulgarians, and miscreants. This has been the case even when those awful people were for all intents and purposes running those institutions — and so the modern Right has sought to save the courts from the judges and (with much less success) the universities from the professors. The Left, meanwhile, tended to see itself as the “outside” party, shocking the sensibilities of the elites and fighting the establishment — even though the elites and the establishment have voted for the Democrats for decades. In this century, however, the parties have basically switched sides in this respect, or maybe have come to recognize a change in the underlying society. Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.
Balaji says something similar in The Networked State.
most Americans know vaguely that the Republican and Democrat parties “switched sides,” that Republicans were on the left in 1865 and on the right by 1965, but not exactly how that happened.
How did the GOP move from the “Radical Republicans” of Lincoln’s time, to the conservative Republicans of mid-century, to the proletarian truckers of the post-Trump party? And how did Democrats go from secessionist Confederates to anti-anti-communist liberals to woke capitalists?
In these sorts of framings, what is permanent? I think that Balaji would say that it is in the nature of humans to form two large, opposed coalitions striving for power, and for one to achieve dominance. The dominant coalition will pose as the protector of order, and the other coalition will pose as the revolution on behalf of the underdog.
What is confusing today is that the Progressives pose as being the champions of the underdog, but otherwise they act like the dominant coalition. They control most of the powerful institutions. Tactically, “conservatives” are revolutionaries, while “progressives” are counter-revolutionaries. Balaji writes,
Free speech is now coded red, while the FBI is now blue. Because Democrats are the ruling class now.
I am thinking that Balaji’s book would make for a lively Zoom discussion with subscribers. Anyone on board?
I would love a Networked State discussion. I read Zeihan through a Balaji lens. You might have a better chance of getting Balaji to join, though time zones are brutal when he's in Singapore.
Bit late to the party, but per my generational framing I am less concerned with convincing the wokes than with the people who will become wokes for lack of better alternatives. This is a problem not just of the moment, but a generation into the future.