Keeping up with the FITs, No. 19
Andrew Sullivan, Robin Hanson, Freddie deBoer, Richard Hanania, Noah Smith
The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.
Before the Internet and smart phones, there was a clear difference between what I call the intimate world and the remote world. The intimate world included the people with whom you interacted regularly—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the bowling team. The remote world was the world of celebrities, sports stars, politicians, criminals (am I repeating myself?). You followed them on television and in magazines.
On our smart phone, these two realms are indistinguishable. Your friends show up like celebrities, as they show off on social media. Swipe or scroll down, and now someone in the remote world is sharing a tweet with you.
Somehow, we need to adjust to the technology that puts our intimate world and our remote world on the same screen. Either we have to develop the instinct to keep these worlds separate from one another or else we have to adopt a set of cultural norms that allows us to live comfortably in a world in which the intimate world and the remote world are blended.
People often interpret being persuaded to move toward someone else’s position as being dominated by them.
That sentence, which is buried, is to me the most interesting sentence in his entire post. It deserves an entire essay of its own.
I prefer to emphasize the distinction between prestige and dominance. If you interpret being persuaded to move toward someone else’s position as assigning them prestige, that is a different from feeling yourself threatened or dominated. Listen to Glenn Loury talk about being persuaded that he needs to be less glib about systemic racism (the last ten minutes of this podcast.
Freddy deBoer, who I think of as Old Left (i.e., concerned primarily with class division under capitalism), delivers the sort of scolding of young social justice activists, that a conservative would love to have authored. I’ll let you read his peroration yourself. Instead, le me excerpt a paragraph about how most of the left is intimated by what I might call the Bolsheviks.
Core to understanding this moment is to realize that the vast majority of people who enforce these politics don’t actually believe in them. They don’t, that is, think that social justice politics as currently composed are healthy or just or likely to result in tangible positive change. There’s a core of true-believers who do, and there’s a group of those who profit directly from the hegemony of social justice politics in elite spaces. (The former two groups have some overlap, but it’s not a perfect circle.) There’s conservative critics, who are both the most natural targets of social justice ire and yet those the social justice movement seem least interested in targeting. There’s an island of misfit toys of left and leftish critics of social justice politics like me. And then there’s the great big mass of people who are just scared.
Much of deBoer’s essay discusses Ezra Klein. I could argue that Klein exemplifies my economic theory of Woke takeovers. Klein’s investment in the New York Times is relatively shallow. He once deserted a famous newspaper but landed on his feet, and he could easily do so again. So don’t expect Klein to care whether the Times’ brand is sullied by biased young wokesters.
Commenting on my speculative theory of Woke takeovers getting little resistance because people are not invested in their institutions, Richard Hanania writes,
I like this theory. I got a PhD, and used to care a lot about the politics of academia when I thought that’s where I’d be, before realizing I could do much better outside it. And in my last podcast with Razib, he said he never finished his PhD as he at some point realized he was making more money than his professors doing outside work. And he was of course freer to speak his mind.
Health care subsidies (and child care subsidies, and higher ed subsidies) are the wrong choice. Not because they’re bad — Medicare should include dental and vision, Medicaid subsidies would relieve some human suffering — but because they’re not the best things in the bill. They represent Cost Disease Socialism — relieving the economic burdens of lower-income Americans by buying them more of stuff that already costs our society too much to produce.
He cites a paper by Steven M. Teles, Samuel Hammond, and Daniel Takash. They write,
We’re fortunate, then, that employing a maid and attending a symphony were not considered as essential to daily life as health care or education. Had they been, they may very well have been subsidized and regulated far in excess of any public policy rationale, creating long-term public liabilities while forestalling technological progress, all in the name of maintaining their middle-class affordability.
Many of my readers know that in Specialization and Trade I pointed out that the political process for industrial policy is to subsidize demand and restrict supply, which is never what orthodox economics recommends for dealing with market failures. Subsidizing demand while restricting supply has ambiguous effects on output (in the case of housing, for example, the net effect is probably negative) while certainly raising prices.
I think you need to examine the assumption that Klein believes "the Times’ brand is sullied by biased young wokesters." It is entirely possible Klein believes that the Times' is actually being improved by the new blood, either because he thinks their behavior is popular with the relevant readership who the Times' serves, or because he thinks their behavior is ethically what the Times should be doing and so is worth pursuing despite the disapproval of others. It is very typical of humans to excuse or even encourage terrible behavior when that behavior is being done to further goals one agrees with.
I agree with Hanania. Your theory of Woke takeovers seems intuitively correct. It fits Sapiens. I love the success of Razib Khan as Hanania relates. Has the rise of the Web as a commons brought back some of the dynamic of the late 17th and early 18th centuries? I'm thinking of the intellectual landscape in the time of the founding of the Royal Society.