Links to Consider, 12/8
Mary Harrington on content police; Scott Alexander and me on David Brooks' Bobos; Rob Henderson and Chris Williamson; Julia Black on tech stars and pronatalism; and some of my impressions of Austin
A generation raised to view the autocratic power of online moderators as normal will not find it particularly strange if real-world authorities also begin functioning in much the same way. In this context, it should not surprise anyone that young people are increasingly authoritarian. But perhaps the most salient feature of online communities as a governing metaphor for legitimate use of power is the backstage fusion it enables between human and machine authority.
every true silicon-blooded techie dreams of a world with no ruling class. A world where DeFi algorithms replace bankers, prediction markets replace “thought leaders”, and something something Khan Academy handwave bootcamp something something replaces the Ivy League. This is a beautiful utopian vision, which means it will never happen. More realistically, might techies replace traditional meritocrats as the ruling class? I think this was plausible around 2015, then fizzled out. Partly it fizzled because the New York Times, eternal mouthpiece of the establishment, noticed the situation and played defense effectively. Partly it failed because the meritocrats sort of took over Silicon Valley, and even though they don't own everything yet, they do own enough to prevent it from organizing into a real counterelite. And partly it failed because the specter of Trump convinced lots of different elites to close ranks around the bluechecks as heroic defenders of democracy. I'm currently bearish on the whole project.
He is revisiting David Brooks’ classic Bobos in Paradise, published in May of 2000. To see how well Brooks grasped the emerging class conflict, note that at one point he lists a bunch of items that are popular with the lower class but not the Bourgeois-Bohemian elite, and in that list is Donald Trump!
But I recommend going back to what I wrote in 2001. That essay was reasonably prophetic. For one thing, I think I nailed David Brooks.
Brooks comes across to me as an elitist. His message to Bobos seems to me, "You are an elite, even though you refuse to recognize it. This carries with it responsibility. You ought to become more engaged over big social issues."
In fact, one could make a case that one of the problems with Bobos is that they are arrogant and isolated from mainstream America. In that case, urging them to seize the elitist mantle seems like an unwise course.
For another thing, I think I really nailed what we now call the Blue elite.
The Bobo model may not be as robust with respect to the absence of moral courage.
If you cannot address people's villainy because you are paralyzed by their status as victims, then you can expect some day to be overrun by the villains.
If you continue to denigrate monogamous heterosexual relationships, then you can expect to find fewer children growing up in the stable environment that such relationships help to protect.
If you treat government as a parent, then you can expect Constitutional limitations on government power to erode.
If you cannot keep from falling into the Nurturant Parent Trap of becoming weak and indulgent even when children misbehave, then you can expect troubled children and chaotic schools.
Rob Henderson and Chris Williamson discuss human aggression and evolution. I found this a podcast worth listening to and taking notes on. For example, about 28 minutes in, Williamson cites the theory that there is an optimal amount of psychopaths in a group. Sometimes the group’s survival depends on doing harsh things, so you need some psychopaths. But too many and the group cannot function internally.
And as that future starts to look more and more apocalyptic to some of the world's wealthiest people, the idea of pronatalism starts to look more heroic. It's a proposition uniquely suited to Silicon Valley's brand of hubris: If humanity is on the brink, and they alone can save us, then they owe it to society to replicate themselves as many times as possible.
…According to tech-industry insiders, this type of rhetoric is spreading at intimate gatherings among some of the most powerful figures in America. It's "big here in Austin," the 23andMe cofounder Linda Avey told me.
Pointer fromI read the article while in Austin. The tech scene there is very active. I describe it as San Francisco without the shmutz. Also, not nearly as many Asian-Americans (I refer to both East Asians and South Asians). If there has been a migration from the Bay Area, it is mostly white folks.
I think some of these people are living on cash raised a year or two ago, when startup funding was plentiful. A lot of guys have projects in the crypto/blockchain space, and they at least pretend not to be fazed by this year’s crash. I worry about them.
I have this line that “If you get a chance to sell an Internet company in 1999, take it.” It’s too late to do that in crypto. Of course, a few of the classic Dotcoms survived the crash of 2000 and ended up doing quite well. But to do that in crypto, you need two things to happen. One is that crypto is truly foundational technology, comparable to the Internet. I don’t buy into that. And if it is truly foundational, then the second thing that has to happen is that your startup turns out to be one of the few that has durable value.
Overall, walking around downtown and along the Colorado River, I saw many, many young people who appeared to be emotionally healthy. Hardly anyone seems to have a tattoo or a body piercing or purple hair. Snippets of conversations I overheard were about propelling businesses forward.
The contrast with young people in the Cambridge-Somerville area of Boston was striking. There, the conversations seem to consist of complaints, about the way the non-profit they work for is being run or about politics or about society in general. And there is a lot more body decor.
And in AustinI did hear about the pronatalism mini-movement for the first time, but I did not meet anyone mentioned in the article. I respect the intuition of those who are repulsed by the movement’s emphasis on getting the “best” people to breed. I think it is an example of an ideology, like climate alarmism or effective altruism or “disinformation” censorship, that lacks epistemic humility. This can led to a bad case of what I call FOOL, meaning Fear Of Others’ Liberty. You think that the world cannot survive if everyone else just goes about their business and makes the best of their lives. When your ideology has a significant FOOL component, you may not be explicitly totalitarian, but I worry that you are becoming totalitarian-adjacent.
"Smart successful people want to have more kids = Hitler adjacent" is a pretty gloomy take.
That last paragraph is very important. A very valuable point.