Links to Consider, 2/28
Matt Taibbi on the elites who hate our freedom; Brian Chau on elites who never lose status; Ed West on declining fertility; Jonathan Haidt on research on social media and social pathology
It’s all part of what’s become an urgent propaganda mission, convincing ordinary people to fear their own freedoms, and volunteer for “emergency” suspensions of rights. Too much citizen freedom really is a problem for people like Justin Trudeau, who rightly fear a throw-the-bums-out campaign. But in democracy, bums sometimes need throwing out. And we need the freedom to say so.
I call it Fear Of Others’ Liberty. And our elites seem to have it in spades.
I hesitated about linking to the post, since there is “nothing new” in it. And I know that there is the argument that with the Internet it is easy for anyone to articulate a dissenting point of view, so what is the problem?
I think that the problem is that progressive elites have such closed minds. Maybe they cannot succeed in shutting down dissent completely. But the fact that they so desperately want to do so is a tell about the lack of robustness of their beliefs.
It is true that in all the examples described, the regime has completely failed to accomplish its explicitly stated purpose. Yet individual actors within it are almost always in a position of greater power than previously. The military-industrial complex gained far greater budgets and unconstitutional domestic surveillance. The media dominance of social progressives and Lysenkoist civil rights laws persist despite their debunking. As I explained in my article for Tablet, feminized and mediocre workplaces select more from the feminized, mediocre milieu (even over more competent candidates), creating a feedback loop that deteriorates large companies. In a Lysenkoist regime, failing up is the norm. You don’t beat Lysenko by being better than him at farming. You get sent to the gulag for that. Similarly, you don’t beat civil rights law by posting crime statistics or the military-industrial complex by posting the military budget. There are realms of competition where logic does not apply. Of course, these realms of competition can only exist if they are shielded from the consequences of their own actions. Which they absolutely are.
If you are comparing markets with government, this is a point in favor of markets. Compare what became of Ben Bernanke or Anthony Fauci with what became of Bernie Madoff or Elizabeth Holmes. Or just compare the financial security of the typical bureaucrat with that of the typical small business owner.
In markets, you are much less likely to see a Lysenkoist regime, in which people are shielded from the consequences of their own actions.
It’s worth trying to fix housing and childcare costs, because both problems make us poorer and more miserable, but I’m sceptical about how much of a difference it will really make to low fertility levels and the economic crisis that follows. The issue goes much deeper, to the question of how much support we give parents, not in terms of cash but of authority and prestige.
I want to offer the hypothesis that women prefer not to go through pregnancy. In an agricultural society, where children helped out on the farm, women were pressured to be breeders. In an industrial society, where most of the market work required physical strength, women had no other role to play. And in both societies, birth control was not reliable.
Pregnancy brings with it morning sickness, other discomforts, and long-term distortions to the woman’s body. For a woman in her twenties, pregnancy is an interruption to her education and career. For a woman in her thirties, the physical challenges, including the challenge of getting pregnant, loom larger.
Maybe you’re going to tell me that your great-Aunt Millie always said she had fond memories of going through pregnancy. And her brother Max always used to look forward to getting his colonoscopy. They are not the norm.
When pollsters ask women if they want children, a lot of them say yes. Sure, if you skip the part that having your child means going through pregnancy. I wonder what the numbers would say if they asked how eager a woman is to go through pregnancy in order to have a child.
And yes, I know, the undersupply of high-status men (meaning those with a college degree) is also a factor in lower rates of marriage and childbirth.
Jonathan Haidt writes,
A lot of new work has been published since 2019, and there has been a recent and surprising convergence among the leading opponents in the debate (including Hancock and me). There is now a great deal of evidence that social media is a substantial cause, not just a tiny correlate, of depression and anxiety, and therefore of behaviors related to depression and anxiety, including self-harm and suicide.
This is his wheelhouse, and he keeps on top of the research. I would not give much credence to an amateur who challenges him, unless it is someone as capable as Scott Alexander. Scott seems to be an expertise in depression, so this might be in his wheelhouse. But as far as I know, he has not delved into the issue of the social media connection.
Substacks referenced above:
Just as a quick reaction - I am a woman and had one pregnancy. I think I get what you are trying to say.. but worth noting that pregnancy had a totally trivial impact on my life compared to HAVING TO LOOK AFTER A BABY (even though I could totally afford childcare). This is the real big deal, and the reason I only had one kid.
Regarding the elites who never lose status: I think that, while the market does curtail some of the worse examples of failing upwards, being insulated from the results of your actions is alive and well in big corporations. That seems to be the key: the bigger an organization the less accountable all the members are, particularly in the tangle of management where assigning responsibility and blame is difficult. Government bureaucrats have the benefit of being in a monopoly that takes the money it needs to run, but the size of their organizations might be part of the driving force as well, one shared with the private sector.
(I don't think it is a coincidence that most, if not all, government regulation of businesses tends to drive them towards ever larger organizations.)