It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.
A not-so-great realignment
Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."
So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!
Viktor ticks me off
I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”
But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:
In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.
Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.
How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)
I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.
What authoritarianism does to decent people
Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.
If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.
Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.
All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.
This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:
Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.
It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.
I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?
Balancing negative externalities
We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)
One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).
Getting the Analogy Right
SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.
Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:
[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.
Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom
What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion
If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?
How about $190 billion?
The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.
I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.
And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.
Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).
Academics and Intellectuals
An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.
Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.
Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything
This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:
I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.
Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.
But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.
So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)
Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?
Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.
I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:
Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.
When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."
Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.
Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.
Liberal, but uncivilized
In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?
The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.
It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.
I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.
Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)
I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)
I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.
Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.
If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.
Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.
A Bad Trip
Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.
How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.
But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.
At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?
This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.
Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed
The Red-letter Day that fizzled
This ought to be a red-letter day:
Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).
The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.
I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.
I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.
[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.
Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry
The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.