Pursuit of truth generally
Oliver Traldi helps answer “How are those without expertise to determine who has it?”:
Yet another problem for our experts is that the source, nature, and relevance of their expertise is often ill-defined. A degreed professional like First Lady Jill Biden might want to be called “Doctor,” but even those who accede will struggle to articulate just what kind of knowledge she has that the rest of us lack. What is the knowledge-how or knowledge-that accompanying a doctorate degree in educational leadership? Or take the world’s most famous diversity consultant, Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D., whose degree is in “Multicultural Education” and whose “area of research” is “Whiteness Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis.” On what field of propositions would we expect her to be an authoritative source and ask the typical non-expert to defer, setting aside his own judgment for hers?
Even when expertise is genuine, disciplines and professions, along with their practitioners, seem determined to overextend its breadth for purposes of laundering their personal, non-expert opinions under their expert brand. In the summer of 2020, over a thousand public-health researchers signed a letter expressing their support for mass public protests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they insisted that in all other contexts the COVID-19 threat weighed against such gatherings. In The Atlantic, under the headline “Public Health Experts are Not Hypocrites,” Harvard Medical School professor Julia Marcus and Yale School of Public Health professor and MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner Gregg Gonsalves proposed that “systemic racism” was itself “a pervasive and long-standing public-health crisis.” By expanding the reach of the term “health,” the authors seemed to think they could also expand, as though by linguistic fiat, the breadth of their knowledge about the world, and demand new deference on matters of morality and politics. The signatories were public health experts, and systemic racism was a public health crisis, ergo the signatories were systemic racism experts.
Of course, such justification by stipulation is no justification at all. Marcus and Gonsalves never managed to explain what special insight a public health expert might have on the benefits of nationwide protests, or why anyone should defer to their conclusion that “the health implications of maintaining the status quo of white supremacy are too great to ignore, even with the potential for an increase in coronavirus transmission from the protest.” Making matters worse, they warned that even asking, “How many new infections from the protests will public health experts tolerate?” is an impermissible “call to color blindness, to stop seeing the health effects of systemic racism as something worthy of attention during the pandemic.” Now they were self-declared moral experts in two ways: qualified to adjudicate a divisive political debate, and further qualified to scold those who might question that initial qualification. They didn’t just know better than us; they were better than us.
Oliver Traldi, With All Due Respect to the Experts. Brilliant and very worth reading.
Here is a quick and generally reliable rule to follow. If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.
Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes
In keeping with their field’s tolerance for acronyms, they called it AMITT (Adversarial Misinformation and Influence Tactics and Techniques). They’ve identified more than 60 techniques so far, mapping them onto the phases of an attack. Technique 49 is flooding, using bots or trolls to overtake a conversation by posting so much material it drowns out other ideas. Technique 18 is paid targeted ads. Technique 54 is amplification by Twitter bots. But the database is just getting started.
Wired.com, One Data Scientist’s Quest to Quash Misinformation
There’s gold in that there discourse!
Freddie deBoer finally said what I’ve wanted to say, and says it at length, with appropriate contempt, and with contemporary illustrations that I couldn’t have produced because I’m now culturally illiterate as to anything in popular culture. F’rinstance:
[S]ome of the most successful self-marketers of the 21st century are white men. They are, in fact, Good White Men.
These are the guys who put their pronouns in their bios in hopes that doing so might get them a little pussy. These are the guys who will harangue you about how white dudes do this and white dudes do that, speaking to you from their blameless white dude mouths in their righteous white dude faces. These are the guys who look at the discourse about white supremacy and patriarchy and see market opportunity.
… Good White Males think whiteness and maleness are problems to be solved. The trouble here is twofold. First, simply by nature of being Good White Men, by the very act of endlessly talking about the sinful nature of other white men, the Good White Men exonerate themselves from the very critique they advance. Constantly complaining about the evil done by white men inherently and invariably functions to contrast themselves with other, worse white men. Being the white man who talks about the poor character of most white men cannot help but shine your own character. No matter how reflexively you chant that you realize that you yourself are part of the problem, no matter how insistently you say that you’re included in your own critique, you aren’t. You can’t be. To be the one who makes the critique inevitably elevates you above it.
He who humbleth himself wishes to be exalted.
Second, standing up and demanding that everyone pay attention to someone else sure is a good way to monopolize attention for yourself. If you go on your podcast, blog, cable news show, or social network as a white man and tell other white men they need to shut up and listen, you are definitionally not shutting up and listening – and, of course, doing so in such a way as to receive credit for doing it. Put another way, Good White Men constantly tell other men and white people to step back and listen but absolutely never shut the fuck up themselves. Each of these guys could walk the talk by just unplugging and no longer filling the airwaves with their opinions, and in so doing cede space to POC and women and whoever else. That they don’t is the most damning indictment of their project.
Freddie deBoer, The Good White Man Roster
Politics and our common life
Liberalism according to Frank Fukuyama
N.S. Lyons: when he/she is good, he/she is very, very good. The latest is a review essay, mostly of Francis Fukuyama’s Liberalism and its Discontents, but with a quarter or so on Conservatism: A Rediscovery, by Yoram Hazony.
This is a long read. The tl;dr is that Fukuyama’s modest introductory definition of liberalism is tacitly abandoned for most of the rest of the book. I think Lyons is in the camp that liberalism (i.e., classical liberalism, which comes in left and right flavors) is incoherent — and that today’s conservatism is really right liberalism and therefore also incoherent. Hazony’s thicker conservatism fares better.
The preceding paragraph is my next-day-from-memory summary. Your mileage may vary.
Republicans are gloating over the Maya Flores winning election to Congress in a blue Latino pocket in Texas:
The most recent margin in Texas’s 34th congressional district was five points for the Democrats. Flores beat Sanchez by eight points. That’s a 13-point swing toward the Republican Party. And the Texas special election followed similar elections in California and Alaska where Republicans also over-performed.
National Review. Their point is that the GOP is going to slaughter the Democrats in the Fall mid-terms.
That may be true, but Maya Flores isn’t really a good sign of it, as I’ve learned from the Dispatch’s Sara Isgur and nowhere else:
- This was a special election to fill a vacancy; Flores will serve only until January unless elected again in the Fall.
- Flores raised something like $700,000; her Democrat opponent more like $46,000.
- I’m not even sure the Democrat spent all his money; Flores winning doesn’t shift the balance of Congress and is only for about 7 months.
- A congressional district now has more than 700,000 people in it. Only something like 14,000 voted in Tuesday’s election.
If Flores wins in the Fall, that will be a bigger deal. Meanwhile, the Republicans really aren’t delusional about Latino gains.
(If “Latino” is not currently the preferred word, sorry/not sorry. I can’t keep up. I originally said “hispanic,” but that didn’t sound au courant.)
Monisms are tweetable and retweetable, compressible into soundbites; pluralisms are not. Therefore in our current media environment, all versions of pluralism are structurally disadvantaged.
Alan Jacobs, Ten Theses on Monism and Pluralism, Plus a Quotation
How conspiracy theorists go wrong
What distinguishes conspiracy theorists from the rest of us is their inability or unwillingness to believe that big consequences can flow from small, accidental, disorganized, even ludicrous causes.
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Voters Elected the Jan. 6 Donald Trump
I believe Democrats know they should have nominated Senator Amy Klobuchar in 2020, and they’ll figure out a way to do it for 2024.
Andrew C. McCarthy, Liz Cheney Is Winning the January 6 Committee.
All I will say is I think that would be very good for the country.
I take that back: we also should consider electoral reforms (ranked-choice voting? open primaries?) that give saner candidates a better chance.
Side shows and main events
As I have argued at some length, the invasion of the Capitol and the vandalism and violence associated with it were a sideshow, and should be understood as such. The main event was Donald Trump’s attempt to find some legal or procedural fig leaf for invalidating the 2020 presidential election, and by that means to remain in power — a coup d’état under color of law …
The fact that Republicans have cynical, self-serving reasons for not taking the Democrats seriously does not erase the fact that there are excellent reasons for not taking the Democrats seriously — contempt for what the Democratic Party embodies and stands for is in fact a moral necessity.
Kevin D. Williamson, January 6 Hearings: Story without a Hero
Disarming the case against political violence
On both sides of the aisle, there is increasing acceptance of the idea that our political institutions are illegitimate, which while it isn’t in itself a call to violence effectively disarms the strongest argument against violence. This is most obvious on the Republican side, something the ongoing January 6th hearings have provided a powerful reminder of. A huge percentage of the GOP rank and file believe that the last election was stolen and therefore that the current government is illegitimate, and while only a tiny minority participated in violence in response on that fatal day, it’s difficult in practice to convincingly disavow that response without forcefully rejecting the premise that justified it.
Noah Millman, Do We Need To Worry About Violence Against the Court?
Desperate times, desperate measures?
As he sheltered with Mike Pence from the January 6 rioters, Pence’s legal counsel Greg Jacob
emailed constitutional law professor John Eastman, architect of the plan for Pence to reject the electoral votes Congress certified. “Thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege,” he wrote.
“The siege is because you and your boss did not do what was necessary,” Eastman replied.
Throughout the day yesterday, witnesses—including Jacob—eviscerated the legal arguments underpinning Eastman’s plan, while lawmakers laid out evidence that Eastman and other Trump allies knew full well the flaws in their strategy—but forged ahead with a pressure campaign urging Pence to go along anyway. After the riot, Eastman was so fearful of legal consequences he emailed Rudy Giuliani that he’d “decided that [he] should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.” Trump never gave him one, and according to committee members, he’s pleaded the Fifth Amendment 100 times in his testimony before them.
Some wit put John Eastman’s pardon plea in Haiku:
(received through the grapevine).
“Soft Totalitarianism” captures something no other term seems to
I know some good people who scoff that “soft totalitarianism” is an oxymoron, but I haven’t seen a better term for this kind of just-making-shit-up coordinated suppression of unfashionable
ideas truths while tolerating truly vile behavior by preferred ideologies:
Not to be outdone, this week, PayPal and Etsy shut down the accounts of biological realist and writer Colin Wright for his persistence in arguing that there are only two sexes. Etsy permanently disabled Wright’s account – where he sold his “Reality’s Last Stand” merch promoting his newsletter – on the grounds that Wright “glorif[ied] hatred or violence toward protected groups.” That’s a lie; Wright never did.
Wright is a biologist who made the grievous error of knowing a thing or two about biology and refusing to genuflect before the Torquemadas who insist he parrot their phony gender science. But of course, while Wright pays this price for his harmless (and, honestly, inoffensive) t-shirts and mugs, Etsy continues to list for sale stickers and pins and other bric-a-brac emblazoned with messages like “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs can choke,” and “Shut the Fuck up TERF” with an anime creature pointing a semiautomatic handgun at its presumably female interlocutor.
The salacious details can’t really be avoided if I want to illustrate how transgender ideology is intruding on the most intimate realms (and I do):
A natal female who had sex with three women using a specially-made prosthetic has been convicted of assault. Tarjit Singh, born Hannah Walters, met women via online dating, and kept clothes on during intimacy in the dark to avoid being revealed as a natal female. It was only several months into one relationship, on discovery of the prosthetic, that Singh’s natal sex was revealed.
This story reads very differently depending on where you’re standing. Is it a case of sexual assault, with a victim tricked into intimate contact she wouldn’t have accepted if she’d known the sex of the individual she was dating? Or is it evidence of our transphobic society, where stigma forced “Tarjit Singh” first to conceal “his” true self only subsequently to be punished for this with the full force of the law?
Mary Harrington, Landmark trans cases show who the men really are
Similar cases are happening and, dare I suggest, increasing;
A recent US case, with similarities to that of ‘Tarjit Singh’, resulted in murder …
Ismiemen Etute, a Virginia college athlete, beat Jerry Smith to death after discovering he’d posed as “Angie Renee” online to obtain sexual contact with Etute.
Lesbians are being called transphobes for wanting sexual contact only with
natal real women. Sexual louts like Etute commit murder when tricked by a man pretending to be a horny woman.
It appears that sexual liberation has not produced utopia, no?
Old man led by zealots
Nevertheless, our President thinks we need more of what ails us — the veritable definition of insanity:
Biden has never seemed more like an old man being led by zealots than on the topic of medical interventions for gender dysphoric children, where he is deeply radical. Biden this week is signing an executive order banning any federal funds from “conversion therapy,” which is what activists call it when teen girls go to a therapist for a couple visits before getting a mastectomy. His policies are putting America’s approach to this complex topic far to the left of European nations (some of which are pulling away from under-18 medical interventions altogether) and far to the left even of where many trans leaders think we should be.
Nellie Bowles (italics added).
A Psalm for anxiety over “cancel culture,” “soft tyranny” and some other insanities.
Although federal, state, and local fair housing laws generally permit discrimination in selecting roommates or housemates, they still prohibit advertisers from mentioning their discriminatory preferences, except for specifying gender. The result is that persons who place classified ads for roommates waste their time, as well as the time of many of those who respond to their ads, by inviting and dealing with inquiries from persons who fail to meet the actual “discriminatory” criteria.
David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!
New podcast, familiar podcasters
If you liked the All the President’s Lawyers podcast, you are almost certain to like Serious Trouble.
As long as I’m (uncharacteristically) embedding images, this favorite from the nation of Georgia. There was much, much beauty there, but this gritty, grimy vista along the road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda was unique:
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.