Tag Archives: journalism

A Monstrous Mess (collapse & shared narratives)

A Monstrous Mess

Painting in broad strokes, I would say that the discipline era began with the industrial revolution and eventually ended due to backlash in the form of the 1960’s counterculture. And what did the discipline era produce? It produced greatest economic and population booms in the history of mankind, the eradication or cure of most of the world’s deadliest diseases, world domination by Western civilization, and eventually culminated with a trip to the moon. That’s not a bad track record, if you ask me.

The thing is–innovation, population growth, and economic growth hasn’t gone away–but it’s harder to detect or has been obfuscated by cultural decay. It’s like putting a big ugly Hillary 2016 bumper sticker on a Ferrari…it’s still a functioning sports car, but its’s less aesthetically pleasing. The trend in technology for the past few decades has been from macro-sized innovations (planes, rockets, skyscrapers, mainframes, etc.) to micro-innovations (smart phones, apps, biotechnology, semiconductors, computer science, neurology, nanotechnology, fuel cell technology, etc.). So why hasn’t post-60′s liberalism done more to hinder innovation? I suspect the private sector plays an important role in insulating innovation and economic growth from the deleterious social effects of far-left liberalism. If it weren’t for the private sector and the ‘ownership society’, then there would have been collapse long ago. These SJW-professors alone obviously can’t sustain a civilization. How long can this last….I don’t know, but if past performance if predictive of future results, maybe a very long time.

Below is video of Aaron Clarey discussing that although America may be in decline, it’s still stronger than the rest of the world by comparison, which I agree. The strength of the US dollar will forestall collapse, perhaps indefinitely, as the rest of the world, which is more corrupt and has slower growth, swirls the drain.

If you’re on team blue, focus on taking a more disciplined approach (maybe we can’t actually afford to educate every disabled child, and maybe black crime can’t always be blamed on white people…).

Agree.

Other parts of the essay are cringeworthy (but when I read an article, I try to judge it not by its weakest parts, but try to extract value and insight where it can be found), but the indented readership isn’t the far-right, or more broadly, the ‘dissent right’, who already have their minds decided; rather, the message is more nuanced and intended for the undecided, which broadens its appeal and actually makes the essay more effective (as measured by the ability to change as many minds as possible) than had it been too extreme, because by being too extreme, readers who are undecided tend to respond by mentally shutting down (hitting the back button) than being receptive to being nudged. In post-2013 online journalism, for maximum effectiveness, the goal is to nudge the reader to your intended conclusion, not push him.

Centrism and the ‘rational middle‘ (or what I call the ‘sweet, boring middle’) are seeing rapid growth, with articles that frequently go viral on ‘smart’ sites such as Hacker News and Reddit, as part of the rise of ‘shared narratives’–themes that cross political boundaries that can be used to shift the Overton window by forging common ground between high-IQ members of the ‘blue tribe’ and the ‘red tribe’. The most common narratives are a shared distrust of elites (and how elites are insulated from the consequences of their actions), skepticism or rejection of ‘majoritarian’ systems, and the premonition that America and or civilization is ‘going in the wrong direction’. Both sides can relate to Trump being a symptom of the times. This also ties in with the rejection of both low-information conservationism and low-information liberalism. But methods that appeal to rationalism and sanity won’t work on the far-left, who are more emotional and blindly conformist than logical.

Real news or fake news? Give me the fake news

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I don’t hold the news media in high regard:

Why the News Is Still Mostly Pointless

The Financial Media: It’s Still Useless

Right now the left is losing their collective minds over so-called ‘fake news’, blaming it (along with fraud and racism) for Hillary losing and demanding that Facebook and Google do something to stop it.

The reality is, as the links above show, almost all news sucks and is pointless.

The left elevates ‘the news’ as somehow being an incorruptible, unimpeachable institution that answers to a higher calling in the pursuit of the truth, when in reality the news media is just another for-profit venture, like selling shoes or running a casino. Without advertising, the news media would have no reason to exist. The purpose of ‘news’ is to fill the spaces between the ads, but the only difference between ‘real’ news and ‘fake’ news is that the former supposedly has more ‘integrity’, but even that is suspect…remember, ‘real’ news gave the world rape hoaxes, ‘rape culture’, and an imaginary ‘college rape epidemic’. ‘Real’ news said that the US economy and stock market would implode if Trump won (stocks are now at 52-week highs two weeks after Trump’s win), or, between 2009-2015, that there would be ‘dollar collapse’, hyperinflation’, ‘stock market crisis’ and ‘recession’, none of which have happened. Or the WMDs in Iraq, that apparently didn’t exist but the New York Times said they did. One can argue that real news, through spreading lies and sensationalism wrapped in a veneer of ‘credibility’ and ‘respectability’, is far more destructive than fake news can ever be.

Also, fake news is fun, whimsical…real news is depressing (terrorism, death, murder, etc.)…fake news may be an escape for some people from the drudgery and monotony of day-to-day life. There is also a social element to it: conservatives may share fake news on Facebook, not because they always believe it, but to ‘signal’ a political position to their followers, in much the same ways liberals share Onion articles to their friends.

Third, the ‘left’ doesn’t hold their own fabulists and satirists to the same standards that they hold the ‘right’. How is fake news different than Colbert or The Onion, yet not a peep of outrage by the left over those. So really, it’s about censorship of websites and views that threaten the left’s pursuit of political power and media dominance, than promoting ‘journalistic integrity’.

A retort is that The Onion is an obvious satire and fake news is not…or is it? Nowhere on theonion.com is the word ‘satire’ or ‘fake’ mentioned. I guess the left, in a usual display of insularity and lack of awareness, just assumes ‘everyone’ knows what The Onion is, and that anyone who could possibly misconstrue it as ‘real’ is an idiot, but those ‘fake’ news sites, on the other hand, are apparently so convincing that they threaten the institution of democracy and something must be done about these sites, urgently.

The rise of ‘concern liberalism’ and the decline of ‘identity liberalism’

As more evidence of how the far-left is losing the war of words and ideas, many people, including those identify as the ‘left’, are rejecting how the liberal media caricatures its targets. We’re not seeing an anti-left or anti-right backslash but, since 2013, rather a backlash against ‘low information’ discourse, but it just so happens the liberal media may be the most susceptible to falling into the trap of reductionism, straw-manning, and oversimplification that constitutes ‘low information’.

Emotive and polarizing forms of liberalism have ceded to ‘concern liberalism’ whereby liberals now want to better understand their ideological opponents, going so far as to empathize or converse with them, not simply attack, dismiss, or ridicule them as was common during the ‘Bush Era’. I see it all the time…sensible liberals criticizing the New York Times in how it unfairly caricatures Trump supporters as one-dimensional bigots, whereas maybe a decade ago liberals didn’t speak up when the same paper (and its commenters) denigrated Bush and Romney voters, which is a welcome development and further evidence of the post-2013 anti-SJW backlash, that this blog has documented. For example, since 2015, there have been hundreds of articles by left-leaning publications in an effort to try to understand the alt-right instead of simply dismiss it. A recent example is an article in the Huffington Post My Journey to the Center of the At right. Or articles by Vox.com about the alt-right and NRx (neoreaction).

Other examples include social media such as Reddit, where liberals are holding other members of their ‘tribe’ accountable, unlike as recently as a decade ago when there was more unanimity. In response to the New York Times article Reddit and the God Emperor of the Internet, here are two highly up-voted comments of how the New York Times, as well as the rest of liberal establishment, has been blaming everyone but themselves for losing, and how attacking the alt-right has backfired:

The liberal media prides itself on being impartial and ‘open minded’ but such open-mindedness and impartiality doesn’t apply to their coverage of Trump and his supporters, in which the left trots out the same tropes and generalizations of ‘racism’ without considering the subtleties, such as how Trump represents a bottom-up approach to politics rather than a top-down one. Cries of ‘racism’ are ways to shut down debate, not foster conversation and understanding.

In the wake of Clinton’s loss, the pundit-left did some soul searching, in a well-received, highly viral piece The End of Identity Liberalism, that argues how liberalism cannot be about dividing people (such as by class, gender, or race) but by uniting them, finding similarities and ‘common ground’ (such a common yearning for freedom). Whites are people, too, who, like everyone else, have aspirations, concerns, and fears. Either bring them into the conversation, as with other groups, or exclude everyone equally. You cannot win an election by elevating some groups but disparaging or excluding others:

But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.

A retort is that Trump also ran a campaign of identity politics, but Trump never elevated any specific group. It may have been implied that he was appealing to Whites, but unlike Hillary, he didn’t make his preferences and pandering so explicitly obvious, as Hillary did with women and Hispanics.

People who post on Reddit seem to grasp this, which is why Identity, as well as the comments in the screenshot above, got so many up-votes and was shared thousands of times, but, by in large, the liberal media is still late to catch on, blaming racism or fraud for Clinton’s loss. You didn’t lose because of a cartoon frog, liberals; you lost because your message failed to resonate with voters; because you thought that the self-congratulatory affirmations that work for members of your own ‘tribe’ would somehow transfer to others, and it didn’t; because you thought that everyone would share or indulge in the same manufactured outrage, divisiveness, and sanctimoniousness that to you, the left, seemed self-evident but to others was repulsive. But also, the failure of the left to grasp how minorities can support Trump, because maybe they are tired of being pandered to. The left’s ‘conversations’ about race are just appeals to simplistic archetypes that fit into convenient political slots, stereotypes, or roles, as pawns for the lefts acquisition of power.

In an era of media sensationalism and politically biased misconstructions, Reddit and 4chan are solaces of rationalism where young people go for the unvarnished truth, while the old hacks over at the New York Times keep patting each other on the backs and wondering why their politicians are losing or why readership is down. Both the ‘rational left’ and the ‘rational right’ understand that appealing to the echo chamber of ‘low information’, where trite and divisive thinking reverberates, only hurts their causes. Instead of preaching to the choir, you have to preach to your harshest critics, and then not misconstrue their views but rather afford them the same intellectual courtesy that you give your own ‘tribe’.

Post-Pundit Era

Perhaps we’re kinda in a post-pundit era. Pundits used to have a lot of influence, but since 2013 or so, not as much. Through much of the 80′s and 90′s, pundits dominated the newspapers, radio, and TVs, their opinions broadcast to a Zingiest that eagerly spread the word, as well as influencing policy. Thomas Sowell, through his widely read books and columns, played a role in creating Reganomics, but nowadays one would be hard-pressed to find a pundit that influenced Obama as much as Reagan was influenced by by Sowell and Laffer.

One could argue that the first shoe to drop was the decline of talk radio and newspaper circulations and subscriptions, as a consequence of the internet era. As information became more disseminated and fragmented, the influence of the handful of so-called ‘mega pundits’ became diluted as thousands of smaller pundit such as bloggers and podcasters competed for people’s attention. Suddenly, the opinion pages of the WSJ and NYTs were read by fewer people, and fewer people care what Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman have to say, unlike in the early 2000′s when those mega-pundits had much more influence on the ‘national debate’.

Online, on major communities like Reddit and Hacker News, I can hardly recall anyone referencing anything written or said by a major pundit. For the ‘right’, no mentions of anything by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly. Likewise, no mentions of Paul Krugman, Maureen O’Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Thomas Blow, all of whom write for the biggest newspaper in the world, The New York Times. Ross Douthat is a notable exception, because he taps into these ‘shared narratives’ probably better than any other pundit.

The second shoe to drop, and a much more recent development, is the post-2013 rise of ‘intellectualism culture‘, as I alluded to in Alt-Right and Internet Journalism, consequentially lessening the viralness and influence of 80′s and 90′s-era partisan punditry, which has given way to ‘shared narratives’ and a more introspective or nuanced writing style. Although Ann Coulter articles are shared among conservative communities and websites, her articles almost never go viral on major social bookmarking sites. This is because her articles (as well as the same for leftist pundits like Krugman) are perhaps perceived as too opinionated and shrill, not intellectual or nuanced enough. Rather than tapping into a ‘shared narrative’ or using data visualizations, these pundits are just preaching to the choir, which was an effective strategy as recently as a decade ago, but will fail to expand the underlying message that the pundit is trying to convey to a savvier audience that has become deaf or repulsed by demagoguery.

Let’s say you want to ‘raise awareness’ (which is a hackneyed expression, but raising awareness is what pundits try to do) about America’s immigration problem. The pre-2013 approach would be to write a divisive opinion piece, replete with hyperbole and metaphors (such has referring to immigrants as ‘hordes of invaders’), and such an article would be widely read and well received by those already in your ‘tribe’, but it be very hard to get the article to go viral elsewhere. The post-2013 approach would be to ditch the hyperbole and opinions and instead create an article full of data visualizations that shows many immigrants are coming to America and how the native population is being displaced, and so on. The latter has a greater likelihood of going viral and, ultimately, raising awareness about immigration.

Alt-Right and Internet Journalism

‘The Media’ is the medium (TV, radio, internet, etc.) through which information is transferred from its producers to consumers. For this article, I’m going to focus primarily on internet journalism in the post-2013 era, and how it applies to the alt-right. Understanding internet journalism and its rules, trends, and how it has evolved, can improve the success of spreading content to consumers. But second, the media doesn’t just inform: it can change existing narratives or create new ones, either subliminally or blatantly. The latter has the potential to be very powerful. The word ‘propaganda’ has negative connotations, but what it really is is just effective communication, which by definition reaches a lot of people and changes minds.

There have been numerous articles and videos lately about the alt-right, in an effort to explain it to a broader population. Here’s a video of Vox Day being interviewed by Stefan Molyneaux about the alt-right. And here’s an article by Vox Day in which he links to a comprehensive summary of the alt-right written by Andrew Anglin, editor and founder of The Daily Stormer, a popular white nationalist site. Interestingly, Vox writes:

While there will no doubt be those who are uncomfortable with the more extreme elements of the Alt-Right, particularly on the part of conservatives and libertarians who would totally join it if only it didn’t involve making common cause with *those people*
, it is absolutely necessary to adopt a variant of the principle of Ronald Reagan, which is no enemies on the Right. A tendency to delicately recoil from anyone willing to articulate, let alone actually fight for, their own people’s interests is one of the fatal flaws of conservatism, which at its core is little more than an aesthetic philosophy of noble defeat.

Guilt by association is real – it’s a tough sell making Daily Stormer articles go viral outside of the white nationalist community – not because the articles are wrong or poorly written – but because many people (even those who may agree with parts of the content) don’t wish to be associated (for fear of the very real social consequences) with white nationalism, or as Vox Day calls those people.

But then look at major media properties like Vox.com (not to be confused with Vox Day), Medium.com, and FireThirtyEight – and then smaller sites such as WaitButWhy, SlateStarCodex, and MeltingAsphalt. All the aforementioned sites were launched between 2013-2014 and have seen explosive growth as ‘old media’ (CNN, Fox News, MSN, etc.) has stagnated:

The articles on the aforementioned sites almost always go massively viral, being shared thousands of times on Facebook and being up-vote hundreds or even thousands of times on social news sites like Reddit and Hacker News. This viralness produces hundreds of thousands – even millions – of page views for these sites, as consumers are exposed to (and share) their content. The reason why these sites and articles always go viral has to do with how internet journalism has changed since 2013, as I explain in Intellect The Universal Solvent, with the trend in internet journalism and social media favoring intellectualism and nuance over chest-pounding partisanship and demagoguery:

Scott’s success is also symptomatic or emblematic of a tectonic shift in online media and journalism from sensationalism and partisanship that was characteristic the pre-2013 era, to post-2013 era of centrism, ‘long form’ journalism, and rationalism, filling an insatiable demand by millions of smart, young people, especially since 2013, for the unvarnished, unmolested truth instead of pleasantries wrapped in a pretty bow of political correctness. But at the same time, millennials have also become impervious to sales pitches, hype, and demagoguery.

Pre-2013:

- Strongly partisan opinion pieces about culture war issues (Ann Coulter, Paul Krugman, etc.)
- Short length (300-500 words or so)
- No data visualizations, sparse data, mostly anecdotal and emotional
- Authoritative writing tone
- Reads like a rant
- Tends to be predictable
- Small grainy images or none at all
- Small Times New Roman font

Post-2013:

- Open-ended writing style to convey open mindedness but at the same time nudging (not pushing) the reader to your conclusion
- Anecdotal evidence and introspectiveness leads the article, which transitions to data visualizations and lots of contextual links and sources, and ends with footnotes and endnotes
- Long-form content (the longer the better)
- ‘Shared narratives’, less culture wars
- Overall, it reads as if were written by someone worldly and intelligent, almost as if it were written by a scientist or a programmer (with an added bonus if the author is a scientist), instead of just another journalist or pundit who graduated from no-name-U with a degree in journalism
- Tends to be contrarian, defy political labels
- Those huge mural images you see on the headers of many blogs
- Large web 2.0 fonts such as Ariel

The former is still popular, but in terms of getting monster page views and viralness, the latter is winning hands-down. Look at Vox…launched in early 2014, now one of the biggest and most influential ‘news’ sites out right now, if not the biggest. What Vox did was abandon the old, pre-2013 style of journalism (dry expository articles, terse articles, AP-news regurgitation, shrill partisan rants) and instead: use of data visualizations, graphics (such as charts), cartoons, long-form, extensive hyperlinking, extensive data and facts, and a conversational writing tone, to appeal to a hipper, savvier demographic (and in anticipation of changing sentiment and reader tastes, as explained in Solvent), and this strategy paid off big, as virtually all Vox articles go hugely viral. WaitButWhy is another example…again, lots of data, and of course the cartoons. Also the ‘shared narratives‘ pop up in both sites, instead of politics and ‘culture war’ stuff. But most importantly, for stuff to go viral in a post-2013 era and be read by millions, it has to be smart (data visualizations, introspectiveness, shared narratives, nuance, etc.). But second, it has to avoid the problem of guilt by association, the latter which plagues a lot of the alt-right and sites like Daily Stormer.

Another example, and how this could apply to the alt-right, is many months ago an article went hugely viral on Reddit that used data visualizations to show how women tend to major in low-IQ subjects. Given that the article received thousands of up-votes on a default sub, it easily hit the front page, where it stayed presumably for half a day, at least. The traffic must have been immense. For example, I had an article about fake Amazon Book Reviews go viral on r/books (a default sub), which lead to 50,000 unique page views that day before the mods ignominiously deleted it. But it only had 200 up-votes and was only up for six hours, a far cry from thousands of votes, and yet it still generated a ton of traffic, so I can imagine that for the other article it must have been a million unique views (which is probably more traffic than 99% of alt-right blogs combined). The use of nuance and data visualizations (post-2013 style), as well as the site being non-political, is what allowed the article to go so viral, exposing millions to HBD that would have otherwise remained oblivious or misinformed. Had Daily Stormer written that exact same article it would have never gone so viral, because of the association with white supremacy. Nor if National Review had written it (because National Review is seen as too partisan and is full of journalist hacks, not scientists).

A common misconception is that political correctness prevents certain content from going viral, and perhaps there is some truth to that, but I think guilt by association is more problematic than censorship due to political correctness. The fact that the article about gender, IQ, and college majors went so viral is evidence there is huge demand and open-mindedness for politically incorrect information, but it needs to be presented correctly, in a palatable form, to have the maximum effect.

Now imagine a right-wing version of Vox, Medium, SlateStarCodex, or WaitButWhy and how effective that would be. The AEI is sorta like that (with its Charles Murray articles) but they tend to focus too much on politics (very little HBD), too partisan (Charles Murray, although he does good work, has too much baggage), and there are no data visualizations. So why don’t I do it? Maybe I already am. You’ll never know. That’s the point…it is supposed to be subversive, but importantly, not involve ‘big names’ with baggage, partisanship, opinions, and egos – just let the data speak for itself.

The Genius of Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat may be the most talented columnist alive, and by perusing some of his most recent articles, for instructional purposes, we can get a better understanding of his style and why it’s so effective.

When reading a Douthat column, typically the first paragraph sets the scene, almost like a panorama, giving a bird’s-eye view of the protagonists and scenery before delving into more detail.

From The Myth of Cosmopolitanism (his July 3rd article, which went viral):

NOW that populist rebellions are taking Britain out of the European Union and the Republican Party out of contention for the presidency, perhaps we should speak no more of left and right, liberals and conservatives. From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists. From now on the loyalties that matter will be narrowly tribal — Make America Great Again, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England — or multicultural and cosmopolitan.

Notice how he lists the ‘actors’ all at once, and in the first sentence: rebels, Republican Party, European Union, left and right, liberals and conservatives.

Another characteristic is repetition and redundancy. ‘Left’ and ‘liberals’ are, for demonstrative purposes, tautological, but listing both gives ‘weight’ to the sentence.

And when he writes ‘Make America Great Again, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’…note the repetition, and the emphasis on ‘Make America Great Again’ in reference to Donald Trump, and all capitalized. Also the assonance (repeated ‘ea’ sound) in ‘earth’ and ‘realm’. He also uses the ‘rule of three‘, but often he extends it to five or more items.

Another characteristic is the use of contrast, from The Donald Trump Show:

USUALLY political conventions are attempts to tell a story — a story about what a party stands for, a story about where its presidential candidate came from, a story about what kind of chief executive he would be.

The Donald Trump National Convention in Cleveland (technically the Republican National Convention, but let’s be real) wasn’t really much for storytelling. Its messages were muddled, its shared agenda boiled down to hating Hillary Clinton, many of its speakers didn’t want to talk about the candidate and one declined even to endorse him.

Note how he contrasts a typical political convention, which is supposed to tell a story, to the Donald Trump convention, which didn’t.

The parenthetical statement ‘technically the Republican National Convention, but let’s be real’ adds a conversational tone to the writing.

Also ‘one declined even to endorse him’ is in reference to Ted Cruz. But by not mentioning his name, it adds wryness to the writing in reducing Ted Cruz to the gender-neutral pronoun ‘one’. It’s subtle, but little details like that matter.

Back to Cosmopolitanism, although the sentence belongs to Peter Mandler, it’s still effective:

They can’t see that what feels diverse on the inside can still seem like an aristocracy to the excluded, who look at cities like London and see, as Peter Mandler wrote for Dissent after the Brexit vote, “a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations.”

Note the use of lists again, and the attention to detail: ‘Increasingly hereditary caste of politicians’…not just any politicians, but a hereditary caste.

They can’t see that paeans to multicultural openness can sound like self-serving cant coming from open-borders Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project, or American liberals who hail the end of whiteness while doing everything possible to keep their kids out of majority-minority schools.

Again, the use of contrast: ‘Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project,’ to show the hypocrisy of the elite.

They can’t see that their vision of history’s arc bending inexorably away from tribe and creed and nation-state looks to outsiders like something familiar from eras past: A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.

The writing is rich with indignation, with words and phrases like ‘self-serving’, ‘it alone’, ‘their vision’, ‘caste’, and ‘rule the world’ – all packed into one sentence.

Figurative language such as ‘history’s arc bending inexorably away’ produces images in the reader’s mind of a curved trajectory such as that of a cannonball. Also, the adverb ‘inexorably’ modifying ‘away’ adds more detail and specificity to the sentence.

Also, the introductory clause ‘they can’t see that’ is repeated (anaphora), adding rhythm and emphasizing how the elite are blinded by their hubris.

Note his extensive vocabulary: ‘paeans’ and ‘coteries’, words that usually don’t come up in everyday conversation, and adding richness to the writing and boosting Douthat’s own credibility as a highly educated expert. In The Trump Show, he uses synecdoche in a sentence, another ten-dollar word. Yeah I know there’s a widely-shared ‘study’ that shows how using ‘big’ words doesn’t make you sound smarter, and I can tell you it’s bunkum. Ceteris paribus, someone who uses bigger words will sound smarter than someone who doesn’t [1]. Also, specialized, well-targeted words that have a specific meaning can add both variety to writing and succinctness, instead of having to use six words when one may suffice.

Now that we’ve focused on the structure, it’s also worth asking: Why are Ross Douthat’s articles so well-received, both by liberals and conservatives, and always go viral, whereas Paul Krugman’s articles do not?

Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter are like opposite sides of the same coin, and although I am partial to the latter, they are stalwarts of what I call ‘pre-2013′ online journalism, which is partisan and emotive. By contrast, as I discuss in Solvent Part 1, post-2013 journalism is more nuanced and intellectual, and focuses on ‘shared narratives/themes’ that transcend the left-right political divide, rather than just browbeating your readers with your political opinions. This new intellectual style as epitomized by sites like Vox.com, Priceonomics, and WaitButWhy is seeing rapid growth, whereas traffic and readership for opinionated political blogs peaked years ago. This is possibly due to readers growing weary of angry partisanship and yearning for more evolved discourse that touches on existential/humanistic matters and ‘shared narratives’ such as:

-anomie and ennui arising from rapid societal (both economic and social) changes and the breakdown of the ‘family structure’

-distrust of elites and central planning

-anxiety about the economy

-will technology eliminate all jobs?

-existential questions such as ‘What if we’re all living in a computer simulation?’

-how to find meaning in life

-social anxiety, existential depression, social isolation, etc.

-how to afford healthcare, tuition, etc., student loan debt being too high

and so on…

These are questions and issues that are vexing to everyone, beyond the ‘left’ and the ‘right’, and Ross Douthat frequently addresses them, especially the first two items.

Importantly, Douthat makes an effort to empathize with his subjects and his readers, despite being a member of the ‘elite’ himself, to understand and be mindful of why there is resentment against the elite, and to understand why people make the choices they do or hold the beliefs they have, as described by Scott in his recent post: HOW THE WEST WAS WON:

This is true in every case except with the cultures we consider our outgroups – in the US, white Southern fundamentalist Christian Republicans; in the UK, white rural working-class leave voters. In both cases, their ignorance is treated as worthy of mockery, their religion is treated as stupidity and failure to understand science, their poverty makes them “trailer trash”, their rejection of economic-growth-at-all-costs means they are too stupid to understand the stakes, and their desire to protect their obviously inferior culture makes them xenophobic and racist.

Rather than ridicule, dismiss, or belittle the ‘outgroup’, Douthat lends an ear. But it’s not so much about trying to being right or wrong – rather it’s about understanding why the stakes have become so high, and why there is so much passion about these issues.
From the Art of War, victory isn’t through attrition, but by reconciliation that renders further conflict unnecessary, ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’ It’s very difficult to defend a moral high ground or to change minds; it’s easier to find common ground and understanding. Like why there so much resentment towards the elite (a common criticism is that the elite are insulated from the consequences of their actions), not so much whether the elite are right or wrong policy-wise. Douthat explores the meta-discussion and the humanistic angle to issues, not just the issue itself isolated in a vacuum removed from the human condition. For example, instead of explaining why ‘guns are good or bad,’ Ross implores, ‘why do people care so much about this issue, and what it says about America and society.’ He takes it to the next level, the meta level.

Although Paul Krugman is a Nobel Laureate, which lends a lot of credibly (even though he has been wrong on many occasions), he can’t elicit the necessary visceral reaction, the meeting of the minds, that is necessary to make readers on the sideline (those who aren’t already initiated) actually like him and want to share his ideas. Everyone is wrong occasionally, myself included, but when you put yourself on a pedestal or sanctimoniousness and infallibility, the harder the fall from grace and the more inclined people are to push back and go after your weak spots. Yes, Paul Krugman is popular, but his columns read like a shill rant, hammering the same partisanship and divisiveness over and over again and devoid of worldly introspection.

[1] Big words may backfire if they are misused.

Why the News Is Still Mostly Pointless

1. Pretty much all all news sites have some sort of ulterior motive, whether to advance a certain agenda or to push advertising. True ‘impartiality’ is far and few between.

People read Reason, Pathos, Zerohedge, Unz Review and other ‘alternative media’, because they think they are getting the ‘full story’, but often they aren’t. These views are often missing important details, intended to promote a specific agenda, or just flat-out wrong (like autism and vaccines), leading readers astray, herding readers to bad investments (overpriced gold and silver), or enticing them to click spammy advertisements filled with malware. ‘Alternative media’ is often just as carefully crafted as ‘mainstream media’ and does not represent some spontaneous, grassroots uprising. They care more about generating ad-clicks than any higher calling of ‘truth’.

For example, here are some crappy ads on the homepage of Reason.com, some of which are disguised as news stories. Clicking any one of these will likely trigger a barrage of pop-ups and malware download prompts.

Like how fire needs oxygen, the media needs outrage and your attention, to generate ad-clicks and pageviews. Without the ads interspersed between the stories, print media has no reason to exist. The whole point of TV media is to fill the 8-12 minute space between commercials.

2. The news never ends. Here is a partial screenshot of the front page of Unz Review.

In about a week, there will be a whole new batch of opinions and stories. It never ends, and trying to stay on top of the pile can be likened to a Sisyphean struggle of futility. It’s like a never-ending pile of paperwork, but unlike a job you’re not getting paid.

3. It won’t matter anyway. Yes, had in 2006 you heeded media warnings about a recession and housing bubble and sold your stocks, to repurchase them at the market bottom in 2009, you would have done well. But the vast majority of the time, whatever the latest ‘crisis’ is – Brexit, European debt, Ebola, Greece, etc. – it will blow over. About 95-99% of the time, what is supposed to be a crisis is, in retrospect, just noise:

4. Time spent reading the news can be better spent improving your own life and those around you. Let’s assume Hillary goes to jail. You’ll feel good for about a couple hours, and then it’s back to the daily grind. Unless you make a living from the news (as some bloggers and journalists do), nothing changes. Time spent reading about the ongoing developments with Hillary or the election can be spent learning a skill that can yield dividends long after the latest outrage fades from memory. Do I want Hillary behind bars? Yes. But is worth a large time commitment on my part in keeping track of the day-to-day developments? No.

5. You cannot influence the outcome. No amount of ranting and raving about Hillary emails will put her behind bars, just like no amount of ranting and raving by the left will result in a ban on automatic firearms.

6. Following the news can be perilous to your financial health. Had you sold your stocks in 2008, at the depths of the crisis when the media had nearly everyone convinced capitalism and America was doomed, you would have not only sold at the bottom but missed out on the 2nd-greatest bull market ever – a bull market which continues to this day. The S&P 500 is up 80% (including dividends) since 2005, despite the crisis. Had you sold your stocks following the Brexit vote, you would have sold at the bottom and missed the 4% rally that immediately followed. Had you listened to the media and sold stocks in 2013 on fears of QE ending, you would have missed out an additional 25% gains in the S&P 500. Other examples include numerous predictions since 2008 of hyperinflation and dollar collapse, neither of which happened.

7. A lot of it is just wrong. For example, the supposed link between autism and vaccines, while widely disseminated by the media, was later debunked by experts. The purported existence of WMDs in Iraq (the Times Judith Miller scandal) is another example. Although the ‘alternative media’ was right about the absence of WMDs and the futility of spreading democracy in the Middle East, it was wrong about inflation, the US dollar, the stock market, gold, and treasuries.

Inflated college rape statistics, rape hoaxes, and so-called ‘rape culture’, are other examples of the media being wrong. For example, the statistic that 1 in 5 women are raped on college generated a media firestorm, but only later after heat had died down did it get debunked (to less media fanfare), but the damage had already been done.

Because initial stories have a non-trivial likelihood of being wrong, you have to follow-up for corrections, which means more work. Maybe it’s easier to just ignore the news altogether.