Tag Archives: society

Why There Isn’t More Civil Unrest in America, and Why I’m Not Worried

Do the Berkeley riots portend to the decline and eventual demise of America? No. Retards gonna tard, liberals gonna lib. I predict further geopolitical stability for the duration of Trump’s term (or terms) and continued dominance of America as an economic, militaristic, political, and intellectual-property superpower. Bryan Caplan has a tradition of taking bets. By being long US stocks and bonds, my conviction is backed by my own personal investments, which has worked well for the past decade, and I foresee the ‘good times’ will continue despite what seems like more civil unrest.

The operative word is ‘seems’. Due to social media and the sensationalist mainstream media, which has an amplifying effect, it only seems like there is more civil unrest than usual. Half a century ago, before the internet and smart phones, most of what would be considered ‘unrest’ today simply went unreported.

From Wikipedia, List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States, there were more incidents in the 60′s than this decade, but America–as measured by a wide variety of metric such as GDP, profits & earnings growth, technological research and development, medical advances, intellectual output, stock market gains, global influence, military might, etc.– is stronger than ever. Had someone interpreted the tumultuous events of the 60′s as a harbinger for the decline and demise of America decades later, they would have been wrong. Maybe America has declined socially and culturally, but the cold, hard economic data tells another story, sorry.

Going back to the Wikipedia article, when adjusting for populations and absence of social media, it’s actually kinda remarkable there isn’t more unrest now. Had social media and smart phones existed in the 60′s and 70′s, and had the US population been as large then as it is now (200 million vs. 330 million today), there would have been possibly hundreds more incidents than listed.

So this leads to the obvious question, why isn’t there more unrest? Such passivity may be attributed to the following factors:

1. Despite BLM and SJWs, millennials, overall, are less inclined to protest than earlier generations.

2. Living standards for most American are pretty good, and there is a lot of cheap and abundant entertainment. People would rather watch Netflix than engage in civil unrest. High purchasing power means even if wages are stagnant living standards are high.

3. The poorest of Americans are actually less likely the engage in unrest than the middle and upper class. Counterintuitively, it’s actually the bourgeoisie that engages in civil unrest, not the proletariat.

4. Social media is possibly replacing civil unrest. It’s easier to voice one’s grievances on social media than take to the streets. Also social media has a signalling component to it. Liking a photo or re-tweeting something is a way to signal support for a cause without having to take further action, while boosting social status among one’s peers. [1]

5. America’s large geographic area and ethnic and cultural diversity acts as a buffer against unrest. It’s hard to have unrest, which requires cohesion, when America is so large, dispersed, and diverse.

Everyone wants to call any perturbation from ‘normal’ a paradigm shift. Every four years, it’s the ‘election of the century’, ‘uncharted territory’, and other cliched phrases. In the 80′s, pundits voiced the same concerns about Reagan, because he didn’t seem experienced enough to take on Gorbachev–obviously the liberal media was wrong then as they are now about Trump. Berkeley burning is bad for Berkeley, but the rest of the country will carry on. The damage left inflicts on itself, like a spectacle, is best observed from a distance.

That doesn’t mean we can rule out crisis and upheaval completely. Inadvertent nuclear war is probably the greatest threat, but Trump’s closeness with Russia lessens these odds.

[1] It may seem contradictory how social media can both amplify and mitigate social unrest. But consider in a pre-social media era, hypothetically speaking, there are 100 events of unrest. 50 of these are reported by TV, radio, and newspaper, and the rest are ignored, so the official, recorded count is 50. In a post-social media era, if social media is mitigating, there may only be 80 events of unrest, but all 80 are reported (amplification), so it seems like more unrest even though there is less.

Inaction and Indifference as Rebellion, and the Decline of the Culture Wars

Activism includes but is not limited to telling people what to do or what to believe. By that definition, mainstream liberalism and conservatism is activist. There is an authoritarian and conformist tone to it that implores the subject to do something; for example, for the left, ‘you must spread your wealth and check your privilege’, as part of a collective ‘good’. But, especially since 2013, both the ‘left’ and ‘right’, particularly millennials, are tired of having to ‘do’ things, to have to ‘believe’ things, or to have strong convictions about things. With the exception of SJWs and, to a lesser extent, the alt-right and Trump, millennials are tired of action and dogma, preferring inaction and indifference. Decades ago, young people rebelled through action (protests, Woodstock, drugs, cross-country motorcycle rides), but now ‘rebellion’ is through inaction: staying home and watching Netflix instead of partying, going MGTOW, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, minimalism, personal finance, learning coding, and eschewing careerism.

As part of the post-2013 rise of ‘introspection culture’ (which is related to intellectualism culture), where ‘boring’ has become the new ‘hip’, naval-gazing and introspective articles, such as the widely-shared personal account of someone disconnecting from the internet for a month How I Got My Attention Back, frequently go viral, as every personal observation, no matter how small, has suddenly found a captive audience. In terms of clicks and viralness, even attention-grabbing headlines about major pubic figures such as Donald Trump find it hard to compete against seemingly mundane and contemplative topics, such as the articles In Defense Of A Boring, Comfortable Life and Why are Adults so busy?, both of which went viral.

With the decline of activism and the rise of introspection, which is individualistic and to some extent self-absorbed, the ‘culture wars’ are dying, as far as millennials are concerned. The post-2009 bull market (which is officially the longest ever), the post-2009 economic expansion (also the longest ever although the GDP growth is still sluggish), as well as a culture, economy, and society that celebrates and prizes individualism (such as taking pictures on Instagram), has also made culture wars less relevant. People see headlines about surging stock prices, stratospheric web 2.0 valuations, and Chinese buying up all the expensive estate estate in America, and we want a piece of the action instead of missing out (FOMO)–but also headlines about social security dwindling, the bad labor market, or how deficit spending threatens social programs, and millennials realize that while culture wars may be a sort of ‘bonding experience’ between like-minded people, no amount chest-thumping about social issues will change anything as far as policy is concerned nor provide financial peace of mind in increasingly uncertain economic times (such saving for retirement, paying for healthcare and education, covering the mortgage, or getting a job). Because of the aforementioned social, cultural, and economic factors, the culture wars ‘lost’ in the ‘court of pubic opinion’ or the ‘marketplace of ideas’, because the ‘generals’ failed to provide a sufficiently compelling case for why people should keep fighting when other issues seem more pressing.

As further evidence of this capitulation, particularly among the millennial-right, in 2016, Peter Thiel’s RNC speech, in which he proudly proclaimed being gay, was met with raucous applause. Such an ebullient response would have been inconceivable even as recently as a generation ago. Additionally, Thiel implored the ‘right’ to focus less on culture war issues (such as the controversy over same-sex bathrooms) and more on entrepreneurshi and innovation. However, conservatism in the individualistic, Randian sense (capitalism, private property, ‘ownership society’) is thriving, which is why Peter Thiel, who is a business and investing genius, not a culture warrior, is beloved by many millennials on the right. Same for Elon Musk.

With the exception of condoning obvious criminality that violates the non-aggression principle, such as the exploitation of minors, taking a moral ‘high ground’, in recent years, has become an untenable position in our era of moral ambiguity. For one, it’s a lost cause. For decades, spanning four presidential administrations, as well as talk radio and TV, the ‘right’ has nothing to show for its efforts, as American culture and society has inexorably moved ‘left’. Also, wrapping yourself in a cloak of moral sanctity and piousness leaves one exposed to charges of hypocrisy should one’s own indiscretions come to light. Rather than pressing judgement, it’s easier, but also more robust, to just not care. Moralizing, which includes SJW-activism, is sometimes an unwanted imposition that goes against one’s capacity for self-determination and self-regulation. ‘Our’ values, as in the ‘right’, are the bedrock of civilization, and leftist values are anathema to this. But to have strong values at all, from throwing in the towel on the culture wars or the rise centrism is, in and of itself, becoming an anachronism.

Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, Part 7

Part 6

Nerd mannerisms and appropriations, especially in pop culture and on Instagram, where pretty women donning faux glasses post memes about social isolation, have become the ‘new normal’, and words like ‘normie’ have become pejorative.

Nowadays everyone wants to be the ‘smartest person in the room’, not the most outgoing or popular. But ironically, in being smart, you become popular, whether you seek the attention or not.

Autistic-like traits such as social awkwardness, dismissiveness, curtness and bluntness (as opposed to sugarcoating, sentimentalism, and extroversion) convey authenticity and credibility, versus being a shallow ‘normie’ or ‘people-pleaser’, leading to a boost in social status both online and offline, whereas decades ago these smart people were ignored or relegated to the lower echelons of the social hierarchy.

Fast-forward to today, from Silicon Valley to Wall St., to having the most subscribers and followers on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and YouTube, and in terms of higher wages (for STEM jobs), surging real estate (in Silicon Valley), stratospheric Web 2.0 valuations, and a perpetually rising stock market, as well as approbation and cultural appropriation, it’s not a stretch to say nerds, or more specially, introverts, rule the world right now.

Due to STEM, his popular blog, and by being really smart, Scott Aaronson has far more status than the vast majority of ‘normies’ (except for, perhaps, some athletes and actors). Same for Tyler Cowen, an economist (which is close enough to STEM), whose Marginal Revolution blog is extremely popular, read by thousands of people every day. Yeah, Marginal Revolution is not a big as TMZ or ESPN, but 1,000-10,000 dedicated readers/fans is about 1,000-10,000 more than the typical ‘normie’, who has close to zero after excluding immediate fiends and family. Those are just a handful of examples of out many; more will be given later.

From Virtue Signaling and Status:

We all want to be perceived as smarter because smart people are among the most successful in society today as measured by wealth, wages, and social status. While famous athletes and other entertainers make a lot of money, no one seeks their counsel on anything substantive, whereas if you’re smart you are elevated to the status of an ‘oracle’, and your opinions on a wide-range of issues – be it global warming, economics, sociology, or history – are valued and sought.

Intellectuals, particularly in the most difficult of fields, have become America’s new priesthood or nobility, sought for answers and bestowed with high social status, and whether it’s the latest gizmo from Google, Amazon, or Tesla, or the latest particle discovery in the field of high-energy physics, their contributions are broadcast by the media to the world. From The Daily View [...]

Smart people are among the most important and respected people in the world. They have the most Karma on Reddit, the most points on sites like Stack Exchange, the highest reputation on forums, and most views on YouTube for technical, artsy, or philosophical subjects. They have the credentials – SAT scores and degrees – to lend their expertise in a variety of fields and are showered with accolades …

Smart people are displacing ‘old money’ on the Forbes 400 list, getting their Web 2.0 companies valued or acquired for billions of dollars, watching their stocks and real estate zoom into the stratosphere – even as real wages for most people haven’t budged. A meritocracy epitomized by Bay Area tech scene or the financial cognoscenti of Manhattan, where erudition, wealth, and the specter of all-knowing omnipotence is valued.

And from the Economist, Be nice to nerds:

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you may end up working for them,” wrote Charles Sykes, author of the book “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School”, first published in 2007. Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services.

Behaviors that may seem repulsive and anti-social, paradoxically, draw people in as ‘nerds’ are sought for their expertise and sober objectivity in contrast to the mainstream media, which is full of hoaxes, sensationalism, inaccuracies, omissions, and biases. From Deconstructing a Viral Article:

As I show in the example of Warren Buffett, intellectualism, competence, and merit is what draws people in, not being extroverted. Every year, thousands of people flock to Omaha for Buffett’s annual shareholder meetings – not because Buffet is a people-pleaser, but because he is very competent and his insights are invaluable. Elon Musk, another example of someone who is extremely competent, had the most popular Reddit AMA ever. Richard Dawkins, who lately seems to have gotten into habit of offending the easily offended, also had an enormously popular AMA.

They (nerds, quants, wonks, experts) are providing the answers to life’s most intractable mysteries, from theories of the origin of the universe, to theories of biology, economics, and sociology – to try to explain why wealth inequality is so persistent or why some groups always underperform academically and economically despite despite billions of dollars of entitlement spending over many decades. Sugar-coated, politically correct explanations and ‘nice’ discourse has fallen short at explaining the world, and people demand answers, even if such answers aren’t wrapped in a pretty bow of political correctness.

A lengthy 1994 New Yorker profile of Bill Gates aptly applies to many smart millennials today, who disregard obsoleted social conventions and niceties for bluntness and disheveledness, in their ‘pursuit of the truth’:

“Bill just doesn’t think about clothes. And his hygiene is not good. And his glasses—how can he see out of them? But Bill’s attitude is: I’m in this pure mind state, and clothes and hygiene are last on the list.”

[...]

Gates is famously confrontational. If he strongly disagrees with what you’re saying, he is in the habit of blurting out, “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard!” People tell stories of Gates spraying saliva into the face of some hapless employee as he yells, “This stuff isn’t hard! I could do this stuff in a weekend!”

Back in 1994, a less intelligent era dominated by shows like Friends, Baywatch, and 90210, social conventions were more important than they are now, making Gates’ behavior truly anomalous, but now it’s commonplace, almost expected, and (as mentioned earlier) conveys authenticity and honesty. In the 90′s the clubs were busting, but now everyone wants to stay at home, quiet, watching Netflix, being introspective, or posting pictures on Instagram. Nightclub attendance has plunged.

Or as summed-up by the brilliant Eric Winstein, creator of the online mathematics encyclopedia MathWorld:

Right now I think we’re in something of a ‘competence bubble’ of sorts, where competence is valued more than ever as measured by social prestige, wealth, and wages, with ‘social skills’ and ‘people skills’ being less important. This is also related our post-2008 results-orientated economy, whereby quantifiable results have become more important than agreeability, as part of the push by corporations towards greater productivity and efficiency. Smart people, because they tend to be more competent, are especially suited for America’s competitive economic and social environment that prizes quantifiable, individual results over ‘collectivist’ traits like social skills.

To be continued…

Time Management and The Celebration of the Mundane

It’s weird or interesting how certain stories go viral and what such viralness says about the state of American society, media, and culture today. On one extreme, stories about Trump and Aleppo go viral, being shared many times, but these are big stories involving important people and important events; such virnalness is expected. But then on the other extreme you have mundane stories going viral, that don’t involve terrorism or major political figures, such as a recent article by The Guardian Why time management is ruining our lives, which got over 400 comments and was shared on Facebook over 12,000 times, in addition to also going viral on Reddit and elsewhere. The viralness of ‘boring’ stories about day-to-day stuff is in contrast to the excitement of the imminent Trump presidency, terrorism, or ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

This phenomena of boring stories doing so well is related to the post-2013 anti-democracy movement, and how people are walling themselves from the hype of the mainstream media to focus on their ‘inner circle‘. You have the cacophony of Trump and all this stuff going on, but people have had enough. Democracy and the mainstream media are linked, because they both involve persuading the masses to care and participate; without the participation of the masses, both cease to exist. The media needs your attention; democracy needs your votes. This is also related to millennials choosing to live a ‘boring‘ life of self-sufficiency, self-improvement, and frugality, in contrast to their activist-minded, work-driven, spendthrift boomers parents who want people to ‘get involved’, and also how institutions and conventions such as democracy are being challenged.

As for the content of the article itself, the author conflates time management with efficiency and productivity, but they are not always mutually inclusive: the former is deontological; the later two are quotients (results divided by time). One can be very assiduous about doing calculations with pen and paper, but this is an unproductive and inefficient use of time when computers can do the job in a few seconds. In pre-2008 culture and society, good-paying jobs for mediocre, obedient people were abundant, and as epitomized by Dibert, point-haired bosses ruled, in contrast to today where productivity, efficiency, and quantifiable results (value creation) are more important than diligence and conformity, and the labor market is much more competitive. In pre-2008 society, employees weren’t creating as much value as they thought they were (or that companies wanted), and a lot of overpaid jobs were lost to never return. People were practicing good time management but the were fired anyway. Managing your time is less important than learning how to create value. Too many people are stuck in a ‘pen and paper’ mindset thinking that they can just get by with hard work.

The culture of Silicon Valley, which despite its leftism is on a per-capita basis the richest region in the world, values wily ingenuity over obedience. Elon Musk of Tesla, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Travis Kalanick of Uber, all from the Silicon Valley and are the antithesis of the pointy-haired boss and are among the most successful and well-respected CEOs and founders alive, don’t care about your time management strategies – they care about results, first and foremost. Uber’s whole business model is about making the transportation industry more efficient. Economic and labor trends suggest that the world is becoming like Silicon Valley, not Silicon Valley resembling the rest of the world. Silicon Valley, which exited the 2008 crisis unscathed, is a role model for the rest of the business world. Hard work and diligence, in and of itself, is not a virtue anymore – value creation and signaled competence is.

Explaining America’s Economic and Social Stability, Part 2

In posts Explaining America’s Economic and Social Stability and The Trajectory of America, I outline a generally optimistic assessment for America as to why it has done so we compared to most countries an will continue to do so. Unlike many on the ‘right’, I don’t foresee collapse or upheaval anytime soon but rather a continuation of America’s global economic and militaristic dominance.

America leads the world in:

GDP growth. America has the highest real GDP growth of all major developed nations, although it’s still not much growth. Germany and France have had close to zero percent compounded GDP growth since 2007.

Academic output in the sciences, as well as intellectual property. This includes leading the world in patents, Nobel laureates, and academic papers.

Currency and bond market: The US dollar is the strongest currency of all developed nations.

The biggest stock market gains of all developed nations, since 1995.

Finally, the strongest profits and earnings growth and expansion of all major countries except perhaps China (which has faster growth).

So why is America so successful and resilient? Here are some additional reasons:

America is magnet for top foreign talent. Elite universities such as MIT, Harvard, Caltech, and Stanford are flooded with applicants by high-IQ foreigners who want a part of the American capitalist dream to start the next Tesla, Google, or Facebook. Having the world’s best and brightest helps the economy, although it creates diversity, which may dilute and displace preexisting cultures. According to a report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, 36% of the top 25 U.S. public tech companies were founded by people born outside of America.

But why are all these smart, talented people immigrating? Because America rewards exceptional talent more so than any other country, both through the free market and a media and culture that rewards individual exceptionalism. Countries like Germany, Japan, Norway Switzerland have much more restrictions and regulations for entrepreneurs, higher taxes, and less prestige and accolades for top talent. Being exceptional in Norway doesn’t bring as much recognition as being exceptional in America. You can immigrate to America, be really smart and successful, make a lot of money, and be super-famous. Nowhere else in the world is that possible quite like in America. Arnold Swartenagger, for example, couldn’t have been who is is today if he stayed in Austria. Unfortunately, because of its welfare state and liberalness regarding immigration policy, America, much like Northern Europe, attracts many unproductive immigrants too.

The free market in America bolsters the economy and takes weight off the political sector. This means there is more redundancy. Redundancy is a crucial reason for America’s stability. Right now there is a tug-of-war between the forces of decay (welfare parasitism, bad politicians, non-productive immigrants, SJWs, etc.) and the private sector (which is productive and funds the parasitic class). If the latter is stronger than the former, which is presently is, collapse can be avoided, and the economy can keep growing. If its equal, the result is stagnation (which is what is happening to Japan, but there are other explanations than parasitism). One reason why China, despite being Communist, has done so well is because of its quasi-private sector. Same for South Korea vs. the despotic wasteland that is North Korea.

IQ matter a lot, too. Countries with social and economic stability tend to have average national IQs of around 100. Low-IQ countries are more dependent on natural resources (for exports), foreign capital infusions, and IMF aid, because these countries are too dysfunctional to create viable industries and self-sustaining economic growth on their own. Their economic growth comes from hyperinflation and foreign credit infusions at super-high interest rates, not self-sustaining, organic growth. Despite a lot of low-scoring groups, America’s national IQ is above 100, as are the Nordic countries and parts of East Asia. It also helps, as stated above, that America poaches top talent from all over the world, but this makes other countries worse-off due to ‘brain drain’.

Private property and rule of law is enforced. This is extremely important, because chaos and socialism equals capital flight. Compare Soviet Russia to present-day Russia to see the stark difference.

Finally, America doesn’t give anyone, including top politicians, much power. The United States government is very big, with many senators, congressmen, and governors, as well as the intricate presidential line of succession and the peaceful transfer of office. Again, this goes back to redundancy. Having many people running things, without much power bestowed on anyone, means the effect of incompetence and or malice for any one individual is lessened. Also, the strong private sector lessens, to some extent, the power and importance of government.

Autocracies are viable and better than democracies if the autocrat is competent, but autocracies can fail if there is neglect and incompetence. This is because it’s hard to depose an autocrat, but also because the autocrat has much more influence over things are run than in an oligarchy or any of other form of government where power is distributed. Some examples:

1. Hitler, who rebuilt Germany after the Wiemar-era hyperinflation and the Great Depression, but was undone by disastrous military campaigns that destroyed the economy and eventually the nation, and nothing could be done about it.

2. Extreme examples include Fidel Castro, Mugabe, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and the Kim dynasty of North Korea.

3. King Saud, an incompetent Saudi king who was abdicated in 1964 by the house of Faud after a decade of economic mismanagement.

Redundancy means that even the assassination of presidents (such as JFK) have only minimal impact on the overall economy and national stability, whereas assassinations of autocrats can plunge nations into prolonged war and turmoil. Even natural deaths can be problematic, as in the case of king Bhumibol Adulyadej who died in 2016, creating uncertainty for the future of Thailand’s economy.

Ideally, you want the most competent in power, but this is far from reality, and sometimes competent leaders can later become incompetent. The bureaucratic state, much like America’s pubic school system, suppresses exceptional individual talent and is sclerotic, but it also limits potential harm by any one individual. If a country is struggling after a prolonged depression or war, having a competent autocrat can quickly get things off the ground (a business analogy being Steve Jobs, who in 1997 returned to Apple and saved the company) without being encumbered by bureaucracy, but being that America is a superpower, all it needs to do now is just coast along. It doesn’t need the added risk.

It’s Not Okay

This is pretty funny…there is a backlash by some Wait But Why readers, most of whom are on the ‘left’, who didn’t agree with Tim Urban’s optimistic assessment that ‘America would be okay’ after Trump winning, that Trump’s inexperience isn’t a big deal, and that most Trump supporters are not ‘stupid, racist, xenophobic fucks’. Some readers rebutted that, despite not all Trump supporters being racist, that Tim, as a ‘white heterosexual male’, was dismissive or deaf to the concerns of minorities, for whom it may not be so easy to simply gloss over the possibly of racial violence engendered by Trump’s win, spurring Tim to hurriedly pen a response to defend his original view and offer clarifications.

In Tim’s defense, incidents of racism and violence at Trump rallies and by Trump supporters are very uncommon, but if and when they occur, get far more media coverage than incidents of violence and hate by the left against Trump supporters, creating the false impression that the Trump and his supporters are collectively racist and violent. The media is a like a giant magnifying glass, focusing only on a handful of stories and narratives and in the process distorting the public’s perception of reality.

It’s estimated only 1% of readers post comments, which is why comment sections almost never paint a complete picture of the readership but rather are representative of only a vocal minority. Tim says his original post was read by a million people – that is a lot. By contrast, maybe only ten or so vigorously disagreed, posting impassioned responses in the comments, a ratio of about 1/100,000 of total readers. But now this vocal minority has Tim’s attention, and he must stop whatever it is he’s doing to give priority to them over the 999,990 other readers. What a waste of time.

To put it another way, imagine a huge rock concert in Madison Square Garden…20,000 people are in attendance, which is the maximum occupancy, and as the show is underway, amidst the cheering audience a fan yells ‘You suck!’, and the band stops their set to engage in a one-on-one dialogue with this person to inquire as to why their performance sucks, despise the fact that everyone else is entertained, and then after the concert the band redoes their set and rewrites their songs to take into account the feedback from this single disgruntled fan.

This is part of the reason this blog doesn’t have comments: not enough readers to make it worthwhile (especially when having to deal with the tons of database-clogging spam this blog gets when comments are enabled); I don’t want to be swayed too much; and in an era where ‘free speech’ is paramount, any form of censorship is frowned upon, so rather than ever having to delete a comment, it’s easier to just not have any.

And then even after Tim’s apology, some readers are still not happy, using it against him as evidence of him dissembling his true emotions and being phony.

There is no pleasing some people.

But the weird thing is, based on my own observations such as the example above, readers, especially online, tend to react with more hostility to optimism than pessimism. The left doesn’t want to be told that America is not dying, that Trump will not kill the US economy, or that Trump supporters are not evil people. Optimism tends to elicit rebuke whereas pessimism is met with acclamation, both for ‘left-wing’ and the ‘right-wing’ communities. Why is bad news so appealing. Why do we want to be told everything is doomed, when destruction and misery are generally things sane people seek to avoid.

The answer, I suspect, is two-fold:

First, the far-left (OWS, BLM, etc.) subscribes to a Rousseau worldview, which has a very negative view of human nature, humanity, and civilization. Rousseau believed that the default state of man is the ‘noble savage’, which is corrupted by civilization and modernity. Similarly, the far-left believes that modern civilization is part and parcel with sexism and ‘institutional racism’ that arises from it – the two are inseparable – and that early history, before the advent of capitalism, industrialization, and ‘gender roles’, was more peaceful and egalitarian. Being told that ‘everything is okay’ is an affront to this, because it implies that there is no more sexism and racism and that the state need not intercede to try to create equality. For the far-left, their work is never done, and only with the total destruction private property and the creation a ‘gender/race blind society’ will they be placated and ‘everything will be okay’. Hobbes famously described life as being ‘nasty, brutish and short’. [1] Similarly, the far-left believes that life is brutish and short for minorities (which only includes Blacks, not Asians (who don’t count, apparently)), who are at constant war with police and a government that wants them dead or imprisoned.

The second reason, for myself and others who aren’t far-leftists, hits closer to home. Doom and gloom may be an excuse for not having to take personal responsibility for one’s own actions, as a way of compartmentalizing, shifting blame, or reconciling failure. Others want to believe that the system is ‘rigged’ and that if they fail, it’s someone else’s fault, not their own. Conspiracy theories are a way of shifting blame from the ‘self’ to the ‘collective’ (culture, government, civilization, society, economy, etc.). If ‘everything is okay’ then there is no good excuse to fail, and if you fail, it’s your fault for not playing the game correctly, not the ‘system’. This is like being told ‘hate the player, not the game’. It’s patronizing and dismissive, because sometimes there are legitimate reasons to ‘hate the game’ if the game inherently rigged or unfair in some way. Trump won by empathizing and commiserating with voters and their concerns, not hand-waving them away as ‘everything being okay’ when in the minds of voters things aren’t okay.

We live in an age of ‘scientific enlightenment and reason’, which presupposes people strive to rational, correct, and reasonable, not irrational, wrong, and mistaken. Being wrong and failing, when there is such so much information readily available (such as online) and so much technological advancement, and in an economy and culture where wealth, achievement, and success is so important, is considered unacceptable. As I explain in the ongoing series Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, post-2008 economic and social trends put a lot of precedence on individualism, be it capitalism or the acquisition of social capital. Because so much is expected of individuals, and the pressure to ‘keep up’ is so strong, wishing the whole system would just collapse under the weight of progress, is catharsis for some and an unshackling of this burden.

[1] According to Hobbes, this description applies to the uncivilized, the opposite of the ‘noble savage’, as justification for his support of monarchy. Similarly, the far-left also believes humans, particularly white males, are intrinsically corrupted, but the left uses this as justification for supporting far-left policy, with the role of the state to ‘purify’ humanity.

Holiness Spirals

We’re living in an age of hyper/militant morality – a combination of holiness spirals and virtue signaling, to the extreme. But at the same time, it’s juxtaposed with cultural depravity, which makes the whole thing kinda confusing. Consider the Trump Access Hollywood tape, in which I correctly predicted that public outrage would fall short of the left’s contrived outrage. What Trump said was lewd, but maybe 50-70 years ago, not now. What’s offensive these days is not ‘shocking’ – rather it’s more subtle, benign, or just arbitrary, capricious, or nonsensical. It’s Scott Adams in 2011 using a ‘sockpuppet’ account to defend his writing against critics, and the sanctimoniousness that followed when his identity was revealed, for otherwise an small violation of online etiquette. A scientist making a ‘joke’ about women in science, or observing how women are different than men in terms of aptitude. Or authors getting ‘pulped’ for minor instances of self-plagiarism or miss-attribution of quotes. Had Trump been discovered using sockpuppet accounts, his campaign would have been over. A holiness spiral, by definition, is a feedback loop that sustains itself by people being rewarded with social capital via ‘virtue signaling’ to keep the cycle perpetuated until it finally dies. Forget hurricanes – the holiness spiral is one of the most destructive forces known to mankind, leaving ruined lives, careers, and reputations in its path.

But also there are elements of market-libertarianism in all of this – the idea that society and markets are interchangeable, and because markets are efficient, that society is analogous to an efficient marketplace that always results in the correct outcome. Digital lynch mobs are the marketplace acting correctly, and these victims brought it themselves and deserve no sympathy. One of the most well-worn arguments, especially by the left, is that companies and institutions reserve the right to fire people, and, yes, in many instances they have that right, but does nothing to address the problem of a punitive society where all trust, human decency, and compassion has been outsourced to ‘social markets’. This also ties into positivism and scientism, in which case society is analogous to science or a physical law and always produces the ‘correct’ answer.

Make America Something Again

Trump’s riveting closing campaign ad:

‘Make America Great’, a slogan that rolls off the tip of the tongue and has become a refrain in popular culture, almost as memorable as Nike’s ‘just do it’. But what does it mean? And how does one Make America Great? A common theme of political ads and campaigns such as the clip above, but also for the ‘left’, too, is rolling America back to a ‘simpler’ time, to restore something that is lost – innocence, happiness, manufacturing jobs, ‘national pride’, job security, and so on.

But the problem with political ads and campaigns, in general, is the reductionism, in reducing the complexity and totality of society and the economy to simple stock characters that are a synecdoche for America as a whole. A clip of the factory worker represents all men. The clip of the teacher represents all women. The imagery of Wall St. and money printing presses represents corruption by some sort of elite apparatus or occult hand that is somehow conspiring against the aforementioned workers, the telos being the destruction of the ‘middle class’. It’s a simple good vs. evil narrative wrapped up into two minutes, for easy consumption and to evoke emotion.

You’ll never see campaign ads featuring white collar workers, despite the fact they actually make up the majority of workers (60%), not blue collar workers:

Wall St. is not the evil that campaign ads and rhetoric portray it to be. Markets are how companies raise money so they can expand. Markets, by providing pricing transparency, are actually beneficial to the public and commerce, in general. Without markets and speculators, no would know how much anything is worth. Although prices can fluctuate wildly, markets are a real-time pricing mechanism that allow goods to be priced in a manner that is as ‘fair’ as possible, a committee of sorts whereby market participants and speculators cast ‘votes’ – buy or sell – to determine the fair price of something – be it a stock or a commodity – and through millions of these votes prices eventually converge to a value that is ‘correct’ rather than ambiguous. And the whole process is transparent. Futures markets allow those farmers that politicians love to pander to, to hedge, creating stability.

Wealth from Wall St. often trickles down to fund creative endeavors that may not generate profit but provides aesthetic value to society – things such as parks, movies, and museums. Even Stephen K. Bannon, chief executive officer of Trumps’ campaign, worked at Goldman in the 80′s and early 90′s, becoming wealthy after selling his spin-off firm, Bannon & Co, in 1998 and using his wealth to direct movies and various conservative causes.

A common theme of campaign ads is that America is broken, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Disposable income and living standards have surged since the 70′s, an era of ill-fitting hand-me-downs, grainy TV sets with limited channels, and gas lines. Nowadays, $7 Starbucks coffees are the norm, with $15 Chipotle lunches, and all while watching Netflix on an iPhone. Such extravagances were inconceivable decades ago, back when entire families had to share a single TV and food was much blander.

To quote David Brooks, there is an an epidemic of worry. Politicians are still stuck in ‘Carter’s America’, an era when the economy was dominated by both manufacturing jobs and high inflation, forgetting or ignoring how much better and different things have become. And enough with the obsession with manufacturing. Young people aren’t distraught about factory jobs going away – rather they are watching concerts outdoors and posting pictures of it on Instagram. For your average millennial in America, life is pretty good. Even as manufacturing jobs go away, new jobs are always being created: coding, web design, online tutoring, consulting, automotive repair, and Uber driving – all examples of growth industries that a decade ago either didn’t exist or were much smaller.

Just, as I explain in a post criticizing Michael Moore’s patronizing attitude to blue collar workers, as there is no single ‘blue collar worker’, there is no single ‘American’, nor single ideal of what it means to ‘Make America Great’. For millennials, to Make America Great may mean better job prospects and less student loan debt. For the middle-aged, it may mean retirement security and affordable healthcare. It may mean existential fulfillment. Or maybe something else. None those will be solved by campaign rhetoric, assuming a solution can ever exist. But given all the technological and economic progress made in the past three decades (America gave the world Facebook, Tesla, Google, and Apple), the path forwards seem better than longing for a return to the past.

Why Post-Election Revolt and Crisis is Unlikely, Part 2

In an earlier post, I argued that the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election would likely not lead to national upheaval, but I want to expand on it.

As the Great Depression showed, economic crisis does not necessarily lead to revolt. But historically speaking, revolt generally occurs during periods of extreme economic disruption and diminished well-being, typically as a consequence of war that indebts the nation. Second, it’s typically the wealthy, well-connected, and educated that foment revolution, not the poorest, which is kinda counterintuitive. But look at Donald Trump, who himself optimizes the ‘elite’, who rose to power by lending an ear to the concerns of millions of Americans when the other candidates seemed deaf. Che Guevara, Engels (who funded Marx), and Bin Laden – all had wealthy upbringings.

Revolution may also occur when the financial interest of elites are threatened, or if elites are able harness the frustrations of the proletariat to force a regime change. For example, there is evidence the American Revolution was the work of plantation elites:

According to von Borch, it was a colonial aristocratic elite espousing republican principles that articulated the revolt against England:

“Here we have what is, perhaps, the most deep-seated paradox in the emergence of America. The ‘Virginia dynasty’ of the first presidents of the independent federal State—Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe—came from precisely this planter aristocracy. Within that aristocracy there developed the powers and the ideas which made the colonies independent of England and gave them a free, if conservative, domestic regime. The revolution against England was planned on the dignified estates on the banks of the Virginia streams….

Consider the Russian Revolution, lead by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy (specificity Tsar Nicholas II., who was executed along with his family as a consequence of the revolution). Extreme poverty, worker strikes, and joblessness following the first world war, that had significantly weakened the Russian Empire, were aggravating factors:

The war also developed a weariness in the city, owing to a lack of food in response to the disruption of agriculture. Food scarcity had become a considerable problem in Russia, but the cause of this did not lie in any failure of the harvests, which had not been significantly altered during wartime. The indirect reason was that the government, in order to finance the war, had been printing millions of ruble notes, and by 1917 inflation had made prices increase up to four times what they had been in 1914. The peasantry were consequently faced with the higher cost of purchases, but made no corresponding gain in the sale of their own produce, since this was largely taken by the middlemen on whom they depended.

But Lenin himself was an elite, born to a wealthy family and had a law degree. Generally, history shows revolutions are led by elites who put their comfortable lifestyle on hold to advance a cause. Disaffected people will not mobilize without someone in charge behind the scenes giving orders. This makes a second revolution in America less likely, as someone has to first rise to the occasion to get the ball rolling and bankroll the actual revolution. For example, George Soros and other elites who funded BLM.

Regarding war, debt, poverty, and revolution, other historical examples include the French Revolution, in which major financial crisis and debt due to France’s costly involvements in the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, played a role. Same for the rise of Hitler, precipitated by Germany’s debt and weakened economy due to losing WW1.

However, although revolutions require a leader and considerable financial and organizational support, ‘lone wolf’ insurgencies don’t, and it’s possible there will be an upsurge in domestic terrorism should national sentiment decline substantially. As the 2002 Beltway sniper incident showed, which for nearly a month paralyzed much of the Maryland and D.C. regions with fear, the economic and psychological impact of terrorism are significant relative to the number of people and costs involved, which is why it’s effective and why governments expend so much resources trying to thwart terrorism. Same for the 1982 Chicago Tylenol poisonings, which attracted global media coverage and mass hysteria despite only seven deaths.

But, economically speaking, America is a long way from becoming like post-WW1 Russia. Around that time, 60-75% of the Russian population were illiterate peasants, so the conditions for revolution were a lot more ripe back then than now. Although US involvement in the Middle East has been costly, its nothing compared to the debt and hyperinflation that faced the Wiemar Republic.

Social media is like a portal to ‘Middle America’, and it’s not uncommon for middle class households to have multiple TVs, luxury brand automobiles, large SUVs, expensive iPhones with equally expensive phone plans, and designer clothes. Lifestyles were much more minimalist in earlier generations, mainly because people simply didn’t have the disposable income and credit to buy stuff. Since the mid 80′s, there has been an explosion in consumption as credit and nominal wages have surged, and technologies and free trade have make electronics and other tangibles cheaper and more accessible.

Inflation-adjusted consumer credit gained only slightly from 1965-1985 but began to surge afterwards and again in the mid 90′s.

The result is a higher standard of living – but perhaps at the cost of ‘community’, as explored by Robert Putnam in his influential 1995 essay Bowling Alone. As recently as a generation ago, entire families would gather to watch TV, because often they could only afford a single TV, to watch one of maybe a handful of shows that were available at the time. Nowadays, every family member has a personal computer and TV and can choose to watch one of thousands of shows by his or her own self, thanks to technologies like Netflix.

From Social Matter Escaping Muddied Experience:

American society has been structured so that natural experience is minimized and in its place are mediated experiences that an expert or team of experts have crafted, edited, framed, and even written for the individual. The mixing of true experience versus mediated experience is discussed in detail in Jerry Mander’s book Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television from the 1970s. This does not stop with television, but has morphed with the growth of the Internet. Television still reaches so many and has such power due to its physical effects.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. Many millennials are struggling, the post-2008 recovery is uneven and hasn’t produced enough good-paying jobs, and millions of Americans have anxiety over job loss and or going broke if there is a medical emergency.

Although America seems (especially if you listen to the media) more divided than ever, such division has always existed. In the 60′s, it was division over segregation vs. integration. Perhaps the media is also playing role by focusing on the negatives and overlooking the positives, and this shapes people’s perceptions of the economy and society.

But the problem is, although Americans are far from starving to death, existential anxiety is a more intractable problem (you can’t just throw money at it and make it go away), and solutions are hard to come by. Material wealth and consumption doesn’t necessarily bring fulfillment or peace of mind. Maybe the answer is cheap and abundant entertainment. Maybe it’s religion. Maybe it’s promoting financial literacy so people will save for a rainy day and retirement (thus creating peace of mind) instead of frittering money on positional goods, although this may also hurt America’s consumption-based economy.

Individualism vs. the State

From Social Matter The End Of Atomistic Individualism: A Theory On Who You Are

The purpose of this thought experiment is an attempt to formulate a new, sustainable, non-atomistic understanding of the concept of individualism. Modern individualism, as a product of the Enlightenment, has the function of isolating and alienating individuals from God, society, and eventually even from themselves. From Putnam’s Bowling Alone to the transgender movement, modernity loudly proclaims the inability of people to belong, even to themselves. It instead offers a vision of individualism, in which the person creates themselves in their own image, as if Adam were to form himself in the Garden.

Just as it is vain to think that a lump of clay will form itself into a man, so it is equally vain to think that an alienated, atomized person can create in themselves a personality out of the muck of consumerism and mass media. Modernity tells us that we can form our own personality with tattoos, body modification, consumerist consumption, and status objects like automobiles.

But Putnam is also a strong proponent of democracy. One can argue that atomic individualism, with is related to libertarism, is antithetical to democracy and the democratic process. Sometimes, I think we want it both ways: to oppose both individualism and democracy, but this may not be logically consistent. The answer , like many things, seems to lie somewhere in the middle. This could mean a community united by commonalities (such as culture), but without democracy, and individualism is also preserved. This is similar to the nation state concept:

The most obvious impact of the nation state, as compared to its non-national predecessors, is the creation of a uniform national culture, through state policy. The model of the nation state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. When the implied unity was absent, the nation state often tried to create it. It promoted a uniform national language, through language policy. The creation of national systems of compulsory primary education and a relatively uniform curriculum in secondary schools, was the most effective instrument in the spread of the national languages. The schools also taught the national history, often in a propagandistic and mythologised version, and (especially during conflicts) some nation states still teach this kind of history.[20]

But I have also heard arguments that individualism is inextricably linked with liberalism and that individualism is an ‘enlightenment’ ideal. But a distinction must be made between enlightenment ideals, which are the antecedent to neo and classical varieties of liberalism, versus welfare liberal ideals (which is a more recent development). The former supports individualism, but also the possibility of unequal outcomes that may arise from it. The latter seeks conformity in the form of egalitarianism and equal outcomes (higher taxes, more social spending, wealth spreading, etc.) despite giving the outward appearance of supporting individualism. Marxist and other far-left variants of liberalism also oppose individualism, preferring the state to mandate ‘equal outcomes’ as well as individual subservience to the state.

But both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ seem to have a love-hate relationship with individualism. For the ‘left’, they like individualism as a way to rebel against the status quo, but the also oppose individualism if it leads to too much wealth inequality or what they perceive as oppression (such as ‘homophobia’ of a baker for not making a baking a ‘gay cake’); for the ‘right’, they like individualism in context of free markets, personal autonomy, and personal property, but oppose it because it may lead to the breakdown of communities, decline of organized religion, the separation of church and state, and increased ‘moral decay’.

The libertarian or minarchist position, which is somewhere in the middle, may be the most logically consistent in bridging this schism, that strikes a balance between individualism and cohesion. Minarchism is like a shopping mall, where stores exist as individual entities under the patronage of the mall, a symbiosis of sorts where both the mall and businesses benefit. Business pay the mall in exchange for the benefits the mall provides (such as security, infrastructure, and customers). Because it’s elective, businesses don’t have to join, but America’s tax system isn’t and individuals, businesses have to pay to fund services they don’t want or need.

And from Family and Individualism:

In any society, there is probably an optimal balance between individualism and collectivism. A society that is 100% atomized, by definition, is not a society. But history also shows that total conformity is no better. Those quirky people on the right side of the Bell Curve, with their idiosyncrasies, are needed for society to advance technologically, while everyone else goes about tending to civilization. If you go through Charles Murray’s database of human accomplishments, you’ll find virtually all accomplishments were made by smart people. Liberals value social justice and equality over quantifiable results. The left wants America to be a nation of takers, not creators.

Related: Individualism vs. Thede