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.