Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism describes how since 2008 society has been radically transformed socially, culturally, and economically, for good and bad.
It’s ‘good’ because since 2013 or so, we’re seen the rise of the alt-right, dissident right, NRx, MGTOW, MRA/red pill, and other right-wing ideologies and sub-cultures that are challenging the status quo and conventional conservatism. That America’s economy, especially in the Silicon Valley, rewards individual merit and talent, while people can get rich quickly with assets such as stocks and Bitcoin, is an affront to left-wing egalitarianism and wealth redistribution. Intellectualism and individualism rewards competence, which is good because people who are competent should get ahead in society, and individualism (in the economic sense) and self-sufficiency is better than collectivism, but the problem is we’ve seen the rise of possible narcissism online among millennials (as well as social-justice activism, as an example of individualism taken to an extreme to the detriment of society), and those who are unable to compete in America’s hyper-competitive, winner-take-all, hyper-meritocratic economy may find themselves falling behind, as described by Ron Unz in his famous 28,000-word article, The Myth of the American Meritocracy :
During this period, we have witnessed a huge national decline in well-paid middle class jobs in the manufacturing sector and other sources of employment for those lacking college degrees, with median American wages having been stagnant or declining for the last forty years. Meanwhile, there has been an astonishing concentration of wealth at the top, with America’s richest 1 percent now possessing nearly as much net wealth as the bottom 95 percent.2 This situation, sometimes described as a “winner take all society,” leaves families desperate to maximize the chances that their children will reach the winners’ circle, rather than risk failure and poverty or even merely a spot in the rapidly deteriorating middle class. And the best single means of becoming such an economic winner is to gain admission to a top university, which provides an easy ticket to the wealth of Wall Street or similar venues, whose leading firms increasingly restrict their hiring to graduates of the Ivy League or a tiny handful of other top colleges.3 On the other side, finance remains the favored employment choice for Harvard, Yale or Princeton students after the diplomas are handed out.4
Excessive individualism and the obsession with wealth–things that can be quantified in a materialistic sense–may come at the cost of things that are not so easy to quantify but also also important to a functioning society, such as morality, culture, family, community, and tradition.
From Michael O. Church in response to Justine Tunney, Thanks for your insightful reply:
What is this war? What are the sides? To be honest, I see a lot of bitter conflict in our society, but I don’t see the coherence of a war. I don’t see “sides”. I see a dissolution into feudalism and extreme individualism. I see a society where selfishness has become a virtue, in which “neoliberalism” (which is not very new, and not liberal) goes unquestioned, and in which pointless division thrives.
Maybe he’s right but perhaps too pessimistic about individualism, which I see as a force against leftist collectivism, whether economically or socially, but this push to individualism may also may be disconcerting those who are unable to adapt and or morally object to America’s increasingly atomistic economic and social landscape.
‘Individualism’ is a major theme of this blog, as part of the ‘trinity’ of wealth, intellectualism, and individualism, defining ‘themes’ of post-2008 society. Our post-2008 economy is a more cutthroat one, where status, more than ever, is based on individualistic merit, not collectivism or connections. Also, whether it’s stock trading, real estate, or the obsession with finance, everyone is striving to get rich, and high-IQ entrepreneurs like Martin Shkreli and Elon Musk, who embody all of the trinity, are tantamount to ‘deities’ for a generation of otherwise agnostic or atheist millennials. Some could liken the post-2008 economy to an ‘Ayn Rand world’ in overdrive, with neoliberal/neoconservative economic and foreign policy thrown in, too, and this seems accurate given recent economic and social trends. Even George W. Bush, in 2004, famously coined the phrase ‘the ownership society’ to describe the increasing importance of personal ownership and individualism. [Although some on the ‘right’ call neoconservatives liberal Straussian Trotskyites, such labels fall apart upon closer scrutiny.] From the Atlas Society:
Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism founded by Ayn Rand (1905-1982). In novels such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged , Rand dramatized her ideal man, the producer who lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the undeserved, who honors achievement and rejects envy
Of course, Michael O. Church and I are not the first to make this observation. Tom Wolf, in an influential 1976 article in New York magazine, described the 70’s as the “‘Me’ Decade”, a ‘general new attitude of Americans in the 1970s, in the direction of atomized individualism and away from communitarianism, in clear contrast with social values prevalent in the United States during the 1960s.’ But perhaps the difference between then and now are how values have changed, from a society where individualism and success were only a part of a bigger picture, not the entire picture itself.
Recent examples of Individualism include the MGTOW movement, the ‘choose yourself’ paradigm as described by James Altucher, millennials trying to be self-sufficient financially, ‘selfie culture’ (Instagram and Snapchat), and ‘hustle culture’ (millennials trying to make money on their own terms, whether through stocks, real estate, and other means, bypassing the traditional 9-5 job route).
Individualism also means more accountability and personal personal responsibility, instead of ‘shared’ responsibility. In the pre-2008 world, millions of mediocre workers were overpaid to perform jobs that have since been automated, outsourced, or completely eliminated, as emphasis has shifted towards ‘value creation’, efficiency, and productivity. The rise of the ‘gig economy’ is an example of how individuals are being paid for the value they directly produce, instead of workers being overpaid and the collective (company and shareholders) footing the bill. In the past, the cost of mediocre employees (think the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert) was distributed among the productive, and no one noticed, allowing these mediocre employees to fly under the radar for many years. Then 2008 came, profits began to fall, and bosses began to ask, ‘Why are we paying all these people so much to do so little?’ The herd was thinned, and since 2009 and profits and stock prices have surged. And to add insult to injury, in spite of huge profits, many of the jobs eliminated in the recession never returned.
Worse still, remaining employees that have not been tapped by the icy finger of the ‘profits reaper’ find themselves at the mercy of perfidious employers, in an era where loyalty is gone and the supply labor vastly exceeds demand, giving employers decided upper-hand over employees, for many industries and jobs. And then there is the SJW digital lynch mob, ready to descend on anyone that they deemed ‘racist’, a word that has been redefined to mean not someone who acts on actual prejudice but merely observes biological differences or, ideologically, fails to subscribe to far-left liberalism.
Of course, a lot of people resist this ineluctable reality. ‘I want to keep my overpaid job,’ they insist. Unless you’re in the top 1-5% of talent and are irreplaceable, odds are your employer will eventually find someone or some way to perform your job for less money, rendering your job unnecessary.
From tinkerers, to writers, to entrepreneurs, some individualism is necessary for society to advance, but like most things there is an optimal balance between collectivism (community, clergy, schools, family) and individualism (innovation at the individual level, research-based academia, and entrepreneurship).
The second pillar is wealth. From Francisco d’Anconia’s speech in Atlas Shrugged:
“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
It seems like in recent years there has been a massive surge, especially online, in finance-related topics and discussion. Everyone is looking for ways to get wealthy, whether through stocks, trading, options, or making money online. But also, there are often huge, heated discussions about wealth management, financial planing, indexing, and the structure of the market itself, such as whether the stock market is rigged, manipulated, overvalued, or efficient. Money may not be the roof of all evil, but it is certainly the root of a lot of online discussions. Same for the surge in discussions about job loss and automation, post scarcity, basic income, and wealth equality, as part of the post-2008 ‘great debate‘ online about economics.
The wealth ‘boom’ and obsession with wealth didn’t really begin in earnest until 2013. Pre-2013 there was the OWS movement, and the the memory of the financial crisis was still fresh in the minds of millions of millennials, with much resentment towards Wall St. and bankers, as capitalism had ‘failed’ them. In addition, Obama had been reelected, and millennial voters were still optimistic that the ‘hope and change’ he promised in his first term could still be realized. Then, almost inexplicably, in 2013, along with the post-2013 SJW backlash, gamergate, and then, in 2015, with the Trump ‘surge’, there was a 180-degree change in mindset among millennials, from resisting capitalism and wealth creation to embracing it more than ever. With the S&P 500 up up 30% in 2013 alone (the greatest one-year gain since 1953), OWS a failure, and Obama’s ‘hope and change’ more of a myth than reality, millions of millennials suddenly realized that it’s better, more productive to emulate the rich and successful than resent them. Related to ‘individualism’ (in part 1), the cutthroat nature of the economy also played a role in this transition, as millennials realized that the competitive economic environment necessitated self-sufficiency for a future when there would be a smaller social safety net, instead of hoping for the government to bail them out. From: The Millennial Mindset – Individualism Over The Collective:
Even ‘selfie’ culture is an example of the ‘self’ being more important than the ‘collective’. Same for the rise of MGTOW and ‘mens’s rights’, both which emphasize individualism against politically correct social norms. Millennials understand that the economy is and will continue to become more competitive and that you cannot rely on the ‘collective’ – be it the government, friends, or family – to pull you up – you have to forge your own destiny, your own wealth, and your own success. Or in the words of James Altucher, ‘choose yourself’. The economy is forcing everyone to become ‘Objectivists‘.
But also, millennials see their baby boomers parents (as well as the headlines since 2008 of people losing everything, of being unemployed) frittering cash on useless purchases, and other bad financial decisions. Millennials, who are surprisingly savvy about personal finance, value self-sufficiency and financial independence, but schools typically don’t teach personal finance – things as debt, mortgages vs. renting, taxes, budgeting, credit scores, index funds vs. individual stocks vs. bonds, credit cards, or even how to balance a checkbook. That’s where the dissatisfaction with today’s educational system comes from – that fact schools are not teaching these pertinent, actionable skills.
Personal finance, including budgeting, is very important to millennials, who value financial independence and self-sufficiency. Although many millennials are living at home with their parents longer, millennials value ‘financial independence’ over ‘location independence’ and are using the saved money to become self-sufficient, such as by buying a home or investing in the stock market, instead of pissing away money every month to the landlord. When they finally ‘leave the nest’, they will have a lot of money saved up. This also explains why millennials also like STEM so much: not only is it intellectually demanding (intellectualism), but it pays the most too:
To give an example of how finance is so important to millennials, a thread on Reddit about the simulated buy and hold returns of the S&P 500 over many intervals, went massively viral getting thousands of up-votes, hundreds comments, and two gilding of ‘Reddit Gold’ for the thread creator. Everyone wants to get richer.
A question on Quora, What are good ways to prepare my kids to become billionaires?, got over a hundred replies, with some replies getting hundreds of up-votes, signifying considerable interest in wealth creation.
As another example of the importance of wealth creation, a post on Hacker News about day trading also went hugely viral and generated hundreds of posts detailing individual experiences day trading, with some posts containing very detailed statistical analysis of day trading successes vs. failures. This ties into intellectualism, because success at day trading is an intellectual endeavor, with smarter people making more money than the less intelligent who trade and lose money, and with the stock market making new highs almost every week, there is an increased interest in investing but also day trading, as a way to make money quickly. Making thousands of dollars as a doctor or a lawyer? Snooze. Trading stocks? Hundred of replies and thousands of page views. The reason, again, has to do with intellectualism but also individualism, because in today’s difficult economy, where jobs are are being automated-away and inflation-adjusted wages are flat, necessitates that people find ways to generate income and become self-sufficient without being dependent on an employer.
Millennials are facing a future where social security may not exist, with lots of student loan debt that may never be paid off, on top a sucky job market that is not producing enough good-paying jobs, all the while inflation-adjusted wages are stagnant across many jobs and industries. Day trading is seen a one form of escape from employer bondage, with the added appeal of being intellectual and STEM-like (analyzing data, price patterns, charts, etc.), the latter is why it is so appealing to millennials and other smart people, who see the stock market as a form of ‘science’ that can be analyzed rigorously, like astrophysics. Professions like being a doctor or a lawyer seem to have lost their luster and have too much regulation and student loan debt involved, whereas day trading and finance is seen as a short-cut to wealth for those who are smart enough. Day trading also appeals to the Randian desire to become self-made and self-sufficient, to be distinguished and rewarded financially for one’s merits, and to ‘outwit’ the less-intelligent masses who also trade but fail. In fact, there is a character in Atlas Shrugged who is a genius and can predict the stock market.
But at the same time, an article about ‘being average‘ also went viral. This ties into post-2008 ‘authenticity culture’, of how it’s better to be authentically ‘true to yourself’, even if it means being average, than being deluded and afflicted by Dunning Kruger. Biological determinism again rears its head, with genes limiting the potential of people who aspire to more than their biology will allow. This is related to ‘shared narratives‘, as millions of smart people regardless of ideological affiliation are seeking answers to existential questions such as, ‘Can someone who is only average find meaning in life in an economy and culture that seems to rewards individual success and talent, and how so?’ Not everyone can be a day trading genius, a web 2.0 billionaire, or a top physicist or mathematician, so learning or coping with being ‘average’ is a useful skill.
Reddit communities /r/investing, /r/personalfinance, and /r/wallstbets have seen immense growth in the past few years, especially the latter, which caters to young day traders and option traders, many of whom consistently make a lot of money trading. It’s not too uncommon in these communities too see heated, highly technical debates about market efficiency, capital asset pricing models, commission structures, option pricing and other complicated topics, combining wealth and intellectualism. Unlike earlier decades, it’s not only finance professors and old economists who have an interest or knowledge in such topics – but now it’s every 20 and 30-something who is an expert on finance and is actively participating in these debates.
It’s just weird but also understandable in light of recent economic and cultural changes how people went from, in 2011 with OWS, protesting capitalism to now to not being able to get enough of it. A complete 180-degree change in mindset.
In 2008 and 2009, leftist pundits fondly envisaged a post-America era, where America and its economy would no longer dominate, with perhaps Russia, Germany, Turkey, or Brazil as the new ‘status quo’. Pop-psychology purveyors like Gladwell, Ariely, Taleb, and Daniel Kahneman, rose to fame, whose books promoted ‘leveling‘, in repudiation to the hubris and elitism as embodied by Wall St. and the Bush administration, which so spectacularly, to the delight of the left, imploded in 2008. Then, much to the dismay of the left, America came roaring back as Europe fell into perpetual recession and the emerging economies were broadsided by corruption, stagnation, falling commodity prices, and high inflation. Due to the flight to safety and American exceptionalism, treasury yields are at record low, the dollar is at record highs, and the S&P 500 has posted the highest real gains since 2009 of any major stock index in the world.
Some on the left say America is in decline or losing its influence. Not true, we’re pulling ahead of the rest of the world. Silicon Valley is not only the center of the technology universe, but America’s intellectual institutions are the envy of foreigners and are inundated with applications from the best and the brightest from all over the world. So while the left whines about America having too much inequality and not enough jobs, rich and smart foreigners – whether they are going to Caltech or MIT, working at Google, or buying up expensive real estate – can’t get enough of America.
Trillions of dollars of wealth has been created since the market bottom of March 2009, and especially since 2013, some examples being:The S&P 500 bottomed at 666 in March 2009. As of 8/25/2016 it’s now at 2170 for a gain of 226%, which does not include the generous dividends. Dividends included, it’s over 250%. And this is especially impressive given how low inflation is. At six years and counting, the bull market is also the second-longest ever, and I predict it has much further to go.
In 2009, Facebook was only worth $9 billion; it’s now worth over $250 billion. Tesla went from being a prototype to a dominant player in the luxury car market and has a market cap of over $30 billion. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft added a combined $1 trillion in market capitalization since the 2009 bottom – about the size of the economy of Spain. Web 2.0 was in its infancy; now Snapchat, Uber, Dropbox, and Twitter are worth combined $150-200 billion.
Home prices keep going up, and prices in the the Bay Area have almost doubled since 2011, and I predict prices will keep rising due to huge demand from wealthy foreigners, private equity, and newly-minted tech millionaires, as well as due to limited supply. Thanks to Stanford University, biotech, and web 2.0, the Bay Area is the capitalism and intellectualism capital of the world right now, overtaking Manhattan. Sand Hill Road of Menlo Park, California, is the most expensive street in the world.
Given all this wealth being created, and much more to go, is it any wonder millennials want a piece of it instead of being poor and bitter like a typical ‘black lives matter’ supporter, protesting imagined racism and injustice on deaf ears. Or a ‘social justice warrior’, who sees sexism and oppression everywhere, and is dependent on welfare and Patreon donations because ‘social justice’ is not a skill employers are typically looking for.
That’s why there is so much interest in wealth creation, particularly on high-IQ communities like Hacker News, Reddit, and 4chan, with posts about day trading, ‘YOLO’ (/r/WallStBets), stock market, real estate,and finance getting so many ‘up-votes’ and discussion, and why we aspire to be like Musk and Shkreli, who became wealthy through intellect, hard work, and free market capitalism, not by complaining about ‘wealth inequality being too high’ or ‘the fed being a conspiracy’. Despite the liberal media’s narrative that all millennials are broke and in debt, it’s not too uncommon on Reddit communities like /r/investing to find stories of 20 or 30-somethings, often in technology or the rental property market, who have hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest.
And while the baby boomers had it easy (an abundance of good-paying jobs for all skill levels, generous and early retirements, social security payouts, no mountains of student loan debt), for millennials times are more trying, which could explain why not only so many millennials may have a grudge against the blissful boomers, but also why millennials – possibly the most educated generation ever – are so obsessed with self-sufficiency, intellect, and self-determination – so much so that some will voluntarily choose unemployment than having to answer to a less-intelligent, uneducated superior.
(image credit: Worthless College Degree Book Trailer)
Difficult economic times also call for changing expectations of becoming an ‘adult’, with ‘initiation’ into adulthood being delayed. From QZ.com, The five different paths that people take before they feel like official adults:
A typical pathway was laid out in the early and mid-20th century: exit school, get a job, move out of the parental home, get married, and have children.
While this might be considered the “normal” pathway even today, these transitions do not occur in such a neat and predictable order for many contemporary young people. Furthermore, the time to complete them has become longer.
It is commonplace today for young people to return to school after beginning work, move back in with parents (or never leave), have children prior to marriage, or work in less secure part-time jobs.
That pretty much sums it up about millennials: Overeducated, overqualified for most jobs, and lots of introspection and time spent in mindfulness. Not as much interest in family formation or marriage. I would also add: posting online on sites like Tumblr, debating crime and gun statistics, a keen interest in quantum physics and other obscure complicated stuff, and trying to ‘get into’ the stock market and finance despite being cynical about ‘corporate America’ and not having any particular use for the money (because they tend to also be minimalists).
As explained in the post Adulting, the idiosyncrasies of millennials may be a way to adapt to a culture and economy that rewards individualism, in addition to a more competitive, difficult economic environment:
Boomers had four decades of post-WW2 prosperity serendipitously dropped on their lap, which they frittered with excess consumerism, with millennials fighting for the scraps of what is left in our increasingly competitive, winner-take-all economy. Boomers never had to compete with computers for jobs, had to contend with an economy so hellbent on productivity and efficiency, with a culture and economy that rewards quantifiable results and individualism over family and community, more than ever. The post-2008 economy is like an ‘Ayn Rand world’ in overdrive. Being an ‘adult’ means trying to emulate an economic and social ideal that no longer exists, as well as being a slave to political correctness or a corporate machine, and it’s understandable why millennials have turned sour of the concept, instead embracing the ‘Randian’ ideal of individualism over obsoleted collectivist ideals of family and community, because it’s the best way to adapt.
Rather than waste precious years in a dead-end job, millennials would rather self-actualize by trading, investing, posting videos and vines online, learning to code and other high-paying skills, occasionally making huge fortunes in the process. On Reddit here is an example of someone who a couple months ago turned $18k into $135k in two weeks. Such stories are not too uncommon. And there is there the article earlier about ‘Tumblr teens’ making more money than their parents.
Related to the synthesis of wealth, intellectualism, and individualism, millennials want to be wealthy and they care a lot about stocks and personal finance, but they eschew ostentatious materialism, preferring wealth as measured by a bank statement or a trading account, not a big home or a sports car that depreciates as quickly as it accelerates. Finance has become more important than family. Millennials, in channeling, either subconsciously or intentionally, the matriarch of individualism and self-interest, Ayn Rand, aspire to be like Musk or Zuckerberg, or Warren Buffett – individuals who became wealthy through intellectualism and individualism, not swinging a stick for a ‘team’ or parroting lines to a camera. As I will explain later, intellect, especially in STEM – which includes finance, philosophy, and economics – gives you ‘social capital’ (even if you’re not wealthy) more-so than just being rich and dull. Few take the opinions of actors and athletes on important matters seriously, but they (the media) constantly defer to scientists and economists on important matters. Millennials understand this distinction.
To millennials, wealth is is not measured by how many ‘toys’ you have. Rather, it’s about wealth in a bank account, as well as ‘cognitive wealth’ and ‘social capital’.
As mentioned earlier, personal responsibility ‘the self > the collective’ is a major theme of post-2008 society, with individuals (whether through low IQ, bad choices, majoring in a low-ROI subject instead of STEM, being dumb, etc.), not the marketplace or society, to blame for failure. People who blame the the government, Wall St., bankers, and the fed, for losing money and being failures at life get no sympathy online. Blame yourself. The market is not rigged; it’s actually very efficient and rational. Instead, buy index funds. Stop being a sore loser who whines about manipulation and bubbles as others are getting wealthy, or maybe you’re not smart enough to make money. In much the same way rationalist millennials reject deities and other apparitions, they rightfully reject fed ‘conspiracies’, wishful thinking, ‘doom and gloom’ (eschatology), allegations of the stock market being a ‘fraud and a bubble’, and other delusions. They also tend to be pragmatic, consequentialist, and utilitarian, arguing that policy, even if it’s unpopular (such as bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, or eugenics), that creates the most wealth or ‘good’ indirectly is desirable over policy that doesn’t (excess welfare spending, disability, etc.) but otherwise ‘feels good’ (naturalistic fallacy).
The Millennial Mindset, Part 2: Philosophy and Wealth describes the underlying philosophy of most millennials as rationalist and valuing of authenticity. But another label could be deontological. Millennials, particularly smart and rational ones, seem to have an ethical system predicated on rules and promoting maximum ‘goodness’, even if goodness may be hard to quantify or may be attained by unconventional means. The Kantian categorical imperative is relevant:
Kant then argues that the consequences of an act of willing cannot be used to determine that the person has a good will; good consequences could arise by accident from an action that was motivated by a desire to cause harm to an innocent person, and bad consequences could arise from an action that was well-motivated. Instead, he claims, a person has a good will when he ‘acts out of respect for the moral law’. People ‘act out of respect for the moral law’ when they act in some way because they have a duty to do so. So, the only thing that is truly good in itself is a good will, and a good will is only good when the willer chooses to do something because it is that person’s duty, i.e. out of “respect” for the law. He defines respect as “the concept of a worth which thwarts my self-love.”
As evidence of the importance of deontology, a Reddit ‘Life Pro Tips’ post which meticulously lists rules for disposing of the possessions of the deceased, went viral, getting hundreds of votes. This is in contrast to boomers, who in the 60’s (as 20 and 30-year-olds) eschewed rules and promoted ‘rebellion’ (even though they were conformist in their need to rebel). That’s probably why millennials don’t go to clubs, preferring instead to stay at home and be introspective.
This is also related to consequentialism and utilitarianism, discussed numerous times on this blog and at the end of part 3. The philosophy can also be described as quasi-authoritarian and somewhat bureaucratic, but with contradictions such as promoting individualism and authenticity. To reconcile this, individualism and authenticity is championed provided it’s within the sphere of one’s biological capabilities (also related to the meritocracy stratified by IQ), and to try to exit the sphere puts one at risk of becoming a poseur, which is among the worst things to be in a culture and society that values authenticity more than ever.
But we’re also seeing the rise of ‘advice culture’ – a subset of ‘intellectualism culture’ (as categorized here, and will be described in greater detail in upcoming installments of this series). Like the story on ‘coping with being average’, as mentioned at the end of part 2, articles that offer advice on navigating today’s difficult, hyper-meritocratic economy and culture, frequently go viral. Boomers, like the iconoclasts of the Protestant Reformation, wanted to tear down the system; millennials, on the other hand, seek to adapt, either by emulating the rich and successful or by finding ways of coping with mediocrity. In the 90’s, gen-x sought escapism through MTV, sitcoms, and alternative music. But millennials want to stay in the present and confront reality head-on, seeking understanding about complicated matters such philosophy, math, economics, and social theory, all of which are related to intellectualism, rather than indulge in disposable entertainment. Writers such as David Foster Wallace and Hunter S. Thomson (who committed suicide within three years of each other), exude authenticity and have seen their legacies explode in recent years, becoming cultural icons. Wallace’s This is Water, a commencement speech he wrote in 2005, and Thomson’s Finding Your Purpose, a letter addressed to a fan, have been shared thousands of times on social media and cover themes about coping with the idiosyncrasies and travails of modern society without losing one’s sanity, as well as existentialism and finding meaning in life.
Regarding David Foster Wallace again, his critique of consumerist culture was wrong not because TV became less popular among the youth, but because consumerist culture itself began a decline some time in mid-2000, especially since 2013 with the rise of rise of minimalism and MGTOW. In the late 90’s, the youth collectively watched MTV; they all bought the latest boy band, rock, and pop albums (which told tens of millions of copies at $18/CD); they all watched Friends, 90210, Dawson’s Creek (or whatever else was popular at the time). It was very conformist and kinda dumbed-down. Then in 2008  all that changed. Now (today’s) young people are streaming clips on their phones and listening to music on Spotify or iTunes instead of compulsively spending $18 on the latest album, and they are posting introspective stuff on sites such as Tumblr and Medium instead of just zoning-out to MTV. Everything has become smarter and more fragmented.
David Foster Wallace, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett can be likened to ‘atheist Protestants’ who seek earnestness and seriousness in a society that they perceive as cynical, ostentatious/materialistic, and hype-driven…they are analogous to the iconoclastic reformers of the 1500-1600’s. This ‘new morality’ is a repudiation of values, in favor of a minimialsitic, stripped-down, de-sensationalized, serious moral relativism. In photos, Dawkins and Dennett always have stern facial expressions and austere attire, bearing an uncanny similarity to the overly-serious Simpsons character Reverend Lovejoy, but instead of revering Jesus they revere Darwin, and they preach not from the Bible but rather from On the Origins of Species.
Moral relativism stands in contrast to moral absolutism (such absolutism can include right-wing absolutism (such as neo-fascism) and left-wing absolutism (SJWs, WOC/POC-left, antifa, BLM, etc.)).
From the post Inaction and Indifference as Rebellion:
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.
And from the post Millennials and Misconceptions:
Whereas older generations embraced activism and action ‘you must save the whales’ ‘you must get a job’ ‘you must fight the man, man’ ‘you must must start a family and buy a home’, millennials want to stay at home and ‘chill’, embrace pacifism, procrastinate, indulge in intellectual endeavors, or be ‘boring‘. But also millennials seek wealth, but on their own terms, and don’t wish to fritter their money on rapidly depreciating positional goods. ‘Careerism’ is a post-ww2 phenomenon that locks people into a rat maze where a big home or a fancy car, not cheese, is waiting at the exit. Millennials, generally, want none of that, and who can blame them. Rather, they are choosing MGTOW, Red Pill, minimalism, etc. as alternatives. For millennials, wealth is measured not just by how much money you have but also how much you know, too, which is why they value higher education (even if the degrees may not pay much and or require a lot of debt).
Such relativism and repudiation of values is also observed with the post-2008 rise of online postmodernism, which is also related to ‘intellectualism culture’ and rationalism. For smart millennials, values are less important than facts and premises. This is also related to the post-2013 decline ‘internet atheism’  and the post-2013 SJW-backlash, but also as a consequence of the failure of OWS and the failure of Obama to affect change as discussed in Part 2. Online atheists, BLM, and SJWs seek to impose their values, but the post-2013 rise of rationalism and centrism is the pendulum of discourse returning to the ‘middle’ after swinging too far the the left.
The post-2017 rise of the IDW (intellectual dark web) is further evidence of this trend, of how for many smart millennial, facts take to take precedent over opinions and values, not the other way around, as well as a huge demand for discourse that eschews emotive partisan demagoguery for nuance, rejection of identity politics, and openness to debate; for example, Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and major figure of the IDW, whose lectures extol the importance and virtues of individualism, in contrast to the atrocities of collectivist ideologies such as fascism and communism. Moralizing, which was a staple of pre-2013 internet discourse, has fallen out of favor to so-called ‘rationalist discourse’, but also the rise of a relativistic, non-judgmental form of morality that stresses the autonomy  of the individual.
From the post Inaction and Indifference as Rebellion:
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. Maybe some values are better than others, 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.
The final pillar is intellectualism. Thanks to recent economic trends, Web 2.0, ‘nerd culture’, the growing importance of STEM, ‘esoteric celebrities‘, long-form journalism, as well as the elevation and idolization of intellectuals in public life, particularity for STEM fields, and recent groundbreaking discoveries and progress in physics, mathematics AI, and computer science, right now America is in something of an ‘intellectual renaissance‘.
This section, the longest of the three, covers:
1. ‘intellect’ as a form of social capital
2. rise of ‘nerd culture’ and cultural appropriation
3. the post-2008 ‘intellectual renaissance’ in America, as evidenced by the increased demand for complicated, esoteric subjects, that until recently were neglected, and in the process turning many intellectuals into ‘esoteric celebrities’
4. rejection of ‘low information’ in post-2013 internet journalism and in online discourse; ‘fact checking’, correctness more important than political tribal loyalty; proliferation of the ‘contrarian mainstream’ and esoteric ideologies
5. the ‘Social Darwinist’ aspect of how less intelligent people are faring worse in America’s competitive post-2008 economy
6. ‘shared narratives’ (#2,3,4,6 are under the umbrella of ‘intellectualism culture’)
7. the wealth-intellectualism-individualism synthesis
Intellectualism is how you become a part of the process, the national debate, rather than merely a spectator. It’s a common misconception that to be ingratiated you must conform, be ordinary, but it’s actually the opposite: to become a participant, you must be exceptional.
As an example of how you need to be brilliant to be a ‘part of the process’, not dull and or conformist, and an example of how STEM has become so important, not only in terms of high wages and prestige, but for signaling competence – as STEM is a bastion of credibility and objectivity in an era of useless fluff degrees, media sensationalism, low-information partisanship, and sentimentalism – Terrance Tao, possibly the most brilliant mathematician alive, wrote an article about Trump being unfit to be president, which went massively viral despite the article having nothing to do with math, but because people, especially other smart people, perceive competence in STEM (abstract mathematics in the case of Tao) as being transferable to unrelated fields (sociology, politics), Tao’s opinions on political science are as equally valued as his mathematics research. This transference is also observed with brilliant physicists Stephen Hawking, Sean Carroll, and Michio Kaku, who are as well known for comments about politics, philosophy, and democracy, if not more so, than physics research. Because STEM is considered the pinnacle of intellectualism in the hierarchy of degrees, and thus competence, this transference is irreversible, meaning that a sociologist who tries to lecture about math would be chided (and rightfully so), whereas mathematicians can freely lecture about sociology (or pretty much anything) without losing credibility.
Another example: in June 2016, a post by quantum physicist Scott Aaronson about Trump also went viral, getting hundreds of comments and Facebook shares. My observation is if you want to write about non-STEM topics, ditch the liberal arts degree and get a STEM (which includes economics) degree – and boom – tons of traffic and viralness for your political opinions. Weird how that works.
As part of the post-2008 rise of the ‘STEM celebrity’ and the ‘intellectual rockstar’, Reddit AMAs by scientists get as many up-votes, if not more, as A-list celebrities. Richard Dawkins’ latest AMA got over 7,000 comments. Same for David Dunning, originator of the Duninking-Kunner Effect (victims of Duninking-Kunner are too dumb to know how dumb they are, a problem frequently encountered when debating online), whose AMA last year got over 4,000 votes and 1,000 comments. This also ties into the post-2008 resurgence in philosophy, which has become more STEM-like in recent years borrowing from fields as diverse as neurology, quantum physics, artificial intelligence, mathematical logic, computer science, and ‘theory of the mind’. Some examples include David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the area of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, whose groundbreaking theory of ‘philosophical zombies’ has made him something of an intellectual ‘rock star’ in recent years. Another is philosopher John Searle, who rose to fame with his ‘Chinese Room’ thought experiment. Robin Hanson, whose writings and presentations on ‘ems‘, ‘futarchy’, and the ‘great filter’ have spurred significant discussion and debate, has become something of an internet celebrity as of 2016. Nick Bostrom and his ‘simulation argument’, originally published in 2001, has in recent years received considerable coverage by the media. The overarching theme is that we have less free will than we may want to believe, either because we’re all ‘zombies’, simulated beings, or reducible to computer programs. These arguments for ‘predestination’ have become more popular in recent years, probably due to Social Darwinism becoming more relevant in our post-2008 economy, in which genes affect ‘free will’, socioeconomic success, and ‘salvation’.
Interestingly, on Reddit and 4chan, English, History, and Philosophy majors are also respected, too, as they sacrifice monetary gains to pursue a ‘higher’ calling. Such degrees, even though they may not pay very well or have immediate real-world applications, are a solace of intellectual purity, patience, and understanding in a society spoiled by instant gratification, ostentatious materialism, ‘low-information’ pandering, and sensationalism. Both STEM and some liberal arts (not the useless ones like child development or gender studies) combine authenticity, sufficient intellectual rigor, introspection, and abstractions. For the math major such abstractions include axioms, postulates and theorems; for the literature major, it’s words and grammar; for philosophy, it’s ontology and epistemology. ‘Low-information’ means not circuitous enough, too obvious.
Examples of respected fields include comparative literature (being well-read signals intellect and worldliness), philosophy (philosophy majors have SAT scores that are as high as STEM majors; philosophy is becoming STEM-like, and it signals a lot of intellect), history (a very respected field even though it tends to not pay well; signals worldliness and intellect), economics (which could be considered STEM-like because it involves math), and finance (also very STEM-like since it involves math and pays well). At the bottom of the pile are useless degrees, that have no intellectual signaling value or rigor, including but not limited to ‘marketing’, ‘communications’, ‘business development’, ‘child development’, and of course, ‘how-white-men-are-oppressive-studies’.
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 friends and family. Those are just a handful of examples of out many; more will be given later.
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:
Respectability is a prison. We don't see that because the door is open, we inmates want life&our wardens threaten time off for bad behavior.
— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 28, 2016
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.
The rise of intellectualism is also apparent in changing beauty standards and celebrity culture. For example, the permanent stardom of brunettes and ‘ethnic-looking’ women such as Kim Kardashian–who is perceived as ‘introspective’ and ‘authentic’– overtaking blondes such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, who are perceived as shallow and superficial and whose careers peaked in 2005-2007 (at the same time the stock market and low-IQ housing markets such as in Las Vegas peaked), and are relics of a pre-2008 era.
In addition, the criteria for what constitutes celebrity has changed. Along with esoteric, social media, and STEM celebrities, there is also the rise of socialite/reality celebrities, such as Dan Bilzerian, who are famous for being interesting, entrepreneurial, down-to-earth, intelligent, and introspective, rather than having a specific talent such as singing or acting. People have grown tired and incredulous of scripted narratives –the same narratives that said there were WMDs in Iraq, that getting a college degree in a ‘useless’ subject will guarantee a good-paying job, or that housing prices in Las Vegas and Miami always go up–and as shown by the rise of Trump and reality TV, prefer spontaneity and authenticity instead.
Pertaining to pop culture, even today’s celebrity feuds have an intellectual-bent to them, and are getting much more media attention. It took the OJ pursuit, and then a couple years later, the deaths of two rap superstars in 1997, to get the media involved, but now the latest spats between oversized celebrity personalities have become leading news, mainstays like the weather, as social media has taken over traditional media. Just recently, it was the battle of the wits as Kim, using Snapchat, proved Taylor Swift had lied, and on /r/hiphopheads (and everywhere else) the world watched transfixed as the drama unfolded, snap after snap, as Kim bested her less intelligent opponent. It was the victory of brains and ingenuity (in using Snapchat in such a smart, clever manner), and the triumph of authenticity over shallowness (Taylor Swift), that made the story such a big deal that it was even reported on Vox.com and CNN.
In agreement with the rise of intellectualism, the number of students taking AP courses has surged in recent years:
Also, America is still the number one country in the world in terms of intellectual output such as patents and research papers, which is probably why so many smart, rich foreigners want to send their smart kids here while also buying up expensive real estate in regions such as Palo Alto. In spite of creeping socialism, America, more so than any other country, rewards talent and exceptionalism. People see headlines about Web 2.0 founders and venture capitalists becoming overnight millionaires or billionaires, about scientists making discovering and being showered with fame and adulation, about the stock market making new highs year after year, about home prices in the Bay Area rising–and realize (correctly) that being smart means better career opportunities, more money, and higher social status.
As another example of intellectualism, because millennials [and gen-z too] are well-educated and, thanks to the Flynn Effect, possibly smarter, they are better able to make inferences and comprehend abstract concepts, and this could explain why millennials created and or constitute a majority of gamergate [as an addendum, gamergate is not really the ‘alt right’. They are not culture warriors, nationalists, or HBD-ers. Their primacy concern is entertainment (particularly video and computer games) being diluted by political correctness], the ‘alt right’, ‘HBD’, ‘Nrx’, ‘red pill’, and other esoteric ideologies and movements that don’t fall under the conventional left/right dichotomy. Of course, there are many misinformed and brainwashed millennials, too, like SJWs, but the backlash against SJWs, spearheaded non-SJW millennials, keeps growing. Millennials are very perceptive…they openly acknowledge racial differences and skirt other ‘taboos’…I see it all the time…millennials freely discussing controversial topics on various forums, such as bodybuilding.com (questions such as ‘Why are black people so strong?’ are common), Thought Catalog, Strait Dope, Reddit, and 4chan. Millennials, even those on the left, are more willing to discuss these potentially incendiary topics, whereas older generations tend to default to political safe, environment-based ones (for the ‘left’, it’s not enough government spending, racism, etc. to blame; for the ‘right’, it’s weak families, not enough religion, too much government, etc. to blame for poverty. In either case, no mention of HBD), not HBD-based explanations and solutions for socioeconomic issues.
From We Are Not Doomed:
In a leftist world of political correctness by vapid talking heads and subservient politicians, intellectualism is where the smartest generation finds the truth, whether it’s the universities, on the trading floor, in the free market, on Reddit and 4chan.
As hard as it may be to believe, we are not doomed. Our side is winning, or at least gaining traction. You can see evidence of this in the backlash against the ‘check your privilege’ campaign, the rise of internet libertarianism, the affirmative action backlash in favor of the meritocracy, the majority of people on Reddit and 4chan defending the officers vs. the looters and other scum, and the growing acceptance of HBD, race and IQ realism in mainstream public discourse on various forums. For years,the welfare left has been successful at blocking out the science that disagrees with their anti-biological deterministic views, but the internet has upended the once strong liberal media hegemony. In the example of Ferguson county and any others, sites like Reddit correct the lies and omissions by the liberal media
It’s hard to know if ‘intellectualism culture‘ reflects millennials being biologically smarter than earlier generations, recent social changes, or a combination of both. Perhaps ‘signaling’ and ‘status seeking’ plays a role, too, as well as economic:
… STEM skills are increasingly valued both culturally and economically in our new economy. It’s the tyranny of the bookish, of smart people pulling ahead as everyone else struggles with a perpetually anemic labor market, stagnant home prices, and falling real wages. Math and code are the new ‘scriptures’ of modern society and economy, with mathematicians, philosophers, physicists, and economists the new ‘priesthood’. More and more young people are studying code and symbols, much like Bible readings, as a way to salvation, except not an intangible one, but one measured by higher wages and more respect.
But one reason why I’m optimistic about the future of the economy is, decades from now, once these smart, frugal, well-educated millennials, grown up, take over the upper-management jobs from the less intelligent boomers and gen-x, the economy will receive a significant tailwind from the increase in productivity and profits. According to an article in PsMag, The Kids are All Right But Why?, there is evidence millennials more socially responsible than earlier generations, better educated, less spendthrift, and less likely to do drugs, making them ideal employees. Thanks to Spock-like rationality and high intellect, millennials can easily anticipate, identify, and solve business problems and conflicts, saving employers money and time. If you took a Fortune 1000 company and replaced all its senior management with the top-100 posters by karma on Reddit, it would quickly become a Fortune 100 company. But because a lot of these same smart millennials also tend to be somewhat negative about corporate America, preferring to be alone indulging in intellectual pleasures, it will still take some prodding to get them involved.
But not everyone is happy though with America’s newfound ‘nerdocracy’. From Bryan Caplan, Redistribution: Blocking the Revenge of the Nerds?
One of my pet ideas is the Jock/Nerd Theory of History. If you’re reading this, you probably got a taste of it during your K-12 education, when your high grades and book smarts somehow failed to put you at the top of the social pyramid. Jocks ruled the school. If the nerds were lucky, they did the jocks’ homework in exchange for decent treatment.
But then something amazing happened: Nerds got enough breathing room to develop and implement amazing wealth-producing ideas. The process fed on itself, devaluing physical ability and elevating mental ability. Nerds built the modern world – and won handsome financial rewards in the process. (Yes, I’m painting with broad strokes, but bear with me).
But it’s not just about higher wages or having the most internet ‘karma’ points, Twitter and Instagram followers, Snapchat friends, Vine loops, or YouTube subscribers. Especially as of 2008, it seems like politicians, policy makers have been throwing themselves prostrate before the cognitive and financial elite, with bank bailouts, quantitative easing, and zero percent interest rates forever – things that benefit the rich, the best and the brightest, through surging asset prices and rising valuations, but does less for the remaining 90-95% of the country. It’s kinda unfair, but it’s the system we have, and it’s not changing, sorry. A utilitarian argument can also be made that since the smartest produce disproportionately more economic value than everyone else (by creating companies, innovation, research, creative output, and investment), policy should benefit them first.
Post-2008 society can be likened to a ‘revenge of the nerds’ in overdrive, with the redistributionist-left as the jocks and bullies, who are envious and resentful of the success of ‘nerds’ and wish to spread their wealth. Its understandable and predictable how this tectonic shift in social hierarchy, that favors the smartest and most productive, has made many democrats and liberals upset.
‘Intellectualism culture’ also is observed in online journalism and internet culture, in post-2013 trends such as the rise of ‘long form‘ journalism. Pre-2012 – with the exception of a handful of sites like The New Yorker and New York Times – listicles, slides, and short articles dominated the internet journalism. The assumption was attention spans were too short for anyone to read a 7,000-word article online, which obviously was wrong:
Common Internet logic would say that articles of those lengths just don’t go viral, and that an editorial website that only publishes occasionally certainly has no chance of retaining readers. But the success of Wait But Why has flatly disproved that. Its most viral article, a 1,600-word essay explaining the psychosocial reasons why Generation Y is so unhappy, has well over 2 million shares. The site’s other long-form essays typically get in the range of 300,000 to 600,000 shares each. Even the lowest performing articles boast share numbers in the mid-five-figures.
In eschewing churn in favor of substance and breadth for depth, WaitButWhy’s essays also capture a level of reader engagement that even the new-media giants would be envious of. WaitButWhy’s audience (“From all over the world, all different ages, all different backgrounds,” says Urban) doesn’t just share stories; They stick around the site to discuss articles in the comments, which can number in the thousands and, in some cases, are almost as long and thoughtful as the articles themselves.
Especially since 2013, there has been an increased demand for complicated, introspective, technical journalistic content, in contrast to less intelligent, banal topics like celebrity gossip. Although the latter is still popular, there has been a huge surge in interest the former, and bloggers and YouTube ‘vloggers’ that cover more esoteric topics are getting a lot of traffic and making a lot of money while ‘mainstream’ subject have long since stagnated. This is probably because, decades ago, intellectual topics were underrepresented, but are now liberated thanks to the internet and a generation full of people smart enough to appreciate complicated, esoteric stuff.
An example is Wait But Why, an immensely popular blog that covers existential and scientific topics such as the Fermi Paradox. Although Wait But Why was only launched in 2013 and has fewer than a hundred total posts in its archive, it’s more popular than decades-old media publications.
Another is Gregory Cochran, who writes about anthropology, genetics, and other complicated subjects on his blog, West Hunter, and is another example of a ‘esoteric celebrity’, who has received considerable attention for his often controversial ideas on race and biology. His most recent post, Our Dumb World, was shared over 600 times on Facebook, which is impressive for a subject that perhaps only 2-5% of the human population is smart enough to understand, and indicates significant demand for complicated stuff.
As mentioned before, there’s Scott Aaronson, whose blog ‘Shtetl-Optimized’ gets a minimum of couple hundred comments per post and presumably tens of thousands of page views – not bad for a blog where knowing the difference between ‘NP-hard vs. NP complete’ is prerequisite knowledge.
Other examples include the blog Melting Asphalt (which I discuss later), Marginal Revolution (a very popular economics blog), and Steve Patterson , whose 2016 article Cantor Was Wrong | There Are No Infinite Sets was shared over 1,700 times on Facebook. Although celebrity gossip, politics, sports, and ‘outrage porn’ (such as the the latest college rape hoax or Black Lives Matter throwing a tantrum) tends to dominate the headlines, there is enormous interest (and huge growth) for even the most abstract and complicated of subjects, all as part of America’s post-2008 ‘intellectual renaissance’.
The two most popular comics on the internet – XKCD and SMBC – have seen explosive growth in the past two years, and involve high-IQ themes such as STEM, internet culture, and nerd culture – not politics, anthropomorphic animals, or kids.
On a much grander scale, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s 500,000-word fan fiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality got over 6,576 votes on ‘Good Reads’ and considerable media coverage on such mainstream sites as Vice, The Atlantic, and Wired. Because online reviews and ratings are only a fraction of total readers, that probably means his book, which is full of complicated stuff and probably not accessible to a general audience, was read hundreds of thousands of times – much more so than books by even popular authors who write about mainstream subjects like weight loss and marketing. It’s just mind blowing…that so many people have read his book, which wasn’t even marketed through mass media, but rather through word of mouth, forums, and Yudkowsky’s own esoteric ‘stardom’. Intuition would dictate to write about dieting, fashion, fitness, cooking, golf, etc. – subjects that have a broad appeal – but those markets are saturated and stagnant. Intellectual markets, despite being much smaller, are rapidly growing, and have a huge, loyal readership that until only very recently was largely ignored. There are seven billion people in the world and if 5% of them have an IQ above 120, that’s 350 million potential buyers and readers – nothing to sneeze at.
Other examples examples include Quartz (qz.com), Priceonomics, FiveThirtyEight, and Vox.com. These sites, which were only launched a couple years ago, are extremely popular and their articles almost always go viral, use a contrarian-style of writing, with lots of data and graphs rather than partisan demagoguery, which people as of 2013 have grown tired of. The style of just browbeating your audience with your option became obsolete sometime in 2013 – it doesn’t work anymore like it did in 2000-2008, the golden age of opinionated and political blogging. You cannot impose your will on other people, force your opinion down their throats. Now we’re in an era of data visualizations and nuance, rather than just uninformed, unsubstantiated angry opinions. As I explain in The Genius of Ross Douthat, partisanship and ‘culture wars’ have given way to ‘shared narratives‘ that cross the political aisle.
To take a trip down memory lane, as early as 2000 and all the way until 2010 so, you could get articles viral by provoking emotional triggers. Although emotional triggers still work, people have become much less impressionable, especially as of 2013, and now you need data visualizations, graphs, code excerpts, cartoons, and other accouterments in order to demonstrate competence (in post-2013 internet journalism, conveying competence is more important than partisanship or political tribal loyalty), which is necessary to get people to share it. But it works, and these data-laden articles (as in the case of WaitButWhy and Vox.com) often go viral. It’s not just enough to say something provocative; you now need to back it up with tons of data to make it seem really smart and substantive. But also, in agreement with the post-2013 importance of authenticity, you need a very personal angle to it. You can’t just type an emotive rant unless you make it personal, introspective, smart, and appeals to a shared narrative.
Between 2001-2007, the economy was stagnant, interest rates were too high, and most internet journalism consisted of terse listicles, shrill opinion pieces that were short on data and long on emotion, bland AP write-ups, and transcribed articles from print sources. There were none of those huge banner images that you see on the top of every article nowadays. Only the listicles and the shrill rants went viral, and what little intelligent stuff that was produced (often posted on WordPress, blogger, and typepad blogs) was mostly ignored. Then, as mentioned before, 2013 came along, and we saw the equivalent of the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ for intellectual journalism (a subset of ‘intellectualism culture’ explosion), that continues to this day.
My theory for the trigger, is that the strong economy and stock market that began in 2013 (the S&P 500 gained 30% in 2013 alone, on top of 12% gains in 2012, and then followed by 11% gains in 2014) subconsciously raised the standards of discourse, both online (in journalism) and in greater pop culture (post-2013 rise of nerd culture for example). When it became increasingly apparent by late 2012 or so that the US economy was not going to collapse, and in fact was recovering well from the 2008 crisis, the ‘Zeitgeist’ switched from ‘survival mode’, despair, and abandonment, to ‘intellectual mode’.
Other examples of ‘intellectualism culture’ include introspection and naval gazing on Tumblr and other social media, intellectualism signaling, rationalism, debunking and fact-checking, contrarianismlow information‘, the rise of centrism in response to emotive, sanctimoniousness SJW-liberalism, and the rise of the ‘alt-right’ (in rejection of the histrionic, unintelligent mainstream conservative media). Both left-wing and right-wing communities (rationalists and reactionaries) converge in rejecting ‘low-information’, generalizations, and sensationalism, instead preferring nuance, erudition, and evolved discourse.
Especially as of 2013, articles that are contrarian – especially articles that challenge commonly held assumptions by older generations – seem to do very well, almost always going viral. Articles such as why IQ is important, why parenting doesn’t matter, why the Revolutionary War was a mistake, why democracy doesn’t work, why going to college is a bad idea unless you major in STEM, why the economy doesn’t care about you (only results matter, not being nice), or why it’s bad advice to follow your passion. In contrast to 70’s, 80’s and 90’s self-improvement, which was anodyne and full of schmaltz, post-2008 advice is more biting, more about the individual being held accountable for his or her failure, not society (again, going back to individualism). It’s easy to blame the collective; much harder to blame the individual, but given that these articles often go viral, a lot of people are becoming receptive to this message, and that’s a sign of progress. The competitive post-2008 economy is forcing people to embrace individualism and personal responsibility, like it or not
As part of the post-2013 backlash by fact-checkers against lazy, ‘low-information’ reporting, a Medium article excoriating the Washington Post for making disingenuous inferences from Google trends data to make ‘exit’ supporters seem uneducated and uninformed, went hugely viral and got over 700 ‘favorites’ on Medium.com and was shared thousands of times on Reddit and elsewhere:
They note that searches about the EU tripled. But how many people is that? Are they voters? Are they eligible to vote? Were they Leave or Remain? Trends doesn’t tell us, all it does is give us a nice graph with a huge peak. More likely, it’s a very small number of people, based on this graph that puts it in context with other searches in the region:
Again and again, people are tired of the mainstream media’s distortions, seeking more evolved discourse from sites like Medium. Even ‘remain’ supporters are tired of the lies against ‘leave’, similar to how many smart liberals (who don’t even support Trump) are tired of how the ‘low information’ media spreads lies about Trump, whereas as recently as five years ago neither side of the political aisle would cry foul if a major media platform spread distortions about the opposing side. Now, we’re all kinda playing ‘devil’s advocate’, fact-checking our own ideological ‘team’ as intensely, if not more, as the opposition. If you’re going to use ‘low information’ tactics to try to drum up support, don’t be surprised if even members of your own ‘tribe’ call you out on it. As shown above in the example of the Washington post, if you use ‘low-information’ tactics to advance an agenda, it will backfire.
The media is adapting to changing reader tastes favoring impartiality over demagoguery. For example, there is evidence the liberal media is at least making some effort giving Trump a ‘fair shake’, with articles that try to impartially explore the ‘Trump phenomenon’ from a cultural anthropological standpoint, like “Why are all these people, many of who are well-educated, showing up to Trump rallies? What do they want? Maybe they have been ignored by the political establishment,” rather than just writing-off Trump supporters as ‘closed minded’ and ‘bigoted’, which is what the liberal media did in 2010 with the Tea Party.
For example, writing in The New Yorker, critically acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders describes his first-hand account (in a long form article coming in at over 10,000 words) of Trump supporters from a June San Jose rally:
The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time, flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something precious. They were, generally, in favor of order and had a propensity toward the broadly normative, a certain squareness. They leaned toward skepticism (they’d believe it when they saw it, “it” being anything feelings-based, gauzy, liberal, or European; i.e., “socialist”). Some (far from all) had been touched by financial hardship—a layoff was common in many stories—and (paradoxically, given their feelings about socialism) felt that, while in that vulnerable state, they’d been let down by their government.
Notice how Saunders, who is a liberal, tries to empathize with them, to understand where they are coming from, and to see the positives, too, not just the negatives.
Another example is Slate magazine, which typically leans ‘left’, defending Moldbug after he was unjustly booted from a tech conference for his right-wing political views.
Also, online, in the comments especially, there is a backlash, especially since 2013, against helicopter parenting and lowered standards in academia, as parents, teachers, and even students realize that America and its fat, coddled kids cannot compete against the lean and industrious Indians and Chinese. As part of this trend, Marc Scott’s 2013 long-form article, Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you, about how kids are technologically illiterate, went hugely viral. If there is a silver lining to this, America, like a magnet, attracts smart foreigners, so this should be enough to offset declining standards–but, as part of the post-2013 SJW backlash–people are also growing weary of useless, delusional affirmations that ‘every child is special’ or that ‘everyone can be a genius’, as well as tired of false victimization, ‘safe spaces’, and ‘microaggressions’. No, some children better than others, and if you’re kid is failing it’s probably because he’s slow (the individual), not because of the school (the collective) is to blame, going back to the section earlier on ‘individualism’. But even the ‘left’, including the intelligentsia (even liberal professors), began to join the backlash when they saw free speech and the free dissemination of ideas being threatened by ‘victimization culture’, prompting even the The Atlantic, a generally liberal magazine, to address the issue in a hugely popular 2015 article, The Rise of Victimhood Culture. And from Vox, a story about college professors being afraid to hurt the feelings of overly sensitive students also went viral, as everyone agrees that political correctness on campus has gone too far, and that college should be about teaching ideas, not sheltering students from them.
But sentimentalism definitely is on the way out as evidenced by the recent backlash by millennials and other smart people against Malcom Gladwell and his belief in ‘deliberate practice’ superseding talent. Although ‘grit’ is important, it’s IQ that determines how much ‘millage’ you get for your efforts. Although this seems fairly obvious, for much of the 90’s and 2000’s during the whole ‘self-confidence’ movement – and up until around at least 2008 – there was period where seemingly intelligent people suspended judgement in a fit of mass delusion of sorts. This is because the harsh realities of Social Darwinism, the effects of which have become acutely and manifestly apparent in our post-2008 economy, douses cold water on affirmations that ‘talent doesn’t matter’ or that ‘everyone is equal’. IQ has become something of a ‘sorting mechanism‘ that separates the winners from the losers in today’s hyper-competitive, increasingly automated economy. Thus many may be preordained to fail by virtue of bad genes, inhibiting free will. Like it or not, IQ is more important than ever, and the ‘blank slate’ view of cognitive science is looking increasingly dated.
In 2013 the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, posited that some people are ‘too stupid to get on in life,’ predictably eliciting howls of outrage from the left. Maybe he’s right. The pre-2008 economy provided enough ‘good-paying jobs’ for almost everyone, but in 2008 the cereal box that is analogous to the economy was shaken, and in what could be described as a ‘tyranny of the bookish‘ the less intelligent ‘cornflakes’ found themselves at the bottom of the box and the smarter ones at the top, with high unemployment and low-paying jobs for the former. As society becomes increasingly automated, possibly even emulated or ascended, can humans, particularly those who are of lesser intelligence and or wealth, who find themselves at the bottom of the box, maintain some semblance of autonomy, purpose, and dignity.
To quote Andrew Sullivan:
It’s a huge challenge for a liberal technocratic society that the skills it increasingly rewards are unevenly distributed across racial groups. It’s equally a huge challenge for our society that the kind of intelligence IQ measures is so strongly correlated with economic success, regardless of race, and that the rewards to the most gifted in these areas are growing, not shrinking. The Bell Curve was one of the great prophetic books of our current crisis of inequality. It raised very troubling questions about this country’s ability to advance economically and not stratify into two, increasingly separate and mutually uncomprehending nations. And yet the important thing to say about it, according to so many who have never read it, is that it should never have been published and no one should have responded to it.
The low/average-IQ people who lost their jobs in the 2007-2009 recession are often the least intellectually capable of being successful on their own. Its not like people of middling intelligence can suddenly become coders, nor can everyone be an Uber driver (and the pay is not that great). This ties in to the post-scarcity/basic income/automation debate that is raging online, of how societies and governments should respond to the potential crisis of millions of workers who may be permanently displaced by technology and unable to adapt to a hyper-competitive economic environment that prizes efficiency above all.
In addition, there is also the concept of the ‘meritocracy stratified by IQ’, which means although the meritocracy exists, there is not a single meritocracy but rather multiple ones separated by IQ. Low and average-IQ people generally have meritocracies limited to the low-paying service sector, whereas smarter people have meritocracies in better-paying, more prestigious areas such as STEM, venture capital, finance, and academia. But even advanced degree holders are struggling, although not as badly as college and high school dropouts, who tend to have the worst prospects of all. Those who are smart enough to get advanced degrees can often adapt by quickly acquiring new, in-demand skills (skills transference), whereas the less intelligent tend to struggle at acquiring new skills.
Indeed, in more ways than one, The Bell Curve is not just a science book, but a prophetic glimpse into our more unequal and stratified future.
And from David Brooks Revolt of the Masses:
Part of this pain arises from deindustrialization. Good jobs are hard to find. But hardship is not exactly new to these places. Life in, say, a coal valley was never a bouquet of roses.
What’s also been lost are the social institutions and cultural values that made it possible to have self-respect amid hardship — to say, “I may not make a lot of money, but people can count on me. I’m loyal, tough, hard-working, resilient and part of a good community.”
Although high-IQ people succeed on their own, the less intelligent tend to be dependent on others, whether it’s community, family, or government. In an economy that rewards cunning and smarts, hard work and loyalty may not be good enough.
But isn’t the record-low employment rate evidence of a rosier picture? Yes and no. Although the low unemployment rates bodes well for the incumbent, Trump, it masks the large number of permanently unemployed, who have dropped out of the labor force completely and are not counted in the official unemployment rolls, often going on disability or social security. The problem is, for many job positions, there are vastly more applicants than jobs available. So the result is a low unemployment rate but at the same time a lot of people who want to work but have been unemployed for 6 months or longer, but due to age, lack of education, or lack of skills (the last two related to IQ), can’t get hired.
However, good intentions to try to militate this problem can backfire. The paternalistic tendency of elites–be it politicians, wonks, or policy makers–to try to impose their solutions and values can be seen as patronizing. This ‘revolt of the masses’, from the rise of Trump to ‘Brexit’, could be interpreted as backlash against elites, and it would be foolish for the left to ignore it.
As an example of contrarian journalism and the post-2013 mainstream backlash against democracy, an article by Vox.com, 3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake, went hugely viral and was shared on Facebook over forty thousand times. As recently as two decades ago, such a contrarian and potentially controversial article would not have appeared in a mainstream publication (instead of a niche publication), nor would it have gotten so much reception, most of which was in agreement. Either the article would have been ignored (either due to public apathy and indifference, or the general public not being smart or educated enough to understand the significance of it. The rise of intellectualism has made people more receptive to contrarian ideas) or repudiated (decades ago, people had more faith in democracy).
From the article:
Abolition in most of the British Empire occurred in 1834, following the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act. That left out India, but slavery was banned there, too, in 1843. In England itself, slavery was illegal at least going back to 1772. That’s decades earlier than the United States.
This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.
This is a liberal argument against democracy, so anti-democracy is not limited to just the ‘right’. But this is also why Vox.com, despite its liberal bias, deserves praise for shining light on potentially controversial ideas that normally wouldn’t make it on The New York Times or The Washington Post, to a broad audience. For example, in 2016, Vox.com wrote an expose about the fledgling neoreactionary movement, with mentions of leading neoreactionary figures such as Moldbug and Nick Land. The article, which also went hugely viral, exposed neoreaction to thousands (maybe millions) of people who would have otherwise never heard about it. Although the article has some flaws, the author made some degree of an effort to be impartial.
As discussed earlier about millennials, the tendency to break taboos, social niceties, and conformity, in the pursuit of ‘truth and understanding’, is one of the defining characteristic of post-2013 intellectualism culture. Decades ago, youths that refused to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance or questioned the ‘goodness’ of the Revolutionary War, would have been scolded. But now, especially online, contrarianism is welcomed with open arms…I see this all the times, figures once deemed ‘above reproach’ being cut down to size (especially in online discourse):
Martin Luther King: inveterate plagiarizer of speeches and academic papers; adulterer
Lincoln: didn’t actually care about freeing the slaves; antipathy towards blacks
FDR: turned away Jewish refugees (MS St. Louis)
Debating economics online is another example of intellectualism culture – but more specifically, how economics has been thrust into the limelight, from being exclusively the domain of professors in the 80’s and 90’s to now being studied by internet amateurs all over and dominating the dinner table conversation and the news cycle. Economics is social science, and issues such as wealth inequality, automation, post scarcity, basic income, and anxiety over job loss and student loan debt, affect both the rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, which is why there is so much debate on Reddit and elsewhere, especially by millennials, about these topics. Although topics such as wealth inequality are not new, the difficult post-2008 economy magnified these issues, making average people, journalists more acutely aware of them.
Economics is a social science, which means, to some extent, it affects everyone, allowing anyone to participate in the debate. Wealth inequality touches everyone, including the rich, who are often blamed for wealth inequality.
People have observed how much things have changed in this ‘new era’ we find ourselves in, and they want explanations as well as solutions: like how to find work without much job experience, how to not get fired, how to make money without a traditional job, how to find meaning in life, and so on. The explanations for why or how the economy has changed are easy to elucidate, but solutions are harder to come by. Such solutions, if they exist, may not be what people want to hear.
To get an idea of how fervent this ‘great economics debate’ has become, the article Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation, by David H. Auto, although only published in 2015, has already received over 50 citations, which in unprecedented for such a new article, and indicating not just significant debate but a huge demand for intellectualism, in general.
Furthermore, as example of intellectual style of ‘naval gazing’ and introspection that has become especially popular as of 2013, the article A Nihilist’s Guide to Meaning, by the widely-cited site Melting Asphalt, went hugely viral on Hacker News and was shared many times on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, and in the process further boosting the social status of the author and webmaster of Melting Asphalt, Kevin Simler.
The lengthy article contains allusions to STEM and philosophy (again, evidence of how the two are becoming linked), with a lot of name-dropping of smart, introspective people, further boosting the article’s popularity among its intended audience of other like-minded smart people. It’a also an example of ‘intellectualism signaling’ – although Kevin derives no direct monetary benefit in terms of ad revenue from writing the article, it going viral elevates his social status. ‘Social currency’, in our era of social media and intellectualism, is as valuable as tangible currency.
But, as mentioned before, the viralness article is evidence of the huge, unmet demand for complicated stuff, a niche that for much of the 90’s and 2000’s – long before 2013 – was neglected. And maybe this also descended from, or perhaps is a symptom of, the post-2008 ‘competence bubble’, as an example of cultural (‘intellectualism culture’) and economic forces (Social Darwinism, productivity, efficiency) converging.
Also, nihilism is very trendy these days, perhaps as a way of coming to terms with the futility of resistance against economic and social forces outside of our control. A post from Hacker News, When you feel stuck in life, went hugely viral and describes the ennui that is all too common with millennials who find themselves all educated-up and nowhere to go:
I’d just like to give my two cents where I know no one gives a shit ever. I’m 29 years old. I finished with my Business Administration degree(major) and now I just feel completely LOST! Has anyone ever felt that way? You have the drive and motivation to get to your destination but once you are there — you’re left wondering — “what else could I have done? What else is there to life? Because if this is all there is then I’m not happy.” And, truth be told, I am not happy. I’d like to be something — more than just an office person. More than just someone who works that 8-5 shift. I feel like a complete wreck. Has anyone ever felt this way?
I feel like I should go back to school but do I really want to rack up all that loan? I am already struggling right now. I just wish I knew where to start as a push and motivation.
What would you guys do if ya were in my shoes?
It’s easy to dismiss or generalize millennials as lazy or entitled, and maybe some are, but we’re on the same boat together – liberal and conservative, ‘alt right’ and ‘rationalist-left’. To the girl with the Tumblr page and Instagram pictures, to the Trump supporter that reads Roosh V, it’s authenticity and ‘shared narratives’ – whether it’s about social isolation and awkwardness, anxieties about growing up in a difficult economy, or how society neglects its smartest – that forge common ground among differing ideological tribes and people that otherwise would have nothing to do with each other. Before 2013, these tribes were completely balkanized (OWS vs. Tea Party, for example), but now, online, we’re at least seeing the empathy gap close to some degree, or at least between those of similar IQ who find themselves in similar social and economic predicaments. Consider, for example, Davis Aurini, who identifies as being affiliated with ‘neomasculinity and the dark enlightenment’, in a recent article empathizing with children on the autism-spectrum disorder who are drugged and forced into conformity by society.
Possibly there is the anomie that arises from a society that prizes, above all, individualism and ‘value creation’, where individuals are ranked by the economic value they produce or by their social or intellectual clout, not character; and the emptiness that arises from a deterministic world and economy, where the vast majority of individuals have no control over the process and are spectators and consumers rather than participants and contributors. Maybe there is too much ‘virtue signalling’ and not enough actual virtue. The stock market keeps going up, but what’s in it for the rest of us? To wrap this up, in the words of Ross Douthat, perhaps the most perceptive cultural commentator alive, in a recent column Are We Unraveling?, describes how the American republic has become ‘fragmented’:
…a society where elites are widely loathed, where the political parties are polarized and one of them is so hollow that a rank demagogue could seize it, where diversity and distrust have risen together, where wage growth has been disappointing, where families are fragmented and churches and civic organizations are in eclipse, where the metaphysical common ground provided by the old Mainline-Protestant consensus has all but disappeared.
I think that sums it up.
 (Despite lopsided Ivy League admissions, I disagree, however, that such a meritocracy is a myth; it exists if you’re smart enough, but those who are less intelligent also have their own meritocracies; it’s, as I call, the meritocracy stratified by IQ, as discussed in the post How it’s Possible for the US Economy to Be Strong Even if Many are Not Fully Participating)
 Why 2008? This is discussed in Cambrian explosion’ of intellectualism about how the internet evolved, from being dominated by gen-x to being dominated by smart millennials.
 The ‘internet atheist’ movement died sometime around 2012-2014, coinciding when Reddit pulled /r/atheism from the front page. Online, there is significantly less hostility to Christianity than there was years ago, when bashing Christianity was seen as ‘edgy and cool’. Nowadays, bashing Christianity is seen as narrow-minded, essentially becoming a self-parody of the very thing atheism opposes. Such atheism has been replaced by atheist Protestantism, as discussed above.
 Autonomy is not the same as free will, which as  shows free will is constrained by one’s cognitive limitations, the so-called meritocracy stratified by IQ.