The political left and right share an interest in science in general, but not science in particular

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

Millions of online book co-purchases reveal partisan differences in the consumption of science, researchers report:

Passionate disagreements about climate change, stem cell research and evolution raise concerns that science has become a new battlefield in the culture wars. We used data derived from millions of online co-purchases as a behavioural indicator for whether shared interest in science bridges political differences or selective attention reinforces existing divisions. Findings reveal partisan preferences both within and across scientific disciplines.

Across fields, customers for liberal or ‘blue’ political books prefer basic science (for example, physics, astronomy and zoology), whereas conservative or ‘red’ customers prefer applied and commercial science (for example, criminology, medicine and geophysics). Within disciplines, ‘red’ books tend to be co-purchased with a narrower subset of science books on the periphery of the discipline.

We conclude that the political left and right share an interest in science in general, but not science in particular. This underscores the need for research into remedies that can attenuate selective exposure to ‘convenient truth’, renew the capacity for science to inform political debate and temper partisan passions.

You still won’t be able to compete for attention with all of the other sensational crimes

Saturday, December 11th, 2021

Leighton Woodhouse and his wife are scrambling to find daycare for their 16-month-old son:

We’ve had a “nanny share” up until now, which means we and another couple employ a nanny for both couples’ kids and split the cost. Our nanny is wonderful, and she lives just a few blocks from us. But a few weeks ago, someone walked up her street spraying bullets into random houses. One of the bullets found its way into her living room, as she and her family ducked for cover. At that moment, she and her husband decided they were moving their family out of Oakland.

The shooting didn’t even make the local news. Apparently, in the Bay Area right now, you can walk up a residential street firing your gun into houses, and you still won’t be able to compete for attention with all of the other sensational crimes.

Woodhouse, who considers himself progressive, nonetheless agrees with Michael Shellenberger (author of San Fransicko) that progressives do ruin cities:

After a summer of protests against police violence, progressive cities like New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin, and Denver cut their police budgets in 2020 even during a national surge in violent crime. That surge has only continued into 2021, in some places by wide margins. The wave of murders in American cities has provoked political backlashes to the cuts, which have forced some local governments to backtrack from their defund agenda.

But that hasn’t stopped demoralized departments from bleeding officers through attrition. Austin, for example, which voted in 2020 to cut its police budget by a third before restoring most of it this year, is losing 15 to 22 officers per month. Its homicide rate is up 88 percent over last year, blowing past a previous homicide record that was set nearly four decades ago.

How do activists justify hobbling cities’ ability to respond to the crime wave by gutting their police forces? Here’s Cat Brooks, perhaps Oakland’s most prominent police abolitionist, in The Guardian: “The goal is to interrupt and respond to state violence,” she explained. “We’re good at responding but the only way you get to interruption is to reduce the number of interactions with police.”

That’s true: If you have fewer interactions between police and civilians, you’ll likely have fewer acts of violence perpetrated on civilians by police. The obvious problem with this “solution,” though, is that you’ll also have more crime.

These people worship “the science” but have, shall we say, a selective understanding of it

Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

When the time came to lock down, Freddie deBoer locked down:

When they switched from saying it was selfish to wear a mask to saying it was selfish to not wear a mask I started wearing a mask. I maintain “social distance” even though it’s always been a vague concept of dubious value. I got both vaccine shots as soon as I could and will soon get a booster, even though I’m vaccinated, have had Covid, and I’m 40 years old and healthy. I have no problem showing the app at bars and restaurants to get in. I don’t think ivermectin is an effective treatment against Covid-19; I am very encouraged by the new Pfizer therapeutic. I tell adults to get vaccinated all the time, although I confess that I think the vaccination of young children is mostly a matter of security theater. I am compliant, I guess you might say, which is flattering or unflattering depending on what side of whatever wearying culture divide you’re standing on.

And also the effort against Covid is a colossal social exercise in forcing all of us to submit to the whims of unaccountable authorities who have been proven wrong on elementary questions but who we are still told work only in the spirit of total rationality and science, and our submission to them is enforced by a self-appointed cadre of ordinary people no more informed than the rest of us and whose attitudes are dictated by the rawest and most unjustifiable fears, passions, and desire for control.

There is a new variant, apparently. I know because our newsmedia breathlessly and relentlessly reports on bad Covid news. Unfortunately, they simply refuse to report on good Covid news, at least with anything like equal scale; I invite you to investigate the archives of even the most sober of news sources and compare how they cover cases going up compared to cases going down. Meanwhile, the public health authorities react to every twist of the narrative as an excuse for more fear and greater restrictions, insisting that “an abundance of caution” is always the way to proceed. (No word on whether a correct amount of caution would be a good idea.) Meanwhile the virus does discriminate, despite what you’ve heard over and over again, and in fact it discriminates against very particular and easily-identifiable subpopulations, and most people are not among them, and so every turn of this thing that does not result in mass death and disruption for the larger populace makes that populace feel lied to by the endlessly-panicky media and the abundantly cautious public health officials. We are approaching two years of Covid-19 as a crisis and yet no one in a position of authority has seemed to put it together that the public is exquisitely sensitive to those who cry wolf. Maybe Omicron really is “the big one,” but they’ve said that about every last development in this endless story, so how would we ever know?

Meanwhile we live among a Praetorian guard of busybodies who want everyone to know that the rest of us aren’t taking Covid seriously enough. These are people who are existentially similar to the “Karen,” 2020’s favorite archetype, except that they’re used to calling other people Karens. But they are precisely that figure of clueless white deference to authority that self-nominates as the world’s hall monitor. And while they want you to mask up and vaccinate and obey other rules, what’s much more important to them than regulating your behavior is that they let you know that you don’t feel the right way about Covid. You aren’t taking it seriously enough! You aren’t frightened enough! Who told you that you ever get to go back to normal? It’s not enough that you follow the rules and perform these weird rituals that we’re all compelled to. You are damned if you want things to return to normal. To want that is the gravest sin. To prefer the before times is a mark of terrible unseriousness. Covid is not, to these people, a simple public health emergency but some sort of divine test of our character, and what is weighed in that test is not our actions or their outcomes, but our neuroses, our noble anxiety, our sacred attachment to feeling bad and wanting to go on feeling bad.

These people worship “the science” but have, shall we say, a selective understanding of it. We’ve known for a long time that it’s very hard to catch Covid outdoors, and that children face very little risk, and again most adults are vaccinated. And yet if you took your kid trick or treating a month ago there’s a Greek chorus that wants you to know that it was terribly selfish and irresponsible, and some such thing as the science says so, irrespective of what the iterative, provisional, and antagonistic rhetorical processes of epidemiology might have to say. We have created an entirely new epistemology of public health science in the past couple of years, one that is somehow not a branch of medicine or biology but of public relations. Its vectors are not pathogens but perceptions. It tracks not the spread of disease but the spread of blame.

What people of this school demand is not sound public health policy or compliance with common-sense Covid regulations, much less an end to the epidemic. (That would end the fun.) What they want is for the world to stop. They want Covid to matter so much that we all look around and realize that something is fundamentally out of order and thus grind human life to a halt, in much the same way that they said “this is NOT normal!” when Trump was elected, as if that were true, as if the world would care if it was. And thudding around in the background is the palpable sense that they are attached to this condition that they say frightens and disturbs them, that they need it, as they imagine that finally something has come along so extreme and so wrong that it will arrest the world’s progress, stopping the ride so they can get out and cluck their tongue at the ridiculousness and injustice of it all.

Think of the narratives the MSM has pushed in recent years that have collapsed

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021

Andrew Sullivan asks us to think of the narratives the MSM has pushed in recent years that have collapsed:

They viciously defamed the Covington boys. They authoritatively told us that bounties had been placed on US soldiers in Afghanistan by Putin — and Trump’s denials only made them more certain. They told us that the lab-leak theory of Covid was a conspiracy theory with no evidence behind it at all. (The NYT actually had the story of the leak theory, by Donald McNeil, killed it, and then fired McNeil, their best Covid reporter, after some schoolgirls complained he wasn’t woke.) Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

As Greenwald noted, the NYT “published an emotionally gut-wrenching but complete fiction that never had any evidence — that Officer Sicknick’s skull was savagely bashed in with a fire extinguisher by a pro-Trump mob until he died.” The media told us that an alleged transgender exposure in the Wi Spa in Los Angeles was an anti-trans hoax (also untrue). They told us that the emails recovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop were Russian disinformation. They did this just before an election and used that claim to stymie the story on social media. But they were not Russian disinformation. They were a valid if minor news story the media consciously kept from its audience for partisan purposes.

More recently, the MSM were telling us for months that inflation is a phantasm. We were told that the “2021 Inflation Scare is another in a series of false alarms going back several decades.” We were assured that “the numbers at least for now are on the side of those expecting the trend to subside and then stabilize at lower levels.” Any concern was “fearmongering politics.” And now we wake up to the highest inflation in 30 years, counter-balancing wage increases. Still, they tell us, all will be well.

We were told that vaccines would end the Covid pandemic. But they merely altered Covid to a manageable disease that you could still contract while vaccinated. We were told that the migrant surge at the border was just seasonal, and nothing out of the ordinary, even as 1.7 million migrants were illegally trying to get into the country in the last year. We were told that sending migrants back to their home countries was a wicked and unconscionable Trump tactic — even as the Biden administration swiftly copied it with Haitian immigrants — to much success. The cruelty is the point, eh?

We were — and still are! — being told by most of the media that critical race theory isn’t in high schools at all. Meanwhile, a tsunami of evidence is out there showing that it absolutely is — in every subject, and every class, as the central philosophy behind many states’ education policies.

The ANC destroyed South Africa

Monday, November 15th, 2021

The African National Congress has destroyed South Africa — and failed to gain a majority of the vote:

The party is, despite its manifest failings, still custodian of the liberator’s mantle among many black South Africans — a recent survey showed that although 60% of ANC voters associated their party with corruption, they would nonetheless vote for it; such is the brand loyalty — but the party’s once hegemonic power is in retreat. The decline over the years is neatly in tandem with the nation’s trajectory towards a failed state. At its peak in 2004, the ANC pulled nearly 70% of the national vote. This week, it could barely pull past 46%.

[…]

President Nelson Mandela’s post-liberation administration winged it for five years on the back of public euphoria about the Rainbow Nation and the administrative sinews left by the departed apartheid state.

Then President Thabo Mbeki, his successor, sought to impose a sere, technocratic and welfarist vision on his realm, drawn directly from his experiences in Left-wing UK universities. Problem was that while he taught the newly enfranchised all about their rights as modern citizens, he somehow did not get around to talking about their duties. As a result, a boundless sense of entitlement has become an irreducible, damaging and informing fact of South African life, killing initiative and personal agency. Meanwhile, the technocrats who could give content to Mbeki’s vision were leaving state service in droves: victims of his racial affirmative policies.

After him came Jacob Zuma, former head of intelligence of the ANC’s military in exile, the army that somehow managed to wage a decades-long war during the apartheid years that few South Africans ever noticed. His cronies came into government trailing the odour of the Angolan military camps; the paranoia, secrecy, expedience, manipulation, fear, brutality, corruption and hopelessness.

It is estimated that during his eight-year term, Zuma benignly presided over the embezzlement of between R400 billion and R1.5 trillion of public money (1 GBP = R21) by a coterie of crooks gathered around his presidency, and by others appointed to the State services under the guise of affirmative action and “cadre deployment” (yes, they still speak like that).

[…]

Last month, the World Bank ranked South Africa’s once excellent ports at the bottom of the 351 ports surveyed and the Universal Postal Union conveyed the warming news that the South African postal service is now officially worse than Nigeria’s.

[…]

For decades now these informal cantons have become ever more self-sufficient: they have private police, hospitals, schools and an army of fixers to mediate between them and a truly appalling bureaucracy. So-called Public-Private Partnerships control large public business and tourist spaces, property developers build public roads, private companies manage water reticulation and major road routes are maintained by private enterprise.

Recent Government policy allows for Independent Power Producers: energy self-sufficiency is now within the grasp of these localised and internally expatriated communities.

Voters tend not to be impressed by either strategy

Sunday, November 14th, 2021

Rather than outline one or two serious national problems that they proposed to take on, the Democrats projected an amount of money to spend, Yuval Levin says, and then stuffed everything that every Democratic interest group desired into one package until they reached that number:

They never gave the public any sense of what mattered to them. And the internal debates about the scope and contents of the package almost all involved arguments about its overall size — about how much to spend and tax rather than what to do or how to do it.

This is just one example of a broader failure to prioritize that is endemic to our politics now. Neither party can quite explain what it wants, except to keep the other party from power. That problem is vastly overdetermined, but three reasons for it do stand out among the rest.

[...]

Throughout his career, Joe Biden has tried to position himself near the center of the Democratic coalition and be a kind of generic Democrat. This is not a bad strategy for a senator with a safe seat, and it obviously worked for him. But it’s not as good a strategy for a president with an internally divided party. A president’s strength as an executive can often be measured by whether his mid-level political appointees know what he would do in their place — whether an assistant secretary in one department or another can say “If the president had my job, I know how he would make the decision I’m now facing.” This was obviously impossible on most issues in the Trump era, since President Trump’s implacable ignorance, pathological amorality, and blinding narcissism made him reactive and unpredictable. This was part of why he was such a weak president and achieved so little that will endure. But it is also practically impossible in the Biden era, because President Biden has generally refused to identify himself with any side of any dispute within the Democratic coalition. Given his history, he would seem to represent the more moderate wing of the party, but that’s not really evident in anything his administration has done, or any role he has played in any legislative process. It’s hard to say what he wants, so he isn’t helping his party tell the public what it wants either.

[...]

The habits of polarization, which have evolved over the past generation in Washington, involve party leaders in Congress asserting themselves rather than party factions negotiating. This helps the parties confront one another more starkly, but it doesn’t help the parties negotiate internal differences. Leaders in this polarized era want to mask and submerge internal divisions, rather than to work them out, and that makes bargaining within each party pretty difficult, as both parties have learned when they have held power. The Democrats tend to respond to this problem by proposing to do everything at once — stuffing every idea they’ve ever had into one big bill. Republicans tend to respond to the same problem by proposing to do nothing — just simply nothing whatsoever. That is basically what Republicans ran on in 2020, for instance. Voters tend not to be impressed by either strategy. And this problem will only become more serious as the internal differences within the parties grow.

[...]

Both parties are changing as the American elite is changing, and a lot of their internal fractures look like tensions between their past and their future. The Democrats are gradually taking the shape of something like a fun-house mirror version of the Eisenhower coalition — upscale whites plus many black voters. (Obviously the black vote was much more divided at mid-century than now, and it was also much more suppressed by Southern racism, but those were key elements of the self-understanding of Eisenhower’s coalition.) Republicans are gradually taking the shape of a fun-house mirror version of the FDR coalition — blue-collar whites and some blue-collar ethnic minorities who will eventually be considered white. (The latter described some ethnic European Catholic minorities for FDR, it describes some Hispanic voters for today’s GOP). Both analogies are lacking, to be sure, but they suggest something about the general course of things.

[...]

The key economic-policy battleground of the immediate future is likely to be the challenge of rising living costs, and if the BBB legislation is any sign, Democrats are not well equipped to fight on that front. They remain committed to addressing high costs through a combination of subsidizing demand and restricting supply. This is essentially the left’s approach to health care, higher education, housing, and now (in this new bill) child-care. Increased demand and reduced supply is, broadly speaking, a recipe for higher prices and therefore higher costs. If the new swing voters are suburban parents, a program that risks drastic increases in child-care costs is a way to lose the future.

Arnold Kling is tempted to write “subsidize demand and restrict supply™,” since he introduced the phrase in Specialization and Trade.

Socrates finds 21st-century political thought shallow and confused.

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

Bryan Caplan presents a Socratic dialogue based on the premise that three Greek luminaries have time-traveled from ancient times to the 21st century:

A few months after immersion in the modern world, Pericles is a convinced member of what modernity calls “the left,” while Leonidas is an equally staunch member of “the right.” Socrates, in contrast, finds 21st-century political thought shallow and confused.

[…]

Pericles: It’s not so hard. Leftists like me care about everyone. Rightists like Leonidas only care about people like themselves.

Leonidas: [harumphs] You don’t “care about everyone.” You only care about people on your side — and you expect the rest of us to foot the bill.

[…]

Socrates: I see. Another common view is that the left cares more about the poor, and the right cares more about the rich.

Pericles: More or less. I don’t intrinsically care less about the rich; I just think they already get a lot more than they need or deserve.

Leonidas: I don’t know any rightist who says, “We’ve got to stand up for the rich.” I care about middle and working class people who play by the rules. If we can help them by taxing the rich more, great. But I don’t trust leftists to do that. When they say, “Let’s tax the rich to help the poor,” they mean, “Let’s tax everyone who plays by the rules to help everyone who doesn’t.”

[…]

Pericles: I’m a big fan of dialogue, but not because I feel “safe.” As I said, I think the world faces serious — and maybe even existential — problems. We need dialogue because it’s the only viable way to wrest control of our society and our world back from moneyed interests.

Leonidas: Leftists’ idea of a “dialogue” is them talking down to the rest of us, and shaming anyone who fails to loudly applaud. I’d love to have a series of frank discussions — discussions where the answer is genuinely up for grabs, and pragmatism prevails. And we really need such discussions, because Pericles is right about level of danger we’re all in. He just can’t see that people like himself are a big part of the problem.

Beijing does not wait to be attacked

Wednesday, November 10th, 2021

When confronted by a mounting threat to its geopolitical interests, Beijing does not wait to be attacked — it shoots first to gain the advantage of surprise:

In 1950, for instance, the fledgling PRC was less than a year old and destitute, after decades of civil war and Japanese brutality. Yet it nonetheless mauled advancing U.S. forces in Korea out of concern that the Americans would conquer North Korea and eventually use it as a base to attack China. In the expanded Korean War that resulted, China suffered almost 1 million casualties, risked nuclear retaliation, and was slammed with punishing economic sanctions that stayed in place for a generation. But to this day, Beijing celebrates the intervention as a glorious victory that warded off an existential threat to its homeland.

In 1962, the PLA attacked Indian forces, ostensibly because they had built outposts in Chinese-claimed territory in the Himalayas. The deeper cause was that the CCP feared that it was being surrounded by the Indians, Americans, Soviets, and Chinese Nationalists, all of whom had increased their military presence near China in prior years. Later that decade, fearing that China was next on Moscow’s hit list as part of efforts to defeat “counterrevolution,” the Chinese military ambushed Soviet forces along the Ussuri River and set off a seven-month undeclared conflict that once again risked nuclear war.

In the late ’70s, Beijing picked a fight with Vietnam. The purpose, remarked Deng Xiaoping, then the leader of the CCP, was to “teach Vietnam a lesson” after it started hosting Soviet forces on its territory and invaded Cambodia, one of China’s only allies. Deng feared that China was being surrounded and that its position would just get worse with time. And from the ’50s to the ’90s, China nearly started wars on three separate occasions by firing artillery or missiles at or near Taiwanese territory, in 1954–55, 1958, and 1995–96. In each case, the goal was — among other things — to deter Taiwan from forging a closer relationship with the U.S. or declaring its independence from China.

You had two jobs

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Bryan Caplan realizes he‘s been too generous to local governments, which really have two jobs:

  1. Provide K-12 education.
  2. Regulate construction.

And on reflection, local governments do both of these things terribly.

[…]

Voucher systems are clearly more efficient, yet virtually every locality continues to directly supply K-12 education.

[…]

Local governments’ construction regulations are usually quite strict, especially in the most desirable locations. The resulting draconian system of height limits, zoning, minimum lot sizes, minimum parking requirements, and beyond roughly double the cost of housing and greatly retard national economic growth.

[…]

While voucher systems’ effect on test scores is debatable, the effect on customer satisfaction is not.

[…]

While you can argue that housing regulations curtail negative externalities, the leading examples are parking and traffic. The optimal response to both is not construction regs, but peakload pricing.

[…]

Tiebout implicitly assumes that non-profit competition works the same way as for-profit competition. It doesn’t. If a business owner figures out how to produce the same good at a lower cost, he pockets all of the savings. If the CEO of a publicly-held corporation figures out how to produce the same good at a lower cost, he pockets a lot of the savings. But if the mayor of a city figures out how to deliver the same government services for lower taxes, he pockets none of the savings. That’s how non-profits “work.”

With non-profit incentives, neither the number of local governments nor the ease of exit lead to anything resembling perfectly competitive results. The “competitors” simply have little incentive to do a good job, so they all tend to perform poorly.

Second, voters are deeply irrational, even at the local level. […] Even at the local level, the probability of voter decisiveness is so low that the expected cost of voter irrationality is approximately zero. If you have more than a hundred voters, “Your vote doesn’t count” is basically correct.

On the Road is a terrible book about terrible people

Monday, November 8th, 2021

On the Road is a terrible book about terrible people:

Jack Kerouac and his terrible friends drive across the US about seven zillion times for no particular reason, getting in car accidents and stealing stuff and screwing women whom they promise to marry and then don’t.

But this is supposed to be okay, because they are visionaries. Their vision is to use the words “holy”, “ecstatic”, and “angelic” at least three times to describe every object between Toledo and Bakersfield. They don’t pass a barn, they pass a holy vision of a barn, a barn such as there must have been when the world was young, a barn whose angelic red and beatific white send them into mad ecstasies. They don’t almost hit a cow, they almost hit a holy primordial cow, the cow of all the earth, the cow whose dreamlike ecstatic mooing brings them to the brink of a rebirth such as no one has ever known.

[…]

On The Road seems to be a picture of a high-trust society. Drivers assume hitchhikers are trustworthy and will take them anywhere. Women assume men are trustworthy and will accept any promise. Employers assume workers are trustworthy and don’t bother with background checks. It’s pretty neat.

But On The Road is, most importantly, a picture of a high-trust society collapsing. And it’s collapsing precisely because the book’s protagonists are going around defecting against everyone they meet at a hundred ten miles an hour.

Democrats and the left should work to improve conditions for poor white people as well

Friday, November 5th, 2021

Nothing the internet has done, Freddie deBoer thinks, has been more powerful or consequential than the vast increase in social conformity it’s brought about:

Every incentive in 2021, every last one, pushes us to submit to the will of the crowd. Under those conditions it’s more important than ever that we remember who we are and where we came from.

[…]

Today’s “left,” in media and academia and elsewhere, has abandoned absolutely core commitments related to goals, policy, and process, and slandered anyone who hasn’t. The avatars of this tendency mostly know nothing but operate in a social culture in which one must project an aura of knowing everything, and so we have never had substantive debates about any of this stuff, nor do we have communal history enough to know who’s changed and who hasn’t. Let’s run the big changes down.

Of all of the concepts that underlie left discourse, moral universalism may be the most central and essential, though it is little discussed. Moral universalism is the simple belief that all human beings are equal in value and dignity, and deserve political, legal, and moral equality. (It does not mean, and has never meant, that all people are equal in abilities, nor is it an argument for equality of outcomes.) This might seem like a pretty banal assumption, but remember that recognizably left-wing or socialist principles were first developed during a time when literal dynastic aristocracies were assumed to be of inherently higher value than the common person, to say nothing of various bigotries tied to race, ethnicity, and gender. Moral universalism was a powerful and radical idea relative to that backdrop. It was moral universalism that demanded an end to slavery, to sexism, to caste systems, to socioeconomic inequality: Black people deserve freedom because they are people, women deserve equal rights because they are people, the poor deserve material security and comfort because they are people. This is not merely an elegant philosophical position but the basis of left political strategy; stressing common humanity, rather than fixating on demographic differences, means we can have the biggest tent imaginable. All it requires is believing that we must leave no one behind, as a movement and society.

In contrast, today’s left-of-center is rabidly attached to moral particularism, though they mostly haven’t ever really thought this through. By moral particularism I mean the entrenched and widespread notion that certain classes of people are, by dint of their identity categories, more important than others, more deserving of political action, more noble and holy. People will deny that when asked directly, but all of their rhetoric and priorities demonstrate that tacit belief. In argument after argument, liberals today try to settle matters by insisting that a given group’s greater historical oppression means that they must be “centered,” put first, their interests elevated over those of others. A commitment to moral universalism of course demands that these historical oppressions be addressed, until these groups reach the position of equality, at which point their rights will simply be defended like everyone else’s. But today’s liberal practice, if not the explicit ideology, demands that we must relentlessly prioritize some groups over others, and that spending time or energy devoted to those outside of these groups is somehow to take the side of oppression. Debates within the coalition frequently amount to people trying to insist that they are speaking on behalf of the most oppressed, and that whichever position succeeds in that contest is necessarily the righteous cause. Moral particularism not only does not advance an ethic where everyone deserves equal consideration and equally fair treatment, it actively disdains that notion and calls it fascist.

If you don’t believe me, and your Twitter account occupies any kind of progressive space, go on there and tweet “I think Democrats and the left should work to improve conditions for poor white people as well. Their suffering matters.” The notion of the left working for poor people as poor people, rather than merely as an extension of some identity frame, would be totally uncontroversial among the vast majority of left-leaning people throughout the existence of the modern political spectrum. Today? Go ahead, tweet that out, if you have a lot of liberal and leftist followers. See how that works out for you.

From advocating humanistic psychiatric care to opposing it

Thursday, November 4th, 2021

Liberals and progressives have gone, Michael Shellenberger argues, from advocating humanistic psychiatric care to opposing it:

In 1961, the French historian Michel Foucault published a book, Le folie et la raison, which was translated into English in 1965 as Madness and Civilization. The book made Foucault one of the most famous intellectuals in the world, and enormously popular in California, where he taught as a guest lecturer during the mid-1970s. Foucault’s book had a major impact on how we treat, and don’t treat, the seriously mentally ill.

Foucault argued that the supposedly humanistic treatment of the mad as suffering from mental illness was, in fact, a more insidious form of social control. Before 1500, the mad wandered freely in Europe, Foucault argued. After 1500, Europeans began to medicalize madness, treat it like an illness, as a way not just to control the mad but also to establish what was rational, normal, and healthy for the rest of society. Mental hospitals emerged at a time, Foucault argued, when the state was seeking to impose rational order on societies. And that started with policing the boundary between sane and insane. Foucault even criticized a humanistic asylum in England whose pioneering psychiatrist no longer used physical restraints, which the mentally ill today testify are terrifying and even constitute a kind of torture, on his patients. Said the psychiatrist, “these madmen are so intractable only because they have been deprived of air and freedom.”

Foucault wasn’t alone in his attack on psychiatry and mental hospitals. In 1961, an American sociologist, Erving Goffman, published an influential book, Asylums: Essays on the Condition of the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, which compared mental hospitals to concentration camps. That same year, a psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz published The Myth of Mental Illness, which argued that psychiatrists and others invented the concept of mental illness, with no biological evidence, in order to punish people who were different from the norm.

The anti-psychiatry movement became a cultural phenomenon in 1962 with the publication of Ken Kesey’s best-selling novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It revolves around a socially deviant but nonetheless sane man who feigns mental illness so he can go to a mental hospital rather than prison. He is drugged, electro-shocked, and eventually lobotomized. The novel was adapted as a Broadway play and an Oscar-winning 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson.

Szasz formed an alliance with the ACLU, which began to crusade politically, and litigate through the courts, for an end to involuntary treatment of the mentally ill. Because psychiatrists were no more reliable at diagnosing mental illness than flipping coins, argued the ACLU’s most influential attorney on the matter in 1972, they “should not be permitted to testify as expert witnesses.” Said another leading civil rights attorney in 1974, “They [the patients] are better off outside the hospital with no care than they are inside with no care. The hospitals are what really do damage to people.”

In early 1973 the journal Science published an article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” by a Stanford sociologist, David Rosenhan, who claimed to have sent research assistants into several mental hospitals where they were misdiagnosed with mental illness. “We now know that we cannot distinguish insanity from sanity,” he concluded. The study received widespread publicity and “essentially eviscerated any vestige of legitimacy to psychiatric diagnosis,” said the chairman of Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry. “Psychiatrists looked like unreliable and antiquated quacks unfit to join in the research revolution,” wrote another psychiatrist.

Rosenhan’s study became one of the most read and reprinted articles in the history of psychiatry, but a journalist in 2019 published a book describing so many discrepancies that she questioned whether it had ever even occurred. She only found one person who said he had participated in the study, and he said he was treated well by the hospital and had been discharged simply because he asked to leave.

Yes, it was an evil empire

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021

Yes, it was an evil empire, Cathy Young reminds us:

It was the summer of 1983, and I, a Soviet émigré and an American in the making, was chatting with the pleasant middle-aged woman sitting next to me on a bus from Asbury Park, New Jersey, to Cherry Hill. Eventually our conversation got to the fact that I was from the Soviet Union, having arrived in the U.S. with my family three years earlier at age 17. “Oh, really?” said my seatmate. “You must have been pretty offended when our president called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’! Wasn’t that ridiculous?” But her merriment at the supposed absurdity of President Ronald Reagan’s recent speech was cut short when I somewhat sheepishly informed her that I thought he was entirely on point.

[…]

The woman on the bus in 1983 did not surprise me. By then, I had already met many Americans for whom “anti-Soviet” was almost as much of a pejorative as it had been in the pages of Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party. My favorite was a man in the café at the Rutgers Student Center who shrugged off the victims of the gulag camps by pointing out that capitalism kills people too — with cigarettes, for example. When I recovered from shock, I told him that smoking was far more ubiquitous in the Soviet Union, and anti-smoking campaigns far less developed. That momentarily stumped him.

My mother was also at Rutgers at the time as a piano instructor. She once got into a heated argument over lunch with a colleague and friend after he lamented America’s appalling treatment of the old and the sick. She ventured that, from her ex-Soviet vantage point, it didn’t seem that bad. “Are you telling me that it’s just as bad in the Soviet Union?” her colleague retorted, only to be dumbstruck when my mother clarified that, actually, she meant it was much worse. She tried to illustrate her point by telling him about my grandmother’s sojourn in an overcrowded Soviet hospital ward: More than once, when the woman in the next bed rolled over in her sleep, her arm flopped across my grandma’s body. Half-decent care required bribing a nurse, and half-decent food had to be brought from home. My mother’s normally warm and gracious colleague shocked her by replying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you.” Her perceptions, he told her, were obviously colored by antipathy toward the Soviet regime. Eventually, he relented enough to allow that perhaps my grandmother did have a very bad experience in a Soviet hospital — but surely projecting it onto all of Soviet medicine was uncalled for.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach ranked below ports in Tanzania and Kenya

Monday, November 1st, 2021

Stifling regulations have left America with the most inefficient ports in the world:

A recent review of container-port efficiency ranked the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach below ports in Tanzania and Kenya, near the bottom of the list of 351 top ports. America’s ports are effectively third-world. The 50 most efficient ports in the world are mostly in Asia and the Middle East; none are in America.

The Battle at Lake Changjin was sponsored by the Chinese government and deliberately timed for release before the country’s National Day holiday

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

The Battle at Lake Changjin is a three-hour-long war epic about the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, and it has grossed $769 million in China since its release less than three weeks ago:

It’s currently on track to become the highest-grossing film in Chinese history, surpassing “Wolf Warriors II,” which made $882 million upon its release back in 2017.

As the Chinese box office is the largest in the world, “The Battle at Lake Changjin” is technically the biggest film in the international movie market, even outearning the new James Bond flick, “No Time To Die,” according to the industry outlet.

[…]

“The~ Battle at Lake Changjin” was sponsored by the Chinese government and deliberately timed for release on Sept. 30 — a day before the country’s National Day holiday.

The release of the big-budget blockbuster — which cost $200 million to make — also comes just months after China’s Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The film’s release also coincides with Beijing’s growing aggression against Taiwan.

Over the weekend — as millions of Chinese moviegoers flocked to watch the film — it was reported that China has recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile.