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E-Pluribus | December 1, 2021
Don't take liberal democracy for granted, woke groupthink, and why the name 'Berdimuhamedov' should be a warning to us.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Roland A Merullo: We Can't Keep Taking Liberal Democracy for Granted
Although comparisons of current illiberal trends in the United States to present or past oppressive regimes can sound hyperbolic or overwrought, Roland Merullo writing at Persuasion says we must nonetheless heed the warning signs. Having lived in the USSR in the 1970s and 80s, Merullo says the apparent willingness of both left and right to disregard the truth in pursuit of political power will not end well for anyone.
America is not the Soviet Union. Nor is America nearing the totalitarian level of government oppression that Soviet citizens had to endure. But, for those of us who’ve seen, up close and personal, what it’s like to live in a place where the rule of law doesn’t matter, where elections and the judicial system are deeply corrupt, and where the truth is buried beneath a cascade of lies, these are particularly worrisome times. Absurd conspiracy theories fill the air like a plague of locusts. Elections, proven repeatedly to have been fair, are endlessly disputed. Religion and politics are blended. Citizens—in Texas, at least—are deputized, even paid, to report on each other. And, from the other side of the political spectrum, language is policed, and careers and reputations ruined for decades-old, often unproven accusations, or one-time “errors” in speech or behavior.
These are precisely the kinds of undemocratic and illiberal activities that tilt democracies toward authoritarianism. Many dictatorships begin with false claims of unfair elections; here, such charges are leveled daily, supported by what can only be called propaganda, and believed by millions. Dictatorships are humorless; here, we’re seeing comedians pressured to tailor their routines to group sensitivities. Dictatorships restrict artistic expression; here, we’re witnessing careless charges of “othering” and “cultural appropriation” aimed primarily at writers of fiction, and the insistence that we write only about the groups to which we belong, as if humanity isn’t one such group.
Read it all.
Gabriel Rossman: Why Woke Organizations All Sound the Same
Writing at City Journal, Gabriel Rossman, an associate professor of sociology at UCLA, takes a look at what is sometimes called “groupthink” as it relates to many of our institutions. The interconnectedness of many of these institutions along with the influence of governmental agencies and regulations enforce a kind of peer pressure that suppresses dissent and results in an increasing lack of diversity in direct contravention of ostensible goals to achieve the opposite.
Mimetic isomorphism is the tendency of organizations to model their behavior on industry leaders. A practice derives its prestige from association with prestigious organizations. For instance, the private education diversity-consulting firm Pollyanna proudly lists 77 of America’s top high schools as clients. This sends the message that any school that considers itself a peer of Harvard-Westlake or Dalton should hope that Pollyanna is willing to take them on as a client. Pollyanna also illustrates the other two isomorphisms: coercive, since NAIS demands that prep schools hire them; and normative, as consulting agencies are by nature.
Neo-institutionalism helps explain why we see organizations engage in practices that don’t serve the bottom line. Ultimately, legitimacy trumps efficacy. Suppose that you’re a manager who reads the academic literature, sees that the heavy-handed self-criticism styles of sexual-harassment or racial-diversity training are somewhere between useless and counterproductive, and proposes canceling next year’s training. Legal is going to complain that this will look bad if you face a wrongful-dismissal suit anytime soon. And some of your biggest contracts require that co-located employees from your firm have to be certified as having received the training. Many employees will complain that they expect the firm to express their values, which includes holding seminars featuring “privilege walks” to reaffirm the firm’s commitment to ending white supremacy and other forms of domination. These stakeholders will point to the fact that all your leading rivals in the industry hold such seminars; it is a “best practice.” So you go on propitiating the gods, even knowing full well that they don’t exist, because everyone around you believes in the spirits and even more so in the rituals that honor them and would consider neglect of such piety a sign of illegitimate leadership.
Read the whole thing.
Billy Binion: Turkmenistan's Record-Setting Repression
While it by no means began with him, the ascent of Donald Trump highlighted how a cult of personality can infect politics and undermine democratic society. At Reason, Billy Binion takes a somewhat lighthearted look at Turkmenistan's bizarre leader and his apparent hold over many of its people. But that country’s experience should be a warning to the US to keep leaders off pedestals and down on the level of the rest of us mortals where they belong.
Berdimuhamedov has used spectacles like these to curate a bizarre cult of personality around himself. Core to his image is a quest to nab as many Guinness World Records as possible. Since he ascended to Turkmenistan's top office in 2007, the country has clinched quite a few superlatives, including "largest single line bike parade," "largest roof in the shape of a star," and "largest gerbil species."
What life is like inside the country is somewhat of a mystery. For those living there, the outside world is even murkier: Internet access is prohibited, foreign travel is restricted, and there is not even a semblance of a free press.
Turkmens are to believe one thing: Berdimuhamedov is their Arkadag ("protector"). That might become a tougher sell if the country's economy continues to implode. Yet Berdimuhamedov's public persona is a reminder of how such cults are cultivated in the first place: If you can't give your country the basics, you have to give them a show.
Read it all here.
The more things change, the more we should be reminded of things before they changed?
Some thoughts on cancel culture from Ilana Redstone, via Heterodox Academy:
More on the medical community’s foray into the culture wars, via Jonathan Haidt:
Finally, Colin Wright’s political “journey”… by standing still. Via Peter Boghossian: