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E-Pluribus | February 25, 2022
The threat of tribalism, the American Medical Association takes on language, and Putin's assault on liberal democracy.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Joseph Paul Forgas: The Tribal Threat to Liberal Democracy
Liberal democracy faces many threats, some external, but some spring from human nature itself. Joseph Paul Forgas writes at Quillette about how the desire for security and simplification can lead to tribalism and undermine the pluralistic foundation so necessary for the success of diverse democratic societies.
Facing complex and often unmanageable cognitive demands, humans often prefer simple but incorrect explanations to complex but accurate ones, especially if they are also shared by others. Simplifying cognitive habits such as categorization promote cognitive efficiency, and populist narratives naturally cater to our appetites for simplification, dividing the world into simple categories of “us and them,” “good and bad.”
Populist propaganda also exploits cognitive fluency effects and the availability heuristic—the human tendency to overestimate the reliability, importance, and truthfulness of information that happens to be simple, and easy to process and remember. People readily overestimate the truth of statements that happen to be easy to read and simple to understand—a common feature of populist communication.
Hatred of the “elites” is often mobilized to foster tribal resentment. As Roger Scruton and Douglas Murray have argued, some Western “elites” have indeed become captive to the ideological Left, triggering right-wing populist reactions in Germany, Austria, France, Britain, and Italy. However, anti-elitism fades once populists themselves acquire power and become the new “elite.” The movement then survives on the tribal allegiances and moral fervour of its followers alone.
Successful populist leaders typically become the symbolic embodiment of their cause. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin demonstrated that personality cults are central to populist regimes, mobilizing the common human tendency to personalize complex issues and ideas. Populist leaders need to be strong, consistent, and uncompromising, to satisfy the craving for simplicity and certainty from their followers.
Read it all.
John Stossel: The American Medical Association Should Help Patients. Instead, It's Policing Language.
We have included numerous articles in previous editions of E-Pluribus on the American Medical Association’s evolution from an organization focused on actual health of patients to one more concerned with how patients might feel. John Stossel recently interviewed Matt Yglesias (most ambitious crossover ever?) about the dangers of prioritizing political and cultural sensitivities over actual medical advances and outcomes.
The American Medical Association now tells doctors: Use woke language! It's issued a 54-page guide telling doctors things like, don't say "equality"; say "equity." Don't say "minority"; say "historically marginalized."
Much of the AMA's advisory sounds like Marxism: "Expose…property rights…Individualism is problematic…Corporations…limit prospects for good health…people underpaid and forced into poverty as a result of banking policies."
This is too much even for some on the left, like writer Matthew Yglesias, whose article about the AMA caught my attention.
"Can you imagine anyone actually doing this?" asks Yglesias in my new video. "What would happen if you were in a clinical setting, and somebody starts giving you this lecture about landowners?…Nobody practices medicine like that, and it wouldn't be helpful to anybody!"
He points out that while the AMA now tells doctors to call poor neighborhoods "systematically divested," not "poor," it has long lobbied for things that hurt poor people, like restricting the number of doctors.
The U.S. has fewer doctors than other countries. Per person, Austria has twice as many.
"We have the best paid physicians in the world and the scarcest physicians in the world," says Yglesias. "That's not a coincidence."
Read it all here.
Fareed Zakaria: Putin’s war reminds us why liberal democracy is worth defending
At the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria asserts that it’s not simply historical territorial concerns driving Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, but Putin’s (and others like him) disdain for freedom itself. The flaws of democratic governments give Putin and other autocrats an opening to impose their will, but the West must retain its firm conviction that liberal democratic societies, warts and all, still provide the best opportunity for human prosperity.
[…W]hat caused this crisis in the first place? It’s very simple: the overwhelming desire of Ukrainians to live in an open, democratic society. Let us not forget what it was that enraged Putin and led him to invade Ukraine for the first time in 2014. It was not a Ukrainian declaration to seek NATO membership; it was the efforts of the Kyiv government (a pro-Russian government at the time) to finalize an “association agreement” with the European Union. When the president of Ukraine ultimately balked at this deal — under pressure from Russia — he was greeted by massive street protests, and the parliament voted him out of office. That is what triggered Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine was not alone in choosing a pro-Western path. Over the past three decades, most of the countries that were part of the Soviet bloc have chosen one by one to become more open, liberal, democratic and capitalist. None are perfect — some far from it — but from the Baltic States to Bulgaria, from large countries such as Poland to tiny ones such as Moldova, most have adopted some versions of democratic politics and open, market-based economics. There has been backsliding in countries such as Hungary and Poland. But in broad terms, the movement of those countries toward Western values since 1989 is surely an affirmation of the vitality of the liberal democratic project.
As for the liberal international order, it has more defenders than one might imagine. The most eloquent statement in support of it came this week at the U.N. Security Council, not from one of the Western powers in the room, but rather from Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani. He said that almost all of Africa’s countries have borders that are deeply flawed. They were drawn by colonial powers, often dividing ethnic and linguistic groups. But, he pointed out, African leaders had decided that they would live with their imperfect borders, because to challenge them would have been to invite an endless series of wars and insurgencies. Instead, these countries chose to honor international law and the U.N. system. Kimani said, “Rather than form nations that looked ever backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known.”
Read the whole thing.
Some excerpts from a Heterodox Academy podcast on the lack of intellectual and political diversity in educational settings:
Via Free Black Thought, Wilfred Reilly on something “everyone knows” that isn’t so:
And finally, this week, Ryan Anderson marked the one year anniversary of Amazon’s shameful removal of his book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment: