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E-Pluribus | November 16, 2021
What can we learn from Sweden about wokeness, who gets to define misinformation, and more on the new University of Austin.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Malcom Kyeyune, Daniel Kennelly: Wokeness as Elite Aspiration
At City Journal, Daniel Kennelly interviews Swedish writer Malcom Kyeyune about that country’s experience with “wokeness” and how it relates to our own experience with it in the United States. While the two countries differ dramatically in many respects, Kyeyune finds class to be common ground in explaining shifting attitudes across a range of societal issues.
It’s not necessarily the case that everything can be explained through some sort of primitive application of class analysis, but it’s also not something you should be blind to, especially when discrepancies are staring you in the face. In the case of woke politics, it’s probably meaningful that you rarely find an example of, say, a woke electrician or plumber or truck driver. Those people might exist—and we might find proof of the Loch Ness monster at some point, too—but this is not an ideology that infects people at random. It’s clearly a class phenomenon in what we can observe, in the sense that certain people, from certain classes—essentially people in the big cities, people working what some have called “email jobs”—tend to be woke, and people who work as part of the real economy tend to be not woke. To try to deny that these discrepancies exist, or that they’re not in need of investigation, is just a form of political self-harm at this point.
To lay out what wokeness does: one explanation we should take seriously is that wokeness serves as a sorting mechanism for sinecures, prestige institutions, and so on, where there’s growing competition for jobs. To take one example, Tucker Carlson had a guest on his show whose kids went to an elite private school in New York, with annual tuition about as high as the median income in the U.S., and he was angry because wokeness had infected the curriculum. Indeed, it has. Wokeness is strongest at the elite schools. The problem is that the function of these elite schools is to get your kids into Harvard. That’s why you pay all that money. So the real question is whether being woke is a good way to get into Harvard. It certainly is. In fact, it’s probably a requirement at this point, since these schools are increasingly transitioning away from standardized testing and into essays and personal statements on how it feels to be poor and marginalized. Ironically, if you want to get really good at writing an essay like that, it helps to be pretty rich and to have the right sorts of essay coaches.
Read the whole thing.
Gerard Baker: Left-Leaning Media Seek a Misinformation Monopoly
While politicians and many in the traditional media decry misinformation in the age of social media, Gerard Baker argues in the Wall Street Journal that the finger pointing is misdirected or at least hypocritical. Baker recalls numerous examples of what was presented as fact by the mainstream media that turned out to be far different than advertised.
Kyle Rittenhouse is a domestic terrorist. Brett Kavanaugh is a rapist. Donald Trump won in 2016 only because he colluded with the Kremlin. Nick Sandmann, the boy from Covington Catholic High School on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was an entitled white bigot. Mr. Trump said the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville were “good people.” Last year’s riots were mostly peaceful. Unarmed black men are routinely shot in huge numbers by police officers. The discovery of Hunter Biden’s laptop was a Russian plot.
Which of these have you heard in the last five years? I doubt there’s an American with even the faintest interest in public events who wasn’t made aware of every one of these stories, didn’t have them repeatedly drummed into his head in the amplifying loop that connects agenda-driving traditional news organizations, culture-shaping digital sites, knowledge-delimiting search engines, and information-controlling social media platforms.
Can you name similar falsehoods on the other side? Of course you can. There’s the impenetrable drivel of QAnon and its tale of a political elite that drinks the blood of children. But also, less lurid and more widely disseminated and believed: The 2020 election was stolen in some kind of conspiracy between Venezuelan operatives and Democratic ballot-counters. Covid vaccines don’t work. Jan. 6 was a false-flag operation. All every bit as false and misleading as the fictions of the bulk of the media.
But there’s an important difference.
It’s not simply that the left-leaning media and their allies control most of the public discourse. They do, but that doesn’t much matter any more. My suspicion is that most news now is consumed by people who choose what they believe. Tens of millions of Americans have simply shut the traditional media out of their consciousness. […]
This is the ultimate objective of those who have fed us so much falsity for so long now. They want the primary channels of digital information, not only social platforms but search too, to be as epistemically closed as the rest of the media is currently.
Read it all here.
Megan McArdle: The University of Austin founders’ challenge: Creating a college from another time
Last week, Pluribus noted (in Around Twitter) the launch of a brand new university, the University of Austin, a response to the failure of many institutions of higher learning to adhere to the core principles of classical liberalism that should define them. The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle explores the trends that gave rise to the idea in the minds of its founders as well as the challenges the new school will face.
Academia has a fairly rigid status hierarchy that has proved extremely hard to disrupt. Look at the list of top schools and you’ll find most were founded before 1900, and some of the most prestigious before 1800. That prestige is the key input into the two main outputs of colleges and universities: degrees and research.
The people behind the University of Austin are right to worry that a fringe has weaponized this prestige to attack dissent on important issues. This ersatz consensus leads to botched research and declining trust in academic expertise — most disastrously during the pandemic, when public health experts started making exceptions to previous guidance in an effort to favor historically disadvantaged groups.
But if dissent is so unwelcome within these departments, will it get a fairer hearing coming from Austin? “The University of Austin” could become the academic equivalent of “Fox News” for the left — an invitation to automatic dismissal, without any examination of the underlying facts.
In the best possible future, the school overcomes these hurdles through the sheer power of independent thinking, attracting brilliant iconoclasts who go on to success as entrepreneurs or academics, and become walking advertisements for the benefits of liberal education. But in the worst one, the school attracts students and parents who are united less by a love of learning than their passionate hatred for “wokeness” — and then must cater to that market by becoming a funhouse-mirror-image of its worst opponents.
Read it all.
Glenn Greenwald on what is a “real” journalist?
Via Jesse Singal, some self-reflection from Freddie deBoer on progressive ideology:
Finally, Jonathan Kay on the American Medical Association’s recent terminology purge: