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E-Pluribus | November 4, 2021
When anti-wokeness becomes dangerous, the politics of puerility, and what's human nature got to do with politics?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
David French: The Threat From the Anti-Woke Right
Sometimes a response to a crisis is as dangerous as the original threat. David French, columnist for The Dispatch and now a The Atlantic contributor, writes for Bari Weiss’s Substack about the over-the-top response from some on the right to left-wing overreach, trading one version of authoritarianism for another.
America is confronting two powerful illiberal movements, and where you stand on their relative threats can depend greatly on where you live. If you’re a conservative professor or student under fire in the elite academy, the travails of elementary school teachers in a Nashville suburb aren’t much on your mind. You’re fighting for your reputation and career against some of the most elite and powerful cultural forces in the United States.
But if you’re the parent of a black child who comes home in tears explaining that she wasn’t allowed past “Trump’s wall,” if you later witness a member of a school board audience shout “you’re in the South” when another parent laments the omnipresence of Confederate symbols, then the struggles of Ivy League conservatives don’t have much purchase.
We can fight all day about the relative significance and injuries of these events, but the troubling trend in American politics is the growing embrace of the raw will to power. I’ve defended civil liberties long enough to know there are readers who will read the stories above and think “Good. I’m glad the [Tennessee teachers or college conservatives] are afraid. It’s about time the tables turned.” Simply put, if they can censor their opponents, they will.
There is little question that the state exercises enormous authority over curricula and the classroom speech of teachers. A Supreme Court case called Garcetti v. Ceballos dramatically limits the free speech rights of public employees when they’re speaking as part of their official duties. Courts have granted college professors much greater leeway to speak, but most courts have held that K-12 teachers largely live under the state’s thumb. And progressive private universities have enormous authority over student speech.
But might does not make right, and if we use power punitively, then we create a nation of warring illiberal jurisdictions. Many of the same people who flex their muscles in Red America to pass expansive and vague anti-CRT laws cry foul when Blue America forces public school teachers to use preferred pronouns.
Read the whole thing.
Jonah Goldberg: What ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Says About Our Discourse
Writing for The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg finds plenty of (juvenile?) delinquency to go around related to the “Let’s go Brandon” phenomenon. Both those on the left who have revelled in vulgar or profane sentiments when the target was a political opponent and those on the right who professed shock and horror of such displays but now fall back on we-didn’t-start-it excuses need to take a hard look in the mirror.
First, folks on the left need to lighten up. “Let’s go Brandon” isn’t “Sieg Heil.” This thing hasn’t caught on because Republicans are Nazis; it has caught on because lots of Americans, including many who voted for him, think Biden is doing badly on many fronts.
Moreover, let’s not pretend that there isn’t a long, often patriotic, tradition of American citizens criticizing and insulting politicians.
Indeed, one of the things fueling the “Let’s go Brandon” stuff is liberal hypocrisy. When Trump was president, there was no shortage of mockery and expletives hurled his way. Robert De Niro got a standing ovation for saying “F--- Trump” at the Tony Awards. Rep. Rashida Tlaib used similar salty language, without liberals taking to their fainting couches.
I get that some might think Trump’s a special case, given how much he soiled the presidency and the discourse. I don’t remember anyone trying to cancel Eminem for the F-bomb in his anti-Bush track “Mosh,” released just before the 2004 election.
But as is so often the case when liberals use a double standard, conservatives suddenly discover it, too. Partisans on the right were often outraged by crude attacks on Republican presidents. They condemned such epithets as offensive and disrespectful. Now they think they’re great. If the left should lighten up, the right should grow up.
Read it all here.
Jonny Anomaly and Bo Winegard: Human Nature and Political Philosophy
Writing at Quillette, professor and author Jonathan Anomaly and social psychologist Bo Winegard explore the human nature’s impact on our political ideas and beliefs. The authors suggest that understanding this relationship can help identify which concepts and ideologies are in conflict with how people generally react and respond to various incentives and/or sanctions and which are consistent, thus providing clues to which solutions to our political divisions have the best chance of actually working.
Paradoxically, it is perfectly consistent with human nature to publicly endorse principles that are inconsistent with human nature if by doing so the individual benefits exceed the individual costs. Wearing a tee shirt with Fidel Castro’s face on it is cheap, and in a culture that is obsessed with equity, it may gain us praise. Moving to Cuba after Castro’s revolution is expensive, which is why few proponents of communism in affluent countries actually move to places like Cuba or Venezuela.
Screaming from the rooftops that “equity” is a dangerous fantasy that would harm everyone has less expressive resonance than declaring our fealty to equal outcomes, at least in our current culture. In the realm of politics, many people engage in expressive behavior like moral grandstanding because, as individuals, they do not bear the costs of promoting misguided beliefs about public policy, even if all of us would suffer the costs if those policies were implemented.
If a professor says that she does not believe in anthropogenic global warming, then she might be shunned by most of her colleagues (a cost) but feted by rightwing media (a benefit). Often, these costs and benefits are more consequential to an individual than are the costs and benefits of the long-term social effects of his or her public proclamations, which are generally quite small. The effect of a single vote, for example, is often meagre, but the effect of a public statement about whom one voted for can be large. For instance, a professor at an elite university who wore a MAGA hat would likely pay a large social cost.
As many have pointed out, the radical progressive version of social justice has all the hallmarks of a religion. To the extent that we are religious creatures, it makes perfect sense that in a society dominated by a religion that elevates “equity” as the sole virtue of institutions, individuals would publicly endorse and sometimes sincerely support equity. And this is true even if the actual implementation of equity would destroy the society that incentivizes each of its members to support it. Laws and institutions are, after all, emergent orders: no single person controls them and they are path dependent in ways that make them hard to understand or predict.
Read it all.
Commenting on the elections in Virginia, Glenn Greenwald exposes the hypocrisy of the “diversity” advocates when the diversity conflicts with their political goals:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali expresses concerns that liberalism isn’t currently up to the challenge posed by Islamism:
Thomas Chatterton Williams and Peter Boghossian try to bring some clarity to the is-Critical-Race-Theory-being-taught-in-schools question (note: Derrick Bell is considered the originator of CRT.)
And finally, another example of the pernicious idea that when someone takes offense, “intent doesn’t matter”: