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E-Pluribus | September 8, 2021
What is liberty, the CDC and wokeness, and why is the public so susceptible to conspiracy theories?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Andrew Egger: Liberty for Whom?
What does liberty mean to conservatives? As Andrew Egger explains at The Dispatch, it’s not a simple answer. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the divide over competing rights regarding privacy, self-determination and security (among others) that complicate what freedom should really looks like.
[There is] an interesting and pressing divide in philosophy between two types of “small government” conservative. The basic issue dividing Noem from other Republicans in her state isn’t a silly matter of which leader has the will to seize the reins of power to bring about good policy. It’s a question of what it means for a state to preserve freedom among its citizens. Is it, as Republicans have long supposed, primarily the role of government to get out of the way and let its citizens form private relations as they see fit? When is it the role of the state to insert itself into private relationships, like those between employers and employees, to ensure the powerful are not limiting the liberty of the powerless?
It’s important to emphasize that term, liberty, because both sides of this divide formulate their argument in those terms.
“If you were to take the political aspect out of [the vaccine conversation], and basically the total infringement on individual liberty out of it, people will make their own decisions as if we’re a free country,” Speaker Gosch told The Dispatch. “This bill’s meant to protect their individual liberties without having to discuss whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.”
That framing—of the interests of individuals versus the interests of corporations, with the government balancing the interests of those two groups—is significantly different from the one offered by the governor and her allies: a private sphere of individuals, some of whom have banded together in businesses, into which the government ought intrude only when some begin to violate the rights of others.
Read it all.
Aaron Sibarium: Meet the Woke Nonprofits Behind the CDC’s ‘Inclusive Communication’ Guide
Though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says its reference to language guidelines put out by various progressive activist groups does not constitute endorsement, Aaron Sibarium writes at The Free Beacon that the influence of such publications is clear nonetheless. This backdoor approach ultimately allows new “woke” terminology to find its way into public policy regulations and statements even in the absence of conscious political decisions.
The guide’s preferred terms for gender, for example, come straight from the LGBT activist group GLAAD, whose "Media Reference Guide" says phrases like "biologically male" are "problematic" and "reductive." And the CDC’s "health equity lens" takes inspiration from a report by the Racial Equity Institute, which is listed at the end of the guide as an "explanation about the root causes of racism and racial inequity." The report urges policymakers to "confront the reality that all our systems, institutions, and outcomes emanate from the racial hierarchy, on which the United States was built," and denies that any inequalities are caused by "people’s culture or behavior."
Reached for comment, the CDC said that its link to the report did not "constitute an endorsement."
The guide is the latest illustration of how progressive nonprofits capture public health agencies through a kind of technocratic activism, burrowing their ideology into medical language by framing social controversies as settled scientific fact. Government officials, like those at the CDC, then cite those activists alongside professional health associations, many of which have gone woke themselves. That boosts the activists’ credibility while undermining the government’s own: The CDC may be insulated from certain kinds of political pressure, but it is hardly immune to the ideological contagion of medical nonprofits.
The GLAAD guide offers a case study in this sleight of hand. Since terms like biologically male and female "overly-simplify a very complex subject," the guide suggests, retiring them will help readers "form their own conclusions based on factual information"—the implication being that talk of scientific realities is itself anti-science.
Read the whole thing.
James B. Meigs: Conspiracies All the Way Down
Though the current resurgence in the popularity of conspiracy theories is likely related to President Donald Trump’s weakness for such takes, James Meigs at City Journal traces the source back further to 9/11 Truthers. Meigs makes the case that both the left and right are susceptible to the phenomenon and that at times the media does more to feed the misinformation than to set the record straight, compounding the distrust that feeds such thinking in the first place.
I now believe the 9/11 Truthers I encountered were canaries in the coal mines of American society. They were an early warning sign of a style of thinking that has only grown more common in the years since 9/11: alienated, enraged, and not just irrational, but anti-rational. Today, fantasy universes abound in our current political culture. On the far right, Capitol-storming QAnon followers imagine vast, deep-state conspiracies involving pedophiles and pizza parlors. The Left’s conspiracy theories aren’t as obviously bonkers, but progressives also imagine powerful forces that secretly conspire against the people. In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, for example, writer Naomi Klein introduced the concept of “disaster capitalism”—a kind of global plot to exploit the powerless—and promised to “reveal the puppet strings behind the critical events of the last four decades.” Today, the Woke Left routinely portrays American institutions as engines of cleverly concealed oppression. Racism, sexism, and the like are not just biases to be overcome but fundamental organizing principles of American society.
For more than two centuries, the U.S. has occasionally had spasms of populist fantasies: fears about Freemasons, “minions of the Pope,” “international bankers,” or other shadowy forces controlling events from behind the scenes. But the grassroots popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories—and the surprising tolerance for such ideas in elite media and political circles—helped bring paranoia into the modern mainstream. I watched it happen.
By the final year of the Trump administration, QAnon and Proud Boy cultists on the right, and woke activists on the left, were primed to take their revolutions to the streets. The pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and the fight over the presidential election gave both sides the spark they needed. Like most people, I watched the protesters storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021, with dismay and outrage. But for me, the scenes of impassioned, self-defined patriots also carried a whiff of déjà vu. In one video taken that day, a burly man turns to the camera and shouts, “They don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” He knew the election had been stolen, in other words, and no set of so-called facts could dissuade him. I understood exactly how he’d learned to think like that.
Read it all here.
Matt Yglesias on the gap between words of some college professors and reality at their institutions:
Robby Soave on a case of The Vance Who Cried ‘Censorship’:
A short thread from Heterodox Academy on a new series on school choice and diversity:
And finally, Peter Boghossian has had enough at Portland State University: