URLs du Jour


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  • Sigh. Back in my day, only photons were polarized. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff wrote The Coddling of the American Mind, a book that (among tough competition) was one of my Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2019. They are bringing out a new edition next year, and have updated their thoughts in a series of freely-available essays. Here's one at Persuasion: The Polarization Spiral.

    As probably will surprise no one, the polarization spiral between the left and the right has only gotten more intense in the last three years. Most alarming is the growing acceptance of political violence as a justifiable method for achieving political goals. A survey in 2019 found that approximately one-fifth of partisans in both parties believed that violence against the opposing party would be at least “a little” justified if their party lost the 2020 election. Between 2020 and 2021 the share of students surveyed who said violent protest was “never acceptable” dropped from 82% to 76% and at most elite schools it was even lower.

    We now know a lot more about the polarization spiral and who is driving it. The Hidden Tribes study, published in 2018 by the UK-based group More In Common, surveyed 8,000 Americans in December 2017 and used a statistical technique to identify groups of people who had similar core beliefs. They found seven groups. The one furthest to the right they labeled the “Devoted Conservatives.” This group makes up 6% of the population. Its members are “deeply engaged with politics” and hold “strident, uncompromising views.” Devoted conservatives see themselves as the last defenders of traditional values that are under threat from the far left. This group was clearly overrepresented in the attack on the US Capitol in January 2021.

    The group furthest to the left were the “Progressive Activists.” This group, which makes up 8% of the population, is “highly sensitive to issues of fairness and equity, particularly with regards to race, gender and other minority group identities.” Progressive Activists talk frequently about “power structures” and how they cause and maintain inequality. They are the most active of all groups on social media. This group is clearly overrepresented in campus protests and in mass marches for progressive causes.

    Comment: I took the quiz at the Hidden Tribes site linked above, and they pigeonholed me with the "Traditional Liberals". Well, if and only if you consider "traditional" to be equivalent to "classical". (I find the quote from the example "73-year-old woman, Texas, Traditional Liberal" to be kind of irritating.) I think they did a poor job at recognizing libertarians.

    But (of course) Haidt and Lukianoff are good at diagnosing the problem of the fringes seemingly attracting more devotees, and viewing the others as existential villains.

  • Also seizing, lashing out, attacking, slamming, accusing, … Ed Morrisey nails it: The real issue in this lousy economy is all the Republican pouncing to come, you know. Quoting Politico's Megan Cassella:

    The U.S. economy is growing at its slowest pace since the recovery began. Faster inflation is likely to linger well into next year. Millions remain unemployed even as small businesses struggle to hire workers.

    And Republicans are readying attacks on President Joe Biden over all of it.

    GOP lawmakers and strategists are seizing on news Thursday that the economy expanded at an anemic pace in the third quarter to slam Biden and the Democrats, accusing them of bungling the recovery from the pandemic recession and then piling on trillions of dollars in spending programs.


    Seizing! Readying attacks! Cassella leaves out the word “pounce,” but the principle here is clear. The issue isn’t that the economy has actually slowed to a crawl in Q3 (-0.1% in final sales of domestic product). It’s not that the inflation that Republicans warned would happen in the debate over the COVID-19 relief packages and unemployment bonuses has actually materialized. The news isn’t that Democrats want to actually pile trillions of more dollars in spending programs in off-budget projects that will help fuel even more inflation.

    To be fair, the GOP kind of handed Democrats a live grenade in 2020. Who knew they were going to bungle it so badly?

  • As we get older and stop making sense… Or: Who took the money away? Eric Boehm is doing a pretty good job subbing for new parent Elizabeth Nolan Brown on the Reason Roundup. He notes, sadly shaking his head, that: Biden's New Spending Framework Promises To Do Everything but Still Cost Nothing. That Doesn't Make Sense. After summing up the current state of play, and the accounting gimmicks still in the slimmed-down legislation:

    All in all, the "new" framework suffers from many of the same problems that have plagued Biden's "Build Back Better" plan since the president first trotted it out in March. It's a Schrödinger's cat of a proposal—one that promises "transformative investments" in everything from child care to green energy, but one that costs nothing at the same time. It can't be both, of course, no matter how many gimmicks you might deploy.

    The very existence of this new, slimmed-down spending plan should raise some questions. For months, Biden and his allies have been framing the $3.5 trillion spending bill as essential to combatting climate change, countering China, creating jobs, reducing income inequality, and a host of other vaguely defined goals. Some Democrats said even $3.5 trillion wasn't enough to achieve those things.

    Now, after cutting the bill in half, Biden says his new framework will "create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, and put us on a path not only to compete but to win the economic competition for the 21st century against China and every other major country in the world."

    So what about the other $1.7 trillion that got cut? Was that really essential or could we have accomplished the same things all along with a smaller bill? Something doesn't quite add up.

    (Classical reference in headline.)

  • Hurt feelings do not make you a victim of violence. Dorian Abbot takes to the pages of the WSJ: The Views That Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT.

    I believe that every human being should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context, that means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them.

    I care for all of my students equally. None of them are overrepresented or underrepresented to me: They represent themselves. Their grades are based on a process that I define at the beginning of the quarter. That process treats each student fairly and equally. I hold office hours for students who would like extra help so that everyone has the opportunity to improve his or her grade through hard work and discipline.

    Similarly, I believe that admissions and faculty hiring at universities are best focused on academic merit, with the goal of producing intellectual excellence. We should not penalize hard-working students and faculty applicants simply because they have been classified as belonging to the wrong group. It is true that not everyone has had the same educational opportunities. The solution is improving K-12 education, not introducing discrimination at late stages.

    More at the link, all very heretical for devotees to the woke religion.

  • Speaking of heresy… Some advice from Elliot Axelman at the Liberty Block: Stop Saying The Pledge of Allegiance If You Believe In Freedom.

    It's in response to a Laconia Daily Sun LTE condemning legislators for sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would establish a referendum asking the state's voters if they want to secede from the United States.

    Now, I think that's silly. But it's arguably in the spirit of our state's Constitution, particularly articles 7 and 10. Never mind that, though:

    The panicking statist goes on to say that Now, when each of us says: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands,” we must think of these traitors in our midst. They would succeed where our foreign enemies have failed. They would break up these United States of America. They would trample on the graves of service men and women who died to preserve our one nation under God.”

    Axelman points out the problematic parts of the Pledge:

    But the most ridiculous part of the letter is his accusation of ‘violating the pledge of allegiance’. It is almost too insane to take seriously. The pledge was written by Francis Bellamy, an avowed socialist, in 1892. Ironically, Bellamy did not include ‘under God’ in the pledge, despite being a minister. Perhaps even more ironic was that this socialist was really a capitalist, because he went around the united states selling his American flags and magazines to schools. Weirdly ironic was that Bellamy and his partners at the magazine instructed children to raise their right arms outstretched towards the flag while reciting their pledge of allegiance to the US government. 

    Bellamy and the owners of the Youth’s Companion magazine wished to sell a flag and a magazine subscription to every school in the united states. That was their primary goal; the pledge, the flags, and the patriotism were just sales tactics. 

    But politicians loved it. They took the gift of increasing worship of the government and ran with it. In June of 1942, the US Congress officially adopted the Pledge into the US Flag Code. Six months later, Congress officially abandoned the Bellamy Salute in 1942 once they realized that Hitler ruined it. They replaced the Nazi salute with the instructions to place the hand over the heart, to demonstrate true devotion to the government. In 1954, Eisenhower added ‘under God’ to the Pledge. Today, nearly every governmental event and many private events begin with all members pledging their lives to their Lords in DC. All government schools must have their students recite the pledge daily, except for California, Hawaii, Wyoming, and Vermont. 

    The Pledge is creepy state idolatry. But see Axelman's article for the even creepier Bellamy salute that went along with it until 1942, "until Hitler ruined it."

  • And speaking of creepy… I'm thinking about getting out of the house to go see the new Dune. One of the burning questions I had: who's playing Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam? Because they need someone very creepy in that role.

    Ah, never fear. She's being played by Charlotte Rampling. A perfect choice. I never saw her in 1974's The Night Porter (Nazi porn or daring arthouse eroticism?), but I read about it and saw some stills. And I'm pretty sure I thought at the time: Man, in about 47 years, she'll be a perfect choice for playing Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam in a Dune movie!