Give ’em what for and how


Podcast time again – and once again my title is a play on words, rather than any sort of an ornery sentiment. I come bearing practical hope of expansion of compassion and embracing love – not to win an argument. Hope it makes you feel less alone – and your goals feel more possible.

A little while ago I posted a link to a fascinating interview which included the quote below. I can’t get it out of my head for two reasons – it conveys the way we no longer have general respect for those who know what we do not – but instead assume our most ignorant opinions are as sufficient as our personal areas of knowledge. The other is that Gasset was writing almost a century ago. Last time someone took a piece of insight I was trying to assemble and articulate and threw it back a century it was Orwell, with “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” in which we are forced to realize that even our great great grandparents before the second world war were already completely sick of the shallowness and false promises of consumerism. Wow!

“My favourite philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, talked about ‘mass man,’ or modern man as being the end product of a long historical process. Previous generations struggled to put him in a place of relative affluence and education, with material comforts and freedoms that were achieved at tremendous cost and usually involved bloodshed at some point. Mass man doesn’t see it that way. He feels that all these material gifts are as natural as the air he breathes. The good things in life are taken for granted. Meanwhile, the smallest desire that goes unfulfilled is a source of outrage. Much of the public’s sentiment today — that impulse to negation — is driven by a failure to understand or remember history. Or if they do remember history, to see it purely as the mother of all injustices and a source of problems that must be now be abolished. If there is one thing I would ask people to do, it would be to study history. When you abolish history, you lose your memory and it’s like you’ve had a stroke. That condition can lead you to do crazy things.”

– Martin Gurri (author of “The Revolt Of The Public”) interviewed by (the consistently excellent) Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept – Mar 3 – 2019

My show today is not a history lesson, but a look at how groups who share ideas and the ideas they share can both help and harm, with a side order of how the change we all need might actually be accomplished.

Cheers, my beautiful friends!

We can (or at very least could) do this! ;o)



  1. Hi Paul! Thought-provoking as always. I’ve got some big-picture thoughts simmering, but here’s a nit I wanted to pick first.

    I was surprised by the picture you very briefly paint of European colonization of Africa. The colonial order in Africa largely followed the Berlin conference of 1884–well after the abolition of slavery in most of the countries involved. I’ve never seen it suggested that the “scramble for Africa” was motivated by politicians seeking to end slavery (within Africa?) for fear of being kicked out of office. Can you point me to some reading on this? Or give me some more detail about what’s wrong with what I take to be the standard picture?

    • Yes, my friend – in fact you already called the title. “The scramble for Africa” by Pakenham is a great read for blending large events and politics, and indicated that the Berlin conference was not the beginning, but rather a late in the day regularization of many (popularly desired but ill-advised) millitary adventures by the European powers, so as to keep their new competitive ground from causing war on the continent itself.

      • Thanks, Paul! But I’m even more confused, then. That scrambly story doesn’t make ending slavery the motivation for colonization, does it?

        (Defensive counter-nitpick: I said ‘largely’ followed the Berlin conference. :-P)

  2. Hi again! Maybe this is undercooked, but here’s what I’m thinking so far. I think most of what I’m saying here is repeating what I’ve been saying before in different terms, so apologies in advance if this is getting tiresome.

    I’m afraid I still think we disagree, that I don’t think it’s just a misunderstanding. To be sure, I think we do agree on a lot, and on the most important things! But I think we disagree about what the left (broadly speaking) thinks and says and does (although we agree about what the left wants and intends), and I think we disagree about how to judge concepts like “white privilege”. I’m only going to use “white privilege” as my example here because that’s the only concrete example I remember hearing in the podcast (other than “fragility”, briefly).

    First of all, let me acknowledge I may not be the intended audience for your podcast. That’s fair enough! On Facebook in response to Chris the other day, you said you’d seen the sort of thing you’re arguing against from folks (students, I think?) at some of the art schools you’ve been at. Maybe those are the people you’re describing as upset or angry about things you’ve been saying.

    But in case you had me (and, I think I can say, Chris) in mind: I’m not upset or hurt. I’m not expressing emotion. I’m trying to disagree. I think you’re mistaken. I appreciate that you’re trying to show compassion by saying the emotion you perceive is valid and understandable—but I’m trying to tell you it isn’t actually there.

    This brings up a point I think we disagree about: whether talk of things like white privilege are a shift from the objective to the subjective. Concepts like “white privilege” are not aimed at expressing emotion or at expressing a subjective perspective. They are aimed at capturing the objective facts of our social world. I agree with you that it’s important both to listen to people’s subjective experience and to distinguish it from objective analysis/inquiry/etc.; I disagree with your diagnosis of talk about different experiences of the world as merely subjective personal expression.

    I also disagree with what I take to be your analysis of organizing around climate change versus organizing around “social justice” (my term for the other stuff, not yours). Fighting climate change is going to require big social policy changes. Effective social policy requires good social science: we have to understand the social structures we intervene in if we want our interventions to have their desired effects—as you’ve argued in this episode!

    [I haven’t polished this enough to add connective tissue between thoughts, sorry. Here’s a break; in case WordPress doesn’t render my three asterisks, I’ll also write “[break]” at the next break.]

    I’ll agree that using “white privilege” as a tool to tell white rural/working poor folks what’s wrong with them is a bad idea. But I haven’t seen that happening—and I don’t think you have, either! Given that one of your other criticisms of the urban elite left is that it isn’t talking to folks left out of the new neoliberal urban ‘utopia’ at all, it doesn’t sound like they’re bungling those conversations by using the wrong terms.

    (I do think there are problems with how “white privilege” often/typically gets used, but it isn’t that. As I’ve tried to argue before, the concept is designed to be used, and in my experience typically is used, within groups who buy into the framework. Ideally, it’s a tool for self-reflection. The problem I think is more common is when it’s used for ostentatious self-criticism in lieu of real practical change. And people make tons of cash out of running workshops teaching white managers how to talk about white privilege.)

    I also agree that we need everyone working together, across all these social categories. But while talking about race is going to alienate some, not talking about race is going to alienate others. There is no such thing as nonaction—you can’t opt out of this, everything is a choice. The best we can do, I think, is try our best to (as you say) be compassionate, listen to as many folks as possible ESPECIALLY when they aren’t like us in one way or another… and gather and follow the evidence. When the evidence points to things like racial injustice, we have to have the courage to talk about that—as compellingly and inclusively and kindly as we can—even if it’s going to alienate some people. (Optimism: it’ll alienate some people all of the time, but if we work at it, it won’t alienate all of those people all of the time. If I’m right that this stuff is about describing the social world accurately, we should be able to bring people around to agreeing about it—with only a few exceptions. I don’t think “white privilege” is a tool for explaining race to people who aren’t already on board—but I do think we need to bring people on board & that there are tools for doing so.)


    I agree that one question to ask with any concept is “how badly can this be misunderstood?”, and a related but different important question is something like “how might this sound if taken out of context?” But those are not the only important questions, and answers to other questions might outweigh these ones—which I think is exactly the case with “white privilege”. As I tried to argue before, I don’t think there is any other term for the facts it’s intended to help describe that wouldn’t spark equivalent outrage among people who haven’t bought in to the idea that there is racial injustice. That’s not because the other side is all racist or all evil or all stupid, but because IF you don’t think there’s a racial hierarchy in our society, then you’ll think anyone trying to describe that racial hierarchy is, at best, out to lunch. (Or if you think there is and there should be a racial hierarchy—but we’re not talking about the racist folks right now.)

    Now, if we’re trying to be objective—if we’re trying to describe the facts as they are—we cannot refuse to talk in terms that sound bad to people who are fundamentally mistaken about what the world is like.

    Similarly: we should not insist that people talking within their own communities should only talk in terms that cannot be mocked by outsiders.

    Similarly: if we take the question “how bad will things be if things go as badly as possible?” as our guiding light, we will speak like politicians, trying to please everyone (or at least not to piss anyone off), and as a necessary consequence saying nothing.. Risk aversion has tradeoffs.


    There are no easy solutions, no shortcuts. There’s no substitute for doing the work. (One of the lessons I think I’ve internalized from you—or at least yours is the voice I hear saying that sort of thing. A phrase you once used that has stuck with me since: we need to build a “muscular togetherness”, and as a skinny kid let me tell you building muscle takes a lot of work.) But I think throwing out concepts like “white privilege” or trying to dismiss what the right calls “identity politics” is trying to take a shortcut. That’s not to say white privilege (etc.) is immune from any possible criticism, but it is to say the idea is not so ridiculous that we can reject it without getting into the details.

    • Hey Roger,

      I believe you have misread the situation “on the ground” – if the ground is North America. While one could always argue that the right / Republicans don’t habitually read left / Democrat discourse and therefore its nuances are lost on them, the fact is that when they do, they have ample ammunition for legitimate criticism. Social science continues to provide just that. It would be great if it would stop, but that’s a conversation it has to have with itself. No one else is answerable for its definitions.

      Maybe it’s the news and commentary I’m reading, but my take on the left / libs’ position here is far more cynical than yours. Naturally I assume that difference is due to my superior grasp of reality – not immediately convincing, I know. But I think you’re misconstruing the criticisms of wokeism, and defending the reasonable aspects which aren’t themselves being criticized. Truthfully, I think you’re seeing the cup as half full, when it’s only one-third full. Drink slowly.

      I’m all for accurate descriptions of the social world, but that doesn’t mean I like the idea of enforcing any particular description on the intransigently unfamiliar, so that they can “better understand” the nuances of my analysis. Social facts aren’t like other facts. And I don’t see the appeal of the circular reasoning that, if I think my viewpoint is correct, then other viewpoints must be incorrect.
      So we look for common ground. Just by finding common ground, we succeed. I think Paul rightly understands this as emerging from a process that is both personal and interpersonal. By engaging in mindful practice of reflection and patient, sometimes uncomfortable dialogue and all the struggle that entails. Because the personal is in the interpersonal, and the interpersonal is so vague that its definition is subjective / negotiated / revisable. So intersubjectivity is an ideal that we can approach in different ways.

      As with so much discussion of our current age, the issue seems to be credibility of any analysis. Some of it – the mainstream group rights stuff – is in tatters, despite its intent, or original value. Not to say toss it out, but rather to put it in proper context. Then like magic, it functions well. When we talk about human rights, what are we talking about? The right to medical aid in sub-Saharan Africa, or about more “1st world problems” of access that seem comparatively mundane? How much guilt should I feel about my society’s responsibility / obligation for both? More to the point, how much indifference should I have to issues of race in my own country? What’s the comparative urgency? Where’s the line between self-care and abandonment of your brother? When does “compassion” go too far? (I’ve heard it pointed out that much of the confusion here can be resolved by addressing the “conceptual overreach” of many of these terms.)

      You make some important points, in particular trying to pin down Paul’s distinction between openness to subjective experience (as a necessary element of any compassionate ethics) vs. still retaining an objective standard for judgement. This is the social science conundrum. It seems that we can always say that any particular perspective / history / group identity is vitally important as any other, and then the natural inclination is to try to balance them all. (Making everyone happy – a worthy goal.) But that leads to said groups advocating for their in-group interests, and eventually vilifying / demonizing others. So I sometimes wonder how Paul squares the deep compassion he espouses with a world that is itself sometimes stubbornly devoid of it. Ideally, by overcoming “bad” emotions in ourselves, we present an example, or set a tone, for relations with others, so that our most rational selves prevail. The tricky part is that the categories / standards of judgement we employ in those interactions can be toxic (for lack of a better word – that word has become so toxic!), both to ourselves and to others. Because our definitions of “rational” will differ, and sometimes be antagonistic to one another. The idea that sound social science is required for adequate communication and progress is debatable – unless you just mean stop doing a lot of it, which would leave a lot of people unemployed. (So I guess at bottom it’s an economic issue.) You don’t really need it for compassion to prevail.

      More about openness. In a heavily propagandized environment, using “I language” seems weaker and less forceful than impersonal language or “you language” (blaming language). This is despite the fact that I language is known to be more accurate: “I think”, “I feel”, “in my opinion”, etc. It allows you to qualify statements, meaning that conditionality is made more explicit and relevance hits its mark. It is also more open, not only to ideas but to others’ engagement. It is closed insofar as it acknowledges difference of perspective, but that’s not a sacrifice of common ground – it is common ground. The problem is, when the general tone of discourse is blame-oriented or ideologically depersonalized, people aren’t naturally inclined towards such openness. In fact, they may be more inclined to take refuge in a comforting group setting – or a comforting narrative. It seems to simplify things.

      But to your point about in-group vocabularies, I for one am not suggesting modifications to any but my own. Although some concern about political correctness is probably rooted in trying to keep certain people “in their place”, most people actually support academic freedom.

      • Hey Ian,

        I actually think this is progress in some ways. In particular: I’m glad you say we disagree about the situation on the ground–I think we do. That’s part of the point I’m trying to make.

        The other part is to argue for my view of the situation on the ground, to suggest we (all of us, including me) need to get beyond our experience of one part of the ground if we want to understand the rest of it. Neither my good experiences in Vancouver nor your bad experiences in Toronto provide indefeasible evidence of what the North American left is like overall. I gather your framing in terms of “North America” was meant to suggest that I could only possibly understand the situation on the ground in the part my feet are on–but I think (a) in a lot of ways, I have more information about various parts of the NA ground, and (b) most of NA is not beside your feet, either. None of us can extrapolate very far from our own experience.

        You write: “But I think you’re misconstruing the criticisms of wokeism, and defending the reasonable aspects which aren’t themselves being criticized.”

        I think this misunderstands my points in two ways.

        One: I am not defending “wokeism” at all. You might notice that you’ve used that word and I haven’t. I hinted at this in my previous comment: I’ve been talking about “white privilege” because that’s the one concept that’s directly come under attack here. I think if you want to evaluate a concept like that, you have to look at the thing itself, the arguments for it, evidence about how it’s used… which I’ve tried to provide, only to be met with flat denial from you. So be it.

        Two: If you like, I’m making a baby/bathwater defence of “white privilege”. My first comment here was to say that we should indeed condemn misuses of that tool–I AGREE that using “white privilege” as a bludgeon to tear people down is a bad thing. But I say: then we should criticize the misuse and the people misusing the concept, not throw the concept away. Why? Because there is reason to think those abuses are indeed misuses: both from examples of it being used well and from the theoretical origins of/arguments for that concept. These are not just my opinions, these are reasons for my opinions. You may well not share my opinion, but if you meet reasons with flat denial, we aren’t having a conversation, we’re just contradicting each other.

        I don’t think I have anything else to add here. I think you’re misrepresenting me in a fundamentally uncharitable way by attributing some really bad arguments to me. I don’t think I’ve been arguing in a circle. I don’t think the only way to get to know social facts is by making them up or finding common ground or purely intersubjectively. There are observable and sometimes even measurable facts that are still social. But I also trying to defend social science in general in a comment thread here with someone I think is (no doubt with good reason, given his experience) hostile to the whole endeavour, at least as it’s now institutionalized, is a losing game.

        Part of mindful, compassionate conversation is knowing which topics you can’t fruitfully discuss with which people in which fora. I’d be happy to talk about ANYTHING with you in person, over coffee or beer. I am happy to talk about ANYTHING ELSE with you via written exchanges like this.

        • Roger,

          Really not wanting to uncharitably characterize your position, as I actually think we’re in vigorous agreement about most things. I’ve probably been assuming too much familiarity on your part with certain issues / debates that seem much more pronounced in North America. Didn’t mean to imply that your residing in Europe (and being European as well as North American) made your perspective less valid, or that I’m an expert on the North American context.

          We always have to decide for ourselves whether an instance of injustice is isolated, or representative of a larger trend. If isolated, it seems to warrant less urgency. If part of a trend, we want to circle the wagons and get our buddies on-side. That also explains my usage of the neologism “wokeism” (being an extension of “woke”). I’m well-aware of how awkward these terms are, and use them partly to convey the existence of a larger trend, one which evidence can be compiled to demonstrate to a concerning degree. But it is mostly North America I’m talking about. You Europeans do everything better!

          I don’t take you to be a staunch adherent of wokeism – in fact I don’t think most people who endorse / condone its excesses are staunch adherents. (Although there are definitely some sociopaths in positions of influence.) But I think most who support it are decent people committing an understandable error. They risk painting themselves into a corner by condoning the double standards that have emerged from – I don’t know, “conceptual overreach”? Too much screen time? Not enough history? I would even say that you, a veritable pillar of rationality, might just fail to see how obtuse some people can be when manifesting rational traits like support for equality, respect for the marginalized, etc. I’m not talking about courage, but intellectual laziness and cowardice.

          In my humble opinion, that applies not only to “whiteness” concepts, but a ton of contemporary “feminism” too. Actually, intersectionalism writ large is a disaster. (I would suggest “wokeism” to be the populist manifestation of “intersectionalism”, which is more for the university crowd.) But kids even at the grade school level are sometimes being taught it, and that should make your stomach turn. Mind-rape.

          I’m all for as nuanced and detailed an analysis as you like, and not in favor of convenient absolutisms. That’s my point about intellectual cowardice and laziness – resist it. I’ve paid for no less than three social science programs in my life (sociology, social work, and anthropology) – four if you count a philosophy program. Not classes, programs. Yes, we need sound social science, but like I said earlier, sometimes that means jettisoning the conceptual baggage, rather than being too invested in trying to rehabilitate it. It’s reproducing many of society’s most foul aspects. As a teacher, I guess you have to ask yourself whether a tool’s wider application in society can be separated from its in-class theoretical value. Right now it seems like more of a Frankenstein story. Who’s going to take responsibility for Frankenstein?

          • Don’t call me European, Brexit means Brexit. And, uh, NIexit I guess.

            (I confess didn’t realize until just before coming here & saying the contrary in front of some Irish friends: it’s “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, i.e., [Northern] Ireland isn’t part of Britain. So when our PM kept saying “Brexit means Brexit,” I thought… does that mean NI can remain? OTOH, part of the wacky identity stuff over here: a huge amount of the Protestant community here identifies as British, regardless of whether they’ve ever set foot on The Slightly Larger Island.)

            Anyway, Brussels can’t tell me what to do anymore. Nyah.

      • Hi Ian

        Thank you so much for that – I agree with Roger that we are all making useful progress closing in on our actual distinctions. I started on my response to Roger a couple of days ago, so most of my next attempt at adding clarity will be found below his piece – but in general I agree with you that the left here is in a very sorry state, and actively self-harming by denying this.

        Without wishing to seem too sweet or overly indulgent of feelings ;o)

        Roger – you are missing some signals that are beyond obvious to many people who are currently living in poverty in North America. Don’t be mad at Ian for being a bit impatient about that. We can all be clearer about contexts and limits to our arguments, but the extent to which recent disaster has been self-authored is a genuinely urgent matter.

        The thing about wrongly guessing someone else’s motivations and underlying thought is absolutely key to all of us trying to understand where we differ (which I try my best to be super clear about above).

        Here is what we have to remember – and I take this from my beyond-strained relationship with my father. Throughout my life, every time I ever heard something bad about him, I tried my best to make up some way he could have been thinking about the world, that would have made that bad thing okay.
        He has never failed to be highly offended by every one of these attempts.

        What I was trying to do in every case was extend my sympathy past a very challenging threshold – but he was offended because he judged my attempted moral bridge and peace offering as a botched character analysis!

        Here’s the crucial thing – on the most basic structural level, a lot of the critique from the academic left does exactly this thing you find so bothersome!

        Assuming that it can accurately judge a long history of overwhelmingly cruel intentions, simply by projecting backward from the victim side.

        • Never take as malice that which may be adequately explained as stupidity.

        Seriously – that is as rock-solid as the golden rule, or fairness is truly dead.

        Anyhow – I do love you guys. And I don’t judge differences between us as a moral failing on anyone’s part (except my own, for failing to convince).

        Here’s my working class hardcore arrogance in a nutshell – I am so confident that all of us have our hearts in the right place, that I feel sure we will all get closer to aware and effective as we watch and share insight over time.

        And yes, I mean I think I am right – but from a heart-centre, which takes several tricky feet of footnotes to connect properly with an academic argument (and several more still to get past the event horizon of post-modernism). ;o)

    • BTW – Didn’t mean to butt-in between you and Paul. I took your comments to be general howling at the moon, and I thought I’d howl back.

    • Hi Roger – thank you!

      A few points (I will think more and likely have others also – don’t mean to skip over anything important).

      First of all yes – I don’t mean to do that patronizing feel good nonsense trick of pretending away important distinctions. We absolutely can disagree in all sorts of ways and engage usefully on many subsets of our pursuit of insight. Also, bear in mind I am speaking to quite a few people at once, and I regard you as a more cerebral fellow, less nourished by that blended with hugs and acknowledgement than some others also dear to me – also, to be clear – none of you lovely guys from that cohort are included when I say “my younger friends”. Much as it freaks me out – I know you guys are all middle now – and I still have friends who are in their teens and twenties (and others in their seventies and eighties). Thanks to internet, these young folks have been robbed of deep historical context to a rare and tragic degree – but their hunger for understanding is outright exciting!

      Oversimplifying, our greatest point of difference is that I insist the working class itself, it’s self-awareness and interests together are incomparably more important than any theoretical model, no matter how well intended. So much so that I maintain that any mere theory which clearly objectively hurts them and their interests must be regarded as functionally defective – at least until it is better designed to respect ordinary decent people.

      Further, I think the fact that the left could not organize behind Corbyn or Sanders – and in the American case, even with staggering casualties, came within a couple of points of being beaten twice by a game-show host, is about the clearest possible signal anyone at any point on the left could have that ‘staying the course’ would be about as helpful and productive a strategy for us, as it was for W.

      Michael Moore saw it clearly, all along – the fury building by those left out of the neolib bribe, and also sideswiped culturally for nice bourgeoise dinner party jokes. The moment Hillary lost, many people began to act as if that was proof that fifty percent of the population was grossly sexist. Even though they already knew she was widely hated all across the country because her record reflected a shocking and consistent lack of principle.

      To find another secretary of state who went so far out of their way to add death and ruin to the world, you’d probably have to go all the way back to Hank Kissinger (who she has openly admired for decades). But of course, if you blindly repeat that there is no sound reason to oppose her, and all who do are evil, then suddenly, instead of seeing furious workers in open revolt against the rot of the corrupt ruling class, who should have and would have been your allies, if you had bothered to respect and understand them – you’re facing white privilege in jeopardy. Is making an enemy of so many people for no strategic gain at all really better than admitting we have something important to learn by humble observation and discussion, instead of high and mighty sanctimonious pronouncement. (to be clear, I don’t mean you – I mean the way current rhetoric reads to the middle).

      It is a wonderful construction of emotion, disbelief, panic, overreaction, auto-hypnosis and fantasy. It is also grotesquely and outright contemptuous of the working class. The apex of bourgeoise condescension.

      There are absolutely insane people on their side – ours also (and I’m not talking opinion, but witness – so while I understand you may disagree, this one could only be cured by getting out of the house and down to a really shitty pub more often!) ;o)

      But the idea that what is wrong with the world right now, is that the state doesn’t have enough power to restrain the will of individual men, who can all safely be assumed to be intent on causing harm and exploitation, goes way beyond paranoid, and right into the land of dangerous beyond belief. This mindset should make you unelectable for the same reason as Q Anon ought also. Too far from consensus reality to be allowed to share in navigation.

      The other day I sat down and listened to a long interview with Bertrand Russel from the fifties. I actually wept throughout the whole thing, out of gratitude for the intelligence, balance, perspective and weight of intention. Just as a really good stand up comic can give you all sorts of insight into ‘working a room’ – so Russell is a one man clinic on staggering intelligence and heart in combination – where the heart remained steadfast, but never once interfered with the rational perception and insight. (I add the context next for others reading along with us, and assume you know his bio even better than I).

      He was one of the most famous socialists in England just after the first world war, in the very earliest days of the Soviet state – and even though he had already written a book criticizing the exact errors they made (and predicting the exact disaster that resulted), the new Bolshevik leadership was desperate to get him to visit, so they could impress him.

      You could see the sadness in his face as he recalled it, more than thirty years later. His basic impression? They were horrible mean-spirited people, and already getting worse. He also said about Marx, that the underlying intention of the work was far more about causing pain to the bourgeoise, than it was about uplifting the proletariat.

      Later that same day I performed one of my most important mental exercises – looking for something really intelligent said by someone who I would ordinarily not listen to. Opposition research, in crudest terms – but also the only way to stay wise. Sometimes your team gets a consensus blind spot going, which cannot be effectively illuminated except by light reflected from outside.

      I came up with these – from a ninety year old black economist, who trained at the university of Chicago.

      • If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.
      • Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.
      • It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

      • Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.

      • The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.

      • People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

      • The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.

      • Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.

      • The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites.

      • There are only two ways of telling the complete truth – anonymously and posthumously.

      • Too much of what is called ’education’ is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.

      • It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance.

      The line about meetings will ring resoundingly true to anyone who has to sit through them often. Some of the other lines are considerably less obvious – but the evidence of wit and self-deprecation are commendable. Also worth mentioning, I talk at length to faculty as well as students – and you know how quickly I engage with genuine thought instead of trivial pleasantry – so my observations are an attempt to fairly synthesize watching (and gathering witness of) multi-decade changes in an especially practical community college and a specialized trade school as well as the presumably extreme culture of an art college. What you have to un-learn after school to become bench-useful, is especially important.

      Social science – OMG yes – if only we were talking about the version that used to have some awareness of and grounding in SCIENCE! Please, can we find a time machine and form a government with policy by Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Buckminster Fuller, Neal Postman, Julian Jaynes, Ursula K Le Guin, Doris Lessing etc. That would be lovely beyond compare. Heck, we could go a generation further back and get Ralph Bunche, Dag Hammarskjold, Einstein, Galbraith, Isiah Berlin, Lester Pearson (yes, in that league and so much for the moment his diplomatic work is almost greater than his also outstanding prime-ministership) and even pull in Alan Watts for avuncular grounding and some beats for, well – the part of the revolution we all have to be able to dance to.

      There will not ever be any immaculate fixed insight or critique – vitality is key, rather than Fukiyamic self-delusion (something which has been completely lost, in so many modern movements everywhere, which suborn rigour to self-congratulation). I have said elsewhere – static is dead – like a shark, knowledge or creative (and cultural) energy must constantly be on the move, seeking new oceans and devouring voraciously just to be alive!

      There is insufficient self-skepticism in the modern critique – and even more imbalance. White privilege is another way of discussing white guilt, which is not just a useful exercise for the middle classes, but their absolute obligation under noblesse oblige. But to suggest this is the most pressing priority for all is a projection derived from isolation. One of the most destructive things the boomers introduced was the idea that lives of other people weren’t our problem. (Roughly, middling voters went from feeling like lucky poor people, to ripped off rich people). Youth poverty has increased, just as apprenticeship and other forms of mastery transfer have dried up – ever increasing numbers are going without the development of their potential, and society without the benefit of their excellence.

      Externalities aren’t just corporate bottom line – but also intergenerational, and between all sorts of other groups – no question about it. The current hit parade on the left is emotionally exciting for both sides – it makes some feel angry and justified in despising people they have never met, and some scream and in extreme cases – buy guns. Have you ever been persuaded by someone who began their approach to you with an over-general insult, before they knew a single thing about who you actually were and what you cared about? I have yet to observe a single example of that producing anything but enmity. Nor have I ever met a leftie or right winger who fit the stereotype of the other. People are very complicated, and increasingly unaware even of their own true nature on a deep level – and so increasingly poor judges indeed of the character of others. Even psychology has now adopted a market driven productivity recovery model – to be most cost effective. The value of a human life has never been lower.

      The yearning is commendable because compassionate – and mostly about white liberal guilt, but the specific mechanism is bigotry – and has been since the beginnings of the political correctness movement. I know what abuse looks like, and I’ve seen way too many sadists abusing theoretical dogma to harm others, and thus create and energize a justified and embittered opposition (the symmetry with cruel nuns in fifties parochial schools driving a boom in sixties atheism is near perfect). There is no good bullying. Nor is there any helpful hating either, actually. If the tent was big enough we would have respect of the centre, not their mistrust, if not outright contempt. This is absolutely our fail – we can’t pull a Bob Rae and insist the policy was excellent, so people are stupid if they don’t get it. Because people really are SO stupid that I still run into teachers who are angrier at him for trying to save forty thousand jobs than they are at Harris, who swung a far heavier axe and did lasting structural damage to education itself. Communication isn’t optional, and being right is almost irrelevant. If we transmit a message that tells the uneducated we don’t like white people, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in opposition. Denying we have any part of this relationship is either naive or dishonest (varies from case to case – usually by romantic or rational disposition). As you say – we do actually have a wealth within the social sciences – and we ignore it rigorously to our misfortune and discredit.

      Is politics an entertainment product (using our emotions as the ‘set’ being ‘tuned in’) – or is it about getting stuff done?

      Please – if you have found some way of watching Boris Johnson on the news that makes you feel “by golly the left is really winning the fight now, we got ’em on the ropes!” I would honestly love to hear it. Alternatively, if it’s Tantra or single malt getting you through – do specify (we can all use happifying tips in every category, these days).

      In the meantime, since the call is repeated from many and is self-evidently worthwhile, I will keep working on my corner of the left right Truth and Reconciliation project to make the tent bigger and more inviting for those not yet convinced, by making sure there is one place where social freedoms and progress are discussed which doesn’t make constant recourse to a group reductionist insult, to characterize any and all opposition. (not even reciprocally – because the anti culture idiots and maniacs of both sides win every time on the low road).

      This last bit is a bit harsh – pretend I’m your Brunswick House Trotskyist friend, to down-weight it appropriately.

      The vanguard are not supposed to look at the workers and say

      “Kneel, look inward and be ashamed of your basic nature, the virtuous are those who obey their betters.”

      The vanguard is supposed to look at the workers and say


      (Imho, anyhow)

      Cheers dude. Really appreciate the engagement.
      Hearts in sympathy, minds in flux (that is, alive) = mutually growthful. Grazie!

      • Hi Paul—thanks as always for all of this! Just a few responses.

        One: You write, “Oversimplifying, our greatest point of difference is that I insist the working class itself, it’s self-awareness and interests together are incomparably more important than any theoretical model, no matter how well intended. So much so that I maintain that any mere theory which clearly objectively hurts them and their interests must be regarded as functionally defective – at least until it is better designed to respect ordinary decent people.”

        This can’t be our greatest point of difference, because I don’t disagree at all! Maybe my response to your last “harsh” bit will explain. I have NOT been defending anyone telling the workers to look inward and be ashamed, I’ve been trying to argue that (although I believe you’ve witnessed exceptions) the broad left has not been saying this! More specifically: that’s not what “white privilege” does, either in theory or in typical practice. I get that you disagree, but I haven’t heard any reason to think you’re right except that you’ve witnessed it, or Ian’s insistence that, no, “privilege” is all about tearing people down.

        In other words: I think where we disagree is over whether “white privilege” does, as you say, “clearly objectively hurt” working class people and their interests.

        Two: I think you’re moving incredibly quickly from arguments about one corner of the lefty world to claims about electoral failure on the largest scales possible. Of course the success of Johnson and Trump and Brexit are incredibly worrying, but it is NOT obvious that these happened because of… well, because of any one thing. It certainly is not obvious that they happened entirely because of the left, much less the part of the left you both dislike.

        Three: I’m not sure what to make of this. You write, “White privilege is another way of discussing white guilt, which is not just a useful exercise for the middle classes, but their absolute obligation under noblesse oblige. But to suggest this is the most pressing priority for all is a projection derived from isolation.”

        I don’t think the first part is right—discussion of privilege needn’t be about guilt. But more importantly, I don’t know who’s seriously suggesting this is the most pressing priority for all! I’d be with you in rejecting that idea. File this one again under: I think we agree about the conditional judgment “IF you’re doing this, THEN you’re doing things wrong”, but we disagree about how common it is to do that bad thing.

        Four: You write, “If we transmit a message that tells the uneducated we don’t like white people, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in opposition.”

        I agree, of course. Let me try a response I gave previously, this time along with my response to the response from last time.

        My response to this: (a) that’s not our message; (b) there is no possible way to avoid saying something that can be portrayed as “we don’t like white people” short of just plain not talking about race—which in my view is a non-starter.

        Objection: (b) could only be true if you think the right are all wicked racist monsters, which they aren’t!

        Reply: I don’t think the right are any wickeder or more monstrous than the left. But, on a big enough scale, the stakes are high and the pockets are deep (on both sides!), and any decent campaigner who can afford a handful of focus groups will distort the other side’s message. We cannot muzzle ourselves in the face of possible distortion; instead we need to get out and fight the disinformation. Note: that’s not the same thing as just saying “it’s their fault for misunderstanding” and staying in our ivory towers.

        Five: You write, “Please – if you have found some way of watching Boris Johnson on the news that makes you feel `by golly the left is really winning the fight now, we got ’em on the ropes!’ I would honestly love to hear it.”

        That’s not the kind of optimism I’m offering. I’m not saying we’re close to winning elections, I’m saying I don’t think we have the failings you’re pointing out, at least not on a large scale. (But while we’re talking UK politics: I actually don’t think Corbyn is a good comparison for Sanders. The failure to get behind Sanders is truly tragic—but at least he’s had an impact on the mainstream Democratic platform. Corbyn, on the other hand, had LOTS of problems aside from his leftiness.)

        Six: Is politics about getting stuff done? Of course! I think where we fundamentally disagree is over how many other people agree with us about this. (This is why I suggested the Politically Re-Active podcast to you on Facebook the other day: they regularly interview people actually doing the work.) If that question can’t be settled except by people currently in North America, I guess I’ll just stop here—not every conversation has to include me! Apologies if I’ve tried your patience. I’ll just conclude by agreeing wholeheartedly with this:

        “[…] I am so confident that all of us have our hearts in the right place, that I feel sure we will all get closer to aware and effective as we watch and share insight over time.”

        PS: I’m actually somewhat familiar with Sowell! I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear I’m not a fan overall—but he sure is quotable. And correct about meetings—especially meetings of academics, who are used to being praised for the oh-so-clever things they say when they raise their hand in class. Remember, kids: the correct answer to “does anyone have any last questions?” is silence.

        PPS: One of the things I genuinely appreciate about Russell, but which can make him frustrating to study, is how willing he was to change his mind. (And over 90 years, he had time to do it a bunch.) He spent the last decades of his life focussed on nuclear disarmament—but immediately after WWII he was all NUKE THE REDS BEFORE THEY GET THEIR OWN BOMB!!!

  3. Oh – and WRT colonization, my point suffered for excessive brevity. I didn’t mean to say the public explicity demanded colonization – but rather that had popular outrage not kicked in the door and first sent in the troops to “Do good” all of the follow on evils which can rightly be attributed to racism, imperialism and capital would have been impossible. Democratic citizens must not plead serfdom as an excuse, but accept their measure of responsibility also. (original sin has some rigour, despite my instinctive revulsion) ;o)

    • Fair enough! I figured I was just getting confused by the brevity of the point. Thanks for the further explanation.

      • Hi Roger – I owe you one further clarification (sorry I left it so long, been thinking it for yonks). I characterized you as leading with brain over heart, then also suggested a split in misunderstanding came down to sentimental or dishonest. To be super clear, while I do (perhaps unfairly) think you lead cerebrally, I also think your heart is absolutely in the right place, and that your error (WRT divergence from my own resplendantly immaculate positions in all things) is sentimental – characterizing our infamous n+1 people variables as being more likeable and also thinking more like you than my (reluctant) observations suggest. Not chicken-shitting about our legit differences – just didn’t want to insult you unintentionally, as part of a sloppy-wide swing (and perhaps a miss). Cheers man. Loved your lectures today – will imbibe more soon! (Whole darned course looks cool to me – and the next level stuff even more so!)

        • Hey, no worries, Paul! I do think we’ve reached an “agree to disagree” impasse, but no hard feelings, honestly.

  4. Hey Paul and all – some further reflections. A lot of these issues are actually much more nuanced than we assume, and go far beyond the identity politics stuff. I still think Roger has mis-read me as being far too dismissive of that (or anti-oppression approaches in general). The baby-bathwater defense would stand, but that bathwater is SO dirty that the baby will need to be hosed down. That said, Paul is bang-on about the neocolonial white guilt stuff. And the fundamental point about human dignity, empathy, and communicative rationality.

    It bears mentioning is that many critics of political correctness argue that it is “illiberal” – inimical to our foundational western institutions, Enlightenment values, etc. They aren’t often saying that it is opposed to “leftist” ends or selling out the working class, etc. – although they do say it’s part of an agenda on the part of “elites” to misrepresent and exploit the working class; they just aren’t necessarily opposed to elites per se, or exploiting the working class per se. This angle has been used by everyone from moderate contrarian (i.e. introvert?) liberals to Qanon Trumptards, to either emphasize the importance of certain endangered institutions or to add weight to their argument for more dictatorial power / less democracy. Resenting the misrepresentation, more partisan Democrat liberals have doubled-down on this approach. I think their reasoning is 1) foundational western institutions and Enlightenment values aren’t under attack – that’s just fear-mongering from the right, and 2) more “inclusion” is always good and = more democracy. Also 3) as neoliberalism has increased in complexity, a certain kafkaesque absurdity becomes normalized and the inclination to ask questions takes a back seat to the inclination to maintain employment. Everything changes so fast!

    Although somewhat conservative figures like Jordan Peterson (who still identifies as a “classical liberal”, and would be in agreement with the Liberal Party policies except for equity / identity politics stuff) don’t put it in these terms, it’s what they’re driving at, and a large part of their appeal. But there’s an important difference between taking on the idiots in the anthropology department and offering a vision to solve the world’s problems (of which they, like idiots in general, are only a subset of). Even if you can convincingly argue that said idiots are doing great damage, it’s too convenient, too much of a cop-out and an apology for the status quo. In that sense, Peterson is illustrative of a possible pitfall I’m referring to: when courage lapses into tribalism. As Paul might put it, it loses much of its dynamism. (Roger and I have discussed before whether, or to what degree, Peterson’s more paranoid words or actions might have been justified by his ordeal. And in general Roger’s correct that Peterson made an ass of himself.)

    After all, there’s now a substantial “anti-woke” counterculture (in the US and some of Europe, as far as I know). The irony is, this isn’t really a “counter”-culture at all. In a sense, it’s pro-status quo. Because we’re talking about a “culture war”, both sides feel that they have a stake in the mainstream society. Probably due to the internet and social media, perhaps even outright propaganda and manipulation along those channels. (“Bubbles” are a normal and natural part of social and intellectual life. No one should assume that they have a bubble-free perspective, or can rigorously account for everyone else’s bubbles.)

    Quillette is journalism that is occasionally too contrarian for its own good. Not sensationalist, but it’s hard to take some articles seriously, and not wonder if they aren’t included mainly for the sake of getting more grouchy conservative readers. Heterodox Academy is an academically-oriented (but also publicly oriented) organization, that doesn’t need to have the air of pugnacious contrarianism about it, because they credibly cast themselves as valuing “intellectual honesty” and “inquiry” and other sunny, non-confrontational ideals like that. And they have enough talent among them to pull that off. Maybe it’s just the design of their website and skill at proofreading, but they have an air of credibility about them.

    When some of these critics talk about “liberalism”, they’re referring explicitly to many intellectual traditions and social institutions, and, implicitly, to colonialism. I think the historical point about European colonialism paints a picture that is strikingly analogous to the role played by identity politics today in normalizing the present-day colonial relations of capitalism. Selling them, to all sides, with pity.

    I’m slightly amused to see Paul dropping Thomas Sowell quotes, only because I’ve seen right-wingers use them so much over the past couple years. This is illustrative of the ambiguity to which I was referring. I figured right-wingers posting him were doing so largely because he’s a witty critic of socialism and apologist for the economic order. His quotes fit nicely inside Twitter’s character limit. The fact that he’s a scholarly black man also gives their propaganda credibility and pre-empts charges of racism.

    You also talked about an abdication of responsibility / abandonment of others that accompanied modern individualism. In various ways that I won’t unpack here, some aspects of radical feminism have played a role in making indifference a fashionable necessity and performative empathy routine. Think “public sphere taking precedence over the domestic sphere, long-term”, and “the economic necessities of enhanced immigrant relations”. Oops I guess I just unpacked it.
    In ethical terms, we see that the impulse of many individuals to re-establish lost or destabilized group affiliations leads to an awkward situation, wherein they occasionally attempt to elevate themselves while blaming an out-group (a largely emotion-driven ritual), even while most in-group members actually want to remain somewhat free and so can’t quite believe the exaggerated caricatures of either group. The biggest promulgators of the blame narratives, as we see with anti-white rhetoric, comes from whites themselves expressing guilt over colonialism, past and present. And this is itself a manifestation of (often self-indulgent) individualism. Presumably this would be the appropriate usage of terminology like “white privilege / fragility”, had Robin DiAngelo not forever suffocated those words of all life. (But that other lady – McDonald? McKinnon? – makes some good points.)

    Despite any negative consequences of White Fragility being a bestseller in North America, is the world ultimately better off for legions of whites having read it, as opposed to reading something else, or taking up crochet, or masturbating a little more? I suppose now they can say they’ve read it, and agree with this or that point in it. Maybe that it helped them reflect on this and that. Some might even admit, with head bowed, that they have discovered some old Dr. Seuss books stashed away in the attic of their psyche, and are doing their best to overcome that sin. And they’ll vote for Joe Biden (which they would have done anyway), and life will go on. A return to normalcy.

    Chris was right about something on an earlier FB thread. There’s no “left” per se. Why do we self-identified leftists sometimes think that there’s a true leftism, and once it’s established we’ll be able to persuade others of its legitimacy? Look around – people often don’t have a clue what they believe themselves. They’re liberal about this and conservative about that, maybe quite radical about something else. (I’m in favor of a comprehensive ban on leaf-blowers. A position my neighbour has brought me round to.) They oscillate back and forth regularly, contradict themselves, change like chameleons of cognitive dissonance. They aren’t used to holding themselves to a high standard of consistency the way that those with intellectual pretensions are – and even we fail, regularly. Indeed, we fail in ways more subtle and insidious. We build up systems of “analysis” that ossify into belief systems. We end up committing to nothing but our own bohemian brand of smug hypocrisy.

    This is crucial to understanding liberalism. The common man doesn’t want revolution. She largely believes that basic morality is holding society together. That’s the main social contract. But here in North America the common man also thinks that if he keeps his head down and behaves himself, he’ll “make it”. And the extent of this latter assumption entails that morality in the general society takes on a false character. It is bargained, tentative, negotiable. For sale. It has market value, and hence, so do people. We’re victims of our own prosperity in a way that Europeans aren’t. (And they have nice nude beaches – all we have is Hanlan’s Point clothing optional beach.) Admittedly this is a cultural generalization and there are many exceptions, but I’m trying to elucidate how North Americans conceive of, and enact, our freedoms and rights. Europeans were talking about mass man / last man well over a century ago, and then Europe had much of its population ravaged by two world wars. America did not. America had pragmatism, a hugely influential strain of philosophy that is considered a distinctly American invention and often derided for its moral relativism (see figures like William James, John Dewey and Richard Rorty), and it also had an absurd amount of resource wealth, described metaphorically in Nabokov’s Lolita as virginal and there for the taking.

    So, in a manner of speaking, everyone got rich. Society got rich. That mythology about the pioneering spirit, and later the entrepreneurial spirit, would eventually portray even the likes of Donald Trump as relatable – someone who, by attending to only his own interests, was doing it the right way. That’s the ahistorical “impulse to negation” described in the quote above. There’s no reality – if there were, there would have to be history, and history’s a drag. Too much accountability, not enough “freedom”. We’re the good guys, so eventually the wealth will make its way to you. Just be patient.

    So, through the lens of liberal ascendancy, revolution is a non-starter. Mass man has not chosen conservatism, he is simply incapable of revolution. Again, different story in Europe.

    Gasset seems like an interesting thinker, and I’ll have to check out more of him. Apparently he was influenced by Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill, who have struck me, ever since I first read them about 10 years ago, as being the most influential philosophers of the modern west (and even the world). Maybe it was just the persuasiveness of their arguments, but this surmise is confirmed regularly. Of course, much of this influence is unconscious, and relatively few engage with them critically. Mass man, analogous to what Nietzsche called “last man”, is a familiar character to us today, despite his emboldened alienation and conspicuous anonymity. Perhaps his most distinct expression is the enraged online ranter, every missive a missile, one whose belief in false promises, and regular dialogue with cowardly imbeciles, has brought them to the end of their patience. It is as though rage has already robbed them of a bodily existence.

    Nihilism. Disappointment and indignation is important – and inevitable – but unproductive if it leads to a paralyzing excess of shame. Spontaneous inspiration – even of the freewheeling, experimental sort – is also vital, but not if it’s hijacked by careerism and outsized egos. And to some extent, the proper study and appreciation of history (or if you prefer, histories) is a vaccination against this plague of despair. Not because history reveals a particular truth that is set in stone – history has itself shown this idea to be its own nihilism at times – but because it reveals the truth of its own existence, a story independent of, and yet connected to, personal experience.

    Yet I see much of modernity as being simply an acceleration and accentuation of individualism. This is not “good” or “bad”, but a mixed bag. Some of it crass, some of it blessed; some of it an indignity, some of it dignity itself. I don’t think we’ve “abolished history”, but it has become more individualized, and certainly its narrative authorities have been decentered. (This gets into so much stuff about media and education, which is changing rapidly.) At this level of complexity, who offers credible narrative interpretation? Do we resolve this by installing a new authority, or exploring new ways of self-actualizing?

    The mainstream press is going to be promulgating the notion of their indispensability more because we’re now in “the era of fake news”. And this will rely on the assumption that civil societies around the world are inherently weak and backward, and tend towards fascistic narratives. Hence the “defenders of democracy” are, often unconsciously, expressing imperialist ideology. They will not only exaggerate the extent of people’s willingness to believe lies, they will be completely blind to that tendency among those who support their worldview. They’ll make exceptions for their falsehoods. That’s the problem with thinking that “we” believe in truth, while “they” believe in something else entirely.

  5. Couple further things that are causally connected in some way to your piece.

    We see that there is some tension between the idea of community and the “commune”, the former being considered natural and good, the latter a contrivance and a denial of some fundamental aspect of modern life. (Sociologists have called such organizations / movements “anti-modernist” exactly because of their oppositional formulation). None of this is to say that we don’t need to radically re-envision our entire species’ ways of life on this planet, and get past re-envisioning to implementation as fast as possible. (Without actually stopping that re-envisioning.) As you put it, a wide consensus on core issues, plainly articulated, is necessary.

    The challenge is that many have been very good at adapting their intellectual understanding of those issues to their habitual participation in a fundamentally fucked-up system. The point about community – why it seems not to go far enough in securing meaningful change and support for all its members – is the existence of that noxious normalcy that is conflict-averse by its very nature.

    A friend of mine recently introduced me to Charlie Brooker’s “How T.V. Ruined Your Life”. Funny and insightful. It seems it can’t be pointed out often enough that mass media perpetuates fear. We don’t have fear simply because the world’s a scawy pwace – it’s due largely to the messages and imagery we’ve been bombarded with for decades on end, fired at us through screens big and small. This not only leads people to act stupidly, but it further isolates us from one another. Our addiction to these narratives (of extreme danger / rescue / absolute safety) are a sure recipe for alienation. The powers that be are okay with this because it re-enforces an unhealthy dependency on the state (especially police and prisons), and on work, and unhealthy habits of consumption to fill the spiritual void.

    (This doesn’t mean I support abolition of either police or jails – these are maximalist claims made by some regarding deeply unjust applications of those institutions, probably in order to get any improvement at all. I share their outrage, but not their conclusions.)

    Meanwhile, on social media, many seem to desire an unhealthy absence of risk – in other words, they want things “safe”. It’s true that we all do want safety and mutual support. The question is whether you can reasonably ask and expect the world to just magically give it to you. It takes work. That’s where the social dynamics come in. We need to recognize that we live in communities, so we can build the communities we want. That requires both a compelling vision and a clear-eyed view of reality (and the latter can’t view anyone’s existence as obstacles to change).

    Over the past several months, I have read many reflections on how the pandemic has changed people’s perspectives – about our collective helplessness (in the cosmic sense), our interconnectedness and interdependence, everyday acts of heroism and selfish irresponsibility, and the implacable inequities that ultimately impact all but a thin minority of people. We’ve been constantly reminded of how learning curves relate to case count curves. And also of huge importance: never have so many in the more affluent societies of the world done so little shopping. Sure there’s more online shopping, but overall I think we’ve seen a shift away from materialism, toward thinking about what matters most – real security, really looking out for each other in the face of unprecedented challenges. Staying home.

    You might even say, real community. But NOT in the sense of a return to the familiar oblivion of normalcy. Rather, in the sense of a healthy and healing condition of real peace and wakefulness, where we take note of what is important and discuss it accordingly, without being hijacked by cynical careerists (…I mean “experts”).

    These are all hopes I’ve seen expressed, and while the pandemic may not be the watershed event that some idealists hope (as much out of exasperation as anything, like an act of God delivering us from the apocalyptic worldview of the Trumpist types), you can see why we are wary of the yearning for a return to normalcy. The irony is, that also applies to the new Biden administration.

  6. Hi Roger, Hi Ian

    Thank you guys both sincerely for spirited intelligent engagement! Sorry to let my response get stale – been AFK for a few days (Mrs’ very sensible orders) resting brain and carpals.

    So funny that you mention Peterson, Ian – and so strange how he is commonly used as a cipher for a whole complex of beliefs, most of which he doesn’t have! Some of the objective subjective imbalance shows here, quite clearly (to me).

    Ian – you raise a great point about the cultural situation we are in – and Roger, you will of course be looking at other more local sense-data more closely, and also trying to observe our situation through the (truly ridiculously horrible) media, which you know has been substantially problematic for decades (and is worse now by orders of magnitude). BTW – did you guys catch Adam Curtis’ (in his own words, “Short and possibly unfair”) takedown of modern journalism? Exquisite (and justly deserved) bile, if ever there was!

    The reason I think Peterson important has nothing to do with his particular notoriety, but the fact that he’s the only notable public figure talking a lot about Jung. Since Jung’s insights happen to be supremely relevant to this moment, I am grateful that he has offered so many hours of eloquence on the subject – and several others which are also fertile for modern delving.

    He’s about as good on some other points as Caravaggio was as a tennis partner – but since I judge him as a human being, this is unsurprising (especially because his emotional situation has been so weird and intense for a few years). The whole thing of looking for fault within the arc of a life is a fool’s game, and misunderstands human beings fundamentally. As you say, Roger – Russell also said some ridiculous things (don’t mean to suggest they are in the same class, but) thankfully, these were not subtracted from his extraordinary contributions, but rather showed us that he too was human, rather than paragon or product – to be criticized on any available grounds, for all deviations from optimal consumption characteristics.

    My most crucial point about the current mistakes of the frighteningly Manichaean left is that the “My shit don’t smell” side of it (denial, but with added snark and hypocrisy) really does now represents the brand to many in the middle – and this is pure rocket fuel for the right. Self-harm through (primarily spiritual) ignorance. Only we can (and we must) change this.

    The way I jump to election from that would probably seem easier to link if you had personally felt the panic here, immediately following the election – when comfortable middle-classers attacked the character of what were clearly disaffected workers with terrifying venom. Many still refuse to accept that a lot of Trump’s support remains negative – they love how much he punishes the smug lying neolib jerks, and even more how he makes them freak out. Like Harris – he’s a superb ‘screw them’ to urbanites – and for a lot of voters, that’s the best fun they were offered with that set of levers in years. Absent hope, why not? (to some)

    As long as there is any meat at all to his criticisms, we’re helping him (and the ilk in general). Simple as. (and there is).

    Where I sound strident, it is because we cannot correct such things without recognizing them, and we’re not having these discussions the way we should, because critique is so frequently taken with hostility and as disloyalty, rather than completely necessary course-correction feedback. (Again, emotional subjective ‘betrayal’ – instead of sound rational – the navigator needs ALL the data, especially that which is least pleasant to hear).

    Yes Ian, I am completely sure I would hate Sowell’s economic work with a deep and abiding passion – but for twitter, he’s Caravaggio with a paintbrush, not a tennis racket! He’s also smart and well motivated to smack the smugness down.

    There is also a lot to be said for an outsider perspective – and he earned that honestly. Chicago school of economics produced a lot of people who did economic damage – but while I despise every economic paper Hayek ever wrote, “The Road to Serfdom” still contains important arguments so powerful that one read of that book destroyed a friend’s lifelong belief in scientific socialism (and I mean in his sixties). Nothing like knocking our own corners off, to promote further evolutions of understanding – and oppo-research frequently uncovers such catalysts and solvents.

    Heard Greenwald today interviewed about politics. He was quite frank about starting off thinking America was a force for good in the world, and the democrats legitimate progressives – but his thinking changed. He still thinks America is a good place to live for Americans, but not that it is a good country, in terms of the dishonest and violent way it behaves in the world.

    To paraphrase “You have to move away from the US before you really understand how bizarre it is to live in a country where you can wake up and read in the morning paper that you bombed someone you aren’t even at war with – and not even think anything is out of the ordinary.”

    I know he’s made some appearances on right wing television which, like Peterson’s least well prepared ideas, quote badly – but I am sincerely convinced that the man despises war to the core of his being, and hypocrisy almost as much. That is a good guy to me – albeit a reckless one.

    His confrontation of Bolsonaro especially, makes any temptation to label him a right winger ring hollow. A man who will risk his life to tell truth and bring down warmongers and fascists deserves a better label. (His husband replaced the only sitting member of Brazilian parliament who was openly gay, after he was assassinated for it – and they both have constant serious death threats – and yet do not back down – a level of challenge none of have faced, and few would be capable of meeting, let alone with a smile).

    Anyhow – Mrs was right, I did need a bit of a recharge break – but I’m really impatient again now (usually a sign my subconscious creative hopper is getting full to bursting). Several new ideas, one for a new book, and two of which I can’t even decide on a format for (movie, article or podcast). And more music is called for, even before that!

    I will definitely be carrying forward your input as I craft my next podcast – I can’t thank you guys enough for making me think and work harder. Super precious – and I appreciate your duelling etiquette even more. It is nice to be able to lace up the gloves for some helpful sparring, and know with confidence that we’ll all leave the ring smiling and go for a (sadly metaphorical) pint afterward.

    Intelligence contention and good will are an intoxicating combo, no? Excellent thing to represent, also.

    Love and hugs to you both. (and tantra and single malt also, should they be so gracious as to present).

    PS – and wow-yes Ian – from the moment I read my first essay by John Stuart Mill I felt like I’d discovered the kind and brilliant uncle that everyone else I really liked, was already fantastic friends with! (they really do not make many of those).

  7. I just read Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, a book that Mr. Snyders has highly recommended at least once on this site. For its scope and relevance to today’s most pressing issues, I highly recommend it. (It’s also a quick read at about 80 pages.) I was surprised at how relevant it is to the foregoing discussion(s), and wonder why Paul wasn’t spreading the gospel of Lessing more. Not because she offers answers – I don’t think she does, despite alluding to them – but because of the ambiguities evoked by her thinking. She articulates a confusion rather than offering answers, or even coherent suggestions. But the confusion is important.

    I always find it a bit problematic to read authors’ sweeping generalizations about man’s alienation, man’s search for meaning, man’s propensity for false belief and delusion and denial, etc. Of course, the insights of figures like Lessing, Erich Fromm, and Paul Snyders are of inestimable value and warrant regular revisiting, to inspire active citizenship in a civilization every bit as broken as it is blessed. The word of caution (or self-awareness) that I want to offer is that we should be wary of anyone’s claim to have the answers, or for the answers to even exist. We spend so much time diagnosing social ills (and their correlations with individual illnesses) that we assume the answer – the cure, so to speak – is somewhere close by. And indeed, modernity has granted us unprecedented information, historical perspective, communication networks, educational insights, and even the capacity to coordinate investments so as to implement solutions and accurately evaluate their efficacy, and it appears that broad-based progress should be within our reach. The thesis of Lessing’s book is basically that the costs of not trying are sure to be greater than those of trying. What, then, are we waiting for?

    Thankfully, her work cuts to the core of the cloud of confusion (or if you prefer, the cloud of complete and utter certainty) surrounding political correctness in liberal western society. She says, almost outright, that brainwashing techniques are used by unsavoury characters all over the world, people who feel no moral compunction about manipulating their fellow-citizens, and using them as means to their own selfish ends – why not use those techniques (or at least the “insights”) for good and create a better world? She says that those in the social sciences and humanities often don’t have the appetite for it, that they prefer to continue taking the high road. I mean, who wouldn’t?

    I’m paraphrasing, of course, and like I say, I was struck by how ambiguous it is in today’s context. Because today it isn’t clear who is being “principled” and who is being “pragmatic”. (Which road is the high one, again?) It also isn’t clear who’s looking through an appropriately historical lens and being cautious about extremism, and who is taking a distinctly “modern” view and throwing caution to the wind, not letting the horrors of the past cast a cloud over the recognition of our true and essential shared humanity. (By temperament, I lean more toward the latter. Not because I don’t think humans are capable of awfulness, but because I know when we have things relatively good and should act like it. The historical lens can be as celebratory as it is cautionary.)
    Lessing was only indirectly talking about freedom of speech, inclusion, multiculturalism and so on. But she was talking about the relationship between knowledge and authority, and advising that civil society be more mindful of this relationship, so that truth could be properly democratized. (Whenever a particular group tries to monopolize truth, democratic civil society is endangered.) Today we see in the advocacy fields an attempt at such a monopoly, framed as “empowerment” and inclusion in a particular notion of civil society – one that does not reflect people’s actual lives or a viable future. It is being undertaken to incorporate people into neoliberal capitalism – in short, to better exploit them. To adapt them to the demands of a very sick society, in the guise of rescuing them.

    The foremost misconception is that inequality is itself equal to injustice, or a manifestation of injustice. It certainly can be indicative of injustice; indeed it is part of the definition of injustice. And perhaps this leads some to conclude that instituting equality (whether completely or in a piecemeal way) will mitigate injustice altogether going forward. Whatever one may want to say about the intent behind such efforts, they are naïve for a couple of reasons. First, measures of equality are often arbitrary, or embody many arbitrary assumptions – which in fact may arise from the same conditions that created the inequality in the first place. This is a more complex point that I’ll try to expand on later. The second problem with this reasoning is that injustice may be tolerated when committed against anyone seeming to benefit from the prevailing inequality – which, for purposes of universal implementation, usually boils down to comparisons among members of definable groups, or “identities”. If the pre-existing inequality seems bad enough, then injustice (antagonism, ostracism, firing – something beyond merely insulting behaviour) committed against a benefactor of it seems justified – even, sometimes, to said benefactor – and hence it may be argued is no injustice at all. And yet this overlooks the fact that other members of said “privileged” category might not agree or consent to any such measures. One person’s felt guilt does not entail anyone else’s actual guilt. Yet some will want to argue that members of oppressed groups are profiled (oppressed on the basis of their identifiable group category), and that the only way to rectify that is by undertaking profiling measures against those who had not previously suffered them – who in fact had benefitted from them.

    Perhaps talk of “white privilege” / generalizations about “whiteness” makes some sense if we say: Let’s, for the sake of discussion, assume that people are mature and strong. Don’t abuse them, but don’t coddle them either. Don’t mince words. Present them with categories that they may find unsettling, even insulting. (After all, as proponents of free speech always ask: where is it written that anyone has the right not to be insulted or offended?) If we as teachers regard the issues addressed as genuinely urgent, then we must have faith that our pupils will not be wounded by an approach that may seem impetuous. For it is only impetuous if the damage done is not acceptable in light of the urgency of the matter at hand. Put simply, we must demarcate an acceptable level of collateral damage. This is what it means to be activists, rather than teachers in the old, staid sense of simply “preparing” students for living within the bounds of the status quo.

    That all may seem absurd, but I think it’s the correct characterization of political correctness in North America right now. If we take as our premise (as some do) that the contemporary United States (and the west as a whole) has aspects of it that are similar to apartheid or segregation, then we need to take bold steps to shake people out of their complacency. This is true, but requires nuance. It is necessary to make key distinctions between related, but distinct concepts. 1) “Political correctness” in the broad, social sense. Socially aware etiquette, some of which will always be about virtue signaling but is also about preventing unintended harm in an ethnically diverse context. This is the innocuous (although almost always pejorative) sense of “political correctness” – at worst, a nuisance to be put up with. 2) “Critical Race Theory” and intersectionalism, terms encompassing academically-influenced strains of policy and programming that use “whiteness” and “maleness” as the hegemonic / dominant cultural groups (or subcultures) against which all moral judgements and social progress should be measured. 3) “Anti-oppressive” concepts and methodologies, which often include (2) but are often intended for application in social / community work settings. They are more routinized and professionalized, and often an aspect of training for specific jobs.

    In my opinion, anti-oppressive approaches are sometimes justified and good, but are too often undertaken irresponsibly, probably because of undue influences of (1) and (2). Put simply, their value depends on the context of their application and the attitudes of their practitioners, and there’s a wide variance in outcomes. Perhaps the most genuinely anti-oppressive approach would not allow intent to determine how we evaluate outcome. I mean, isn’t that the point? How do we get from there, to: “You may not intend to be a bigot, but you are”? Mental contortionism.

    (1) is also sometimes good, but is more of an aspect of culture and upbringing, which are hard to account for or control, even though they are always with us. People have to evolve, and sometimes that takes generations. Saying that people evolve at their own pace doesn’t preclude activism, it just recognizes its limits, and that activists themselves evolve with, rather than determining the standard for others to evolve into. If that seems like a mealy-mouthed platitude, have a look at (2). Plenty of room for evolution there.

    Key to Lessing’s argument is that many of “those who say they oppose tyranny literally don’t want to know” (p. 62). But I don’t think it’s that people don’t want to know, it’s that they often don’t want deterministic social science modelling to reduce them – their experiences, their perspectives, their motivations – to something inconsequential in a calculus. To rob their lives of meaning and dignity. Those who are okay with that are performing an act of submission. And we wouldn’t regard it as just for anyone to do so without extensive deliberation – still less for anyone to demand it of others, based only on their own deliberation.

    It’s always funny to see a writer talk about how negative the mass media is – in 1986. The fear-mongering of first world programming has been and continues to be pure poison. As is the sensationalistic moralizing that goes with it, a close corollary of which is the rhetoric of political correctness (which has roots back in the 80’s) and the modern advocacy industry, whose varied roots include: the Christian social gospel movement, the UN Convention on Human Rights and group rights theory (see things like multiculturalism, affirmative action, etc.), anti-oppressive approaches in social work, academic sociology, etc.

    But throw in three other factors – income insecurity leading to family breakdown and millions of emotionally neglected children, a grotesquely thriving pharmaceutical industry, and social media – and you have a recipe for robothood. People need to realize, this stuff isn’t just naturally in the bloodstream of human society – it has origins directly connected to the same machine that’s tearing everything apart.

    Point being, it isn’t necessary to drill too far down into the social science – just be honest about reality. Reject obfuscation. (Indeed, that’s part of the superficial appeal of some “theories” like intersectionalism. The old magic trick where you conflate cynicism with truth.) We may have done just about enough research for now. The conversations and analyses are interesting and edifying, but let’s not allow ourselves to be so mystified. Maybe that’s what Doris was driving at.

    Something else I gleaned from the book is a principle I think especially pertinent to the conversations we have been having: Just because an idea or insight about the human condition or human nature is abused / misused should not prejudice us against it.

    There are so many places we can and should remember this, and remind one another accordingly. To this I would add that we should nevertheless be humble and, in the scientific sense, tentative about our conclusions. That’s always been what science means to me – a way of self-actualizing and being more ourselves, more natural (or in-tune with nature), not more artificial. And knowledge is an artifice. (Although some epistemologists could probably tear that statement a new one.) When suspicion makes an appearance and we are cautioned about the evil of human nature that must be held in check, I think we have taken a wrong turn somewhere. And this isn’t because I’m naïve or misinformed about the real trauma and destruction that humans inflict on each other, and condone, every day. I just haven’t lost my sense of humour. A ton of that destruction is done in the pursuit of the good; and sometimes the only good result of these efforts is a good laugh.

    There is always the possibility that will or intention is the missing ingredient in making our theories or belief systems work. (Or at least a necessary ingredient.) Get everyone on the same page. Trust the experts. Look at the empirical evidence. Do the research. Set aside bias. Be rational, be objective. But we now can see that there are significant correlations between economic development and moral development. Between affluence and social virtues like citizenship, freedom, equality, and many indicators of happiness. As a westerner born in the 80’s, I likely underestimate how insane life in some societies is. And that insanity exists largely because of their lack of sound information, and the high levels of cognitive dissonance arising from religious fundamentalism, gender and ethnic segregation, and poorly developed education systems. As Lessing points out, “Poor economies breed tyrannies” (p. 65). While correlation is not causation, and while sociologists often remind us that self-reported happiness is not a very reliable variable of study, the fact is that the principles alluded to by Lessing have been employed by neoliberal economic determinists “for the betterment of humanity”. Record profits for enslaving, environmentally destructive companies are just a happy accident.

    I’m not saying that western society is superior, across the board. It likely isn’t, and breeds many plagues unknown to other times and peoples. I’m pointing to the spurious relationship between affluence and real happiness / citizenship, while recognizing that we in the west have access to “tools” that others don’t. No one wants to squander them. But affluence can be a curse.

    I’m not sure if the field of organizational behaviour is considered a discrete science rather than a catch-all term, but something called organizational behaviour is a staple of many business programs. I don’t wish to slag it, but I feel that proper attention should be directed to the messages it sends about empowerment, teamwork, communication, job satisfaction, and the role of hierarchies in a functional society. To put it somewhat crudely, just how much shit should be included in a human’s diet? It is undeniable that gainful employment (income) is a primary incentive for many people’s participation in public life, and a strong influence of their obedience or acquiescence to social norms. Under economic distress, or as a result of social destabilization (e.g. family breakdown and immigration, to name two verboten topics), the willingness of individuals to assert their beliefs or speak openly is curtailed.

    How do you balance a gratitude for the benefits of living in a democracy with the awareness of its inherent (or at least apparent) hypocrisies? Many in our era have taken to using “privilege” terminology. The existence of such terminology is perfectly understandable; the applications of it, less so. One suspects that it functions to fill a gap in understanding between the empowerment of our affluence and the helplessness we feel to use that power for good. (Due to a lack of tangible examples, I dare say.) If it’s all based on exploitation, then surely we have no right to enjoy it – “freely”, as it were. Anyone failing to be mindful of the debt owed for his advantages is immoral, or at least committing a moral wrong. And anyone arguing otherwise is committing a moral wrong. And so on. As with the capitalism-socialism debate, a system is posited as the definition of morality, another as the definition of corruption and depravity. Then it’s a matter of sorting individuals accordingly.

    The problem with this is that it individualizes a bigger (macro-level) issue, and it opens the door to empty posturing – what is now called “virtue signaling”. This is highly compatible with social media – where the general public is encouraged to participate in its own obfuscation, with dueling narratives never getting too close to those macro-level factors – empirical factors that would reveal them to be of little consequence.

    • Hi Ian – so delighted you found and enjoyed that remarkable book! Just one of several from Lessing that should be required reading for anyone even attempting to be seriously political – like her novels “The Good Terrorist” “Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire” and “Shikasta” (which is almost a feminist answer to Brunner’s still fearsomely relevant “The Sheep Look Up”).

      I am so with you on the question of answers! (and thank you for so sweetly lumping me in with luminaries there). I think the first bit of clarity we miss is that people who express doubts, qualifications, limits and problems with their own theories are more often to be trusted. Those with pure certainty are far more likely to be consumed by an emotion, than possessed of a great insight.

      That being said, there is a weird difference over time between the things that some people “think” and the things that we absolutely “know” whether or not we can explain this knowledge in clear objective and idea-transferring language. I recognize the combination of doubt and certainty in many of my favourites, and have some of this myself, thanks to my weirdly various and offbeat arc of experience. In a way, Lessing impresses most for the deep (and resonant) certainty OF her doubt!

      Even more importantly though – who ever said we were supposed to just find someone with immaculate knowledge and follow them blindly? Are we idiots without intelligence, critical faculties, responsibility to test and learn as we live? I have never ever been that cynical. When I look at ideas, I always look for insights which help extend my perception and add subtlety to my awareness. Not a new lens to wear always and forevermore – but a new tint for my collection, which reveals features unseen at other frequencies. Sometimes I get a small clue from a great thinker, even while rejecting almost everything they concluded in their lifetime of effort. Reading BF Skinner, he really does come across as a creepy madman – which of course made him popular with cold war thinkers, and thus overly influential – but his nasty work still raises important questions which some would rather avoid than engage with, in order to rigorously transcend his anti-humane thesis.

      So – when people critique someone like Peterson for not having a complete cosmology I wonder why on earth they ever expected he should? On the biggest questions for which he is controversial, he seems very clearly a corrective impulse against a culture I recognize as real and problematic (roughly, bourgeois Rosedale leftism which doesn’t give a shit about the actual human beings involved – only their favourite pet theory du jour).

      Some of his fairer critics have noticed that much of what he says is helpful direct realism about life which kids haven’t heard in a couple of generations. Not every kid needs to hear this stuff – some have loving parents, good schools, etc – but many kids actually do need it badly, and objecting to anyone who is helping young people become more useful and responsible human beings is absolutely nutso. Even when I wasn’t paying much attention except to the bile directed his way, I still found myself saying – he is clearly the smartest and most reasonable guy anyone on the right is listening to at this moment – so why would you object to someone actively (in fact vigorously) helping moderate their least rational and most dangerous ideas and impulses?

      Anyhow – he’s been made into a weird media spectacle instead of taken for a person, but such a small proportion of the critique is sound, he has revealed a lot of rot on the left – especially in terms of civic principle (again, as an anarchist, I really can’t believe it is left to me to say this stuff, but…) ;o)

      Some on the right believe that human beings are essentially evil unless they are trained and constrained in a variety of ways. There is at least a part truth in this – no model of any functional and resilient society has ever done away with repression of many directly harmful behaviours. Society is limits, in a way.

      Some on the left believe that human beings are essentially good unless they are warped and messed with in a variety of ways (and that this damage is almost always deliberate, rather than incidental to inhumane social patterns). There is at least a partial truth in this – kids are incredibly good at learning and adapting – we really are built to seek growth, knowledge and social competence – and many people are harmed, deliberately and accidentally, because they do not get the sort of nourishment they need, at a particular stage of their development, or their life in general for that matter.

      Again, I have to sigh and say – are we robots that just get programmed? Are we idiots who need to be told what to do? Do we have our own ideas, a range of interpretations, ideas of meaning and responsibility, and proven or creative approaches?

      In a way I am most worried by those on the left who now act as if evil is the dominant condition, and good a fleeting thing soon victimized, which requires the control of everyone and everything by a giant state, in order to protect it.
      And those on the right who now act as if goodness is actually our proper state – and can be easily defined by who is and who is not faithful, without any further inquiry. The people in my congregation are good, and that’s enough.

      Can’t help thinking about how long it took for cities and then countries to emerge – and how in many areas of the world where national governments are weak, the political unit really is still the town, and every one is suspicious of the next one down the road. The ultimate retreat from the modern world.

      I say you either trust that humans will ultimately find the good when allowed to question and seek knowledge or not. To trust in this is true faith in humankind (by my personal definition, anyhow) and also genuine hope for democracy. To judge any “them” as mindless robots who simply respond to programming, without also seeing mindless patterns in your own tribe is inadequate. We’re all doing some of what’s wrong – and we’re all missing the point of the exercise. Not sanctimony (always the most popular flavour for the bourgeois grandstanders, whether devout or revolutionary), but SURVIVAL (a working class staple going all the way back to Sumer at very least).

      Inequality and injustice – wow, so much to dig into there. Confusion of role with talent is the biggest problem. I avoided school for years, because I rarely encountered anyone with a bachelor’s degree (education I could afford) who I couldn’t out-argue in their own subject of expertise. I concluded that universities mostly produced mediocrity without realizing – they accept many mediocre students. Same went for art school, which false judgement I regret even more (damn I could have used some proper anatomy insight in my 20s).

      Anyhow – people are wildly different. No committee anyplace is ever going to make everyone happy – totally impossible, incredibly stupid even to try. What we might steadily work toward is to reduce genuine sustenance panic, while also opening up more and more opportunities to maximize ourselves.

      Things like letting women take a university degree over a couple of decades so that they can have a family when it is physically easiest, without destroying or even seriously impeding their academic ambitions, and a whole lot more mentorship and apprenticeship programs would help many people skill-up, and also give us a chance to transfer a whole lot of earned skill held by older generations, before it is lost forever.

      A new incentivized non-profit housing model would help a lot – and so would a resurgence of some very simple commune tactics (members of a food coop can not only get excellent fresh groceries at cost, by contributing a few hours of labour a week – they can also improve the social bonds in the community).

      The idea that there is an easy big fix for everything is insane – based upon the emotional fantasy that things are all screwed up like this, because of the big evil nasties – and you can fill in “The Patriarchy” or “The One Percent” or “The Evil-Doers” or “The Non-Believers” or “The Lizard People” or whatever you like. Along that line, everyone needs (envisions/creates/ennobles) a functional Lucifer. To what end precisely is less clear (to them especially)

      I guess my ultimate question isn’t “Who farted?” but “who is closest to the window?” and “why are you yelling about the smell, instead of opening it?”

      Thank you so much for lovely and well considered feedback, my friend!
      Means everything to me to have friends and listeners who run with it, and then make me run after – just to keep up. Grazie!

      • I’ve long been of the view (although this doesn’t make it true) that we humans are essentially, but potentially, good. We still need to evolve, and I believe this is dawning on people everyday, a kind of mutual recognition of our true destiny. I think it was MLK who said that the arc of history bends towards justice. That might imply that, to the extent we need to be social justice warriors, we must be sensitive to context and pick our battles wisely. Social justice ninjas, you might say. But if we think of ourselves as agents of inevitability, then we’re not conscious agents. And you’re right that, to the extent Peterson introduces nuance into some historically bigoted spheres of discourse, he’s making a valuable contribution.

        We see not one, but two apocalypsi unfolding: on the conservative view, warring congregations, a kind of secular sectarianism; and on the left, statist sterility. Neither represents real unity, nor real individuality. Hence these are distractions from the evolution we seek. They are sustainable only insofar as they consume non-renewable resources.

        Your points about skill-building and talent acquisition are well-taken. Right now many of the “core liberal institutions” people love to tout as the bedrock of society are staffed by gatekeepers more committed to keeping the “wrong” people out than including a diverse range of backgrounds. Everyone loses (except, I guess, the gatekeepers). And some of the more reactionary types, including Peterson sometimes, would probably like to re-install the gatekeepers of old. (I was slightly surprised to see Lessing talking about people wanting to dismantle the social sciences and humanities departments even back in the 80’s. This is before the digital divide was a thing and parents were anxiously trying to get their kids to learn how to code – with occasional exceptions.) Having said all that, those who are excluded can and should find – no, build – alternative forums for development and association, to develop our goodness, encounter our misery, and treasure our pleasure. But they might not get credentials that are worth much to “respectable” society.

        Management of incentives is key to this process. Why do people opt for slavery rather than community? – Slavery seems to offer more stability, over the short term and even long term. After all, we often simply don’t think long term. When we try, all we see are dead-ends. I guess that’s why some view the Big City as an impediment to real growth, and the Small Town an oasis of sanity – a stable foundation on which to grow incrementally, rather than toiling in obscurity with only dreams to console you, while you’re swallowed by rising costs.

        I’m from a big city, but I still recognize the validity of this perspective. After all, the city I grew up in was a small town by comparison to what it is today.

        • YES! Evolution within our lifetimes, and under our conscious control (by any of several means, or better yet, several in combination) – extend this proven human capabilty to the collective scale, and hope becomes not an eyes-closed wishingist self-deluded figment, but a simple matter of care and work and patience. ENTIRELY REAL AND DO-ABLE, (even now!)
          Breaks my heart how many people remain miserable, because they can’t truly believe in (and by this invest in) a cause greater than themselves, and thus join their individual narrative with greater meaning. One of the great modern tragedies – all those lonely people in giant human filing cabinets, seperated only by social convention, gyprock and psychological incapability. Sigh!

          Oh and yes, that surprising insight from Lessing is true and important – the illiberal left was already brewing all the way back in the seventies, and was slowly corroding academe (and feminism) as early as the eighties – and much more still in the trendy political correctness nineties. But the rot back then was fringe only – not termites on the foundation-beams! (Another good reason to abandon the old dogmatic structure – quick, before the damned thing caves in completely!)

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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