Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about this topic. But it seems maybe we need to be reminded of it, beyond an occasional opinion piece in the back pages of your local newspaper. I’m not going to offer a complex analysis, as I could. I simply want to throw out some quick thoughts and then gather together some previous thoughts, along with links to the writings of others. The purpose is to give a sense of the many the ways right-wing rhetoric is used as social control. I’ll share a few examples that are representative, if not exhaustive. I wanted to do so because I realized that my previous posts tended to be narrow in focus by looking at specific areas (e.g., climate change denialism). Not that I’m going to presently attempt a survey.

Right-wing rhetoric is an amazing thing to observe, most of all right-wing political correctness. And I’m amazed how rarely others are amazed by it or even notice it, as if we’ve become numb to the constant noise of it. The one thing I’ll give them credit for is that they are highly effective propagandists in controlling narratives and policing allowable language. Sometimes it comes in blunt forms of authoritarian social control, but typically it is much more insidious. Part of why they are so talented is that they know how to manipulate what already so dominates in a society, to such a degree that it is hard for anyone to speak about it openly, what Noam Chomsky refers to as the propaganda model.

For example, identity politics is only directly called out when the powerless and underprivileged challenge those the identities that are well established and given favor within the ‘mainstream’ structures and institutions. And it is often a minority that polices what is allowable, a tiny percentage of whites, Christians, etc who control the platforms of speech in getting heard while the majority of whites, Christians, etc are treated as if they don’t exist (it ends up being social control all around for even most people within the majority aren’t free to define their own identity). Within the systems of control, including the so-called liberal media, certain identities simply are accepted with little question (sometimes in the universities as well, such as when professors are fired or otherwise forced out for supporting the equality of Palestinian rights). It is built into the framework of every public debate and political narrative exactly who are considered real Americans, what they look like, and what the positions they hold.

For centuries, garden variety race realists, fundamentalists, and other varieties of right-wing authoritarians have been so common in the American elite of politics, media, business, etc that they have mostly been taken as the social norm or at least well within it, even when the positions they hold are extremist in only being held by a small minority (e.g., the official NRA position of anti-regulation radicalism that isn’t even supported by the majority of NRA members). Their identity is a given and when it motivates their politics it isn’t called identity politics, much less political correctness when they seek to silence those other voices that have been historically excluded and victimized. And such silencing can be dangerous when it is used in defense of violence, such as denying the long history of right-wing terrorism and oppression… or, worse yet, in using a politically correct false equivalency to pretend its equal on all sides.

Now finally, albeit slowly, society is shifting away from some of the worst forms of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia, and all manners of prejudice. So, yeah, Jim Crow style racism is no longer acceptable. Neither is pinching your female secretary on the butt and then firing her when she refuses to have sex with you. Likewise, giving expression to hateful ignorance through rants in public forums is generally frowned upon and might not be a great career move. There are many things that have become considered morally wrong in respectable society, the kinds of language and behavior that were normalized by abusive systems of power not that long ago, well within living memory.

The loss of power and privilege among certain demographics has been hard for some to adapt to. What they could get away with when younger might entail less than happy responses in their older age. It’s hard to learning new ways of relating to others, especially when it requires admitting that one’s past behavior looks shameful in hindsight. It is hard to save face and, instead of letting the past go, some turn reactionary in wanting to double down in their embrace of crudity and cruelty, as if it demonstrates their strength, but in reality it shows their weakness, their desperation. So, they lash out. And one of the ways they do so is by attempting to enforce old systems of political correctness by projecting their desire for oppression onto those they hope to put back in their places. And so they play games of rhetoric to muddy the waters, such as claiming that the Civil War was about freedom rather than slavery.

It can be a powerful move, especially when the corporate media joins in the attack, scapegoating college students or even the entire young generation for finding it offensive that there has been a consistent pattern of right-wing authoritarians promoting harm to our society and I’m talking about literal harm where people sometimes get killed. To fight against the powerful seeking to do you harm is portrayed as being overly sensitive. And when those on the political left call it for what it is (e.g., those who make racist comments are racist), the political right basically argues that it’s politically incorrect to call them mean names, albeit they never call it political correctness

Even the ‘liberal’ media rarely challenges them on this bullshit. This right-wing strategy, sadly, gets many ‘moderates’ on board in their desire to be fair and balanced. So, liberalism gets once again hijacked to punch left, and it’s not hard to accomplish since liberals have always feared the left-wing more than the right-wing, which is why for generations now liberals have pushed hard right. This is why the liberal class is always prepared to silence left-wingers so as to defend the next right-wing project, such as beating the war drum for Bush’s War on Terror — remember how Bill Maher was attacked all across the corporate media for stating the obvious on a show called “Politically Incorrect”? Yet we never see the equivalent of conservatives attacking the right by policing the politically correct boundaries, this far right and no further. No. Instead, both conservatives join liberals in keeping the left-wing silenced. This has created an open field for right-wing rhetoric to dominate, a pattern that has been seen since before the Cold War. Liberals have always been an untrustworthy lot, capable of turning reactionary in an instant… or were they always reactionary?

This is how we got to the point where the president can attack the press and his supporters can talk about killing journalists, including a t-shirt worn at rallies that said “Tree. Rope. Journalist. Some assembly required.” and for a time was sold at Walmart. The message is that there are some things that the media or anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to talk about and, if they dare talk about them, the offending person should be made to never speak again (Robert A. Vella, Trump allies fear their white supremacist image, and that’s why they’re threatening journalists). This is the extremes to where right-wing political correctness takes us. And then when this is correctly labeled as right-wing authoritarianism, the right-wing authoritarians have a hissy-fit in claiming that accurately describing their words and behavior is unfair, that is to say politically incorrect. No one should state the obvious or else they will suffer the consequences.

Sadly, there are always liberals ready to quickly jump in to say that all sides are equally guilty or, if anything, that the political left is worst in their politically correctness. Well, fuck that bullshit! It is not the political left repeating hate-filled speech advocating violence, as seen with the right-wing media. When Bill O’Reilly repeatedly called Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of his viewers killed the good doctor, whose speech was silenced? When right-wingers have killed people in hate crimes and terrorism, in a way not seen among left-wingers, why is it the political left that gets verbally attacked for being politically correct in defending against these dangerous people? This is not a time for liberals to pander to the right because of lacking a moral spine. One of these days liberals will be reminded once again, as happened in Germany after liberals backed the Nazis, that maybe, just maybe the right-wing authoritarians are to be feared far beyond the left-wing bogeyman. Free speech is more than a nice-sounding idea. And for God’s sake! Beware of rhetoric of free speech used to undermine free speech. One thing that reactionaries, be it right-wing reactionaries or liberal reactionaries, are talented at is using democratic norms against democracy.

* * *

The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind (comment)

Reactionaries are a dangerous enemy. This is because, as Faceless Men, they can be anywhere in any form and speaking in any voice. You can see this in how the political right has co-opted political correctness and wielded it against the political left, such as denying being racists even as they promote racism and then acting offended by the allegation. The smartest among them know how to say all the right things. They are chameleons. They know how to fit in, when it serves their purpose.

Right-Wing Political Correctness on Right-Wing Terrorism

Yet this largely went unnoticed. The media, especially the right-wing media, had little interest in focusing on domestic threats while the foreign “War on Terror” was going on. And it would have been hard for right-wing groups to argue for bias when right-wingers were in control of the federal government. This attitude changed, of course, when Barack Obama was elected. There was right-wing outrage when a DHS report came out in 2009 that highlighted right-wing terrorism, despite the fact that the research for the report began under the Bush administration. This forced a retraction, not because it wasn’t true but because it was politically incorrect.

Berkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill

Explain to me how scientific experts who support scientific consensus are ‘cultists’ because “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you”. Besides being inanely stupid, that is false equivalency between the two sides. Why shouldn’t we label as science denialists those who deny science? And how does that justify declaring that respectable climatologists are cultists for simply stating scientific facts? Calling a spade a spade in calling a denialist a denialist isn’t unfair name-calling, since it is a objective description. It reminds me of racists who complain about being called racists and demand they be treated as respectable equals. Why should we play their game?

Conservatives seeing everything in terms of religion is nothing new. To their mind, everything on the political left is a cult, as every other religion is a cult. Their complaint isn’t about religion but that there can only be one true religion to rule them all (religiosity as authoritarian dogmatism by way of Social Darwinism) and all else is cultism. It’s similar to how conservatives deny having an ideology for only people they disagree with have ideologies. The labels of ‘cult’ and ‘ideology’ mean the same thing in the conservative mind. It seems like a whole lot of projection considering how hard conservatives push their political and religious ideologies onto others, including their own preferred versions of political correctness. That is what this comes down to, political correctness in defense of right-wing ideology. The right-wing snowflakes have their feelings hurt by words. And since they can’t win on the facts, they will try to make it a fight over language policing.

Racecraft: Political Correctness & Free Marketplace of IdeasRacecraft: Political Correctness & Free Marketplace of Ideas

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields

In the controversy over Dr. James D. Watson’s remarks in London, some of his defenders charged his critics with a “politically correct” retreat from science, insisting that good science requires a free marketplace of ideas . Researchers must be free, they implied, to salvage the old bio-racist ranking of superior and inferior races, regardless of the collapse as science of its core concept, race. But it is doubtful that those foes of political correctness would wish to rehabilitate that part of bio-racism that once identified inferior white races.

If they took their own position seriously, they would applaud the writings of such eminent American scientists of the late nineteenth century as Edward Drinker Cope and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (dean of Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School during the 1890s) on the inequality of races, not simply their work on dinosaurs and the earth’s history. Cope advocated both “the return of the African to Africa” and restrictions on immigration by “the half-civilized hordes of Europe.” Shaler agreed, characterizing those hordes as inferior “by birthright ,” “essentially in the same state as the Southern Negro,” and distinct from “the Aryan variety of mankind.” […]

One of the present authors some years ago tested the limits of the free market in racist ideas. A crotchety yet likable right-wing colleague approached, looking disquieted and in need of moral support. He was “having trouble” with a certain black student in his bio-psychology class. What was wrong, he wondered, with saying that “black people may, or (mind you) may not, prove to be intellectually inferior to white people? In science, you frame a hypothesis, devise an experiment, find out.” The student raised her hand and, when recognized, blasted him. “Do you know So-and -So (the student in question)?” asked the bio-psychologist. (The author did happen to know the student in question, an eighteen-year-old single mother of twins who was as bright as they come and not one to brook insult.) “Why can’t she grasp that there’s a scientific approach to things , blah , blah?” Finally, the author put a question. “If, as you say, there is no hypothesis that science excludes, why not try this assignment ? Let your students pick any white ethnic group and any stereotype commonly applied to it, greedy, mendacious, dumb, drunken, gangsterish, and so on, then formulate a hypothesis, design the experiment, find out.” The colleague’s face froze.

Using Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence OpponentsUsing Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence Opponents

There is still a law on the book that makes belonging to the communist party illegal. In the right-wing media, there is talk about enforcing this law to silence opponents. Some petitions have been started for this purpose, specifically in the hope that Trump will back this attack on the political left. It’s nonsense, of course, and wouldn’t hold up in court. But I have yet to hear of any conservative, right-wing, or alt-right free speech advocate complain about, much less protest against, these authoritarian right-wingers. It’s the same reason why conservative colleges can get away with far more egregious silencing of free speech than can mainstream colleges, even though those conservative colleges also receive public funding.

Censorship of speech was far more dangerous and damaging in the past when it mostly targeted the political left. And censorship continues to target the political left, targeting workers, students and professors. If you don’t hear about censorship against left-wingers in corporate media, that is because corporate media is the mouthpiece of capitalism and doesn’t tend to bend over backwards to create a platform for Marxists, communists, and their fellow travelers (e.g., Palestinian rights advocates).

Those on the political right act as if there is a conspiracy against them, as if they are the only Americans who know oppression. They pretend that white conservatives are the ultimate oppressed minority in a country that is and always has been majority white and majority Christian. They apparently have no clue about the harsh realities that others face on a daily basis or else they are pretending to be ignorant. It’s mind-boggling. How could they be so obliviously ignornant to not know about the prejudices and hate crimes directed at minorities, the difficulty of being a Muslim or Middle Easterner (or mistaken for one), the professors who lose their jobs when they defend the rights of Palestinians and such, the historical and ongoing attack on left-wingers?

Sure, free speech is under attack, as it always has been. But it is a psychotic disconnection from reality to genuinely believe that this is all about the political right. Why the constant playing of the victim card when the tactics the political right has used against others are turned back the other way?

They should learn some history. Even in the past, some right-wing groups found themselves on the wrong side of political and corporate power. The government didn’t only systematically attack communist partisans, anti-war protesters, black radicals, and hippy drug users? The Second Klan was destroyed by the FBI, although the KKK had become quite corrupt at that point and was flaunting its own power through such things as political bribery and tax evasion.

The point is that those in the centers of power will always seek to silence and eliminate any individual or group that too effectively challenges the status quo or otherwise becomes problematic to establishment agendas and interests. That is true of those in power within the private sector. A company like Google would have been misogynistic in the past as most companies were in the past because misogyny was the norm, but times have changed and so all companies increasingly support gender equality because it is all about what is good for business (studies show that diverse companies have higher levels of innovation, profit, etc). Even the University of Iowa has as its president a guy from the business world, not some left-wing political activist. Colleges these days are run like businesses and having an anti-gay group causing trouble on campus isn’t good for business.

We live in a capitalist society, after all. Everything is about the flow of money. That pretty much sums up the entirety of American history.

As for all the protesters and counter-protesters, that also is nothing new. America has a long history of public outrage going back to not just protests but riots and revolts even before the American Revolution. We Americans are a vocal people about our opinions on public matters. And it occasionally turning to violence is even less of a shock. Actions committed by individuals and groups in the past, more often directed at left-wingers and minorities, were far more violent than what tends to be seen these days. If anything, it is amazing how non-violent of a time we live in, at least in the Western world (ignoring the violence we export to the rest of the world).

Besides, the most violent actions in recent history have not come from the political left. There is no American left-wing equivalent to generations of right-wing violence — the bombings, arson, assassinations, driving cars into crowds, etc (if you are unaware of this recent history, just ask some blacks, gays, Muslims, clinic doctors, etc about it and they can enlighten you). Not even the Weather Underground, terrorist bombers as they were, ever targeted people as there bombings were carefully planned to avoid human casualties. The government has officially labeled certain environmentalist groups such as Earth First! as terrorists, despite there never having killed a single person nor ever attempted to do so.

For decades, health clinics and doctors were targeted by anti-abortion militants. Even right-wingers in the mainstream media promoted this violent movement such as Bill O’Reilly’s helping to incite the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and O’Reilly never apologized or expressed remorse, much less got fired from his job. Sure, since Fox News backs this hateful bigotry, then those who spew it have their free speech protected. But what about the free speech of the victim who was silenced with a bullet? And what about all the thousands of other victims of prejudice, oppression, hate crimes, and right-wing terrorism?

Here is another point that gets lost in all of this. No matter how often the political right repeats its ignorance and lies, the conflation of liberals and left-wingers remains false and misleading. Going back to the early 20th century, there has rarely been love lost between these two ideological groups. Some of the gravest attacks on left-wingers have come from liberals or those pretending to be liberals. That is what Phil Ochs was going on about in his satirical song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”. Some of the most vocal and strident Cold War warriors were liberals, having done everything in their power to destroy the political left.

Even though the Cold War has ended, liberals continue to attack everyone to the left of them which is why the right-wing ‘liberals’ such as the Clinton Democrats are always seeking to eliminate and discredit all left-wing challengers, from Ralph Nader to Bernie Sanders. Where was most of the political right in defending Sanders’ free speech when Hillary Clinton and big biz media sought to silence him and keep him out of public awareness until late in the campaign season? And that isn’t even to get into how the alliance between big gov and big biz silences all of us Americans, not just outsider candidates… while the corporatists arguing for corporate ‘free speech’. As for campuses, left-wingers are no more safe there than anywhere else.

The only reason that Americans don’t hear more about oppression and censorship of left-wingers is because corporate media in a corporatist society, whether supposedly liberal MSNBC or conservative Fox News, rarely reports on it. But it not being regularly discussed in the mainstream is not the same thing as it not happening. Capitalist realism is the dominant ideology of our entire society and as such is taken as a given with protest against it being almost impossible — in the words of H. Bruce Franklin: “It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” We can’t have the freedom that we can’t imagine and we can’t fight against the oppression what we can’t see, which is why oppression of the mind is the worst possible oppression. That is what this is all about, the right-wing attempt to suppress all alternatives by censoring public debate, which first requires controlling the frame of allowable debate.

This touches upon the difference between negative liberty and positive freedom, the former allows for censorship of the powerless while the latter promotes free speech for all. The political right in the past advocated the one and dismissed the other, but now they are coming to realize or pretending to care that maybe positive freedom matters after all, at least when they portray themselves as oppressed and victimized minorities (that is why the anti-gay student group at the UI didn’t merely argue for negative liberty to be able to speak freely on campus but a positive freedom in demanding the university and taxpayer support and promote their free speech by giving them an official platform). A genuine public debate about free speech and freedom in general is needed. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the political right wants. It is simply a political game about power and influence, amplifying one’s own voice at the cost of others.

Even more problematic is that the same political and economic elites who own our government are seeking to own every aspect of our society, including colleges that because of loss of public funding have increasingly turned to corporate funding. The right-wingers funding the campus ‘free speech’ movement are also those who operate think tanks, lobbyist groups, front organizations, etc that promote the corporate ‘free speech’ of Citizens United, the neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements of big biz corporatism, the protection of ‘freedom’ through voter ID laws that suppress voting rights, and the ‘freedom’ of the right-to-work which means the right for workers to have no protections. The whole point is to make ‘freedom’ a meaningless word.

The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education
by John K. Wilson

Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies
by Karri A. Holley

Conservative correctness
from Rational Wiki

From Political Correctness to Conservative Correctness
by Michael K. Fauntroy

Republican Political Correctness
by Woody

What are some examples of conservative forms of political correctness?
from Quora

Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions
by Zack Beauchamp

Political Correctness Has Run Amok — on the Right
by Aaron R. Hanlon

Donald Trump and the Sad Triumph of Right-Wing Political Correctness
by Nick Gillespie

The New Political Correctness
by Paul Krugman

‘Political Incorrectness’ Is Just ‘Political Correctness’ for Conservatives
by Ed Kilgore

Political correctness is rampant on the right wing — but no one ever admits it
by Cody Fenwick

Your Political Correctness Is Showing, Conservatives
by Maximillian Alvarez

The big problem with those conservative calls for ‘civility’
by Rachael Kraus

Always Projection: The Invention of Political Correctness
by Paul Campos

Time for equal media treatment of ‘political correctness’
by Joshua Adams

Conservatives have a version of political correctness, too
by Noah Berlatsky

Political Correctness Is A Right-Wing Myth
by Ward Anderson

Opinion: Conservatives politically correct too
by Jared Bailey

Choose Wisely: Political Correctness Or A Retreat To Conservative Censorship?
from The Pavlovic Today

The Phony Debate About Political Correctness
by Erica Hellerstein and Judd Legum

‘Political Incorrectness’ Is Just ‘Political Correctness’ for Conservatives
by Ed Kilgore

“Political Correctness” Is Social Conservative Code For Civil Rights
by Mark Baer

COLUMN: Political correctness is a conservative invention
by Zoe Cheng

Conservative Political Correctness and the Colin Kaepernick-Nike July 4th Controversy
by Jared Keller

Dixie Chicks Were Right
by Don Williams

 

 

Victor Davis Hanson: Right-Wing Propagandist

We are surrounded by propaganda, but rarely notice it. This is one the most propagandized populations in history and yet we talk of ourselves as a free society. Some have argued that it is specifically in a democratic society (or what goes for one) that propaganda is all the more necessary for the elite to maintain social control. This is even more true for a banana republic where appearances of democracy have to be carefully maintained. Also, propaganda operates differently in inverted totalitarianism where locus of control is not within the state proper. There is no need for an official propaganda department of the state. That is because the same plutocrats and oligarchs manipulating the political party apparatus, bribing the politicians, and pulling the strings of the deep state also own most of the media and fund the think tanks.

Hacks like Victor Davis Hanson are the pseudo-intellectuals that give the whole propaganda scheme an appearance of respectability and credibility. They are the handmaidens of authoritarianism, the calm faces of evil, and the mundane voices of insanity; the gatekeepers of perceived reality, the orchestrators of spectacle, and the shapers of public opinion. They are the spokesmen of the puppetmasters behind the scenes. They maintain the master narrative and keep the megamachine lubed up and running smoothly. Their role is central. The ruling elite couldn’t rule without these mercenaries.

That is to say Hanson and his ilk are paid well. Yet in the corporate media, someone like Hanson is merely referred to as a historian and often described as a respectable expert. His writing gets published and he gets invited to speak as if he were an independent thinker and scholar — ignore the fact that he parrots the party line and plutocratic rhetoric in scripted fashion. Even the supposed ‘liberal’ media (NYT, WaPo, etc), regularly quote Hanson and review each new book he gets published. It is a show being put on, as if there were many voices in a genuine public debate, and so supposedly demonstrating a well-functioning democracy. But in reality, most of the voices heard are on the payroll of the same powerful interests with deep pockets. Both sides of the ‘debate’ are controlled opposition.

To find the actual opposition, listen for those who are typically silenced or muted in the ‘mainstream’ media, those drowned out by the talking points and excluded by the predetermined framing, those who struggle in between soundbites to articulate what is not to be spoken in challenging the entire system of social control. Listen to what is not said and who is not speaking or else who is never really heard, always dismissed and quoted out of context, misreported and spun back into the official narrative. Look outside the screen of allowable opinion. That is to say don’t be distracted by the chattering class of pundits-for-hire.

On the payroll of big money, typically dark money laundered through multiple organizations, there are thousands upon thousands of journalists, columnists, op-ed piece writers, authors, talk radio hosts, bloggers, social media personalities, academics, researchers, college campus speakers, talking heads, experts, etc. They don’t wear jackets that show all of their sponsors. They appear like normal people and within the system that is how they are presented, how they are sold to the public. Even when the curtain is momentarily pulled back, most Americans are too cynical to care, if they bother to pay attention. We need to remind ourselves why it matters, that politics as comforting entertainment and distraction is not good enough, is not acceptable. We should not allow ourselves to be so easily deceived. As Marianne Williamson said, “Let’s not be naive.”

* * *

Victor David Hanson doublespeaks his way down the Conservative rabbit hole
from The Long Goodbye

Victor Davis Hanson punditry credentials rest squarely on supposed expertise as an historian. Since he has decided to put aside any attempt at scholarly objectivity, instead throwing his hat in the ring of shallow propaganda otherwise known as right-wing talking points he has pretty much shattered his credibility as a scholar. In ordinary circumstances, the forces of meritocracy at work, Hanson would be serving up some hot and crispy fries with that happy meal, paying the price for his Pravda-like spin of history for the sake of the Conservative movement. Instead he lives in ConservaWorld where merit means little if anything. As long as he continues to rewrite history to his liking, ignore context and pull absurd analogies out of an unmentionable part of his anatomy, organizations like the National Review will make sure that he is overfed and overpaid,

Sophistry in the Service of Evil
A review of ‘The Case for Trump’ by Victor Davis Hanson

by Gabriel Schoenfeld

This is not to say that Hanson’s book lacks value. As a part of a larger phenomenon, it is instructive in its way. Anyone with an iota of historical awareness is familiar with the fact that intellectuals in Europe and the United States lauded Joseph Stalin even as he sent millions to the Gulag and their death. By the same token, Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger. An entire branch of Western scholarship was devoted to the adulation of the genocidal Mao Tse-tung. Whatever Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, it is a grotesque absurdity to compare him to history’s most terrible tyrants. My point is something else: If such monsters could find admirers among the highly educated, it is unsurprising that our infantile, ignorant leader has found an assortment of professors to sing his praises. Julian Benda wrote The Treason of the Intellectuals in 1927. With legitimate historians like Hanson abasing themselves to write what can only be called propaganda, Benda’s title, if not his entire argument, is perennially pertinent.

The Case Against ‘The Case For Trump’
by Rich Barlow

But I was eager to see if the book could square two intellectual and moral circles. First, how does the agenda of a man who policy-wise can barely zip his fly provide for the common defense and general welfare? And even if you believe in Trump’s policies, didn’t he long ago reach his Nixon moment, when morally decent believers must withdraw support in the face of the man’s undeniable character cancers?

Hanson’s 372-page brief flunks those challenges by disregarding Atlee’s Axiom.

Mr. Atlee taught us in high school English that any essay hoping to persuade must tackle head-on the other side’s strongest arguments. As in, granted, Trump’s a thug, but [insert superseding point]. Even absolving Hanson for writing before Michael Cohen’s testimony last week, which offered little we didn’t already know, and before Robert Mueller’s forthcoming report, he belly-flops first by ignoring Atlee’s Axiom vis-à-vis Trump’s policymaking.

Donald Trump, Tragic Hero
by John B. Judis

Except for detailing Trump’s success in boosting the economy, Hanson does not argue these points against obvious objections. Pulling out of Paris? Hanson at one point describes global warming as an “apparition,” but he cites no scientific evidence for this or any justification for abandoning international agreements to limit carbon emissions. Improved relations with allies? What about our European allies? Or Canada? As for the Iran deal, he claims that “most experts had known that the Obama-led Iran deal was unworkable and thus unsustainable,” but by my count the most prominent thought otherwise. I am not saying that Trump did nothing that was impressive — he has definitely gone beyond his predecessors in contesting China’s trade practices — but that many of the things Hanson cites as “undeniably impressive” need justification, at least if Hanson intended his book to be read by people who don’t already agree with its bald assertions.

Thinking for Trump
Other presidents had a brain trust. But the intellectuals backing this White House are a bust.

by Carlos Lozada

Hanson, a senior fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, assails the “deep state,” even while acknowledging that Trump’s use of the term is so vague as to be meaningless. He praises the “inspired” and “impressive” Cabinet members Trump has assembled, largely forgetting their high-profile scandals, conflicts of interest, obeisance and resignations. “The Case for Trump” is notable for such omissions. Hanson does not grapple with Trump’s effort to delegitimize the Obama presidency through the birtherism lie, his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States or his difficulty condemning white nationalism. In Hanson’s telling, the true force behind America’s racial fissures is Trump’s predecessor. “Much of the current division in the country was deliberately whipped up by Obama,” he contends.

Contrary to those who suggest that Trump sought the presidency for personal gain, Hanson explains that Trump is sacrificing himself for the larger good, like tragic heroes of ancient literature. A scholar of classics and military history, Hanson gazes upon Trump and sees Homer’s Achilles and Sophocles’s Ajax. He also glimpses Thucydides, the Roman emperor Augustus, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, George Patton and even Dirty Harry. Trump contains multitudes.

Victor Davis Hanson’s defence of President Donald Trump is entirely unconvincing
by Steve Donoghue

Hanson’s programme on every page is to downplay and trivialise as many of Trump’s countless aberrant behaviours as possible, characterising them as the kind of trivia only effete snobs could possibly find objectionable.

At virtually every turn, ­Hanson uses euphemisms and little-kid vocabulary: gross ­violations of personal and ­social norms become “ethical dilemmas”; six decades of lying, cheating, fornicating, stealing, defrauding, blackmailing and bullying become “personal foibles”; endless, ­almost uncountable lies, become “fibs”. […]

Hanson invokes “gentrification and the gospel of good taste” as the foremost engines of Trump criticism and claims they blind such criticism to Trump’s alleged accomplishments: “success in reworking Nafta, in prodding Nato members to keep their budgetary commitments, and in recalibrating long overdue asymmetrical relationships with Turkey, Iran and the Palestinians,” and so on.

It’s a key sign of Hanson’s rhetorical fancy-dancing that Trump himself would hardly understand these descriptions. His “reworking” of Nafta was a carefully presented repackaging of minor details in a working arrangement; his “prodding” of Nato members (over nonexistent slacking on “budgetary commitments”) took the form of embarrassing public gaffes and name-calling; and the “recalibrating” of relationships with nations such as Palestine was also regarded as the haphazard discarding of decades of careful diplomacy without much thought being put into it. […]

Hanson’s The Case for Trump is built entirely on a combination of willful blindness, canny stage-dressing and a weird kind of aggrieved cultural defensiveness.

Not Tragic, Just Sad
‘The Case for Trump’

by Charles McNamara

By portraying hamartia as some kind of practically expedient lack of integrity, moreover, Hanson presents his own master class in Trumpist paradiastolē, a “redescription” of vices as virtues and a rhetorical distillation of our “post-truth” era of neck-snapping political spin. Through this tactic—one that deeply troubled early modern thinkers like Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes—playboy notoriety can be recast as renown, crass incivility as forthrightness, felony tax fraud as financial savvy. This repackaging of Trump’s moral failings as his most laudable qualities permeates The Case for Trump. Through Hanson’s redescription, Trump’s “anti-civilizational” hamartia is rendered as romanticized gunslinger vigilantism. At another point, Hanson says Trump might “be compared by his enemies to the thuggish Roman populist Catiline,” but without even denying the charge he immediately reframes this proto-Trump epitome of sedition as an exemplar of “rhetorical power and directness.” More broadly, Hanson explains the “chaos” of White House staff turnover as a matter of finding “personalities [who] jibed with Trump’s own mercurial moods.” For Hanson, Trump’s dishonest, foul-mouthed Mammonism is a heroic feature, not a bug.

The Agony of the Erudite Trumpite
by Erik D’Amato

In the end, it is Hanson’s clear aversion to reckoning with Trump’s most prosaic character flaw that is most telling. Since history was first written historians have been rationalizing or lionizing the bad behavior or character of powerful men. And even as American conservatives lament an increasingly coarse and nihilistic culture, one can see them excusing Trump’s licentiousness and impiety as a price of partisan advantage, or comparing, like Hanson, Trump’s elemental “toxicity” to chemotherapy, “which after all is used to combat something far worse than itself.” I can also appreciate that Trump’s intuitive “lizard smarts” is undervalued by the professional classes, or that the shock of political upheaval can be constructively tempered with a bit of Al Czervik–style presidential buffoonery. Even Trump’s shambolic, vote-them-off-the-island approach to administration and personnel might have some logic: revolutions are always messy.

But how does a historian excuse wanton ahistoricism? What would Victor Davis Hanson the professor say of a student who loudly claimed that the Germans had bombed Pearl Harbor?

He would, of course, be horrified. Indeed, in some of his other recent writings Hanson has made it clear that the decline in history as an academic discipline in the United States — according to the National Center for Education Statistics it is now the fastest shrinking undergraduate major — is a tragedy. “Today’s students, like their professors, not only do not possess, but feel no need to possess, familiarity with Thucydides, or Dante’s Inferno, or some idea of the Napoleonic Wars, or the work of T. S. Eliot,” he wrote in National Review six days after Trump’s stunning claim about Afghanistan.

The Case for Trump is ultimately unconvincing because, try as he might, Hanson knows that making a case for Donald Trump is inescapably an act of self-negation, the history professor’s version of a pediatric dentist writing a book called The Case for Cocoa Puffs.

Bard of the Booboisie
by WERTHER

Let us stipulate straightaway: Victor Davis Hanson is the worst historian since Parson Weems. To picture anything remotely as bad as his pseudo-historical novels and propaganda tracts, one would have to imagine an account of the fiscal policies of the Bush administration authored by Paris Hilton.

Mr. Hanson, Cal State Fresno’s contribution to human letters, is the favorite historian of the administration, the Naval War College, and other groves of disinterested research. His academic niche is to drag the Peloponnesian War into every contemporary foreign policy controversy and thereby justify whatever course of action our magistrates have taken. One suspects that if the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute were suddenly seized by the notion to invade Patagonia, Mr. Hanson would be quoting Pericles in support.

Once we strip away all the classical Greek fustian, it becomes clear that the name of his game is to take every erroneous conventional wisdom, cliche, faulty generalization, and common-man imbecility, and elevate them to a catechism. In this process, he showcases a technique beloved of pseudo-conservatives stuck at the Sean Hannity level of debate: he swallows whatever quasi-historical balderdash serves the interest of those in power, announces it with an air of surprised discovery, and then congratulates himself on his boldness in telling truth to power.

This is a surprising and rather hypocritical pose by someone who reportedly sups at the table of Vice President Cheney. For Mr. Hanson is one of a long and undistinguished line of personalities stretching back into the abysm of time: the tribal bard, the court historian, the academic recipient of the Lenin Prize. Compared to him, politically connected scribes such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., resemble Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Victor Davis Hanson goes berserk
by Eirik Raude

Along with his towering contempt for anyone not rabidly reactionary, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, esp. extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change. Hanson trots out the entire panoply of conservative catch-phrases, which although wildly inaccurate and for the most part hyperbolic jingoism, are fanatically accepted dogma for the angry right-wing bah-humbug mob who embrace only one single nuanced phrase aside from up and down, right and left, black and white: “Money talks, bullshit walks,” i.e. anything that makes money is inherently good, everything else is just chatter. Anyone who deviates from that one elemental truth is either naive of a Marxist.

Victor Davis Hanson, The Nurse Ratched of Conservatism, Meet Karl Rove
from The Long Goodbye

Everyone knows the first rule in the Conservative rule book: Deny all reality and create your own. Hanson always works this rule into every column he writes. That is not exaggeration. Every column he writes has it’s own fantasy based motif, declarative statements and world view. In the “Pampered” column he also goes by another rule in the playbook. When Conservatives have money it is because America is the land of opportunity and these industrious individuals have clawed their way to the top through hard work. On the other hand, according to Nurse Ratched Hanson, when Democrats have money it is because they are elitists whose money has magically appeared out of the liberal ether. The subset of this Conservative rule is that all working class Democrats – like actual nurses, police and fire fighters, carpenters, middle-managers, store clerks and scientists are terrorist loving Maoists.

Please, give us the real history of Ronald Reagan
by Bruce Henderson

Hanson’s entire opinion piece is an example of the very ‘propaganda’ he accuses the “progressive media” of using. It serves as nothing but a whitewash not only of Reagan’s true record, but of both Bushes as well. And of course he strategically forgets Nixon, who not even the conservative media can rehabilitate.

Victor David Hanson has a neocon meltdown
from The Long Goodbye

While Hanson is the grand master of deep intellectual thought for the far right who keeps trying to juggle half truths, flawed analysis, grade school analogies, mangled interpretations of some history all for what? To stay on course, the course that has been proven to be the wrong course by all except the delusional like Hanson who’s loyalties extend to Bush and America be damned. Blinded by partisan politics Hanson refuses to acknowledge the most basic facts. Hanson has sold any academic credibility down the river. In short he is being incredibly dishonest when he claims that the Bush administration has a positive direction and a clear plan that is not being implemented because a few people are saying things that might hurt poor little George’s feelings. I’m not sure what is more absurd, Hanson for saying it, or the National Review for publishing this drivel.

Republican Propagandist: Is Victor Davis Hanson a Hack or Merely an Incompetent Pundit
from The Long Goodbye

The National Review continues its attempt to qualify for some kind of world record in mindless pabulum. Victor Davis Hanson is billed as an “intellectual” and “historian” by the Right. He writes in a post titled A Curious Insularity

In the world of Barack Obama, inflating tires and “tuning up” modern car engines precludes off-shore drilling. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices can be ameliorated by having the average consumer trade in his 8-mpg clunker.

While punditry sometimes involves painting in broad strokes those two sentences are the kind of Stalinist propaganda that has comes to dominate right-wing punditry. Whether it is good policy or not may be debatable, but President Obama has called for more offshore drilling and increasing the number of nuclear power plants. Studies have shown that increasing oil drilling will not decrese gas prices more than a cuople pennies and that would be a few years down the road. That may seem couner intuitive, but such is the nature of the world petroleum market. Hanson could not be bothered with the facts. It would ruin his hack job.

Victor Davis Hanson’s Magical Mystery Tour
by Chris Rossini

Victor Davis Hanson, the neocons’ favorite historian, goes off on a wild ridethat would surely make for good copy in government schoolbooks:

The United States has ridden — and tamed — the wild global tiger since the end of World War II. The frantic ride has been dangerous, to us, but a boon to humanity.

In other words, peace and trade were not chosen after World War II, but instead the U.S. decided to jump on a fictional “global tiger”. With a Federal Reserve ready to print up as much money as necessary, and a homeland unscathed from the ravages of the war, there was no way the power hungry in the U.S. could resist trying to conquer the world.

Hanson says that the U.S. “tamed” the tiger and that it’s been a blessing for humanity. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but the U.S. empire has killed millions of people throughout the many years. So, evidently Hanson means “a boon to humanity” minus those millions of individuals. Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright’s statement that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were “worth it”.

What You’re Not Supposed to Know about War
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Thus, you have the celebrated neoconservative writer Victor Davis Hanson writing in the December 2, 2009, issue of Imprimis that antiwar activism and other “factors” that make people “reluctant” to resort to war are “lethal combinations” that supposedly threaten the existence of society. Hanson was merely repeating the conservative party line first enunciated by the self-proclaimed founder of the modern conservative (really neoconservative) movement, William F. Buckley Jr. Murray Rothbard quoted Buckley as saying in the January 25, 1952 issue of Commonweal magazine that the Cold War required that

we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. … [We must support] large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.

“We” must advocate the destruction of the free society in the name of defending the free society, said “Mr. Conservative,” a former CIA employee.

In reality, antiwar “factors” are a threat only to the military/industrial/congressional complex, which profits from war; they are not a threat to society as a whole. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Plutocrats’ Toxic Narrative: Lies, Half Truths and Bigotry in Service to Big Money
by Mark Dempsey

My neighbor Jeff sent me a “sobering” editorial entitled Goodbye California from Hoover Institute  fellow and military historian, Victor Davis Hanson. Hoover is a conservative think tank, funded by plutocrats like the Scaifes and Waltons among others.

Hanson repeatedly assures us he’s not editorializing…and then proceeds to slant his presentation so dramatically that it amounts to distortion in the service of his point of view.

What’s his point of view? Why the smart, handsome, productive rich are victims of poor people who are parasites, and California is going to hell in a handcart, propelled by it’s regulations, liberal bias, Mexicans (Eeek!) and profligate welfare spending. They’re victims! Honest! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

But I know some actual poor people, even some poor Mexicans. I didn’t just bicycle past them, as Hanson says he did in his account.

To the Editors: Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t understand income taxes
by Brian Schmidt

Hanson’s Op-Ed read “Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income.” And it went south from there.

I expect a couple would have to make over $4 million annually to have a chance at 50% aggregate income tax rates, but that’s making the ludicrous assumption that $4m includes no capital gains and ignores deductions. If you define income the way people usually do, as salary plus commission plus all investment income, I think few people below $10m annually pay over 50% in aggregate income tax. And while Romney’s 14% rate was probably an outlier, the vast majority of people making over $10m have lots of investment income and pay very little. This doesn’t include payroll taxes but those become a rounding error when your annual income exceeds $4m, and other taxes are also unimportant unless you’ve chosen a bonfire of vanities lifestyle.

Buffett said he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, and he seems more accurate about the wealthiest than Hanson.

Is the right-wing media bubble impenetrable?
Nearly a month after their blow-out defeat, Republicans still refuse to confront their demographic challenges

by Joshua Holland

Victor Davis Hanson’s analysis of the election was representative and equally informative. He wrote that Mitt Romney was an amazing candidate – “a glittering Sir Galahad who, given his impressive horse, armor, and lance, along with his decency and piety, assumed that he could win a joust in a fair charge against the other team’s knight.” Hanson claimed that 47 percent of the population are in fact dependent on government and mocked the idea that the Republican Party might try to reach out to non-white voters. “The only way Republicans can appeal to Latinos,” he wrote, is to “close the border, stop illegal immigration, and allow the melting pot and upward mobility to fracture ‘Hispanics’ along class lines.”

For Hanson and most of his readers, neither the message nor the messenger were problematic; only the pernicious bias of the traditional media prevented voters from embracing the plans Mitt Romney was going to detail right after his victory. Hanson then, without irony, warned his fellow Republicans of the dangers of falling into the comforting “cocoon” provided by the conservative media.

For God’s Sake, Somebody Please Give Victor Davis Hanson His Meds
by VACUUMSLAYER

Next up, we have a real tour de force from Victor Davis Hanson. It’s all about the sense of freedom one feels when one is doing back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work while not making as much money as Victor Davis Hanson. I give him credit for keeping it slightly less rambling and nonsensical than usual, while still managing to sneak in some vintage VDH-flavored surrealism. Go ahead, click. You will not be disappointed.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote an opinion piece lately that described recent events as ‘The first coup in US history in which government bureaucrats sought to overturn an election and to remove a sitting president’. Is he right?
by Bruce Carriker

Despite his credentials, Hanson, like so many conservatives in the age of trump, has slipped off the deep end. His racism became obvious during the Obama administration and he now seems to have lost all touch with reality.

How National Review Helped Build the Alt-Right
The magazine laid the foundations for the movement it now opposes.

by Osita Nwanevu

If Gottfried is right, the purges seem to have been incomplete. Victor Davis Hanson, a current writer for National Review and a frequent critic of multiculturalism, for instance, published a National Review piece about race and crime a year after Derbyshire’s firing that loudly echoed his offending column without similar repercussions, right down to the paternal recommendation to avoid black people.

 

Right-Wing Political Correctness on Right-Wing Terrorism

During the administration of George W. Bush, the FBI put out numerous reports on terrorism. Although they conflated non-violent actions against property by left-wing groups with violent actions against people by right-wing groups, the FBI nonetheless made clear that it was right-wing groups that were the greatest and most dangerous emerging risk, going back to the 1990s. And they specifically warned of returning veterans potentially being recruited into terrorist groups or acting as lone actor terrorists. From a report on terrorism from 2002 to 2005:

“Right-wing extremism, however, primarily in the form of domestic militias and conservative special interest causes, began to overtake left-wing extremism as the most dangerous, if not the most prolific, domestic terrorist threat to the country during the 1990s. In contrast to the ALF and the ELF, which have pursued a philosophy that avoids physical violence in favor of acts of property damage that cause their victims economic harm, right-wing extremists pursued a qualitatively different method of operation by targeting people.”

Yet this largely went unnoticed. The media, especially the right-wing media, had little interest in focusing on domestic threats while the foreign “War on Terror” was going on. And it would have been hard for right-wing groups to argue for bias when right-wingers were in control of the federal government. This attitude changed, of course, when Barack Obama was elected. There was right-wing outrage when a DHS report came out in 2009 that highlighted right-wing terrorism, despite the fact that the research for the report began under the Bush administration. This forced a retraction, not because it wasn’t true but because it was politically incorrect.

Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century
By Daniel Koehler
pp. 27-28

“It is noteworthy that while right-wing terrorism is widely seen as a phenomenon involving lone actors or small cells, this study indicates that a critical mass of group members might be necessary for the escalation into violence.

“Another aspect highly relevant for the present subject is the research on so-called ‘sovereign citizens’ and the political impact of these assessments. The sovereign citizen movement is a very diverse and loose network of individuals and groups with a shared rejection of United States laws, taxation, currency and the government’s legitimacy especially regarding firearms control (e.g., ADL 2010; FBI 2011; Fleishman 2004; Macnab 2016). The concept behind the movement is directly rooted in Christian Identity teachings and the right-wing terrorist Posse Comitatus group in the 1980s. Fluent overlapping with more militant and violent militias or white supremacists (e.g., Aganes 1996; Crothers 2003; Freilich 2003; Levitas 2002) have resulted in a number of violent attacks from individuals and groups as well clashes with law enforcement agencies. For example, the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh for his Oklahoma bombing in 1995 was a member of the movement; and a number of violent stand-offs between sovereign citizen groups with Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., the ‘Bundy stand-offs’ in 2014 and 2016), and numerous individual acts of killings of police officers exemplify the movement’s danger.

“One critical effect of government (e.g., intelligence and police) assessments of threats posed by this sovereign citizen movement in the United States is the high risk of political backlash and strong opposition. In April 2009, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Extremism and Radicalization branch issued a report looking at the risk of violent radicalization within the right-wing extremist movement including sovereign citizens (DHS 2009). Shortly after the report was published, several quotes were used by mostly conservative politicians and public interest organizations to organize strong nationwide critique (Levin 2011; Thompson 2009). Especially relevant for the subsequent debate, were the report’s arguments regarding the increased risk of right-wing radicalization and recruitment through the first African-American presidency, the prospects of firearms restrictions and the potential of returning veterans becoming recruits for terrorist groups or working as lone actors. Although research for the report had already started under the Bush administration in 2008 (Levin 2011) and some of these claims were founded in much earlier assessments by the FBI, the political climate swiftly changed against the DHS, which retracted the report, cut personnel in the domestic terrorism branch, canceled briefings on the issue and held back about a dozen reports (Smith 2011). Eventually the intelligence unit responsible was dismantled in April 2010. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the FBI had already published a number of reports on the same issues and continued afterwards without a similar reaction (e.g., FBI 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011). In 2012, the main author responsible for the problematic DHS report, Daryl Johnson, published his own accounts about the sovereign citizen movement and the risk for potential terrorist incidents becoming rooted in this milieu, arguing that the public debate after the report had effectively created a security risk by furthering the already critical devaluation of domestic terrorism within the DHS’ list of priorities (Johnson 2012). In the eyes of Johnson, the resulting lack of specialized analysis capacity, both in regard to experienced personnel and resources, was majorly responsible for the inadequate threat assessments and counter-measures against terrorism from the Far-Right (Nixon 2016). This capacity seems to have become one field of activity for the FBI since 2011 (Sullivan 2012) and the department of Justice, which re-established the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee in 2014. The committee had been created in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 and disbanded after the 9/11 attacks (DoJ 2013). In addition to the DoJ and US attorney community, the committee comprises the FBI and National Security Division. As a consequence of increased lethal violence directed against the U government by sovereign citizens — for example, the killing of a half dozen police officers and three prevented major terrorist attacks involving movement members since 2010 — the FBI has labeled the network as domestic terrorism. A recent study about the sovereign citizens has also highlighted, the role of the movement’s specific subculture with approximately 300,000 followers in the United States, which has increasingly become part of the mainstream political culture (Macnab 2016).”

Kavanaugh and the Authoritarians

I don’t care too much about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, one way or another. There doesn’t appear to be any hope of salvation in our present quandary, not for anyone involved (or uninvolved), far beyond who ends up on the Supreme Court.

But from a detached perspective of depressive realism, the GOP is on a clear decline, to a far greater degree than the Democrats which is saying a lot. Back during the presidential campaign, I stated that neither main political party should want to win. That is because we are getting so close to serious problems in our society or rather getting closer to the results of those problems that have long been with us. Whichever party is in power will be blamed, not that I care either way considering both parties deserve blame.

Republicans don’t seem to be able to help themselves. They’ve been playing right into the narrative of their own decline. At the very moment they needed to appeal to minorities because of looming demographic changes, they doubled down on bigotry. Now, the same people who supported and voted for a president who admitted to grabbing women by the pussy (with multiple sexual allegations against him and multiple known cases of cheating on his wife) are defending Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual wrongdoing.

This is not exactly a surprise, as Trump brazenly and proudly declared that he could shoot a person for everyone to see and his supporters would be fine with it. And certainly his publicly declaring his authoritarianism in this manner didn’t faze many Republican voters and Republican politicians. He was elected and the GOP rallied behind him. Also, it didn’t bother Kavanaugh as his acceptance of the Republican nomination implies he also supports authoritarianism and, if possible, plans on enacting it on the Supreme Court. Whether or not true that Trump could get away with murder, it is an amazing statement to make in public and still get elected president for, in any functioning democracy, that would immediately disqualify a candidate.

It almost doesn’t matter what are the facts of the situation, guilt or innocence. Everyone knows that, even if Kavanaugh was a proven rapist, the same right-wing authoritarians who love Trump would defend Kavanaugh to the bitter end. Loyalty is everything to these people. Not so much for the political left in how individuals are more easily thrown under the bus (or like Al Franken who threw himself under the bus and for a rather minor accusation of an inappropriate joke, not even involving any inappropriate touching). Sexual allegations demoralize Democrats, consider the hard hit it took with Anthony Weiner, in a way that never happens with Republicans who always consider a sexual allegation to be a call to battle.

The official narrative now is that the GOP is the party of old school bigots and chauvinistic pigs. They always had that hanging over their heads. And in the past, they sometimes held it up high with pride as if it were a banner of their strength. But now they find themselves on the defense. It turns out that this narrative they embraced probably doesn’t have much of a future. Yet Republicans can’t find it in themselves to seek a new script. For some odd reason, they are heavily attached to being heartless assholes.

This is even true for many Republican women. My conservative mother who, having not voted for Trump, has been pulled back into partisanship with the present conflict and has explicitly told me that she doesn’t believe men held accountable for past sexual transgressions because that is just the way the world was back then. Some conservative women go even further, arguing that men can’t help themselves and that even now we shouldn’t hold them accountable — as Toyin Owoseje reported:

Groping women is “no big deal”, a Donald Trump supporting mother told her daughters on national television when asked about the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Among Republicans, we’ve been hearing such immoral defenses for a long time. There is another variety of depravity to be found among Democrats, but they at least have the common sense to not openly embrace depravity in their talent for soft-pedalling their authoritarian tendencies. Yet as full-blown authoritarian extremists disconnected from the average American, Republicans don’t understand why the non-authoritarian majority of the population might find their morally debased views unappealing. To them, loyalty to group is everything, and the opinions of those outside the group don’t matter.

The possibility that Kavanaugh might have raped a woman, to right-wing authoritarians, simply makes him seem all the more of a strong male to be revered. It doesn’t matter what he did, at least not to his defenders. This doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party. With the decline they are on, the only hope they have is for Trump to start World War III and seize total control of the government. They’ve lost the competition of rhetoric. All that is left for them is force their way to the extent they can, which at the moment means trying to push Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court. Of course, they theoretically could simply pick a different conservative nominee without all the baggage, but they can’t back down now no matter what. Consequences be damned!

Just wait to see what they’ll be willing to do when the situation gets worse. Imagine what would happen with a Trump-caused constitutional crisis and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. However it ends, the trajectory is not pointing upward. The decline of the GOP might be the (further) decline of the United States.

Political Right Rhetoric

The following is an accurate description of the political rhetoric, the labels and language in its use on the political right (from a Twitter thread). It is by Matthew A. Sears, an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick.

1. “I’m neither a liberal nor a conservative.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

2. “I’m a radical centrist.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

3. “I’m a classical liberal.” = “I’m a neoliberal who’s never read any classical liberals.”

4. “I’m not usually a fan of X.” *Retweets and agrees with everything X says.*

5. “I’m a free speech absolutist.” = “I’m glad racists are now free to speak publicly.”

6. “I believe in confronting views one finds offensive.” *Whines about being bullied by lefties.*

7. “My views are in the minority and aren’t given a fair hearing.”*Buys the best-selling book in the world.*

8. “Where else would you rather live?” = “Canada is perfect for me, and it better not frigging change to be better for anyone else.”

9. “Nazis should be able to speak and given platforms so we can debate them.” *Loses mind if someone says ‘fuck’ to a Nazi.*

10. “The left has taken over everything.” *Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress.*

And, finally, the apex of Twitterspeak:

11. “The left are tyrants and have taken over everything and refuse to hear other perspectives and pose a dire threat to the republic and Western Civilization.” *Ben Shapiro has over a million followers.*

I’d say treat this thread as an Enigma Machine for Quillette-speak/viewpoint-diversity-speak/reverse-racism-speak/MRA-speak, but none of these chaps are enigmas.

I can’t believe I have to add this, but some are *outraged* by this thread: I don’t mind if you’re *actually* centrist or conservative. I just mind if you *pretend to be* left/centrist for rhetorical/media cred/flamewar purposes, while *only* taking conservative stances. Sheesh

Like, I’m pretty left-wing on many issues these days. It would be sneaky of me to identity as “conservative” or “classical liberal” or whatever only to dump on all their ideas and always support opposing ideas. A left-winger or centrist is what a left-winger or centrist tweets.

James Taoist added:

12. “I’m a strict Constitutionalist” = “I’m as racist as fuck.”

Progress and Reaction in a Liberal Age

I have some thoughts rumbling around in my head. Let me try to lay them out and put order to them. What I’m pondering is liberalism and conservatism, progressive reform and the reactionary mind, oppression and backlash.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that, ever since the Enlightenment, we live in a liberal age dominated by a liberal paradigm. So, in a sense, we are all liberals. Even reactionaries are defined by the liberalism they are reacting to. This relates to Corey Robin’s observation of how reactionaries are constantly co-opting ideas, rhetoric, and tactics from the political left. Reaction, in and of itself, has no substance other than what it takes from elsewhere. This is why conservatives, the main variety of reactionaries, often get called classical liberals. A conservative is simply what a liberal used to be and conservatism as such merely rides along on the coattails of liberalism.

This isn’t necessarily a compliment to liberalism. The liberal paradigm ultimately gets not just all the credit but also all the blame. What we call liberals and conservatives are simply the progressive and regressive manifestations of this paradigm. The progressive-oriented have tended to be called ‘liberals’ for the very reason these are the people identified with the social order, the post-Enlightenment progress that has built the entire world we know. But this easily turns those on the political left toward another variety of reaction. Liberals, as they age, find themselves relatively further and further to the right as the population over the generations keeps moving left. This is how liberals, as they age, can sometimes start thinking of themselves as conservatives. It’s not that the liberal changed but the world around them.

As reactionaries have no ideological loyalty, liberals can lack a certain kind of discernment. Liberals have a tendency toward psychological openness and curiosity along with a tolerance for cognitive dissonance (simultaneously holding two different thoughts or seeing two different perspectives). This can lead liberals to be accepting of or even sympathetic toward reactionaries, even when it is contradictory and harmful to liberalism. Furthermore, when experiencing cognitive overload, liberals easily take on reactionary traits and, if stress and anxiety continue long enough, the liberal can be permanently transformed into a reactionary (as a beautiful elf is tortured until becoming an orc).

We are living under conditions that are the opposite of being optimal for and conducive toward healthy liberal-mindedness. That isn’t to say the liberal paradigm is going to disappear any time soon. What it does mean is that the political left will get wonky for quite a while. American society, in particular, has become so oppressive and dysfunctional that there is no hope for a genuinely progressive liberalism. Right now, the progressive worldview is on the defense and that causes liberals to attack the political left as or more harshly than they do the political right. As they increasingly take on reactionary traits, mainstream liberals trying to hold onto power will defend what is left of the status quo by any means necessary.

Yet there is still that urge for progress, even as it gets demented through frustration and outrage. It was inevitable that the #MeToo movement would go too far. The same pattern is always seen following a period of oppression that leads to a populist lashing out or at least that is how some will perceive it. It is what is seen in any revolutionary era, such as how many at the time saw the American and French revolutions going too far, and indeed both led to large numbers of deaths and refugees, but that is what happens under oppressive regimes when the struggle and suffering of the masses becomes intolerable. The judgment of going too far was also made against the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Those stuck in the reactionary mind will see any challenge to their agenda of rigid hierarchy as being too much and so deserving of being crushed. And as reactionary worldview takes hold of society, almost everyone starts taking on the traits of the reactionary mind, hence reaction leading to ever more reaction until hopefully a new stability is achieved.

All of this has more to do with psychological tendencies than political ideologies. We all carry the potential for reaction as we carry the potential for progressivism. That struggle within human nature is what it means to live in a liberal age.

Motivated Reasoning in a Post-Fact Age

“Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationship with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

In this supposed post-fact age dominated by alt-facts, it has come to be questioned how much truth matters. This is hardly a new concern, simply because we have proud ignoramus as president, as Ron Suskind years ago wrote of Karl Rove:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.”

When ignorance is cynically wielded as a weapon, what power can truth have? The problem of ignorance isn’t only about what we don’t know but what we ignore, sometimes what pretend to not know, sometimes even to ourselves by way of dissociation or else by way of welcoming any comforting lie. There are cognitive biases and failures that we are prone to, as our shared human inheritance, but it has been claimed that some are more prone than others — as I’ve argued in the past (6 years ago):

Research shows that liberals are more willing to challenge authority and so lack the submissive attitude of unquestioning respect toward authority which is common among conservatives. For example, more liberals than conservatives state they’d be willing to slap their own father. ‘Openness’ is the main psychological trait that correlates to liberalism. What ‘openness’ is about is cognitive complexity, capacity for cognitive dissonance, intellectual curiosity, desire to experiment and explore, etc. But ‘openness’ also relates to being less inclined to fall into motivated reasoning (confirmation bias, backfire effect, etc)… on issues related to politics, anyway. I’ll point out the obvious fact that ‘openness’ can’t operate while submitting to authority. […]

Relatively speaking, liberals are more rational than conservatives when it comes to political issues (or so the research shows it to be the case in liberal democracies like the US). This is significant since the political issues that provoke the strongest motivated reasoning are always mired in moral issues, all of politics ultimately being inseparable from morality. In practical terms, this doesn’t necessarily mean liberals are more well informed for that has more to do with education and there are plenty of well educated conservatives; but what it does mean (as shown by research; read Mooney’s book for a helpful summary) is that liberals are less misinformed while conservatives are more misinformed. The odd part is that conservatives are more misinformed to the degree they are informed, what is described as the “smart idiot” effect. This also relates to how conservatives and experts (well educated conservatives fitting both categories) are most prone to the backfire effect which is when challenging info causes someone to become even stronger in their opinions.

Is that true? Does the evidence still support this assessment? That is what I’ll explore.

Let me be clear. One of my favorite hobbies is criticizing and complaining about liberals (e.g., Liberalism: Weaknesses & Failures) and increasingly left-wingers as well (e.g., Is there a balance point in a society of extremes?). I end up obsessing more about the political left than the political right and my conclusions are often far from kind, to such an extent that I’ve lost some liberal friends these past couple of years (even my sister-in-law, a good liberal and partisan Democrat, who likes me on a personal level admitted that she blocked me on Facebook because of my political views). I personally know liberalism as someone who is a liberal, having been raised in a liberal church and having spent most of my life in a liberal town. But when I speak of conservatism, I also do so from a personal perspective, having been raised by conservative parents and having spent much of my life in conservative places (even this liberal town is in a rural farm state that is conservative in many ways, the state government presently controlled by right-wing Republicans).

My picking on conservatism isn’t separate from my picking on liberals. One of the main irritations about liberals is how easily, under conditions of stress and cognitive overload, they begin thinking and acting like conservatives. Under those conditions, liberals will share the same tendencies and biases as conservatives. The difference is that it requires pushing liberals out of their preferred mindset to get this response from them. This interests me more, the conditions that create and change ideological mindsets — that isn’t exactly my focus here, but it relates.

My own view is more in line with Chris Mooney, as opposed to Jonathan Haidt (I should point out that when I first read about Haidt’s research many years ago I found it quite compelling or at least interesting, but I later changed my mind as I read his book and analyzed his arguments and data more closely). Some see these two thinkers as making the same basic argument. It’s true that they rarely disagree about much (at least, not strongly when the two dialogue in person), and Mooney goes so far as to praise Haidt while sometimes dismissing apparent differences. I understand how their their arguments resonate, as they both started from a liberal position and from there sought to understand the American ideological divide. They share a common goal, to improve understanding and communication. Still, I sense something fundamentally different not just about their views but how they approach and hold those views. Their ultimate conclusions diverge greatly, Mooney leaning to the left and Haidt leaning over backwards toward the right. As I see it, much of what Haidt says is way off the mark. And for this reason, he is an example of the kind of public intellectual that confuses and annoys me, despite his amiable personality and liberal-minded good intentions. Mooney, though also being a fairly standard liberal, has a way of being more direct and so what can seem more honest, calling a spade a spade (The Republican Brain, Kindle Locations 2075-2079):

“You will probably have noted by now that the moral intuition research of Haidt and Ditto is not fully separate from the [cognitive] research covered in the last chapter. It overlaps. For instance, take conservatives’ greater respect for authority, and their stronger loyalty to the in-group, the tribe, the team. Respect for authority, at its extreme, is hard to distinguish from authoritarianism. And viewing the world with a strong distinction between the in-group and the out-group clearly relates to having lower integrative complexity and less tolerance of difference (although it can also, on a more positive note, mean showing loyalty and allegiance to one’s friends, and more patriotism).”

As I compared the two elsewhere:

So, Haidt’s view of intuition being greater than reasoning has some truth to it while also containing much speculation. We know that all people are predisposed to motivated reasoning. Yes, such bias can manifest as post hoc rationalizations of our intuited moral values. What Haidt ignores or doesn’t fully acknowledge, intentionally or not, is that not all people are equally predisposed to motivated reasoning in all types of situations. Mooney’s book presents a logical argument based on damning evidence about how conservatives are more predisposed to motivated reasoning when it comes to political issues, and it is clear that political issues are inseparable from moral issues in these cases of motivated reasoning.

A major example of motivated reasoning is the backfire effect. It has been well researched at this point. And the research shows it to be complex and context-dependent, as is presumably true of any cognitive biases. One early result found was that two oddly paired groups were most prone to the backfire effect, conservatives and the highly educated with highly educated conservatives being the worst (I’ll further discuss this finding below).

What can we make of this? As always, it depends. It’s not that conservatives are inherently anti-truth and anti-fact, anti-intellectual and anti-science. If you go back almost a half century ago, conservatives actually had slightly greater trust in science than liberals at the time, the two having switched places over time (the same was true with average IQ, having been higher among Republicans under Reagan but since then having been higher among Democrats, but intriguing piece of data is straying too far afield).

Why is that? Why did this change occur? There might be a simple explanation for it. During the Cold War, scientists were highly respected and science heavily funded by government in the fight against communism. For conservatives, the Cold War was all about an ideological war and a defense of the American Way. A major form that took was a technological competition between the two global superpowers, a space race and a nuclear weapons conflict. Science was a tool of ideology and the ideology in question was in line with an authoritarian vision of establishment power and a socially conservative vision of a status quo social order (an era during which perceived leftist radicals and deviants were the victims of big gov and big biz oppression, targeted by witch-hunts, blackballing, COINTELPRO, etc). Government funding of science and technology was often directly linked to the the military (e.g., R&D that created an early version of the internet as a communication system that would survive a military attack), and hence proof and expression of American greatness as part of the Whiggish view of White Man’s Burden and Manifest Destiny. Liberal values were also useful in the fight against communism and, unsurprisingly, during the early Cold War even conservatives like Ike and Nixon would publicly praise liberalism.

Humans in general are swayed by consensus views as an indicator of social norms. But conservatives are particularly motivated, as consensus among authority figures can be useful for conformity within and enforcement of the social order. In the anti-communist mindset back then, science and liberalism were part of the status quo of idealized American greatness as embodied in the American Dream (industrialized technology being commodified and experienced through a growing middle class of citizen-consumers; e.g., “Better living through chemistry”), what supposedly differentiated us from the backward authoritarianism of the Soviet regime (the ‘progressive’ authoritarianism of neocon corporatism is so much better!).

As the USSR weakened and eventually the Cold War ended, that consensus was broken and there was no longer a foreign authoritarian power posing a real threat. Liberalism and science no longer served any ideological purpose for the conservative agenda. So, to the conservative mind, liberalism once again became the enemy and so scientists were treated as liberal elites to be opposed (of course, excluding all of the scientists working for corporations and right-wing think tanks, as the big money of capitalism washes away their sins of intellectual pride; and also conveniently ignoring the sizable proportion of scientists along with engineering and tech field professors in universities who are on the political right).

When the US lost its only major global competitor with the collapse of the Soviet Union, consensus seemed irrelevant. America ruled the world and the Cold War had pushed conservatives into power. Conservatives didn’t need to make any concessions or compromises with the ideological opposition, as decades of persecution had broken the back of the political left. Conservatives no longer felt a need to justify themselves or look for allies. But that is changing now that the American star is on the decline and new global competitors are taking the stage. We have the opportunity to put pressure back on the political right for they are vulnerable to persuasion right now by anyone who will take advantage of it.

This brings me back to some of the research on backfire effect. This pressure seems to work. In Cosmos Magazine, Jeff Glorfeld offers a happy thought: “The added negative effect of conservatism plus high education was completely neutralised through exposure to the fact of scientific agreement around man-made climate change.” Consensus prevails! What this means is that defeating backfire effect requires pulling out the big guns. Repeat, repeat, repeat the facts of consensus. Don’t be shy about it!

More generally, I must admit that the backfire effect research doesn’t allow for simple conclusions. Some of it even seems contradictory, but I suspect this is because of the multiple factors (many of them confounding) involved. There is no single population and single set of conditions and so it’s unsurprising that various studies using different subjects from different backgrounds would come to different results (and we aren’t even talking about the even larger biases and problems of this kind of WEIRD research). Some of what we presently think we know about backfire effect and similar motivated reasoning might turn out to be wrong, misinterpreted, or more nuanced.

Let me give an example. Related to the above discussion about consensus, previous research wasn’t replicated by recent research (see: Wood & Porter’s published The Elusive Backfire Effect; Guess & Coppock’s unpublished The Exception, Not the Rule?). It indicates backfire effect might not be so strong and common, after all (not that the original researchers ever claimed it was ubiquitous and, showing no backfire effect of their own, the original researchers have supported the publishing of this new data). Also, there is no new evidence of any ideological disparity, if anything demonstrating that moderates are the least prone to it (are we to assume moderates are the least ideologically dogmatic in the partisan sense or are they simply the most apathetic with fewer ideological commitments because of intellectual laziness, thoughtlessness, or whatever?). Does this disprove the prior research? Flynn, Nyhand, and Reifler responded with some commentary.

Whatever it might or might not mean, I wouldn’t allow this to comfort you too much. Even though “[t]his finding is contested by other research that finds limited evidence that corrective information contributes to such a ‘backfire effect,'” writes Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich (Truth Decay, p. 83), “even this research suggests that altering preexisting beliefs can be difficult.” One of the authors of the published work, Ethan Porter, admits that what “Our work shows is that people do accept new information, but we have no evidence that this then affects their downstream policy attitudes.”

This latter suspicion was confirmed, at least among certain people. The original researchers collaborated with the challenging researchers. They again couldn’t find backfire effect, which seems to put the original research into doubt, although it is a bit early to come to strong conclusions. What they did find was maybe even more disheartening, as written about in a Vox piece by Brian Resnick — that “facts make an impression. They just don’t matter for our decision-making, which is a conclusion that’s abundant in psychology science.” And this is specifically relevant for the present: “there’s still a big problem: Trump supporters know their candidate lies, but that doesn’t change how they feel about him. Which prompts a scary thought: Is this just a Trump phenomenon? Or can any charismatic politician get away with being called out on lies?” It still doesn’t disprove the backfire effect, since it’s possible that they had already backfired as far back as they could go at this point: “Many of his supporters may have to come to terms with his records of misstatements by the time this study was conducted.” Further research will be required.

If we take this latest research as is, it would simply justify the view of backfire effect being the least of our worries. Backfire effect can only occur after facts are shown to someone and they look at them. But how often do political debates even get to the point where facts get exchanged, much less acknowledged?

“At least it’s nice to know that facts do make an impression, right? On the other hand, we tend to avoid confronting facts that run hostile to our political allegiances. Getting partisans to confront facts might be easy in the context of an online experiment. It’s much harder to do in the real world.”

* * *

Let me make a note. Ideological mindsets are as much social constructs as are races. They are part of a particular social order and cultural worldview. Conservatives and liberals didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. Any such labels are one of many possible ways of grouping diverse potentials and tendencies within human nature.

That might explain why, as research shows (in the American population at least), there is an overlap between conservatism and authoritarianism. But that is just another way of saying all authoritarians, left and right, are socially conservative (the reason why it is sometimes referred to as right-wing authoritarianism, as there is no such thing as socially liberal authoritarianism) — whereas fiscal conservatism has no known positive or negative correlation to authoritarianism (so-called fiscal conservatism simply being an old form of liberalism, i.e., classical liberalism). So, this is the reason authoritarians are mostly found on the political right in countries like the United States and on the political left in countries like Russia (left and liberal not being the same thing, as always depending on what specific ideologies we are talking about).

It depends on context, on definition and perception. There is no singular ‘conservatism’ for its just a general way of speaking about overlapping patterns of ideology, culture, personality, and neurology. The overlap of social conservatism and fiscal conservatism in contemporary American thought might be more of a fluke of historical conditions. Russell Kirk, the godfather of modern American conservatism, actually thought the two were fundamentally incompatible.

* * *

Why the Right Wing’s War on Facts Is Driving the Divide in America
by Sophia A. McClennen

A recent study by the Duke Reporters’ Lab shows that, in addition to a partisan difference in the frequency of lying, there is a partisan division over the very idea of fact-checking itself.

The researchers logged 792 statements mentioning fact-checkers and coded them as positive, negative or neutral. While a majority of citations (68 percent) were neutral, they found a dramatic divide in the source of negative comments. The study noted 71 accusations of bias against fact-checkers. Conservative websites were responsible for 97 percent of them.

The study shows that conservative sites take a hostile, negative attitude toward the practice of fact-checking. In some cases the tone is hardly subtle. In one example, they cite Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online, who noted that Hillary Clinton’s record with the truth was far from spotless. “Even PolitiFact, the hackiest and most biased of the fact-checking outfits, which bends over like a Bangkok hooker to defend Democrats, has a long list of her more recent lies.”

Goldberg seems pleased that Politifact has a list of Clinton’s lies, but at the same time he feels compelled to denigrate the fact-checking operation that produced the list. In fact, the Duke study shows that even when conservative sites are happy to reference fact-checks that bolster their ideological perspective, they often still find a way to denigrate their sources.

How Campaign Messages Are Received and Processed
by David Helfert

Left Brain, Right Brain

Other neurological studies seem congruent with Westen’s findings. In the 1980s, pop psychology began to describe people as either left or right brained and suggested that the characteristic determined whether they tended to be more artistic, sensitive, thoughtful, creative, emotional, or analytical, depending on which lobes of the brain dominated their thought processing and behavior. The theory that everyone is either one or the other has been roundly disputed in recent years. Now, however, it appears there may be something to the basic idea after all, and that the unique characteristics of the left and right lobes of the brain may have consequences in political communication.

Journalist and author Chris Mooney has written extensively on how different kinds of political messages are received and processed by different people. Mooney has built on Westen’s research about neurological differences in processing varying kinds of messages. In his 2012 book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, he points to research that finds the predisposition to process stimuli in one lobe of the brain or the other is due to an actual physical difference in the size of the respective lobes.

Some people, says Mooney, actually have a larger right brain lobe, including the limbic system, which supports emotion, behavior, motivation, and long-term memory. Other people, he says, have a larger left brain lobe and tend to process most information through their prefrontal cortex, the lobes that help in reasoning and logical processing.

Mooney suggests that this neurological difference can reflect political tendencies. In The Republican Brain, Mooney describes “a recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of 90 University College of London students that found on average, political conservatives actually had a larger right lobe, including the amygdalae, while political liberals had more gray matter in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC),” part of the brain’s frontal lobe, with many links to the prefrontal cortex.

This seems consistent with studies conducted in 2013 by Darren Schreiber, a researcher in neuropolitics at the University of Exeter in the UK, and colleagues at the University of California. Their research was described in “Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans” in the international online journal PLOS ONE.

The study used data from a previous experiment in which a group of people were asked to play a simple gambling task. Schreiber’s team took the brain activity measurement of eighty-two people and cross-referenced them with the participants’ publicly available political party registration data. They found that Republicans tended to use their right amygdala, the part of the brain associated with the body’s fight-or-flight system, when making risk-taking decisions; Democrats tended to show greater activity in their left insula, an area associated with self and social awareness.

Schreiber claims the insula/amygdala brain function model offers an 82.9 percent accuracy rate in predicting whether a person is a Democrat or Republican. In comparison, the longstanding model using the party affiliation of parents to predict a child’s affiliation is accurate about 69.5 percent of the time. Another model based on the differences in brain structure distinguishes liberals from conservatives with 71.6 percent accuracy.

Mooney cites other academic research findings indicating that people whose limbic system is more involved in processing information are less likely to change their minds. Once they have arrived at a position on an issue that is congruent with their belief system and values, they are unlikely to change their minds even when presented with irrefutable evidence to support a different viewpoint. They will actually reject or discount facts or attempt to discredit the source of facts that conflict with their position.

Motivated Reasoning

A series of related behavioral concepts could shed light on why different people seem to react differently to various political messages. One of the best known concepts is motivated reasoning, which is based on research findings, such as that described by Mooney, that some people tend to process most information through the prefrontal cortex of their brains while others tend to receive and process information through the limbic system.

Other research has found that subjects who tend to process information through the prefrontal lobes of the brain tend to be more open to new information, and to be more politically liberal. Those subjects who tend to process information through the emotion-centers in the brain tend to be more politically conservative.

How Warnings About False Claims Become Recommendations
by Skurnik, Yoon, Park, & Schwarz

Telling people that a consumer claim is false can make them misremember it as true. In two experiments older adults were especially susceptible to this “illusion of truth” effect. Repeatedly identifying a claim as false helped older adults remember it as false in the short term, but paradoxically made them more likely to remember it as true after a three-day delay. This unintended effect of repetition comes from increased familiarity with the claim itself, but decreased recollection of the claim’s original context. Findings provide insight into susceptibility over time to memory distortions and exploitation via repetition of claims in media and advertising.

Misinformation lingers in memory: Failure of three pro-vaccination strategies
by Pluviano, Watt , & Sala

People’s inability to update their memories in light of corrective information may have important public health consequences, as in the case of vaccination choice. In the present study, we compare three potentially effective strategies in vaccine promotion: one contrasting myths vs. facts, one employing fact and icon boxes, and one showing images of non-vaccinated sick children. Beliefs in the autism/vaccines link and in vaccines side effects, along with intention to vaccinate a future child, were evaluated both immediately after the correction intervention and after a 7-day delay to reveal possible backfire effects. Results show that existing strategies to correct vaccine misinformation are ineffective and often backfire, resulting in the unintended opposite effect, reinforcing ill-founded beliefs about vaccination and reducing intentions to vaccinate.

Sometimes busting myths can backfire
by Bethany Brookshire

But bursting mythical bubbles can also backfire. The first problem is that people are easily persuaded by things they hear more often. “The mere repetition of a myth leads people to believe it to be more true,” notes Christina Peter, a communication scientist at the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich.

And unfortunately, our brains don’t remember myths in a very helpful way. “There’s a lot of research that tells us people have a hard time remembering negations,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in England. We remember myths not as myths, but rather as statements that are additionally tagged as “false.” So instead of remembering “cheese is nothing like crack,” our brains remember “cheese is like crack (false).” As our memories fade, the qualifier on the statement may fade too, leaving us with the false idea that brie really is the next cocaine.

Peter and her colleague Thomas Koch decided to find out how best to combat this backfire effect — our tendency to misremember myths as fact — when confronted with scientific information. They recruited 335 volunteers and asked them to read three newspaper articles. The first and last were decoys. The important one was in the middle, and concerned a new in-home bowel cancer test. The article included eight statements about the new test, with each immediately identified as fact or myth, and with an explanation of why the items were true or false.

The scientists also asked the participants to focus on different things. They asked one group to form an opinion about the articles as they read them. They asked another just to study the language.

After all the groups were done reading, Peter and Koch presented them with the eight statements from the bowel test article, and asked them whether they were true or false. Then the scientists asked the participants those questions again after five days to test what they retained.

Readers who focused just on the language of the articles suffered from the backfire effect.  They were more likely to remember false statements as true than to remember true statements as false. This backfire effect got stronger when they saw the statements again five days later, and it influenced what they thought of the bowel test. The articles described the test in a slightly negative light. But if people remembered more of the myths as facts, they ended up with a positive view of the test. Oops.

But the backfire effect changed if participants formed an opinion as they read. Participants who were making up their minds on the fly made errors half as often as those who were reading only for language.

Peter says the results suggest that when presenting readers with new information, “try to avoid repeating false information,” since that may be what remains in people’s minds. And in some situations, Peter says, asking readers for their opinion or getting them to form an opinion as they read might help them distinguish between what is truth and what is myth. Peter and Koch published their results in the January Science Communication.

Backfire Effect Not Significant
by Steven Novella

For me there are two main limitations of this study – the first is that it is difficult to extrapolate from the artificial setting of a psychological study to an emotional discussion around the dinner table (or in the comments to a blog). It seems likely that people are much more willing to be reasonable in the former setting.

Second, we have no idea how persistent the correction effect is. People may immediately correct their belief, but then quickly forget the new information that runs counter to their narrative. That would be consistent with my personal experience, at least some of the time. It seems I can correct someone’s false information, with objective references, but then a month later they repeat their original claim as if the prior conversation never happened. I would love to see some long term follow up to these studies.

So if people do not respond to ideologically inconvenient facts by forming counterarguments and moving away from them (again – that is the backfire effect) then what do they do? The authors discuss a competing hypothesis, that people are fundamentally intellectually lazy. In fact, forming counterarguments is a lot of mental work that people will tend to avoid. It is much easier to just ignore the new facts.

Further there is evidence that to some extent people not only ignore facts, they may think that facts are not important. They may conclude that the specific fact they are being presented is not relevant to their ideological belief. Or they may believe that facts in general are not important.

What that generally means is that they dismiss facts as being biased and subjective. You have your facts, but I have my facts, and everyone is entitled to their opinion – meaning they get to choose which facts to believe.

Of course all of this is exacerbated by the echochamber effect. People overwhelmingly seek out sources of information that are in line with their ideology.

I think it is very important to recognize that the backfire effect is a small or perhaps even nonexistent phenomenon. The problem with belief in the backfire effect is that it portrays people as hopelessly biased, and suggests that attempts at educating people or changing their mind is fruitless. It suggests that the problem of incorrect beliefs is an unfixable inherent problem with human psychology.

Mick West says:
January 4, 2018 at 11:52 am
The primary problem with this study is that it is only measuring the IMMEDIATE effect of corrections. As they say in the final sentence of the discussion, there’s little backfire effect to correcting ideologically biased misinformation “at least for a brief moment”. It tells use nothing about what might happen weeks or months later. In fact the design of the study seems more like a reading comprehension test than about measuring changes in belief.

I’d recommend people have a look at the overview of backfire effects in The Debunking Handbook by Cook & Lewandowsky (free online). They identify three types: Familiarity Backfire, Overkill Backfire, and Worldview Backfire. Worldview backfire (which the Wood & Porter study measures) is more manifest as a disconfirmation bias, something which Wood and Porter dismiss, but don’t measure – not because people are too lazy to come up with alternative explanations, but because the immediate nature of the study does not allow the participants time for any mental gymnastics. The other two forms of backfire are likewise things that happen over time.

So I’d not put too large an asterisk on the backfire effect just yet.

B.S. says:
January 4, 2018 at 2:35 pm
I think that the backfire effect is most likely an emotional response. I’m reading “Crucial Conversations” right now and this book describes emotional responses to uncomfortable conversations- attacking someone who disagrees with you (perceived as an adversary) and defending yourself without thinking are a huge portion of this book. This model seems to fits both anecdotal observations of the backfire effect and this new research.
The mechanical turn questions appear to be emotionless and have no cues from an opponent with an opposing view. The corrections were all “neutral data from [cited] governmental sources.”. I’d bet that changing the factual correction to “No it isn’t you asshole! President Obama has deported illegal immigrants at twice the rate of Bush!” (note no source cited, because we rarely remember them in conversations) would elicit some sort of backfire effect that would likely be even larger if delivered emotionally and in person by an “adversary”. Maybe this all means that the key to eliminating any backfire effect is removing emotion from your response and accurately citing neutral sources. Maybe this means that dispassionate real-time fact checking of politicians could actually make a difference. Regardless, this is an interesting addition to the literature and conversation. It restores some of my hope.

NiroZ says:
January 4, 2018 at 11:37 pm
I’d wager that the reason for this would be in line with the research for motivational interviewing (a therapy technique) as well as the research around stigma, shame and vulnerability. Basically, when people make arguments that appear to be part of the ‘backfire’ effect, they’re actually responding to the feeling of being cornered, the loss of control and power in find found incorrect and the possible sense of alienation they feel about identifying with an ‘incorrect’ belief. If this is correct, it’s likely that these people would, under the right circumstances/ to people they feel safe with, admit that X belief is wrong, but they need adhere to it for other reasons (to belong in a group, to annoy someone they dislike, to avoid losing face).

Nidwin says:
January 5, 2018 at 3:41 am
From my experience the backfire effect kicks in when folks can’t say “woops, was I wrong on that one”.

Folks only change their minds as long as the subject doesn’t breech their little personal cocoon. And even then it’s often FIFO (first in first out).

The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind

Ideological labels are used in an odd way on the political right. They are used more as weapons of rhetoric than as accurate descriptions. This relates to Corey Robin’s analysis of the reactionary mind. One of the most interesting things that distinguishes the reactionary from the traditionalist is how easily the reactionary co-opts from the political left.

This is particularly central to American society. The reactionary mind, like fundamentalism, is the product of modernity. And the American experience was born out of modernity, beginning with post-feudal colonial imperialism. The social order and social identity fell into disarray and so political ideology became ever more primary. The reactionary mind is dynamically adaptive, for it shifts according toward which it is reacting. It thrives in instability and will promote instability, even as it scapegoats its enemies for this very same instability that it requires.

Reactionaries are tough opponents. They feel no moral obligation to fight fairly. Nor will they ever state their true intentions. The mindset and worldview precludes it, at the level of consciousness. The reactionary mind is not just a set of tactics but a way of being in the world, a permanent survival mode of mistrust and deception. Labels in themselves mean nothing to the reactionary. They are like crabs, in camouflaging themselves, that attach things to their shells — pieces of coral, anemones, etc. There is a hodge-podge quality to their stated views, a little bit of this and a little bit of that with no need for principled consistency. 

The earliest example of this is the fight over Federalism. The war of rhetoric was won by those fighting for centralized power. They didn’t actually want Federalism. What they were attempting to create, as Corey Robin explains so well, was a new form of hierarchy and ruling elite involving the same old pattern of concentrated wealth and power. They were as much attacking the traditional ancien régime (old order) as they were attacking the revolutionary movement. They co-opted from both of their enemies, but over time as traditionalism declined they increasingly focused on co-opting from the political left.

The first great victory of American reactionaries was in falsely claiming to be Federalists. They did this by co-opting the revolution itself and, by way of the Constitutional Convention, redirecting it toward counter-revolution. This forced their opponents into the position of being called Anti-Federalists, even though their opponents were the strongest defenders of Federalism. The winners not only get to write the history books but also get to do the labeling.

This is how a society like ours, founded on liberalism, quickly had its radical liberalism defanged. Thomas Paine, in a short period of time, went from revolutionary hero to social pariah and political outcast. He didn’t fit into the reactionary scheme of the new centralized establishment. Even to this day, the political right goes on trying to co-opt the label of liberalism, despite the absurdity in calling themselves classical liberals. Now a radical progressive and social democrat like Paine was a classical liberal, but he was largely written out of the history books for almost two centuries.

This pattern has repeated throughout Anglo-American history (and I’m sure elsewhere as well). The capitalists originally were strong liberals with a clear progressive bent. Paine, for example, was for free markets. And like Paine, Adam Smith saw high economic inequality as a direct threat to a free society. Yet the reactionaries took over free market rhetoric to promote the inevitable authoritarianism and paternalism of a high inequality society. Because of this, it has become harder and harder to take seriously the rhetoric of free markets — in its being falsely used to defend crony capitalism, plutocratic corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal globalization, market fetishism, and crude (pseudo-)libertarianism. There is nothing free, much less classically liberal, about this capitalist realism.

There are more examples. Consider right-wing libertarians and right-wing anarchists (e.g., anarcho-capitalists). Both varieties of right-wingers typically defend the legacy of inequality and injustice. Their labeling themselves as libertarian and anarchist would have been absurd a century ago. Both libertarians and anarchists arose out of the left-wing workers movement in Europe. Yet here we are with the political right having successfully co-opted the label of libertarianism and are in the process of co-opting the label of anarchism.

There is nothing they can’t co-opt, once they set their mind to it. This is true even for labels that involve race issues. The theory and label of human biodiversity has become popular among the political right, specifically among alt-righters, the Dark Enlightenment, and other similar types. They use it to promote the cynical worldview of genetic determinism and race realism. The sad part is that the originator of human biodiversity, Jonathan Marks, created the theory specifically to disprove these right-wing claims.

Once again, here we are with the political right having so thoroughly co-opted a label that its very origins is forgotten. It’s a theft not just of a label but the destruction of meaning. It makes genuine debate impossible, and that is the entire point. Reactionaries are constantly seeking to muddy the water. They do everything in their power to control the terms of debate. Their opponents are left in a state of disorientation and constantly on the defense. This is easy for reactionaries to do because they have nothing specific to defend or rather that they keep well hidden what they are defending by way of obfuscation.

This wouldn’t necessarily mean much if not for the consistent pattern that can be seen across the centuries. It’s clearly significant in what it says about the modern political right and the consequences it has for the political left. The lesson is this. Never take them at their word. And never fight on their terms. Labels do matter.

Thrive: Libertarian Wolf in Progressive Clothing

A friend sent me a piece by Foster Gamble, An Encouraging Look Forward. It’s from Gamble’s Thrive blog. As you might recall, Thrive was a popular documentary from a few years back. It garnered a lot of attention at the time, but it didn’t seem to have any long term impact. My friend asked my thoughts about it. I’ve looked into Thrive in the past, although I can’t say I keep up on Gamble’s writings.

I must admit that I couldn’t be bothered to read the blog post beyond a quick skim, once I saw Gamble praising Trump as good and attacking socialism as evil (i.e., Trump saving us from the Democrats, specifically the threat of Sanders). This is someone who simply doesn’t understand what is happening… or worse, does understand. He can offer no hope because he can offer no worthy insight. It’s just another old rich white guy stuck in an old mindset. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that he finds hope in Trump, as both are the products of plutocratic inherited wealth. There is a long history of libertarians (and anarcho-capitalists) supporting authoritarians, from Pinochet to Trump. It has been called authoritarian libertarianism, which basically describes how liberal rhetoric of liberty and freedom can be used for illiberal ends.

Thrive comes across as a standard pseudo-libertarian techno-utopia with echoes of Cold War rhetoric and Bircher fear-mongering. The capitalists will save us if we only could eliminate big gov, progressive taxation, social safety net, legal civil rights, and democracy. He is an anarcho-capitalist, like Stefan Molyneux who is another Trump supporter. It turns out that (along with Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, etc) he does like to quote Molyneux.

He is no different than the rest of the disconnected elite, but maybe more clever in co-opting progressive rhetoric — similar to how right-wingers co-opted the libertarian label. Interestingly, Trump was elected on progressive rhetoric (by way of Steve Bannon) and that didn’t work out so well. The economic nationalism that Trump promised is the keystone of fascism. Right-wingers like Hitler and Mussolini were able to persuade so many on the political left by their saavy use of progressive rhetoric by glorifying a bright future — and these fascists did rebuild their countries right before sending them back into destruction. It’s highly problematic that Gamble is making many of the same basic arguments that brought the fascists to power earlier last century.

In his blog post, Gamble writes that, “It’s a turn away from globalism toward nationalism and toward localism that will, if allowed, continue until it finds the true unit of human wholeness — which is the individual, not the abstraction of “the group.” Meticulously honoring the intrinsic rights of the individual is what leads to true, voluntary community — which in fact best honors the needs of most people.”

This dogmatic ideology of hyper-individualism has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for this past century. All else is seen as abstractions. Right-wing ideologues, interestingly, are always attacking ideology because only other people’s beliefs and values (and not their own) are ideological — this kind of anti-ideological ideology goes back to the 1800s, such as the defense slaveholders used against the -isms of the North: abolitionism, feminism, Marxism, etc (and yes Lincoln was friends with all kinds of radicals such as free labor advocates and there was a Marxist in Lincoln’s administration).

From the ultra-right perspective of crude libertarianism, love of the supposedly non-ideological and non-abstract Nietszchian individual is the penultimate goal, specifically in the form of a paternalistic meritocracy of the most worthy individuals, a vanguard of enlightened leaders and rulers, even if those superior individuals are aristocrats, monarchs, fascists, or whatever else. As Gamble says that “the group” is an abstraction, Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society. We the public don’t exist, in the fantasy of plutocrats. Anyone who claims otherwise is an enemy, which is why democracy is so viciously attacked.

Beyond the dark right-wing conspiracies, the co-opting of progressive leaders is the most dangerous. Many of those interviewed stated that they were lied to and given false pretenses for why they were being interviewed and what kind of film it was to be. It was built on deception. It’s a propaganda piece produced and funded by right-wing plutocrats. All the fancy production and optimistic spin in the world can’t change that fact.

If you want to understand the worldview of Thrive, read the Rational Wiki entry on the Mises Institute or read some of the Misean defenses of Pinochet to get a flavor, such as General Augusto Pinochet Is Dead and More on Pinochet and Marxism. To Miseans, a social-democrat/democratic-socialist like Allende who was democratically elected, promoted compromise, and killed no one is more dangerous than a fascist like Pinochet who stole power through a coup, eliminated all traces of democracy, and went on a killing spree to subdue the masses. The ends justify the means, no matter how horrific. Capitalism must win at all costs, including human costs. As stated by Gamble’s hero, Mises:

“It cannot be denied that [Italian] Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

My conclusion about Gamble is beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ve seen this game played far too often. My tolerance for bullshit is approximately zero, at this point. It’s because of plutocrats like Gamble that we are in this mess. I don’t care about his proposed solutions. If we are to gain genuine progress, it will be without the likes of him.

For all my criticism, I must acknowledge the brilliance of using progressive rhetoric to frame an anti-progressive agenda. This is high quality propaganda. Who wouldn’t want the world to thrive with free energy, rainbows, and butterflies? But who exactly will be thriving, the plutocrats or the public? And what kind of freedom are we talking about that requires the snuffing out of democratic process, democratic representation, and democratic rights?

* * *

Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the film Thrive

Thrive : Deconstructing the Film

Gamble admits to being “profoundly influenced by Ludwig von Mises,” founding member of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. As an author, von Mises is celebrated by right-wing presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who claims, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

If I thought the film was libertarian propaganda, it was nothing compared to what I found on the Thrive website. The “Liberty” paper (under the Solutions section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Stefan Molyneux, there is even an attack on democracy! Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism and says they all — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”

Thrive – The Conspiracy Movie

On April 10, 2012, that nine of the people interviewed in the film had signed a letter repudiating it and claiming that Foster Gamble misrepresented the film to them. These people were John Robbins, Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Edgar Mitchell, Vandana Shiva, John Perkins, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin and Adam Trombly. In the letter Robbins noted: “When I wrote Foster Gamble to voice my disappointment with many of the ideas in the film and website, he wrote back, encouraging me among other things to study the works of David Icke, Eustace Mullins, Stanley Monteith and G. Edward Griffin. These are among the people he repeatedly refers to in the movie as his “sources.” It is in these people’s worldviews that Thrive has its roots. I find this deeply disturbing. Here’s why…”

The Hidden Right-Wing Agenda at the Heart of ‘Thrive’

In case anyone misses the point—that the state must wither so that man can be free—Gamble shares von Mises’ opinion that like Communism, fascism and socialism, “democracy wrongly assumes the rights of the collective, or the group, over the rights of the individual.”

But wait a minute. Wasn’t that Paul Hawken on the screen a little while ago? How did we get from Paul Hawken to a thinly veiled anti-democracy rant and Ludwig von Mises?

Paul Hawken happens to be one of my personal heroes. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Hawken founded a couple of successful companies in the 1970s, and then went on to became the world’s leading environmentalist/economist with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993.

In Thrive, he delivers a passionate speech drawn from ideas in his latest book, the marvelous Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

“If you look at the people who are involved with restoring the earth and stopping the damage, and reversing the depredation, and nurturing change, and reimagining what it means to he human, and you don’t feel optimistic, then maybe you need to have your heart examined,” he says in the film. “Because there is an extraordinary, gorgeous, beautiful, fierce group of people in this world who are taking this on.”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Enough of this conspiracy hogwash—let’s do some positive-minded politics! (For a local example, see this week’s cover story about the awesome work being done at Save Our Shores.html.)

In addition to being an admired economic thinker, Paul Hawken is a successful businessman and is nowhere near a socialist. Furthermore, Hawken was among the many sane people who championed the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which Foster Gamble claims was an Illuminati/New World Order effort to create a global currency and destroy America’s sovereignty.

So—what’s Paul Hawken doing in this movie? I emailed him to find out. He replied he was just surprised as I was to find out he’s in the film.

“I did that interview many years prior under false pretenses,” Hawken replied. “I had no idea I was being interviewed for such a movie. Having said that, I have only seen the trailer [and] don’t really want to see the film, having read about it. I do not agree with the science or the philosophy.

“I do feel used, no question, as do others. It’s a lesson in signing releases.”

Similarly, In an email Thursday, Elisabet Sahtouris said that when she was interviewed for the film, she understood it was to be a very different kind of movie, and is “dismayed” at some of what she saw in the final cut. “I loved the footage shot of me and my colleagues; I deplore the context in which it was used.

“To put the individual above community is simply misguided; without community we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit; it does not just happen with flowers and rainbows…  and no taxes.”

It appears that Hawken and Sahtouris aren’t the only people who regret having appeared in Thrive. In a scathing review on the Huffington Post, Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Center reports that she has heard from several of other interviewees, none of whom had any idea they were helping to make a libertarian propaganda film.

Film review: Why ‘Thrive’ is best avoided

Ah, so that’s what ‘Thrive’ is all about …

Then, at the end of the film, we finally get into Thrive’s manifesto, it’s vision for the future and how we might get there.  There is lots in there that I wouldn’t disagree with, more local food, renewable energy, local banking, local shopping and so on, apart from free energy being thrown into the mix too.  But now, it is in this final section of ‘Thrive’ that the dark side of the film emerges.  One of the things put forward, alongside local food, renewables and so on, is “little or no taxes”.  Eh?  Where did that come from?!  Ah, now we get into the real agenda of the film, a kind of New Age libertarianism, a sort of cosmic Tea Party, and it all starts to get deeply alarming.

Gamble sets out his 3 stages to get to humanity’s being able to thrive.  Firstly, he argues, we need to hugely scale back the defence industry and the Federal Reserve.  Well I could go along with that, but then the second is “shrink government’s role in order to protect individual liberty”, and the third is then, because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive.  OK, whoa, let’s pause here for a moment.  Indeed the film’s website goes further, describing ‘involuntary taxation’ as “plunder” and ‘involuntary governance’ as “tyranny”.

In her review, Georgia Kelly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”.  In spite of all it’s cosmic graphics and pictures of forests from the air, it is in essence a kind of New Age Tea Party promo film, arguing for a society with no government, no taxes, no laws, alongside “interplanetary exploration”, which somehow combine to create a world that respects the rights of all.  Apparently, this would lead to a world where “everyone would have the opportunity to thrive”.  In reality, it would lead to a world in which the wealthy would thrive, but the rest of us would lose healthcare, social welfare, libraries, public transport, pension entitlement, social housing etc etc.  Sounds more like a surefire route to the kind of Dickensian world that led to the creation of a welfare state in the first place.

Responding to any of the truly global issues, such as climate change (which ‘Thrive’ clearly dismisses as part of the conspiracy), would no longer happen due to intergovernmental co-operation presumably being interpreted as steps towards a ‘one world government’. The film presents its suggestions in complete isolation from any notions of ‘society’ and community, presenting a vision of the future where the entire global population is living the same lifestyle as Gamble, the resources to enable this presumably being imported from other planets, or perhaps created afresh using magic?

Nowhere in the film do you hear the words ‘less’, or anything about reduced consumption in the West.  Just as free energy and cures for cancer are our birthright, so, presumably, is the right to consume as much as we like – to think otherwise is to lapse into a ‘scarcity’ mindset.  What I find most alarming about ‘Thrive’ is that most of the people who have asked me “have you seen Thrive?” are under 20, and they seem genuinely excited by it.  Perhaps it is the simplicity of the message that appeals, the “all we need to do is” clarity of its ask.  But having to discuss why free energy machines are impossible and the shortcomings of conspiracy theories with otherwise educated young people who are inheriting a warming world with its many deep and complex challenges is deeply depressing.

Alt-Right Martyrdom for the Cause

The misogynistic gender ‘realist’ of recent fame, James Damore, has responded to the backlash. He wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal: Why I Was Fired by Google. I’m willing to listen to contrarian views, even when ill-informed, if only to hear the other side. After spending much time in human biodiversity and race realist blogosphere, I’m already familiar with the standard arguments that get rolled out. That said, I actually think he makes at least one good point, albeit unintentionally. Such issues are complicated and in ways that few would like to acknowledge, specifically in terms of the historical context.

Damore complains that his free speech is being trampled upon. A problem with corporations, specifically big biz, is that they aren’t democratic institutions. By design, they don’t uphold democratic values and processes. This is an old argument from the political left and now this critical rhetoric is being co-opted by the alt-right. For example, most of the prejudice and oppression during the Cold War came from corporations, not government — such private sector blackballing and other tactics led to social ostracism, effective silencing, destroyed careers, and even suicide; while redbaiting and witchhunts were used to attack civil rights activists and labor organizers.

Yet the alt-right wants us to now believe that white men, especially the privileged professionals and the aspiring technocracy in the comfortable class, are the real victims. They suddenly feel betrayed by the powerful business interests they assumed were on their side. Well, business comes down to profit and recent research shows that diversity is good for business. The capitalist class for the most part aren’t going to put ideology before profit, at least not any ideology other than capitalist realism.

Capitalism is as much a political system as an economic system. Corporate charters are political constructs and so corporations are political entities, but their politics have rarely been anything close to democracy (although anarchosyncialists have aspired to a different business model, not that they have had much influence in the US and global economic system). Capitalism and democracy have historically been two separate things, occasionally overlapping but more often not. China and Russia presently have capitalism, as did Nazi Germany along with numerous fascist countries.

In any country, capitalism by itself has never stopped the silencing, persecution, imprisonment, and assassination of political dissidents. Many authoritarian governments were promoted and supported by US business interests and the US government (e.g., the American plutocracy’s ties to the Nazi regime, which is how the Bush family made its original wealth). Is the political right now suggesting that capitalism needs to be made to conform to democracy, rather than sacrificing democracy to business interests? Or are they just complaining that American capitalism isn’t authoritarian enough in privileging the appropriate identity politics and not fascist enough in maintaining gender and racial hierarchy?

In American society, corporations have no legal requirement nor social expectation to be democratic, much less respect the free speech of employees. That has been true for a long time. It’s true that many of the American revolutionaries and founders did expect that corporations should serve the public good, but that was a much earlier and more idealistic time. The capitalist economy and corporatist government have long left behind that original intent of the country’s founding. The US has essentially returned to the British imperial collusion between big gov and big biz that the American revolutionaries fought against.

If we want to return to the revolutionary ideal of corporations serving public good or at least not undermining personal freedom, we might need a new revolution. This is an old conflict that has been fought over by generations of Americans. It is why originally libertarianism was aligned with the workers movement and not with the capitalist ownership class. No worker, not even a professional in the tech industry, should assume their interests are aligned with corporate interests nor that their rights will be protected by corporate management. That class conflict is as old as capitalism itself.

It must be remembered that incipient capitalism in the Anglo-American world preceded modern democracy by centuries. The hope that some of the more revolutionary founders had was that capitalism could be made to conform to or at least be kept in check by a democratic system, a government by the people rather than a government by monarchs, aristocrats, and plutocrats. But they had plenty of experience with crony capitalism and oppressive corporatism so as to give them good reason to fear corporations, which is why they sought to severely constrain them in being legally obligated to serve the public good or else have their government-sanctioned corporate charters annulled and eliminated. They were careful to not conflate a for-profit business with a public-serving corporate charter, based on an important lesson we have forgotten.

If actual freedom for all citizens is our shared intention as a society, then we have a long way to go. That would require a complete overhaul of our present political and economic system. The tech bros and pseudo-libertarians complaining about Google probably don’t understand the implications of their own claims (e.g., James Damore quoting Noam Chomsky). That is what makes these times both dangerous and promising. Before any revolution or other societal transformation, most people don’t understand the implications of much of anything, until it is too late. There is a coming storm and no one knows what it portends.

For certain, the fracturing of our society goes far beyond the challenge of feminists in demanding fair treatment and a tech industry giant upholding those demands. Yet another men’s rights manifesto is not going to bring back old school patriarchal capitalism where flagrant misogyny is acceptable and where gender bias will rule over the social order. Like it or not, the ideal of equality is becoming normalized, just as a minority majority is forming and the Confederate statues are coming down. It’s a new world we are entering, even as the old forms of power still hold much sway. So what is the alt-right hoping to accomplish, other than concern trolling and general fuckery?