• Sean II

    Counterpoint: there is nothing new happening here, just an old thing newly exposed.

    To name but a few, here are some pivotal fake news moments in U.S. history:

    1. Lusitania – myth is that this outrage forced a reluctant nation into war. Really is the bosses were already spoiling to jump in.

    2. Pearl Harbor – myth is unprovoked suprise attack. Reality is we did everything we could think of to make war with Japan inevitable.

    3. Watergate – myth is media-obsessed Nixon destroys himself after unprecedented crimes. Reality is Nixon-obssessed media changes the rules mid-game, started smoking out things they had once eagerly helped hide.

    In all cases the people involved thought they were getting at a higher truth – make the world safe for democracy, remove an evil man from office, whatever. They all thought their small lies were helping to produce a larger truth.

    The only difference now is, thanks to Twitter and shit, we occasdionally find out without having to wait twenty or thirty years.

    • Rob Gressis

      Wait, what’s this about Watergate?

      • Sean II

        Nothing exotic. Just that Kennedy stole the 60 election, covered up the death of a famous mistress he was sharing with the brother who was also his Attorney General, while LBJ stole more elections than he won (with the weird irony that 1964 may have been his one truly clean win) on his way to a massive campaign of lying that escalated Vietnam, establishing the domestic spying program people would blame on Nixon, etc.

        The bottom line is: Nixon was right in his central complaint against the world. He thought the press treated him worse for not being a pretty boy Harvard liberal like Kennedy, and he was right. He thought they dogged him him for doing or saying things they would have found charming in Camelot Jack, and he was right. He thought the Watergate story would have been buried on page 26 if he’d been a Democrat, and he was right about that too.

        None of which – I hasten to add but shouldn’t have to – makes him a nice guy. It’s just that the main thing we all learn about Nixon – the idea that he was afflicted with paranoia about a hostile press, which led him to do bad things no President ever had before – is not true. The press was hostile to him. They did react differently to his statements and actions. The things he did seem rather mild compared to his predecessors.

        He just wasn’t slick enough to figure out what Reagan did: that they only way to neutralize a hostile press is by pretending not to notice their hostility.

      • Sean II

        Sometimes a night’s sleep clarifies one’s thoughts. Here’s a shorter version of my answer.

        Pre-Watergate, there was obviously some kind of unspoken compact between the press and the politicians, which involved the press looking the other way at petty crimes, dirty tricks, bimbo escapades, other forms of non-policy related sleaze, etc.

        The press decided to break that custom, by doggedly pursuing an unremarkable bit of campaign espionage until they turned it into a constitutional crisis.

        Most likely reason it got that far: the press really hated Nixon. Bradlee and Co. would have killed the story much sooner if it was about Humphrey or McGovern.

        • King Goat

          “they really did hate Nixon, just as he suspected.”

          ‘The press’ hated Nixon so much that Nixon got 9 newspaper editorial endorsements to every 1 that his 1972 opponent McGovern did.


          • Sean II

            That counts the number of papers, 753-56. Only way to get a number like that is by including every Skedunk Gazette and Eastbumfuck Courant from sea to shining sea.

            Not “the media” for purposes of a conversation like this. We’re talking here about media of the New York Times variety. Organs of elite opinion. Any tally which isn’t weighted to account for that is useless.

            If someone asked you for the average weight of locomotives used in American rail transport, you wouldn’t include the ones made by Lionel in your calculations.

          • Rob Gressis

            Serious question: how important was any single newspaper in the 1970s? I recall hearing once that the NYT wasn’t really a national newspaper *until* the 70s, but I forgot the provenance, and trying to figure out the answer to this question through Google searches proved fruitless.

          • Sean II

            I don’t know how important any one was, but it’s easy to know which were more important than others.

            Kids coming out of J-school didn’t dream of covering crop reports in western Minnesota. They wanted to work for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, etc.

            And don’t forget the wire services. We’re talking about Watergate, right? Remember the last shot from All The President’s Men? It was Nixon’s resignation going out by wire.

            Those channels were narrow, they allowed a small number of people to exert a stranglehold on the narrative, controlling the stories that got told vs. the ones that didn’t.

          • Rob Gressis

            Were there J-schools in the late 60s and 70s? I thought that journalists were basically fat drunks until the 90s.

          • Sean II

            Can’t it be both?

            Now you’ve reminded me of the pulp novel Red Dragon (basis for the 1986 Michael Mann film Manhunter). One of the characters is a sleazy tabloid journo who, we learn through flashback, became what he is after noticing that some of the old guys on the city desk have to use maxi pads for their asses, just to manage the leakage they’ve developed after years of obesity, alcoholism, and sedentary work.

            So he decides it’s better to be a muckraker than a maker of muck.

            Anyway Columbia J-school was founded almost a 100 years ago, so they have been around.

            Plus how perfect is this line from Wikipedia: “Several universities claim to have established the world’s first journalism school. Contenders include the University of Wisconsin-Madison,[1][2] University of Missouri,[3] Columbia University,[4] Washington and Lee University [5] and the Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme in Paris, France.”

            Translation: Our professional guardians of fact can’t even agree on the simple fact of when and where there trade was first professionalized.

          • King Goat

            “They wanted to work for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, etc.”

            The Tribune endorsed Nixon in 72. Ditto the LA Times (‘prestigious’ enough?). Can’t find any record on the Globe’s endorsement that year.

          • King Goat

            Before you provide a ‘fresh evasion’ you really should read the article you’re responding to, which, in this case, anticipates your evasion:

            “Of course, not all editorial page endorsements are created equal. So E&P also kept track of the circulation of the endorsing papers.” Then follows table showing the circulation of papers endorsing Nixon in 72 was at 30 million, the circulation of papers endorsing McGovern was under 5 million.

          • Sean II

            Nope. Circulation is meaningless. It measures the number of people who get a given rag.

            It doesn’t capture cultural influence, which is what matters here.

            A lot of those old Skedunk’s were little more than local ad circulars. People looked to them for grocery coupons and high school football clippings.

            Irrelevant. Not the media I’m talking about.

          • King Goat

            This reminds me of a presenter on a panel on race and sports at a conference I went to as an undergrad. He argued that the NFL was racist and discriminatory against blacks. When someone in the audience informed him that about 80% of NFL players are black he responded “well, I’m talking about the prestigious positions, those who touch the ball the most, like the center, the quarterback* and the kickers, who are almost all white!”

            *this was the 90s

          • Sean II

            Yeah, I’m clearly grasping at straws to insist that the New York Times is more important than the Meridian Star.

            This is the sort of desperate argument one only makes when cornered.

          • King Goat

            It’s certainly a retreat into some murky, subjective criteria.

            Here’s where we can know you’re in the area of evasion which you usually seem to so deplore. Your first response included an analogy that clearly corresponds to something like circulation numbers (“If someone asked you for the average weight of locomotives used in American rail transport, you wouldn’t include the ones made by Lionel in your calculations.”). Your implication was that you only got a bias in favor of Nixon by looking at many little po-dunk papers.

            When it was pointed out to you that the same bias *in favor* of Nixon could be found in circulation numbers, you just shifted (evaded) to ‘well, I was talking about the really ‘prestigious’ papers, not the ones read the most!!!!’

            Yes, your argument is a desperate one, one meant to keep the victimization narrative that conservatives so value alive. Most people read their local paper, not ‘prestige’ papers. This was *especially* true in 1972, when the Times wasn’t online and distribution networks didn’t exist to get it delivered to you in far flung places. To the extent that people were reading newspapers, it was the local paper, and those newspapers were *overwhelmingly*, in both number and circulation, *endorsing* Nixon. Yeah, the media was out to get that guy!

  • Sean II

    Thought further, have this to add:

    Part of what’s freaking everyone out now is: the last 15 years have brought us into closer contact with the opinions, vocabulary, thinking style, etc. of more socially distant people.

    You used to only get that experience buying weed. I remember once in early-90s Chicago, I was slumming to score a bag, and during the mandatory hang-and-chat interval I made a joke about how recreational drugs would soon be free thanks to the Clinton health plan. The dealer nodded enthusiastically, and said: “Fuck that cunt. I’d like to turn her inside out.”

    An awkward moment for upper middle class me. I couldn’t quite hide my revulsion, and he didn’t even try to hide his notice of it. Where I come from, the way you express that sentiment is by adopting an earnest tone and saying: “Doesn’t Hilary realize her plan will harm the very people it’s intended to help! I only hope our system of checks & balances is up to the task of stopping her.”

    The point is: people like that have always been with us, it’s just harder now to avoid contract with their crudely expressed opinions.

    The shock you feel about this is correlated with the thickness and integrity of your class bubble. The better you were before at avoiding interactions with low-brows like truckers (on the right) or community college adjuncts (on the left), the more traumatic an hour on Twitter must seem to you now.

    But the bell curve hasn’t changed. The distribution of human abilities hasn’t changed. The size of the set [people who can make arguments, speak intelligently, process information rationally,] is almost certainly unchanged. Give or take a percentage point, there are roughly as many shitheads now as there ever were. They’re just a bit more visible. Especially at the middlebrow margin around IQ 115, where you find a lot of people who mistake relative smartness for absolute talent. People in that range cause most of history’s mischief. It’s they who drive the fads, join the cults, man the mass movements, tear up every Chesterton’s Fence they can find, etc. These are the people who pierce your ear with thought-terminating phrases like “cultural Marxism” or “toxic masculinity”. But they’ve always been around.

    A better question to ask is: how has communication changed for the roughly 10% percent of the population that has sufficient native intelligence to use social media – or any other kind of media – constructively?

    If you are the (always and still) rare sort of person who actually wants to discover the facts, is that easier or harder to do now?

    It’s much easier. The decline in search cost alone is enough to forgive a multitude of side effects. The ease of upload access for dissenting voices makes up for anything left after that.

    Remember Piketty’s book? Everyone left, right, and center was calling it “majestic”, “empirically untouchable”, etc. Even libertarians felt the need to drool praise before criticizing it, saying things like “Of course no one can argue with the descriptive part of Piketty’s thesis. The data are too overwhelming. I only take issue with his recommendations…”

    In any era but this one, things would have stayed that way for decades. Assistant profs in 2030 would have been thought academic daredevils for gently venturing titles like “Capital in the 21st: A Reappraisal”.

    What happened instead? Crowdsourcing pulled the rug out in a matter of months. Crucial errors overlooked by the legacy system gatekeepers (who, as usual, merely pretended to read it while repeating what the gatekeeper before them said) were quickly exposed by bloggers, tweeters, and podsters, some of whom may even have been in their underwear at the time.

    Now the book is more often criticized for it’s empirical sloppiness than for anything else!

    I could go on, but you get the point: the facts are easier to find now than ever. The trick is what it’s always been. Not that many people are interested in the facts.

    • Rob Gressis

      If Murray is right (in _Coming Apart_), then most Americans used to have more contact with people of different social classes, so Twitter exposing us to them is a good thing.

      That said, I think that social media, through its anonymity, encourages at least some people (the 115 IQ types, maybe?) to talk more crudely and aggressively than they would face-to-face. I also think the polarization engendered by Twitter is real; in the past, conservatives didn’t really have any conservative bubble to retreat to, so they had to hear more liberal perspectives from, e.g., NBC nightly news. Once they could lock themselves away, many did, with alacrity.

      • Sean II

        1) I agree in part. The volume setting on social media IS different, in the sense that provocations which are rare in meatspace (amazing what even the faint possibility of a punch in the nose does for decorum) are common there.

        My crazy solution: give it a minute, and people will naturally adjust. My vision of 2025:

        “Man, this dude on Twitter VR just called me a fascist eraser of trans bodies, before kicking my virtual dog.”

        “Yawn…cheap talk, whaddya gonna do.”

        The problem now is that many people are still printing out their e-mails, emotionally speaking. They take what they hear online and then ask “how would I react if someone said this at a dinner party?”

        Big mistake. If you’re eating pasta with a couple friends and someone calls you a “worthless cuck”, that’s pretty rude.

        But online it needn’t mean much. It’s just Twitter shorthand for “dude who makes unrequited concessions to the left”, or whatever. Big deal.

        Anyway there’s no reason why we can’t learn to translate over time. After all, we’ve done the same before with letters, phones, e-mail, etc. Each of those requires a different tone and volume. Each went through growing pains as people learned to use them.

        2) Serious challenge to the echo chamber story:

        If the righties only hear right wing voices, how come they always know what left wingers are saying, enough to make fun of it?

        If the lefties only get exposed to left wing thought, how come they always have a right wing sound-bite to feel outraged about?

        I swear 20% of political Twitter and Facebook consists of people on one side screen capping things said by people on the other, then pointing and sputtering. Can you believe the Xs actually say Y?

        They couldn’t do that if they weren’t reading each other’s opinions.

        • Rob Gressis

          The extreme partisans read each other a lot, but only to make fun of each other. It’s not like they read them in a spirit of understanding. Then, their followers hear this twisted version of what the righties/lefties say.

          • Sean II

            But still end up knowing more than their counterparts of 30 years ago did, about what and how the other guy thinks.

            The distortion you’re talking about is real, but the loss of friction in the throughput of information made possible by social media is so vast, we still come out ahead.

            Picture a hard partisan of the left in 1984. Che shirt, member of the Nuclear Freeze movement, etc.

            Now think about what access he had to the other side’s opinions?

            Basically it’s limited to: stuff Reagan said at press conferences. Maybe here and there the odd conservative guest on 60 Minutes, selectively edited and leadingly questioned.

            Maybe sometimes he passed by the cover of a National Review long enough to read one of the blurbs.

            Maybe he had a loudmouth uncle.

            It’s not a long list of potential sources, and again – key point – the throughput on any or all combined would have been incredibly low.

          • Rob Gressis

            Notice I said that people on the right were in less of a bubble. Liberals always could be because their bubble was so much bigger. I think they know more about the right than the used to and the right knows less about the left than in the past.

          • Sean II

            I see what you’re saying. A right leaning college student in 1990 had no choice but to know what the left thought. To a certain extent his grades depended on knowing and being able to repeat the key tropes. But a leftist of the same era could easily believe that almost no literate person disagreed with him. Indeed I recall asking a professor if there were any conservative historians worth reading. He said: “Not really. Maybe Conquest, just to see what a fraud he is.” Later I asked a philosophy prof why there were no classes in Objectivism, and why Rand was never mentioned in any context. He said: “Nothing there to teach.”

            Today you could argue that righties at least have the option of bubbling up, when they didn’t before. And that the left now has no choice but to be at least aware of the other side’s intellectuals. Fair point.

            Of course the counter is: then how come righties still beat lefties in ITT equivalents?

          • Rob Gressis

            First, is your last sentence really true? It suggests someone has done a study and compared results. Has anyone? If so, how skewed were the results? And what was the SES of the people involved?

            Assuming you’re right, here’s my theory: The left is really dominant in the culture, thus much of the right wing bubble involved vituperation vs the left. Much of the left wing bubble can get away without referring to the right, but rather to patriarchy, white supremacy, privilege, and cultural appropriation. These phenomena may be more pronounced on the right than the left, but the right doesn’t understand itself in those terms, so using them won’t allow you access to the right wing mindset.

          • Sean II

            Oh yes. Haidt included that surprising result from ideological turing tests in Righteous Mind, referring back to a paper he’d published previously. Bryan Caplan’s done some coverage of the same on his blog. Find you the links if I can.

            Also I think your explanation is correct: the reason is probably just that Left dominance of media and academia make it very hard for even a Righty with his fingers in his ears not to pick up on the main patterns of liberal thought.

            Here’s a simple way of getting at it: Frantz Fanon vs Lysander Spooner. Grant me that these are figures of equivalent obscurity on their respective sides. You have to get deep into leftism to read Fanon. You have to get deep into libertarianism to encounter Spooner.

            Now, I’m as right as they come, but I’ve read two of Fanon’s books. Two.
            No special virtue in that, just something I had to do in order to extract a decent grade from Politics of Post-Colonial Africa.

            Meanwhile how many leftists have even heard of Spooner?

            You can do the same for any pairing of authors. Probably more righties have read Gunnar Myrdal than lefties have read Milton Friedman.

            You get the idea, of course. It’s yours.

          • King Goat

            Of course an alternative that works as good is that Righties perceive of themselves, regardless of whether they are correct, as battling a dominant ‘liberal MSM establishment.’ Think of how much Chomskyites read and know about the ‘neo-liberal’ sources they see themselves as in opposition to.

          • Luke Reeshus

            I sympathize with your optimism, although I’m afraid I can’t share it entirely. While social media is facilitating information exchange across cultural fences—above them, out in the open air—it is also facilitating what might be called “subterranean” information exchange, through the dark tunnels of the internet. This is where loony ideas, like sexual fetishes, proliferate and are strengthened by mutual contact and recognition between what would have been, in the past, isolated parties.

            In other words, I think you’re underestimating the power of the internet to buoy what one political scientist—I can’t remember his name—labeled hidden transcripts. These are the ideas and modes of thinking that don’t get voiced in the public square, influenced as it is by elite opinion and by the wish of most people to conform to the social norms that hold society together. They are, by their very nature, transgressive.

            Now, hidden transcripts can certainly trend toward “the good,” as facilitated by the Republic of Letters in 17th/18th century Europe, or certain reputable blogs today (holla!). But in the 21st century they mainly take pernicious forms—like conspiracy theories. I, personally, find it disturbing how many Americans doubt the “official story” concerning 9/11, or the legitimacy of our previous president’s native-born citizenship (something like 15% concerning the former, something like 20% concerning the latter). And I have to wonder how widespread or well-subscribed this batshit would be if not for the internet. Now, one might argue, and I’ve met people who have, that people don’t really believe the CIA rigged the Towers with thermite, or that Obama was born someplace besides Hawaii; that these are just extravagant ways of saying, “I don’t trust our federal government,” and “That guy’s not one of us.” But I’ve met just as many people who put the lie to that argument—who really are that f**king paranoid and given to the kind of zero-sum thinking that undermines civil polities.

            And I’m not confident these are just “growing pains.”

          • Sean II

            Again, focus on the comparison set: what things were like in the past.

            Truthers and birthers are annoying, but at least the things they believe are physically possible.

            30 years ago it was not uncommon to meet people who believed in Bigfoot. There were prime time television shows – That’s Incredible! and Ripley’s Believe It or Not – that pushed “paranormal” nonsense, without irony, to an audience in the tens of millions,

            We live in the age of Mythbusters, Penn & Teller, and Snopes.

            The present is better.

          • Rob Gressis

            I don’t know, man, I think there is something to the charge that before the Internet, we agreed more on what the basic facts were. This is not because we knew what the basic facts were — if anything, we were farther from knowing the basic facts then than we are now — but because there so few major media sources, and their reach went so much farther than any media source does now. If Cronkite told you your dick was a lizard, well, that’s the way it was.

          • Sean II

            One of my older brothers was big into acid through the 1970s. He reports hearing Cronkite say that very thing on multiple occasions.

            Although, quibble: I though we were talking about agreement on the facts. Technically the example you gave was of convergence on a non fact. Which would seem to support my point that stubborn falsehoods were actually more common then than now.

          • Rob Gressis

            Well, I was talking about polarization.

          • Sean II

            I know what you meant. Quick clarification about where I’m coming from:

            It’s an important concept in medicine that anytime you hear about a dramatic rise in X, where X is anything other than an infectious disease, the correct answer is probably: increased reporting, test sensitivity, etc.

            You see the pattern again and again. The big spike in “autism”. Yeah, it’s because they changed the definition. The alleged rise in prostate cancer awhile back? We just got better at spotting cases of the harmless kind.

            Sometimes you get a really deceptive result called lead-time bias, where it looks like you’re getting better outcomes when really it’s just earlier detection. This is happening with breast cancer now. What at first glance appear to be longer terms from diagnoses=>death, are less a result of moving the second point forward, more of pushing the first point back.

            I think something like that here. We’re not making new partisans. We’re revealing old ones. The polarization we’re detecting was always there, it’s just that the resolution on the scanner is better.

            There have always been people who look at inequality and feel instant, powerful disgust. There have always been the kind of people who, if you tell them someone invented a fidget-spinner, the first thing they think is: “Oh, great, another gadget we have to buy. How many fidgeteers did that put out of work? How many kids have lost an eye? Most important of all, how many yachts did the inventor end up with?”

            Those guys have always been with us. Of my father’s sons, 4/5 think like that. It’s just that now they can publicize their feelings more often, more widely, more stridently, etc. If Alternet didn’t exist, I’d probably still think my brothers were original in their stupidity.

            Same goes for the other side.

            Or to put it all another way, what’s more likely:

            1.) Human nature is changing. In the midst of unprecedented peace and prosperity, people are actually becoming more hostile and hateful to each other, and they’re doing it over a set of political abstractions that don’t have much direct impact on their lives.

            2.) Social media is just another form of new microscope, giving us a closer view of human nature as it really is.

            On base rate alone, I’m calling the latter and suggesting we demand extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claim contained in 1.)

            BTW – Related point: you’re probably already aware that an AI has been developed which, working from faces alone, can accurately predict sexual orientation.

            You heard it here first: very soon we’ll have an AI that can detect political affiliation. The thing that will make this possible is the thing I’m always flogging: what if there are different types of people involved?

            Probably there are, and always have been.

          • Rob Gressis

            I think you’re (1) and (2) are a false dichotomy.

            For instance, if I said, “more people were economically anxious in 2009 than 2005”, I’m not making a claim about human nature, and I don’t think we’re just doing better reporting.

            In this case, what happened is that some people have some natural inclinations that have consequences for political ideology, but they’re not activated because circumstances are the way they are. E.g., the MAOA gene correlates with higher criminality, but only if you’re raised by someone who is himself criminal (I’m oversimplifying). I imagine it’s like that with political predispositions.

          • Sean II

            What would be the triggering circumstances in this case? What’s the current of energy said to be driving people toward one pole or another?

          • Rob Gressis

            Cass Sunstein talks about this phenomenon: imagine you have a bunch of liberals in the same room together, and they start talking about political issue P, on which the liberal position is L. The more they talk, the more confident people will be about L and positions that are more left than L. On Sunstein’s telling, this is because they hear arguments supporting L, and the few arguments they hear challenging L will not be as good as the arguments challenging L they would hear if there were conservatives. So, because they are ideologically homogeneous and because they talk to each other, they become more confident and more extreme in their views.

            Assuming that phenomenon is for real, then, to the extent you can curate your information flow, and to the extent you can avoid hearing about people who disagree with you, you’ll become more confident and extreme about your political views.

            I suspect that assortative mating and immigration, and the increased ethnic diversity and economic inequality that stem from those, exacerbates it.

          • Sean II

            Let me flip the order a bit.

            1) “I suspect that assortative mating and immigration…and economic inequality that stem from those, exacerbates it.”

            This is a really interesting point, because I think it’s right by way of being prima facie wrong.

            Most U.S. immigration is Hispanic. Hispanics are rightly famous for being politically passive. So my mind convulses on contact with a statement like “immigration is making U.S. politics more extreme”. Because it’s hard to imagine how 20 million Hispanics could produce that result.

            And yet, maybe they are. Hispanics are just partisan enough in their passivity to flip whole states blue and allow one-party rule. In California now, the only real political competition consists of Democrats trying to out flank each other on the left, and the local Overton window shrinks.

            Surely this is how you end with an acronym like LGBTQIAPD. It’s the sort of thing one would think of only after forgetting the program’s original goal of persuading people, and fixing on the new objective of being the wokest voice in the choir.

            2)”…and the increased ethnic diversity.”

            Quick point about black politics specifically. More than anywhere else, I’m confident here that what we’ve seen since 2012 is a simple unmasking of tendencies that were present all along. Most whites are self-disciplined enough never to notice this, but ethnocentricity among blacks is off the charts. The average person has a level of in-group preference that (if expressed in words rather than actions) would get a white guy kicked out of polite society. And by the law of slight difference at bell = big difference at tail, about ~15% of blacks harbor a frank dislike of anyone who isn’t.

            Glenn Loury and John McWhorter danced close to this point in a recent podcast, talking about Ta-Nehisi Coates and the bizarre spectacle of white people failing to notice how uniformly he hates them – liberal, moderate, and conservative alike, fans and critics, etc.

            3) The most obvious counter to Sunstein is signaling theory.

            He assumes people are engaged in something like a search for truth through argument, and he describes a convincing process whereby a distortion might be introduced.

            But if political chat is mostly for show, his explanation isn’t necessary. The theory of competitive virtue signaling covers most of the observed behavior.

          • Rob Gressis

            Re: ethnocentrism, I don’t think blacks are genetically more primed for it than whites (I don’t know that they’re not, either; it depends on what traits it reduces to, if any), but rather that there are more incentives for blacks to be ethnocentric than whites.

            I don’t know that Sunstein thinks that people are engaged in a search for truth. You list two options:

            1. People argue with each other because they want to find the truth.
            2. People argue with each other because they want to virtue signal (I think that’s what you mean when you say that “political chat is mostly for show”?)

            But there’s a third option, which Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber offer in their _The Enigma of Reason_:

            3. People argue with each other to persuade each other.

            (I haven’t read the book, but here’s the dust jacket: “Reason, they argue with a compelling mix of real-life and experimental evidence, is not geared to solitary use, to arriving at better beliefs and decisions on our own. What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us.”)

            If Mercier and Sperber are right, then if you have to interact with people of different political inclinations, you’ll argue with them because you want to persuade them that you’re right, or at least justify your beliefs as reasonable to them.

            Putting this all together:

            1. In the past, there was more of a political monoculture in mainstream news (I have in mind here the network news).
            2. This political monoculture was liberal but not leftist.
            3. This made conservatives quite able to understand themselves and liberalism, but liberals were less able to understand conservatives.
            4. Consequently, conservatives could justify themselves to liberals more easily than now, because conservatives understood how liberals thought.
            4. All things considered, this was not a very polarized culture; it was, more or less, liberal. We were all Keynesians then.
            5. With the advent of the Internet, it was possible for conservatives to hear many others conservatives. This made conservatives less able to understand liberals (and it made liberals slightly more able than before to understand conservatives).
            6. In addition, assortative mating meant that liberals could live very easily around other liberals and conservatives could more easily live around other conservatives. So, you wouldn’t even have to talk to people of differing views, which made the polarization more intense.
            7. Increasing immigration means that some states become more redoubtable blue strongholds, which causes others to become more redoubtable red strongholds, which strengthens 6, which strengthens 5.

            Some problems/questions for all this:
            Q1: Where does leftism fit in? The culture was liberal, not leftist; so were leftists much like the conservatives? I imagine there’s a difference, though, because when I see leftists and liberals interacting, the liberals seem to say “I agree with your goals, I just don’t think they’re realistic” while the leftists say “yes they are, and although you think you agree with my goals, your actions show that you don’t.” By contrast, conservatives say to liberals “I disagree with your goals”.
            Q2: If there was a liberal monoculture, then why didn’t it get ever more extreme (for reasons Sunstein would offer)? Was it that it had communism to play off of? Or was it, in fact, getting ever more extreme (forced bussing, not doing a good job at reducing crime) and it eventually created a backlash?
            Q3: Garrett Jones and Robert Putnam both claim that increased ethnic diversity causes problems for society; Jones says that it makes mutual understanding more difficult, which increases transaction costs across the board. Putnam says that it lowers trust generally (even of one’s own ethnic group). What role would less understanding and trust play for polarization? Would it give people extra incentive not to look at sources from their out-group (assuming their out-group is a different ethnic group)? Would it exacerbate segregation, which would itself magnify polarization?

          • Sean II

            Just answering the first point now, for time constraint. Will add a second comment later:

            1) I grant the possibility that black ethnocentrism as seen in the US is partly a product of incentives. As I’ve said before, our anti-racism education is: we teach white kids to police themselves and each other for bigoted behavior: we teach black kids to report mistreatment. Has to be at least part of the reason why blacks so often trample on taboos, saying “A-rab”, or talking about the “Chinaman”, etc. The training we do isn’t geared to discourage those offenses, coming from that source.

            But of course that isn’t weird. Blacks aren’t the weird ones. Most groups throughout human history have strong in-group preference. Most indeed took it so much for granted that they couldn’t think in any other way.

            Northwest Euros and Ashkenazi Jews and the only two groups that behave differently as a rule, the only two groups that feel ashamed on ethnocentrism, routinely go around fretting about the fortunes of other groups, spending, sacrificing, etc. for genetically distant people.

            Sometimes it seems that on current moral sentiment, the more distant the better. When AJs and NWEs scold each other to be even less ethnocentric, they’re often talking specifically about groups with the most divergent evolution, the least similarity, etc.

            So the in-group preference of blacks is really only unusual stood beside the once-in-300k years historical analomly that is our multi-culture.

          • Rob Gressis

            Could our multi culture impose taboos on everyone’s ethno centrism? Or is there something intrinsic to it preventing that?

            I look at our multi culture as one of the great achievements of human history: from 1945-now, there has been no major European war, and I think that’s because of the multi culture, no?

          • Sean II

            Agreed. The escape from clannishness is one of the greatest things ever to happen to humanity.

            And the fact that it’s now on course to un-happen is one of the saddest things imaginable.

          • Rob Gressis

            Also, have you ever heard the Patrice O’Neal interview with Mark Maron? O’Neal is one of your “15%”, but he seemed to have gotten along reasonably well with other comedians.

          • Sean II

            Yes, great interview. I loved O’Neal. I put him in the same league with Larry David in the sense that if he’s talking, I’m laughing. It doesn’t have to be a bit, it doesn’t have to go anywhere, doesn’t need a punchline, etc.

            I don’t know if we’ve talked about this before, but it’s always worth noting that comedy of the American variety is overwhelmingly an invention of two groups: jews and blacks.

            Probably fair to say 85% of our domestically produced yucks come from 15% of the population.

            Mystery: why then does Israel seem so comedically challenged? If you google “Israeli comedian”, one of the top hits you get is…Chaim Topol. Probably this means the club scene in Tel Aviv is pretty dead.

            What could it be? Are shtick and statelessness inextricable linked? Is the IDF using some kind of anti-mirth agent in its boot camps? Are Mizrahim such a tough crowd that even the funniest people in human history give up on trying to tell jokes in their presence?

          • Octavian

            I don’t think Ashkenazi Jews are particularly ashamed of ethnocentrism. In fact, it’s not uncommon for (ironically, left wing) Ashkenazi Jews to sincerely believe in the superiority of their culture (or even sometimes boast of their innately higher average IQs) in a manner that would look suspiciously like white supremacy if done by a gentile. Of course, it’s often explained as being a product of persecution (a sort of Darwinian selection). It also still seems fairly acceptable for secular Jewish ladies to fret over the prospect of their grand-daughters marrying gentiles. Because of their history, it seems to me Jews tend to get a pass for that sort of thing. “Jewish pride” still evokes connotations more reminiscent of ‘black pride’ than of ‘white pride.’

            I would say specifically the emergence of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a major issue in American politics that has started to put Jews in the position of being on the defensive, or ashamed, defending on which side of the issue they land on.

          • Sean II

            2) My off-the-cuff response to Mercier and Sperber would be: the aim of reason can’t be persuasion, because reason is usually the least persuasive tool in the toolbox. Incentives, inertia, peer pressure, emotion, etc. all work better than reason when what you want is to change someone’s mind.

            Be like if someone claimed the purpose of olive oil is to melt ice. You’d say “Yeah, okay, kinda…but only in the sense that any medium at room temperature would, in which case it’s really the temperature of the room doing the trick for you, and besides…why wouldn’t you just use salt or warm water?”

            1) -7) That’s a very plausible account. 5) is really the key point, but I think it sounds right. Only questions is size of effect. I think we can be very confident that 6) is happening, so no argument there.

            “Q1: Where does leftism fit in?”

            Isn’t the simple answer best? Liberalism was infiltrated and partially taken over by the Left, the first wave arriving when the Red Diaper Babies (thread-relevant example: Carl Bernstein) came of age in the late 1960s.

            1964: “Let’s make sure everyone gets a crack at the American Dream.”

            1968: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi-Minh, Ho, Chi-Minh is gonna win! Death to pigs. Black Panthers are the vanguard of armed revolutionary struggle…”

            Growing up, most of my teachers and almost all of my professors were of this cohort. The big cliche you always heard from them was “we stopped the war”.

            Of course it wasn’t pure narcissism. They thought this because they were allowed to think it, first by favorable press coverage and later by fawning histories.

            Many were frank Soviet apologists, right up to the late 1980s. You could really tell who was what when the Berlin Wall came down. Conservatives were triumphant. Liberals were happy to see the threat of nuclear war diminished, and between the apparatchiks and the crowds, they had sense enough to side with the crowds. But Leftists were like: “Um yes, well, ahem, no one can deny this is a historic occasion. I guess we’ll see how things turns out…” They sounded like a disapproving mom trying to fake her way through a wedding congratulation.

            Hence, history of present illness: the Left got taken off economic policy making 30 years ago, and put onto culture. In that realm they’ve been almost completely indulged, not just by Liberalism, but in a classic of Conquest’s 2nd Law, by most major institutions.

            Which brings me to…

            “Q2: If there was a liberal monoculture, then why didn’t it get ever more extreme.”

            If you grant me that shift from economics => culture, it did. Imagine the nuttiest PC Leftos you can conjure from 1992. What are the key things they wanted people to believe (or pretend to)?

            a) 100% of the disparities between men and women are caused by male patriarchy

            b) 100% of the problems of unsuccessful minorities are caused by white racism.

            They pretty much got the whole list, plus a few things they couldn’t have dared to dream up. Those views are now controlling premises in public discussion, not just in the mainstream media, not just in academia, but in corporations which otherwise have no reason to mess around in culture war politics. You see this even in the places you shouldn’t. Monsanto, for example, is an ag giant despised by the Left and based in blood red Missouri. The farmers who buy their product are probably the most conservative and religious people around. Surely if any firm would, they’d be the sort to stand tall and say: “Ah, you guys hate us anyway. Fuck off. Go peddle wokeness somewhere else.” But nope, not the case at all. Monsanto recently went out of its way to add a trans surgery benefit to the company health plan. They will pay to have a worker’s genitals removed, on request.

            Or for another example, take the Air Force Academy. If there’s any place in the U.S. which should be immune to the cycle of “fake hate crime taken at face value => impassioned signaling race”, this has to be it right. I mean, no one would expect a freakin’ war college to organizationally behave like Oberlin College in such circumstances. But nope, they do.

            Point being: the Sunstein process of something like definitely seems to have happened on the culture war wing of the Left. Hence why we see people like Bret Weinstein and Jordan Peterson – both of whom would have been liberals in any age but this one – becoming darlings of the Alt Right, precisely because no one else regards them as fit for listening to anymore.

            Q3: I’m not sure about this. Have to think on it awhile.

          • Rob Gressis

            “My off-the-cuff response to Mercier and Sperber would be: the aim of reason can’t be persuasion, because reason is usually the least persuasive tool in the toolbox. Incentives, inertia, peer pressure, emotion, etc. all work better than reason when what you want is to change someone’s mind.”

            Yours is certainly the prevailing view nowadays, but I think it’s overstated. While it’s somehow flattering to my pessimism to think that reason is merely the servant of the passions, there are lots of times in my life when reason has been quite effective in persuading people (including myself). Now, a lot of other stuff has to happen before that: the person I’m talking to has to trust me, the thing I’m talking to them about has to be something where conceding to me doesn’t threaten their self-identity, etc.

            But I think that those conditions were often met in simpler times. Most people, throughout most human history, lived among people whom they took to be on their side, and they all believed the same religious or philosophical stuff, so reason could go pretty far in that kind of context.

          • Sean II

            Well that’s an excellent point.

            Allow me to confess: I almost typed a line in that comment saying “when I need to persuade people, reason is my last resort”.

            But something stopped me from writing that. The counter was just too obvious, for what else am I doing with all these comments but using reason in an effort to persuade. An obvious performative contradiction coming from me.

            I think you’re right, and I was wrong.

          • Octavian

            I think that it’s a mistake to believe that exposure to opposing points of view can be reasonably expected to mitigate polarization. If I read Paul Krugman’s NYT column regularly, my sentiment toward progressives would be far worse and more frustrated, not less; I think I tried to start reading the Weekly Standard and about a day went by before I found I was more disgusted with neoconservitism that I was before.

            Frankly, there aren’t that many good sources even in the mainstream to read to get opposing viewpoints that won’t leave one agitated and reacting against it (understandably, that is; how often could, say, a libertarian or conservative read a column by Krugman without feeling insulted and lied about?). One could read Larry Summers instead, but there are five Krugmans for each Summers, and the former get more publicity.

            Being calm, charitable, and disciplined in one’s analysis isn’t isn’t even good business for academic scientists, where journals favor sensation and sexiness over carefulness and rigor. It’s sure as hell not going to be good business for writers and bloggers. So, IOW, spending more time with the people you hate can very easily leave you hating them more rather than less.

          • Rob Gressis

            “I think that it’s a mistake to believe that exposure to opposing points of view can be reasonably expected to mitigate polarization.” This is a good point, but you don’t give any evidence for it. (Not that’s there’s not any; is there a study or something you can point me to? Not that studies are the end-all, be-all!)

            You do have an interesting example about reading Krugman and finding yourself even more confirmed in your beliefs. That said, how often did you read Krugman? You only gave The Weekly Standard a day; what would have happened if you had given it a month? Haidt did that experiment with Fox news; if I remember correctly, after a day, he thought everything on the channel was moronic, but after a month, he felt he had changed from being a liberal to being a moderate.

            And reading Paul Krugman is a far different experience from talking to him, I’ll wager.

          • Sean II

            “And reading Paul Krugman is a far different experience from talking to him…”

            A very important point, because of lot of polarization is put on for show.

            I remember years ago being surprised to see how chummy prosecutors and defenders could be at lunchtime, just minutes after hurling dirty tricks at each other over a case. They seemed more like recreational tennis rivals – with a tone of “Arg, are you kidding me? Great shot, Bob!” – than people fighting over questions of justice, freedom vs incarceration, etc.

            Then I figured out: it wasn’t their ass on the line. Just a gig, nothing personal.

            It strikes me that many of our wild-eyed ideologues are probably like that, including Krugman.

            This shit bears a closer resemblance to professional wrestling than it does to street fighting in Weimar. So far, anyway.

          • Octavian

            I want to say someone (maybe even Haidt) studied the effect of exposure to opposing viewpoints in some paper. Or it may have been an article I saw referenced alongside something by Haidt. I honestly can’t remember.

            In any case, it seems like a difficult question to study in situ. I don’t have much other than anecdotal evidence. Truth be told, I wouldn’t see much of a point in watching Fox or MSNBC regularly. It is possible (but doubtful) it’d make me more empathetic to political views I disagree with; but it wouldn’t be enlightening. I think most news (and even most blogs) are almost entirely lacking in worthwhile content; mostly ad hominems and carefully selected anecdotes. I think it makes more sense to look for media like, say, econlog, which I think is a good, thoughtful, site that generally avoids polemicism. These types of sources seem rare.

          • King Goat

            “There have always been people who look at inequality and feel instant, powerful disgust. ”

            Haidt actually talks about this: “so long as we are all immersed in a constant stream of unbelievable outrages perpetrated by the other side, I don’t see how we can ever trust each other and work together again.”

            If people are wired to find certain things viscerally, morally objectionable, then one thing faster, more accessible, visceral media can do is to feed people with more and more outrages triggering these responses better and faster than before, intensifying the level of outrage.

          • King Goat

            “Picture a hard partisan of the left in 1984. Che shirt, member of the Nuclear Freeze movement, etc.

            Now think about what access he had to the other side’s opinions?”

            This is a *terrible* example. As someone that lived in that period I can assure you that the ‘mainstream,’ to the extent that there was one, was not pro, or even aware of in any real way, for the most part, of who Che was; ditto the Nuclear Freeze movement. Someone dedicated to either/both were *constantly* living in a media worldview that 1. either didn’t acknowledge either in any way or 2. would have been hostile to it (at the least in finding it naive and goofy). A fan of Che or the Nuclear Freeze movement would have been as much of a cultural outlier as a devotee of Ayn Rand, and all would have been as successful in finding and communicating with fellow devotees.

            “Today you cut and paste a link, and make your opponent at least go to the trouble of thinking up a fresh evasion.”

            No, he googles that ‘fresh evasion’ (quotes because we all know few ideological battles are won by any single factual assertion, how you interpret it is key). And there are so many ‘fresh evasions’ that he wouldn’t have thought of himself on the internet available for someone inclined to protect their initial stance, even from a position with an initial factual mistake. This is all standard Haidt (and before him Hume of course).

          • Sean II

            I said “hard partisan”, not “rank-and-file moderate”.

          • King Goat

            Both would have much more ‘fresh evasions’ much more accessible to them through the internet and both would be able to keep their bubble nice and strong relative to what they could have in 84.

    • R.Levine

      I think part of your comment here ties this (excellent) discussion into a larger related topic: the extent to which more power being exercised by more demographics is empirically a good thing.

      Probably people here are familiar with this in the context of so-called epistocracy – the notion that even if more democracy seems like it must be better (and even if it *is* better using a rights-based approach), it may not produce the best outcomes simply because people differ dramatically in their competence to participate in the political process.

      The same thing seems possible with media. You point out (rightly I think) that the current situation is an improvement for people who care about the truth. No argument from me there. But we can still ask: how does this situation shake out for all the other groups? What’s the overall impact? Is it better or worse overall than the old curated system (even if the old curators were reliably biased leftward)?

      You in fact mention the “IQ 115” set as the “cause of most of history’s mischief”, and imply (again correctly I think) that there are way more of them than there are of the legitimate truth-seeking set (as I suppose there statistically must be, if the latter are supposed to have higher IQs). It doesn’t seem at all obvious to me that just because disintermediated communication is better for the latter group that it’ll also incentivize better behavior in the former – in fact the reverse seems more intuitive. I wasn’t old enough in the 80s and early 90s to have a first-hand sense of the zeitgeist then – were there social movements then comparable to present day witchhunt-style campus antics or BLM (that were both widespread and enjoyed some measure of approval from the establishment)? I have a hard time imagining stuff like that acquiring much momentum without social media as an organizing tool.

      tl;dr: accepting that even if modern social media is a benefit for truth-seekers, isn’t there an entirely separate question about its effect on the incentives and behaviors of groups with much more practical impact on society? And if so, how much confidence can we have (if any) that that impact is positive?

      • Sean II

        “…were there social movements then comparable to present day witchhunt-style campus antics or BLM (that were both widespread and enjoyed some measure of approval from the establishment)?

        Not to the same extent, I’ll grant you. It seems inarguable that social media has put more flash in the mobs, and for that matter more mob in the mobs.

        “With our new social mobile system architecture, we can bring more peasants with more pitchforks to more castle gates than ever before!”

        But if we step back, and sort these SJ antics into a larger category, they don’t look altogether unprecedented. Lots of people have pointed out that the tumult of 2012 -present resembles the holiness spirals that followed the Reformation (another time of fast evolving communication technology). Others have noted a similarity to old time religious revivals. “The Great Awokening” is such an apt label for all this melodrama, I’m filled with envy for whoever came up with it. Still others have drawn an analogy with the late 1960s, as another period of demographic (in that case, by way of generational) change leading to a large scale clash of culture and values.

        And once we start counting previous moral panics the present starts to seem relatively sane. I’ve already mentioned the satanic daycare thing, which is still the craziest thing I’ve ever seen Americans believe in significant numbers. I mean, the idea of a racist cop executing an innocent black kid in the act of surrender is silly, and the fact that about 100 million people bought the story sight unseen is a national disgrace. But it’s at least something that might be possible. The notion that our daycare centers were a Carcosa Archipelago run by hundreds of Yellow Kings ritualistically raping and murdering children is infinitely more absurd.

        If you want another example: the crack and PCP freak out of the 1980s was an outbreak of collective madness I’m glad never to have seen the likes of again. Once a person got labeled a “druggie”, they were every bit as dead to decent society as a “racist” is today. The label worked to instantly strip away humanity, due process, etc.

        You ever seen Scared Straight? When I was in middle school they sent all the kids in the district to experience a live version. We had to watch a movie about drugs (Desperate Lives, the one where Helen Hunt jumps from a window in the belief she can fly; a piece of agitprop so camp it makes Reefer Madness look like a David Simon short). After that a bunch of convicts were brought down into the crowd, and for about 90 minutes they went around threatening us. It was too theatric to be truly intimidating, and most of were rolling our eyes after a few minutes. But the really striking detail is: the main thing they were threatening us with was rape. However a given bit of hazing started, it always ended like that. One of the girls actually broke down crying after a butch guard talked about the broom handles which would be used on her, if she was ever unlucky enough got busted. I remember being irritated with her for playing in the adult’s hands, giving them the desired reaction.

        All this with the enthusiastic approval of the teachers and PTA members in attendance. You could see them nodding, smiling, laughing in the background.

        Nuts as it was, the scene didn’t seem that weird to us. It was an established trope of TV that if you smoked your first joint on Tuesday, you’d be shooting skag by Friday night, and robbing old ladies the week after that. If you watched carefully, cops shows and movies of the period sent a clear message that, once identified, drug dealers could be extrajudicially killed. If you’ve seen Trading Places, you might recall the nail-in-the-coffin used to ruin Winthorpe’s life is: they plant drugs on him. The minute he gets tagged for a doper, he loses everybody, even the people who stuck by him through everything before. That bit is 100% period accurate.

        Given all this, it didn’t seem terribly strange for our guardians to stage a Guignol in which prisoners threatened us with prison rape. In the mood prevailing, that must have seemed a fit and proper deterrent.

        The inciting incident for all this was? Random locker search had turned up 32 joints. 30 in one locker, two in another. One of them had gotten wet so it looked stained, and the school officials took this as certain proof it had been “dipped”. They were divided as to the nature of the enhancing agent. Some said Angel Dust. Others thought it must be formaldehyde.

        Anyway,: the most horrifying thing about all this was that total absence of dissent. Every adult was on board with the program – teachers, parents, counselors, etc. Every institution – schools, churches, athletic leagues, social orgs, hospitals, government, even fucking malls.

        There was nowhere you could go to hear the Jordan Peterson takedown of anti drug hysteria, or whatever. There was no 538 you could visit to see the real data charted. Nobody used terms like confirmation bias, or Kafka-trapping, or circular argument (which was really key to the whole thing, since for upper middle class kids the story was “drugs are bad because they put you in prison”).

        The whole vocabulary and style of critical thinking we take for granted now was unknown even to very smart people.

        Above all it was harder for smart people to talk to each other, and to get that crucial encouragement which comes from realizing you’re not the only person who noticed a given flaw in the narrative.

        Bottom line: stupid people and middlebrows were even more dangerous before the web created a way for smart skeptics to find each other and talk.

        Such people are a minority in any population, and in most ages they have been far too scattered to collaborate effectively.

        Social media put an end to that. Whatever else it does, or fails to do…I forgive,

        • King Goat

          You think there’s more dissent about today’s functional drug scare equivalent, the ‘opioid crisis,’ than there was about past ones; marijuana in the 1930’s, crack in the 80’s, meth in the…etc.? You’ve identified the metric ‘collaborate effectively,’ so what are some examples re: the current ‘drug crisis?’

          • Luke Reeshus

            There are plenty of articles out there taking a nuanced view of the ‘opioid crisis.’ Some cite easy prescriptions as the problem. Some cite unemployment and lack of meaningful social cohesion. Some cite the gradual infiltration of smugglers into middle America. Very few have as deranged and histrionic a take on the subject as the typical media story would have in the past.

            Like R.Levine, I wasn’t old enough back then to have a good gauge of our national zeitgeist. But I have noticed the sea change among reasonable people concerning illicit drug use / addiction in the past two decades. And everything I’ve gleaned from reading about the time before then tracks with the (quite disturbing) picture Sean paints above. People really were out of their goddamn minds back then; there was nothing they wouldn’t do in their fear-fueled state to keep drugs out of their kids’ hands.

            Those sort of people do, of course, still preponderate. But “smart skeptics [can now] find each other and talk behind their stupid and middlebrow backs.” Which is vital. I don’t think an organization like MAPS—which is on the cusp of treating PTSD more effectively than any organization of dogmatically sober psychiatrists ever could—would exist today if not for the internet / social media.

            We are indeed witnessing a “Great Awokening,” facilitated by such, which is definitely annoying. But I think the net results of the internet will outweigh it.

          • Sean II

            Couldn’t have said it better. This opioid “epidemic” business is annoying, but compared to the 80s drug hysteria, it’s a bit of light farce.

            The big policy response so far – rescheduling hydro and making refills a hassle – is pretty measured, almost rational even.

            The “fifth vital sign” problem is real. So is the fast escalating tolerance which makes opioids a bad bargain for anything but short term control.
            These things are your friend when it comes to acute pain pre and post surgery, but for shit like recurring lumbar strain the cure really is worse than the disease. A pullback was due on medical grounds, even without all the media and political hype.

            Plus, key point: it’s still possible to dissent. It’s easy to find counter points to the prevailing narrative. Pain patients have not been dehumanized as a group, the way addicts were in the 80s. Plenty of people are willing to stick up for them in public discussion.

            It might just be that partisanship is helping with this. Now that Trump is trying to make opioids one of his signature issues, we can be sure the #Resistance will go out of its way to entertain opposing arguments.

            As someone who remembers the bipartisan uniformity of the crack panic, that seems like a very good thing indeed.

          • Rob Gressis

            I was alive during the drug panic of the 80s. I was 4 in 1980 and 13 in 1989. I recall having nightmares of someone forcibly injecting me with heroin, which, in the dream, meant that my life was over.

          • R.Levine

            The less metaphorically black-and-white attitude toward the opioid crisis has been noticed by the left media as well, who of course tend to view it as a literal “black and white” issue – i.e. they see the more nuanced view being driven by the fact that the opioid problem is a “white” issue whereas (for example) the crack epidemic was a “black” one.

            The first few results of googling “opioid crisis race” are pretty representative:


            … out of curiosity, what’s the best objective rebuttal to this argument that “race” is the independent variable driving the dependent variable of “nuanced attitude toward epidemic”? Again, I’m too young to know firsthand if the draconian “scared straight” attitude described by sean was really colorblind. Is there strong evidence that that’s the case, and so blacks simply had the misfortune to experience their epidemic during a time when less enlightened attitudes prevailed?

            I find the left’s constant prima facie use of racism as an explanation to be pretty tiresome, but I guess I do find it plausible that it could account for somewhat more than 0% of the disparate attitudes toward opiates today vs. crack in the 80s.

          • Rob Gressis

            Didn’t the opiod epidemic begin in 2002 and not get noticed as a big deal until 2015? If that’s right, then it took longer to notice (perhaps because it was less wrapped up in violence?), but was handled with more nuance (or has it been, as Goat’s comment makes me wonder). Not sure what that says about racism, if anything.

          • Octavian

            I think it’s difficult to argue that the current ‘opioid crisis’ scare matches the crack scare of the late 80s/early 90s (admittedly I wasn’t old enough to experience it).

            Two weeks ago, the National Review of all places had a piece disputing the severity of the opioid crisis (using the word ‘myth’), favorably quoting anti-drug war writers at Reason. I don’t think you’d hear that from a mainstream conservative outlet 20 years ago. There seems to be far less consensus about it. Even among people who acknowledge the crisis, people have opposite views on how to respond to it, rather than universally supporting more policing and DARE classes.

            In fact, this may be an example of a positive outcome from the death of consensus caused by the old media’s loss of monopoly power. The old drug was a harmful consensus that was partly upheld by the lack of alternative media, and I don’t think anything resembling it could be sustained today.

          • King Goat

            “There seems to be far less consensus about it.”

            Really? Bi-partisan measures affirming there is a crisis, a “national emergency” sail through Congress and state legislatures. Sure, one can find on the internet an article here and there questioning this, but for every article that does there are what, a thousand, boosting the consensus that this is a national crisis. Can anyone cite where this supposed new ‘effective collaboration’ produced a dent in the bipartisan political consensus that this is a national emergency? Of course the response to this widely and daily affirmed ‘national emergency’ is less draconian than it was for marijuana or crack, but that’s because this ‘national crisis’ effects white people, not just blacks.

          • Octavian

            “Of course the response to this widely and daily affirmed ‘national emergency’ is less draconian than it was for marijuana or crack, but that’s because this ‘national crisis’ effects white people, not just blacks…”
            People like to say things like this like it’s self-evident and they don’t need to actually prove it. Penalties for crack weren’t higher because it was used by blacks; they were higher because crack was seen as more pernicious due to being more easily distributed; criminal penalties for crystal meth (also comparatively easy to distribute, and a mainly white drug) are comparable to crack.

            Heroin is still a very expensive drug compared to crack and not nearly as ubiquitous, and prescription opiates aren’t eo ipso illegal, so of course they don’t get as harsh a response. Additionally, attitudes toward drugs have genuinely changed in the last 30 years. The racism angle seems more conspiracy theory than reality these days (if anything, wouldn’t racists be more indifferent to traffic in the black community? Aren’t they also simultaneously accused of neglecting the black community?).

          • King Goat

            Do you see any racism in how the ‘marijuana crisis’ in the 1930s in the US played out? Was that response due to it being ‘more easily distributed’ than other drugs? Also, in the very fact that opioids like those in the present crisis, but which are used, or seen to be, by a lot of white people, are treated differently than marijuana, which I think you’d agree objectively is a much less harmful drug, lies something interesting, don’t you think?

          • Octavian

            Um, last I checked marijuana is widely viewed as less insidious than opiates. Or are you trying to compare opiates today to marijuana 80 years ago? Because I’m not sure that’s an appropriate comparison. And in as much as heroin was around back then, it was treated quite seriously. A lot of (white) mob bosses otherwise above the law got de facto life sentences for trafficking during that era.

          • Sean II

            Once I had the pleasure or chatting with this old Chicago machine ward boss, a true lifer in the game of political hackery.

            He told me: “Here’s how it works in the ghetto. You find there’s a bunch of accidents at a certain intersection in Englewood. So you put a light in there with a no right on red. Next meeting everyone is screaming at you about the tickets. “This is just another gotcha from the man!” So you learn your lesson: okay, okay, I get it. You guys don’t like traffic lights. Duly noted. Next time some study suggests a new light on the South Side, you dont do it. Then you go to the meeting and it’s “Oh, so ya’ll don’t care about us. How come such-and-such got a light and we didn’t? This is bullshit!”

            Sheds a lot of light in the saga of crack sentencing.

            Do nothing, and you’re racist for not taking action in the face of a black baby killing epidemic.

            Get tough, and you’re racist for putting black teenagers in prison at epidemic levels.

            What’s the option where you aren’t racist?


  • martinbrock

    If an objective reality exists, it doesn’t much constrain what we say about social justice or the proper bounds of human liberty.