RW199 - Clinging to the mast

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • John losing hope in the idea of the liberal utopia (Liberalism)
  • Being headed into a Civil War (Liberalism)
  • The dynamics of society, the liberal utopia (Liberalism)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Masturbation (Sexuality)
  • Listener feedback about John talking about the burglary on the JoCo Cruise, tension with Merlin (Merlin Mann)
  • Follow-up: PB = Personal Best (Podcasting)
  • Dan not having a system for listener emails (Podcasting)
  • John as an AA sponsor (Drugs)

The show title refers to John holding on to the idea of the liberal utopia and the inevitable progress, clinging to the mast and thinking that the ship will ride itself out.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John losing hope in the idea of the liberal utopia (RW199)

Today is one of those days that is neither good nor bad, but it is still early. Weird things are happening in the world and Dan wants things to calm down a little bit, but John doesn’t think it is going to get less weird, but more weird. November is going to be a very weird time. Riots? John doesn’t know what that means anymore. Protests don’t mean anything anymore either. That word doesn’t conjure up an image anymore. Riots and protests used to have a meaning, but now it is free floating protests all the time, if not free floating, then at least protest is a constant state. A lot of hard times are coming.

It feels like cat is out of the bag and it is hard to get the cat back in the bag. John has a new cat. It is apocalyptic for someone who was pretty invested in the idea that we were moving forward. John kept that idea pretty close to his heart throughout his lifetime. It was the premise of his parents’ generation, that American history was a history of progress and there was a little bit of a two step forward, one step back issue that is true of anything that human beings do, but the idea was that we were getting better all the time and were making things better for people all the time and that to a certain extent that progress was inevitable.

John clung to that until very recently. A lot of people that don’t have that as their as their tent pole emotion have been abandoning ship left and right for several years, but John was clinging to the mast, unwilling to say that the ship wouldn’t ride itself and that the institutions we had in place, our traditions, our better natures and in particular are laws and legal system were bigger than any one kerfuffle. They were more dependable and that there was a shared respect for them that transcended political differences. We could get into street fights about issues, but there was just too much respect for the system, like the courts and the Congress to defile those things.

It is amazing what four years can do. John no longer feels that way and everyone is upset right now for different reasons and people are feeling shattered and vulnerable and John used to being the one that feels that stability will rule the day, but he is not feeling that anymore. They are starting the show off in a downer, but it is a downer time. John is used to being able to prognosticate his way out of any box and usually it ends up being true. Usually the catastrophizers, panickers, the handwringers and shouters and fighters are all wrong in the end. They are often right in the short term, but wrong in the end.

The solution is not to destroy functioning institutions, but the solution is to reform them, even if it doesn’t make you happy, even if you feel like reforming them doesn’t get you everything that you want. That is usually the better course for all and it is weird to watch them destroyed for so little, destroyed in pursuit of such base and mean gain. There are people on all sides of John now that he doesn’t like or trust, not personally, but in what he would have considered his world. The ship starts to sink and you watch the rats just scurrying away. There is no hand on the tiller, and you can put a hand back on, but people have lost their way.

Being headed into a Civil War (RW199)

John is looking at history as though there are tea leaves that contain signals and signs that give him some idea of what we are in for for the next half a dozen years and for the first time in a long time history does not return with a lot of hopeful examples. Most of the time when stuff in American politics has seemed like: ”Oh no, things are really out of control!” you can input those facts into a history function machine and the function machine would usually spit out something to the effect of: ”Yeah, this is normal politics, this is a bump in the road, this is a momentary setback, this is the messiness of democracy!”, but what that function machine is returning right now is new. There is no shared truth, no shared baseline of ethics or respect. There is a fundamental failure of comprehension.

A new administration isn’t going to change that, there is nothing that is going to change it except for violence and to lose a generation. John is not used to being catastrophic like that, he doesn’t think that way, but when you look at history there are times when that happens and the people that are on one side of it, who are clinging to the piano and saying: ”Wait, wait, wait, not this piano! These are problems we can solve when like minds get together!” and then you realize it is too late, there are no like minds, and the piano is thrown out the window with everything else.

To be one of the people that is still standing there in top hat and tails, waiting for the orchestra to start, is a bad… We don’t look back and say past a certain point that calmer heads made any sense. It is the Neville Chamberlain problem: At a certain point you fail to see something that history will regard as having been self evident or inevitable, but in the moment, you don’t think that it is possible. You can see it, but you just want to you want to say: ”Surely not!” because at every other point in a person’s life that proved to be the case and then it wasn’t the case and life righted its course.

To be on this side of some great schism and to realize there are times in human life where a generation has to die, basically because the change is that that generation dies and their blood is the thing that… In most cases these great conflagrations in history… we ascribe to these wars great causes: The Revolutionary War in the United States, the great cause was freedom, and our civil war in the United States, our great cause was the end of slavery, but those causes are ascribed to those conflicts both by people in their moment, but also the victor writes the history.

The great cause of World War I? John challenges you to find a great cause, either going in or coming out. The great cause of World War II for people on the victorious side was an end to tyranny or whatever, but really the allies were just fighting a defensive war, the United States didn’t join World War II to fight tyranny, the United States joined World War II because they were attacked and they were fighting for our lives at first. The same with Russia. Nobody had a plan to attack tyranny, we would have been fine with tyranny if Hitler had just stopped at Czechoslovakia or if the Japanese had been content to exploit China, the United States wouldn’t have done anything.

Often times what it really is, is that people have forgotten what war looks like, they have forgotten what suffering looks like, they have no sense of the devastation that is newly possible because of new technology, they think that they are going to fight a limited conflict and they are going to put other people back in a bottle and they don’t have any sense of what happens when something sparks off and no-one is in charge. It is just star bellied snitches and regular snitches now, there is no great cause here, no-one is fighting for anything.

A lot of people can string together a list of causes and say they are fighting for this string of Christmas tree lights, but they are all defensive actions, they are not fighting to advance anything. They are either fighting to protect the status quo or fighting against what they perceive to be an oppressor. There are plenty of instances where people are being oppressed. There is no question about that, but it no-one has a coherent ideology right now. It is not a clash between civilizations, and it ends up being one of these periods where… The effect that a lot of wars have on the world is that they just keep going until people are tired of fighting.

People come to the negotiating table that they could have come to five years prior or 15 years prior, but they lost a generation of youth, they are so bloodied and so impoverished and so demoralized that they finally give up and stop fighting or somebody loses, but in a situation like this there is not going to be a winner or loser. In a civil war like it appears we are going into, there is not going to be a victor.

We are in the early stages of one now, it is just a question of how widespread will the violence be. What we have never seen in this country is a conflict like the one that is brewing, which is: We think of it as being Left versus Right, but it is also very region versus region and city versus country and religious versus irreligious. We cram all of that into left versus right, these two hemispheres, because it is the way we built our system and it has functioned for 200 years to keep all the 10.000 headed monster, the insanity that actually is American politics under some kind of roof, which is just like: ”Well, you are lunatics and these people are slightly less lunatic, and then these people are somewhat reasonable and you guys are all over here on this side and you got to fight it out and figure out who is going to be the representative of the star-bellied snitches and then on our side we have the lunatics and the slightly less lunatic and then the somewhat reasonable and we are going to all fight it out!” It has just been a useful lid.

If America had a parliamentary system and we had room in our system for multiple political parties, there would be 7000 political parties in the United States. It would be ungovernable. There is no history of it and if there was room for it John would have a political party. Trying to get anything done under those conditions would be… we may be walking into that time right now.

The dynamics of society, the liberal utopia (RW199)

The question is why has it taken us so long to get to where we are right now? Why didn’t it happen 5, 20 or 50 years ago? On Netflix there is a new documentary about the Challenger disaster, but it goes way into more than just the Challenger disaster, bu it talks about the whole space program and how in particular the shuttle program began and how NASA was really focusing on diversity, on wanting astronauts who were for one thing women, who were of different ethnicities, different races, and they they wanted to give these people an opportunity to be a part of the program and do something different.

The economy was so bad at that point in time, but Dan was reminded how much we still felt like a unified country back then. There were so many problems, we were not perfect, but it really felt like we came together on a lot of things and that was still America back then. Maybe Dan is being naive or he remembering it too fondly or through the eyes of his childhood, but there was a feeling that we were in it together and being patriotic wasn’t a bad word, and despite our flaws and the mistakes that we made individually and as a collective it was a simpler time. That is gone now, that is not where we live anymore.

For John’s whole life starting in the late 1960s until now there has always in the United States been pressure that took 1000 forms, but there have always been elites in the United States and they have been elites that were initially regionally depending on where in the United States you were, the elites were differently constituted, meaning in some parts of the country the elites were old families that came with their elite status from England intact and ruled in an aristocratic way, and there were other parts of the United States, even in the very earliest days, that were meritorious or meritocratic and democratic, except that those were often very mono religious cultures.

There were 8-10 different Americas, even in 1650, but there were always elites and there was always a middle class that aspired and there was always the mass of people that were… this has been true throughout all of human history, that the way you put a society together is that a small group of people comes together and decides what the rules are and then imposes those rules on the society as a whole and the mass of people feel like they have no voice in it and either submit to it or rebel against it depending on their time. In the middle there is a great group of people that feel like they can abide by those rules and they wish some things were slightly different, but they also feel protected by those rules from anarchy or from lawlessness.

That perception of an elite, a broad middle, and a dangerous uneducated mass, that is just how humans end up shaking out, and successful societies and the ones this one, the American one, what defines them is that you want that broad middle to be as big as possible and as inclusive as possible. You want as few people to be in the category of unwashed rabble, and ultimately you want the power of the elites checked, so that they are not autocrats. That provides the opportunity for that broad middle to enjoy across a spectrum the benefits of that society, the collective work of it.

Bad societies are ones where the elite have tremendous power. There is a small middle that is pretty protective of what they have, and then a giant underclass who are treated like garbage, but the intellectual tension of the last 2000 years has been the idea that that broad middle could… what the broad middle likes to characterize itself as in its activist phase is a broad middle that is trying to reach down and include everyone below them in the working class or whatever you would have described at any point in history as the peasant class.

The broad middle has always made its appeal in that direction, to say: ”We are going to bring all the poor along with us and we are going to increase their standard of living and their education, we are going to pull them up!” It makes a lot of sense to do because the more people you put into that middle from below, the bigger that group is and the more power that middle has to balance out the power of the elite. But what the middle really wants is not to bring up the lower class, what the middle wants is to take over the elite, to check the power of the elite, and ultimately for the middle to start to take the gains of the elite and make them their own, so that the high middle and the middle high middle get a portion of that wealth and accrue that power to themselves.

All of that is happening under the framework of the idea that democracy is a pure form and that the people are capable of governing themselves. If the people could just be freed from the bondage of the elites who hold them in bondage with no right to do it, other than that they started out with the money and the power and they hold us all in bondage against our will and that democracy is this beautiful and untried garden, a beautiful garden that we can see just over the fence, that if we can bring all the the poor up into the middle by education and by reform.

For centuries and centuries it was through religion that we would try to accomplish that education and reform and outreach, and the liberal premise, of course, is that education is its own religion and that if you educate people they will automatically start to have loftier goals for themselves, they will automatically start to be more thoughtful and have more empathy for one another and to also want to work toward a larger cause than just themselves. What we can do as a people is to eliminate those elites and take all those resources and all that decision-making and disseminate that through the people. Sure, maybe there will be some middle class people that we look to to write our newspaper articles for us, but they will just be part of the middle, too. They won’t be an elite. And sure, there will be people that have to do the jobs that nobody wants to do, but they won’t be disenfranchised, they may be cleaning hotel rooms, but they will be reading Proost and we will be on our way to to create a utopia.

This is not just the socialist fantasy, this is the idealism of democracy and different people use the word democracy to mean a lot of different things, but at its unreflected-upon basic level it is always imagining a world without elites and a world without a desperate underclass. What has happened is: Different people in the United States have identified different elites that they think hold unearned power and for a long time it was clear who the elites were. They were the people that ran the major businesses, that went to elite colleges, that graduated from those colleges and went into the law or finance and ended up being the people who were able to get their friends elected to higher office, and in the United States their wealth sometimes went crazy and you had J.P. Morgan, but for the most part, their wealth was checked and we did have a functioning democracy, there was a very broad middle that did share in the affluence that this country and all of its natural resources and its broad spectrum provided everyone.

Throughout the last 200 years we worked hard to have the underclass also have gradually rights, representation, and all these reform policies in the United States: mandatory education, the five day workweek, 40 hour workweek, all these 19th century ideas that we could make the lives of the poor better and more middle class, so that they could become better citizens and we would have a better country. That project all worked for the most part.

It is a question for scholars now. We are going through a period like at the end of the 19th century where the elite have accrued to themselves tremendous fortunes. Bill Gates is a good example of an upper middle class kid, Zuckerberg is an upper middle class kid, but these kids aren’t royalty, they went to Ivy League schools, but they got into those schools because they were smart, and that is part of the Silicon Valley fantasy, that it is a meritocracy and that they are there because they are the smartest people in the room. These billion dollar companies did build themselves out of something other than just aristocratic privilege.

It is all the failures of deregulation that have happened as a result of Republican Party policy, but that is not the issue. We are not on the verge of a civil war because the elites have too much money. The left wants to target that inequality as the source of the destruction of the social compact, but what has happened to produce those elites, or to produce that imbalance of wealth, is something further upstream. It is rooted in the fact that somewhere in the late 1960s, early 1970s we embarked on a project where we didn’t perceive the elites anymore to be tangible, so much as individual people or groups of people and their clubs and their rules and their money, but elitism was a abstraction and you could be a member of an intellectual elite that could be the enemy of the people without actually having any resources or power even beyond just the power to influence.

You could have a world of intellectual ideas and when those ideas had influence in the culture that was just influence as a result of using the using the system to get your word heard, other groups of people saw that as an elite that had its own form of unchecked power, its own form of unearned privilege, and those ideas weren’t ideas that were about consolidating wealth. They were ideas often about distributing wealth, but they were abstract. On the other hand you had groups of people who recognized that within our system if you had ideas other than these these ideas that you perceived to be dangerous, then you also needed to work to get your ideas in play in ways that were different from just presenting your ideas in the public sphere because there became then a perception that the public sphere itself was controlled by elites.

The ideas were against the rich, but the public square was controlled by a different kind of elites. The liberal project to reform the world became the cultural mainstream. That was a perspective that books were written from, it was presumed to be the perspective of the media. What is described as the liberal media is described that way because the intellectual world of New York and the newspapers and magazines and Hollywood all were positive about the future, they believed in this project of broadening the middle, of extending rights to everyone, and that was not about consolidating wealth, but it was about challenging wealth and power, but challenging it politely because there was a belief that this was in everyone’s best interests and you didn’t have to dislodge the elites with pitchforks, all you had to do was educate their children at Harvard and Yale in these ideas.

People that didn’t either understand or believe in those ideas started to realize that every time they proposed them in the public square, those ideas were rejected. The rise of the conservative movement at first tried to counter that broad liberal presumption that we were getting better all the time and that what getting better all the time meant was extending the franchise to as many people as possible, bringing the bottom up to the middle, and checking the power of the top, and bringing some of that power down to the middle. There are a lot of people that were super threatened by that, partly it was irreligious, and in theory it was one thing, but in practice it resulted in affirmative action and busing and all these attempts to actually make those ideas real by policy.

People that were threatened by that or that felt like that was wrongheaded found that trying to get their voices heard in the world… the media just didn’t like those ideas and so the people on the conservative side of the spectrum tried to have their own magazines, they tried to have their own Hollywood, but nobody was interested in that stuff because those conservative notions are not entertaining and they are not fun and they are not hopeful. There is no aspiration to them, they are conservative, they are about keeping things the way they are, keeping things secure, and protecting things so that you don’t lose what you have gained.

Intrinsically it is a view of the world that sees the world is full of threats rather than as full of opportunities. If you feel that way, if you feel the world is full of threats, you feel like all these people out out there preaching this religion of hope and opportunity and the idea that we are going to lift everybody up, people that see the world as full of threats are like: ”What are you doing? You are basically opening the door to every possible bad thing that might come and ruin everything, take away our God and our homes ultimately, and fill the country towns with Antifa!” in the final extension of it.

What people on that side of the spectrum started to realize was that they were not going to get their ideas heard in the public square, but they need to start consolidating power and basically take their world of ideas and create a separate world, a separate set of truths where their ideas are no longer going to be subjected to scrutiny in this American public square.

Prior to John’s lifetime the newspapers… we on the left like to think of the newspapers as being in the hands of the elites, but the newspapers were in the hands of reformers and they were smart and idealistic and dedicated. The universities were all in the hands of people that believed in liberalism. There were conservative voices within those institutions, but even they were committed to the prospect of liberalism, the conservative voices were just trying to provide a check on those ideas. There was no newspaper in the United States that openly editorialized that we needed to disenfranchise workers and keep the the power in elite hands.

It was the old conflict between the publisher and the editor and the publisher was a member of those social classes and the editor typically was somebody that had to push the publisher to being more progressive. It was why Seattle had two newspapers, the establishment newspaper and the liberal newspaper, and Anchorage did too. Most cities had two newspapers.

The elites in the United States were never able to to rule autocratically, that was what made this experiment so great, it was what made our country the model of the world for a while, but as soon as we started attacking the elites of ideas… and the problem is the left hates nothing more than it hates itself, and the left started to also attack those newspaper editors and those college professors because they weren’t progressive enough, or they didn’t represent what was perceived to be the character of the middle, and as we tried to enfranchise more and more people and bring people up into the middle we wanted the upper middle to resemble the lower middle. We wanted the lower middle to resemble the upper middle. As we understood that representation mattered we stopped trusting any institution that didn’t look like we looked.

We started to see those intellectual elites as our enemy, too. The heart of that confusion on the left, where there are so many establishment people who say: ”What are you talking about? I am a progressive, I am on the side of justice!” and there are a lot of people that won’t have it, either because of how they feel about those institutions and that they are unreformable, but also because they are basing it on a premise that pure democracy is not only possible, but a pure form, and that anything short of democracy, any situation where you have representatives, where there are people that you recognize, like: This person has made a life in politics or in newspapering, and they have done that and so are therefore owed the title of expert and owed the respect that we give to people who have devoted themselves to knowing more than we do about things.

On one hand we have a conservative world that has created a separate reality and what they realized was it was all a ground game, it was all sports, and in the in the 1980s and 1990s we saw all these school boards in Pennsylvania suddenly being flooded with people that had crazy ideas, that the world had been created in seven days, and that they wanted those textbooks that described evolution taken out of the schools. In the popular press there was disgust and befuddlement, like: ”What is going on in Pennsylvania? What is going on in these rural communities? Where are the local elites who have a calmer hand and say: ”Wait a minute, just because you can get elected to the school board with some crazy antivax platform doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we need to change our textbooks to say that Jesus rode dinosaurs!”

That was the power of local government, and the conservative world just worked that ground game and they took over their local legislatures and they gerrymandered legislative districts. If you look for the craziest gerrymandered districts it is just like they took a city and they drew a line around every neighborhood that didn’t have any black people in it and created legislative districts that were shaped like paint splatters, but they were able to do it because they had run this ground game. The left was over here talking about universal education and trying to extend the rights of civilization to include everyone and the right was busy getting their people elected to Congress and once they did they had power over the judiciary and they had exploited the left’s inattention to what the left thought of as a grotesque pollution of the lofty goals of a democratic society.

The left really does believe that you should be able to convince everyone and that if your ideas are good and you say them aloud, other people will hear those ideas and recognize their superiority and adopt them personally. A failure to do that is a failure to be educated, a failure of moral education. The left doesn’t believe that it is even possible to be of good faith, smart and educated, and yet not recognize the superiority of the ideas of the left.

The right in recent years adopted that attitude defensively in the same way that in the early 1990s the gay community were going to reclaim the word ”fag” and use it themselves so that it no longer had the power of a slur. The right did that, except with the smug presumption that if you didn’t agree with them, it was because you weren’t educated, which is a crazy hat for the right to put on, but from their perspective it was what the left had been doing all the time, just claiming that their ideas were superior and being smug about it. The right failed to appreciate that the left had all this power behind those ideas, the power of history, the power of generations of thinkers, putting forward ideas that were difficult and challenging, that changed the world and changed society.

The practical American left of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was not as intellectual as it wanted to think it was and it was putting ideas into practice oftentimes with a social cudgel, rather than relying on the public square to arrive at that conclusion. The whole civil rights movement was tired of waiting, and understandably tired of waiting. The left abandoned consensus also, in a very different way, but with generations of people seeking truth above all else. The right has no such claim, what they have is tradition, that these are traditional truths, and that if it was good enough for our great great grandparents, then it is good enough for us. These are truths handed down, not truths discovered, not new truths uncovered, but the good old truths.

To adopt this: ”Well, I guess you just don’t get it!” social performance was very attractive to people that had for many decades felt like they were being condescended to in the public square. To adopt a similarly condescending attitude about the unerring word of the Bible is bonkers, except it works. You can look at somebody and say: ”You need to read John 3:17 and if you don’t, then I don’t need to listen to you, you are ignorant!” - ”Wait a minute, I am talking about the Declaration of the Rights of Man!” There is no way you are going to get through those walls of condescension, and that became the temperature of American politics: Condescension became the language.

Because of the condescension and the sense of their own intellectual milieu that no longer has to pass through the litmus test of the press or of popular opinion, it no longer has to be subjected to scrutiny, it just can be on its own side. Fox News, of course, was great at this, but ultimately it just became a separate reality, a separate reality that the left was incredibly contemptuous of not interested in finding anything out about because it just sounded like voodoo, but the left still believed that their ideas were both right and also that rightness was going to prevail

When Obama was elected, there was all this jubilation on the left that we were finally going to get all of our ideas implemented and this whole world of the right was just going to have to suck it. There was tremendous excitement just about the idea that we were going to finally shove some shit down people’s throats: ”Oh, you don’t like transgender bathrooms? Well, fuck you! Here they come, and you are going to have to sit in your bigoted little hole of a church and scream yourselves to death. You are going to have to punch your pillow at night because the truth of that idea is going to roll over you like a steamroller and you are either going to adapt or die. You are going to learn or you are going to fuck off!”

There was no longer any attempt to argue that position to people that didn’t already share it. The idea was that these ideas were self-evident and to fail to understand them was a failure of education or a moral failure on your part. They didn’t need explanation. They were self-evident.

What we were facing was not a group of people that was curious or open to being convinced, even if any attempt had been made to convince them, but group of people with a separate reality, and they rightly perceived that the left’s program was: ”Fuck you!”, and not only: ”Fuck you!”, but: ”Fuck you, you are stupid. Fuck you, you are idiots and immoral and racists and Nazis!” They do have a reality that is ignorant as fuck in some ways, but what we forgot was that they had been playing a ground game all this time and that they had all the county bursars and all the local sheriffs and all the school board members and Grange Halls. All of the populist institutions of the country had gradually moved into this right sphere because every one of those institutions also believes that it has a history worth preserving, and the left made no attempt to protect labor unions, made no attempt to to even protect our own institutions, or the newspapers.

We lost what used to be that elite of the middle because we didn’t protect it because we were trying to reform it, too. On the one hand we were trying to get gender neutral bathrooms in churches in Alabama, but on the other hand we were trying to dismantle our own intellectual high middle. So here we are, the right actually controls the ground game of American politics now, and they are not going to give it up, and there are no longer any venues where the left can argue principals to the right. There is not a public square, there are no places anymore where people can be convinced.

Dan argues that everywhere is a public square and it has the equal chance of convincing or not convincing as any other place in the world. John counters that those aren’t public squares, but they are 1 million churches, including all the churches of the left as well. There are one million congregations in the United States where they go meet in their own temples, they are effectively circle jerks, but the circle jerk of religion, the circle jerk of a temple, and they come out of that temple, secure in the knowledge that they know the one true faith.

All those ecclesiastical representatives don’t meet at a Council of Nicaea, but they are all meeting in a public battlefield, it is neighborhood stick fights. There isn’t a public square! What is it? The nightly news! There is no place, there is no shared space, in particular a shared space where people come and say: ”Okay, let’s hear what the other side has to say and let’s see if we can work out a compromise, let’s see if we can figure out what this policy is going to be that doesn’t really serve anybody completely, but serves most people most of the time!” That is what public policy is, that is why there are professionals in government.

Democracy is not a pure form, there is no such thing. It isn’t beautiful. Democracy is not heaven, but it is a fucking sausage factory and there need to be elites. There need to be elites! You cannot rule from nowhere, and people need to be ruled to a certain extent. You need to check that power, absolutely, and America had great institutions that checked that power even now. Trump wants to be a tyrant, but American institutions are keeping him in check. He is the weakest tyrant you ever saw, he cannot command with a wave of his hand. He can do things for sure, he can put homeland security troops in the streets to guard Portland’s federal buildings. He can do little piss-ant shit like that, but he doesn’t wield unchecked power. This isn’t Belarus as much as it seems like it is.

Those institutions, if we don’t have faith in them, they are not powered by their own traditions for long if we abandon them, and there is this crazy feeling that we can abandon those institutions and that that is the path to greater freedom for ourselves. We denounce our institutions as being founded in inequality or furthering the goals of the elites over the people, and so we are just wholesale going to step away from them and somehow magically we, people who can’t even have social media for five years without it destroying the nation, are somehow going to develop a new democracy out of our collective screaming, and it is going to be better than the fucking Supreme Court? It is going to be a better system than legislatures?

What is the plan? There isn’t one! Specifically talking to the left: What is the plan other than to challenge? Is there something you want instead that is better, that you can articulate, that is also possible? And not just government by philosophers. The right has abandoned reason, so they can’t be reasoned with. Reason is no longer the lingua franca, which we always presumed it was, even though there wasn’t any reason to think so. White southerners weren’t going to accept the logic of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. What they accepted was the political expediency of it, and the left mistakenly believed that they had won the argument, rather than having won the ground game. Lyndon Johnson was a genius politician and he got the Civil Rights Act passed, not because any Southern senator was convinced that it was the course of justice, but because those Southern senators had been promised stuff by Lyndon Johnson and they recognized that in order to keep peace we need to do this, but we will never believe it. And the left was like: ”Well, if you don’t believe it, your sons and daughters will because they will learn and in college that this is the way!”

That is not what happened! And and it didn’t happen because maybe we are not capable of that. Maybe that is not possible. The idea that ideas rule is a leftist truism, but it is because elites rule and elites believe ideas rule. It is not the ideas, it is the elites that adopted those ideas because the elites were in some ways capable of understanding them and desiring them. To think that the ideas themselves have the power to reform someone who is hostile to them, that the power of the ideas can go out and without any argument on their behalf, without any elite behind them, seep up in the groundwater and all those textbooks that described evolution that were in Pennsylvania schools were going to create a generation of kids that voted for Hillary Clinton? It didn’t!

Ideas don’t work that way. John no longer believes that education is the panacea, and he longs for a time when those high middle elites were intact and commanded respect. He aspired to be one of them. He even now feels like he is one of that dying breed, of high-middle… but there is no place and now it feels unseemly to say, where when he was in college, to say he wanted to join those ranks wouldn’t have felt unseemly. It would have felt ambitious: ”Oh yeah, you think you are going to be a national intellectual figure? You better work your ass off! You better have good ideas! You better study and understand the world of ideas and be ready to defend those ideas! Articulate! Convincing!” and now to say it, it is just like: ”Oh well, you are just part of the problem, to be a person trying to make those claims or trying to have that voice!” and the truth is we are all now part of the problem because all there is is problem.


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