Category Archives: Social Commentary

The Free State Of Jones

Patricia and I went to see the movie yesterday. I agree with the critics that it was too long, and tried to pack too much history in a single movie (though it could have been tightened up just with some editing). Here’s a typical review.

For those unfamiliar with Reconstruction, it was nice to see that they didn’t try to whitewash the Democrats. But this is a point that I haven’t seen anyone else make:

I’d also note that, sad as it was that they received no help, Sherman was right; southeast Mississippi was not strategic at that point, after the fall of Vicksburg, and he couldn’t spare the resources for it.

The Washington Delusion

Ben Domonech responds to Jonathan Rouch’s lunatic dispatch from inside the cocooned Beltway:

Square Rauch’s frame with the Benjy Sarlin report this week on the people who elected Trump, which is also quoted below. You can’t, because the latter offers actual data to show why people supported Trump, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because they’re angry about the lack of earmarks. It’s not that people believe their leadership class is corrupt – it’s that they know they’re stupid. It’s not that people are angry because a parking garage didn’t get built, it’s that they’re angry because the FBI can’t keep track of a terrorist’s wife.

Sarlin’s piece illustrates, in clear data-driven reporting, the real basis for the breakdown of our Cold War era political reality: an utter collapse in the belief that our elites, elected or otherwise, have the capacity to represent. They no longer believe our elites will ever look out for the interests of an anxious people. The “he can’t be bought” frame for Trump’s rise is best understood as code for “he’ll look out for me, not [pick your group]”.

This is not about ideology. If people trusted elites and institutions they defend to look out for them, in a non-ideological sense, the breakdown of our systems would have been mitigated or confined. The fact that it is so sweeping is due to a generation of elites who didn’t do their jobs well, or pretended things weren’t their job for too long.

We have breakdown, chaos, and upheaval in our politics today not because the people are “insane”, as Rauch writes, but because they are sane. They know the leadership class which held power for the past generation has not looked out for them.

We should never refer to them as “elites” without the scare quotes: There is nothing “elite” about them, in terms of intelligence, probity or even basic competence. Sadly, Trump would be no better, but he is what their arrogant fecklessness has delivered.

Top Space Influencers

I’d be more gratified by being in this stratosphere if I could see more things happening that I’m actually influencing. But maybe I’m being too impatient. I also wish that being an influencer paid better.

[Wednesday-morning update]

Brexit

The British elites cannot continue to ignore the masses:

Somehow, over the last half-century, Western elites managed to convince themselves that nationalism was not real. Perhaps it had been real in the past, like cholera and telegraph machines, but now that we were smarter and more modern, it would be forgotten in the due course of time as better ideas supplanted it.

That now seems hopelessly naive. People do care more about people who are like them — who speak their language, eat their food, share their customs and values. And when elites try to ignore those sentiments — or banish them by declaring that they are simply racist — this doesn’t make the sentiments go away. It makes the non-elites suspect the elites of disloyalty. For though elites may find something vaguely horrifying about saying that you care more about people who are like you than you do about people who are culturally or geographically further away, the rest of the population is outraged by the never-stated corollary: that the elites running things feel no greater moral obligation to their fellow countrymen than they do to some random stranger in another country. And perhaps we can argue that this is the morally correct way to feel — but if it is truly the case, you can see why ordinary folks would be suspicious about allowing the elites to continue to exercise great power over their lives.

It’s therefore not entirely surprising that people are reacting strongly against the EU, the epitome of an elite institution: a technocratic bureaucracy designed to remove many questions from the democratic control of voters in the constituent countries. Elites can earnestly explain that a British exit will be very costly to Britain (true), that many of the promises made on Brexit’s behalf are patently ridiculous (also true), that leaving will create all sorts of security problems and also cost the masses many things they like, such as breezing through passport control en route to their cheap continental holidays. Elites can even be right about all of those things. They still shouldn’t be too shocked when ordinary people respond just as Republican primary voters did to their own establishment last spring: “But you see, I don’t trust you anymore.”

Brexit is Britain’s Trump, but it’s a much healthier response to the “elites” (they’re not particularly elite in matters of knowledge or competence) than ours has been.

A New Breakthrough In The Annals Of Academic Ethics

A new definition of research misconduct:

My previous post illustrated numerous ethical conflicts that can arise for researchers. But when it comes to conflicts between your conscience and your colleagues, or the public and your colleagues, any perceived responsibility to your colleagues has to take a back seat.

But it seems that in academic science, responsibility to your colleagues and their opinions, their declarations of consensus, their reputations, is apparently regarded by many researchers as the paramount consideration, viz. the circling of the wagons that occurred in Climategate.

This concern about ‘responsibility’ to your colleagues seems only to extend to colleagues who happen to agree with you.

Academic science, and academia in general, is very, very sick.