Archive for the Category Social trends


Anne Applebaum on Eastern Europe

Anne Applebaum is one of America’s most distinguished conservative reporters.  (In the “classical liberal sense.)  Interestingly, in 2018 we’ve reached the point where distinguished conservatives and center-left reporters are almost identical on a wide range of foreign policy issues.  She has written the single best article I’ve ever read on the recent transformation of Eastern Europe.

Applebaum has dual citizenship with Poland, and is especially good on that country.  But the essay ranges over a wide range of topics.  For instance, until today I could never really “get” the Dreyfus Affair of 1894.  I knew that a French military officer was wrongly accused of treason.  And that the fact that he was Jewish probably played a role in this scandal.  But I never understood why this event was viewed as being so important.  It’s mentioned in almost every book I’ve ever read on French society in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  You could be reading a biography of an artist or author, and they’ll always spend a lot of time discussing that person’s opinion on the Dreyfus Affair.  Why?

After reading Applebaum’s story you’ll suddenly get it. History will start locking into place, at a psychological level. Indeed any future historian that wants to write a 21st century history of Europe should probably start with the Dreyfus Affair.

She’s also great on Hungary.  It’s long, but read the whole thing.

PS.  I see that Trump is gloating about how Nike stock dropped right after the Kaepernick ad was put out:

President Donald Trump had plenty to say about a topic he has been obsessed with, tweeting that Nike was getting “absolutely killed with anger and boycotts” and asking what the company was thinking with their divisive decision.

If the President were smart then he should have waited to see the impact on sales.  But then if he were smart . . . well a whole lot of things would be different:

Ten days after Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary ad campaign, the sports apparel behemoth’s stock price closed at an all-time high on Thursday at $83.47, according to a report from Bloomberg.

People seem to have tuned Trump out, which bodes well for the midterms.  And the good news keeps piling up, as the “brave” Manafort flipped today.

PPS.  Robert Shiller is in the news today:

At the same time, the president’s apparent Teflon to slough off scandals, conflicts of interest, evidence of incompetence, and other issues that would doom traditional political figures is well documented.

Shiller says this mindset is reflected in the market, which he considers overvalued.

“I think Trump encourages us to be more risk-taking” when it comes to investments, said Shiller.

Shiller’s hypothesis that this thinking may have seeped into the public consciousness.

How can I put this politely . . . umm, no.

Detroit, Orange County, and “Murica”

There are no American nationalists.  They don’t exist.  There are people like Laura Ingraham, who present themselves as American nationalists.  But they are not at all convincing.  On the other hand, there are lots of American white nationalists, including our current president.  So how can we tell the difference?  First let’s look at how Laura Ingraham perceives “the problem”:

Ingraham said on Wednesday that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

. . .

Ingraham said toward the end of Wednesday’s commentary that she was not talking about race and ethnicity, and complained a night later that the disclaimer was being missed.

On Thursday, she said she had “a message to those who are distorting my views, including all white nationalists and especially one racist freak whose name I won’t even mention, you don’t represent my views and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear.”

Instead of race, she said she was talking about “a shared sense of keeping American safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.

We roll our eyes at her attempt to dig her way out of trouble.  Does anyone seriously think that Ingraham is horrified by blond immigrants from Norway (or Slovenia)?  Her concern about immigration is clearly linked to race, at some level.  But it’s also true that she fears crime, and that she associates crime with immigration.  The problem here is that the violent crime rate in many of the “American” parts of big cities like New York is dramatically higher than in the immigrant areas.

So let’s think about what it would take to avoid “massive demographic change”.  In America, blacks made up 14% of the population in 1860, and 12.6% today.  That ratio is now pretty stable, because the black birth rate is about equal to the overall birth rate, and the rate of black immigration as a share of the total is similar to the share of blacks in the US population.  You can think of recent immigration from Haiti and Nigeria as a way of keeping the black share of the population stable, i.e. a way of preserving traditional America. Is that how Ingraham thinks about Haitian immigration?

In this vision of “American” nationalism, Detroit is a red, white and blue, all-American city, while Orange County is a disturbing foreign place, where whites are only 41% of the population and blacks are almost non-existent.  It’s mostly Hispanic and Asian, many from first or second generation immigrant families.  Is that how Ingraham feels about these two places?  I think we all know the answer, one doesn’t have to be a dog to hear the hidden messages in the white nationalist rhetoric.

I claim there are no “American nationalists”, only “Murican nationalists”.  They believe in Murica, a mythical white country cleansed of the blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans who have lived here for centuries. Ingraham may see herself as an American nationalist, but I don’t believe it for a moment.

Those who believe in Murica blame inner city blacks for their plight (bad culture), while romanticizing the plight of opioid-addicted whites in Appalachia.  It’s all the fault of the Chinese, who stole their jobs.

When Trump asked why we should accept immigrants from “shithole” countries, many people focused on the insult to low-income countries.  That comment was certainly impolite, and not something an American president should be saying about countries we need to deal with; but the real problem was the implication that immigrants from shithole countries are not the sort of people that we want here.  Some whites have trouble seeing the implication of Trump’s comments, but African-Americans (and Central Americans) whose ancestors came from those exact countries certainly know what Trump was implying.  Trump was implicitly saying (to them) “we don’t like the fact that you are here”.  Interestingly, many of our most successful immigrants come from dysfunctional poor countries like India, and even immigrants from Nigeria do about average in terms of income.

Lots of Trump voters don’t care what Trump says about minorities.  But there are still a substantial number of people who vote GOP for tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees, but who would be very uncomfortable if Trump made explicitly racist statements.  Enough to swing a very close election.  These people would rather pretend that Trump’s not a racist, just being a bit politically incorrect on occasion.  So Trump continues to send out dog whistles to his white nationalist supporters, while the moderate, upper middle class Republican voters of Orange County can continue to look the other way.

There was recent speculation that Trump might have used the N-word in private conversation. (Admittedly not from a very credible source.)  Speaking for myself, the truth or falsity of this claim would in no way affect my view of Trump. I already know how he thinks about lower income minorities.  They are people that Trump doesn’t want in “Murica”.  I wish he’d just admit it.

PS.  I moved to Orange County a year ago.  Compared to Boston, it’s culture reminds me much more of the traditional (white) America I grew up in during the 1960s in Wisconsin.  Back then, if one saw an East Asian on the street (then called “Orientals”) the person seemed very foreign looking. Now they no longer look foreign.  Here’s a video from an Orange County 4th of July Parade last month, full of marching Chinese ladies.  Even Laura Ingraham might shed a tear.

PPS.  Play the video until it reaches a pop song, which starts out with rap, transitions to Christina Aguilera (I think), and then samples a Norwegian pop song from the 1980s.  Seeing the middle-aged Chinese ladies dancing to all of that is more than a bit surreal.

Nationalism vs. cultural appropriation

Ian Buruma has a new book out about his experience in Japan during the 1970s—a sort of bildungsroman.  He begins with a quote from the great Simon Leys:

Cultural initiation entails metamorphosis, and we cannot learn any foreign values if we do not accept the risk of being transformed by what we learn.

Imagine for a moment a couple of Americans who spend a year in Korea, but in very different ways.  One is in the military, and spends almost all his time on the base.  He can’t stand the smell of kimchi, and is rather contemptuous of Korean culture in general.  He talks too loud.  The other spends a year at a Korean university.  She becomes a big fan of Korean culture.  She starts cooking Korean food, dressing in Korean fashion, and adopting Korean hair styles.  She learns the language, and learns how to write in Korean.  Let’s say she’s a Chinese-American, so she can blend in a bit more easily once she becomes fluent in the Korean language and culture.

When I was young the first guy was viewed by people on the left as “the ugly American.”  The woman was viewed much more favorably.

Today?  I really don’t know what’s going on in the world.  Is the woman engaged in cultural appropriation?  Is the view that we Americans should stick to good old American culture a Trumpian right wing idea, or is it the new left?

Is the view that Asian-Americans have the wrong personality a Steve Bannon idea, or is it a Harvard idea?

Is the view that people in Hollywood should be blacklisted for holding abhorrent political views a right wing idea from the 1950s, or a left-wing idea from the 2010s.

Is the view that flashy pimps accused of multiple rapes make great elected officials a theme of gangster rap, or the view of today’s Christian fundamentalist voters?

I’m confused.  Can someone help me out here?

Religion plays almost no role in politics

I suppose some people were surprised to see heavily Catholic Ireland vote overwhelming in favor of legal abortion.  But they really shouldn’t have been.  Religion plays almost no role in politics, in Ireland, in America, and in Saudi Arabia.  It’s simply not a factor.

Readers of the Washington Post should not have been surprised to learn that White Evangelicals are the least likely group to support providing shelter to desperate refugees from troubled countries:

In February 2017, as debate raged nationally over President Trump’s decision to curtail immigration to the United States, the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network dipped into the Bible to share what that sacred text said about refugees.

“Treat refugees the way you want to be treated,” it said, quoting Leviticus. “Invite the stranger in” (Matthew) and “Open your door to the traveler” (Job).

The first comment in reply to the article captures the tone of the rest of the feedback the site received: “Shame on CBN for this very poorly written article full of political rhetoric. This is not a Biblical issue.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 2.26.56 PMNor should people be surprised to learn that the leader of the conservative Southern Baptists was a strong supporter of abortion rights, back in 1970.  Why shouldn’t he have supported abortion rights?  After all, religion plays no role on politics.

Some readers may still have a nagging doubt about this claim.  What about Saudi Arabia?  It is a conservative Muslim country that does not allow women to drive.  Except now they do allow women to drive.  Is that because Saudi Arabia is no longer Muslim?  Is it because of what the Koran says about women driving?  Probably not.

So why are people confused on this point?  Perhaps because they confuse “religion” with “cultural beliefs held by religious people.”  And cultural views do play a big role in politics.  In 1970, it was culturally acceptable to walk down the street in Tehran or Kabul wearing a miniskirt.  Now it isn’t.   In 2050?

OK, so why is my distinction important?  Am I just splitting hairs? Even I agree that the cultural views held by religious people are an important factor in politics.

I would argue that if you think in terms of culture, rather than religion, it makes it much easier to understand poll number such as the following:

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 2.34.13 PMIf you naively thought that the political views of people reflected their religion, then you might be surprised by these numbers.  Why would White evangelicals change their views so dramatically, in just a period of 5 years?  Why would they have been horrified by the behavior of Bill Clinton, and then in 2016 suddenly decide that it didn’t matter if politicians had a sleazy personal life?

In my view, these pollsters are wasting their time.  They are trying to ascertain the views of voters on certain issues of principle, whereas most voters actually have no fixed principles.  (I mean political principles, they may well be otherwise fine people.)  They are guided by convenience, by expediency.  However you wish to define religion, it’s certainly not supposed to be about convenience and expediency.

In this post, I’ve focused on conservative religious groups, but in this excellent Freddie deBoer post we learns that Social Justice Warriors are no different—lacking in principles.  It would not surprise me in the least if 40 years from now conservative Christians are overwhelmingly pro-choice, supporters of “Me-Too” and welcoming to refugees, and SJWs are the exact opposite.

PS.  The deBoer post (especially the second half), is also a brilliant explanation of the internal dynamics of China’s Cultural Revolution–and he doesn’t even mention China.

PPS.  I’d like to see a Venn Diagram of the overlap between people who:

1. Agree with Jordan Peterson on the importance of character

2. Actually like Trump

PPPS.  Ramesh Ponnuru makes a very persuasive case that someone in the Trump Administration is out to get him.

PPPPS.  Some commenters recently suggested that the FBI had spied on the Trump campaign.  If so, this is really odd:

Meanwhile, Democrats who attended a classified briefing about the informant with top DOJ officials last week said they saw “no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign.” Top Republicans who also attended the briefing have remained silent, however.

The poor, the sick, the sad, and the lonely: Blaming the victims

Most people will want to skip this post, but it’s something I need to get off my chest. One unfortunately aspect of the internet is that it lifts off the lid, and exposes all the dark sides of human nature. One of those dark aspects is the urge to blame the victim.

1.  The sick

If you follow sports, you will eventually come across a case like Derrick Rose, or Kawhi Leonard. These are players that suffered severe injuries, and had trouble getting healthy again. At some point medical science is no longer able to identify the problem. They look healed but they still felt pain, which got worse when they played. When that happens, sports reporters start whispering that it’s a mental thing, that these players are weak. This despite the fact that when healthy, these men were among the toughest in the league, willing to mix it up with much bigger players under the rim. We get frustrated that they aren’t healed yet—and that the problem cannot be identified—so it’s their fault. (This year it’s Markelle Fultz who is being picked on.)

Medical science may be impressive, but there is still a great deal that it doesn’t understand. If you go to the doctor and complain about chronic intestinal pain, there’s a good chance that he or she won’t be able to pinpoint the problem. Indeed there are lots of things that cannot be identified in X-rays or blood tests, including severe back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine headaches, and dozens of other illnesses. We get frustrated with people who have these hard to pinpoint problems, and label them “hypochondriacs.” Or we say they have a low threshold for pain—as if anyone knows the pain felt by another person. Yes, it’s true that the pain is “all in their head”, but that’s equally true of someone suffering pain from a “phantom limb”, and someone who has their hand on a hot stove. Where else would the pain be?

2.  The sad

It’s even worse with mental illnesses. People suffering from depression are told to just “snap out of it”, or think positive thoughts. They are viewed as losers.

3.  The lonely

There has been recent discussion of “incels”, people who are celibate but who would prefer to be in a romantic relationship. The non-lonely often tell them to just “lower their standards”, as if they had never thought of that. Or join a church. Please, just stop. Even worse, one prominent pundit implied that tech firms might want to get rid of these awful people. After all, one incel in Canada murdered some people.

4.  The poor

Like you and I, indeed like almost everyone, poor people often make bad choices. But the last thing they want to hear is someone telling them what they did wrong. Consider a young woman at the bottom of society (in terms of looks and education). Her life is pretty bleak, with only a few men to choose from. Having a child would provide some meaning to her life. She finds the best man she can, but in the end he walks out on her, leaving her a poor single mother. Or maybe he beat her and she walks out on him.  Sure, she might have been able to stay slightly above the poverty line by becoming a low wage, childless, “incel” worker with nothing in life to look forward to; but not everyone can live that way. Yes, poverty is bad, but being physically ill, mentally ill, or lonely might well be worse.

I understand that there are people out there who are deserving of blame. Think of the famous case of the worker who is on disability for a bad back, but is discovered out skiing. (Or Trump with his “bad feet“.)  These people exit. But unless you have clear evidence pointing in this direction, do not blame victims for their plight. Just don’t do it.

If I were to generalize, I’d say that the biggest mistake made by conservatives is to view the unfortunate as “losers” who are to blame for their plight. In the case of incels, both the left and the right piles on.

On the liberal side, the biggest mistake pundits make is to rank people by how much sympathy each victim deserves. Don’t tell people that their suffering is less bad than someone else’s. YOU DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE IN THEIR SHOES. For all we know, the most miserable person in America might well be a billionaire. These pundits base their opinions on social science, whereas they ought to spend more time reading great literature.  There’s more to life than money.

HT:  Scott Aaronson, who has a much better post.