Comments on “Wreckage: the culture war”

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Ideological Turing Test Answers

1) Family bonding and stability is the key to a decent society; monogamy makes people better human beings by promoting loyalty, respect, and civilized virtues. Homosexual urges are a biological fact, and when they do not have a socially sanctioned structure for their lives in the form of marriage, their character degenerates into promiscuity and vice.

2) A society should be judged first and foremost by how it cares for its weakest and most vulnerable members. Children are always the most vulnerable in any society; they lack options and are unable to escape oppression on their own. It is unfair to risk their safety and human development by subjecting them to the untested experiment of new forms of child-rearing. If an experimental change to a child's upbringing would not be allowed by an IRB, it should not become a new social policy.

3) While consenting adults can make any contract they wish, children do not have the mental ability for meaningful consent, and therefore we must enforce default social contracts for them, based on our best understanding of their coherent extrapolated volition.

It is likely that almost everyone would choose to grow up in an environment that matches its biological needs for a psychologically healthy upbringing, and would be willing to sacrifice future freedoms to do so. Behind the veil of ignorance, most people would be willing to sign the contract "I will significantly increase the odds that I grow up in an environment that allows me to reach my full potential as a sapient being, and in exchange I forfeit my future right to raise sapient beings if I have any mutation that significantly impairs my ability to do so."

Let 'marriage' be defined in our social code as a reserved keyword denoting a standard social institution optimized for the production of future healthy sapient beings. All marriages must satisfy conditions that a potential sapient being would wish to be raised in, so entry into this status is reserved for those who can demonstrate the ability to properly raise sapient beings.

As science advances, we will develop a more accurate understanding of the proper conditions for healthy psychological growth, and better tests for suitability to be a parent. However, as a first approximation, we can assume that a household with only two men or two women responsible for childrearing lacks some essential ingredients for the full healthy development of a child.

"It has also been terrific

Greg's picture

"It has also been terrific for the ruling class—both politicians and plutocrats. When politics is mostly about sex, drugs, religion, and cartoon frogs, it is much easier to cut backroom deals that capture regulatory agencies and redirect trillions of tax dollars to business interests. "

It is frustrating how few people understand this. The most disturbing thing to me about this US presidential election is not Trump, it is the extent to which the New Left identity grievance movement has managed to redirect attention away from it.

Turing test

Alleged, very nice, thank you!

I gave the same answer to #1 (but I have read social conservatives making this argument, which was sort of cheating!). I think I would leave out "biological fact," which conservatives might balk at. Maybe more an attitude of "well, homosexuality is a perversion, but realistically we can't eliminate it, so we should recognize that it's better for them to marry each other and thereby minimize their own sins, plus the trouble they cause for other people." (But I'm not a social conservative, so I can't be sure this is better!)

I gave quite different answers than you did for 2 and 3. Yours are at least as good as mine; probably better. I'm impressed!

I'm having trouble being meta enough

I haven՚t finished processing this post, but something about it is bothering me right off the bat. It doesn՚t seem to live in the current historical moment, which for me demands an attitude entirely different from this position of abstracted symmetry. The two sides are not equivalent – one of them is flirting openly with actual fascism.

Fascism is not merely a different set of values, and the proper reaction to fascism is not, in my opinion, trying to carefully model its moral system so that it can be persuaded with argument. It needs to be defeated with force, hopefully in this case just the force of numbers in an election, although the legitimacy and finality of elections are in the process of being undermined, so who knows.

So maybe I am just stuck at an early developmental stage or am otherwise unable to transcend my partisanship, but there it is. If there is a culture war I know what side I՚m on.

Of course I can see the value of your noble effort to adjudicate a peace in the culture wars by taking an abstract position meta to both sides. That sounds admirable, and encouraging people to empathetically model their opponents is admirable. But I think we are far past that stage, and I speak as someone who has tried to engage with the right-wing on the internet a lot over the years.

I also disagree strongly with the goal of “disentangling morality from politics” – I don՚t think this is either possible or desirable. Politics is either a conflict between different value systems, or else a mere tribal contest between rival ethnicities or gangs. I՚d rather it be the former.

You might be suffering from a form of antipolitics, a syndrome common in geek culture and stemming from a dislike of conflict. Wouldn՚t it be nice if we could transcend our differences and acknowledge each other՚s fundamental humanity? Well, yes, it would be. And we should try. But I՚m increasingly of the opinion that conflict – between political factions, between value systems, between ways of life – is just fundamental to human life, and the best we can hope for is a way to work out those conflicts without actual bloodshed.

One other point: I think your analysis conflates the larger cultural war – which in my personal factoring is mostly about the urban vs rural mentalities, but that divide maps onto the more-or-less equivalent left/right or your monist/dualist splits – with the various countercultures that arose in the 60s and 80s. The factions long predated the countercultures and while the countercultures grew into these factions and reshaped them, they don՚t really define them as a whole.

[and apologies if this is overly contentious and/or missing the point. I don't pretend to any intellectual or (god forbid) moral authority in these matters. ]

History, fascism, and morality

I should say first that, at the non-meta level, I don't understand politics very well. (I was going to write a blog post just about that, but have deferred/dropped it, because I'm sure someone will point out any errors I make.) I haven't engaged with politics for years as you have, and your grasp of the situation on the ground is probably much better than mine.

It doesn՚t seem to live in the current historical moment

Right. This is the second-to-last post in a chapter on the 60s-80s movements, describing their legacy. It's not at all a complete discussion of current politics; it's just meant to illuminate some aspects thereof. By eliding many issues, it may obscure more than it illuminates, of course!

I have upcoming posts on how politics operates in the subcultural and atomized modes, which are quite different from the counterculture war. Because people tend to get stuck in the mode of their youth, we have all three kinds of conflicts going on simultaneously. It may be helpful to distinguish them.

The factions long predated the countercultures and while the countercultures grew into these factions and reshaped them, they don՚t really define them as a whole.

Yup. Much of the point of this page is that the countercultures (in their political manifestations) were just obfuscatory mythologies. That was where I was going with the "reproductive strategies" analysis. Family structure may be the real underlying issue, in which case the countercultures' systems of ideological justification were taken up only because they reinforced different sexual norms.

Interestingly, Trumpism is much closer to the 1960s Southern Strategy than to the 80s religious right. Trump doesn't reflect the values of the religious right at all (as has been much noticed) but appeals to the same group. This seems to show that the religious justifications for the 80s counterculture were largely window-dressing. I think we may be watching the final disintegration of the American religious right; its key constituency has visibly stopped pretending to believe in it.

The two sides are not equivalent – one of them is flirting openly with actual fascism.

Well... some elements of the left are flirting openly with actual Stalinist communism, which is as bad, in my opinion. ("Your side is represented by its worst crazies, mine by its most eloquent and morally upstanding thinkers" is a known failure mode.) However, currently the know-nothing authoritarian right is louder than the know-nothing authoritarian left; so I agree that there's more to be worried about, and to oppose, there. But the moderate, mainstream left is also more authoritarian than I would like, and (in the US) not obviously less authoritarian overall than the moderate, mainstream right. That does not make for moral equivalence, but I'm not altogether enthusiastic about either.

Politics is either a conflict between different value systems, or else a mere tribal contest between rival ethnicities or gangs.

Well... I have an idealistic, 18th century conception of politics, derived probably from a civics class I never took, as a process of collaborative rational deliberation about pragmatic policy questions.

As a descriptive account, this is obviously wildly inaccurate. I would like to hold it as a prescriptive account nonetheless. I have a draft post about that which I hope to get out before the election. (After the election, I suspect no one will want to hear about politics again for the foreseeable future!)

You might be suffering from a form of antipolitics, a syndrome common in geek culture and stemming from a dislike of conflict.

I found your post about that interesting and insightful. My final one in the counterculture chapter will probably say something similar (and maybe link your post).

I think I'm not making that mistake. I'm definitely not a libertarian, rationalist, or neoreactionary. I've publicly criticized all three sharply, in fact. There might be another form of anti-politics that I've fallen into, though!

The final page in this chapter will say explicitly that conflict is inevitable, and politics are important and necessary; but will suggest that better understanding can reduce collateral damage.

Politics, rationality, conflict

This is the second-to-last post in a chapter on the 60s-80s movements, describing their legacy. It's not at all a complete discussion of current politics;

Right, I should remember that this is more part of a book-in-progress than commentary on the fleeting events of the day. Nonetheless you are talking at least in these parts about about recent history, so hard not to respond in that mode.

Well...some elements of the left are flirting openly with actual Stalinist communism, which is as bad, in my opinion

Some elements maybe, but their influence seems limited to a few precincts of Berkeley and Cambridge, whereas the right-wing crazies have coopted the candidate of a major political party. It՚s not really comparable.

Well... I have an idealistic, 18th century conception of politics, derived probably from a civics class I never took, as a process of collaborative rational deliberation about pragmatic policy questions.

I don՚t think so. It does, in its better forms, involve a good deal of reasoned deliberation, but I don՚t think it is ever free of the contest of concrete interests. If that isn՚t present, you don՚t really need politics, management and technical expertise will suffice.

Or, more deeply, it involves the creation of shared interests. A good politician is someone who can make the interests of a disparate group of people both appear to be aligned, and cause them to be actually aligned. The US is a sort of fiction, its interests are even more fictional, yet these fictions end up having enormous real-world power. The US coheres through various acts of magic, such as the ritual of elections through which the legitimacy of the government is maintained, and Americans are enabled to think of themselves as members of a collective rather than self-interested atoms.

This is a very basic and primal operation of all social groups. And it seems like it has to precede rationality, since it creates the conditions for cooperation.

Politics may be more about a contest of narratives than a contest of interests (eg the Trumpian story about how America has been taken advantage of but will be restored to greatness through better deals vs. the other side, harder to caricature but maybe it՚s “me and my friends at Davos are all so smart and capable and all we need is bit more money and bureaucratic power and we can fix anything”). But support for the narratives is grounded in interests or perceived interests.

Sorry, off on a tangent. Something about this stuff fascinates me...not even so much the politics per se but trying to find better ways to understand the dynamics of collectives.

I think I'm not making that mistake. I'm definitely not a libertarian,

Didn՚t mean to accuse you of libertarianism or any other ideology; if you are antipolitical it is surely your own personal flavor.

One stream of consciousness in reply to another!

I don՚t think it is ever free of the contest of concrete interests. If that isn՚t present, you don՚t really need politics.

Right. The first subtitle of the next page is "Beyond centrism and civility." My notes-to-myself from that, in stream-of-consciousness-ese:

this is not a plea for centrism, compromise, civility, or well-meaning tolerance (I tend to favor those, but that is not the point here)

the complete stance is not a middle way. I’m suggesting that both sides are wrong, and there are other, unrecognized alternatives

conflict is inevitable. ideological demonization is not. wars over symbols are not.

because people are diverse, these conflicts can’t be resolved (in favor of one or the other). They can be dissolved (in favor of a more accurate stance on meaningness). That leaves practical conflicts, which are inevitable. practical solutions are possible—after dissolving/untangling/withdrawing eternalist absolutisms, where compromise would be morally wrong.

or at least cooled (if people recognize at least intellectually that they are not absolutely in the right)

argue about concrete practicalities, not values, which are mostly bullshit anyway

You wrote:

A good politician is someone who can make the interests of a disparate group of people both appear to be aligned, and cause them to be actually aligned.

That's an interesting point; I hadn't thought of it that way! Will let it percolate.

trying to find better ways to understand the dynamics of collectives.

Yes!

Thanks David

John's picture

Please keep writing this kind of essay. The world needs it.

Because you're on the left

Sean's picture

You mentioned you can't think of a counter example similar to abortion on the left that keeps galvanizing people and being exaggerated. That's because you probably mostly believe the myths of the left as well. Some of those include the over-exaggerated importance of racism, sexism, etc. Before everyone dogpiles to start giving all your arguments and evidence just realize, those on the right would do the same if I claimed "the negative impact of abortion is largely overstated". Also realize that there is plenty of evidence showing a post-gender post-racial society at large (i.e. starting women engineers without children make 117% of starting male engineers, black president, etc), you're probably just choosing to give more weight to evidence that supports your tribe.

you really really should read

you really really should read Alasdair Macintyre; I think you would find a lot of common ground and some strong intellectual ideas that would both challenge and bolster your thinking.

Alasdair Macintyre

Thank you! Could you say more about what I should read and why?

I am roughly familiar with the ideas in After Virtue from secondary sources. I've read many summaries and discussions of the book, but there might be something important there that they miss. The title of Whose Justice? Which Rationality? poses questions that seem important. I rarely see references to that book (or his others) though.

Alasdair Macintyre

Hmm...
Well, this is potentially a big subject, and not one I have delved into deeply since my student days (I think I self-indulgently tweeted you my undergrad thesis - the contents page at list of which might be useful): https://model.report/s/nwni2n/benjamin_taylor_-_does_alasdair_macintyre_...
I can give the broad sweep, but not good references to texts any more, sorry!
He has some strong themes and an internally consistent philosophy which I find to be very persuasive, and in many respects I think might not be totally distinct from yours.
So - the breakdown of rationality in ethical argument - because of 'cargo cult' disconnection of ethical expression from the community and practices which in which context they held meaning: After Virtue.
The concept of the breakdown of meaning when a model of the world (Kuhnian paradigm) no longer has sufficient explanatory power - "Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative, & the Philosophy of Science" (this would, I think, be a good intro).
I don't know if it is in there or in 'whose justice, which rationality' that he then makes the move into competing rationalities - and the idea that an incommensurable tradition which can explain both what the failing tradition fails to explain and what it *can* explain and why it failed.
Interestingly, in claiming that different rationalities (founded in practices and social groupings) compete for explanatory power of the human condition and useful interpretation of human context, and in the process justifying his own move from early socialism to late-life Aristotelian Thomism, Macintyre's ultimate foundation of reality is a deeply circular one: the interpretation of the Word. And it seems to me that circular causation is a quite important point that I haven't yet found in the samples I've read of your writing, but is probably there?
(Though, like Wittgenstein, he inevitably brings the Word and the Act together, since for him interpretation is not a merely intellectual process, it is an embodied and social one – and so I really resonated with meaning being created from action, with most ontological questions therefore dissolving away. (There’s a systems thinking/family therapy approach based on this called 'co-ordinated management of meaning', which is one of those many things I think more people should be more interested in).
There’s a very early paper he wrote on Marxism which talks about hermeneutics and in the last book I read (Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry – Dependent Rational Animals came out after I left university – I bought it recently but haven’t read it), he returns to hermeneutics to justify his Thomism.
I think he holds views about modernism, post-modernism, and meaning in community that you would find interesting – I found it very consistent with a ‘there’s no self without other’ view, which I share since being infected with existentialist philosophy (and the Saint-Simon sort of side of Marx and Hegel which speaks to production, creation, and alienation - you might also say that there is no self without production (which might be creating relationships), and that self is therefore never limited to self-in-self cos there is self-in-other by definition (by essence) - this can be considered a definition of 'wholeness' or a definition of 'alienation', depending). But that's where existentialism gets you - hyphenated composite words.

I’ll end with a good quote:

“I cannot answer the question, 'What ought I to do?' unless I first answer the question, 'Of which story am I a part?'”

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This page is in the section Countercultures: modernity’s last gasp,
      which is in The history of meaningness,
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