Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Notes from a nameless conference

Martin Gurri at the fifth wave writes a very intresting "notes from a nameless conference." (HT Marginal Revolution). A few choice quotes, but do read the whole thing.
..In their hundreds if not thousands, I was swarmed by people of good will who were also smart, articulate, and hyper-educated.  They craved, sincerely, to help the disadvantaged and save the earth.  The words “science” and “reason” were perpetually on their lips, as if they held the copyright for these terms – which, in a sense, they did.  And if they were a bit defensive, a tad obtuse, their intentions were the purest I could imagine. 
So why, by their own admission, do they no longer inspire trust? 
I have met their kindred before, in other glittering places.  They run the institutions that hold center stage in our society, but look on the world as if from a walled mountain fortress, where every loud noise from beyond is interpreted as risk and threat.  They disagree about minutia, but mostly move in lockstep, like synchronized swimmers, with word and thought.  They are earnest but extraordinarily narrow.  In a typical complaint, one speaker blamed the public for hiding in an “information bubble” – yet it occurred to me, as I sat through the conference, that the bubble-dwellers controlled the microphones there. 
The same unmodulated whine about present conditions circled around and around, without even the ambition to achieve wit, depth, or originality: 
The internet is the enemy:  of rationality, of democracy, of truth.  It must be regulated by enlightened minds. 
The public resembles an eight-year-old who is always fooled by tricks and lies.  For its own protection, it must be constrained by a Guardian class. 
Populism is the spawn of lies.  Even if it wins elections, it is never legitimate, and must be swept away by a higher authority. 
Climate change is a scientific mandate for torturous economic and political experiments, implemented by experts.  To deny this is worse than error – it’s a crime against humanity. 
Hate speech, offensive words, fake news, deep fakes, privacy violations, information bubbles, bitcoin, Facebook, Silicon Valley, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Brexit:  all must be controlled, criminalized, exploded, broken up, exposed, deposed, or repeated until the right answer is obtained. 
None of this was up for discussion.  None of it was uttered with the least semblance of self-awareness.  In the same breath, a speaker called for the regulation of the web and the education of children in “tolerance.”  If I had pointed out the contradiction, the speaker, I’m certain, would have denied it.  Tolerance, for her, meant the obliteration of opinions she disliked.
In fact, each narrative loop I listed above ends with the elites happily in charge, and the obliteration of the wretched present.  If we wish to understand why trust evaporated in the first place, consider the moral and political assumptions behind this rhetorical posture
Martin does not really strike home the central contradiction here. Though "threat to democracy" is also a constant mantra, this movement is in fact profoundly anti-democratic. Us the self appointed aristocracy, must run things in the interest of the little people -- and we must change the rules of the game so the benighted little people never vote wrong and replace us.


More
this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality.  The conference organizers got our predicament right.  At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority. 
They utter the words science and reason like incantations, claim ownership to Platonic truth, and believe, with astonishing unanimity, that they have been overthrown by a tsunami of lies.  One need only restore truth to its former throne of glory, with themselves as mediating lords, they imagine, and the masses, as in the golden past, will bend the knee of trust.
 It never occurs to them, as it never did to my conference-goers, that they would profit from understanding the splintered perspectives of the public:  why, for example, a devout Christian with eyes wide open might vote for a man like Donald Trump.  A canonical explanation for Trump already existed, involving the usual tropes – fake news, Facebook, Putin.  Racism took care of the remainder.
There is more, including a perceptive understanding of how populism, and direct rather than representative connections, are emerging.

Finally
The decisive endeavor of our moment – far surmounting, I believe, any specific policy call – is the re-establishment of trust in the institutions of representative democracy
I didn't really hunt around much to figure out what conference he had in mind, but there are so many of them that it's perhaps best to let the post apply to all. 

15 comments:

  1. Why would 'a devout Christian with eyes wide open might vote for a man like Donald Trump'? This is hardly perplexing. Devout Christians enslaved other humans for 250 years, fought a war in an attempt to found a state based on enslavement and, when they lost, established a police state that assured former slaves and their descendants were terrorized and without legal representation. So voting for ' a man like Donald Trump' is utterly consistent with devout Christian behavior.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe you are making a massive generalization. The abolitionists were largely Christian and I suspect economic forces drove most of the pro-Slavery actions.

      I didn't vote for Trump, but I recognize that people who did vote for him did so for a variety of reasons, not just because he fits the left created portrait of a proud racist.

      Delete
    2. Ha! Did you read the post before writing this comment? You are the topic of the post. (Either that or it's a brilliant parody.) A bit of self awareness might be helpful. Self righteous and attributing the most vile of motives to your political opponents.

      Delete
    3. Maybe I'm missing the obvious, but my response was to merely point out the pitfalls of generalizing across a large group of people.

      Delete
    4. You did miss something obvious: the anonymous comment at 12:57 was directed at Kevin, not you :)

      Delete
    5. Anonymous, due to the thread structure, that was not obvious at all. I agree with Carlyle (the first Carlyle I've agreed with in 200 years).

      Delete
    6. I voted for Donald Trump, because I thought his policies would be good for disadvantaged minorities. They have been. In July, the unemployment rate for African-Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 fell to a seasonally adjusted 17.7 percent, the lowest rate since the government began tallying the figures in the early 1970s.

      Delete
  2. Actually, little noticed, Trump promised churches they could get involved in politics and not lose tax-exempt status.

    He could not fulfill his promise.

    "A provision that would have freed churches to make political endorsements has been dropped from the Republican tax overhaul, dashing the hopes of a segment of religious conservatives on what has been a key issue to the Trump administration."

    https://www.sltrib.com/religion/global/2017/12/16/churches-wont-be-endorsing-political-candidates-anytime-soon-proposal-left-out-of-gop-tax-bill/


    ReplyDelete
  3. If you found the Gurri's blog provocative, I highly recommend this week's Econtalk podcast with Chris Arnade talking about his book Dignity.

    http://www.econtalk.org/chris-arnade-on-dignity/

    There is much we don't know about who people are and why they want what they want.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It looks like Martin attended some of the conferences for non-profit organizations I have attended. Mostly when they know better than their donors and wonder why they have very few large donations.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Big surprise: a reactionary dude like Cochrane takes an issue with anti-fascism aka opposition to Trump and combating the gravest externality in human history, ecocide (climate "change" is a miselading euphemism).

    As much as I detest left-liberals, unlike the reactionary crowed they are at least not totally out of touch with reality

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you are using descriptive rather than prescriptive definitions for words like ‘anti-fascism’, then by definition you have a disconnect from reality.

      Furthermore, to call climate change ‘ecocide’ is to suppose that in the absence of any man made climate change there would be no drastic changes is ecosystems. Dinosaurs would like to protest your position. To then go one and say that climate change is a ‘misleading euphemism’ is to demonstrate the claim laid above, mainly that there is exist an elitist class which believes that a Guardian class need interpret and protect the masses because they are too stupid to understand what is meant by climate change.

      So nothing about you here indicates you are in touch with reality, except the good foresight you had to post this anonymously as to avoid future embarrassment

      Delete
    2. "[am] too stupid to understand what is meant by climate change."

      As they saay, self-knowledge is the first step towards enlightenment. For the sake of my sanity, I ignore the rest if your conservative "evil liberal elites" ramblings. Meanwhile, in the real world, beyodn your reactionary denial and deflection games, climate change is the gravest existential danger.

      Delete
  6. Echoes of Plato and Machiavelli here. Never forget that The Leviathan by Hobbes was a rewrite of The Prince and later Locke would repackage it al for his cultural epoch, too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Valter Buffo, Recce'd, Milan, ItalyAugust 4, 2019 at 6:27 AM

    Wow: this is effective, and "very interesting", as said. Pity the Author "didn't really hunt around much to figure out what conference he had in mind" because it was not a large effort. Even I do know which Conference Gurri is referring to. My only doubt is if it was the latest meeting of The Board of the Federal Reserve, or of the Board of the ECB, or (better) of the Board of the Bank of Japan. That meeting when they decided to print (again) a new avalanche of money to buy securities intended precisely to finance those " walled mountain fortress, where every loud noise from beyond is interpreted as risk and threat". Gurri gave us all a powerful hint when he wrote that "they run the institutions that hold center stage in our society" and added that "They disagree about minutia, but mostly move in lockstep, like synchronized swimmers, with word and thought. They are earnest but extraordinarily narrow. In a typical complaint, one speaker blamed the public for hiding in an “information bubble” – yet it occurred to me, as I sat through the conference, that the bubble-dwellers controlled the microphones there." Exactly! What a powerful description this is, of the attitudes we all observe of mr Powell, Mr Draghi and Mr Kuroda. Fantastic! There is one single mistake I am forced to point out: it comes with the reference to Mr Trump. Gurri writes that "It never occurs to them, as it never did to my conference-goers, that they would profit from understanding the splintered perspectives of the public: why, for example, a devout Christian with eyes wide open might vote for a man like Donald Trump.". Actually, the question should be rephrased as follows: "why, for example, hundreds of thousands of Conservative US voters, traditionally opposing defiti spending and monetary largess (labeled as Keynesian) are now unanimously supporting the President of a 1TN-a-year-deficit and the President who is making every effort to impose on the Fed a limitless new round of QE, which means printing money to buy debt. The same QE, by the way, that he, Mr. Donald J. Trump, insulted repeatedly and publicly not more than 5 years ago, as a risk for his fellow Americans. Via Twitter, ca va sans dire (very "Presidential"). Maybe Milton Friedman would be of help to answer to this "why"?

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.