Moralists vs. pragmatists
I have to go help a friend move some stuff for the next few hours so I’m just dropping in now to remind people to stay civil and make me have to do as little moderating as possible this afternoon
The rejection of compromise is also driven by creeping Niemöllerism, too -- after all, first they came for [tiny marginal group] and then they came for me. This engenders the attitude that you must respond to any threat, of any severity, to any member of your coalition as a maximal threat to the entire coalition. Indeed -- you are weak and naive to respond with less than maximum force to any threat. For "they" are implacably evil, and they treat compromise only as a means to total victory.
Are there enemies who are implacably evil, and cannot be appeased? Yes; Hitler was one, and Putin is now another.
But Niemöller's dictum is a catastrophic model for domestic politics, where the median US voter is more likely to respond to uncompromising purity with thermostatic rejection. Furthermore, strategies and attitudes inspired by Niemöller's dictum make you look, to your opponents and neutral onlookers, exactly like the kind of implacable enemy with whom there can be no compromise. So they're going to Niemöller you just like you Niemöller them, and then politics has been replaced by warfare.
It's a stirring quotation, but a horrible model for being an effective agent in a democracy.
MY makes some great points, but I don’t think he fully engages with the problem. In his quotes from the representative non-compromise camp there is talk of gop wanting to “eradicate” people (presumably the trans) and literally supporting de jure (?) racial discrimination.
It’s worth dwelling on this rhetoric a bit. Are we to take it literally? If so I’d argue these Uber educated and connected peole are unhinged form reality and it’s very much worth pondering why.
If however it’s hyperbole, it’s again worth considering why they resort to it? Is it because they implicitly realizing that the no compromise position isn’t very convincing when considers in realistic terms ?
I think there's some truth to this post and I don't want to debate it exactly so much as raise another issue: even highly educated people can still be stupid about various subjects and easily fold to pressures to believe and/or support stupid things. This isn't to say the educational divide doesn't increasingly matter or that higher intelligence people don't have advantages over lower intelligence people. However there is not some bright light that says 'no person above x intelligence threshold or y educational achievement will believe this.' The quintessential example is Matt's discussion of how poor and nonsensical Tema Okun's work is, yet versions of it turn up all over the place, especially places with a lot of high intelligence, high educational achievement people.
So I am all for political pragmatism, but I think there is more going on when it comes to some of these issues. Being smart does not make someone ahead of his or her time on every issue characterized as one of morality. Sometimes they're just being stupid. So next time any of us correctly wonders how the right got so stupid it became a hot bed of vaccine skepticism we should take care to make sure we aren't doing the same thing on some issue.
100% agree with Matt for a simple reason. In the moralist progressive logic, there are no roadblocks between their current position and the complete eradication of all unfairness in life under the guise of the term “rights” - which is implausible for at least two reasons - the sheer complexity of life which will always yield a decent amount of unfairness, and the sheer subjectivity of the concept.
Also, even if the body politic magically grants the moralists every position they hold, within about a week they will find a new crusade - that’s just how many people are wired.
Another sure-fire way to inflame and confuse any debate: misuse the terms "existence" and "existential".
If I ask you to turn down your music, I am asking you not to be noisy. "So you're saying I shouldn't BE!" No, I said you shouldn't be noisy. "But you're saying I should't be! You literally want me not to exist!! My existence is being threatened!!!" Actually, I have no objection to your existence, it's only your volume that I'd like you to modulate. And you can change your volume without losing your existence.
"What do you mean, you want to eradicate racism in America? You must mean you want racists not to exist! You are literally threatening their existence!!!" No, I'm quite happy for those people to continue existing, but I'd like them to lose their racist attitudes. Becoming less racist will not kill them -- they will just stop being racist. "You see? You just said you want them to stop being! This is an existential threat! You want to kill millions of Americans!" Here we see the sequential fallacies of sliding from "end -ism" to "end -ists" to "kill the -ists".
And of course, you can ratchet up the misuse of "existence" by tossing in some "genocides" here and there.
"Oh, so you wish there were fewer people with COVID? In other words, you want those people not to exist! You are advocating for the genocide of people with COVID!!!" Umm, no, I just want them to get better. It's true that I would like fewer copies of the virus to exist -- that really is a matter of existence -- and I might even be okay with genocide for the genus of COVID viruses. But so far as their human hosts go, I am not attacking their existence at all, just trying to cure them. I don't want the people not to be, I just want them not to be sick.
And on and on it continues, confusing "being F" with "being" in the sense of "existing". It's a cheap trick, and I wish it were not so prevalent among people with whom I otherwise agree.
I think there can be some myopia among those who consider themselves pragmatists. They may think there are opportunities for gains if they allow for compromise and tactical retreats in some areas, but in fact they are just giving up ground and getting nothing in return.
To use your Texas example. It's true that Medicaid expansion would be a huge benefit to an enormous amount of currently-uninsured people in our state. But Medicaid expansion also currently has a snowball's chance in hell of passing anytime soon. As frustrating as it is, we are a conservative state and we're unlikely to have anything other than Republican majorities for another two or three cycles, at the least.
Meanwhile, our governor and attorney general have been actively weaponizing the state government to attack trans people. Parents are getting investigated for child abuse for helping their child get gender-affirming care. Providers are being targeted for harassment. Trans people who had gone through years of psychological evaluations, social transition, and are now finally beginning their hormonal transition are getting cut off midway through their treatment and told they have to wait and re-start after they turn 18 (after which it will be a much more arduous process).
So when "pragmatic" progressives are unwilling to come to the defense of trans people because some trans issues are unpopular, they aren't actually helping any uninsured people in Texas. What they are doing is leaving the rest of us in the lurch. Yeah, school sports bans were always going to pass, but things like having CPS going after families with trans kids are morally shocking enough that it could be stopped. Calling out that horrible situation and advocating for its end is the moral and pragmatic option.
I think where I come down is basically that the moralists are correct that you shouldn't, "compromise on rights". The problem being that they're mostly kind of idiots who don't understand what "rights" are. The rights that are so important are all right there, in the 14th Amendment mostly. "Equal protection" is a right. It's something everybody is entitled to in equal measure. It's not about gay rights, or women's right or hell even black rights, despite the historical context, because it's just a "right". It's fundamental to what a right is that it applies to all those groups.
Which brings us to the Civil Rights Act. What is that then? Well, that's where the pragmatism has value. The government hadn't been doing a very good job recognizing the rights the 14th Amendment obligated them to defend. So they had to write some laws, which are inherently compromises, to better secure the recognition of those rights. The Civil Rights Act didn't create "rights" they were already there.
The modern activist seems to believe the legislature can grant a "right" to all sorts of things that aren't in the Constitution already, and are really fundamentally incompatible with the concept of a "right". This isn't really either thing. This is embracing moralist language to advance a material interest that is neither a right, nor a pragmatic goal in advance of one. This is a grift.
Which again brings us back to the pragmatists, who are dangerous, because they don't really care if the thing is or isn't a right or not, or is or isn't constitutional or not. They are unconstrained. They care about wielding power. They will typically make any promise, violate any right, so long as it expands their capacity to do so.
I'm not that person. I side with the moralists, rightly understood, even where it makes it harder to do things I might consider good. Maintaining the constraints of the constitution is more important than efficient, pragmatic, technocracy.
Aren't the parties also shrinking? I know there is state-to-state variation, but it feels like I see more headlines pointing out that independents are outnumbering either registered Democrats or Republicans. If that is true, then when does the "demographic realignment of the parties" just become a purity spiral that pushes out moderate and heterodox voters?
When I read about "Republican voters" these days, it seems that what I'm actually reading about is the MAGA cultists, not the sane, rational, conservatives that I know. And when I read virtually anything touching on trans issues, the quotes in the articles are not even close to representative of the view of Democrats / progressives or Republicans / conservatives in my social circles. (And those are markedly less fervent and ideological than they were 10-20 years ago, but maybe that is just a function of aging.)
I cannot even be bothered to come up with a label for my own views let alone fathom the worldview of someone who is capable of writing about the taxonomy of progressives. Am I in the minority or are people who think out loud on the Slow Boring comments section while waiting for their morning blood-caffeine levels to stabilize just a somewhat quiet majority?
The Mason philosophy makes you much less effective at democratic politics, but the *reason* why it makes you less effective is that it's a rejection of democracy in concept. Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that if there was a way to impose your own views on these "non-compromisable" issues on the country through non-democratic, non-electoral means, then you would not only be allowed to do that, but you'd be morally obligated to do it. I'm sure that people like Mason envision doing it through the courts a la Brown v. Board of Education, but the courts are ultimately responsive to democratic politics too, if indirectly rather than directly. If the voters aren't with you, then the voters are wrong and a vanguard should overrule them. You can frame it in terms of "false consciousness" if it makes the medicine go down easier, but that's the bottom line.
I found Mason’s claim regarding principles on which there can be no compromise interesting. If, “no compromise,” is to make any sense, then it has to be on a binary yes/no principle, not one with any continuous free parameters. If there is a free parameter, some will think 0.5 is the right level, and others will think 0.6 is the right level, neither can claim principled truth, and compromise is 0.55…just like taxation. But then Mason claims that there can be no compromise on the grand principle of treating African Americans equally: “We can’t compromise on whether Black Americans should be treated equally as white Americans.” Interestingly, this is precisely a topic where grand principle confronts a policy approach with free parameters, but it is the *conservative* side that is the grand principle, while progressives favor policies with free parameters on which compromise is unavoidable. The grand principle was enunciated succinctly by John Roberts, “The way to stop discriminating on race is to stop discriminating on race,” whereas the progressive view is to employ some degree of race-conscious policy to offset other race-associated disadvantages. For example, progressives usually believe in some sort of boost in college admission for African Americans, but how much? Should it be the equivalent of 30 SAT points, or 50? Setting that level is something on which views will differ, and compromise is unavoidable.
Did working class whites leave the Democratic Party or did the Democratic party abandon working class whites? It was kind of a mutual separation. Working class living standards were basically stagnant from 1974 to 2016. Working class whites noticed this. (Black voters noticed it too, but they are more dependent on maintaining the safety net, so they largely stayed Democrat. Even a successful black businessman probably has plenty of cousins who get benefits and is probably sees many of them socially).
Why vote on economic issues when that strategy has failed for a generation?
The basic problem with the American safety net is it does much more for the underclass (roughly the bottom 20%) than for the working class. Successful blue collar workers (eg self employed plumbers) pay fairly stiff taxes and get few benefits until they retire. The chronically unemployed get medicaid basically for free.
Working stiffs could tolerate this situation while their standard of life was increasing. But when the elevator stopped working and hadn’t worked for 40 years, cultural symbolism became irresistible.
A recent Boston story that is dead on this topic with a scathing counterattack. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/07/05/opinion/massachusetts-left-is-fighting-left/
The Boston DSA moved to expel one of the most liberal state reps (Mike Connelly) for insufficient purity in several areas (he had a 100% score from Progressive Mass in 21-22). Next, from the Globe:
--State Senator Lydia Edwards is even more scathing. ... “The ‘let them eat cake’ wing of the left is so out of touch with the lived struggle of so many people. They will hold their breath for purity and throw a temper tantrum, while they are stably housed, food secure, and healthy.” Edwards, the first woman and first person of color to represent her district, also calls DSA members “progressive white supremacists.” Asked why, Edwards said: “They are progressive. They also believe they know what is better for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) people. And whether they want to admit it, trusting your perspective of what is better for people of color than people of color telling you … is white supremacy.”--
--She’s also very outspoken when it comes to criticizing progressive stands such as defunding the police. That, Edwards said, is “overwhelmingly a white suburban mantra. Say that in Mattapan.” Another example of progressives being out of touch is the willingness of protesters to get arrested. “I can’t think of a greater way to say, ‘I am white, rich, and privileged. So privileged I can afford to have an arrest record,’” Edwards said.--
Why, it's almost as if well-educated latte liberals on the coasts know that refusing to prioritize coalition politics maximizes the chances their own taxes won't go up any time soon. I wouldn't be shocked if a few of these folks even oppose housing abundance.
I can't believe it hasn't been said yet as I burn through at least the top level comments while I continue to be a person experiencing Westernness, but that last paragraph is an absolute banger that really turns things upside down at the moralists identified in this article, with the Scoville heat units similarly turned up. That's the type of paragraph that's well designed to get the moralists to yell at Matt a bunch on Twitter when it should be challenging their devotion as to which issues they deem uncompromisable.
Sigh... THPacis kind of already covered this, but what are these people on about? Like be specific. Republicans are wrong about a lot of things, but what specific policy positions are they taking that are denials of people's fundamental rights? Outside of racist Twitter, is anybody really proposing repealing the Civil Rights Act? Not really. So what do they mean? Is opposing affirmative action a denial of fundamental rights? I disagree. Please, those who claim to be fighting for basic human rights, define your terms.
On Trans issues I think the disagreement is a little more clear. ~40% of the country believes trans women ARE women. Fine. But the people who push the sort of moral worldview mentioned in the article believe that any denial of this fact (well, they think it's a fact) is a denial of human rights. So in other words, failing to give a teen hormone therapy is a denial of human rights. They won't outright say this but it's the logical conclusion of their stated position. You won't be surprised to find that I think this is wrong. This is what Josh Barro describes as "stolen base politics." It's the idea that "these ideas are off limits because I've linked them to some sort of bigotry."
Do conservatives say bigoted things sometimes? Yes. Are a higher percentage of them bigots than progressives? Probably, yes. But pointing these things out doesn't just short-circuit any argument. And on top of that, I can't tell which issues these people are referring to as "basic human rights," but based on my guess... I just think they're wrong. I don't think they're "right, but being a dick about it" on youth gender transition for instance. Myself and a majority of Americans just think they're wrong. And if they refuse to talk to ~60% of Americans... yeah I guess we can't have a convseration.
Side note: if we really can't argue about basic human rights... couldn't you make the argument that we cany disagree about tax rates either? After all taxes fund social programs that some people might possibly die without. You could totally make the case that economic issues are off the table too. I think this is wrong, but this argument could be applied to literally anything!