515 Comments

One thing that I've learned from conservatives is the importance of taking the world as it is.

You'll often hear leftists postulate a world where we're all less selfish, we all do what we can to help the environment, we act to serve the collective good, etc. Conservatives understand that we are fallen sinners who are going to act in self-interested ways, so we should design policy with that in mind.

Expand full comment
May 14Liked by Ben Krauss

I think the middle path of “the world and human behavior are improvable with good institutions and incentives” is actually the correct one here; utopia isn’t going to happen in the near term and the people who sincerely think it can are being foolish, but the general conservative view that the present shape of social relations is just the natural order ignores the reality of profound changes in both material circumstances and typical behavior patterns over the past few hundred years. You can’t make the crooked timber of mankind entirely straight, but you can certainly sand off some of the edges.

Expand full comment

Conservatives: for most of human history the lives of men have been nasty, brutish, and short; and by God, we’re going to make sure they stay that way!

Expand full comment

+1000 especially for your last sentence!

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Utopia isn't possible in the long term either

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

If you described the society you live in to say, a person living in 16th century England, they’d consider it an impossible utopia. Technological change and the institutional design changes it facilitates will probably continue to push out the frontier of the possible.

Expand full comment

Can society get better sure. Our current standard of living is a miracle compared to all of history.

But people quickly get used to it. And always want better.

Anyway, my point is that society can never be perfect. Because it's inhabited by imperfect human beings

Expand full comment

Relative improvements can be made and if people after their 20's aged like mollusks, then MAYBE utopia could be possible. But there's always a new generation that needs to be properly educated on the past and it seems we as humans are not capable of having nice things and passing on wisdom from generation to generation. People seem to have to learn the hard lessons. Right now, our priorities and even facts are out of whack. Our kids are being taught to prioritize some things that are detrimental to the long-term health of a society. So no, technology certainly has improved the average person's life in terms of comfort and experience. But recent technology has overwhelmed us with noise, and we have lost our sense of value, logic, and perspective. We're led by self-righteous midgets standing on the shoulders of giants, thinking they're 50' tall despite the past not because of it. We need a recalibration of common sense, not bitter propaganda.

Expand full comment
May 14Liked by Ben Krauss

Except that there's a very potent tendency in American mass culture that you are the agent of your life. So, Conservatives as well as Liberals/Leftists share the same default optimism around the ability of individuals to change circumstances. Trumpist Conservatives, especially, aren't actually "conservative," in this sense. They're reactionaries. They want change. Radical change. And they're idealists. They believe that radical change is possible with enough belief and action. They're not at all taking the world as it is. They want the world "as it was." Or, rather, the idealized version that they vicariously remember.

And, at the individual level, they are also very influenced by the Protestant Work Ethic and the Evangelical Prosperity Gospel. Again, this is a very restive philosophy and theology. You must *work* for change and betterment. And your work will reap dividends. You don't accept the world as it is. You mould it!

Expand full comment
author

I think that's a really important lens to understand hard Trump supporters. They don't actually think America is doomed, or else they'd be total nihilists and checked out of politics. In the same way that we'd call campus protestors idealists, both sides just have wrong headed beliefs both about the means of accomplishing change and the actual change in of itself.

The problem is that the media (and us an audience) focus on both sides to the point where they totally dominate the political debate. In actuality, most voters don't have an appetite for the radical change either side wants.

Expand full comment
May 16·edited May 16

I have many Trump supporters in my big family. Most support him because he is a tool for their world view, a world view most hard-working people either would support or wouldn't complain about. I'd call them conscientious conservatives. (There are a few that are actually imbeciles or hate-filled, but if they were raised in a progressive enclave, they’d be the same but with hard-left superficial views.)

8 years ago I had one of the conscientious conservatives take the Isidewith survey, the long one with all the drop-downs. Afterward we talked about our results. The one vivid memory from that was the view expressed that "Global warming isn't real because humans can't change the environment." I responded that I can't speak to the motives of many in the Environmental Movement. Certainly there are those who seek to obtain power through co-opting movements where people cede agency due to fear and worry. BUT humans can wipe out all life with nukes in a few minutes. And for anyone who has been on a Parisan sewer tour (19th century streams of waste, typhoid fever, and massive cesspools) or heard Randy Newman's song about the Cuyahoga River ("Burn on big river burn on") and every other anecdote out there, people can change the environment pretty easily. That was all it took. Mind changed. All it took was not clubbing someone over the head with info. Rather I was curious about them and their views and let them talk. They talked. We agreed on stuff. I made that basic point and moved on without trying to make them feel stupid.

To your point, if you stuck the conscientious conservatives in a room (without cameras so as to allow for openness) with non-tribal humanist progressives, they'd hear each other. The division comes from the professionals who grift or benefit from on it.

Expand full comment

That's really interesting. And it shows how little considered our "rules of thumb" are, especially when they're social beliefs.

An example of this that I see on the Left all the time is that "greedy landlords are driving housing inflation." That's a view that I hear ALL the time. It's emotionally rewarding. It's something that will attract weary assent from your comrades. It something that gets you piled on for even the mildest questioning of its premises or advocacy implications.

What I hardly ever hear is that we need to create more housing supply, because the fundamental problem is that housing supply has been 10-20% lower than demand for decades now. And that, historically, the only successful way to address that has been to have public housing subsidy to encourage supply. The only major city without unaffordable housing in Western Europe today anymore is Vienna. And, guess what, "Red Vienna" was the OG public housing superstar! And that's a very classically left-wing solution. But American progressives just don't go for it today. It's like you just hear something enough times that it becomes the truth. And, look, I'm not saying that greedy landlords aren't part of the problem. But I just want people to actually think about the problem.

I can think of tons of other examples on the Right and the Left where people just repeat talking points and don't discuss or even examine them.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

This is core to how the Left/Right paradigm is so flawed. Actually trying to do coherence puts Trumpism way to the left of the three legged stool version of the republican party... and yet they're also more extremist. The reality is that Trumpism is extreme mostly on a non-left/right axis.

Expand full comment

I sometimes think of "extremism" as its own axis in a multidimensional political space. Imagine points scattered in a sort of crescent shape, where being far to the left / right / other direction can correlate with being high on "extremism," but they are not inherently the same thing. The horseshoe shape is (a stylized representation of) what you get when you flatten it down to two axes, "left-right" and "extremism".

What is "extremism" in this model? My definition of it is kind of, "I know it when I see it," but central features are things like high emotional intensity / aggression, low willingness to compromise, high willingness to use "extreme" tactics that break social norms, etc. It is theoretically possible to have policy preferences that are, say, very far to the left (you'd prefer for all businesses to be seized from the capitalists and owned collectively), without being extreme in your style, or even in your preferred outcomes (you want the revolution only if it can be achieved peacefully by electing a far-left government, which will nationalize businesses in the most peaceful way it can be achieved).

Trump is "extreme" in this stylistic sense. He is not an extremely ideological conservative -- in fact, he doesn't have much of a coherent ideology. But he's loud and mean, he's good at stoking anger, he doesn't like being constrained by rules, etc. It's pure "extremism" where Trump represents a departure from an earlier generation of Republicans -- not being more ideologically extreme, but being more "extremist per se."

Expand full comment

Extremists and radicals want to destroy things for the sake of destruction.

Expand full comment

The more I look at Trump's media and policy record, the more I see a mix of Joseph McCarthy and Teddy Roosevelt. Was Roosevelt to the right of William Howard Taft? Was McCarthy to the right of his son and Senate GOP leader Robert Alphonso Taft? Hard to say. But both men were outrageously in the center of media coverage while doing a little trust regulating or cold war liberalism on the side.

Expand full comment

I found it interesting to read that more university jobs have been lost in the last ten years of Progressive cancellation than were lost in the ten peak years of McCarthyIsm. The parallel of both requiring loyalty oaths to get a university position is fascinating. Such facts suggest that partisans with facially different agendas probably have the same base agenda - power over one’s neighbors’s thoughts and beliefs.

Expand full comment

On some level, this is a long-running feature of American democracy. Tocqueville and Adorno made observations a century apart about the astounding conformity and demands for assimilation that pervade American behavior. Of course, these observations were at different scales; New England townships weren't exactly hearing the national results come in on radio. The larger scale of college censorship today regrettably makes sense; college got more important since the 1950s as more attend it, more speak to the public from it, and more money is poured into it.

The electoral effects of this disciplining are worth noting. McCarthyism stopped left-wing class populism from growing further in the Democratic party in the 50s. The political scientist John Gerring accordingly called Truman the last populist Democratic president. I suspect the recent decade of social progressivism or "wokeness" has stopped a pan-class white coalition from growing further in the Republican party (white/non-white polarization peaked in 2012.) These social waves have a disciplining component beyond just individuals. They force entire parties to abandon their current path for a new one.

Expand full comment

Frankly your comment is over my head. I don’t understand it. I’m responding to only one sentence. I believe that it is generally agreed that race relations were worse at the end of the Obama years than at the start. The immediate assumption of racist ill-will prior to evidence made it worse. Ferguson is a prime example.

Expand full comment

Trump changes his mind constantly, so Trumpism is not coherent.

Expand full comment

Trump conservatives are not "conservative" in the traditional meaning of the word, they are more accurately called right-wing populists in my view.

Expand full comment

Sincere question, not trolling: How many of Trump's followers are "idealists," and how many are amoral cynics who like and admire him precisely because he takes what he wants and screws his enemies, morals and ethics be damned? "The cruelty is the point" and all that?

Expand full comment

There's a decent amount of research on this, actually. We're talking about some mixture of authoritarian personality, social dominance orientation (SDO), and, finally, the "Dark Tetrad" personality traits including narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. A pretty good literature review (albeit from 2018) of that research is collected here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201812/complete-psychological-analysis-trumps-support

It seems to be the case that there's certainly a minority of voters who elicit these traits. And those voters certainly trend toward Trump. But they're not numerous enough to form a bloc large enough to actually win elections. Most Trump people are normal, in other words.

And, anecdotally, you see a lot of evidence of the idealistic side of the Trump supporter. How euphoric his rallies are. Also, wonder at how naively his supporters ascribe him almost mystical powers to improve the economy, cow enemies foreign and domestic, secure the border, etc. This euphoric optimism is really hard for progressives (like me) to understand, because we're so focused on how uniquely dangerous his obvious authoritarianism, White Supremacy/racism, corruption/fraudulence, and completely cynical and transactional approaches to law and national power are.

His supporters seem to mostly see something else: a flawed but potent champion who can deliver on promises by cutting through the muck using muscular and unconventional approaches. This is idealism. Dangerous idealism, but idealism nevertheless.

Before we laugh overmuch at this, let's look back to the Obama Era: Wasn't it the same thing? Hope and Change! Basically nonsense. We fell into magical thinking, too. Into seeing Obama as the Messiah who would rid the Fallen world of the many Sins of the Bush Era. It took a long time for that spell to be broken, and liberals were very defensive of their Champion even when he disappointed in some pretty striking ways. I won't say that the personality cult delusion was as deep or enduring as it has been on the Trump side, but similar fallacies were in play.

Expand full comment

"you see a lot of evidence of the idealistic side of the Trump supporter. How euphoric his rallies are. Also, wonder at how naively his supporters ascribe him almost mystical powers"

Godwin's Law prevents me from naming a political leader who had super-duper-euphoric rallies and whose supporters ascribed almost mystical powers to him and his regime. Many words can be used to describe his followers, but "idealistic" is not usually one of them.

No, I am not saying that he and Trump were in any way morally equivalent! I'm just saying that, if you were trying to reassure me that "Trump's supporters are not so bad actually," it did not land the way you intended.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

I understand the distaste with crediting Nazism with idealism. But Nazism's appeal was essentially idealistic! There's copious evidence to that effect. There's a whole (great) book about this, based on interviews with regular Germans directly after the war: https://www.amazon.com/They-Thought-Were-Free-Germans/dp/0226511928

In that book, you mostly hear people talking about how good the economy was, how regular workers got to take vacations for the first time ever, how the Everymen suddenly had a modicum of stability and security after decades of turmoil. And, over all, how Germany was "great" again, after the humiliations of World War I, crushing reparations, and the Great Depression.

And, yes, a lot of that largess came from appropriating the property of Jews before murdering them at an industrial scale. And, yes, the "greatness" was the same type that you saw with aggressive imperial powers before and since, and came at the expense of Germany's neighbors. But that wasn't the lived experience of the regular German at the time. That all happened offscreen and they conveniently ignored it, like Americans conveniently ignore all the tawdry stuff that enables our comfort today.

Expand full comment

I've really appreciated your points in this thread, food for thought.

Expand full comment

Good point..but as a conservative I can say conservatives aren't perfect here either. For example, how many times have we heard the argument that Social security is a rip off because a worker could invest his SS contributions in an index fund or something and retire with far more $$ that SS would provide .. which of course assumes

1. Worker would actually invest rather than spend excess (many would spend it)

2. Worker would invest wisely (few would)

3. Worker would experience no interruption in earnings due to injury, disability, illness or family situation (child care, talking care of sick relative) ...how many people does this describe

4. Worker would not experience loss of earning due to unemployment

5. Worker would feel no need to tap savings early

You get the idea.. conservative criticisms of the welfare state are base overwhelmingly on unrealistic views of life or human nature.

Healthcare same thing....so many conservatives will tell you how much they love their Christian health share account.... nevermind that such programs only work at all for people with stable income, no bad health habits and few expensive medical needs.

Expand full comment

This is something that confuses me about American conservative ideology: You have, on the one hand, this essentially pessimistic view of human nature. People need Order and Authority because they are weak and/or ignorant and aren't capable of self-agency.

But then you have this naive belief on the ethical superiority of individual choice and the free market. Which, especially in its Neoclassical paradigm assumes that people are essentially rational actors.

But... they're not!

So, how can we trust people to make all the right choices if they're essentially incapable of making the right choices!? People make TERRIBLE choices when you let them. So, we very reasonably don't let them.

I don't even fully trust myself to make the right choices on stuff that I know my brain isn't optimized for. So I set up systems that force me to do the right thing. Especially when it comes to finances. My paycheck is automatically diverted into inaccessible savings vehicles. I need to "hack" my tendency to overvalue my present material desires over my future needs. Similarly, I just don't buy unhealthy food because I know I will eat it in moments of weakness. I don't put myself in compromising situations that could threaten my family and social life (we all made fun of the Vice President for his extreme rules about being alone with women who aren't his wife, but every monogamous married person has at least some milder version of the same self-imposed or agreed-upon rules). I'm essentially a Conservative when it comes to my understanding of even my own human nature. The flesh is weak!

So, I thank heaven for mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. And I'm even fine with various regulations that prevent me from indulging my own latent tendencies toward hedonism: alcohol consumption restrictions are fine by me! I don't like being bossed around by arbitrary authority, but I'm fine with customary, social, and legal restrictions that are legitimate, pro-social, and wise.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Short answer is the free market fundamentalism you see on right is really not conservative at all but classical liberalism.

A real conservative like Burke would say role of govt is to prevent or at least mitigate foreseeable evils.

Old age poverty through bad luck or lack of savings is about as predictable as it gets.

Regardless of what market fundamentalists say half of the population will have below average luck or savings discipline no matter what!

Expand full comment

I think this is where American conservatives are different than other conservatives in the world. Conservatives everywhere have a dim moral view of humanity and see draconian law & order under an enlightened aristocracy as necessary to keep the sinful nature in check.

But American conservatives are different in that there is no enlightened aristocracy for us, because we successfully revolted against ours in 1776. Instead we have conservative-liberalism, which is essentially what American conservatism is. And beyond a few philosophical ideas like small government and whatnot, in practice this conservative-liberalism ends up being the exact thing as liberalism - only delayed a few decades.

This is why the Republican Party, aside from a few pet issues like guns and abortion, ends up being where the Democratic Party was 20-30 years earlier. It'll be no different 20-30 years from now.

Heck I even think that the effect of Dobbs in red states over time will be that every conservative will know some woman who either died or had her life or health messed up for want of abortion, and by 2050 pro-life (at least rhe current version) won't even be on the menu.

Expand full comment

This would be a convenient way of capturing it, except that there's so much countervailing evidence of distinctly non-libertarian comfort with state control among Conservatives. Exhibit A: Florida. Not only are certain books prohibited from schools in Trump's home state. But the "free market" is prevented from providing meat alternatives to consumers now. Abortion is, of course, now illegal after only 6 weeks in the Sunshine State. All familiar contemporary developments to news junkies.

But there's all sorts of other stuff that's policy that sits uneasily with libertarianism, too: how about asset forfeiture laws? The police in many states (including and especially Red States) can literally stop you in traffic and steal your money. This is the kind of thing that offends many sacred Conservative principles, no?

Or, how about how comfortable Conservatives are with government surveillance? Nary a peep over the Patriot Act. Which had plenty of Conservative-backed antecedents during the Cold War and prior. Fourth Amendment? Never heard of it!

DeSantis' veggieburger ban isn't the newest Conservative intervention on what we're allowed to buy or eat, either. Conservatives enthusiastically back the Farm Bill, which has, for decades, imposed the largest state-driven intervention in agriculture in the world. It puts the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to shame! Sure, but that's subsidy. Well, I am also deafened by Conservative silence over various Big Government FDA restrictions on things like the longstanding prohibition on raw milk and unpasteurized cheeses. Both of which are among the most traditional foods on earth. My kid loves Kinder Surprise Eggs, but they've been banned in the US for eight decades because they have "non-nutritive ingredients" inside.

I can offer many other examples of things that are illegal in the supposedly freedom-loving US which elicit no complaint from Conservatives, but you get my point.

Expand full comment
May 15·edited May 15

I get what you're saying and I'm certainly not an apologist for conservatives. But I see most of this culture-war stuff as temporary and unsustainable. It's very unpopular with voters. I actually live in FL and DeSantis' book banning and meat shennanigans is quite unpopular, but HE is still popular because he's anti-woke, etc.

The thing I've found is that very few conservative and conservative-leaning voters actually want conservative policies. They just want that conservative attitude. This is why they love Trump. He could care less about policy, and just relishes the "fight".

In the long run what this means is that liberals are still making the polices in the long term. But the danger is that faddish right-wing policies like Pro-Russia foreign policy might be adopted, but even then, conservatives would likely correct it over time. They are of course experts at adjusting their policies after a major fail and then pretending that they were never for that in the first place - even going as far to blame liberals in hindsight - like with the Iraq War, the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Afghanistan withdrawal, Gay Marriage, Jim Crow, Slavery, etc.

Conservativism is inconsistent and often incoherent because it is a "philosophy" based on a contrarian impulse, and a "movement" manufactued by an industrial media outrage machine. It is an empty suit.

Which is why conservatives ALWAYS mimic the liberalism of 20-30 years back. They have nothing else to do.

Expand full comment
May 17·edited May 17

That's an excellent point. It's almost like the DeSantises of the GOP world didn't get the joke: "We're just riffing here, y'all. We weren't actually serious!"

But that happens enough that it has policy implications, especially when the policies are set by the judicial branch (a la an activist Arch-Conservative Supreme Court). Or when it's state or local policy that isn't well-reported due to the hollowing out of local journalism and the almost complete nationalization of politics.

So, it's not really just liberals making the policies in the long-term. The above tendencies aren't new and they create policy on the ground, too. For most of its history, the Supreme Court has been Conservative and supported right-wing interpretations. The latter half of the 20th Century was the aberration there, even though liberals living through that period began to assume that it was the norm.

And, similarly, state politics have usually been, on average, more conservative than national politics. Especially in the South, where egregious partisan gerrymandering, local elite state capture, and minority rule via all sorts of semi-legal shenanigans go WAY back.

Expand full comment

To the extent that Republicans are opposed to the welfare state (note that Social Security is broadly popular), it's usually framed kind-of like you're describing: People are incapable of making good decisions, and what's best for most people is to work even though they don't see that, so we should force them to work instead of giving them the allegedly-bad option of not working.

Expand full comment

“We are fallen sinners”

Hi, I’m an atheist, and I’m going to be annoying!

This is a religious formula. “Sinners” implies the existence of a God who is being sinned against, and “fallen” implies that there was something for us to fall from, some state of primordial perfection and innocence that ended when Eve ate the fruit and f***d everything up.

No. We haven’t “fallen,” we have evolved out of nonhuman ancestors that were greedy and lustful and territorial and all the rest. On the contrary, we have risen; our capacity for reason, cooperation, and compassion for unrelated individuals is unmatched in any other animal.

If you’re going to be realistic, you might as well get the basic facts right!

Expand full comment

Fellow atheist here, and while I agree with you that the supernatural trappings make no sense (that's a pretty core atheist thing, of course), I've found the biblical concept of original sin as I understand it to be useful, in the sense that all humans have biological wirings starting from birth that tempt us into self-interested actions, and we're always fighting against those instincts throughout our lives. That's at least how I read Allan's post, which I thought was good.

Expand full comment

I am an atheist who will defend Christian civilization and needs grace. To say that I am a fallen sinner is just a poetic (and inclusive) way of saying natural selection doesn’t exactly select for righteousness or purity.

Expand full comment

Sometimes it selects for just the opposite ...

Expand full comment

And I think a lot of this is really about core human behavior. For example, you see common themes with religions that have developed in isolation from each other where the common denominator is humans. And many of these same patterns are seen in non-religious contexts.

You mentioned sin, for example, and that is common all over the place, including original sin. Probably the most recent is "whiteness" in antiracism and similar theories that have come out of progressive academia. There are all kinds of non-religious contexts where the group requires individuals to "confess" misdeeds or the wrong thoughts to become "clean" and accepted by the group.

Expand full comment

I would add that this Christian conception is sometimes leveraged for egalitarian ends, as well as prosocial perspective-taking with idioms like "walk a mile in another man's shoes".

Expand full comment

"What Would Jesus Do" is literally an attempt to establish more Jesus-like priors and behaviors in believers.

Expand full comment

I agree with City Of Trees (but as a non-atheist, whatever that means—I'm not sure myself.) The current rejection of all things "religious" means we're also throwing out our own culture's creation myth, which contains deep insights into human nature put forth in symbols and metaphors that have been pondered for thousands of years (and we have access to a good bit of those ponderings).

If our society shies away from the concept of "sin" , then how in the world do we form ethics? "All men are created equal" is not sufficient because of the limitations inherent in the essentially mathematical concept of "equality." (Another comment forthcoming.)

I'm currently reading Paradise Lost. The question that came up for me today is - what's the difference between "intelligence" and "knowledge," and does Milton think the tree is about "knowledge" in general" or only "knowledge of good and evil"? Were Adam and Eve intelligent but amoral or conscienceless? (What is "intelligent innocence"?) What exactly changed with those bites of fruit? We'll see what Milton has to say in Book V. The work in itself demonstrates that Milton had the genius and authority to merit our attention and pay heed to the challenges he raises.

Expand full comment

You don't need to have a concept of sin to have ethics. While sin does encompass things like murder that hurt other people, it also in practice includes a lot of baggage on making people bad about activities with no victims (gay relationships, premarital sex, etc.) since sin is in many ways first a crime against a supernatural metaphysical deity, not living humans. You don't have to have a concept of sin to have an ethics based around not unnecessarily hurting other people.

Expand full comment

One of the problems is that "sin" cannot be separated from the "baggage" of current culture, or a culture's specific ethical content. But what we also lose are the healthy ways humanity has dealt with sin in the past via religion, which includes forgiveness, redemption, and the concept that we're all flawed. I'm not sure what to do about the necessity of a deity. It's hard to come up with a better idea than humans as "imago Dei" for providing a basis of absolute respect for all human beings.

On the puritanical Left I see all these things missing: "canceling" is the opposite of forgiveness; there is no basis for respecting the humanity of people who fall into certain circumstantial categories like "white" or "privileged" or even "educated". The universality of the Fall means that no one can be entirely good or entirely evil, but I see the progressive left as Manichean. They have no bulwarks against hate: they are free to hate the racists, the homeless, the meth addicts, the MAGA voters, the TERFS, the police, or whomever our ideology designates, since they themselves are free of any impure thoughts or can only despair if any should occur.

The lack of such a balanced framework (in this case mature Christian theology, separate from the non-essential ethical rules by which it gets implemented in various cultures) means there are no culturally common brakes against hate, which inevitably leads to violence (people are evil because of their beliefs; a person's essence cannot be separated from their ideas; "good" people can and must be pure in thought, word and deed. If you're in the in-group you must hide your sins and feel eternally guilty; if you're in the out-group then you're a target for literal, perfectly justified dehumanization.

No doubt there are some sound, non-deistic philosophic foundations for establishing ultimate respect for all human beings, but these are still taking root in our culture and are being challenged by global circumstances. There's still something to be learned from the old ways, once presuppositions and prejudices are dealt with. At the very least, a well-founded theological ethic is useful for revealing the shortcomings of undeveloped, extreme ideologies.

(Actually, I'd prefer an ethic based on ultimate respect for all life, not just humans.)

Expand full comment

How much actual religious forgiveness was there really in the past beyond some rhetorical flourishes, especially for those outside of the strictest parts of a religious communities? How much so-called forgiveness was there really for Jewish communities, gay people, etc. in Christian Europe? A lot of this just seems like rose-tinted lenses for a nostalgic simulacra that never really happened.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Plenty, from the psychological standpoint. A lot of religion is about how to feel good about yourself in society, which necessarily controls behavior and thought in order to maintain stability. You confess, repent, and sin no more until the next time, which allows you to love yourself enough for personal and intellectual growth. Atheists of course find ways to engage in these kinds of processes, but they're kind of on their own.

All societies utilize moral constraints for stability and survival, and these have often been implemented via religion. However, 1) such constraints are not always religious (see the Cultural Revolution) and 2) religions also come up with remedies and ameliorations for these constraints (see the abolitionist movement.) Ideologies/religions at least have the advantage of being systematized and talked about, with the result that they potentially balance themselves out, as we see in the great philosophical and theological conversations of the past.

Ultimately, religions are expressions of human culture and susceptible to the same extremes all other cultural institutions (marriage, family, education, work, government, economics etc.)

As Matt points out in this essay, there's advantage in accepting reality as it is. Just substitute "religion" for the references to America in this sentence: "It’s naive to view our sociocultural antecedents here in the United States as flawless, shining heroes, but it’s also naive to think the violence and brutality of American history is what’s unique about it" - in fact, my perspective about religion is similar to Matt's here. There's a lot of naiveté about religion in this secular century. For Matt's essay, the higher perspective is history. For religion, some higher perspectives are furnished by the social sciences that study human culture.

Expand full comment

To bring this back to the original post, this is literally the entire point of original sin. (And to bring it back to Matt's point, it's not like ~anywhere is especially tolerant ~anytime pre-twentieth century.)

Expand full comment

Just this weekend I was talking to my daughter about the complex implications of the creation myth in genesis if you don't treat it literally and understand it as a metaphoric way to discuss the nature of free will and what makes humanity unique.

There is definitely a reading of it in which the Eve who takes the bite of the apple isn't the Mitochondrial Eve 200,000 years ago who first evolved a human in human form but an Eve 60,000 years when humans through whatever mysterious process developed a capacity for language, art, and abstract thought. We don't currently know that process whereby we stopped being like other primates who "ethics" appear to be driven only by biological instinct and survival to a self-aware social actor capable of balancing even survival with other values.

I don't think that probably came as a result of eating an apple off a special tree (although there is some evidence that increased access to high quality fats in seafood may have played role in increased mental capacity.) But as a metaphoric exploration of the transformation, Genesis has a lot of interesting insight into the fact that this moment would have transformed and that one of the keys to that transformation was a capacity to know enough to know right from wrong and to make choices to either. Genesis says that God fears this because it would make men like God which suggests that this free will is what gives us our unique power while the punishment aspect indicates the pain and shame that this power would allow us to experience.

In a world that constantly begs the question of why people do bad things and why God doesn't stop them, the answer that it is because our free will has made us too powerful to be stopped and our capacity to do good or know truth is inexorably tied to our capacity for evil.

I think non-religious people (including Matt) often are overly willing to view religious myth as having been intended to be read literally and therefore, where it get the facts wrong, as inherently absurd. But there is a lot about the order in which Genesis develops creation that seems shocking astute if one doesn't see the time periods of the timeline as literal. And throwing it out means throwing out thousands of years of the results of folks wrestling sincerely with the questions of what it means to be human and be in community.

My daughter recently started to want to worship in a more traditionally Christian way and my mom was horrified that might mean she would start to believe in "ridiculous" things like the virgin birth that would require her to suspend her intelligence and ability to accurately understand the world. I am much less worried. I pointed out to my mom that it is my scientific understanding that she is just a mass of atoms that she perceives as solid and discrete but in which she was actually constantly swapping electrons with the chair she is sitting in and is separate from that chair primarily as a result of our perception of her as such and that her worries while she experienced them as narrative thoughts were as some level just the result of wordless electronic pulses moving from cell to cell in her brain. We don't experience life that way because we can't meaningfully. But that also means that we are all telling ourselves mythical stories to get us through the day without undue panic about where we start and chairs end. Some myths may be more scientifically rational that others but they are all myths and stories and there may be value in stories that are less rational but contain more elements of that incomprehensible underlying truth of our impermanence and undivisble connection to all things.

Expand full comment

Plus there's a huge community in time and space that has this myth and all its symbols in common. These days stories and myths from video games movies and TV series are put through their paces to explore issues of existence, but these are pretty fragmented and more culture-specific than Genesis ("Live Long and Prosper" "May the Force be With You" etc.)

Expand full comment

Agree. George Lucas apparently trying to model Star Wars on myth and relied upon some of Joseph Campbell's research on myths and hero stories. But one dude's story is bound to be less complex and include less truth and paradox than comes from generations of people making story together over time and circumstances in community. I think it is possible to interact with these stories and even create communities around meaning and values that can mirror church communities but we do lose something when we just throw out these traditions wholesale rather than mine them for their wisdom.

Expand full comment

It was more of a linguistic flourish than a statement on religion.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

You're right, this is annoying, in part because it's cringe, and in part because it displays a basic misunderstanding of what "fallen" means in the context of Christian theology. To put it in secular terms, fallenness and original sin are concerned with philosophical anthropology, the fundamental nature of humans and humanity, not history.

Take the Genesis narrative. The fall happened to the first people who ever lived. It's not like there were a bunch of people before that that who never sinned. That's the point of it, and why the narrative works as a device to convey the theological concept.

Expand full comment

I am a very religious person and I am going to be potentially annoying by saying that the idea that "original sin" is a core or universally agreed upon theological underpinning of all religions or even all forms of Christianity is less true that folks who view religion from the outside might think. To me that use of it in this context feels more like cherry-picking a religion whose focus is on how to be good to each other to find the one pit that suggests it probably isn't worth trying to be.

Expand full comment

You’re right. You were annoying. Probably still are. Clearly you’re intelligent and self-aware, yet you choose to be creatively antagonistic, not necessarily against Christians but anyone trying to bridge the void and bring accord.

Come on! Use that noggin for the better. It feels better. I f’ing promise.

Expand full comment

It was a metaphor, sheesh.

Expand full comment

I feel like a necessary first step to “taking the world as it is” is trying to say things that are actually true though

Expand full comment

To be slightly less flip, sin isn’t real and “humans are going to act in self-interested ways” is far too vague to be useful. Which is why this line doesn’t really inform conservative policymaking (that depends on a bunch of other assumptions), and is rather used as a rebuttal to straw liberals who are supposedly basing their support of universal healthcare or whatever on the perfectibility of mankind

Expand full comment

Sin is useful if you just consider it for what it is (or was): a metaphorical way of differentiating pro-social vs. anti-social behavior within a given social context, with a healthy dollop of supernatural justification to ensure buy-in and compliance even in the absence of enforcement.

The problem is that societies change and so do the material conditions in which they operate: It makes sense to create rules around sexual behavior. It doesn't make sense to slut-shame women or to make people feel guilty about sexual pleasure, in general. But, 2000-3000 years ago it did within certain societies, for various material reasons.

Today, we're not very comfortable with polyamory. Even when it's consensual. In other times and places, it was arguably a practical necessity. So ethics shift.

Other "sins" are more enduring: murdering people is wrong. Incest is wrong. Stealing is bad. Lying is bad. Etc.

Today, taboo still as utility. It's just that different things are taboo. And that's largely determined by what is pro-social now.

Expand full comment

It's hard to square the circle of what you describe here (what Andrew Sullivan called the conservativism of doubt) with things like believing the US could easily democratize Iraq.

Expand full comment

Yes neoconservatism failed because, frankly, it thought too highly of the middle east. Some places just don't have the moral and intellectual infrastructure to become Jeffersonian democracies.

Expand full comment

Bush should have re-installed the monarchy in Afghanistan.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Note that the US (and other Western powers) actually tried this in many circumstances during the Cold War and it backfired spectacularly. To list some very obvious examples from the Middle East: Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.

Expand full comment

You joke, but I've worked with officers from militaries in SW Asia and I have repeatedly heard them say things to the effect of "our societies do best with strong, competent kings."

Expand full comment

I'm not joking. The old king would have been better than Karzai.

Expand full comment

People said this about Iraq but... it seems to have actually turned out ok? Not worth the money and bloodshed sure (certainly not on rationales that turned out to be flimsy) but the current regime is vastly better than the previous one, it may not be a liberal democracy but it's certainly more liberal and more democratic, and it has pretty solid economic growth

Expand full comment

I don't think there's a significant difference between conservatives and liberals in the extent to which they take the world as it is or don't. There is, however, a difference in what they're willing to accept in the world. Conceptualizing the world as full of self-interested fallen sinners has some strengths for analysis, but also creates lots of blindspots and biases.

Expand full comment

You know the funny thing is I share that view that we are all fallen and we should shape our policies accordingly which is one reason I like the nevertrumpers. The only problem is I get no sense right wingers care about policy anymore nor do I get the sense that right wingers feel like they’re fallen.

Expand full comment

I'm curious how you think a concept like total depravity affects this?

Expand full comment

can you explain what that means

Expand full comment

Interestingly, in looking up the exact definition of this, it appears to have been portrayed very differently by conservative Christians I've seen discuss it (it's the Calvinist T in TULIP). I don't think it really adds to your original points in that case, though I do think its interpretation by fairly mainstream Christians is concerning.

Expand full comment
May 14Liked by Ben Krauss

One other important area where conservatives are generally right is around the importance of family. While I don’t agree with their policy remedies or their moral judgements, healthy families do make for healthy societies. In the flip side, the left is also right that community matters as well. It takes a village and a family.

Expand full comment

Agreed. It's unfortunate though that too often in history and to an extent today "family" in conservative circles is a synonym for traditional gender hierarchy.

Expand full comment

This was a big part of Andrew Sullivan's push for marriage equality. As a conservative, he supported marriage and family, and as a gay man he couldn't see why that shouldn't be available to gays and lesbians.

The gay left at the time did not appreciate the conservative value of family and often opposed marriage equality as I guess part of the corrupt patriarchy.

Expand full comment

But Sullivan was the exception, not the rule. For the most part conservatives who talk up marriage's virtues (and the disagreement is about marriage, not "family" writ large) were happy to exclude same-sex couples from it, and the many, many liberals who brought about marriage equality took a basically civil rights approach that didn't require opining on whether marriage is virtuous or not. I thought and continue to think that this is massively discrediting for the marriage promotion people.

Expand full comment

Very true. It's also significant how once Massachusetts legalized gay marriage through the courts, Sullivan had very little actual effect on the successful marriage equality movement, which was largely led by gay liberal activists who often succeeded due to winning court cases, which was a method Sullivan disagreed with. While Sullivan gets credit for bringing the idea to the mainstream, it's amazing that the most important movement promoting marriage in the 21st century had very little to do with him or conservatives in general.

Expand full comment

I would argue that, while not inaccurate, misses an important point. Namely, reducing conservative agitation against gay marriage probably helped solidify the victories won in court and prevent some of backlash we now see in other areas.

To support this I would point to point to surveys such as the Pew Center survey in around 2016 or so that found that as many conservatives support gay marriage as opposed it. A recent Gallup poll has Republican Support for gay marriage at 49%.

I would not underestimate the importance of reducing resistance. While courts can certainly make rulings, those rulings need to be implemented. The less resistance to implementation (which can include work around laws designed to reduce the impact of the court's ruling) the more successful the implementation will generally be.

On a personal level I have seen my conservative parents come around to first the idea of gay marriage, and now its at the point were my extremely conservative and religious mother thinks her churchs stance on the immorality of homosexuality is just flat out wrong (that is, she disagrees that it is even a sin). People like Sullivan presented a set of arugments that she could rationalize within her existing world view to come to the morally correct decision. I think she needed those arguments to overcome her upbringing and the continual messaging she received.

In cases like this, I think of Jonathan Haidt's "Can I believe it" and "Must I believe it" dichotomy. She probably knew on some level that the entire anti-gay thing was wrong, but she needed an argument framed to help overcome old, ingrained beliefs. This made it so she had to believe it. I do not think that just legal rulings or Democrats making the argument would have worked (or at least not worked as well).

Expand full comment

Let me correct your statement by way of shortening it: “…in history and … today ‘family’ … is a synonym [sic] for traditional gender roles.”

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Rhetorically, but not actually. I don't see any conservative coalition actually doing more to help working families. Even big families! Even the act of having children.

What conservatives have in abundance on this issue, is specific ideas about what a family should look like. But somehow that view prevents them from supporting actual families.

Expand full comment

It's possible to support families but not necessarily favor big government policy X

Usually the best way to support families is the strong local social institutions. In particular, a local church with good charity policies

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

Conservatives don't like simple lightweight tax-cut policies that help working families either. They don't support public education or healthcare, whether that be private or public healthcare. They have no special regard for the health of pregnant women or the well-being of children. They don't care for local taxes to support local libraries or community parks.

Conservatives don't give more than liberals to national charitable organizations, religious or otherwise. Religious conservatives do give more to the local church than liberals, and therefore usually give more overall, but the connection to that and working families I find tenuous - revealed by the fact that it is an indirect way to help working families and that they don't support working families in any other context.

They support their church and their families.

But they simply don't support American families at large - there are a number of ways to do that, and Democrats champion all of them.

Expand full comment

"Conservatives don't like simple lightweight tax-cut policies that help working families either. "

Have you never met a conservative? Conservatives have been championing tax cuts for decades. Look at the history of tax cuts conservatives push through and you will see that the tax burden on the lower half of the income scale has drastically decreased over time.

"They don't support public education " Wrong. Conservatives rightly observe that our current public education system isn't doing much educating for WAY to many kids. In particular the poor and minority kids that liberals claim to care about. And standard liberal reframe "more money" doesn't fix the problem. Per pupil inflation adjusted spending has greatly increased over the last couple of decades with no real increase in test scores.

The solution of course is competition. Competition is what keeps organizations sharp and makes them put out good products at competitive prices. Public education needs competition. Which is why conservatives support charter schools and school choice. Because education is too important. Because it's not ok to trap millions of kids in failing public schools.

"Conservatives don't give more than liberals to national charitable organizations, religious or otherwise." this if false

"Following scientific data collection and coding procedures, we identify 421 effect sizes from 31 empirical studies. Our meta-analysis results suggest that political conservatives are significantly more charitable than liberals at an overall level"

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0049089X21000752

I'm not against a government safety net. But it's a poor tool that often has perverse incentives (see the destruction of the black family). Local charities don't run into that problem because there are individuals involved in their lives making sure they make good decisions.

The reverse of what happens with big government programs

Expand full comment

Whenever there is a tax cut debate, the conservatives want regressive tax cuts and the liberals wants progressive tax structure. I don't think giving very wealthy individuals a major tax cut counts as "pro-working families", its the belief in a trickle down mechanism that might help the economy as a whole. But a laser focus on helping working families, looks a lot more like the Democrat tax policy than the Republican one. If you are thinking in harm mitigation terms, its very obvious that harms are concentrated in the poorest families.

I can dispute your characterization of the value of public education, but it seems we agree that conservatives don't support public education. You say conservatives support private education, but I don't see any evidence that they are willing to pay more to support the education of other people's kids whether private or public.

If you look I actually agree conservatives gave more overall and anticipated the objection - When you break it down, its devotion to local churches not a dedication to charitable organizations.

Everything goes back to my thesis, which is that conservatives aren't willing to pay - by any mechanism - for the benefit of families of people who don't go to the same church as they do.

Expand full comment

No offense, but it is difficult to take your more accurate arguments seriously when you paint with a brush as broad as you are painting. Look at what George Bush pushed related to AIDs in Africa...that was very much based on his religion; look at what other churches have done in terms of disasters, famines, etc., over time. When I helped at a food bank Churches did as much to help as any other group, more if you included labor (major stores did more in terms of actually providing food, but in terms of taking the deliveries, repacking them for individuals and families, and then delivering them, the church goers were among the biggest helpers). This was not for their church but for needy in the city.

I am completely agnostic in terms of what for a god (if one exists) takes. Still, your posts come off as pretty biased...for instance, if I substituted any other group and dropped those kinds of bombs, i.e., "Everything goes back to my thesis, which is that conservatives aren't willing to pay - by any mechanism - for the benefit of families of people who don't go to the same church as they do." It would raise some questions. What if I said blacks, democrat, or gays instead of conservatives? I would sound like bigot...

Expand full comment

This is the same nut-picking that plenty of people do to people espousing fringe liberal theories.

Expand full comment

If I’m not mistaken Conservatives give significantly more to charities (including non religious ones) than liberals

Expand full comment

And might I add that Democrats are also better at preventing abortion, what with their robust support of contraception, women's health and social safety nets.

Expand full comment

Do you have a source?

I want to agree with this, but it seems really hard to tease out this relationship because abortion is affected by a lot of things that vary between states and women can travel for abortions.

Expand full comment

I would say the big lever here is birth control. I think its fair to say that conservatives have ambivalent feelings about birth control, liberals support birth control robustly and in a wider variety. The connection between birth control and preventing abortion should also be uncontroversial.

But here is a detailed analysis from Guttmacher

https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/10/contraceptive-use-key-reducing-abortion-worldwide

The bigger question is how directly reducing poverty and providing support for single parents has an effect on reducing abortion. If you believe the pro-natalist literature on birth incentives, than I think that also goes to the point that someone is more likely to keep a pregnancy when they can afford it. But I think conservatives have all sorts of ideas about how social welfare is supposedly corrosive to family life and personal responsibility, so I am not sure they would be satisfied with merely showing a marginal effect of income on preventing abortion. Even here, the bigger lever is probably someone who has their life together more likely to engage in family planning.

Expand full comment

Conservatives don't support public education because they don't want their children and tax dollars to be controlled by an institution that has been captured by their political enemies.

Expand full comment

I think you find profligate wokeness more endemic to private educational institutions than public ones. But we are in agreement that conservatives basic distrust in public institutional prevents them from supporting services for children in need.

Expand full comment

I genuinely get curious when I hear this but like what are atheist families in need supposed to do? Likewise for people who for one reason or another are just alienated from the church.

It really seems like conservative world has no place for certain kinds of people. And like maybe that’s a feature not a bug for them but it means even when I agree with conservatives about like 50% of issues it doesn’t matter.

Expand full comment

My neighbors are religious and I'm not, but they would still help me in a heartbeat. I'm sure a church would too. There isn't a test at the door.

Expand full comment

Conservatives talk a good game about family, but they don’t do jack squat to actually use the government to help families in need. Also, their God King is a twice-divorced serial cheater who grabs women by the crotch. Some family values!

Expand full comment
May 16·edited May 16

You gotta get some help, guy. I know one nut who worships Trump among a sea of conservatives. That’s just hateful nonsense. As for “use the government to help families in need”, that’s the problem: The attitude that we MUST use the government. If we had a society where the super majority asked not what the county could do for them, then most people would look around with trust in their fellow citizen and be willing to trust the government elected, of their citizens, to lift the rest of the few boats who needed help. But that’s not the case. We have a culture of victims mostly of problems either they created and/or are created by the government they elected who tells them how bad their lives, country, and citizens are. It’s literally insane.

We have a Supreme Court Justice who claims she’s not qualified to tell what a woman is yet an educational system that propagates that toddlers and the mentally ill are qualified to do so. Why would any logical sane person interested in self-preservation and building a better future use or advocate for THAT government for anything?

Expand full comment

"You gotta get some help, guy. I know one nut who worships Trump among a sea of conservatives. That’s just hateful nonsense."

OK, fair enough. I take it back. I believe you that most conservatives don't actually *worship* Trump.

The thing is, though, that I am a consequentialist when it comes to voting. Meaning, a vote is a vote is a vote. When you vote for Trump, it doesn't matter whether you're thinking "Yaaay I get to vote for my hero, I love him so much" or "Ugghhhh I hate him but I hate Biden worse, so I'm gonna hold my nose and vote for Trump." It still counts the same!

The question of "why should we trust the govt not to eff things up" is a relevant and fair one, but it's almost midnight in my time zone and I don't want to get into this right now, I'll just end with this: Trump tried to destroy American democracy. He literally tried to overturn the results of an election. Is that ok with you? Yes, I am center-left, so I am naturally inclined to vote for Democrats anyway. But the attempt to *overturn an election* is a dealbreaker.

It doesn't matter, to me, what else Trump has or has not done, it's like finding out that the house you're about to buy is on a flood plain that floods every five years. It doesn't matter if the house is reasonably priced and has a cute porch and a beautiful backyard with hummingbirds and monarch butterflies and the kitchen has the latest state-of-the-art equipment. That flood plain is a dealbreaker, and you are not buying that house.

That's how I feel about Trump, and I am saddened that so many Americans, the people who are supposed to love democracy and the Constitution and fairness, are like "democracy schmemocracy, what about my gas prices and inflation!"

Expand full comment

Principles can be expensive! I don't actually think Trump will be better for the common person than Biden, but if someone else thinks that, while it's fair to ask them to swallow it for the greater good, I won't entirely blame them for prioritizing more immediate needs.

Also, I trust our institutions more than I fear Trump's ability to break them, even though he will probably try again.

Expand full comment

Yes. Raising a strong family in a community of strong families is, well, good.

Expand full comment

Conservatives are also correct that the government can't love you like your actual family can.

Expand full comment
founding

I think conservatives are right to emphasize the family as the first support structure. But they often don’t want to do anything about the people that fall through its cracks. Progressives are right to emphasize the safety net that catches those people. But they often emphasize it so much that they let the family develop more cracks.

Expand full comment

Conservatives are wrong about the idea that it is possible to go back to (what they perceive to be) pre-Sexual Revolution mores regarding the family without a facially ridiculous and unworkable ban on contraception. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to say things like “the man should be a single breadwinner, the woman should be a homemaker and they should marry early and have a large quantity of kids” in light of, really, modern medical technology.

Liberals on the other hand are wrong when they consider it through a war-between-the-sexes view. Any society in the world needs both, so that’s never productive.

Expand full comment

That’s fair

Expand full comment

This is why I'm super frustrated by the bloodless approach that Progressives have made to argue for public family support. Stop being so sheepish about declaring your full-throated support for the institution of the family and childrearing! That institution can also accept non-heterosexual couples, too. But society does have a practical and material interest in household creation. Which isn't to say that everyone needs to live the same. But we should incentivize arrangements that benefit the body politic as a whole: Committed cohabitating couples are good! Children are good! We can't just settle on a completely individualistic "you do you!" (non) social contract.

And I'm equally frustrated the refusal of (American) Conservatives to engage with any state support for households with children. Even the far-right in Poland and Hungary are very comfortable with diverting public resources to ensuring people have kids. Why do we continue to expect that nuclear families can manage it on their own? The math ain't mathin!

Expand full comment

The nuclear family that conservatives tout however is historically rare and, compared to large kinship networks that have existed throughout human history, comparatively weak.

I agree with conservatives that nuclear families are good, albeit for opposite reasons. However, I also wonder if even weaker family ties are possible and even good for achieving certain humanitarian goals.

Expand full comment
founding

Queer communities have often emphasized “families of choice” - not just partners and adopted children, but the chosen equivalents of siblings and cousins as well.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

America is good. It's good to have a country founded on universalist principles, not because they're perfectly applied but precisely because human beings are imperfect and those values can make a big difference when people falter, which is when it matters most.

Expand full comment
May 14Liked by Ben Krauss

This is my defense of hypocrisy. In order to be a hypocrite, you must have principals. America expels Natives, enslaves Africans? This is in violation of the principals of the founding! Russia invades Ukraine, China interns Uighurs? This is in violation of nothing.

Expand full comment

This is one of my favorite passages, from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It's a conservative viewpoint but I'm always reminded of it when internet discourse gets too finger-pointy about hypocrisies.

“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices, Finkle-McGraw said. It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticize others—after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism? . . .

Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticize others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticize another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behavior—you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy. . . .

We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy, Finkle-McGraw continued. In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception-he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing. . . .

That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code, Major Napier said, working it through, does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code. Of course not, Finkle-McGraw said. It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved—the missteps we make along the way—are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human.”—Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (2000)

Expand full comment

This is 100% correct and it makes I think the profoundly true observation that hypocrisy as the primary mode of moral critique reflects a culture where people don't really believe in objective moral standards. The problem with wrongdoing is that it's wrong, not that it's hypocritical. Someone who preaches moral truth despite behaving despicably is wrong for behaving despicably but not for preaching moral truth.

Expand full comment

Right, and the point of pointing out hypocrisy is to encourage good behavior, not to get somebody to own their bad behavior.

Expand full comment

I would argue that the value in pointing out hypocrisy, in particular, is that it is the shortest and most reliable route to shame. The rub is the motivation for shaming. If the intention is punishment or ridicule, it’s not productive. But if it is used to remind people of their values and the desirability of recalibrating their actions or viewpoints to better align with those values, then it is constructive.

Expand full comment

That's very well-written. You can sit around all day and point out hypocricy. Doing so doesn't require you to take any moral stances of your own or act on them, you're free to snipe from the sidelines at people who do take moral stances.

Or, put more succinctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljaP2etvDc4

Expand full comment

I was listening to an NPR story about a person who was held at Guantanamo and subjected to a lot of abuse but had lived his early life in the US so he knew that having a chance to expose the treatment detainees were suffering would aid them in their cause because he knew that in the US we are not all ok with torturing prisoners and he had to explain that to the other detainees who were not familiar with our legal system and norms. I know the story was supposed to make me feel awful about what my government did and (and it did) but it was also a reminder that we are also the country that is horrified by that conduct and has institutions to try and check it unlike the governments in the countries that the detainees were from.

Expand full comment

"Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue."

Expand full comment

America is wonderful.

Unless you are stuck in traffic.

Expand full comment

Even traffic is universalist: you aren't stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

Expand full comment

Basically yes, America is wonderful except for land use patterns. We were a little too rich after WWII and decided to build some insane things.

Expand full comment

Another non-wonderful thing about America -- exceptionally high and opaque prices for medical goods and services. See a doctor for X, or pick up Y from a pharmacy. What will it cost you? Depends on exactly what your insurance negotiated with this doctor / hospital / pharmacy and the people working there, for this indication, given your history and prior authorizations, in this case. Often the bill is gigantic, and the USA is notorious as a place where many people, despite not being poor by most standards, are still put off by price from seeing a doctor or taking all their meds as often as they should.

One of my pet issues is, I'd like to see some reforms to bring down the prices of medications to, say, not more than twice the price in the next-highest country. Or preferably a fair bit less than that. We gain a little by having the highest prices -- it makes the market very high priority for drugmakers -- but we don't need to pay 5x the price of countries that have 90% of our GDP per capita. If the price cuts hurt R&D, we can make up for it with tax incentives for R&D, subsidies for phase 3 trials, prizes for new products that meet certain targets, etc. Direct support for research may be more cost-effective than high prices, the proceeds from which go into marketing, profits, patent disputes etc. Also, with lower prices, the drugs will be sold in higher quantities, so pharma gets back part of the lost revenue that way.

Expand full comment

I’m in Lima right now. Traffics is bad.

Expand full comment

What is going on I-75?

Expand full comment

Rory's in Lima, Peru.

Expand full comment

Lima, OH is right on I-75.

Expand full comment

I know.

Expand full comment

Lima's traffic was best described by the show "Don't Drive Here"

https://youtu.be/1bK96t-eDd8?feature=shared

Expand full comment

Or poor.

Expand full comment

Even if you're poor, being poor in America is still better than being poor in the places where most of the world's poor live.

Expand full comment

Being poor in America is worse than being poor in Canada, France, Sweden, etc. Compared to peer countries, we do a shitty job with our under class.

Expand full comment

And Canada, France, and Sweden have lower median standards of living, partly due to policies that make it more pleasant to be poor in those countries. Is that trade-off worth it?

Expand full comment

To me, yes. But I live in a place with lots of people who are struggling financially.

My grandparents are Canadian, and I have a lot of Canadian relatives. I know it isn't an Eden there, but many of these relatives are commercial fishermen, engine repair mechanics, wind energy mechanics, etc, and when they have a bad season or get injured, they don't have the same level of stress and fear as those same people on this side of the border.

Expand full comment

It is 100% worth the trade off to me. I would much rather trade my child's opportunity to get as rich in the US but risk for being as poor as possible in the US for the option to only get as rich as you can get in Canada, France, or Sweden (which all have quite comfortable quality of life for those doing well) for the risk of only being as poor as is possible in Canada, France, or Sweden. At some point the median standard of living reaches a point where the marginal increases only bring small improvements in happiness and they don't begin to outweigh the unhappiness brought by the stress of risk and the ways that gross inequality prevent healthy communities. Its a balance and there are places where the median quality of life is low enough that the emphasis might rightly be on improving it at the expense of other values but we are well past that tipping point in the US.

Expand full comment

Both things can be true, and certainly are. We undoubtedly could do better. But in sheer numbers, the poor in the United States are still much better off than the majority of the world's poor.

Expand full comment

Why would those be considered our peer countries, as opposed to other sprawling, low-trust societies like Brazil and Russia?

Expand full comment
author

Because we are significantly richer and have much more transparent/democratic forms of government.

Expand full comment

Good point, rather than comparing to Australia and Canada, we should compare to 'sprawling' anglo settler-colonial countries like...

Expand full comment

Isn't that kind of cherry picking the world stage? You've basically said that being poor in American is shitty compared to other very rich countries. Try this Rawlsian exercise: if you are poor in America and you have a lottery ticket that enables you to change places with some random person in the world, would you take it? I sure wouldn't. While poverty rates have gone down internationally, it's still a lot better to be poor in America than in India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, Bangladesh etc. (If you don't notice those are the highest population countries in the world other than the U.S. with combined population of 4 billion).

Expand full comment

But the US really has more similarities to other very rich countries than to Pakistan, Nigeria, etc. It got rich at a similar time and in similar ways to Western Europe, and it seems like it was a matter of a few policy choices to end up where we (the US) ended up rather than where Denmark ended up. One of those policy choices was that Western Europe (or most rich countries) set up a strong social safety net, and the US a much weaker one. And policy choices could change that. The US Congress could pass a law to expand Medicare eligibility to lawful residents of all ages, or establish tuition-free colleges -- it would be politically difficult, and I'm open to the possibility that these are not the best policies, but they can be done. Whereas if the government of Nigeria passed a law that they would have a GDP per capita of $85,000 USD and be home to most of the world's dominant software and internet companies -- well, such legislation could be written, but writing it would not make it happen. It may be possible for Nigeria to reach that level of development someday, but it's not a matter of just deciding to.

I think that's the reason for comparison -- the US chose policies more favorable to businesses, lower taxes, etc., whereas other rich countries illustrate a different choice we could have made.

Expand full comment

I would with a random person in France any day of the week. Or Germany. Or Canada.

Expand full comment

It's worse to be poor in America but not for the reasons you've stated. It's worse to be poor in America, at least psychologically, because there are far more rich people in America. If everyone around you is poor or not that much richer than you it doesn't feel as bad as being poor in a country where other's wealth is constantly flaunted in your face.

Expand full comment

It is also worse because our society value wealth so exclusively that it can feel shameful to be a kind, honest, hard working poor person in the US in a way that isn't true in all parts of the world. To the extent that Leftist snobbery adds to that, it is part of the problem. People who uses terms like "white trash" and then imagine themselves the champions of the poor are kidding themselves.

Expand full comment

The principles in the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen are also universalist. The dictatorship of the proletariat, if ever achieved, would also be universalist. I don’t really see why universalism is so great.

Expand full comment

Because particularism means failure even if it succeeds and universalism only means failure if it fails.

Like I don't know how people can feel confident they won't just be edited out of the deserving if we allow someone else to set who is deserving and who is not.

Expand full comment

Paticularism only means failure if one is grading on a binary pass fail metric. Some people are well off and some people aren't is a better condition than nobody being well off.

Expand full comment

I’m somewhat sympathetic to this view but if you believe in markets its not really that hard to split that between universal negative rights for all and minimal positive rights.

Expand full comment

Yeah. This is why I think the Bill of Rights and the 13th and 14th Amendments shouldn’t apply to Republicans

Expand full comment

The most important thing the right gets right is that often the "nice" thing isn't the correct thing.

-Sometimes you need to fire a bunch of good people to make the government (or organization) work better.

-Sometimes you need to lock a crazy person away somewhere because they're not able to live peacefully in society

-Sometimes you need to tell an activist group to f off even if you agree with the direction of their advocacy

-Sometimes you need to tell people they can't live in America, and there will be consequences if they try, even if living in America would be good for them.

-etc.

Expand full comment

I think a lot of these can just be chalked up to: the right does better at acknowledging and weighing tradeoffs in many situations.

Expand full comment

A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell, lays this out very well (contrasting the Constrained vision, which acknowledges tradeoffs and rejects Utopian projects, versus the opposite Unconstrained vision.)

Expand full comment

Do these appear as tradeoffs in the conservative mind? As far as I can tell, harming deep state bureaucrats, punishing criminals, and excluding immigrants are the ends — not the means — and many would in fact be ready to accept significant collateral damage in the service of this righteousness.

Expand full comment

To the degree one considers the potential merits of these examples (increased government planning or decarceration or the free movement of peoples), then, yes, I think conservatives view and consider the tradeoffs, respectively: increasing government regulations at some point reduces economic activity and innovation; decarceration of violent persons at some point increases crime victimization and decreases crime deterrence; open borders at some point overwhelm existing institutions and undermine social trust. Of course one can be uncharitable and view the "conservative mind" as simply and unjustifiably hostile to bureaucrats, criminals and immigrants without reason, and many on the right have similar uncharitable takes that "the left" wants government controllers or lawlessness or mass-replacement immigration as ends-in-themselves.

Expand full comment

Do you feel this is generally more true of the right or is it a lot of these specific examples?

Or is it biased by the fact that this commentariat mostly agrees with the principles of the left but is more willing to look at tradeoffs than the LEFT, so it feels more correct.

Expand full comment

"Do you feel this is generally more true of the right"

yes. The left overall seems very bad at looking at tradeoffs or even acknowledging they exist

Expand full comment

At least they used to. I don't hear MAGA acknowledging any tradeoffs.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

One way I’ve become more conservative over the years is that I’ve realized just how difficult it is for the modern state to accomplish things. Unintended consequences, perverse incentives, bureaucratic inertia, and capture by various parties abound. I’ve started to feel about effective, just governance like I feel about God: it’s a beautiful idea and in a certain way you have to live as if it were true, but boy, all indications are to the contrary.

Related idea that you touched on last Friday: it’s often genuinely hard to help people. Many people are poor because they lack sufficient opportunity, but many are poor because they consistently make bad decisions. People don’t want to change. Drug addicts enjoy using drugs. Violent criminals are often damaged people that can’t be “fixed” except by incapacitating them until they mellow out with old age. The hard thing is that it can be not a person’s fault that they do wrong (the most sympathetic idea in QAnon is that the prevalence of child abuse is underrated) and also not something that can be helped, at least not without great difficulty.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

A metaphor I once heard back in college is that the majority of time it's better for a team to just pick a up a first down. Trying to go deep on every play is going to lead to interceptions more often that touchdowns. But sometimes the risk of going deep is worth it for the reward; you have to time your shots accordingly.

It's a mangled metaphor for sure. But I do actually think it fits with your argument. Every so often, trying for big change is the right move. The Civil War started with more limited aims, but eventually became a war to fundamentally remake the American South and America generally and it was the correct decision to do so.

But most of the time, the change you want needs to be more incremental and at the margin. But it's important to keep in mind that positive change, however incremental can be very real. Social Security started off actually quite small and lots of exceptions (most notoriously leaving out farmers so as to placate Dixiecrats who didn't want sharecroppers getting social security checks). But over time it has become probably the most important (and pertinent to this post effective) anti old age poverty measure. Social Security really did work! Medicare and Medicaid really have succeeded in helping give people health coverage they need. The GI Bill really did help lots of working class people (and their kids) go to college.

The Medicare and Medicaid one is maybe where my post fits with your post the most. As Matt has alluded to in previous posts and this post; American life expectancy really is terrible compared to peer nations. And reality is, the divergence from Western Europe probably is not due to access to health care. I actually in theory agree with Medicare or Medicaid for all (the devil is in the details; post for another day) but to those on the far left, you need to know that even if we implemented M4A tomorrow, American life expectancies, especially for those without college degrees is likely going to remain well below peer nations in the short and medium term. Change is slow and the reality is for most of life there is not "one weird trick" to solve most of life's problems. But to those on the right, that does not mean that M4A would make no difference at all. Those are two different paradigms and my rejection of the latter belief (on lots of public policy ideas not just Medicare) is why I will likely always find myself thinking of myself as a Progressive even if I end up voting for Republican in 8 years time for President*

* I would hope that in last 8 years time one thing we can learn is that political coalitions and policy agendas of parties can change more rapidly than we think.

Expand full comment

" Social Security really did work! Medicare and Medicaid really have succeeded in helping give people health coverage they need"

Yep they sure did. The problem is they promised WAY more in benefits that taxes to pay for them.

So either taxes are going to have to go up a LOT, or benefits will have to be cut (or some combination). European countries actually tax the middle class quite heavily to pay for their welfare states.

Sadly neither party wants to fix these problems. But of course that's because the American voters want rainbows and Unicorns for everyone

Expand full comment

Not sure this is specific to US; voters wanting rainbows and unicorns for everyone. In fact, pretty sure it's the struggle most democracies deal with.

One thing I do agree with Dean Baker about is its absolutely maddening that reporting on social security shortfalls basically pushes the lie that the social security trust fund will be literally bankrupt in 2032. Over and over again, people are interviewed and say they don't expect to get social security in their retirement and Dean was right to chastise the New York Times for pushing this falsehood. I liked that he pointed out that he's been hearing this worry for so long that there are people who claimed in the mid 90s they wouldn't see a dime in social security now collecting social security. Doesn't help that orgs like Heritage and other similar right wing think tanks and magazines push the fiction that social security will literally run out of all money in 2032; one of those underrated places where the need for "balance" actually ends up pushing an actual falsehood on its readers (climate change coverage pre 2016 might be the ultimate example to me).

Social Security very definitely has a shortfall. And some combo of tax increases and benefit cuts is probably quite necessary and yes you're completely right neither part wants to deal with it right now (and let's be real, if Biden proposed social security reform tomorrow he'd go from being a minor underdog to no chance in hell of winning in November). But getting only 80% of your expected benefits is miles different than getting absolutely zero.

Expand full comment

Taxes should, in fact, go up a lot, especially on Republicans

Expand full comment

I think a big difference between left and right is what percentage of people and to what degree people are poor because of opportunity vs bad decisions.

One thing that neither side really does well in acknowledging is that even people who make poor decisions aren't entirely at fault. Alcoholism is disease... its also genetic, just as is being susceptible to high risk behaviors, or even violence and temper. The right says... suck it up, bootstrap... the left says... if only you had free housing and food and love.

Even in the best (nordic societies), there are still a decent number of people that fall through the cracks.

Expand full comment

Literally this example is what split me vs my (substantially more conservative) friends! I've always found the right's "genetics are very important" line to be the strongest case for nanny-state anti-alcohol policy.

Expand full comment

"Genetics are very important" is also a great case for transfer programs. In general, the stronger the difference in people's ability endowments, the stronger the case for redistribution. Conversely redistribution makes no sense* if everyone has the same ability but picks different points on the labor/leisure tradeoff curve.

*Actually it would still make sense to account for differences in need but that's a separate point

Expand full comment

This is what The Genetic Lottery by KPH gets at. Great book despite a bit of a tough slog through the science (for me).

Expand full comment

Well it would also make sense bc we have scarcity of things like jobs and money.

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

I think our government is specifically dysfunctional, with it's two party system, many veto points, and undemocratic allocation.

I think we should not take these to be a law of nature that all governments, even all democratic governments, must be bound to.

True "good governance" has never been tried!

Expand full comment

I agree that government can work. But the first step would be banning public unions that prevent accountability with public employees.

Expand full comment

The first step would be banning people who are inclined to vote Republican from voting, or indeed participating in society at really any level

Expand full comment

I work in policy and I’m gonna shamelessly steal that last line from you XD

Expand full comment

All those things are true, and yet the modern world is full of wonders created by government. One example, sewers. I just visited the Paris sewer museum, which I highly recommend if you're into infrastructure or engineering. It's in an actual part of the working sewer and if you can get past the smell it is a marvel. This whole complicated system of tunnels and valves and mechanisms to deal with overflow that is built and maintained by the government of Paris. It has completely transformed life in cities and the health of their inhabitants. It's easy to forget about all the things that do get accomplished.

Expand full comment

Also, fixing problems doesn't make people happier. Every problem you fix creates smaller problems that are much smaller than the original problem, but instead of being thankful that the big problem is fixed people just get mad that the smaller problem isn't fixed. Fix it and you will be left with another even smaller problem but again, no one is happy that the second problem was solved.

Expand full comment

Very good article.

I think where we might agree is that instead of thinking of left and right as one wrong and one right, I see each side as having different perspectives, abilities, and weaknesses form which, if they could stop just trying to beat each other and commit to simply solving problems we could have a wiser politics.

For example on environment, the right, instead of using their realism, skepticism, understanding and respect for markets and realpolitik, to craft better legislation, just try to scuttle whatever the liberals come up with.

I am a very committed environmentalist, yet I think the left is making mistake in pushing EVs beyond what the public wants, and in attacking extraction rather than consumption, which just hurts the US economy to the advantage of Russia, Saudis, Iran, and Venezuela. Stopping pipelines does nothing other than minimal increases in fossil fuel prices prompting OPEC to release more oil, where the real problem is that nobody should be driving a car that doesn't get 40 mpg. and we need to continue investing in renewables and public transport.

If conservatives would work with liberals rather than just opposing whatever they do, we would have wiser legislation.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I've become more sympathetic to some conservative values and critiques of progressive ideas over the last few years - almost precisely in the way that Matt describes here - but ultimately conservatism as expressed in American politics has been nihilism throughout my lifetime, and I stick largely with the progressives because they at least try to create policy.

Expand full comment

I would love to see a Conservative environmentalism that gave a needed dose of reality to Progressive Environmentalism (especially the flavor that congealed in the 1970s and is enduringly influential today).

For me, this Conservative Environmentalism would understand that we are *of* Nature and not apart from it. That means that everything Man does is also "natural," including all the nasty stuff. It wouldn't be *alienated* from our biological imperatives. Yes, we are carnivores. Yes, we want to reproduce. Yes, we want to maximize energy metabolism. Yes, all of that happens at the expense of other animals and the ecosystem. But that's the "natural" course of every successful species. The feedback loop is that those species proliferate and then collapse. Like we probably will. But stop hand-wringing about something that's just part of who we are!

Another aspect of Conservative Environmentalism would be to re-enchant life. We're religious! It's a fact. Even when we're not believers (I'm not particularly), we have religious brains. That can be useful. People deeply care about religious things. They don't care about mundane, material things as much. So, if you want us to "return" to the stewardship of our land, we probably need to re-enchant our relationship with it. Whether that be via various Animist-type religions, New Age-y woo-woo, or a more monotheistic-agricultural connection to the cycles of the land, we need to stop talking about antiseptic things like "carbon emissions," "ecosystem services," and the economic value of Nature. Religious beings don't really care about that stuff. And, clearly, it's not actually working.

Lastly, we need to be realistic about what's possible and what's desirable. Energy is a real and very important thing. You wouldn't know it talking to either an economist or an environmentalist, though. It's this bizarre omission from our popular mental models about our relationship with the material world. Energy is economic growth. It is human lifespan and healthspan. It is freedom, including artistic and philosophical freedom. Our entire modern culture is build on top of an unseen holding cell of thousands of "energy slaves" per person. Which is to say that basically everything we like is down to burning stuff. Unfortunately, that comes at a severe cost for the environment and our own future viability as a species. But we also can't pretend it away. Nor can we escape from this reality via magical thinking like "decoupling" or the more pollyannaish strains of "win-win" Degrowth. Less energy means less people, less lifespan and healthspan, less political freedom and social equality, and even less art and poetry. That's a real dilemma.

The only way to rectify it is by making difficult choices. And reifying the awesome power we wield. Like gods, we can control fate and matter. But, also like gods, we can really muck things up and have to learn to wield that power humbly and responsibly. Will we decide that we needn't live so long, after all? That we needn't travel so far? That life is more crucial than comfort? Or is it the opposite? That pleasure and freedom now is the only thing?

Expand full comment

Probably the closest thing to an environmentalism that could be considered conservative is, well, conservationism. That's the notion that some wilderness needs to be protected for the leisure and recreation of enjoying that wilderness. It can of course lead to ugly places like NIMBYism, but it's also distinct from the idea that any locations should just be stripped for resources willy nilly.

Expand full comment

Agreed, which is why hunters (who skew Republican these days) are one of the few restraining forces that keep Republicans from doing some pretty damaging stuff (like disposing of federal public lands [1]).

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/02/02/facing-backlash-utah-rep-jason-chaffetz-withdraws-bill-to-transfer-federal-land-to-the-states/

Expand full comment

I have had a related thought that Conservatives, who are often (but certainly not always) concerned about mucking around with complex systems and in some sense their entire ideology is about not messing with existing systems (hence being conservative) do not put greater appreciation on how complex the environment and how little ability we have to predict how are actions will impact it. You would think that limiting that potential damage might be a more conservative approach.

Expand full comment
May 16·edited May 16

As what the new world would call a conservative, I agree with you, I have always thought this way, and was raised this way by evangelicals. The criticisms I hear of conservatives and Evangelicals may be true to some lived experiences but not mine - and I was balls deep in it. And to some extent, still am. This always brings me to the question, are liberals just hateful towards conservatives and Christians and don’t want to see their good works and shared values OR do they lack the values they claim to have and just want to tear the system down? I don’t know. But if you’re posing that question earnestly and you hold those views then you have a lot in common with young Gen X/late Millennial Red State conservative beer drinking Christians. Cheers, man.

Expand full comment

I worked in policing andknow lots of very nice conservative Christians from that work and now work at a college and know lots of nice progressive. My experience is that most of this is less about religion and more about personal politics.

I do think they hyper partisan environment is pretty toxic right now which also hurts.

Expand full comment

As Adam Carolla has said for 25 years, we’ve run out of problems. Well, we’ve made our own - and they are each other. … and much of our Gov’t are misanthropes who want to put us in poverty. So that’s a real bipartisan problem.

Expand full comment

Most of what you describe is happening. I just went fishing over 4 days with 5 very conservative guys (none of who are this Trump worshipping zealot I constantly hear tale of) all who are very serious about sustainability, preserving the natural environment, and the ethical kill. (Oxymoronic but as carnivores, we eat to live and appreciate the life taken.)

Expand full comment

The US needs but doesn't have the equivalent of European Farmer or Agrarian parties. They combine environmentalism with political decentralization, rural interests, and strong classical-liberal-style property rights.

Farmer–Labor Parties used to be a big thing in the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota. Today, the Democrats (who used to be rural populists) have completely lost the rural vote, outside of places like Vermont. And Republicans, who are the only other viable option, don't really take rural or environmental issues very seriously. They offer vibes more than policy.

So, this group that you went fishing with have no political home.

Expand full comment

Yes a society needs both progressive and conservative impulses. neither is always right or wrong. Society needs progressives to push change and conservatives to say "hey have you thought this through", or "this is stupid don't do it"

And often (but certainly not always) the best policy is something in between

Expand full comment

Yep. Just so happens that the conservatives and progressives are all in the Democratic Party, leaving the Republican Party to the nihilists.

Expand full comment

As an independent I find the opposite to be true. I’m conservative in today’s standards and don’t respect much of either party but many absolute true believers in the hope for humanity in my area the new Republican, which you see as Nihilists. I would love to see examples of this person in real life, face-to-face. Or is this a caricature created by cable news, sound bites, and memes?

Expand full comment

'if they could stop just trying to beat each other and commit to simply solving problems we could have a wiser politics.'

Well in that case you would have no politics at all. Politics is about the distribution of finite resources, it will always exist and it will always be fundamentally contentious, even if temporary agreements can be found in specific areas. 'Problem solving' is a very secondary concern.

Expand full comment

I agree, but think we also need to recognize that different perspectives, abilities and weaknesses often lead to different conclusions about what should be done. Asking conservatives to "work with liberals rather than just opposing whatever they do, we would have wiser legislation" is all well and good, but would also set the expectation that liberals would work with conservatives rather than just opposing whatever they do.

Expand full comment

One thing conservatives have traditionally been right about is the honorability of military and police service. At least since the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras these career paths have been vaguely disreputable on the Left, but in fact protecting your fellow human being is one of the highest callings of civilization and as Matt has pointed out, we actually pay a cost when liberals shun policing especially.

Expand full comment

When conservatives focus on conserving, they play a valuable role in curbing the excesses of progressivism. Unfortunately, the right has turned into a reactionary movement as of late, with most conservatives content to let it happen.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I feel turbo-sniped about all the junk I said in the Monday thread about cautious, careful changes to improve the world blah blah blah.

Small-c "conservatives" currently have no political home, and that seems bad.

Expand full comment

Turbo sniped?

Expand full comment

In my corner of the academic community (and I assume it's used more broadly), to be "sniped" is to see somebody publish the paper you were in the process of writing.

Turbo- anything, to a child of the 1980s, is just an enhancing term.

Expand full comment

Ah, was unfamiliar with the academic jargon. Turbo thank you!

Expand full comment

A little internet cross-pollination: the Mitsubishi Starion of the era was so proud of its turbocharging that it semi-infamously printed "TURBO" on the *seat belts*

https://www.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a1817331/turbo-badging-most-turbocharged-decade-1980s/

Expand full comment
May 15·edited May 15

In my corner of

academia, the universally agreed term for this is “scooped.” I have never heard “sniped” — gotta love academic microcultures

Expand full comment

'as of late'?

Expand full comment
May 14·edited May 14

There's also a historical dimension to equality before the law. We of course are all versed in the racial variations on this in US history but it wasn't long ago in the span of human existence that in a dispute between two people where one had a hereditary title and one didn't the person with the title won. How did you get a title? Well maybe you won a battle at some point or more likely had an ancestor who did or was otherwise given it as a spoil of being on the right side of some other conflict at some point and that was it. Not quite strange women handing out swords from a lake but also not a particularly fair or intelligent way to decide things.

Expand full comment

Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Expand full comment

I'd be ok with the Lady of the Lake administering the oath office.

Expand full comment