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Book Review: Manufacturing Consent

I.

Consider:

It is our view that, among their other functions, the media serve and propagandize on behalf of the powerful societal interests that control…them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well-positioned to shape and constrain media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.

[This includes] the ability to complain about the media’s treatment of news (that is, produce “flak”), to provide “experts” to confirm the official slant on the news, and to fix the basic principles and ideologies that are taken for granted by media personnel and the elite, but are often resisted by the general population. In our view, the same underlying power sources that own the media…that serve as primary definers of the news, and that produce flak and proper-thinking experts, also play a key role in fixing basic principles and dominant ideologies.

If I saw this quote on Facebook without attribution, I would assume it was from the latest far-right blog complaining about the liberal media. In fact, it is from Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, which claims that the media acts as lapdog of the dominant neoliberal ideology against leftists of all stripes.

I decided to read Manufacturing Consent because of this basic puzzle: how can both the Left and Right be so certain that the media is biased against them?

Now, in one sense this is not surprising. Everyone believes everything is biased against them. I’ve previously talked about bravery debates, the sort of argument where both sides believe that we’re brave non-conformist speaking truth to power, and they’re toadies of the elite repeating the dominant consensus like sheep. The hostile media effect is a well-known bias where both sides of an issue believe the media is biased against them, even going so far as to both give low fairness ratings to sample documentaries in controlled studies for opposite reasons. So a more general tendency of both sides to accuse the media as a whole of having a hostile agenda is pretty much what we would predict.

The part that surprises me is: I thought that, even objectively, apart from the bias to be expected on both sides, the Right’s case for a hostile media was pretty good. Democrats outnumber Republicans among journalists four to one, and CrowdPAC’s donation analysis rates journalism as among the most liberal professions. There’s an ongoing joke (and some informal analysis) about how disgraced Republicans’ party affiliation is lampshaded and disgraced Democrats’ party affiliation is covered up. And in my own area of interest, it often seems like scientific studies that support liberal beliefs tend to get front-page billing no matter how terrible they are, but scientific studies that cast doubt upon such beliefs them are very rarely mentioned.

And this perception seems to be mirrored by the popular wisdom, where conservatives complain of media bias full stop, and liberals mostly just gripe about Fox in particular.

So Chomsky and Herman’s claim that the media is in fact biased towards conservatives is startling and interesting and deserves a further look.

How exactly do Chomsky and Herman think this media bias works? In Chapter 1, they propose five major mechanisms:

1. The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy.

2. The mass media is dependent on advertising, which also involves large corporations who support the sorts of things large corporations are likely to support. Further, these advertisers may have specific interests. For example, Texaco might be less willing to advertise in a source that frequently critiques Big Oil or raises concerns about pollution.

3. Journalists are dependent on sources. The most convenient sources are large well-organized entities in the midst of newsworthy events who issue press releases. For example, by far the easiest source for the latest news about a foreign war is the Pentagon. Furthermore, the Pentagon, while not always in fact trustworthy, enjoys a presumption of trustworthiness; if you interview some random foreigner, you would want to fact-check her very carefully, but if you parrot the Pentagon press release, you are assumed to have done due diligence merely because the source is so official. Other such convenient and official sources of news include the White House, the Department of State, local police forces, and local chambers of commerce. But all of these are members of the establishment and so have a pro-establishment bias. Further, the news relies on “experts” to confirm and comment upon news, and because of incestuous relationships between government, corporations, think tanks, and academia, the most credentialed and salient experts will almost always be pro-establishment.

4. Conservative groups fund “flak machines”, organizations and individuals whose job it is to complain that the media is “biased” whenever they are insufficiently conservative. In these cases, relentless nitpickers will shriek about every slight inaccuracy and condemn the journalists involved as liars and unpatriotic to boot. If the media parrots the official line, then journalists can be almost arbitrarily sloppy and nobody will call them on it. Therefore, journalists who get ground down by the constant harassment will unconsciously shift towards more pro-establishment narratives.

5. Anti-communism is “the dominant religion” of “our cultural milieu” so any journalist who disagrees with the establishment can be smeared with the label “communist” and forced “on the defensive”. Most “have fully internalized the religion anyway, but they are all under great pressure to demonstrate their anti-communist credentials.”

These are interesting ideas, and if supported and developed further they would go a long way towards explaining how the media might have a strong conservative bias despite the liberal leanings of most journalists.

But just after proposing them, the book makes a sudden ninety degree turn to focus on a series of in-depth case studies of US military interference in Third World countries.

The case studies are there for a reason: after Chomsky and Herman establish what they consider to be the true story, they provide examples of the US media consistently misrepresenting even the simplest of facts in ways that flatter the United States government and unfairly malign its foreign enemies. These result in the US getting away with what can only be described as genocide with almost no criticism, even though the facts are plain for anyone to see.

So the idea of media bias hasn’t been exactly dropped. But these studies have disappointingly little relevance to the more general claims that I and presumably most people who bought this book were interested in. Military interference in Third World countries is a very specific subject, and one whose dynamics differ from stories closer to home.

Was I disappointed that the authors didn’t develop their original point about the media more? I was at first. Then I realized this was the book about obscure brutal Third World military conflicts that I’d never known I needed.

II.

Chomsky and Herman are both academics, and they’re both relentless. When they try to prove something, by golly, it stays proved. This is a good thing, in that the book deals with very controversial topics and anything less would be unconvincing. It’s also a bad thing, in that by the ninth or tenth long transcript taken from the same war crimes trial, all of the genocides and village-burnings and nun-rapes start to blend together into a big blob of atrocity, and you can’t remember whether Kouprasith Abhay was the evil generalissimo who launched the pro-US coup and killed thousands, or the good generalissimo who launched the anti-US counter-coup and killed thousands, or the morally ambiguous generalissimo who launched the non-aligned counter-counter-coup and killed thousands.

(his Wikipedia page clarifies that “[his] counter-coup within the counter-coup was ended by the paratroopers responsible for the ongoing coup.”)

But these details are less interesting than the big picture, a sketch of a political system that C&H jokingly term “death squad democracy”.

The general picture is of a third world country that was previously in a fragile social equilibrium. Something disrupts the equilibrium – usually the United States toppling the government because Communists were starting to do well in elections. It is replaced by a weak central government insecure in its power which decides to go after mass movements it perceives as a threat.

The mass movements form guerilla groups to resist government brutality. Supporters of the government form death squads in order to kill suspected guerillas more unethically than the international community would allow the government to do directly. Eventually there is so much violence that anyone who can form a guerilla army and kill their enemies before their enemies kill them does so.

The dictator solemnly declares that what’s going on is a rebellion by communist extremists with associated counter-violence by some grassroots rightist extremists, while he, the dictator, is doing his best to keep the peace. He send in the army, who are secretly or not-so-secretly are also the death squads, and so just make things worse. The United States declares the dictator is a great man who does his best to maintain peace in a troubled nation, and sends him tons of weapons and money. All of these weapons and money mysteriously end up in the hands of the death squads, which of course means the United States has to send in more weapons and money to help the dictator deal with the new threat of these richer, better-armed enemies.

If the dictator is feeling really nice, he will hold an election. The mass movements, communists, and anyone with actual popular support will be banned from participating since they are violent extremists, and the death squads will kill anybody who campaigns against the dictator. The dictator will win the vote handily, and the Free World will declare that since he won the elections, it’s clear that the communists are just violent extremists trying to deny the will of the people and take over for their own nefarious purposes.

This pattern, with slight variation, seems to have happened across the entire Third World at one point or another. Perhaps there will be another coup, and the dictator will be replaced by another dictator, perhaps some foreign country will get directly involved on one side or the other, but the basic logic will not change. For a space of years to decades, tens of thousands of people will be tortured and killed – a few here and there by the communists, but most by the government. Whole villages will be destroyed, freedom of thought will be nonexistent, and everyone except the dictator and a few cronies will be constantly living in fear.

And in a sense, I already knew all of this. We all kind of understand what goes on in banana republics. But for some reason, Manufacturing Consent painted an unusually clear picture that knocked it into relief for me and changed my understanding of a lot of things.

Take, for instance, the second Iraq War. The hawkish position is “we were right to want to remove Saddam, a bad man. We were right to believe that we would win the shooting war quickly and easily. We just couldn’t have predicted the explosion of Sunni-Shiite violence that would erupt afterwards, and that’s not our fault.”

And yet now that I have read Manufacturing Consent, it seems obvious that removing Saddam would cause Iraq to descend into blood-soaked death squads. It is like a law of the universe that Third World countries will descend into blood-soaked death squads at the drop of a pin. Every time the United States has tried to change the government of a Third World nation, the end result has been blood-soaked death squads. Expecting to remove a regime from power without thinking about the blood-soaked death squads seems less like an excusable error and more like missing the very heart of the issue, like expecting to use a nuke without thinking about radiation damage.

But the dove position is almost as bad! It’s “Ha! The hawks thought we would be greeted as liberators! What morons!” This totally misses the point! It’s assuming that if the Iraqis liked us, they would have politely lined up to form a centralized democratic government with a monopoly on the use of force. The problem wasn’t that the Iraqis didn’t like us enough, it was that we did something in a Third World country and expected it not to descend into blood-soaked death squads. That never works.

I am left with a greatly increased respect for the view that it was Western colonialism, broadly defined, that has caused Third World countries all their grief. The problem wasn’t just British people coming in and telling them to work on banana plantations for a while, the problem was the total destruction of the country’s usual rule of law, hierarchies, civic traditions, and social fabric by successive attempts by western-backed dictators to retain power. A couple of decades assassinating anyone who looks out of place and doesn’t do exactly what they’re told, of tearing apart any organization or community that looks strong enough to serve as an alternative to the State or offer resistance – the question is less why Third World countries are so screwed up, and more that they’re not screwed up even worse.

III.

Throughout all of this, the US media could always be counted on to condemn the victims, excuse the aggressors, and totally fail to mention our role in anything.

As per Chomsky, this was rarely done by direct lies, in the form of front page “EVERYTHING FINE IN GUATEMALA, SAY SOURCES”. It was done by a campaign of highlighting certain things, downplaying others, and creating false controversies to cover up the real ones. Their five case studies showcase five different common media biases.

The first study is titled “Worthy And Unworthy Victims”, and compares news coverage of the “worthy victims” killed by America’s enemies to that of the “unworthy victims” killed by America’s allies. The death of worthy victims is treated with outrage, lurid descriptions of every detail of their brutal deaths, intense coverage of every new development in the hunt to bring the killers to justice, focus on the protests their death engenders, and insistence that their death proves a deep and important generalizable lesson about the society in which it occurred. The death of unworthy victims, if covered at all, is treated with “Well, violence sometimes happens, and it’s very sad, but what can we do about it?” Their case study of a “worthy victim” is Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed by the Communists; since the Communists were our enemy, we were outraged by the crime. Their examples of “unworthy victims” are the thousands killed in El Salvador and Guatemala, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero; both countries’ governments were US allies fighting against Communist guerrillas at the time, so their atrocities had to be covered up “for the good of the cause”. As a result, the American populace mostly ended up believing that our enemies were brutal murderers, and our allies were, at best, peace-loving people who were not very good at controlling the violence that always seemed to be breaking out around them.

The second study is “Legitimizing Versus Meaningless Elections”. Most Third World elections are a little sketchy. If the election is in a US ally, it will be covered as a “step towards suffrage in this fledgling democracy”, but if the election is in a US enemy, it will be covered as “a sham” that people are only voting in “for fear of retribution”. The book discusses the elections in Communist Nicaragua versus US-backed El Salvador, showing that by any objective standards the former had fairer, freer elections yet were attacked as a sham by the US media; the latter basically was a sham intended to legitimize a dictatorship, but were praised as a good first step by US media. After reading this chapter it will be very hard for me to take reports of Third World elections seriously again.

The third study is the odd man out, farce in the midst of tragedy. It describes how gullibly the US media accepted the idea of a connection between would-be-Pope-assassin Mehmet Ali Agca and the KGB in the absence of any credible evidence. Yes, C&H admit, Agca did confess to working for the Communists – but only after Italian secret police demanded he do so. Plus he also confessed to lots of other things, including being Jesus Christ, and it was kind of clear that he was a little crazy. In terms of non-psychotic, non-Pope-murdering people who had evidence that the Communists were involved, there was pretty much zilch. But because the Soviets were The Enemy, the media was willing to uncritically pass along anything that discredited them.

The fourth study deals with the Vietnam War, usually considered a case of the media breaking with the establishment and taking a more pacifist, leftist position. C&H argue that this was true only within a very narrow Overton window, where the two acceptable positions were “the US is right to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam” versus “the US is right to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam, but the costs are too high”. C&H argue that nearly everyone in South Vietnam supported Ho Chi Minh except for the dictator and his cronies. The US intervened to save the dictator from his own people, but cast this as saving South Vietnam from North Vietnamese aggression, even though North Vietnam’s involvement was modest. A more honest account of the US role was that they were coming from thousands of miles away to save South Vietnam from “aggression” by the South Vietnamese people. Absent any real enemy except the populace itself, they were backed into a strategy of burning down villages and killing indiscriminately, hoping to keep everyone in such a state of constant terror that they couldn’t do any political organizing. The US media never came close to expressing this position, and therefore at best they could be described as “pro-establishment” and “pro-establishment but sick of losing.”

The fifth study was much like the fourth study, except with Laos and Cambodia. The United States killed about 50,000 people in Laos directly through bombing, and probably more through its consistent support for whichever colonel was launching a coup that day. The US media was completely silent, even though there was ample evidence that it was going on and the foreign media was all over it. Also, when the US media finally got around to talking about it, it was in the context of the supposed “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, whereas most of the bombing was just bombing poor villages in order to deprive the Laotian communists of their natural rural base.

Overall, C&H did a good job of showing ways that the US media could systematically distort foreign wars to cover up the atrocities of US allies, highlight the atrocities of US enemies, and make US actions seem much more noble than the generally chilling evidence would suggest.

IV.

So, do I believe any of it?

C&H are, as mentioned before, really thorough, and they cite everything back and forth twenty ways to Tuesday. But there are ways to be rigorous and dishonest at the same time. C&H had complete control of what incidents to include in their book, and that gives them a lot of power to choose genuinely troubling incidents while not acknowledging any that don’t fit their narrative.

For example, I mentioned before the case of Jerzy Popieluzsko, Polish priest murdered by the Communists. C&H make a big deal on how the US media was saturated with coverage and calls for justice; while they ignored the Salvadorean genocide victims around the same time.

But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century. Most of these victims did not get the same coverage as Popieluzsko; in fact, we’ve discussed before here how in most cases the media erred on the side of covering these up. Instead of “the media over-covers Communist murders”, it might be “there is wide variance in the media’s coverage of Communist murders, and C&H focused on the most overdone one in order to support their thesis.”

I see this in a lot of places. C&H give a table of various genocides and the news coverage allotted to each. They find that, for example, the news coverage allotted the Kurdish genocide by Iraq (US enemy) was four times greater than the coverage allotted the East Timor genocide by Indonesia (US ally). On the other hand, if they had included Israel in the table, the lesson would have reversed; we hear far more about what Israel (US ally) is doing to the Palestinians than about the Kurds or East Timorese, even though the latter two cases involved far more deaths. Or what if they had included Iran (US enemy)? How many people know about the Iran-PJAK conflict that has claimed almost a thousand lives in the past few years? It’s easy for C&H to cherry-pick examples of well-covered-US-enemies and poorly-covered-US-allies, but it’s not clear that reflects reality very well.

Finally, I’m not sure how much to trust their history. I know very little about the mid-20th century; C&H might be presenting a very one-sided view. The few things I double-checked seem to support this analysis. For example, here’s how they describe Laos in the early 1950s:

A coalition government was established in 1958 after the only elections worthy of the name in the history of Laos. Despite extensive US efforts, they were won handily by the left. Nine of the thirteen candidates of the [communist] Pathet Lao guerrillas won seats in the national assembly, along with four candidates of the left-leaning neutralists (“fellow traveler,” as they were called by Ambassador Parsons). Thus “Communists or fellow travelers” won thirteen of the twenty-one seats contested. The largest vote went to the leader of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanouvong, who was elected chairman of the national assembly.

US pressures- including, crucially, the withdrawal of aid – quickly led to the overthrow of the government in a coup by a “pro-Western neutralist” who pledged his allegiance to “the free world” and declared his intention to disband the political party of the Pathet Lao (Neo Lao Hak Sat), scrapping the agreements that had successfully established the coalition. He was overthrown in turn by the CIA favorite, the ultra-right-wing General Phoumi Nosavan. After US clients won the 1960 elections, rigged so crudely that even the most pro-US observers were appalled, civil war broke out, with the USSR and China backing a coalition extending over virtually the entire political spectrum apart from the extreme right, which was backed by the United States.

This seemed so over-the-top cartoonishly evil that I had to check Wikipedia to see if it was an accurate summary. Here’s how they put the same events (editing very liberally for conciseness):

In April, 1953, the Viet Minh’s People’s Army of Vietnam invaded the northeastern part of what was still the French Protectorate of Laos with 40,000 troops commanded by General Vo Nguyen Giap; including 2,000 Pathet Lao soldiers led by Souphanouvong. The objective of the two-pronged invasion was the capture of the royal capital of Luang Prabang and of the Plain of Jars. In November 9 the Pathet Lao began its conflict with the Kingdom of Laos thus beginning the civil war and technically the Second Indochina War while the First Indochina War was still going.

The North Vietnamese invaders succeeded in conquering the border provinces of Phong Saly and Xam Neua, which were adjacent to northern Vietnam and on the northeastern verge of the Plain of Jars. They then moved aside to allow the Pathet Lao force with its mismatched scrounged equipment to occupy the captured ground, and Souphanouvong moved the Pathet Lao headquarters into Xam Neua on 19 April.

On 21 March 1956, Souvanna Phouma began his second term as prime minister. He opened a dialogue with his brother, Souphanouvong. In August, they announced the intention of declaring a ceasefire and reintegrating the Pathet Lao and their occupied territory into the government. However, the Pathet Lao claimed the right to administer the provinces they occupied.

At the same time, they and their North Vietnamese backers ran a massive recruitment campaign, with the aim of forming nine battalions of troops. Many of the new recruits were sent into North Vietnam for schooling and training. This led to United States concern that the Royal Lao Army would be inadequately equipped and trained.

In November, 1957, a coalition government incorporating the Pathet Lao was finally established. Using the slogan, “one vote to the right, one vote to the left to prevent civil war,” pro-communist parties received one-third of the popular vote and won 13 of 21 contested seats in the elections of 4 May 1958. With these additional seats, the left controlled a total of 16 seats in the 59 member National Assembly. Combined with independents, this was enough to deny Souvanna’s center right, neutralist coalition the two-thirds majority it needed to form a government. With parliament deadlocked, the U.S. suspended aid in June to force a devaluation of the overpriced currency, which was leading to the abuse of U.S. aid. The National Assembly responded by confirming a right-wing government led by Phuy Xananikôn in August. This government included four members of the U.S.-backed Committee for the Defence of the National Interest (none of them National Assembly members). Three more unelected CDNI members were added in December, when Phuy received emergency powers to govern without the National Assembly.

Under orders from Souphanouvong, the Pathet Lao battalions refused to be integrated into the Royal Lao Army. Souphanouvong was then arrested and imprisoned, along with his aides. The two Pathet Lao battalions, one after the other, escaped during the night with no shots fired, taking their equipment, families, and domestic animals with them. On 23 May, Souphanouvong and his companions also escaped unscathed.

On 28 July, Communist Vietnamese units attacked all along the North Vietnamese-Lao border. As they took ground from the Royal Lao Army, they moved in Pathet Lao as occupation troops. Poor battle performance by the RLA seemed to verify the need for further training; the RLA outnumbered the attackers, but still gave ground.

On 9 August 1960, Captain Kong Le and his Special Forces-trained Neutralist paratroop battalion were able to seize control of the administrative capital of Vientiane in a virtually bloodless coup, while Prime Minister Tiao Samsanith, government officials, and military leaders met in the royal capital, Luang Prabang. His stated aim for the coup was an end to fighting in Laos, the end of foreign interference in his country, an end to the consequent corruption caused by foreign aid, and better treatment for his soldiers. However, Kong Le’s coup did not end opposition to him, and there was a scramble among unit commanders to choose up sides. If one was not pro-coup, then he had the further decision to make as to whom he would back to counter the coup. The front runner was General Phoumi Nosavan, first cousins with the prime minister of Thailand, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. With the Central Intelligence Agency’s support, Sarit set up a covert Thai military advisory group, called Kaw Taw. Kaw Taw, which would support the counter-coup that was mounted; it supplied artillery, artillerymen, and advisers to Phoumi’s forces. It also committed the CIA-sponsored Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit to operations within Laos.

So, things that C&H conveniently forgot to mention: North Vietnam invaded Laos (!), and the Communists gained their power as lackeys for these foreign invaders (!). Although the Communists did well in the 1958 elections, they absolutely did not have a majority in government at the time, and in fact stonewalled the legitimate government. Xananikôn was elected constitutionally by the National Assembly, including the Communists. The Communists refused to stand down their armies and join the national government, and when the government tried to make them, North Vietnam invaded again, with the Communists supporting the foreign invaders. It was in this context that the Neutralists launched their coup, and Phoumi’s CIA-backed countercoup was actually in opposition to it. This is a really different story than C&H’s version. C&H never lie per se, but they leave out things as significant as a giant foreign invasion happening during the middle of the events they’re describing.

Here’s something else I found on Wikipedia: both Chomsky and Herman are considered prominent Cambodian genocide denialists:

Beginning with “Distortions at Fourth Hand”, an article published in the American left-wing periodical The Nation in June 1977, they wrote that while they did not “pretend to know […] the truth” about what was going on in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot, while reviewing material on the topic then available, “[w]hat filters through to the American public is a seriously distorted version of the evidence available”. Referring to “the extreme unreliability of refugee reports,” they noted: “Refugees are frightened and defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces. They naturally tend to report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear. While these reports must be considered seriously, care and caution are necessary. Specifically, refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter will fail to take into account.” They concluded by stating that Khmer Rouge Cambodia might be more closely comparable to “France after liberation, where many thousands of people were massacred within a few months” than to Nazi Germany.

Their book After the Cataclysm (1979), which appeared after the regime had been deposed, has been described by area specialist Sophal Ear as “one of the most supportive books of the Khmer revolution” in which they “perform what amounts to a defense of the Khmer Rouge cloaked in an attack on the media”.[9] In the book, Chomsky and Herman acknowledged that “The record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome,” but questioned their scale, which may have been inflated “by a factor of 100”. They further asserted that the evacuation of Phnom Penh “may actually have saved many lives,” Khmer Rouge agricultural policies reportedly produced “spectacular” results, and there might have been “a significant degree of peasant support for the Khmer Rouge”: “How can it be that a population so oppressed by a handful of fanatics does not rise up and overthrow them?”

Herman replied to critics in 2001: “Chomsky and I found that the very asking of questions about the numerous fabrications, ideological role, and absence of any beneficial effects for the victims in the anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda campaign of 1975–1979 was unacceptable, and was treated almost without exception as ‘apologetics for Pol Pot’.”

Many other scholars denying or doubting the character of the Khmer Rouge recanted their earlier opinions as the evidence of massive KR crimes against humanity mounted.

They touch on this issue in the book, but I have trouble figuring out what to make of it. Certainly they are outraged that anyone accuses them of denying the Cambodian genocide, and they say this is evil right-wing character assassination propaganda. They then go on to say, kind of flailingly, that also the Cambodian genocide wasn’t that bad, that all the media reports about it were lies, that it was the US’ fault anyway, that the US did worse things anyway, that Cambodia before the genocide was even worse, that America secretly loved Pol Pot and was his best friend, and also shut up shut up shut up. As far as I can get any kind of coherent thesis at all out of this, they seem to be saying they were Gettier cased; every media report of the genocide was a vile right-wing propaganda lie, but coincidentally, a genocide exactly like the one reported in the media occurred.

Herman is additionally criticized for denying the Rwandan and Srebrenica genocides, although Chomsky does not seem to be involved.

And usually I hate terms like “genocide apologist”, because very few people are actually genocide apologists so it’s usually a call to outrage aimed at riling up an angry mob against someone based on one comment they may or may not have said a long time ago.

But in the case where the entire point at issue is a book about genocide scholarship, where the thesis is “everybody else got these genocides wrong, and we are going to tell you the truth about them”, it becomes pretty important if they have a long history of getting genocides wrong.

So I take this book with a grain of salt. I think it treats the topics it covers very rigorously, but (ironically given the subject) the authors’ ability to set the agenda and choose which topics to focus on and which to omit gives them way too much power to shape the readers’ understanding of complex issues.

Do I blame C&H for this? Not exactly. As someone who’s occasionally engaged in some consensus-challenging myself, let me tell you, it’s really hard. Try being perfectly balanced, going out of your way to explain all the facts that disagree with your thesis and pointing out all the grey areas – and no one will listen to you at all. Because if people have heard all their life that A is pure good and B is total evil, and you hand them some dense list of facts suggesting that in some complicated way their picture might be off, they’ll round it off to “A is nearly pure good and B is nearly pure evil, but our wise leaders probably got carried away by their enthusiasm and exaggerated a bit, so it’s good that we have some eggheads to worry about all these technical issues.” The only way to convey a real feeling for how thoroughly they’ve been duped is to present the opposite narrative – the one saying that A is total evil and B is pure good – then let the two narratives collide and see what happens.

And this is really hard, because the same institutions who swallow the utterly bankrupt mainstream narrative whole will suddenly rediscover their skepticism and pick apart every little exaggeration and omission in the contrary narrative. This is the domain of isolated demands for rigor; suddenly no objection is too vague or philosophical, and any amount of emotion or editorializing represents a “bias” that discredits the entire work. So countercultural elements are caught between a rock and a hard place: if they stick to a minimalist stating of the most agreed-upon facts, then it’s not enough to shock people out of their prejudices; any attempt to spin a convincing narrative in the way their mainstream opponents do all the time, and they get attacked for going beyond what can be 100% incontrovertibly defended.

I think C&H handle this impossible balancing act better than most. I think Manufacturing Consent has serious issues with bias, sometimes inexcusably so, but I think its thesis survives these biases. I went into this book with more or less the attitude mentioned above: the classic story of America being great was a bit exaggerated and overenthusiastic, and in fact we did a lot of morally ambiguous things.

I came out of it with more of a primal horror that we spent a lot of the 20th century being moral monsters, and feeling like we have the same sort of indelible black mark on our name as Germany or Russia or Belgium. Whatever factors C&H may have exaggerated, and whatever exculpatory evidence they may have omitted, I doubt that any of it would fully reverse that unpleasant conclusion.

V.

Okay, but what about media bias? Wasn’t that the whole reason we got into this mess?

C&H’s case studies of foreign wars aren’t great tests for their hypothesized mechanisms of bias. Their first two mechanisms are big media corporations pushing a pro-corporate worldview, and big corporate advertisers insisting on programming that reflects well on them and their corporate activities.

And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador. It’s easy to see why they might avoid condemning oil companies in order to preserve ad revenue from Texaco, but harder to see why they would systematically underestimate casualties from US bombing missions on the Plain of Jars in Laos.

Their third mechanism, big Pentagon-style sources with press bureaus, certainly applies very well to these cases. But it doesn’t seem like it should necessarily generalize to every other type of story. When the media is covering an election, or a protest, where is the Pentagon-style source? Although C&H’s point that the police department, etc, can also be sources in this way is well-taken, this seems less pressing for a protest in Seattle than for, say, a bombing campaign in Laos, where a news source might have trouble getting Lao-speaking journalists into the midst of the carnage. Besides, what about cases where this produces the opposite bias? Might newspapers be overly friendly to regulations because they rely upon the regulatory body? What if there is a protest by a large, well-organized group that has cultivated links with the press?

Their fourth mechanism, flak machines, raise a similar issue. C&H view this as a rightist phenomenon almost by definition. They never consider the possibility that, for example, their writing an entire book saying the media is dishonest and biased might count as “flak” on their part. Any conservative criticizing the media is part of a “flak machine” intended to “keep it under control” and “destroy its independence”, but any leftist criticizing the media is bravely trying to expose its biases and bring the truth to light. This seems so obvious to them that they never even have to justify it. This is perhaps understandable in the conflict of foreign wars, where it’s more likely that would-be patriots will condemn reporting that reflects poorly on American troops, but in the context of domestic policy it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That leaves their fifth mechanism, “anti-communism as the dominant religion of our culture”, a claim which hasn’t aged well since Manufacturing Consent came out in the ’80s. Worse, C&H’s argument for this position is almost word-for-word the same argument that conservatives use to claim that “anti-racism is the dominant religion of our culture”. I’ve even heard them use the specific phrase “dominant religion”.

In their section on “worthy victims” versus “unworthy victims”, C&H describe a certain form of coverage the media reserves for the victims of Communism (section edited for length and clarity):

A. Fullness and reiteration of the details of the murder and the damage inflicted on the victim. The coverage of the Popieluszko murder was notable for the fullness of the details regarding his treatment by the police and the condition of the recovered body. What is more, these details were repeated at every opportunity. The condition of the body was described at its recovery, at the trial when the medical evidence was presented, and during the testimony of the perpetrators of the crime. At the trial, the emotional strain and guilt manifested by the police officers were described time and again, interspersed with the description of how Popieluszko pleaded for his life, and evidence of the brutality of the act…Popieluszko himself was humanized, with descriptions of his physical characteristics and personality that made him into something more than a distant victim.” In sum, the act of violence and its effects on Popieluszko were presented in such a way as to generate the maximum
emotional impact on readers. The act was vicious and deserved the
presentation it received. The acts against the unworthy victims [of US anti-Communist client states] were also vicious, but they were treated very differently.

B. Stress on indignation, shock, and demands for justice. In a large proportion of the articles on the Popieluszko murder there are quotations or assertions of outrage, indignation, profound shock, and mourning, and demands that justice be done. Steady and wholly sympathetic attention is given to demonstrators, mourners, weeping people, work stoppages, masses held in honor of the victim, and expressions of outrage, mainly by nonofficial sources. The population “continues to mourn,” “public outrage mounted,” the pope is deeply shaken, and even Jaruzelski condemns the action. The net effect of this day-in-day-out repetition of outrage and indignation was to call very forcible attention to a terrible injustice, to put the Polish government on the defensive, and, probably, to contribute to remedial action.

C. The search for responsibility at the top. In article after article, the U.S. media raised the question: how high up was the act known and approved? By our count, eighteen articles in the New York Times stressed the question of higher responsibility, often with aggressive headlines addressed to that point…

D. Conclusions and follow-up. The New York Times had three editorials on the Popieluszko case. In each it focused on the responsibility of the higher authorities and the fact that “A police state is especially responsible for the actions of its police” (“Murderous Poland:’ Oct. 30, 1984). It freely applied words like “thuggery,” “shameless,” and “crude” to the Polish state. The fact that police officers were quickly identified, tried, and convicted it attributed to the agitation at
home and abroad that put a limit on villainy. This is a good point, and one that we stress throughout this book: villainy may be constrained by intense publicity. But we also stress the corresponding importance of a refusal to publicize and the leeway this gives murderous clients under the protection of the United States and its media, where the impact of publicity would be far greater.

But of course, that describes to a “t” the media’s coverage of the Ferguson shooting. C&H include a table showing the disproportionate attention given victims of Communism compared to all other types of victims, but the amount of attention given to Ferguson blows all of the Communist murders off the chart.

Does that mean that white policemen fill the same role today that the Soviet Union did back in the 80s? I don’t know. Sure, it’s relevant white policeman killed hundreds of people before Mike Brown with nary a peep from the media. But then, it’s also relevant that Communists killed millions of people before Jerzy Popieluzsko with equally minimal response.

My point is that “anti-Communism” is probably not a uniquely religious belief, and that these “religions” can serve the left as well as the right.

So none of C&H’s five pillars of conservative media domination really seem to stand up very well, which is fine because in their conclusions section C&H switch to a different theory.

They say that the media is a profit-seeking free market, and the best way to get profits is to appeal to advertisers. And the best way to appeal to advertisers is to appeal to the population. And the population wants to hear things that tell them they are good, and their country is good, and don’t challenge or dismay them overly much. Hearing that your government just killed 50,000 Lao civilians is a real downer; hearing that the war on those nasty Commies is going well will keep viewers coming back for more.

But this represents a retreat from the book’s thesis. The media is not exactly a propaganda organ that manipulates the people to serve powerful interests. It’s a tool of the people, giving them what they want to hear – which turns out to be terrible.

And then comes the obvious question – “But, like, fifty percent of the population are liberal, right? Don’t they also get told what they want to hear?”

C&H answer this with the one story that really hammered home the book’s thesis for me: what about Watergate? The media did a great job exposing the lies and corruption of those in power; in fact, of a Republican in power. Does that disprove C&H’s thesis?

No:

The major scandal of Watergate as portrayed in the mainstream press was that the Nixon administration sent a collection of petty criminals to break into the Democratic party headquarters, for reasons that remain obscure. The Democratic party represents powerful domestic interests, solidly based in the business community. Nixon’s actions were therefore a scandal. The Socialist Workers party, a legal political party, represents no powerful interests. Therefore, there was no scandal when it was revealed, just as passions over Watergate reached their zenith, that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade, a violation of democratic principle far more extensive and serious than anything charged during the Watergate hearings.

History has been kind enough to contrive for us a “controlled experiment” to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media reached its peak. The answer is clear and precise: powerful groups are capable of defending themselves, not surprisingly; and by media standards, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened. By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are confined to marginal groups or distant victims of U.S. military attack, or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is muted or absent altogether.) This is why Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the watchdog only barked when he began to threaten the privileged.

So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.

This is a new theory, quite different from the five points about corporatism that started the book, and it seems to resolve the paradox of both right and left seeing media bias. The media enforces conformity with the Overton window against both the right and left flanks. Both the rightward and leftward fringes notice the same set of dirty tricks in the media, and describe them in almost exactly the same terms. Thus both sides complain about the other being a “dominant religion”, both sides complain that both major parties are part of the same con, both sides complain that the media restricts debate to a narrow range of acceptable opinion, etc.

And both sides are shouted down in the same terms, too. When the far right complains about the media, academia, and bureaucracy being ranged against them, they get called conspiracy theorists. I myself somewhat hastily made this claim in section 3.2 of my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. More recently, Topher Hallquist makes a similar claim, classily adding that any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association.

Chomsky and Herman are aware of this attack, and begin by saying:

Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as “conspiracy theories”, but this is merely an evasion. We do not use any kind of “conspiracy” hypothesis to explain mass-media performance. In fact, our treatment is much closer to a “free market” analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces. Most biased choices in media arise form the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power.

And later:

As we have stressed throughout this book, the U.S. media do not function in the manner of the propaganda system of a totalitarian state. Rather, they permit-indeed, encourage-spirited debate, criticism, and dissent, as long as these remain faithfully within the system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus, a system so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness.

I find many smart people, both on the right and the left, say something similar about this same self-organizing consensus enforcement system. Their disagreements about its position seem to be entirely matters of perspective; to a Mexican, America is a northern nation; to a Canadian, it’s a southern one. But despite this substantial agreement and the rivers of ink spilled on the matter, they always describe it in the vaguest of terms, in a style ranging somewhere between “non-technical” and “paranoid”.

If we want to understand politics, I feel like one of the most important subgoals is to figure out the precise ways in which these sorts of alignments arise – in other words, how class warfare solves its coordination problems without most of the people involved being aware of what they’re doing or holding any explicitly sinister thoughts.

I don’t think Manufacturing Consent does much to solve this problem and explain the real nature of the system. But it certainly illuminates one otherwise-easily-neglected corner of it, and offers a window on some of its tricks and on some of the sins it has to answer for.

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942 Responses to Book Review: Manufacturing Consent

  1. Samuel Skinner says:

    “And both sides are shouted down in the same terms, too.”

    It is my understanding that the size of the two sides complaining about this is different. The left complaining about this is much less mainstream than the portion of the right that complains about this. I think it is less due to the size of the bias (good luck measuring that) and more due to the type of bias- the media is very socially liberal, cosmopolitan and arrogant and this is much more noticeable then failing to cover as intensively (like foreign affairs or labor).

    • BBA says:

      The national media’s bias is, above all else, pro-political establishment, the stuff of Georgetown cocktail parties. This largely manifests as a left-wing bias because there’s a much bigger cultural gap between the Republican establishment and its voting base than between their Democratic counterparts. But it’s not exclusively left-wing. For one thing, the DC press corps is generally pro-war, regardless of what the war is or what partisan views of it are. If you’re a reporter or pundit, a war means that people are more likely to pay attention to the news (and therefore you) and it means more business and attention for your friends who work at military contractors and foreign policy think tanks. That’s a big break from the rest of the left.

      • Irenist says:

        +1000, BBA.

        The US establishment (I’m Catholic, so “the Cathedral” strikes me as the dumbest, most historically inept name Moldy could’ve chosen for reasons which follow) does, indeed, enforce its own Overton Window. How does this play out? (N.B., I disagree with the media on some of this, and agree on some of it. I’m laying out all their views with maximum sarcastic contempt just to make the Chomskyan “they’re a Borg!” point, is all.)

        1. Foreign Policy: Serious People support whatever the CIA/Pentagon deep state feels like doing today. The whole American Establishment is American, so there just isn’t going to be much disagreement here. Establishments in Europe will be different, and American academia (which has no power to affect foreign policy) will probably do a bunch of virtue signalling on Facebook or Tumblr, but the media will be pretty lockstep on supporting the “freedom fighters” in Libya or whatever stupid thing the Empire wants to do today. (The Deep State is much better at golfing with media buddies than running its Global Empire. They’re both powerful and incompetent. Which ruins all the conspiracy theories, but there you go.)
        2. Immigration: Serious People know we need more young workers, and anybody who “thinks different” is racist.
        3. Marriage Equality and Caitlyn Jenner, etc: The Civil Rights Movement of Our Time. Anyone who disagrees probably has a poster of Boss Hogg in their bedroom. Also, did you see yesterday’s “Ellen” and last night’s “Glee”? SO uplifting! **N.B., prior to The Sixties, this worked EXACTLY the opposite way: Steppinfetchit was dumb, loved him some watermelon, and was eager to please if you kept him out of trouble with a Stern Hand, while Father Knows Best and This is a Christian Nation Fighting Atheist Communism. This is THE biggest 180 degree pair of flips in the media consensus, and a lot of people (race realists on the first, conservative Christians on the second, Pat Buchanan on both) are still REALLY mad about it, and will keep refighting it until all the Boomers (Chomsky, e.g.? Is he a Boomer? He seems not to have gotten the 180 degree flip memo) die and the younger reactionaries grow up just assuming that the media is against them and there is no Moral Majority to appeal to, so they’d better follow Dreher’s “Benedict Option” and have a reactionary commune in the hills, just like the hippies had to before they conquered the culture.**
        4. Abortion: Obviously, the Gosnell story is “just a local story.” But the GOP is a major national party, so we’d better humor them and cover those PP videos and tsking a few times. But it’s just for the rubes. Pointing out inconvenient Choice Facts (Freakonomics arguments about crime) or inconvenient Life Facts (most pre-Roe back-alley abortion deaths were due to a lack of antibiotics, and the rate would be MUCH lower today) is either RACIST or, um, might spoil the party scene at Ivy U, so nope, nope, nope.
        5. Usury: It’s a good thing. Individual iBankers are bastards, though. It’s okay to hate them if you’re a Yale journalism major. David Brooks will explain for you why you hate them SO MUCH (tl;dr: they have nicer houses and hotter wives). But you can only hate usurers in an “SEC should go after Goldman” way, or a Vox Card Stack About Payday Lending way, not in a Leninist or reactionary (esp. reactionary anti-Semite) way that would involve doing something about usury systematically.

        The media is mostly on the same side with all of those, FOX sometimes excepted on 1&3, and liberal media excepted when a Republican wants to go to war–but only after the war has begun, not during the run-up. So that’s boring. But there’s MORE boring to come!

        The Overton Window also allows some boring, interminable *internecine disagreements*:
        1. Corporate capitalism with redistributive entitlements is the Obvious Correct Answer, and socialists, distributists, and full-on libertarians are all crackpots. But should we raise taxes on the rich to fund more entitlements, or trim entitlement because of the big, bad deficit? Well, depending on whether you got a PhD in English at Yale or an MBA at Wharton, you will have passionately differing feelings about this, and you may loudly have an intra-Establishment squabble about it with Moloch’s blessing: you do not threaten class coordination around Corporate welfare capitalism, and you can all still play golf together and go to both Ezra Klein’s and Megan McArdle’s weddings, should you feel so inclined.
        2. Bloombergism: Should we stop proles from drinking big sodas, or let them kill themselves, the fat idiots? Who cares? They’re proles!No real consequences for our cocktail parties follow, so hash it out disinterestedly based on abstract principles you’ve read about in insight porn at Vox or Reason, like behavioral economics and the noble liberty of Jeffersonian yeomen.
        3. Environment: English or Business major? Petroleum Geologist or Interpretive Dancer? Koch or Soros? Coke or Pepsi? Have fun fighting it out, kids.
        4. Crime: Structural racism, or THOSE people? Probably structural racism: it’s not like iSteve’s in-laws who got run out Detroit are anchoring the NBC Nightly News, so nobody is going to have any lived experience here. Still, be sure to keep the nutballs outside our Overton Window: no martial law in the inner city (that’s racist!) and no academic advocates of prison abolitionism (sure, it’s our own private Gulag Archipelago, but replacing the whole system with ankle bracelet-monitored house arrest is too obvious an idea to appeal to people who work in the media).
        5. Drugs: I smoked weed at Harvard, you smoked weed at Yale, we can all chill about weed. Hard drugs? I guess, if you work at Reason. And sure, crack sentencing disparities were obviously planned by Boss Hogg, not supported by black community leaders in the middle of crime wave. But the key point here is to make sure that we don’t mention that Latin American bloodbaths nowadays are almost ENTIRELY the fault of the US prohibition regime, and also don’t allow people in favor of morals legislation for its own sake to get a hearing to challenge the libertarian Harm Principle, sacred to Rawls and Nozick, Klein and McArdle alike. Because obviously, someone who has read enough Plato to know that “returning his loaned sword to a suicidal madman does him no favors” and connect that to an argument for continuing Prohibition because Hard Drugs Make You Dysfunctional is probably an illiterate hillbilly unworthy of airtime.

        Yeah. So anyway, I’m a seamless garment Catholic (cultural reactionary, economic left-radical). So, shockingly enough, I think the media is, through non-conspiracy Moloch-type reasons involving golf and cocktail parties and legacy admissions, 100% biased against my purple tribe. Which I’m sure is indeed a bias, and I’m missing something. But it gives me an easy answer to the “class coordination” question if I feel like Moloch isn’t enough: obviously, Satan himself is the Molochian puppeteer subtly pulling the principalities’ and powers’ strings. (I don’t actually think this. Mostly.) But, anyhoo, given that the US Establishment (coporate welfarist in economics, contra solidarity and subsidiarity alike; libertine in culture) is 180 degrees from what I consider to be orthodox Catholic seamless garment social teaching, Moldy, bless his Jewish WASP heart, really, really, screwed up when he called it “the Cathedral.” As “Mad Men” and “Downtown Abbey” teach us, Jewish WASPs can write Jewish WASPs really well, but they think Catholic ethnics are named “Peggy Olson” (that’s a midwestern Lutheran name) or “Tom Branson” (better, but still could’ve used an O or Mac), and think that the WASP/Jewish Ivy League Establishment is best named “the Cathedral” which, just, facepalm. (No, WASPs and Jews aren’t Satanic. If rightists killed my whole family in an oven, I’d be a Cultural Marxist, too. That’s just human nature. Also, Actual Calvinists (not UUs, Moldy) and Orthodox Jews often have similar values as I do. It’s NOT ethnic, except as historical accident with no racial component.)

        ETA: Actually, us seamless garment Catholics LOVE us some Mexican immigration. And so does the media! So there you go. Not Satanic, and I’m not oppressed. Glad I caught that.

        ETA2: Speaking as an Autodidactic Internet Crackpot myself, I think MM’s problem is the usual AIC problem that presumably afflicts my writing in places that by definition I’m prevented by Dunning-Kruger from noticing effectively unless I try REALLY hard: uneven self-education. This bedevils EY’s writing on philosophy (the since departed anonymous LW commenter who called his treatment of Aristotle “the strawmanniest thing since Straw Man came to Straw Town” is like a personal hero for me at this point), and it bedevils MM whenever he steps out of the standard stuffy WASP Carlylean territory. Post-1500s North Atlantic? MM’s got it. Comparisons of that to exotically Far ruins of Roman or Hindustani decadence that Brits enjoy contemplating? Sure, MM can do that. But the Middle Ages? Ironically enough, MM labors under a Whiggish, UUish unthinking disinterest in them, and ends up getting his idea of what a Cathedral symbolizes from an essay about Linux! That’s like getting your idea about the antebellum South from Tumblr, Moldy. It doesn’t get much more Black Legendy and Whiggish w/r/t to taking a dim view of papists than a Discordian-sympthizing anarcho-libertarian SSC commenter (Hi, ESR!), and the whole Cathedral/Bazaar metaphor depends for its force ENTIRELY on a background assumption that the Catholic Church kept Latin Bibles chained in churches so no one could read the source code, which is total BS straight out of Whig Protestant propaganda. But if you’re an AIC, you’re going to make mistakes like this, and they’re going to be facepalmy, and you’re going to be totally unable to see it even if somebody calls you on it. Me, too, I’m sure, but what am I gonna do?

        ETA3: TL;DR: There’s media bias, and crackpot bias. We’re all biased. Whatever it’s other faults, that’s why I love the rationality movement: Socratic admission of that.

        • 27chaos says:

          Your list of media biases gives reasons that the establishment would support a consensus on a certain issue. And your list of things that the media fights about gives reasons that the establishment would allow for disagreement on certain issues. But both look like they’re rationalizations to me, in that their arguments are weak and only correct due to the power of hindsight. Based on abstract reasoning, I find it hard to see why, for example, the establishment would have a strong consensus on immigration, yet lack a strong consensus on the environment. Both have important economic implications, after all. So I think you’re presenting a non-explanation here.

          • Irenist says:

            Pardon the lack of clarity. I was just doing natural history (description, “stamp collecting” per Feynman) not theorizing about causes (science, “physics” per Feynman). I don’t think there’s much more mechanism than “this is what fancypants Acela/Bay Area types tend to think.”

            SSC commenter iSteve (Hi!) will draw your attention to Carlos Slim, but I think that any “conspiracy”-style effect there would just be gilding the lily: coastal elites hire nannies and lawn guys and pool cleaners, and megacorps want cheap labor. Elites don’t live cheek by jowl with immigrants who end up bringing civil disorder (whether they do varies, of course, but if they do, elites don’t live near it). Elites aren’t competing for jobs at WalMart with immigrants OR for jobs as Congressional aides or elite journos with immigrants. Coders are, but a lot of NRx guys and iSteve readers come from that aggrieved group. But journos? Think tankers? Fareed Zakaria and Reihan Salaam aren’t really a threat to their jobs, and Juan the Undocumented Landscaper sure isn’t. Add in anti-racism in elite academia, and the only causal problem is that it’s overdetermined: there’s TONS of reasons why elites would be pro-immigrant, but only Tea Party populists playing on white resentment are going to be elite pols who go anti-immigrant. Not journos as a caste.

            As for the environment? Oil Corps are powerful, and academia is green. There are rich elites on both sides. That’s simple, too.

            Think about things that would negatively impact elite business interests but not proles. Roll back US hegemony so we don’t run NATO and don’t control Chinese sea lanes. That probably hits trade a bit. Serious People all oppose it. Libertarians and Paleocons and Socialists who want to end US empire are treated as clowns.

            Free trade, similar deal: outside campus activist circles (Nader/Bernie), anti-free trade populism doesn’t exist much outside Buchanan/Trump white grievance populism. And both Nader and Buchanan, Bernie and Trump, are treated as jokes by elite journos.

            People are motivated reasoners. Within the parameters of their Overton Window (more taxes on rich people who make more than journos, or benefit cuts for poor people who make less than journos?), elite journos are going to settle on opinions that don’t threaten elite journos. That seems to me like a sort of null hypothesis, given human cognitive biases. I think you’d only need an explanation if they DIDN’T do that (say, wrote lots of think pieces about how information wants to be free and journalism should be all-volunteer like Wikipedia).

          • Banananon says:

            @Irenist

            The quote you were looking for is not a Feynman quote. It is attributed to Ernest Rutherford, discoverer of protons. All science is either physics or stamp collecting

          • Irenist says:

            Thanks, Banananon!

          • vV_Vv says:

            Based on abstract reasoning, I find it hard to see why, for example, the establishment would have a strong consensus on immigration, yet lack a strong consensus on the environment. Both have important economic implications, after all.

            All of the establishment benefits from cheap labor, while some of the establishment (e.g. oil companies, car manufacturers) benefits from lax environmental regulation, while some other part of the establishment (e.g. green tech companies) benefits from strict environmental regulation and environmental subsides.

        • Deiseach says:

          Given that the Chomsky-Herman book (in the extracts Scott gives) talks about an anti-Communist bias, it is obviously of its time and a little dated (does anyone think we are still fighting over Communism right now?)

          But the fact remains, I think, that Americans liked to think they had a particular model of the press separate from the European “advocacy” model (e.g. in England, you can see that the “Daily Mail” is very Tory verging on UKIP, the “Guardian” is reliably Liberal, papers like the “Daily Mirror” started off as pro-Labour but were turned into tabloids and now stand for whatever the whim of the proprietor is) and I don’t think that was ever really true. It’s very flattering to think you had a “just the facts” model of disinterested journalism that was free of editorial interference by the owners, but I don’t think that ever happened.

          The media are owned by big conglomerates and, as Scott says Chomsky-Herman say, “The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy”.

          What they don’t take into account is that socially liberal is not the same as economically liberal. You can be all for women in the workplace, yeah baby, now you’re an independent woman earning your own living and you’re not reliant on any man! But as our own Minister for Finance says, that’s because you want to grow the economy and you want to get women into the labour market because that keeps wages down:

          Another senior government official warned: “If you have a shortage of labour to meet the demand, it will push up wages and create less-competitive environment.”

          Contraception and abortion? Sure! After all, once you have those women working, it’s very inconvenient if they’re off having babies (we’ve had comments on here defending how t it’s perfectly fine if people on assembly lines are monitored and restricted in their use of toilet breaks, because holding up the line means less productive means less profitable, so don’t try and argue with me that no, it’s fine to have a woman out of work for three to six months).

          Gay marriage? Look at all the pasta manufacturers, and indeed all the other businesses, that leaped on opportunities to show how fully supportive of same-sex marriage and gay rights they are! It’s a market, they can gain a share of it, so wave those rainbow flags!

          And none of those causes need interfere with making a profit under capitalism. Why would Chomsky expect them to? Apart from the ancient 60s idealism where they were all part of the same package, a kinder, gentler, richer, liberated world. Not so.

          Print media right now is undergoing a severe cutback, because nobody reads dead-tree editions and nobody relies on them as the old model of the source of news and truth; you go online instead and read six different blogs or newsfeeds or Twitter. How many campaigning journalists are writing Pulitzer-candidate series on strong pro-union movements? As distinct from worrying about their jobs and trying not to rock the boat?

          • Irenist says:

            “socially liberal is not the same as economically liberal.”
            +1000.

            Libertarianism and Catholicism (so-con, anti-neoliberal) are consistent ideologies. GOP fusionism, not so much.

          • Sastan says:

            I has a nit to pick! This underlies many of these arguments, so I think it much repays some scrutiny.

            “The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy”.

            Exactly where do people get the frankly ludicrous idea that what large corporations want is unrestrained capitalism? Isn’t the goal of every company to gain a monopoly? That’s why we have all those anti-trust laws! Every corporation wants to dilute competition, to use the power of government to hinder their competitors, and to gain protection and rents from the public purse. This is obvious, and further scrutiny bears it out.

            Wal Mart is plumping for a large raise in the minimum wage! Why? Not because they love their workers and have totally changed their minds about being a massive heartless international corporation, but because they think they can bear the extra cost better than their competitors. This drives them out of business, and then WM can jack up prices!

            Look at what corporations actually lobby for, and you will find it is never “unrestrained capitalism”.

            The idea that this is the mechanism that magically makes a profession so left-skewed crank out right-wing propaganda is totally unfounded.

          • Irenist says:

            @Sastan:

            Good point. Libertarianism is a consistent *ideology* but the media is not libertarian. The Establishment is about regulatory capture and corporate welfare, and media squabbles about entitlement levels or whether $imperial war has gone on too long and we should leave are not allowed to disrupt those basic tenets. Libertarian rhetoric is used opportunistically to support getting women into the workplace, the allowability of using sex to market everything, and the illusion that corporate welfare = unrestrained capitalism. But actual consistent libertarianism? You’re quite right that’s not the journo consensus.

          • PGD says:

            Sastan, the thing you are missing is that economies of scale are really powerful, so by and large and most of the time unrestrained capitalism works to the benefit of large entities. Particularly in the short to medium term. Restraining competition would be like a kind of nice extra, but having the government take your money and control what you can do is the first-order threat to the economic elite. (Another first order threat is having the government force you to negotiate with organized labor). And anti-trust laws are very weak — another thing the press doesn’t pay much attention to.

            Irenist, you are rocking this thread.

          • “so by and large and most of the time unrestrained capitalism works to the benefit of large entities.”

            That doesn’t seem to be true. Large entities are more visible than small, so an industry with a few large firms gets more attention than one with many small.

            As I pointed out about forty years ago:

            “We rarely consider such industries as the restaurant and bar business, domestic service, or the manufacture of textiles and apparel, each of which is highly competitive and each of which employs more people than iron, steel, and automobile manufacturing combined.”

            I haven’t checked, but I expect it’s still true. There are some industries where physical economies of scale are important up to a large scale, many in which they are not—at which point administrative diseconomies, more layers between the boss and the factory floor, limit the efficient size.

          • vV_Vv says:

            We rarely consider such industries as the restaurant and bar business

            Like McDonald’s and Starbucks?

            … the manufacture of textiles and apparel

            Done in some mega-factories in China.

            Some business sectors dominated by small companies operating in a highly competitive market still exist (possibly your domestic service example still applies), but the economy of developed countries is by large dominated by large corporations operating in oligopoly or monopoly regimes, and the trend is increasing.

          • Sastan says:

            @PGD,

            Then we should see industry groups opposing regulation at every turn! And while we do see them opposing regulation meant to stamp out their entire industry (see the EPA’s new coal regulations), they usually support regulation aimed at their sector. For instance, all the talk about sticking it to the insurance companies with the ACA was BS. All the insurance companies were lobbying in favor of the law! What’s not to like? The government mandated that people buy their products, and then guaranteed their profit margins!

            Add in the prospect of regulatory capture (especially in the financial services sector) and you begin to get the feel for the trend. If your theory doesn’t fit reality, you need to make adjustments. “Unrestrained capitalism” doesn’t exist anywhere, and businesses aren’t interested in trying to get closer to it. They are interested in using regulation to gain competitive advantage.

          • vV_Vv writes: “and the trend is increasing”

            That’s a common assertion–do you have evidence?

            I don’t know that it isn’t true. But I know that the claim has been made in the past when it wasn’t, in part because large firms are more visible than small.

            You mention McDonald’s. McDonald’s 2013 revenue, worldwide, was about seven billion. Total restaurant sales in the U.S. alone that year were 659 billion. I don’t think a firm with market share of under one percent counts as a monopoly. Starbucks is actually a little bigger—worldwide revenue in 2013 of 14.9 billion.

            And it’s worth noting that a lot of chains—I don’t know about McDonald’s and Starbucks in particular—are not really a single firm but one large firm providing brand name and various inputs to a lot of small firms. There is a motel we have stayed at several times at one end of our usual summer trip. The sign still reads Microtel, but it actually left that chain a few years back, I think is independent at this point or perhaps part of a mini-chain of a few motels.

          • Nornagest says:

            And it’s worth noting that a lot of chains—I don’t know about McDonald’s and Starbucks in particular—are not really a single firm but one large firm providing brand name and various inputs to a lot of small firms.

            Mickey’s owns about a third of its restaurants and franchises the rest, if I remember right. I’m under the impression that Starbucks doesn’t do franchises.

            Generally speaking, franchise-oriented organization doesn’t seem to be as popular now as it was in the late 20th century. It was the thing in fast food for a long time, for example, but up-and-coming chains In-N-Out and Five Guys are centrally owned. (Whataburger, the other chain I’d put into that general category, is franchised, but the number of franchisees is fairly small.)

        • onyomi says:

          Strongly agree and think this also explains a lot of the appeal of Trump: the voters of both parties, but especially of the GOP, have finally woken up to the fact that the establishment GOP would rather an acceptable democrat like Obama win than an unacceptable Republican like Ron Paul or perhaps even Mike Huckabee win. Really, Obama or Hillary are going to do less to create problems for John Boehner than would a crazy evangelical or libertarian. In fact, railing against an uncooperative president is probably much easier for Boehner and McConnel than actually doing something. Like Scott pointed out recently, Trump’s advantage is precisely that the establishment keeps hating on him so visibly and vocally.

          Perhaps Trump has figured out a way to game the media-establishment system: do or say something which will look like a disastrous scandal to pounce on from the perspective of the media, but which will not bother or even please your supporters. You get free publicity and bonus points for being hated by the establishment. What ultimately prevented Ron Paul from going further than he did was a concerted effort by the media to ignore him, not the stories and reports detailing how unacceptable he was. Those probably helped him, on net. Sarah Palin managed this to some extent, but Trump seems to have taken it to a whole new level.

          • Irenist says:

            Lots of good points about Trump here. I think he’s a classic populist Caesar figure, akin to Napoleon III in France or Peron in Argentina. Not that I think he has a coup or anything. Just that he’s kind of got the American version of a “ressentiment” coalition going.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Trump needs to watch out: in the end, every elm must meet its beetle, every chestnut must meet its worm, and every Huey Long has an appointment with Dr. Weiss.

          • Richard Gadsden says:

            Trump is a Poujadist – Irenist is completely right (though he’s the elected variant).

        • Deiseach says:

          As “Mad Men” and “Downtown Abbey” teach us, Jewish WASPs can write Jewish WASPs really well

          “Downton Abbey” is created by Julian Fellowes (or as I suppose I should refer to him, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford) who is ethnically English Catholic (e.g. he went to Ampleforth), married to the niece of an earl (since deceased), and drenched in snobbery 🙂

          • Irenist says:

            Well, I stand corrected. Still, Branson? Perfectly cromulent, but sounds too much like Richard Branson.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think I must be one of six people in the British Isles who never watched “Downton Abbey” 🙂

            I can’t off the top of my head think of any Irish Bransons, but for someone from the east coast (that is, within the Pale) it wouldn’t necessarily be an unlikely surname, and I suppose Fellowes should get some credit for going beyond the easy “Paddy O’Murphy” type naming, although there may be some snobbery going on as well here if Tom Branson was marrying into the gentry; changing her name to Lady Sybil Branson is acceptable, Lady Sybil Paddy O’Leprechaun less so 🙂

        • Deiseach says:

          I agree about the dissonance whenever I read the phrase “the Cathedral”, an image of Chartres or the like pops into my head and I have to go “No, that’s not what he’s talking about at all” 🙂

        • aerdeap says:

          “(I’m Catholic, so “the Cathedral” strikes me as the dumbest, most historically inept name Moldy could’ve chosen for reasons which follow)”

          You’re right, although I don’t think Moldbug is entirely to blame.

          • Irenist says:

            Yeah, in an ETA, I specifically blame Moldy for not knowing enough to not get his medieval metaphors from ESR.

          • A medieval cathedral, as I understand it, had an actual designer, although, given how long it took to build some of them, he might be dead and a successor implementing or modifying his design long before it was done. ESR’s distinction was between that and a decentralized system like a marketplace. Roughly Hayek’s old distinction between an organization and a self-generating order.

            So what do you think Eric got wrong?

          • Irenist says:

            Cathedrals were often collective works, with local craftsmen over the decades they took to build adding their own ideas for what the gargoyles ought to look like or whatever, just as you allude to. They were, in a way, their own kind of organic order. Something like a pyramid might’ve been a stronger image for ESR. Or a castle, if he wanted to stay medieval. But a Cathedral tended to be a community project. It was sort of like a barn-raising, although of course with episcopal impetus. It had a design–just like a barn–but setting it in opposition to self-generating order like a bazaar just feels off.

            More to the point w/r/t Moldbug, his “Cathedral” is not the product of design at all–it’s a Moloch-mediated phenomenon of unconscious biases and market incentives and so forth. So why did he pick that image again?

          • ryan says:

            @Irenist

            It’s based in American Protestant anti-Catholic bias. A Cathedral is a place where a bunch of religious leaders hang out and keep the masses in control. Moldbug needed a name for the controlling apparatus of the American progressive religion.

            At least that’s my take. I recall reading him saying that he just kind of thought it sounded cool.

        • Mary says:

          “If rightists killed my whole family in an oven, I’d be a Cultural Marxist, too. ”

          If you were a Cultural Marxist already, you would think that the people who killed were, despite being National Socialists, rightists. Because Uncle Joe said so.

          You can’t blame their support on an interpretation they would have accepted only if they already supported it.

          • Irenist says:

            Sure. But take the typical iSteve narrative: Long before Hitler, cohesive traditionalist cultures are snobby racist jerks to Jews. You get a few establishmentarians (Disraeli, e.g.), but most intellectuals of Jewish heritage in Europe and America (e.g., Marx, Boas, Freud, Marcuse) do the normal human thing and figure that if traditional cohesive cultures are going to treat them like garbage, then screw traditional cohesive cultures. (Note this is much more irritating for assimilationist intellectuals than for Schlomo in the shtetl: he’s too busy surviving to worry about not getting invited to the right cocktail parties). In particular, you start to see the “cultural Marxist” emphasis on racial non-diversity, traditional religion, traditional sexual mores, etc., all being bunk, because, again screw traditional cohesive cultures.

            Now, Hitler being a crackpot, he thought Jewish bankers, Trotsky, some peasant in a shtetl, and those intellectuals I mentioned were all on the same team, which is obviously stupid: like most humans in wildly different milieux, they rarely thought about each other, but if they did, the narcissism of small differences would’ve made them hate each other’s guts precisely to the extent they did happen to have anything in common.

            Anyway, Hitler’s actual reason (being a racist crackpot) isn’t very actionable (except in a general anti-racist way, and that’s a big part of Boasian cultural Marxism) but Hitler’s ostensible reason (“you’re all a bunch of decadents!”) served to identify him with the right. Was he kind of a socialist? Sure. But he talked like a traditionalist, and that did a lot to discredit traditionalism for Jewish heritage intellectuals who had already been trending against it since the Haskalah anyway.

            So you’re right that it was more the final nail in the coffin than the start of the beef between CMs and trads, but I think it obviously escalated it. Now, Hitler was no trad. But given outgroup homogeneity, I bet he looked like a trad to Herbert Marcuse!

          • Mary says:

            Have you read Thomas Sowell on middlemen minorities? All of whom are indeed prone to Marxism.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “If you were a Cultural Marxist already, you would think that the people who killed were, despite being National Socialists, rightists. Because Uncle Joe said so.” Yes, and obviously, due to leading a party that was called Liberal Democrats, Vladimir Zhirinovsky was and is a liberal and a democrat.

            Nazis were called rightists because their policy was a more extreme version of the sort of nationalism that characterised the European Right generally at a time, because they were violently against the concept of class struggle, because they cooperated with other parties of the Right in getting into power and because, when in power, they implemented a policy that favored capitalists mightily, up until their overriding goal of extreme nationalism took them into a war where Germany was crushed. Stalin had relatively do with this designation.

          • PGD says:

            The Nazis were right wing, period, end of story. The European right didn’t spend their time arguing about marginal tax rates, they spent their time killing communists and fighting a bolshevik takeover. Which was what the Nazi Party was all about from the moment it was formed in the 1920s. The ‘socialist’ stuff was helpful in getting worker support and did not contradict being a far-right party in the country where the ‘Iron Chancellor’ Otto Von Bismark invented social security.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Well. That settles that. And of course people with similar basic ideologies never get into internal power struggles, so I really don’t see a way out of that.

          • “The European right didn’t spend their time arguing about marginal tax rates, they spent their time killing communists and fighting a bolshevik takeover.”

            Which was right wing, Trotsky or Stalin?

          • Mary says:

            Nazis were called rightists because their policy was a more extreme version of the sort of nationalism that characterised the European Right generally at a time,

            That is accepting Stalin’s view that leftism must be international.

            Purported view. In reality, the Soviet Union was frequently brutally nationalistic. Are they rightists?

            because they were violently against the concept of class struggle,

            If you mean they wanted to get the classes working together in big happy corporate blocks, instead of struggling, yes, but then Marxists were also out to destroy class struggle.

            because they cooperated with other parties of the Right in getting into power and

            You do remember it was Lenin who said that the capitalists who would sell the communists the rope to hang them with?

            because, when in power, they implemented a policy that favored capitalists mightily

            Be more specific.

            They also implemented many, many, many leftist programs.

          • Mary says:

            “Which was right wing, Trotsky or Stalin?

            Trotsky of course. Uncle Joe said so.

            He conspired with Hitler, you know.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “You do remember it was Lenin who said that the capitalists who would sell the communists the rope to hang them with?”

            The Nazis did not hang the capitalists, either literally or metaphorically. They might have hanged some Jewish capitalists, though, but that was because they were Jewish, not because they were capitalists. http://www.ub.edu/graap/nazi.pdf

            Regarding the class thing, the difference is that Communists wanted to abolish the class struggle by moving to a society where there would be no classes any more, while the Nazis wanted to move to a society where there would be classes but they would work in a harmonious co-existence (which, in practice, of course would mean, and meant, the continuation of the basic social relations of the capitalist society.) The big contradiction between the Left and the Right in the 1930s was that the Left put the class before the nation and the Right the nation before the class; it is, and was, pretty clear to any observer what the Communists were and what the Nazis where on that standard.

          • Nita says:

            That is accepting Stalin’s view that leftism must be international.

            What? Stalin’s most famous ideological contribution is publicly rejecting that view.

            Yes, some anti-Semitic parties were nominally socialist, like the Nazis and the Christian Social Party, but apparently their hatred of Jews was stronger than their hatred of “big capital”, as they promptly allied with the right-wing coalition against both moderate and radical leftists.

          • “Communists wanted to abolish the class struggle by moving to a society where there would be no classes any more”

            It’s worth distinguishing between communism in theory and in practice. As the Soviet Union actually functioned, it was a class society in which the apparatchiks were the upper class—a small first world elite in a large third world population. I don’t know if anyone has a decent proxy measure of inequality that could be applied to both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but I wouldn’t be astonished if Russia was the more unequal of the two.

          • Nornagest says:

            I wouldn’t call the Nazis rightist in present-day terms, not in any meaningful way — they were anticommunist and deeply invested in the aesthetics of tradition, but that’s about as far as the parallels go. Nationalism isn’t specifically right-wing and neither is racism, unless you’re already busy demonizing the Right.

            But I also wouldn’t say that the “Socialist” in their name was very indicative. It’s historically significant, but after Hitler and especially after 1933 it had little ideological significance, unless you want to view it in terms of a commitment to populism rather than leftist economics per se. Which isn’t totally unreasonable in context.

          • Irenist says:

            This whole subthread is my fault for referring to Nazis as “rightists” in an off-hand way I wasn’t thinking very much about when I wrote it. Reading over what’s followed, a lot of this seems to be in the territory EY identifies in his “Disputing Definitions” post in the Sequences. Do deaf Nazis make a “sound” in the forest if no one is there to hear them? Who cares? The underlying problem is the insistence on modeling politics as a simple left-right continuum, or even with exactly two axes (economics and culture) like the Nolan Chart. Italian fascism was really sui generis, combining lots of traditionally right wing stuff (making nice with the Vatican and the monarchy, revanchism, imperialism) with “left” stuff like futurism/modernism as an aesthetic, and some other stuff that came from Mussolini’s leftist days. Then the Nazis came along and created an even more idiosyncratic version of THAT, what with the fanatical racism and the neopagan and occult obsessions. Meanwhile, you have guys in Iberia like Franco and Salazar who are usually grouped as fascists, but who have more of a reactionary, clericalist, Latin American “authoritarian” vibe than a classic Italy/Germany-style “totalitarian” vibe. It’s really important to simplify things for tractable modeling. I get that. But this whole “pin Nazi guilt on the other guy” game is just kind of a time waster. The Nazis were just Nazis, and neither of the major postwar political groupings (GOP/neoliberal or Dem/soc-dem) nor any of the larger alternative formulations (libertarianism, Christian democracy, “libertarian socialism” and the post-Soviet far left, etc.) or even us cranks no one has heard of (distributists) are Nazis. Nazis were just, well, Nazis. It’s like having an argument over whether a platypus is a marsupial or a placental mamal: neither. It’s its own thing.

            ETA: Around when the Nazis were getting started, eugenics was still thought of a “progressive” thing. Obviously, it’s not usually thought of that way now, except by us cranky pro-lifers who enjoy pointing it out all the time. Anyhow, it’s a further argument that trying to categorize the Nazis as left or right is more about point-scoring than disinterested political science inquiry, at least in most places where it comes up as a topic.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “What? Stalin’s most famous ideological contribution is publicly rejecting that view. ”

            Socialism in one country is the belief the USSR could survive without a worldwide communist revolution and develop down the path to true communism even before the global revolution. It is not a rejection of the idea of worldwide proletarian revolution, just a tactical retreat.

        • At a minor tangent, what do you mean by “usury?” The medieval view, Christian and Muslim, was that any loan at interest was usury. In the modern context, it usually means “unreasonably high interest.” What does it mean to a modern seamless garment Catholic?

          • Irenist says:

            Great question. BTW: I just want to say that, although you and I come from rather strongly opposed worldviews, every one of my interactions with you has been, for me, an experience of you being polite, inquisitive, and charitable. Just want to say a huge THANKS for that. You are what is good on the Internet, Dr. Friedman.

            Anyway, usury:

            First, what is usury? It is not, as some suppose, charging interest on a loan. Rather, it is charging interest on a non-productive loan. What does that mean? Well, we can lend money for production or for consumption; we can lend money to start a business (or expand one) or to finance current consumption, such as buying a hamburger (which is now commonly put on plastic.)

            When money is lent for a productive enterprise, the lender is entitled to a share of the rewards, since he also shares in the risk. The loan will then be liquidated by the success of the enterprise, or will be written off with the failure of the enterprise. But in either case there will be no additional burdens, hence no “usury,” that is, no “using up” the stock of society.

            But if the loan produces nothing, then nothing can be charged for the loan, or else it is a simply wealth transfer rather than real growth. The scholastics also recognized the right to receive compensation for certain “externalities” of money, namely for risk and the loss of the use of the money. But beyond these legitimate claims, usury is simply a transfer of wealth from one class to another that produces nothing of itself: It is wealth without work. This is especially true of consumer loans. They are merely a claim against future earnings without contributing to those earnings. An economy that depends on consumer lending to fuel consumption is in fact merely borrowing from consumption in future periods.

            Usury, aside from its character as avarice, as the desire for wealth without work, has troublesome practical consequences as well. On the one hand, it “covers up” problems in the distribution system, that is, with the wage system. If we did not inject massive amounts of consumer credit, there would be a massive failure of demand and the problems of inadequate pay would become apparent to all. As it is, these problems are hidden and will remain so until the ponzi-scheme collapses (as it must), as it does in depressions. On the other hand, usury detracts from the amount of capital available for productive investments; the absurdly high rates of interest make investment in production less attractive than investments in financing consumption.

            Source:
            http://distributism.blogspot.com/2007/07/usury.html

            Same site, more detail: http://distributism.blogspot.com/2008/09/ususry-wealth-without-work-and-why-it.html

            ETA: Your kindness is especially praiseworthy considering that you’re a libertarian, and one of our first sustained interactions was around the time you popped over to my blog and read an entry in which I *literally* called libertarianism “Satanic.” Again, bravo, sir.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Irenist: Reminds me of Zippy Catholic’s and Free Northerner’s words on usury. From “Simple Usury Test”:

            In order to determine if a proposed contract is usurious, we need to ask the following:

            1. Is profitable interest charged on the loan?

            2. Has the borrower posted collateral providing security on the loan? (Note: a corporation or partnership counts as collateral).

            3. Is the lender’s recourse for recovery of principal and interest, in a case of default, limited to the named collateral and only the named collateral?

            If all three of these are true, it is not usury. If (1) is true and either (2) or (3) are false, it is usury.

            From “Usury FAQ, or, Money on the Pill”:

            What if the interest rate is reasonable?

            Usury is always immoral no matter what interest rate is charged. The idea that usury is only charging “unreasonable” interest is a modern fiction.

            And from “Against Usury”:

            Zippy has written a lot on usury over the last half-year or so and usury has nothing to do with particular interest rates. A loan is usurious if it is for profitable interest and is full-recourse. To break it down to a more practical level, any loan is usurious if it is for expenditure on consumptive activities (no matter the interest rate), while it is non-usurious if it being spent on capital and real property and that capital is the only recourse for the loaner should the debtor default.

            If we look back to what constitutes usury, debt for consumption is usurious, while debt for productive purposes is (usually) non-usurious (as long as it is not full-recourse). If we banned usury, if would not hurt the economy. Productive activities would still be able to get themselves funded, while consumptive ones would not. This would be in the best interests of long-term, natural economic growth. Allowing usury draws potentially useful capital away from production towards consumption.

          • Irenist says:

            @jaimeastorga2000:

            Those are all great links.

          • Not entirely opposed worldviews. You are a Distributist, possibly the first living Distributist I have encountered, and I am a GKC fan—I devoted a chapter of the second edition of my first book to him. If curious, there’s a pdf of the second edition on my web page at:

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf

            I’ve also published on Aquinas and the just price.

            Interesting explanation of “usury.” I think it’s wrong twice over. To begin with, consumption loans are not necessarily unproductive. Suppose I am currently a student with a very low income, but my studies and abilities make it almost certain that I will have a high income in the future–a student getting high grades in med school would be an obvious example. Borrowing for consumption means that I get to eat hamburgers instead of beans today, at the cost of driving a Honda instead of a BMW ten years from now. Measured in dollars I am paying more than I am getting, but measured in my welfare, which is a more relevant metric, I am getting much more than I am paying.

            And interest on a productive loan isn’t simply compensation for risk. Consider the case where the borrower has very good security, property that he doesn’t want to sell but can put up as collateral. The interest rate will be lower, but not zero. The lender is being compensated not for risk but for giving up the opportunity to make use of his wealth during the intervening period.

            To put the point most simply, a dollar today is not of the same value as a dollar a year from now, even if there is no inflation, because you might have opportunities to use the dollar during the intervening year, in consumption or production, more valuable to you than the opportunities you will have later.

            As you may know, medieval Muslims, Jews, and (probably) Christians contrived contractual forms for loans designed to look like risk sharing partnerships in order to get around the bans in all three religions against loans at interest. Muslims still do.

          • Emlin says:

            I may be misunderstanding but it feels like there’s an element in this definition of usury of “you can have the loan as long as you don’t need the money” – that is, a person without assets to use as collateral can’t get a loan unless it is interest-free. And then there’s this other factor of consumptive vs. productive – many consumptive uses of loaned money are a bad idea (such as luxuries you don’t need), but the things you might need a loan for the most are definitely consumptive (like, “I lost my job/am temporarily ill or injured but want to keep eating, paying rent and so forth so that my life can get back on track when this difficulty is over”). Is that where charity is supposed to intervene? That might be overly optimistic for me…

        • Mary says:

          “inconvenient Choice Facts (Freakonomics arguments about crime) ”

          You mean that you can argue abortion from crime rates as long as you elide the inconvenient facts that the criminals can be of every age while abortion has a narrow window, and the crime rate decline that they tout occurred exactly in the cohorts NOT culled by legal abortion.

          • Irenist says:

            Oh, I agree! I actually favor Kevin Drum’s lead theory for criminal decline across cohorts. I share your exact disdain for the Freakanomics argument. But in that comment, I was bending over backwards to find examples of things I *dislike* that the media underplays, so it wasn’t just me whining about the Purple Tribe not getting enough love. I hate abortion A LOT, so the Freakanomics thing was the only thing I could come up with for that.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Irenist, I disagree with your stance on most of the issues, but totally agree with your description of the Serious People’s consensus. They are exactly as biased against your purple tribe as you say. Keep up the stamp collecting, you’re good at it.

      • cassander says:

        This is accurate. The media is incentivised to be pro-establishment and pro-action, which generally, but not always, translates to being leftwing, particularly when combined with blue state cultural norms.

  2. C&H argue that nearly everyone in South Vietnam supported Ho Chi Minh […]

    Huh. I’ve been hit with this one before, many years ago, and didn’t know what to make of it – the only response that sprung to mind was along the lines of, “Why? Were they all completely insane?” which didn’t really seem like a useful contribution at the time.

    At this remove, do we have any credible evidence either way?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      They cite a quote by Eisenhower where he said in private correspondence that his best intelligence suggested 80% of Vietnamese supported him in ’54 or so. But I also found a claim that support had declined significantly (though not necessarily below 50%) a few years later.

      It doesn’t seem implausible to me. Ho Chi Minh had just won Vietnam’s independence from the French. That’s pretty impressive. And the Southern Vietnamese were mostly very poor farmers, who seem like the sort of people who would like communism.

      • Tracy W says:

        I recall my high school history teacher saying that if you were a revolutionary who cared about your historical reputation the key thing to do was to die shortly after achieving the revolution.
        That meant someone else would get all the hard problems and discredit of actually ruling.

        And, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese risking and often losing their lives fleeing in boats for over a decade after the Vietnam War implies some pretty serious misrule. I am just thinking you probably don’t recall the Vietnamese boat people being in the papers, which makes me feel old.

        • Mary says:

          The boat people could mean only that they wised up when faced with reality.

        • Tom Womack says:

          Vietnam is *big* (forty million then, ninety million now). If you discriminate fiercely against a group who almost by definition have the resources to flee the country, they may well flee the country; but that’s completely consistent with 90% of the population thinking that getting Ho instead of French colonial masters or Viet landlords is a plus.

          (also: economic migrants. It doesn’t require a very low valuation of your life to decide that, particularly if you will be welcomed in Hong Kong as an escapee from the monsters, it’s worth running some risk to use your entrepreneurial talent in Hong Kong rather than in a freshly-Communist state where entrepreneurs are possibly fatally suspect)

        • FJ says:

          Don’t forget the 2 million South Vietnamese who were sent to re-education camps or “volunteered” to leave their homes in the city to clear jungle for farmland. Out of a 1975 population of 19 million, that’s a big number. It suggests that Ho Chi Minh, at least, did not remotely believe he commanded overwhelming support in the South.

          (edit: the difference between my estimate of the 1975 population and Tom Womack’s is that he includes the entire population of North Vietnam as well)

          • Tom Womack says:

            Successfully dispossessing 10% of the population seems like a pretty good sign that you do have overwhelming support (though I suppose that when thinking about politics 66% is overwhelming support) – it’s hardly the kind of thing you can do with well-resourced well-organised competent opposition!

          • FJ says:

            @Tom Womack: by that logic, King Leopold was incredibly popular in the Congo.

      • bean says:

        The big problem was that Ho Chi Minh managed to size total control of the nationalists when fighting against the French. Basically, he was seen as the only one who wasn’t a western lackey, which meant anyone who wanted independence went for him. This would explain the high approval ratings in 1954. He then purged the non-communists, and we were left scrambling to find a government that would get reasonable support and could actually work without massive aid.
        It’s late, and I’ll have to do some more reading on the subject tomorrow, as it’s been a while since I last looked into this.

        • bean says:

          I did more looking, and all is not as it seems. First, the Eisenhower comment. Looking at the actual quote, he was comparing Ho’s popularity with that of Bảo Đại, the old Emperor, who was seen as a French stooge. Also, Ho wasn’t widely known as a communist by that point.
          Second, a good source on this (and the whole Cold War) is Norman Friedman’s The Fifty Year War. Highly recommended.
          Third, the invasion of Laos in 1953 was apparently intended as a diversion, to force the French to disperse their troops. Dien Bien Phu was a response to said invasion.
          Fourth, there are two facts I learned which do not at all support ‘everyone in Vietnam liked Ho’. In 1956, there was a peasant revolt in the North because of the failure of land reform. And then there were the number of people who moved south after the partition. The exact numbers involved are uncertain, but the US Navy claims they moved 310,000, plus others moved by the French. If C&H are claiming that ‘everyone supported Ho except for the dictator and his cronies’, I suppose it’s true if we define ‘crony’ as ‘anyone who supported Diem’. The ARVN had problems, but it had more to do with corrupt and incompetent officers than soldiers who wanted to be on the other side.

      • Tibor says:

        I don’t know much about this, but one think that struck me as peculiar was when a former PhD student here in our institute (in Germany) had his Promovierung (he finished his doctorate). Among other traditions, it is customary here that the other PhD students make a special hat for him – like the one you seem to give to Ms and Bachelor graduates in the US (or at least Hollywood films) to throw into the air, but with customized features that in some way represent the particular new doctor. So, given that he was from Vietnam, one of the things on his hat was a Vietnamese flag. Then, when I talked to him about this (I mentioned that I would not really want a flag on mine because even though it is not the intended meaning it sort of labels you as foreigner), he said that when he showed the pictures from the occasion on his Facebook profile, his uncle got quite angry about him having him that flag on his hat. It turns out that the flag of Southern Vietnam looks like this https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/South_Vietnamese_flag_parade.jpg

        And the current Vietnam flag is to many Vietnamese (according to what my colleague said) a symbol of the regime more than a symbol of the country. Now, it may be that at the time of the Vietnam war (or prior to that), communists were actually supported by a majority of the population (were they stupid? Well, given how slowly information traveled prior to the the internet, satellite TV and mobile phones to the then mostly rural Vietnam, they probably knew very little about what communism is actually like) but that support has quickly decreased after the war. He also said that he does not really care (although the Vietnamese tend to be extremely polite so I am not absolutely sure that was true), that it is just a flag but apparently for some Vietnamese (probably mostly Southern Vietnamese and also probably for the generation that was already alive during the Vietnam war and knew the old flag as their own, but that is just my guess) this can be a big deal.

      • Fairhaven says:

        scott writes: “And the Southern Vietnamese were mostly very poor farmers, who seem like the sort of people who would like communism.”

        Scott, you make such a big deal about your rationality and then you make assumptions out of whole cloth about sorts of people you have never met and know absolutely nothing about.

        from what I’ve read of communism, it is urban intellectuals who find it appealing, no? here in America, is it very poor rural people who find progressive ideas appealing? who shout hurrah at Democrat’s redistributive promises?

        from my experience in the Peace Corps in Africa, very poor farmers are conservative in the literal sense, of not liking change and not trusting outsiders. they don’t share progressive/leftist notions that colonialism is bad, because they don’t think in abstract categories, but are very grounded in their own experience. in my country, peasants repeated the same comment – ‘things were better under the French.” they weren’t refereeing to anything political, just to the price for their cash crop.

        even thinking theoretically, poor tenant farmers would like to have their own land, but communists don’t encourage that, do they, so why would peasants like communists? and why would poor tenant farmers think they’d get the spoils, when they never do?

        • Hanfeizi says:

          Generally speaking, poor rural farmers are often tenants who rent their land from landlords and own very little directly; serfs and sharecroppers. This was the basis of Mao’s rise in China; the communists played upon rural hatred of “landlords” and a desire for land reform to build their power base.

          Even in the US we see this- poor rural blacks and poor white farmers have typically sided with the political left; they may not be “liberals”, but often “populists”, in the old William Jennings Bryan sense. Middle-class midwestern farmers- who have more in common with petty industrialists than serfs- are conservative.

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            >This was the basis of Mao’s rise in China

            Not only China, but also very important basis Lenin’s Russia, and practically all significant communist uprisings related to the world wars. Going against kulaks was quite major campaigning theme of Bolsheviks. (And sure, the rural population had quite a fuzzy concepts of what communism would entail and later didn’t like collectivization part when it was actually introduced, but then the revolution was over and ‘won’, and to my understanding the concept of ‘kulaks’ was suitably redefined to include those who disagreed about the materialized policy of the victors. Orwell’s Animal Farm is a quite suitable introduction to the topic.)

            Of course the industrial workers were major centerpiece of the communist propaganda, but Russia was just starting to industrialize prior to WW1. Likewise, the bulk of the Reds in our civil war (Finland 1918, might be counted as a part of Russian mess at that time) consisted of exactly that kind of (poor) rural working populace that didn’t own land.

            I think Hobsbawm (another communist) wrote a famous history book about that.

            The classic compare and contrast is the industrialized Germany and their revolution in the end of WW1 that was quite a failure for actual communists, was in the actual revolutionary phase in many ways different about the whole “socialism” part compared to the Russia, and in the end resulted in an awkward combination social democratic – centrist liberal republic with a nod to conservative authoritarians and military.

            “Urban elites” was a Western thing. They surely had their equivalents, but they could have hardly managed to provide manpower for winning (or even fighting) civil wars (and then later establishing totalitarian regimes). Most such elites could do were student clashes and radicalism, most prominently in France / Italy / etc in the 1960s, but also unions and such contributed in the actual clashes.

    • E. Harding says:

      BTW, ironically enough, today, Vietnamese largely don’t see income inequality as a problem in their country, strongly support the free market system, and three-quarters have a favorable view of the U.S.:

      http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/30/vietnamese-see-u-s-as-key-ally/

      http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/10/09/emerging-and-developing-economies-much-more-optimistic-than-rich-countries-about-the-future/

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I am utterly amazed at the speed of Vietnamese recovery, both psychological and economic, although given the speeds of German and Japanese recoveries I guess I shouldn’t be.

        Laos and Cambodia still seem pretty economically dead.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          I like the theory that wiping out the corrupt established power structure of the previous system is what made the German and Japanese “economic miracle” possible.

          With the parasites gone from the basically healthy advanced societies, they could grow very fast.

          Not sure how far that might apply to Vietnam.

          • E. Harding says:

            The big question: if Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, and Greece succeeded, why did Haiti and the Philippines fail?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Ho Chi Min’s crew were a lot of things, but “parasites” probably weren’t one of them. Keep in mind that these are the people who fought Fascism, Imperialism, Capitalism and Communism in actual back-to-back-to-back-to-back wars. Communism helped them win three of those; when it stopped being an asset, they ditched it pretty quick.

          • @ E. Harding
            Because they’re not very smart.

          • E. Harding says:

            @EvolutionistX

            I don’t think there’s a big difference in equilibrium IQ between Greeks and Filipinos.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Squirrel of Doom
            I like the theory that wiping out the corrupt established power structure of the previous system is what made the German and Japanese “economic miracle” possible.

            Another factor….

            In Iraq and elsewhere, smashing the structure loosed hot gun wars among the ruins. Germany and Japan had their guns taken away and weren’t allowed to make more, so they beat their sword factories into Volkswagen factories and micro accessory factories, and conquered the world that way instead.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            Germany and Japan were world class industrial countries that could flourish once their insane governments were wiped out.

            Iraq etc had no such underlying potential to unleash.

          • E. Harding says:

            But what about Greece and Korea?

          • Fairhaven says:

            squirrel of doom: “I like the theory that wiping out the corrupt established power structure of the previous system is what made the German and Japanese “economic miracle” possible.

            With the parasites gone from the basically healthy advanced societies, they could grow very fast. don’t know how that applies to Vietnam.”

            or to america

        • E. Harding says:

          What “recovery”? By the speed of China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc., their recovery has been pathetic. Vietnam has the same attendance-adjusted PISA math smart fraction as the U.S. and Latvia, but can’t even grow at a higher level or faster than India. It, however, deserves credit for not having its economy collapse in the 1990s; in fact, electricity consumption per capita started growing rapidly around 1992, when the same measure was collapsing in Russia and Mongolia.

          Laos is even more economically weak; Cambodia is economically weaker still. All, however, have had strong growth since 1990, in comparison to countries like the Philippines or (worse) Kenya. Cambodia’s per capita GDP (PPP) has tripled in twenty-one years, and its electricity consumption per capita has grown tenfold in sixteen:

          https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&idim=country:VNM:PHL&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:VNM:PHL:CHN:KHM:IND&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

          https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&idim=country:VNM:IDN:KHM&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_pp_kd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:VNM:IDN:KHM:CHN:LAO:PHL:IND&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

          https://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/map-of-the-world-mathematical-smart-fraction/

          • Hanfeizi says:

            Vietnam’s recovery was slowed, ironically, by the higher wage demands of their workers. Despite beginning their own Doi Moi reforms only eight years after China’s Reform and Opening began, they’ve significantly lagged- and most of this had to do with the fact that in the 90s, Vietnamese pay requirements were almost three times higher than Chinese. Why? The fertility and year-round growing season in the Mekong Delta made rice farming a much more attractive and lucrative prospect than it was further north in China; further, China’s infrastructure advantages and bottomless labor pool swallowed up massive amounts of FDI that could have been targeted at Vietnam.

            Though, having spent my honeymoon there two years ago, I came away impressed by the energy of the place, and the relative quality of life seemed much higher than most neighboring countries. Housing and infrastructure are generally on a better level than most equatorial developing countries (though hardly to Chinese levels); I was never panhandled and saw very little grinding third-world poverty. Saigon and Hanoi aren’t Shanghai or Hong Kong, but they aren’t Delhi or Manila either. HCMC reminded me of a much more crowded and asian version of Los Angeles. I’d love to go back some time.

        • creative username #1138 says:

          As the French colonialist used to say: The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Laos listen to it grow.

        • EJB says:

          One contributing factor to Cambodia’s economic stagnancy may be the Khmer Rouge’s specific targeting of intellectuals and urban economic elites – exactly the sort of local folks who could have aided the country’s recovery.

        • Doug M. says:

          Cambodia has two big problems. One, almost everyone with an education got murdered by Pol Pot. And two, since the 1980s it’s been run by Hun Sen, a spectacularly corrupt and venal dictator who has zero interest in economic development except insofar as it helps him cling to power. That said, Cambodia has seen decent GDP growth in the last few years, in part because of a foreign investment boom and in part because of its very large garment industry.

          Laos is challenged by being a small landlocked mountainous country with few geographic or resource assets. That said, it has managed to double its GDP in the last decade; growth rates since 2006 have held steady at around 7%.

          Doug M.

        • AlexanderRM says:

          My current hypothesis is “recovery from wars is just ‘surprisingly’ fast most or all of the time”. I think there are some cases where it takes a few decades vs. closer to a few years, but nothing on the scale of 70+ years of persistent wealth differences (which still fall into the same ordering as they did pre-colonialism, even). The most likely answer I think is something along the lines of human capital, although obviously racist or culturist explanations would fit with this as well (we’d have to look into factors like what allows a pre-colonial wealth difference to be removed to figure out which). Could also be that Germany and Japan still had a fair amount of physical capital- at least more than the average former colony- despite all the bombing.

          Germany and Japan were both industrialized countries on par per-capita with Britain or the United States before the war, after the war they recovered to the per-capita level of Britain and the United States.
          (what I don’t know is how South Korea and Taiwan fit into all this, along with how Japan got industrialized in the first place, but that’s another conversation. Maybe sometime I should write out my impressions on the correlation of which countries are and aren’t developed and see what people on SSC think.)

          Incidentally, looking at Wikipedia’s per-capita income statistics confirms my general feeling that neither Vietnam’s recovery nor it’s difference with Laos or Cambodia is *that* large. Both PPP and nominal give a factor of about 2:1 with Cambodia and less with Laos, which is notable but easily within the same category globally. Compare those to the differences between, for example, Vietnam and Taiwan which are about 7-10.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        One bit of that which isn’t surprising at all, and which might help explain the attitude towards the US, is seeing China as the greatest threat to Vietnam- within a couple years of the Vietnam War they were firmly aligned with the Soviet Union in the Sino-Soviet split, invading Cambodia and then fighting off a Chinese invasion.
        There’s even a (dubiously-sourced, but regardless accurately describing the practical situation) quote attributed to Ho Chi Minh from 1946- “The last time the Chinese came, they stayed a thousand years. The French are foreigners. They are weak. Colonialism is dying. The white man is finished in Asia. But if the Chinese stay now, they will never go. As for me, I prefer to sniff French shit for five years than to eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life. “

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s the same way that Michael Collins has been rehabilitated (mainly by his party, Fine Gael) into a statesman sadly cut down too soon, rather than a former revolutionary who was killed in a civil war split where the other side were ex-colleagues who wanted to keep winning the republic and were retaining the use of physical force.

      Collins, I think, did change as circumstances changed and saw that for the revolution to be successful, the way of politics and compromise had to be adopted instead of the way of “freedom by armed rebellion”, but it’s ironic to see him being held up as an icon of the party which takes every opportunity to criticise Sinn Féin for its IRA connections, when Collins planned and executed a very deliberate and successful campaign of targeted assassinations.

  3. fubarobfusco says:

    Throughout the Cold War, mainstream Democrats in government as well as Republicans were anticommunist. As Chomsky notes, it is a scandal when the loyal Democrats are illegally spied on; it is no scandal when the Socialists are illegally spied on.

    It is not the Crips who take note when Ruby Ridge goes down; it is the white militia movement.

    One elemeent of a conspiratorial worldview is to see all one’s enemies as part of a single organization, connected by links albeit tenuous. For instance, the Nazi worldview (correctly) noticed that there were a lot of Jews in the Russian Communist leadership, and a lot of Jews in international banking; but (incorrectly) concluded that Bolshevism was a Jewish International Banker conspiracy against Germany, and that some schlub down the street named Shlomo the Shochet must have something to do with it.

    There should be a model of news reception along these lines: a hearer will reject outright an update which will contradict his or her position; a hearer will accept an update that will bring his or her position closer to those whom he or she cares about; a hearer will rebroadcast an update that will raise his or her status among those he or she cares about.

    • Simon says:

      I think it’s also an inherent part of our thinking that everyone in the ingroup is an individual, and everyone in the outgroup is identical.

      Either socialists describing everything to their right as ‘neoliberal’, or neoconservatives describing everything to their left as socialists. Or the establishment describing everyone else as fringe, or a fringe group describing everyone else as the establishment. This gets more complicated since your ingroup might depend on what outgroup you’re talking to.

      I don’t know if it is a consequence of generalizing because of a lack of information: if I’m not part of your ingroup I don’t know the subtle differences and am forced to lump it all together. Or – which I think is more likely – that it’s a heuristic that’s pretty much hardwired in our thinking.

      If you’re a nazi, both communists and jews are part of the outgroup, and therefore the same.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        If you’re a nazi, both communists and jews are part of the outgroup, and therefore the same.

        I don’t thinkt that’s a particularly good example since there was indeed a large overlap between Jews and communists.

        • Simon says:

          That’s true, but there is always some overlap between different groups.

          On the anniversary of 9/11 yesterday a lot of conservative-leaning people posted the images of Middle-Eastern people celebrating the deaths of Americans. This Is What The Outgroup Believes! Left-wingers responded in anger “that’s just a small group! And besides, if you look at it in a nuanced way, they kind of have a point!”

          When a crane fell over in Mecca yesterday killing close to a hundred workers left-wingers lustily retweeted conservatives celebrating the dead. This Is What The Outgroup Believes! “You’re just cherrypicking!” conservatives responded, angrily, “and besides, if you take it in context, they kind of have a point!”

          Because their ingroups are composed of all kinds of multi-layered people, with their own motivations and hopes and dreams etc. But the outgroup? They’re just a monolithic block of hateful bastards.

          • ad says:

            In Hitlers day, Jews were genuinely over-represented among Communists, and especially over-represented among the secret police, to the point that the traditional East European stereotype of a chekist was that he looked slightly Jewish.

            Jews were also over-represented among the victims of the communists – after all many of them were small businessmen- but that all happened in secret, so no one at the time really knew.

        • Fairhaven says:

          Jon Gunnarsson says Jews and communists were not two separate targets of Hitler because there was a big overlap.

          I don’t believe that is accurate. see the yivoencyclopedia.org entry on communism:

          “Despite the impression that Bolshevism was popular among Jews, according to the Communist (Bolshevik) Party census of 1922 there had been only 958 Jewish Bolsheviks at the beginning of 1917 out of a total of 23,600 (4%). It was commonly agreed that the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) had far more Jewish members.

          Jews, however, were very prominent in the Bolshevik leadership. This visibility created the impression of a close tie between Jews and Bolsheviks. At the April 1917 Bolshevik conference, 20 percent of the delegates were Jews.

          most of the Nazi’s jewish victims were the religious jews of the countries they invaded. the secular jews were more able to escape.

          • Nita says:

            It was commonly agreed that the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) had far more Jewish members.

            You do realize that Mensheviks were also communists, right?

      • Eli says:

        Either socialists describing everything to their right as ‘neoliberal’,

        But this is incorrect. Just because neoliberalism forms the mainstream, powerful wing of the Right right now doesn’t mean everything on the Right is neoliberal.

        So, for instance, “crunchy” Conservatives are not neoliberal, distributists are not neoliberal, fascists are not neoliberal, reactionaries and feudalists are not neoliberal.

        Neoliberalism does get thrown around as a left-wing snarl word a lot, but that’s only because its meaning, stated in pro-Right terms, has been thrown around equivalently often as an applause light. Neoliberalism means the market society: a society in which formerly non-economic, non-transactional, non-monetary social relations are deliberately made over in the image of monetized economic transactions performed in a marketplace.

        So to give an example of how neoliberals might oppose other kinds of Rightists, imagine you have a country run by crunchy Chestertonian conservatives in which the only legal church is, of course, the Roman Catholic one, and there is even an established church tax (that is, a government-run tithe). Neoliberals would come in and make their famous argument about the “marketplace of ideas”, and insist on passing legislation that legalizes Protestantism, abolishes the church tax and makes churches dependent on donations, and then argue about the extent to which religious donations should be tax-advantaged to encourage “religion” in general (rather than Catholicism in specific).

        Switch from the Catholic Church being a state-supported institution to hospitals or universities, and you can then see why the Left is snarling at neoliberalism: it takes institutions which we worked hard to de-commodify, to take them away from financial games and make them serve their own unique values and purposes (eg: the Hippocratic Oath, and the advancement of knowledge), and it tries to deliberately push finance and marketing back in where they weren’t wanted.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          That’s exactly the point he’s making though. When saying that everyone on the outgroup is identical, that statement being wrong is exactly what he just meant. You’re just (accidentally) agreeing really elaborately in there right now.

        • Tracy W says:

          If hospitals and universities were ever made up of ” non-economic, non-transactional, non-monetary social relations” they’d’ve been an awful lot cheaper. I think you’re being unfair to leftists here, I don’t know of many who expect doctors and nurses and professors to work for free, the dispute is over the level of government financing, and if anything leftists in my experience tend to favour *more* money for hospitals and universities.

          It tries to deliberately push finance and marketing back in where they weren’t wanted

          That’s funny. I thought the Keynesians tended to rant and rave about neoliberalism, and of course the Keynesians are the ones who are all in favour of financing (aka governments running deficits in recessions aka countries being in thrall to international bankers).

  4. If you want to form an opinion about C&H in general and their treatment of the Khmer Rouge in particular, I strongly recommend reading the chapter on Cambodia in the C&H book, or their earlier article, then reading the Porter and Hildebrand book. The latter is transparent apologetics—the authors treat Pol Pot as a saintly figure and most of the facts they report come from the Khmer Rouge.

    C&H presented that book as a reliable source of information. That was what convinced me that their apologetics for the KR were not an honest mistake but deliberate dishonesty.

    Read with no background information, their chapter is convincing. They are able writers. I know almost nothing about the conflicts in the book you are discussing, but I would take the fact that they can tell a convincing story in which the U.S. is the villain as wholly uninformative.

    • Arjun says:

      I don’t know enough about Cambodia and Pol Pot to really be able to tell how much C&H are skewing things, but I agree that stuff they write should be taken with a grain of salt. However, based on what I do know and what I have research about US policies in Latin America, I am generally inclined to agree with Chomsky’s general thesis that the US is a “villain” of world history. I think the major flaw in Chomskyian-style analysis is the lack of agency attributed to local actors, and the trend to cast the US system as an overbearing and perpetually dominating monolith, despite reality being much more fractured and complicated than that.

    • Saal says:

      I think I wrote something to this extent back when Scott was asking for Chomsky book recommendations, but I tend to read anything written by C&H about Southeast Asia with roughly the same skepticism I would use reading an RYM/Weather communique.

      They tend to do a little better on S. America, though. They still downplay leftist crimes in comparison to rightist, but it’s more omission than outright bullshit.

    • Dan Simon says:

      I would go even further than David on this point–the only way to read Chomsky is to actually read his sources, both the ones he praises and the ones he denigrates, as well as general background materials on the subjects he covers. Once you do that it becomes crystal clear what he’s doing: he simply discounts sources that don’t support his point of view–usually nitpicking some detail to establish them as “unreliable”–while both praising and complaining about media neglect of sources that support his thesis, even if those sources are transparently dubious at first glance. The Hildebrand/Porter volume is a great example, but just one of many untrustworthy or misrepresented sources Chomsky and Herman used to defend the Khmer Rouge in the years before doing so became untenable.

      In fact, Manufacturing Consent itself contains a footnote defending their 1977 article, falsely asserting that it “left no doubt” that the Khmer Rouge’s record was gruesome. I encourage you to read that article, entitled “Distortions at Fourth Hand”–it’s available online–and see for yourself whether they’ve characterized it correctly.

    • AlexanderRM says:

      I would suggest there’s a difference between the US being “a villain” and the US being “the villain”: Portraying Pol Pot as a good guy is the latter. I would estimate that a lot of these conflicts consist of “Evil vs. Evil”; the US is usually fighting genuinely bad people but doing some extremely bad things in the process.
      Although it’d probably be more accurate to call it grey-and-grey morality; my impression is that pretty much any large dispute (from war to internet flamewars) will have good and bad people on both sides, and the good people on both sides will only pay attention to and talk about the bad people on the other side.

      It’s really amazing how utterly omnipresent arguments of the form “X is bad, therefore their enemies are good” are in politics. Especially given that we have such incredibly clear examples to the contrary from history as Nazis vs. Communists. I suppose the Golden Mean Fallacy/”I find both sides equally annoying” is somewhat comparable, but generally that comes in the form “so the *middle* is clearly good!”.

  5. On the general issue of news bias, it seems to me the explanation is very simple. Everyone believes his view of the world is correct. If you are on the right, an article giving a centrist view is obviously misrepresenting the facts by being insufficiently favorable to what you consider the truth. Similarly if you are on the left.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      That’s what I thought as well.

      Presumably, Scott considered this explanation at some point – and dismissed it for some reason. I’d love to know why.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      Considering the degree to which the “center” of the main positions shifts over time, always appearing centrist is a pretty serious bias, isn’t it?

    • 27chaos says:

      I think this argument risks proving too much. Even when the media agrees with me, I often feel that they’ve made a bad argument for a good conclusion. And even when I agree with the arguments someone presents, I often feel that they’ve emphasized the wrong aspects of a point, or done a sloppy job explaining it for lay audiences. This also is true conversely: when I disagree with the media, sometimes what they’re saying seems like a reasonable analysis, but other times it seems sloppy. This argues that perceived media bias is indeed real, independent of disagreement alone. You’re correct if you believe that most people are biased towards positions they believe in, and that they’re inclined to see people who disagree with them as biased. But I don’t think that’s the full story, although for practical purposes perhaps it’s generally good enough, depending on how biased people actually are.

    • Fairhaven says:

      but the media isn’t centrist. it is written by 90% liberal writers and editors. if you take as an assumption they are not seeing the world through their own eyes, but through the eyes of a hypothetical centrist, that requires some explanation.

  6. Years ago I read a book on small wars since WWII by an author who did not appear to have any particular axe to grind. It may have been Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 by Michael Burleigh, but I’m not certain—searching Amazon that seemed like the closest fit. You might find it interesting to compare his version with the version from C&H.

    • Chris Thomas says:

      In this vein, Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny is an informative read. Kwitny is a Wall Street Times journalist, so arguably has what Chomsky might call an “establishment bias.” Nevertheless, he concludes that the U.S. has largely blundered into conflicts in the third world for misguided reasons, undermining local democracy and free markets at the same time, and causing a good deal of violence and social instability in the process.

      http://www.amazon.com/Endless-Enemies-Jonathan-Kwitny/dp/0140080937

  7. Michael Watts says:

    Take, for instance, the second Iraq War. The hawkish position is “we were right to want to remove Saddam, a bad man. We were right to believe that we would win the shooting war quickly and easily. We just couldn’t have predicted the explosion of Sunni-Shiite violence that would erupt afterwards, and that’s not our fault.”

    And yet now that I have read Manufacturing Consent, it seems obvious that removing Saddam would cause Iraq to descend into blood-soaked death squads. It is like a law of the universe that Third World countries will descend into blood-soaked death squads at the drop of a pin.

    Interestingly, this is a mistake that couldn’t have been made before the 20th century. As I understand things, the whole institution of hereditary monarchy is thought to have developed as a response to the problem that, if the king died and several other people were technically eligible to be king, you immediately had a big civil war (“power struggle”). Aristocrats within monarchies knew this mattered; having succession in place was always, always an issue of paramount concern. And it’s never stopped being true; it was obvious that if Saddam was removed and no alternative power structure put in place, you’d have to have a civil war to fill the power vacuum. That’s how power vacuums work.

    On the other hand, the US has never actually had a power vacuum. So it’s a little harder to blame Americans for their moronic opinions about what happens if you lop off the government. Europeans would have less excuse.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      How is “hold an election, follow the guy who wins” less clear than “find the son of the last guy, follow him”?

      We tried holding an election and it didn’t really help that much.

      Also, Saddam’s sons were terrible, so even if we had known monarchy was a potential solution we couldn’t have used it.

      • Pku says:

        It’s not so much having the rule, it’s having it firmly nailed down in everyone’s head. If every villager in the kingdom believe the king’s son has divine right to succeed him, he’s going to be hard to replace. If everyone in the country believes that a four-year election cycle is what separates us from Stalinesque dictatorship, it’s going to be stable. But if you take a whole, poorly-knit-together country, and tell them “hey, we’re gonna try out this new thing, ok?” it’s not going to catch on very easily or quickly.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think what tended to happen in these situations is that the victorious invaders would find a surviving member of the royal family willing to back them, the defeated loyalists would find a surviving member of the royal family willing to back them, and everyone would fight.

          In fact, in Laos I think the leader of the rightists, the leader of the communists, and the leader of the neutral faction were three princes, all brothers.

          • Pku says:

            Still, I wonder if it worked better in medieval Europe than before they came up with it – I vaguely recall Alexander’s empire breaking up almost immediately after his death, the mongols lasting a bit longer, and some British/French/Chinese dynasties lasting for centuries.
            Also, you just made Laos sound like a fairy tale kingdom. I predict the next Game of Thrones will be a dramatization of the Laotian civil war. (doesn’t even sound like they’d have to exaggerate by much).

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Given that Game of Thrones is fantasy-war-of-the-roses, some of Harry Turtledove’s stuff is fantasy-Byzantium, and Prince of Nothing is fantasy-crusades, a fantasy-Vietnam-War, complete with Laos and Cambodia, would be amazing.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Scott Alexander – Of the three neighboring countries, Laos was also the only one to go communist without turning into a bloodbath for the general population (ignoring the Hmong). I’d wondered why when reading up on it the last few days; possibly familial ties between the princes?

          • E. Harding says:

            @Faceless craven

            -Perhaps that explains why Laos’s measured within-country IQ was almost exactly the same as the measured Laotian-American AQ on U.S. standardized tests (for Cambodia, the difference is a couple standard deviations; for Vietnamese, it’s between half and 3/4 standard deviation). See Malloy’s excellent SE Asian psychometrics posts.

          • DrBeat says:

            I’m pretty sure that “fantasy Vietnam War” was the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. There’s enough licensed books for it, there’s probably an allegory for the political backing of the Vietnam war in there somewhere.

          • Richard Gadsden says:

            When you got a reasonably-competent, adult, male, eldest son of the previous king, primogeniture worked pretty well – much better than systems before it because the younger sons generally accepted the rule of the elder.

            If you got a child, a woman or someone who wasn’t reasonably competent you still got a civil war, but that reduced the number of civil wars, in exchange for increasing the number of kings who were just competent and reducing the number that were Great.

            (Contrast to Roman Emperors, where you get an awful lot of brilliant emperors, but also an awful lot of civil wars – and this keeps going right through to the fall of Constantinople in 1453).

      • Professor Frink says:

        You should read Imperial Life in the Emerald City:Life in Iraq’s Green Zone if you are interested in just how little thought we put in to any sort of reconstruction after the initial combat.

        • creative username #1138 says:

          And if you want the sane story for Afghanistan there’s Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan To A More Dangerous World.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        How is “hold an election, follow the guy who wins” less clear than “find the son of the last guy, follow him”?

        Clear isn’t the right word. “Resonant with human nature” is a better phrase “in accord with natural law” is another.

        In principle you can reverse an election in the next election therefore you should always hold out against an elected strong man because you might win next time so there’s no incentive to compromise and allow him to rule.

        Practically speaking, when voting is along strictly ethnic lines then elections have zero legitimacy. All you’ve done is demonstrated that ethnic group x is larger than ethnic group y. You then have elected the leader of ethnic group x (side note – I’m sure ethnic group x isn’t burdened with a method of picking a leader as stupid as having elections) as ruler of ethnic groups x and y – a ruler who has no ties of loyalty to ethnic group y. There’s no reason for a member of ethnic group y to accept “elections” as legitimating.

        Finally, “follow the guy who wins the election” isn’t a rule about who to follow – it’s a meta rule about how to pick the next guy to follow. The ability to follow a meta rule is not present in humans below a certain IQ threshold.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          >you might win next time so there’s no incentive to compromise

          You might find an heir on your side next time, too. The incentive to compromise is that you don’t have to spend life in a state of total war.

          >… a ruler who has no ties of loyalty to ethnic group y. There’s no reason for a member of ethnic group y to accept “elections” as legitimating.

          Again, I don’t see how this any less true of feudalism (unless you’re suggesting that kingdoms never contain minority ethnic groups.)

          In fact, this objection was explicitly the main driving force behind the formulation of the modern Western democratic nation-state. It may … not actually have worked, but the idea of one ethnic group=one democratic state is a modern Western invention.

          >Finally, “follow the guy who wins the election” isn’t a rule about who to follow – it’s a meta rule about how to pick the next guy to follow.

          It’s far less meta than “follow the guy who has the divine hereditary right to rule.” Anyone can claim the hereditary right to rule, and there is all but guaranteed to be multiple candidates; whereas with democracy, you can simply look for the guy everyone is following and follow him.

        • AR+ says:

          Or any other highly visible line, really.

          A proximate cause of the American Civil War was the election of Lincoln with almost no Southern support.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Dig a touch deeper – the American Civil war was an ethnic conflict as well.

            Albion’s Seed describes the different British regional groups that settled America.

        • Eli says:

          Clear isn’t the right word. “Resonant with human nature” is a better phrase “in accord with natural law” is another.

          There’s no such thing as natural law, and “resonant with human nature” isn’t what we’re aiming for (we want: resonant with what humans value, want, and care about under full information).

          • Marc Whipple says:

            The problem is that human beings as a group tend to have one or more of the following flaws:

            1) They’re not very good at anticipating consequences.
            2) They’re not very good at figuring out what they want.
            3) They’re extremely good at misleading themselves about what it is they actually want.
            4) They’re almost as good at misleading others about what it is they actually want.

            Match #1 with any of the other two, and you see that aiming for what “humans value, want, and care about” is problematical at best. Match #1 with all of the others, and you see that it’s a horrible, horrible idea. Meanwhile, acting in accord with human nature – namely, organizing society around letting people do what they want within reason and coming down hard on them when they do what they want outside reason – has met with reasonable success in most instances.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, you want that, but perhaps gradually is the only way to get there. I mean, the Iraqis didn’t decided “You know, we don’t really find that this new democratic system resonates with us” they more so decided “This foreign system of democracy is a sham to give all the good to our rivals.” That is, because the new system didn’t feel natural, it didn’t matter that it had a chance to put into place what they were supposed to value (“Islam is a religion of peace” etc.).

          • Tracy W says:

            “resonant with human nature” isn’t what we’re aiming for

            Really? So you don’t see any reason to be against a social system that say requires people to consistently work 20 hour days, or to neglect their own children in pursuit of equality?

            we want: resonant with what humans value, want, and care about under full information

            This doesn’t make sense. I want fire insurance because I *don’t* know if my house will bun down in the next year.
            I want democracy with regular elections because I *don’t* know if the current governing political party will turn into a bunch of incompetents (or have their existing incompetence become apparent to at least 51% of voters.)

        • Garrett says:

          Is it possible that the US system is so successful because it is easy to follow logically, but between the House, Senate, Electoral College, SCOTUS, not to mention the various ways the States are managed, that the emotional attachment is so confused that it’s hard to get really worked up about some small group taking all the goods?

      • Michael Watts says:

        Pku has it when he says “it’s not [] having the rule, it’s having it firmly nailed down in everyone’s head”. Nobles don’t have to let the king’s son succeed him, either. But if people have a common understanding of how things go, things will tend to settle into a state that accords with that understanding when possible.

        I’m going to freely paraphrase from memory something I read a long time ago (read at your own risk; I am not trained in this area; etc etc etc): in negotiations, the possibility space consists of everything that both sides could theoretically accept. That’s a lot of space, so people tend to find attractors within the space and don’t like moving from those attractor points. (The example in the article where I read this was, I believe, Israeli borders of some type. The idea was that Israel has had some borders historically, and a peace negotiation in the middle east would be overwhelmingly likely to settle on borders for Israel that coincided with a set of borders it’s had at some point in the past, rather than coming up with innovative borders.) When there are no good grounds to be located at any particular point in the possibility space, people look for hints and hate to move.

        So the hypothetical noble in a hereditary monarchy probably doesn’t consider “the new king is the old king’s anointed son” the best possible outcome. But it has a lot of mindshare and it’s not intolerable, so everyone goes along with it. (It’s also much better than the runner-up possibility of a power struggle.)

        Similarly, the history of Iraq and the-area-that-in-the-past-was-not-yet-Iraq has worn some channels in the possibility space for politics. Being ruled by US-sponsored elected officials are off somewhere in the flat wasteland of the possibility space where no one is willing to go. They can’t even see it from down in the metaphorical gullies. You have to rule people in a way that they accept. In Iraq, that basically restricts you to ruling directly through very overt force, which the US doesn’t do for domestic political reasons.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          That’s a lot of space, so people tend to find attractors within the space and don’t like moving from those attractor points.

          This idea is generally known as focal points or Schelling points.

          • Irenist says:

            One thing the Brits tried with varying success in the Mideast was installing Hashemites as kings in Transjordan and Iraq. Obviously, it lasted less long in Iraq, but is still keeping the lid on things in (less diverse: just Sunni Bedouin natives and Palestinian refugees, mostly) Jordan today. But prior to the military coup that ended monarchy in Iraq, things there were, IIRC, not so much with the Hussein-style purges and genocidal civilian gassings, but also not so much with the Maliki-style uncontrollable sectarian chaotic bloodbath.

            IOW, I think there’s something to be said for just dropping in a dictator (ahem, “king”) from outside the country to serve as a least worst Schelling point without being part of the internal power structure. I think colonial conquerors (the Romans, the British) have been able to be the “outside guy” and benefit from this dynamic sometimes: sucks to be ruled from Rome/London, but at least your boss isn’t some lousy Macedonian/Yoruba that you REALLY hate. Of course, once everybody’s Schelling point undergoes a phase shift (yes, bad mixed metaphor) to “let’s kick out whitey and worry about splitting the spoils later,” then that system is doomed.

          • 27chaos says:

            I do like the word “attractor” though, as oftentimes there are broad zones which are interesting, rather than any specific points.

          • “dropping in a dictator (ahem, “king”) from outside the country”

            The Ottomans had an elegant variation on this. When they conquered territory, the surrender terms included setting up the current ruler as a high up Ottoman official somewhere else in the empire. That reduced his incentive to keep fighting and it meant that he ended up ruling a population not loyal to him, so dependent on the Sultan and so loyal to the Sultan.

          • Irenist says:

            @David Friedman:
            That is quite elegant. Thank you for sharing that!

      • John Schilling says:

        How is “hold an election, follow the guy who wins” less clear than “find the son of the last guy, follow him”?

        Do the words, “dangling chad”, ring a bell?

        In any event, the “follow the guy who wins” part suggests that you are choosing a single autocrat to rule the new post-revolutionary nation. I think the problems with that plan have little to do with the autocrat-selection process, but if you’re going that route the scimitar-lobbing moistened bint method has a lot going for it in terms of simplicity, clarity, and historical precedent.

        For a proper democracy, as opposed to just an electoral rubber stamp for the dictator, you need to deal with a whole loot of questions that don’t have clear and simple answers. Parliamentary system, or Presidential with division of powers? Unicameral or bicameral legislature, and with what sort of representation? Proportional representation, first-past-the-post districts, or something else? Federalism, or no? Is there an ethnic group that will be over- or under-represented unless we gerrymander districts or count some people as being worth 3/5ths of other people or whatnot?

        And overriding all of this is the problem that the first election, by whatever rules you chose, has a preordained outcome. George Washington gets to rule the United States of America as soon as they become truly united. Fortunately, nobody much disagreed with that one. Sectarian Iraqi Shiites will win any remotely fair election in 2004 Iraq, will use their power against the interests of the Kurds and Sunnis, and lacking any other source of trusted experts will turn to Iran for instruction on how to actually run a government. Lots of people with guns disagreed with that one and insisted on an unworkable quasi-democratic kludge instead.

        Power Word: Democracy! doesn’t solve any of these problems unless the problems were already solved by almost everybody agreeing that George Washington is The Man. In which case, you might as well make him King, because the odds of him settling for anything less than President-for-Life are about one in (number of successful “democratic” revolutions ever).

        To actually make democracy work, you have to convince the autocrats to let you build the framework for democracy under their stable rule, then step aside. Looking at history, who actually did this?

      • Deiseach says:

        We tried holding an election and it didn’t really help that much.

        Because the dogs in the street knew the results of the election didn’t matter. Western countries like elections, so to keep your backers happy/keep the meddlers off your back, you hold an election. There’s probably fifty ways to arrange it so that the ‘right’ candidates win, from only permitting certain candidates to run to ballot-box stuffing, but hey, we’re a democracy, we have elections and everything, now you can send the next instalment of bribes reconstruction money to the government bank!

        It’s political theatre, not democracy. As long as there is a photo opportunity of happy smiling voters holding up their purple fingers for the cameras that the government back in the U.S. or U.K. can use as ‘proof’ to their citizens that reform has triumphed, the backroom agreements between intelligence agencies, government committees and the guys your troops are backing up about who gets the job as minister for what and what favourable deals get cut for the Western contractors all continue on.

      • cassander says:

        Because an election basically just a formalized war. Both sides recruit as many followers as possible, show up at the same place, and agree that we’ll give the victory to whomever shows up with the most footsoldiers and skip the nasty business of fighting it out. This is unquestionably superior to fighting it about, but if you can get all your followers to show up, it’s a relatively short distance from that to deciding not to go quietly into the night when the other guy has 10 more guys than you.

        • John Schilling says:

          Which works out nicely when each side’s voters are roughly equivalent in armament, training, and resolve, and neither side can afford to hire enough mercenaries to make a difference.

      • vV_Vv says:

        How is “hold an election, follow the guy who wins” less clear than “find the son of the last guy, follow him”? We tried holding an election and it didn’t really help that much.

        I suppose that autocracy and democracy tend to work in different conditions. If a functional autocrat is deposed by foreign intervention, it doesn’t magically creates the conditions for a functional democracy, it creates the conditions for a civil war between wannabe autocrats.

        The US probably did the mistake of thinking that what they did in Germany and Italy after WW2 would generalize. But Germany and Italy had been democracies before being autocracies, hence they were abnormal cases.

        • Hanfeizi says:

          That and these nations were so thoroughly beaten that they had few other options; that and we co-opted their elites rather than destroying them, using the threat of communist rule to scare them in line. This was particularly true in Japan.

          (And to this day, I wonder how liberal Japan really is. They have had one-party rule with only two ineffectual, temporary breaks since 1955. Opposition parties have rallies sabotaged by organized crime and their leaders threatened and blackmailed; the Yakuza essentially owes it’s existence to deals cut with the LDP to keep them in power. Journalists who don’t toe the party line won’t go to jail, but they’ll never work again. Self-censorship is practically the Japanese national pastime. When I look at it objectively, outside of ratings like the Corruption Perceptions Index or Freedom House rankings, and look at how things really function in Japan when institutions are looked at objectively… it doesn’t look all that different from post-1978 China. From a Chomskyan perspective, I have to wonder how much of our perspectives on Japan are distorted by propaganda declaring them a “democratic ally”.)

      • Hanfeizi says:

        The CIA was pushing for a restoration of constitutional monarchy in Iraq with a restoration of the old Hashemite monarchical line. One of Faisal II’s cousins is still pushing for it:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharif_Ali_bin_al-Hussein

    • It still seems to me, at least on days when I’m not thinking too hard, that it’s the Sunni’s and Shiite’s fault rather than that of the US or the coalition. But I suspect that amounts, at the end of the day, to blaming people for being people.

      • E. Harding says:

        Sometimes, I, too wonder why the Syrian and Iraqi armies are so pathetic at fighting. But the U.S., Turkey, and Israel are certainly quite satisfied with the present situation; they’re doing nothing to change it.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          But the U.S., Turkey, and Israel are certainly quite satisfied with the present situation; they’re doing nothing to change it.

          The US for domestic political reasons, isn’t willing to send ground troops into combat, and so is waging a mostly ineffectual air strike campaign against ISIS, it doesn’t help that it’s also waging a similar campaign against Assad who is one of the people fighting ISIS. Israel believes, perhaps correctly, that its openly interfering in an inter-Muslim conflict would immediately discredit the side it supported in the eyes of most Muslims.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            Are you suggesting that Isreal should side with ISIS for the best possible outcome? 🙂

          • Tom Richards says:

            The ex-Mossad guy who ran the hotel I stayed in this summer said that Israel was in fact covertly supporting ISIS, although he represented it as a retaliation against the US for policies and decisions that were unpopular with the Israeli establishment (or possibly just Mossad), from disbanding the Iraqi army onwards.

            He may of course have been full of shit.

          • E. Harding says:

            I don’t see the U.S. as waging a campaign against either Assad or the Islamic State. Remember, I publicly predicted that the U.S. would not bomb Syrian military positions almost exactly two years ago. I see it as creating an empire of chaos in areas formerly staffed by less-than-reliable U.S. allies. And Israel already sides with the Islamic State: the State has a pocket of territory at the border of Jordan and the Golan Heights.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s also interesting how we’re not hearing much about the way Turkey treated and is treating the Kurds.

            Turkey (under Attaturk) was dragged into being a modern, secular, Westernised nation (for certain values of those concepts: try being Greek Orthodox in Istanbul, for example, or the ongoing question of Hagia Sophia) and is constantly trying to gain entry into the E.U.

            It also does not want a portion of its territory carved off on the border to create a new, independent Kurdistan which would throw off its influence in the region, so it’s quite happy to both do deals with one side or another and more or less simultaneously undermine any Kurdish independence attempts, and more or less behave in a manner not so consonant with its attempt to present itself as a modern, secular, etc etc state.

            But! Turkey is on our side, it’s a member of NATO, so there you go!

          • I’ve heard a fair amount from the BBC and possibly NPR about the mistreatment of the Kurds.

      • Ken B says:

        What! It’s not all about us??

      • 27chaos says:

        “Rather”? Porque no los dos?

    • Consider the case of the Ottoman Empire. For a long time, the succession system was fratricide. When the Sultan died, those of his sons (and sometimes brothers) who wanted to be sultan fought it out.

      It’s a costly mechanism, but it has the virtue of selecting the ruler best able to win a civil war, whether by diplomatic or military ability. The point at which they abandoned that system was about the point at which the empire stopped expanding.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Off the coast of Constantinople, there’s the Isle of Princes where the losing princes were exiled to live out their lives. But that’s an innovation from the decadent latter days of the Ottoman Empire when they got nice and let the losing princes live (semi-imprisoned). Back in the good old days when the Ottoman Empire was a holy terror rather than the Sick Man of Europe, only one prince survived.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Yes. there are worse things than monarchy, but monarchy still has the Idiot Son Problem. I’m not sure whether the worst system is autocracy without orderly succession. or voluntarily electing an idiot son.

      • John Schilling says:

        The last time I checked, most present monarchies are at least quasi-elective. Either there’s a (small, elite) electorate that has to explicitly chose the next king, or there’s an elected legislature that can change the rules of succession on the fly. This process is highly biased in favor of the last King’s firstborn son, but if the last King’s firstborn son is an idiot and his younger brother isn’t, the idiot doesn’t ascend to the throne.

        I believe that most historic monarchies also follow this pattern, but that’s hard to verify without more work than I want to put into it. However, our perception of monarchy is disproportionately colored by a few Western European monarchies that were strictly hereditary. In particular France, which had an unusually long run of not-idiot firstborn sons.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Even Western Europe wasn’t especially fixated on strict primogeniture all of the time, always. Firstborn son is an idiot is one possibility of a nasty case, but cases where the heir would be a daughter, or where said heir would be foreign, were cause enough for other candidates to be made king.

          • Addict says:

            Hum? Can you name an instance wherein a king had his legitimacy undermined by being foreign?

            I suppose James Duke of York counts, although that was more because he was Catholic than because he was French.

            On the other hand, there are many examples of foreign kings whose legitimacy remained unquestioned (sometimes after a war, sometimes not). The War of Spanish Succession put a French Bourbon on the throne of Spain. The Bohemians asked Frederick V to be their king, and he (while German) wasn’t Bohemian. To be honest, Royal blood in Western Europe was so intermixed that basically nobody’s king was the same ethnicity as its people.

        • Cet3 says:

          Generally, there were no rules of succession in the sense people would expect today, only custom. Codification of custom into law is usually a symptom of the traditional elites losing their grip.

          • Irenist says:

            Partial Countexample: Merovingians were riding pretty high when Clovis promulgated the Salic Law codes. Of course, that really just excluded the ladies from the throne, rather than nailing down primogeniture as opposed to dividing up the realm among your sons like an idiot. So only partial. But still, they codified the “girls have cooties: stay outta the treehouse” aspect back when they could hardly be said to have been losing their grip.

    • Cet3 says:

      Historically, hereditary monarchy has not done that great a job of preventing succession wars. As long as the monarch is anything more than a powerless figurehead, the practical stakes are too high to ignore in favor of strict adherence to succession laws.

      • Irenist says:

        True. But dictatorship (except during the altruistic blip of Rome’s Good Emperors where they picked their successors, which went so much against human nature that frickin’ Marcus “Mr. Stoic” Aurelius couldn’t maintain and converted it into a monarchy because Selfish Genes are strong, my son) has succession problems, too. As, of course, does democracy when the political parties are just ethnic/tribal/sectarian proxies. (No, Westerners aren’t immune: declare N. Ireland independent tomorrow, and see how long that takes to break down without everybody knowing that London (who hate EVERYBODY in Belfast at this point) can sweep in if they don’t keep Good Friday going.) I am not, as it happens, a monarchist (I’m a centuries-of-slow-development-of-ordered-liberty-via-strong-property-rights-honest-courts-and-slowly-evolved-parliaments-with-monarchical-executives-you-can-call-PM-or-POTUS-for-all-I-care-ist, but that’s hard to implement as a hotfix!), but I will note that the old monarchical succession struggles in W. Europe often involved either hunting “accidents,” Borgia-style poisonings, or relatively chivalrous civil wars by hired condottieri who weren’t getting paid enough to engage in modern total war. So give monarchy some credit.

        Tangent: Firearms wrecked that equilibrium b/c now you replaced knights on horseback and professional condottieri with mass plebeian armies of minutemen or Frenchmen foolishly following Napoleon into LARPing the Minard graph (a LARP later replayed by Hitler). Interestingly, the era of robot/drone/cyber warfare between Asimov’s Laws noncompliant mechs, insect-bots, and robo-subs is going to make Ye Olde NRA Activist or The Saracenic Hordes of IED Makers about as ineffective against the Empire (“Empire” as in Hardt & Negri) as Sir Lancelot against a howitzer, so the populist equilibrium of the last few centuries (with the mass armies and guerilla people-power insurgencies) ought to be replaced by courtly intrigue (with media-managed elections in the N. Atlantic b/c it’s much more subtle if your mailed fist has a velvet glove, and they cost the Establishment nothing important so long as the Overton Window is non-conspiratorially managed by Moloch’s market forces and the old college tie among elites) in relatively short order. So we’ll live in an Empire that calls itself a Republic, and that Empire will be an unchallenged hegemon (Chinese demographics are a disaster: Middle Kingdom stays middle income and fades out just like prior US foes) with a military structure (Augustus’ legions, Potus’ drones) that is very biased toward centralization of power, first-mover effects, lock-in, and all the other political equivalents of why your megacorp has Windows PCs and the old QWERTY/Dvorak and VHS/Beta folktales.) We’re due for a Pax Romana, and I for one feel fine.

        Forgot to mention: ubiquitous surveillance state. That’s a big part of the change back to elite-biased power I’m predicting, too.

        ETA: This is another thing I don’t get about Moldy. Per Eric Nelson and Hilaire Belloc alike, I think the US system in the Emerging Democratic Majority era (A monarchical administrative state where Caesar is a “Democratic” populist appealing to plebs with bread and circuses, there’s a parliament of millionaire optimate “Republicans” grumbling about the Caesar’s tax levies but unable to get it together to support some Pompey in an organized way, and a court dominated by an elitist clerisy) basically IS the English Constitution of Edward Longshanks (monarchically run military, parliament of lords and wealthy burgesses, elitist clerisy running the high courts) if not of Louis XIV (which was an unstable equilibrium compared to the medieval model, since it only lasted up to Louis XVI), with the minor exception that the elites have a show-election every four years. We even still have “idiot sons” (e.g., GWB) with professional staffs to manage their regencies. And yes, we could sell off all the capital for management by USA Corp., but corporations run the whole show now!

        Seriously, NRx people: how are we not ALREADY living Moldy’s dreams? From a Catholic (Paleo-Rx?) view in which an Augustus is a Longshanks is a Pinochet is a POTUS and the only proper philosophical reaction to such trivial ephemera as what the inevitably Zipf’s Law-constrained primate pecking order is calling itself this century (Sultanate? Republic? Who cares?) is to disdain them and focus on the eternal verities of the Church, our present system looks as NRx-compliant as one would expect given The Sixties (a separate issue) and the difference between a utopia and the rough edges of an actual implementation. Like, the present monarchy-in-all-but-name of the warfare/welfare Deep State is what USA Corp. has decided it wants to do, so by the Steel Rule, shouldn’t Moldy just bend over and take it, happy to have a king?

        • Cet3 says:

          …but I will note that the old monarchical succession struggles in W. Europe often involved either hunting “accidents,” Borgia-style poisonings, or relatively chivalrous civil wars by hired condottieri who weren’t getting paid enough to engage in modern total war. So give monarchy some credit.

          Politics in medieval Western Europe also tended to involve discontented lordlings pillaging the countryside and sacking monasteries whenever they were unhappy about their place in the succession, tax policy, the color of the queen mother’s dress, or any other pretext they could invent. Medieval mercenaries’ only saving grace was their primitive equipment and low numbers. They may have had a smaller footprint than modern armies, but they were zealous and indiscriminate in their pursuit of plunder. Being poorly paid only made that worse. The relatively “chivalrous” condotierri were creatures of northern Italy, which was richer and more urbanized than most of the rest of Europe, meaning the local governments were generally much better and more reliable when it came to paying their mercenaries. It was also one of the regions where monarchy was weakest.

          Tangent: Firearms wrecked that equilibrium b/c now you replaced knights on horseback and professional condottieri with mass plebeian armies of minutemen or Frenchmen foolishly following Napoleon into LARPing the Minard graph (a LARP later replayed by Hitler).

          Mass armies had already been used to spectacular effect before firearms: see classical Rome, the Qin (both the warring state and the dynasty), the early Caliphate (up through the reign of Harun al-Rashid, roughly), and the Merovingian and Carolingian Franks as examples.

          • Irenist says:

            Fair points about medieval mercenaries, condottieri, etc. And yeah, if rebellious dukes could’ve firebombed Dresden to get their way, they would’ve. It wasn’t ye olde monarchy that kept war less bad, it was lower tech. I entirely agree. I’m not a monarchist.

            As for mass armies, my impression is that peasant revolts tended to fail. One of my examples of centralized power was Augustus’ legions. My only point was just that firearms made minutemen, guerillas, and mass conscription-type armies possible and worth doing. A bunch of random angry peasants can’t get together and organize a properly disciplined Roman legion. A bunch of angry minutemen or Pashtuns with kalashnikovs or WWII draftees with a few weeks training can organize a pretty good fighting force. I guess I was assuming mass armies != legions, and I guess that’s a stupid way to talk. Sorry about that. Hope the clarification helps.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          shouldn’t Moldy just bend over and take it, happy to have a king?

          To some extent that’s how his oeuvre begins, advocating what he calls “formalism”, which would recognize where the true power is, and officially legitimate it. If the actual owners of America have a clear title, a couple of advantages accrue (as I read him). We can stop spending an insane amount of money and effort on biennial rituals to give the populace the illusion that it has any actual input into What Has Been Decided. And the actual owners, who do still have a long-term interest in America’s success and longevity, can spend their time making sure the whole system actually, you know, works, instead of frittering it away on all the political kabuki of “manufacturing consent”.

          • Irenist says:

            Right. But the kabuki seems like a really important part of *why* it works. And relative to the cost of a civil war or a succession struggle, do we really spend that much on elections? The true power already has power, and it maintains that power in part by awing people with elections the way it used to awe them with fancy crowns. And elections are, for all their fatuity, a good feedback mechanism to prevent REALLY bad stuff like a famine or something. The whole thing strikes me as a solution in search of a problem.

          • CJB says:

            The Problem with Moldbug is that a big part of the Kabuki is….well, things I really like. (The other problem is that I know enough about the Stuarts to be all “ew, NO.)

            Like “allowing me to say what I like” or “worship who I like” or “agitate on SSC”.

            Can I Free The Minds of all 320 million Americans? No- and if I somehow could beam Moldbug into every home, at BEST all I’d accomplish is getting the same problems we already have injected into my interesting philosophy- namely, lots of idiots live here.

            Ultimately, I am going to be a wee cog in a large machine, regardless. I might as well be a wee cog who can be free to wobble in my own particular way, and not a cog worried that if I say “The king is a fink!” I’ll end up in the stocks.

          • “do we really spend that much on elections?”

            No. The real puzzle is why we spend so little.

            The two sides are fighting over control of expenditures of almost four trillion dollars a year for about four years (two years for the House, four for the President, six for the Senate), plus the power to make laws and regulations that indirectly allocate a lot of additional wealth. In the attempt to win that fight, the two sides together spent less than seven billion in 2012. The value of the prize was several thousand times as large as the amount spent trying to win it.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I take all of your points. As I understand the counter-argument to most of them, it is that in a “formalist” regime, since the “true owners” would be acknowledged as legitimate shareholders, they would hire a CEO and treat the state as a long-term asset rather than as something that they must milk the life out of because they might lose it at any time. (Not that there is actually any danger that they will lose it: they are as blind to the true state of affairs as the proles are.)

            But the kabuki seems like a really important part of *why* it works.

            Successful businesses do not seem to need it.

            things I really like…Like “allowing me to say what I like” or “worship who I like” or “agitate on SSC”.

            Successful businesses mostly don’t care what you do on your own time.

            As to

            do we really spend that much on elections?

            The kabuki isn’t restricted to specific election expenditures by candidates. There’s all the activity in the press to ensure that the right people get in and, more important, to ensure that the proles think the whole thing is their idea. There’s the fact that a successful business has to make big contributions to both sides. There is the constant posturing about tiny, tiny fractions of the budget and tiny, tiny slivers of policy in the effort to pander to a base or earn support for the next election.

            Dr. Friedman says election expenditures are actually surprisingly little compared to the magnitude of the expenditures the winners control. Fair enough. And yet, regardless of who wins, how much do the broad strokes of that expenditure actually change from election to election?

            Perhaps so little is spent precisely because it is, well, kabuki. The election has no effect on who is employed by the bureaucracy, the elite universities, the influential papers. It doesn’t even have much effect on who is in Congress!

            The amount spent directly in campaigning is less surprising if you observe that what’s at stake in the election is not the direction the country goes, which isn’t affected, but who gets to feel important and esteemed and historical.

            I have for some time wished that Dr Friedman would engage Moldbug, though God knows if he hasn’t yet read Moldbug’s voluminous blog he would have to eschew SSC in order to make the time. 🙂 (Heh, I should talk; look how long this comment is.) Moldbug’s description of “The Patchwork” is certainly not the same as anarcho-capitalism, but to my eye they have more than a few things in common, not least of which is taking seriously the view in Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority.

          • Jiro says:

            Successful businesses mostly don’t care what you do on your own time.

            By this reasoning, there are no such things as luxury goods.

            For the business owner to not hire homosexuals because he doesn’t like them (for instance) is a luxury good. It brings no gain to the business, and in fact costs the owner money. But if the business owner buys a yacht, that also brings no gain to the business and costs the business owner money. In either case the business owner gets pleasure but takes a financial hit.

            If business owners are willing to buy yachts, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be willing to buy discrimination.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If business owners are willing to buy yachts, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be willing to buy discrimination.

            This argument also applies against an-cap, libertarianism, and in fact Constitutional republics as founded in 1789. I don’t want to fall into that whole argument, which has been hashed and rehashed many times.

            I will point out, though, that a system in which the true holders of power in the US are turned into stockholders in USA, Inc. is, well, pretty different from a situation in which a sole proprietor decides to throw his weight around. Those holders of power now are pretty united (more so than the proles, for that matter) that the situation you describe is bad, so why on earth would they change their minds just because their position of power is acknowledged and legitimized?

    • Deiseach says:

      So it’s a little harder to blame Americans for their moronic opinions about what happens if you lop off the government.

      But you can blame Americans for being ignorant of their own history. The 1953 coup d’état in Iran meant that the view of the Shah as more or less the puppet of foreign meddling was solidified, and the resentment already simmering amongst the tribes and the clergy and the lower classes over the programme of forced Westernisation and modernisation implemented by the Shah’s father (and first monarch of the Pahlavi Dynasty) eventually boiled over in the 1979 revolution.

      If your government is constantly meddling for the purpose of its own interests in the affairs of other countries, you cannot expect the people of those countries to feel very friendly towards you. And you have no excuse to be surprised when the people of the country next door do not rush out to view you as liberators (they’ll have seen this all before and know what happens afterwards). If you remove the strong man who has been your ally of convenience and who has been holding down popular opposition by force of arms, as you did in Iraq, what do you expect to happen when you take the lid off the pressure cooker but for it all to blow up in your face?

      And how have you forgotten that in the early days of the liberation of Iraq it was going to be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”? Chalabi was going to be the next leader, who would bring democracy to the nation, and be friendly to American interests? The only tiny problem being that he was lying about his support and none of the Iraqis wanted him but he was shoved in to some position of influence due to the favours he’d accrued.

      • Irenist says:

        Americans “own history” as taught in schools tends to be entirely domestic history, except for the World Wars and discussion of the *domestic* tension over Vietnam. I don’t know if this is correct or not, but I picture British schoolboys during the Empire mostly just learning about domestic stuff like kings and Cromwell-as-freedom-fighter and parliamentary reform (and maybe not even that last one) with no sustained attention to Ireland, America, India, the Mideast or Africa except for occasional boys’ adventure yarns about Drake or Gordon or Kitchener or a Kipling story. In general, I don’t think most school systems tend to teach foreign policy as “our” history? Which, of course, is very convenient for leaving the Deep State unmolested by a populace that rarely thinks about such matters.

        ETA: Well, British boys probably learned a lot about the Hundred Years War and Waterloo and 1066 and all that French-related stuff. But the history of British dealings with w*gs? I don’t think the schoolmasters would’ve thought it worth bothering with. Likewise, Joe Sixpack the Real American isn’t paying good tax money to the schoolboard to teach his kids about some shah. Washington, Lincoln, and patriotism, and some guilt-inducing lessons about MLK as long as we’re not supposed to feel personally implicated. But the shah? Pfft.

        ETA2: I think being from a small country might lead you to overestimate human nature. Y’know how some tractor-driving Blueshirt voter could care less about raising his consciousness about the historic wrongs suffered by the Traveler community? That’s pretty much how the median citizen of a global hegemon (Rome, Britain, USA) feels about everyone: I got mine, leave me alone. If that helps.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, being from a small country makes me very sensitive to what being on the receiving end of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden nation-building adventures feels like 🙂

          But this is exactly the kind of history that needs to be learned, and while I might not expect it in schools, people who go to college (at least the humanities) and certainly policy makers need to be aware of what happened Out There before the latest bout of Brown People Fighting Each Other, Who Can Possibly Know Why?

          It reminds me of Dawkins’ glib dismissal of Protestant/Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland with no seeming awareness of the role his country, and especially the mandarins of his upper middle class Oxbridge caste, had played in the politics of such conflicts.

          Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as your second-term Democrat president with his drones has found out.

          • CJB says:

            The problem is that we DO learn a very shallow version of that. About the only people reading Chomsky are in college dorm rooms. It boils down to “the noble hakititwooty lived in peace.with the howdydoody until the WHITE MAN TAUGHT THEM WAR”

            When in reality, it turns out that Sunni and Shia were at war looong before there was an england, and the tribes that becsme sunni or shia were fighting each other all the way back to Abraham kicking Ibrihams goat a billion years ago.

            The ultimate failure of western foreign policy can be found upthread:
            “The incentive to compromise is that you don’t have to spend life in a state of total war”

            Rich white enlightenment culture liberals see that as an incentive. The Pastun see it as reeking cowardice. The truth is the Hatfields and McCoys were having a fucking BLAST. Shooting enemies is more fun than shucking corn. Funerals for Noble Martyrs are FUN.

            And unless tens of thousands of writers across every culture are lying….low grade non mechanized warfare is hella fun. Border reivers and Cuchullan and the Sioux were having a high old time.

            Non enlightenment cultures LIKE war.

          • “Non enlightenment cultures LIKE war.”

            OTOH, the current crop of Syrian refugees seem to be disproportionately male. They might be draft dodgers.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Or they might think that war is more fun when the other side isn’t shooting back.

          • CJB says:

            “OTOH, the current crop of Syrian refugees seem to be disproportionately male. They might be draft dodgers.”

            I was on my phone, so I didn’t make this as explicit as I should have, that should be modified by “low grade non mechanized warfare” in the previous paragraph.

            They aren’t Sioux counting coup with some border raids and bombings and low level terrorism and big parades when Israel or whoever bombs a few of your people in retaliation. They’re fighting people that are just going to fucking kill them, en masse.

            Also, notably- they aren’t just “fleeing the violence”- people just trying to get away from bullets tend to stop just out of bullet range- such as Turkey. Or a number of other peaceful places between “Syria” and “Germany”.

            But when you can travel to the free shit, and blame bullets? Oh yeah, baby.

          • John Schilling says:

            OTOH, the current crop of Syrian refugees seem to be disproportionately male. They might be draft dodgers.

            Single men are generally more mobile than any other demographic, particularly in traditional cultures. They are thus disproportionately represented in most migrations, whatever the cause.

    • Tom Womack says:

      They had an alternative power structure ready. The problem is that they thought the task was easy enough that they made the power structure out of Republic congressional interns, who didn’t see the problem as being one hard enough to need to be subtle about it.

      It doesn’t seem that anyone had devoted substantial CIA effort to ‘which of Saddam’s generals would it be least awful to appoint as provincial bosses’; denazify them all and let Allah (who in this case turned out to act through the extremely competent Iranian intelligence corps) sort it out.

  8. E. Harding says:

    Before I even read this post, I also thought about foreign policy: you will never find a pro-Russian mainstream news source in the U.S.; you will (or at least did) find pro-U.S. mainstream news sources in Russia [I don’t live there; I don’t follow what goes on there; I can read the language and speak it]:

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/topic/ria-novosti/

    Also, the press’s refusal to mention these things and reason regarding them: the countries the Islamic State borders, the Libyan intervention (compare the press’s and the Left’s general attitude toward Iraq War), the illegitimacy of the former Yemen government and its overthrow by the Houthis, and the U.S. bombing of Yemen for over half a decade not even remotely resulting in the stopping the present partition of the country. Explaining the U.S., Turkey, Israel, and Jordan back the Islamic State is half as simple as explaining that Russia backs the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

    I’m thinking of making a chart of the power elite in America. I’ve begun with Democratic-leaning figures, but won’t end with them.
    Now that I’ve read it, I feel like I’ve been hit with a growing sense of ambiguity.

    BTW, I’ve always fumed at the failure of the U.S. educational system to mention to students the aftermath of the Fall of the USSR. Or the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.

    Also, when reading the elections section, I could only wonder how the U.S. media would have portrayed Assad’s (blatantly fraudulent) 2014 election if Assad was formally portrayed as a U.S. ally. Also, how the U.S. media doesn’t really treat Russia’s elections seriously, despite their clear credibility.

    • BBA says:

      Do you consider The Nation mainstream? They’ve been noticeably pro-Russian lately, particularly writer Stephen Cohen.

      • E. Harding says:

        I don’t hear it mentioned much. I think Mother Jones is mainstream, ThinkProgress has very strong establishment news opinions, but is not part of the mainstream due to its blatant partisanship, but the Nation? I think just outside of it. It’s on the border region.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Stephen Cohen is married to the publisher.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        @bba

        I always liked John (Jared?) Bernstein’s observation that if you read and/or commented on his blog, you were a freak. This was for people who agreed with him and people who did not.

        Meaning that most people do not spend most of their times reading, consuming, or thinking about politics, ideology, or keeping things coherent. They are probably more like my friend from college, vaguely liberal or conservative, potentially in alliance with one party over the other but really more preoccupied with their friends and family over everything else. Anecdotal social media evidence shows me that people post political stuff all the time or not really at all.

        The Nation has been around for a long time and in politics can be anything from the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” to unreconstructed Stalinists like the departed Alexander Cockburn. But all the small political magazines like The Nation, The National Review, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, the American Prospect, The American Conservative, Mother Jones, seem to mainly survive via donations and charity over subscriptions and advertisements and always have. And/or they are indulgences for very wealthy publishers.

        The New Yorker might be more generally liberal but I think more people read it to for a certain kind of artistic and cultural sophistication (note: I am one of these people) and for their often enough apolitical in-depth articles than for political opinions. Though the Borowitz Report is generally representative of upper-middle class liberal opinion.

        People and US Weekly are mainstream. Political magazines by their very small readerships are not mainstream.

        Anyone who reads Slate Star Codex or LGM is kind of weird. Even if they vote straight D or straight R every single election.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          >I always liked John (Jared?) Bernstein’s observation

          Unless there’s another moderately well known PoliSci blogger/columnist with the same surname, then you’re thinking of Jonathan Bernstein.

    • Kibber says:

      > you will never find a pro-Russian mainstream news source in the U.S.
      Given that Putin’s government is openly anti-American and anti-European, reasonably powerful and not leftist, it’s not at all surprising to me. There just isn’t any way to apply a positive spin to it if you cater to Americans. (disclaimer: I am Russian and get all my news on Russia from Russian sources exclusively).

      > Russia’s elections seriously, despite their clear credibility.
      Not sure what you mean. Putin is clearly highly supported by the general population in Russia, but all the elections are just as clearly a farce. The only people taking them seriously are the ones responsible for lining up the numbers.

      • E. Harding says:

        The election numbers aren’t lies; they closely match the poll numbers in independent polls. The big reason Russia’s elections cannot be considered democratic in nature is due to lack of political competition. No electable candidate is going to run against Putin-Medvedev. It’s a little like in America, where Jeb Bush is going to win the Republican nomination, even though he’s a pretty piss-poor candidate, as compared with, say, Trump, and Bill Clinton has a decent chance of being in the White House again in 2017. Ukraine’s been cracking down on political competition, too, lately, though it remains a more polycentric political system than Russia.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          No electable candidate who is not immune to low-velocity polonium and high-velocity lead is going to run against Putin-Medvedev.

          FTFY.

          • E. Harding says:

            Do you have some justification for your conspiracy theories? And besides, Presidential candidates can and do run against Putin-Medvedev, they’re just unelectable ones.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Exactly. Unelectable candidates are not a threat: therefore they are safe from undesired injections of heavy metals at whatever velocity. Putin is not Lenin: he’s not even Stalin. (And I mean that in a good way, not a dismissive way.) But you still don’t poke the bear. At least, not hard enough to make it take you seriously.

        • Kibber says:

          > The election numbers aren’t lies; they closely match the poll numbers in independent polls.
          They may or may not match, yet they’re still manually entered fake numbers (i.e. lies), which has been statistically proven.

          > It’s a little like in America
          Yes, a little. Same way the straw airplanes of cargo cults are a little like the real ones.

    • Urstoff says:

      That’s why it’s fund to watch RT (very not mainstream), which is so hilariously pro-Russian that it’s bizarro land. The bias seems to chafe their on-screen American talent, too.

  9. Pku says:

    A pretty far digression:
    I think this narrative of “worthy vs. unworthy victims” is the description I’ve been looking for for something that bothers me a lot, where people work hard to decide who gets to be the “worthy victim” and is thus entitled to sympathy. The clearest example is in this parody article: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/politically-correct-lord-of-the-flies . In particular this scene:

    “It’s a fair point,” Roger said. “Can we even call Piggy Piggy?”
    “I suppose it depends,” Jack said. “Is it glandular?”
    “No,” Piggy replied, sadly.
    “Are there oppressive or systemic social factors involved? Are you poor?”
    Roger whispered to Jack, “You’re supposed to say, Are you experiencing poverty?”
    “Right. Are you experiencing poverty, Piggy?”
    “Right now I am.”
    Jack went on, “But were you when you became … a person of size?”
    “No.”
    “Then sucks to you, Fatty.”

    The other example I can think of (an actual one in this case) was the “light blow on the wing” interview, where, when asked what he felt when bombing a terrorist hideout with civilians inside, the commander of the Israeli air force responded “a light blow on the wing”. He then went on to explain how nobody in the house could really be considered a worthy victim, since they were all probably aware of and in collusion with the terrorists involved. (The interviewer finally talked him into “well ok, not the kids.”). Aside from the obvious discussion about who counts as a militant, there’s another implication here – when a soldier on our side dies, it’s generally considered much worse than a civilian dying. But when it’s on their side, it’s suddenly so legitimate we fight to make it look like only their soldiers die (I could blame this on people claiming that terrorists aren’t legitimate soldiers and don’t count, but it doesn’t seem like changing them to a foreign government’s official soldiers would make people sad about them dying). If you can make the argument of acceptable civilian casualties, it seems like you could make the argument for acceptable militant casualties – except that they’re unworthy victims in the first place, so you don’t bother.

  10. Chris Leong says:

    The media has a definite leftwards tendency compared to the population (whether or not that is a “bias” depends on whether you think that reality is also leftwards).

    I think the cause is that the left boundary of the Overton Window is set by the media, while the right boundary is set by the population.

    • E. Harding says:

      Al Franken pointed out that the media had, if anything, a pro-Bush bias during the 2000 election. He also pointed out that U.S. newspaper editors are generally conservative. But I don’t think he accounted for the incumbency factor.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I was puzzled when the editorial boards of the NYT and WP at the last minute officially endorsed Gore, after one long biography writer had said things like “The self-styled inventor of the internet had mediocre grades in math.”* The biography in the other paper had similar slant.

        In the OP, Scott said:
        So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.

        If by ‘conservative’ here he meant not Right Wing but a fear of disruption in their personal bubble, from unexpected changes in either policy direction, then that would fit with something BBA said:

        The national media’s bias is, above all else, pro-political establishment, the stuff of Georgetown cocktail parties. This largely manifests as a left-wing bias because there’s a much bigger cultural gap between the Republican establishment and its voting base than between their Democratic counterparts. But it’s not exclusively left-wing.

        I’m not sure the bias in mid-level journalism is more about policy, than about the candidate’s personality. Palin and Gore were both attacked as persons, perhaps because they were likely (as Palin said) “to shake things up.”

        * Quoted from memory

        • “Palin and Gore were both attacked as persons, perhaps because they were likely (as Palin said) “to shake things up.””!#

          Or perhaps because of their personalities.

          There are parallels to the Overton window that apply to things other than policy.

          One of them is personalities. Milliband and Gore can be attacked for being too intellectual and geeky, while Palin and Trump can be attacked for being to ignorant and vulgar. Extreme, and therefore interesting personalities are kept out of senior positions.

    • excess_kurtosis says:

      I think it’s more complicated than that. The media, much like the establishment in general, is fairly far to the right of the general public on economic issues and pretty far to the left of the population on issues tied up with cosmopolitan self-identity (gay rights, immigration, etc).

      • E. Harding says:

        I don’t see the media being generally to the right of the general public on economic issues today. Can you give some examples?

        • excess_kurtosis says:

          https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/08/06/support-radical-left-and-right/ is the UK and not the US, but it shows the general point. People don’t have strongly held opinions on anything, so there’s some murkiness, but it generally isn’t hard to find examples of the public being way to the left of the consensus on a lot of issues.

          But less extreme examples that the liberal blogosphere complains about a lot are stuff like raising the retirement age, which has an enormous amount of elite support in the media but is generally pretty unpopular.

          • E. Harding says:

            I also hear a lot of whining about the existence of the Euro from the media. Yes; there’s some support for “tough choices” rhetoric (e.g., from VSPs), as well as liberalizing Venezuela’s economy, but also plenty of opposition to government sequesters and slimdowns. And I think most Americans would support liberalizing Venezuela’s economy.

          • Careless says:

            Maybe I’m being too charitable, but I don’t really consider lowering the retirement age to be something of the Left. Just something of idiots.

          • excess_kurtosis says:

            The case for lowering the retirement age to 62 isn’t really that crazy. Right now, SSA is set up so that it is possible to retire at 62 if you’re willing to accept much lower pension payments, and most people do that because working non-cognitive jobs in your 60’s is awful.

        • grendelkhan says:

          I’d suggest “The Progressive Majority”, but as the people writing that are especially partisan, you might prefer comparisons of the priorities of the wealthy and the general public, noting that the media usually follows the former where they differ (e.g., focusing more on the national debt than on inequality).

          It’s not so much a conservative bent as a pro-wealthy bent, but there’s enough overlap to explain some things.

      • Linch says:

        For what it’s worth, academic economists are also far to the “left” of the mainstream on immigration issues…which they typically treat as simple economic issues, not necessarily “identity” ones like gay marriage.

      • People who are more educated are systematically more socially liberal and pro free trade. And more willing to agree with expert consensus on things like climate change too.

        • Deiseach says:

          What amuses me (re: socially liberal) is how something like Burning Man has been packaged into a neat experience so that people, with apparently no sense of irony, can talk about being Burners (and hence possessing that radical chic street cred) because they’re taking a week off from their corporate jobs* where they make the money to buy the gear to head off to ‘rough it’ camping in the desert.

          *Yes, working for Silicon Valley still is a corporate job, even if you’re not wearing a suit and tie. These are multi-billion global entities, not Fred’n’Bill’s Lemonade Stand.

          • ddreytes says:

            I feel I should point out, just for the record, that what you might call socially-liberal-educated social circles are extremely aware of this contradiction. Including, I would wager, most of the people who actually go to Burning Man.

          • Adam says:

            I’m not even sure what the contradiction is. I’ve never gone to and never will to a burn, but I never got the impression it’s about roughing it and it’s not like sex and drugs and music stop being fun because now you have money and a real job.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s no irony in spending a lot of money on cool art or a big party no matter where it’s located. There is some irony in an event that bills itself as radically anticommercial when you can expect to spend better than a thousand dollars on tickets, camp dues, gas, and equipment, but that irony’s better aimed at BMORG than your average Burner; at this point in the event’s history (and probably all others), its much-vaunted ten principles don’t have much to do with its actual sociology. Which puts it on par with literally every other “culture” or “values” initiative I’ve ever heard of, except that people love to sneer about this one in particular. Wish I could say I was surprised.

            As to “roughing it”, Burning Man’s relationship with physical adversity is complicated. I could write (and have written) a lot about it, but it’s worth noting that if adversity’s all you’re looking for, you can get a more physically challenging experience more cheaply by climbing one of the many peaks in the Cascades or the high Sierra. Which also tends to be an upper-middle-class pastime, incidentally.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          People who are more educated are […] more willing to agree with expert consensus on things like climate change too.

          That’s not true with respect to climate change. Being scientifically knowledgable does tend to make people feel more certain in their views, so if you’re a Democrat knowing more science makes you more certain we’re all doomed to drown but if you’re a Republican knowing more science makes you more certain the doom&gloomers are full of it.

          But education itself doesn’t make much of a difference. Um, try here:

          “Education level has a correlation pretty close to zero (r = -0.02, p = 0.11) with climate change risk perceptions.”(source)

          • The link is to some of Dan Kahan’s work. His underlying argument is interesting and, to me, persuasive.

            Consider any issue where one position has gotten linked to group identity, such as evolution or climate change. What position I take has very little effect on the world as a whole but a substantial effect on me. If most of my friends and neighbors are fundamentalist Christians, I will be much better off rejecting evolution than accepting it. If most are fellow academics, the same is true in the other direction, perhaps even more strongly. So it is in my self-interest to take the position of my group.

            According to Dan’s work, the more sophisticated I am, ceteris paribus, the more likely I am to do so. An intelligent and educated fundamentalist is even more likely to reject evolution than an uneducated one, because he is better equipped to create plausible sounding counter-arguments—and it is in his interest to do so.

            I’ve had pretty much no experience of evolution arguments but have seen lots climate arguing. As best I can tell, most of those involved, on both sides, don’t understand the underlying science, although many think they do. My standard example is an experiment, versions of which appear in a variety of YouTube videos, that supposedly proves CO2 to be a greenhouse gas. CO2 is a greenhouse gas–but the “proof” depends on not understanding how a greenhouse gas works.

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-nice-example-of-scientific-ignorance.html

          • Marc Whipple says:

            In my experience in dealing with people who are extremely intelligent – of which I have quite a bit – I have found that they are not significantly less likely to believe weird things than neurotypical people. In fact, I think they’re somewhat more likely to do so. Not much, but a bit. There’s all kinds of hypotheses as to why that is, but it’s not the important thing.

            The important thing is that all of that mental horsepower is used in service of explaining/rationalizing the weird belief, and they are both much harder to argue with (after all, they’re really smart) and much harder to convince (after all, they’re used to being right when other people disagree with them.)

            It’s fascinating. But really, really aggravating. It explains a lot, though, such as why educated, intelligent people who ought to know the limits of science and prediction better are so steadfastly convinced a) they understand climate science better than they do and b) the (climate) science is settled and anybody who tries to show otherwise is a Koch brothers mouthpiece, a fundy Dominionist, or both.

            This, like the rest, works both ways. Extremely intelligent people who don’t believe in catastrophic AGW often also think they understand the science better than they do (or that people on the other side don’t understand it as well as they do) and have their own unbudgable opinions on the matter. Trying even to get them to consider that there may be an issue at all is nearly impossible.

            (For reference, my position, which is of course the reasonable, neutral, scientific one, is:

            1) Yes, it is getting warmer.
            2) Yes, part of it is because of human action.
            3) Trying to mitigate the speed of the change would probably be prudent.
            4) Trying to anticipate the likely near-term effects of the change and mitigate the harm would definitely be prudent.
            5) Anybody who claims to know that temperatures will rise multiple degrees C within several decades almost entirely due to human action doesn’t understand the limitations of complex modeling or our knowledge of the parameters that influence climate.
            6) Anybody who thinks that they know enough, with enough confidence, to say that drastically rearranging the global economy, right screaming now, to try to prevent such catastrophe, is not only prudent but the only sane course of action, and that any other theory is on the level of Holocaust denial, is delusional.)

      • Aaron says:

        Part of the problem is that the terms “left” and “right” are so deeply inadequate. They are useful for promoting us-versus-them partisanship but terrible at describing political issues at any meaningful level.

        Then there is the mythology surround these terms that further muddles the public discourse. For example, Republican politicians are in favor of small government (no they aren’t), Democratic politicians are anti-war (also not true), and likewise ad nauseum.

        The tragedy is the near complete lack of root cause analysis in favor of labeling and emoting. Bernie Sanders college plan is a case in point. College tuition too high? Have the government pay for it. No actual thought required. How about instead ask why is the tuition so high? What are the systemic and structural issues that cause this? Maybe the real underlying problems could be addressed? No, all that is too complicated and doesn’t fit the limited range of allowable discussion. This isn’t a left or right issue just a result of our shallow and vapid public discourse.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Awron:
          Of course your analysis is too facile as well. IIRC, both Sanders and Clinton both directly assess college costs in their plan.

          But that isn’t what gets reported. And my thesis is that it is because most media consumers don’t want it reported because it’s not interesting. The sentences about complex mechanisms that drive costs, that do not involve some “villain” become just static noise in the brain of the average recipient.

          • Aaron says:

            If they do address it any depth then I haven’t been able to find it. I don’t think it is simply a matter of reporting. Any real analysis of this problem would include challenging basic assumptions (which is what I argue almost never happens). For example, does the university system as currently structured still make sense? Is a 4 year degree the best use of people’s resources? Are there alternatives?

            I don’t know the answers to these but they are the kind of questions I would count as part of a real analysis. All I see is more fixing-the-effect type solutions. My critique is of this type of sloppy reasoning–universal in politics but not other fields–not necessarily of Sanders and Clinton.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aaron:
            Here is a Brookings Institution overview of the plan. Addressing cost is a primary aspect of the plan:

            “[S]tates are eligible to receive federal grant money if they commit to providing students with affordable post-secondary opportunities.”

            It forces the states to deal with cost in their public institutions, then seems to leave it up to them to figure out to how to do it as best suits them.

            It also puts a risk-sharing requirements on the colleges themselves, by increasing accountability in measuring graduates who repay their loans, and then rewarding colleges whose students do pay back their loans and punishing those who don’t.

          • Aaron says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Thank you for the Brookings link. I think it illustrates my point. The policy discussion treats the symptom or effect as the problem rather than looking at the causes of the problem.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aaron:
            From the Brookings report:
            ” It vows to make enrollment at community colleges free and affordable without loans at four-year public institutions if students contribute the equivalent of wages from a 10 hour per-week job and families make the contribution prescribed by the aid eligibility formulas.”

            That to me looks like it is preferencing two year community colleges over 4 year schools, so I don’t think your assessment that it simply accepts 4 year degrees as the normal is correct.

            If you want the detailed analysis that went into forming the plan, that’s a reasonable ask, but you seem to beg the question when you assume that such an analysis did not look for other alternatives. Would a plan that proposed a whole new two-year technical degree system satisfy you. Or would that seem like another duplicative function?

    • 27chaos says:

      I’m not sure whether I agree, but I think you’re clever to see that possible pattern. Multiple constraints, not just one, seems like a good idea to search for.

    • Eli says:

      This seems to assume that “Right” and “Left” neatly map the territory on every issue. To give a right-wing counterexample, precisely the reason Donald Trump wins lots of support is that he holds views on trade and economics that are leftwards of the Republican establishment, while also holding views on race and nationality that are rightwards of the establishment. In both cases, his divergent views appeal to a substantial part of the Republican voter base.

      What this says to me is that the Republican Party is run by a rich elite who disproportionately favor capitalist globalization compared to the mainstream right-wing voter, and who make their policies about race, immigration, and trade to favor their own class interest. Sprinkle a little bit of white supremacy on just so to rile working-class xenophobes, but not so much that we actually wind up closing the borders to cheap laborers! Likewise, just a bit of nationalism to rile support for “military interventions” (aka: wars), but not so much that we actually wind up instituting a mercantilist trade policy and can’t make goods cheaply in China!

      • Careless says:

        In both cases, his divergent views appeal to a substantial part of the Republican voter base.

        And not just the Republican voting base

      • Tom Scharf says:

        They just aren’t smart and introspective enough to understand their own unjustifiable value systems, eh?

        If only they were as smart as you and the people who think like you, they would all be liberals. I don’t suppose you have ever contemplated what pandering to identity politics looks like from the other side of the aisle? It sure is emotionally satisfying to see all the supporters of the other side as rubes.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          +1,000

        • wysinwyg says:

          It sure is emotionally satisfying to see all the supporters of the other side as rubes.

          If rhetoric is any guide, there is truly a bipartisan consensus on this sentiment.

          But if you can avoid getting emotionally riled by the presentation, Eli is making a strong point. Why do Republicans vow to spend millions building an ineffectual (possibly counterproductive) wall when it would almost certainly be much more effective to spend those millions enforcing immigration laws already on the books?

          It makes perfect sense under the assumption that Republican politicians are not so much concerned about stopping immigration as the pageantry of being “against immigration”.

          And, of course, understanding this doesn’t make conservatives into liberals any more than Obama’s reprise of the Bush administration has turned very many liberals into conservatives.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            allow me to offer a counterpoint:

            The base being appealed to have seen their concerns about illegal immigration ignored and minimized for a decade or more. They have been told repeatedly that enforcing the law is too expensive, too painful, too politically unpopular, and that they’re racists for complaining about being stuck with the externalities of that policy.

            The Wall plan isn’t popular because people think that’s the magic solution to the immigration problem. It’s popular because it’s a strong signal that the candidate is actually willing to secure the border in a meaningful way.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            What FC said, but even shorter: Because they know promises by the other side to cooperate in doing that are worthless, and so do their constituencies.

            Whereas if they build a wall, they could at least get nifty political ad footage out of it, both the building of it and the part where Progressive activists go out and tear it down.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Allow me to 3rd what FacelessCraven said.

  11. Dain says:

    Chomsky et al.’s media bias accusation is focused on political economy and foreign policy. The right’s media bias accusation is focused on the broad “culture industry,” and applied mostly domestically. The two aren’t mutually exclusive when you consider that corporations are generally neutral on culture war stuff – meaning go with the (loudest) people’s views on the topic – because it doesn’t much hurt the bottom line. And where geopolitics is concerned, the domestic progressive zeitgeist is used as a justification, i.e. villains are oppressing religious minorities, gays, and women.

    You can square this circle handily, IMHO.

    • E. Harding says:

      The NYT editorial board just endorsed a $15 minimum wage.

      • Dain says:

        Why would the biggest corporations staffed by the most highly educated and skilled workers care about a $15 minimum wage? Go for it, no skin off their back.

        • E. Harding says:

          Yeah; but it still makes the media economic conservatism thesis look a little dubious.

          • Dain says:

            OK, true. But when they come out against something like the TPP, I’ll be genuinely surprised.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, see, you’re confusing editorial and business sides of the newspaper. In order to show independence, and that they’re not being run by orders from the business side (see Chinese wall), the editorials can recommend the minimum wage.

            But if enough advertisers pulled the plug on spending, the pressure would be on:

            The spokesman added: “Apple, in common with other advertisers, sometimes choose to make stipulations about the type of content their ads appear around. If the content on the home page does not meet stipulations, the ad would be removed.”

        • Montfort says:

          So the corporations that do care about a $15 minimum wage are only those too small to buy non-trivial amounts of advertisement? Then why is there any meaningful opposition to a minimum wage hike?
          Are we proposing a coalition of small businesses and dedicated students of economics are holding off everyone else?

          • E. Harding says:

            My guess is that the most powerful opponents of a higher minimum wage are restaurants and retail outlets.

          • Montfort says:

            They certainly have reason to oppose it.

            But even by themselves, the retailers buy enough ads that this model suggests they should serve as a fairly strong deterrent to, say, endorsing a $15 minimum wage.

          • Careless says:

            Rethink it as trying to get the Democrats to support a $15 minimum wage, knowing that it won’t happen, and see how your conclusions follow.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      +1 for endorsing Cthulhu Swims Both Ways.

  12. gold-in-green says:

    Regarding class coordination among the rich, my not-very-well-informed understanding, coming largely from Chomsky, is that:
    American elites all went to the same ivy league schools, all play golf together, all go to the same international conferences. They’re friends with one another, and they’ve spend their lives internalizing the same values. CEOs and high government officials are drawn from this same set, and in fact people move back and forth between these worlds all the time. Corporate and political-establishment interests bleed together for social reasons.

    • excess_kurtosis says:

      +1

    • Pete says:

      Also journalists tend to come from the same group. There was a recent article in the Guardian about how many on the British front benches went to Oxford, and it was mentioned in passing (and full lists were provided in the comments section) that a very large number of the Guardian’s writers also went to Oxford.

      Interesting that it was Oxford specifically and less Cambridge. Reminds me of a Yes Minister episode.

    • LCL says:

      This used to be true in DC, is less true now, and the change is considered a major factor in increased polarization and gridlock. When the political class culture was more incestuous, it was harder to dehumanize the opposition and easier to get things done.

  13. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    I’m too tired to read this critically. And I don’t think I’ll have anything substantive to add when all my cylinders are firing. Instead, I’ll just note that I enjoy your book reviews, and I enjoy your writing style, and I enjoy your blog. God bless ‘murica.

  14. FacelessCraven says:

    So, uh, isn’t this pretty much a description of the Cathedral? With the obvious difference, as Scott sorta notes, that Chomsky et al ignore the academic role in the manufacture of consent, and so miss half the picture?

    • Steve Johnson says:

      Pretty much – except for the phenomena that I don’t have a name for but which always crops up.

      The Cathedral is the state which is the left so why does the extreme left view themselves as outsiders and why do they think the whole system exists to drive profits? The system as a whole has to actually rule and even though they do a very very poor job of it (hint – you’re better off having a nuclear bomb detonated in your city than having progressives run it the way they want ( http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DetroitHiroshima.jpg )). The left sees concessions to reality and areas where the war on reality has lost – having some form of private property, not having identical outcomes for different racial groups, men and women not being equally likely to enter any given career, etc. – as signs that the Cathedral is actually right wing.

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        You NRxers should appreciate that there is some difference between the cultural left and the economic left. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg is a Marxist? Howard Schultz? All these dudes? No, they’re proud capitalists. But they’re cultural progressives.

        …you’re better off having a nuclear bomb detonated in your city than having progressives run it the way they want…

        Is it just thatsthejoke.gif to point out that I’d be dead?

        • Blonchbo says:

          The cultural (but economically capitalist) left are still communists in spirit – as in they view communism as the morally best outcome – they have just given in to reality and admitted that communism doesn’t work in practice.

          They may be capitalists but they would never contradict a moral argument for communism made by a communist, they would only say it is not practical.

          • BD Sixsmith says:

            You think Howard Schultz seriously thinks that communism would be ideal? Dude should give away some of his 2.9 billion then.

            Sure, I agree that this describes some “moderate” types. But there are a lot of rich people who have no desire to have their riches seized but still, through ideology, self-interest or sentiment, support gay marriagey, open bordersey causes. I mean, how else do you explain Cato?

          • Eli says:

            Bullshit: libertarians are not secretly communists, just because they both happen to oppose feudalism.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Gay marriage and open borders: two things Soviet Union was most certainly known for.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            Am I correct in understanding your argument to be “anyone who thinks poor people should lead OK lives is a communist ‘in spirit'”? It seems to me that by your definition “Capitalism is good because even the poor are better off than under communism” is “Communist in spirit”.

            “Concessions to reality” are generally regarded as “actual parts of a political platform”. At least half of politics isn’t arguing over what the ideal outcome would be, but rather how to achieve it- most notably the *entirety* of disagreement over foreign policy in America, which is what this article is about.

      • ddreytes says:

        Your comment seems to imply that everyone on the left (including progressives etc) is explicitly or implicitly opposed to the existence of private property.

        This in no way seems to match any kind of reality that I’ve ever experienced. Certainly, it does not match the claims made or the things said or the positions advanced by many actually existing leftists and progressives.

        So it’s hard to read your comment as anything other than a flagrant exaggeration. And given that, it seems that what you’re describing can be reduced simply to people on the left criticizing the government because they don’t agree with its policies.

        • Steve Johnson says:

          Yes, everyone on the left (including progressives) is opposed to private property but not as an explicit principle – they simply never believe that private property rights deserve protection.

          Can’t exclude people from organizations based on whatever criteria you decide to hold as the owner – you are only allowed to decide to not do business with people on criteria that progressives allow.

          Can’t pay any wage that you can mutually agree upon with a prospective employee.

          Can’t agree on an insurance contract that excludes mental health services / sex change operations / etc.

          Government can seize private property and give it to another private actor and set compensation as they please (this one doesn’t have full agreement from progressives but the right had many more objections than the left to the Kelo decision).

          Can’t choose your tenants on whatever criteria you please – you can only use progressive approved criteria.

          etc.

          There are dozens more examples.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Steve Johnson:
            “Yes, everyone on the left (including progressives) is opposed to private property but not as an explicit principle – they simply never believe that private property rights deserve protection.”

            Straw man is straw.

            The typical liberal believes that private property rights are constrained and not absolute. This is very different than saying private property rights deserve no protection. In fact, I think you will find that property rights (and other individual rights) are a going concern right now on the left as they relate to police actions.

            Your argument seems to be that unless property rights are not absolute, inviolable and supreme, that they do not exist.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Your argument seems to be that unless property rights are not absolute, inviolable and supreme, that they do not exist.

            I’m not arguing that at all.

            I’m arguing that progressives place zero value on property rights. Evidence for this is that they literally never say “x would be a good idea but it violates private property rights”. Progressives never consider violating property rights a cost to a policy even when the example is fairly absurd – like requiring someone to bake a wedding cake when they don’t want to.

            The only principle that I can discern that progressives hold with regard to property rights is that you can only remove a bit more of them than you did last year but that’s more of a tactical concern.

            The distinction is that in a rightist framework the consideration is “well, policy x violates property rights but such a violation is justified because of some specific reason”. Progressives don’t even acknowledge the property rights violation nor do they recognize any limiting principle.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Steve Johnson:
            Are you purposely ignoring my example? Or perhaps you just missed it?

            Broadly, I think liberals view private property rights as in tension with other rights and tend to see things in aggregate. You may want the right to construct on your property as cheaply as possible, but the aggregate effect of this is very bad, so building codes must exist and be followed. You seem to be saying that because I observe that this limit to the private property right exists, I therefore don’t think that private property exists.

            I doubt you view private property rights as having no limits. Presumably I can’t torture or kidnap people simply because they came on my property, even if they came on it illegally. Presumably I can’t build my own personal nuclear device, even if I promise not to detonate it. The fact that I recognize more limits than you do doesn’t mean I don’t think private property rights don’t exist.

            Warrantless searching of private property is certainly a concern on the broad left. Privacy rights tend to be big on the left as well. You should be free to do as you like on your property so long as it does not harm others . Broadly, this seems to be the libertarian view as well, but there is a disagreement as to what constitutes harm.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Broadly, I think liberals view private property rights as in tension with other rights and tend to see things in aggregate. You may want the right to construct on your property as cheaply as possible, but the aggregate effect of this is very bad, so building codes must exist and be followed. You seem to be saying that because I observe that this limit to the private property right exists, I therefore don’t think that private property exists.

            No, I’m saying that there’s literally nothing that is beyond the reach of a progressive government because of concern over property rights – not that if your position isn’t absolute property rights then you don’t believe in property.

            There is no specific thing that a progressive state wants to do that is limited due to property rights. That’s not “property rights are in tension with other concerns” – that’s “there are no property rights, just stuff we haven’t gotten around to dictating yet”. It’s like commerce clause jurisprudence – it’s not a specific rule that says “everything the federal government would like to do is permitted under the commerce clause” it’s “this particular thing is allowed under the commerce clause [repeated for all things]”.

          • It seems to me that most progressive governments are exceeding sparing in their use of imminent domain rights. That requires them to refrain from doing things they would like to do, and demonstrates a concern over property rights.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Steve Johnson:
            That’s a little like saying that gun owners haven’t gotten around to killing everyone yet.

            Again, you keep ignoring the specific examples I am giving.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s a little like saying that gun owners haven’t gotten around to killing everyone yet.

            There are actually cases where a gun owner will say “That would be a good idea if only we didn’t need to shoot (and possibly kill) someone to do it”.

            There are not cases where a progressive will say “that would be a good idea if only it didn’t violate people’s property rights”. There’s no balancing act.

            (Eminent domain doesn’t count because progressives opposed to eminent domain oppose it when it is being done for a bad cause–generally to line a private party’s pockets–not when it is being done for a good cause but the loss in property rights outweighs the benefit from the good cause. Likewise for civil forfeiture, which is pretty much never done for good causes anyway. And warrantless searches affect privacy rights, not property rights in this sense.)

          • Eminent domain doesn’t count because progressives opposed to eminent domain oppose it when it is being done for a bad cause–generally to line a private party’s pockets–not when it is being done for a good cause but the loss in property rights outweighs the benefit from the good cause.

            Then why isn’t it used much more often?

          • I want to see if I can get at Steve’s point from a different angle.

            People make a sharp distinction in their moral intuitions between action and inaction. Even people in favor of altruism don’t, so far as I can tell, feel that the failure to spend as much as they possibly could relieving world hunger makes them morally equivalent to murderers.

            If the reason your neighbor is starving is that you are not donating some of the food you grow to help him you may be failing in the duty of charity but you are not a murderer. If, on the other hand, the reason is that you snuck onto his farm one fall evening and stole or destroyed the food he had stored up to see him through the winter, you are. The distinction between the two cases hinges on property rights. Failing to give him your food is, morally speaking, inaction, taking his food action.

            A lot of left wing talk ignores this distinction, treats who owns what as a morally irrelevant accident. Consider the question of whether bakers should be required to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding. The argument for making them do it is that they are hurting the gay couple, depriving them of something of value to them for no morally legitimate reason. But if one takes property rights, in particular the right of the individual to his own labor, seriously, what they are doing is not hurting but failing to help—and, outside of some extreme cases, we normally assume that individuals are not required to help others, whatever their reason for not doing so.

            The oddest part of that controversy, to me, was that it was framed as an issue of religious freedom. To me it was an issue of freedom simpliciter—requiring them to bake the cake was, on a very small scale, treating the bakers as slaves, as people who did not own their own labor.

            There are arguments for sometimes violating individual freedom. But doing so is normally seen, in our society, as presumptively wrong and so requiring strong arguments to justify it, such as the claim that without a draft we will be conquered by enemies and lose all all our freedom, making it legitimate to take some freedom away to prevent that. The argument in the bakers case didn’t feel like that. It felt much more as though the bakers were being accused of slapping someone for bad reasons—in which case, even if the injury is trivial, it seems appropriate to punish them.

            Does that make the sense in which people on the left, many or most, appear to those of us who believe in private property not to believe in it? They may support much private property as a useful institution. But it has no moral weight for them.

          • James Picone says:

            If private property had no moral weight for the left, the left would be willing to trade off infinite amounts of private property rights for anything they value positively. Empirically, they don’t do that. I’m of the left, and I don’t propose that the government should forcibly nationalise oil companies and wind them down to resolve climate change, or that it should be legal for poor people to steal from rich companies, or that taxes on everybody should be increased to give me money.

            This is ridiculous. The mirror-image of the people claiming that the Republicans are waging a war on women.

          • Protagoras says:

            I think part of where Jiro and Steve are confused is that there’s a sacred values issue. Progressives absolutely count it as a cost that private property is being taken away from one person to be given to another; the reason progressive redistribution schemes are limited is because progressives think they should be limited, because beyond a certain point the cost is too great (and not, as was cynically suggested, because there’s a limit to what they think they can get away with).

            But in the other cases, the wedding cake and whatnot, among those progressives who completely ignore the property rights issue in those cases, this is because they see the property rights as conflicting with a sacred value of non-discrimination; it’s not just an issue of who gets the money. And property rights are pretty much by definition not a sacred value, and it is the nature of sacred values that they trump everything else.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “requiring them to bake the cake was, on a very small scale, treating the bakers as slaves, as people who did not own their own labor”

            What the heck is up with the frequenly employed slavery rhetoric on the right? The dial on the outrage meter appears to have one setting, and it’s 11. It makes it so hard to have a conversation.

            Do I really have to point out how asking someone to merely accommodate people in the public business that they have willingly, even happily, set up is not the same thing as slavery? And that the legacy of public accommodation law comes from how the descendants of actual slaves were frozen out of for the next 100 years?

            If a black women wants to eat in a restaurant, can they be thrown out? How about a Jewish man? How about a gay couple? Is that really what you want?

            You might then say “the market will deal with that by refusing them commerce”. But of course when that happens to the “religious pizza parlor” this is called a “bullet” that should never be used, because not offering public accommodation to gay people is just an “idea”.

            Now, if a Jewish woman walked into a pizza parlor and demanded that they serve latkes as well, they would have no leg to stand on (so covered in the ADA as well the Civil Rights Act). Presumably an actual slave would have to put the latkes on the menu.

          • Jiro says:

            Do I really have to point out how asking someone to merely accommodate people in the public business that they have willingly, even happily, set up is not the same thing as slavery?

            All you’re doing is denying that it’s slavery by folding the slavery-like portion into the concept of “public business”. The idea that doing X imposes an obligation to do Y because both X and Y are components of a “public business” is something you (collectively, with the courts) made up.

            I could equally well claim the pizza place has to serve latkes by defining a “circular food serving business” and saying “now that the pizza place’s owner has chosen to open a circular food serving business, he’s obliged to serve all circular food.”

            If a black women wants to eat in a restaurant, can they be thrown out? How about a Jewish man? How about a gay couple? Is that really what you want?

            1) The baker was avoiding a particular service, not a particular customer. He would have sold a gay person a birthday cake, and he wouldn’t have sold a straight person a gay wedding cake. Of course it’s true that gay people are more likely to want to buy gay wedding cakes than straight people, but Jewish people are more likely to want to buy latkes than non-Jewish people.

            2) Libertarians do think restaurant owners should be able to kick people out of their restaurant for any reason, including bad reasons.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >If private property had no moral weight for the left, the left would be willing to trade off infinite amounts of private property rights for anything they value positively. Empirically, they don’t do that.

            That’s silly. They can’t do that, because they don’t exist in a vaccum in which they’re allowed to pass all the legislation they want. Whether they want to or not is irrelevant to the empirical observation of the claim.

            Still, the examples are unconvincing, disdain towards the outgroup’s rights in order to favour the ingroup is hardly something that’s exclusive to progressives.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m of the left, and I don’t propose that the government should forcibly nationalise oil companies and wind them down to resolve climate change

            If someone did propose this, and then said you already believe in carbon taxes and this is just a 100% tax rate, and furthermore the carbon taxes would make the business unprofitable so the owner goes out of business anyway just like with a confiscation, what would you tell them?

            Or looking at it from another angle, if someone objected to a carbon tax proposal by saying “the money you’re taking away by taxes belongs to the companies you are taxing”, how would you respond?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Harry Johnston:

            Because it isn’t needed more often. Most people either aren’t so attached to their property they won’t take a reasonable offer, understand that if they don’t take a reasonable offer they’ll lose anyway, or both.

            Only people who are willing to fight legally and have the resources to do so require eminent domain proceedings in the first place.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:
            “I could equally well claim the pizza place has to serve latkes by defining a “circular food serving business” and saying “now that the pizza place’s owner has chosen to open a circular food serving business, he’s obliged to serve all circular food.”

            Come, come now. Surely you can see this difference between requiring that you provide your good or service to all people equally and requiring that you provide a different good or service. No one is forcing restaurants to be kosher or halal. The only thing remotely like what you are talking about is the ADA requirements around access.

            As for a “gay wedding cake” I don’t know that such a thing exists. I mean, I suppose if the fondant depicted frescoes of same-sex couples in the midst of saying vows or something. But that isn’t what they wanted to order, they only wanted a wedding cake, like any other wedding cake, and the policy was not to provide a wedding cake to same sex couples. It had everything to do with who was buying it, and nothing to do with the cake itself.

            If the cake was pre-made, and not ordered ahead of time and Mark goes into buy it, is there some magical difference in the cake because he is bringing it to Adam and Steve’s reception, and not Adam and Eve’s?

          • James writes: “If private property had no moral weight for the left, the left would be willing to trade off infinite amounts of private property rights for anything they value positively.”

            Not if private property had consequentialist weight for them, a sometimes useful institution with no moral status of its own. Or if they recognized that it had moral weight for other people, making eliminating it politically costly. Or, of course, both.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            they only wanted a wedding cake, like any other wedding cake

            Unless I missed it, your link doesn’t actually have any details about the cake. In fact, I don’t remember seeing such details, so I’m not saying you’re wrong. Still, my (upper-class hetero white) experience is that wedding cakes are often fairly personalized; mine certainly was. I am really curious whether the cake was to be completely non-descript or instead was to have something like a same-sex couple on the top or a rainbow and the inscription “Gays rule!” 🙂

            I’m also curious whether knowing that would make a difference to anybody’s opinion. The fact that I don’t know suggests that it was not a slam dunk in either extreme, or commentators on the opposite extreme would have made a big deal about it.

            When my wife and I ordered our cake, the baker/designer was a nice young man who I rather imagined was gay. If he had told us, “Listen, I only do cakes for gay weddings,” we’d have been startled, probably apologized for not knowing, and gone elsewhere, maybe feeling a little miffed. Would anyone have said we had grounds for a lawsuit?

            I do, really I do, get the analogy between these bakers and the white-only lunch counters sixty years ago. It still strikes me as stretched. This gay couple was no more inconvenienced than my wife and I would have been. Unlike with segregated lunch counters, there was no law saying that no bakers shall make gay wedding cakes. Let’s face it; gay people won that war, and I’m on balance pretty happy about it. But is it necessary that every single person has to be?

          • Jiro says:

            Surely you can see this difference between requiring that you provide your good or service to all people equally and requiring that you provide a different good or service.

            No, I don’t. Classifying two things as being part of the same “service” or the same “good” is arbitrary. Why do “providing cake A” and “providing cake B” count as the same “service”, and these can’t be separated, but “providing circular food A” and “providing circular food B” don’t count as the same service, and these can be separated?

            (And of course, pizzas and latkes are different, despite both being circular food. But then, a cake celebrating event A and a cake celebrating event B are also different, despite both being cakes.)

          • Nita says:

            @ David Friedman

            Taking someone’s stuff is usually bad because it tends to hurt the owner (specifically, their material security and their emotional well-being), not because it’s a transgression against the sacred value of “private property”.

            Is this view “consequentialist” or not?

          • Adam says:

            My wife has a wheat allergy and we didn’t even have a cake. Seems to me like a big deal over nothing. Ice cream is better anyway.

            It’s weird to me how partisans don’t seem willing to budge an inch on this. On one side, forcing somebody to sell a cake to a customer they don’t like is morally equivalent to literal human ownership and lifelong forced labor under the threat of execution. On the other side, one store not wanting to sell a cake to a customer with plenty of general social prestige and life opportunity is an equal social problem to every business within a six-state radius all colluding at the same time to not serve a group of people who were recently forced laborers under the threat of execution.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            Other than a topper, I can’t think of anything that would make a typical wedding cake signal anything about the genders of the parties involved. Multi-layer, white icing, abstract fondant evoking decorations of some sort or another, perhaps flowers. We had a cheesecake tier at our wedding, because we wanted the cake to taste good, not look (traditionally) good.

            And the link I provided said it was avowed policy of the baker to reject same-sex couples,, not reject requests for certain cakes, and that they had previously rejected same-sex couples. I think Occam says we should accept that absent other evidence.

            As to your example, I don’t think that is the proper shoe to put on. We have plenty of talk on here about how it feels to be a “nerdy white guy” and how much it can hurt when someone singles you out for special, derogatory treatment because of that designation. You need to use an analogy where the rejection would hurt you, emotionally.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “But then, a cake celebrating event A and a cake celebrating event B are also different, despite both being cakes.”

            Please engage with my specific example of a cake that was not made for a specific customer.

          • Jiro says:

            I agree that refusing to sell a cake that is not made for a specific customer would not be subject to the same objection and would be discrimination, but I don’t believe that is a good description of what actually happened. You can describe any hypothetical you want, but it may then not match the real situation.

            Furthermore, libertarians would allow such discrimination. I’m not libertarian enough to allow it unconditionally but I would personally still allow it as long as it doesn’t deprive a group of access to services, which this doesn’t since there are plenty of other people who make wedding cakes.

          • @Marc: I disagree. There are all sorts of ways we could improve the world if we were willing to use eminent domain liberally enough. We don’t, because we don’t like to do it, because property rights.

            I recall one specific example from my part of the world: a farmer was interfering with proper maintenance of the electricity lines that crossed his property. Obvious solution? Confiscate the land. Did that happen? No.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Adam: And telling someone to change seats on a bus is morally equivalent to reinstituting slavery.

            Precedents matter, particularly in a common-law nation. Which precedent are you more comfortable seeing generally applied?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:
            I am trying to make clear the distinction between a) asking that a service or good being offered be changed, and b) simply refusing to sell the exact the same service or good based on the person asking for the person or good. You have stated that (a) and (b) are the same thing, and my contention is that they are not. To the extent that a person walks in and orders something that is “on the menu” the situation is (b) and not (a).

            Suppose I go to a Christian interior decorator and ask them to design my house as inspired by Maplethorpe’s nudes. Now I think we are in territory (a) not (b) and I am far more sympathetic to the argument. But if I go into a shop and order some wallpaper, I find it heinous to refuse my custom because they “don’t serve my kind.”

            As to your statements about libertarians being OK with racists preventing blacks from eating in restaurants and homophobes preventing gay people from shopping in their stores and the like, that is why I started this by pointing out that the typical remedy offered by libertarians for this, the refusal of commercial traffic is also being objected to (at other times, in other parts of the blog.)

            It seems to be a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose argument.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Other than a topper, I can’t think of anything that would make a typical wedding cake signal anything about the genders of the parties involved.

            You can’t?? Boy, I sure can. It would be tacky as hell (whatever the genders), but not impossible to imagine.

            And the link I provided said it was avowed policy of the baker to reject same-sex couples, not reject requests for certain cakes, and that they had previously rejected same-sex couples.

            Ah, good point. The bit about the two dogs is pretty telling as well.

            We have plenty of talk on here about how it feels to be a “nerdy white guy” and how much it can hurt when someone singles you out for special, derogatory treatment because of that designation.

            Well, hum. I guess my response to that is twofold. First, I sort of don’t think nerdy white guys would be so sensitive if it didn’t feel like everybody else gets to claim victim status but them. Second, nerdy white guys, and everybody else, should grow the heck up and accept that not everybody is going to like you. Have a little dignity, for heaven’s sake.

            Yes, I know I’ve just given everybody permission to be as nasty to me as they like. Oh well.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Doctor Mist 1:29PM:

            Extremists of whatever sort, like supervillains, live by a simple philosophy:

            “It is not enough that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.”

            Leftists are not, IMO, that much worse about it than anybody else. But since in modern times they succeed more often, their adherence to the above principle is much easier to observe, and more commonly observed.

          • Adam says:

            John,

            X can be a bad thing without being morally equivalent to ‘absolute bottom of the slippery slope that starts at X.’ I’d just like a discourse where we have honest options like do you want a country more like Sweden or more like Australia (not that I know enough about either country to even know if there’s a difference, but for example), not Naziism or Communism but no middle ground ever, whichever suboptimal policy you support has to lead to one of those.

          • Jiro says:

            You have stated that (a) and (b) are the same thing, and my contention is that they are not.

            Refusing to perform the exact same service is different than performing two different services. It’s just that the former isn’t an accurate description of this situation.

            As to your statements about libertarians being OK with racists preventing blacks from eating in restaurants and homophobes preventing gay people from shopping in their stores and the like, that is why I started this by pointing out that the typical remedy offered by libertarians for this, the refusal of commercial traffic is also being objected to

            I’m not sure what you mean by “the refusal of commercial traffic”. Libertarians usually say that the remedy for discrimination is that discrimination without legal backing can’t survive because it leads to loss of profit. (If you’ll notice, I argued against that position earlier on this very page, but like Scott, I have libertarian sympathies but don’t claim to be one.)

            And remember that to a libertarian, “OK” and “should be legal” aren’t the same thing. Libertarians don’t think discrimination is OK; they think it should be legal.

          • Refusing to perform the exact same service is different than performing two different services. It’s just that the former isn’t an accurate description of this situation.

            I don’t see how; the service is “provide a wedding cake”. What difference does it make to the cake who exactly is getting married?

          • “What difference does it make to the cake …”

            None. It’s the people baking the cake that it makes a difference to. Isn’t that obvious?

            What difference does it make to a bullet whether it is fired at a target or a human being? None–bullets don’t care.

          • It’s the people baking the cake that it makes a difference to. Isn’t that obvious?

            It’s still the same service. Baking a cake is baking a cake.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            I said typical wedding cake. Typical wedding cakes are not tacky, not in that way.

            @Jiro:
            I really don’t get how who is ordering the cake changes the cake itself. Lets say Mark is the caterer for a wedding and makes the arrangements for the cake. He discusses a few particulars with the baker (number of guests, flavor of cake and icing, number of tiers, how ornate the decorations will be). He picks up the cake and leaves for the reception site.

            Does something happen to the cake on the way to the reception that changes it if Adam is marrying Eve instead of Steve? Or is it still the same cake?

            Either I really don’t understand your position, or you are thinking of some different scenario wherein the actual cake itself is different, not just the people ordering it.

          • James Picone says:

            @Jiro

            If someone did propose this, and then said you already believe in carbon taxes and this is just a 100% tax rate, and furthermore the carbon taxes would make the business unprofitable so the owner goes out of business anyway just like with a confiscation, what would you tell them?

            Or looking at it from another angle, if someone objected to a carbon tax proposal by saying “the money you’re taking away by taxes belongs to the companies you are taxing”, how would you respond?

            Carbon taxes are supposed to be tied to the actual cost of emitting carbon, it would be strange for them to be a percentage of income and inefficient for them to be set substantially higher than the actual cost. That proposal is a bad idea because of those inefficiencies. That is, the good it does is balanced out by the harm of being extremely economically inefficient and the harm of having the government take a bunch of stuff.

            For the second question, the standard reasoning for a) taxation and b) Pigovian taxation.

            If the complaint is that I don’t see private property as *sacred* then you are arguing about consequentialists, not the left.

            @David Friedman

            James writes: “If private property had no moral weight for the left, the left would be willing to trade off infinite amounts of private property rights for anything they value positively.”

            Not if private property had consequentialist weight for them, a sometimes useful institution with no moral status of its own. Or if they recognized that it had moral weight for other people, making eliminating it politically costly. Or, of course, both.

            Equivocating between ‘moral weight’ and ‘consequentialist weight’ means that the complaint should be directed towards consequentialists, not leftists. As for practical concerns, I have run into vanishingly few left-wing people who would say, in private, something like “We should just acquire all the fossil fuel companies and shut them down”. Most people aren’t scheming manipulators.

          • Jiro says:

            That is, the good it does is balanced out by the harm of being extremely economically inefficient and the harm of having the government take a bunch of stuff.

            You’re saying “the harm of having the government take a bunch of stuff”, but even then, you’re not able to use that alone as a reason not to oppose the policy.

            Let me ask a slightly different question: Would it ever be possible, to you, for a normal carbon tax to be bad because it involves violating property rights and the violation of property rights is worse than the good done by the tax?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            The world, as it occasionally does, has provided us with a marvelous counter-factual which actually exists. Recently someone tried to have a few hundred anti-abortion flyers printed up at a copy shop in the Chicago suburbs. (As it happens, I even occasionally patronize that shop! Though I have never tried to have any flyers printed there.) The shop refused.

            The flyers were not graphic, nor particularly bellicose*. In fact, they weren’t even for use in counter-abortion protests. The person who wanted them was going to distribute them at their church: they contain a fairly innocuous “Pray for the conversion of Planned Parenthood” message.

            So. I am very interested in your answer to these questions:

            1) Was the copy shop acting reasonably in denying this customer service?

            2) If so, what is the distinction between this and the “cakes don’t care” logic of premade and/or innocuous cake provision for gay weddings?

            3) If not, should they be subject to social sanction for refusing to provide service on the grounds of mere ideological difference?

            4) If not, should they be subject to legal sanction for refusing to provide service on the grounds of mere ideological difference?

            A few anticipatory remarks:

            1) The copyright thing is a red herring. Statements by the shop and the parent company indicate that while it was a concern, the decision would have been the same had there been no copyright question. (Note also that they told her she could use the self-serve copier after they had seen the potentially infringing material, which tells me either their copyright policy is stupid, or they don’t really care about enforcing it.)

            2) On the question of use of the self-service copier generally: this is the “pre-made” cake analogy. To this extent, they are being more accomodating than a bakery which wouldn’t even sell a pre-made cake with no customization to somebody having a gay wedding. However, I am unaware of any allegation that that has ever happened. Every case I know of involved at least some requested action, even just putting the names of the grooms on the cake, by the bakery’s employees in providing a cake for an identified gay wedding.

            3) The terms “evil” and “death camps” are, inarguably, more hostile than the words “Adam and Steve.” However, again, at that point you’re making a subjective value judgment. “Congratulations Adam and Steve” could be viewed by a reasonable person as tacit approval or endorsement of an act so reprehensible in the eyes of God that the prescribed penalty is death by stoning.

            *Granted this is a subjective judgment. They don’t contain pictures of aborted fetuses, nor calls to act violently. If you’d like to see it for yourself: https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Planned-Parenthood-Fact-Sheet-and-Prayer.pdf

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            1) Based on what a brief look at the facts, no. The Office Depot location was not acting reasonably. Office Depot apologized within a day, so it doesn’t even seem to have been actual policy.

            2) If the person had gone not to a printing shop, but rather someone who writes marketing copy and asked them to craft the statement, I might put this in my category (a) of asking people to change the service they provide (look up for the Maplethorpe example). I’d also be sympathetic to an argument on the stated policy’s grounds if the flyer’s could reasonably be construed to call for, say, violence (which those flyer’s don’t).

            3) If they persisted in refusing to service that client, I think it would be entirely appropriate for her to not go into Home Depot again and to tell her church and post it on her Facebook and twitter.

            4) I think there is a fairly clear case that this violates protections against religious discrimination. This doesn’t mean that Home Depot couldn’t have some sort of policy that would prevent printing this type of document, but it would need to be much more broad to avoid running afoul of protections against discrimination. A policy that avoided all printing of documents that mention abortion might pass muster. Perhaps a policy against printing documents on “controversial topical issues”, although seems much less likely to be applied in an equitable manner.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            I said typical wedding cake. Typical wedding cakes are not tacky, not in that way.

            Sure, but you beg the question. Was the cake in fact “typical”? But in separate thread you have convinced me that it probably was, if indeed the discussion ever got as far as what it should look like.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            1) It was official policy to the point where an AGC for Office Depot said that it was official policy prior to the CEO’s retraction. As a former GC myself, my take on that is that it was official policy. However, as usual there is a meta-policy that says, “If we get enough people angry enough fast enough we will make an exception.” I don’t find this meta-policy comforting when it’s used to respond to any form of discrimination, and neither do most other people.

            2) I agree completely.

            3) And if that had gone viral like the infamous pizza shop incident? Would you shrug and say, “The chips fall where they may?”

            4) Viewpoint discrimination is extremely insidious, and extremely disfavored by the courts. I note you didn’t answer the actual question on this one – namely, “Are legal sanctions reasonable and appropriate,” although by implication you seem to be saying that they are because the policy is too narrow. I don’t think either of your proposed private policy exceptions would get the baker or the pizzeria off the hook from the point of view of Progressives, and so I think they shouldn’t get the copy shop off the hook from the point of view of Conservatives. And, assuming we’re going to have public sanctions for private discrimination, I think the three are roughly on the same level.

            “Come in and buy a pizza/cake, just don’t tell me what it’s for,” is roughly equal to “Come in, use the self-service copiers, just don’t tell me what it’s for,” in my opinion. If the first is not sufficient to avoid social and legal sanction, neither is the second.

          • James Picone says:

            @Jiro:

            You’re saying “the harm of having the government take a bunch of stuff”, but even then, you’re not able to use that alone as a reason not to oppose the policy.

            Let me ask a slightly different question: Would it ever be possible, to you, for a normal carbon tax to be bad because it involves violating property rights and the violation of property rights is worse than the good done by the tax?

            For a carbon tax set on some reasonable value of the cost of emitting CO2, yes, for smallish values of the cost of emitting CO2. I’m not sure I could set a good threshold off the top of my head, but it definitely exists.

            Perhaps a good model of this is that taxes could be increased and services provided by those taxes increased, and yet I don’t necessarily support that for all taxes and services. And most leftists don’t either. Really. A basic income scheme would be lovely, but in the meantime I’m happy if the country I’m in taxes enough that it can provide enough money for someone to live on without working, even if it’s not the most comfortable life (and I’d like a basic income set roughly at that value). If a politician were to suggest raising welfare to the level of the minimum wage and raising taxes to support it, I think it’d be a Bad Idea, and not just because of the disincentives to work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            1) “Denning [the CEO] said the policy won’t change”. Unless you can find citation saying that the policy at Office Depot is changing, I’m inclined to believe that the policy is designed to prevent employees from printing porn and Nazi propaganda. Because Office Depot does not want to be in the “porn and Nazi propaganda” business. More broadly, they are protecting corporate image.

            3) I’m am sympathetic to the contention that “digital mobs”, much like regular mobs, have very bad effects. I like nuance. I like reasoned argument.

            But one person’s mob is another’s protest movement. Do you think pro-life/anti-abortion sympathizes should be able to organize? Should not be able to express themselves if someone has already expressed a similar opinion? I don’t think that.

            It’s when they start physically blocking people or engaging in speech designed to foment violence that I have a problem. And if they simply wanted to engage in civil disobedience, get arrested and take the consequences, even the blocking access part would be OK. Once it stopped being disobedience and started being an organized campaign to actually stop all clinic traffic, that would be different.

            4) This case is slightly poorly fit as analogous because it very, very clearly involves speech. However, if the pizza place or the baker said “We don’t do weddings”, they would be on very firm ground in my mind. I have a hard time imaging (assuming it were true, and not a dodge) any groundswell of condemnation for a scenario that was presented that way. Imagine the TV crew asking that question, and the owner saying “Weddings are too much of hassle. We did one wedding once, and I said never again.” They wouldn’t even make it on the air, and if they did, everyone would chuckle and go on their way.

          • James Picone writes:

            ” I’m happy if the country I’m in taxes enough that it can provide enough money for someone to live on without working, even if it’s not the most comfortable life”

            Could you define that a little more precisely? I tried to work out, in a blog post some time ago, what it would cost to literally just keep people alive (i.e. not greatly reduce their life expectancy). It came to about $500/year. I doubt that’s what you mean, but where do you draw the line between that and “comfortable?”

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2013/05/whats-wrong-with-mushy.html

            The context of the post is an argument I was having with a group that labels itself “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” The calculations on the cost of meeting basic needs are towards the end.

          • James Picone says:

            @David Friedman:
            Enough that they should be able to rent something on the low end of the housing market with a housemate or two, keep themselves in clothing, keep themselves in food, have access to utilities in said sharehouse so they have water and air conditioning in summer (I live in Australia; this is genuinely a necessity) and the ability to cook food, whatever miscellaneous sundries (public transport, general grooming, phone, etc.) required to be able to apply for a job and reasonably expect to get it.

            The housing costs are the most significant component there, and alone they’re substantially more than your $500 USD. I’m paying pretty low rent for a variety of reasons, and it’s about $140 USD/fortnight (and yes that includes housemates). Mostly it’s because I’m aiming for a better quality of life than you assume in your calculations.

            For comparison, unemployment payments in Australia are referred to as ‘NewStart’, and are about 445 USD/fortnight including rent assistance. There are some extra payments that kick in for a variety of things, like needing certain pharmaceuticals, being in a government-administered ‘work for the dole’ program (i.e. offering below-minimum-wage work to employers to make the thing cheaper), I don’t know the magnitude, I’ve never been on it or had to think about it. You can live on that reasonably comfortably in Australia – I’m pretty sure I have, although I’ve never tracked my spending closely enough to be sure – but you do need to be quite ascetic and you probably need two housemates to make the rent work out.

          • I’ve sometimes considered whether some sort of government housing would be sensible – of the “room just big enough to fit the bed” sort, no individual cooking facilities, that sort of thing. They’d have to charge more than $500 a year, of course, but it should be much cheaper than living with housemates. Cheap enough, perhaps, to make a universal allowance viable.

            I think the main problem would be that there would be bound to be plenty of criminals living with you. That might make it intolerable.

  15. oligopsony says:

    About death squad dynamics, I highly recommend Michael Mann’s Dark Side of Democracy on the macro side and Stathis Kalyvas’ Logic of Violence in Civil War on the micro.

  16. excess_kurtosis says:

    ll of these dynamics are real, but the simplest explanation is that journalists are fairly insular and tend to mostly bias reporting toward their world view. Journalists, or at least elite journalists, tend to be socially liberal and economically moderate/conservative, and so they push a world view which is simeltaniously going to frustrate economic leftists and social conservatives, because Zaller-ite political science suggests that sort of media bias and changes in elite opinion are the driving factor behind opinion dynamics.

    This begs the question of *why*reporters tend to be cosmopolitan/socially liberal/economically moderate, and I don’t have a great answer. It wasn’t always this way, the media used to have communists everywhere. You can tell a lot of stories (Journalism pays less, etc), but I think it’s really more of a broader symptom of the fact that there are a lot less radical elites than there used to be.

    • excess_kurtosis says:

      People like to blame that on the failure of communism, but I if had to guess as to why, I’d point at Turchin’s stuff . In a lot of ways, it’s a bit of a tedious “Inequality is going up” piece, but there was one section that really struck me:

      “Between 1825 and 1900, the number of millionaires (in constant 1900 dollars) went from 2.5 per million of the population to 19 per million. In our current cycle, the proportion of decamillionaires (those whose net worth exceeds 10 million in 1995 dollars) grew tenfold between 1992 and 2007 — from 0.04 to 0.4 per cent of the US population.”

      This seems key. As inequality goes up, it’s not just that one or two rich people get all the money, but the number of rich people grows dramatically, to the point where it can absorb the cognitive elite. Obviously most people can’t be management consultants or investment bankers or superstar programmers, but there are enough of those jobs around to keep all of the Harvard graduates busy, and that is a relatively new phenomena that I think has been driving journalists (and elites in general) away from radicalism

      • Mary says:

        You can live very nicely on the investement of a million dollar nowadays.

        That doesn’t make you rich.

        The most obvious reason for the increase is inflation, not “increase in inequality.”

        • Adam says:

          The stat specified 1995 dollars and decamillionaires. By a quick mean of the CPI from each year, that tells me about 0.04% of the US had a net worth of at least $9.4 million in 1992 and 0.4% had a net worth of at least $13.6 million in 2007.

          Whether or not you consider that “rich” is a matter of opinion, I guess, but it certainly puts you in a social class that roughly maps to what most people intend when they complain about “elites.”

          Not that I think the conclusion follows anyway. I don’t think elites are moving away from radicalism because they’re wealthier, at least not to the exclusion of everyone else. They’re moving away from radicalism because the U.S. more broadly is doing very, very well, and radicalism is increasingly less justifiable.

          • excess_kurtosis says:

            “They’re moving away from radicalism because the U.S. more broadly is doing very, very well, and radicalism is increasingly less justifiable.”

            You’re aware that median wages haven’t increased much in 45 years, right? There are long esoteric arguments about various inflation index’s as to whether median wages have gone *down* or not.

            There’s been OK GDP per capita growth, 1.8% per year in the last 40 years, but that’s generally less than almost any other 40 year period in US history. And it hasn’t trickled down to regular people because worker bargaining power has eroded tremendously. http://monthlyreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2013-03_rom-chart-4.jpg is a plot of non-supervisory worker compensation as a percentage of GDP over time (Just to pre-empt, http://monthlyreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2013-03_rom-chart-3.jpg shows that the percentage of employees classified that way has been stable), and it shows that worker share of compensation has fallen at roughly the same rate that GDP has grown.

            The US has been doing very very well for *rich people*, because the share of income going to the wealthy has dramatically increased, which is why *elites* are pretty happy with the state of the US economy, which was my point.

          • Adam says:

            Yes, I am aware. I have even myself recently had to put off a surgery for nervous palsy because I can’t pay for it and I might permanently lose some of my hand function. Nonetheless, here I am sitting in an air-conditioned room in a city with virtually no crime, enjoying access to all the world’s information, and a hundred years ago I’d have been dead at the age of five from pneumonia, and if I made it past that, I’d probably be sitting in a trench enduring fifty consecutive hours of shelling. So no, I’m not moved to radicalism. The stress of having to live with the same level of real disposable income as people from 1970 just isn’t that bad.

        • excess_kurtosis says:

          This was explicitly an inflation adjusted comparison.

    • E. Harding says:

      Economic conservatism in the media peaked in the 1980s and the 1990s (Old Krugman). I just don’t see it much today. The media is generally economically centrist, or even Leftish. Who is more representative of the media’s portrayal of economics? Scott Sumner or Brad DeLong?

    • Steve Johnson says:

      This begs the question of *why*reporters tend to be cosmopolitan/socially liberal/economically moderate, and I don’t have a great answer.

      Because communism is always a bloodbath and it’s unstoppable once it gets going so the only stable solution is to anathemize signaling leftism on economic matters. If you allow one person to gain holiness points on economic matters the whole stable system degenerates as everyone defects to the leftmost position for status.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        I thought we had kibbitzes and communes which existed in moderately steady states without entering uncontrolled growth cycles and needing to be put down with armed resistance.

        I don’t think that communism-as-implemented is workable for groups of people above a small fraction of the average Dunbar number of the group, but that doesn’t mean that communism is a seductive and unstoppable monster. Quite a lot of people resist leftward economic drift for a variety of reasons.

        Me? I figure that you should start worrying when the threats of violence and demonization of specific enemy groups comes out, and let people try out their diversity of opinion without too much concern until you hit that point.

      • James Picone says:

        Yes, let us suppress the Dangerous Idea in order to preserve the Right Thinking Way Of Life.

        Or, put another way, are you sure you’re not a communist Steve?

      • grendelkhan says:

        What’s your estimate for the point at which Nordic social democracy will start digging mass graves, since it’s inevitable at this point?

        • E. Harding says:

          Never; it’ll destroy itself before that.

          • grendelkhan says:

            If it’s “always a bloodbath and it’s unstoppable once it gets going”, I’d assumed that the bloodbath would involve mass graves. But if you think it’s going to involve some other method of destruction, then could you put a timeline on it? Maybe with a confidence interval?

  17. Lawrence Kesteloot says:

    > how can both the Left and Right be so certain that the media is biased against them?

    There’s an interesting exception to this: The Leftists and Rightists that I know all believe that The Economist is on their side. I’ve long had a theory: The Economist is well-written and convincing (and centrist), so a Leftist reads reads it and thinks, “This is convincing, so I agree with it, and I’m a Leftist, so this magazine must be Leftist.” Same with the Rightist. But when they read, say, Time Magazine (or whatever), it’s badly written and unconvincing (and centrist), so people react the opposite way.

    • E. Harding says:

      I’ve always felt that The Economist was only between 1/3 and 1/4 on my side. Bizarre Russophobia and strange proclamations on various topics (e.g., race, culture, prisons) have always made it suspect to me. I’ve also never felt the economist to be at all consistently well-written.

    • DavidS says:

      I think it’s also quite good at making its implicit in-group “sensible, thoughtful well-educated people like us” – when it criticises people it tends to be for being populist, not having thought things through, ignoring the research etc. So when it disagrees with your policy you feel it’s making a technical complaint, but when it agrees with you it’s agreeing that the other wside are idiots.

      Interesting you think that though because I think of the Economist as straddling left and right quite well, and I’m in the UK where the political spectrum is very different!

      Also the economist is basically socially liberal combined with mostly-but-moderated support of free markets, which seems to be the default position of people who regard themselves as ‘interested in political issues but not political’

    • Eli says:

      What the flying shit!? The Economist prints exactly the neoliberal Washington consensus. You read it to find the more rigorous, well-backed elite point of view, and thus to measure what all the Very Serious People will say before they say it.

    • ddreytes says:

      Most people on the left that I’ve noticed have considered The Economist to be a neoliberal paper that is in no way on their side.

      • Protagoras says:

        As a leftist, I used to like the Economist in the 90s. I feel like they became more apologists for the mainstream right during the Bush II era, and stopped reading. It’s possible that I’m the one who changed (I’ve become less libertarian and more liberal over time, though I still have bleeding heart libertarian tendencies), but reports from others suggest that the Economist may have actually shifted a bit in that period as well. I haven’t read it recently.

  18. Max says:

    Seems to me that Chomsky arguments in general are true. But he ( being a leftist liberal) ignores or downplays them when it comes to his tribe

    I think the statement in first quote true. However discussing concrete examples is prone to tribalism and biases (especially when its written by a very tribal person)

    The bias and manipulation of the media and academia became obvious to me very clearly after I came to US from Russia. Reading about same exact events in US sources sometimes present completely different pictures
    Researching more and in-depth proves that both sides are blatantly biased and lying to extend their agenda

    And western media are actually best on the market at this – they are much more subtle, clever and precise when pushing their propaganda. Soviet propaganda was crude and obvious to practically everyone. 90s Russia propaganda which was done mostly by west is much better. Todays Putins Russia also behind in propaganda , despite them trying to catch up. But alas -west is too far ahead

    Btw cross examination of Ukraine conflict coverage between Western and Russian sources is extremely hilarious. And also educating – to see whose lies are more subtle and clever

  19. I honestly can’t tell what view you’re trying to attribute to me.

    On an unrelated note, there are much better sources on the awfulness of US foreign policy than Chomsky. I rather liked this book on the Vietnam war.

    • Arjun says:

      Hah, this is exactly the book that came to my mind when the topic turned to Vietnam. Its been on my reading list for a while, based on favorable reviews from LA Review of Books and The Washington Post.

    • Noah says:

      I think he’s trying to say that you believe that people who believe in generally Cathederallish ideas are incorrect conspiracy theorists, and that associating with them is a black mark on someone’s record. He’s saying that he made the argument that the idea of the Cathedral is an incorrect conspiracy theory, that you agree with him on that point, and that you also go one step farther and say that any groups or individuals who associate with groups or individuals who believe ideas like the Cathedral should have some suspicions cast upon their credentials as rational people, simply for being willing to associate with, say nice things about, or worst of all adopt ideas of, people who believe something so wrong.

      I don’t think this is too much of an exaggeration, as in the post Scott linked you use the very fact that Scott thinks that, despite their wrongness about their object-level claims, neoreactionaries have some interesting meta-level insights, as evidence that Scott is heavily biased in favor of the reactionaries due to the fact that they are part of his in-group, and the fact that this is common in the less wrong community shows a failing of the community. In other words, from Scott’s perspective you are saying that the fact that he thinks the neoreactionaries have interesting meta-level insights is evidence of failings on his part to be rational, and that Less Wrong is showing it’s failure to be rational by taking the beliefs of neoreactionaries seriously. It’s only a step away from that to ” any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association.”

      • I think my confusion is around what “this claim,” “similar claim,” and “believe this” refer to. If the structure of the statement is:

        1. Scott thinks X is a nutty conspiracy theory
        2. Topher thinks X is a nutty conspiracy theory
        3. Topher also thinks you should avoid associating with people who believe nutty conspiracy theory X

        That more or less fair (though I think it glosses over some relevant details about the specific conspiracy theorists we’re talking about here, i.e. neoreactionaries). But it sounded like Scott was claiming there was some other claim (call it Y) for which Topher believes Y and also believes people who believe Y should be shunned, which would be a weird thing for me to believe.

        • Noah says:

          Scott’s claim about your beliefs was really awkwardly phrased. I actually had to dig through my memory and the linked post to try to find what he was talking about. At first, it also looked to me like he was claiming that you a simultaneously believed something and thought that people who believed something similar to what you believed ought not to be interacted with, and ought not to have your beliefs taken seriously. Considering what a strange thing that would be to happen, I thought that Scott probably would have gone into it a bit more if that interpretation of his claim was actually what he was claiming.

          At first, I actually thought he was saying that you believed in a sort of self organized conspiracy theory like the Cathedral, but believed it was biased in the opposite direction than the neoreactionaries thought it was. That you thought that believing it was biased in the direction the neoreactionaries thought it was was so obviously wrong that it was a conspiracy theory on the same level as believing the nazis were secretly pro-jew, and thus that the idea that the media just enforces the current position of the Overton window would clear things up a little and show how it could seem to be either depending on your position relative to the Overton window. However, I couldn’t find you espousing any such belief. Afterwards, I realized that the only way what Scott was saying could be anything besides so obviously wrong that anybody typing it would instantly realize it was wrong and hastily delete it, was if he was trying to say something else entirely, but put a sentence together really poorly.

          The entire sentence only makes any sense at all if what he meant by “makes a similar claim, classily adding that any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association,” was “He also claimed they were conspiracy theorists, and added that anybody who believes something so obviously wrong shouldn’t be taken seriously, and anybody associating with them or saying anything nice about any ideas they hold should be suspected of heavy bias,” rather than, “He also claimed that a Cathedral-type idea was true, but claimed that any Cathedral-type idea besides his own was so wrong we should doubt the ability to think clearly of anybody who even associates with people who think like that.” Unfortunately, the sentence is garbled enough that figuring that out takes a surprisingly long amount of time.

  20. Seth says:

    I despair at writing a blog comment that will do justice to all the issues here. It’s a giant pile of slippery assertions where it takes words, words, words to define the specific claim in a precise mathematical way, given the imprecision of colloquial English. And then if one does it, people will often go into theoretical fugues about philosophical abstractions and how do we know what is true, etc. Though granted, that’s part of the point.

    Nano-version: “One person’s freedom-fighter is another’s terrorist”. What makes one side in a revolution or war “correct”? In World War II, all sides committed war crimes, but that doesn’t mean all sides were morally equivalent.

    Application: “Here’s something else I found on Wikipedia: both Chomsky and Herman are considered prominent Cambodian genocide denialists:”

    Owwww … First, a phrase like “found on Wikipedia” ought to be replaced by “random nonsense by anonymous ax-grinders”. Here’s the problem in a nutshell – If someone cries “wolf”, and there is no wolf, and does it again, and again, and you check and it’s a squirrel, or a rabbit, and then one day they cry “wolf”, and you say “I don’t think it’s a wolf, maybe it’s dog at worst” – but it turns out likely it really was a wolf – are you now a WOLF-DENIER!!!. And the wolf-crier’s friends start screaming at you “Wolf-denier! Wolf-denier!”, maybe you get a little defensive, and say “I just said I didn’t think it was, I wasn’t sure, etc” – they rant further, say you’re walking it back, you should have immediately apologized to the wolf-crier and never comment about wolves again, because your judgment is obviously so very wrong, wrong, wrong, unlike the wolf-crier, of course. Forever after in the village, you are known as “The Man Who Denied Wolf.”

    Sigh. That’s just the start :-(.

    • E. Harding says:

      Very good analogy, especially in phrasing!

    • Do you actually have any specific criticism of the information Scott presented based on the Wikipedia entry, or are you just saying “Wikipedia is an unreliable source, therefore this should be ignored”? I don’t understand what you’re getting at with the wolf-crier analogy.

      • Avery says:

        A short recounting of Chomsky’s explanation of the matter:

        Initial accounts of the Khmer Rouge atrocities were very similar to other fear-mongering reports about the doings of communist regimes, all of which turned out to be fallacious. Chomsky, quite reasonably, was skeptical of reports of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, as anti-communist rightists were known to “cry wolf” about communist regimes pretty reliably up until the Khmer Rouge events.

        When more reliable reports came in, and it became obvious that the Khmer Rouge was up to no good, Chomsky condemned them.

        People with an axe to grind (and who were sick of Chomsky calling them out on their deceptions) decided to latch onto the “denier” accusation.

        Now we know why that other fella/gal was talking about crying wolf in a slightly oblique manner.

        • Thanks for explaining. This is a fair point assuming that it is an accurate description of Chomsky’s behavior, but David Friedman seems to dispute that in the other fork. I do not have the knowledge to determine who is correct, so I will withhold judgment for now.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          Initial accounts of the Khmer Rouge atrocities were very similar to other fear-mongering reports about the doings of communist regimes, all of which turned out to be fallacious.

          What reports? Most of the “fear-mongering reports about the doings of communist regimes” I’ve heard about have turned out to be understatements. Of course, in many cases this didn’t become apparent until much latter.

          • Tom Womack says:

            ‘Communist regimes’ tends to be read as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China; if you scan even across the Warsaw Pact there’s a whole other spectrum of Communist regimes which were oppressive but not spectacularly lethal.

            To be a dissident in seventies Czechoslovakia, or even Brezhnev’s Russia, meant you were guaranteed to run enormous career risks, you were quite likely to spend time in prison, you might end up ill from the prison conditions; but you would have to be trying very hard to get the State to kill you. Probably less consequential than being a dissident in contemporary Russia or China.

            So for twenty years there had been a situation where it was obviously and clearly hyperbolic to compare random Warsaw Pact regimes, or even the Soviet Union, to Russia during the Stalin purges or the Holodomor; but people had been doing this anyway.

            So when people started reporting an actual democide in Kampuchea it was assumed they were exaggerating just as badly.

          • “So for twenty years there had been a situation where it was obviously and clearly hyperbolic to compare random Warsaw Pact regimes, or even the Soviet Union, to Russia during the Stalin purges or the Holodomor; but people had been doing this anyway. ”

            I don’t remember actual reports of mass killings in the USSR post-Stalin. Mao was still alive when Pol Pot came to power, had been responsible for a very large number of deaths (mostly by starvation during the Great Leap and mob action during the Cultural Revolution), and when he died, the Economist credited him with ending starvation in China.

            As I pointed out earlier, the clear evidence that Chomsky and Herman were dishonest, not merely honestly misled, is their reliance on a pro KR source which any intelligent reader could see was KR apologetics–and their failure to warn the reader about the nature of that source.

        • Sastan says:

          The fear mongering reports like Walter Duranty reporting the glowing flower of international socialism while Stalin killed a couple hundred million people?

        • “When more reliable reports came in, and it became obvious that the Khmer Rouge was up to no good, Chomsky condemned them.”

          As best I recall—it’s been some years since I read up on the controversy—Chomsky only changed his position after the communist government of Viet Nam invaded Cambodia in order to remove the KR from power.

    • Have you actually read Chomsky and Herman on Cambodia, written prior to the Vietnamese invading? At a point when mass murder was being reported from multiple sources, they were suggesting that what was going on was rather like a few Nazi collaborationists being killed by the French at the end of WWII.

      If you choose to write deliberate apologetics for the most murderous regime of the 20th century, “genocide denialist” is an accurate label.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Bruce Sharp is thorough and damning on Chomsky and Herman.

      • 27chaos says:

        I don’t perceive this as damning, actually. I think Chomsky made a reasonable mistake, and should have backed off further from it than he actually did, but that his response was mostly acceptable, given human fallibility. I think Chomsky’s being held to higher standards than everyone else. He did fail, according to reasonable standards, but he didn’t fail in so extreme or badly a way that he should be villainized as a denier.

        I tend to be more tolerant of actual genocide deniers than most people, though. Maybe the general public would disagree with me, and see his continued errors as morally intolerable.

        • “I think Chomsky made a reasonable mistake”

          Have you read the Hildebrand and Porter book? As I commented earlier, C&H’s treatment of that, presenting an unambiguous work of KR apologetics as if it was an objective source of information, is what persuaded me that they were being deliberately dishonest.

          Scott has offered another example in the Laotian case. When people deliberately misrepresent facts that they have to have known in order to persuade their readers, one ought to stop regarding their mistakes as innocent.

          • Viliam says:

            Now it seems to me most likely that Chomsky’s intention was to make a smaller lie, but because of a misfortune he unknowing made much greater lie that he originally intended.

            what Chomsky said = workers’ paradise on Earth (or whatever he really said; I didn’t read it)

            what Chomsky believed = the average lousy communist dictatorship but no insane mass murderers

            what really happened = insane mass murderers

            So he could be both lying and reasonably mistaken.

          • Chomsky didn’t say “workers’ paradise on Earth” or anything very close to that. But he didn’t say or imply “lousy communist dictatorship” either. What he implied was a reasonable political movement, killing a few people who arguably deserved it (supporters of the previous oppressive regime) while taking power. The comparison he offered was to killing French collaborationists at the end of WWII.

            But he was quite explicitly responding to claims of mass murder, and he rebutted those claims by citing a source which he had to have known, from reading it, was worthless–no more valuable than the KR itself as a source.

  21. Wrong Species says:

    Does anyone here consider themselves a moderate democrat and also feel the media is obviously biased to the right?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If people wanted to label me, and were doing so objectively, I’d say that moderate Democrat is probably where I would fall.

      Is (US) media biased in favor of the right? Maybe, depending in how you tilt your head.

      I think media is biased against nuance, because nuance doesn’t sell very well and nuance is expensive to report. Because stories tend to be complex, this means media tends towards a bias against the truth.

      Then there is the fact that we live in a bi-polar political system. When “objective” means reporting what each of the poles in the system say, regardless of how factual the statements are, you get another “bias” against the truth.

      Then there is the fact that what is most important is frequently not the the thing that is most novel, most compelling, most interesting and most entertaining. Who doesn’t want to read novel, compelling, interesting, entertaining things? What seems important in the news isn’t necessarily what is most important.

      I don’t think the media pushes a narrative, so much as represents a trailing indicator of “consensus coordinated” opinion. That’s not a particularly right or left bias. Black men are considered to be scary criminals? We will show you black men that are scary criminals. White rural people are considered to be rednecks? We will show you white rural rednecks. Intellectuals are considered not to have “common sense”? We will show you intellectuals without common sense.

      Those are biases, but I don’t think they are uniquely right or left leaning biases. I really hate the contention that media is biased in favor of the left and find it to be used in a manner that is intellectually vapid. I find it interesting that Scott parrots it at the beginning of the post as self-evident.

      • My conclusion, long ago and based largely on non-political examples, was that the consistent bias of the media was in favor of making a story interesting.

        The example I remember was my experience in the early years of the SCA with reporters. They ask how many people are involved in the hobby. You tell them that X are seriously involved, 2X are members, 5 X are people who very occasionally attend an event. The last and largest number is the one that gets reported.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yes, I agree with this.

          And of course the biggest factor is not the reporters or the editors, but the consumers. I think we can make a revealed preference argument here.

          But, the other side of this coin is that you can make stories interesting and factually correct, but that is expensive (you have to spend more time on research, more stories wont be published if you dig for truth instead of just interesting, the people who can do this our a smaller group within journalists, so therefore will be at a premium, etc.) If the consumers won’t pay for that expense, in some manner, well, I guess we are right back to revealed preference.

      • Adam says:

        I’d say moderate Democrat seems like a fair characterization of you, and I do think mainstream U.S. media, at least in the network era prior to the Internet, was broadly biased roughly in favor of positions like yours. They were never biased to anything close to Chomsky, and it’s broad brush nonsense to just say they’re biased left and include you and Chomsky both in that demographic.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think there was an era when major TV news was more fact seeking than it is today. I think this also was true for newspapers.

          I’d put the likely inflection point at the advent of cable, not the start of the World Wide Web (which is younger than the Internet, but is what is cogent). When you had 3 TV networks and a few hometown newspapers, the relative lack of options should mean that journalism was somewhat sheltered from the “entertain me now” forces at work today.

          But I don’t think that means they were “biased toward liberals”. Although, perhaps there is something to be said for TV as a medium making it easier to craft stories around the concept of empathy, and perhaps that has a liberal bent to it.

          I’m genuinely curious what opinions people here have on empathy-> liberal.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I don’t think that empathy, per se, is a useful factor for comparison. I have met people who really, really believed that the minimum wage was bad for poor people, it favored big businesses over small, and it caused a lot of suffering. They were therefore very anti-minimum-wage, even though that’s not a mainstream Progressive position at all.

            Empathy is probably a pretty strong co-factor when you look at people who are poorly educated and/or not all that bright, because “take from rich people who have more than enough, give to poor people who don’t,” or “It should be illegal to make food and shelter too expensive for anyone to buy” are pretty sound arguments if you are a) empathetic and b) even worse at anticipating consequences than the average person.

          • Adam says:

            Conversely, I’m about as liberal as a person can get on at least some issues, like I think basically all arguments from tradition are bunk and if you can prove a goat is capable of comprehending a legal contract, you should be able to marry one, even more than one, if that’s what you want to do. Thanks to this, I’m broadly sympathetic in position to society’s strangest and most outcast people, but I don’t think this follows from empathy. I’m not actually bothered that people suffer. I think, on a logical level, that the world would be better if people suffered less, but it’s not something I anguish over or actually care about.

            Strangely, this seems to pigeonhole me on this particular blog to a left-of-center position where I’m constantly asked to feel sorry for Curtis Yarvin and Donald Sterling and I just can’t do it, but put me on a feminist blog where I’m rolling my eyes at upper middle-class white chicks whose parents are dropping 70 grand a year to get them a gender studies degree at Wellesley whining about how oppressed they are by catcalling, and suddenly I’m on the right.

            It doesn’t seem useful to me to define your politics by the emotional reactions you have to things.

          • Adam says:

            Also, what I mean about the network anchor model being biased toward liberal ideas is just that they were staffed by an urbane, educated type of person who was broadly more cosmopolitan than the population at large. In the wake of 60s race relations and the end of Dixie Democrats, this ended up mapping the most closely it ever would to the general left-right US spectrum. But that’s less and less the case as that particular historically contingent situation having nothing to do with the intrinsic plausibility of marriages of political ideas has worn off.

          • Jiro says:

            f you can prove a goat is capable of comprehending a legal contract, you should be able to marry one

            I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 13 year olds who can comprehend a legal contract–certainly they can comprehend a marriage contract. So this implies you think you should be able to marry one.

          • CJB says:

            “Strangely, this seems to pigeonhole me on this particular blog to a left-of-center position where I’m constantly asked to feel sorry for Curtis Yarvin and Donald Sterling and I just can’t do it.”

            Sterling- totes with you. I actually feel more like this than not about Brandon Eich. Poor wittle rich boy.

            But Yarvin seems to be just a dude whose “sin” was writing 100K word obscure blog posts about fairly abstract political concerns.

            Do I think that what happened to Eich and, to a lesser degrees Sterling was “wrong”? Yes. But more of a technical foul.

          • “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 13 year olds who can comprehend a legal contract–certainly they can comprehend a marriage contract. So this implies you think you should be able to marry one.”

            Under traditional Jewish law, age of adulthood was twelve for women and thirteen for men, in both cases, I think, with evidence of puberty. Women could be married off younger by their father, but had the right to cancel the marriage when they became legal adults.

            Until 1880, the typical age of consent (sex not marriage, I believe) in U.S. states was 10. I haven’t found the figures for age of consent to marry, but my memory is that in NH it was something like thirteen or fourteen until fairly recently.

            Some thirteen year olds are competent to decide to marry, some twenty-one year olds are not.

          • Adam says:

            Sure, Jiro, 13 is a fairly traditional age of sexual maturity and if someone of that age wants to enter into a lifelong contract and honestly understands the implications (and well, it’s not an unbreakable contract anyway), they should be able to.

            @CJB

            I’m basically with you on all of that. Banning people from tech conferences for political blogging is bullshit, but I don’t think it materially impacted his life and I don’t feel anything for him or care or fear it will happen to me (worse has already happened to me, and here I am fine and well). Sterling deserved every inch of it because he’s been a generally abusive slumlord for forty years, but yeah, technical foul because the specific thing he was ousted for was trumped up nonsense.

          • Banning people from tech conferences for political blogging is bullshit, but I don’t think it materially impacted his life

            But it may have impacted everybody else’s. IT is in crisis because we simply don’t know how to efficiently write secure code; I’m not saying Yarvin’s ideas are The Solution, necessarily, but they’re fascinating enough to deserve a wider audience. For all we know, if he’d been allowed to speak, those ideas would have given someone in the audience an inspiration that would have eventually solved all our problems. At the very least it would have been worth a try – and if the odds were low, the odds that allowing his attendance would have a detrimental effect on society were even lower.

          • Adam says:

            Sure, but this is getting close to me saying “sure, it sucks that kid got hit by the bus, but I don’t really care because the world has a lot of kids in it anyway” and you responding “well, that kid might have cured cancer.”

            And hey, maybe someone with the same potential for weapons engineering as Oppenheimer died of pneumonia in his crib 50 years before actual Oppenheimer was born, and we could have had nuclear weapons before WWI and prevented 80 million deaths. That sucks even more, but I still don’t care. There are an infinity of counterfactual better worlds we didn’t get because of unfortunate things that happened that I don’t care about.

          • I think a better analogy would be a promising cancer researcher getting hit by a bus. If you don’t care about that either, well, fair enough.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      I do, although I’m not actually a Democrat (I live outside the US.)

  22. Baby Beluga says:

    Mostly unrelated–I recently read an email exchange between Sam Harris (a prominent atheist who is very critical of Islam) and Noam Chomsky. It didn’t really get anywhere, and it looked like it was mostly because Chomsky was being really hostile and mean. But I also felt like I was missing a lot of context, and so maybe Chomsky had a good reason to be hostile and mean because of past misdeeds by Harris.

    Did anyone else read this and have a better-informed opinion on it?

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse

    • I am biased on this subject; I like Harris and do not particularly like Chomsky, mostly for the sort of dishonesty Scott described in his review. Also, what follows is almost all off the top of my head, so take this with a grain of salt.

      Harris claims that prior to this exchange the only thing he’d ever written about Chomsky was a sentence or two in one of his early books. Harris wrote that Chomsky had not thought about the moral implications of some of his positions. In a follow-up podcast (transcription also available at that link), Harris admits that this was a poor choice of words on his part; Chomsky obviously has thought a great deal about these things, but Harris believes he has thought about them “badly.”

      Other than this, Chomsky’s animosity towards Harris appears to be entirely based on his political disagreements with Harris. They probably agree on more than they disagree on, but because Harris has the gall to criticize Islamism without spending equal time criticizing US foreign policy (which is not to say that Harris never criticizes US foreign policy), he is guilty of wrongthink and therefore must be punished.

      One thing which I think is particularly exemplary of Chomsky’s bad behavior in this conversation is his response to Harris’ assertion that Chomsky called him a “religious fanatic.” Harris provides a link to a YouTube video of Chomsky making this statement, and Chomsky responds:

      It turns out that you have published version of my views that are completely false, and that the only source you have for “the fact” that you cite is something on Youtube in which, as you wrote, that I “may have been talking about both Christopher Hitchens and [you], given the way the question was posed,” or maybe about Hitchens, whose views I know about, whereas in your case I only know about your published falsifications of my views…

      But if you watch the video, it very clearly shows that Chomsky was indeed talking about both of them. So he either couldn’t be bothered to watch it, or he was straight up lying. In either case, he clearly has no interest in even attempting to have a productive conversation with Harris. (Also, why does he write “something on YouTube” as though that invalidates the source? It’s an uncut, seemingly unedited video! In what way would it be unreliable?)

      Having already been familiar with this exchange and some of Chomsky’s other writings, it comes as no surprise to me that he seriously misrepresents events in this book in order to support his thesis. Again, I’m biased against Chomsky, but I actually think Scott may have been too charitable here, if there is such a thing.

    • Sam Rosen says:

      Chomsky and Harris were engaged in fundamentally different projects. Chomsky: Description of what happened in the Al-Shifa bombing. Harris: Exploration of the ethics of intention.

      They were talking past each other.

      Unfortunately, Chomsky’s lack of patience and general jerkitude prevented a dialogue that would have cleared this up. Also, I was embarrassed, as in, I literally cringed when Chomsky interpreted Harris’s thought experiment about Taliban humanitarians as a plausible description of Clinton’s behavior rather than as a tool for teasing out his intuitions about intention. As Harris says, “I was not drawing an analogy between my contrived case of al-Qaeda being “great humanitarians” and the Clinton administration. The purpose of that example was to distinguish the ethical importance of intention (given the same body count) as clearly as possible. The case was not meant to realistic.” The fact that Chomsky didn’t grasp this was… painful.

      I’m being tendentious right now, but I was really irked by the commenters at the time who wrote that “Chomsky schooled Harris.” Chomsky came across like a jerk who was unable to handle counterfactuals. Harris came across like a airy-fairy philosopher who was ignorant about the specifics of the issue being discussed.

      • Sylocat says:

        Also, I was embarrassed, as in, I literally cringed when Chomsky interpreted Harris’s thought experiment about Taliban humanitarians as a plausible description of Clinton’s behavior rather than as a tool for teasing out his intuitions about intention.

        Whereas, I found myself wondering why Harris chose that subject matter for a thought-experiment, when he could have made his point just as easy with an analogy about, I dunno, characters from Fullmetal Alchemist or something. I mean, come on, couldn’t Harris tell that that wasn’t going to be a persuasive analogy when talking to Chomsky of all people?

    • mbka says:

      I read this a while ago and easily sided with Harris. Chomsky comes across as incredibly obtuse and as narrow minded as it gets. Ironic for a supposed intellectual.

  23. Anon says:

    Perhaps remove an ‘are’:

    “who are secretly or not-so-secretly are also the death squads”

  24. creative username #1138 says:

    “But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century.”

    The popular hundred million figure is taken from The Black Book of Communism and is not something universally accepted. For example the book estimates the victims of Soviet communism at at 20 million. Anatoly Karlin has written a post about why these numbers are wrong. It really depends on how you define victim of communism.

    • Sylocat says:

      But if we agreed on actual criteria for what constitutes a death “caused by” [x group/system/ideology/&c. we don’t like], how would we make sweeping generalizations and fling accusations of genocide-apologia around at people we disagree with on the internet?

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        I thought that it was generally agreed that after the 6 million mark we were past the point of “Well, they might’ve been bad but…”.

        I really don’t understand why both sides of the argument are so concerned with the specific number when it’s agreed that we’re way past that threshold.

  25. Steve Sailer says:

    “C&H argue that nearly everyone in South Vietnam supported Ho Chi Minh except for the dictator and his cronies.”

    My impression is that the pattern was more systemic.

    It only recently dawned on me that a massive problem the U.S. had in assessing public opinion in South Vietnam in the critical 1954-1964 era was that practically zero Americans spoke Vietnamese. (In contrast, the U.S. had a modest but highly useful number of Japanese speakers by 1945; but then the U.S. quickly got into a confusing and dangerous situation in Korea made worse by practically no Americans having any knowledge of Korean.)

    But lots of Vietnamese spoke French. And they tended to be anti-Communist.

    But Vietnamese who spoke French and thus could articulate their opinions to Americans turned out not to be a representative sample of Vietnamese opinion. The French-speakers tended to be from families who had long collaborated with the French imperialists, and thus tended to be hated by the Vietnamese who didn’t speak French. There was also a lot of overlap among the categories “speaks French,” “Catholic,” “refugee from Communist North Vietnam,” “lives in Saigon,” “educated,” “hates the Communists,” and “tells us everybody they know hates the Communists.”

    And there were hundreds of thousands of these people, far more than just “the dictator and his cronies.” (A lot of them live in America today.)

    And Americans, many of whom had served in France in the World Wars, could converse fairly easily with these large numbers of French-speaking Vietnamese, who kept telling us it was a great idea for the U.S. to intervene in Vietnam against the spread of Communism.

    The strategic problem was that although there were large numbers of French-speaking Vietnamese in Saigon, there were immense numbers of non-French speaking Vietnamese out in the countryside. And they hated the French-speaking Vietnamese and wanted to kill them.

    Here are a couple of other East Asian examples: In contrast, the U.S. had a modest but highly useful number of Japanese speakers by 1945 after investing heavily in Japanese language schools and the like during the War. And the U.S. handled Japan pretty adroitly in late 1940s.

    But the U.S. immediately got into a confusing and dangerous situation in Korea made worse by practically no Americans having any knowledge of Korean. Reading Wikipedia’s account of the U.S. role in South Korea in 1945 to 1950 is nightmarish because practically nobody in America had any clue about Korean language, culture, history, or politics. It was an entire civilization of very intense people about which Americans had only vague knowledge before suddenly becoming patron of the southern half in 1945. Liberal Americans were worried (not unreasonably) that the mercurial president installed by America would start a war with North Korea and it came as a shock when North Korea started the war on 6/25/50 and quickly overran most of the South.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Has it not struck the US to set up an equivalent of the School of Oriental and African Studies, AKA the MI5 feeder school?

    • Oliver Cromwell says:

      “The strategic problem was that although there were large numbers of French-speaking Vietnamese in Saigon, there were immense numbers of non-French speaking Vietnamese out in the countryside. And they hated the French-speaking Vietnamese and wanted to kill them.”

      How true is that really? I mean having just admitted that no one could talk to them at the time, which I guess limits the amount of documentary evidence in English. Literacy levels probably limit the amount of documentary evidence in Vietnamese.

      Colonialism is probably bad in the abstract but French Indochina was not some terror state, much better than living in the civil war, and probably better than living in independent communist Vietnam at least until the 90s. And even today the Vietnamese are pretty apolitical. Did the average Vietnamese peasant really care about the French and the French-speaking Vietnamese elites?

      It certainly seems like the original communist leadership, including Ho Chi Minh, were mostly French-speaking, French-educated super-elites who learnt their communism in France.

    • Mark says:

      OT. there’s a blue plaque for Ho Chi Minh on the Haymarket, London. Once a hotel where he worked as a porter. I believe he also worked in another hotel, now a pub, in west London. He probably spoke good English.
      http://openplaques.org/plaques/1968

  26. So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.

    Alternative explanation: the media didn’t report on the scandal because no one gives a shit about third parties in general. And not because of the content of their ideology, but because their chances of winning or getting enough votes to influence anything are extremely slim.

    • Eli says:

      The problem is that there’s a causal loop here: if the media reported on third parties, they would gain steam (because it’s easy to grow by 5000% when that means going from 100 members to 6000 members in a country of 350,000,000 people), but it doesn’t, so they don’t, so it doesn’t.

      • Anonymous says:

        You have other mechanisms, including the heinous FPTP, keeping third parties powerless.

      • Garrett says:

        No. Political Science research has shown that in first-past-the-post electoral systems, the stable equilibrium is to have 2 mass-appeal parties.
        The President will pretty much always be a 2-party race.
        It’s more likely that you’ll have a different 2-way race for different offices. Eg. for an Alabama Senate seat it might become the Republicans vs. Natural Law party, whereas in California it might be the Democrats vs. the Green Party. Still, national name recognition will likely tend towards a single pair of mass-appeal parties.

  27. Steve Sailer says:

    When I was in high school in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, I can recall the L.A. Times publishing two long essays by Chomsky about how Indonesia shouldn’t be allowed to grab the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. But I don’t recall reading much since by Chomsky in the mainstream media, such as in the New York Times or Washington Post.

    Partly that’s because Chomsky is a dry writer. But there does seem to be some kind of ideological or interest boycott of Chomsky who is, for all his weaknesses, obviously a great man.

  28. Steve Sailer says:

    “Their case study of a “worthy victim” is Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed by the Communists; since the Communists were our enemy, we were outraged by the crime. Their examples of “unworthy victims” are the thousands killed in El Salvador and Guatemala, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero;”

    While I agree with some of “Manufacturing Consent,” the comparison of killing of the Polish priest and the Salvadoran archbishop seems less than convincing to me. From reading the newspapers in that era, I have only a vague memory of the Polish priest (and certainly didn’t remember his hard to spell name). In contrast, Archbishop Romero seems to me to have been a much bigger deal in the media at the time.

    A few years later in 1986, Oliver Stone made the murder in the cathedral scene the dramatic centerpiece of his movie “Salvador,” which earned James Woods a Best Actor nomination.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      My impression is that the history of Chomsky’s respectability is rather like that of movie director Oliver Stone (who I would imagine was influenced by Chomsky). Stone was extremely respectable with the media from 1986 (Salvador, Platoon) through Wall Street and another Vietnam movie Born on the Fourth of July.

      Stone was a very big deal in the late 1980s in the fields where art and politics overlap.

      Then, his 1991 movie JFK was well received by the cultural media. But after it earned a lot of Oscar nominations, the political media turned against it with a vengeance for its ridiculous history.

      Stone’s reputation has never fully recovered from that attack by the serious press.

      Similarly, Chomsky was fairly fashionable in the 1960s and early 1970s, but his critics have used his screw-up over Cambodia much like Stone’s detractors have used his screw-up over JFK to dismiss him and not have to consider what he has to say.

      In both cases, the glass is part empty and part full.

      • Anthony says:

        The field of linguistics also turned on Chomsky in a big way – if you’re a linguist these days, you’re either a Chomskyan or an anti-Chomskyan, because pretty much all the non-Chomskyan linguists consider Chomsky’s work badly wrong and damaging to the field. I’m not sure if that played any part in Chomsky’s fall from grace among wider elite and journalistic opinion, though.

        • nydwracu says:

          Most of the people I know who follow linguistics either don’t care about Chomsky, think he’s ridiculous, or hate his guts. I don’t know anyone who likes his linguistic work.

          • suntzuanime says:

            My understanding is that Chomsky is more popular among the more… philosophical linguists. Shit like “poverty of the stimulus” is nice and persuasive-sounding, but turns out to be false if you sit down and actually run the numbers or build a machine or whatever. Likely the sort of crowd you run with tends to be more persuaded by facts than by nice-sounding words, but this is not the case for all people.

      • stuart says:

        (At least some of) Chomsky’s critics accuse him of systematic dishonesty in his handling of source material. They are happy to point to many, many, obvious examples of this, his Cambodia nonsense is just one example. Do you think this is untrue?

        It is terribly boring to check so people, like Scott in this post, simply assume that while he’s biased, all the references signal something impressive.

  29. John says:

    My unsophisticated thoughts, regarding the nature of the “self-organizing consensus enforcement system”: I see these passages:

    “The media enforces conformity with the Overton window against both the right and left flanks. Both the rightward and leftward fringes notice the same set of dirty tricks in the media”

    and: “relentless nitpickers will shriek about every slight inaccuracy and condemn the journalists involved as liars and unpatriotic to boot. If the media parrots the official line, then journalists can be almost arbitrarily sloppy and nobody will call them on it. Therefore, journalists who get ground down by the constant harassment will unconsciously shift towards more pro-establishment narratives.”

    And my brain says: Bully those who are different. Those who are different are vulnerable to being bullied. Competition.

    To articulate that thought, let’s suppose that some part of a journalist’s life is like living in a pack of wolves. To support a fringe opinion is to make yourself vulnerable; to successfully attack a person or opinion wins you status and possibly career benefits. (Do wolves do this sort of thing? I’ve never studied the subject.) That would probably explain the “dirty tricks” and stuff being used against people outside the Overton window, and the tendency for journalists to stay inside the Overton window.

    How about shifts in the Overton window?–what determines it? Since anyone is punished for deviating from it, it is mostly stationary, but eventually (perhaps quickly in some cases) it does shift. Changes occur at the boundary of the window; something previously inside it is now outside, or vice versa. When does that happen? Well, one mechanism that comes to mind is that if most people have come from educational institutions that lean a certain way, and those institutions mostly support XYZ just outside the boundary over here and disparage ABC just inside the boundary over there, then (as a wolf journalist) you can probably stake out some new territory in XYZ or attack those inside ABC. People’s actual reactions to issues can make a difference too. And if there are some issues where (for some reason) it’s just really easy for one side to attack the other, the one side is likely to gain an advantage.

    Does anyone know what journalists’ careers and lives are like, and could confirm or deny the pack-of-wolves theory?

  30. There is really no way that every single 3rd world country we touch ends up a total bloodbath immediately after. Just by random chance, at least one of them should become better afterwards, or we should happen to intervene at just the right moment when things were already on the upswing. Chomsky is either picking and choosing his narrative pieces to create a pattern, or the actual pattern is just “third world countries descend into violent bloodshed so frequently that you could pick almost any point in their histories and find bloodshed within a few years.”

    The world was a violent place before America got here.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I think the pattern tended to work like more like this (especially in Asia):

      – In the 19th Century, an advanced power colonizes a backward country

      – Some of the locals remain very angry against the colonizers

      – But some of the locals learn the colonizers’ language and their organizational skills and become servants of the empire

      – Colonial power collapses in 1939-45

      – By 1945 and afterwards, there are two potential ruling groups, two groups with the skills to plausibly run an independent country:

      – The collaborationist elite

      – The anti-collaborators, who typically learned Western organizational skills in the Communist Party

      – The U.S. typically inherits the local collaborationist elite as its side in the Cold War: e.g., the Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese, the Vietnamese who collaborated with the French

      – The Communists typically inherit the local xenophobic nationalists (granted, that doesn’t make much sense in ideological terms, but ideology is less important than Whose Side Are You On?)

      There are lots of variations on this process, of course.

      Latin America is a somewhat distinctive case since decolonization happened long before, with the U.S. typically playing a semi-imperial role within the Monroe Doctrine Zone. But old-fashioned class-based Marxism is somewhat more applicable as an ideology in Latin America, so perhaps that’s why semi-genuine Communism has hung on longer in Cuba than in Vietnam.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        Latin America is a somewhat distinctive case since decolonization happened long before, with the U.S. typically playing a semi-imperial role within the Monroe Doctrine Zone. But old-fashioned class-based Marxism is somewhat more applicable as an ideology in Latin America, so perhaps that’s why semi-genuine Communism has hung on longer in Cuba than in Vietnam.

        North Korea appears to be a problem for this theory.

        • Zykrom says:

          The more I read about NK the more it seems like they’re more natsoc than “old school” Communist.

          • Eugine_Nier says:

            The “old school” Communist regimes were actually rather nationalist, at least in their internal propaganda.

          • creative username #1138 says:

            Depends on how old school you go. Lenin and especially Trotsky were internationalists to the core. The re-emphasis on Russian nationalism didn’t happen until Stalin.

          • Eugine_Nier says:

            @creative username #1138

            Which is all before the time period under discussion.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It doesn’t seem too implausible to me. Government is supposed to maintain order. Destroy a legitimate government and replace it with a much weaker illegitimate one, and you get much less order.

      This seems to be a pattern even outside colonialism. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened French people overthrow the monarchy, and soon after you got the Reign of Terror. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Russians overthrew the Czar, and soon after you got Stalin. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Americans took over Iraq and Afghanistan, and now both are messes. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Arab Spring protesters overthrew Libya and Syria, and now both countries have terrible civil wars.

      • DavidS says:

        I don’t know about this conclusion. Was the French Republic less stable than the monarchy?Or the Soviet Union less so than the Tzars? I think there’s an important difference between ‘horror associated with transition’ (e.g the Terror), ‘nothing to transition to’ (failed states), and ‘transition to something worse but stable’ (e.g. Stalin)

        An interesting argument that often gets half-made is that the problem is that we don’t actually allow civil wars to work themselves out (where ‘work themselves out’ involves immense quantities of innocent human suffering). The American Civil War had a terrible death count and was massively destructive. If somehow a world policeman had intervened (some ahistorical Anglo-French alliance sending peace keepers?), I genuinely don’t know what would have happened. Maybe it would have been sorted out with lives saved. Maybe the position of maintaining a truce would mean the South achieved its aims de facto and split off relatively peacefully. Or maybe it would have developed into a far worse festering sore of an unresolved conflict and would still be sparking terrorism on both sides today.

        • Irenist says:

          I’ll sort of give you Tsar -> USSR, although the USSR->Yeltsin chaos->Putin authoritarianism transition happened not THAT long after 1917 by the standards of how long the Tsardom was around. (Like most paleocon-style Catholic cranks, I’m of Zhou Enlai’s “French Revolutin a good idea? Too soon to tell!” school of historiography, whereby 1917-1991 looks like a pathetically short regime lifetime b/c I’m always instinctively comparing it to the Church [29CE-Present] or the Imperium [27BCE-1453CE]).

          But even after the Terror, the First Republic was unstable, and flipped into the First Empire within a few years. The whole system continued oscillating between Bourbons, Republics, and Empires until we got the old joke where the American tourist goes to a bookstore in Paris for a copy of the French constitution and gets sniffily redirected to a newsstand because “we don’t sell periodical literature.”

          As for the US Civil War, I’m an “offensive realist”: without either bipolarity or a continental hegemon, you’re probably going to get lots of wars. So if Anglo-French intervention had left behind, say, British North America, USA, CSA, and the French-puppet Mexican Empire (a quite plausible outcome), then you’ve got four major continental powers and WWI and WWII both pretty much inevitably have really bloody N. American theaters. Maintaining continental hegemony ain’t pretty (neither Rome nor Lincoln nor post-1991 NATO is blameless) but it mostly keeps a lid on things, and isn’t to be despised.

          ETA: Canada and CSA obviously go for the Entente in WWI. Prussian culture (eugenics, chemical industry innovation, education reform, civil service reform, social welfare state, post-Hegelian transcendentalist hippie blather, warm fuzzies about Luther sticking it to dirty papists) was VERY high status in the New England of Dewey, Pierce, O.W. Holmes, and Wm. James, so the USA for not only geopolitical but also cultural reason breaks hard for the Central powers. The wild card is Mexico. French control over the Empire was more of a client state thing (not a solid Dominion like the Brits in Canada), and a savvy Mexican regime likely would’ve told the French to take a hike if they got a Zimmerman Telegram and thought Germany and the USA would help them retake Texas and the Arizona Territory from the CSA. Frankly, given the obvious geopolitical realities (the CSA can’t hold the Mississippi if Mexico retakes the East Texas piney woods, etc.) Mexico probably doesn’t last long as a French client after the counterfactual idiotic intervention by the Anglo-French in 186x. Instead, it’s probably firmly within the Central Powers’ interlocking alliance system with the USA by about 1900ish, especially once Roosevelt starts his German-funded dreadnought race with the Brit-funded CSA Navy and Mexico feels strong pressure to pick a horse. There’s a Turtledove novel or two about this stuff, I think, but I’m not an alt-history guy AT ALL for fiction reading (I’m mostly a mundane SF lamer or I read Dead White Guys), so I dunno.

          ETA2: “Albion’s Seed” counterfactual funtime: Assume no intervention, history the same until 1914 or so. If POTUS in 1914-19 is some Humboldt-idolizing Boston Brahmin instead of a Scots-Irish anti-Catholic racist Son of Appalachia whose father tended Confederate wounded when he was a boy and who screened “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, do we (a) do pretty much the same thing anyway (b) stay neutral (c) execute Plan Red (the Pentagon’s longstanding plan for war with British Canada) in concert with the Central Powers. (Note: Question assumes decision is made before Zimmerman Telegram, because yeah, that was stupid, Kaiser Bill.)

          • Tibor says:

            Actually, that “too soon to tell” quote is actually a translation error. The “French revolution” he had in mind was that of 1968.

          • SFG says:

            Why does everyone assume the CSA goes for the Entente and the USA for the Central Power? Turtledove does it for narratively reasonable ironic reasons (CSA=racist=Nazis=Germany, at least to lazy people, so it breaks our expectations and makes a more interesting story), but why does everyone else?

          • Montfort says:

            SFG: Largely it’s because the only way the CSA wins and survives on the US border is by backing from the British and/or French. If you assume nothing changes in Europe, when WWI rolls around the CSA is either in the Entente’s pocket or it has fallen to the US. By the same mechanism, the remaining US will no longer be so kindly disposed to the intervening power(s), to put it lightly.

            Of course, the whole thing is somewhat moot. The existence of a revanchist USA is going to change a lot of things, I’d expect, and you may not have the Entente and Central Powers as we’d recognize them.

        • Sylocat says:

          An interesting argument that often gets half-made is that the problem is that we don’t actually allow civil wars to work themselves out (where ‘work themselves out’ involves immense quantities of innocent human suffering). The American Civil War had a terrible death count and was massively destructive. If somehow a world policeman had intervened (some ahistorical Anglo-French alliance sending peace keepers?), I genuinely don’t know what would have happened.

          The War Nerd touched on exactly that, back in 2012 when he wrote about the do-gooders “keeping peace” in the Congo:

          And the “peacekeepers”—say, England and France at that time—would’ve been just plain overjoyed to step in and freeze the war, keep it festering for generations. They’d never have to worry about US competition again, because a war that gets stopped before it can settle anything always—always, always, always—devolves into the nastiest kind of bushwhacker war, “bush war” for short. And we’d still be fighting that kind of war, the kind we saw in Kansas just before Fort Sumter, with Yanks and Rebs sneaking around to wipe out the nearest enemy village before the international community could broker a local, temporary deal. There’d be “peacekeepers” all along the Mason-Dixon line, all through the mixed-up border zones like Kansas and Missouri, and for good measure a whole mushroom crop of blue-helmet outposts monitoring every Anglo vs. Injun flashpoint in the Far West. We’d be the most miserable, bloodsoaked, underdeveloped bastards in the history of the world—just like Central Africa is now. And the peacekeepers, all those well-meaning French and English dudes, would not only get to feel good about their humanitarian work, they could rest easy knowing they’d knocked a potential economic competitor out of the running for centuries to come.

      • Deiseach says:

        There is no excuse for Afghanistan, because that has two centuries (at least) of being a massive pain in the arse for outside powers using it as a proxy for war with each other (see Britain and Russia; read “Kim” and the background to why Kim is being trained as a spy for the Brits is all to do with the ‘Great Game’ going on involving the Russians and British in Afghanistan).

        Why the U.S. thought it could just waltz in, overthrow the existing order, impose “democracy” and there you go, job done, I have no idea – apart from wilful blindness.

        This is partly why, all you STEM types, I do so much table-pounding over the humanities being as vital: history, gods damn it! Or at least if one of your bright young policy wonks had read “Kim” as a speccy four-eyed swot and had some vague memory of “Hey, didn’t this all happen before?”, maybe some breath of warning about “This may not end well” might have percolated through?

        Look at how the Soviets came a cropper in Afghanistan, for goodness’ sake! And they’d been playing the game of empire there a lot longer!

        • ” Or at least if one of your bright young policy wonks had read “Kim””

          Kim doesn’t show military conflict in Afghanistan, just the Great Game—intelligence and counter. You need “Arithmetic on the Frontier.” Or Flashman.

          On the other hand the final Stalky story plus “The Ballad of East and West” make it look as though you should be able to manage Afghanistan provided you send people who properly understand and function with their culture.

          “For there is neither East nor West
          Border nor breed nor birth
          When two strong men stand face to face
          Though they come from the ends of the Earth.”

          • Deiseach says:

            They gave him a glass of whitish fluid like to gin, and then more; and in a little time his gravity departed from him. He became thickly treasonous, and spoke in terms of sweeping indecency of a Government which had forced upon him a white man’s education and neglected to supply him with a white man’s salary. He babbled tales of oppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseries of his land. Then he staggered off, singing love-songs of Lower Bengal, and collapsed upon a wet tree-trunk. Never was so unfortunate a product of English rule in India more unhappily thrust upon aliens.

            And the lesson from “Kim” is that Hurree Babu was able to fool the French and Russian envoys up to their eyeballs by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear: that he and others felt oppressed by the British, that they were willing to turn elsewhere for leaders not tied in to the Establishment – a pity no-one recognised the pattern when dealing with Chalabi!

            Or indeed any of the leaders promising that they have popular support, their tribespeople are just longing to be friends and allies of the Americans, all they need are some guns and some money…

            (Though Kipling himself fooled himself with the idea that the British understood and could rule the Indians).

          • “(Though Kipling himself fooled himself with the idea that the British understood and could rule the Indians).”

            They succeeded in ruling them for quite a long time. It’s clear in Kim that most of the English in India don’t understand the culture, although a few do.

            There’s a comment by someone, possibly the elderly aristocratic grandmother, to the effect that it’s only the English who grew up in India who are competent to rule. I was reminded of something Usamah ibn Munqidh (Syrian emir, older contemporary of Saladin) wrote about the Franks. The ones who came from Frangistan were barbarians, but the second generation, who grew up in Outremer, were reasonable people.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          The overlap between “STEM types” and those who have read “Kim” is probably a lot larger than the overlap between “policy wonks” and those who have read “Kim.” The overlap betwen “STEM types” and “policy wonks” is almost nonexistent.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s a fair number of us, actually, though in my case only on an occasional supporting basis. Still, if there’s some STEM-unique bit of insight necessary for effective wonkery, there will probably be someone at the table to raise it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Deiseach:
          An invasion of Afghanistan and attempted nation building seems like it was near inevitable. The government at the time was was allied with AQ. Had they been any other sort of government, one that would have been willing to go after AQ, then I could see a counter-factual history where the US doesn’t go in as regime changer.

        • Adam says:

          I kind of doubt the CIA and Joint Chiefs didn’t know about the history of conflict over Afghanistan, but the Taliban sheltered and supported a man and organization that planned and carried out an attack on a major American city. No one was going to call a press conference and say ‘it’s cool, we’re just not going to do anything because getting rid of the Taliban is hard.’

          • Deiseach says:

            And then we got “Mission accomplished”, job done – and then the Taliban came back.

            And now the new boogeyman is not the Taliban or Al Quaeda but ISIS/ISIL.

            This is a game that will never end. Whack one mole, another one pops up. Civilians thinking fancy “shock and awe” weapons will win and change the tenor of centuries of custom are idiots, but unfortunately when you believe your own propaganda and are not wiling to learn from history, that’s what happens.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Deiseach:

            Obvious counter-argument would be that the US was not trying to “win” the war on Al Qaeda nor is really trying to defeat ISIL. At least not to the degree that it tried to defeat the CSA or Axis Powers in WWII.

            We’re stuck in that “uncanny valley” that Scott described in his big Reactionary Philosophy post.

          • To be fair, the initial involvement in Afghanistan wasn’t obviously stupid. There was a civil war going on. The Northern Alliance was losing to the Taliban, but still had substantial military forces. If only they were provided with unlimited air support, they could win. We just happened to have unlimited air support available to provide them with.

            Then the leader of the Northern Alliance got assassinated, and things fell apart, and we made the mistake of thinking that we could actually control things on the ground with our own troops.

        • Anthony says:

          Steven DenBeste, before he retired to write exclusively about anime, wrote that in Afghanistan, we should have just gone in and overthrown the Taliban government, and killed as many of them and AQ types as we could, then gotten out. Let the Afghans sort it out from there. Basically a punitive raid, because nation-building obviously wouldn’t work.

          He did say that having decided to invade Iraq, we had to try to build something there, because it was a functioning state before our invasion, and that failure to successfully rebuild Iraq would have bad consequences for us down the road.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That, was a fairly common take within the military as well but the position was seen as politically untenable.

            Punitive Raid?
            Long term occupation + Nation building AKA Imperialism?

            No way in hell that the American public would sign off on that.

      • Tibor says:

        I know a guy from Uganda, which is actually one of the more stable countries in Africa (although not rich even by African standards) and I found it really interesting to hear how some things work there. Basically, there is a standardized-european-state-overlay (TM) but many things work on a level of tribes and families. For example their version of animal protection (specifically against excessive hunting) is that every tribe picks an animal (actually I do not know exactly how the choice is made) which they protect. That means they cannot hunt it and make sure it is not hunted on their land.

        It could be that if the colonial empires came to Africa and them left, destroying all of their state structure before doing so, the continent would have recovered much faster. Point is – their traditional legal system is simply very different to our own. Maybe someone would consider it more primitive, I think it might be in some ways, although not in all. Regardless, this is a system the people have in their heads. Now the problem starts if you come and try to enforce an entirely different system. Somalia is a disaster because of this. I think it is a mistake to see it as a broken state that has to be fixed. The people there are not used to having a central government in the first place and will not respect it. Then, since it is constantly backed (not the particular government but the idea of a central government) by all the western powers, they figure “well, if there is going to be this central power anyway, our tribe had better got it”. Suffice to say, other tribes do not like that idea very much…and the result is well known.

        Some parts of Africa adapted to that new system better, some parts of Africa also used to have systems that resembled our own more.

        Another problem is the borders. If you look at the borders in Africa and compare them to Europe, they look weird. They do not represent the borders of the various tribes and nations there at all and were made up by the colonial powers. Unfortunately, after decolonization they stayed the same. This is unique to Africa I think, because while the countries in the Americas are also artificial and many have this straight border thing (US is a prime example of that), the local population was by and large replaced by the colonists or merged with them. This did not happen in Africa though.

        I would say that might be a defensible claim that the decolonization in Africa, once it started, happened too fast. Of course, there were horrible atrocities being made by the colonial powers, most notably Belgium, but at the time they decided to leave, this was no longer the case. Careful reshaping of the countries based on more natural division and gradual change of the regime to both resemble the traditional institutions more and also help gain the locals obtain some experience with governing would have probable prevented many wars and civil wars in Africa and generally made the countries there more stable and therefore also prosperous. I am not saying this is necessarily true, but I think it could be.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          While there is a great deal to what you say, I respectfully disagree with the idea that European-imposed borders are a uniquely African problem. A whole lot of the intractability of the Middle East/South Asian mess has to do with some idiot in London, Paris, the Hague or Lisbon drawing a border somewhere because he found it esthetically pleasing.

          • Tibor says:

            I forgot that the borders in the middle east are suspiciously straight too. I would guess that the Ottoman rule in the middle east also had a big influence on the mess there, although I think more relevant to the problems there today were the constant interventions of great powers (Britain, USA, Russia) in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning if this.

            It is true that Pakistan/India tensions are also an example of this kind of a problem.

            By the way, an interesting thing is that while Brazil was a colony Portugal, it became at one point the seat of the Portuguese king and consequently became an empire and a part of a united kingdom of Brazil and Portugal (where neither was a subject of the other). Also the last Brazilian emperor seems (according to Wikipedia) to have been quite a nice fellow…this is not terribly relevant but I just learned about this recently and I found it surprising and interesting 🙂

          • “and a part of a united kingdom of Brazil and Portugal”

            And the Algarves.

            I think the next part of the story is that, after Napoleon was defeated and it was safe for the monarch to return to Portugal, his son, left behind in Brazil, declared independence, possibly with his father’s covert agreement. But that’s by memory, and if I look it up to check it might turn out I’ve improved the story and I would have to stop telling it.

          • Tibor says:

            David: Thanks for the correction. Your story might as well be right. Although the independent Brazilian empire had to fight Portuguese loyalists and was threatened by Lisbon – the Portuguese wanted to remove its rights and turn it into a colony again (how a country the size of Portugal, even with its other colonies, can feel like it can threaten a giant and that time sovereign land like Brazil is beyond me…but perhaps they misjudged the number of Portuguese loyalists they could count on in Brazil itself). But of course Portuguese politics was not entirely shaped by the king himself, so who knows what he wanted.

            I think that what is most interesting is that Brazil actually did not revert back to a (constitutional) monarchy shortly after the military coup that overthrew it (at a time the monarchy was very popular among the people), especially since there are direct descendants of the last emperor alive even today (with two competing would-be emperors, although only one of them seems to actually be interested in reinstituting the monarchy and setting himself on the throne). Also, Brazil was (according to Wikipedia at least) doing economically very well during the late Empire, the military government was pretty incompetent and the welfare of the country suffered, so I would expect sort of a Oliver Cromwell scenario to happen rather than a long-term change. The only expalation I have is that by the beginning of the 20th century, most countries with monarch rule were already monarchies only by name, much as they are today, so people really did not really care that much whether the country is called en empire or a republic…with the exception of the German and Austrian empires which did not outlive the 19th century by much though, mostly due to incompetence or rather 19th century style of government of Franz Josef I. I would say – also, the government ideas of Franz Ferdinand who was killed by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo are another fascinating story. I will just say that had it not been for the assassination, I would have possibly been born in the “United States of Great Austria”, or rather “Vereinigte Staaten von Großösterreich”. Also, I am talking about countries in Europe and Americas – although the only post-Colombian independent monarchies in the Americas seem to have been Brazil and “Austrian” Mexico which only lasted a very short time though. Middle East and East Asia are different cases, some of the countries there still are actual monarchies today.

    • Max says:

      Just by random chance, at least one of them should become better afterwards,
      Well South Korea is good counter example

      However American foreign policy is pro-american establishment. That means maintaining grip on financial and economic control over the world.

      Anything which poses remote threat to status quo is attacked and destroyed preemptively. When you look at from this angle every american intervention makes sense (even when the end result ends up botched – like Cuba and Iran)

      Judging by the media Russia and China are new(old) big targets. There is practically not a single positive report about them in past 10 years in western media.

      • “Judging by the media Russia and China are new(old) big targets. There is practically not a single positive report about them in past 10 years in western media.”

        Not close to true for China. Look at all the stories about their involvement in renewable energy.

        • Max says:

          Almost everything about china is either neutral (trade) , either negative (military parade, ecology freedom of speech, currency manipulation, oppression of tibet/taiwan, south sea)

          I havent been reading about renewable energy in china, but I read plenty of how china is #1 “Evil baddie” to blame for global warming (which is actually true – their coal based energy is a disaster)

          • Garrett says:

            Pray, tell: What marvelous achievements have been coming out of China which we are not aware?

          • Are you aware that, from Mao’s death to 2010, per capita real income of China went up twenty fold? That strikes me as a marvelous achievement–possibly the most rapid improvement in the welfare of the world’s population that has ever occurred.

          • gattsuru says:

            Both coal-based power and the simple nature of rapid production — concrete and basic materials produce a lot of CO2.

            But I’d suggest you’re overstating things, Max. There are a number of foreign policy reports that emphasize China as the best and brightest: the NYT’s Friedman is probably the archetypical example, but far from alone. Until the train crash in 2011, only a few reporters had anything bad to say about Chinese public transport even as a model for the US to follow, and even today it’s still very positive.

            That’s not to say that the publicity doesn’t trend to the negative, but it’s more subtle than the hard rule would imply

  31. Sam Rosen says:

    Did you just reference Gettier cases? <3

  32. Alex Richard says:

    Every time the United States has tried to change the government of a Third World nation, the end result has been blood-soaked death squads.

    Clear counterexamples: Grenada and Panama. (It wasn’t by the US, and isn’t over yet, but more recently Mali has done significantly better after the French intervention than it had been doing before it.)

    More dubious counterexamples: Eastern Europe, especially Poland, during fall of the USSR; Turkey in 1980.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Small island nations are a bit if a special case…defenceless against invaders, they recognise the need for an external patron.

      • Alex Richard says:

        Maybe. But the sample size of places the US military has sent troops to overthrow the government of in the modern era is small; I worry that this approach will wind up eliminating every intervention as a special case.

    • Alonso says:

      Oh, nice analysis there of my country (panama), we didn’t need death squads becuase our US backed military coup only had a “disappear the critics by beheading and hiding the body” kinda squad. And after the most popular dictator died in an “accidental” plane-crash, we got the CIA pawn Noriega at the helm, who got us slaughered by US troops. Great counter-example.

      • Alex Richard says:


        Everything you just stated occurred before the US invasion. You are simply talking about a different, and far less relevant intervention.

        To make this clearer: do you believe that Panama post-1989 and Iraq post-2003 followed similar paths? That based on the historical precedent of the US invasion of Panama, we should have expected the outcome we got in Iraq?

        • Alonso says:

          First question:
          No.
          Second question:
          To use post-1989 Panama as a model to predict post-2003 Iraq is madness, Panama is and always was a US-satellite (for good and ill) from its creation as a nation-state. Furthermore, the US invasion to Panama was done after the dictator overruled an election that favored the opposition candidate to presidency. The people were already tired of Noriega, and the opposition requested asylum at the US Panama Canal Zone. Hussein’s position was nothing like that.

    • Alex Richard says:

      (I should clarify that post-coup Turkey was definitely blood-soaked, but it looked nothing like Iraq.)

  33. BD Sixsmith says:

    If I saw this quote on Facebook without attribution, I would assume it was from the latest far-right blog complaining about the liberal media. In fact, it is from Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, which claims that the media acts as lapdog of the dominant neoliberal ideology against leftists of all stripes.

    Far-right blogs and Chomsky can both be somewhat correct. A broad understanding of the concepts of “left” and “right” makes it difficult to appreciate that people and institutions can be biased towards both cultural liberalism and military interventionism.

  34. Steve Sailer says:

    Studying the early life of Barack Obama taught me a lot about how a Washington-centered establishment influences the American media’s coverage of foreign affairs. Most of the people in Obama’s early life had some career connection to American power abroad. Part of the Cold War strategy was to provide sinecures for left of center people who weren’t Communist, and those kind of folks show up throughout Obama’s first quarter of a century of life.

    His mother got her Ph.D. at the East-West Center at the U. of Hawaii which Senator LBJ had gotten established as a Cold War counterpart to the Lumumba University in Moscow to bring together non-Communist students from all over the Pacific. When she first got to Jakarta in 1967, not long after the coup and massive bloodletting, she got a job at the American Embassy. Later she worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia and Pakistan.

    Obama’s stepfather came from a wealthy collaborationist Indonesian family. His father was the top native petroleum geologist in Indonesia. Lolo Soetoro went to the East-West Center. He had to come home to serve as an Army officer during the massacres. Then he got a job with an American oil company in government relations because his brother in law was in the cabinet of the military dictatorship.

    Obama’s biological father was a protege of America’s man in Kenya, Tom Mboya. In fact, he was the anchor witness in the trial of the hired gunman who assassinated Mboya in 1969. Obama’s career suffered after Mboya’s death.

    Obama’s serious girlfriend in NYC, Genevieve Cook, was the daughter of an Australian diplomat / spymaster who had served in Australia’s Jakarta embassy and later became Australia’s ambassador to the United States. Genevieve’s mother then married an American, a top Washington lawyer whose specialty was mining relations with the Indonesian government.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      After looking through Obama’s background, I went back and looked at my own background and, holy cow, it’s pretty similar. Except that where Obama’s intimates were left of center cosmopolitan political types, mine are right of center all-American technical types. But they all had a lot of career ties to the U.S. in the Cold War.

      My dad was an engineer for Lockheed for 40 years. He wasn’t in the Skunk Works that did so much work for the CIA, but he worked a lot on things like anti-submarine planes to track Soviet subs. My mother’s best friend from when she was a secretary at Lockheed married an engineer who joined the Skunk Works and rose up to be the chief designer of the SR-71 super-spyplane for the CIA. My wife’s favorite uncle was a colonel in the Air Force who spied behind the Berlin Wall at times. On my kitchen table right now is a card from an in-law explaining that they’ve once again relocated from their nice home in the lovely Virginia suburbs of Washington DC to Alice Springs in the center of the Australian Outback. You aren’t supposed to ask why.

      In summary, the Cold War was a really big budget effort with a lot of cash flowing around. An awful lot of the experts on any non-domestic subject that an American reporter could conveniently interview would have some present, past, or potential ties to the American effort in the Cold War. (And journalists could get hired, too. Or journalists could hire government agents. For example, Obama’s abortive business journalism career took place at a newsletter firm called Business International that sometimes served as a front for CIA agents needing cover occupations.) So, when you are talking to the press, you don’t burn your potential employers.

      It’s not surprising that Chomsky (or even Oliver Stone) feels like an underdog fighting the vast American deep state.

  35. Tatu Ahponen says:

    “But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century. Most of these victims did not get the same coverage as Popieluzsko; in fact, we’ve discussed before here how in most cases the media erred on the side of covering these up.”

    C & H were discussing events that were happening at the time of writing, though. At the time, Communists were not murdering hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe (the area that C & H consider to be equivalent for Soviet Union to US relationship to Central America) but generally running relatively garden-variety bleak and authoritarian dictatorships. (Albania and Romania were a little bleaker than the rest, but the first one didn’t belong to the Soviet sphere and the second one was a rather tenuous member and kept up a constant flirtation with the West).

    “And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador. It’s easy to see why they might avoid condemning oil companies in order to preserve ad revenue from Texaco, but harder to see why they would systematically underestimate casualties from US bombing missions on the Plain of Jars in Laos.”

    You don’t really need to work hard to do these things, though. Reporting on a genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador would be the difficult task, exposing you to death squads, pissing off the US government and making it less willing to be a source and possibly making advertisers who have operations in El Salvador antsy; not reporting on it just requires you to do, well, nothing. The same goes for analysing US bombing missions in Vietnam etc.

    “Their third mechanism, big Pentagon-style sources with press bureaus, certainly applies very well to these cases. But it doesn’t seem like it should necessarily generalize to every other type of story. When the media is covering an election, or a protest, where is the Pentagon-style source?”

    In the State Department.

    “Their fourth mechanism, flak machines, raise a similar issue. C&H view this as a rightist phenomenon almost by definition. They never consider the possibility that, for example, their writing an entire book saying the media is dishonest and biased might count as “flak” on their part. Any conservative criticizing the media is part of a “flak machine” intended to “keep it under control” and “destroy its independence”, but any leftist criticizing the media is bravely trying to expose its biases and bring the truth to light.”

    The operative word is “machines”. C & H speak of well-honed, well-monied operations; this differs from academic, independent researchers.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      There was a lot of coverage of El Salvador massacres in the American press in the 1980s. But, it took a certain kind of reporter to do the job: see James Woods’ portrayal of a freelancer in El Salvador in Oliver Stone’s movie “Salvador.”

      And you burn a lot of future access to the State Department, CIA, military, Ford Foundation, and other assets with that kind of reporting.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Hey, I remember you from Apolyton! Hi!

  36. Gunther says:

    I find the level of broad agreement in this comment thread interesting – pretty much everyone seems to agree that the media is pro-establishment and both the Left and the Right view this pro-establishment position as being in favor of the other side.

    How would we test this? we could come up with a list of positions that are favored by the establishment but disliked by the populace and vice versa, and see which way the media leans. Off the top of my head:

    Marijuana legalization (populace is in favor, media and establishment are against)
    Increased immigration (populace is against, media and establishment are in favor)
    Gay rights (populace is split, media and establishment are in favor)
    Legal abortion (populace is split, establishment and media are in favor)
    Supporting Israel (populace is split, media and establishment are in favor)
    Gun rights (populace and establishment are split, media is against)
    Finance bailouts (populace is strongly against, establishment and media are in favor)

    There seems to be a strong correlation, but I’m unsure if that’s because the media are pro-establishment or because the establishment position happens to be (in most cases) the position people who are more informed on the issues take.

    (Disclaimer – I’m Australian and this is my impression from reading international news sites; it might not jibe with your experiences of the the US media. The Australian media is far more obviously partisan; the Murdoch-owned media is openly pro-Liberal (our major conservative party), the rest of the media is mostly pro-Labor (our major progressive party).

    • E. Harding says:

      The NYT wasn’t very pro-Israel during the 2014 Gaza War, so that edifice is starting to crack.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I’d quibble on some details. I don’t think that the US establishment is as pro-Israel as you seem to, and I’d say that the general populace favors Gun Rights more than not. But on the whole I’d say you’ve got a solid grasp of the situation.

      Or at least the situation as experienced by a lower-middle class wage-slave in the in the south-western US. 😀

  37. Steve Sailer says:

    Here’s a foreign policy example of “manufacturing consent” that I saw play out in real time:

    During the 2008 Summer Olympics, the lowly wire service stringers on the border between the American-allied Republic of Georgia and its Russian allied breakaway territory of South Ossetia reported that Georgian tanks were crossing the line manned by international observers and invading South Ossetia.

    Over the next week, however, bigfoot American news media pundits repeatedly said that Russia had started the war, which many people assumed was true. After all, little George would hardly invade giant Russia, right? That would be stupid.

    Later that year, major newspapers published in-depth reports carefully concluding that, yes, the original wire service reporters had been right: strange as it seems, the Georgians had started the tank war.

    Six years later in 2014, when Russia seized the Crimea and caused trouble in Eastern Ukraine, it was widely mentioned in the press that this was just like how Russia had started its 2008 war with Georgia.

    So, what seems to have been remembered was not the initial wire service reports nor the eventual careful autopsy but what the major personalities said in the subsequent week, even though it was wrong.

    What I didn’t learn from carefully reading the press about Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia on August 8, 2008 was that America flew 1,000 American troops into Georgia from July 15-30, 2008 for joint war games with Georgia’s military.

    As you probably know from coverage of Russian war games on Ukraine’s border, war games are how you assemble an invasion in these days of satellite reconnaissance.

    My best guess would be that Bush was as surprised by Georgia starting its war as Putin seemed to be, but who really knows? I can understand why the Russians view 2008 as evidence of American perfidy and aggressiveness.

    • Kibber says:

      Your comment is an excellent example of the omission tactics used by C&H. As anyone can learn by reading Wikipedia on the Russo-Georgian war, the Georgian invasion happened after repeated heavy shelling from South-Ossetian side, which broke the 1992 ceasefire. That’s what the “initial wire reports” were about. That’s what started the war.

      > After all, little George would hardly invade giant Russia, right? That would be stupid.
      And of course, they didn’t. South Ossetia isn’t (and wasn’t) part of Russia.

    • Tom Womack says:

      I love the way you go from ‘war’ to ‘tank war’ between paragraphs in the hope that we’d not notice the sleight of hand.

  38. John Sidles says:

    Vigorous in-depth support for Chomsky’s historical worldview comes from a surprising (to some folks) source: the US Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List, which is a history-grounded program that seeks to cultivate “A thirty year old body and a 5000 year old mind.”

    Each USMC Commandant sets forth their own reading-list, but Chomsky-compatible titles that commonly appear include Gen. Herbert R. McMaster’s history Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam (1997), Neil Sheehan’s history A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988), and Karl Marlantes’ novel Matterhorn (2010).

    These titles compose a lens of history through which Marines appreciate speeches like Gen. McMaster’s recent The Warrior Ethos at Risk (2014) and official doctrines like the joint USMC/Army Field Manual FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency … a doctrine that (in principle at least) informs present-day counterinsurgency operations worldwide.

    Slate Star Codex readers are invited to verify for themselves the remarkable extent to which these USMC teachings concur with Chomskian teachings.

    In regard to performativity at the individual level, however, the USMC explicitly and fundamentally goes beyond “Chomskyism” tenets. The following passage is adapted from the introduction to the USMC’s official history, Gen Victor Krulak’s First to Fight: an Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corp

    The USMC’s Performative Vision
    adapted to professions in general

    Essentially, because of the unblemished achievements of [profession] over centuries, the world believes three things about [practitioners].

    First, they believe that when trouble comes to the world, there will be [practitioners] — somewhere — who through hard work have made themselves ready to do something about it, and do it at once. They picture [practitioners] as mature individuals — dedicated members of a serious professional community.

    Second, they believe that when [practitioners] bend their minds to a task, they invariably turn in a performance that is dramatically and decisively successful — not most of the time, but always. The world’s faith and convictions in this regard are almost mystical. The mere association of the word “[profession]” to a challenge is an automatic source of encouragement and confidence everywhere.

    The third thing that they believe is that training in [profession] is downright good for young people; that [practitioners] are the masters of an unfailing alchemy that helps convert unoriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens — citizens into whose hands the planet’s affairs may safely be entrusted.

    The people believe these three things. They believe them deeply and honestly, so much that they are willing to pay for [practitioners] to solve problems and to teach young people.

    Therefore, for reasons that completely transcend cold logic, the world wants [practitioners]. These reasons are strong, they are honest, they are deep-rooted, and they are above question or criticism. So long as they exist — so long as people are convinced that [practitioners] can really do the three things I have mentioned — we are going to have a [profession].

    Slate Star Codex readers are invited to adapt Krulak’s performative vision to the performative vision (or absence thereof) their own [profession].

    Conclusion  Relative to USMC teachings, a grave lacuna of Chomsky’s teachings is the absence of individually performative guidance.

    Resolved for purposes of debate  A correct teaching of the Chomsky/USMC worldview is that far-right ideologues are now prosecuting — and for decades have been prosecuting — a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.

    • Eli says:

      Resolved for purposes of debate A correct teaching of the Chomsky/USMC worldview is that far-right ideologues are now prosecuting — and for decades have been prosecuting — a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.

      I’m a socialist and I actually agree with this? And what’s worse, insofar as they’ve been prosecuting this insurgency/counterinsurgency campaign (whether’s it’s counter or not depends on who you think was in power when it all started), they’ve been doing so in the belief that the Radical Enlightenment controls everything with Illuminati/Elders of Zion levels of coordination and ability!

    • SUT says:

      Not sure I understand your point…
      Because USMC reads books about their own organizational failure (primarily in Vietnam), this adds credibility to Chomsky’s worldview?

      Corporate at Ford probably reads books with some unflattering accounts of their company’s past performance (primarily in the 80’s). That doesn’t make them Ralph Nader.

      • John Sidles says:

        SUT, please be aware that FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency isn’t history … it’s doctrine … doctrine that’s well worth reading … and full of Chomsky-compatible guidance.

        John Nagl’s Constructing the Legacy of Field Manual 3–24 provides insight into the evolutionary processes by which field manuals like FM 3-24 are written, adopted, evaluated, and revised.

        Paradoxical subordination  The twenty-first century’s military doctrines are evolving far more rapidly (and rationally) than the twenty-first century’s economic, political, and philosophical doctrines … to which the military doctrines are nominally subordinate.

        Conclusion  When it’s your family and/or your troops in the fighting, you don’t want leaders whose strategies are mainly guided by intercessory prayer, whose objectives are mainly informed by messianic prophecies, and whose “leadership” mainly derives from ideology-driven political faiths … no matter whether those faiths repose in efficient markets, divine providence, or cultural/racial exceptionalism … or (sadly commonly) toxic combinations that are reconciled by the willful ignorance that is so commonly associated to political expediency and demagoguery.

        • SUT says:

          > When it’s your family and/or your troops in the fighting, you don’t want leaders whose strategies are mainly guided by intercessory prayer, whose objectives are mainly informed by messianic prophecies, and whose “leadership” mainly derives from ideology-driven political faiths

          Sounds like a good description of Abraham Lincoln during the civil war.

          • John Sidles says:

            Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address poses a traditional question, to which Lincoln provides a freethinker’s non-answer

            If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

            Having posed this crucial question, Lincoln’s address declines to answer it … suggesting implicitly that the answer is “yes”.

            The Lincoln Administration’s torture-forbidding Lieber Code similarly prefigured a key principle of the modern moral Enlightenment, namely, that participating in torture never is the Lord’s work.

            In recent decades the Lieber Code as been cited by the US Armed Forces in a (futile) attempt to forbid torturous interrogations. This is an Enlightened moral principle that neither ISIS nor Donald Rumsfeld accepted

        • HlynkaCG says:

          I’m not seeing what fm 3-24 has to do with the above.

          If anything, Aeschylus shows us that the fundamental disconnect between Pog & Grunt and conflicting tactical and philosophical/moral considerations are human issues that pre-date the bible. So I’m really not sure what you’re trying to get at.

          • John Sidles says:

            The point is that Chomsky’s writings differ from FM 3-24’s doctrines chiefly in being restrictive (Chomsky’s “don’t do this“) rather than performative (FM 3-24’s “do this“).

            Aside from this performative-vs-restrictive emphasis, the foundational moral and political elements of FM 3-24-vs-Chomsky are notably compatible.

            Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that Chomsky’s socialist economics and politics is naturally compatible with the socialist economic foundations and cultural mores of the USMC/Army?

            Conclusion  Slate Star Codex readers will find that studying USMC/Army doctrines concurrently with Chomsky’s histories induces little or no cognitive dissonance.

            As the US Marines say, First of all, do no harm.” Increasingly in the 21st century, this is wise guidance in medicine, economics, politics … and military actions too.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ John Sidles,
            I still don’t see how you are getting one from the other.

            To me, it seems like you are trying to argue that a refereed boxing match, a barroom brawl, and a back-alley mugging are all the same thing because they all involve getting punched in the face.

            Furthermore, I would not characterize the economic foundations and cultural mores of the USMC as “Socialist” unless we expand that term to once-again include Fascism. If anything the military is strictly tribal with the economics, so far as they exist, revolving around things like shame, honor, and one’s station within the tribe rather than control of resources, production, or opinion.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, see below

            Conclusion  For professions as disparate as military command, medicine, and engineering — and among progressive religious communities too — guidances are becoming ever-more-Chomskian, to the point that there is a near-identity of professional, practical and moral objectives.

            In politics, not so much.

            One commander’s text that deals concretely with these topics, which has been featured on the USMC Commander’s Professional Reading List, is Gen. William Joseph Slim’s Defeat Into Victory (1956), about the British campaign in Burma.

            Gen. Slim sets forth a Chomsky-compatible guidance for dealing with resource shortages

            Morale is a state of mind. It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel they are part of something greater than themselves. If they are to feel that, their morale must, if it is to endure —and the essence of morale is that it should endure —have certain foundations.

            These foundations are spiritual, intellectual, and material, and that is the order of their importance. Spiritual first, because only spiritual foundations can stand real strain. Next intellectual, because men are swayed by reason as well as feeling.

            Material last —important, but last — because the very highest kinds of morale are often met when material conditions are lowest.

            Conclusion  General Slim’s reasoning and discourse are far more “Chomskian” than “Trumpian”.

            ——-
            PS  Even the Duffel Blog appreciates that it doesn’t make sense to assert that “military economics doesn’t revolve around control of resources, production, or opinion.”

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles

            For professions as disparate as military command, medicine, and engineering — and among progressive religious communities too — guidance are becoming ever-more-Chomskian,

            And I still don’t see how you can seriously make this argument without broadening the term “Chomskian” to the point of worthlessness.

            What is the common thread here? and how does it lead to your resolution that there is “a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.”

            If that thread is Field Marshal Slim’s thoughts on spiritual virtue it seems obvious to me that ancient Athenian poets like Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles invented and popularized “Chomsky-ism” a good 2,400 years or more before Chomsky did, making this view far FAR more “conservative” than it is “progressive” or “radical”.

            Further more, you seem to be unaware that A) Duffleblog is intended as satire and B) that the DoD Bureaucratic apparatus is comprised primarily of civil service workers and political appointees who bear little resemblance culturally or demographically to the Careers and Volunteers that make up the bulk of the military.

      • Adam says:

        I was Army, not Marines, but what we read to learn lessons about how to conduct a counterinsurgency was a lot broader than just Vietnam. The primary failure I remember deep-diving was the failure of the British in South Carolina and the primary success was the American campaign in the Philippines.

        That said, our own tendency to internally question the effectiveness of our specific techniques is way the hell different from Chomsky’s worldview that America is mostly a force for evil abroad. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the senior officer corps who believes that or we’d all quit.

        • John Sidles says:

          Adam, the issues you raise are so complex, and so culturally sensitive, that only The Duffel Blog and The Onion are so bold as to address them directly.

        • John Sidles says:

          To continue (more seriously), the most recent edition of FM 3-24 (version MCWP 3-33.5 / Insurgencies And Countering Insurgencies) draw multiple lessons from the Philippine campaign that your post mentions.

          See particular the discussion following P9.6; this discussion cites in particular Molly Dunigan’s analysis “Philippines (Huk Rebellion) 1946-1956”, which appears in the Rand compendium Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies (2013).

          In essence, if an ardent Chomsky-ite was placed in charge of a counterinsurgency effort, this is the sort of counterinsurgency strategy they would implement.

          The Huk Rebellion became a good example of successful shape-clear-hold operations, with Magsaysay immediately instituting a shape-clear-hold approach.

          Shaping operations focused on efforts to win popular support for the counterinsurgency effort in preparation for future operations to clear insurgent areas.

          These operations included putting a stop to the abuses of civilians by the Constabulary and Army, firing many high-level military officers, placing the Constabulary under Magsaysay’s personal control, suppressing troop brutality towards the population, and increasing pay for enlisted troops to remove their incentives for looting.

          They also involved the establishment of a civil affairs office through which troops became involved in civic action projects (including digging wells and building bridges) and the Army’s provision of medical assistance to villagers.

          Additionally, Magsaysay pursued a population engagement strategy, even going so far as to set up a telegraph system that provided a direct line to the Defense Ministry for any villager on Luzon to use.

          In contrast, when USMC Gen Victor Krulak returned from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam in 1966, he told his commanding general Lew Walt

          “You cannot win militarily. You have to win totally, or you are not winning at all.”

          Krulak’s report wasn’t what the White House and the Joint Chiefs wanted to hear, and so they ignored it, at horrific cost.

          Summary  FM3-24′s lessons-learned are “Chomskian” to a degree that obviates simplistic summaries of Chomsky’s teachings to the effect that “America is mostly a force for evil abroad”.

          Perhaps a better summary might be “Twenty-first century American military doctrine is increasingly informed by historical lessons that are Chomsky-compatible.”

          Conclusion  If America’s politicians haven’t heeded Chomsky in past decades, perhaps a coming generation of American politicians will heed America’s foresighted lesson-learning generals, admirals, and military historians.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Sorry but I’m not buying it. Studying one’s own failures or the opposition’s successes is not in the same class as endorsing or supporting the opposition.

      I also think that your “Resolved for purposes of debate” is backwards as in my experience respect for, and appeals to, enlightenment era thinkers (AKA old dead white guys) and principals seems much more common among the “Red Tribe” than among the “Blue”.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          It still does not follow. The possibility of two different groups having read some of the same books does not demonstrate the existence of a unified “Chomsky/USMC worldview”.

          Your links also seem to contradict the words you’ve attached to them.

          • John Sidles says:

            When military officers read a commander’s guidance or field manual, and when trauma surgeons read a recommended practices manual, and engineers read a systems design manual, these “readings” are entirely different activities from a political pundit “reading” a book.

            Of course, officers, physicians, and engineers are free to disregard their professional readings … and they must be prepared to accept the adverse career and/or punitive legal consequences of doing so.

            Whereas political pundits can and do freely embrace even the most grotesquely irrational ideologies, and can reasonably expect praise for doing so.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            When military officers read a commander’s guidance or field manual, and when trauma surgeons read a recommended practices manual, and engineers read a systems design manual, these “readings” are entirely different activities from a political pundit “reading” a book.

            This is exactly why your conclusion does not follow. Nor does it support your resolution regarding a counterinsurgency campaign by the right against the Enlightenment. That is unless your understanding of the enlightenment era or the “left v. right” spectrum just so happens to be diametrically opposed to mine.

            If anything, my own experiences and reading would indicate that those who have seen the elephant tend to develop a far deeper appreciation for (and stronger opinions) regarding the distinctions between Hobbes and Rousseau, or Montaigne and Descarte, than those who have not.

            Likewise I tend to see a lot more discussion, and actual quoting of, folks like Madison, Burke, Smith, and even Marx among the Traditionalists and Libertarians than I do in more mainstream political discourse.

            I would assert that “Political Correctness” aka Blasphemy-Laws for the new secular religion and the majority’s own Molloch-ian tendency towards bread and circuses has been (and will continue to be) a far greater threat to the Enlightenment than any band of fringe ideologues, left or right.

            ETA:
            And again, I don’t think that last link of yours proves what you think it proves.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, don’t enlightened military doctrines like FM 3-24 represent a much-needed Chomskian correction to the grotesquely calamitous failure of neoconservative / libertarian ideologies realized as absurd palettes-of-cash warfighting / peacemaking strategies?

            And isn’t the ongoing struggle between the Moderate Enlightenment and the Radical Enlightenment aptly summarized in Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670—1752 (2006)?

            Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

            (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

            (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

            (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

            (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

            (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

            (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

            (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

            (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.

            And aren’t these Chomskian eight cardinal points largely compatible with the Radically Enlightened objectives and means of the USMC/Army FM 3-24?

            And aren’t these eight cardinal points entirely incompatible with the calamitously over-optimistic / under-realistic neoconservative / libertarian warfighting / peacemaking strategies?

          • Ever An Anon says:

            John, are you a native English speaker? Because I’ve seen your comments here and on the other Scott A’s blog and they are frankly incomprehensible. Not on a conceptual level, the ideas are very simple, but your formatting and diction are really painful to read. It would help if you could adopt a more natural writing style.

            As to the main thrust of your argument, it reads like Whig History with the word “radical” slapped on it. Do you have anything that distinguishes your theory here from the standard model?

          • John Sidles says:

            Ever An Anon asks [in effect] “What traits distinguish the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment from the Radical Enlightenment of prior centuries?

            Everyone appreciates that the Radical Enlightenment evolves and progresses in every century … so how will it evolve in this century?

            Consensus in this regard being neither necessary, nor feasible, nor even desirable, here are three fertile catalysts:

            Catalyst (1)  Enlightened medical / moral / economic appreciation of conjoined grounds for universal healthcare as a fundamental human right.

            Catalyst (2)  Enlightened mathematical appreciation that the scientific advances of the 20th century can be straightforwardly translated into mathematical elements “which are rationally organized, where the methods follow naturally from the premises, and where there is hardly any room for ingenious stratagems” (in the phrasing of Jean Dieudonné).

            Catalyst (3)  Enlightened scientific appreciation of the absence of fundamental physical obstructions to efficient observation of human biology at all scales from atomic to whole-organism. This amounts to Feynman’s dream (and Hooke’s dream, von Neumann’s dream, Wiener’s dream, etc.):

            It is very easy to answer many of these fundamental biological questions; you just look at the thing! You will see the order of bases in the chain; you will see the structure of the microsome. Unfortunately, the present microscope sees at a scale which is just a bit too crude. Make the microscope one hundred times more powerful, and many problems of biology would be made very much easier.

            Conclusion  At least three present-day trends (arguably more) promise to vitalize the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment as performatively, transformationally, and in the long run, as irresistibly and irretrievably as the Anabaptists, the Collegiants, and the Spinozists vitalized the 17th century’s Radical Enlightenment.

            There’s not much that any conservative agency can do to retard this 21st century acceleration of the Radical Enlightenment, is there?

            And we wouldn’t want them to, would we?

            No doubt this radical literature will become steadily less painful as people (young people especially) become more familiar with it. Indeed, after a certain amount of study, this literature becomes inspiring, even exhilarating.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles,
            No I do not think that they do. For one the contents of FM 3-24 are very much rooted in the old JP 3-07.1 and MCWP 3-33.5 which both predate the Iraq War by a good 20+ years or more. It’s are more an update and consolidation of existing thought for the information age, rather than a dramatic re-alignment of worldview.

            Further more, of your eight cardinal points, only #1, #5, #8 strike me as being truly compatible. #2 is incompatible “divine providence” or rather the perception there of is critical in counter insurgency operations. It is not enough to win, the opposition must believe that they have lost. Baraka exists, and we ignore it at our peril. (See your own quotation of Field Marshal Slim above)

            Finally, you seem to be making the classic mistake of conflating military doctrine with political ideology or worldview.

          • John Sidles says:

            Note  The bulk of FM 3-24 was written under the joint command and personal direction of Army General David Petraeus and USMC General Jim Mattis … both of whom had extensive combat and counterinsurgency service records in the Middle East.

            Conclusion  Relative to the failed ideology-driven war-planning (or lack thereof) for the Iraq War, the experience-based (and largely Chomsky-compatible) guidance of FM 3-25 indeed represents “a dramatic re-alignment of [the US military’s] worldview.”

            It remains to be seen whether the viewpoints of pundits, politicians, and parties are undergoing a similar experience-based transformation.

            Remark  Experienced military commanders and experienced physicians share a Radically Enlightened faith in the efficacy of intercessory prayer. Namely, it doesn’t work well … if it works at all.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says:The bulk of FM 3-24 was written under the joint command and personal direction of Army General David Petraeus and USMC General Jim Mattis… both of whom had extensive combat and counterinsurgency service records in the Middle East.

            This is true.

            Conclusion: Relative to the failed ideology-driven war-planning (or lack thereof) for the Iraq War, the experience-based (and largely Chomsky-compatible) guidance of FM 3-25 indeed represents “a dramatic re-alignment of [the US military’s] worldview.”

            This is not.

            The worldview expressed by both Mattis and Patreaus is the same one that was expressed in MCWP 3-33.5 20 years prior. The fact that american public, political class, and all “right thinking people” had rejected this worldview as a return to British Colonialism does not change the fact this worldview existed and had been embraced long before the political class allowed Patreaus to formalize and exercise it.

            Your “remark” about the efficacy of intercessory prayer is a red herring. The only one talking about prayer here is you, Regardless of what you call it, the concept of Divine Providence, Spiritual Morale, or Baraka is explicitly anti-Chomskian and an integral part of the Mattis / Patreus worldview. To use your own label it is “Trumpian” to the core, though again I would point out that it predates Trump by 2,500+ years as well.

            In regards to your reply to Anon, you seem to be the one advocating an insurgency against the ideals of the enlightenment here. In “catalyst 1” you are literally endorsing serfdom for certain professions.

          • John Sidles says:

            Consideration  HlynkaCG, it may be that you are unfamiliar with performatively progressive works like Cmdr Sharon Snively’s Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain’s View of the War in Iraq (2010), or with the foreword that General Mattis wrote for it.

            Implication  It’s exceedingly difficult to economically account costs that are associated to moral injuries … no matter whether these injuries originate in ill-planned wars *or* originate in ill-regulated healthcare markets.

            Prediction  Nowadays the phrase “good” economy is increasingly freighted with progressive moral associations to the word “good”. As perhaps always should have been the case!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles, Yes I am familiar with Cmdr Snively’s book, but I don’t see how you can square it or your Implications Predictions and Conclusions with the eight cardinal points that you listed above.

            Of the 8 only three are truly compatible, four are ambiguous, and another is explicitly rejected.

            As I said above I don’t see how you can argue equivalence here without broadening your terms to the point of meaninglessness.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, it may help you to reflect upon the tenets of Radical Enlightenment that you reject (namely, tenets #2,3,4,6,7). Are you implicitly advocating the opposites of these tenets, as mainstays of military policy?

            Not (2)  National policy guided by messianic prophesy;

            Not (3)  Full rights of citizenship denied to to women, gays, racial and religious minorities (etc.);

            Not (4)  Ethics and legal codes protective of privilege, inequity and injustice;

            Not (6)  Strict state control of conduct between consenting adults;

            Not (7)  Rigorous censorship and universal citizen-surveillance.

            Conclusion  America’s 21st century counterinsurgency doctrines are becoming Radically Enlightened … not for idealistic reasons, but for pragmatic ones.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles

            America’s 21st century counterinsurgency doctrines are only becoming “Radically Enlightened” if your definition of “radical” is so broad that it encompasses 2500 years of western philosophy from Aeschylus to Clausewitz and Donald Trump.

            In regards to the tenants, are you prepared to stop moving the goal posts and argue in good faith? I don’t feel like chasing you in circles for another 10 – 20 comments.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, you are correct that in every new century — indeed in every new decade — the Radical Enlightenment targets new objectives as it achieves older once-radical objectives.

            So yes, the Radical Enlightenment’s “goalposts” do move … and they will keep moving too. Because no other performative strategy is reliably transformational, is it?

            Conclusion  Chomsky’s writings aren’t the last word … but then, he never claimed they were, did he?

            That’s why “Learn and adapt” is a mantra of modern military strategists. Politicians, not so much!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            If that is the case, how do you differentiate a “counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment” from the Radical Enlightenment?

            Who’s to say any act of opposition is not simply the natural realignment of objectives?

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders “How do you differentiate a ‘counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment’ from the Radical Enlightenment?

            Three traits are diagnostic: denialism and demagoguery and inhumanity.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Could someone give me the gist of JS’s points here? The gentleman is too learned to be understood.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles says:Three traits are diagnostic: denialism and demagoguery and inhumanity.

            In that case would you agree with the assertion that mainstream left-wing thought is largely opposed to enlightenment and has become significantly more so over the last 30 years?

            @FacelessCraven
            I wish I could, but he’s not making a whole lot of sense and the parts that do make sense seem to contradict the other parts.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:”

            “(1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;”

            Math seems like a non-sequitor. History is writing, and one can write lies. Philosophy of late seems like a pretty bad candidate for distinguishing fact from fiction.

            “(2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;”

            Neatly done, except for the couple-billion-plus humans who pointedly disagree, many of them strongly enough to involve knives and dynamite.

            “(3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);”

            equality, racial and sexual all ideologically loaded. Why these two? Why not any of the other categories you can divide people into?

            “(4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;”

            equality, equity, justice and charity all ideologically loaded. Incidentally, a couple posts ago you submitted a Ku Klux Klan rally as a normative example of the “red tribe”, so I’m going to assume by charity you mean alms or tithes.

            “(5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;”

            toleration, freedom of thought, independent critical thinking all ideologically loaded.

            “(6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;”

            Personal liberty, lifestyle, sexual, consenting and adults all ideologically loaded. As a recent internet brewup helpfully pointed out, “childhood” is a social construction of the Victorian era, originally intended as a fetish.

            “(7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.”

            Free expresion, political criticism, the press, and the public sphere all ideologically loaded.

            “(8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.”

            Sure, so long as the people aren’t the wrong kind and don’t vote the wrong way.

            The jargon is strong, but is there anything in the above that boils down to more than “everything would work much better if everyone just did what I want them to”?

          • John Sidles says:

            In the United States, Tom Paine and Tom Jefferson (and many others) codified the Eight Cardinal Points of Radical Enlightenment — this eight-point distillation is due to Jonathan Israel — into a practical philosophy and constitution of government; Abraham Lincoln spearheaded the abolition of slavery, Susan Anthony -> women’s suffrage, Franklin Roosevelt -> the Four Freedoms, Martin Luther King -> nondiscrimination, the US Supreme Court -> marriage rights, Barack Obama -> healthcare reform and climate-change accounting (etc.)

            Conclusions (1) Many other nations have traversed and/or are traversing (at various speeds) Israel’s Eight-Point Arc of Enlightenment; (3) the aggregate evidence of history is that these enlightened transformations are by-and-large irreversible; (3) we have seen (above) that even military doctrine and military culture now are grounded in the eight cardinal points; (4) we have seen too that new cardinal points are queued for implementation this century.

            There’s not much that any agency can do reverse these enlightened changes, or to forestall further changes, is there?

            The great majority of citizens don’t want these changes to halt or reverse, do they?

            To borrow USMC Gen. Krulak’s phrasing (as was quoted above)

            The people believe in the Enlightenment. They believe in it deeply and honestly. These beliefs are strong, they are honest, they are deep-rooted.

            So long as these beliefs exist — so long as people are convinced that the Radical Enlightenment honestly realizes its Cardinal Points — we are going to have a Radical Enlightenment.

            That’s the aggregate lesson of the history of the Enlightenment, isn’t it?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @John Sidles:

            A Pro-Tip* for you: using the confirmation question technique is much more effective if you don’t add a confirmation question to every other sentence. It’s also not very effective in written communication in the first place, nor in debate where the other person is not looking for reasons to agree with you. In such situations, it should be used very sparingly.

            You might want to either read whatever it is you got that out of more carefully, or ask for your money back.

            *Literally: The technique in question is stock-in-trade for hypnotists. 😉

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says: So long as people are convinced that the Radical Enlightenment honestly realizes its Cardinal Points — we are going to have a Radical Enlightenment.

            Tell me,

            How do you square the circle of “equality” with a belief in empirical/mathematical truth?

            How do you deny the existence of divine providence and the spiritual world and then quote Field Marshal Slim and General Mattis without crippling cognitive dissonance?

            How can you say that one person has a “right” to the labor of another without invoking slavery or serfdom?

            As far as I can tell at this point, you are an enemy of everything that the Enlightenment stands for.

          • John Sidles says:

            A Pro-Tip* for you, Marc Whipple! … Pounding on the table isn’t particularly convincing.

            Whereas history-grounded discourse exerts a cumulative influence.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders  “How do you square the circle of “equality” with a belief in empirical/mathematical truth?”

            The very considerable literature upon that subject leads to remarkable historical perspectives.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Many other nations have traversed and/or are traversing (at various speeds) Israel’s Eight-Point Arc of Enlightenment;”

            Yeah, we all know Cthulhu swims left.

            “the aggregate evidence of history is that these enlightened transformations are by-and-large irreversible”

            Your “history” here is roughly a century at best, in a handful of the most prosperous nations, most of which rose to dominance under systems strongly opposed to many of the “Cardinal Points” you list. “Irreversable” is a pretty strong claim for that amount of evidence.

            ” (3) we have seen (above) that even military doctrine and military culture now are grounded in the eight cardinal points;”

            So you keep saying. Now you just need to prove it, and to disambiguate your claims from all the other claims that can match the same evidence. All those “ideologically loaded” tags in my last comment are the problem with this; most of your cardinal points hinge entirely on interpretations that are themselves the entire point of the culture war. They can be true, false or tautologies, universally acclaimed or derided or bitterly disputed depending entirely on the ideology you load them with.

            And again, you apparently think the late-1800s KKK is representative of the contemporary Red Tribe, so my confidence in your ability to disambiguate ideological distinctions is pretty low.

            “we have seen too that new cardinal points are queued for implementation this century.”

            I happen to believe that the current consensus is pretty durable. The left has largely won the culture war, and are currently consolidating their gains into a stable long-term social order. I’m also highly confident that the absolute best way to ruin that social order is to keep queuing up new issues to fight the culture war over ad nauseum, which would lead inevitably to a cultural backlash as the system becomes obviously unworkable. The left isn’t stupid enough to let the perfect be the enemy of the good long-term, so we’ll all gravitate to a workable compromise. The only thing inevitable about the scenario you describe is its self-defeating nature.

            ““Pounding on the table“ isn’t particularly convincing.”

            With due respect, he isn’t the one having a problem being coherent, much less convincing. You appear to be buried so deep in your own esoteric theory that even basic communication is an insurmountable challenge.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles: You have not answered my questions and your “evidence” does not support your assertions.

            Additionally, you also seem to be quoting a whole lot of far-right and trad-con positions/arguments for what is supposedly a defense of something “radical”.

            @FacelessCraven:
            Dammit (wo)man, get out of my head.

          • John Sidles says:

            FacelessCrave stipulates that  “The left has largely won the culture war [and Jonathan Israel’s] cardinal points hinge entirely on interpretations that are themselves the entire point of the culture war.”

            Conclusion  So it’s game-over man — GAME OVER! … for ideology-driven demagogic faux-conservatism, that is.

            Mourners are few. So maybe that peculiar brand of inflexibly unimaginative inhumane pseudo-conservatism wasn’t such a good idea in the first place?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles
            Your conclusion does not follow.

            And even if it did, what would it say about the peculiar brand of ideologically-driven denialism and inhumanity that you yourself espouse?

            Fact of the matter is that your “8 cardinal points” do not stand up to objective scrutiny, and everything you have labeled as “attacks” on the “radical enlightenment” could just as easily be seen as the natural realignment of objectives to account for this fact.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG asserts that “[Jonathan Israel’s] eight cardinal points do not stand up to objective scrutiny”

            Do you mean “objective scrutiny” or do you mean “objectivist scrutiny”?

            `Cuz Jonathan Israel’s writings stand up pretty well to the former, whereas most folks entirely disregard the latter.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Objective, as in empirically and/or mathematically provable

            Now stop wasting our time and give a straight answer.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, thoughtful study of humanist tutorials might assist your appreciation of the answers already given.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Thoughtful study reveals that your “answers” are often in direct conflict with the assertions that they are supposed to be supporting.

            Do you even read your own posts?

          • John Sidles says:

            Thoughtful readings of works like Leszek Kolakowski’s “Dutch seventeenth-century non-denominationalism and Religio Rationalis: Mennonites, Collegiants and the Spinoza connection” (2004) conveys an understanding that the Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
            Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.

            A perfect Judge will read each Work of Wit
            With the same Spirit that its Author writ.

            ‘Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call,
            But the joint Force and full Result of all.

            There no special reason to imagine that the creative vitality of the radically evolutionary Enlightenment will wane in the 21st century, is there?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says:Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            So you concede then that opposition to, and support for “the radical enlightenment” are essentially indistinguishable.

          • Nita says:

            Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            I’m afraid Chairman Mao said it first. Generally, I would advise against adopting any Hegel-inspired worldview, and especially a “radical” one.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Conclusion So it’s game-over man — GAME OVER! for ideology-driven demagogic faux-conservatism, that is.”

            Sure. That just leaves actual conservativism though, and the problem is that you don’t appear to be capable of telling the two apart. That is, you cannot distinguish between the actual beliefs of your opponents and the most comical perversion of those beliefs ever concieved.

            In the conflict between the “radical enlightenment” and actual conservativism, your eight points are either manifestly false or undefined to the point of meaninglessness. If your personal definition of victory means affirming your own primacy regardless of the actual situation, then you are of course welcome to it.

            I think that’s about the limit I can meaninfully contribute to the point, so best of luck to you.

          • John Sidles says:

            Nita waxes dyspeptic  “Chairman Mao said it first”

            LOL … as Scott Alexander said it last (very recently):  Oh those Chinese cardiologists!

            Seriously Nita, the Enlightened modern-day perspectives of Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture are commended to your attention. As a warm-up, the Google-sponsored Human interviews are a notably Enlightening training exercise.

            The phrase “Hegelian” does not apply, does it?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Once again John Sidles has linked “evidence” that is unrelated to or directly contradicts the assertion being made.

            Conclusion: John Sidles rejects empiricism and mathematical reason as criterion for determining what is true.

            As such I suspect that any further discussion would be a waste of time on my part.

          • John Sidles says:

            FacelessCraven deplores folks who “don’t appear to be capable of telling the two [faux-conservatism versus “actual” conservatism] apart […] that’s about the limit I can meaningfully contribute to the point.”

            Yes, a whole lot of folks have trouble identifying “actual”-vs-“pretend” conservatives … it’s regrettable that your voice won’t be guiding Slate Star Codex readers.

            My own studies of “true”-vs-“false” Scots unfortunately leave me with little time to devote to this problem.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            Is it just me or did John Sidles just say that he was uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders whether it is viable “to be uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?”

            The enlightened literature upon this question is commended to your attention, HlynkaCG.

            Or not, as ideologies variously dictate.

            Everything you wanted to say required a context. If you gave the full context, people thought you a rambling old fool. If you didn’t give the context, people thought you a laconic old fool.
              — Julian Barnes, Staring at the Sun

            The youthful vigor of your convictions is impressive, HlynkaCG!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That was not the question.

            The question was whether or not you, John Sidles, make that distinction.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HlynkaCG – “Is it just me or did John Sidles just say that he was uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?”

            …I’d say that interpretation is at least as fair as the ones he himself employs. Honestly, I have a hard time parsing anything he says, and the bits I can parse don’t make a whole lot of sense. I think there’s lower-hanging fruit in the comment sections.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG insists “The question [asked by me] was whether or not you, John Sidles, make that distinction [between ‘true’ and ‘false’]”

            Whenever I venture to attempt the distinction between ‘true’ and ‘false’, the first step is to apply Donald Knuth’s celebrated distinction between “science” and “art”

            Knuth’s Foreword to A=B

            Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do. […] Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too, because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old.

            Appreciating that the distinction between “true” and “false” us problematic solely in the domain of (knuthian) “art”, please let me stipulate that (as it seems to most folks, including me) the performative elements of human politics, human economics, human medicine, and human morality are at present, and will remain for the foreseeable future, “arts” rather than “sciences”.

            So how does one distinguish the true from the false in art?

            Here reason can provide only imperfect guidance — so much so, that unanimity is neither necessary nor feasible nor even desirable — and so my own pragmatic practice is to embrace the Radically Enlightened canons of friendly discourse … a topic upon which Donald Knuth too has written extensively.

            HlynkaCG and FacelessCraven, by what performative practice(s) do you distinguish the true from the false in art?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            You’ve expended a lot of effort to avoid giving a straight answer, even going so far as to argue against your own “first cardinal point”.

            I think it safe to say at this point that your map does not match the terrain and that any further engagement with you is a waste of time.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG claims “your map does not match the terrain

            Lots of folks (not just me) navigate the realms of “true” and “false” using the Knuthian map … examples cited above include the USMC, Noam Chomsky, Wendell Berry, Jonathan Israel, the Anabaptists, the Collegiants, and Spinozists of the 17th century, the modern professional societies of engineers, physicians, and scientists, and Pope Francis (and millions billions more).

            To your way of thinking, is the shared map and convergent culture of all of these Knuth-respecting folks summed up to in FacelessCraven’s puzzling phrase “Cthulhu swims left”?

            As they ask in the Star Trek universe, What does that mean, exactly? The world wonders … which is why straight answers are appreciated!

          • John Sidles says:

            Summary of this thread 
            Knuthians only swim left.
            (short version and longer)

          • John Sidles says:

            Appreciation and thanks are extended to HlynkaCG and to FacelessCraven, for assisting Slate Star Codex readers (well, me anyway) to an appreciation that “Cthulhu doesn’t swim left,” but rather the foundations of reactionary conservatism are dissolving.

          • Randy M says:

            “straight answers are appreciated!”
            That’s perhaps the least self-aware remark I’ve seen.

            *Prepares to be misquoted, refuted with 2 YouTube links, and branded a foe of all reason in triumphant purple prose.*

  39. For a good in-depth and systematic take on the “blood-soaked death squads” phenomenon Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places by Paul Collier. His focus is more on sub-Saharan Africa but he tries use both statistics and sociology to figure out when and why democracy breaks down.

    Also, Fukuyama’s most recent book, Political Order and Political Decay, had a pretty good section detailing the how’s and why’s of colonialism destroying traditional power balances in Africa.

  40. Alraune says:

    Since it somehow hasn’t been asked in the first 100 comments: you put up this review on the anniversary of Pinochet’s assumption of power. Coincidence or intentional?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Coincidence, and I worry that any day I put this up would be the anniversary of something about equally awful.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        But what are the odds that it would be something awful AND relevant.

        • Thomas Brinsmead says:

          The odds would be pretty high. There have to be at least 60 days in history of equivalent relevance, given the period that Chomsky’s career of writing has covered. That would make the odds at least one in six.

          To “test” this hypothesis, I’m propose to try to find five equally significant dates within the month of September. Mostly from http://www.historyplace.com/specials/calendar/september.htm

          *1, 83: Korean Airlines flight 007 shot by Russian Fighter
          *2, 45: Ho Chi Minh declares independence of Vietnam
          5, 72: PLO kills members of Israel’s Olympic team
          7, 94: US army closes military HQ in Berlin
          8, 74: Nixon pardoned by Gerald Ford
          *9, 93: Israel and PLO agree to recognise each other
          12,77: Steve Biko dies in police custody in South Africa
          16,82: Massacre in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut
          *19,94: US troops invade Haiti to restore democracy
          20,89: De Klerk sworn in as South African President
          23,91: Armenia declares independence from Soviet Union
          *24, 80: Iraqi troops invade Iran
          27,95: Israel cedes control of West Bank to Palestinians
          *28,95: Rabin and Arafat sign accord
          *30,91: Military overthrow of elected government of Haiti

          To be a little fairer, I went back and put a star on those events which I consider to be as “significant” as Pinochet’s coup, in the context of Chomsky’s politics. (though perhaps not satisfying the criterion of “Awful”)

  41. Daniel says:

    You might check out Chomsky’s Challenge to American Power: A Guide for the Critical Reader. It takes a somewhat similar attitude towards Chomsky to the one you take here; the author finds a lot of value in Chomsky’s writing, and thinks that he’s great at drawing attention to stuff it’s very easy to miss if you stick with the mainstream media, but presents lots of examples in which Chomsky doesn’t present the necessary context for readers to come to their own, well-informed conclusions about the issues he discusses.

    • Troy Rex says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I read “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Power.” The most useful thing I took away was how to start reading the media critically, with the promise of understanding more of world power relations. But “A Guide for the Critical Reader” sounds really useful.

  42. “But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century.”

    Your next reading project might be a look into whether that’s true. That figure should not be casually accepted or shared. This isn’t a bad place to start: http://www.petersaysstuff.com/2014/05/attempting-the-impossible-calculating-capitalisms-death-toll/

    And because some people think Nazis must’ve been socialists because they had the word in their name (by which logic, North Korea’s democratic), this might be useful too: http://www.politicususa.com/2012/09/12/hitler-explains-gop-wrong-national-socialism.html

    • Ken B says:

      Black Book of Communism.

      Hitler’s victims are not counted in the 100 m estimate, so how your second bugbear is relevant is unclear.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        For what it’s worth, Timothy Snyder – not exactly a friend of Communism – believes, according to the most specific estimates, the amount of victims for Stalin to be somewhere around 6-8 million, including both the Great Terror and Holodomor. That’s a fuckload of people, but also less or considerably less than the 10-40 million estimates of BBOC, Conquest, Rummel et al. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/mar/10/hitler-vs-stalin-who-killed-more/

      • E. Harding says:

        Let me try:

        Mao: ~30 million

        USSR ~14 million (including famines and killings of suspected deserters)

        Khmer Rouge: ~2 million

        Afghan War: ~1 million

        Ethiopia: ~1 million

        North Korea: ~1 million

        Angola: ~.5 million

        Others: ~1-3 million

        So around 50 million people, maybe less, maybe more. Don’t see how you can realistically double that figure.

        • Protagoras says:

          Isn’t it obvious? You double it by edging it up slightly and then rounding to the nearest Big Round Number.

        • You can increase it substantially just with Mao. Estimates for the famine from the Great Leap Forward alone run from the official government figure of 15 million up to forty some. You can find Rummel’s calculation, which gives a PRC total of about 76 million, at:

          https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE2.HTM

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Rummel’s calculations are completely unreliable.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @TA: Saying it doesn’t make it so.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Rummel’s calculations have been picked apart here, for example. It’s telling that counterarguments to Rummel being shown as making completely hilarious entry-level errors boil down to pearls of wisdom like “Rummel’s numbers are probably inflated, but there is an upside to this: if you’re arguing with a communist and you cite Rummel, how can they refute it? “No, 50 million people didn’t die in the Soviet Union. It was only something like 10 or 20 million TOPS!” (I added some special Buck Turgidson emphasis.)”

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ E. Harding

          What if this kind of scoring counted only direct premeditated killing, not famines or other unintended screw-ups?

          • John Schilling says:

            Some famines, unfortunately, were intentional and very premeditated. Others involved what could reasonably be described as depraved indifference.

            There are of course edge cases that will be hard to categorize, but e.g. the Holodomor was pretty clearly a case of mass murder rather than an innocent failure of agricultural policy.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling

            What if we make a separate count of victims who were killed by official bullets* shot from official guns under direct chain of command from the top?

            * or, sorry, gas

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Sorry, incorrect analogy. It’s early.

          • In between premeditated killing and an honest mistake is a vast continent filled with things like willful ignorance, prejudice, and not caring about the consequences if you’re wrong. When Tanzania moved to collectivize agriculture they backed off when they realized they were screwing up and the famine wasn’t that bad. That’s because while Nyerere wasn’t a monster.

            When collectivization under Stalin caused problems he pressed ahead. When people told him they peasants were starving he just said that they were lying about not having enough food, lazy, and probably counter-revolutionaries anyways. And that’s how you get something like the Holodomor.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Your first link is somewhat absurd.

      The author complains about Prof. Courtois including deaths not directly attributable to government action (ie things like famine, disease, stupidity, etc…) in the Communist’s body-count, but then does exactly that when tabulating his own Capitalist count.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        I think his point was that their methodology makes them more condemnable and they should probably tighten up their numbers a bit.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          But doing so would paint communism in a worse light, so making that point seems counter-intuitive as a defense of communism.

  43. Muga Sofer says:

    >who pledged his allegiance to “the free workd”

    Minor typo.

    >More recently, Topher Hallquist makes a similar claim, classily adding that any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association.

    Ouch.

    • typo says:

      Major typo: Hernstein

      Minor typos: credentialled, pacificist, goverment, unreliablity, interlocuters, ofthis, preselction, guerrila.

  44. Ken B says:

    Chomsky’s first claim, that corporations like unrestricted capitalism, is just wrong. They like regulation to restrict competition.

    As for media bias, Tim Groseclose has a good book where he carefully defines his criteria.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s what I mean. If I’d posted today, it would have been the anniversary of the capture of the Shining Path leader and the dwindling of Peru’s civil war. Or of international peacekeepers entering East Timor.

    • onyomi says:

      Does the left ever respond to this argument (that big corporations actually don’t want pure free market capitalism)? Not being snarky; I just genuinely cannot recall a response to this. All I usually see is people talking past one another.

      • Eli says:

        From the left-wing perspective, “free-markets” and “capitalism” just don’t really have a lot to do with each-other. For us (this gets truer the further Leftward you go), “free markets” are basically just a propaganda applause-light used to make capitalism sound good, and nobody actually propagandizing for capitalist policies intends to create any such thing in the first place.

        • onyomi says:

          Okay, I will agree that “free markets” are often used as applause lights for capitalism as the left defines it (i. e. corporatist and/or imperialist crony capitalism), but do you accept the distinction libertarians are trying to make between “free markets” and “crony capitalism”? Perhaps some or even most of those hailing the power of free markets are using it as cover to implement pro-corporate, pro-big business policies, but it doesn’t seem fair to assume that is always the case.

          “In favor of actually maximizing voluntary exchange without special benefit or restraint on any party” is, at the very least, a logically conceivable position, and one quite distinct from “just do whatever the chamber of commerce wants.” But most of the left seems to refuse to consider that such a position even exists. They take “free markets” to be a code word for capitalism and see crony capitalism as the only kind of capitalism. What, then, can we call the “maximizing voluntary exchange without benefit or restraint” position, if not “free markets”?

          This seems to be a good place to link Roderick Long again:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QsbvE_0Kpc

          • Protagoras says:

            Those who are sincere about free markets are a sufficiently small faction that they might as well not exist; it is hardly surprising that the left ignores them.

          • onyomi says:

            But Salon doesn’t ignore them when it comes time to bash sincere libertarians for webhits every day.

            I don’t think sincere libertarians are a sufficiently small faction that they might as well not exist anymore. The Ron Paul campaign took in over 40 million in 2012, and he placed 2nd in New Hampshire and 3rd in Iowa. To completely ignore the segment of the population he represents no longer seems justifiable.

          • Protagoras says:

            Libertarians are, of course, a lot more common in parts of the web than they are in the larger world. And someone calling themselves a libertarian does not mean they are a sincere advocate of free markets; plenty of self-styled libertarians express priorities that make them seem more like Republicans who want to signal with an edgier label than genuine believers in unrestrained voluntary exchange.

          • onyomi says:

            Okay, but I think sincere free market advocates are still a significant enough contingent to at least warrant a response from some leftist intellectuals, if not the general public. Heck, even if the position were held by only one person, it would still be worth responding to if it were a strong argument and a good logical distinction, both of which I think apply here.

          • Protagoras says:

            Obviously you won’t find them on Salon, but some leftist intellectuals do respond to libertarianism. I actually can’t point you to a better short summary than Scott’s, which you might think doesn’t count because he’s not a leftist, but he cites a bunch of sources, some of which are, of course, leftist. I don’t know why they don’t count as the leftist intellectuals you’re looking for.

          • onyomi says:

            They might count! I am not trying to prove they don’t exist; I’m just saying I’ve never read them. I’m also not saying I’ve never read *any* decent argument against libertarianism from a left-wing perspective; I’m talking about a response to the specific libertarian claim that free market capitalism is different from corporatism/crony capitalism and that large corporations don’t actually want free market capitalism.

            Scott’s FAQ does not seem to address this specific problem so far as I know: he actually uses the term “free market” to mean what libertarians mean and presents some arguments about why it might not always be best. This makes his arguments a more honest engagement with libertarianism but does not address the fact that almost everyone except him and libertarians continues to use “free markets” as a code for “capitalism,” as a code for “neo-mercantalist, imperialist, protectionist, corporatism.”

          • Eli says:

            do you accept the distinction libertarians are trying to make between “free markets” and “crony capitalism”? Perhaps some or even most of those hailing the power of free markets are using it as cover to implement pro-corporate, pro-big business policies, but it doesn’t seem fair to assume that is always the case.

            I accept that some people sincerely espouse the specific utopian ideal that has been labeled “free markets”. I refuse to accept that simply because their rich backers say so, their utopia is a Very Serious Person’s Very Serious Idea, but any deviation from their utopia is too dangerously utopian to try.

            The left, to be quite blunt about it, has something to conserve. It is the right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project. Social democrats, characteristically modest in style and ambition, need to speak more assertively of past gains. The rise of the social service state, the century-long construction of a public sector whose goods and services illustrate and promote our collective identity and common purposes, the institution of welfare as a matter of right and its provision as a social duty: these were no mean accomplishments.

            Tony Judt, emphasis mine

          • onyomi says: