The social justice steamroller: a pervasive and profound attack on citizenship

By Lorenzo

Political scientists Eric Kaufman and Matt Goodwin, in a recent online dialogue, discussed how centre-right parties have not found a language to deal with the current woke surge. There is language available: it is the language of citizenship. For the woke surge is, by its nature, a profound attack on citizenship.

Do you belong to an organisation that passed a crucial motion at the end of the meeting with very little debate? Was such a motion cast in such a way that dissent was treated as immoral or otherwise contemptible? Did the motion pass itself off as anti-racist, a matter of social justice, or something similar?

Congratulations, you have experienced the social justice steamroller in its most complete form, the critical social justice steamroller.

The basic premise of the critical social justice steamroller is that any pushback to social justice is itself just replicating oppression, and the discourses of oppression, and so is inherently oppressive and illegitimate. As error has no rights, not only should such discourses of oppression not be given any expression, things should ideally be arranged so they have no chance of being expressed.

And everything that does not endorse social justice is a discourse of oppression.

All versions of error has no rights are profound attacks on citizenship. All of them: hate speech, political correctness, wokeness, critical race theory, critical social justice …

They are all profound attacks on citizenship because citizenship rests on the status to speak.

From the status to speak we build the social and political bargaining that makes democracy work.

Bargaining requires voice, and democracy requires bargaining
People think that democracy is about elections. They are half right. Democracy is about social bargaining where elections make the social bargaining matter.

To engage in social bargaining one has to be able to express one’s concerns. That is the crucial element of citizenship: the status to speak, to discover common voices, to cohere with the like-minded. It is the status to speak, and to discover common concerns, plus a vote that (collectively) matters that generates the ability to bargain about the future of one’s community and society.Without the status to speak, elections just become rituals.

Bargaining plus elections creates democracy:
democracy = bargaining + elections.

Social and political bargaining require voice, it requires the status and ability to speak in public and in private. To seek to drown dissenting voices is to block the ability to bargain, to block participating in the political life of your community and society in any open and effective manner. Without the ability and status to speak, politics is just a game of approved insiders and elections are just rituals.

Elections without bargaining are just rituals:
elections – bargaining = ritual.

That’s how the ritual elections of totalitarian societies work. Official propaganda drowns out any other public discourse,* and forces public acquiescence to the supporting narratives the dominant regime wants to push. Only approved organisations or groups are permitted in the public and political space. All bargaining is blocked and all one is left with is the legitimating ritual of elections that express the dominance of the regime.

No voice = no bargaining.
No bargaining = no effective citizenship.
No effective citizenship = no democracy.

We are in the midst of a pervasive campaign to deny citizens their voices. People are afraid of getting sacked if they say the wrong thing. This fear of losing one’s job is a form of job terror. It is a profound denial of your status as a citizen and of your ability to be an active citizen.

If you can control what people feel able to say, you can control the public spaces, and even private spaces. You stop the ability of people to express their concerns, to find and cohere with other people who share their concerns.

Such conformity, enforced by Twitter mobs, and other social media pile-ons, seeks to replace citizenship with social dominance by mobilised conformity.

The public rage by so many progressive voices at the Brexit vote in Britain, or the election of Donald Trump in the US, is the rage of frustrated social dominance.

The logical next step, of course, is attempt to block the ability to vote the “wrong” way. For votes “in error” have no rights either. But blocking the ability to express concerns is more easily managed. Online media can and is used to block online access by those deemed not to possess the status to speak.

The apologists for political correctness claim it was just about being kind to people when you speak. Just as the apologists for wokeness say it is about protecting the vulnerable.

Except, in both case, it is the PC and the woke who get to define what counts as kind, what counts as protecting the vulnerable, and who counts as vulnerable, who counts as people to be kind to.

The entire approach, in whatever form, harnesses the wish not to hurt others, the care/harm moral foundation, as a mechanism of social dominance by enforcing the boundaries of what counts as care/harm and when.

All of it, even the it-would-be-nice-if-everyone-was-nice-version, is an attack on citizenship.

No social reform worth having was built on just being nice, on not offending. Which is why the welders of PC and woeness reserve the right to be shreikingly offensive to anyone they disagree with.

Other citizens have the right to tell fellow citizens when they are being an obnoxious jerk. Even when they are being a stupid obnoxious jerk. (Lots of people on all sides of politics can be amazingly obnoxious jerks.)

A right to speak is not the demand to be agreed with. That is what the enemies of citizenship push.

It is the denial of the legitimacy to speak that is the attack on citizenship. It is the claim to set the boundaries of legitimate discourse, of legitimate talk, which is the play for social dominance.

It is an attack on citizenship because it is an attack on the status to speak. Not the status to be agreed with, or not to be criticised, but the status to speak.

The new taboo-and-dominance Brahmins
In his very revealing assembly of data (pdf) on postwar elections in the US, the UK and France, French economist Thomas Piketty writes about modern politics having become a contest between the Brahmin Left and the Merchant Right.

The term Brahmin Left is brilliant, because what did the original Brahmins do? They organised rituals, systems of taboos and they sought to grant and deny legitimacy. What interactions were legitimate, what were not. What foods were legitimate for whom to eat, or not, and when. And so on.

This, in new forms, is exactly what the modern Brahmin Left, the Brahmin progressives do. They seek to grant and deny legitimacy. To say what concerns are legitimate to express and what are not and how they it is legitimate to express them and how it is not.

That is why modern political talk has become so full of -phobe and -ist terms. It is all about granting and denying legitimacy under the guise (above all to themselves) of protecting the vulnerable.

It is an attack on citizenship, on denying the status to speak to anyone who dissents in what they say or how they say it. On maximising the level of vulnerability of anyone who dissents.

The social justice Great Awokening is not a fight for social justice. That is just a legitimating story they tell to themselves and that they present to us, and themselves, as an approved public narrative.

We can tell it is not a fight for social justice by all the things the shrieking modern Brahmins ignore, downplay or obfuscate.

Such as the surge in homicides in African-American urban communities that followed the 2014 Ferguson riots, the surge in anti-police activism and the surge in highly selective media coverage over which deaths by violence get covered and how and which do not.

Or the failing to notice, the failing to get outraged over, the serial rape and sexual exploitation of thousands of underage girls in Britain, the Netherlands and Finland by overwhelmingly Muslim gangs, and the priority given to discourse management to avoid noticing that they are overwhelmingly Muslim gangs.

Or that we are supposed to believe in white supremacy when people with low melanin counts have become just about the only racialised group one can safely denigrate. Or in the pervasiveness of patriarchy when men have become the only sex one can safely denigrate.

The social justice steamroller is a fight for social dominance, and it is a fight for social dominance that represents, and requires, a profound attack on citizenship.

It is by the language of citizenship, and the defence of citizenship, of the status to speak, to express concerns as citizens and to, bargain over them, that an effective counter-attack against the self-righteous drive for social dominance using the guise of social justice must be mobilised.


* Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to. Theodore Dalrymple.

The toll in black lives is why the BLM movement is not worthy of anyone’s respect

By Lorenzo

African-Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be poor than Euro-Americans. African-American males are more than twice as likely to be shot (not necessarily fatally) (pdf) by police than Euro-American males and perhaps 3.5 times more likely to be unarmed and killed by police. Are these results because the colour of their skin or because of the consequences of poverty?

There is no difference between the male rate of death by homicide between Euro-Americans and African-Americans in rural US (pdf). The more urbanised the locality, the greater the disparity in their homicide rates. Is that because of their skin colour, or because of social dynamics in different types of localities?

Obviously, when it comes to death by homicide, locality counts far more than ancestry.

The shooting of Michael Brown, and the riots that followed, in Ferguson in 2014 led to a massive increase in anti-police activism and police pulling back from urban African-American communities. What were the consequences of that?

Source: CDC Leading Cause of Death reports.

Source: Health US 2017, Data Finder, Table 29.

The consequences were thousands of extra deaths, extra violent deaths, as African-American males killed each other in increased numbers. Those lost black lives were many, many times greater than the number of African-Americans killed by police. Especially they were many, many times greater than the number of unarmed African-Americans killed by police.

Is there a problem with police violence in the US? Absolutely, and it affects people, particularly poor people, of all ancestries. It also varies enormously by region, far more than by ancestry of the person killed (or of the police who killed). The way to tackle it is to build a coalition of citizens to have better trained, more accountable police.

For every egregious case of an unarmed African-American man killed by police there is an equivalent case of an unarmed Euro-American man killed by police. The problem is with police procedures, police training, and police accountability.

To turn it into a problem of race is to turn these issues into a posturing falsity, a matter for performative outrage not remotely based on the truth. Effective solution can only come from working what is the case, not posturing falsehoods about what is going on.

Urban African-Americans have reason to be angry with police forces that fail to protect and serve them. The real police failing is all those unsolved homicides (pdf) in those urban localities which lead to more (pdf) homicides. But that is a failure of police to effectively connect with those communities. To have enough detectives, enough forensic services, enough police who know the local area.

The police are not the great danger. The lack of effective policing is what costs thousands of black lives every year.

It is precisely because black lives matter that the BLM movement is not worthy of our respect. For what they do is not based on taking the violent deaths of thousands of African-American males in the cities of the US seriously.

Pandemic epistemology: discovery, feedback, ideological pomposity and banana peels.

By Lorenzo

I was going to forbear from posting on the Covid-19 pandemic, but this post by Arnold Kling prompted some more general observations about social dynamics.

He refers to a podcast by biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein where they, in his words: 

… cite instances in which odd corners of the Internet are outperforming mainstream science and mainstream journalism. This comes through most in the last few minutes of [t]he podcast.

Those most against federalism or free speech (and there tends to be overlap in antipathy to each) tend to systematically under-rate the importance of discovery processes. This includes under-rating the dispersed nature of effective discovery processes.

People are not all one thing. Someone can be batshit crazy in one area of life (a colloquialism with a bit more bite nowadays) and incredibly perceptive in another.  Sir Isaac Newton was deeply interested in alchemy and the weirder end of biblical exegesis. This does not stop him being a source of amazing breakthroughs in physics and mathematics (and, for that matter, coin production).

Not only does one not preclude the other–being so wrong about X does not preclude being highly perceptive about Y–being willing to consider wild and wacky possibilities may actually help one be brilliantly creative, provided there is the requisite attention to evidence and careful reasoning (or whatever effectiveness constraints operate in the relevant domain).

The discovery value of gentiles

So, those alienated from the mainstream whatever, for good or bad reasons, may well be more inclined to pick up things that the mainstream is blind to or weak on. In his excellent Nobel memorial lecture (seriously, if you haven’t watched it, you really, really should) on how to do social science, Paul Krugman talks about the importance of “talking to the gentiles”. Yes. (See also his essay here.)

Which is why the current penchant for identifying the gentiles, the “evil” infidels, and driving them out of public spaces is so dangerous. Our global civilisation is in utterly uncharted waters for our species and the last thing we need to be doing is seriously damaging our discovery processes, which is precisely what this penchant for cancelling the heretics does. Such burn-the-witch hunts are patently prestige-and-dominance plays but they are profoundly dangerous and destructive prestige-and-dominance plays.

As an aside, I very highly recommend the online lectures available via the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) at the University of California. Top scholars in the various fields germane to the study of our origins as a species lecturing to other scholars as cross-disciplinary exercises (so easily followable by a lay audience, because very discipline is a lay audience to other scholarly disciplines). It is fascinating, and profoundly informative.

Problems with models

Arnold Kling also observes that:

… I bristle when someone says that based on a computer simulation, a certain policy for dealing with the virus can save X lives. I presume that there are some key causal assumptions that produce the results, and I want to know what those assumptions are and how they relate to what we know and don’t know about the virus.


The most widely-used models don’t differentiate the population by age. Blinded by these models, policy makers focus excessively on maintaining hospital capacity and inadequately on protecting the elderly.

We tend to selectively over-rate models. That their assumptions are often opaque helps with this process and can make their use rather too close to using maths and computing to replicate what previous ages did with sheep entrails.

Models in themselves are very weak discovery processes, as they discover the implications of the assumptions of the model, not reality. They have their uses, in working out what our assumptions imply and making our thinking more systematic. Alas, it is very easy to see them as doing something in themselves, without the testing against reality. Genuine discovery power always comes from exploring reality, which models do when they are tested against reality. If used for that, models can be profoundly useful, by forcing us to be consistent and systematic in our thinking. (Krugman discusses the importance of models for clear thinking in this essay.)

[A nice discussion of the performance of the Imperial College and University of Washington models is here.]

We know a lot more about the Covid-19 virus in late April than we did in late January. It is perfectly reasonable  to question whether decisions made early in the pandemic are still valid given what we now know. Particularly, how well the models used in those decisions have stood the test of reality. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of status considerations now built into those decisions, which may well be inhibiting effective use of the expanded knowledge.

Having good feedback is vital to systems functioning properly. It is likely that much of the chronic health problems advanced societies are increasingly prone to are due to people developing  damaged or suppressed feedback regarding what we eat and drink. Aided and abetted by damaged, suppressed or pathological feedback systems in the provision of health and nutritional information.

Feedback and incentives are deeply intertwined in human systems. Here is a question to think about: do the revenues of Western health departments go up if we get sicker or healthier? What incentives does that create? Then ask yourself if the answer to those questions, and considering what incentives health departments face, what the actual feedback systems they operate within are, affects how we might think about the response of those same health departments to the current pandemic. Such as what we did, and did not, have stockpiles of. Remembering that in most Western countries, health departments have (much) bigger budgets than defence departments.

Addiction to conflict narratives

The mainstream media sees itself as our central, and indispensable, information system. How well does it perform at that, really? Is mainstream media not somewhat addicted to conflict narratives, as they provide easy and “exciting” framings to present “news”? What does that do to the the signal-to-noise ratio in mainstream news?

Consider two doctors who own and run various clinics in California talking about their experience of* [now available here] the pandemic and what they, as relevant experts, glean from the available data and talking to their colleagues. This is a discovery briefing. The journalists the doctors are briefing, however, are not in discovery mode, as is revealed by the tone and content of their questions. They are in identifying-conflict mode. Discovery is messy, identifying conflict simplifies and excites. They don’t want messy discovery, they want simple, exciting conflict.

[ADDENDA: *YouTube took down the video of two doctors briefing journalists and reporters about their clinical experience of Covid-19. There is an obvious irony for such a link in an essay on feedback and discovery.]

Moreover, it is a very easy shift to go from being addicted to conflict narratives to moralising about (and then within) those conflict narratives. It is very easy to turn conflict narratives into goodies-versus-baddies stories, with the journalists and reporters both identifying “the goodies”, and identifying with and as “goodies”. They then become part of the conflict narratives themselves, and the signal-to-noise ratio gets way worse.

There is a reason why public trust in the media has become so disastrously varied. The Donald’s approval rates as US President were rather poor and are now consistently mediocre, in accordance with my view that he is demonstrably an electorally weak candidate. (He seems rather obviously personally high in (dis)agreeability; a wildly unusual characteristic for a senior elected political figure, though rather more common among those highly effective in other spheres of life.) And a disagreeable President makes an unusually potent figure in conflict narratives. Even more so in moralised conflict narratives. The noise-to-signal ratio in mainstream media coverage of The Donald’s Presidency has rarely been less than toxically high.

Shifting to US public opinion of the media, the standing of the media as a source of news is relatively good among Democrat voters, poor among independent voters and abysmal among Republican voters. In terms of operation as a shared feedback system, this is a disastrous pattern. Not only is the mainstream media not trusted by large parts of the US populace, but the mainstream media are so often patently participants in their adopted goodies-versus-baddies conflict narratives, which actively encourages them to be generators of more noise and less signal. To be actively hostile to the processes of discovery — seeking to block information which undermines the goodie-v-baddie narrative they have inserted themselves into while elevating information that feeds it — against more careful considerations of significance and accuracy.

Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science provides depressing chapter and verse on how very bad the media can be in reporting science, just from problems of not understanding science and statistics, limitations in human cognitive patterns, and the media’s addiction to conflict and ‘ghee whiz’ narratives. Indeed, the media tend to be particularly bad on nutrition as that combines (1) obvious public interest, (2) deeply vested corporate and other interests, (3) the benefits of publicity for scam artists, along with all the above problems that reporting on science already has.

The media’s self-insertion into goodie-versus-baddie conflict narratives, and already poor performance in science reporting, is not a good pattern in general, and particularly not in a heavily science relevant matter such as a global pandemic.

Discovery and feedback

Discovery and feedback systems matter. Both in response to short term events and in long term prospects for our civilisation and our species. Does this help or hinder discovery processes?, help or hinder effective feedback systems?, are good questions. And if you are not even asking the questions, that is a problem. Indeed, there is an excellent likelihood you are part of the problem.

If you are asking and answering the questions in terms of a goodies-versus-baddies narrative, you are probably not really asking the questions and are very likely to be part of the problem. As Bret Weinstein observes (at 23minutes), utopianism (which tends to be a goodie-versus-baddie narrative set to a maximum) is perhaps the most disastrous idea Homo sapiens have ever had precisely because it is so intrinsically hostile to discovery and feedback. This is a result of absolutely prioritising a single value (for, as he says, that then creates “incredibly large costs for every other value”) and because they “tend to imagine they know what the future state should look like”, short-circuiting (indeed, typically blocking) open discovery processes. This combination is compatible with ruthless selection for what works for seizing and monopolising power and disastrous selection in who gains power and how they use it. As a series of tyrannies, and millions of corpses, demonstrate.

The Hurley model of humour says that humour comes out of our cognitive error identification mechanisms. This is why ideologues are so often humourless–they are unable to accept the possibility of error. (Cue that great definition of a fanatic–a person who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.) Extremists have a crippled epistemology that blocks discovery and feedback.

Ideologies tend to be pompous, they inflate themselves beyond the possibility of error, particularly errors of significance. They are the cognitive equivalent of the pompous fat man unable to see the possibility of the banana peel. The slipping-on-a-banana peel joke works so much better if the pompous man is fat because he is less likely to see the banana peel, his pomposity takes up more space, and he is more likely to bounce (boing, boing, boing …).

Admit it, you laughed.

It was better if he was a man, because when the trope was established, male pomposity had further to fall. And if your reaction is to point-and-shriek “fat shaming!” un-ironically, you just outed yourself as a humourless ideologue.

The more morally grand one’s vision of what one is about, the more entitled one can feel to suppress the views of those who disagree. (Herbert Marcuse’s iconic essay on repressive tolerance rests on belief that some group reliably has such knowledge.) But such suppression automatically involve suppressing any discovery that might thereby be revealed. One’s sense of moral conviction, precisely because it is so emotionally powerful and because moral concerns have inherent trumping value over other concerns, can be a profound barrier to discovery and to effective feedback.

Making sense of the Arab explosion

By Lorenzo

Pastoralist peoples exploding out of the their lands and conquering farming peoples is a recurring feature of human history.

Likely expansion of the Indo-Europeans.

The Indo-Europeans did so with great historical consequences, expanding into Europe, the Iranian plateau and North India. They were the first of a recurring waves of steppe conquerors: Huns, Turks, and Mongols most famously. The Maghreb also generated at least two waves of Berber conquest across the Maghreb and into Spain.

The Arabian Peninsula produced the most startling, and also profoundly historically momentous, such wave of pastoralist conquest, the conquests of 632-750. But it did this only once. Only once was the Arabian peninsula the source of a major wave of conquest.

And the traditional story of how this happened, which is the Muslim traditional narrative, makes remarkably little sense. A story whose surviving textual sources start two centuries after the stated death of Muhammad in 632.

Mecca is an enormously implausible starting point. There is a dramatic paucity (pdf) of historical references to Mecca. (For the problems of the historicity of Mecca, see herehereherehere and here.) It is a small settlement with a single well and no agricultural hinterland, that was not on any major trade route and well away from any imperial frontier.

Yathrib (Medina) is a bit better, but not much. It is larger, has an agricultural hinterland and is on a trade route. But is still too far away from the relevant frontiers and has no history of major political organisation. The Hejaz generally, particularly the section that Medina and Mecca are in, makes little sense as a breakout centre as there is simply not enough there. The most recent waves of conquest in the Arabian Peninsula, those of the al-Saud, go towards the Hejaz, not away from it.

Building a new history out of contemporary sources

This lecture by Peter von Sivers on the interactions between Christian theological controversies and struggles with what was happening with the Arabs in Northern Arabia, creates a hugely more plausible context. The action moves to the frontiers with the Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire and Sassanian Empire. Both Empires had had Arab buffer-client states (Ghassanids and Lakhimids) that had been either much reduced or effectively eliminated by their Imperial sponsors by the start of the last and greatest of the Roman-Sassanid Wars, which lasted from 602 to 628. A decades-long struggle that exhausted both empires and left the Sassanian Empire mired in civil war and instability but the Arabs largely unaffected.

The unification of these former buffer states–areas used to significant political organisation and familiar with the practices, strengths and weaknesses of the exhausted Imperiums–into a single Arab kingdom provides a far more plausible basis for the Arab breakout.

Tom Holland’s discussion of the broader similarities between the processes on the borders that saw the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the C5th with the Arab conquest of over half the Eastern Empire in the C7th fits nicely into this picture.

As does Dan Gibson‘s argument that Petra is the origin city, not Mecca. As indicated by the fact that the Qibla (direction of prayer wall) of all the original mosques point to Petra, not Mecca. (Of course, a self-published scholar does not have the same cachet.)

Nevertheless, Petra (a major trade and religious centre) is in the right place, has the right history and fits the descriptions of the city of the Prophet’s birth.

That the Umayyads choose Damascus as their capital, and their successors, the Abbasids, built Baghdad as theirs, also emphasise the far greater strategic importance and value of Northern Arabia.

If we add in Prof. Fred Donner‘s lecture on trying to contextualise (i.e. assemble a history based on contemporary evidence) early Islam, we also get a picture compatible with what von Sivers and Holland are arguing (and, for that matter, Dan Gibson). Islam becomes a religion assembled out of the needs of imperial control to justify, first the Arabs as a ruling people, and then the Abbasids  ruling as a Muslim dynasty.

A process started by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r.644-705) who builds the original Dome of the Rock in 691-2, which contains the earliest Quran verses and the first explicit reference to Muhammad.

The written-down two centuries later, hundreds of miles away, traditional story of the origins of Islam and the Islamic conquests makes remarkably little historical sense. But we seem to be groping towards a picture, based on contemporary evidence, that makes a lot more sense.

It still leaves the Arab breakout and its consequences as a most extraordinary eruption into history. But not a nonsensical one.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Self-refuting scholarship

By Lorenzo

[NB: this piece has been updated to incorporate links to further relevant scholarship.]

One of the signs of the increasing intellectual conformity of the academy, particularly the social science and (even more) the humanities, is the rise of scholarship that treats voting the “wrong” way as a pathology, to be explained pathologically.

In the US, analysis of voting Republican is increasingly treated in this way. Even more since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and then the Electoral College and so the US Presidency. Brexit has received similar treatment.

A recent paper, Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites, by Arjumand Siddiqi, Odmaa Sod-Erdene, Darrick Hamilton, Tressie McMillan Cottom, William Darity Jr. is a case in point.

The paper starts off well, carefully examining the data and assessing various explanations for the rise in mortality (and so falling life expectancy) about “white” Americans. Then it gets to its own explanation and the intellectual quality rapidly goes downhill.

The abstract sets out their findings and conclusion:

Rising white mortality is not restricted to the lowest education bracket and is occurring deeper into the educational distribution. Neither short-term nor long-term economic factors can themselves account for rising white mortality, because parallel trends (and more adverse levels) of these factors were being experienced by blacks, whose mortality rates are not rising. Instead, perceptions – misperceptions – of whites that their social status is being threatened by their declining economic circumstances seems best able to reconcile the observed population health patterns.

Conclusion: Rising white mortality in the United States is not explained by traditional social and economic population health indicators, but instead by a perceived decline in relative group status on the part of whites – despite no actual loss in relative group position.

To put the finding at its most blunt: they are dying because they’re stupid. Or, to put it in a little more elevated way: they are dying because they have a false consciousness of their social position.

This is a very large claim. So, what have the authors done to test the proposition about (lack of) falling social status? Nothing substantive. Which is remarkable, because a recent study of why people voted for Donald Trump finds no difficulty in identifying a range of status threats (pdf) that motivated voters. While another study founds that falling subjective social status has considerable explanatory power (pdf) for populism rising vote share in Europe.

Let’s us put the question in another way: is there any other group, particularly any other racially defined group, that the authors would explain seriously adverse outcomes by arguing they had brought it on themselves because they are too cognitively incompetent to accurately assess their social position?

If they answer is no, as surely it is, then what does that say about the social status of “white” Americans? After all, such things as having various academic fuss over “it’s OK to be white” posters are also, in their own way, signs of loss of status.

These authors have the gall to sneer at the reasons people are dying when the way they have “conducted” their own research shrieks sneering condescension towards the people they are studying because those people lack the social status to protect them from said sneering condescension.

This is self-refuting scholarship.  But self-refuting in a revealing way. It is scholarship unable to see itself critically.

It is revealing that the paper’s Fig. 4, which is adopted from a WHO document (pdf), puts in ‘race’ where the WHO document has ‘ethnicity (racism)’. American race talk is typically a clumsy and unfortunate way of talking about ethnicity (i.e. ancestry and culture). For example, disaggregating PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results for the US by “race” is informative, because it disaggregates by ancestral commitment to formal education (with exactly the ranking results you would then expect).

The only thing race talk is really good for is stigmatisation, as it either strips away a whole lot of relevant factors or reduces them to skin colour.

Homo sapiens are a group-living, pair bonding species. We are typically good at social cues, especially social cues about status. We evolved to be, because that is how you acquired a mate and successfully reproduced.

To claim that an entire group of people (who you have defined racially) are incompetent at such a basic human skill is a very big claim. It runs against evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology and sociology. Such a claim requires a lot of supporting evidence.

The first evidence offered is that “whites” still do better by various health and other indicators, such as median household income, than other groups whose mortality has not worsened. In fact, has improved. Yes, but that is perfectly compatible with a loss of status.

The authors agree that perceived status threat is the most powerful explanation for the mortality results. They then cite various studies of “white” Americans having inaccurate view about the situation of African-Americans (“blacks”). As they say:

These findings suggest whites perceive that blacks are economically catching up to them, even though this is not the case.

But status is not merely a matter of income. The authors note that “whites” show declining happiness and their sense of class status has generally fallen, particularly among the less educated. This is revealing, since class is a rather different metric than race. The authors state:

In other words, absolute declines in economic status of whites may produce a hyper-vigilance of sorts. This explanation would suggest that the short-term and long-term economic circumstance hypotheses forwarded by Case and Deaton (2017) are in some ways integral to the explanation of white status threat, rather than true competing explanations. However, we do not have sufficient evidence to test the veracity of this claim.

But on they march:

Put differently, given our modeling strategy, if county-level changes in the share of Republican voters is associated with changes in county-level white mortality, then it is highly likely that this association is indicative of a link between rising white perceptions of racial threat and rising white mortality, rather than traditional economic and social population health indicators.

So, if we treat voting Republican as a racially-based pathology, our modelling will demonstrate our case, despite the fact we have made no serious attempt to determine:

(1) How important “racial” identity is to the target group.

(2) What components of status matter to the target group.

(3) How good humans tend to be at rating social status, particularly their own.

(4) What it takes to misperceive status.

Scholarship often uses racial resentment as measured by answers to a particular set of survey questions as a measure of racism. Yet those questions do not correlate with any tendency to discriminate against African-Americans. Moreover, conservatives do not give different answers on such questions between ethnoracial groups while liberals do, but only more sympathetically to African-Americans. Finally, warmness to your own group does not correlate with negative feelings to other groups. This area is somewhat riddled with scholarship that does not show what it purports to show.

Donald Trump won the Electoral College because a whole group of counties that had twice voted for Barack Obama voted for Donald Trump. Obama was much more electorally successful than Trump, winning in 2008 (53% to 46%) and 2012 (51% to 47%) by absolute majorities of the popular vote while Trump famously lost the popular vote (46% to 48%).

Given the nature of the Party coalitions, Obama did less well among “white” votes (43% in 2008, 39% in 2012). Trump got 54% of the “white” vote in 2016, but since 1976 among Republican nominees, only Gerald Ford (1976), Bush Snr (1992) and Bob Dole (1996), got a lower share of the “white” vote than Trump. So, if rallying “white” voters was Trump’s thing, he did a comparatively bad job of it. Every other Republican elected President since 1980 did a better job.

But the author’s analysis is concentrating on particular counties. There they find that:

Of all covariates, change in share of Republican voters (r = 0.24) and college degree attainment (r = −0.24) were the most strongly correlated with change in white mortality, suggesting that counties that became more Republican and that did not experience much change in college attainment also had increased rates of white deaths.

Folk in those counties changed votes because they perceived their situation deteriorating. At no stage have the authors demonstrated that white/black relations or standing is crucial to the target population. Yet the authors find that:

Rather, we hypothesize that the anxiety of whites is coming from a perception – a misperception – that their dominant status in society is being threatened, which is manifesting in multiple forms of psychological and physiological stress. While stratification economics suggests that this misperception may actually be quite functional for preserving relative group status, it may have health consequences. Indeed, the empirical test we provide of our hypothesis suggests this to be the case.

Yet, there is lots of public comment on how “whites” will become a minority in the US in the next few decades. The US as majority-minority country. Does that not constitute a threat to “white” Americans “dominant status in society”?

Let’s put it another way: if you already think you are facing declining economic circumstances and various levels of cultural dislocation, with limited ability to influence events, how does no longer being part of the majority group sound? Not enticing. A loss of status. A basis for rational concern. Yet, migration is not mentioned as an issue once, except to bring up Trump’s infamous comments about migration. Comments which, we might note, were not directed to African-Americans.

The authors continue:

To be sure, this is a startling finding. The social status threat mechanism clearly has emerged as a way to explain the election of a presidential candidate who espoused highly racist views (Green, 2017), but we are now suggesting that this mechanism also explains the highly unusual phenomenon of worsening white mortality – and worsening white health more generally. Moreover, we are suggesting that the perception of racial threat among whites is occurring in the absence of substantive evidence of a decline in their relative social status, since both whites and blacks are experiencing parallel economic declines (Badger, 2017).

It is a startling finding that is derived only by carefully not enquiring about things that might get in the way and not noticing that Trump’s infamous comments were not directed about African-Americans but about Mexican migrants. Nor are the areas of the study notable for their African-American population.

What they are generally notable for is rapid ethnic change, particularly increased Hispanic population. In Europe, experiencing, or being adjacent to, a locality experiencing rapid ethnic change is a strong predictor of votes for national populists. Indeed, the rate of change is a much more powerful predictor than the level of ethnic diversity.

Besides, think how many progressive narratives would be upset if the study concluded that the sense of loss of status was rational. The study reaches the progressively acceptable conclusion by progressively acceptable scholarly tropes.

This is bubble scholarship: we are going to characterise things racially, we are going reduce complexity to (literally) “black” and “white”, we are going to treat voting Republican pathologically and we are going to say “white” people have rising mortality, and so declining life expectancy, because they are cognitively incompetent. A finding we would, almost certainly, not dare to make about any other racially-defined group. And then we have the gall to say that any sense the racially-defined group have of a loss of status is a misperception as we demonstrate in our own analysis how little status they have.

Self-refuting scholarship. A prime example of why more cognitive diversity is so needed in contemporary academe.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud and at Medium.]

Working class alienation as a driver of political polarisation

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.

The US has a legislated two Party system. (Left-cynics say that if the Soviet Communist Party had divided itself into two wings who disagreed on abortion, it would still be in power.)

The UK has working class voters who will never vote Tory, so the Labour Party can take them for granted (but we will see how well the Brexit Party does in such seats on Dec.12).

Political economist Thomas Piketty has pointed out (pdf) that politics has become dominated by a struggle between an educated (human capital) elite on the centre-left and a business (commercial capital) elite on the centre-right. Which often leaves working class voters trying to work out which side of politics will betray them least.

In Australia, compulsory voting and preferential voting means you cannot drive groups away from voting, but must aim for 50%+1. So working class voters can’t be ignored.

In Canada, class voting is a lot weaker than in the UK, and the Conservative/Liberal/NDP/Quebecois struggle also means that significant slabs of voters cannot be left out.

Australia and Canada have high migration policies whose content minimises any costs, and maximises any benefit, to local working class voters. Migration is a peripheral issue in politics, provided there is border control.

Remembering that the benefits of migration go first overwhelmingly to migrants and then to the holders of capital with local providers of labour being, at most, marginal beneficiaries and, if factors not normally included in the current economic literature regarding migration are included (disruption of local networks, pressure on culture and institutions, notably from physical and institutional congestion), are much more likely to be net losers, even over the longer term.

UK and US have much lower levels of migration than Australia or Canada, but there is very little effort made to ensure migration minimise costs, or maximises benefit, to local working class voters. There are much higher levels of alienation and polarisation in US and UK politics compared to Australia and Canadian politics. This presentation, for example, documents the alienation of working class voters in the UK.

The polarising/alienating effect is particularly likely to kick in, given that evidence suggests, the less control voters have over matters of concern for them, the more likely they are to take refuge in some congenial identity.

If democratic politics becomes dominated by the interests of capital (human or commercial) in a way that leaves working class voters largely frozen out, politics becomes increasingly dysfunctional. A process that, in the US, the dominance of donor class and interest group preferences in policy outcomes (pdf) intensifies. Indeed, political rhetoric tends to become more febrile the more intense the gap between donor (and activist) preferences and the voter base becomes, in an attempt to cover that gap. (The Republicans and British Labour being cases in point, though the Democrats seem to be more than catching up.)

Show me a country with high levels of polarisation, and the chances are that working class voters are not having their concerns and interests addressed by mainstream politics.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Firms, Cities, States: who has open borders and why?

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here.

Econblogger Robin Hanson notes that firms and cities have open borders and argues that:

So if nations act differently from firms and cities, that should be because either:

1) there are big important effects that are quite different at the national level, than at firm and city levels, or

2) nations are failing to adopt policies that competition would induce, if they faced more competition.

My bet is on the latter.

This comparison is more complicated than it at first appears, but still (it turns out) revealing, if you consider how state behaviour has changed over time.

Firms (at least as employment entities) have highly controlled borders–they have to hire you, you can be fired. They also have expansionary tendencies and can operate across jurisdictions. That is not really open borders as such. Indeed, the harder it is to fire people, the more cautious they tend to be about who they hire (i.e. “let in”). You can buy your way in to a firm as a shareholder, but then you become a risk guarantor. It is a particular form of commercial exchange to which you commit capital.

Cities are ambiguous between jurisdictional entities, which are generally not allowed to control movement of people across their borders, or as some (territorially contiguous) level of density of population, in which case it is not clear exactly what one means by “borders” and who would “control” them.

City governments do tend to control land use, often in considerable detail, and that has sometimes been used to block the residence of certain groups (pdf). Politicians such as James Michael Curley and Coleman Young have used city policies to drive away folk in order to make their own ethnicity dominant, what economists Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer called the Curley Effect (pdf). The returns to controlling land use are much higher than any returns to controlling population movement as such, so there seems no reason for cities to demand the right to their own border control from states that are not likely to grant it.

States are the only one of the three (firms, cities and states) with hard territorial borders. That is, borders that are policed, that separate entire legal systems, that have no overlapping political authority. (Obviously, some arrangements, such as the European Union, pool a certain amount of sovereignty, but they are exceptional to the normal pattern.)

Leaving aside labour bondage systems (serfdom, slavery, Communism) which, by their nature, have to control exit-movement, states have historically not sought to control inward movement. Indeed, attracting more people meant more tax payers.

What states have had strong controls over is who gets to control the state. Historically, that has been bitterly defended. It is conspicuous that border controls over inward movement start happening when states start acquiring broad electorates. In particular, working class voters have tended to be strong supporters of various forms of border control. Indeed, generally they still are.

So, the question is not “why do states control borders?” in the sense of movement across borders, because historically many have not, but “why do working class voters support border control?”. That is not a hard question to answer. Especially when the vote is their only significant political leverage and they are the group (unlike migrants and holders of land and capital) who do not gain significantly from migration, indeed, can be net losers from migration, and who are much more reliant than more educated voters on local networks for support and risk management that can easily be disrupted by migration.

So, once we have worked through the what do you mean by borders? question, yes it is about competition pressures and how much capacity working class voters have to push back. But it is the comparison with state behaviour over the long run that is the most revealing, not the comparison with firms and cities.


[Cross-posted from Skepticlawyer.]

Montesquieu and the US: explaining the US’s Presidential aberration

By Lorenzo

That pioneer political scientist Montesquieu‘s theory of the separation of powers was both a very odd take on the English system of government (which he claimed it to be) but also very influential in the drafting of the US Constitution.

Listening to a paper on considerations of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws by Louis Althusser and Albert Hirschman, a plausible reason for the appeal of Montesquieu to the US Founding Fathers occurred to me. The notion of executive, legislature and judiciary as separate and balancing branches of government solved a problem the separating US colonies had: what to do with the office of governor in each of the revolting colonies.

The 13 colonies that revolted against British rule had the normal government pattern of British colonies. There was a governor, appointed by the Crown, and a locally elected/selected legislature.

Separation from Britain was separation from the Crown. So, how was the governor to be appointed and what did his office mean and do? Having the governor elected by the local populace and heading the executive branch of government was an obvious solution, one that Montesquieu’s theory gave an intellectual framing to.

Hence, the governor-and-local-legislature pattern leads to gubernatorial/presidential government in the US but parliamentary government everywhere else that began as British colonies, because they either do not separate from the Crown at all (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc) or do so after an initial period of still having the crown (India, Pakistan, Malta, etc) and so, in the latter cases, ended up with a figurehead President and a Prime Minister with the real power–provided they have a majority in the lower house of the Parliament.

A late C19th newspaper wrote:

Great Britain is a republic, with a hereditary president, while the United States is a monarchy with an elective king.

The notion being that in Great Britain, the Parliament is the seat of power and members of Parliament run the government while, in the US, voters elect a ruler who has a status approaching that of ruling monarch. (And the dynastic principle keeps popping up.)

The English Parliament

Montesquieu’s notion of the separation of powers was not a very sensible analysis of British government. (Historian David Starkey is characteristically rude about Montesquieu and even more so here.) The office of Lord Chancellor, who was the presiding officer of the House of Lords, head of the judiciary and a member of Cabinet, was as great an offense against separation of powers as can be imagined.

Moreover, the notion of the separation of powers gets quite wrong why the English Parliament survived when most of the comparable medieval legislatures were eventually abolished. It was precisely because in England, the executive and the legislature were not separated. The members of Henry VIII‘s Privy Council were members of either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The Parliament was where the political nation met the government and therefore operated as a central instrument of government. A pattern that continued. It was the breakdown of that pattern under the first two Stuart monarchs, but particularly Charles I, that led to the (English and other) Civil Wars in the British Isles.

In the C12th century, Song Dynasty China had one imperial official per 15,000 people. In 1750, Qing China averaged one civilian official per 11,250 people while there was one per 10,000 people in Tsarist Russia.

C16th England could manage an official per 4000 people (pdf), making it by far the most intensely governed of contemporary territorial states. It could have such a level of official penetration because the information flows from the society, and about such officials, was strong enough to make it work, and the deep involvement of the executive government in the Parliament was the essential capstone of that. British colonial governments replicated the pattern (albeit initially with appointed members of the Legislature Councils) because those information flows were so central to making the system work,

The American Revolution

Only 13 of 35 British colonies in the Americas revolted in 1775-6. The 13 colonies that revolted were the 13 that least needed the Crown–that is, they least needed the protection of the Royal Navy against French or Spanish aggression.

Island colonies did not revolt, as, without the protection of the Royal Navy, they would be desperately vulnerable to French or Spanish naval power. The Canadian colonies did not revolt, as they needed the Crown to arbitrate between British and French settlers. It was the “in between” colonies who revolted.

While various taxes and Navigation Acts were definitely irritants to all the colonies, the notion of no taxation without representation was a brilliant formulation of deeper issues. The wish within the seceding colonies to appropriate Amerindian land, blocked by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and to defend slavery, threatened by Somersett’s case (1772), generated much more visceral reasons to not defer to authority in London if and only if the need for Royal Navy protection was no longer a constraining factor.

But keeping slavery, and seizing Amerindian land, does not make for grand legitimacy–most needed, if one was going to revolt against the Crown. Hence the necessary utility of no taxation without representation, which has the great advantage of being a perfectly reasonable take on the British constitution. The underlying intent might have been to grab land and keep slaves, but the engine of justification used as cover (above all, to themselves) had much greater implications, implications that still resonate through American history down to the present.

Slavery clearly deformed the US Founding, but it did not invalidate it because the Founders were forced to erect this notion of a government by consent to justify (including to themselves) what they were about. The ejection of the US Tories meant there was no substantial internal objection to the Revolution Settlement, an advantage of that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 did not have achieve, with resistance to its Revolutionary Settlement still prompting armed rebellion in 1745. Nor did the French Revolution, which parts of France have never reconciled themselves to.

With the status of the American Revolution uncontested within the US, both sides of the US Civil War invoked the Revolution in its defence; the North as defending the Union created by the Revolution and the ideals that underpinned it; the South as defending the right to withdraw consent (so as to, of course, defend the interest of slavery against distressingly natural extension of the legitimating ideas of the American Revolution).

Contemporary slavery posing

The current fascination with slavery is a simplistic narrative designed to feed the arrogance of the progressivist human capital (education) elite by reinforcing how inadequate the past was (and so what we have received from the past) because it was not blessed by such moral and intellectual paragons as themselves. (Folk spouting ideas utterly conventional in their own social milieus pretending to themselves, and others, that they would not been equally conventionally conformist if they had lived back then is a risible sight.)

Canada, Australia and New Zealand had no slavery but ended up very similar societies to the US (though without its enormous geographical advantages for sustaining a prosperous population). The section of the US which had no slavery was much productive than the section that did, something that de Tocqueville remarked upon of 1830s US. The United Kingdom abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in the Empire in 1833-4 and proceeded to become much richer.

Mass slavery or serfdom was what happened across human history when labour is much more valuable than land so bondage can eliminate their scarcity premium and force them down to subsistence wages (plus the costs of imposing the bondage). If the population is local, you get some form of serfdom (binding them to the land or the landowner). If the labour has to be imported, you get slavery (turning people into property, so they can be moved around). This pattern of mass human bondage occurs again and again in such circumstances, the only sizeable exceptions to the pattern across the whole of human history being (1) the failure to have re-enserfment in medieval Europe after the Black Death and (2) the abolition of slavery in the C19th. Both achievements of Eurosphere civilisation and no other.

Sub-Saharan Africa was a centre of slavery because it was where humans evolved, so there were many diseases and predators who preyed on humans, which kept the human population down and so labour more valuable than land, leading to pervasive slavery. Something intensified by, first, the Arab-Muslim slave trade and then the Atlantic slave trade that the British Empire, through the Royal Navy, eventually sought (successfully) to suppress. For example, the British forced all the signatories to the Congress of Vienna treaties to agree to the abolition of the slave trade.

The striking thing about slavery and Eurosphere civilisation was not that slavery occurred, it was not even the scale of slavery (that just reflected the expansive capacities of that civilisation), it was the (ultimately successful) campaigns to abolish it. In the UK, it was the first of what became the Emancipation Sequence, which starts with abolition of slavery and ends with queer emancipation.

In the case of the US, abolitionism led to the creation of the Republican Party as an anti-slavery Party and Abraham Lincoln in particular mobilising the rhetoric, and legitimating ideas, of the American Revolution against one of its basic motivations, the preservation of slavery. Those ideas have, admittedly somewhat fitfully, and often far too tardily, continually trumped slavery and its destructive legacies (notably Jim Crow). Which is a remarkable legacy from an enterprise whose founding documents were largely written by slave owners.

As economic historian and Nobel memorial Laureate Robert Fogel pointed out in his Without Consent or Contract: the Rise and Fall of American Slavery, in the US in the 1840s and 1850s, mass migration was adversely affecting the income of resident workers in the US (so seriously it can be seen in declining height of local National Guard recruits), leading to strong support for Nativism. But there were too many immigrants for that to be a viable election strategy, so the Republican Party finessed Nativism by supporting trade protection and focussing hostile attention on “the Slave Power”. In other words, the Republicans finessed the pressures of mass migration by demonising (Southern) slave interests and politics. (A very easy target, it has to be said: and just because it was good electoral strategy does not mean the revulsion against slavery was anything other than sincere.)

The most bloody trumping of the legitimating ideas of the American Revolution over slavery being, of course, the American Civil War itself. There are persistent nonsense claims that the American Civil War was not about slavery. It absolutely was, one can tell simply by reading the Confederate Constitution (pdf) and the debates of the various secession conventions of the seceding states.

The Presidential capstone

The normal claim is that the North, the Union, won the Civil War because it had a greater and more productive population (even though it took 4 bloody years to do so). Well, yes, but that obscures the reason why that was so–it was because the North retained the Presidency. Not all the slave states seceded, substantial sections of the Southern population remained loyal to the Union, and a key residue of the armed forces remain loyal to their Commander-in-Chief. If, say, anti-slavery New England had revolted against the Union under a Southern president, then the balance of advantage would have been with the pro-slavery forces.

There is increasing speculation in the US about the possibility of another civil war, given the intense political and territorial polarisation. See, for example, this podcast. Or these YouTubes. The idea being that it would be the urban archipelago up against the ruralist homeland.

A similarity with the lead up to the original Civil War that is not much noted is that, once again, political interests within a Party with their base in New England and the West Coast are demonising the supporters of a Party with much of its base on the South as a strategy to finesse mass migration. They are even using the taint of slavery to do so. History may not repeat, but sometimes it can rhyme pretty strongly.

Both sides in this putative civil war have some clear advantages and disadvantages. The ruralist homeland has better geography, a more armed populace and controls the domestic food supply. The urban archipelago has more economic activity and the march-through-institutions leaves the progressivist side with better organising capacity. If such a war did break out, I would again predict that, again, whoever retained the Presidency would win, though far more slowly and bloodily than people would expect.

But a strong argument can be made that the Presidential system is much of the problem. That putting so much power and status in the hands of a single figure actually helps the polarisation. After all, Clinton Derangement Syndrome has been followed by Bush Derangement Syndrome, Obama Derangement Syndrome and, the most intense of all, Trump Derangement Syndrome (most intense because there are so many legitimate grounds of criticism of President Donald).

There could be a very strong cost for the US Founders using Montesquieu’s (daft) theory about the English constitution to give the newly Crownless colonial governors a role and a legitimacy.


[Cross-posted from Thinking-Out-Aloud.]

Giving something away for free is not a sign of it having value

By Lorenzo

The progressivist push against citizenship took another big leap forward with the British Labour Party decision committing the Party to giving the vote in general elections to all UK residents. As things reveal their nature (and importance) in their history, a quick trip through citizenship’s backstory helps to see what is going on.

Origins and decline

Citizenship originally dates back to the city-states of Ancient Greece. The basic idea was that if you took the risks and effort of fighting for your city, you got a say in the politics of your city-state, your polis. Political citizenship was therefore male, but legal and social citizenship extended to all members of citizen families. 

Eventually, one citizenship-polity, Rome, managed to work out how to scale-up citizenship and, coupled with a very effective military system, conquered the entire Mediterranean littoral. Civil war then culminated in replacing the Republic with the Empire. The Republic itself being conquered from within by the march of Roman imperialism.

Roman Emperors did not need people to vote for them, and had a (relatively) small professional army, so the link between taking risks for your polity and getting a say steadily weakened. The offer of Roman citizenship could entice outsiders into serving in the legions, and cities were still largely self-governing. But the trend was against any strong notion of citizenship.

Eventually, citizenship was universalised in 212 by the Constitutio Antoniniana to all freeborn folk in the Empire. This is usually written up as a noble act, but it expressed what limited value citizenship had by then. The division between honestiores (respectables) and humiliores (lessers) had already developed, indicating how citizenship itself had lost status.

Rather predictably, even citizenship’s one remaining status claim within the Empire (a citizen was a free person) declined with the development of coloni, who became tied to their states, so a type of serf. 


The revival of citizenship in medieval cities also had an implication of readiness to fight for your city, helping to create tough urban militias which were a feature of medieval and early modern Europe. The later, post-American and -French Revolutions, revival of citizenship also had some flavour of fighting for your country (hence the infamous Second Amendment). 

But citizenship became more tied to being who the state was committed to defend and to serve. The term “to protect and to serve” invokes protecting and serving a community of citizens. The ultimate expression of citizenship became having the vote. But it had already been connected to all sorts of other freedoms. Indeed, it had those connections before the vote. One could easily be “a free born Briton” but not have the vote. (This applied especially to women, of course.)

As is so often the case, the UK had somewhat particular history, in this case with the notion of a British subject, but that became trumped by citizenship.

The structure of citizenship flowed from all of this. You got it from being born in the country, because that established you had lots of links and connections and so could be reasonably presumed to have strong attachments within the society that the state was supposed to be serving. You could become a citizen, but only by long enough residence that you could be reasonably presumed to have built up such attachments. Continued residence was a strong signal of commitment. You were committing to the society that the state was supposed to be serving. Some states insisted on unitary citizenship, others permitted dual attachment.

Social bargaining

The history of the spread of the suffrage, of the right to vote, throughout Western societies is the history of the expansion of the ability to participate in social bargaining about the policy and laws of the state. That votes determined who held office at the peak of the state (apart from any monarch) made votes matter. Hence the importance of voting mechanisms and electoral systems. For these affect how much voter concerns have had to be paid attention to, that being what makes voting “real”. The legitimacy element involved in the practical and expressed consent of the people is a consequence of the power it gives to participate in social bargaining in this way, it is not a driver of the significance of voting.

After all, totalitarian states hold elections. But they are mere rituals of dominance, forcing mass participation in rituals of legitimacy. It is the ability to vote in and out people who make decisions that matter that gives the vote its power. Provided, that is, there is some genuine bargaining element involved, which requires that there be genuine alternatives, both offered in the public space and adhered to by serious competitors for office. In particular, that voters have the capacity to articulate their concerns, and have them heard.

This is why the old centre-left, back in the days when they overwhelmingly represented (and their candidates and activists often came from) people of low income, assets and education, were stalwarts of democracy. The vote was by far the most important social lever that their voters had. It is also why such voters now dominate (pdf) the increasing proportion of non-voters in societies with voluntary voting: an increasing, and largely accurate sense, that the political class is indifferent, or even hostile, to their concerns.

Undermining citizenship

For things have changed profoundly for progressive politics. Modern progressivism has been mounting a multi-level attack on citizenship. This is because, as French economist Thomas Piketty has documented in his revelatory paper Brahmin Left v Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017) (pdf), left-of-centre politics has become dominated by a human capital (i.e. educated) elite. And the way an educated elite turns its human capital into a position of social dominance is by controlling public language within the society; by setting the limits on who can express what, when and how, on whose concerns will be deemed legitimate or not. By controlling what is to be legitimate for any social bargaining to be about, thereby determining what social bargaining (if any) will be permitted. Eric Weinstein’s Four Quadrant model provides a useful heuristic.

In other words, social dominance is achieved by controlling the Overton window and by undermining any area of social bargaining it cannot dominate and control. Piketty’s use of the term Brahmin Left is inspired because being secular Brahmins, the folk imposing rules and taboos, is an excellent description of what they are increasingly about. (How Left they are is another question, hence I will refer to them as Brahmin progressives.) 

Any strong concept of citizenship gets in the way of this strategy of social dominance. Moreover, it does so comprehensively. 

For instance, the notion “I am entitled to say that, I am a citizen” has to go. Hence the enthusiastic adoption of the Stalinist concept of hate speech. “Hate speech” is a conceptual and rhetorical device used by Brahmin progressives seeking to gain control over who can say what. Thus the use of terms of reputational aggression (“racist”, “homophobe”, “misogynist”, “islamophobe”, “transphobe” etc) to police speech and destroy reputations. It sets up the mechanisms for dominating public discourse by controlling legitimacy. As does, of course, calling lots of people fascist or nazi

The ostentatious and intense moralising Brahmin (i.e. diversity) progressives engage in is ideal for this strategy of social dominance. First, because morality is trumps; to say something is moral is to say it is what you should do. So, intense and ostentatious moralising mobilises that trumping value of morality for the strategy of social dominance. Second, because it hides from themselves and others what they are about. They are, of course, not trying to impose their own social dominance, they are just being moral, they are just doing the right thing. This is a classic example of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s point that morality blinds and binds.

It is important to understand the selection processes here. People seek to economise on information, minimise reputation risk and maximise status. A set of received opinions which denote being a good, even morally superior, person does all this. But it only works if the opinions being used as moralised markers of status generate moral prestige, and they only do that if dissent is morally retrograde. Indeed, the more morally reprehensible dissent is, the greater the moral prestige. Hence the “pile-ons”: people are protecting their investment in moral prestige.

Once these mechanisms are in play, then a structure to generate and enforce social dominance has evolved. One, moreover that both gains strength the more organisations and institutions it dominates and also fosters colonising said organisations and institutions. (Inconveniently principled believers get in the way, as they elevate some other consideration above the prestige-and-dominance game: see the current use of trans activism and the war on biology-affirming feminists.)

The power and status implied in citizen-as-voter gets in the way of this sought social dominance. So the vote becomes hemmed in by judicial power, by an expanding administrative state, by supranational authorities. All increasingly run by people like them, according to their attitudes and serving their social dominance. The Brahmin progressives are, therefore, overwhelming pro-EU because it is such an excellent vehicle for all that. (The old working class Left was always much less keen, as is still true of their remnants.)

The vicious and continuing attacks on the 52% of voters participating in the UK’s 2016 referendum who voted Leave is all about Brahmin progressivism–what UK writer Ben Cobley called the system of diversity in his very useful book The Tribe: The Liberal-Left and the System of Diversity–seeking to re-establish their control over the public discourse and keep the UK tied to supranationalism, hemming in the power of voting and the status of citizenship. No revolts are allowed. Especially not revolts that celebrate and elevate citizenship. 

Considering citizenship in terms of the history of its role and functions is the only way to understand the implications of undermining or eliminating it. That way, any trade-offs with various moral principles can be understood in context. If, however, one simply ignores the purpose, and consequent structure, of citizenship then those trade-off considerations are eliminated, so any infringement of some declared moral principle becomes a simple infringement of morality or consistency, and so illegitimate. It becomes easy to make “knock down” criticisms of citizenship (as is done, for example, here [pdf]).

But, of course, for Brahmin progressivism, it is precisely those purpose and functions which are the problems. Even more, that their moral lessers (those xenophobic, race-cursed, heteronormative, insufficiently educated modern humiliores) become people who politics should be about and the state should be in service of. For, whatever else Brahmin progressivism, or diversity progressivism is, it is urgently concerned with elevating the status of the Brahmin progressives, with boosting their sense of moral prestige against, and their social dominance over their fellow citizens.

That term

The attempt to control the public space by controlling what is deemed legitimate to discuss, and how it is deemed legitimate to discuss it, brings us to that fraught term political correctness. In particular the two uses that essayist William Deresiewicz discusses in his essay, “On Political Correctness: Power, class, and the new campus religion”.

There is political correctness-as-verbal-civility:

the expectation of adherence to the norms of basic decency, like refraining from derogatory epithets.

This is the cover usage, the one that those who wish to dismiss any concern over political correctness invoke. What Deresiewicz is concerned with is:

the persistent attempt to suppress the expression of unwelcome beliefs and ideas.

The longstanding campaign to undermine any use of the term political correctness is all about hiding that attempt to suppress behind a fog of morality. Though, more recently, with the term free speech itself becoming an object of criticism, of diminution, held to be a block to progressivism, even treated with punitive derision, there is rather less hiding, and even more puffed up moralising.

Deresiewicz is well aware of, and invokes, the history of the term political correctness:

The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

People suddenly finding they are catastrophically on the wrong side of a norm that they did not know existed, or did not know would be applied in that way, has become almost commonplace. The world of Young Adult fiction has recently provided several examples, but they are just instances of a much wider trend.

Cultural Stalinism

Brahmin, or diversity, progressivism, can be reasonably described as operating as cultural Stalinism. Not because it is inherently Marxist, though there are certainly some Marxist antecedents. The term cultural Marxism is way over used, given that most folk involved are not Marxists, are not aware of how much of the ideas they are using or actively or passively endorsing have Marxist origins and that genuine Marxists are often quite hostile to contemporary diversity politics. Not surprising, as actual Marxists are Enlightenment universalists, and identity politics/diversity progressivism’s creation of a series of sanctified, versus various tainted or demonised, identities based on what are often innate characteristics involves a clear rejection of Enlightenment universalism.

The point is not that Stalinism was a manifestation of Marxism, but that it was a strategy of political action and dominance. In particular, it was the attempt to apply Leninthink to operating in liberal democratic societies. Consider the characteristics that Brahmin/diversity progressivism and Stalinism have in common.

(1) Endorsing and using the concept hate speech. As noted above, it is a Stalinist concept used to arrogate to Brahmin progressives the right to decide who can speak, how and about what.

(2) Use of the terms fascist and nazi as a standard term of rhetorical abuse. Fascism was an early C20th ideology characterised by expect rejection of democracy, belief in the purifying effect of violence, extolling of military virtues and organisation that sought to attain and impose complete national unity of purpose. With a few exceptions, such as the Golden Dawn in Greece, fascism is nothing but a reviled fringe in Western politics. Which is why movements that have fascist antecedents have had to work to shed them. (Even the Golden Dawn denies being fascist, though it fairly clearly is.)

The use of fascist and nazi as standardised terms of rhetorical abuse against people who simply are not fascists, or versions of fascists, shrieks of the ambition to control public discourse, to determine who is, and who is not, a legitimate participant in the public space. It is also a classic characteristic of Stalinism (for, of course, the same reason).

(3) Internationalist. The denigration of ethno-cultural identities, the contempt for nationalism, the sense of belonging to a transnational elite practising transnational politics, is bog-standard Brahmin/diversity progressivism, hence the use of the term globalist by opponents. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(4) Know, and are working with, the proper direction of history. An obvious feature of Brahmin/diversity progressivism; all that talk of where the arc of history bends and being on the right side of history and how their opponents are against modernity. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(5) Dogmatic. The Brahmin/diversity progressives are a highly opinion conformist group. The dogmas may keep shifting, but that Brahmin/diversity progressivism is dogmatic, at times viciously so, is an obvious feature of it. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism, including there being precipitous shifts in dogma.

(6) Unlimited in social ambit. There is no part of one’s life that the strictures of Brahmin/diversity progressivism do not reach, because they want to impose their norms and taboos on all language everywhere. There is no such thing as exempt private speech or exempt social action. Again, a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(7) Unlimited in action. Any level of destruction of people’s lives–sacking, destroying their business, career, livelihood–will be engaged in. Maximising reputational risk is a great way to enforce conformity. 

The major existing limit at the moment is actual violence, except that Antifa is breaking down that limit. But, again, this is replicating Stalinism in the West, which also had limitations on its ability to use violence. Except that Brahmin/diversity progressivism has penetrated Western institutions far more thoroughly than Stalinism ever did, so can range much more widely in the destruction of people’s careers, reputations, public standing …

(8) The inconvenience of principled believers. Even the split with serious Marxists replicates Stalinism, because as Gary Saul Morson points out in his Leninthink essay, serious believers in Marxist ideology were targeted under Stalinism, as they might hold the leadership to account according to Marxist principles. Contemporary Marxists who think that concern for the working class is a bedrock of being on the Left are definitely not what is wanted within Brahmin progressivism. Sneering at, and lauding over, the citizen working class is so much of the point of Brahmin progressivism, whose politics reek of contempt for their fellow citizens. Which is epitomised by stripping of them of status of citizens, and giving them no status markers that sets them over the romanticised newcomers, newcomers treated as economic saviours with lots of desirable traits (e.g. initiative) and no taint of the oh-so-awful Western past.

A salient example of this “true believers not wanted” phenomena is the anathematising of biology-affirming feminists such as Germaine Greer and various radical feminists (the infamous TERFs). The whole trans madness being Brahmin progressivism displaying its social dominance. It both selects for reliability (who breaks ranks?) and expresses dominance (how much can we force people to acquiesce in things they do not believe?).

There is so much overlap between Stalinism in the West and Brahmin/diversity progressivism (far more than there is between fascism and almost anyone currently being accused of it) that Brahmin/diversity progressives are clearly practising what can be reasonably described as cultural Stalinism.

Nor is this overlap surprising. Both Brahmin/diversity progressivism and Stalinism are about a human capital elite striving for social dominance in mass communications and mass politics societies. It is hardly surprising that the new wave of such would adopt the most apposite available strategy they can pick up. Even more so, as similar aims and constraints lead to similar selection pressures.

The convergences between Stalinism and Brahmin/diversity progressivism really are no accident. A process of both adoption of available strategies and of convergent evolution is in play.

Divide and rule

The level of institutional penetration is such that we can reasonably talk of a diversity imperium, and any imperium knows the importance of divide-and-rule. Which brings us to multiculturalism. Or, as political scientist Eric Kaufman nicely expresses it, asymmetric multiculturalism, which elevates (and, indeed, romanticises) the cultures of newcomers while ignoring or denigrating the culture of the heritage citizens. Thus, a Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or Hindu festival is “multicultural”. A Christian event is not. One cannot say that London is no longer an English city, because there is no English identity except living in England.

In his excellent The Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart makes the observation concerning multiculturalism that:

But by cordoning off minorities in their own districts with their own leaders and social centres and often making their progress dependent on white advocacy, white liberals were merely continuing the colonial heritage with a smiley face pasted on. (P.167)

Indeed. Citing Goodhart’s previous book, The British Dream, Ben Cobley, in The Tribe, notes that:

The figure of the colonial administrator, presiding over, accepting representations from and giving favours to various different groups under his purview, has a lot in common with contemporary administration of multiculturalism and diversity. For a start it is an elite role; it oversees and directs its politics through group or tribal leaders, giving them access to higher power. It also stands apart, not interfering with the representatives’ relationships to their group members, thereby outsourcing power over what is good and bad within those groups and conferring political power on to the representatives it favours. As the first waves of mass immigration came in from former Empire countries, colonial-style multiculturalism effectively allowed Britain’s governing elites to pick up where they had left off in the Empire—slipping into old ways that were familiar to both administrators and many of the immigrants themselves. Goodhart says that ‘in the 1960s this translated easily into the cosmopolitan manners of a new liberal elite too—allegiance was now to tolerance and openness instead of the monarch, to England’s “genius” for multiculturalism.’ He adds: ‘The core members of this new elite, according to [the sociologist] Geoff Dench, were “policy-makers and the public servants responsible for carrying out social policy but it extends widely into the educational establishment and liberal professions… and their role is to stand impartially above and integrate different elements of the population.” This is what both imperial and multicultural elites do. (Loc 1087.)

Quite so. Imperial systems are naturally multicultural: it maximises the number of their subjects while dividing them from each other. One certainly can’t have some strong notion of citizenship bringing them together.

Importing people of a different cultural background to improve the local economy was a standard device of colonialism. Academics have had no trouble identifying it as a divide-and-rule technique. Except, of course, when it is people like them doing so to serve an imperial cause they support.

Resentment and condescension 

It is not as if the general public, the general citizenry, have not noticed. When asked in polls, huge numbers define pc as a problem. Across all ages and races. Of course they do, attacking their ability to express themselves about matters social and political assaults the bedrock of their citizenship quite directly. 

Citizenship defends the status of the somewheres (those rooted in a sense of place and community) against the endless vote-trumping social imperialism of the Brahmin progressives, acting as the vanguard of the anywheres (those not so rooted). Citizenship, and its implications, gets in the way of the mobility and status claims of the anywheres. 

And they are typically mightily offended by any notion of serving their moral lessers. In his The Road To Somewhere, David Goodhart cites some revealing conversations:

The first conversation took place at an Oxford college dinner in Spring 2011. When I said to my neighbour—Gus O’Donnell, then in his last few months as Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant in the land—that I was writing a book about immigration, he replied, ‘When I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration … I think it’s my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’ I was surprised to hear this from the head of such a national institution and asked the man sitting next to the civil servant, Mark Thompson—then Director-General of the BBC—whether he believed global welfare should be put before national welfare, if the two should conflict. He defended O’Donnell and said he too believed global welfare was paramount. (Pp14-15)

The global welfare they see themselves as serving being what looks like global welfare to people like them. Which, strangely, will tend to reflect the perspectives of people like them. Global welfare is grand enough for such moral paragons, while serving their fellow British citizens is clearly not. Even better, taking such a lofty view also releases them from any constraints the concerns or actions of said citizens involve that they deem incompatible with said global welfare.

In their combination of moral arrogance and feckless irresponsibility, the above-quoted sentiments are perfect Brahmin progressivism. The globe does not give feedback, but the voters do. But that feedback can always be ignored in the name of the greater global good. They are both morally ennobled, and freed from burdensome responsibility, all at once.

Brahmin/diversity progressives just know the direction of history. They own morality. They collectively possess the power to punish any public dissent. Even what the migrants, those romanticised outsiders they are so solicitous of, might want does not matter. Just ask Israel Folau. So, there is “nothing to see here” when it comes to migrant attitudes and outlooks. Besides, those migrants can be expected to (mostly) vote the correct way.

The Brahmin/diversity progressives replacement for citizenship, for voting that matters, for the social bargaining that is the very stuff of democratic politics, is their own moral dominion; their right to decide what people are permitted to say and what concerns they are permitted to express and how. So, it does not matter how socially conservative the romanticised newcomers are or may be, the Brahmin diversity dominion, the diversity moral imperium, will control all.

No matter how many newcomers turn up. Even if one has created a massive extra incentive to just turn up:  as if enough of you do, you get to dominate the political system. An effect that obviously depends on what level of filter there is for simply arriving: open borders says none at all, except the willingness and ability to travel.

As economist George Borjas says:

Our immigration policy—any immigration policy—is ultimately not just a statement about how much we care about immigrants, but how much we care about one particular group of natives over another.

Yes, and the statement is being made loud and clear.

Devaluing their inferiors

It is entirely appropriate that the decision of the British Labour Party to hand out the right to vote as a reward for getting off the plane was matched by a commitment to open borders. Migration is a key element in the future direction of any society, and Brahmin progressivism has been fighting a long battle to remove migration from the ambit of social bargaining. An open and complete commitment to open borders (any opposition to which is, of course, “racist” and “xenophobic”) just cements that removal.

After all, our new Brahmins are far too morally lofty to be dictated to by mere shudras. Citizenship implies that politics is about serving their moral inferiors. Clearly, it has to go. And for it to go is clearly the plan. The British Labour Party conference has told us so.

Handing out the vote merely because you have arrived while putting no barriers to arrival does not represent the peak of democracy, it represents the trumping of it. It does not represent the apotheosis of broad social bargaining, but its effective elimination, its reduction to whatever minimal ritual form suits Brahmin/diversity progressives. The British Labour Party wants to bury citizenship, to empty it of status and content, and in so doing bury any chance of the citizen working class having a serious say in its future. 

Whatever that is, it doesn’t look very Left. Not in any sense that Keir Hardie, the first Labour Leader, and those who built the Labour movement, might recognise. 


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

The urban rural divide in the US and other complexities of polarisation

By Lorenzo

Former libertarian, now progressive, Will Wilkinson has a report up on the rural urban divide in US politics (pdf), connecting the concentration of economic production in a service economy in megacities, sorting by migration and internal movement, and cognitive patterns (particularly pertaining to Openness to Experience and, to a lesser degree, Conscientiousness) to the drift in the US to being a collection of one-Party jurisdictions largely sorted by population density.

Econblogger Arnold Kling raises some reasonable quibbles about Wilkinson’s analysis referring to Colin Woodard’s American Nations analysis and the divide between college-educated women and non-college educated men. Kling also makes a powerful point about cultural dynamics:

But I would point out that the government office buildings in our nation’s capital house technocrats who almost all share an urban progressive outlook. Inside those agencies, the urban majority is closer to tyranny than to impotence.

Indeed, as discussed below, Wilkinson gets a key aspect of the cultural dynamics of political polarisation in the US quite wrong.

Regarding “race”

Wilkinson examines issues of “racial” resentment and “racial” polarisation. As ever in US matters, the question of whether we are looking at “race” cues or ethnic cues is one that is mostly ignored. Yet, Woodard’s analysis in particular suggests that cultural cues and differences are central to regional political patterns in the US. Writer John Wood Jnr provides a powerful personal illustration of the importance of cultural cues.

As I have explained in a recent post and elsewhere, I am very much against using “race” as an analytical frame. It is, at best, a clumsy and inaccurate framing for cultural patterns. It is particularly misleading if we want to understand why violence (and particularly) homicide is so much higher in African-American urban (but not rural) communities than is the US norm. That disparity in rates of violence in urban communities is a factor in “racial resentment” that is, as is very common (particularly among progressives), completely ignored in Wilkinson’s analysis.

Something that is also ignored by Wilkinson in his paean to how diverse and productive the megacities are is how badly run a lot of them are, a point noted in the comments to Kling’s post. Many of them are standing examples of the problems of political monopolies, of one-Party dominance. Though, to Wilkinson’s credit, he understands the dynamic nature of an entrenched two-Party system, and how demographic change is likely to force the Republican Party to seek a broader electoral coalition.

Indeed, his report actually points to possibilities for such a broader coalition that would turn a lot of US political analysis on its head. In his report Wilkinson makes the following observations:

Rising housing costs in urban cores have shifted the black population (and other less wealthy city dwellers) away from dense city centers toward the suburbs. (p.27)

This means, for example, that black Americans are just as likely to be low in Openness, and to be temperamentally socially conservative, as white Americans. (p.38)

At this point, it won’t come as a shock to hear that ethnocentrism and racial resentment both strongly predict negative attitudes toward immigration. Kinder and Kam find that, among whites and blacks, a high level of ethnocentrism strongly predicts support for reducing the rate of immigration, and it does so more strongly than other variables, such as a high level of “moral traditionalism” or a low level of “egalitarianism.” (p.52)

If the Republicans want to explore wider coalitions, conservative African-Americans in (badly run, high crime) northern cities could be unexpectedly fertile ground. One that could turn them, if they could pull it off, into the natural majority Party in US politics.

There is already some structural basis for such an alliance–the biggest single element in the congressional gerrymandering that Democrats like to complain about is drawing boundaries so as to maximise the number of majority African-American congressional districts. And, as Wilkinson’s analysis notes at various points, African-Americans have a lot of similarities with the Republicans Euro-American rural base.

Cultural polarisation

But it is the institutional structure of the cultural dynamics of political polarisation where Wilkinson’s analysis is most lacking. He accepts as a basis for his analysis that the Republicans are more ideologically consistent and further from the centre than the Democrats. Based on the notion developed by political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins that the Republicans represent ideological politics and the Democrats interest group politics.

First, Pew Research polling data shows that the presumption of Republicans being further from the centre with greater ideological narrowness compared to the Democrats is simply no longer true. The Democrats are now the ideologically more concentrated and further from the political centre Party. Indeed, they are now more so than the Republicans ever were.  All that highly educated productive megacity ethnic diversity does not seem to be having the broadening effect that Wilkinson presumes.

Second, by only looking at Party polarisation, Wilkinson misses a much more important underlying dynamic, one that Kling alluded to in his comment about the internal views of the administrative state.

If one looks an industry and occupational political patterns, as revealed by political donations, then it is clear that four key industries are much more intensely and narrowly progressive than any such group is conservative. The four key “cultural production” industries (media, entertainment, IT, academe) form a highly ideologically conformist grouping.

Source: Crowdpac analysis, 2014.

A rather more nuanced way of looking at the dynamics of polarisation in the US, is that these industries became thoroughly progressive-dominated. This had an alienating effect on conservative Americans, particularly in the rural “heartland” and gave an “in” to Fox News to cater to what had become a large, neglected, sector of the media market and then, as access capacities expanded, to Breibart and other operations.

The shift in concerns among their voter base, along with the sorting effects Wilkinson identifies, helped push the Republicans in a more consistently conservative direction. The perspectives of these culturally-central progressive-dominated industries then came to increasingly dominate the Democrats, a shift that the Pew reports show was underway well before the election of The Donald in November 2016, though that result does seem to have had an intensifying effect (pdf).

This is part of the wider pattern, identified by French political economist Thomas Piketty, of the profound change in democratic politics in the US, UK and France whereby centre-left politics has become increasingly dominated by a new form of elite politics (pdf), the politics of the highly educated (what Piketty calls the Brahmin Left). A centre-left Parties effectively abandon working class voters (and particularly regional working class voters) they either increasingly don’t vote (pdf) or become “up for grabs” by a Trump, a Brexit, a Le Pen or whatever.

So, progressive elites take over key “cultural” industries, this causes a reaction among more conservative Americans, affecting the Republicans. Partly as a result of that shift, but more because of the spreading domination of the progressive-educated elite, the Democrat Party has now shifted considerably more to the left than the Republicans did to the right. As the late Andrew Breibart used to say, politics is downstream from culture.

This pattern, of conservatives being more diverse in outlook than progressives, even shows up in the US Supreme Court, as in this mapping of the judicial ideology of the current Justices. The recent Hidden Tribes report found that those it identified as the Progressive Activists were the highest income, most educated and most opinion-conformist group among the identified US political groupings.

So left-of-centre politics has not only become elite-dominated, but dominated by a high income, high conformity elite whose most direct path to social power, given their dominance of education, academe, most of the media and IT, is the anathematisation of alternative opinion. Hence “political correctness” getting ever more draconian in its restrictiveness and its public mobbing of dissent.

It is also true that the two Parties have become more coherent and “national”, so more distinct. A process largely kicked off by Newt Gingrich and his successful in 1994 insurgency against Democrat dominance of Congressional politics. While that has affected political polarisation, it is at best a minor factor in the wider socio-political polarisation. It made US party politics more “normal democratic”. It is cultural politics which has driven the wider and more intense political polarisation.

Not that one can leave Republican Party politicians completely off the hook. Having a voter base that was increasingly culturally uncomfortable, even feeling somewhat beleaguered, but still supporting key aspects of the welfare state, was somewhat awkward place to be for an allegedly small-government Party, most of whose key figures had significant congruences in views on migration and similar matters with the Democrat elite. It was particularly awkward if one was prone to small government rhetoric that one did not actually mean and fighting cultural politics that one does not entirely share. The common response was to ramp up the rhetoric to cover the lack of effective action or a functionally coherent political direction. Certainly nothing that was likely to be useful in addressing the economic stagnation and cultural despair within the Heartland that voted for them.

Migration and leaving the provinces to rot

Not that they are alone in this. Wilkinson is so busy characterising low population density Heartland US as economically stagnant and politically retrograde that it is easy to not notice that he has no solutions to the problems of the Heartland except to make sure political structures do not give them “too much” of a say. In other words: they are demographically declining, culturally reactionary and economically stagnant, so the really important thing is to make sure the other bits of the US get to have the dominant say.

Which is the flip side of the concentration of population and economic production in urban megacities. The combination of mass migration, regional sorting and voluntary voting means that the commercial, bureaucratic and cultural elites can leave the provinces to rot. And they do. (And then get very angry when the provinces push back.)

These patterns are very much alive and well in Britain and the Brexit vote and in France and the “yellow vest” protests. Indeed, the most extreme manifestation of leaving the provinces to rot was the grotesque and systematic failure of British elites to do anything about, or even notice, years of predatory rape and enforced prostitution gangs preying on thousands of underage girls. Though the rise of man made “deaths of despair” (pdf) in the US Heartland is an even larger scale problem. In all three countries, their actual migration policies tend to increase the scarcity premium for capital and reduce it for labour.

As for hostile neglect, it is, for example, now pretty standard urban-coastal politics in the US to attempt to block major infrastructure investment in the Heartland. Such as pushing back against fracking and seeking to block pipelines.

It is also pretty standard urban-coastal politics to weaken marriage and undermine fatherhood, further weakening social capital among vulnerable groups (notably African-Americans and now Heartland US). As unmarried and divorced women (pdf) are very solid Democrat voters, less marriage and pathologising fatherhood electorally works for them. (Divorced women have been a key element in the voting gender gap in the UK [pdf] as well.) In some cases it is done quite intentionally. The more powerful factor is that is the direction the electoral mathematics selects for and so pushes them in. The creation of state bureaucracies with incentives to pathologise fatherhood is part of this. (“Deadbeat Dads” are mostly a myth, but provide an excellent stick for middle class bureaucracies to make a living imposing utterly unreasonable levels of child support payments on lower class males.) Conversely, Euro-American women who have kids and stay married have a strong tendency to vote Republican/conservative.

If commercial elites were forced to rely much more on Heartland labour, rather than just importing labour from elsewhere, one suspects that there might be rather more attention being paid to their skills and prospects and social stagnation. As it is, the urban-coastal push is to deny the Heartland any say in migration at all, thus speeding along their marginalisation.

The decline in geographical mobility within the US is surely partly driven by the rising shelter costs in the migrant-receiving megacities. Since the benefits of migration overwhelming got to holders of (various forms) of capital plus the migrants themselves, the migrants are typically willing to put up with less living space in said cities than many the bulk of the citizenry are, because they are still much better off. Conversely, having to pay much more for much less shelter is a major deterrent to movement from regional centres to the megacities. In a real sense, geographical mobility within the US is falling precisely because global mobility to the US has been as high as it is.

The economic literature generally indicates a net positive effect to resident workers from migration, but not a very high net positive effect. Add in rising shelter costs and it likely a different story. (And not examining the effect of migration on shelter is a serious analytical failure, given that there is, as Lyman Stone points out here, a considerable economic literature of restricting the supply of land for housing imposing major economic costs and having lots of housing market entrants being non-citizens makes it much easier to restrictively regulate land use.) Add in the regional distribution of benefits, and it is almost certainly a different story. As it is, the economic literature on the (highly uneven) benefits to migration becomes yet another grounds to justify marginalising the provinces, and particularly regional workers.

As an aside, these patterns apply far less in Australia, because Australia was already highly urbanised when postwar mass migration began and has compulsory preferential voting. Compulsory voting means there is no gain in driving people away from the polls and preferential voting means Parties of government have to aim for 50% +1 of each electorate they need to win. So policies have to broader in their appeal and you cannot import solid-vote-for-you groups to compensate for alienating voters who simply disengage from voting.

Not us guv’

One of the key patterns of the institutionally culturally-dominant progressive elite is that nothing is ever their fault; they are never in the wrong, they are purely morally motivated and so problems and difficulties are always someone else’s fault and would go away if everyone just agreed with them. (Even though what constitutes agreeing with them continually shifts precisely so they can “ahead” of the moral curve.) Of course, every system of moral bullying and dominance in human history has claimed to be defending moral decency. But if one takes a step back, the cultural and social dynamics become rather clearer.

The progressive elite regard migration as their great success issue, the firm demonstration of their moral and intellectual superiority. But it is also a weapon for cultural and political dominance that makes it so much easier to leave the provinces to rot and then get self-righteously superior when the provinces bite back.


[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]