Open Thread, 2/4/2018

One of the things that reading Land of Promise has prompted in me is the need to read Matt Stoller’s book, when it comes out. Land of Liberty in many ways was a historical foil of Stoller’s article, How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul.

And yet both exhibit an intellectual honesty which I generally find lacking in the modern pundit class, agree or disagree.

Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, is now being published a few weeks earlier. Apparently this now one of Bill Gates’ favorite books.

I’m a big fan of Steven Pinker. But I’ve become much more pessimistic than him over the past few years. Here’s hoping that Enlightenment Now turns that around.

DNA Geeks has a total site redesign! Check it out.

I haven’t been saying this on the podcast yet, but you should be subscribing to it on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play, and review and rate it. Spencer and I have a certain audience already, and we’d like to expand it.

This has probably always been so, but I’m really getting tired by the emergence of different verbal ticks in various socio-political subcultures. For example, when liberals say “my dude” -“bros”, it’s dismissal-by-identity. Both NRx, and what is now called the Altright, also have their own subculture languages, which makes understanding what they’re trying to say hard for outsiders. A feature or a bug?

Taking a Twitter break for a week.

22 thoughts on “Open Thread, 2/4/2018

  1. For example, when liberals say “my dude” -“bros”, it’s dismissal-by-identity.

    It’s definitely a feature for folks like this, whether or not they’re intending it. The history of this stuff runs deep, if we lump in stuff like aristocrats cultivating behaviors and education to allow them to more easily distinguish themselves from non-aristocrats in their dealings (and detect “impostors”).

    I definitely could live my life with extra pleasure if I never heard or read the word “dude” again. I think I may have even muted any Twitter posts with “dude” in it indefinitely.

    Since it’s an open thread, I’ll mention that I watched that Altered Carbon TV series on Netflix the other day. I enjoyed it, although there’s a “same-iness” to cyberpunk/dark SF future settings that I’m not fond of. NIMBYism does not appear to be a thing in any of these societies, and for some reason they all have city-scapes with heavily smoggy air even though the sources of urban air pollution – burning fuel for warmth and energy, fossil fuels from cars, etc – have long been replaced.

  2. Both NRx, and what is now called the Altright, also have their own subculture languages, which makes understanding what they’re trying to say hard for outsiders.

    In light of this and since time is scarce, why devote any time or energy to even trying to understand what they are saying? If people have their own dialect and are not trying to engage with you, you must believe or at least suspect ahead of time that they have something to say that is worth understanding. What is that for either of these groups?

    Re: Dividing the Spoils – By the time I was more than half way through this book, I concluded that in this case at least, “History was just one damned thing after another.” 25-30 years (I don’t recall at the moment exactly how long it took for things to settle down) before enough of Alexander’s close comrades-in-arms had died for things to stabilize. The book could have been much shorter – no need for all these details of battles, conniving or betrayals. The message was that each of these men was individually ambitious to the point of thinking honor was synonymous with successfully attained ambition. Honor certainly did not extend either to keeping one’s word or to loyalty to others when that would conflict with ambition. Finally, whenever 2 of these men went down, another popped up to replace him, extending the period of political and commercial derangement. After the point of this realization, I skimmed the rest of the book to see if there was anything more of interest: I didn’t find anything.

  3. I just saw that The Atlantic is eliminating their comments sections below articles. They will return to a “letters to the editor” format.

    I used to comment there occasionally. There definitely was a lot of garbage, but there could also be good discussions and questions/concerns about the article. Sometimes the author of the piece would even participate, e.g. Ta-nehisi Coates, Noah Berlatsky. I suppose it’s easier and maybe cheaper for companies to outsource their commenting to social media like Twitter and Facebook.

  4. Near the beginning of Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, Dierdre McCloskey traces the change in the meaning of the word honor, from victory in battle and noble blood to “keeping one’s word” and suchlike bourgeois virtues. She thinks it was one of the preconditions for the Industrial Revolution.

  5. forgot to mention this

    quasi-communist max blumenthal on bhtv https://bloggingheads.tv/videos/50560

    some thoughts

    1) he’d send me to a gulag or re-education camp for sure…but.

    2) he’s right about how important connections/social relationships are in elite media, and now they can minimize ideological differences and suppress alternative views (and protect people). not sure if this is bad or good (blumenthal thinks bad), but it’s pretty clearly true descriptively.

    3) probably a little too russo-philic for my taste. but he’s right that our posturing against russia is ridic and dangerous and we probably need to accept that it will have some semi-great power status. also, we fucked russia in the 1990s big time and have never really owned that. i’d be pissed and suspicious if i were russia too.

    4) the american media landscape does have a different standard for israel. that being said, critics of israel also have a different standard for israel.

  6. @Odoacer
    “I just saw that The Atlantic is eliminating their comments sections below articles. They will return to a “letters to the editor” format.

    Most of their pundits hated the fact that right below their article people were pointing out errors and faulty logic in their arguments. It had to gall them to see their claims destroyed just three comments in.

  7. Most of their pundits hated the fact that right below their article people were pointing out errors and faulty logic in their arguments. It had to gall them to see their claims destroyed just three comments in.

    the ratio of lejit criticism to random trolling skews to the latter over time unless you have aggressive mod. and that is $ in terms of labor-time. so this probably makes sense since a lot of trolls won’t bother with ‘letter to the editor’ emails (though some always will).

  8. In light of this and since time is scarce, why devote any time or energy to even trying to understand what they are saying? If people have their own dialect and are not trying to engage with you, you must believe or at least suspect ahead of time that they have something to say that is worth understanding. What is that for either of these groups?

    don’t know if you are on twitter, but ppl tweet at you all the time (or show up on your timeline). so language-parsing is essential. the use of the phrase form “x-bros” on some parts of the left, usually economically centrist but culturally identity politics, is so common that it is useful to know it’s probably slur.

    also, it should be pretty clear that i respect/appreciate NRx critique of populist democracy a lot more than i did a few years ago.

  9. e.g. the term “bernie-bros” was a rhetorical play that had a lot of elite collusion. it was grounded in optics as opposed to substance and was nakedly a political ploy to slime. since it sort of worked it has kept going.

  10. A nice companion to Pinker’s Enlightenment Now is Derb’s We Are Doomed: https://goo.gl/BWYMJ1

    Pinker walks a fine line because he has to. On Climate Change for instance: would be too much to argue that more CO2 in the atmosphere might actually be a good thing (more food, bigger temperate zone).

  11. economic immiseration aside, the era of american hyperpower was one where we took the short-term advantage of russian weakness. perhaps being honorable wouldn’t have benefited us in the long-term, but we’ll never know. it shouldn’t be surprising that russia feels no unity of interests with the USA except raw self-interest now.

  12. I’m a big fan of Steven Pinker. But I’ve become much more pessimistic than him over the past few years.”

    One thing I would like to learn more about is the reasons behind your pessimism. You have posted quite a bit about the fact that you are doubtful liberal society, in the broad sense, will endure, but as of yet you haven’t explained why you believe this time is different from other times that freedoms have been in peril. How are people today going to be less able to secure their rights than during the Cold War, World War I, various witch hunts and moral panics, etc.? What did our predecessors have that we don’t?

  13. The axolotl was recently sequence:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/science/axolotl-genes-limbs.html?smid=tw-nytimesscience&smtyp=cur

    Paper link:

    https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25458

    32 billion basepairs! I think it’s the largest genome ever completely sequenced to date. It’s also a pretty cool model organism. Axolotls have a tremendous regeneration ability; they can regrow complete limbs, and even parts of their brain. Though IIRC, it’s not clear if the regeneration is due to dedifferentiation of adult cells, or stem cell recruitment.

    Being able to understand these mechanisms could have an impact on human regeneration. The paper even looks at a paralogue of Pax7, an important gene in development and adult muscle stem cells in humans and mice.

    Some other tidbits about them: Alexander von Humboldt noted that they were eaten up to the 19th century in Mexico and actually brought some to Europe.

    A short video about them is here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo50ctoOTWs

  14. “You can read a major part of the story here. Shorter takes can be found in this list.”

    Some Americans gave them bad advice. That may be so. But, the Russians only heard the advice that they wanted to hear. Ultimately, the Russians did what they wanted to do. That it is corrupt and violent is neither surprising, nor do I think the US has any responsibility for it.

    “we took the short-term advantage of Russian weakness.”

    I have no idea of what you mean. I do not know that the US did much for or to Russia at that time other than trying to corral loose nuclear materials. If you are referring to the expansion of NATO, I will dissent. The peoples of Eastern Europe were and are anxious to keep Russia at bay. Their memories of the last 70 years are bitter. NATO has lots of problems, and may not be viable in its current configuration, but cabining Russia is not a bad thing. Even though, I am not sure that the American people are willing to bear the cost of maintaining Estonian independence. Nor, do I claim that the game is worth the candle.

    “perhaps being honorable wouldn’t have benefited us in the long-term, but we’ll never know.”

    I don’t think the US has been dishonorable. It was not the US that invaded Georgia or Ukraine.

    “it shouldn’t be surprising that Russia feels no unity of interests with the USA except raw self-interest now.”

    No state ever feels anything other than raw self-interest. Americans always want to be loved by foreign states, and are hurt that they aren’t. They need to learn the truth as taught by B.B. King: “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving me too,” and Machiavelli: It is better to be feared than to be loved.

    Russia is what Russia has always been. The Soviet Union was but another reincarnation of Russian autocracy and imperialism. Putin has opened another era of the same old thing. America needs to react to it with careful attention to its own interests. But, love has nothing to do with it.

  15. “but I’m really getting tired by the emergence of different verbal ticks in various socio-political subcultures.”

    It is hard to keep up with. I’ve been thinking a lot about how people are very social animals and we display it through body language, signaling via consumption-clothes, music etc, using certain slang etc. Basically, displaying our tribal allegiances and/or personality. But the internet makes it really hard to display these things unless we’re playing an MMORPG and we have an avatar. (There’s some anime that explore this concept of the internet/social media converging on an avatar model for example Summer Wars.)

    Anyway while the online world offers some display of personality for example the twitter photo and background pic + short bio. It’s such a limited context that it’s hard to group people based on that info most of the time unless they explicitly state their grouping. The ability for people to remain anonymous is one of the best and worst parts of the internet. This was a long winded way of saying I think most of the jargon is people trying their damnedest to form a coherent/stable in-out group. It costs time to learn the slang which means you’re most likely an insider and not a troll looking to shit post. There’s not a lot of tools to signal you’re “one of the good guys”. Relatedly has there been an internet etiquette book written yet? Seems like low hanging fruit and super trollable.

  16. .How are people today going to be less able to secure their rights than during the Cold War, World War I, various witch hunts and moral panics, etc.? What did our predecessors have that we don’t?

    economic growth/prosperity for the masses.

    also, after 19th-century nationalism and the shattering of the first age of globalization with ww2 oligarchic elites were invested in their nations of residence/birth. that was their virtue.

    there’s no view of developed societies for the bottom 95-50% (pick your position) to get wealthier in the near future. and global elite are decoupling from the nation-state.

    i don’t think liberal democracy works well without nation-states.

    the ‘best case’ scenario from the perspective of liberal democrats is something like austria-hungary.

  17. “But I’m really getting tired by the emergence of different verbal ticks in various socio-political subcultures…”

    Very slightly OT, but I think it’s interesting the way that subcultures are becoming mediated by online virtual communities and not things readily observable to the naked eye. Fashion has stagnated for instance – everything now is a slight mix-n-match of the last few decades. So that’s not really a clue. Music too has ceased to become a huge marker of distinction for high school cliques. Instead it’s YouTube comedians and fans of certain YA novels, who chatter on the internet.

    To get an idea of which clique a young person identifies with, you’d have to look over their shoulder while they’re on their phone. You won’t discover it watching them loiter at the mall.

  18. Listened to most of that BH chat with Blumenthal. Fascinating. He balks at the notion of horseshoe theory even as Wright aptly points out that Blumenthal’s geo-politics overlaps heavily with the “isolationist” right (read: Bannonism).

  19. Raz in: it’s hard to ask this question, but do you think elites would be more willing to invest in their own people again if they were open to some forms of eugenics?

    I mean, I think some of the exhaustion with the masses of the developed world comes from elites’ belief that they’ve helped them as much as is politically feasible (the right thinks they don’t need any more help, and the left sees no way of getting social reforms past rightist opposition).

    But if elites became more willing to admit there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit on the genetic level, maybe they’d be willing to do more. One of the problems is that they can’t get over the Nazis and into the twenty-first century. If one thing has become obvious about Trump/SJWs/alt-right etc., it’s that they’re incapable of coming up with new ideas. What do you think?

  20. George Church is getting in on blockchain.

    His new startup Nebula Genomics plans to sequence your genome for less than $1,000 (the current going rate of whole genome sequencing) and then add your data to the blockchain through the purchase of a “Nebula Token.”

    The idea sounds outlandish, but Church and his colleagues laid out in a recently released white paper that this will put the genomic power in the hands of the consumer, as opposed to companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, which own your genomic data after you take that spit tube test.

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