164 Comments
May 23, 2022Liked by Jeff Maurer

I wonder whether the secularization of America has robbed the left of a critical mass of people like Jeff and me, who grew up in conservative religious households, and so have a learned distaste for hypocrisy and sanctimony.

The "In This House We Believe" yard signs generate in me the same queasy feeling I had about the "Heaven Bound" T-shirts my youth group wore to the annual Christian youth conference in Nashville.

(It's a somewhat different kind of queasy feeling than I the one I still get when I think about listening to Amy Grant and Stryper.)

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And the people who police the minutiae of culture for "problematic ideas" remind me of Tipper Gore playin a Twisted Sister record backwards looking for satanic verses.

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Agreed. I want to start taking my kids to church, not necessarily because they have to become religious but so that they grow up knowing what religion looks and feels like, and don’t get sucked up in religious fervor that is pretending not to be.

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Sounds like you and I had similar childhoods. I found John McWhorter's argument that it paralleled religion compelling.

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I might take the other side of that bet. If there were a representative dataset of who put up those "In This House We Believe" signs, I could imagine a positive correlation with having turned away from a conservative religious upbringing.

My (perhaps cynical) hunch is that people with a history of being raised in a cult (counting conservative Christianity as a cult) might be predisposed to future cult-y behavior, potentially including hypocrisy, sanctimony, and yard-sign sloganeering.

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I feel like it's hard to imagine someone who purposely walked away from dogmatic self-righteousness not recognizing it when it comes back around in a new outfit. If someone loves cults that much, why not stick with the one they started with? I think it's more people who were raised without a cult who are enjoying that culty warmth for the first time and not understanding they're scratching a religion itch. If there is any overlap, it would have to be from people whose separation from faith was not a thoughtful one in the first place, who fell away from religion out of peer pressure or simplistic atheist mockery of the "man in the sky."

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Well...y'ever meet someone who kept picking partners with the same flaw over and over? Why didn't they figure out the problem the first time, right?

I'm using the heuristic that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior; if my parents carved culty grooves in my brain, that might make me more susceptible to cultyness in future. (That could be wrong, of course. As is normal in social science, different observers can come up with diametrically opposed hypotheses, and data — probably hard-to-get data — would be necessary to rule out either hypothesis.)

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I think this is more likely. I ran away screaming and I'll never go back. That said, I have an avid spiritual life that is personal and that I proselytize to no one. I need a relationship with the Divine—but without the dogma and sanctimony.

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I would point to the clergy in Portland recognizing how crazy and counter productive things like barricading people in buildings and light them on fire were (when mainstream dems were trapped in a tent revival like furor that seemed capable of justifying nearly anything) as actual counter point to this.

They seemed to be able to separate the need For improved public safety from the dangerous and hypocritical behavior I was that non religious liberals, then captured by their own quasi religious state could not.

If the two groups (religious liberals and non religious liberals), it was the religious ones who seemed best able to objectively assess the morality of their actions.

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Agree completely. As a survivor of Catholic school in the 70s, I've always said that perhaps the most important thing I received from my (mostly) Catholic education was fear and hatred of organized religion. I went to a good Catholic high school for Freshman and Sophmore years of high school and once I transferred to a very well regarded public school I basically never again needed to pick up a book. The level of academic rigor fell right through the floor.

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I don't think anyone's "gettable" among secularized Americans. Secularization happens when people are able to their earthly needs met without religious institutions. In Europe, secularization occurred after the welfare state became a public concern. Once governments began providing things like health care and pensions, religious attendance started to fall but not disappear entirely.

In the U.S., which has relied on religious movements for its settlement mission, the welfare state never really took hold. Instead, a lot of the community-building aspects of religion have been replaced by other affinities, like service groups, universities, social and political movements ... with the internet providing all of those at scale. People are finding their personal needs outside of religious institutions.

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I think you are mixing couple of things together. Secularization in Europe started with Enlightenment movement, while welfare state came basically with industrial revolution and specifically with von Bismarck - so let's say 200 years later. Of course, there were charities and lots of community groups before (and not always based on church - guilds were taking care of their members for ages then) and they more or less prevailed till WW2. One would say that it was really the WW2 that created strong welfare state (not only in Europe)...

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May 23, 2022Liked by Jeff Maurer

I take a different perspective on the liberal/progressive divide. Namely, modern "progressivism" has never been "liberal" in the classical sense, and instead has its roots in the movement of the same name from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This movement supported some good things (women's suffrage, treatment of juveniles as different from adults) and some bad things (prohibition, WWI, eugenics). Here I recommend: Thomas C. Leonard. (2016). Illiberal reformers: Race, eugenics, and American economics in the Progressive era. Princeton University Press.

I think it is too narrow to say that progressivism's "defining trait" is "distributing resources towards the disadvantaged." (Admittedly, helping the poor has always been one of their goals for reshaping society, beginning with their understandable horror at deplorable urban conditions in the late 19th century.) Progressivism's defining feature is more like "directing society toward 'utopia' through social reform [engineering] guided by 'science'." In contrast to liberals, progressives thought "individual rights" often got in the way of this mission. (In 1913, Dean of Harvard Law School Roscoe Pound argued that the Bill of Rights “were not needed in their own day, [and] they are not desired in our own"; later, (Progressive) President Woodrow Wilson would refer to inalienable rights as “nonsense" [Leonard, 2016, p. 25].) As Jeff points out, Progressivism has always been very "religious" as well: "The progressives’ urge to reform American sprang from an evangelical compulsion to set the world to rights, and they unabashedly described their purposes as a Christian mission to build a Kingdom of Heaven on earth” (Leonard, 2016, p. 12). So, 100 years ago Progressivism was actually religious. Today, it's the secular religion of the Left.

In terms of philosophical legacies, I think you see the roots of conservatism in Hobbes/Locke/Burke, the roots of liberalism in Locke/Hume/Smith/Mill, and the roots of Progressivism in Rousseau/Mill/Dewey. As noted there is overlap!

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Interesting comment that led to an interesting discussion. I probably don't know enough about the history of progressivism; seems like a potential topic for a future column. It was only a little while ago that I started recognizing progressivism as a distinct movement and not just liberalism on steroids.

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I just want to thank you for teaching me something today.

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Viewed from an historical perspective, it seems to me that the overriding aim of progressivism has been to replace the system of limited democracy set up by the Constitution and replace it with direct democracy.

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It succeeded in the western U.S. states, especially in California. Three forms of plebiscite: initiative (the propositions), referendum (vote down a law passed by the Legislature) and recall (remove a sitting politician).

Californians also get to vote on jobs like judges, which if you think about it are not positions you want to have put up for a vote, as well board members of agencies created for a specific task (like water or open space/parks/recreation) and you kinda sorta need people with expertise but don't get them.

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It is to remove the Constitutional obstacles in order to achieve utopia.

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Direct Democracy. Utopia. Same thing.

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I agree direct democracy is a favored means to their ends (because they have always thought "the people" are ultimately on their side), but I still would say the end--"utopia"--is central to the project.

In 1890 the Progressives were largely Bay Colony elites from old money who thought they could "fix" social problems like poverty and violence by, e.g., creating a juvenile court that would act as a "kindly parent" to young delinquents, prohibiting alcohol (which did cause a lot of violence!), etc.

By the 1910s their mission was to strengthen the federal government and to centralize power at the top so they could remake society in top-down fashion--which runs counter to the federalist system of enumerated powers. And they succeeded in amending the Constitution four times--income tax (16th), direct election of senators (17th), prohibition of alcohol (18th), and women's suffrage (19th)--but later learned it was easier to circumvent the Constitution through creative re-interpretation (e.g., the Commerce power becoming the Economic Regulation power).

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The midwestern and western populist Progressives have different origins than the New Englanders and didn't emerge from them.

It was religious, but it was a salt-of-the-earth movement of small farmers and immigrant laborers. You had the Germans, Slavs and Hungarians settle near the great lakes from western Pennsylvania to Illinois and Wisconsin. You had Scandinavians settle around Minnesota and the Great Plains. Catholics and Protestants were more likely to be cooperative, and both had a social welfare ethos that's known today as the Christian democracy ideology.

One of the lasting legacies of this movement was the belief that schooling be compulsory, open to all, and free of charge. Public education is so ingrained in society we forget it was revolutionary and how these reformers rattled the social orders of their time.

The other legacy of this prairie populism is in the name of the Democrats in Minnesota. The party is officially called DFL for Democratic-Farmer-Labor.

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I didn't realize this, thanks for the info! My perspective is, I suppose, New England-centric! There also must have been some cross-pollination, since the modern juvenile court was a pretty direct result of the child-saving movements in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia (where there were major Houses of Refuge)--but the first juvenile court appeared in Chicago in 1899!

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“To my eternal regret, I think that late night political comedy shows played a role in the change.”

Don’t be so hard on yourself. The Bush-era late night comedy scene was absolutely brilliant and very necessary. The scene during that era was first and foremost pro-civil liberties, anti-war, anti-mega corporations, and generally anti-establishment. So long as those principles remain in place, I don’t care how scathing, partisan, mocking, elitist, etc., a show is. I’m all for it.

The problem now is that those core principles have been thrown down a very deep well. Now the “comedians,” if you can even call them that anymore (yeah, I’m looking at you, Noah, Oliver, and Stewart) are complete establishment sycophants, who have redirected their ire towards white people who didn’t go to college instead of at the fucking psychopaths who run our country’s institutions. In fact, they love the psychopaths, as long as they bleed blue. The problem is not the tone of late night comedy bleeding into newsrooms. The problem is it turns out these people have no souls and no principles, at least none that could withstand the onslaught of the relentless “Orange Man Bad” campaign.

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Youtube suggests me Oliver's content even though I don't watch it anymore. Apparently a recent one is "environmental racism." Like, dude, what?

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Environmental racism? Sounds like a real knee-slapper! I’m sure it’s hi-larious.

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I'll give you a TL;DW: Unwanted facilities such as landfills and polluting industries tend to be put in the poor areas; black people tend to be poor; therefore pollution is racist.

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By that logic, when you cross the street to avoid a bunch of blacks who appear to be gangbangers, you are a racist. Even if you are black yourself.

A slippery slope, indeed…

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Obviously I should have added Colbert to my list of comedians-cum-deeply unfunny Stalinist propagandists. He may be the worst of the bunch.

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His "Colbert Report" was hilarious. What went wrong?

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May 26, 2022·edited May 26, 2022

Audience capture. He kept on giving his audience exactly what they wanted and now he's just pouring sugar right into their brains while thinking it's health food.

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David S, the comedians didn't decide to cast their lots with the establishment. I agree with you that the Bush-era scene was great, but when Bush's presidency ended disastrously so did that era of comedy. In a sense, comedy won but only because its enemy died of natural causes. Not exactly a comic book ending.

The world has become such a different place, people have become so different, and comedy can't "help" us through the hard times way it did even two decades ago.

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There’s so much material out there that these “comedians” have decided is off limits because they are partisan hacks. We have someone who escaped from the Alzheimer’s ward in charge of the country. That’s funny! Then there’s leftists of the type seen on Libs of TikTok, with politicians both agreeing with their insane worldview and at the same time pretending it doesn’t exist and isn’t being taught in schools. There’re some jokes in there for sure! The Squad is all on board with escalating war with Russia. How did the left go from being anti-war to being aggressively pro-military escalation with a nuclear power? There’s a joke or two there. But none of these hacks will touch any of this. Everything about the Covid response and Covid hysteria among the left is tragically funny. JP Sears has good bits on lots of this

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Shorter David S.: Why aren't comedians telling the jokes I want to hear?

I'm not a stand-up comedian, but I do a great impression of one on stage. Comedians aren't telling your material because there's a magical quality to comedy. For one, comedy and magic are alike in that once an element of comedy or magic is understood, they're dead.

Second, one of the reasons comedians don't tell the jokes you wish to hear is that one of the skills the pros have is that they know how to read the room. If a comedian wants to have an audience younger than 40, and they do, they must find a mutual frame of reference.

The point is to laugh. If you are a straight white male who doesn't like people who check none of those boxes scolding you because to you it feels like they gain unearned power over you, this younger and more diverse audience doesn't want comedians to throw stereotypes of them back in their faces in the service of a punchline.

Comedy is alive and well. Audiences aren't looking for the same shock-for-its-own-sake edginess that defined the late '60s to 2001. That edginess frontier has closed and is long settled. Millennial and Gen Z comedians are coming up and they're hilarious, they're also closer to the younger audiences who are still packing clubs and comedy festivals. Yes, there's still plenty of foul language, sex jokes and toilet humor. Humor hits differently now, and comedians are telling more relevant jokes.

The mission is still the same even though the faces and jokes look a lot different: Perform a humor that's still a social leveler and gets all of us to live outside of our differences.

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I would refer you to this very Substack to prove that, yes, comedy CAN help us through the hard times.

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Great post. I agree that the zombies are not “on the left.” Left means class-based politics, a focus on the material needs of poor people of all races. The zombies are elitist and obsessed with symbolic nonsense, and openly hostile toward the working class.

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May 23, 2022Liked by Jeff Maurer

"this movement is not defined by finding solutions to problems; it’s defined by performative flailing against perceived enemies"

Succinct, perfect description. I hope and believe that you're correct that a lot of people feel the same way. Thank you for this.

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May 23, 2022Liked by Jeff Maurer

Man, the last couple of paragraphs really hit home. It’s tough struggling to reconcile the fact that people who you considered your friends and allies have started espousing opinions that you feel are actively bad for society. You just feel adrift, not sure who you can talk to anymore about your concerns. So it’s nice to read pieces by you and others who feel similarly to remind myself there are others who feel the same way.

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I appreciate you writing this post. You are significantly younger than me (I'll be 49 this summer), but much of this echoes my experience, albeit I was not part of the late-night comedy scene. Rather I was a high school teacher, lawyer (corporate litigation), Army officer, and finally a small business owner. My wife is younger and went to a NESCAC school - I've watched as a some of her friends became warrior-priests in the new religion.

The naming of the new leftish movement seems less important than understanding what it is. I like Fundamentalist Wokism, but I can understand that not catching on. I think understanding the movement as quasi-religious is incredibly important. There are new heresies and new heretic hunters, and they mirror the roles these participants have had in various religions in the past. Fundamentalist Wokism should be thought of as an off-shoot/mutation of Christianity. Primarily the puritan/Lutheran variety that had its roots in the country's founding. This is the reason the new religion is primarily an American thing and the epicenters of thought emanate from the academic institutions founded by the devoutly religious centuries before. The new zealots are direct descendants of the Temperance movement - they know for certain that there are evils that must be purged and they'll be damned if a good portion of the country doesn't care for the new language/ideology/ways. They are certain they are right and will push that certainty - breaking friendships and sabotaging a political party along the way.

I give the new heresy hunters the benefit of the doubt that they think they are doing the right thing. Scratch that, they don't "think" it - they "BELIEVE" it, with all their hearts. Much the way religious zealots of any ilk have KNOWN they are the inheritors of the one true God's will and teachings. It is the sanctimony that is most off-putting to non-believers, many of whom are/would be allies in the various causes of the new religion. This is also why many people who likely agreed in principle with much of the "family values" being promulgated by the religious right in the 90's-00's - couldn't get on board because of the smugness of those spreading the message.

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The smugness. Jeez Louise. They are worse than any born-again I've ever encountered.

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Many more agreed in principle with Trumpism, aka Manson Family Values.

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Some truth to that, but the Trumpists don't have the same cultural power, regardless of numbers.

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"Conservative media took a different approach: What if you decided what the world was like before you gathered the news, and then just reported the bits that fit that narrative?"

and

"I consider the Republican Party to be totally incapable of solving problems. I think they’ve become that way because conservative media has distorted their worldview so badly that they’ve lost the ability to even recognize problems."

If this isn't the pot calling the kettle black idk what is

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I'm confused, is Jeff the pot in this metaphor? Did you read the rest of the post?

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May 23, 2022·edited May 23, 2022

Look up the wikipedia article on the Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare’. The basinc concept - structuring/regulating the health insurance market with tweaks aimed at tilting the field somewhat more in favor of consumers - emanated from a conservative think-tank as a response to the Clinton plan of the early/mid-90s. Obviously the GOP long ago disavowed such notions. And the ACA is clearly imperfect. But did the GOP ever come up with an alternative? We all know the answer to that question. Score one for Jeff.

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It might be Wikipedia, but it’s still right about that. My surprise at the failure of the Republican Party to embrace the concept is exceeded only by surprise that the Democrats did. This might be the point at which The Great Divide we are now experience first appeared.

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That was an alternative to Hillarycare which was less bad than what she wanted to do. But don't confuse that with a Republican goal. Republicans aren't interested in expanding the welfare state in the first place. That isn't what they do.

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Dems see problems everywhere. If they have a problem recognizing problems, it's that they find everything problematic. And trying fix anything when you don't have the necessary majorities in congress will always feel like performative wanking, even when it isn't.

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California has veto-proof supermajorities of Democrats in the Legislature, Democratic control of all statewide offices and while not outright party registration dominance, Republicans have very little appeal in areas where people live or where they want to live.

Politics can't stop California's social collapse, environmental collapse and most of all, its economy is a sword-juggling act -- California's prosperity creates the very perils California experiences, and for government to be able to solve problems requires the very same prosperity to pay for it all. A lot of state and local government services are paid for through the Bay Area tech industry -- a happy coincidence of one of the few overinvested sectors of the global economy and high real estate values -- another happy coincidence.

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Wow. I live here in Los Angeles and now for the first time I'm terrified to step out my front door.

Thanks for the timely wake up call!

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As a fellow Angelino, I'd ask you to please consider looking into Michael Schellenberger in his hope to be the runoff candidate against "Little Lord Fauntleroy" Gavin Newsom. He's a classic liberal who began asking questions about why we have so many problems in CA since liberals run everything. He has some interesting ideas. Again, he is NOT a conservative.

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I like what I've read so far about him.

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Feels like everyone I see endorsed as a "classic[al] liberal" these days is a crypto-right-wing (and not especially "crypto") flack. What I've previously heard of Michael Shellenberger is his insistence on downplaying climate change, lowballing the number of people killed by nuclear power accidents, hand-wringing a bunch about law 'n' order, and maintaining that giving homeless people housing isn't a sensible way to stop them being homeless (tastefully titling his book about homelessness "San Fransicko"). "NOT a conservative" my ass.

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The way to treat drug addicts is NOT with free, easily available drugs so they can OD. The way CA runs "harm reduction" seems literally designed to kill the very addicts they are claiming to help. Giving addicts hard drugs and letting them kill themselves? It sounds like something Dick Cheney and McConnell thought up. If that's your take, it's obviously in bad faith. Good luck in your continued trolling of this excellent Substack in hopes of getting people to read your stuff. Hope that works out for you.

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It's funny that Jeff also brought up Watergate with this.

A friend who went to journalism school told me how a professor said students would say they wanted to be journalists to "tell the truth" or "get the real story out." Until Watergate. After that, they wanted "to change the world."

Once they've lost the basic job, most other things fall out the window.

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“MSNBC is neither as popular nor as terrible as Fox News...”

That’s just pure bias. While this was true pre-Trump, it isn’t anymore. MSNBC has spent the past 6 years frothing at the mouth over things about Trump that are demonstrably untrue (e.g., Russiagate, Bountygate, Lafayette Park, Charlottesville, kids in cages, etc.). Which is weird because there are plenty of true things about Trump that they could have focused on to advance their core thesis that he is a turd. I see no objective place to stand to assert MSNBC>Fox News. You just identify more with (or at least are less put off by) left-leaning mounds of bullshit.

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You name as "demonstrably untrue" several things that are, in fact, demonstrably true. Also demonstrably true: Fox News watchers are less factually informed than their peers who get actual journalism from competitors.

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Let's go through the list:

Russiagate - a disinformation campaign bought and paid for by the Clinton machine. I assume no objection there, as the Sussmann trial is exposing all of this.

Bountygate - the purveyors of this psyop have agreed this was a fraud, or at least not backed by any real evidence.

Lafayette Park - Trump did not order police to gas Lafayette Park in order to do a photo op at a church, contrary to original widespread reporting on the matter.

Charlottesville - The lie was that Trump described the tiki torch crowd as "very fine people" and refused to denounce them. Biden has cited this lie as his reason for running for president. The truth is Trump explicitly denounced the tiki torch crowd and excluded them from the "very fine people" statement, immediately clarifying "I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally."

Kids in cages - kids in cages predated Trump and presumably continues to happen now. The lie was that it was something unique to Trump. This was exposed as a lie when a picture that became symbolic of the "kids in cages" protest turned out to have been taken during the Obama administration.

The reporting on each of these was at least initially false, and always false in the same direction. Subsequent retractions and clarifications are hardly noticed, allowing the initial lies to pervade public consciousness.

As far as Fox News viewers being less informed, you could get any result you want depending on the questions in the survey and what you use as the source for the underlying truth of the matter. I would have accepted your assertion as correct six years ago, but not anymore. MSNBC viewers are now every bit as unmoored from reality now.

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You're not making this any easier for yourself.

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If you watch news programs at all you are less factually informed.

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So, there really is a vast global pedophilia cartel and all political and economic elites are in on it? And Donald Trump appointed an unnamed Department of Energy official with clearance to top-secret nuclear codes to prosecute it?

Horse deworming paste is a COVID-19 cure no one wants you to know about?

The 44th president is a Kenyan Muslim and Americans are being gaslit by being told there is a landmass in the Pacific Ocean that is allegedly a U.S. state?

Thousands of election officials conspired to give Joe Biden 7 million more votes and scattered them around to throw people off the scent?

These are just a few of the ideas people get when they dO thEIr Own rEsEArch. And majorities of Republicans believe these as factual truth.

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Good demonstration of my point. Now apply it to the other major “news” organizations.

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Your point: Qanon is a proven conspiracy, and there is an actual Q Ivermectin works as a COVID-19 cure. Barack Obama was born in Kenya and his birth in Hawaii is a cover story. The Big Lie was a bipartisan collusion by elections officials against Donald Trump because reasons.

The burden is upon you, Harmon Dow, is to prove these as factually accurate. You must also use either scientific method or prosecutorial evidence to show reality aligns with rightwing fantasy.

Science, news and the legal system have to do nothing to help you. If conspiracy theories are actually theories, that is ideas that can be evaluated by all and come to similar conclusions, then the burden falls upon the theorist to prove it true. Otherwise, your conspiracies are merely fantasy.

To Qanon, birtherism, COVID-19 denialism/oppositionalism, and Bie Lig, I quote Wolfgang Pauli and say "Not only is it not even right, it's not even wrong" and send them on their way.

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I have no burden to prove anything. You seem to be missing my point rather spectacularly.

This might help you out: https://thezvi.substack.com/p/on-bounded-distrust?s=r

BTW, I spent 40 years as a government attorney, sometimes trying cases, sometimes supervising trials, so I have a better understanding of how to prove things - and where the burden of proof lies - than you might think. So hold the lectures, please.

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"less put off by" is a product of the original source being less terrible.

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This article feels similar to how I felt when I was a younger conservatarian type. I watched the people who called themselves conservatives get crazier and crazier and would watch liberal/centrist pundits talk about how the right believes all these crazy things. It felt like my actual views as a right leaning individual were always strawmanned, cherry picked and poorly represented. I didn't consider the crazies to be actual conservatives who were consistent with those values. But they became the brand of the right anyways. It's happening to the left now, which is unfortunate.

Now that I'm an independent, I wonder if it is unfair to describe these changes as "not conservative" or "not liberal/progressive." If woke-ism isn't on the left than where is it? If Trumpism isn't on the right, than where is it? I know the left/right thing misses a lot of context, but at the moment it's the only system we have as voters. As a result, I've seen both sides avoid condemning their own brand of crazy, which only allows the crazy to grow.

It all feels like a convenient way to say, "OUR crazy people aren't actually part of the party, but YOUR crazy people are integral to yours."

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Well, to be clear: I wouldn't deny that lefty crazies are part of the left coalition (and therefore generally Democrats, though the far left typically goes for Stein/Nader/whoever). My point was more that their ideas are often so bad that they would hurt the people that they're ostensibly trying to help, so I object to how they often characterize things as if they're the defenders of all that's righteous and I'm some weak-kneed traitor to the cause.

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Look at the party leadership-- that's a key telling point. No one in the Democratic Party Apparatus tried to do a coup, and Elena Kagan's husband isn't texting Nancy Pelosi "stop being such a Karen."

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May 23, 2022·edited May 23, 2022

But many of them either justified or failed to condemn the 2020 destruction and looting to everyday businesses (some pivoted after the polling came in, but too little too late imo) and didn't push back on unpopular and unhelpful ideas pushed by the progressive wing like defunding the police. And they completely doubled down on the unscientific and economically devastating portions their covid policies and painted anyone who reasonably questioned them as fringe and dangerous. I could go on, but the idea that the dem leadership isn't doing just as much damage to the country as the repub leadership is a pretty tough sell to me. I hate both, so I have no loyalties here.

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Joe Biden on June 2, 2020:

"The Democratic presidential candidate added that he sees “no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses — many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.”

https://nypost.com/2020/06/02/joe-biden-delivers-in-person-remarks-on-george-floyd-protests/

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Democrat politicians actively cheered on the rioters and only changed course once it became obvious political suicide. I remember it clearly because it was the straw that broke the camel's back to finally chase me out of the party. And when rioters were burning family businesses on Fairfax Ave and along Melrose, I was delivering DoorDash two blocks away while the streets were burning. And I have ZERO issue with legit protesters; my friend bought a bunch of bottled water and I would hand them out to people protesting while I was doing deliveries.

But acting like any of the Dems did anything to stand up for business owners and those of us who were outside and at risk from mobs every day is fantasy.

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You don't cite a single specific Democratic politician who "cheered on the rioters" and in any event that would just be lip service. That's basically all the Democratic politicians had for BLM, lip service. They tweeted a bunch, did interviews, put on some kente cloth and took the knee...then came up with a limp bill and then didn't even pass that.

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The mayors of Portland and Seattle. Both dems…Ted wheeler stood with protesters to be tear gassed and then with the dem city council to passed a bunch of assinine restrictions on the police.

jenny Durkan, the dem mayor of Seattle cheered on the CHAZ (an actual armed insurrection where gunmen seized power and prevent lawful civil authority from exercising power under threat of violence).

Inwould also argue the media failed to report on a bunch of things because of political sympathies and dem judges repeatedly made insane rulings (inconsistent with legal finding and rules of engagement everywhere else in the country).

Internally Dems like Abigail Spanberger sure felt like the dem party needed to be more forceful I addressing the insanity.

I do agree that Biden tried to take more responsible course but basically the Dem

Politicians who were either hiding because the knew what was going on was crazy but lacked the courage to stand against it…or were actively or tacitly abetting the crazy.

My biggest concern about the dem party is their complete inability to ability to see just how far down the road to crazy town they went and how much denial they are capable of engaging in.

If the party would own some of its crazy (maybe listen more to people like Spanberger) they would not scare me as much.

Having been in Portland at the time and witnessing the crazy I am actually more scared of them than the Alt right. This is because I see tons of people willing to

Mobilize when Trump sneezes but so many of those same

People are totally ok with justifying blckkkng the exits to buildings and setting them n fire (and then the moderate Dems will go to all kinds of lengths to explain this this was mostly peaceful).

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I get it now; you're a troll. Anybody who even remotely wants to find out can simply look it up online. Filing you under Bad Faith Actors and ignoring.

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Thea, you clearly have a loyalty to generalizations, who you're teaming up with to fight specifics.

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Keep in mind that wokism has no real effect on the way the economic pie is sliced.

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Good work Jeff, I’m so pleased to read people like you and Jonah Goldberg, people capable of criticising their own “side”.

in my country I am what you would call a moderate republican. We don’t have an equivalent to your Trumpian GOP, probably because we don’t have a Fox or evangelical church equivalent (a counter factual which supports your argument).

Our government is very progressive on your scale, but not zombie. And they’re likely to lose the next election because they’re too extreme and out of touch with the centre. The hopeful sign is Australia where teal conservatives (blue green) have made real advances (In the British commonwealth, red is left, blue is right. You Americans also drive on the “wrong” side of the road). These people stand for individual enterprise coupled with a deep commitment to action on climate change - real issues, nothing to do with “identity”.

Keep speaking to this centre Jeff. I hope that in time the US finds its way back to liberal democracy. The world so needs American leadership from a place of values, not vindictiveness.

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Jonah Goldberg is actually a creep.

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"I’ve depicted it as a zombie to convey that I think this is something coming from outside; this isn’t 'what was there before, only moreso'. This is something foreign — more on that in a bit."

I think you're engaging in a fair bit of either "no true scotsman" here, or at the very least being much more charitable to "your" side. There *is* a decent argument to be made that the "successor ideology" is something foreign to liberalism proper - but I don't think you can really make that argument while also calling whatever the GOP is doing these days "conservative". The populist nonsense infesting the GOP these days is every bit a foreign invader to conservatism as the woke nonsense infesting the Democratic party.

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I agree that Trump-style populism and true conservativism are different things. But I see a distinction between the Republican case and the Democratic case in the extent to which the extremist ideologies (right-wing populism and "wokeism", or whatever) have captured the two parties. Non-populist conservatives have basically been excommunicated; lotta ex-Republican columnists, politicians who said "fuck it" and retired (Jeff Flake), and persona-non-grata Liz Cheney types on the right at the moment. On the left, you have more nuttiness than is ideal but also a good amount of pushback. There are a lot of columnists like me saying "this is crazy" but not feeling like the battle is lost. Democrats pander to this nonsense more than they would in a perfect world, but it's mostly cringe-worthy virtue signaling and the legislative wing of the party is not dead. Terrible ideas like Modern Monetary Theory still get shouted down in-house (Krugman, Summers, Smith).

All of which is to say: You may be correct that what's happening on the left is no more foreign to liberalism than whatever we're calling the dominant ideology in the GOP is to true conservativism. But I'd say that the dominant ideology on the right -- whatever you want to call it -- perhaps once was a foreign invaders but is no longer.

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I don't know that I buy that the legislative wing of the party is at all healthy. Build Back Better crashed and burned because the party couldn't get the balls to stand up to its progressive base and pass something that could garner support from moderates. Then Schumer brought forth an abortion rights bill that couldn't even get 50 votes. The Democratic party's governing arm during the Biden administration has been completely paralyzed by its obsessive need to pander to the most extreme views. Like, sure, the moderates haven't actually been kicked out yet (though not for lack of trying w.r.t. Manchin & Sinema), but no one's listening to them either.

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Well Sinema isn't a moderate-- she opposed Medicare negotiating for drug prices, which is wildly popular, but I could see how the Dispatch convinced you otherwise (almost like it's a bad news source?)

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When I say someone is a "moderate", I'm talking in terms of the overall electorate, not just the Democratic party.

I won't argue that Sinema is hard to classify, though. She's more of a "dispositional" moderate, whereas Manchin is a legit ideological moderate.

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You called Sinema a moderate, so I think the real answer is you're sort of sloppy in your thinking: "Like, sure, the moderates haven't actually been kicked out yet (though not for lack of trying w.r.t. Manchin & Sinema), but no one's listening to them either."

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I don't know what "true conservativism" means. I do know that "left" and "right", in the contemporary American sense, really only makes sense when viewed in the context of contemporary USA politics.

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> The populist nonsense infesting the GOP these days is every bit a foreign invader to conservatism as the woke nonsense infesting the Democratic party.

Doubt it. The "populist nonsense infesting the GOP these days" has clear antecedents.

The GOP's latter-day opposition to electoral democracy is of a piece with a GOP-friendly Supreme Court handing Bush the 2000 election and punching a hole in the Voting Rights Act, Trump alleging massive voter fraud back in 2016 (not just 2020!), birtherism's attempt to delegitimize Barack Obama, and the GOP trying to impose voter ID for years.

Or take the barrage of "grooming" queerphobia against public schoolteachers and LGBT people (and their allies) over the past couple of months, which were anticipated by earlier opposition to transgender kids' rights in school (last year), to supposed child-trafficking pedophile Democrats before that, to transgender people using the right bathrooms before that (2015–2018), and to gay marriage before that. The queerphobia ties in with long-standing slurs that same-sex couples have to "recruit" children because they don't reproduce directly, and echoes John McCain's 2008 campaign attack on Barack Obama for supposedly backing pre-teen sex ed.

Basically, plutocratic populism as US conservatism has a history. See Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker's Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality for a book-length treatment. Or maybe Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Berke to Sarah Palin if you want something predating Trump's presidency.

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Populism is a deep scary monster in any political movement. It's tempting to extract free energy from it but it's very easy for it to take over your whole movement or even party.

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I'd say populism is neither good nor bad in itself.

I suspect "populism" is often used as a label centrists just slap on any politics that perturbs them. I try to be a bit more rigorous and stick to defining "populism" as a model of politics that represents it as a pure people facing off against a corrupt elite. (Basically Cas Mudde's definition.) It's a simplistic picture of politics — but then so are most models of politics people carry in their heads. I doubt populism makes people's politics shallow in itself; causation probably runs more the other way, with most people not thinking very hard about politics in general, and shallow thinkers being attracted to populism.

I do use Pierson and Hacker's term "plutocratic populism" and do think plutocratic populism is bad. But it's bad because it's plutocratic, not because it's populist. When politicians as diverse as Trump, Netanyahu, Bolsonaro, Le Pen, AMLO, Corbyn, Sanders, Morales, Mélenchon, and Lula are considered populist, it's hard to see how populism could be intrinsically good or bad.

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One way to define populism is as a bundle of tactics to use, in a democratic system, to pummel and bully your opponents, powered by a broad base of popular support, without caring about the democratic institutions themselves. In this sense one can almost think of it as authoritarian-adjacent, yet still distinct. The popular support is usually from some large ethnic base that self-perceives itself as the underdog (economically, socially) and might even be the underdog. That is why a leftist promising to take all the states money and redistribute it to the poor or a trumpist building a wall to stop the great replacement are considered similar. This is in opposition to ideologically driven agendas with technocratic policy proscriptions.

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To me that definition feels wrong or underspecified. My guess is, if you clarified it, it'd prove (1) so broad as to capture even mainstream centrist politicians like Clinton, Macron, and Blair, plus their supporters, (2) primarily a definition of right-wing populism alone, or (3) reliant on factually false beliefs about specific politicians.

For instance, taking the first bit of your definition: what are the specific populist tactics that make up the bundle of opponent-bullying tactics, and how can you tell which alleged populists don't really care about democratic institutions if they don't achieve office?

If those populist tactics amount to saying mean things about political opponents, well, most high-profile politicians do that (Blair trashed Conservatives back in the 1990s, Macron talked about wanting to piss off vaccine resisters, Clinton called most Trump supporters "deplorables"). As for not caring about their country's democratic institutions...where's the evidence of that for, say, Corbyn and Sanders?

Or take the next bit of your definition, about having popular support from a large ethnic base that sees itself as the economic/social underdog. That doesn't fit Mélenchon, Sanders, or Corbyn, whose bases were defined more by youth than ethnicity. Netanyahu's base, ethnically defined, was Israel's overwhelming Jewish majority, which doesn't, as far as I know, see itself as Israel's socioeconomically downtrodden. And while white Brazilians supported Bolsonaro more than non-white Brazilians, Bolsonaro nonetheless relied on votes from non-white Brazilians; the ethnic gap wasn't huge, and was dominated by gaps of ideology and religiosity.

And the last bit of your definition, if I read it right, is basically that populists don't have ideologically driven agendas and technocratic policy ideas. Honestly, that reads to me as the centrist fallacy of writing off non-centrist agendas as policy-less and lacking any real ideological basis, which is just wrong. Even Trump had an avowed agenda (defending Social Security while opposing immigration and neoliberal trade policy) and an actual one (tax cuts, queerphobia, xenophobia, racism), clearly grounded in illiberalism and implemented through concrete policy like Title 42, the travel ban, and the TCJA.

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I'm not claiming there aren't roots of populism in the GOP, just as I don't think Jeff is claiming there aren't roots of "wokeness" in the Democratic party. I'm claiming the populist nonsense is not "conservative" in any reasonable philosophical sense, just as Jeff is claiming the "wokeness" is not "liberal" in any reasonably philosophical sense.

Defending the ideology, not the party. The party can suck an egg.

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Granted, your/my interpretation of things is going to depend on how you/I define "conservatism" — but I'm not sure what definition you're using that isn't susceptible to its own No True Scotsman critique.

To me, a practical definition of conservatism is that it's (the) ideology that mandates upholding established hierarchies even if that requires radical reaction (like gutting abortion access, trashing voting rights, slashing taxes on the rich and taking aim at social insurance), so I'd say the GOP's plutocratic populism is conservatism.

You might have some other definition, like conservatism as literally just wanting to keep things the same — in which case, OK, under that definition the GOP's plutocratic populism isn't conservatism, but under that definition there are virtually no true conservatives! To my knowledge the US has never had a conservative executive and legislature in power in that sense.

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I'm glad you brought up Corey Robin, Splainer. His thesis for "The Reactionary Mind," arguing that there's a through-line from Edmund Burke to Trump (an update was written after 2016) is: "For that is what conservatism is: a meditation on—and theoretical rendition of—the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back."

To translate that from academic gibberish to plain English: Defend your status and the hierarchy that feeds you.

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May 23, 2022·edited May 23, 2022

"I'm not sure what definition you're using that isn't susceptible to its own No True Scotsman critique"

I guess this is sort of my point. I think Jeff is engaging in a bit of no true scotsman stuff with his "oh but the 'woke' stuff isn't actually of the left, it's from outside". I also think he's got a decent point in saying that - but I think by allowing himself a no true scotsman on the "woke" stuff but then saying conservatives (as a whole) have gone crazy (paraphrasing), he's doing a bit of sleight-of-hand.

EDIT: or to put it another way - reasonable people can always try to say that the unreasonable people on "their side" aren't really on "their side", and often they're correct.... but it's not really all that helpful. The information content of such declarations is extremely low. Better to just focus on calling out the bad ideas rather than hemming and hawwing about who they "rightly" belong to. There's enough crazies on both the "right" and the "left" to keep the sensible people on both sides plenty busy calling out the crap.

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Weeeelllll...one does need an idea of where each of the "crazies" "rightly" belongs to be able to make claims about both sides having "enough [...] to keep the sensible people [...] busy" — but of course we're all liable to have different ideas about that.

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The Democrats, as in the party itself and voters at large, are doing a much better job of keeping the barbarians of the w-word outside of the gates.

The time for when intersectional identity politics might have had a transformative effect on the Democratic Party is long gone. Democrats are too diverse in race, age, educational background and income to allow themselves to be hijacked by social sciences and humanities professors and overeducated postgrads hanging their shingles in activism.

"Wokes" don't have any real power over anyone. Intersectionality, which serves as the grand narrative for "wokeism," is an ideology of anti-power. Oppression is the natural consequence of power, and society is built on oppressive interactions scaled up to culture. This is just scratching the surface of what it means. Examine it closely by casting doubt and skepticism on it, and even a grade-schooler could realize how hopeless intersectionality would be for organizing a society.

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Fair points but if I have to cast a vote for a brain-eating zombie or the guy dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, I’m voting for the dead guy because at least he won’t bite me.

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Not much of a leader, though, is he?

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I'll take the other side of the argument.

If a zombie were trying to eat my brain, that would imply it has a metabolism. If it doesn't eat a brain ... won't it die again? Can't you just, you know, outwait them?

And why do zombies like human brains? The brain isn't particularly nutrient-rich, and like most organs is probably high in fat and cholesterol. Plus, how would the zombies get the brain out of the hard bone that is the skull? So zombies are undead but they are carrying around surgical saws?

And if zombies are going to eat human brains, and they are purportedly unstoppable, why wouldn't I just lure someone I don't like and let the zombie eat them? Forget about the racist uncle who I dread meeting for Thanksgiving dinner. Let him *be* Thanksgiving dinner.

And how do we accommodate zombies with unique dietary needs? What is a vegan zombie supposed to eat -- the organic food waste in the compost bin? How can a Jewish zombie eat a brain and keep kosher? Is there a zombie rabbi who can certify the ingredients and preparation methods? Do Catholic zombies have to avoid eating brains on Fridays during Lent?

What would happen if I go to the market and buy Impossible burger and mold it into the shape of a brain? Would the zombie notice the difference?

Or ... or ... if the two choices my society offers me are supernatural cannibalism or suicide, maybe I should try to stake out a less hopeless place in the world free of the tyranny of zombies, guns and false dichotomies.

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You should change the name of your substack to “not even wrong”.

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You might not know it, but “not even wrong” is just part of “That theory is so bad it’s not even wrong.”

Or perhaps you do know it, in which case I wonder whether the “likes” know it.

In any event, I find this substack & many of the comments thought-provoking, right or wrong.

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Supposedly the phrase originated from physicist Wolfgang Pauli as a devastating insult to bad theories. "Not only is it not even right, it is not even wrong" -- implying that there isn't even a basis in reality to engage the claim.

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Or at least add "(but probably not)"

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Oh, I know. I suspect the likes never studied Pauli. And I too think it provocative, just not of thought.

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In these pieces, you have squarely hit points and points of view which I have identified, but haven't found the means to articulate with your tempered rage and all too justified despair. I am humbled. And, of course, fucking terrified.

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This article misses a key moment in the 2016 primary, where some of this bubbled up.

Also, I think it's important to mention that Trump's victory in 2016 primary win shifted the GOP in such a way so as to position it as more socially conservative (in terms of immigration, gender, race, democracy, etc), but less (overtly) fiscally conservative. From what I can tell, college educated voters tended to parse this as the party moving to the right, while non-college saw it as a move to the center.

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> From what I can tell, college educated voters tended to parse this as the party moving to the right, while non-college saw it as a move to the center.

This is a super important point. It sometimes gets touched on with the confusion on why trump gained relative support amongst latinos, or how otherwise socially-conservative-religious folks voted for trump even with his odiousness (regardless of policy).

The perception of where everyone fits ... the whole meta-narrative this article focuses on is that different groups are going to create different versions of the stick-figure diagram. The level of people talking past each-other is astounding.

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