All posts filed under: Politics

Scott Adams, Donald Trump and the Ethics of Persuasion

I recently read Scott Adams’s last book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, for a book club I’m in with some friends. We tend to eschew self-help books (especially those with hyperbolic, click-baity titles), but many of the principles Adams espouses seemed both sound and contrarian: focus on systems instead of goals, manage your energy instead of your time, add skills instead of becoming an expert. It was, in fact, a very good book, and a persuasive one – and yet all of us were left with the unshakable feeling that we’d been duped. Indeed, the fact that the book was so intoxicating to read made us all more skeptical of Adams’s advice rather than less. As one friend put it at the time, “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized.” Adams, who created the popular Dilbert comic strip, has been making the podcast rounds of late as an explainer and sometime defender of Donald Trump. His argument is somewhat orthogonal to the traditional pro-Trump case: as a trained hypnotist and longtime …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

The Islamist Decompression Chamber

The Islamic State (IS) is unique among terrorist groups. Its ability to inspire terrorist acts beyond the scope of its core militants far outscores that of Al-Qaeda and others. Understanding the specific peculiarities of IS will enable us to assess why our regular security procedures have failed to protect us, and what has to change. Looking back at the last 5 years one wonders how this relatively young and loose organization managed to secure such a morbid record compared to that of more mature and structured entities. The answer lies in its capacity to outsource most of its radicalization effort, crucial to the efficiency of its propaganda, to entities that pursue their task legally in the West. It is on our soil, in the blind spots of the law, that these groups proselytize an agenda of religious and cultural hegemony to the Muslim youth. These organisations are not taking orders directly from Raqqa but, willingly or not, they participate of an eco-system which IS exploits in order to further its objectives. Traditional militancy required careful …

Immigration, Justice, and Prosperity

Some people argue that even if poverty in some places is mainly the result of poor institutions rather than exploitation, more prosperous nations owe it to less wealthy nations to open their borders. On this view, restrictive immigration policies among rich countries are unjust because they prevent relatively poor people from moving away from bad institutions and toward good ones. To some extent, this is true. Consider Michael Huemer’s case of “Starvin Marvin.”1 Suppose Marvin is starving, and is trying to reach a marketplace in order to access the food he needs to survive. If he could get there, someone would willingly sell him food that he values more than the cash in his pocket. Since immigration restrictions sometimes prevent these kinds of mutually beneficial gains – gains that may spell life or death for some – these restrictions seem to be unjust. Huemer recognizes that a thought experiment like this doesn’t settle the issue, but concludes that “unless there is some crucial disanalogy that I have overlooked…immigration restrictions are seriously wrong.”2 There are, in …

Some Countries Are Much Richer Than Others. Is That Unjust?

Look at the GDP per capita across different countries and you will see staggering differences. The U.S, Denmark and Singapore all have (nominal) per capita GDPs of between US$50,000 and US$60,000 per annum. On the other hand, Ethiopia, Chad, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Niger all fall below $1,000 per annum. The average resident of Denmark produces more than 50 times as much per year, measured in terms of nominal exchange rates, than the average resident of Ethiopia! When we look around the world and observe the massive wealth disparities between citizens in rich and poor countries, many of us are apt to conclude that the differences must have arisen because of colonialism, imperial warfare, or theft of raw materials like gold or oil. Of course, all of these things have happened at various points in time, and they can arguably explain some variation in the standard of living. Colonialism can be especially destructive of institutions that support peace and commerce. But a recent article by the philosopher Dan Moller casts doubt on the view that injustices …

“Kill All Normies” Online Culture Wars and the Rise of the Alt-Right—A Review

A Review of Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt- Right, by Angela Nagle. Zero Books, $9.99 (Kindle edition).   An Irish literary critic and academic as well as a “dirtbag leftist” with bylines in Jacobin, The Baffler, and Current Affairs, Angela Nagle documents here the background and breakthroughs of the online politics which helped shape the 2016 election. It is an important topic and a fascinating one, and Nagle demonstrates the requisite impartiality: her conclusions do end up fitting her new-old-left politics nicely (as demonstrated by approving book-jacket quotes from Connor Kilpatrick of Jacobin and Amber A’Lee Frost of Chapo Trap House and Current Affairs), but they’ve garnered approval across the political spectrum, from Nagle’s neck of the woods all the way to the stodgy Never-Trumpism of the National Review. Unfortunately, one gets the impression that Nagle and Zero were both quite aware of how urgently this analysis was needed; the product seems rushed, even unfinished. Kill All Normies is merely a good start in need of deeper research, …

Leftist Hypocrisy about Islam: Setting the Stage for Violence

Imagine: a major, highly trafficked West-Coast American web site publishes a lengthy, glowing account of how an educated, successful professional woman converts to fundamentalist Christianity, despite the objections of her family, to say nothing of the faith’s foundational texts, which reek of misogyny and homophobia, condone slavery, and preach an End Times worldview antithetical to the approach we so urgently need to adopt to safeguard the future of life on our fragile planet. Your reaction?  Your first thoughts might well be, how has this happened? What motivated the writer?  Is there some ulterior explanation?  Has, say, the editor-in-chief gone on drugs?  “Found Jesus?”  Or just lost his or her mind?  The progress we as a society have made in recent decades—in women’s rights and in gay rights, for starters—largely stems from our overcoming religion-based prejudices. Liberal folks take that as a given. Wait, no, not all liberal folks!  Some of them are inclined to make a de facto condescending, hypocritical, insidious exception to the Left’s established line of thinking about faith—but only when it concerns …