Activism, Politics

Single Issue Campaigning and the Polarisation Problem

In their new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue that a polarisation cycle exists at US universities. First, a progressive professor does or says something provocative in response to a real or perceived injustice caused by conservatives. Next, the right-wing press picks up the story, and it is shared and retold to amplify conservative outrage. Then, people are encouraged to email or tweet at academics. Finally, the university, which isn’t used to being attacked, makes a badly thought-through decision in order to make the problem go away, which too often means that someone leaves an institution when they probably shouldn’t.

As progressive campaigners working outside of college campuses, the cycle Haidt and Lukianoff describe felt worryingly familiar. We began to wonder whether well-intentioned progressive campaigns were contributing to the same kind of polarisation in wider society. Polarisation is one of the few remaining political topics upon which there seems to be something approaching a consensus. There is widespread agreement that our political identities increasingly preclude us from listening to our opponents. Consider the following:

  • 85 percent of people in the UK, and 84 percent in the US, think their country is divided. A significant majority of these believe that it’s worse than a decade ago.
  • People are more likely to be deeply concerned by criminal actions of political opponents than those they agree with.
  • 55 percent of strong liberals say a vote for Trump would strain a friendship. Yet this does not appear to be true in reverse; Trump supporters say they are willing to be friends with liberals.
  • There has been a 21 point increase in the distance between Republicans and Democrats on policy issues.

The last 15 years have seen a progressive campaigning explosion. More than three million people are active on the British progressive campaigning site 38 Degrees. Around the world, almost 50 million are active with Avaaz. Numerous NGOs have run petitions and online campaigns on their own websites or hosted by these organisations. We have worked on many such campaigns, and movements like these focus on ambitious and often worthy goals. But it takes years to persuade governments to change legislation. Regulators and businesses can be slow to enact meaningful change. So, in the short run, it’s natural to focus on securing quick and comparatively easy wins. These are mainly small campaigning actions designed to keep up the pressure on legislators and related interests.

Social media and email enable millions of new people to involve themselves in campaigning with a couple of mouse clicks. Previously, they had to join organisations, receive magazines and other literature by post, and handwrite letters. Now everyone can be alerted by email or social media. This has made the dissemination of information and the solicitation of support much easier. On the other hand, measuring progress and success in clicks and shares encourages the simplification of complex issues in order to maximise outrage. Campaigners want to provoke an emotional response because it helps build return visits and pushes people up the “ladder of engagement.” This technique is standard campaigning procedure designed to get people more involved, and it should be readily recognisable from your email inbox and social media feeds.

The message tends to be that a serious and urgent crisis is being caused by bad people—people who, faced with a simple moral choice, have decided to choose the obviously immoral option (usually for reasons of greed or self-interest). Sign a petition, and it will force the hand of those in power to enact the necessary changes and do the right thing. To build support and momentum you’ll then be asked to share your petition on Facebook or Twitter. We are all predisposed to believe what our friends tell us, so sharing a petition helps build credibility and cement a negative view of whoever or whatever has been identified as the antagonist.

These shares are automatically accompanied by text typically designed to provoke, since Facebook’s own data suggest that provocative posts are two-to-three times more likely to secure engagement. The following table was shared with us by a senior social media strategist who has worked for media companies and global PR and brand consultancies on both sides of the Atlantic:

There are numerous ways of ramping up outrage among potential supporters. Highlighting a piece of stupidity from a prominent opponent of the cause, for example, or alleging that a piece of helpful research is being suppressed by its critics. The internet has made it very easy to find and publicise obnoxious opinions as well as simply incorrect ones. People are then asked to promote these obnoxious stupidities (which are mischaracterised as representative) through their social network, bringing yet more people in to sign the petition by stoking further indignation and outrage.

Having signed and shared a petition, and persuaded their friends to come on board, supporters will now be encouraged to perceive this as “their” campaign. At this point, those most deeply engaged will be asked to increase their commitment by, for instance, writing to or calling their constituency politician. This, they will be told, is necessary to overcome subsequent hurdles.

Finally, there will be a victory of some description, for campaigners and supporters alike. It will be announced that the signatures and shares on social media made all the difference, reinforcing the belief among supporters and their networks that all this clicktivist action was consequential and worthwhile. This deepens the perception that the forces of good have triumphed in some small way over the forces of evil, but since much remains to be done, supporters will be encouraged to repeat this cycle all over again.

In many respects, this kind of engagement is good for democracy. Many more people have the opportunity to participate and campaign, and to involve themselves in important decisions. Campaigns can bring people together too. We’ve seen campaigns, initially sparked by the circulation of an online petition, which have succeeded in uniting people who would normally never meet. We’re proud to have been involved in campaigns like these, and sometimes they do have unambiguously beneficial effects, from getting women on bank notes to making medicinal cannabis available on prescription.

But this kind of campaigning is also worsening polarisation in our society. The division of the world into good and bad people may help to solicit immediate support, but it rarely reflects reality. As any reader of Jonathan Haidt’s previous work will confirm, people and organisations are rarely wholly good or bad.

Pharmaceutical companies are neither heroic nor malevolent. Like many institutions and the people who work in them, they can be either, depending on context. Yes, inflated drug prices in America are outrageously high. But the same companies sell the same drugs to other countries far more cheaply, because those countries negotiate harder and regulate more effectively. And these companies research and produce the vaccines that save millions of lives every year. Those who see drug companies as simply baleful make themselves vulnerable to conspiracies about ‘Big Pharma’ and vaccination myths.

The kind of paranoid conspiracism encouraged by black and white thinking also risks blaming a campaign’s failure on sinister forces. But sometimes campaigners lose because they haven’t won the argument or because they haven’t run a good enough campaign. Blaming a conspiracy of powerful interests for defeat necessarily precludes an honest conversation about mistakes, and the opportunity to learn from them.

Furthermore, if we persuade ourselves and our supporters that opponents are simply bad people with immoral motives, it should be unsurprising if we no longer want to spend time with them, or with people who vote for them. After all, why should anyone want to spend time with those indifferent to the harm they inflict on others? What reason does anyone have to listen to their point of view? If someone is persuaded that all conservatives are selfish and evil and that they despise the poor and unfortunate, how can that person be expected to react if a new neighbour were put a poster in their window supporting the Tories? And if you were to find yourself denounced as a “deplorable or personally blamed for systemic failure, would that make you more likely to listen to your critics and opponents? Or would you dig in, defensive and defiant?

Campaigns that mischaracterise issues and stigmatise opponents reduce the complex to the simplistic in ways that are fundamentally unhelpful—they polarise society, inflame passions, and do little to fix the problems they identify and ostensibly seek to solve. In the end, repairing a broken social care system in the UK or bringing down rates of criminal recidivism in the US will require cross-party agreement on complicated social and policy solutions. But, because it is easier to mobilise people against individuals, entrenched problems remain unaddressed. Yes, we can (and should) punish corrupt and incompetent bankers. But until we agree upon the systemic causes of the 2008 crash, we’re at risk of another.

In their book, Haidt and Lukianoff offer an outline for how we might begin to address the polarisation on American campuses. We have adapted it in the hope that it can be used to encourage moderation in political campaigning:

  1. Measure the impact of progressive campaigning on polarisation.
  2. Expand the progressive playbook to help people help themselves. Tools offered by organisations such as Money Saving Expert and Which? are great examples of this.
  3. Recognise that if your are running repeated campaigns against the same mainstream targets it may cause them to entrench. Remember that the most robust campaigns often get broad political support, as the campaign to increase UK aid has.
  4. Acknowledge that, on most topics, shifting public opinion will involve reaching across the political aisle, from opinion leaders to the grassroots. Celebrate opponents joining your cause. If you are fighting Trump in America then moderate Republicans who vote against him are crucial to your winning coalition. If you are fighting for abortion rights, seek out persuadable Catholic priests. And when you secure their support, treat them as partners, not as subordinate “allies” whose job is to do as they are told. They will have insight and knowledge you do not.
  5. Actively seek out conversations with those who disagree with you. And be as open to changing your mind as you would like them to be to changing theirs.

If we ignore this advice and continue to prioritise the ruthless pursuit of short-term goals at the expense of good faith debate and understanding, then the long-term exacerbation of our current divisions will constitute a net loss for us all.


Rob Blackie is a digital strategist who has worked with a wide range of ngo, government and corporate campaigns. You can follow him on Twitter @robblackie_oo

Ali Goldsworthy is founder of The Depolarization Project, a former political advisor and senior staffer in a number of campaigning organizations. You can follow her on Twitter @aligoldsworthy


  1. David J says

    It’s not just the way progressives are doing things which is the problem, it’s what many are doing, which matters. The main reasons for the success of Trump, for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, and for the so-called populist parties in parts of Europe, are the frequently intolerant identity-based politics of the left, combined with its near-religious belief in the necessity of open borders and high immigration. There’s much of value in the approach taken by Haidt and Lukianoff and here in this article. But the idea of some form of coming together, or at least a series of comprises from each side, appears to me to ignore the idea that what has taken place on the right may well be primarily a reaction to the left’s extreme ideas and policies. I don’t believe blame can be equally apportioned. Why should a conservative compromise on their views, if only ten years ago, or only a little longer, they were considered thoroughly reasonable views, until the window of ‘acceptable’ opinion shifted to the left?

    • I think there’s evidence that conservatives have shifted farther toward the right than liberals have toward the left. See, for example, and

      It seems unlikely that a politician with Ronald Reagan’s positions (e.g. he raised taxes and supported amnesty for illegal immigrants) would be welcome in the modern Republican party. As recently as 2008, the Republican nominee for President acknowledged the reality of global warming — that would be nearly unthinkable today. Also, consider the fact that the model which provided the basis for Romneycare and Obamacare was developed by the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to single-payer systems. Republicans condemned the ACA as “socialized medicine” (it’s not) and refused to work with Obama in any way.

      It’s true that mainstream Democrats have adopted left-wing positions such as Medicare for All and Abolish I.C.E. in recent months, but that’s a relatively recent development. Centrists have dominated the national party since Bill Clinton’s victory in the early 1990s – they helped ensure that Hillary would beat Bernie, much to their later chagrin.

      • Stephen Phillips says

        Reagan lowered taxes when he got into power. As a result the Federal tax receipts quadruple during his time, as it made dodging tax more risky and expensive than paying it.

      • James Lee says


        I Disagree. In general, the left has moved in a far more radical direction than the right. Around identity politics issues, the shift is blinding. As Peter Beinart documented in The Atlantic, typical Democrat perspectives on immigration a mere 10 years ago are now taboo. In fact, Bernie, who is really an old school progressive at heart, became the target of this new left after he correctly pointed out that policies favoring mass immigration are favored by the billionaire class– including those “right wing” Koch brothers– to weaken the power of labor.

        The country as a whole moved left. Witness gay marriage, the increasingly widespread legalization of marijuana, and the reform of some of the more draconian laws relating to nonviolent drug offenses.

        From a 2017 pew poll: “Even on issues on which Republicans and Democrats have moved in the same direction – for example, growing numbers in both parties say homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged – the partisan differences are wider today than in the past.”

        Republicans are also far more accepting of mixed race marriage than in the past:

        “As recently as 1990, roughly six-in-ten nonblack Americans (63%) said they would be opposed to a close relative marrying a black person.”

        And yet, by 2016, “Among whites, [only] 17% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats say they would oppose an intermarriage in their family.”

        Interestingly, the same study notes that “Blacks (18%) are more likely than whites (9%) and Hispanics (3%) to say more people of different races marrying each other is generally a bad thing for society.” Somehow, these facts never make it into the narratives propagated by the left.

        The right *has* moved left– and the left has run straight off the cliff.

      • Heike says

        Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” talks about the combination of geographic isolation (segregation by income/politics), elite schools (public and private) where their children all socialize, ideological conforming by the “elite” institutions all creating an elite population that has prime access to top corporate jobs, NGOs, government positions under Democrats. They base morality as adherence to the ideology and thus see all who disagree as evil/stupid and look down on those beneath them as at best unenlightened/uneducated and at worst people the world is better off without.

        Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them.

        In 1973, all six major US class segments were centrist. Over the next 35 years, five of the segments moved slightly to the right, but “Intellectual Upper Class” moved far out to the left.

        Read more:

        “What the commission is concerned about are the unskilled workers in our society in an age in which unskilled workers have far too few opportunities open to them. When immigrants are less well-educated and less-skilled, they may pose economic hardships to the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or under-employed.”

        — Barbara Jordan, civil rights icon and first black woman elected to Congress from the South.

      • ga gamba says

        I think there’s evidence that conservatives have shifted farther toward the right than liberals have toward the left.

        Yet there is a bundle of Pew Surveys run since 1987 that show the Democrats have moved further to the left by becoming more ideologically consistent than the Republicans moved to the right.

        The ideological consolidation nationwide has happened on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, but the long-term shift among Democrats stands out as particularly noteworthy. The share of Democrats who are liberal on all or most value dimensions has nearly doubled from just 30% in 1994 to 56% today. The share who are consistently liberal has quadrupled from just 5% to 23% over the past 20 years.

        In absolute terms, the ideological shift among Republicans has been more modest, in 1994, 45% of Republicans were right-of-center, with 13% consistently conservative. Those figures are up to 53% and 20% today.

        But there are two key considerations to keep in mind before concluding that the liberals are driving ideological polarization. First, 1994 was a relative high point in conservative political thinking among Republicans. In fact, between 1994 and 2004 the average Republican moved substantially toward the center ideologically, as concern about the deficit, government waste and abuses of social safety net that characterized the “Contract with America” era faded in the first term of the Bush administration.

        But since 2004, Republicans have veered sharply back to the right on all of these dimensions, and the GOP ideological shift over the past decade has matched, if not exceeded, the rate at which Democrats have become more liberal.

        A second consideration is that the nation as a whole has moved slightly to the left over the past 20 years, mostly because of a broad societal shift toward acceptance of homosexuality and more positive views of immigrants.


      • Song For the Deaf says

        You have it precisely backwards. You libs have moved far further to the Left than we have to the right, especially in the last five years. A person who held the typical Dem beliefs 15 years ago would be a racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe by your standards today. We conservatives have barely changed our views in the last 15 years, except to be more open to gays, and you people all think you’re in a life and death struggle with Nazis led by Darth Vader.

        Stats showing who got more extreme in recent years (hint: it’s white liberals. And white liberals are the most intolerant bigots of any group by far)

        Both sides play on their base’s anxieties, we’re both being manipulated by our respective leaders but the level of fearmongering on your side (“war on women” “Republicans don’t care about rape victims”) is mind boggling. As if Republican soldiers were running through the streets gunning down women, when in fact women have at least as many rights as we do and they outperform us in any number of metrics in life. These market research firm-created talking points would be laughable if you guys weren’t constantly going around shrieking them in people’s faces.

        • Songs for the Deaf: “libs”, “Nazis”, “fearmongering”, “shrieking” … it’s a shame you feel a need to resort to derogatory and hyperbolic terms instead of engaging in reasonable dialogue. To each their own.

        • Polari Opposite says

          This article from The Atlantic (hardly a right wing magazine) argues that polarisation in US is far lower in reality than portrayed in SocMed/Media, and a key root cause are “woke polarisers” – a small (and very white) but very influential part of the US elite – well worth a read. Its unliikely the Depolarisation initiative above will be aiming itself at these people though…,

      • I love your sources: “The Atlantic” and the public TV and radio outlet in Boston (the equivalent of the BBC and Guardian in the UK); which are the epicenter of Murray’s elitist bubble.

        • Burlats de Montaigne says

          I refer you to the comment by ‘Actual Яussian Troll’ further up the page. Nail on head.

      • markbul says

        The evidence you cite comes from a source that you know is biased. If fact, their bias is the reason they exist. Stop and think before you try to do anything more than seek attaboys from the like-minded.

        • EK and markbul: I would encourage you to actually read the articles and the sources they cite rather than dismissing them out of hand.

          • lemurlover says

            Or … skip the boring reading and have butt sex with lemurs.

            I stand by my choice. Love is love.

      • David J says


        Thanks for the reply and links.
        I was talking not about polarization per se, about how much or how little either side has moved, or how each side compares to the other, but about the possible causes of such things as the election of Trump, Brexit, etc. Neither of the two articles you link to, or the points you make, appear to offer any evidence or argument which contradicts my claim. High levels of immigration in recent decades in the UK has been shown to have been the single most important reason why people voted to leave the EU. The immigration policies such people – the majority – want, were deemed normal a decade or so ago. I mean a desire for immigration to take place at a lower level. For a long period, until a year or two ago, and still among the liberal left today, that belief was thought unacceptable. This was my point. That the idea of compromise is unjust for conservatives, if it means meeting in the middle, because it wasn’t conservatives who reframed political thinking about what is and what is not okay to say and do about immigration.

        ga gamba says here that there are now more positive views of immigrants. I think he or she means in the US, where I don’t live and don’t know well enough in relation to this issue to comment about with confidence. In the UK I’d say most have positive views of immigrants. But many of those same people, some immigrants themselves, still believe, for a range of reasons, in having reduced rates of immigration. Even if it were true that the right in the UK had moved more to the right than the liberal left had to the left (which I don’t think is the case), the compromise argued for by some would still result in a fundamental injustice on this key political and social issue. Indeed, I believe the very idea of compromise on this issue in those who promote the idea, shows either a misunderstanding of the facts, or is a willful attempt to appease an ideology most disagree with.

        • @David J: I think you’re probably right about Brexit but I would argue that President Trump’s election was a consequence of many different factors. Right-wing reaction to the excesses of identity politics was certainly a factor, but I there are many other causes which played a role as well.

      • James says

        test… as all my comments are being blocked by Quillette’s security program…

        • James Lee says

          I have no idea why my comment isn’t being allowed… perhaps there are key words banned from the Wordfence security program? I’ll try to misspell certain words and see if it will get through…

          403 Forbidden
          A potentially unsafe operation has been detected in your request to this site.

          Generated by Wordfence

      • James Lee says

        The left has shifted far more significantly than the right. Peter Beinart of The Atlantic has documented that mainstream leftist positions on immigration a mere 10 years ago have now become taboo. The new left even attacked Bernie when he correctly pointed out that mass immigration policies are supported by those “right wing” Koch brothers in addition to George Soros, as they weaken the power of labor and benefit the billionaire class.

        The country as a whole has moved left in recent decades. We have witnessed a huge shift on gay marriage and homosexuality in general, the increasing legalization of marijuana, and the reform of many draconian drug laws for nonviolent drug offenses.

        • James Lee says

          So… two thirds of my comment are disallowed by the security program, I have no idea why. I removed the scandalous links to the Pew Poll organization, but that didn’t help.

          • James Lee says


            You have a great site, and it has one of the only intelligent comment sections on the web.

            Please fix the comments section, so that comments don’t get randomly blocked. My guess is that your security program has some flaws.

            Thank you.

        • James: I think you’re right about immigration, but the Republicans have also moved right on the issue. Remember, Reagan signed a bill granting amnesty to 3 million immigrants in 1986; now Republicans refuse to even pass DACA. The GOP has moved WAY to the right (of both their own previous position and the views of center-right parties throughout the developed world) on climate change and environmental issues. The EPA was established under Richard Nixon; he also signed the Endangered Species Act into law, which would be unthinkable for a Republican today. Perhaps we can agree that both parties have become more ideologically consistent and less willing to compromise.

      • annaerishkigal says

        The fact you quote “The Atlantic,” a far-left magazine which is no longer considered “credible”, is itself problematic, but in a nutshell, you are MISTAKEN. The non-partisan Pew Research Center has been tracking public perceptions for the last several decades, and most of that “polarizatin shift” has occurred from left-leaning individuals shifting to far-far-left, while conservatives haven’t shifted all that much.

        Here is a vlog by left-leaning independent journalist Tim Poole (of Occupy Wall Street fame) that explains the problem. He starts out with polarization caused by the Kavanaugh hearing as his jumping off point, so skip forward if you don’t want to listen to that part.

        Maybe stop reading the mainstream media outlets, start researching things on your own.

    • As we go far-left or far-right, the perpetual struggle over individual liberty versus state/community power will remain. Balanced approaches (that don’t restrict rights/liberty) are generally needed in a diverse community, but reasoning with radicals on any side is generally unproductive.

    • Actual Яussian Troll says

      “First, a progressive professor does or says something provocative in response to a real or perceived injustice caused by conservatives….”

      Authors, you left out a big chunk of Haidt/Lukianoff’s message: that there isn’t anything much left that ISN’T perceived by a large number of progressive professors and students as injustice. A conservative BREATHING somewhere is an injustice. A professor at Fresno State went full banshee because Barbara Bush STOPPED breathing and her fragile psyche couldn’t handle the idea the dead woman was getting five minutes of respect.

      Haidt and Lukianoff spend a lot of time demonstrating how injustice is all many of these folks see, that they are being trained to find it everywhere and told they can’t and should not handle it like adults but instead melt like Nazis in “Indiana Jones”. They term it a “consensual hallucination.”

      Yet you seem to be advocating moderation and reason in the face of hallucination.

      I have never found that to work. When someone is hallucinating and freaking out, a stunning slap across the buckle or a booming “GROW UP” (a la Orin Hatch) seems to do wonders. I abhor undirected violence; but applied with restraint to snap people out of a trance state? Beautiful.

      I think it might be the salvation of our country if the Antifas and campus socialists (hell, every college student) could spend a few days in a modern ChiCom reeducation camp. Nothing scarring, just some slave labor, light beatings, unrelenting verbal abuse and racism. That might break the hallucination so that they realize, “Oh … THIS is injustice. Good grief, we gotta protect what we have…” The WWII generation was lucky that way: as young men, they saw chaos and massive injustice overseas. Then they came home and went to college, and they were keen to make sure they supported the institutions that kept America stable.

  2. Circuses and Bread says

    We’re seeing more and more of these articles where “political polarization “ is seen as a problem. But again and again the authors miss a very basic point: this is how politics works. This is what politics is all about. Politics is not about bringing about happyness, depolarization, or kittens and puppies living together in harmony. It’s about power. Raw, unadulterated power. How politicians grab it, how they use it, and how they do their damnedest to hold onto it.

    So, to repeat my mantra once again: re-examine your premises. Saying that “X” or “Y” political strategy is going to result in a positive end result requires you to FIRST make that huge leap of faith that politics is reasonably capable of delivering beneficial ends.

    • Andrew Mcguiness says

      @Circuses and Bread What is the alternative? There needs to be some process for maintaining law and getting public services like roads and water and sewage in place. That process is actually the broader mean of the word “politics”. Without it, we have everyone looking out for themselves, maybe forming cooperative groups, but no principled organisation. Is it that you’re proposing an alternative which you do think is “reasonably capable of delivering beneficial ends”.

      • Peter from Oz says


        Your point has some merit. However, I think C & B ‘s idea is a little more sophisticated than it first appears.
        The problem is the need for more politics, allied to the need to be seen to be doing something.
        Think about it; what would happen if the Parliament took a year off after setting the budget, and Cabinet Ministers ran their departments of State with the civil service. In other words imagine if only the administrative functions of government went on for a year and it was known that the only changes that could be made were to administrative practices.
        I put it to you that the country would thrive.

        • Andrew Mcguiness says

          Peter, if that’s what C&B is getting at, it’s an interesting idea. I’d like to see it developed a bit more.

          • Paul Ellis says

            Belgium. Nearly two years without a functioning Parliament until recently. No-one noticed. Northern Ireland. Again, a couple of years or so; again, life goes on.

        • Circuses and Bread says

          Hi @ Peter from Oz

          Please see my comment in response to Mr. McGuiness.

          There are a few examples“political paralysis” I can think of where the caretaker functions of government went on and people did just fine. Examples include Belgium (link to article in this comment section). Another example is in the late 90’s in the US when for the better part of two years, our national politics was preempted with the burning question of whether or not the President received oral sex from an intern. It was a prosperous and happy time.

      • Yet we have a world today made up of ever changing countries and rulers without a central cooperating organization leading them. The free markets — and evolution itself — show that centralized control isn’t necessary.
        The idea that liberty breeds problems that only authority can resolve is nonsense. And the more authoritarianism we get, the more polarized we’ll become, whether that coercion comes from the left or the right.

      • Circuses and Bread says

        Hi @ Andrew McGuiness

        Thanks for the comment.

        I think you misunderstand my point of view because I obviously didn’t explain it well enough ?

        I am not an anarchist and do not advocate anarchy. Both on theoretical and practical grounds. In order to adopt a political theory you have to first agree that politics is going to result in some form of beneficial ends. I emphatically disagree with that premise. Further I don’t see that an anarchist society would work on any scale. I don’t think Somalia is an example we want to emulate.

        But let’s talk some more about politics. I’m unabashedly antipolitical. Both in the macro or societal sense as well as the personal.

        Let’s talk first about politics in the macro or societal sense as that seems to resonate with you more. I agree that I t’s in all our interest that the sewers operate, the roads are paved and that violent criminals are dealt with in some manner. And it’s good that competent people run those state functions. But here’s the thing: of all the possible ways to select those competent people, politics is about the absolute worst way to go about it. Look at the amount of time, money, and emotional energy we spend to accomplish what is in effect a Human Resources function. We would be better off picking the people to run caretaking functions through a national game of chance. Heck, play spin the bottle for all I care. You’re not likely to end up with significantly worse results, and it would be a whole lot cheaper. Plus as a bonus, we wouldn’t have this national psychosis that seems to be taking hold in the societal realm. We have people ending relationships, fighting, and worrying themselves sick for what? To decide which political faction gets to pick up the rubbish?

        I will add that while a compelling argument can be made for anti politics at the societal level, anti politics at the individual level is what really elicits my interest. My argument for anti politics at the personal level is usually some variation of this theme: the time and resources you spend on politics is wasted. Everything we do has an opportunity cost, including political involvement. Politics has an incredibly bad return on investment. It’s my view that any productive task we engage in, be it work at a soup kitchen, raking the leaves, or tending a garden will deliver for more positive end results (and more civic good) than that same time spent in politics. If you work in a garden, you’re at least likely to be rewarded with a few tomatoes. When was the last time we got even a tomato out of politics?

        Thanks again for the comment.

        • @C&B, you may be right if you evaluate the utility of involvement in politics at the individual level. Even in local elections — let alone statewide or national ones — it’s extremely unlikely that my one vote is going to make a pivotal difference. From this perspective, it’s perfectly rational for people to refrain from voting, or if they do vote to blindly follow their party instead of researching issues for themselves and arriving at their own conclusions. However, I think it’s also possible for voters to see themselves as a part of a broader coalition which shares their values. *Your* vote almost certainly won’t matter, but your vote in combination with 75,000 other people (roughly the margin by which President Trump won the electoral college) can make an enormous difference. Because of the 2016 election, the Supreme Court has a conservative majority which is likely to last at least twenty years. Executive orders issued by the current President and legislation passed by the Congress can be reversed if political control of the White House and/or the legislature shifts, but appointments to the Court are all but irreversible. I might agree with you if there were only minor differences between the two major parties, but Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly polarized, which heightens the stakes of elections in terms of policy outcomes.

          That said, I’m almost positive that people who devote themselves to gardening are far happier than political junkies like me who can’t stop following the news.

          • Circuses and Bread says


            Thanks for the comments.

            Your analysis on voting for the sake of being a part of a coalition misses the mark I think on a few points. So let’s talk a bit about the numbers.

            Yes, if your vote was one of those 75,000 that determined the outcome you might be able to come to the conclusion that gosh, my vote mattered. But here’s the problem: there were over 136 million votes cast. And for each one of those people who voted, there was an expenditure of time and effort to do so. Because keep in mind that it’s not only the time spent voting, it’s also the time spent educating oneself regarding candidates and ballot measures. So I think it’s safe to say we’re in the billions of manhours expended every four years.

            Wow. Just think what our society could do with a billion manhours of effort in some other endeavor. I would submit that using that level of effort to choose between two highly flawed political factions is right at the bottom of the list of best uses.

            The 75,000 number is also a particularly damning indictment of the process from an efficiency standpoint. So what we’re really saying is that we’re going to spend billions of dollars and billions of manhours to have 75,000 votes out of 136 million cast determine the result? Assuming My math is correct that’s what, about 1 in 2000 votes cast actually matters? Why not have the other 1,999 people do something else that day?

            I’ll conclude by addressing your comment about rising stakes and the differences between the two political factions. Whether you think the factions differ materially is of course subjective. What I’ve noticed over time is that the more the factions differ in their rhetoric and hyperbole, the less they seem to differ in governance.

            Thanks again for the comments.

        • Peter from Oz says

          I agree with you.
          The fact is that the majority of what the government does is managerial/adminstrative. You don’t really need politics to run a good sewerage system. Backin the days of Bazalguette when London was sufferring from rampant disease due to contaminated water and many authorities didn’t think that public sewers were the answer, it was necessary to engage in politics to get sewerage systems in place. But once they are in place the problem became a managerial one.
          From what I can see these days most political action is based on the famous logical fallacy of : we must do something, this is something, so let’s do this. In other words governments, activists and media all have an interest in requiring constant politcal activity. Without such activity the hopeless wallies who are engaged in political activity would have to do real work. Heaven forfend, they might have to do something awful like engage in commercial activity or trade. But of course they won’t do that because the truth is that they are good enough.
          We really have to abolish the idea that any problem in the world ccan be solved by government, because most of the silly people in the world work for or lobby governments.

        • About those tomatoes (I grow them here on my balconry): politics should not think about producing tomatoes, but make sure that some are producing, some are transporting and distributing, others are selling (and, sometimes, that people are buying and consuming). This is reasonably well taken care of in my country, we even produce too much and export about half. But now look at Venezuela, where the climate to produce is much better than in mine? No tomatoes on the shelf in the supers, some on the black markets for 2 million bolivar kilo, and millions of peasants in the rural areas with knowledge and land to grow them (even better than I know, probably), cheap gas to transport, and those empty shelves waiting,but……: no tomatoes in the shops! How come? Even in the times of the totalitarian Inca and Aztecs, no shortages!

          • Circuses and Bread says


            Thanks for the comments.

            Politics is so low on the list of effective ways to achieve beneficial ends in society, that I wouldn’t be surprised to find 1,000,001 ways that you could do better. My example of growing tomatoes was a somewhat tongue in cheek example of how little politics delivers for what we invest in it.

            My objective in spreading the word about anti politics is not to say that A, B, or C strategy is the “best” way to achieve civic virtue. Rather my objective is to show that politics is about the worst way to go about it. That and we’re likely to achieve better end results by doing just about anything else.

            So if you’re inclined to spend time and resources on teaching production and basic economics instead of politics, then you’re not going to get any arguments out of me. ?

        • Frank says

          Politics is basically the activity of cutting the pie…dividing resources. I don’t understand your alternative of eliminating politics as it is the process with which necessary decisions are made. It was discovered in the hippy era that leaderless-government-less societies could not exist. Without a government, a society will break up.

    • Will Crusher says

      Yours are the only comments present here that demonstrate real awareness of how American society functions. Thank you.

      • Ali Goldsworthy says

        Hiya, thanks for the comment. I’m definitely more concerned by a tendency not to listen to views other than your own which is often bourne out of polarization. We tried to illustrate how that manifests at the top of the piece (narrowing friendship groups, likelihood of believing they have committed a crime etc). But you can always look for ways to make it clearer.

        On the government point, it can function (just ask the Belgians, until you need to take a big or difficult decision. Which is a somewhat inevitable place to end up!

        Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

        • Anonymous Coward says

          In the UK Referendum I voted Leave. I live in a very Remain-orientated part of London, and most of my local friends are dedicated Remainers. I still like them a lot, and we see each other frequently, but I’m careful to be nondescript and noncommittal if the subject of the EU crops in conversation, because if I were to reveal my position I would instantly become persona non grata.

          A funny thing: along with most others I know who voted Leave I didn’t really expect to win, and was resigned to losing the vote and complying with the majority outcome. I’m astonished at the undemocratic petulance and entitledness of Remainers. And yet, despite this, I still like my Remainer friends as people.

          Anonymous Coward, obviously.

          • @Anonymous:

            Same here re Trump.

            They say that acquiescence by the losers of an election followed by a peaceful transition of power following is a sine qua non test of a functioning democracy.

            It seems democracy is thin on the ground in the Anglosphere these days.

    • Freidrich Goatse says

      Polarization and non-compromise are a feature of the current political landscape of the political landscape of any highly heterogenous country because the stakes are literally physical survival for whatever people have been backed into a corner with nowhere to flee.

      In this case, in North America, Europe, and Aus/NZ, this is the European populations. If they lose those countries, they have nowhere to go and will quite likely end up a lost species in real terms.

      Using terms like “identity politics” as a bugaboo is not understanding the issue or just being disingenuous. “Identity politics” (i.e. agitating for one’s own group interests) is a feature of a heterogenous country. It didn’t exist before in these countries because the countries in question weren’t heterogenous before, they were homogenous. Unwanted, unasked-for, undemocratic immigration policies changed this and now this is the result. It will not get better, it will get worse.

      We are no longer arguing about things like how much taxation is the right taxation, or some other relatively minor policy points. We are at the point where one side of the political spectrum is rubbing their hands in glee about using biologically weaponized immigration to minoritize and then “abolish” certain other demographics, which they claim is an “idea” by using terms like “whiteness” but occasionally they let slip that this isn’t the case as with recent articles about how awful it is that white women marry white men and vote their interests and *gasp* worse still they “reproduce whiteness” by having children with white men. In other words, they’re not talking about abolishing an idea, they’re talking about abolishing the physical existence of an actual people.

      However, no one will listen to me or anyone else saying these things, and the owners/writers for this blog are fully bought/paid into the globalist bugman hive and believe this is a workable situation so the likely outcome is what Enoch Powell predicted: Rivers of blood. Not just in Britain, though.

      • Frank says

        You are spot on with your analysis. Dr. Byron Roth in his 2010 book “The Perils of Diversity: Immigration and Human Nature” states that the debate over immigration policy in the Western world is critically uninformed by the sciences of evolutionary biology and psychology. In his work he examines the intersection between culture, genetics, IQ and society. He states, “Prominent among the fundamental features of human nature is a natural bias toward one’s own kind, making harmony in multi-ethnic societies problematic at best. All historical evidence indicates that “diversity” is not a strength, and that blood is thicker than water. Ignoring such biological realities leads to failed social experiments that may cause great human suffering.”

        A look at the historical record shows that conflict between different groups has been common throughout human history. Tribalism is the default mode of human political organization. The world’s largest land empire, that of the Mongols, was a tribal organization. But tribalism is hard to abandon, again suggesting that an evolutionary change may be required. Cooperative defense by tribal peoples is universal and ancient and it is bound to have boosted the genetic fitness of those who acted to further the interests of their group. Under such circumstances it would be odd indeed if natural selection did not mold the human mind to be predisposed to ethnocentrism.

        Mass cross cultural immigration is unpopular around the world, and if Elites continue ignoring this it is likely to lead to further populist-nationalist backlashes, not cosmopolitan harmony.

        Enlightenment thinkers were actually the originators of a science of ethnic differences, which has since been producing ever more empirical knowledge, and has today convincingly shown that ethnicity is not merely a social construct but also a biological substrate. As Edward O. Wilson, Pierre van den Berghe, and Frank Salter have written, shared ethnicity is an expression of extended kinship at the genetic level; members of an ethnic group are biologically related in the same way that members of a family are related even though the genetic connection is not as strongly marked. Numerous papers and the academic research and literature have come out supporting the view that humans are ethnocentric and that such altruistic dispositions as sharing, loyalty, caring, and even motherly love, are exhibited primarily and intensively within in-groups rather than toward a universal “we” in disregard for one’s community.

        For most of its history, the U.S. was a European-derived nation with a small “minority” population. As recently as the 1970 US Census, the USA was 84% Caucasian, 11% black, and just 4% Hispanic. It is only recently that the USA and Europe is getting an actual sense of what it means to be a multicultural democracy and it seems clear that the harsh reality doesn’t meet the idealized and Utopian theory for many Americans.

        The roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

        The best summary of the evidence is found in the early chapters of Nicholas Wade’s recent book, “A Troublesome Inheritance.” We’re not talking about another 20 years before the purely environmental position is discredited, but probably less than a decade. What happens when a linchpin of political correctness becomes scientifically untenable?

        The PC problem facing us down the road is the increasing rate at which the technical literature reports new links between specific genes and specific traits. Soon there will be dozens, then hundreds, of such links being reported each year. The findings will be tentative and often disputed—a case in point is the so-called warrior gene that encodes monoamine oxidase A and may encourage aggression. But so far it has been the norm, not the exception, that variations in these genes show large differences across races. We don’t yet know what the genetically significant racial differences will turn out to be, but we have to expect that they will be many. It is unhelpful for social scientists and the media to continue to proclaim that “race is a social construct” in the face of this looming rendezvous with reality.

  3. Deplorable Me says

    “55 percent of strong liberals say a vote for Trump would strain a friendship. Yet this does not appear to be true in reverse; Trump supporters say they are willing to be friends with liberals” < There's the problem with any progressive efforts to play nice – most of them just don't want to.

    • J...N.... says

      You are suggesting that conservatives play nicer? Like who?

      • Song For the Deaf says

        He is suggesting what we conservatives have known all along:

        If two friends find themselves on opposite sides of the political fence, the conservative may think the liberal has dumb views but he’ll still be happy to have him as a friend. The liberal is more likely to make a moral judgment of the conservative’s views, deem him a bad or morally inferior person, and end the friendship.

        Multiple studies bear this out. Liberal white women, being the most bigoted of all, are the most likely to end a friendship over politics, while conservative men are least likely.

  4. Polaris says

    Reading this article and looking at the backgrounds of the authors, I couldn’t help but think of the saying, “You can tell the sins of a preacher by what he preaches against.”

    • Peter from Oz says


      That’s very true.
      Liberal zealots are very much absorbed by projection.

  5. Farris says

    This article is advocating a return to the Left’s old playbook. In the U.S. the Left was the master of incrementalism. They would make modest proposals and incrementally acquire more and more power and control until the ultimate goal was achieved. It could take decades but eventually the goal was attained. Health care was over 40 years in the making. This strategy made the Left more diverse with more moderate members who could assuage the harder Left members and preserve their appeal to middle America. Their patience and tenacity was legendary. If a proposal was voted down, they would return the following year with a more modest or amended proposal. By remaining modest they were able to advance their agenda even when out of power.
    The Left has become too impatient and demanding of instant gratification. The Left briefly tried this more radical strategy in the late 60’s-early 70’s only to retreat after the landslide defeat in ‘72. Time was, because of the moderates in the party, calling a Leftist in the U.S. a socialist made one appear extreme and out of touch. Now the moniker of “Socialist” is a badge of honor. If the Left does not find away to modulate its more extreme members, it will be out of power for sometime without the ability to make incremental progress.

    • Farris, you make an excellent point. The Left has also become expert at alienating potential allies; it insists on absolute ideological purity instead of cultivating broad coalitions that can win elections and advance progressive change. If activists actually care about creating a more just society, they should abandon divisive identity politics and follow Mark Lilla’s advice.

      • Farris says

        Completely agree. Unions are a perfect example. The Left’s extreme position on immigration has alienated many rank and file union members. And has even alienated union members from leadership. Furthermore calling voters deplorable is not the best way to win friends and influence people.

        • ga gamba says

          Well, then the unions need to be corrected and adopt the pomo/intersectionalist playbook.

          This conflict within unions and between progressives and unions is not a recent phenomenon.

          In 1968 New York City teachers went on strike, one of the largest and, at two months, one of the longest strikes by teachers in US history. Pay? Benefits? No, 83 of their number, almost all of whom were Jewish, were dismissed by the Ocean Hill–Brownsville Demonstration School District school board. The one black teacher who was also dismissed was done so accidentally, and he was re-instated once it was determined he was black and not Jewish. More than one million students were unable to attend class when almost 58,000 teachers walked off their jobs.

          These dismissals violated the contract between the teachers union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and the board – teachers in NYC had tenure since 1917. Further, many of the teachers were dismissed by telegrams delivered to their classrooms.

          Said the telegram: The governing board of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville Demonstration School District has voted to end your employment in the schools of the District. This action was taken on the recommendation of the Personnel Committee. This termination of employment is to take effect immediately.

          The strike pitted the mostly black community, one that until very recently had been mostly Jewish, against the mostly white union, highlighting a conflict between local rights to self-determination and teachers’ universal rights as workers. The community changed faster than the teachers union had, and the teachers had tenure, so they weren’t going anywhere. Adding a wrinkle to the situation was the Afro-American Teachers Union (ATU), one that wanted its members to replace the then-present UFT teachers, which created a rivalry between the two unions. The ATU had once been part of the UFT, but it split as its members’ goals diverged from the greater union membership. The ATU wanted to implement an Afro-centric curriculum such as by teaching African dance and how to count in Swahili. UFT members thought the curriculum would do little to advance blacks into tertiary education and employment.

          What led to this?

          The Nation writes: [NYC] Mayor John Lindsay, in the spring of 1967, had granted “community control” to Ocean Hill–Brownsville and two other New York City neighborhoods. The movement had been inspired by young Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael, who argued in 1966 that “We cannot have white people working in the black community—on psychological grounds…. [B]lack people must be in positions of power, doing and articulating for themselves.” At a rally held in honor of Black Panther defense minister Huey Newton’s birthday, Carmichael declared that black youth “are more intelligent than all those honkies on those school boards…. We have to understand that until we control an educational system that will teach us how to change our community, there’s no need to send anybody to school.”

          Parents and community organisers blocked the schools’ entrances to prevent the dismissed teachers from returning to their classrooms. Police were sent to move them. The NYC Board of Education agreed to reinstate the dismissed teachers, but the local school districts refused to budge. When the teachers were restored, the students responded by striking, refusing to attend class.

          Things got racial. Blacks accused the Jews of being racists. An anti-Semitic pamphlet was found: THE IDEA BEHIND THIS PROGRAM IS BEAUTIFUL, BUT WHEN THE MONEY CHANGERS HEARD ABOUT IT, THEY TOOK OVER, AS IS THEIR CUSTOM IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY. One of the ATU teachers read a poem on a radio station purportedly written by a student. It began: “Hey, Jewboy, with that yarmulke on your head / You pale-faced Jew boy – I wish you were dead.” At an assembly with the striking teachers bullets were thrown at them by community members, and some strikers were physically attacked by the community.

          Ultimately the city’s Board of Education retook control of the districts from the offending school boards, dismissed teachers resumed their jobs, and student academic performance continued to decline. The UFT filed a civil rights complaint against the ATU for excluding whites, perhaps one of the earliest examples of what would be later be called (inaccurately) ‘reverse racism’.

          Sociologist David Wellman, author of the influential Portraits of White Racism cited this conflict as an example of white racism. Blacks demanded institutional re-organisation, a change to the status quo, by demanding control of the school districts and hiring teachers to reflect the community. Blacks wanted schools to build their self esteem and celebrate their identity. Whites saw education as the way to prepare young people for their futures. By defending its members from summary dismissal the UFT relied on the ‘white structures’ of tenure, contracts, compliance with (contractual) law, and defending its members unreservedly, which is what unions were created to do. A union failing to do so renders itself superfluous. Teachers, who were mostly progressives, claimed they were not hostile to blacks; they were simply defending their rights and interests against the unlawful actions of a powerful school district trampling on them under the guise of racial justice.

          According to Wellman, the UFT’s actions were prejudice plus power equals racism. Though they were not overtly prejudiced, and most of the overt prejudice was blacks’ anti-Semitism, by relying on systems to protect their rights, i.e. their privileges, whites were nevertheless racists. “If the consequence of whites acceding to a black demand reduces black-white inequality and if whites choose to oppose it, then regardless of the principle invoked that opposition perpetuates the status quo.” (Emphasis mine) He adds: “The focus on prejudice is empirically inadequate. It presents an inaccurate picture of racism since it can detect only the racism of people who are prejudiced.” (Emphasis mine)

          At the heart of it was the view by the school districts that the teachers’ contracts were illegitimate because they interfered with the new administrators’ plans. The allowed causes for dismissal were too restrictive and the termination process was complicated and long. Declaring it racist gave the districts the carte blanch to act. Buffoons such as Wellman give these abusive actions academic legitimacy.

          It’s all power politics.

    • Song For the Deaf says

      I thought the same thing. All this article is saying is, “Hey libs, can’t we just be nicer to the Republicans and more disingenuous about our aims while pursuing the same old left wing goals?”

    • Song For the Deaf says

      “If a proposal was voted down, they would return the following year with a more modest or amended proposal.”

      Oh you mean like they did with gay marriage and are doing now with trannies in bathrooms.

      That’s how they do it. Just keep re-doing the election until they get the results they want. The party with the deeper pockets wins and frankly, our donor class and their donor class, which are largely the same, care a lot more about the Dem side of the issues than the Rep side, so our side always peters out first. You can tell our donors are half heartedly on our side but theirs are wholeheartedly on theirs.

    • Circuses and Bread says


      Weird is good. “Normal” is political tribalism where people spend their time virtue signaling to members of their own tribe, and where differing or unorthodox views get shown the door.

      I like weird.

    • Actual Яussian Troll says

      “Quillette is just getting weird.”

      Yep. I caught that too. “Moderation!” seems to be the watchword. Like that “moderate (but liberal!) immigration policy” thing recently.

      Not to mention commenters who celebrate bestiality with lemurs (hilarious, by the way, well done).

      I think Quillette’s BS detector broke. I plan on ridiculing them mercilessly until they repair it and pass it over articles before publication. My time is precious, obviously, since I comment on anonymous discussion boards with strangers.

      But yeah … those of you with no sense of humor will be glad to know I’m coming back to Quillette less and less lately, because the pieces they publish are pieces of

      • Alas, the comment celebrating sex with lemurs was not mine; somebody else was using the same username. My love for lemurs is purely Platonic.

  6. Damian O'Connor says

    The real problem is the sheer unreality and intolerance of the Left. The fact that socialism has failed in every permutation that it has ever been tried makes no difference to their religious faith in it nor their belief that the end justifies the means and if that means villifying their opponents in appalling ways then, so be it. Against this, there seems to be no defence except for conservatives to entrench around fundamental concepts and truths like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘ an accusation is not proof of veracity’ or ‘free markets create wealth’. The Kavanaugh, #MeToo, #BLM cases are truly terrifying in the way that they undermine reason, the law and civil behaviour. The Internet is not to blame for this; the blame lies squarely with the Left – and particularly with the Left in academe. It’s time to clean the universities out and get some balance in to them.

    And, yes, I have lost friends and family because I am not on the Left.

    • Damian: I obviously don’t know you, but based on your comments it’s possible that you’ve lost friends and family because of how you hold and express your extreme anti-Left views. I regard myself as center Left and have good relationships with people across the political spectrum. However, I would find if difficult to engage with someone who’s completely closed to other perspectives, as you seem to be. It’s ironic that you accuse liberals of “vilifying their opponents” when that’s exactly what you seem to be doing. Contrary to your implication, very few U.S. liberals support full-fledged socialism along the lines of Cuba and North Korea. They hold up Canada, Sweden, Norway, etc. as exemplars — all of those country have problems, but they they’re hardly totalitarian wastelands. You also seem to think that the #Metoo and BLM movements lack any merit. We can certainly debate the tactics employed by activists and criticize them for excesses, but it’s hard to deny that powerful men have harassed and assaulted women for decades with impunity, and corrupt cops have gotten away with abusing their power without facing consequences. Instead of making sweeping assertions about “the Left” (which is actually quite diverse, especially within colleges and universities), perhaps you could make an effort to actually understand what motivates progressive activists and see if you can find some common ground. For example, I fully support the principles you’ve articulated and believe that reason is indispensable to solving problems. As Sam Harris likes to say, conversation is all we have. Tribalism is toxic, whether on the Left (SJW drones) or on the Right (anti-SJW reactionaries).

      • “Contrary to your implication, very few U.S. liberals support full-fledged socialism along the lines of Cuba and North Korea. They hold up Canada, Sweden, Norway, etc. as exemplars ”

        So they hold up non-Socialist countries as exemplars of Socialism? Thats rhetorical, of course. I know they do. Do you see that as a problem? Why do you think these liberals choose to call countries like Denarmk Socialist when Denmark doesnt even call itself Socialist?

      • Damian O'Connor says

        See what you did there? You illustrate my point entirely. I do not see what is ‘extreme’ about opposing mass murder on an industrial scale and you have no evidence whatsoever that I am closed to other viewpoints, or have no interest in understanding ‘progressive activists’. Actually, I have spent pretty much a life time in trying to understand them – from way back when I was in the Socialist Workers Party. Similarly, your assertions that bad things have happened and the people who committed them enjoy impunity is simply untrue – go look in a jail. As to ‘sweeping assertions’ look up the stats for academics on the Left and Right. It really is not my fault that the Left lack tolerance.

        I’ve laid a lot of this out in ‘A Short Guide to the History of South Africa’. You might be interested. Step outside, old chap, and enjoy the view.

  7. Bob Morris says

    I can remember the 2000 election and the number of people who cried “Bush stole the election!” And that was then followed by the cries of “Bush is the worst president ever!” So, yes, there were plenty of people who were unhinged — you just didn’t hear about incidents of anyone who didn’t blindly pledge allegiance to the Left being ran out of institutions (other than elected offices), corporations, colleges, etc. To be clear, I’m not saying they didn’t happen — they just didn’t get played up all the time.

    Fast forward to the 2008 election. A lot of people on the Right weren’t happy that Obama won. The birther movement was the very definition of unhinged. Again, though, you didn’t hear about incidents of those who didn’t blindly pledge allegiance to the Right getting ran out of those same institutions I mentioned. And, once again, not saying they never happened, just that they didn’t get played up.

    So we come to 2016, where the Left believes it’s destiny for Hillary Clinton to get elected, then Donald Trump gets elected instead. And now we are seeing far more instances of the unhinged being played up — and, yes, a lot of it has to do with the fact that Trump is President.

    However, I suspect we’d still see such situations like we have now get played up if Clinton was elected President, simply because social media and smartphones — both which have increased profiles and usage since 2008 (and didn’t exist for the most part in 2000) for these situations to get the spotlight.

    It’s true the Left is currently utilizing harassment, ostracizing, and even violence, much more than the Right. But how long will that last if the Left gets a President they like and gets control of Congress? Are we really convinced that the Right won’t opt to utilize the Left’s current tactics because they want revenge or they think those tactics must be what works?

    I will add one other point: In our current times, the unhinged on the Right tend to be isolated individuals who resort to the most extreme tactics, while the unhinged on the Left get organized into groups. However, who is to say it will remain that way?

    Thus, it’s important that, regardless of where we stand on issues, we make it explicitly clear to anybody who wants to practice harassment, ostracizing, violence or any other such tactic to advance a cause that it’s wrong. Worrying about which side is doing it more often misses the point — the point is that one side may be doing it more now, but what stops the other side from doing it more when that side suddenly loses power?

  8. @lemurlover

    “White Democrats Have Gotten Way More Liberal On Identity Issues“

    White liberals in academia & media keep shifting the overton window on acceptable opinion faster and faster. This is causing regular moderate / conservative Democrats over to the right even though they’re standing still and haven’t changed their opinions in over a decade. They went from Oberfell to instant Transgender bathroom / pronoun fascism (with NO scientific evidence or consensus within the populace). There is absolutely no evidence that trans people are at serious risk from having to use the restroom of the gender they were born with and yet the news leads with headlines like Bathroom Laws are killing Trans-kids, ect….

    The problem is that when progressives advocate for a cause or a minority position (i.e. trans) they’re not just asking society for acceptance, they’re actively trying to change ALL of society to fit around they’re fringe issue/group of the day.
    Ex. Gay marriage passes and, instead of living happily ever after with their new found freedom to wed whom they choose, they go cake baker hunting to force Christians to bake a cake. Seriously! As if there are not several dozens of bakeries in any given city that you can move on to. No, they want to force and coerce the Christian to do their bidding. It does not get more polerizing than that.

    If the Democrats could marginalize the intersectional, identity obsessed progressive crowd then they could likely get voted in office more and get some of their policies passed.

    • @KDM: thanks for the link! I completely agree. The unhinged reaction by extremists to Mark Lilla’s _The Once and Future Liberal_ is a perfect demonstration of the problem. Purity has taken precedence over pragmatism.

  9. david of Kirkland says

    Common use of terms like “libtard” and “Trump derangement syndrome” and anything “Obama” suggest the right isn’t all that tolerant of the left either.

  10. @Bob Morris
    Indeed, I’d wager the Left has a history of unthinking rash behaviors and tactics that can be summed up in the phrase “Unintended Consequences”. I won’t go through the whole history of socialism / communism here, the American Left has enough under their belt in the name of “the greater good” to suffice.
    Like, for instance, it was Harry Reid who broke the senate precedent by changing the 60 vote mandate for the judiciary….. and what do you know, unintended consequence in the name of Kavanaugh in 2018.

    Another example: Obama’s regulatory mischief of “The Pen and Phone” because, why try to legislate through a recalcitrant congress when I’ve got my pen and phone and I can just pack the courts with liberal judges.
    Also, his whole speech of “Elections Have Consequences”, seriously, if Trump wasn’t direct Karma biting the dems in the a$$ for that, I don’t know what is.

    You can also add on the 2011 Obama Department of Ed’s Dear Colleague letter that created all sorts of miscarriage of justice on college campuses everywhere along with his DoE restructuring K-12 disciplinary measures for a desired racial quota outcome. The Unintended Consequence of that is a large part of why we see so many inner urban schools with out of control student discipline problems but teachers have their hands tied. So, instead, they’re exiting the city schools in large numbers and we have a teacher shortage.

    The Republicans are not innocent. We have the entire middle east as one big unintended consequence (of course most Dems voted for that war for the same reasons) I was just pointing out the domestic issues.

  11. Denis Leonard says

    Here’s another progressive trial balloon in their never ending quest to find things that stick to the wall of the public mind. Why can’t we all just get along? You can pick apart details to death, even with a fleet of cherry pickers. But nothing can escape the fact Progressives are, at their core, Marxists – modern fudalists brandishing the politics of resentment and envy. The right has had to make room for everyone else. It’s getting crowded. The details don’t matter, it’s the spirit.

    I just love how you young intellectuals like to think yourselves into knots. Its of little consequence. When the Progressives get their way it will be hell to pay. The 20th century stands in testiment. Chew on that.

    • @Denis, do you have evidence for your claim? Compared to our European peers, socialist parties in the U.S. have always been very marginal. At the height of their appeal in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR co-opted some of their more popular proposals in the New Deal in order to preserve capitalism. Although Bernie Sanders identifies as a Democratic Socialist, he’s not actually a Democrat and does not represent the party’s broader views. Even Bernie doesn’t advocate a Marxist-style takeover other the means of production — he wants to move the U.S. closer to a Scandanavian-style welfare state. As you may know, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have flourishing free markets. Their citizens do pay higher taxes than Americans, but they also have taxpayer-supported education, health care, etc.

      Personally, I identify as a Progressive but completely reject Marxism. I teach at a college and the vast majority of my colleagues are (unsurprisingly) liberal; however, I can only think of one who endorses full-fledged socialism. Ironically, he’s a historian so he of all people should know better. As you suggest, the past century has proven beyond reasonable doubt that centralized economies don’t work. All functioning economies are mixed economies, with a mixture of capitalist and socialist elements. Is it possible to have a reasonable debate about the proper role of markets in, for example, the health care and education sectors without assuming that all liberals are crypto-Marxists and conservatives are anarcho-Capitalists? I hope so, because our democracy is in deep trouble if tribalism is so ingrained that dialogue across political lines becomes impossible.

      • petros says

        @lemurlover: “Compared to our European peers, socialist parties in the U.S. have always been very marginal. At the height of their appeal in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR co-opted some of their more popular proposals in the New Deal in order to preserve capitalism. Although Bernie Sanders identifies as a Democratic Socialist, he’s not actually a Democrat and does not represent the party’s broader views. Even Bernie doesn’t advocate a Marxist-style takeover other the means of production — he wants to move the U.S. closer to a Scandanavian-style welfare state. As you may know, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have flourishing free markets. Their citizens do pay higher taxes than Americans, but they also have taxpayer-supported education, health care, etc.
        Personally, I identify as a Progressive but completely reject Marxism. I teach at a college and the vast majority of my colleagues are (unsurprisingly) liberal; however, I can only think of one who endorses full-fledged socialism. Ironically, he’s a historian so he of all people should know better. As you suggest, the past century has proven beyond reasonable doubt that centralized economies don’t work. All functioning economies are mixed economies, with a mixture of capitalist and socialist elements. Is it possible to have a reasonable debate about the proper role of markets in, for example, the health care and education sectors without assuming that all liberals are crypto-Marxists and conservatives are anarcho-Capitalists? I hope so, because our democracy is in deep trouble if tribalism is so ingrained that dialogue across political lines becomes impossible.”

        Yeah … I’m gonna need ALL KINDS of evidence here….

  12. Bubblecar says

    “The division of the world into good and bad people may help to solicit immediate support, but it rarely reflects reality.”

    That’s debatable, but what’s more important is the degree to which a general worldview (in this case “conservative” or “progressive”) produces ethically defensible or indefensible positions in relation to specific issues, with what degree of consistency.

    For example, a recent survey showed that 54% of polled Republicans would support Kavanaugh being appointed *even if the attempted rape allegations are true*. Whether or not 54% of Republicans are “evil” is neither here nor there – what’s clear is that the influence of their worldview in a deliberation such as this can be expected to result in ethically bad outcomes.

    We should also remember that there are inevitably many issues that really are simply binary. For example, whether to support marriage equality is a “yes/no” question – in the resolution of such matters, one side will win and one side will lose. Here in Australia, after the recent victory of the marriage equality side, conservatives were complaining that this shouldn’t be a matter of “winner takes all” – but how can it not be?

    A lot of the bitterness of conservatives comes from their unwillingness to acknowledge that matters are ever settled in favour of progressive outcomes. It can take generations for them to accept their defeats as historical fact, and move on.

    • Paul Ellis says

      The result of a referendum is binary, as is the result of a US Presidential election, and yet ‘A lot of the bitterness of [progressives] comes from their unwillingness to acknowledge that matters are ever settled in favour of [conservative] outcomes. It can take generations for them to accept their defeats as historical fact, and move on.’

      Not that, in my view, the UK referendum was a progressive/conservative dispute. It was ultimately about sovereignty, expressed as a choice between being subsumed into an increasingly authoritarian meta-state founded on principles that sit uncomfortably with UK cultural and legal traditions, or once again being self-determined. There’s nothing fundamentally un-progressive about a nation being sovereign.

      De Gaulle said the UK’s membership of the then-EEC would never work, and he was right.

      • Bubblecar says

        Not really a meaningful comparison, because I’m pretty sure the majority of US voters (who voted Democrat) were not dismayed at Trump’s victory because he’s “conservative”, but because he’s a foolish and extremely dishonest egomaniac.

        They realise they have to accept that he won, but if there’s a legitimate way to get him impeached before he causes too much more damage, they’d be irresponsible not to embrace it.

        “Not that, in my view, the UK referendum was a progressive/conservative dispute.”

        True, it was more a progressive/regressive dispute, which the regressives won by telling enough lies to enough stupid people.

        When de Gaulle said UK membership would “never work”, he wasn’t paying the Brits a compliment.

        • Paul Ellis says

          – Which was a pity, considering we’d recently saved his country for him after nearly five years of war; a country which militarily had folded up within a fortnight of the start of the Nazi invasion. Oh and yes, I know the USA and USSR ultimately played bigger parts in the defeat of Nazi Germany than the UK did, but were it not for Churchill’s obduracy from ’39 to ’42, France, and the EU, would be rather different entities than they are today.

          No good turn goes unpunished, eh?

          As for the Brits (by which I think everyone means the English), well, we are what we are, and if we’re no longer welcome in polite society, so be it. There are other societies.

  13. About polarising or compromising: in the NL, the interests of farmers and nature lovers (most citizens) are as polarised as possible, the farmers want drainage and dry lands easy to mechanize and work, the nature lovers want wetlands with a lot of birds , flowers, insects and other diversity. Both groups have their spokesmen and defendents in parlement and policy. Journalists fill the journals with the clashes between both. But the country and the landscape florishes nevertheless, notwithstanding the controversies and polarities (meaning, endless complaints of both parties, all the time, yearround).

  14. D.B. Cooper says

    While I appreciate the authors, Goldsworthy and Blackie, good faith attempt at addressing the growing polarization of American/European politics, their advice – or, Haidt & Lukianoff’s by extension – can most aptly be described as palliative, rather than curative. What do I mean by this? The authors have confused a symptom (polarization) for a disease, and therefore, the treatment they advise, is focused on redressing a proximate cause of political polarization (single issue campaigning) rather than the actual root or ultimate cause; which I’ll get to in a minute.

    In short, Goldsworthy and Blackie have missed the forest for the trees, so to speak, and yes, if it’s possible for me to throw a third idiom in this comment, then I absolutely will. In fairness, I should probably note that I’m not necessarily criticizing the authors (though in a strict sense, I guess I am) for confusing a second-order problem (polarization) for a first; since, if I’m right – and admittedly, but not surprisingly, I have a strong bias to believe myself – the root cause is almost certainly an intractable problem, if it can be called a problem that is.

    Right now, you might be thinking I should explain what this “problem” is, but before I, rather bravely, break into what some may decry describe as essentialist talks, I think, it’s best to qualify the “problem” scare quotes first.

    My aim here is not to make value judgment(s) on what should or shouldn’t be the case insomuch as it is to describe what I think actually is the case. Everyone has and is entitled to their opinions on how people and societies should act/behave, but as we know there is often some distance between how one thinks one should act/behave and how one actually acts/behaves – a profound insight, I know, but given the fevered pitch of moral condemnation that is currently afoot, I thought it worth mentioning, despite knowing full well the charges of racism/sexism that are all the more likely to follow.

    So, what’s driving the balkanization of society? In a word: Evolution.

    But, more specifically, it’s tribalism; which I understand is a highly adaptive process that enhances – or did at some point – our evolutionary fitness. As to whether this continues to be the case, I’m not qualified to answer. My understanding is that there’s good faith arguments on both sides, so feel free to pick a team, or you could just be agnostic about the question; which, I’m honestly hoping you don’t do because not picking a side (1) runs counter to my supposition, and (2) if I am right, then not picking a side would constitute maladaptive behavior and you don’t want anyone questioning your relative fitness. So, pick a side.

    For anyone who thinks I’m over-egging or being histrionic about the theoretical utility of ingroup/outgroup preference as an explanation for the current (and rising) levels of polarization in Western societies, ask yourself: what socio-cultural differences you’re willing to tolerate from the outgroup (trust me, you have a tribe) in you society; what moral judgements are you willing to choke down and for how long; and what moral foundations are you not willing to sacrifice on the altar of tolerance and why? Remember, in order to tolerate something, you must first disagree with it. No one tolerates a view they agree with. How could they, disagreement is a necessary prerequisite of tolerance.

    One of the more ironical things about this article was that Goldsworthy and Blackie had the right messenger (Jonathan Haidt), they just had the wrong message. If the authors would have been a bit more psychologically curious than politically precocious they might have looked a little more closely at Haidt’s book ‘The Righteous Mind’ (they link to it); which suggests, among other things, that variations in moral reasoning is an innate quality. Why, you might ask?

    Consider that if our moral reasoning faculties are innate (i.e., at least partly biological to some not insignificant degree); then it may be the case that differences in our moral framework is as “hardwired” as any other personality trait. That’s not say our ethical intuitions on any particular subject are intransigent by nature. I’ve yet to meet anyone whose views haven’t evolved over time and/or circumstance in some meaningful way. What I am saying, however, is that differences in our moral framework may not be so easily overcome. In fact, they are very often grounds for divorce. In marital law, I believe this is called ‘Irreconcilable Differences’ or some such thing.

    A second scholar the authors may should have taken notice of is Harvard professor, Robert Putnam, whose research on the societal effects that immigrant and ethnic diversity have on communities, found that:

    (1) People in diverse communities tend to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference…

    (2) ‘Hunkering down’ occurred no matter whether the communities were relatively egalitarian or showed great differences in personal income. Even when communities are equally poor or rich, equally safe or crime-ridden, diversity correlates with less trust of neighbors, lower confidence in local politicians and news media, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, and less happiness.

    While Putnam’s research looked at the effects of ethnic diversity on communities, there’s no reason to believe that ingroup/outgroup dynamics only apply to phenotypic differences, and, in fact, we have every reason to believe that’s not the case. Taking even a cursory glance at the historical record strongly suggests homophily (assortative mating) was the rule, rather than the exception.

    So, what’s the upshot, here? Is it simply the case, that as diversity grows so too will the pressure and strife about whose society it shall be? For better or worse, I believe the evidence supports or something nearing it. And if so, then it follows that the growing polarization is the inevitable outcome of a society with ever increasing divergence of values, belief systems, cultures, languages, and yes, ethnicities. This is why the Left accuses the Right of pushing back against a changing nation, and it’s also why the Right accuses the Left of packing the voting rolls with any traditionally left of center constituency that can fog a mirror, swear citizenship, and reliably check a box for Dems, be them women, 18-25 year-olds, minorities, immigrants (illegal or otherwise). This is one of the few examples where it can be said with some confidence that both the Left and the Right are correct and in their assumptions. Make a note, because it doesn’t happen much.

    One hardly needs reminding that it’s perfectly natural for people of all stripes to follow their separate interests. From what I gleaned in the comments, no one here, at last count, seems willing or ready to abdicate their own biological imperatives to the socio-cultural constraints of an outgroup, nor should they. Goldsworthy and Blackie seem to believe that our national health depends on refashioning a little more concern for good faith debate and understanding in the political arena. I wish that were true. Such measures may have some utility in the short-run, although I highly doubt they could make much difference in the long-run.

    As I said before, my aim is not to criticize the authors or their suggestions. It’s not clear to me that anything can be done; at least, not when the problem is part of the human condition. People follow the rewards, and I’m thinking we might follow them right off the cliff.

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @DB Cooper

      I found your post very interesting. I have questions.

      This view of inherent or mandatory tribalism assumes that everyone has a tribe and perhaps that’s true. But how is that relevant for those who, while they may be part of a tribe, are indifferent and uninterested in participating in their tribal identity rituals as they relate to politics ?

      Why I ask: if we’re going to relate politics to tribalism, then we should consider the influence of those who chose not to participate in the political process. They are in the plurality in many western countries and in the US are (arguably) in the majority.

  15. D.B. Cooper says

    @C & B

    And I yours, Mr. Bread, and for reasons that might sound strange, and not because they aren’t. It’s difficult for me to say why, but I couldn’t help but feel your questions were born out of personal reasons, rather than, academic. Conjecture, I know; but just out of curiosity, do you consider yourself a contrarian by disposition? Feel free not to answer, aside from confirming my intuitions, it is really of no consequence either way.

    This view of inherent or mandatory tribalism assumes that everyone has a tribe and perhaps that’s true. But how is that relevant for those who, while they may be part of a tribe, are indifferent and uninterested in participating in their tribal identity rituals as they relate to politics?

    For matters of clarity, the first thing I would say, is that “This view,” by which I take you to mean my view, of tribalism is not “mandatory” in the sense that it can be ordered or required. Is it an inherent quality? Yes. But, it’s not a mandatory quality. Conflating the two, creates a degree of equivocation (ambiguity) that shouldn’t be there. But, to your point, yes, tribalism is an inherent trait, insofar as it is an adaptive behavior in human evolution that enhances biological fitness.

    So, how is that relevant for individuals who are indifferent and uninterested in participating in the tribalism of identity politics?

    The answer depends on what you mean by relevant. Yeah, just bear with me b/c the concept of relevance is not as straight forward as it might seem.

    One view you might take is that something can be relevant to you, if it increases the likelihood of you accomplishing a goal or end. So, for example a seatbelt might be relevant to you, if it increases the likelihood of you not dying (in a car crash). Taken in this sense, you can imagine how a person might be indifferent and uninterested in participating wearing their seatbelt, and yet the seatbelt would still be sufficiently relevant to the person (assuming they didn’t want to die).

    In another sense, something can be relevant because it “matters” to you, personally. You’ve made it or given it relevance by assigning it this quality (of relevance) for reasons that are subjectively qualified according your own personal preferences for the thing.

    The second one, is a bit of soft-pedaling, but I don’t think it matters b/c it would be logically incoherent to hold this position. That is, you couldn’t logically believe something was relevant, while simultaneously being indifferent and uninterested about it. These are mutually exclusive states of being.

    So, the answer to your question is given in the seatbelt example. The seatbelt (A) is relevant to because wearing it (T) increases the likelihood of not dying (G). Political tribalism (A) is relevant to you because when your tribe wins elections it (T) increases your chances of not dying in a socialist country run by the DSA, BLM, and #MeToo.

    Of course, this assumes you don’t want to die in a car crash or a socialist country.

    Why I ask: if we’re going to relate politics to tribalism, then we should consider the influence of those who chose not to participate in the political process. They are in the plurality in many western countries and in the US are (arguably) in the majority.

    By “political process,” do you mean the process of actually casting a vote? If so, then yes, they would be the plurality in many Western countries. Having said that, I’ve never suggested, nor do I think, that voting in and of itself constitutes the totality of the political process.

    If, however, by “political process,” you mean something that actually approximates to the political process at the local, state, and federal levels (primaries & caucuses, campaign finance, campaigning, party systems, absentee/mail/early voting, etc., etc.); then you will need to explain to me how people influence a process they don’t participate in. Are you referring to some indirect effect due to their absence?

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @DB Cooper

      By the political process I mean the process of selecting political leaders including but not limited to voting. And yes, I think there is an indirect and direct effect of nonparticipation. I view it as largely positive, a bulwark of indifference that results in societal stability over time. This is especially true in the US. Demagogues and half baked revolutionaries want and need a parade to lead. They’re unlikely to get that from people who can’t be bothered to show up.

  16. Circuses and Bread says

    @DB Cooper

    Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful post. I want to take the time to digest it, but in the mean time I’ll be happy to answer your questions that I can quickly respond to: (1) are my reasons for asking these questions personal or academic? A: 100% personal. I’m not an academic. I’m one of those who reads a academic paper in one hand with a dictionary in the other. But I think your question was probably more along the lines of motivating factors. As I’ve noted in other comments at Quillette, I’m here to learn. More to the point, I think I’m on to something. So, I want to put my views before some very bright people in order to (hopefully) get them to blow holes in them. Because I learn from that and can later refine. (2) am I a contrarian? Depends on your definition. Here’s one from an online dictionary: “One who takes a contrary view or action, especially an investor who makes decisions that contradict prevailing wisdom, as in buying securities that are unpopular at the time” if that’s your definition, then sure. But again I think your question is perhaps more along the lines of: are you contrarian for the sake of being contrary? My answer to that is no, although I suppose my family might hold a different view?

  17. I kind of think Jon Haidt is semi-responsible for the current epidemic of progressives and liberals “speaking to the elephant” (using System 1 rhetoric) which quixotically has led to conservatives and reactionaries “speaking to the elephant” (System 1) and not the rider (System 2). They do this largely because Jon Haidt moaned about progressives and liberals not doing this in his book The Righteous Mind. System 1 rhetoric should named and shamed and called out as the bulldust that it is.

    We need to restore a universal System 2 “creedal” identity that appeals to reason and enlightenment values and that speaks to System 2 not sink into a cesspit of warring System 1 faction venting like toddlers arguing in the sandpit…

    The only plausible candidate for such a universal System 2 creed is science.

  18. Yes, but there is science and science, and none of the two can do without an agenda or beliefs. Don’t forget, the agenda of Pluckrose a.o. was to ridicule the soft sciences, and that in a rather sophisticated way (they tried earlier on with downright nonsensical language, but this was then easily rejected in the review process). Don’t forget (as I explained above) that it’s not very diffcult to default in serious journals, with and without good faith (as has been done more than once, see Wikipedia).

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