Philosophy, Politics, recent

The Crisis of Sense-Making

Political events in recent years have crept over the postwar order like dark clouds, and the heavy air has shaped public discourse and sensibility in ways that are unexpected and confounding. Words recited in the headlines every day give us a litany of agitation or exhilaration: Trump, Brexit, Populism, Impeachment, Social Media, Social Justice Warriors, #MeToo, Alt-Right, Troll Farms, the Death of Journalism, the Rise of Authoritarianism, Fake News, ISIS, and so on.

A perceptive insight into this landscape has come from the “Intellectual Dark Web” and other commentators found on various internet platforms: we are facing a crisis of sense-making. The incongruity of decisions made in institutions against public feeling derives from a failure of individuals in society to make sense of the world together. It’s not hard to find an ostensible cause. The internet has transformed the medium of public discourse, with profound implications for how ideas and opinions are shaped and spread. At the same time, certain economic and cultural processes have begun to generate big problems for which we don’t yet appear to have solutions. What are we going to do about climate change? Income inequality and the lingering effects of the Great Recession? The attrition of religious feeling and communal experience?

The first impulse, typically, has been to understand these changes in purely political terms. And so, in this telling, the crisis in sense-making is merely a series of political conflicts, with winners and losers. But politics is too flat and too superficial to comprehend the processes that, like a tide, seem to move our fixations from below. This is because, in reality, these changes, when viewed systematically across a population, or even the whole world, are operating on multiple levels simultaneously—geographic, epochal, ecological, cultural, economic, social and political—and any part of what we may want to observe can be distinguished, with great delicacy, by a degree of contingency, and by a web of fractal relationships with everything else involved.

An honest result does not lend itself to rhetorical binaries and zero-sum struggles. And so when public discourse focuses on the political, and its Left and Right binaries, our priorities become scrambled, and our conclusions misallocated. If we look for examples in an American context, I worry about cases like the refusal of Republicans to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, motivated in no small part by the opposition of evangelical voters to the legality of abortion; a religious concern for sexual propriety, with abortion as its emblem, does not justify such an unprincipled trashing of institutional norms. On the liberal side, the firing of James Damore from Google demonstrated that aggressive “equity” initiatives in corporate hiring or promotion can create a toxic political atmosphere in what should be a more purely social space, with an economic focus.

I’m not interested in litigating these particular examples—I mention them merely to point at concrete instances that are, to me, concerning and synecdochal. The reader can find his own examples, if he dislikes these. Instead, I would like to propose a series of principles for a new sense-making in public discourse, and suggest that political action, for the time being, should be antedated by an application of these principles among the conscientious.

The Personal Is Not Political

One of the great mistakes of ’60s and ’70s radicalism was the idea that “the personal is political.” There is some merit to the feeling behind this slogan: both formal policies and cultural attitudes can have a profound effect on the fate of individuals, especially those whose physical or emotional lives do not fit neatly into conventional social frameworks or power structures. However, simply noting that two domains are impacted by one another does not justify conflating them.

Politics exists because people have different values and interests (for whatever reason), but we have to live near each other, and there are limited resources that must be shared if violence is to be avoided. We’re also a social species and so we depend on one another for common endeavors and for mating. Politics demands that there be compromise among individuals or groups, given conflicting interests, and that, through some kind of social process, an accommodation is found for every party involved. Our institutions are built out of the repeated necessity of finding these accommodations. “Political idealism,” as it is usually understood, is something of an oxymoron: the ideal of any political process is compromise.

Meanwhile, the personal sphere has different concerns, and they center around the unique fate of each individual. Will I fall in love? Do I get along with my family and neighbors and colleagues and friends? How are my children doing? Am I invested in my house or my city? Do the things I do every day—my work, my hobbies, my physical habits, my involvement in a local community—do these things have meaning? The answers to these questions, ultimately, have to be decided by individuals, or between individuals, or within local communities. And the ideal of the personal should not be compromise, but self-actualization.

Corruption Matters

Centrist pundits love to beat up on tribalism; lamenting the current media environment of sharp partisanship and extrinsic ideological conflict is de rigeur among “reasonable” commentators. However, this masks the real problem embedded in tribalism: not the anger and simmering violence it generates, but the corruption it enables.

The word corruption often conjures images of a man in a trench-coat passing out brown envelopes of money for contracts or favors. However, in America, this sort of thing isn’t nearly as pervasive or harmful as it has been in other places and other eras. Corruption can be subtle, and it can be enacted through public kabuki rituals that are not illegal on their face; corruption, nevertheless, is always unethical, and it always has the insidious potential to proceed step-wise through a whole society.

The classic corrupt political maneuver of recent decades involves politicians who overtly signal for policies that favor narrow special interests and receive large donations to their campaigns or to affiliated organizations from those interests, without having to make an explicit ask. In American government, everything from the military industrial complex to student loans to health insurance has this stench. Other countries, no doubt, have their own version of this. It also can permeate the private sector. Large companies often gain enough market clout to exploit their customers, vendors, and employees. In general, policies and business decisions that encourage rent-seeking, tax avoidance, and environmentally destructive behavior are deeply corrupt, regardless of the legality of such actions, and this should effect how we participate in our institutions.

In Policy, Outcomes Are More Important than Identity

Tribalism not only blinds us to corruption, it also disorders our expectations about what institutional processes are meant to achieve. Institutions are not merely intended as vessels of belongingness. Some may offer this as a fringe benefit, but, fundamentally, institutions have a purpose to fulfill in their actions, and they lose their reason for being when that purpose is not ethical, or necessary and clearly circumscribed. Humans should seek belongingness first from family and from friendships, and even where membership in some organization may be gratifying, the actions of the institution have to be differentiated from the feeling of membership itself.

When politics hinges on affirmations of identity, the institutions of politics, the government and its appendages, are no longer seen as the means by which compromises can be crafted among competing groups or individuals. Policy, then, becomes a mode of self-expression, and any degree of narcissism can find its justification in an ideology and its prescribed policies. The best response to a lot of what passes for political argument is: Get over yourself!

The entailment from policies to outcomes is largely empirical and testable. We should fully expect to have conflict and compromise with regard to preferred outcomes, but no one should listen to uninformed chowderheads trying to persuade us of bad ideas for the aggrandizement of an identity.

Religious Feeling Can Only Be Satisfied in a Local Setting

Religion allows for individuals to orient their emotional lives in ways that align with the basic social prerogatives of their respective communities. When a religion is able to express, iconically, the spiritual feeling of a time or a place, it allows for the individual, there, to experience a profound sense of belongingness and meaning. There has been an unfortunate tendency, since the Scientific Revolution, to reduce religious practice to a rehearsal of belief, as if the symbolism and feeling endowed in communal rituals were a compulsion of what can and cannot be known, in some deterministic sense. Feeling is not in what is known, except to the extent that wisdom might let us know something about feeling.

Religious identification has been in decline for decades now all over the world, but especially in Europe and America. It has been proposed that the politics of identity or of other ideologies have stepped into this breach. There may be some truth to this and, if so, then it is a dangerous truth. At a minimum, we should be concerned about decadence and empty hedonism in a world without the iconicity of purpose. I want to suggest, however, that this emotional need cannot be fulfilled at a high social level, and that most of the public discussion about religion is focused on the wrong things.

It’s not clear that poorly attended churches preaching millennia-old doctrine are relevant to a post-industrial world, nor should we be inspired by the obsession of fundamentalists to enforce sexual proprietary through law or violence. Big, capitalized terms like “Western Civilization” or “Eastern Spirituality” don’t really have anything concrete to offer us. The images projected at us through TV and the internet have been made into spectacles for entertainment.

Instead, we must look around us, and find meaning in our immediate surroundings, in people we meet face-to-face, and in actions that bring value to our personal lives. Whatever is beamed to us on the news every day should not be of profound emotional interest.

Spend as Much Time Cross-Examining Your Own Soul as You Spend Excoriating or Venerating Public Figures

Does this require elaboration? Who among the outraged has a deeply satisfying personal life? Who is driven to publicly perform their feelings, but an actor?

A Society’s Success Should Be Judged in Millennia

Despite everything that has been learned about long stretches of time in the history of the earth and of the cosmos, we’re obsessed, culturally, with “moment time.” There is something to this, psychologically: the individual has every reason to devote considerable attention to the events that make up his or her day, and what can be remembered, verbally, among friends and family, at most, around the span of a decade or two. As I just argued, this is what should occupy our emotional lives. However, the awesome power of technology, in an industrialized economy, has unleashed the terrifying possibility that we could liquidate civilization through nuclear war or environmental destruction within a few generations. Our goals and our values are not only emotional, and so when we are a little more clear-eyed about the wider world, our actions must be framed in civilizational terms, across hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. Only through such a perspective can humans take responsibility for themselves at this time in history.

Our Intellectual Systems Are Theoretically Stagnant and Need New Ideas

The academy and other institutions mostly produce intellectuals who fall into two categories: jackals and rabbits. Jackals misuse their knowledge for political ends or for self-aggrandizement, and are attracted to ideas dead and decomposing. Rabbits patiently munch away at small problems while nervously avoiding the unknown, and are admitted to run and hide when approached by strangers.

There have been great intellectual triumphs in recent centuries, and amazing work is being done right now on scientific applications to produce technology. But theoretical work across disciplines has stagnated, and this makes febrile soil for conspiracy theories, ideology, and the idiocies of the weak-willed and wicked. Many feel entitled to their opinions above the exigencies of having to learn. All the while, so many essential questions remain unanswered, either because we pay them no mind, or because we have no fresh ideas. How do we account for the subjectivity of consciousness in physical terms? What is rhythm? Why are we taught that there are three observable dimensions of space and one linear dimension of time? How is paralanguage related, structurally, to music? What, exactly, are grammatical categories?  What is “information”? We have a solid Darwinian theory of function—where is the complementary theory of form, and which is more basic? What is “life”?

I might posit here another category of intellectual, the platypus. We need a venomous, duck-waddling, semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal, the last of its kind, the first comedian of Dream Time. Someone with a completely new idea of an old feeling, and enough sense of irony to communicate it. It’s very hard to make fundamental progress on big intellectual problems, and even the most talented among us can fail through no intrinsic fault of their own. But, socially, we must make a place for the awkward, original platypus, whether or not he succeeds. Or ours will be a kingdom of jackals.

One might say that at least some of these principles are self-evident banalities. Yes! Principles are platitudes! But each one of us must be reminded of them, from time to time, when we’ve forgotten the melody. Or the squawk of the platypus. Yes!

 

Jeffrey Quackenbush lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and works in the renewable energy industry.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

 

47 Comments

  1. Steve says

    “What are we going to do about climate change?”

    Bail out right there.

    Can we not have ONE site on the entire internet which is free of this pseudo-religious postmodern cult?

    • Ben says

      @Steve

      That line was used as an example of a large questions with our society and had no relevance to the rest of the article. I would suggest read the article in it’s entirety before brandishing it as ‘pseudo-religious’ or part of a ‘postmodern cult’.

  2. Indeed Steve, I refuse to take anyone seriously who opines on the subject of anthropogenic global warming or whatever quack theory they now espouse. It really irks me and I just assume they are totally indoctrinated. It has become the sine qua non of righteousness.
    It is not clear that the author thinks there is a climate crisis. On the whole, though, a messy article.

  3. Ray Andrews says

    Both of the above reinforce my still rather guarded commitment to Warmism. Folks who start right in with the invective, who do not even attempt an argument, demonstrate that they are anti-science, anti-reason and anti-discussion. All fundamentalists are equally dangerous. Speaking of pseudo-religion, I notice that @Jonathan first burns the heretic with the fire of his vituperation, then gets around to noticing that he might not even be guilty. Better safe than sorry tho.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”Both of the above reinforce my still rather guarded commitment to Warmism”
      Seems like you are doing exactly the same as those whom you condemn. Your committment to warmism should not depend upon whether the statements of individual anti-warmists are rhetorically suspicious, but on the facts.
      The facts are that the scientific case for wramism is unclear and that governments are causing untold economic harm by trying to stop man made climate change.

  4. Debbie says

    The incongruity of decisions made in institutions against public feeling derives from a failure of individuals in society to make sense of the world together.

    This seems to be the essay’s thesis sentence, but as written (especially the first three prepositional phrases) it’s very confusing.

    • Harbinger says

      ….politicians are getting things wrong, because the signalling from their communities are now umbled, and intermittent. And that’s because as individuals we are shying away from, or can’t find a way to, each actively making a contribution to the consensus reality………….(or something like that I imagine).

    • Yes, I thought exactly the same thing. Also, with this sentence:

      “There has been an unfortunate tendency, since the Scientific Revolution, to reduce religious practice to a rehearsal of belief, as if the symbolism and feeling endowed in communal rituals were a compulsion of what can and cannot be known, in some deterministic sense.”

      I don’t know what the last part means.

  5. Lightning Rose says

    Did anyone who’s ever passed sixth-grade history REALLY think “the postwar order” was going to last forever? How long did Napoleon last? The Czars? The Tokugawa shogunate? Dude, that’s a HOWLER. Situations/motivations/conditions change. What you smokin’ in them NH woods?

    Ah! I see. The Gaia cult. I think most of us who AREN’T smokin’ it realize we don’t control the weather, so doing Exactly Nothing about “climate change” is trending. Talk about fake problems!

    Some folks are religious. Some aren’t. Some like “communal” activities. Some don’t. A whole LOT of us don’t want our private choices dictated by some authoritarian nanny. Just sayin’!

    “The personal is political” today in ways that make the 70’s look quaint. The “chattering class,” “bohemian bourgoisie” and aspiring social climbers are virtue-signaling SO hard they may give themselves hernias. It’s gone waaaay beyond The New Yorker or PBS tote bag. One MUST be seen biking to work, sucking down sickening pureed kale, and pretending to be gay even if straight. One’s “cause” is one’s status, having overtaken cars, houses, handbags, and Platinum Cards. Walk, run, shave your head, swim backwards upside down and naked for any cockamamie “charity” willing to give you publicity for doing it. Be seen downtown with signs screaming all the proper progressive lines, no matter how banal, inane, or asinine. Be “against” oil, red meat, capitalism, vaccinations, air travel, or power plants even while reaping the benefits of ALL of them with both hands! The parody just writes itself.

    • David says

      I’ve always been quite skeptical of all those people running down inconveniently blocked busy streets i n the service of the latest liberal cause. They get a t-shirt enabling them to demonstrate their “commitment” and be seen as caring and sharing sort of people. What seems to go unnoticed is that most of them are doing something they enjoy and would be doing anyway. You really want to show your commitment to addressing some problem? How about organizing a night of, say, sleeping naked in a restaurant dumpster?

      • Lightning Rose says

        How about staying home in your room and quietly writing out a big, fat check? That’s what “caring” people of mature dignity used to do back in the days of Noblesse Oblige. You will notice that takes much, much more “chops” than running in the streets in your short-shorts for someone ELSE’s 60 cents per mile! 😉

        • David Barnett says

          But sitting home writing checks doesn’t accomplish the meta-goal: to be noticed, to be seen as belonging to the cadre of people who want to “make a difference”, as though the rest of us who don’t engage in these activities aren’t affecting the world with our less public choices and activities.

  6. Andrew Scott says

    The article seems to say that while politics should not serve as ‘vessels of belongingness’, that is a purpose of religion, along with ‘expressing the spiritual feeling of a time or place.’ The first is a desirable side-effect. The second is meaningless word salad.

    Many who practice religion view it as conforming to reality, albeit a reality on which we mostly disagree. I’d argue that if anyone doesn’t feel that way they should consider either strengthening or abandoning their beliefs. If we’re going to do or not do things because we believe it’s what God wants, should we not believe we have reason to do so?

    Similarly, we should ask what is wrong is wrong with ‘millennia-old doctrine’ from a purely logical perspective. If we believe that what we believe now won’t be true in a thousand years, how is that different from believing it isn’t true today? It’s not science, although even when it comes to self-correcting science, we should hope that the knowledge on which we base important decisions is provisionally sound and not just a best guess to be discarded tomorrow. (How much scientifically aquired knowledge do we use to make important decisions, how much do we just use, and how much doesn’t affect us at all?)

    Whether religion and politics overlap also depends in part on our beliefs. I don’t feel that my religious beliefs provide a commission or authorization to make others act according to them, either through force or politics. What’s more, I don’t expect that others will – I expect that they won’t. I wonder if many people could articulate what the beliefs of their religion say about such concerns.

    While I found much of the article thoughtful, that misunderstanding of religion was puzzling. Religion is not a club so that we can belong to something. If it is, consider whether you might be doing it wrong.

  7. Farris says

    “What are we going to do about climate change? Income inequality and the lingering effects of the Great Recession? The attrition of religious feeling and communal experience?”

    Question such as these have an inherent arrogance in that they assume mankind can produce a solution. The climate has been changing for billions of years and will continue to do so. The more relevant questions would be can mankind mitigate the effects of climate change, income inequality or religious attrition?

    “One of the great mistakes of ’60s and ’70s radicalism was the idea that “the personal is political.”

    One of the biggest mistakes SJWs make is the disregard of context. They put on trial and convict the dead for ex post facto attitude violations on issues not prominent during their own time. Under this absurdity persons like Martin Luther King can be judged a homophobe. Furthermore they tend to view only one side of history. For instance the U.S. practiced slavery. (Not an uncommon practice throughout history) But overlook the fact that the majority went to war killing hundreds of thousands of their own kind in defense of the ideal of freedom for all. (Unprecedented in human history). The reason is there is in place an attempted revolution by subterfuge. No part or context of the past can be venerated because it is the past and its institutions the revolution seeks to overturn in a slow methodical way. Hence the notion anything prior to me is bad or evil. The revolution need not succeed in in the short term, it is merely essential it perpetuate incrementally in order to achieve its ultimate goal. Patience and time are on its side.

  8. Steve Paoli says

    I would like the author to put this article in nutshell please.This is a very interesting topic, can you be more concise?
    Thanks, Steve P

    • Steve, I think Jeffrey has already written a very broad ranging and pretty tight summary of what probably would, if it were teased out in detail, make a fair sized book.

  9. ga gamba says

    … we are facing a crisis of sense-making.

    I suppose how one defines crisis determines this. I think some see a “crisis” where views that once had little chance to get beyond the pub, cafe, or parlour now are disseminated easily and widely due to information technology. I’m pleased to see a plurality of views, though I am saddened by the efforts of the chattering class to banish those they deem harmful and offensive to be heard. So, the “crisis” for those who once monopolised sense making – and earned a tidy sum selling adverts on the broadcast and print platforms (hereafter legacy platforms) – is they no longer hold such a dominant and even exulted position. These legacy platforms now have to contend with people who never would have been given the space to air their views – aside from letters to the editor – whilst also losing money.

    In the past, the legacy platforms were initially rivals who came to mutually beneficial arrangements. Radio people moved to TV. Print journalists appeared frequently on panel shows of both. Radio’s most profitable time of the day was the morning drive and TV’s prime time was after supper. Through M&A, media companies came to own all three legacy platforms. Information technology disrupted this coziness.

    Secondly, there is the amusing phenomenon of those who battled long and hard to win places at the legacy platforms, for example women and the people of the people of, who suddenly see their winnings diminished. Fixated on seizing the established institutions, they largely failed to envision an alternative could be created. Even those who got their start online and found success moved to legacy platforms. They wanted to shape and control sense making in the same manner that it had once been (or how they perceived it had once been), but technology – the alternative – subverted this. I reckon many of them are quite miffed.

    I recall a few years ago reading New York Times journalists were outraged when Vice Media was securing large sums of venture capital, selling minor stakes for big money, and signing lucrative deals with HBO. In 2013 Vice’s valuation was almost equal to the New York Times’s and was six times more than the Washington Post’s. Of course, fortunes wax and wane, and now Vice has hit tough times because it diverged from what had once made it successful.

    Lastly, I think some groups had very unrealistic objectives of sense making and the extent of the power to do so, perhaps because they had a caricatured idea of those in power. I can get behind tolerance, but when the demand shifts to obligatory embracing and celebrating is where I depart. I’m not going to perform the rituals and I’m very unlikely to make sacrifices for anyone other than family and friends. The more strident (and violent) the demand for compliance, the more forcefully I’ll resist and support others who do so as well.

    Thinking of the Brexit, Trump, and the recent Australian general election votes, I saw in the aftermath a good portion of punditry and online readers’ comments was spent smearing those “too stupid” to know what’s good for them. I don’t know how they think that’ll be a winning message. Frankly, their having such an attitude makes me relieved they don’t monopolise sense making.

    The art of subtle persuasion defies them. Of course, many of these people are those who think civility is a tool to oppress them, so I don’t anticipate any common sense making made unless opponents are unpersoned or the heads of those who resist are kicked in.

  10. Respek Wahmen says

    Clever piece of ironic, self-referential postmodern art.

    • mirrormere says

      Precisely! “Claptrap” works well too.

  11. Morgan Foster says

    “I worry about cases like the refusal of Republicans to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, motivated in no small part by the opposition of evangelical voters to the legality of abortion …”

    In my opinion, the author has made a major error of sense-making with this statement.

    The stonewalling of Merrick Garland was entirely the doing of two men, neither of whom had any interest in abortion: Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.

    McConnell, a Republican and Senate Majority Leader, was taking revenge against his immediate predecessor, Democrat Harry Reid, who (again, in my opinion) was one of the most vile and contemptible persons to have ever held public office in the United States.

    McConnell could not have known Trump would win the presidency. No one could have known. McConnell had to have believed that Hillary would win and then he would have had no recourse but to let Garland, or someone like him, go to hearing. Trump’s win was nothing short of a define intervention in the Story of Man.

    Pro-lifers were certainly biting at McConnell’s ankles while Garland’s nomination was being held up, but their part was of no significance, whatsoever.

    It was personal. A quarrel between two men, and nobody else. The Democrats are taking counter-revenge in the House today. If they gain control of both houses in the next election, everything will get so much worse.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      McConnell’s has been an obstructionist at every possible opportunity. He famously announced his intent to cripple Obama’s presidency, and he is a master of jamming up the system when it serves his party. Do you really not know this? McConnell is a masterful politician, and disgustingly cynical and hypocritical.

      Your understanding of the situation in question is bizarrely uninformed. What happened with Garland was historically unprecedented and opportunistic, and you don’t get to pretend otherwise.

      • Chris says

        Nagatomi Plaza you remind me of a neighbors cat I used to look after when they were away, the cat used to bite me when I was putting food in it’s bowl. I don’t do that anymore.

  12. David Doyal says

    ” a failure of individuals in society to make sense of the world together.”
    What does it mean to “make sense of the world together”? Please give an example of that having occurred, or what would be an example of it occurring in the future. This should have been made clear at the start of the essay.

  13. S.Cheung says

    “actions of the institution have to be differentiated from the feeling of membership itself.”

    Well that’s where we fall short, isn’t it? Personal actualization may be the goal for everyone, as long as that pursuit does not interfere with others in pursuit of same. But the institution has to step in when interests collide, to prevent stagnation or chaos. But we are not good at allowing the institution to do that, when what it seeks to do might differ from our own vision for such actualization. And often times, we can’t even agree on what “stagnation” or “chaos” might look like, let alone how to avoid, correct, or prevent it. This would appear to be the times we live in.

    So “corruption” as described by the author is ubiquitous, and bi-directional. Reps virtue-signal to certain silos, and members of those silos signal back conditional support (in $ and in votes) so long as the version of actualization preferred by that silo takes precedence. What really seems to be missing is the capacity for compromise. How did society become more uncompromising? Is there a way to reverse the trend?

  14. DrT says

    What complete nonsense. We need some new ideas to figure out modern communications like social media, how to best use them and what to guard against. But much more often, we need old ideas – like tolerance, freedom, and non-coercion among many others. The author asserts that “…policies and business decisions that encourage rent-seeking, tax avoidance, and environmentally destructive behavior are deeply corrupt …”. Really?!? So its unethical and corrupt to avoid a tax imposed on me against my consent. Its corrupt to pursue a strategy that makes more money – I suppose especially if the author doesn’t like the strategy. Its tempting to agree with his environmental destruction point. But what if I own the property, there are no spillover effects from my “destruction” and some other group of rational people might not agree that it is, in fact, destruction. What then? Who decides? To say the authors remarks are self-evident banalities as he does overestimates their value. We’d have been better off with him reciting Mill, Bastiat or Marcus Aurelius.

  15. Jesse says

    s/proprietary/propriety/g

    Quillette, for its part, is certainly experiencing a crisis of proofreading. Each of the last dozen articles I’ve read has contained at least two glaring errors like the one mentioned above.

    • Peter Kriens says

      I assume you’re supporting Quillete financially?

  16. Comrade Drzesinki says

    You can fix social inequality by first launching a wave of Bolshevik terror and then building gulags where millions of your enemies can be enslaved or exterminated. If you are not willing to behave like Comrade Stalin, you will not succeed. Humans are naturally different and whining about it will not change this fact. Or use science and make everybody the same using genetic engineering. In either case, you will encounter severe resistance.

  17. derek says

    The people who have no sense are the ones running the place. From the absurd fiscal irresponsibility that characterizes all governments of any political bent, to the financial system that collected the cream of intellectual ability to manufacture financial schemes that cost about $14 trillion to bail out, to the decade and a half long war that seemingly cannot be brought to a favorable conclusion, to the government driven student debt load that is hamstringing the generation who is needed to generate economic activity to keep wolves at bay, to the blitheringly stupid utopias of globalization and open borders, there is in fact no sense.

    In the face of the instabilities the exquisitely educated fools have adopted a green zone mentality where they desperately try to control the results while maintaining their unaccountability. The technological changes have made it possible to be well informed without having to tolerate the out of touch and pontificating media. The collapse of the business models has dismantled the information streams that decision makers grew to depend on. Having something elicit a media mob doesn’t mean anything except a few individuals are in need of clicks to fill a quota, and definitely not a reflection of broad opinion. So from inside the green zone with the lines of intelligence gathering collapsing, these people are deaf and blind; but even worse is they don’t know it.

    It is inevitable that there would be surprises. One after another some assumption gets shattered. The meaning that the idiots try to impose upon the situations is that they are virtuous and pure, but the deplorables who dare disobey are obviously racist and phobic and terrible and every measure legal or illegal is justified to keep their precious sinecures intact.

    The sense won’t come from these same people. They have failed at what was entrusted to them. That is why we will see a constant back and forth in election results until someone someone figures out that they have to stop being stupid. It will take a while. It is going to get worse.

  18. Eric Liskey says

    “Big, capitalized terms like “Western Civilization” or “Eastern Spirituality” don’t really have anything concrete to offer us. ”

    What does that mean? A good understanding of these things offers a great deal, actually. The author glibly dismisses great cultural and religious traditions like these, not seeming to consider their decline may be more than merely coincidental with the rise of the tribalism he laments.

    I just don’t get this piece. Sounds like someone who got the new age he asked for, now doesn’t understand why it didn’t work out as planned.

  19. Relating to the stagnant state of intellectual systems, I find from my own experience that there must be a link between theory and practice, a back-and-forth that is broken in academia. Without this link, theoretical systems fall into irrelevance, and they have.

    As for new ideas, I find this one necessary and challenging: we need a new intellectual framework that governs how we exploit natural resources. The prevailing imperative is to exploit any deposit or resource because it is the source of our wealth and well-being. However, we are now realizing that the capacity of the atmosphere and oceans to accept any more CO2 is nearly filled, and that the remainder of fossil fuels ought to be left in the ground. This reality clashes with the prevailing imperative and it needs a new intellectual framework to be resolved. More broadly, we need to revise the impactful way we live and change it to diminish its footprint. A new intellectual framework is needed to define how we can live prosperously with less impact, while moving forward rather than backward.

  20. John Lee says

    …Word Salad….

    Clair? you don’t have to publish Everything submitted…

    Most Respectfully,

    Your Fan

    • jimhaz says

      I thought it was a well written and well thought out article myself, and I liked his turn of phrase.

      I’m glad to be stuck with nothing to say – other than the commenters here for the most part shit me.

      • Respek Wahmen says

        Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

      • mirrormere says

        Well written? His “turn of phrase” is a harsh amalgamation of grandiloquent nonsense (a hallmark of postmodernism) sprinkled with his suppositions of how “laymen” speak/write – an obvious appeal to those he thinks reads these articles and rather offensive, imo. He free-associates from thought to thought, barely making a thesis. Either Claire was duped (I’m reluctant to accept that prospect) or this is a test to see who will rise to the bait and attempt to support his gibberish thus sorting out the pseudo-intellectuals among Quillette readers – a Sokol Hoax in reverse.

      • Jeffrey’s work is well written, has a broad and sweeping perspective and is thoroughly thought through. And yes, some of the commentators aren’t nearly as bright as they think they are, but it seems to me that Quillette is drawing in new ideas along with some inevitable flotsam, which is a small price to pay for a breath of fresh air.

  21. Alain aka Trickster says

    En Mai fait ce qu’il te plait: write an essay, lament the obtuseness of the Other and try to change the World. This being said I really “like” ‘the venomous, duck-waddling, semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal’ although I prefer its fancier french name ‘ornithorynque’ – I hope it shall inherit the Earth.

  22. It’s a terrible mistake to demonise tribalism, or to trivialise or ridicule it, because it is absolutely central to evolved human nature & what it means to be human.

    We need to understand it, so that we can learn to harness it for good rather than for evil, or simply manipulate & exploit it for mercenary purposes as the Matrix of state & capital does: https://twitter.com/rogerahicks/status/1045233491875713024

  23. AndyC says

    @Jeffrey Quackenbush
    “opposition of evangelical voters to the legality of abortion; a religious concern for sexual propriety”

    To characterize opposition of evangelical voters to the legality of abortion as a religious concern for sexual propriety is absurd and demonstrates your profound ignorance of the issue, in my opinion.

    • AndyC, I had the same thought. The author’s sincere belief that Christian opposition to abortion is rooted in prudishness demonstrates how hard it is to see beyond the perspective of one’s own tribe.

      This comment actually undermines his entire thesis, that politics is about compromise. It’s not. And it never has been. Carl von Clausewitz put it best in On War, “”War is the continuation of politics by other means.” In today’s environment, the corollary is also true: politics is war by other means.

      Much of our politics today has ceased to be about correct vs incorrect and has lapsed into good vs evil. If I think you are wrong, I will seek to reason with you. If I think you are evil, I will seek to destroy you.

  24. These sentiments work if your political struggles are about how to seek the common good. When everyone agrees that children starving is a bad thing, politics permits us to argue about how to alleviate that suffering: vouchers, publicly funded grocery stores, tax cuts, education, subsidies for home gardens, etc…

    But what if a group of people claim that starving children actually promotes the common good? It reduces surplus, low-skill, population, therefore raising average productivity. Now there is no longer a disagreement about “how to seek” the common good, but a disagreement about “what is” the common good.

    (Lest you think this is hyperbole, this exact argument has been made by both the Left and Right at different times in the 20th century.)

    Politics is a poor tool for questions in which one side’s “good” is the other’s “evil”. That is what Madison meant when he claimed our system to be “made only for a moral and religious people.” Without a broadly agreed moral framework, republican politics are in trouble.

  25. cfkane1941 says

    “I’m not interested in litigating these particular examples—I mention them merely to point at concrete instances that are, to me, concerning and synecdochal.”

    Translation: I want to get my shots in, and the reader should shut up and accept it.

  26. I dedicate this poem to you Jeffrey Quackenbush.

    Great journeys must be imagined first
    and so trenchant in their intent
    to slake the deepest kind of thirst,
    they grasp imaginers by the throat
    and tell them bluntly
    only through travail and trial,
    by purging fire
    and hammer blows be smote
    can their spirit be reforged
    and history’s child
    be sired.
    This ordeal can either temper
    or destroy
    according to its whim,
    or perhaps the pilgrims’ strength within.
    Courage can surmount faint hearts,
    but how can faith presume
    that having gambled all,
    there is a way to save us in the end?
    There are no roads upon the other side,
    except the ones we make,
    every step perhaps at stake
    our lives,
    every view through soldiers’ eyes.
    And so we wile away our days
    beside brooding familiarities
    that will not speak to us for fear
    that it is not the sun that brightens
    all that we hold dear,
    but the bonfire of our vanities;
    that the deepening darkening shade it castes
    is not shadow,
    but decaying sanity.
    We look for hopeful signs,
    but at midnight,
    the clock rings its hands and says
    in anguished tones,
    “Ladies and Gentlemen,
    it’s time.”

    (Intro to the ‘the Secular Fundamentalist’
    https://www.writing.com/main/books/item_id/2064958-The-Secular-Fundamentalist )

  27. todd connell says

    The jackal claims claims authority over function by changing the form. Expanding the sutures of our calvaria will help us understand.

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