The Classical Liberal Case for a Normie Politics

Why I won't 'take the red pill', nor go 'woke'.

Today, I'm going to try to reclaim the word 'normie', and make the case for embracing a 'normie politics'. Firstly, what does 'normie' mean? It is a term frequently used in online discourse, it is usually used pejoratively, and its origin is disputed. But basically, it means somebody that has not been exposed to the ideas of a certain sub-culture. In political circles, it generally means so-called 'normal' people who know nothing much about the politics of either the far-left or the far-right, and would be expected to outrightly reject those unusual ideas. For the normie, the flavors of politics range from the regular liberal to the regular conservative, and anything else would just be seen as whacky or even dangerous.

Therefore, to embrace a 'normie' orientation would just mean bringing the common sense of common people to the table, to help us make a judgement on what is real, what is sound, and what is a good solution. While this common sense is not always perfect, it is at least better than being enmeshed within a certain political subculture and its echo chambers, and getting a distorted picture of the reality as a result. In a society where the extremes are increasingly getting their way, normie-ism is perhaps the best tool to stop them in their tracks.

Contrary to popular opinion within elite progressive circles, normie politics doesn't mean we have to just assume that people are prejudiced, and pander to their biases. It also doesn't mean being close-minded and refusing to listen to new facts about life. Indeed, being sincere, truthful and reasonably open-minded are common sense values held by most people. Most people don't like people who second guess what others think and make a calculated move in taking a stance. This is why most people distrust politicians in general. A truly normie stance would be to not act like a politician. Instead, you should just speak your mind, while being open-minded about what others have to say too. But you should speak your mind without taking in prior distortions of reality, especially those that come from propaganda spreading within political echo chambers. Think of it this way: a normie is somebody who is not susceptible to political tribalism. The normie decides what is right or wrong based on their own values and instincts, rather than take tribalist political stances.

I'll give you a good example of a truly normie take on politics. In 2003, when I was 16 and in my first year of college, there were two hot button issues out there: the Iraq War and gay marriage. I decided to oppose the Iraq War and support gay marriage, just because I felt like it was the right thing to do. To put it simply, war is bad, and making people happy is good. I was new to politics back then, and didn't have any distorted preconceptions. I wasn't brainwashed to believe that perpetual war in the Middle East was somehow required to keep the West safe, or that gay marriage would threaten family values, simply because I had not been watching much news media before that point. Now, people who were brainwashed by certain echo chambers genuinely believed in those things back then. It wasn't their fault either: they had been deliberately guided into those views by propaganda, designed by those with an agenda, and lots of power, money, or both. The real normie, without prior exposure to this propaganda and forming certain preconceptions because of it, would not have seen things the same way.

Fast forward 21 years, and ideological propagada campaigns, fake news, and deliberately distorted narratives are literally everywhere. We're on a totally new level of un-reality, and frankly I'm worried for our future. A real normie would see through the problems with wokeness, but many on the left keep insisting that wokeness equals social justice. A real normie would also see through the scary authoritarianism of the populist right, but some people still insist that it is 'justified' as a push-back against the woke. The un-reality of each side is being weaponized to make the other side more extreme all the time, and too many people still can't see through all the madness. I'm particularly worried about those who push an oppressor vs oppressed narrative, those who pit free speech against social justice, those who ideologically deny scientifically valid views, and those who deliberately whip up fear and animosity towards certain minority groups.

Classical liberalism, and indeed the Western Enlightenment as a whole, is in danger of being drowned out by aggressive actors from both political extremes, and I believe embracing a normie politics helps us fight back. A normie is pro-fact, pro-science, and skeptical of narratives that don't line up with what they see in real life. A normie also has no time for elaborate theories designed to disarm our common decency and goad us into accepting inhumane extremism, and this is exactly what we need right now. Moreover, the desire for freedom itself, and a healthy skepticism towards moves to reduce individual freedom, are pretty normie too. What we need to remember is that, embracing normie politics doesn't mean you can't be guided by certain values. For example, I have strong libertarian sympathies. There is nothing un-normie about loving freedom, as long as you don't begin to think that driver's licenses are against freedom, or something totally against common sense like that.

Embracing a normie politics would also help us stay grounded in a practical, reformist path forward. Both the classical liberal belief in the power of rationality, and the Burkean conservative belief that change should be practical, gradual, and not rooted in abstract ideas alone, are totally consistent with normie values. Other essential ingredients of reformism, like compassion, willingness to compromise, and aversion to cruelty, are also part of normie values. This is why a reformist politics is basically a normie politics, and vice versa. This is why, while reformism functions on the philosophical level, and normie politics functions on a gut-instinct level, the two often arrive at very similar answers.

The Problem with... the Cultural Right

The illiberal right is obsessed with literalism, as in the literal reading of statements and rules, and the rigid obedience to such rules. We all know that conservative Christianity often insists on a literal reading of the Bible. However, this worldview is not limited to religion. Conservative legal academics and judges approach the law with the same literalism, for example. I think some conservatives' attitudes on LGBT issues also stem from their worldview that everything should function according to rigid rules, and their discomfort about LGBT rights could stem from their discomfort about what are clearly exceptions to the rule. For the authoritarian right, liberalism is bad because it allows people the freedom of conscience to interpret the rules of life, and to potentially break the rules some regard as sacred. When they speak of the 'common good', it is really the society-wide obedience to the sacred rules that they have in mind. Which, of course, is not what many of us would consider to be the common good.

Also, the increasing negativity among conservative circles has led some on the Right to believe that some kind of reset, or 'counter-revolution', is needed, because the West is in such a bad state right now. Even those who might not go this far might nonetheless be on board with suspending some norms of civility, respect and free speech because we're supposedly in some kind of 'state of emergency'. However, the use of the perception of emergency to justify radical measures that destroy long-standing norms has long been a favorite tactic of radicals, and it generally leads to the destruction of important values and institutions that is not going to be reversible. Radicals, of course, don't have a problem with this, but if you're coming from a conservative philosophical point of view, I really can't see how this kind of outcome can be justified. Moreover, a so-called reset or 'counter-revolution' is no different from wiping the slate clean and starting all over again, another favorite fantasy of radicals. The traditional conservative opposition to this is justified on the grounds that, even if what we currently have is not perfect, it is still the product of many generations of evolution and lessons learnt. If we were to re-build everything from scratch, there is practically no chance that we will end up with something better than what we have now. I can't see why this important insight should not apply to where we are currently at.

What a Truly Positive Politics Looks Like

The cultural hegemony of negative politics must be challenged and smashed

In response to an article I recently wrote about why the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) fell apart, someone raised the point that defining themselves as 'dark' was perhaps a big problem. After all, movements for truth have historically tried to seek the 'light' instead. This really got me thinking.

I think the problem here is that society has, over time, increasingly moved towards celebrating the negative, and this is a real problem, as I will explain. Looking historically, this was first started by some on the left, in order to tear down a stable status quo they didn't like. For example, back in the mid-20th century, when The Power of Positive Thinking was a best-seller, Herbert Marcuse tried to champion negative thinking instead. I think this negativity came from the well-known phenomenon of left melancholy, itself a product of the left's repeated defeats and inability to face up to objective reality. Later on, the right, as usual, copied this negative mode of politics, simply because it works to deliver supporters, at least in the short term. They first successfully turned 'liberal' into a negative word back in the 1980s, but their recent flaming of moral panics and populist outrage is really on another level. The antics of both sides means that, what was once bad is now cool, and what was traditionally good was now uncool.

As I've said before, I believe the negativity of anti-woke politics in general has been a major reason for its inability to stay rational and constructive. This, of course, also applies to the trajectory of the IDW. Although the IDW started out not as negative, I think it was infected by a particular strand of 'own the SJWs' online culture, and the idea that it was something 'dark' was instrumental in attracting this kind of negative energy. I think this just shows why a project dedicated to rational discussion and exploration of ideas should not think of itself as 'dark'. I get that IDW was meant to be tongue in cheek, but still, we should associate the pursuit of objective truth with the light rather than darkness, or rather, with positivity rather than negativity. The way we frame it is important, because it is important for us to be mindful of being constructive rather than destructive.

Being constructive vs destructive is an important difference in practice. In an age where the left wants to 'deconstruct' basically everything, and the right wants to 'destroy SJWs', we all know what destructive politics looks like. Its basic impluse is to destroy your opponent, or something you don't like, at all costs, usually without concern for any collateral damage. I would argue that, right now, negative politics has become such an overwhelming norm that many of us have forgotten that there could be a more positive way to approach things. Instead of setting out to destroy things, we can set out to improve things. We can put out ideas and participate in debates in good faith, with the aim of improving things rather than destroying things. This is not to say that we can't be critical of ideas we disagree with. In fact, one needs to be critical of negativity in order to uphold positivity. This is why I am so critical of both left-wing wokeness and right-wing reactionary populism. However, there is a very real difference between being rationally critical, and being destructively negative. Starting from a positive, constructive position would prevent us from falling into the kind of destructive negativity that is currently plaguing the left and right alike.

In summary, the positive approach to politics looks like this: think of something to improve people's lives, rather than to destroy or deconstruct. Participate in discourse with the aim of being constructive, of bringing something good to the table, rather than to 'own' or troll your opponents. Think of society as a series of puzzles to be solved, to improve things over time, rather than a zero-sum battle between tribalist political forces. Finally, don't forget to practice love and compassion while doing all this.

Reconciling Libertarianism and Reformism

Libertarianism needs practicality and credibility, which is what reformism is good at

Today, I am going to talk about my project to reconcile libertarianism and reformism.

On one hand, I have been sympathetic to libertarian thinking for more than 20 years, even though I have to acknowledge that libertarian immediatism is not realistic at all, and the dominance of immediatists have seriously harmed the popularity of libertarianism. I first became interested in libertarianism during the 2003 Iraq War, when the right was trying to silence anti-war and anti-Bush speech, including the infamous cancellation of the Dixie Chicks. Given that we live in a moment where the postmodern left practices cancel culture regularly, and the populist right thrives on banning books, drag queens, abortion and even masks, it is clear that society needs a big dose of libertarianism ASAP. We need to make libertarianism credible and popular again for this to happen.

On the other hand, over my observation and involvement in the Western political landscape of the past 21 years, I have gradually come to develop an appreciation of reformism. I believe the heart and soul of reformism is basically the classical liberal belief that society and people's lives can be made better via empiricism and rationality, tempered by the Burkean conservative view that any change should be based on practical needs rather than abstract ideas, and should be gradualist and consistent with a given society's traditions rather than revolutionary and abrupt. Note that genuine Burkean conservative philosophy, developed in response to the events of the French Revolution, is very different from what so-called conservative political parties represent today. I have stated this point many times in the past, but it bears repeating, because this is very important to understand. Anyway, over the years I have come to the firm conclusion that only a reformist politics can provided sustainable progress for society, by avoiding both misguided radicalism and reactionary backlash.

The first problem we have here is that most libertarian thinking that has been developed over the past few decades, especially the so-called libertarianism of the 2010s, is fundamentally faulty on some level, which makes it support the opposite of liberty some point down the line. In the 1980s-90s the beltway libertarians and their obsession with cutting government dominated. These people ended up doing nothing to advance individual liberty per se, and some even sided with the Bush administration's 2003 Iraq War, which was a total sellout of libertarian values. On the other side were the paleolibertarians, a faction that were steadfast in their anti-war beliefs but sided with far-right paleoconservatives on most other issues. This paleolibertarianism was the precursor to what became known as the 'libertarian to alt-right' pipeline in the 2010s, and was arguably the precursor to neoreaction thinking, which is clearly not libertarian at all. Later on, there was 'anarcho-capitalism', which is a very extreme form of libertarianism that opposes government in all its forms, and fantasizes about things like private police and fire departments. I think it is this kind of extremism that eventually gave rise to the conspiracy thinking that ultimately discredited libertarianism by around 2020.

The second problem we have is that most of the libertarian thinking that has been developed over the past few decades is simply incompatible with reformism. They all want government gone, and right now. This, I think, is the reason for both the unprincipledness and the tendency towards extremism. Therefore, to make libertarianism credible again, it needs to be realigned towards the reformist philosophy. And it's not as difficult as some might think. As I said before, reformism is basically liberal rationality plus conservative cautiousness and gradualism. Both the classical liberal emphasis of rationality, and the conservative emphasis that reform should be based on practical needs rather than abstract ideas, can modify libertarianism to make it more reformist and practical. This, in turn, would make it more credible, and hopefully more popular. By making libertarianism credible and popular again, we can build a strong bulwark to prevent both the illiberal left and the illiberal right from crushing individual freedom with their culture war agendas.

To reconcile libertarianism and reformism, I believe we need to further develop the philosophy of both traditions more fully. In particular, we need to separate the core strands of thinking of both traditions from what has been happening in the crazy politics of the past 10-15 years. From there, we need to identify the common ground between the two traditions, and the areas  where they might be able to supplement each other. Right now, I can think of attention to the complexities of reality, respect for different opinions, and compassion as a few areas of common ground between libertarians and reformists. I'm sure there are more to discover. This will be a major focus of my work going forward.

Towards a Politics of Meaning and Hope

We need to start by acknowledging the limitations and opportunities of life

Recently, I've been focusing on the fact that a lot of the politics out there, from both the left and the right, are deeply negative. On the left, it is mainly caused by postmodern critical theory and its oppressor vs oppressed, power is everywhere narrative. On the right, it is the endless moral panics, outrage-based populism and conspiracy theories. Both sides paint a bleak future, and radicalize their followers towards a destructive extremism using fear. I think the only thing that can save us from all this is a positive vision. what we need is a politics of meaning and hope.

So how can we have a politics of meaning and hope? First of all, we need to have meaningful, achievable goals. One of the biggest problems with the left right now is that it is basically living in fantasy land. It wants to build a utopia that simply can't exist, and wouldn't mind heightening conflict and deconstructing everything we have to get there. The repeated failures of this project has brought about a well-known phenomenon of left melancholy. The lesson is that setting unachievable goals based primarily on theoretical philosophy is not a constructive way to move forward.

Instead, we have to start with reality as it exists. And part of that reality is that life is suffering, at least to some degree. This has been true throughout history. Suffering is part of life, and it can't be extinguished by politics, as history has clearly shown. Trying to do so would only bring about more unnecessary suffering. This is the reason why utopian dreams are so scary. On the other hand, although life is suffering, we can lessen the suffering, both for people alive right now, and for generations of people to come. Objectively speaking, life consists of less suffering right now compared with back in the middle ages, and we have the hard work of many people across the generations to thank for this.

Therefore, to put it simply, the limitation of life is that we can't escape the fact that life is suffering, but the opportunity here is that we can lessen the suffering, both in the here and now, and for the future of humanity too. This, I think, provides us with the meaning of life. Even though we can't make things perfect, the fact that we can lessen the suffering of people, and the fact that this can benefit many generations still to come, provides us with more than enough meaning for this life. It is the hope that things can get better that provides meaning for life, and the will to think and act to make it happen. It is also the realization that things can't be perfect, but can be improved, that makes every incremental improvement a cause for celebration, and prevents the kind of utopia-dystopia bipolar thinking that is the root cause of left melancholy and paralysis. I believe that having a positive vision people can believe in also prevents them from falling into the perpetual panic, outrage and conspiracy thinking that characterizes the populist right.

When we start from a positive thinking mindset, rooted in a practical and realistic belief that things can get incrementally better, we can be truly constructive in both thought and action. There would be no more us-vs-them tribalism, no more need to 'own' the other side, and no more victim mentality. There will only be a rational desire to make things better, which logically leads to the rational thinking and discussion required to make it happen. This is the kind of positive politics that I want to help bring about, to replace the kind of negative politics we have right now.

Why The Left Keeps On Failing

It simply can't face the reality

Let's just say it out loud: the Western Left reeks of more than a century of failure. Their entirely theory-driven experiments have been repeatedly tried, and led to disappointment and failure every single time. And every single time, what followed was the rise of right-wing reactionary politics of some kind. This was true of the 1930s, the 1960s and 70s, and it looks more and more like history is repeating again right now.

The left knows its defeats well. There's even a very well described phenomenon of left melancholy. Yet, after every single defeat, it just digs in deeper. It takes no responsibility for leaving people disappointed, and making a mess of society in the process. It is able to do that by avoiding facing reality. Again, right now, it looks like history is repeating, with works coming out of the left, spinning the defeats of their recent past as somehow heroic, worthwhile, or at least not of their own fault. We're seeing in real time how the left avoids learning the lessons it should be learning.

The left is able to avoid reality via the use of philosophy, sophistry and echo chambers. It's sort of like the Emperor's New Clothes, played over and over again in slightly different forms, over the centuries. In fact, that's how postmodern critical theory started. It was a rationalization of the post-war Western left's inability to attract the support of the working class, which was basically fatal to its then-assumptions. But instead of learning how to make themselves relevant to the working class again, they rationalized the problem away, and began imagining a future revolution led by philosophers, student radicals and marginalized minorities. Who needs the workers when you could build this radical coalition instead? Of course, this overlooks the fact that workers are the majority, and the New Left have always been a small minority. But in the New Left echo chamber, this never seems to be a problem.

Today, the leftist echo chamber continues to ignore the fact that someone like Bernie Sanders simply can't win in a climate where we have an ongoing culture war, where the New Left is pit against the working class, not because of some kind of conspiracy, but because of a genuine incompatibility of values, caused by the rise of postmodern critical theory itself. In fact, to raise this fact in some left wing circles would get you banished. Instead, they continue to blame Bernie's 2020 defeat on various non-factors, like the campaign of Pete Buttigieg, who didn't even make the top three, or the fact that the Democrats were focused on defeating Trump, which was just the way political parties work, to be honest. A left that behaves this way is simply hopelessly out of touch. Its only impact on the political scene would be to make a mess of everything, and allow an opening for the reactionaries to gain power.

The Problem With... 'New Left' Theory

The key point is, much of the Western Left today takes a theory-based approach to everything, and base their so-called progressivism on achieving the goals of their theory. They decide what is a good course of action, or what counts as success, not based on objective reality, not based on if the lives of people have actually been made better, but on their theoretical concerns. This, I think, is essentially being a slave to theory. Hence theory has actually become slavery, in the context of the 21st century Western Left.

Besides being unable to improve people's lives, what I'm most concerned with the theory-Left is that it effectively discourages independent thinking, which I value very much as a Moral Libertarian. Through building a movement that is enslaved to a whole suite of critical theories, which explain every social issue and cultural conflict with its particular philosophy, New Left activism actually creates a mass of people who think in lockstep on every issue, because they are informed by theory rather than their own observation of reality and their own independent thinking. In turn, this actually divides society into two sides, one side which thinks in lockstep with theory on every issue, and another side which comes together simply to fight what they correctly see as an illogical and contradictory coalition. I think this is a major reason behind the polarization we are seeing in the West today.

What is Conservatism?

Now, we need to answer the question, 'what is conservatism'. Again, contrary to popular belief, conservatism isn't everything that is considered politically right-wing. It isn't everything supported by so-called 'conservative' political parties like the Republicans in America or the British Conservative Party. It is actually a political philosophy, a way to approach social and political issues.

British philosopher Edmund Burke is often considered the father of conservatism. His most famous thoughts pertained to the French Revolution, which he lived through. He was very skeptical of the radical, 'tear everything down' approach of the French revolutionaries, as well as their over-commitment to abstract ideas as the way to progress society. What we need to remember is that, Burke was not against all change and progress, he actually supported relatively progressive positions during his lifetime. He was just against radical change that was rooted in abstract ideas rather than practical reality, and a total rejection of a given nation's traditions.

Hence, conservatism, as properly understood, is a philosophy that opposes radical change that is rooted in abstract ideas, and alien to a given nation's traditions. Change that is rooted in practical needs, and especially change that is rooted in a society's long-standing values, is not inherently opposed by conservative philosophy. Conservatism is therefore not reactionary! Instead, it is a philosophy that seeks to ground progress in practical reality, and in the long-standing traditions of society.

At least in the English-speaking West, liberal values like free speech, freedom of conscience and 'live and let live' are indeed a long-standing part of our society. Therefore, conservatism, as properly understood, would aim to conserve these values too. Change and reform that arise out of liberal processes should also be favored over those that oppose liberal values and processes. Therefore, reactionary culture warriors, who oppose any and all change, and even resort to illiberal means to stop that change, are not really conservatives, properly understood.

What is Liberalism?

Firstly, we need to ask the question 'what is liberalism'. Contrary to popular belief, not everything that sounds 'progressive' or left-leaning is liberal. While liberalism has had a generally progressive effect on society over time, this is a result of following liberal values and processes.

To put it simply, liberalism is the political philosophy that focuses on individual freedom. However, that would indeed be too simple, because equality is also an important part of liberalism. After all, in feudal times, kings and nobility had far more freedom than anyone has now, in that they could own slaves and dictate others to act according to their will. In feudalism, some people have lots of freedom but others have none. Liberalism is different in that everyone gets their fair share of freedom. Hence, liberalism is actually about distributing freedom equally between individuals.

Liberal values like freedom of conscience, free speech and 'live and let live' allow the marketplace of ideas to flourish. Ideas get debated, and the sound ones are eventually accepted and adopted by society. Traditions can be examined for potential for improvement through this process, and a sustainable, gradualist reformism is the result, which makes people's lives better over time. This is more rational than both a reactionary rejection of all change, and a revolutionary tearing down of everything that exists. This is why liberalism has been behind many of the most celebrated social reforms of the past three centuries in the West.

In short, liberalism is distinguished by its commitment to allow everyone their fair share of freedom. Its commitment to freedom in turn encourages the discovery of truth, and allows ideas to be debated fairly, and sound reforms to be enacted over time. Its track record in aiding the discovery of the objective truth, and improving people's lives over time through social and political reform, is clearly evident in Western history since the Enlightenment.

The Problem with... Deconstruction

The illiberal left is obsessed with deconstruction. For the illiberal left, every part of the status quo, every structure and every institution, is a product of oppressive power relations, and needs to be deconstructed to bring about liberation. The illiberal left is illiberal because they believe the freedoms guaranteed by liberalism are part of the oppressive structure to maintain the status quo, to prevent the dismantling of the status quo. I believe this view is illustrated most clearly in Herbert Marcuse's infamous essay Repressive Tolerance, where he essentially says that liberalism's universal tolerance leads to the upholding of the repressive and oppressive status quo, and that a truly liberating tolerance must be selectively intolerant to some ideas, i.e. illiberal at least some of the time. Hence, the basic logic of the illiberal left looks like this: the freedoms guaranteed by liberalism make the liberated utopia they desire impossible to achieve, so they must be knocked down.

Think about this: despite saying that it is for liberation, the ideology of deconstructionism actually doesn't even allow you the freedom to reject having your culture deconstructed! Once you say you want to keep your culture, or at least that there are some aspects of the status quo you want to keep, then you become a supporter of oppression and repression. Thus, while deconstructionism is supposed to be liberating, it is 'liberating' on its own terms, not your terms, nor the terms of any individual. Therefore, for those of us who see things from the individual freedom point of view, deconstructionism is not only not going to be liberating at all, it is going to be highly prescriptive, highly authoritarian, and yes, highly oppressive in practice. This is seen in the fact that the most ardent supporters of the deconstructionist agenda often don't respect basic free speech norms at all.

And then there is the problem of the objective truth. Objectively speaking, scientifically speaking, not everything is a social construct, and therefore not everything can be deconstructed. But for the most ardent supporters of deconstruction, just saying this out loud would be a rejection of deconstruction, and therefore in support of oppression and repression. Hence, at least when taken to the extreme, deconstructionism is basically anti-science! It seems clear to me that, when deconstruction comes into conflict with science, it is science that needs to give way. This, I think, can be seen in how, in the trans community, those who voice support for the traditional clinical medicine-based model of gender dysphoria, are often smeared as 'transmedicalist'. Another example is how, when discussing climate change, deconstructionists often want to focus on cultural phenomenon rather than the science itself. In both cases, they don't seem to be too interested in the actual science, or the objective truth.

Finally, I have this ongoing suspicion that deconstructionists want no less than 'liberation' from the objective truth. Which is to say, deconstructionism is simply a philosophically sophisticated way for some people to avoid the reality, by treating it as if it were not real. The ultimate intellectual form of escapism, one might say. The trouble is, many of us want to continue living in the real world. We don't need, or want, this kind of 'liberation' from reality.

There is No Justice Without Free Speech | A Reasonable Alternative

Around 4 or 5 years ago, I became increasingly frustrated at how 'the left' was changing. There was a rapid increase in identity politics and a pro-conflict, us-vs-them orientation, and there was a rapid drop in respect for liberal norms like free speech, freedom of conscience and so on. There was also increasing hostility between those who considered themselves 'left', and those who considered themselves 'libertarian'. These things meant that, overall, the Left now felt like a collectivist, group over individual, zero-sum political faction, that was also driven by theoretical concerns rather than practical needs.

To put it simply, a faction within the far-left is essentially promoting a version of justice that doesn't include, and doesn't depend on, respect for free speech. Now, this vision of 'justice without freedom' is indeed very different from what we're used to: traditionally, social justice started with being aware of the reality of disadvantaged lives, and we hear about that reality through free speech and the marketplace of ideas. We listen, and we gain an understanding that there are things that need to be fixed. Thus free speech was the first and foremost necessary condition for social justice. Moreover, sometimes there are competing demands from different stakeholders in society, and we need to listen to all of them to come up with a solution that respects the needs of everyone. Again, free speech is important for this process. This is why, at least traditionally, we could say that there can't be social justice without free speech.

On the other hand, what we're seeing from the postmodern left is a new version of justice that is derived, not from listening to real life voices out there, but from philosophical theory. In this worldview, justice is simply what the theory demands, and it is going to be imposed on everyone, whether they like it or not. Speech is allowed only if it is not considered oppressive or repressive under their philosophical theory, in line with the spirit of Marcuse's Repressive Tolerance. The drive to bring about theoretical justice, including through the suppression of free speech if necessary, has led to widespread chaos, frustration and misunderstanding, which in turn has fueled the growth of scarily authoritarian reactionary movements, but they don't seem to care. These people seem to believe that the realization of the goals of their philosophical theory would bring about utopia. This allows them to disregard the negative effects their actions are having in the here and now. In other words, to bring about theoretical justice, they are willing to throw practical justice under the bus.

This is why, if you are for practical justice, you need to take a stand against theoretical justice. The two don't seem to be compatible at all! Next time, if someone says that something is required for social justice, make sure to think about whether they are talking about practical justice or theoretical justice. A good test would be, does this improve things in the real world? And finally, remember that real justice always requires the existence of free speech. A philosophy that promises justice while suppressing free speech on a large scale is not to be trusted.

The Problem With... Social Media Popularity

There are a lot of problems with the way the internet and social media exist today, but I am going to focus on what I believe is the most important problem: the obsession with 'popularity'. Almost every big social media platform that exists today has a strong focus on the 'popularity' of both creators and content. We see it in the way the number of followers and likes are prominently displayed. More importantly, these metrics of 'popularity' are heavily used in the algorithms of these platforms, so that only content deemed 'popular' is visible to many people. 'Unpopular' content is quickly buried, as if it never existed at all.

The trouble with this model is, what is 'popular' can be manipulated in multiple ways. At the most basic level, content creators are incentivized to create content that cater to the narratives and emotions of particular echo chambers, so as to maximize the number of likes received, because that is the only way the algorithm will pick up that piece of content and spread it to new audiences. As a creator who refuses to play that game, I know very well how frustrating taking a principled stance can be, in the world of popularity-obsessed algorithms. Content creators who have built a following based on pandering to certain narratives generally can't walk away from those narratives either, because of the very well known phenomenon known as 'audience capture'. They are scared that their audiences will turn on them, potentially leading to a massive loss of followers overnight. This constant need to pander to certain narratives means that almost every popular creator stays in line with their chosen narrative, which creates an echo chamber effect on their audiences.

I think it is not an exaggeration at all to say that the way our social media is set up is a major factor behind the political polarization out there. The relentless focus on popularity encourages people to say what other people, in a particular social circle, want to hear. Even before social media, many people already had a habit of only paying attention to information that fit their existing worldview. However, at least some contradictory information could have gotten through to them, if only as background noise. Nowadays, with social media, all information that is contradictory can be easily filtered out and disappeared. Furthermore, most people have always disliked hearing opinions they don't like. But in the old days, they would at least be exposed to such opinions from time to time. In the era of social media, these unwelcome opinions can simply be disappeared, as if they don't exist at all. In this way, social media effectively discourages objectivity.

I think it is fair to say that, in prioritizing popularity above all, social media companies are putting profit before society's health. They are literally profiting from the polarization that is destroying our social fabric, and they are causing the polarization to further worsen in the process. This is why we need to speak out. Enough is enough. The status quo is not OK here. Something needs to change.

We Need to be Reasonable About Tradition | A Reasonable Alternative

Tearing everything down is simply misguided

A major problem with some recent social justice demands is that they are antagonistic to long-standing social norms, even where they don't need to be. There is sometimes a deliberate attempt to challenge, invalidate, or otherwise subvert many social norms, even where it doesn't clearly lead to more social justice. I think this is due to the heavy influence from radical academic theories like social constructionism, deconstructionism, and postmodernism more generally. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. It is based too much on abstract philosophy, and not on real world practicality. In the real world, social norms are an important part of social life. Using a functionalist sociological lens, we can often see that they fulfill important social functions, particularly around integration and pattern maintenance. Without these norms, social cohesion could fall apart. Hence, most people value social norms, and will defend them from unjustified attacks.

I'm not saying that social norms don't need to be changed or updated from time to time. What I'm saying is that, this must be a careful and well justified process. The mass deconstruction of social norms leads to potential instability, and would naturally be met with backlash. Instead, I suggest a much less invasive approach: only the social norms that actually adversely affect minorities should be changed, and they should be changed to the least extent needed to resolve the problem.

Let's make this clear: the idea that traditional norms are inherently oppressive, and need to be relentlessly challenged and deconstructed, is a product of postmodernism and critical theory, and these philosophical traditions are not known for being empirical or objective. The fact is, in the real world, the destruction of tradition is actually not required for social justice. More often, traditional institutions, that are imperfect in some way, can be reformed to make them more inclusive and equatable, and that is usually adequate to address social justice concerns. There is simply no need to challenge everything, and tear everything down.

Existing traditions and institutions can often be reformed to become even better, without sacrificing their spirit or essential function. We can do this by bringing people together, to form a consensus through good-faith discussions, and to then pursue constructive reform. This is almost always the more satisfactory option for everyone involved. I think we really need to deprogram the postmodern critical theory mindset, so that progressive minded people can start to think of constructive reform as the default way to approach imperfect traditions, and abandon the destructive critical deconstruction ideology once and for all.

Moreover, the relentless deconstruction of tradition could also lead to dangerous outcomes. Fascist and fascist-adjacent movements gain popularity through promoting the idea that society is in decline, and the rapid deconstruction of traditional norms feeds into this sentiment. Once these reactionary movements get into power, they can actually do very real harm to the minorities they dislike. Far-left cultural radicalism thus often ends up hurting the people it claims to support. I've even said that it is the opposite of compassionate, because of this. I think we need to talk about this more, so truly compassionate people can make a more rational choice, when it comes to which kind of social progress they want to support.

What is a Practical Progressive? | A Reasonable Alternative

Think about this: the word 'progressive' literally means forward looking. So any forward looking idea can be considered 'progressive', and anybody who is generally committed to a forward looking, positive and constructive attitude to things can be considered a 'progressive'. I think this was actually how it worked historically, for example with the 'progressive era' in American history. But nowadays, the meaning of 'progressive' has been distorted by some people. Apparently, for them, 'progressive' means adhering to particular left-wing theories, particularly the various critical theories and postmodern theories. The problem is, these theories are generally developed in academia rather than from practical situations, and they are heavily rooted in 19th and 20th century thinking. I don't see them as forward looking or open minded, and I certainly don't think this is the way to progress the 21st century West. Which is why, I think, it's time to differentiate what I call practical progressivism from theoretical progressivism.

If we consider the word 'progressive' in a purely practical sense, then I guess any reform that improve people's lives can and should be considered progressive. This is also the most objective definition. From the practical progressive perspective, anything that can be objectively shown to improve people's lives is progressive, period. I think if 'progressive' is consistently defined this way, then most people would be able to get behind it. There would be far fewer people who consider themselves anti-progressive. This is why I often say that it is the hijacking of the word 'progressive' by theoretical progressives that has turned people towards being anti-progressive. This problem can be fixed simply by abandoning theoretical progressivism and fully embracing practical progressivism.

The problem with theoretical progressivism is that it is not always progressive in the practical sense. It might even be objectively regressive in the practical sense, for example, it makes lives worse, at least for some people, or it leads to increased conflict and misunderstanding in society. Theoretical progressives are too obsessed with putting their theory into practice, and they don't care that this might lead to practically regressive outcomes in the real world. For example, postmodernism has led activists to embrace new and clunky linguistic norms, that have led to difficulties in getting the point across and advancing our understanding of the objective truth. Identity politics has fractured society, and turned social progress into an us-vs-them thing. Widespread frustration with these developments has been seized upon by reactionary forces, and turned into fuel for a politics that aims to put the clock backwards by decades if not more. This is why, in the early 21st century West, theoretical progressivism is actually practically regressive.

We should abandon all these fancy and out-of-touch theories, and just focus on the question, is it going to improve things in the real world?

The Problem With... Political Media Personalities

Think about this: the current political polarization is actually not only unhealthy, but also unnecessary. It really doesn't have to be this way at all. I think people only appear to congregate into two masses because political parties and news media generally come in two contrasting flavors. In other words, it is the political influencers, and the culture they represent, that is the problem, not the general public. We need to understand where the problem is, in order to change things.

This is the situation right now: people generally support the political party closer to them, and consume the news media they are more comfortable with, which means they end up picking either team red or team blue almost all of the time. However, almost nobody is entirely blue or entirely red! When you're dealing with individuals, you really need to talk to them, and listen with an open mind, to understand where they actually stand. I think this individual variability shows that people are still mostly independent thinkers to some degree, which is a great relief! It also means that there is still plenty of room for big tent movements where we find common ground to resolve controversial issues.

The problem with political media, both the old media and social media, and most of the personalities who work within political media, is that they ultimately end up reinforcing and worsening the political polarization. Due to audience capture, the need to generate clickbait headlines and titles, and the incentives to side with one political party over the other, it becomes very hard for them to remain truly objective and balanced in their outlook. Over time, they become like propaganda machines who deliver biased representations of the reality designed to rile up the emotions of their audiences.

The problem with watching tribalist, polarized political media is that one becomes unbalanced in their view of reality, and eventually loses the ability to think independently and objectively. If you don't see the whole picture out there, how can you think clearly about the issues, and judge where the truth is? If you get emotionally worked up over biased representations all the time, how can you think rationally, and talk through things calmly with those with another view? When you get sucked into the unhealthy culture of partisan political influencers, you stop being your normal self, and you become a zombie who ends up unconsciously waging culture war for rich and powerful people with an agenda.

Trans issues is one area where people have been unjustifiably and needlessly polarized by political influencer culture. Those with extremist opinions on both sides are heard way too loudly. Biased views and fake news is everywhere. Those in the middle who want a healthy discourse, who want to seek common ground and develop compromise solutions to move forward, are too often drowned out, or even intimidated into silence, by the extremists on both sides. This really needs to change. We really need to break the echo chambers and challenge the all-or-nothing, either with-us or against-us discourse out there.