Today, I'm going to talk about how to end racism again. Previously, I have explained quite a few times why I believe critical race theory is very unhelpful in the fight against racism. I have also spent an episode outlining how our understanding of cognitive biases from empirical psychological studies can help us understand and prevent racial discrimination.
Today, I want to approach the problem from another angle: I believe that a stronger social fabric is perhaps what is most needed for the continued advancement of racial equality.
Firstly, a strong social fabric increases social trust, which makes it less likely that people would distrust others on the basis of superficial differences like skin color.
Secondly, a culture that is inclusive and not divisive makes it more likely that people will see their neighbors as being in the same boat, which would lead to a higher likelihood of caring for their welfare, regardless of race, gender or other immutable characteristics.
Furthermore, shared values like concern for one's family can provide common ground for mutual understanding, while strong social institutions can help bring people together, regardless of cultural background.
Therefore, to truly end racism, we might need to think outside the box. We might need to start doing things differently: perhaps we should start by getting rid of the influence of ideologies and theories that serve to divide people. We should probably also water down the post-1960s tendency to endlessly critique everything, and start thinking about how we can build society back up again. In other words, we should aim to make society better, not tear it down or tear it apart.
Today, I'm going to talk about how to end racism again. Previously, I have explained quite a few times why I believe critical race theory is very unhelpful in the fight against racism. I have also spent an episode outlining how our understanding of cognitive biases from empirical psychological studies can help us understand and prevent racial discrimination.
Today, I want to talk about why the culture wars are making us dumber. Basically, it comes down to the fact that culture war politics make many people choose a team based on one or several issues, and they often decide to follow the other positions of that team. What I mean is like, for example, people who choose a side for economic reasons but also adopt all their social or foreign policy positions.
The problem is that, these people are choosing social convenience over independent thinking. It is because of this choice that tribalism and polarization are on the rise. Eventually, a situation develops where those who pick a side and stick with their side all the time become the norm, and independent thinkers like myself become the exception. Politics becomes a battle between two unthinking masses.
A lot of people benefit from this model, actually. The establishment elites on both sides win, because it allows them to build coalitions that don't otherwise make sense, and win elections on empty platitudes. The business elites win, because they can pitch their media products to one side or another, and they can afford to completely ignore the non-conforming independent thinkers, which provides a much easier business model for them. Another thing is, this polarization serves to permanently divide the people, so the status quo still prevails, no matter how unpopular it is. As you can see, the establishment elites really like it this way.
Which is why, contrary to what some people may think, it is not anti-establishment at all to be tribally divided and polarized, no matter which side you are on. No real change to the status quo can come out of that, ultimately. It is also why cancel culture is not progressive at all. Cancel culture seeks to reinforce the divides. By preventing people from reaching across the divides, nothing meaningful can ever be done, and the status quo can never be changed. We should wake up to this reality, and stop being played by the establishment elites.
Today, I'm going to talk about why progressives who champion things like a UBI, better health care, and climate action across the Western world, have had relatively little success, compared to opinion polls which show their policies to be popular in theory. I'm also going to offer a new way forward, one that is still not talked about much by many champions of these policies.
Much has been said about why, some European countries, particularly the Scandinavian countries, can have such a strong social safety net, while countries like America, and to a lesser extent the UK and Australia, cannot. Some commentators on the Right have pointed to the cultural homogeneity of Scandinavia, but I don't think that's the reason. Rather, we should take a look at history. The social safety nets of European countries were generally established in the decades following World War II. Political circumstances around that time meant that Europe, particularly Scandinavia, made the most progress during that era, America made relatively little progress beyond the New Deal, and the UK, Canada and Australia were somewhere in between. After around 1980, however, basically no Western country made any further great progress in terms of strengthening the social safety net, and most have even seen backsliding. Therefore, if European progressives were championing universal health care in 1950, they were much more likely to get it compared with American progressives who are championing it today.
So what caused that change? I think we need to look at the one or two decades leading up to 1980. It was the time of the Vietnam War, the student protests, and most importantly, the rise of the Theory Left, as I illustrated in previous episodes. The Theory Left represents a significant chunk of the Left that has broken away from the workers and the unions, and re-orientated towards the intellectuals, with a new cultural orientation replacing the previous economic orientation. The problem with the Theory Left is that, their whole worldview is rooted in a suite of critical theories, which see the world primarily in terms of power dynamics between oppressor vs oppressed groups. Furthermore, the Theory Left see the existing social institutions, like marriage, family, even morality and science in the more extreme cases, as social constructs designed to keep the oppressed down. Hence, they tend to hold a negative view towards all these pillars of the social fabric. The result of all this is five decades of both conscious and unconscious attempts to weaken the social fabric, with multiple deleterious social consequences.
The rise of the New Left was associated with widespread social upheaval in the 1960s and 70s. Although the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement were noble, there was also much that was, objectively speaking, highly damaging to the social fabric. In the wake of the cultural changes, the number of broken families skyrocketed. Repeated industrial action that was designed by the radical Left to 'bring capitalism to its knees' instead resulted in workers being out of work everywhere, effectively putting an end to the post-war guarantee of a living wage for all. Society became quite dysfunctional in general. As all this was happening, some in the Theory Left turned to their theory again, and found justification for their actions in the idea that this chaos had to come before their 'new world' could be born. Theory had not only gravely harmed society, it also blinded its adherents to this fact, thus preventing a much needed correction. Thus the erosion of the social fabric continued to some extent throughout the 1980s, 90s and beyond.
Anyway, the point is, people need to believe in the society around them, to be passionate about social and economic reforms. They need to know that the system is working, they need to know that their efforts will actually go towards making life better for their fellow humans, before they can embrace new reforms. The social dysfunction brought on by the Theory Left has prevented this from happening ever since the 1970s. Therefore, to strengthen the social safety net, to deal with the coming challenge of automation, to create the consensus to end racism and bigotry, and to adequately deal with larger problems like climate change, we first need to heal society. We need to undo the injuries of the past five decades, and make people believe that their society can work well once again. Without fulfilling this fundamental requirement, any policy for major reform would remain no more than a pipe dream.
Today, I want to continue my discussion on Herbert Marcuse's essay Repressive Tolerance, and his general utopian worldview defined around ending the Freudian concept of 'repression'. Last time, we examined how Marcuse's work inspired the post-1960s Theory Left to conflate liberation from Freudian repression with liberation from oppression, and hence ultimately confuse all forms of emotional restraint for social injustice. This has had various harmful effects, including an erosion of the social fabric, as well as creating resistance to much needed social reforms. This time, I am going to examine the association between Marcuse's worldview and the practice of cancel culture today, and why those in favor of cancelling people in the name of social justice are ultimately confused about what they are actually doing.
While Repressive Tolerance was written in 1965, and many of today's pro-cancellation activists might not even have read it, it remains a historical fact that Marcuse was the most important thinker in the 1960s-70s student movements, and the spirit of his work has been carried on in various forms by this generation. Hence, a college student today could be influenced by the Marcusean worldview through various means, even if they had never read the original source of the ideas. This is why many people have pointed to Repressive Tolerance as the ultimate source of the ideas behind cancel culture.
Why It's 'Repressive Tolerance', not 'Oppressive Tolerance'
Let's first return to my point that the essay is titled 'repressive tolerance', rather than 'oppressive tolerance', which reflected Marcuse's primary aim being liberation from Freudian repression, rather than social oppression. In other words, Marcuse was skeptical about the free market of ideas, not just because oppressive ideas could win support, but more importantly, 'repressive' ideas could win support. It is clear that, for Marcuse, even if oppressive ideas are guaranteed to lose in the free market of ideas, if 'repressive' ideas could still win sometimes, he still wouldn't be happy about it. Hence, his primary motivation was one of preventing the popularization of 'repressive' ideas, rather than just oppressive ideas, through free speech and free debate.
If we look at things from this angle, the justification behind Repressive Tolerance suddenly begins to make sense. Oppressive ideas have generally not done well in the free market of ideas. Even if they temporarily gain an audience, in the longer run, oppressive and unjust ideas have always been defeated, in the free market of ideas. Rational debate has always favored the side of justice in the end, as most recently seen in the gay marriage debate, where support grew from less than 20% to more than 60% in less than a generation. The success of gay marriage follows on from the success of civil rights, the idea of racial equality, the idea of gender equality, and so on. The free market of ideas has delivered in spades for social justice, and there is no reason why this winning streak wouldn't continue.
However, the story is different when it comes to so-called 'repressive' ideas. For example, gay marriage can actually be argued to be a 'repressive' idea, even though it is in line with social justice. What makes marriage equality a 'social justice' cause is that it provides a fair deal to both gay and straight people alike. However, the deal, the marriage contract, is one that inherently involves a lot of restraint, as discussed in the previous episode. Hence, from a Marcusean viewpoint, the victory of marriage equality, over more radical ideas like the complete abolition of marriage, actually justified the skepticism towards free speech in Repressive Tolerance. As you can see, while the logic in Repressive Tolerance doesn't make sense if you are coming from a purely social justice angle, it does make sense when your primary aim is to abolish all forms of Freudian repression, which was where Marcuse was actually coming from.
The Reason Why 'Liberation from Repression' is Justifiably Unpopular
The reason why so-called 'repressive' ideas may win in the free market of ideas is because they have inherent value. Indeed, the example of marriage shows us that restraint of our primal instincts comes with its rewards. Restraint can make us happy, secure and fulfilled. Just as importantly, restraint is the foundation of many pillars of the social fabric. A politics built around liberation from nearly all restraint would mean the decimation of the social fabric, and is something that is going to be logically rejected by the majority of people. Hence, the fact that ideas Marcuse considered 'repressive' often win in the free market of ideas is not a sign that free speech and democracy aren't working. Rather, it's a sign that they are!
Furthermore, as I argued in the last episode, a robust social contract is required for a healthy liberal democracy, and this can only happen with a good dose of emotional restraint from all citizens. Moreover, the process of debate, and indeed the process of democracy itself, is often about negotiating adjustments to the social contract. The level of restraint required in different areas of life is an important part of this. A politics built around a general rejection of restraint would thus refuse to recognize the validity of many important aspects of a healthy politics. As a Moral Libertarian, my ideal for society is for everyone to be equally able to live by their moral values, and demonstrate by example the validity of the model of morality they live by. Again, morality is inherently about restraint, and any model of politics that rests on morality would also be deemed invalid by a politics built around refusal to recognize the necessity of restraint. By extension, since a politics devoid of restraint is morally empty, there is also no possibility of real social justice of any kind. The overall conclusion from all this is, the Marcusean ideal of liberation from Freudian 'repression' is necessarily incompatible with a healthy and morally driven politics.
In conclusion, there really is no reason to practice cancel culture, the set of practices informed by the logic of Repressive Tolerance, for social justice reasons. Free speech and rational debate has a strong track record in delivering victories for social justice. Rather, the Theory Left has been under the influence of the Marcusean conflation of Freudian repression with social oppression for so long that they are basically unconsciously serving a completely different goal, that is, the abolishment of the civilized restraint of our primal instincts. Such a goal can only be achieved by abolishing free speech, because most rational people wouldn't support it. It is also a goal not worthy of supporting, or even serious consideration, because it will basically destroy civilization as we know it.
Today, I want to talk about a topic that is very important, but has been generally overlooked: the conflation of Freudian repression with oppression in a social justice sense in the Theory Left, and what effects this has had on the social and political landscape.
Let's start by revisiting that infamous 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse. In the past few years, a lot has been said about the anti-free speech implications of that essay. Its premise has been simplified by some, to be simply about withdrawing tolerance to hateful ideas so that oppression can be prevented. As if we were simply talking about a more militant version of Karl Popper's Paradox of Tolerance. However, I believe that is an oversimplified view of things. Indeed, if it were about preventing intolerance and oppression, if Marcuse's concern was about free speech leading to oppression of minorities, why would the essay be titled 'repressive tolerance' and not 'oppressive tolerance'?
How Marcuse Conflated Two Kinds of 'Liberation'
To put it simply, 'repression' and 'oppression' refer to different things. Marcuse was clearly aware of this, given that both terms were used in the essay. To understand what Marcuse meant by repression, I think we need to look at the broader context of Marcuse's work. Much has been said about Marcuse's roots in Marx, but I think Marcuse's worldview, and hence the Western Theory Left in general, owes even more to a particular interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis. Those familiar with Marcuse's work would know that when he used 'repression', he meant it in the Freudian psychoanalytic sense. Hence, given the title of the essay was 'repressive tolerance' and not 'oppressive tolerance', his main complaint against the free market of ideas was that 'repressive' cultural values could prevail. Of course, there also appears to be a conflation of 'repression' and 'oppression' throughout this work and some of his other works, so sometimes his works have been used to justify withdrawing tolerance from oppressive ideas. But it is clear that he is rather more concerned about 'repression' than 'oppression'. Indeed, those familiar with Marcuse's 1955 book Eros and Civilization would know that Marcuse disagreed with Freud that repression is inevitable in civilization, as he devoted an entire book to his counter argument that society could be reorganized so as to minimize the need for 'repression', which he thought was the key to making human beings happier. This provides further evidence that Marcuse was actually primary concerned with liberation from Freudian repression, rather than ending oppression in the social justice sense.
The more important thing is that, the influence of the Marcusean worldview, which was indeed very influential among the student activists of the late 1960s and the 1970s, means that in much of the Theory Left's theory, oppression, as in the social injustice sense, and repression, as in the Freudian sense, are often conflated. This, in turn, is related to the fact that Marcusean 'liberation' is very different from our conventional understanding of liberation, in that it is ultimately about removing Freudian repression, rather than simply removing social injustice. To a large extent, many on the Theory Left appear to even be no longer consciously aware of the difference. However, social oppression and Freudian repression are two very distinct concepts. To get to the bottom of all this, and to understand one of the core problems of the Theory Left, I think we need to end this conflation once and for all.
Is 'Repression' Always Bad?
I think we should start with what 'repression' means. The problem with Freudian psychoanalysis is that it was from a time before psychology became empirical and scientific. Therefore, like all Freudian terms, the concept of 'repression' is likely to be a mixture of different phenomenon, some good, some bad, and some perhaps confused. Therefore, to oppose 'repression' as a whole, as Marcuse (but not Freud) did, could risk throwing out some essential things about our civilization, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes. In the most basic sense, 'repression' simply refers to the restraint of our primal, animalistic desires for the sake of maintaining civilization. Freud actually thought this was an inevitable part of civilization, but Marcuse disagreed. Marcuse believed that society could be reorganized so as to minimize the need for 'repression', which would be the key to making human beings happier. Now, there is of course no empirical evidence, or even logical argument, that Marcuse's ultra-utopian vision would work. Indeed, Freud thought that freeing human beings from all 'repression' would lead to civilization collapsing. And I think common sense, as well as the implications of what we know about human biology today, would be on the side of Freud rather than Marcuse.
Anyway, what is clear is that Freudian repression is an entirely different thing than oppression in the social justice sense. Racism is, by definition, oppressive, but it can't really be said to be repressive. On the other hand, to enter into a commitment of lifelong monogamy, as in marriage, is clearly not oppressive in the social justice sense, because it is a voluntary choice made by individuals. However, it could indeed be said to be repressive, because it does include a promise to restrain from certain primal instincts in the future, for the sake of building a relationship and a family together. Hence, what is oppressive may not be repressive, and vice versa. And more importantly, while oppression is always bad, some forms of repression can be good and necessary, and even make us happy! After all, the joy of being a human being is that we live in a civilization, and we are not at the mercy of our primal instincts all the time. I think this is something that Marcuse failed to appreciate enough.
A Dystopian World Without Emotional Restraint
The conflation of liberation from oppression with liberation from Freudian repression in the work of Marcuse and others have had a long standing effect on the Theory Left, with the effect of wrongly assuming whatever is 'repressive', that is whatever requires emotional restraint, to be oppressive. However, this view is not only wrong, it is actually harmful to the cause of social justice. While unfairly distributed demands of emotional restraint may be part of a picture of social injustice, it is clear that not all demands of emotional restraint are incompatible with social justice. Where emotional restraint is fairly and proportionally expected of each individual, it can be the essential ingredient in many civilizing pillars of the social fabric, like the example of marriage previously illustrated. As I argued in previous episodes, I believe the Theory Left's erosion of civilizational foundations, at least partly inspired by the Marcusean ideal of abolishing Freudian repression, has led to a breakdown in the social fabric, causing a rise in reactionary conservatism and resistance towards various social reforms. Therefore, I believe that the misguided aim to abolish 'repression' has indeed harmed the actually important aim to end oppression.
Furthermore, an important part of a healthy and vibrant liberal democracy is the concept of a social contract. Indeed, it is sometimes argued that every society needs a strong social contract. But in liberal democracies, where ideas are freely debated, and the people choose their governments and their policies, having a strong social contract is especially important. And part of having a strong social contract is emotional restraint on the part of citizens. We all need to participate in the agreed process, in a rational and decent manner, for the democratic process to work. This is why it is not oppression or 'tone policing' to encourage people to present their concerns in a rational and polite manner. Rather, it is the key to achieving effective consensus and reform. The dominance of anti-restraint thinking has led to this point being forgotten all too often.
The effects of anti-restraint thinking are not limited to the Left either. A libertarianism without emotional restraint ceases to be an intellectual libertarianism, and rather becomes vulgar libertarianism, in the style of 'I should be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want'. Among conservatives, the loosening of emotional restraint has led to the unleashing of reactionary rage towards all unfamiliar and uncomfortable phenomenon, a change that has effectively turned much of conservatism into kneejerk reactionarism. As you can see, the Marcuse-inspired encouragement of liberation from emotional restraint in the past few decades has had really unhealthy effects on the political culture, across the political spectrum. We should start recognizing this, so we can turn the ship around before it's too late.
Today, I'm going to talk about a controversial topic: how the political landscape of the English-speaking Western world came to be polarized between a theory-obsessed Left and a reactionary Right, and how we can start to change this, and build a practical progressivism that transcends Left and Right.
Having read plenty of political history, and having reflected on the topic for some time, I have come to the conclusion that it all began in the late 1960s, when a faction of the Left turned away from the workers and towards intellectuals for their support. This became the critical theory-based New Left, which presented endless theory-based critiques of the existing society. Over time, the cultural changes arising from this theory-based Left led to a cascade of social effects, which steadily drove a substantial number of people towards hardline reactionary conservatism. This process might even have accelerated in recent years, with a new wave of the Theory Left having come and gone in the past decade. The result is, there is now a lot of resistance to social justice reforms of all kinds.
The problem with the Theory Left is that they are rooted in theoretical philosophy, rather than the practical facts of the real world. This means they produce the wrong diagnoses of social problems, and provide the wrong solutions. Most problematically, they also have a strong bias against long-standing social institutions like marriage, family and other pillars of traditional communities, due to the critical theory worldview seeing them as upholding an 'oppressive' system. A major effect of Theory Left's ideas and practices, especially their attempts to deconstruct and 'liberate' everything, is that they have served to weaken the social fabric significantly over the past five decades. This, in turn, has deprived what many people need most, strong and stable family-based support networks, and a strong sense of community, as well as the sense of security this provides. These people are naturally going to be attracted to reactionary conservatism, which promises to stem the decline, and restore society to its former state. Even though in practice they have not been successful in doing this, the very promise, the very idea, has been attractive for many people, who have nowhere else to turn.
In the past decade, there was another wave of Theory Left activism that drove even more people to the Right in another way, through their unreasonable insistence that their ideas be accepted without debate. This attitude is rooted in the theory that knowledge and discourse is rooted in power and oppression, which totally goes against both practical common sense and the ideals of the Enlightenment. But more importantly, this attitude just isn't going to be acceptable to most people. During the past decade, I have read many stories about formerly moderately progressive people being turned to the hard Right after they encountered the unreasonable attitude of the Theory Left. Some like to deny this reality, but I believe it's something that actually happened to a significant extent.
So how can we begin to heal this mess, so we can get reformist progress back on the agenda? We need to put an end to the dominant influence of the Theory Left on our politics. Particularly, as long as the critical theory Left's zero-sum, deconstructive, essentially anti-society worldview even so much as lingers in our conscience, we can't really start to rebuild a strong social fabric. Without a stronger and healthier social fabric, there really isn't going to be the will to take on the reforms that are required to solve our problems. And so, every new issue and every new development just turn into more fuel for the culture wars, which just goes to benefit both the Theory Left and the reactionary Right, thus continuing the vicious cycle. There's no room, no appetite, to actually take an unbiased look at things like automation, racial equality, civil rights, the climate and so on. Hence, going forward, I will talk even more about how we can remove the influence of five decades of critical theory in our thoughts and our culture. This is something we need to work together on, because it has affected almost all of us, to differing degrees.
The other important thing to do would be to bring back those who have already fallen into reactionary hardline conservatism, because they see that as the only way to bring back a healthy society. We have to build a better alternative: a way back to a healthy society, but one that is forward looking rather than backward looking. And then we need to convince these people that our way will work, and we can fix the mess created by the Theory Left in a way that the reactionary ideology simply can't. Where reactionary ideology can only keep people nostalgic about a better past, we can give them something to actually hope for: an even better future. It is a long road ahead, so I think we should start getting to work as soon as possible.
Today, I'm going to talk about the recently popular idea of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and whether it could save democracy as its proponents say. Basically, in RCV, voters rank the candidates on their ballot paper, from say, 1 to 6 or 8, rather than just voting for one candidate, as in the more commonly used first-past-the-post method.
In recent years, RCV has received increased attention, as an increasing number of American elections have adopted it, including most recently the New York mayoral primaries, although a referendum of RCV in the UK was defeated about a decade ago. Meanwhile, Australia has had RCV for nearly a century now, and it is routinely used in basically all elections, from federal elections right down to student politics. I think the Australian experience demonstrates two points: firstly, RCV can be readily understood and accepted by the general public. Secondly, once RCV is adopted, it becomes the commonly accepted way of doing elections, and first-past-the-post becomes essentially obsolete.
But let's return to the value of RCV itself: can it really save democracy, get people engaged, and offer choices beyond the left-vs-right binary, like its supporters say? I think it also depends on the context. Using the Australian experience, we have mixed evidence. Australia does have high voting rates, but that's probably because voting is compulsory in Australia, and you get fined for not voting. On the other hand, Australia still has a largely two-party system, with the preferences of most minor parties funnelling into the two major parties. One thing that seems to have happened in Australia is that, since the major parties will get the preferences of the minor parties anyway, and there is no need to 'turn out the base', both parties behave in a more moderate way compared to America.
The Australian experience with RCV shows that, except for maybe a bit more moderation from both sides, the political landscape isn't that different from first-past-the-post countries like the US or the UK. Indeed, Australia is actually closer to the American two-party system than many first-past-the-post countries, because there is no minor party that is capable of capturing a significant number of lower house seats like the British Lib Dems or SNP, or the Canadian NDP. This is reflected in Australian election debates, in which only two candidates are invited, like the American debates, but unlike the British or Canadian debates. It is therefore clear that RCV is not a magic bullet that will automatically solve the left vs right, Democrat vs Republican, or Labour vs Conservative problem.
So what about the vision that RCV will allow voters to choose what they actually want, unrestricted by the left-right divide? Why has that not happened in Australia? I guess it's a cultural thing. You see, in Australia, most of the minor parties are basically a more extreme wing of one of the two major parties. Mapping this onto an American context, it would be as if the Squad and the Tea Party, as well as other smaller groupings, were parties in their own right, but since their preferences reliably flowed to the Democrats or the Republicans all the time, they are bound to be seen as similar to one of the main parties rather than having a distinct identity of their own. Australia has also had several non-aligned minor parties that have played interesting roles in some elections, but in general they have not lasted for very long. This just shows that being neither left nor right is still a difficult thing, even in an RCV system!
The thing I wanted to say is that, RCV is great. It's great because it's much fairer. But to break out of the two-party deadlock will require much more than RCV. It will require a change in the way we think about things. As long as most people still think about things in terms of left-vs-right, like the Left supports certain things but the Right is opposed, and vice versa, the only new options that will come with a RCV system would be more extreme versions of Left or Right, which ultimately serve to funnel votes back into the establishment version of Left or Right. Therefore, I think, besides supporting things like RCV, the more important thing to do would be to encourage independent thinking, and to encourage new visions that go beyond the conventional left-vs-right divide.
Previously, I talked about needing to revive a tradition of 'practical progressivism', as opposed to the theory-based so-called progressivism we are seeing in the Western New Left these days. Today, I want to elaborate further on my problems with New Left theory, and why, as a Moral Libertarian, I simply can't accept a theory-based New Left.
As far back as 2018, I came up with the idea that 'theory is slavery', and I mentioned it in several episodes of my show around that time. However, I never really elaborated on why that is the case. Basically, the New Left of the West since around the 1970s has been very much a theory-based left. Several factors combined to cause this. The biggest was perhaps the fact that, around that time, a new faction of the Left broke away from the workers, to instead embrace intellectuals and academia, as a new revolutionary force. They were the faction behind the upheavals of the 1960s, including most famously May 68 in France, which the old workers-Left actually did not support (at least initially, it became more complicated later on). Another was that, among the young radicals of that era, there was the idea that following the correct theory was the most important thing. After the splintering of the Left in the 1970s and 80s, this idea fell out of fashion, but elements of it are still present in the attitudes of the Left today.
Anyway, 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.
To avoid the pitfalls of the theory-based New Left, I believe the most important thing is to stay grounded in objective reality. Measure every idea and every course of action by their results in objective reality. If it has not really improved the lives of people, it is not progress at all. Another thing is, be ready to listen to unfamiliar ideas, and don't come to the table with obsessions and preconceptions rooted in ideological theories. This will prevent an objective understanding of anything. In short, to avoid being a slave to theory, always remain open-minded and objective.
Last time, I talked about the origins of this project, what I want to get out of doing this, and where I'm going to go next. For context, you should watch that episode if you haven't already done so, link is in the description. Today, I want to talk about one particular idea I raised at the end of the last episode: 'a politics that is progressive, in the sense of forward looking, but also not tied to the dogma of the so-called theories'.
You know, 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. More on this later.
Anyway, as I said last time, the popularization of a sort of 'New Left' dominated by critical theory and postmodern thinking has led to the deterioration of long standing liberal norms like free speech and freedom of conscience, which has made many of us quite uncomfortable in recent years. So far, it is mainly people on the Right, the conservative side of the political spectrum, who have been the most outspoken about this problem. As a result, more and more people have been attracted to the Right. The Right certainly makes very valid points about the problems with theoretical progressivism. However, I do have another problem with the Right: they are generally not forward looking or open minded. In fact, they tend to be overly nostalgic about a romanticized past, and also reactionary towards all sorts of new and unfamiliar ideas. It is one thing to oppose problematic ideas like criticalism and postmodernism, but it is another thing to reject almost all unfamiliar ideas by default. This is why, while I do appreciate very much the critiques of criticalism and postmodernism coming from the Right, I don't think I can ever find myself a political home on the Right. I'm way too progressive, in the original sense of the word, for that.
That's why I think we need to bring back progressivism, in the original sense. We may call this 'practical progressivism', in contrast to the theory-based so-called progressivism promoted by some in the 'New Left'. To practice a truly 'practical progressivism', I think the key is to engage with all sorts of interesting ideas, without theory-based preconception. That means being open-minded about ideas and solutions from all across the political spectrum, finding common ground where we can, and always keeping our focus on what is the best, most likely to be effective, way to solve the problems in front of us. This is why, going forward, I will be engaging with ideas, problems and solutions as they come, and join the conversations around these things as they are happening, without discrimination or preconception as to things like people's political affiliation or background, or their other opinions. I will try to look at everything, from an open-minded, forward looking and constructive perspective.
Welcome to a new season of the TaraElla Report, which I will call TaraElla Report Reset. Today, I want to talk about what this season will be focused on, and why I'm calling it a reset. In today's episode, I will be going back through the history of this show, what I actually wanted out of it in the first place, what I learned in my journey so far, and what I want to do going forward.
Let's start by looking back. When I first started this project, this show, several years ago, what I wanted to do was to talk about ideas from different people and different factions of society. I wanted to be part of the ongoing cultural and political conversation in the Western world, which was at one of its most heated points in recent history. I was increasingly frustrated about the state of the conversation, with its polarization, division, but also conformity within echo chambers, acceptance of faulty reasoning on both sides, rise of what I consider extreme ideologies, and so on. I wanted to bring a better approach to the table.
Looking back, I was deeply frustrated with the changing dynamics of what could be broadly described as 'the left side of the spectrum', which I sort of thought I belonged to ever since my college days. Back when I was in first year of college, the Iraq War happened, and I didn't really like the politics of the pro-war neoconservatives, who were dominant in America and several other Western countries. I decided that, by comparison, 'the left', which was more war-skeptical overall, and which was not as opposed to things like gay marriage, was for me. So that remained my political identity for some time. We have to remember that, back then, many people weren't as clear about dividing it into the center-left, far-left, old-left, new-left etc. While there is an argument to be made about avoiding labels, in this case, these divisions are actually real and important, in the context of this story. The other things was, libertarians were also part of the anti-war coalition, and they were gravitating away from the Bush Republican Right because of that. They were also upset at the whole religious right thing, especially with Bush making gay marriage a big issue around 2004. Libertarians were increasingly raising the fact that they would have been on the left in the original French revolution sense. Some of them even voted for Kerry in 2004. So in my mind, libertarians were sort of left too. I know this might not make sense for many people today, but back then, it was how I saw it. So when I say I was 'in the left', what I probably meant was that I was effectively center-left plus libertarian fusion, which was probably quite common for young people back then.
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. You know that famous Dave Rubin video 'Why I Left the Left', it might be cliche and unfair in places, but I was increasingly feeling like the Left was like that, and it definitely wasn't what I signed up for back in college. Knowing a bit of political history, it felt like time had gone into reverse, and we were back in the nightmare of the late 1960s and 70s. I thought society had grown up and moved beyond that unproductive era, but no, we were back there again.
Anyway, some people were also voicing the discomfort I had, with the changes I was seeing. These included both people I consider moderately liberal like Amy Chua and Jonathan Haidt, as well as moderate conservatives like Jordan Peterson and several of the new crop of political YouTubers. I was probably closer to the liberal camp rather than the conservative camp, but what I saw was that, if we could work together, we would be able to effectively push back and restore the sanity. So I decided to see if I could bring the ideas and arguments from the two sides together, to try and find some common ground. This is why, early on, this show was called Daily Centrist. I was trying to act as the 'centrist', to bring the ideas and frustrations of the two sides together, to find common ground on which we could move forward.
By around 2019, however, the political landscape had further fractured, and now I could see that there were at least six or seven big factions along the political spectrum, or rather, the political map, because it clearly had more than one dimension. I stopped calling myself a 'centrist' because that term became less meaningful with this new development. Instead of just looking to find common ground among two factions, I expanded to try and find common ground between multiple factions, which both overlapped and conflicted depending on the issue we were talking about. Old school 'two big coalitions' politics was breaking down almost completely, and as a Moral Libertarian who believes in independent thinking, I loved it. I became particularly interested in the people who tried to bridge the newly formed factions, like I was doing. I was convinced that this was the politics of the future. Decentralized, spontaneous, flexible in its alliances, and so on.
And then, 2020 came. The end of the Democratic primaries meant that American politics settled firmly back into two big camps, and much of the rest of the Western world followed suit. Biden's history of bipartisanship initially gave me hope that he would evolve into one of those people who wanted to bridge the divides, but so far, I've not seen any indication that he wants to move that way. Maybe, with the base he now has, he couldn't do it even if he wanted to. Meanwhile, a new wave of social movements served to further the popularization of things like cancel culture. Even a letter supporting free speech, signed by prominent left-wing intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, got attacked by the new wave of cultural warriors. On the other side, the Trump campaign also happily encouraged polarization over these events, for its own political purposes. Of course, the culture wars also mean that nothing is being done about the important issues, like the dwindling prospects for young people, the rise of automation, the health of families and the social fabric, housing affordability, and so on. Let's face it: 2020 was a big disappointment, a major setback for people with priorities like myself.
So, where do we go next? I have spent much of 2021 so far quite directionless, not knowing what exactly to do, to be honest. The cultural and political landscape looks pretty much like a war torn wasteland these days, to be honest. But what I have learned is that, there is hope in ideas, and there is hope in conversations. This is why, going forward, I will be exploring interesting ideas across the political spectrum once again. Through ideas and conversations, we can once again get inspired, find common ground, and find the will to work together on practical issues again. In particular, through exploring diverse ideas, I hope to help build a new politics that is progressive, in the sense of forward looking, but also not tied to the dogma of the so-called theories coming from the Left or the Right. I will talk about that more next time.
That's all for today. I'll be back next time to discuss another big idea. Remember, on this show, the personalities don't matter, it's the ideas that matter. Interest in an individual's ideas does not mean support for all their other ideas. Until next time, remember to resist conformity and stay positive. Our future depends on it.
Today, I want to talk about how we can co-operate to achieve good outcomes, by overcoming the divisions caused by labels and echo chambers. Let's start here. I have often said that my work is a classical liberal project. How does this label define me, how does it limit me? Does this mean I should only cooperate with people who identify as classical liberals? Of course not. Back in 2019, for example, I provided a positive overview of some of Bernie's stances, and I said those were good ideas, despite not being a Leftist myself. On the other hand, I have often disagreed with other people who identify as 'classical liberals', on numerous things. As you can see, labels don't mean everything, and we shouldn't be constrained by preconceptions of labels.
One thing to understand is that, labels are only useful as far as they describe a worldview, values or something similarly concrete. Otherwise it becomes just another form of identity politics. For me, classical liberalism is about sticking to the spirit of liberalism, as it was originally conceived. I believe that liberalism is ultimately rooted in two things that came out of the Enlightenment: freedom of religion, and a commitment to objective scientific truth as demonstrated by empirical evidence. For the purpose of the 21st century, a time where many people are not religious, I believe that freedom of religion needs to be expanded into a more general freedom of moral belief and commitment, which I have formulated as the Moral Libertarian principle of Equal Moral Agency for all individuals. On the other hand, the commitment to scientific truth and empirical evidence has served us well for several centuries, and there is no reason to abandon or change it at all. The reason I call my liberalism 'classical liberalism' is because, in contemporary Western politics, 'liberal' often means something else, i.e. the political coalition of the mainstream Left, which unfortunately includes elements of postmodernism and critical theory, worldviews that are fundamentally opposed to the twin values of moral freedom and objective truth. My use of 'classical liberalism' is therefore necessary to denote my commitment to liberalism as it originally meant, and my opposition to postmodernized so-called liberalism.
As you can see, my identity as a 'classical liberal' is clearly tied to two overriding values, and it means something concrete. It is not an identity for identity's sake. Rather, it is a shorthand for something meaningful. Logically, this would mean that I should be able to find common ground with people who are doing things in line with these two ideals, no matter what label they go by. And over the years, I have been able to find common ground with plenty of such people across the political spectrum.
Right now, there are indeed many things that need attention in Western societies, and we can only resolve them if we try to find common ground with other people, to formulate a consensus approach. Economic changes are leaving many people behind, and I fear the erosion of equal opportunity would have adverse effects on moral freedom for individuals. As corporations gain immense power, they become more and more able to restrict the moral freedom of individuals. Meanwhile, automation threatens to eliminate many existing jobs over the coming years, making the problem much worse. I believe the reason why there still aren't good solutions to these problems, is because too many people across the political spectrum are still holding tight to economic and political theories developed in the 19th century. We don't live in an industrial economy anymore, and 19th century dogma isn't going to save the 21st century West. Instead, we need to come together, and come up with something new.
Another big problem is, even as the War in Afghanistan has just ended, the elites are still trying to drag us into cycles of endless wars and international conflict. They can't seem to get rid of the pro-war mentality they got addicted to during the Cold War, which actually ended 30 years ago! Wars always mean massive losses in human lives, and it is a moral imperative for many of us to put an end to the forever wars. When we say we want to see world peace in our lifetime, we mean it, and we will do anything necessary to achieve it. I believe we need to come together, regardless of our otherwise philosophical differences, to stare down the elites who want to create global conflict over and over again. Enough is enough. We can never let the elites get away with forgetting the tragic disasters that were the Vietnam war, the Iraq war and now the Afghanistan war. And the only way we can do that is to find common ground, and stand together against the pro-war elites.
Today, I want to talk about how postmodern critical theory weighs people, especially members of marginalized minorities, down, and makes us less successful in life.
Let's start here. Back in the 1950s, the psychologist Julian B. Rotter developed the idea that people could be placed on a spectrum of having an internal locus of control on one end, vs an external locus of control on the other end. People with an internal locus of control believed that they were in control of, and responsible for, the successes or failures in their lives, and Rotter observed that they had high achievement motivation. This, of course, is an essential ingredient for success in life, as well as a key factor in psychological health. This is why, if we want to be successful, we should aim to orientate ourselves to have an internal locus of control.
However, postmodern critical theories teach women and various minorities, including ethnic minorities and LGBT people alike, that their fate is being determined by an oppressive system that won't let them succeed. Therefore, postmodern criticalism is effectively encouraging them to develop an external locus of control, which is both bad for their mental health and also makes them less likely to be successful in life. I therefore sometimes argue that these theories are actually more effective at oppressing minorities, than anything else out there.
Similarly, another 20th century psychologist Abraham Maslow, most famous for his 'Maslow's hierarchy of needs', observed that self-actualizing individuals, people who were able to reach the highest level on his pyramid model of development, shared several important characteristics. Among them was being grounded in reality and being committed to the truth, things that are actively discouraged by postmodernism. Self-actualizing people were also spontaneous, creative, and not rigidly bound by social conventions, the opposite of what postmodern criticalism would impose on us in the form of making everything problematic, telling us to 'check our privilege' all the time, and forcing a whole new and unnatural way of speaking and relating onto all of us because they believe that language shapes reality. In other words, postmodern criticalism actively prevents us from reaching our full development according to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which means that it is literally regressive!
Today, I want to talk about being disappointed in individuals. Recently, I was very disappointed in President Biden's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has objectively led to a lot of unnecessary suffering. The worse part of all was that, he didn't even seem to care that much. I mean, I get that people make mistakes, but it's the not caring enough that really hurt. While Biden wasn't my favorite during 2019-2020, I always thought that he at least had a heart. Maybe I was wrong. What's even worse is that, too many of his supporters in mainstream media keep making excuses for him, probably just because they support him. The fact remains that, Biden had almost a year to get the withdrawal right, and he simply did not. You know, normally I don't even comment on non-Western politics, but the Afghanistan withdrawal is arguably part of Western politics, because the whole intervention was always an American-led thing.
Anyway, I think this is also a timely reminder that individuals often let us down in the end. Ideas are forever, but an individual whom you might agree with today could seriously let you down tomorrow. One must not blindly support an individual, like the people who are making excuses for Biden right now. And it's not just Biden. Several of his other 2019-2020 competitors have also let me down in various ways since they were on that debate stage not so long ago. It's also not just Democrats, or even just politicians. I won't name names here, but over the past 2-3 years, several thinkers and personalities across the political spectrum, whom I used to admire to some degree, have seriously let me down in the end. I guess in intense times like these, it's bound to happen even more often than usual.
Which is why, from now on, I feel like I must stress that this show, and all my other work, is about the ideas, and not the personalities. I have always said that, my support for a certain individual's ideas on something doesn't extend to wholesale support for their other ideas and stances. But right now, I feel as though I need to put even more emphasis on this point. My work is about discussing brilliant and interesting ideas from people across the political spectrum. It is certainly not my intention to encourage cults of personality, which could lead to an inability to criticize certain people. Because that would be truly regressive.
That's all for today. I'll be back next time to discuss another big idea. Remember, on this show, the personalities don't matter, it's the ideas that matter. My being interested in an individual's ideas does not necessarily mean wholesale support for all their ideas. Until next time, remember to resist conformity and stay positive. Our future depends on it.
Today, I want to talk about why free speech is so important for Western Democracies. Let's start with our political system. In our political systems, the voters elect the people who govern them, by approximately one person, one vote. As the saying goes, we get the government we deserve, and it is a very important decision to make. The important thing is, to exercise this important duty, every voter must know exactly what is going on. Otherwise, if there is incomplete information, if there are things that are prevented from being widely known or discussed, it could create a biased view of things for many voters, which will greatly impact the future development of society through biased voting decisions.
Today, I want to talk about why positive thinking is especially helpful for minorities, or members of historically disadvantaged demographics, in the context of Western liberal democracy. This statement is based on two factors: firstly, in Western liberal democracies, there is a real attempt at providing equal opportunity for every individual, regardless of their backgrounds or immutable characteristics. Therefore, while there may not be exactly equal opportunity for everyone yet, and this is something we should continue to work on, there should at least be quite a good chance to do well for everyone in this society, unlike, for example, in feudal societies where everyone's place is fixed. Secondly, everything else equal, positive thinking leads to a much better chance of success than negative thinking. Therefore, I think everyone, and especially disadvantaged minorities who want to prove themselves, should take advantage of the opportunities this society offers, however imperfect, and make the best of it using positive thinking.