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User ID: 2417



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User ID: 2417

It is different from Tennessee as there isn’t a large black population

The Knoxville Metro Area is (from a bit of googling) only 5% black, Nashville and Chattanooga are about 15% black, whereas Memphis is 47% black. There is a distinct west-to-east gradient across Tennessee where as you go east, the state gets a lot more Appalachian and a lot less black, especially in Knoxville butting up against the Smoky Mountains.

I've lived in both Knoxville and then other deep South parts of America, and at least in my experience, Knoxville was way less invested in typical Southern cultural topics (antebellum South + Civil War), and much more culturally invested in Bluegrass, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, and the early settling of the frontier. And if memory serves, eastern Tennessee almost went the way of West Virginia during the Civil War, and for similar reasons.

Pittsburgh and eastern TN have significant differences, of course, but I think there are distinct similarities.

One of the things I find really interesting about Pittsburgh, relative to its Rust Belt neighbor cities, is just how much less black it is.

If you compare it to Cleveland or Detroit or Milwaukee or Chicago, it's just a much less black city. I had read before that that's because its population boom happened relatively early compared to neighboring cities, and so that boom overlapped less with the Great Migration from the South, but I'm not sure about that.

And because it's barely had any in-migration for the last half a century, it also has a tiny Hispanic population, too. So you end up with a city that is, by national standards, really quite old, and really quite white (although the boundaries of older white ethnics from previous immigration waves are still somewhat visible if you look for them).

In a way, it's kind of a natural experiments of sorts, about the long term effects of different immigration histories. My impression of Pittsburgh is that, as the Rust Belt declined and deindustrialization continued, instead of partially decaying into a giant ghetto like a lot of other Rust Belt cities, it more just kind of aged in place (with a ton of younger workers leaving) and went into a partial hibernation state... which proved to be a giant boon with the rise of New Urbanism, because it meant there were lots of stable, originally working class, walkable, mostly functional neighborhoods with business districts that could slowly transition to appealing to a younger demographic. All this is helped by being a 4 hour drive to D.C. and a 6 1/2 hours drive to New York - I've particularly met a ton of D.C. expats in Pittsburgh who moved because they wanted to have kids and couldn't make the economic math work in D.C.

One of the most disheartening things about reading more deeply about the public politics of the past is you come to realize that, as often as not, people don't really win arguments (which are often just rhetoric anyway) so much as manage to marginalize their opposition to where no one can hear their arguments anymore. Facts might well play a role in that, but they're certainly far from determinative.

A while ago, probably in some dissident right space, I saw someone sharing the old, original conservative arguments against social security and other government provided pension programs, the arguments that were being offered against them before those programs were implemented. And the main argument I saw was something like "There are natural, organic ties between and across generations in families (illegible ties, you might say) that are crucial to nurture for the health of broader society, and having the government intervene in PROMISING to support the elderly is likely to do grave damage to the longer term building of those ties". I remember being struck at the time that I'd never seen the argument, nor had I seen anyone refute the concern. Those holding those concerns just lost and were marginalized because giving destitute elderly people in the 30s free money was, in the immediate term, a huge relief of visible suffering and was thus understandably hugely popular, politically. Those old discussions keep coming to mind, for me, every time I read these stories about cratering birth rates.

My googling just now suggests that mental health services in America cost something like 200 to 300 billion dollars a year. You can decide if that sounds like a lot or not, I suppose.

Anyway, I imagine it's a combination of things. I'm going to be totally anecdotal here and make some guesses based on women in my life who seem heavily steeped in this culture, so take it with a massive grain of salt.

On the one hand, you have celebrities like Dr. Phil (net worth $460 million) who genuinely do seem to make a lot of money off of their national brands. Same thing, I suspect, with high profile therapy-oriented book authors who cycle through media targeting women. More than just the money they make, though, they soak up a huge amount of attention while cementing the public frame that everyone could and should use therapy, no different from going to a doctor, and that therapy works and can help anyone. Any time I find myself at a doctors office waiting room in the middle of the day with women's day time tv on, I'm constantly caught off guard by how utterly pervasive the therapy language is in the normal conversations of the (if I'm being mean) clucking hens on those shows. It's the water the fish are swimming in, to mix animal metaphors. This space seems to have a lot of really high profile shysters, to my eyes - it reminds me a lot of tele-evangelists for a slightly different subculture.

And on the other hand, there is the properly credentialed world of normal, local therapists out there who, I suspect, mostly believe in what they're doing but are also aware of how hard and fuzzy working with people is, aren't making huge bank, and are trying to do their best... not that different from, say, teachers. I actually had plenty of experience with such counseling in my teen years, as a matter of fact. And my impression is not that such people are bad people particularly - but like anyone, I think they kind of have to believe that what they do is generally helpful and a helpful part of a solution to other people's problems, even though often times people don't seem to get any better (but then, people really are enormously complicated, and change is hard, and people need to want to change, and you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink, and very often it is the social context of someone that is holding them back, and...) In all of this, they are just like the people I know in high frequency trading who kind of have to believe that by increasing liquidity in the system, they really making finance more efficient for everyone, and just like the higher up I know at Raytheon who kind of has to believe that national defense is obviously important and a net good and Raytheon is itself a net good in that space, and just like the literal DEI trainer I know (mom of my son's friend) who is a nice person who kind of has to believe that she's making the world a better place by running DEI workshops at our local bank. And all of them have mortgages that kind of depend on them believing that what they do is worth doing, even though it can be hard to tell when the world is so complicated, so they can keep their own lives afloat. But all of that eventually adds up to real money, in aggregate.

And yet, as I say, the women I know who seem most drawn to therapy culture and counseling seem... not great. Maybe they would be even worse if that was not a part of their life; there's literally no way I could know that. But I really, really do wonder.

I've been wondering for a while now if this (generally - I'm not talking about your wife specifically) isn't an underappreciated disaster of the transition from a broad-based traditional Christian culture to a Oprah / Doctor Phil Therapy culture.

I know I've seen stats suggesting that it has long been the case that women are much more reliable church goers than men. I've likewise seen the claim that normie women seem more drawn to recourse to external "shared" social authority than most normie (non-alpha) men, broadly speaking, too, which goes hand-in-hand with that. Trotting out some folk evo psych, maybe it's all a consequence of their greater general social awareness, verbal communication skills, agreeableness, and neuroticism, as well as physical smallness and the general ambient threat of unchecked male risk taking and male libido and male strength? It's not hard to concoct just so stories about why you might expect exactly these dynamics to emerge, just based on biology.

I have to say, too, as a parent of elementary age kids of both sexes, watching their small social groups emerge and evolve, all the stereotypes are largely true. My oldest daughter, who is in 5th grade, is already having to navigate mean girl social power emerging, with a keen sense of "what is normal" and "what is weird" seemingly drawn from the ether and lots of social policing and exclusion. There's no shortage of girls in my other daughter's kindergarten class (including her, I am not happy to say) who have their "tattle to authority at the slightest imagined infraction" knob turned up to 11... and this emerges despite no shortage of unsupportive feedback about the behavior. The tattling urge is just real, overpowering, and pervasive. Meanwhile, my third grade son and his friends are almost literally small apes with almost no social awareness at all... and again, this despite no shortage of exasperated feedback. They wouldn't even think to tattle as a result of any of their messy interactions.

Anyway, if you go along with any of that, it's not hard to see how the Christian concepts of "faith" and a general "Let go, let God" orientation have a very specific role in easing the demons that beset anxious women who are prone to relitigating all the things that inflame their worst inner voices. One general read of the tradition might say, "There is an authority outside yourself, it can and must be infinitely trusted, it is the root of all reality, it is all benevolent and all knowing, you are a child of God and of infinite worth, you are not wise enough to stand in judgement of anyone or even yourself and humility and hope and forgiveness are thus commandments, despair and gossip are sins, trust God and do your best and turn to faith to come to internalize that all this suffering and anxiety and confusion and difficulty has meaning and has a point and will be bearable." The "Gospel" is literally the "Good News", right?

(I'm not well-versed enough in other traditions to make similar comparisons for other religions or cultures. And of course this is just one read of the tradition. I'm just interested in comparing a certain read of Christianity vs Modern American Therapy culture here)

I'm not saying "Christianity is folk CBT!" But it's not hard to see that at least one reading of the tradition seems very well oriented towards dampening those horrible, anxious, destructive inner voices in a great many women.

The women I know who are totally saturated in therapy culture seem to be marinating constantly in hyper-negative re-litigations of all the particular events in their lives, meanwhile, while loudly evangelizing it as a universal solution to everyone else's problems somehow. And it's clear that therapy culture has replaced what would have been a religious faith and practice previously, even for nominally religious people. And to top it all of, it's all straight up scientism - totally empirically unmoored and indifferently so, the worst kind of woo that the replication crisis (or hell, even Karl Popper in his original engagement with the relationship between Freud and Science) should have swept away long ago. It's all "The Music Man" style confidence games. It's treated with a very specific kind of "authority", and a lot of cash is being made, but the grounding of that authority is, it seems to me, entirely on a foundation of sand. Sticking with my biblical references, as Christ said and then William James reiterated, "By Your Fruits Shall Ye Know Them". And my subjective opinion of therapy culture is that the people most vocally invested in it seem like giant flash red warning signs about it.

I don't intend to evangelize Christianity here, by the way - rather, this is just one more comment in the genre of "I did the New Atheist thing and now I have deep reservations about how much baby got thrown out with the bathwater". Chesterton's Fence et cetera.

Here's a thought experiment.

Imagine a world where communities from all over choose to send their best and brightest to global centers of higher learning, where they would get exposure to the most recent and best medical treatments, and physics knowledge, and mathematical discoveries, and engineering techniques. And then they would return back to their local communities, and use that knowledge to improve the lives of the people in their home communities, while also finding ways to integrate that knowledge with their existing values and traditions and all the various particularities that make up a specific, rooted real community with its own memories and allegiances.

And then imagine that those centers of higher learning were very careful to balance how many learners from different communities there were, to make sure that all these different communities got access to that knowledge and were then able to integrate it locally in their own particular way.

Would that be a bad, or facial objectionable world?

You might think I'm trying to make something like a pro-affirmative action case here, but at least for the current world we live in, I see this thought experiment as exactly the opposite. IF different groups maintained healthy boundaries around their own communities, and there was no public rhetoric about particular communities having any moral culpability for the outcomes of other groups (because having healthy boundaries means rejecting appeals to some shared, universalist morality can not exist under meaningful pluralism), THEN different groups having representatives who came to centers of higher learning (however their groups chose those representatives) to bring that knowledge and expertise back to their own communities would kind of be their own business, or so it seems to me. And I think (assuming you were not offended by the existence of groups and group cohesion in the first place) most people could see the resulting world being better off for the entire process. I can appreciate, say, some local Nigerian community wanting access to knowledge about medical instrument sterilization without needing to trot out an SAT to see if they deserve that knowledge.

Now, obviously, what I'm describing is a theoretical story about how Universities could function, but it is not at all how they actually function. What I hope this thought experiment suggests is that you really need universities extracting talented people from the provinces, socially re-engineering them to identify with and then merge into the global ruling class and have contempt for the values and traditions of their home cultures, and then segregating them into communities of the winners who have massive powers over the losers back home, to arrive at a point where race (or group) based affirmative action is going to generate massive amounts of totally predictable moral agitation, especially in a democracy. Or at least that's my own instinct.

Which is to say, from this perspective, affirmative action is a red herring and rhetorical distraction. The real problem is the old progressive impulse towards erasing local distinctions, massively centralizing power, flattening all differences and allegiances in the name of "universalism", and going all in on social engineering. The line between "integration" and "cultural genocide" is, it seems to me, a very who/whom distinction.

And if I had to hazard a guess, I suspect there's no shortage of black Americans who would be sympathetic to the argument here... but of course, that has never been the point.

Counterfactuals are lots of fun...

But for my money, the really great mistake was not having the religious fundamentalists of New England secede during the War of 1812, as nearly happened. It would have clearly been better for everyone in the long run.


Somehow nearly everywhere else in the West managed to draw down slavery peacefully despite the massive amounts of money involved and how ingrained it was socially. Slavery was ubiquitous, and yet somehow everyone else managed to move past it.

Now, it could be that there was something uniquely horrible or monstrous about Southerners at the time, although they don't seem especially unusual if you read deeply about them. No saints, of course, but not really all that unusual people for the time. What does seem unusual for the time, however, is that Massachusetts was founded by, functionally, the Taliban, and though the particular beliefs of their descendants clearly drifted over time, the core tendency of a great many of them towards intensely held spiteful extremism, with a sharp inclination towards fire and brimstone and apocalypse and Manicheanism and radicalism and sharpening confrontation, clearly never did.

I'm glad slavery ended, and I'm sorry that America ended up relying on the absolutely worst, most disastrous, most scarring way to end it. America certainly would be hugely better off if the South hadn't been dragged along as, essentially, a wrecked, impoverished internal colony from the time of the end of the Civil War until World War 2, with all the damaged legacy that left for people in the South, both black and white. But ignoring or even praising the role of religious extremists in bringing about the most violent, scarring way to end slavery is both unfortunate and typical, and has itself left a disastrous legacy in American politics.

It's probably no accident that the British, who wisely marginalized and broke the back of their Puritan Bolsheviks by the end of their civil war, were actually able to wind down slavery without resorting to bloodshed.

Of course, maybe I'm playing a little fast and loose with details here and slagging off entire groups of people somewhat lazily in a situation that really does demand incredible nuance, but hey, if that's what we're doing, that's what we're doing.

Great post, of course.

One thing I've very hazy about, though, is whether this is an argument that stops with the Republican party being doomed, or whether it's rather an argument for all those institutions actually being doomed.

I remember years ago reading some prepper types making the point that America as we know it is not physically built to survive meaningful civil unrest; there's all sorts of infrastructure and pipelines and so on that are huge and spread out and essentially undefendable. But the reason for that is, of course, that America is largely peaceful, and has been relatively high trust in most places for quite a while, and so it has been built with those assumptions in mind (and indeed this is one of the huge economic benefits of having a fairly high trust society).

I think there's something very similar going on with all of America's ostensible shared institutions; at least in my view, the entire point of stressing the rhetoric of "consent of the governed" is recognizing that all of our various systems work because the lion's share of citizens are willing to accept the authority of those systems, even if they don't understand them or are wary about the people who operate them.

And in that sense, consent of the governed is a very different concept from some theoretical notion of democratic legitimacy, in the "majority of votes = legitimate" sense. I mean, on paper inner city police departments are propped up by local democratic governance. But one of the giant problems inner city black neighborhoods have long faced is a lack of trust about police as an institution from certain communities, and there are huge amounts of horrible downstream consequences to that lack of trust and consent. It is trivial as an outsider to look at a lot of that dysfunction and say, depending on your political point of view, "See, that's why people should trust police with a monopoly on violence" or "see, that's why police need to be reformed so that they can be trusted". But it turns out regaining trust in institutions is incredibly difficult in practice, regardless of the wisdom of the bromides. Maintaining buy in from random citizens is crucially important.

This stuff is obviously far from academic. I had an uncle in 2021 who was all in on the ivermectin stuff. He's in his late 60s. Not a dumb guy, in general. He's a senior engineer in some firm. He's also apparently very online these days. He and his wife had a pretty nasty time with COVID. They were very aggressively anti-vax. I wish I could have rolled my eyes and said, at the time, "See, that's why you should just listen to the various authoritative bodies and trust what they have to say!" And I'm not, by nature, inclined to think that populist medical treatment rumor mongering online is a better idea than rigorous, empirical medical science from well-functioning institutions. But of course, I also lived through the summer of 2020, and I was paying pretty close attention to those same experts and their public pronouncements too. And I remember being told that racism was the real public health crisis. I remember being told that everyone needed to stay in their apartments RIGHT NOW - SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING to save lives, until suddenly it was time for anti-racism marches and everyone needed to go back outside immediately. And I remember being told that it was more important that young black health care workers get vaccines rather than my older white relatives, despite the much more severe relative risk of death they actually faced. I'm not in the business of forgetting any of that.

And so what happens if more and more of the population stops accepting the authority of those various institutions? What if more and more of the country starts treating universities and various federal agencies and ostensibly mainstream, shared press and maybe even public schools in exactly the same way that certain inner city black communities treat their cops?

Because I feel certain that having a dearth of public conservatives in those bodies is likely to greatly speed up this process. There is no endpoint where the bifurcations sharpens much further, and meaningful consent of the governed somehow remains. The line of a nullification crisis runs through every human heart. And someone responding "but those bureaucracies fulfill essential roles - they are indespendible!" is understandable, but is in some sense fundamentally disconnected from the facts on the ground. It's much like saying "Those inner city neighborhoods need functioning police forces and rule of law (and locals schools, for that matter)!" All true, but there's no obvious mechanism from here to there.

One particularly interesting wrinkle in all this, to me, is the current Supreme Court. It is not an inevitable fact of nature that all the various institutions that progressives dominate should have actual power or authority within the context of America's political system. In many cases, a tangle of legislation, court rulings, and executive branch decisions are the basis for their explicit authority. We've already seen the current Supreme Court take a wrecking ball to topics of abortion and affirmative action. I've seen the claim made, recently, that prior to the current court, the last time the Supreme Court had a 6-3 conservative majority was back in the 1920's. Which is to say, before the New Deal. Before World War 2. Before several waves of massive expansion in the Federal government. I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that the naked partisanship of a bunch of the institutions dominated by progressives right now, and the very overtness and antagonism of that partisanship, leads to partisan conservatives in the Supreme Court taking a sledge hammer to the foundation of some of those institutions. Which... is not a very conservative thing to do, of course. But live by who/whom, die by who/whom. I've seen a number of really furious, anxious progressive think pieces about the Chevron doctrine in particular recently, and the potential damage the court could do to the entire unelected federal bureaucracy and its power if that doctrine is significantly revised. But who knows.

I imagine only atheists see the appeal of comparing woke (progressive, successor) ideology to a religion of sorts

Huh. Well, more traditionalist Christianity is not shy, at all, about recognizing other religions as existing. It just often considers them all to be evil / bad at worst or distorted and having a glimmer of partial truths at best while still preventing the worshipper from coming to to true salvation in Christ.

The biggest divide within humanity, from the earliest days of Christianity, was between Christianity and paganism, which was clearly recognized as false (but very real in the sense of existing) religion. And even there, traditional Christians have often thought pagan religions are worshiping real, existing spiritual forces - demons or whatever. As a matter of fact, the people I grew up around saw New Age woo in exactly this light.

In that sense, "woke-ism is religion" actually fits very, very cleanly into traditional Christianity's existing world view.

I think, ironically, it's an atheist conceit that "theists" believe that "religion" is generically good.

On the one hand, this is true in the sense that traditionalist Christians do think "freedom of religion" is good, if the alternative is the state overtly oppressing their religious practice. And it is true that there's no shortage of more militant atheists or even just progressives who, when push comes to shove, really are more concerned with "freedom from religion". And they really are comfortable with the state and/or society's sense making apparatuses constantly redefining religion downwards until it's nothing more than subjective thoughts in a persons head that they should keep to themselves and not have impact the public square, with anything else being hate speech. See also the actual existing history of the Bolsheviks and their process of erasing religion in the Soviet Union for a history traditional Christians sometimes are more aware of. Anyway, that's "freedom of religion", not "religion", as a public good, according to traditional Christians.

But on the other hand, that doesn't exactly mean that such Christians would necessarily see other actual particular religions themselves as good things in the world. They take the differences between faiths very, very seriously. If you ever poke around in conservative spaces where, say, conservative Catholics and Evangelicals and Mormons and Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims (and other traditions) share space in dialog with the general goal to find solidarity in promoting conservative politics, it's not that rare for topics concerning their differences to crop up, and in such cases, the topic either needs to be smoothed over and tabled almost immediately, or it can immediately flare up into intense acrimony. The differences are not small, and people take them very seriously. And again, this is a mental framework that absolutely can make sense of woke-ism as an alternative, much more hostile religion.

The detractors of those religions have a habit of deciding that the differences between different religions traditions are actually pretty trivial, and that the ire between faiths is a function of the narcissism of small differences and power jockeying. But, at least in this detractor view, the different traditions are materially and functionally really about the same (and believers of such often occupy roughly the same class position), the sects maintain the same role in propping up old, traditional power hierarchies, and so on. From that perspective, "religion" turns into a gray blob that all "religious people" value. But that says a lot more about the people who believe that critique than about "religious believers".

I suspect there's some other balancing act going on here.

Hanania doesn't need liberal approval or sympathy, nor could he possibly get it before all this anyway.

He does need to stay relatively acceptable to rich and powerful old boomer conservatives who control the media megaphones and purse strings and set the tone for where things are headed going forward within the shifting conservative movement, especially regarding public political priorities about legal matters (both in the Federal government and concerning cases conservative activists drag in front of the Supreme Court).

And old boomer conservatives are, I think, the only people left who overwhelmingly still cling to the rotting corpse of the old Reagan public settlement about race (namely, we all agree that racism is a truly awful thing, we legitimately believe in a goal of milquetoast equal opportunity, but we will also define racism such that it only applies to truly egregious acts by individual extremists that have nothing to do with almost anybody normal, and we'll likewise view it through a colorblind lens that also holds black Americans to the same standard as everyone else).

Fundamentally, on the ground (at least online), this settlement is over. If you're a younger male or traditional Christian or are white, you have been steeped in progressive activists salting the earth on this and related identity topics since, like, 2013, and so you've already acclimatized to the new reality, or for you this might be the only reality you've ever even known. "Racism" now means whatever it is that progressive activist networks say it means on any given day, and in turn it's just one more term of abuse hurled by self-aggrandizing partisans heavily steeped in conflict theory who want good zero sum things for their allies and bad zero sum things for you. And so it's no surprise to see conversation norms heavily shifting for younger conservatives, or the sorts of people who at the least are drawn to anti-woke discourse. Younger people who likely would've accepted the public moral legitimacy of the old Reagan settlement stop accepting the moral legitimacy of what has replaced it, and so all the guard rails come down.

I read an interview between Hanania and Chris Rufo the other day (IIRC), and Rufo was basically making something like this point - lots of old boomer conservatives are still very sensitive to how race is talked about, largely because they're insulated from all these changes out in the wild, and so he has to be quite delicate rhetorically about how he talks about race when trying to reach out to them. They can agree about policy goals, but the rhetorical frame that's required to convince them is quite different than what younger online anti-woke types would be receptive to.

I think you significantly underrate the extent to which the ideals of social equality and universal brotherhood are based on Christianity. Most of the stuff conservative Christians like, property, patriarchy, patriotism, tradition, family, virtue, sexual continence, aren't actually Christian.

I've seen the argument made (though I don't recall where) that one of the central tensions when thinking about Christianity is that much of the writings about Jesus in the Gospels, and the immediate social movement around Jesus, were expecting an immediate end of the world and Apocalypse, and thus insist on a kind of intense radicalism that is wholly unsustainable in any kind of longer lived community. And then, even by the time of Paul, the fact that the imminent Apocalypse hasn't shown up yet starts being more and more disruptive to making a church with any kind of continuity, and so much of the work of Paul was to reformulate Christianity into a faith that could grow and maintain its own communities through time and space, which required dampening a lot of the especially radical Christian tendencies and shifting them from a material interpretation towards a more spiritual one.

At least by this kind of argument, this is why, when Christian sects show up insisting on returning to the roots of Christianity and ditching everything other than the actual words and actions of Christ, they generally end up burning out in a decade or two at best, or else they age past their radical phase and revert to more sustainable, less radical social forms.

But if you're sympathetic to this kind of radicalism, you end up having to say, for example, that the writings of Paul (which is to say, a large chunk of the New Testament) aren't really Christian. Which some people kind of implicitly do! But certainly for a lot of people, a definition of Christianity probably ought to include the writings of Paul and all the early church traditions.

And then someone else might very well argue that the tension between the unwavering apocalyptic, unsustainable idealism of Christ, and the "how do we live in the world and keep this ship afloat through time and space" concerns of Paul and the early church is itself, in fact, at the very core of Christianity. The pulls of both idealism and pragmatism / sustainability both serve extremely important functions in the world, with different people needing to steer towards one or the other at different times and places.

in actually cold areas

Here's Finland compared to Wisconsin (where I lived): https://www.crownscience.org/places/finland/wisconsin-us

And Finland compared to Minnesota: https://www.crownscience.org/places/finland/minnesota-us

And Finland compared to North Dakota: https://www.crownscience.org/places/finland/north-dakota-us

In general, the Upper Midwest is physically far from any large bodies of water (i.e. oceans) that would moderate its temperature, and the plains up north through Canada don't have any significant mountains to dampen artic winds. It's a legitimately cold part of the world, at least for how populated it is (Minneapolis metro area is something like 3.7 million people).

There's a reason that historically Wisconsin and Minnesota had a disproportionate amount of early immigration from Sweden and Norway.

And Brits aren’t “too poor” to afford air conditioning, it just hasn’t been hot enough for more than 10-15 years in the summer to warrant it.

It's worth pointing out that this isn't just a non-American thing, either. I grew up in the South, where air conditioning is a precondition of living a tolerable life, and you would have to be desperately poor not to have central air. When I later moved to a college town in the Upper Midwest, it took me a while to figure out that window mounted air conditioning units wasn't a sign of dire poverty where I had moved to; rather, the summers were mild enough that people often would only want air conditioning for a few weeks every year, and if they lived in older, well-built houses, the pain and cost of upgrading to central air wasn't mostly worth the trouble for them, and a few window mounted units were fine. This was all counterbalanced by the much more drastic (and expensive in time and attention) measures they would have to take to mitigate absolutely brutal winters, of course.

It really is a great case study in prejudice in action.

When I was in my early 20's two decades ago and moved to the upper Midwest from Atlanta, I got no shortage of comments about how racist, specifically, the South was, and (because of the way socialization works) I actually accepted those claims at face value. Everyone high status in my new world knew the South was super racist, and so I just kind of accepted the sense of what they were saying. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that, in fact, Atlanta is in most ways of course a million times better for black people than where I had moved to, race relations (though complicated of course) in the New South were productively evolving in ways that absolutely were not happening in the calcified old Midwest, black southerners and white southerners have way more shared culture and values than the weird balkanization you find up north, and all the smart high status people I was around had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, were extremely invested in some pretty deranged stories about race relations in America, and (worst of all) had most of their own sense of how public morality worked and their own moral worth tangled up in it all. The South certainly has its own problems, of course, but the role of black people in the moral imagination of lots of well-credentialed and wealthy northerners is just... creepy, harmful, and weirdly fanciful.

My hunch is that the reason for the prejudice is actually the consequence of something like privilege: when you're on top and overwhelmingly dominant for a while, you reach a point where you write off other places or groups and then don't bother updating your priors because, at least for a time, you don't need to. I would compare it to something like the old reputation that existed in America in the 50's and 60's that "Made in Japan" means cheap, flimsy, low quality junk. That stereotype was probably based in reality for a few decades, and if you were American, you could adopt that stance and then treat it as though it were true for quite a while without playing close attention... and that would be fine until Japan's capacity for quality and innovation grew better much faster than you might've expected, and eventually your musty old views would become a serious liability if you were an American working in business and your old prejudice against Japan's products eventually made you less competitive. The actual reality is that, especially after the Civil War, the South really was very poor and excluded from industrialization and urbanization for a very, very long time (IIRC, there were 22 major Northern metros in 1950 with populations > 1 million, and only 1 in the South at that time), and most of the rest of the country could ignore it and treat it as an unimportant backwater until really rather recently.

The topic of casual, vitriolic, comically uninformed bigotry about southerners in other parts of the country is actually a really fascinating topic in its own right, and something I might wade into here some day when I'm less strapped for time, because it actually touches on some really interesting and fascinating challenges America will face soon, as the South continues to grow in economic and population strength relative to the North East and the West Coast.

Well, let me try to run with your question, because I think my speculation is a bit orthogonal to it.

Sure, as a great power, the Soviet Union didn't suffer meaningful consequences for operating gulags. Rather, the fact that it was a super power and operated gulags meant that all other nations in its sphere of influence certainly could use similar tools with impunity, AND the U.S. was often forced to turn a blind eye, in the case of various unaligned or less aligned nations, to similar local policies that were offensive to U.S. sensibilities when the U.S. was competing for influence against the Soviet Union. The fact of the Soviet Union having and enacting different policies and norms changed the political environment that all other nations were operating in, especially in places like Sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia that were decolonizing and not in the firm orbit of either superpower. Great powers shape norms in their sphere of influence, and those norms can be an attractive draw for possible members of their orbits. They can be a crucial form of soft power.

So my speculation isn't that China (a rising great power) demonstrates that it can do things that are offensive-to-U.S.-norms, and thus random nation x (a small, non-great power) can also now do things offensive-to-U.S.-norms without consequence. My speculation is that China (trying to end U.S. hegemony and shift to a new world order of multipolarity, with China being one of the poles) could, among many other initiatives, be offering up support of the use of demographic management approaches the U.S. current forbids as one of many carrots for smaller nations to pull out of the U.S. orbit and consider transitioning into a multipolar future where they see their interests draw them closer to China's orbit.

As I say, this is all just idle speculation, of course.

I've wondered the last few years ago, regarding China's treatment of the Uighurs, if there was a geopolitical rhetorical function to that treatment.

Basically, or so the argument would go, the number of states that would consider using concentration camps or muscular ethnic reshaping or even cleansing policies on their undesirable internal demographics is almost certainly much, MUCH higher than the number of states that are willing to publicly acknowledge it or actually overtly enact it as long as American unipolar hegemony is the order of the day. And so letting their own internal demographics shift in undesirable ways while forswearing certain ugly policy choices that they would prefer to use is a specific cost of accepting American hegemony.

In such a world, China blatantly engaging in, say, the use of concentration camps, and then suffering no meaningful consequences for it, could be an intentional, provocative signal of weakening American power, as well as an invitation to other countries to pull away from the current American led order and shift towards a multipolar international order where states can more aggressively manage their own internal ethnic demographics exactly as China does, all with China benevolently claiming "China promotes a world where state sovereignty is respected and the internal affairs of states are their own business".

I'm not saying I believe this, exactly, but I can see a certain logic to it.

(You could imagine an alternate history version of "Russia blitzkriegs Ukraine in 2022, grabs a bunch of territory, and then winds the SMO down" serving a similar provocative international signaling function about the diminished role of American power and a new era of states militarily contesting old borders, but the history we're currently in a much messier and more ambiguous than that)

When I was reading Tony Judt's "Postwar", about Europe after World War 2, one of the points he made is that (though no one wants to admit it because it is so uncomfortable to admit) Hitler to some extent got at least some of what he wanted in Europe, at least for a time; in the Europe that came out of World War 2, there was generally much more ethnic coherence in nations than there had been before World War 2, largely because of mass population displacement and ethnic cleansing. The role of that shift in the general (all things considered) European peace that followed and the rise of solidarity-based welfare states is, again, a seriously uncomfortable topic. See also Robert Putnam and the costs of multi-culturalism on social trust.

I think there's something really puzzling and interesting going on with American (left-of-center dominated) institutions broadly right now, and I think the phenomenon is captured nicely by this example of the press, the public, and the unpopularity of affirmative action.

As someone who grew up religious and in the South, most of my life, the main feature that distinguished American high-status liberalism from my home cultures was that American liberalism was absolutely masterful in wielding soft power.

My home cultures were much more prone to highly unappealing sanctimony, and authoritarian preening, and scolding, and the telling of musty old just so stories, and dumb Rush Limbaugh-tier propaganda, and attempts to trot out "hello fellow kids" unappealing Christian "rock", and clearly out-of-touch and ignorant fearful conspiracy theories about everything, and simplistic moralizing, and deep discomfort with acknowledging or facing the darker and messier parts of life, and a wariness about asking hard or culturally threatening questions, and prissy Thomas Kincaid-tier "art", and... On and on it went. (And a lot of that remains true to varying degrees for those subcultures to do this day, of course)

And meanwhile, the combination and intersections of art from Hollywood and TV and the popular music industry and popular fiction, and seductive and unrelenting Madison Avenue advertising, and the draw of unfettered consumerism, and the clearly high standards and high status of America's university system, and the seeming rigor and high standards and skepticism and confident nuance of America's great news sources... It was (or seemed to be) a culture of sophistication, and of subtlety and nuance, and very high standards, and of worldliness, and of individual freedom and liberation (especially sexually, of course). It came across as a culture where people were trusted to follow their own bliss, and where the culture was confident enough that people could ask hard questions and follow those questions where ever those questions led them. These different institutions (or at least their portrayal) all came together to create an unrelenting, highly appealing outside cultural force that my home cultures ultimately proved defenseless in the face of and was ultimately entirely undermined by, especially given the weight of outside money and technology pushing it. When I look at the dynamic I experienced, the things that stick out the most are the profound confidence of that outside culture, and the incredible deftness with which it wielded its soft power. It was a culture that understood, in a deep way, that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It had mastered the art of both leading you to the water without you seeing them do it, and also making you want desperately to drink.

That's how it all felt, anyway.

Subjectively, everything I just described above feels like it might as well have taken place on a different planet. Everything that made my home cultures unappealing and weak 40 years now feels like its seeped into Hollywood and Madison Avenue and American universities and ostensibly reputable left-of-center news. And instead of deftly steering masses of people without them even seeing that they're being led, we keep getting this ritual of well-bred, well-credentialed people, who've inherited these fantastic organs of soft power, pulling back the curtain, doing the equivalent of getting up on their rickety soapboxes in very public ways, and loudly berating and scolding the people they once would have masterfully exercised soft power over, undermining their own organs of soft-power in the process and generating all sorts of highly predictable attention and resistance.

It's all very fascinating and puzzling to experience.

Unless we get a Nixon or LBJ, I really don't see any huge changes in how this country is governed.

Some alternative arguments:

A lot of the politicians and voters of that era had military service as one of their primary formative experiences. That enculturated them to accept big projects, large hierarchies, central planning, and non-market power in a way that is frankly alien to most Americans today. It's not so much a question of competence as a question of faith in that way of organizing people. Similarly competent people would almost certainly be in business today instead - but post 2008 financial crisis, I suspect that that blithe faith in markets and business no longer a shared, default assumption by smart, competent younger people either (which portends unclear things about the future).

But also, more importantly, their "competence" was in many cases vastly outstripped by their confidence and even hubris, and the resulting disasters are specifically what led to the current lack of faith in government in the first place. If you read, say, "The Best and Brightest" (about technocratic failures and hubris leading to Vietnam) or "Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families" (about technocratic forced busing in Boston in the 70s), you get a really, really clear snapshot of why American faith in big, invasive, confident government collapsed, and why people turned back to markets instead (Gallup and Pew polls captured this collapse of faith in authorities and institutions quite nicely). All those competent politicians were able to get a bunch of bills passed, true, and roll out a bunch of programs, but that didn't mean they were actually competent in terms of being good governmental leaders and sustaining voter support in what they wanted to do, and several of their big programs were astonishing disasters with consequences that are still with us.

The online rights generally thinks it's futile to court black voters to the GOP, as evidenced by this piece.

I'm very curious if taking account of regional differences might be crucial on this topic, and this is something I've been wondering about more broadly.

Some half-remembered data that I've seen recently but mostly won't double check now:

Blacks in the South have the highest rates of black homeownership in the country - here's the claim

I don't have the chart handy, but I saw a graph recently that showed that blacks in the New South (Georgia especially) are more optimistic that blacks in other parts of the country.

Blacks in the South are also, I'm almost positive, the most religious (just like everyone else in the South).

56% of American blacks live in the South, and this means the South is much blacker than the rest of the country - Georgia is 33% black compared to California's 5%, for example.

By the numbers, though, the biggest concentrated mass of black voters are in Northern or Rust Belt Cities - per this, the top 5 locations for concentrations of blacks are New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.

The worst educational outcome gaps between black and white in the country are in intensely liberal, well-credentialed white coastal and college towns.

The share of the black population with college degrees varies quite intensely by city , with the New South doing well and the rust belt often doing pretty poorly.

There are a lot of blacks in the South who are rural, which isn't the case almost anywhere else in the country - and rural black poverty looks very different than concentrated northern urban ghetto black poverty (I saw an observation recently that in the South, as you go more rural, white homicide rates rise and black homicides rates fall until they nearly equalize).

There has been a century long effort by radicals in northern urban cities to use blacks and black failure as a vanguard for political revolution, and that has entailed constant attempts at radicalizing the black underclass, which has almost certainly left a cultural mark on those communities; the South has historically been much more aggressively antagonistic to immigration (and thus the radical traditions and practices that certain immigrants brought with them), and labor unions, and industrial cities before the 1950s, and agitation more generally (and has been much more traditionally Christian), so this cultural and political influence has had much less of an effect on blacks in the South.

Another important group, white Yankees, trace the entirety of their moral worldview and moral history to the fact of blacks being the worlds biggest victims, white Southerners being the worlds biggest monsters, and white Yankees being the saviors of history, and they intensely need social relations to be slotted into that story, resulting in profoundly patronizing and non-functional behavior and excuse making when it comes to black people and black dysfunction, as well as fascinating dumbing down; white people in the South mostly don't do this, and (because there are vastly more black people there) are pretty clear eyed about the fact that plenty of black people can be expected to uphold reasonable standards as citizens and take care of their stuff, and also that black dysfunction is absolute civilizational poison and can not be tolerated (and also, there's no shortage of white trash dysfunction in the South that doesn't look all that different, and that can't be tolerated either).

I could go on with this, because I do find it fascinating, but I'll stop.

The South obviously isn't a utopia, and it has its problems, but (having grown up in the New South and then moved to liberal college towns and Rust Belt cities), the way race relations play out there look pretty different, and that has consequences.

And I don't think it's entirely crazy to imagine a future where Republicans could possibly retool themselves to be more attractive to socially conservative southern blacks, especially men and religious black people. I mean, it would still be an incredible slog, because the parties are still pretty racially coded in the South in a way that doesn't actually have much to do with values or policy, but I can imagine a pathway from here to there.

Now, whether or not Republicans see any point to doing this in Southern states, and whether or not they see it as more useful than getting to terrify all other demographics about black crime by engaging in the right wing version of race baiting, is a different issues. But as internal immigration brings in more northern liberals to the New South, it's possible the current political dividing lines might shift enough that ditching race to focus on uniting all social conservatives in Southern states becomes a reasonable approach. The gulf in values between southern conservative blacks and PMC yankee liberals is really significant, and much bigger than the gulf between southern white conservatives and southern black conservatives, who honestly have quite a lot in common in terms of history and culture and values.

In some ways, all of this reminds me of articles I've read about Hispanics warming up to the Republican party - from what've I've read, Hispanics in Blue states are not responding that well, but outreach to Hispanics in Red States is actually working pretty effectively.