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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 15, 2024

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I'm not sure how else to start this so I'm just going to dive straight in.

A long time bug-bear of mine is something I've come to refer to as the "Leviathan-shaped Hole in the discourse". It's something that has come up multiple times in the last couple weeks and while I've written about it at length back when this community was on reddit and in the comment section of SSC proper back in the day it's been pointed out to me that I haven't really written about it in a while and that I should probably revisit the subject for those who are just joining us. Aknoldewdgment to @Fruck, @hydroacetylene, Et Al.

The short version is that I believe that there are multiple basic human intuitions that are simply missing from the modern secular liberal mindset/worldview.

The long version might require a bit of background to explain.

I get the impression that I'm something of an odd man out here in that I did not go to college after high-shool and in that I never really thought of myself as being particularly intelligent. If anything it was the inverse. I'll be the first to tell you that I am not that fucking bright. I had dreams of being a professional fighter and/or skate-border, but as I moved up the food-chain it became increasinly clear that natural talent was no match for natural talent coupled with the time and money to train full-time. If I were smart I may have figured that out a head of time. In anycase 9/11 Happened and I enlisted. I spent 10 years as a Combat Medic and another 18 months as a feild operative for a Prominant Humanitarian NGO in East Africa before deciding to return to the states and go to college on the GI bill.

As one might imagine, going from being a "Muzunga" in Nairobi to being undergrad at the University of California was a bit of a culture shock. And it is that sense of culture shock that has stuck with me and signifigantly shaped my worldview since. It's one thing to stick out visually, to be visibly older than all the other freshmen, or to be one of half-a-dozen white guys in an otherwise black neighborhood. But it is another to realize that you genuinely walk different, talk different, and think different from your obstensible peers. I was first introduced to rationalism through one of my professors and a fellow-student, and the desire to make sense of whatever the fuck was going on was major part of the initial apeal. I was actually at one of the first SSC reader meet-ups hosted by Cariadoc where I got to meet Scott, and bunch of the other movers and shakers, face to face but as much as I was a fan of the general ideas (systemitized wining Yay!) it was painfully obvious to me that we had fundementally different conceptions of how how the world actually worked. Which in turn brings us to the real topic of this post.

One of the things about having existed in a world outside liberal society is that you cant help but recognize that there is a world outside liberal society. Accordingly it becomes difficult to ignore just how much of liberal society (or what Scott would call "the Universal Culture") is predicated on assumptions that do not necccesarily hold. Yes, If A & B then C, but that's a mightily Laconic "If". This is where the hole comes in. My position is that the secular liberal dominiation of academia has effectively castrated our society's ablility to discuss certain topics in a reasonable manner by baking liberal assumptions about how the world ought to work (rather than how it actually does work) into the vocabulary of the discussion. As such, in order to argue against a liberal in a manner the the liberal will regard as valid one is forced to go through a whole rigirmarole of defining terms that nobody's got time for. Thus the liberal inevitably wins every argument by default. However, winning the argument does not neccesarily equate to being "correct" as one can make a dumb argument for a smart position and vice versa.

The "Leviathan shaped hole" is named for the book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. I find Hobbes signifigant in that he was one of the first guys in the enlightenment/modern era to approach political science as an actual science with theories that could be either proven or falsfied. However these days he's mostly regarded as a joke, a cartoon characterchure of an absolute authoritarian drawn by people who've never really bothered to read or engage with any of his arguments and I believe that this does our society a disservice. It seems to me that we are at a point where the sort of culture/worldview that produces a guy like Greg Abbott or the median Trump voter is as alien to the typyical liberal as that of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon and I can't help but expect this to end badly.

Thing is that for all the talk of "fighting the power" one gets the impression that a liberal does not really understand the implications of those words because the've never been in a position to to actually do so. I'm reminded of an argument I got into with another user regarding the killing of Jordan Neely. The Argument has been made that Daniel Penny acted unlawfully by interposing himself between Neely and his intended victim and subsiquently killing Neely. To call Penny a "murderer" and a "vigilante" implies the pressance of a sovriegn authority that penny was obliged to defer to. Hovever if that's the case why did it not act? The simple answer is that it was not pressant and thus the accusations against Penny ring hollow.

One of those fundamental Hobbesian bits of insight that liberals see to lack is the understanding that violent schizophrenics attacking people on the subways is not some aberation, it's the default, and if you aren't going to do anything about it someone else just might.

I've ridden a lot of subways and never seen a schizophrenic attack anyone, so I'm going to be reluctant to agree that I have some Ivory-tower blindspot in my own knowledge of the subject. Be loud and annoying and smelly, sure, but that's not the same thing, especially when we're talking about justifications for killing them.

I would agree that I have a blindspot to some type of worldview where that is a default assumption about how the world works, where there's a belief that deadly attacks on subways happen all the time and it's a huge failing that the government hasn't stopped them and every citizen needs to be armed and ready to deploy deadly force against them at all times. Or whatever your actually position here is, for being the only concrete example you give you really don't spend much time outlining it.

But I really do believe that worldview is just factually wrong, my personal experiences and those of other people I know who ride the subway seem to confirm it, I'm not aware of any stats that contradict it and if they were shockingly strong I would sort of expect to know it.

Which brings us back to the point that it seems like you're making two different claims here, 1. that liberals are blind to the ways that non-liberals view and think about the world, in ways that lead to communication breakdowns and strife, and 2. that liberals are blind to portions of empirical reality that they can't/won't acknowledge.

1 is trivially true, and I would say fully bi-directional; it's just a description of what the culture war is, more or less, or even just what tribalism is more generally.

2 requires actual examples to back it up, and I don't buy it from the only one you give.

I've ridden a lot of subways and never seen a schizophrenic attack anyone

As @SSCReader and others observe above, It's arguably a testament to strength of and prosperity the existing local order that so many people are effectively able to live their entire lives within it without ever having to interface with the ugly realities. Consider for a moment that it wasn't all that long ago (75 years or so) that having Chicken for dinner involved buying a live chicken and killing/butchering it yourself. If you wanted beef or pork you went to your local butcher where you would be able to smell the blood on the floor. But today thanks to the wide-spread availability of refrigeration, meat is now something that just auto-magically appears in styrene flat-packs on supermarket shelves completely divorced from the mechanisms of its production. Where killing and harvesting your own food used to be a practical necessity it is now a life-style choice. In theory this is progress, but it's hard for me to shake the feeling that something of value has been lost here.

As Lee Harris argues in the opening to Civilization and its Enemies, prosperity breeds forgetfulness. The more prosperous a society becomes the less connected its people are to the underlying machinery of this prosperity. People forget that there was ever a time when they had to worry about whether the crops would come in, or whether their children would be sold into slavery by a conquering army. In short, they begin to forget that there is (or ever was) a world outside their prosperous society.

I would argue that the breakdown in communication between conservatives and liberals is almost entirely downstream of this apparent blindness or disconnect from empirical reality. I would argue that the reason liberals have difficulty understanding why conservatives act the way do because they seem to view prosperity as some sort of inevitable end point rather than something that has to be actively cultivated and maintained.

There is talk elsewhere in this thread about how we as a society "failed Jordan Neely" but to the conservative mind this sort of rhetoric raises an obvious question; Is this "failure" not what everyone who voted to "Defund the Police" and "Decriminalize drug use" was voting for? How can you claim that "we failed" when this is ostensibly what you wanted?

You can see a similar dynamic in the recent controversies surrounding retail theft. Liberal Officials in places like Boston, Chicago, and San Fransisco chose to stop prosecuting shop-lifters only to be shocked when Walgreens starts shuttering locations and Target starts keeping underwear under lock-and-key.

This apparent unwillingness or inability to grasp what to me (and many others) seems like obvious cause and effect is why I say there is a massive "hole" or "blind spot" in liberal thinking. Furthermore, I believe that much of the breakdown in communications is a product of this blind spot. "Can you not see it?" the conservative asks; "See what?" the liberal replies.

Consider for a moment that it wasn't all that long ago (75 years or so) that having Chicken for dinner involved buying a live chicken and killing/butchering it yourself. If you wanted beef or pork you went to your local butcher where you would be able to smell the blood on the floor. But today thanks to the wide-spread availability of refrigeration, meat is now something that just auto-magically appears in styrene flat-packs on supermarket shelves completely divorced from the mechanisms of its production.

Practical refrigerator railcars have existed since the 1880's. If you were wealthy and lived in a major city you got your meat in, well, not a styrofoam package but neatly wrapped in butcher paper from a store with no hint of where the meat came from since before living memory.

"The Joy of Cooking" was published in the 30s; my edition is mid-50s IIRC and retains material on drawing and plucking poultry. This seems to fit well with "75 years or so ago" -- supermarkets were a thing, but it seems like a whole chicken with feathers on it would be something a home cook might reasonably expect to encounter at this time?

If "you were wealthy and lived in a major city" is the key distinction here, up through the early 1900s the primary use of refrigeration was to manufacture and transport ice for use in unpowered ice-boxes. It's not until the 30 and 40s that it really starts to transition from being an expensive luxury to standard practice, and it's not till the mid 50s that we arrive at the current status quo of freezers and refrigerators being standard equipment in every home and grocery store.