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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 22, 2024

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I know, it's just that I'm finally hitting my breaking point. Mostly it's that a few people who were generic libs but mocked "the weird ones" have suddenly gone all-in on quoting reddit posts, with seemingly no sense that their perspective has changed.

I've always put up with this kind of thing before, but I'm this close to cutting back my circle of friends to a handful of shared hobby autists and redneck coworkers.

It's this depressing feeling that I was never really friends with a person who existed, just a living chatbot that had a new gpt lobotomy update.

First time?

Everyone in the Culture War has this experience sooner or later. It sucks, but eventually the realization settles that this is how it is and it's not going to change, so you make your peace with it and move on with life.

For me, it helped to realize that most people who talk about politics and culture aren't actually engaging in analysis, but rather an informal group-bonding game built around call-and-response meme-trading. This doesn't make them stupid or irrational, any more than posting dogespeak memes means they don't understand proper grammar. They aren't trading John-Oliver-tier (or steven crowder tier) talking points because they're interested in pursuing objective truth, they're doing it because it generates a feeling of togetherness. Sure, it's alienating to you, because the pings they're generating are pings your brain rejects, but that's not really their fault. People are different, is all.

They're not engaging in analysis, right. I guess if your idea of analysis is pseudo-scientific half-readings of social science papers (which isn't a real field unless the paper supports your conclusion btw), inability to separate personal bias from the external world, and a strong superiority complex then it should be painfully obvious why no one wants to engage with you IRL.

They're not engaging in analysis, right.

They aren't, though. That's an observable fact to me, and I'm okay if you disagree with that, but I'd be interested in seeing what arguments you'd present to support that disagreement.

Neither John Oliver nor Jon Stewart nor Steven Crowder nor Sean Hannity are optimizing for truth. All four of these people are entertainers, and their schtick is to offer a just-so story where their tribe is obviously correct and the other tribe is some combination of stupid or evil. All of them build their argumentation around isolated demands for rigor, cherry picking, motte-and-bailey, and the rest of the dark arts. The talking points they generate are frequently absurd, and require complete ignorance of the facts of the matter to maintain any significant persuasive value. They sell low-information politics to (politically) low-information people for whom politics is essentially a spectator sport, similar to football or baseball. The version of "politics" they present has only the most minimal connection to the realities of how our system apportions and exercises power.

It is not pretension to point out that every four years, both major presidential candidates give a speech on how they're going to fix the education system, and every four years both speeches are remarkably identical both between the candidates, and between all previous candidates in living memory. Meanwhile, the educational system has been obviously broken and getting worse throughout living memory, has been repeatedly "reformed" every few years, and not only have those reforms failed, some of them have failed two or even three times, the failures being recorded, forgotten, and then recapitulated in a system without memory, accountability, or even direction. That is not a result that serious, thoughtful, dedicated people will produce. And many, perhaps even most political matters observably operate in this fashion. If the economy improves, the incumbent's supporters will say he did it, and his detractors will say it was the last guy. If the economy declines, his supporters will say it was the last guy and his detractors will say he did it, and they will do this regardless of what they previously said and regardless of the evidence. Ditto for most other areas of domestic and foreign policy. We were "winning" the war in Afghanistan for twenty years across three separate administrations, until we abruptly lost it upon the arrival of the fourth, in an event that was absolutely predictable fifteen years in advance. Pick your favorite issue of policy, and I'd wager a similar situation is what you'll see when you dig in. The captain's wheel of Democracy does not appear to be linked to the rudder of concrete policy; spin it left, spin it right, take your hands completely off, it doesn't actually matter much.

I guess if your idea of analysis is pseudo-scientific half-readings of social science papers (which isn't a real field unless the paper supports your conclusion btw)

My personal standard is admission against interest, actually. If the findings make the researchers extremely unhappy and unpopular with their peers and co-tribals, but they can't find a way around the data, the data's probably worth considering.

... inability to separate personal bias from the external world, and a strong superiority complex then it should be painfully obvious why no one wants to engage with you IRL.

I had a lot more trouble engaging with people back when I took them all seriously. Now when I get hit with a low-information call-and-response, I just give them a milktoast-moderate version of their preferred ping and it's all good. If they actually are trying to engage in analysis but lack the background, I give them a step past wherever they are, and then shrug and say "but who knows, really" to offer a non-threatening exit, that tends to work pretty well. If they're a serious person with a serious interest, it's not hard to tell and then we can have a serious conversation, but that's relatively rare.

I do not concede that everyone who considers themselves "serious about politics" is actually serious about politics. I do not require that people agree with me about politics to consider them serious. I do require that they have a decent grasp on political history, and a grasp on the relevant facts over the last several decades for the issues they claim to care about. If they "care" enough about a subject to want to talk about it, but don't care enough to actually read up on the relevant information beyond the talking points their preferred partisan pre-packaged for them, and if they are more interested in those talking points than in making actual predictions based on the available evidence, it seems to me that their actions speak for themselves. If they "care" about politics the way an NFL fan "cares" about their team, I see no reason why "caring" more than them would lead to better outcomes. And indeed, my experience is that it does not.