The Revolt of The Public

and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium

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This book was originally published in 2014. The author, Martin Gurri, brought out this second edition in 2018, updating it with the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. And with a new introduction by Pun Salad fave Arnold Kling. Who leads off with:

"Martin Gurri saw it coming."

And, reading it in early 2022, after witnessing subsequent (mostly Covid-related) "revolts of the public", I can only add: "Boy, did he ever."

Gurri's thesis is that technology (mainly the Internet and inexpensive access thereto) has radically transformed the relation between "elites" (government, political parties, mainstream media) and the "public": roughly, the rest of us, as reflected in spontaneously-created groups motivated by a uniting cause. This is a worldwide phenomenon, and Gurri goes into detail on a few manifestations: Egyptian uprisings in 2011, Iranian uprisings in 2009, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street…

Which is kind of the problem. When was the last time you thought about Occupy Wall Street? Gurri notes that such movements derive their power by being "anti", often breaking into the nihilistic. Having no positive program to offer, they can flame out, get co-opted, vanish into irrelevancy. But it's the nature of this new dynamic that implies that the next uprising will be coming around the corner soon enough.

Gurri notes the fundamental problem with the elites; they, like the fabled emperor, really do have no clothes on. They pretend to certainty, where there is none to be had. They predict badly. They boldly lead us into blind, dark alleys. Double standards, scapegoating, and hypocrisy are common. They have a barely concealed contempt for the great unwashed. And this is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone.

What to do? Ideally, elites should exhibit more humility and honesty. Politicians should explicitly disavow "only I can fix it" messianism. And the rest of us should knock off the nihilism. Whether it's the nihilism of the cranky solitary blogger (ahem), or the nihilism of tear-it-all-down tribalism. It would be nice to see progress in that area, but … nope, I can't see it either. At least not in the short term.

The hardcover book has a (frankly) garish color scheme (heavy use of magenta), and contains color photographs. Unusual! It is published by Stripe Press, an innovative small publisher in San Francisco. (I have another one of their books, Where is my Flying Car? on my to-be-read stack.)

URLs du Jour

2022-02-20

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  • You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. In my web wanderings, I didn't run across references to "neoliberalism" very often. (And I see my spellchecker doesn't know about it either.) But when I did, it was always a smear, an epithet, a scare word. Jesse Walker does a masterful job of teasing out the lexicographical/political history of the concept: It's the End of the Neoliberal Era, and We Still Don't Know What Neoliberalism Is. (From print-Reason, now out from behind the paywall.)

    It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that no one knows what the hell neoliberal means. Plenty of people are quite sure they know what it means. It's just that they can't agree on a common definition.

    Consider two articles published in two different left-wing magazines. The first, written by Megan Erickson for Jacobin, is a critique of "unschooling," an informal, self-directed, countercultural sort of homeschooling that dispenses with tests, lectures, and predetermined curricula. The movement is beloved by many anti-corporate leftists, but Erickson warns them that its "values of freedom, autonomy, and choice are in perfect accordance with market-based 'reforms,' and with the neoliberal vision of society on which they're based."

    The other story, published by Dave Zirin in The Nation, denounces the Brazilian authorities for pouring public money into stadiums for the World Cup and the Olympics. Such subsidies are "neoliberal plunder," Zirin declares, because "neoliberalism, at its core, is about transferring wealth out of the public social safety net and into the hands of private capital."

    So unschooling is neoliberal even when it is explicitly anti-corporate, because it resembles an idealized free market. And stadium subsidies are neoliberal because they rain wealth on corporations, even if they override market principles in the process. What a capacious word this is.

    It would have been easy, but lazy, to leave things there. It wouldn't be the first time leftists were fundamentally incoherent in their language. But JW is an excellent detective of political ideology and language, and his results are impressive.


  • Educrats in action! Abigail Shrier watches as The Gender Cult Marches On.

    A reader sent me a trove of materials for “Equity Month” courtesy of the Chicago Public School System, available here. It’s worse than you think.

    Things to note:

    • Preschoolers (age 3-5) are to be taught what “Queer” means, what “Non-binary” means and told: "When someone is not a boy or a girl, maybe they feel both, they are non-binary or queer."

    • Teachers of preschoolers are told to read from The Story of Harvey Milk, stopping at “Harvey was proud of the flag, and proud of himself.” Are you proud of yourself, little one?

    • Even Special Needs kids (including the non-verbal and those on the Autism Spectrum, who tend to fixate) are to be instructed to create BLM flags and indoctrinated in the alleged difference between sexuality and gender.

    • Every single part of the school day becomes a reason to teach children about being transgender, or America’s systemic racism. The lessons are inserted into every part of the day — even P.E., Visual Arts, Drama, Library Lessons and Music. The P.E. materials for grades 4-5 must be seen to be believed:

    [PE Indoctrination]

    Sometimes all you can say is "yeesh". Also adding after a few seconds of careful consideration: "We really need to repeal compulsory schooling laws."


  • David Henderson is probably one of them consarned 'neoliberals'. But he has a pretty good suggestion for our lawmakers, which they won't accept: Let Freedom Rein In Big Tech.

    There’s been a lot of push from both left and right for the US government to regulate “Big Tech.” On the right, for example, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, proposes two remedies for censorship by Big Tech. The first is “for Congress to regulate Big Tech like public utilities or common carriers, compelling them to serve all customers without viewpoint discrimination.” The second is for the Supreme Court to “limit Big Tech censorship.” On the left, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) has a bill titled American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO) to regulate large tech companies that she thinks suppress competition. And this is just a shallow dive into the regulatory waters. Both left and right have proposed other regulations of Big Tech.

    I’ve got another option: trust freedom to rein in Big Tech. Let other companies compete to provide services that some critics think Big Tech should provide. Will this sometimes happen slowly? Yes, although it will typically happen way more quickly than any government solution. The freedom solution, moreover, will avoid the unintended consequences that come about when government steps in to regulate.

    Henderson is perfectly aware of "Big Tech" quashing views and movements of which they disapprove; he has a few specific examples he'd like to tell you about.

    But I find this completely obvious: there's nothing wrong with Google/Facebook/YouTube/etc. that Big Government won't make much worse.