#31 On tyranny

Dear Mat,

There’s a bet involved here. For me the odds are very bad that any serious change will improve the system. For me. I flourish in a liberal democracy where I can lampoon the government, assert my rights, fight businesses on social media, act like an ass in my private life and never get ostracised or imprisoned.

But if you’re marginalised within a democratic system obviously the gamble might look more attractive. If I were a person of colour in America, struggling to stay afloat with two shitkicker jobs, no free time, no opportunities, no education, little self-determination then maybe I would love the idea of someone who’s going to shake it up like Trump. Or I might love the idea of communism and a more even distribution of wealth. Strictly speaking — as a former economics student — it would be rational for me to do so. In fact for a segment of the population living in free economies their rational choice should actually be to abolish that very system if it means a higher expected return.

As with every hypothetical in economics, more information changes the outcome completely. A bit of analysis of history, human behaviour and moral philosophy suggests that the communist system will end up being worse for even more people, often the poorest. And in a modern society one hopes that people care not only about themselves but the whole group, out of which they’re constituted, no man is an island, etc. Here I am bashing a hypothetical poor person of colour for being selfish. Obviously this applies, times a billion, for bailed-out bankers and other free riders.

You asked about the regressive left who seem to have made oppressor/oppressed the new bourgeoisie/worker. I do think the regressive left threat is way overblown. The law in Canada that propelled Jordan Peterson to fame is ridiculous. Institutions have style guides for recommended language, nothing new there. But prohibiting a speech act other than those that directly lead to violence and suffering (yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre, inciting violence) is a big bad.

Otherwise I feel like the political impact of this “group” is pretty minimal outside of social media outrage. How many regressive lefters are in parliament in Australia or America?

The regressive right backlash has even made “social justice warrior” an insult. This reminds me of how “do-gooder” used to be a putdown for anyone who did good. What’s the opposite? A social justice malinger who doesn’t give a shit about society? A social justice coward who abdicates in the face of potential tyranny? There weren’t enough social justice warriors in Germany circa 1933.

My worry with the regressive left, or just the normal left, is that they have started a ratchet effect where everyone’s trying to trump one another’s progressiveness. This is bad. It means that people who agree on 99% of issues will viciously oppose one another on the other 1%. Another classic from from the history of socialism.

I don’t think there’s too much of a threat of tyranny among amped up, gender studies campus activists. Their power is very limited. Indeed, because the anti-capitalist message has been subsumed into the anti-patriarchy message, it seems like the smartest and most enterprising women avoid disciplines like economics, finance, engineering, programming and other areas of great influence. This very much hamstrings feminism. It’s a guaranteed way to decrease the amount of female CEOs, MPs, fund operators and start-up stars. It is literally impossible to equalise power if one avoids positions of power.

The only alternative is revolution from below. Sadly — and it really is very sad — upheavals from below have always harmed those on the bottom as much as the powerful. The destruction of the “the system” would disproportionately harm the already marginal and vulnerable: developing world, women, indigenous peoples. The House always wins. White educated men are the House. I know. I’m in the House, it’s very commodious.

I think that to have equality women have to go back to the House (not the home). Ditto for other less powerful groups. I’ll get slammed for this because it looks like I’m defending the system, the status quo. But I really think for analytical rather than political reasons that things can change greatly but only by reforms that move to the adjacent possible (how the pawns and king move) rather than trying for a saltation (jumping across a gap like a knight). Surely that’s the lesson from history, evolution, scientific discovery and rights movements.

Go Claire from House of Cards,


PS Again, get across On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. The audiobook’s great.