Thursday, August 8, 2030

Intro

This is the storage place for my longform thoughts, organized in the Table of Contents here. You should just go read there.

Most of these are culled from three social media presences:

Prequels Redeemed, a Marxist analysis of the Star Wars Prequels and other low-culture movies. There's an emphasis on class, universalism, and artistic technique here.

Bambamramfan, a humanist oriented tumblr account adjacent-to-but-highly-confrontational-with the rationalist sphere. There's more of an emphasis on our shared humanity, and analyzing the form of ideology, and current political commentary here.

Left Conservative, a Word Press that collects thoughts and articles about the collision between tribalism and modern life. There's a lot of looking at what tribes believe about themselves, even when we might disagree with the particular tribe strongly.

You can also find my shorter thoughts on twitter and the occasional reddit comment. I very rarely post to Fanfiction.net.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Distortion and Disgust

I want to talk about two terms that are very weighty in a *moral* sense, but I believe should be looked at as neutral in *ethical* senses. So we’re going to take a more detached, clinical view in this discussion, and trying to remember that each are tools that could be used in either good or evil ways, from an ethical perspective.

The first let’s call *distortion*, although disharmony would work too. This is the warp in the normal state of affairs, or just the sense of heavy weight, when something is going dramatically wrong. If someone has a family life where they are constantly being yelled at and shamed, they may find their work starts suffering as well. That result, where one disruptive thing bleeds into all the things around it and causes difficulty, is distortion.

Distortion occurs when the harmonious state of affairs (a stable, happy community or universal agreement on norms) is interrupted by some disagreeable agent. That agent could be a stranger coming to town, or a member of the group behind closed doors acting terribly to others, or one personally privately coming to realizations that the group and its rules don’t make sense. Notably it can’t be a “typical” problem that the society is set up to deal with, but rather one that is unexpected by the normal social working order. Simplistically, a mugger beating someone up is not distortion, but a police officer doing so is.

Harmony is a watchword in Marxist and Zizekian language, since both schools are so quick to point out how often harmony is a lie that seeks to pave over any contradictions within itself, or the experiences of members that do not match the beliefs of the community. However from a practical and common sense perspective, we know that some level of harmony is just a basic necessity for life, and someone who does nothing but kick over the blocks of other people’s harmony is violent and unpleasant. Some harmonies in the short term are beneficial, and some harmonies are repressive and unacceptable. (In the long term, all harmonies collapse, but so does life.) What matters is not putting “harmony” entirely in one ethical box, but taking the non-normative stance that “if harmony exists, and matters, then distortion exists, and matters.”

One positive example of distortion is the stranger who comes to town and tells the underclass and slaves to no longer accept their position, but to strive for equal treatment. One negative example of distortion is the spouse who is having an affair so they lie about where they were last night so they have to ask their friends to cover an alibi for them so their friends have to lie to their spouses about what they were doing and so on and so on.

While very different ethically, in both cases we see a dynamic of something that cuts across typical categorizations and separations (where a problem is contained to one box), and creates a weight that affects everything around it, if only a little. It’s like Einstein’s ball on a bedsheet, bending spacetime around it.

Identified this way, we can see there are many sources of distortion in our lives. A deeply held disagreement that two friends can not talk about. Someone who often shows extreme and volatile emotions. A superior constantly asking too much of their subordinate. A dramatic mismatch between what we want and what we feel allowed to express. (For this reason, distortion is very much tied up with “legibility”, the domain of what society understands and finds legitimate reason for grievance.) Gay people in the closet experienced distortion this way. If someone clearly has a strong crush on you but never acts on it, your nervousness around them and how to deal with it could be distortion.

Almost always, distortion blurs lines of liberal ontology. If civil society is built on “these matters are the domain of the job, and these of the family” or “this is the way you voice complaint about approved matters” and above all the restraint to not let your personal feelings interfere with your institutional duties, then distortion mocks all of the above. It is the repressed howl, and is powerful exactly to the degree that the superego doesn’t accept it. (If the rules of society gave your complaint voice, then it would no longer be distortion.)

It is useful to have an ethically neutral term here because then you can point at something and say “that’s distortion.” A community may be changing due to an influx of new members with different beliefs, or a friend may be burdened under too many emotional demands that they have committed to all of them freely, and normal moral language only allows us to say whether these things are good or bad. We can take note “these scenarios have weight and will create many smaller changes around them.” We can avoid the denial that “nothing unpleasant will happen” while still admitting in some cases this distortion is good (maybe the community needed change) or in some cases the distortion is bad (maybe the friend’s friends need to adjust their expectations even if the person is not asking for it.)

(Distortion and unexplainable crying jags basically go hand in hand.)

Obviously, there’s no easy guide for how to deal with distortion. Sometimes you *should* use it as a signal to address important and neglected matters. Sometimes you *should* push it down because it’s not worth destroying a harmony you depend on, and it’s not that hard to deal with. It has a lot to do with the context, the nature of the distortion, and the value of the harmony. Anyone trying to sell you a one-size fits all approach is… well selling their own simplistic harmony that our unique and varied experiences will inevitably distort. (It is tragically true that even if someone might believe that the costs of distortion are worth it for the harmony they want to preserve, as a practical matter the distortion *just might not let them do that*. That’s how it works after all, even if we don’t want it to.)

But understanding, as a first step, is a maneuver of strength, and it can be easier to do without ethically loading the answer from the outset.

Distortion comes up a lot for me when I am thinking about societies with high inequality or winner-take-all lottery professions (movie stars, academia, etc). By and large the participants of those economies follow the liberal, systemized rules for behavior (or when they don’t, their failures are clearly prosecutable.) But the huge power differential between two different participants of a system creates incentives and desires that distorts normal action. It’s hard to be a genuine friend, or express honest critique, or legibly give consent in these structures. If you desperately need someone to recommend or vouch for you or just give you charity and mentorship, then saying no to or disappointing them becomes very difficult, and that problem then spreads into other problems involving bad communication or repressed feelings. However, it’s not as easy to say “because you had power over this person, it’s your fault they weren’t honest with you” (well some people do say it but it always makes me flinch for how simplistic and callow it is.)

***

*Disgust* is always used in a morally-loaded sense. Either we are talking about something that disgusts us - rotten food, cruel behavior, a violation of our boundaries - and our loathing is so strong that it needs to claim a moral dimension. OR we’re talking about someone’s objection we disapprove of, such as a Trumpian hatred of immigrants, and we say they have disgust, and it is phrased as if their disgust is immoral and something they need to purge themselves of. I agree with both these takes, I’m just noting that disgust is usually moral or immoral but not amoral.

And yet, knowing this word disgust can encompass both good and bad disgust, we can talk about it in an ethnically neutral way, and open its usage for some important middle ground. Disgust after all is an instinctive, emotional reaction. We can then build rational structures over it to justify it, but the reaction comes before those structures. What can we say of the purely emotional reaction then?

Well it’s unlikely to be always correct. Things we feel at least sometimes we want to reconsider in the light of reflection and more evidence. But it’s also a powerful preference, and we shouldn’t always dismiss it based on “this does not accord with my principles and rational thought” anymore than whether we like pizza and pineapple needs a reasoned justification to be respected.

For example, I play a lot of Hearthstone and watch a lot of Hearthstone tournaments. After one tournament, a winning player in his interview endorsed revolution in Hong Kong. Afraid of Chinese reaction to that, the company that ran the show, Blizzard: deleted the interview, banned the player for a year, revoked his prize money, and banned the broadcasters that interviewed him. It was roundly derided as political cowardice by the company.

I felt disgust at Blizzard’s actions. I felt myself unable to watch their tournaments in the following days. Now I had two options. One, I could build on that disgust to boycott Blizzard, and find reasons they were worse than other profit-oriented videogame companies (or quit videogames altogether), and always find justifications to link anything this company does in the future to that one bad decision. Or two, I could decide that in the grand scheme the decisions of this PR department were not outside the norm for other profit-oriented videogames, that the amusement of animations or the quality of card balance had nothing to do with this decision, and I could just suck it up and force myself to watch Hearthstone even as my stomach felt uncomfortable at it.

Neither of these were really satisfactory to me. I just didn’t watch Hearthstone for a week, and I got over it. This is not at all ethically consistent. (You could make some pragmatic argument that *this week* was the way to show Blizzard my disappointment, but I can’t claim that was my clever aim.) I allowed the moral feeling to guide me at one time period, but I didn’t try to adhere to it in the long term. In some ways this is unfortunate, as I’d rather be ethically consistent. But the two options were worse, and in the long run, lead to you molding your own beliefs in bad ways just to satisfy a temporary gut feeling.

***

With both distortion and disgust it’s very useful to have a term that encompasses clear empirical phenomenon without necessarily having to come to an ethical judgment right away. In response to one of the unending accusations of immoral behavior among videogame developers, you can categorize your disgust as making you not want to engage with their game currently and talk about it, before making long term pronouncements about whether they are deserving a boycott. You can say that something bad happened in that distortionary environment, and acknowledge the serious pain of that, before you figure out if a crime that broke established norms happened.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Response to Postmodernism: Asymptotes

(Inspired most recently by this random ask about metanarratives, but for people just stumbling on the topic check out this SSC post “Postmodernism for Rationalists”. And when discussing pomo, I am always reminded of this tweet by St_Rev: Postmodernism is like nuclear fission; true but too dangerous for humans to be trusted with.)

Let’s back up a bit. Lacan broke down mental experience into three parts: the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. I’m going to accept this, but a) ignore the Imaginary, and b) append Social to Symbolic because they are the same. Which is to say:

Our experience of the world consists of the Real and the Social/Symbolic. What does that mean?

The Real is well, actual reality that exists independent of human understanding. It’s the stuff that’s still there if you close your eyes. It’s the fact that there isn’t enough food no matter what the Emperor says, or that we will all one day die, or the cruelty of cancer, or the unimaginable gulf between the stars. It is the reality that victory goes to the side with more guns not the nobler cause, or that some people won’t get along no matter how much you love them both and try to negotiate peace.

The Real is usually far too complicated and chaotic and unbounded for us to comprehend. Like in the question of “when were the Dark Ages” in the linked SSC post, the Real is all the individual lives and experiences of people over that time period. It’s too big to even put into words, but it’s still undeniably there. Any attempt to just ignore the Real is called repression, and the Real will eventually rise from that and disrupt your plans.

The Symbolic is our attempt to make any sense of the above. It is how we split infinitely varied things into simple categories and binaries, like the insistence that everyone is male or female (or good vs bad.) It is the map instead of the territory, and *every single word* we use is just a Symbolic interpretation of far too messy Real. (Like this post recently asking just what is a boss anyway? Or the well written post “The Categories Were Made for Man, Not Man for the Categories”) Whenever we try to say something about every type of apple, or define what “life” is, or come up with an ideology that pits an obvious group of good guys and bad guys, or just try to predict the results of a scientific experiment with a probability curve, we are still thinking using the Symbolic.

This is not a huge sin. After all, we can not actually think about the ineffable Real, let alone communicate about it. If we want to make any progress at all, either in reasoning about the world or working with others, we *have* to use the Symbolic. It’s like physicists using models assuming spherical cows - it gets you somewhere, eventually, at least. (Certainly a tribe using imperfect Symbolic thinking would outcompete and defeat a bunch of brainiacs just meditating on the Real. Existence without using the Symbolic is just not sustainable.)

I even upgrade the term to Social/Symbolic since all of our social existence depends on how we use the Symbolic to express concepts to others. That’s well, what language is. And once you have a Symbolic term, and you share it with another via mouth-sounds or ink-scratches, then it takes on an independent Symbolic existence that can be read and interpreted by people who are neither you nor your intended target. Then these symbols really do have an external existence, spreading throughout the population, with no direction by a conscious mind. Words and concepts are like a virus living in the social body this way.

The narrative or metanarrative, is a Social/Symbolic entity this way - fairly detached from the Real that gave it meaning, and evolving based on what is most efficient for the social rules it inhabits.

Two brief examples:

- Science. Science is obviously a quest for the Real, and that is admirable. And yet even when trying hardest to do this, we create standards of objectivity and merit that reflect Social/Symbolic understanding. We talk of p-values and grant writing and peer review and hundreds of ways this search for the most raw truth is filtered through simplistic understanding, and incentive schemes that have long since become normal status-seeking rat races.

- Capitalism. Markets are a method of social relation of course. And yet the values and prices of things fluctuate in response to the necessities of the Real. If food becomes scarce, or a movie is truly terrible, or a new writer is brilliant beyond precedence, no matter how unexpected these things are to the powers that be, they can earn money and renowned in a market, proving some glimmer of the Real in doing so. Now the price of something is not an untainted mark of its true value, but it is at least related to it somehow.

Anyway, the tumblr version of Postmodernism (which is to say, that version that is most politically useful to the class of people who have currently discovered this concept - laypeople arguing about politics on social media) could be reduced to this:

1. In no cases do we ever know the Real, without relying on narratives found in the Social/Symbolic. (We can’t know when the Dark Ages began or ended.)
2. So choose which narratives you want to pursue based on Social/Symbolic reasons. (Do you want to align yourself with the narrative of the Dark Ages spread by the Catholic Church? By labor historians? Etc.)

The problem with these is that are true, but also noxious, as they would always mean dropping the evidence of our own eyes for the narrative of the class we are trying to support. And people who do this too much are very evidently stupid (in action, not in essence.) We see the results of this in Holocaust deniers and Stalin apologists and 9-11 truthers.

The issue is that they are forgetting that the symmetric case is true: the complete Real may be inaccessible *but so is the complete Social/Symbolic*. While amateur pomo knows you can never completely reach the Real, it forgets you can never *escape* it either.

In actuality, total Social/Symbolic is an eternal fantasy. It is referenced in FALC or the singularity, where you are immune from any needs and can spend all your time engaging with only concepts, or only the social sphere you have chosen, free of all messy entanglements. It is a powerful dream (or nightmare), with a lot to say for it, but it’s as impossible as knowing the mind of God. There will always be some element of the Real under the fantasy, repressed and pushing back in the ways we least expect or want.

Everything we know is between two asymptotes - which can approach the Real, but never reach it, and we can approach the pure Social/Symbolic but never realize it.

So an attempt to choose your narrative *solely* on Social/Symbolic grounds (like which side you want to support) will find itself constantly interrupted by rude counter-evidence. It might be the people voting against you, or your story not selling, or just an anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach. It’s really impossible to predict how the Real will erupt, but it always will.

You have to accept you are just stuck as a mutt in the muddled middle, never have authentic Real knowledge or pure Social/Symbolic simplicity, but a mix of both at all times.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Accessibility Discourse

@Discoursedrome in a recent thread about "do difficult videogames face accessibility issues?" identified a tradeoff between accessibility and specificity. Specificity is the way in which a game (or any creation) is special, in how it is deep or thick or high-context or interesting, that generates enthusiasm - which often involves weird and arbitrary limits. The difficulty of the Dark Souls games is their specificity. The more you make something specific the more likely that some people won't be able to enjoy it - ie. disabled gamers may have trouble with the split-second timing of Dark Souls games.

In cooking, a chef's eagerness to experiment with new ingredients (or new preparations of old and unappreciated ingredients) is their specificity, and it can conflict with people who are kosher, vegetarian, allergic to peanuts, have a gluten allergy, or low spice tolerance. If you've ever tried to cook a meal for 60 people with different eating restrictions, you know how limited your freedom for creativity becomes.

You can look at romantic norms this way too: traditionalism provides a lot of specificity about who you should date: the other gender, if you're both unattached, on a specific ladder of rituals towards marriage (with appropriate class and station concerns). Bisexual polyamory of the form "date who you want and make up the rules that work for you" provides a great deal more freedom to people who were left out of the old system, but in that freedom often leaves people feeling lost or unexcited about their paths. The overly complex song and dance of (mildly d/s) traditional norms had specificity that are not entirely replaced by the new rituals.

In straight up internet argument, specificity loses to accessibility, because in mass media rhetoric, how can "I like my meals to be interesting" stand up against "okay well some of us would like to be able to eat them at all." However, specificity as a virtue does not really need to be defended, because people will keep independently inventing it on their own and discovering that they really enjoy it. Most new and vibrant forms of art and communities have high specificity - whether it Speedrunning Conventions or Immersive Theater or Weird Twitter. There is always a hunger for this interestingness that unconsciously outpaces accessibility, until the systemitizers notice it.

(My rhetoric may sound like I am selling accessibility short, but let me assure you that when there is something everyone loves that I can't experience or enjoy, my blood boils and I want it erased from the face of the Earth. I get the emotion behind it, and do not think people are wrong to experience it and act on it.)

I'm not taking sides on that tradeoff (yet) and I don't even think that tradeoff wholly describes the situation, because there is another dimension: audience size. Are you creating for yourself, for your close friends, for a small niche market, for a large national market, or the entire world?

With a small intended audience size you can be both specific and accessible - you're cooking a dinner at your home for five friends and you know one is allergic to peanuts but that still leaves plenty of freedom to experiment with an interesting meal. The larger the group you make for, the more accessibility limits you, and the more difficult specificity gets. (Recall that on a global scale, you can't even count on people using the same language you do.)

All of these traits exist in tension, but can be compatible to some degree.

There is an old adage in construction: Quality, Price, Speed: Pick too. Which is to say of getting your building done cheaply, affordably, and fast, you're going to have to sacrifice one. I think the "pick two" applies here, and in fact circumscribes my philosophical perspectives at different times (ie, the three masks.)

Accessibility and size - universalism. Making something is truly supposed to be for everyone with no limits on where they are, who they are, or what they are capable of.

Specificity and size - cthughaism. (Or what I often refer to as humanism, but we'll trade ambiguity for using a new term here.) This is the perspective that interestingness, richness of experience, the new and unexpected and complex is the best thing, the only important thing, and seeks to maximize this in all ways. This means art that is spread to the masses, and if some people can not enjoy it, then hoping they enjoy other art.

Accessibility and specificity (with small audience) - tribalism. This is the understanding that you can make the perfect combination of openness and interesting if and only if you group is small and you know them well, and it is the opinion that this tradeoff is worth it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Ideology of Climate Justice

In the news because of the #GreenNewDeal and various right-wing attempts to bait its proponents (do they notice that by paying so much attention to an absurd GND while ignoring many more technocratic proposals, they fulfill the exact raison d’etre of this platform: at least you’re talking about it?) But it’s really an evergreen topic.

Any student of ideology should be very concerned about the way climate change is talked about among the progressive set. While most policy matters on the left really are talked about in material terms and how much benefit people will immediately reap (which contrasts positively against both Republican policy proposals and progressive *cultural* discourse), climate change is an arena where discussions tend far more towards the uncertain and symbolic than the concrete. And that should be a concern.

For this discussion, assume I already believe everything quote unquote “all environmental scientists believe” (as if there isn’t plenty of disagreement even when they are to the left of current policy.) Human causes are changing the atmospheric makeup enough that over the next century the temperature will rise by 2 degrees C or more, which will have massive changes in local ecosystems, and devastate coastal cities. One can agree with this, but also think progressive discourse around climate change is terrible.

The problem is that even with this empirical backing, climate change concerns can become like other causes motivated by distant future threats - extremely ideological and symbolic. If you think about movements defined around “okay if you keep doing this thing now you won’t notice anything bad, but generations from now it will lead to collapse so we need to crackdown now”... they are often pretty reactionary. Homosexuality, immigration, atheism or religious tolerance are all things that demagogues have warned “will eventually destroy society, you just can’t see it yet.” Because you can’t see if you’re having any beneficial effects or not, the “cause” easily becomes entirely symbolic and immaterial, dominated by status games among its leaders to see who can be the most pure/extreme/politically savvy.

You see this most with changing environmental issues to “climate justice” and other methods of making it part of the overall social justice alliance toolkit. It becomes one more way to beat down the “greed” of corporations, aligned with a dozen other causes, rather than about “does it have a proposed policy measure that will change material conditions of the world?”

(There’s nothing wrong with opposing corporations of course, but emphasis on the greed of the Other is pathological and generally prevents you from contemplating structural reform, and instead focuses on replacing “bad” actors with “good” ones and hoping it produces change. It will not.)

It helps to split our discussion into moderate measures, and radical measures, meant to address climate change. Moderate measures are those already implemented by many developed nations, and include carbon taxes, credits into research of renewables, etc. Radical measures are ones that would have a large impact on the economy and dramatically reduce greenhouse related outputs immediately.

In terms of radical measures, we should be honest that no government is contemplating them (certainly the GND is not on a sufficient scale). One should not blame democracy - historically authoritarian governments are even *worse* on environmental matters than bourgeoisie republics, if only because they tend to reap the full gains of exploiting the environment. (Do not forget how often environmental preservation was considered a bourgeoisie cause, valuing pretty parks over the defense of the state and feeding the masses.)

We should also be honest that’s probably what is necessary. Scientific estimates of greater than 2C temperature rise usually come with “based almost entirely off of what we have already set in motion.” Very few researchers believe that we can just stop the train now. If the Earth is to be doomed, we have already doomed it. But activists do not promote that message, because it leads to defeatism and nihilism. Which may be true from a political perspective, but that means everything you hear downstream of that is motivated by politics, not truth. The truth is nihilist despair: the world might end or at least displace billions in the next century, and it’s too late to stop it.

That being said, moderate measures are still possible, to reduce what damage we can, and reducing harm remains our moral obligation.

The next lament of the modern tumblr anti-capitalist becomes that capitalist is incompatible with any attempt to reign in pollution, because it is too short sighted and greedy. So it’s important to remember how untrue this is. Most capitalist nations have happily passed laws regulating greenhouse emissions - in fact in most of those nations the conservative party supports at least some version of them. In fact if capitalism was not so adaptable to so many different circumstances, it would not be nearly so damaging an ideology - it lurches from crisis to crisis where theocracy or dictatorship would fail, never fully failing nor fully fixing its problems.

It’s really only America that is the standout, with the dreadful combination of: a right wing party that has gone all in on denialism, and a veto-heavy system that has prevented moderate measures from being passed even when the left-wing party was in control. Which is terrible and has led to dysfunctional policy. But then the lesson has changed to “America has a broken system of checks and balances” and not “capitalist democracies are inherently unable to confront global warming.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cops & Robbers, Left & Right

One of the most important attitudes that dominates our, American, and almost all Western discourse is how the left is held to a higher standard of behavior. I certainly do it.

Harassment, epistemological ignorance, take your pick: if someone on the right does it it gets a shrug, but if someone on the left does it’s a dire concern for our principles. Donald Trump can insult every group in the country all day long, but Hillary Clinton calls half of her opponents “deplorable” and it gets pretty much equal coverage and outrage. Who even notices if a Walmart manager sexually harassed their staff -- but a producer at NPR, oh my.

Now this isn’t to say “everyone hates the left.” Obviously there are still many partisans who will defend social justice or communism against any attacks, cherry picking right wing examples to make themselves look bad. But I guess that’s just it: they’re being mindless and just ignoring inconvenient data. Anyone who engages in actual discussion, and holds both sides to any accountability at all, holds the left to much higher standards.

And yes, for this discussion I am going to state the overall assumption up front: viewed in aggregate, the left’s behavior in this century (culturally or politically) is nowhere near as bad as the right’s. There is no statement by any politician, activist, or star on the left that you can not find something worse by an equivalent or higher-profile person on the right. We have Anita Sarkesian, you have Rush Limbaugh. We have Bernie Sanders, you have Rick Santorum. HRC vs DJT.

This isn’t to say the double standard is bad. I definitely hold the left to a higher standard. Some right-twitters use bad logic and statistics, I’ll laugh before blocking them. Some left-twitters use a bad statistical framework for looking at gun violence/pay gap discrimination, and I won’t stop fuming until I’ve composed a six page tumblr essay. But why do I do it?

The imbalance is so widespread that there are many explanations for it, but they fall short to me.

1. The left are our people. This essay about internecine harassment falls in that camp https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2019/01/08/37793831/think-online-head-from-your-enemies-is-bad-try-getting-it-from-your-friends
I’ve taken heat from both sides, and while hate mail and mean tweets from my ideological opponents are annoying, they’re also easy to dismiss. I criticize Trump, someone with a giant red X in their Twitter bio calls me a cunt, and I glance at it and move on. It’s like a fly buzzing around your head—you swat it away and soon forget its existence. But when I criticize my own side—for being, at times, intolerant and dogmatic—the mob is made up of people I agree with on the big issues (climate change exists, health care is a human right, Trump is a fool and a danger) but disagree with on some small specifics. In this case, the buzzing doesn’t just annoy; it actually stings. (Or, at least, it used to. Turns out, you can become inured to almost anything.)

Slatestarcodex describes it as our disagreement with the fargroup (who we barely know) being eclipsed by the imminence of the neargroup (who are threatening us right next door.)

Except no. People native to the right happily share this double standard. And when people leave left-wing circles, driven out by how much they see their allies fail to live up to their ideals, and fall into orthogonal or centrist movements (say, rationalism) or right wing movements (hello alt), as often as not *they still focus on the failings of the left*. The reaction as someone changes environments varies, and indeed sometimes ideological emigres are just as upset at their new allies… but the flaming, biased hatred towards the left stays alive often enough for me not to buy “it’s because these are the people who are around us.”

(This also goes for the inverse explanation: that we critique the left more because we are more likely to be able to influence it. Plenty of dissidents aren’t!)

2. The left holds the real power. In this explanation, the cultural and social power that the left holds, especially over professional matters, dwarfs the economic and political power the right often holds. Or local government (if you’re in a city) is terrifying compared to national government. Or the “Deep State” which is a bunch of left-friendly bureaucrats holds the real power, and not the conservative politicians holding nominal office. (One might even call them “the Cathedral.”) And since they actually hold power, we should be more critical of them.

As an explanation of convenience, this can be made to fit any situation. Power is amorphous and very hard to pin down. In any particular situation you can make up a story about why you are right to fear left-derived power than right-derived power.

But I can’t see any theory of power where it makes broad sense. Like how can you sit down, and tally up all the forces in America - voters, colleges, state governments, corporations, small employers - and come to the conclusion that progressives have the overwhelming advantage? Certainly how could you tally up all the DAMAGE wrought by various forces, and think there’s more danger from the left? These people are always conspicuously silent on the current goddamn President, or the largest employers in the nation, or the military culture.

3. Equal criticism to both sides will have to target the left unfairly. I mentioned Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump before, and there’s a cynical explanation that “well the news media is going to want to attack both to seem unbiased, and that’s going to mean pitting the worst scandals of each against each other, even if one is in absolute terms much, much worse.” There’s something to this - but outside political races, the different powers are so asymmetric that I don’t think that really resembles anyone’s thinking process. What would such a Thoth be balancing for? Colleges vs corporations? Intellectuals vs service members? Bosses vs workers? Urban vs rural? I don’t see anyone in the discourse really trying to apportion fault between wildly different groups like that equally.

***

The closest to an answer I’ve come you can tell from the title. It’s a mix of all three above explanations, but with a strong moral intuition that *the left should be the good guys* (whether you are right or left yourself.)

The feelings most discoursers have about the left and right, is like feelings we have about police and criminals.

Criminals kill and hurt more people than the police, easily. And yet, we talk about the conduct of police much more. Why?

Well, for one, supposedly the police work for us, and so should be taking feedback from the citizenry, whereas no one expects that of criminals, so moralizing about them is wasted breath. And that’s true to an extent, but this sort of anger is shared by radicals and activists who hold as very deep parts of their sociology that the police are a power unto themselves and answerable to no one, especially their victims. And if the cops aren’t going to be better, why even have them at all?

And different people react to this police anger differently. It would be very dumb indeed to think the police are so bad that it would be better if the criminals were put in charge of the police force - but some people get angry enough that they do think that way. Much the same as some liberals, well:


Not everyone reacts the same way of course. Some people criticize the left all day, but still reliably always vote for left over right. Whereas some people are so swayed by their critical emotions, that they buy in that the right must actually be preferable.

But underlying either response is just “these are the good guys!” We can’t ever separate our reaction to someone on the left from “I really expect better from you.” It’s not just about nearness to them, or the cultural power they wield, but an unconscious moral assumption about the world.

And that intuition can mean a lot. For one, it’s a lot harder to fight back against the good guys. When you fight back against progressives or cops, people who don’t know you well think you’re a villain. It’s an uphill demoralizing battle - much worse than complaining about how a conservative state legislature fired you or how a racist troll harassed you. And so some people want to stake out as hard as they can beforehand “these aren’t actually the good guys.” With, alas, mixed success.