Too Many People, or Too Few?

A placard outside the UN headquarters in New York City, November 2011

Some years ago I read the book Boom, Bust and Echo. It described how planners for public institutions like schools and hospitals often fail to anticipate demographic shifts. The authors described how in North America, the baby Boom after WWII overcrowded schools, and governments struggled to build and staff more facilities. Just as they were catching up came the sexual revolution and the drop in fertility rates, resulting in a population Bust in children entering the education system. Now the issue was to close schools and retire teachers due to overcapacity, not easy to do with sentimental attachments. Then as the downsizing took hold came the Echo. Baby boomers began bearing children, and even at a lower birth rate, it still meant an increased cohort of students arriving at a diminished system.

The story is similar to what is happening today with world population. Zachary Karabell writes in Foreign Affairs The Population Bust: Demographic Decline and the End of Capitalism as We Know It. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage. “Rapid population acceleration and deceleration send shockwaves around the world wherever they occur and have shaped history in ways that are rarely appreciated,” the demographer Paul Morland writes in The Human Tide, his new history of demographics. Morland does not quite believe that “demography is destiny,” as the old adage mistakenly attributed to the French philosopher Auguste Comte would have it. Nor do Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, the authors of Empty Planet, a new book on the rapidly shifting demographics of the twenty-first century. But demographics are clearly part of destiny. If their role first in the rise of the West and now in the rise of the rest has been underappreciated, the potential consequences of plateauing and then shrinking populations in the decades ahead are almost wholly ignored.

The mismatch between expectations of a rapidly growing global population (and all the attendant effects on climate, capitalism, and geopolitics) and the reality of both slowing growth rates and absolute contraction is so great that it will pose a considerable threat in the decades ahead. Governments worldwide have evolved to meet the challenge of managing more people, not fewer and not older. Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming more stuff. If the world ahead has fewer people, will there be any real economic growth? We are not only unprepared to answer that question; we are not even starting to ask it.

BOMB OR BUST?
At the heart of The Human Tide and Empty Planet, as well as demography in general, is the odd yet compelling work of the eighteenth-century British scholar Thomas Malthus. Malthus’ 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population argued that growing numbers of people were a looming threat to social and political stability. He was convinced that humans were destined to produce more people than the world could feed, dooming most of society to suffer from food scarcity while the very rich made sure their needs were met. In Malthus’ dire view, that would lead to starvation, privation, and war, which would eventually lead to population contraction, and then the depressing cycle would begin again.

Yet just as Malthus reached his conclusions, the world changed. Increased crop yields, improvements in sanitation, and accelerated urbanization led not to an endless cycle of impoverishment and contraction but to an explosion of global population in the nineteenth century. Morland provides a rigorous and detailed account of how, in the nineteenth century, global population reached its breakout from millennia of prior human history, during which the population had been stagnant, contracting, or inching forward. He starts with the observation that the population begins to grow rapidly when infant mortality declines. Eventually, fertility falls in response to lower infant mortality—but there is a considerable lag, which explains why societies in the modern world can experience such sharp and extreme surges in population. In other words, while infant mortality is high, women tend to give birth to many children, expecting at least some of them to die before reaching maturity. When infant mortality begins to drop, it takes several generations before fertility does, too. So a woman who gives birth to six children suddenly has six children who survive to adulthood instead of, say, three. Her daughters might also have six children each before the next generation of women adjusts, deciding to have smaller families.

The population bust is going global almost as quickly as the population boom did in the twentieth century.  The burgeoning of global population in the past two centuries followed almost precisely the patterns of industrialization, modernization, and, crucially, urbanization. It started in the United Kingdom at the end of the nineteenth century (hence the concerns of Malthus), before spreading to the United States and then France and Germany. The trend next hit Japan, India, and China and made its way to Latin America. It finally arrived in sub-Saharan Africa, which has seen its population surge thanks to improvements in medicine and sanitation but has not yet enjoyed the full fruits of industrialization and a rapidly growing middle class.

With the population explosion came a new wave of Malthusian fears, epitomized by the 1968 book The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Stanford University. Ehrlich argued that plummeting death rates had created an untenable situation of too many people who could not be fed or housed. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” he wrote. “In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now.”

Ehrlich’s prophecy, of course, proved wrong, for reasons that Bricker and Ibbitson elegantly chart in Empty Planet. The green revolution, a series of innovations in agriculture that began in the early twentieth century, accelerated such that crop yields expanded to meet humankind’s needs. Moreover, governments around the world managed to remediate the worst effects of pollution and environmental degradation, at least in terms of daily living standards in multiple megacities, such as Beijing, Cairo, Mexico City, and New Delhi. These cities face acute challenges related to depleted water tables and industrial pollution, but there has been no crisis akin to what was anticipated.

Doesn’t anyone want my Green New Deal?

Yet visions of dystopic population bombs remain deeply entrenched, including at the center of global population calculations: in the forecasts routinely issued by the United Nations. Today, the UN predicts that global population will reach nearly ten billion by 2050. Judging from the evidence presented in Morland’s and Bricker and Ibbitson’s books, it seems likely that this estimate is too high, perhaps substantially. It’s not that anyone is purposely inflating the numbers. Governmental and international statistical agencies do not turn on a dime; they use formulas and assumptions that took years to formalize and will take years to alter. Until very recently, the population assumptions built into most models accurately reflected what was happening. But the sudden ebb of both birthrates and absolute population growth has happened too quickly for the models to adjust in real time. As Bricker and Ibbitson explain,

“The UN is employing a faulty model based on assumptions that worked in the past but that may not apply in the future.”

Population expectations aren’t merely of academic interest; they are a key element in how most societies and analysts think about the future of war and conflict. More acutely, they drive fears about climate change and environmental stability—especially as an emerging middle class numbering in the billions demands electricity, food, and all the other accoutrements of modern life and therefore produces more emissions and places greater strain on farms with nutrient-depleted soil and evaporating aquifers. Combined with warming-induced droughts, storms, and shifting weather patterns, these trends would appear to line up for some truly bad times ahead.

Except, argue Bricker and Ibbitson, those numbers and all the doomsday scenarios associated with them are likely wrong. As they write,

“We do not face the challenge of a population bomb but a population bust—a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd.”

Already, the signs of the coming bust are clear, at least according to the data that Bricker and Ibbitson marshal. Almost every country in Europe now has a fertility rate below the 2.1 births per woman that is needed to maintain a static population. The UN notes that in some European countries, the birthrate has increased in the past decade. But that has merely pushed the overall European birthrate up from 1.5 to 1.6, which means that the population of Europe will still grow older in the coming decades and contract as new births fail to compensate for deaths. That trend is well under way in Japan, whose population has already crested, and in Russia, where the same trends, plus high mortality rates for men, have led to a decline in the population.

What is striking is that the population bust is going global almost as quickly as the population boom did in the twentieth century. Fertility rates in China and India, which together account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s people, are now at or below replacement levels. So, too, are fertility rates in other populous countries, such as Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, and Thailand. Sub-Saharan Africa remains an outlier in terms of demographics, as do some countries in the Middle East and South Asia, such as Pakistan, but in those places, as well, it is only a matter of time before they catch up, given that more women are becoming educated, more children are surviving their early years, and more people are moving to cities.

Both books note that the demographic collapse could be a bright spot for climate change. Given that carbon emissions are a direct result of more people needing and demanding more stuff—from food and water to cars and entertainment—then it would follow that fewer people would need and demand less. What’s more, larger proportions of the planet will be aging, and the experiences of Japan and the United States are showing that people consume less as they age. A smaller, older population spells some relief from the immense environmental strain of so many people living on one finite globe.

The Reinvention of Chess

That is the plus side of the demographic deflation. Whether the concomitant greening of the world will happen quickly enough to offset the worst-case climate scenarios is an open question—although current trends suggest that if humanity can get through the next 20 to 30 years without irreversibly damaging the ecosystem, the second half of the twenty-first century might be considerably brighter than most now assume.

The downside is that a sudden population contraction will place substantial strain on the global economic system.

Capitalism is, essentially, a system that maximizes more—more output, more goods, and more services. That makes sense, given that it evolved coincidentally with a population surge. The success of capitalism in providing more to more people is undeniable, as are its evident defects in providing every individual with enough. If global population stops expanding and then contracts, capitalism—a system implicitly predicated on ever-burgeoning numbers of people—will likely not be able to thrive in its current form. An aging population will consume more of certain goods, such as health care, but on the whole aging and then decreasing populations will consume less. So much of consumption occurs early in life, as people have children and buy homes, cars, and white goods. That is true not just in the more affluent parts of the world but also in any country that is seeing a middle-class surge.

The future world may be one in which capitalism at best frays and at worst breaks down completely.
But what happens when these trends halt or reverse? Think about the future cost of capital and assumptions of inflation. No capitalist economic system operates on the presumption that there will be zero or negative growth. No one deploys investment capital or loans expecting less tomorrow than today. But in a world of graying and shrinking populations, that is the most likely scenario, as Japan’s aging, graying, and shrinking absolute population now demonstrates. A world of zero to negative population growth is likely to be a world of zero to negative economic growth, because fewer and older people consume less. There is nothing inherently problematic about that, except for the fact that it will completely upend existing financial and economic systems. The future world may be one of enough food and abundant material goods relative to the population; it may also be one in which capitalism at best frays and at worst breaks down completely.

The global financial system is already exceedingly fragile, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis. A world with negative economic growth, industrial capacity in excess of what is needed, and trillions of dollars expecting returns when none is forthcoming could spell a series of financial crises. It could even spell the death of capitalism as we know it. As growth grinds to a halt, people may well start demanding a new and different economic system. Add in the effects of automation and artificial intelligence, which are already making millions of jobs redundant, and the result is likely a future in which capitalism is increasingly passé.

If population contraction were acknowledged as the most likely future, one could imagine policies that might preserve and even invigorate the basic contours of capitalism by setting much lower expectations of future returns and focusing society on reducing costs (which technology is already doing) rather than maximizing output.

But those policies would likely be met in the short term by furious opposition from business interests, policymakers, and governments, all of whom would claim that such attitudes are defeatist and could spell an end not just to growth but to prosperity and high standards of living, too. In the absence of such policies, the danger of the coming shift will be compounded by a complete failure to plan for it.

Different countries will reach the breaking point at different times. Right now, the demographic deflation is happening in rich societies that are able to bear the costs of slower or negative growth using the accumulated store of wealth that has been built up over generations. Some societies, such as the United States and Canada, are able to temporarily offset declining population with immigration, although soon, there won’t be enough immigrants left. As for the billions of people in the developing world, the hope is that they become rich before they become old. The alternative is not likely to be pretty: without sufficient per capita affluence, it will be extremely difficult for developing countries to support aging populations.

So the demographic future could end up being a glass half full, by ameliorating the worst effects of climate change and resource depletion, or a glass half empty, by ending capitalism as we know it. Either way, the reversal of population trends is a paradigm shift of the first order and one that is almost completely unrecognized. We are vaguely prepared for a world of more people; we are utterly unprepared for a world of fewer. That is our future, and we are heading there fast.

See also Control Population, Control the Climate. Not.

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Eco Footprint Nonsense

Michael Shellenberger writes at Forbes Why Earth Overshoot Day And The Ecological Footprint Are Pseudoscientific Nonsense. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Starting today through the end of the year, humankind will start consuming more resources than our planet can sustainably produce, according to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), which has been organizing such days since 1986.

“Humanity is using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate,” says the group. “This is akin to using 1.75 Earths.”

Rich nations use up resources faster than poor ones, GFN says. The US, Australia, Denmark and Canada use up their resources before the end of March, while Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Ecuador don’t do so until December.

“Earth Overshoot Day” is based on something called the “Ecological Footprint,” which is used by the World Wildlife Fund, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

But is the Ecological Footprint good science? It’s not.

Six years ago I helped debunk Earth Overshoot Day and the Ecological Footprint calculation it’s based upon in a paper for the peer-reviewed scientific journal, PLOS Biology called “Does the Shoe Fit? Real vs. Imagined Footprints.”

We broke down the six measures that comprise the Ecological Footprint and found that five of the six, including food and forestry, were either in balance or surplus. The only thing out-of-balance were humankind’s carbon emissions.

But solving that problem doesn’t require that rich nations become poor — or that poor nations remain poor — but simply that we move toward energy sources that don’t produce carbon emissions, a process known as “decarbonization.”

And the only two cases of nations significantly decarbonizing their energy supplies, France and Sweden, did so not by becoming poor but rather by becoming far richer thanks to the use of nuclear energy. Today, France spends little more than half as much as Germany to produce electricity that produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions, thanks to nuclear.

How did the creators of the Ecological Footprint hide what they had done? By assuming that the only way to solve climate change was by expanding forest cover to absorb all industrial carbon emissions.

In other words, the Ecological Footprint converts emissions of carbon dioxide into a land-use category, thereby ignoring all the other ways of absorbing or never emitting CO2.

It gets worse. Different forests absorb carbon dioxide at different rates over time. But the Ecological Footprint arbitrarily chooses a single number to represent the rate of carbon uptake for all forests around the world for all time. The Ecological Footprint method is best known as “garbage in, garbage out.”

The implication of the Ecological Footprint is thus either that everyone in wealthy developed nations like the US, Europe, and Australia should try to live like Cubans and Nicaraguans, or that we should convert all of the world’s old-growth forests to fast-growing tree farms.

When we published our paper in 2013, it was widely covered in the media, including by Scientific American, New Science, and Le Monde, but that hasn’t stopped the European Commission and other governmental bodies from recognizing “Earth Overshoot Day” on social media.

The Ecological Footprint and Earth Overshoot Day were created at the same time that Western European nations and the United Nations embraced a neo-Malthusian approach to environmental problems.

Ironically, the UN promoted the use of wood fuels over nuclear. In a 1987 report called “Our Common Future,” the UN denounced nuclear energy and insisted that poor nations should use wood fuel more sustainably. “The wood-poor nations must organize their agricultural sectors to produce large amounts of wood and other plant fuels.”

The lead author of “Our Common Future” was Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, a nation which just a decade earlier had become fabulously wealthy thanks to its abundant oil and gas reserves.

Figures like Brundtland promoted the idea that poor nations didn’t need to consume much energy, which turned out to be howlingly wrong. Energy consumption is as tightly coupled to per capita GDP today as it was when today’s rich nations were themselves poor.

There is no rich nation that depends primarily on wood for energy, just as there is no poor nation that depends primarily on fossil fuels or nuclear.

The Ecological Footprint has as much scientific merit as astrology, phrenology, and flat-earth theories. It’s time to treat the Ecological Footprint as the pseudoscientific theory it is.

Ecological Footprint theory is pseudoscience on par with astrology, phrenology, and flat earth theories. SHUTTERSTOCK

Footnote:

Steve Maley wrote at Quora on When Global Warming Began:

Global Warming began in Muncie, Indiana on June 17, 1953 at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a Tuesday.

Up until that time, weather was “average” all the time.

That is, except for the Dust Bowl, the Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period, etc.

Up until then, people had ideal, sustainable lifestyles. 90% of men spent all day in the fields looking at the backsides of two mules. Their spare time was spent chopping wood in hopes they could make it through another winter.

Women stayed at home and had babies. They had to have 8–10 because 2 or 3 of them wouldn’t live to see their 10th birthday.

Farm to Table was a thing. Since nobody had any money, it was a choice between raising your own food or starving.

Yes, it was an idyllic lifestyle. Damn fossil fuels screwed it all up.

How? By changing the atmosphere. Gases other than CO2 used to be 99.97% of the air we breathe. Now it’s 99.96%.

The horror.

Live and Let Live, It’s the American Way

People are fed up with political correctness and walking on eggs because differences are now socially disturbing (micro-aggressions anyone?). The progressive war on individual diversity in the name of “social Justice” strikes at the heart of modern democratic society and free enterprise. James I. Wallner writes at Law and Liberty Make America Diverse Again. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. The motto, emblazoned on one side of the Great Seal of the United States, succinctly captures the dual nature of the American founding. With just thirteen letters, it invokes both the revolutionary act by which thirteen separate colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and the subsequent decision of the new states to join together to form one nation. Foreshadowing the unprecedented success of the American experiment in self-government, Novus Ordo Seclorum (new order of the ages), is inscribed on the seal’s opposite side. The two inscriptions serve as a reminder that in the United States, for the first time in human history, free citizens call the shots instead of their rulers.

Cracking the Code of Freedom

Of course, Americans are not the first people to establish a government on the idea of political equality. That distinction belongs to Athenians who, in the fifth century BCE, used the terms isonomia (equality of law) and isegoria (equality of speech) to distinguish their unique form of self-government from neighboring Greek tyrannies, as well as from Persian despotism. Among the Athenians, isokratia (equality of power) prevailed when no citizen was considered to be above the law, and all took part in making it.

Yet the idea of political equality proved challenging to sustain in practice. The Athenians soon realized that they could not secure sufficient space for politics on a permanent basis amidst the frustrations and uncertainty inherent in collective decision-making under conditions of equality. For that reason, their experiment in self-government ended in failure, as would all those that came after until the American founding.

What makes America exceptional is that its people alone broke free of the destructive cycle in which a people seeking freedom would overthrow their tyrant and establish self-government, only to find themselves inevitably succumbing to a new tyranny. Americans were able to do so because they grasped the relationship between freedom and equality on the one hand and space and diversity on the other. The genius of the Constitution should thus be understood as creating a space in which a diverse multitude could rule as one; where free citizens (or their representatives) could gather to resolve their differences based on equality. In contrast to the Athenians’ direct democracy, the Constitution secured that space against encroachments by would-be tyrants by harnessing the conflict in a diverse republic and infusing it into institutional structures like bicameralism, separation of powers, and federalism.

The Triumph of Ideology

Regrettably, this understanding of American exceptionalism is overlooked in today’s political discourse. On both the left and the right, there is a worrisome tendency to gloss over the vital role played by diversity and the conflict it generates.

Both have a tendency to subsume individual difference to demographic categories, in the case of liberals, or abstract ideas, in the case of conservatives.

Yet individual difference, regardless of its source, is the very basis of equality and freedom. Whereas the founders understood politics as an activity in which citizens participate alongside their peers to make collective decisions, today’s liberals and conservatives think of it primarily as the process by which one group can impose its particular standard of truth on those with whom its members disagree. When that happens, citizens are neither equal nor free. That is, they are not allowed to participate in the debate over what particular standard of truth is imposed on the public sphere. Political discourse is transformed into a process whereby combatants delegitimize their opponents on the grounds that they disagree with their standard of the truth.

For example, consider the debate over multiculturalism, or identity politics. The president of the Claremont Institute, Ryan Williams, recently proclaimed multiculturalism to be an “existential threat to the American political order.” According to Williams, the concept is incompatible with political equality and that, if left unchecked, will lead ultimately to the balkanization of America, thus reversing the motto—E uno plura. Out of one, many.

However, to the extent that multiculturalism threatens the American political order, it is only because it destroys the space needed for American self-government to work. It declares entire groups of citizens unfit for politics based on the color of their skin or the nature of their beliefs. Williams rightly points out that so-called multiculturalists are more concerned with denying people with different views or backgrounds that ability to participate in politics than they are with genuine diversity. With its universalizing tendencies, multiculturalism thus ironically eradicates the diversity that makes political equality possible in the first place. In other words, the threat to equality arises out of the “ism” part of multiculturalism, not the “multicultural” part. In that way, multiculturalism is un-American because it is a rigid ideology that does not tolerate dissent from its worldview.

It is the universal and abstract nature of multiculturalism that makes it inconsistent with the very idea of political equality. Free citizens (the many) need a shared space in which they can make decisions affecting the community (the one) because they are all equal. They are equal because they are all different. No two citizens can be considered to be identical in any respect other than the fact that they are both unique individuals who possess distinct abilities, characteristics, interests, and passions, and, in the United States, they both possess the same right to participate in politics. This is what makes self-government possible: the equal participation of different individuals in politics inevitably generates conflict between them in the space where politics occurs. That conflict, in turn, prevents any one person or group of people from amassing the power needed to destroy that space and rule others.

Given this, the case against multiculturalism rests entirely on the ideological threat it poses to American diversity. If the critics of multiculturalism fail to make this point explicit, they leave open the possibility that their opposition to the ideology is due not to the fact that it lacks a standard against which the American regime can be evaluated but because it proposes the wrong standard. In doing so, they wind up declaring entire groups of citizens unfit for politics based on their particular conception of what it means to be an American.

Replacing one ideology with another does nothing to mitigate the threat of ideology. It makes no difference whether the ideology is based on an appeal to overcome a racist past, in the case of some multiculturalists, or to abstract natural rights, in the case of some conservatives. What matters is that the standard of truth that these multiculturalists and conservatives claim to be self-evident is derived by them from a space outside of the actual experience of politics. Its applications to activity inside the public sphere transforms free citizens into cogs in a production process geared towards the realization of a master design. In the process, both freedom and equality are destroyed.

Understanding Politics in Terms of Conflict

This does not mean that there is no truth. The point is that, in America, the standards against which political action is measured can only be defined by a process that is itself characterized by political equality. When politics is no longer understood in these terms, it is no longer an activity in which free citizens call the shots instead of their rulers. The unambiguous lesson of the past is that freedom and equality cannot last long in the absence of diversity and conflict.

Unity grounded in anything other than difference is tyranny.

To sustain the idea of political equality, we must understand American exceptionalism not in universal and abstract terms but rather as something that arises out of a particular kind of practice. In other words, it is the essential activity of being an American that defines who Americans are as a people. It is that which allows them to deliberate on and fight over the truths that they hold to be self-evident.

That is the only way we can ensure that E pluribus unum will last long enough to constitute a novus ordo seclorum.

US News is Skewed Up and Dumbed Down

Under the Suspicions Confirmed file, we have quantitative proof that US news is increasingly skewed according to the values of the media outlet. Rand corporation is publishing studies on the theme Truth Decay, based on analyzing 15 prominent and popular media platforms. The latest report is at phys.org entitled US journalism has become more subjective. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

U.S.-based journalism has gradually shifted away from objective news and offers more opinion-based content that appeals to emotion and relies heavily on argumentation and advocacy, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

In a unique analysis on news discourse and presentation, researchers found that the changes occurred over a 28-year-period (1989 to 2017) as journalism expanded beyond traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcast networks, to newer media, such as 24-hour cable channels and digital outlets. Notably, these measurable changes vary in extent and nature for different news platforms.

“Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape: Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist and lead author of the report, which is second in a series of research into the phenomenon of “Truth Decay,” the declining role of facts and analysis in civil discourse and its effect on American life.

News consumers can now see how the news has changed over the years and keep that in mind when making choices about which media outlets to rely on for news,” she added.

The analysis, enabled by a RAND text analytics tool previously used to analyze support and opposition to Islamic terrorists on social media, offers a detailed assessment of how news has shifted over time and across platforms. The RAND-Lex tool scanned millions of lines of text in print, broadcast and online journalism from 1989 (the first year such data was available via Lexis Nexis) to 2017 to identify usage patterns in words and phrases. Researchers were then able to measure these differences not only within one outlet or type of media (e.g. print) but also comparatively with other forms of journalism (e.g. print vs. digital).

Researchers analyzed content from 15 outlets representing print (The New York Times, Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch), television (CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC) and digital journalism (Politico, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Buzzfeed Politics, The Daily Caller and The Huffington Post).

The findings point to a gradual and subtle shift over time and between old and new media toward a more subjective form of journalism that is grounded in personal perspective.

Consider broadcast news. Before 2000, broadcast news segments were more likely to include relatively complex academic and precise language, as well as complex reasoning. After 2000, broadcast news becomes less pre-planned as on-air personalities and guests engaged in conversations about news. (That year, 2000, is significant in the evolution of the media landscape, as viewership of all three major cable networks began to increase dramatically.)

Comparing broadcast news to cable programming, differences become more stark, with cable segments dedicating more time to opinion coverage and using argumentative language. The size and scope of these changes is substantial, but researchers also noted that these differences may be in part a result of their different audiences, with cable news focusing on specialized audiences.

When comparing newspapers to digital outlets, researchers were able to identify significant differences. Newspapers have changed the least over time, with content slightly shifting from a more academic style to one that is more narrative. As for digital journalism, the report found that online content is more personal and direct, narrating key social and policy issues through personal points of view and subjective references.

“Our analysis illustrates that news sources are not interchangeable but each provides mostly unique content, even when reporting on related issues,” said Bill Marcellino, a behaviorial and social scientist and co-author of the report. “Given our findings that different types of media present news in different ways, it makes sense that people turn to multiple platforms.”

The report is one in a series of RAND-funded reports into the triggers and consequences of Truth Decay. The first report, written by Kavanagh and RAND President and CEO Michael D. Rich, examined how Truth Decay is a set of four interrelated trends:

    • increasing disagreement about facts;
    • a blurring between opinion and fact; 
    • an increase in the relative volume of opinion and personal experience over fact; and
    • declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

That report identified how changes in the media have contributed to Truth Decay by increasing the volume of opinion over fact. Forthcoming reports will examine issues such online civic engagement and use of social media for political activities, public trust in institutions and how to evaluate media literacy programs.

“RAND has always been an institution where facts matter,” Rich said. “This new stream of research sheds additional light on the drivers and implications of Truth Decay and is part of our continuing efforts to use analysis to improve civil discourse and public policymaking.”

Footnote

See also How Mass Media Became One-Sided

For discussion of media impact on global warming/climate change see Climate Is a State of Mind

How Mass Media Became One-Sided

 

Joel Kotkin writes at New Geography on the forces that morphed major news media outlets from objective reporting to ideological mouthpieces, mostly aligned with progressive, social justice bias. His article is The Twilight of America’s Mega-Media. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

It’s far too early to predict which party will win next year’s election, but not too early to announce the national media as a clear loser in terms of national influence and prestige.

Pew reports that millennials have become as negative about major media as older generations, with their rate of approval dropping from 40% in 2010 to 27% today. Gallup tracks a similar pattern, finding 70% losing trust in the media, including nearly half of Democrats.

As Trump backers never cease to point out, the Mueller report undermined the supposedly rock solid case for “collusion.” Whatever the truth, a solid majority of Americans believe the Russiagate brouhaha was politically motivated. Some progressives, like Rolling Stone’s contributing editor Matt Taibbi, believe Mueller represents “a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

Ironically, Trump, the man the media wanted to bring down, was largely their creation. At a party in 2016, my wife and I were regaled by a CNN account executive crowing about the company’s strategy of using Trump rallies, at the exclusion of others, to boost ratings. Once having created President Frankenstein, CNN then tried to keep up the ratings by chronicling his disposal — this worked for MSNBC which, unlike CNN, never much pretended to be an objective network. Today, CNN’s audience share has fallen below not only leader Fox, but MSNBC, Home and Garden, Discovery and Food networks.

Ideology over journalism

By some estimates some 92 percent of all major network coverage of Trump outside Fox has been negative. This reflects a decay in journalistic standards. When I was a cub reporter at the Washington Post, I once tried to inject my opinion into an article. My editor came back with a remark that “no one gives a [expletive] about what you think.” Today the notion that news reporters should first and foremost inform, letting readers come to their own conclusions, seems almost quaint.

Today, many reporters ride fact-free, neglecting alternative views on such key issues as climate change, where even mild skepticism is ignored, or even the Trump tax cuts. This increasingly ideological cast has been worsened by journalism schools’ shift toward social justice advocacy; even well-placed writers at The New York Times complain about the stridency of younger journalists shaping coverage to fit their accepted ideological narratives.

The impact of the internet

Once there were bold notions of the internet helping to create an ever-expanding realm of options in the arts and journalism. Instead, as a Harvard study has demonstrated, we have increased geographic concentration of media in deep blue New York, Washington and, to some extent, the Bay Area, while local independent media continues to shrink.

The media’s tendency toward concentration — and ideological uniformity — reflects the dynamics of the tech industry. Google, for example, now controls nearly 90% of search advertising, Facebook almost 80% of mobile social traffic and Amazon about 75% of US e-book sales.

The traditional media now see much of their online sales largely enriching the world’s richest companies, and potential competitors. Pew reports that newsroom employment has dropped by 23% over the past decade. This does not even include the purging of experienced journalists frequently replaced by younger, less expensive and often ideologically driven younger reporters.

How the oligarchs are further undermining the media

Nearly two-thirds of readers now get at least some of their news through Facebook and Google. This dominance is even greater in both the United States and the United Kingdom among millennials who, by some accounts, are almost three times as likely to get their information from these platforms than print, television or radio.

The shift of control to Silicon Valley, located in one of the country’s most left-leaning regions, accentuates the progressive stranglehold on the media. Facebook’s attempts to “curate” content often eliminates conservative views, according to former employees. Over 70% of Americans, notes another recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

Increasingly, the remnants of the old publishing industry are being bought by the oligarchs — Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Post in 2013, the 2017 buying of the Atlantic by Laurene Powell Jobs, and last year’s purchase of Time by Marc Benioff, founder of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com. With billions made elsewhere, these media outlets no longer must listen to their diverse readers; Bezos did not buy the Post to defend democracy, as his henchmen insist, but to shape the debate in the nation’s capital.

Conflicts to come

Progressives may savor the media’s leftward tilt, but ultimately oligarchic control poses a direct threat to the grassroots left as well. Bezos’ tool, the Post, widely ridiculed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and will likely do so again. After all, the well-financed and well-liked Sanders, and other similar populists, may, if elected, relieve them of a few billion to fund his proposed “revolution.”

Hopefully, this pervasive group think will spur new alternative media committed to the credo that journalism best serves the public interest by offering unbiased reporting and heterodox opinion, not an ideologically driven algorithm.

This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website http://www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

Equality vs. Freedom (American Dilemma)

Bryan Garsten writes an essay at the Tablet that assesses the deep tremors in today’s USA. And the tensions first described by Tocqueville are also on display in other western nations, though perhaps not in the same ways. The article is Will Tocqueville’s Dilemma Crash America? Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Is equality a danger to freedom in a democratic United States?

The fundamental challenge that Tocqueville’s book poses to American dogma arises from his refusal to assume that equality and freedom are always mutually reinforcing. The American creed since the Declaration of Independence and especially since Lincoln has linked the two values, assuming that an increase in one naturally accompanies an increase in the other. Tocqueville suggested that we tend to ignore the threats that equality poses to freedom. Freedom was not, like equality, a naturally expanding feature of society. Nor was it a necessary consequence of equality of conditions.

It is too simple to say that Tocqueville presented equality and freedom as principles sometimes in tension with one another. His point was different. Equality was not merely a moral principle. Nor was it merely a material fact. More fundamentally, equality was a passion that gave rise to a certain dynamic in politics. Freedom, on the other hand, he portrayed as a set of skills and habits that required practice, an art that could be learned but also forgotten.

The danger of democratic life, Tocqueville thought, was that the passion for equality would lead us to stop practicing the art of freedom.

To see how equality works as a passion, we have to notice the fundamental effect of looking at any actual social world with the ideal of equality in mind. You will see mostly inequalities. In fact, it seems that the more inequalities we succeed in eliminating, the more remaining inequalities stand out and the more striking they become. As society becomes more equal, the pressure for yet more equality does not subside but instead grows stronger:

Democratic institutions awaken and flatter the passion for equality without ever being able to satisfy it entirely. Every day this complete equality eludes the hands of the people at the moment when they believe they have seized it, and it flees, as Pascal said, in an eternal flight; the people become heated in the search for this good, all the more precious as it is near enough to be known, far enough not to be tasted. The chance of succeeding stirs them, the uncertainty of success irritates them; they are agitated, they are wearied, they are embittered.

Societies characterized by the love of equality therefore have a particular revolutionary energy, which is always ready to upset its inheritances because of new inequities it identifies in them. But nature is constantly throwing up new inequalities—especially among intellects, Tocqueville remarked—and the nature of democracy is to set itself against these inequalities. Even without revolution, the pressure for equality presses into more and more spheres of society, eventually influencing not only laws but also relations between employers and workers, husbands and wives, parents and children; it exerts pressure on habits of thought and feeling, affects the sciences and the arts, the sort of history and poetry that people write, the sort of religion they practice and believe. The old saying, “the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy,” captures the passion for equality but neglects, Tocqueville would say, the need to “instruct” democracy in the art of staying free.

Tocqueville admired Americans for having learned the art of freedom as well as they had. The most famous and perhaps most often quoted parts of his book are those about the settings in which Americans learn that art—the relatively small political venues in which citizens debated and deliberated and decided how to manage their communities. The ideal versions of such places that Tocqueville believed he had found were New England townships, juries, and the civic and political associations.

In the 1990s political scientists rediscovered Tocqueville and described the sort of skills, trust, and relationships that develop in these small social settings as “social capital.” Countries or regions where citizens engage in these sort of face-to-face interactions with one another were said to have more social capital, and political scientists have shown that these places tend to sustain more stable and successful forms of democracy.

Tocqueville himself did not use the economists’ language of “capital,” but instead the educator’s language of learning. He noted that through learning to work with others in the small and easily regulated context of a town, the citizen “habituates himself to the forms without which freedom proceeds only through revolutions, permeates himself with their spirit, gets a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and finally assembles clear and practical ideas on the nature of his duties as well as the extent of his rights.” The myriad small associations that Tocqueville noticed Americans loved to form drew individuals out of their private lives and accustomed them to what Tocqueville called “the reciprocal action of men upon one another.”

To identify democracy with the busyness of social life was to offer an alternative to the view that elections are the central feature of democracies. A Napoleonic program of plebiscites might claim to produce a government in some ways “representative” of the people, but it left individuals mostly passive, asleep in their civic lives, content to allow the state to act for them in between isolated and infrequent moments of voting. Equality frees individuals from the domination of families, estates, social orders, and churches, but it thereby risks producing a sea of individuals without strong ties to one another, held together only by a distant national government. Tocqueville thought the United States had avoided this result by giving “political life to each portion of the territory in order to multiply infinitely the occasions for citizens to act together and make them feel every day that they depend on one another.”

Tocqueville’s great hope in the first volume of Democracy in America was to put forward an argument that would show that “the free association of individuals could replace the individual power of nobles.” But what if the passion for equality swept away not only the nobles but also the practice of association that was meant to replace them?

It might be tempting to dismiss Tocqueville’s relevance today because we seem to observe precisely the opposite of what he did: Whereas he began with the constantly growing equality of material conditions, we have witnessed decades of growing inequality. But Tocqueville has a challenging view to offer on this point, too. In the second part of the second volume of Democracy in America, he offered a sustained analysis of how the democratic passion for equality (the subject of its first chapter) might well produce a tendency toward material inequalities and oligarchies, what he called “industrial aristocracy” (the subject of its last chapter).

Tocqueville argued that the passion for equality could weaken social ties, promote materialism, and fuel the inequities of capitalism. He explained that egalitarian sentiments lead us to ignore our links to our ancestors, since our lineage should not determine our fate, and also to sever ties to social superiors and inferiors. With these vertical chains broken, every individual family is more on its own. Each feels a new freedom and a new possibility of rising, but also a new vulnerability and insecurity. These hopes and fears lead us to devote most of our attention to securing the material comfort of our immediate family and friends, and so we embrace materialism and withdraw into a political passivity that Tocqueville called “individualism.”

Tocqueville insisted that old regime aristocrats felt compelled by laws and customs to take some care of their servants, that they were bound, however distantly, to their peasants by the land they shared and their regular interactions. The new industrial oligarchs would find themselves free of even these weak bonds. Tocqueville was not arguing for a return to feudalism; he was trying to show just how bad the new oligarchs would be. Workers and masters would see one another only at the factory and otherwise have no point of contact and certainly no sense of responsibility. “The manufacturing aristocracy of our day,” remarked Tocqueville, “after having impoverished and brutalized the men whom it uses, leaves them to be nourished by public charity in times of crisis. This results naturally from what precedes. Between worker and master relations are frequent, but there is no genuine association.”

Perhaps the state, by reducing material insecurity and regulating industry, could offer a partial escape from the logic of Tocqueville’s argument. But it would not fully counter the dynamic that concerned him unless it also somehow brought into existence the “genuine association” that he thought was necessary for true freedom. The more pessimistic second volume of Democracy in America presses us to worry, however, that a state powerful and centralized enough to effectively regulate the industrial economy would also, by virtue of its power and centralization, crowd out the local politics most conducive to the arts of association.

Can the love of equality and the mobile commercial world it creates be satisfactorily combined with the art of association and the art of freedom?

Can we escape this conundrum?  No sensible reader would suggest that a 19th-century aristocrat can answer this question for us. Instead, reading Tocqueville can keep us from forgetting the question, a question that neither major political party in America is now grappling with directly. Tocqueville felt politically homeless in his time, and his book may leave us feeling the same way in ours.

Populist Wave Rolls Into Finland

Contextual Remarks

It is worth remembering that “populist” is a term used by the established elites to demean those expressing the plebes’ concerns and thereby forging political constituencies.  Christopher Caldwell explained:

“Le monde, the French newspaper of record, admitted last summer that readers had been complaining about the indiscriminate way its journalists flung around the word “populist.” It seemed to describe dozens of European and American political actors with nothing in common except the contempt in which Le Monde held them. The meaning of “populist” was nonetheless easy to decode. A dispatch in that same edition of Le Monde, about a new political alliance between populist governments in Italy, Austria, and Hungary, was titled: “Europe’s hard right lays down the law against migrants.” To call someone a populist is to insinuate that he is a fascist, but tentatively enough to spare the accuser the responsibility of supplying proof. If one sees things as Le Monde does, this is a good thing: populism is an extremism-in-embryo that needs to be named in order that it might better be fought. Others, though, will see populism as an invention of the very establishmentarians who claim to be fighting it, an empty word that allows them to shut down with taboos any political idea that they cannot defeat with arguments. In Europe, populism is becoming the great which-side-are-you-on question of our time.” For more see What is Populism?

Suffice it to say that the hoi polloi are on the march in many European nations and beyond, and the latest breakthrough in Finland adds disgust with climate policy to immigration concerns to forge a potent voter appeal.

Alex Kliment writes insightfully on the recent Finnish election in Finland at GezeroMedia: Finnish Populists Shift Aim From Browns to Greens.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been a political winner for populist parties across Europe in recent years, but as the flow of new asylum-seekers wanes, Finland’s main right-wing outfit found a new way to win votes over the weekend.

In a national election defined largely by a polarizing debate over what to do about climate change, the euroskeptic nationalists of the Finns Party came in second place, just a hair behind the center-left Social Democrats. And they did it by taking square aim at climate policy.

Finland, of course, is on the front lines of climate change. A third of its territory lies above the Arctic Circle, where rapidly melting ice caps are transforming the environment both locally and globally.

But Finland is already one of the world’s most environmentally-friendly countries, and the Finns party’s message on this subject was simple: we’ve done enough.

Their beef isn’t with climate science itself, but with policy proposals like higher fuel taxes, electric vehicle requirements, and restrictions on meat consumption that impose short-term pain for uncertain longer-term gains.

The Finns Party says these measures disproportionately hurt working people, particularly their supporters in the countryside, and scare away foreign companies that may choose to invest in other countries that impose fewer environmental restrictions.

What’s more, Finns asks, why should a small country like Finland make more sacrifices to help the planet when progress depends almost entirely on actions taken by bigger polluters like China, the US, and India?

It’s unclear whether the Finns Party will have a role in the next Finnish government, but the party’s strong showing has drawn notice from other populist parties across the continent, which are hoping to make big gains in elections to the European Parliament next month.

The upshot: Several years on from the peak of the migrant crisis, Europe’s populist parties need new campaign issues that resonate with their voters. Climate policy – which often imposes clear economic and lifestyle sacrifices while promising fewer tangible benefits – may be the next ripe issue for anti-establishment politicians across Europe.

Background

Though Steve Bannon is currently out of Trump’s favor, he is nevertheless lucid and convincing on the subject of the populist wave from UK to Brazil, Eastern Europe, and two years ago the Trump election, so upsetting to those who know better than the rest of us.  Below is reprinted a previous 2016 post Trump Revolution World Outlook.

Lots of scorn, slurs and insults directed at Trump’s appointment of his chief advisor, Steve Bannon. The invective is so pervasive and intense, it exemplifies a new phenomenon in the global village: the Lie Swarm.  From the Streetwise Professor (here)

Bannon, and especially Trump, are primary targets of the Lie Swarm, especially since Trump had the temerity to actually prevail in the election. Don’t get me wrong–there is much about Trump to criticize. But there has been a kind of Gresham’s Law at work here: the bad criticism has driven out the good. Screeching “racist!” “Anti-Semite!” “Fascist!” on the basis of the most twisted and biased interpretation of the flimsiest evidence has overwhelmed substantive argument.

And the Swarm really hasn’t figured out that their attack will do little to get Trump supporters to change their minds. If anything, it will do the opposite, because the “deplorables” know that they are being attacked and smeared as much as Bannon and Trump. Furthermore, the Swarm seems hell-bent on living out Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Hillary’s whole campaign was based on personal attacks on Trump and his supporters, and she enlisted the Swarm in this endeavor.

Bannon in his own words

Martin Luther King said people should be judged by the quality of their character, not superficial identifiers like race, gender or religion. So someone like Steve Bannon should be evaluated by what he himself says and thinks, not by the words of others. And in fact if you listen with a mind to understand him, you discover why Trump values his advice on world realities and strategies to move America forward.

This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World is a transcript of an extended presentation by Steve Bannon from 2014, published at Buzzfeed (here). Some excerpts that struck me as particularly insightful.

Inclusive Capitalism Saved Us

That war (WWI) triggered a century of barbaric — unparalleled in mankind’s history — virtually 180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people. . . The underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism, that capitalism really gave us the wherewithal. It kind of organized and built the materials needed to support, whether it’s the Soviet Union, England, the United States, and eventually to take back continental Europe and to beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East.

That capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.

Modern Perversions of Capitalism

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

Crony Capitalism Gives Rise to a Populist Revolt

General Electric and these major corporations that are in bed with the federal government are not what we’d consider free-enterprise capitalists. We’re backers of entrepreneurial capitalists. They’re not. They’re what we call corporatist. They want to have more and more monopolistic power and they’re doing that kind of convergence with big government. And so the fight here — and that’s why the media’s been very late to this party — but the fight you’re seeing is between entrepreneur capitalism, and the Acton Institute is a tremendous supporter of, and the people like the corporatists that are closer to the people like we think in Beijing and Moscow than they are to the entrepreneurial capitalist spirit of the United States.

The underpinning of this populist revolt is the financial crisis of 2008. That revolt, the way that it was dealt with, the way that the people who ran the banks and ran the hedge funds have never really been held accountable for what they did, has fueled much of the anger in the tea party movement in the United States. . . In addition, I think you really need to go back and make banks do what they do: Commercial banks lend money, and investment banks invest in entrepreneurs and to get away from this trading — you know, the hedge fund securitization, which they’ve all become basically trading operations and securitizations and not put capital back and really grow businesses and to grow the economy.

I think it’s particularly more advanced in Europe than it is in the United States, but in the United States it’s getting pretty advanced — is that when you have this kind of crony capitalism, you have a different set of rules for the people that make the rules. It’s this partnership of big government and corporatists. I think it starts to fuel, particularly as you start to see negative job creation. If you go back, in fact, and look at the United States’ GDP, you look at a bunch of Europe. If you take out government spending, you know, we’ve had negative growth on a real basis for over a decade.

And that all trickles down to the man in the street. If you look at people’s lives, and particularly millennials, look at people under 30 — people under 30, there’s 50% really under employment of people in the United States, which is probably the most advanced economy in the West, and it gets worse in Europe.

So you can understand why middle class people having a tough go of it making $50 or $60 thousand a year and see their taxes go up, and they see that their taxes are going to pay for government sponsored bailouts, what you’ve created is really a free option. You say to this investment banking, create a free option for bad behavior. In otherwise all the upside goes to the hedge funds and the investment bank, and to the crony capitalist with stock increases and bonus increases. And their downside is limited, because middle class people are going to come and bail them out with tax dollars.

And that’s what I think is fueling this populist revolt. Whether that revolt is in the midlands of England, or whether it’s in Middle America. And I think people are fed up with it.

Secularization and the Rise of Islamic Fascism

The other (worrying) tendency is an immense secularization of the West. And I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.

Now that call converges with something we have to face, and it’s a very unpleasant topic, but we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. . .That war is expanding and it’s metastasizing to sub-Saharan Africa. We have Boko Haram and other groups that will eventually partner with ISIS in this global war, and it is, unfortunately, something that we’re going to have to face, and we’re going to have to face very quickly.

Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.

I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.

Global Center-Right Populist Movement

Look, we believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement. We’ve seen that. We were the first group to get in and start reporting on things like UKIP and Front National and other center right. With all the baggage that those groups bring — and trust me, a lot of them bring a lot of baggage, both ethnically and racially — but we think that will all be worked through with time.

The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos. A group of kind of — we’re not conspiracy-theory guys, but there’s certainly — and I could see this when I worked at Goldman Sachs — there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run.

I will tell you that the working men and women of Europe and Asia and the United States and Latin America don’t believe that. They believe they know what’s best for how they will comport their lives. They think they know best about how to raise their families and how to educate their families. So I think you’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government, whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington, DC, or that government is in Brussels.

And that center-right revolt is really a global revolt. I think you’re going to see it in Latin America, I think you’re going to see it in Asia, I think you’ve already seen it in India. Modi’s great victory was very much based on these Reaganesque principles, so I think this is a global revolt, and we are very fortunate and proud to be the news site that is reporting that throughout the world.

 

Good News: Stanford Not a Social Justice Academy

Above I posted Modern Educayshun on the dangers of PC-enforced monotonic diversity (“It’s OK if you don’t look like us, as long as you think like us.”). I must now reference a much more encouraging report of the state of these affairs at my alma mater, Stanford, one of the earliest schools to stop teaching Western Civ, and the cradle of global warming/climate change alarmism.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Journalist Richard Bernstein’s 1994 book, Dictatorship of Virtue, was among the first on the rise of political correctness. Twenty-five years later, he returns to Stanford University to take stock of the forces unleashed — and those kept in check. His recent article is Culture War and Peace at Stanford: The PC Uprising 25 Years On

In the decades since, there’s been plenty of righteous indignation expressed: the campus thought police demanding (and often getting) protection from anything they deem to be offensive; informal limits on free speech; reckless accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia; violent demonstrations against conservative speakers. It goes on.

Such episodes and events often get wide attention. And I was expecting to find a deeply fraught atmosphere at Stanford. Instead, what I found there, 25 years after my book’s publication, was not the brute triumph of a narrow, politically correct orthodoxy but a far more subtle and peaceful outcome to those battles. To be sure, the liberal-left, identity-politics forces for change have scored great gains. They are now established in the departments whose creation they demanded, while things like the Western-civ requirement remain discarded.

But I also found that things have calmed down. The day-to-day mood is less explosively acrimonious than it was a quarter-century ago, in part because those who want to concentrate on identity politics now have their places. But they are contained there. They haven’t shut the rest of the place down, and the rest of the place – perhaps a not silent but discreet and quiet majority – goes about its business delivering a pretty good education to students.

The composition of its student body, moreover, is very different from decades past. About 36% of undergraduates are listed as “white.” Half of the 7,000 or so undergraduates are women; 11% are foreigners; nearly 18% are “first gens,” the first in their families to attend college. The arithmetic of this suggests that only a little more than 21% of the undergraduate student body is made up of the type of student that dominated in the era of mandatory core courses in the Western canon – white males whose parents were college educated.

But in addition to their single Thinking Matters class, which is just a fragment of an undergraduate’s time at Stanford, students have to take 11 quarter-length classes in what’s called Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing, aka WAYS, and here is where the fashionable trends in identity politics, race, gender, sexuality, class, and their “intersectionality,” as the current term has it, become thick and heavy.

There are dozens and dozens of courses in WAYS, and the diversity theme is omnipresent — “Race and Gender in Silicon Valley,” “Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Performance Cultures,” “Introduction to Comparative Queer Literary Studies,” “Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary American Film,” and “Introduction to Intersectionality” (readings drawn “chiefly from black feminist scholars”).

And it would seem from course enrollment figures and the choice of majors that while courses in “Engaging Diversity” may be required, they’re not where students are putting their main effort.

According to the Office of the Provost, in the graduating class of 2017 (the last for which these statistics are available) 274 students got computer science degrees, 382 in one or another engineering program, 40 in English, nine in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and two in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Berman, the Thinking Matters director, noted the irony that while fierce ideological conflicts get most of the ink, the real problem now may be the lack of intellectual passion among students. Over lunch at the student union, sitting at an outdoor terrace looking over Stanford’s hacienda-like sandstone campus, he told me, “There’s a growing belief among students and their parents alike that a college education is direct preparation for a job, rather than an opportunity to deepen one’s personality or to create engaged, thinking citizens.” The challenge is to entice students largely interested in other things back into the humanities.

“The right question isn’t ‘Why aren’t our students reading the Federalist Papers?’ It’s ‘Why are our students primarily doing problem sets without reading much of anything at all?’ ” he said.

Footnote: No, my parents were not rich Hollywood stars who bought me a place at Stanford.  In fact I was a diversity admission, being a kid with good grades from an ordinary middle-class family, and needed to fill the quota for entrants from the state of Arizona.

Modern Educayshun

OK, this video is thoroughly depressing, but I post it because it was sent to me by my grandson who is a first year university student.  He says it is telling the truth in an exaggerated way.  I mean that the attitudes are accurately portrayed, but are less obvious and not as explicitly expressed in real classrooms.

The video is a punch in the gut.  Below is a more intellectual discussion of the same thing: The takeover of civil relations by so called “social justice.”  Peter meyers writes at The American Mind The Mask of Social Justice Slips.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Beneath bogus egalitarianism courses the will to power.

In the old understanding, racism was a malady of opinion and sentiment and therefore, deeply rooted as it was, remediable. In the lately emergent view, racism (at least in majority-white societies) is universal, omnipresent, and insuperable. It is present institutionally no less than personally, in our subconscious no less than our conscious minds, in all we have and all we are. In the words of President Obama, it is “part of our DNA.”

Let us underscore the radicalism in this revision. Its claims of “the permanence of racism” notwithstanding, the racially “woke” Left seems to regard itself as the vanguard of a democratic revolution, rising in righteous wrath against a distinctively odious, white-supremacist oligarchy. The democracy so envisioned is not, however, one grounded in equal natural rights. Animated by an ethic of effectively permanent redistribution via permanent race classifications, it divides its population into the creditor and debtor races Justice Scalia decried in his Adarand opinion—a division fundamentally at odds with the principle of natural human equality.

The radicalism of the ascendant dispensation on racism runs deeper still. In Black Power, a seminal text for that new dispensation, authors Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton reject altogether the appeal to principles of justice, instead invoking Lewis Carroll to indicate the new ground of blacks’ claims to moral recognition and respect. They quote a passage wherein Humpty Dumpty boasts that he can make words mean whatever he chooses. Alice then protests, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things,” but Humpty gets the last word: “The question is which is to be master—that’s all.”

The irony of the new dispensation on racism is that in the pursuit of “social justice” it annihilates any intelligible idea of justice. It signifies not a replacement of one partisan idea of justice by a superior, more inclusive idea, but instead the replacement, at the level of foundations, of any commitment to justice with a commitment to power, pure and simple. .  .  On the premises claimed by the vanguard of today’s anti-racism Left, moral truth reduces to “effectual truth,” politics is no more and no less than the art of war, and claims of justice are but expressions of will to power.

On its face, the recent metastasizing of this malignant social justice ideal through what many persist in calling liberalism is dispiriting. What Bill unmasks as a bait-and-switch operation on racism, however, yields a promising implication. On race as in any other issue area, the success of the social justice Left depends on the durability of an inherently fragile coalition, in which a core of extremists appears compelled to alienate the relative moderates whose support and cover they need. In the very nihilism ascendant on the Left, there is cause for hope.

Among the moderates the Left needs are many whites, sincerely anti-racist by the old definition of racism and sympathetic to reasonable efforts to assist the disadvantaged. Many of those white moderates, however, must naturally object to serving as targets in an asymmetrical war in which others are permitted to hurl insults at them and they are forbidden to respond—or even compelled to assent. They must likewise resent being told that their own struggles, however great, are insignificant in comparison with their color-privilege, let alone being told that their relative success traces to a prowess in extraction rather than production. They must resent being  told that they “didn’t build that”—with the implication that they don’t own it either but “society” does, whose representatives in the administrative state are free to redistribute its proceeds as they see fit. Also among the moderates the Left needs are increasing numbers of blacks and Latinos, desiring only to be treated justly and awakening to the alternative bigotry and cynicism whereby the Left conceives of them as crippled, effectively objectifies them, and seeks to succor them with the advice that an identity of powerlessness is their only available capital.

At what could have seemed the bleakest moment in the anti-slavery crusade, Frederick Douglass declared in response to the Dred Scottruling, “my hopes were never brighter than now.” His hopes were bright because he knew, as King and other 20th-century civil rights leaders also knew, that their cause of liberty was blessed by the character of its enemies, whose despotic will to power impelled them inevitably to overreach. Against such enemies, Douglass maintained, the triumph of liberty was “a natural and logical event.” Like yesterday’s segregationists and slaveholders, today’s identitarians may scorn the claims of nature. Yet one can hope, with the ancient poet Horace: “naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret”—You may drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always returns.

Peter C. Myers is Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

The Truth System Fail

It used to be that “Pravda” was a joke in the US. (Not Prada, you airhead). Pravda means “Truth” in Russian, and everyone knew whatever you read in that rag, the opposite was more likely to be true. Now, the tables have turned: You can’t trust most of what the traditionally reputable US media publishes.

Lee Smith writes at the Tablet System Fail The Mueller Report is an unmitigated disaster for the American press and the ‘expert’ class that it promotes

First, after nearly two years, the special counsel found no credible evidence of collusion. It found no credible evidence of a plot to obstruct justice, to hide evidence of collusion. The entire collusion theory, which has formed the center of elite political discourse for over two years now, has been publicly and definitely proclaimed to be a hoax by the very person on whom news organizations and their chosen “experts” and “high-level sources” had so loudly and insistently pinned their daily, even hourly, hopes of redemption.

Mueller should have filed his report on May 18, 2017—the day after the special counsel started and he learned the FBI had opened an investigation on the sitting president of the United States because senior officials at the world’s premier law enforcement agency thought Trump was a Russian spy. Based on what evidence? A dossier compiled by a former British spy, relying on second- and third-hand sources, paid for by the Clinton campaign.

Instead, the special counsel lasted 674 days, during which millions of people who believed Mueller was going to turn up conclusive evidence of Trump’s devious conspiracies with the Kremlin have become wrapped up in a collective hallucination that has destroyed the remaining credibility of the American press and the D.C. expert class whose authority they promote.

Mueller knew that he wasn’t ever going to find “collusion” or anything like it because all the intercepts were right there on his desk. As it turned out, two of his prosecutors, including Mueller’s so-called “pit bull,” Andrew Weissman, had been briefed on the Steele dossier prior to the 2016 election and were told that it came from the Clintons, and was likely a biased political document.

And now, after all the Saturday Night Live skits, the obscenity-riddled Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert routines, the half a million news stories and tens of millions of tweets all foretelling the end of Trump, the comedians and the adult authority figures are exposed as hoaxsters, or worse, based on evidence that was always transparently phony.

The Mueller report is in. But the abuse of power that the special counsel embodied is a deadly cancer on American democracy. Two years of investigations have left families in ruins, stripping them of their savings, their homes, threatening their liberty, and dragging their names through the mud. The investigation of the century was partly based on the possibility that Michael Flynn, a combat veteran who served his country for more than three decades, might be a Russian spy—because of a dinner he once attended in Moscow, and because as incoming national security adviser he spoke to the Russian ambassador to Washington. What rot.

While the length of Mueller’s investigative process may have protected the FBI from the president’s immediate rage, the release of the report has exposed the deep corruption and personal narcissism of the press and its professional networks of “experts” and “sources.” Instead of providing medicine, the press chose instead to spread the disease through a body that was already badly weakened by the advent of “free” digital media. Only, it wasn’t free.

The media criticism of the media’s performance covering Russiagate is misleadingly anodyne—OK, sure the press did a bad job, but to be fair there really was a lot of suspicious stuff going on and now let’s all get back to doing our important work. But two years of false and misleading Russiagate coverage was not a mistake, or a symptom of lax fact-checking.

Russiagate was an information operation from the beginning, in which dozens of individual reporters and institutions actively partnered with paid political operatives like Glenn Simpson and corrupt law enforcement and intelligence officials like former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr to smear Trump and his circle, and then to topple him. None of what went on the last two years would have been possible without the press, an indispensable partner in the biggest political scandal in a generation.

The campaign was waged not in hidden corners of the internet, but rather by the country’s most prestigious news organizations—including, but not only, The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC. The farce that has passed for public discourse the last two years was fueled by a concerted effort of the media and the pundit class to obscure gaping holes in logic as well as law. And yet, they all appeared to be credible because the institutions sustaining them are credible.

Michael McFaul was U.S. ambassador to Moscow—he knows everything about Russia. He wouldn’t invent stuff about national security matters out of thin air. Jane Mayer is a national treasure, one of America’s greatest living journalists who penned a long profile of Christopher Steele in the pages of the New Yorker. Susan Hennessy is a former intelligence community lawyer, who appears as an expert on TV. And how about her colleague at the Lawfare blog, Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution fellow and a personal friend of James Comey? You think he didn’t have the inside dope, every time he posted a “Boom” GIF on Twitter predicting the final nail just about to be hammered in Trump’s coffin?

Many more jumped on the dog pile along with them, validating each other’s tweets and breathless insider sourcing. The point was to thicken the echo chamber, with voices from the right as well as the left in order to make it seem real. Hey, if this many experts are saying so, there must be something to it.

Except, there wasn’t—ever.

American democracy is premised on a free press that does its best to provide the public with information. Misinforming the public is like dumping toxic waste in the rivers. It poisoned our democracy—and it continues to do so. In fact, the most important thing for the public to understand is that Russiagate is not unique. It’s the way that the expert class opines on everything now, from immigration to foreign policy.

Take for instance last week’s big news that President Trump had decided to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The decision was universally praised in Israel, by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by opponents like Yair Lapid. Yet Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, insisted that the decision was politically motivated, telling the Washington Post that “the timing seems pretty transparent.” Surely, like his ambassadorial colleague, McFaul, Shapiro knew exactly what he’s talking about when he tweeted that the decision was made without “any policy planning process to consider potential reactions by Russia, Assad regime, Hezbollah, Arab states, Europe, etc., some of which may not be immediate. A decision like this should factor in such questions. No evidence it has.”

Shapiro was dead wrong. As the Atlantic noted in a detailed reported piece posted hours after Shapiro’s tweet, “the push for Trump to make such a move has been going on for more than a year, due to parallel efforts by Israeli officials and members of Congress.”

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But whatever. Experts can say anything they like—the Saudis hacked Jeff Bezos’ emails and photos of him and his girlfriend; Jamal Khashoggi was an American journalist; Jussie Smollett was nearly lynched by Trump supporters; Brett Kavanaugh was part of a rape gang, etc., etc. And reporters will print it, and editors will shrug, because that’s what the press is now—a pass-through mechanism mostly used for manipulative, ill-informed and often nonsensical propaganda.

Americans still want and need accurate information on which to base their decisions about their own lives and the path that the country should take. But neither the legacy media nor the expert class it sustains is likely to survive the post-dossier era in any recognizable form. For them, Russiagate is an extinction level event.

Lee Smith is the author of The Consequences of Syria.