Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand

by Daniel A. Kaufman


What strikes me more than anything about our current moment is how utterly alien the dominant zeitgeist is from that of just a few decades ago. Increasingly, I find myself unable even to comprehend people’s reactions to social, political, and cultural developments, let alone identify with them. This rather abrupt estrangement is jarring, causing daily life to take on an air of unreality, and far more than my encroaching physical decrepitude, it is what makes me feel old.

The 25 propositions below say things that pretty much everyone in the United States understood until five proverbial minutes ago. I collect them here, not just as a reminder of how much things have changed in such a short time, but because together, they represent a wisdom about life that is needed today more than ever before.


[1]  You can’t always get what you want or deserve. Indeed, you often will not get what you want or deserve.

[2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.

[3] How you are characterized, spoken about, and identified by others is not generally up to you.

[4] Confronting strangers with a raftload of stipulations as to how they must engage with you assumes that they care to engage with you in the first place, which may be untrue. And if they do, they probably will cease wanting to, unless you bring something so extraordinary to the table that it justifies all the trouble.

[5] You cannot make another person like or respect you. Nor can you make them act as if they do. And if you could, it wouldn’t mean anything and shouldn’t satisfy you.

[6] Justice will only ever be partially served, no matter what you do, and it is dangerous to make its pursuit overriding of all other considerations.

[7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.

[8] Not discounting individual cases which may vary widely, as a general matter, no one living in the US and born after the Second World War is less “safe” or experiencing greater hardship or deprivation than those belonging to the generations behind them.

[9] What we think of as “progress” is and always has been a mixture of steps forward and steps backward. Some things get better and some things get worse. [This in no way contradicts [8].]

[10] With regard to the relative merits of X and Y, a person who has experienced both is a better judge than a person who has only experienced one.

[11] Even for those who live in modern, developed, peaceful nations and who are financially well off, life contains more suffering than happiness.

[12] Every person will have to act badly at some point in his or her life, and for most of us, it will be more than once, perhaps even many times. This is a part of the human condition and cannot be changed and is one reason why we must be forgiving of ourselves and of one another.

[13] Good times are precious and rare and should be cherished. They should not be expected. Nor should they be scorned on behalf of some spurious conception of virtue.

[14] Safety is an instrumental good, not an intrinsic one.

[15] Offense, insult, and hurt feelings are not particularly important, other than to oneself and to one’s intimates. This does not mean that you should go out of your way to offend others but rather that if you are offended, you shouldn’t be surprised if those outside your friends-and-family circle aren’t inclined to make a federal case out of it.

[16] You don’t accost random strangers on the street and unload your personal meshugas on them, because it’s not their business and they don’t give a damn. Nothing about these reasons fails to apply when you replace ‘street’ with ‘internet’.

[17] Scores of millions of people, most of whom neither know nor live near one another, cannot constitute a “community.”

[18] On most occasions, in most circumstances, manners matter more than morals.

[19] One should care more about one’s intimates than about total strangers.

[20] Politics should matter less to you than your family and friends.

[21] For most people, “self-improvement” pursued too rigorously, too consciously, or too much achieves the opposite of the intended effect.

[22] The most virtuous people are the quietest about it. The least are the loudest.

[23] Terrible people have produced and continue to produce great works of art and popular culture, the value of which persists, regardless of the character or conduct of their creators. [Bill Cosby’s standup comedy from the 1960’s and 70’s, which remains among the best in the genre, is a good example].

[24] The point of engaging with arts and entertainment is not to develop a deep, personal investment in the character of artists and entertainers whom you don’t know and never will.

[25] The best comedy is almost always laced with cruelty.

173 thoughts on “Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand

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  1. Your 25 points still seem about right to me.

    Social media tend to paint a misleading picture, and I think that’s what has mostly changed.

    On your 9th point (about progress), I would add that we really don’t have a reliable compass. So perhaps progress just means the direction where we are heading right now.

  2. To which I would like to add [26] “Normal family life, your friends and a decent education have taught you most of the above when you’re 18.”

      1. They don’t, but not so long ago [26] would not have been a controversial statement.

        By the way: perhaps you don’t realize what’s coming. Covid-19, lockdowns etc. have had a curious effect on young people. Several teachers I know, have told me that a remarkable number of their students suffer from “retarded maturity”. They’ve suffered intellectually, but the worst thing is that 17 yr. old girls and – especially – boys behave as if they’re 15. In a few years, they’ll go to university etc. and you’ll have to deal with them.

        I mention this because many of your maxims (“maxim” in the sense of La Rochefoucauld) suggest that we’re becoming a nation of toddlers throwing their toys out of the pram if they don’t get what they want. In a few years, the toddlers will be in your classroom.

  3. I would disagree about 22. Pharisees have always bragged about their virtues and that’s why Jesus talks about it in the New Testament. Any religious community back in the 1950’s when I was growing up was full of pharisees and virtue signaling: the virtues that they signaled were different than those that are fashionable to signal today, but virtue signaling was all too common.

    In general, I would ask if the world has changed so much or if with social media, lots of people whose voices were never heard in the past can now anonymously or at least from a safe distance voice opinions that they would never have dared to voice 50 years ago in a face to face social or work situation. Then emboldened by the fake communities of social media (which you point out), they can then dare to voice the same opinions in a face to face situation.

    1. Or, #22 can be read as Yeats’s

      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

  4. You had me at mishagoss (Yiddish for craziness)

    If I had to summarize your list and give it a title, it would be — Reality Check. A guide to how to interpret the world with a tight rein on wishful thinking.

    I’m in general agreement with your 25, 13 more than Peterson offered. What a deal. Of course such a wide span is going to have by its nature, room for tweaking, nuance and at least to some degree, disagreement on interpretation, as has already begun. In fact many of your singular points are in themselves fit topics in their own right for extensive dialogue to be fleshed out.

    Wishful thinking, the recent “me generation”, conspiracy, scientific denialism, mule headed obstinacy to authority and facts themselves, an entitlement mindset all seem to be on the ascension and fueled by social media and expeditions politicians, all make your list more meaningful than ever. It’s time for a reality check.

    1. I always hated that line. There are a couple different things it could mean by “what you need” but on any account it is still like a motto of austerity. I thought of Dylan answering them with this stanza of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”:

      An’ I say, “Aw, come on, now
      You know you know about my debutante”
      An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
      But I know what you want”

      … where the positioning is *wants* above *needs*.

      1. I think Mick and the boy’s summarized the juxtaposition between wants and needs pretty well.

        1. Or, as REM put it

          We we want
          And what we need
          Have been confused
          Been confused

  5. I am not sure how much anybody actually ever understood any of these points. One disagreement I have with my fellow critics of wokeness is that we are experiencing an entirely new phenomena. On the contrary I think we are witnessing a phenomena we saw far too often in the twentieth century. People who fought oppression and conformity only to turn around and become conformist oppressors themselves. Ever since the early 1950’s the secular left has slowly been replacing the religious right as the dominant ethos in the culture. The change has been one of focus rather than attitude. Where the right favored the majority status quo, the left seeks over-representation of the minority. Still it is fundamentally a group of people so convinced of their rightness that cannot tolerate any room for dissent.

    The point I think most aptly demonstrates this is #2. After decades of fighting the evolution/creation wars against the forces of ignorance we now have a brand new group of people, who always claimed to stand up for science and reason, who will deny that evolution, and perhaps even biology itself has little effect on human behavior or thinking. The right demonized evolutionists as godless. The left demonizes them as racists.

    The one point where I may be proven wrong is #25. I once read an essay where someone actually used the line “the most successful comedians are also the most sensitive”. That one did make me think some people writing about culture these days are just psychotic.

      1. We’re contemporaries, born in 70. Don’t disagree that things are different from when we grew up, even very different, and I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it’s a difference in content rather than style. In our day people wanted to ban Judy Blume for sex. Today they want to ban Dr. Seuss for race. Point is everybody always wants to ban something.

  6. What’s left out in all this is how people are now manifestly disagreeing with all your points. But I’m not teaching young adults at a University. All your points seem pretty plausible.. To sum up – they all say “The perfect is enemy of the good” I disagree with point #18 though. Morals are always more important than manners. And bad morals lead to bad manners. Perhaps you are meaning “being moralistic is always worse than harping on manners.” To me morality is always there in the background holding everything up.

    1. Well, I wrote this precisely because people have now all but abandoned this once very common wisdom.

      Re: 18, it’s actually one of the points I am most certain of. Not a shred of doubt whatsoever. 99% of the time it makes zero difference to me what kind of guy you are. Just don’t piss all over the toilet seat.

      1. You are talking about good behaviour versus good manners. Moral to me is to be part of a society or moral system -in other words, most people are part of a moral system so they don’t break the rules, but some people, notably psychopaths, feel no moral obligations, and they are the greatest danger to society. I think it does make a difference to everyone when people lie to evade responsibility or bear false witness, and people can be very polite and charming and know where their dinner fork and salad fork go on the place settings, but be very destructive liars and deceivers.

          1. I agree with you, Dan, that manners are more important than morals, but I don’t take manners to mean which fork to use (I myself have no idea), but stuff like making room for someone else when you’re walking on a narrow sidewalk, especially during a pandemic, showing gratitude when someone does something nice to you, being pleasant to
            the store clerk or cashier when you buy something, thinking of the other person whenever you’re in public spaces, etc.

          2. Fork use and the like I would refer to as “etiquette.” By manners, I am speaking of how one generally behaves in mundane engagements with others.

      2. Hitler would never piss on the toilet seat. It’s that 1% that is inordinately heavily weighted,

        1. Mmmmm, pretty sure if Hitler were staying at the house of someone named “Kaufman” he’d piss on their toilet seat.

  7. This (relatively) abrupt estrangement (as you call it) is indeed jarring. And your list picks out key elements of commonsense and wisdom which have been forgotten or which are being denied.

    I have the feeling that actually there is not a whole lot more to say on this, at least productively. People have become more stupid, signifying a culture in crisis.

    Reality will kick in at some point, however. It always does.

      1. “And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
        When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
        As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
        The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

  8. I chuckled with amusement at your list and thought it was a pretty good summation of a parlous state of affairs. Couvent’s insight that this represented a delayed maturation process seemed right to me.

    [18] On most occasions, in most circumstances, manners matter more than morals.

    That depends on how you understand ‘manners’. For me, at least, manners are a form of respectful engagement with other people and this makes it a subset of virtue ethics(Respect). Seen from this frame of reference, the statement is therefore a false dichotomy.

    [12] Every person will have to act badly at some point in his or her life, and for most of us, it will be more than once, perhaps even many times. This is a part of the human condition and cannot be changed and is one reason why we must be forgiving of ourselves and of one another.

    Why does anyone have to act badly? We choose to do so and should never excuse ourselves by pleading compulsion. Yes, we should be forgiving of others and also forgiving of ourselves if we are suitably contrite and penitent. I accept that there can be occasions when a bad act is unavoidable but this is very infrequent. Endeavoring to avoid bad acts in what seems to be compelling circumstances is a powerful test of character.

    I still remember with shame when, as a young, newly minted foundry metallurgist, my boss ordered me to falsify test certificates on safety critical items. I complied because, as a recently married person in a very tight labour market, I feared for my job . It was a really bad choice and, in retrospect, I could and should have acted differently.

    [13] Good times are precious and rare and should be cherished. They should not be expected. Nor should they be scorned on behalf of some spurious conception of virtue.

    I agree that Good times are precious and rare and should be cherished.

    Nor should they be scorned on behalf of some spurious conception of virtue.

    Is this not self evidently true? And what is a spurious conception of virtue? Wilfully and wrongly understood this can be an escape clause for the primacy of the pursuit of pleasure over principle. Finding the appropriate balance between pleasure and principle makes us harmonious and productive members of the community and is an acute test of character.

    [22] The most virtuous people are the quietest about it. The least are the loudest.

    Indeed. Virtuous behaviour speaks for itself.

    Re: 18, it’s actually one of the points I am most certain of. Not a shred of doubt whatsoever. 99% of the time it makes zero difference to me what kind of guy you are. Just don’t piss all over the toilet seat.

    If I have just slipped your wallet, your keys and your cellphone out of your coat pocket I doubt you will care as much about my piss on your toilet seat. And you will care even less if I have just impregnated your daughter.

    What is missing from your statement is the effect of my moral defects on you. When my moral defects directly impact you they will matter acutely to you, far more than my boorish manners.

  9. Couvent said
    I mention this because many of your maxims (“maxim” in the sense of La Rochefoucauld) suggest that we’re becoming a nation of toddlers throwing their toys out of the pram if they don’t get what they want. In a few years, the toddlers will be in your classroom.

    I agree. The 25 points that Dan made are all evidence of a retarded maturation process. This is scary because one’s personality loses its flexibility and capacity for further growth in the early twenties. If maturation is delayed to this point it never takes place and the result is infantilized adults. Have we become a nation of infantilized adults?

  10. “I used to be with ‘it’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!”
    – Abe Simpson, Homerpalooza (Season 7, episode 24 of the Simpsons)

    On a slightly less joking note. I don’t know what to tell you, man. Have you tried not being on Twitter? I’m just one of the unwashed hoi polloi but I can’t think of anyone I know, of any age, who would raise fervent objections to any of these points. I mean, I could sure reply with some semi-serious contrarian snark to a few of them but won’t do it unsolicited. Anyhow, I certainly won’t argue that zeitgeists change or that the young and old eventually become nearly incomprehensible to one another, bound only by sentiment and maybe shared family history if they’re lucky. But my grandpa, a hardened frontiersman in his own right, had a great saying I like to fall back on as I get older, “New crazy ain’t any worse than the old crazy. But I *am* the old crazy.” I guess it’s on that note my only real objection to this piece might stand. You’re assuming the old crazy wasn’t crazy and that the new crazy is bad because it’s crazy. I think that worldview elides a lot more than it reveals. But I could totally be wrong. I only follow bird photography accounts and ironic comedians on Twitter and only gain snippets of the current zeitgeist from younger co-workers, morning radio shows, and Lester Holt’s evening program.

    1. Not sure what Twitter has to do with it. I have been teaching at the university since the early 1990’s and by now have taught tens of thousands of students, across two generations. What I described was understood by virtually every one of my students when I began teaching at Missouri State in the early 2000’s. This is not about young and old, per se, but about the changing profile of the young and about the apparent amnesia of so many of the old [either that or lack of nerve].

      1. Fair. I only brought up Twitter because it seems to be the source of most folks’ pessimism about humanity these days. I don’t teach at a university so can’t speak to or challenge that in any way. I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that most young people I encounter just don’t really fit this generalization. Or at least no more than people my age or older. Either that or I just don’t pay enough attention to them.

  11. Born in 46, I expect the respect that I deserve! Maybe not.

    Part of what is going on here, I think, is that there is an evolution of culture and that the younger generation can clearly see that the older generation is ‘out of touch’ from their perspective.

    Two weeks ago my 14 year old granddaughter put me in my place in no uncertain terms after I innocently thought it appropriate for me to make some grandfatherly comments about society in general. She brilliantly and coherently regurgitated a list of woke observations that left me somewhat intimidated in this delicate situation.

    The evolution of culture is a vast and incomprehensible process that leaves us further and further behind. It is up to the younger generations to somersault ahead and deal with a new reality.

    1. Young people have always thought the older generations were out of touch. I don’t think that’s what this is about.

      Also, your last sentence ignores 7, 9, and 10.

    2. Not sure if it can be called an evolution in this case or a de-evolution since so much of the rhetoric today seems specifically aimed at overturning hard fought victories of previous generations. I am thinking mainly of battles in journalism and entertainment.

      When I was young the suggestion that The NY Times news had a political bias was fighting words. Today journalists are expected to advocate for positions and seeking to get both sides of the story is seen as collaboration with the enemy.

      Comedians from the 60’s through the 90’s fought long, drawn out, often legal battles, against the government in censorship cases for the right to be non-conformist. Today art is judged by how much it conforms to social justice standards.

      David Letterman was lauded in the 80’s for his non-sycophantic approach to the talk format. Today he is being criticized because daring to ask guests like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan about controversies in their lives is now seen as attacking them and misogynistic.

    3. Your comment made me chuckle as I would expect the same thing from my own family members. Evidence of cultural change are my own memories of how things used to be done. If I ever responded to my Grandfather in the way you describe my own father would have set me straight using old school corporal methods.

    4. Perhaps I should be a little more precise.

      Culture is a very ill defined concept of very recent origin that can be approached from different aspects: Total global human culture is a continuously changing (evolving) supercomplex whole from which any individual can personally garner only a minute sample. Our success in life, or otherwise, nevertheless depends on our understanding and mastery of it – our personal theory of culture. (See my “Anatomy of Culture” in which I propose a more empirical approach.)

      It is ‘normal’ for the kids to think that grandma is old-fashioned. We now seem to be going through a period in which the majority of youth think that everything from the past is tainted with evil and sin. The reasons for this are many, but there is a movement afoot to radically change course. Somewhat like response to the Vietnam War in the sixties. Although I am largely ignorant, I even see parallels with the black shirted youth in support of Mussolini.

      The younger generations will be catapulted ahead, thrust into a situation not totally of their making. It is extremely important that we do the best we can that we provide them with the best tools, even though they now appear not to be interested in our advice.

      1. This made me think of what was often supposed to be the dichotomy of the idealism of the baby boomer generation and the cynicism of Gen X, and the fact that millennials and Gen Z seem to have chosen to follow in the boomers path.

        If I can be overly sentimental about my generation I think Gen Xers were aware of our privilege. That’s what led to our cynicism. We realized that a lot of the hard work in overcoming what was wrong with America was done and all that was left was to look inward rather than at society. Perhaps all that navel-gazing wasn’t good for us, but it was what was necessary.

        If I can be overly disparaging of other generations I think the denial of that privilege is what they all have in common. It is not so much that today’s generation really thinks about or disparages the past that much, it is that the past has to be ignored to give them their identity. You’re not likely to hear that the evils of the past need to be examined, but more that the past needs to be swept away in favor of a new vision of the future. If what you care about most in the world is social justice it doesn’t do much for your self-image as a revolutionary if you’re already living in your societies most socially just period. It is the old paradox that everyone working for “a cause” is actually working to one day put themselves out of business so often you tend to manufacture problems to keep it going.

        1. Interesting. These ‘simple’ narratives are what we need in order to understand our present, but they are supercomplex in reality. I’m a senior member of the boomer cohort and what strikes me now is how silent the adults of my childhood were about what they had just gone through – and was still happening as Stalin, Mao et al were jockeying to consolidate their power. I suspect that the adults then were subconsciously trying to present a more idealized world and thus help us to avoid the errors of the immediate past. GHW Bush famously predicted a new world order with the fall of the Soviet Union, but he should have known better. Looks to me that each succeeding generation stumbles forth in virtual complete ignorance, managing to survive against the odds.

  12. What I have noticed about the younger generation:

    (1) They’re passionate about fighting injustice.
    (2) They really like to plagiarize!

    1. I would edit (1) to read: “They’re passionate about fighting what they *perceive* to be injustice, with the minimal knowledge and perspective they have.”

      1. Sure, if I were concerned about being accurate. But I was more concerned about making a comedic remark, owing to the juxtaposition of (1) and (2).

        But actually, I’m not sure they’re all that concerned about fighting what they perceive to be injustice, any more than any other generation. Sure, they’re into protesting, Twitter pile-ons, social media signifying, etc. But I’m not sure all that many of them, say, devote significant portions of their lives to working on creating universal healthcare, or instituting reparations, or figuring out how to engage with China, or encouraging more free trade, or trying to figure out a sensible immigration policy, etc. [Note: I’m not suggesting that working on all or even any of these policies is the best way to go about “fighting injustice”; I was just using them as examples of things one do with one’s free time or career.]

        1. This reminded me of a scene in the movie Dazed and Confused where one character realizes he doesn’t like the people he wants to help. I had an experience like that when I was younger and it did wonders for my mental health. Maybe some of these kids just need someone to tell them it’s okay to just vote Democrat (or whatever) and focus on your own interests.

  13. [7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.

    This is easily the most insightful comment of all.
    The infant has only two rights, the right to defecate and the right to urinate, at will, but is soon disabused of these rights. From then on it is engaged in a struggle for autonomy and power. This struggle peaks in the teens and early twenties. Lacking real power this adolescent adult/child seeks to dispossess and discredit the holders of power so that they may assume their power. They do this through extravagant displays of nonconformist identity, thus portraying the older generations as hopelessly out of date. They do this through virulent criticisms of the conduct of older generations, portraying them as hopelessly venal and incompetent. They exploit the mistakes of the older generations with the implied promise that they, the wiser youth, will not repeat these mistakes.

    There is nothing new about this. Every generation reads from the same score and repeats the performances of older generations but with newly applied grease paint. But, and this is a big but, technology has given youth a megaphone of unprecedented power. The power of the megaphone is supplanting the power of ability to execute.

    1. If all this is right, then I expect that, once “the youth” is fully in power–say, when they’re in their 40s and 50s–I expect they will be completely ruthless and shockingly effective at muzzling and anathematizing the younger generation.

  14. We live in a time of crisis. Things that are taken for granted not longer are.
    Categories shift.

    We can begin with academia itself

    “Beyond the Academic Ethic” Stephen Turner, 2019
    “What changed? In a word, professionalization.
    …Philosophers went from modestly saying, accurately, that they “taught philosophy” to saying they were “philosophers” or even “professional philosophers” to distinguish them from other things that go by the name of philosophy. In sociology, the name of the American Sociological Society was changed to the acronymically less anatomical American Sociological Association to reflect the new status of “profession.” Political sciences became “scientific,”…”

    #2 “Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.”

    But hard determinism is a ubiquitous theme now, in academic philosophy and larger culture: the hive mind, the singularity. Individualism has produced dreams of its opposite. “Behind the chiliasm of modern man, is the megalomania of self-infinitization.” Daniel Bell, a great line from “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”
    Emotionalism is the reflexive response to technocratic positivism. the relation of Strangelove to von Neumann.
    and von Neumann is an idol to tech lords.

    #8 “as a general matter, no one living in the US and born after the Second World War is less “safe” or experiencing greater hardship or deprivation than those belonging to the generations behind them.”

    Black soldiers who’d who’d gone dancing with white women in Europe came home with a new sense of frustration.
    Rosie the Riveter was fired and told to get married and go back to the kitchen. Both the civil rights movement and feminism burgeoned as the result of freedom tasted and taken away.

    Brown v Board was a liberal milestone. By 2004 Derek Bell was arguing that the decision was a mistake. It’s a serious argument. Earnest white liberalism was self-regarding and self-interested.

    The same applies to liberal response to Zionism. Jews now had a Jewish state, built on reactionary ethnic nationalism, conquest and expulsion, but over time the history was elided.

    Steven Weinberg “Zionism and it’s Cultural Adversaries” in Facing Up Science and its Cultural Adversaries, 2001

    “Zionism also represents the intrusion – by purchase and settlement rather than conquest, at least until Arab assaults made military action necessary – of a democratic, scientifically sophisticated, secular culture into a part of the world that for centuries had been despotic, technically backward and obsessed with religion.”

    Weinberg the Nobel Prize winning physicist conflates ethnic nationalism and scientific reason. Zionists got away with this sort of thing for years, promoter of Black Nationalist Science and Feminist Science not so much.
    Fatah and the PFLP were secular and socialist and the PFLP was founded by a Christian. Israel later supported Hamas as a counterweight but it backfired. You’d find all this in any Israeli newspaper long before Weinberg wrote his book.

    But Zionism’s beginnings were fantasies of conquest. Forgotten history recently has been brought back, again by activists, not liberals and not academics.

    NY Times 1947
    “Whatever the degree of their superiority complex, however, the Jews are certainly confident of their ability to bring the Arabs to terms~by persuasion if possible, by might if necessary. The program of the largest terrorist group, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, is to evacuate the British forces from Palestine and declare a Zionist state West of the Jordan, and “we Will take care of the Arabs.”

    And interview with a Palmach soldier in 2012.
    The Zionists started the war. The Arabs responded.

    E: What is Operation Broom and what was its objective?
    YK: We cleared all the villages…

    E: What do you mean?
    YK: We cleared one village after another and expelled – expelled them, they fled to the Sea of Galilee and from there to the Galilee.

    E: But how? How?
    YK: You mean by shooting?

    E: How do you mean?
    YK: We shot, we threw a grenade here and there. Just listen – there’s one thing you have to understand: at first, once they heard shots they took off with the intention of returning later.

    E: But, wait a sec, that was before May 15, that was before the Arab armies came.
    Operation Broom, Operation Broom then. How does it happen? Do you receive any information? Is it an organized campaign?
    YK: Yeah, sure.

    For all the criticism of Black Lives Matter and the 1619 Project, they’re both in a sense a sign of progress.
    “Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism”

    The new black professional class are now granted the same level of deference that guilty liberals have given Jews.
    But the New York Times editorial board sits under an autographed photograph of Theodor Herzl

    And here’s a letter the Times refused to print in 2012, a mash note by Herzl for Cecil Rhodes, congratulating him on the founding of Rhodesia and asking for support.

    “You are being invited to help make history,” Herzl wrote to Rhodes. “[I]t doesn’t involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen but Jews…”

    Things are shifting. it’s messy. Emotionalism and pedantry are two forms of the same knee-jerk response. Both are equally unthinking and oversensitive, but only one originates in claims to technical, or technocratic authority.

      1. Really? I supplied a list of facts: examples of unreason and irrationalism.
        Ignoring them doesn’t answer them.

        I’ve just realized I should add another one.
        [19] “One should care more about one’s intimates than about total strangers.”

        There’s big philosophical discussion of “Legitimate Parental Partiality” and it has nothing to do with postmodernism.
        It’s all within the context of a paternalistic authoritarian Oxbridge liberalism.
        Universalism and reason lead to the awareness that it’s unfair to love your own children more than others.

        It may be a perverse argument but then liberalism is as perverse as the postmodernists say.

        And then there’s “Parental Licensing”

        And the liberal academy is full of attacks on free speech.
        Our new liberal academics are to Google what John Stuart Mill was the British East India Company.

        “[W]e must abandon traditional doctrinal and regulatory analogies and understand these private content platforms as systems of governance.”

        This is where the rule of experts gets us. And “Evolution is True”. Coyne is a fanatical Zionist. He’s like Weinberg. Rationalism becomes irrationalism when empiricism is considered irrelevant.
        “Evolution is True” is distinct from “Evolution is a Fact”. That’s more important than Coyne wants to admit. And that’s why he allows irrationalism to enter his other arguments. Truth is a term of metaphysics. Arguing facts is hard enough.

        And on evolution and IQ. Yes, the arguments are “racist” They only question, if you want to talk about these things, is whether the “racism” is justified by science. Again, ignoring the issue is not answering it.

        There’s a real crisis, in governance, society, economics, intellectual life. Interesting times.

        1. The rationalist defense of empiricism is not empiricism.
          You’re a philosophy professor not a biologist.
          Empiricism is a practice. It deals in facts.

  15. I think this excellent list is only general within a specific class. I have no doubt that many Americans, new and old, maintain belief in these propositions. Nearly all these propositions are rooted in the understanding we are less important the further we stray from home. Those of a certain class know all too well their place in our world order. The comment about community states it best. We cannot engage intimately with even a few hundred other human beings, let alone millions. It’s silly to try. Social media at scale creates the illusion of individual impact. Our sense of the connectedness between us has been distorted, especially for those with means.

    80% of Twitter users are affluent millennials. Together they send 500 million tweets per day. Most are desperate for recognition that what they feel, what they believe, is important. People would feel better if they simply did the math and only said something that has some chance of being read. Take my own comment as an example. When I came across this post I saw that only a dozen or so people had posted 36 comments. That’s small enough where my comment may be read and people will engage with it. If your family and friends don’t listen to what you say don’t expect others to do so.

    1. There is some truth to this, on the other hand, people often find community and support on the internet where their family and friends can not or will not support them.

  16. I don’t think that you came up with this list by reminiscing about how people used to think like. Rather, it seems to me, that you are annoyed at how some (mostly, but not only, progressive) people think and try to trace backwards to understand where the incompatibility comes from. Which is fine, but… as long as the link between the bullet points and contemporary talking points is obvious, it will likely not change anyone’s opinion. So for me, it’s not even too interesting to discuss any of the specific points.

    I find it more interesting, that it seems, the divide isn’t obviously a generational one. While there is probably a big generational component, many people of my (pre-social media) generation used to view the world as you described but then changed. And I also have no clue of what exactly is going on, but it’s definitely not just a young vs. old thing, which would be business as usual. It is not business as usual.

    It seems that tech changes not just how we communicate but also our concept of the purpose of thinking and communication. Much like someone living at the beginning of the 20th century, when asked what a street was for. She would have been surprised by the banality of the question and would have answered many things including children playing on the street (obviously), most of which is alien for us or even offensive (children on the street? that’s *dangerous*!). And just as the automobile has changed not just our physical environment but our concepts (in many cases in a less humane direction), so does social media change our concepts of what even thinking and communicating means.

    I can’t even do much better than this analogy. It seems, the nature of such changes is that the inability to understand goes both ways. A person living in the world before cars were everywhere, having set their eyes on a shiny new T-model, could only fantasize about how a modern city functions. And the modern person, even if she has access to the history, can’t really infer how the old concepts *functioned*. Sure, she knows there were a lots of horses and life was slower, but their view about the past is likely just as inaccurate and incoherent, as the past visions about future flying cars.

      1. My point was not to assume how the list came about. Rather, that it is relevant how it came about. If I read the list 25 years ago, I would probably still agree with most points, but would not really understand why some of them need to be said, or why especially these are the cornerstones of a healthy society. One learns what the important things are only while losing them, I suppose.

        I also think, when we talk about common sense, context matters. For example, the very meaning of [4], [5], [15], [16], [17] are deeply challenged by the existence of social media, so I think presenting them as absolute does not really help. I think, what has to be discussed is, not how they are common sense, but how they are common sense given we have social media at today’s scale. Otherwise they can be dismissed unrealistic and/or not applicable/relevant to the actual contemporary problems.

        1. Well, for the record, you are wrong about the etiology of the piece. And nothing about the meaning of the entries you list is “deeply challenged by the existence of social media.”

          Look, the point was to draw attention to how radically the Zeitgeist has changed in a very short time and significantly for the worse. If the new Zeitgeist was great, there’d be no reason to talk about it. Or for anyone to feel the need to defend it.

  17. Reading the “25 things” and the intellectual comments and the give and take, both gives me hope for the future, and is depressing.

  18. Greg Mayer wrote on Why Evolution Is True

    He posted a piece yesterday entitled “Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand” in which he laments the loss of shared conventions of thought and behavior that allow for a tolerant, civil, and liberal society.

    I thought that was a rather good summation.

    1. I remember an excellent article, by I think Stephanie Mills in either CoEvolution Quarterly or Whole Earth Review (the successor) on “Common Courtesy” – something that seems to me to be lacking in our culture – experienced it yesterday – after having helped a “sweet young thing” open her electronically locked car – (which otherwise would have cost about $400 to resolve – we are in a remote area) – she drives off – and that’s the last I hear (even though she’s a renter here) – we forget the social lubricants – please and thank you.

  19. How is it that being “tolerant, civil, and liberal” has lost its allure? I would have thought that these are self evidently worthwhile goals. And just as strange is the fact that it is a secular, materialistic culture that has led the onslaught on tolerance, civility and liberalism(in the classical, old fashioned sense of the word)

    Here follows my understanding of what has gone wrong. It all centres around the concept of truth. Now to a scientist truth is a clearly defined concept open to empirical evaluation. And truth matters deeply to a scientist. That is because science is an intense striving towards a truthful understanding of nature. Deviations from scientific truth must necessarily be rooted out and punished if science is to succeed.

    On the other hand, truth in a cultural context is not clearly defined nor does it, for the most part, allow empirical evaluation. In cultural matters we may never arrrive at or agree on the truth of any given matter. We must be content with context, nuance and multiple perspective taking and even then we will continue to disagree.

    And this brings us to the central problem. Science has been an extraordinarily successful and productive undertaking. This has the consequence that the modes of thinking in science have now infected our modes of thinking about cultural matters. The chief consequence is that the scientific concept of truth and science’s fixation on truth has invaded the way we think about cultural matters.

    Consequently it is now widely believed:
    1) there are absolute truths in culture, just as there are in science, and
    2) we must detect, root out and punish deviations from truth in cultural matters, just as we do in science.
    3) tolerance has no place because, just as in science, we cannot tolerate deviations from truth.

    The problems are compounded when people appropriate for themselves the role of gatekeepers to the truth. Bullies and the power hungry naturally rise up to fill these roles. The result is a narrow, punitive culture that tends to shepherd us down select, narrow, approved pathways.

    1. Because it is easy for people to convince themselves that being intolerant of “intolerance” is not intolerance.

      I don’t know if belief in absolute truth in cultures is a new thing. Evangelical Christians have been lamenting for years that lack of belief in absolutes are at the root of societies problems, but if progressives are advocating for them now they probably always had them.

      Rather I think it is a difference in sources of truth that is responsible for this societal change. Conservatives view of truth tends to be authority based(religious texts, tradition, rule of law). Progressives views tend to be subjective based(like anti-racism’s view that minorities have a greater inherent understanding of how society operates). The former can be more strident, but also more straightforward so you generally know what your up against. In the latter you are often finding yourself arguing against someone’s “lived experience” which can be too amorphous to find any common ground. So today’s progressives are often operating from point of view that people who disagree with them “just don’t get it”.

  20. The funniest thing about the comments is how they all in some way challenge the thesis in a very ironic way (except the correction about numbering)

    Every challenge tries to insert it’s own view upon one or more of the 25 presented and in doing so tramples at least 1 of the other 25 in order to defend it’s position.

    Thanks for sharing this

  21. I agree with RickA; but I also find it odd that so many commenters see this as a conflict between generations.

    There are historic changes noted by the OP, but while generational changes provides the grease, it doesn’t turn the wheel. There are larger cultural/ social/ even economic issues that are driving us in this general direction. These are of course very important to consider, especially since we all too often simply take them for granted.

    1. I definitely misinterpreted the piece when I first read it. One of the characteristics of our current zeitgeist might be routine generational hostility in online spaces. So I’ve become conditioned to seeing any writing about cultural change through that lens. That’s totally on me though and I hope I didn’t misinterpret Dan’s post in an egregiously hostile way.

      If you’re inclined to elaborate, I’m curious what cultural, social, and economic issues you (or Dan, if he sees this comment) think might be driving us in this direction. I have theories but I’m just a dumbass bartender/ retail worker/ seminary drop-out so can’t speak to their insightfulness.

  22. I get that A) You believe these things B) many people today don’t.

    As an ex-academic born in 1951, I would not agree that most of them, at least in my lifetime, were EVER cultural norms.

  23. Seth Edenbaum,
    In reply to
    [19] One should care more about one’s intimates than about total strangers.
    you said
    There’s big philosophical discussion of “Legitimate Parental Partiality”
    Universalism and reason lead to the awareness that it’s unfair to love your own children more than others….
    It may be a perverse argument…

    Yes, I agree, it is a perverse argument and I suspect that every parent will instinctively reject it as a bizarre argument.
    As a very simplified illustration of my point, take an ounce of pink vegetable dye and mix it in a litre of water. The result, a rich, satisfying colour of pink suffuses the water. Take the same ounce of vegetable dye and drop it in a large swimming pool and what result do you see? Almost none.

    Love diluted is no longer love because it loses the intimate bond of one person with another and it is this intimate, unique bond between two individuals which is the defining characteristic of love(in the sense of Dan’s usage of the word). Love has its origin in a uniquely defining experience between two people creating a lasting bond. When this intial creative bond is missing, love becomes highly sensitive to distance and as distance increases there comes a point where it is no longer a bond but merely an abstract idea. Abstract ideas, in this context, have greatly reduced motivating power.

    More generally, you should make an actual argument and not just wave in the direction of people who have made the argument. This is ineffective because most of us lack the energy and motivation to hunt down and study (cherry picked?)references from a stranger who is unwilling to make the effort to make the argument himself.

      1. You need to read more in the tradition of Oxbridge political and legal philosophy. Scholasticism breeds perversity.

        And what is your argument?
        What is its relevance to DanK’s essay?
        What is its relevance to my answering comment?

        1. Did you click the link? I’ll assume no.

          “To take a classic example, consider the person who derives satisfaction from a drink only if it is a pre-phylloxera claret. Such a person requires more money to derive the same satisfaction that a beer lover derives from her brew. Here is how Dworkin, Arneson, and I would differ in the treatment of such a person. Dworkin would not compensate the one who could derive satisfaction only from pre-phylloxera claret if she *identifies* with those tastes. Arneson would not compensate her if it had been *prudent* for her to learn to like beer: presumably, if she knew that she would not have the income to purchase the ancient claret, and if she had the opportunity to develop frugal tastes, then it would have been prudent for her to do so. I propose that the decision whether to compensate her depends on how the median person of her type behaved. Let us say that her type is “child of impoverished aristocrats.” If the “median preferences” of persons of that type are for pre-phylloxera claret, then she is entitled to compensation to increase her level of welfare to what the person of frugal tastes, who exercised a median degree of responsibility in other circumstances, can experience with his resources.”

          Compared to this formally rigorous absurdity, Derrida’s an annoying passive aggressive making otherwise obvious points.

  24. At the present time America seems to be the source of contagious ideas. In other eras it might have England, France, Russia or Germany. The interesting dialogue on this topic with Robert Gressis and Kevin Currie-Knight brought out the prevalence of this mimesis through the agency of cults and quasi-cult political groups. For myself I have been struck by the similarity of the present anarchic movements with those portrayed by Norman Cohn in his Pusuit of the Millenium. The sects of the flagellants marching through cities insisting that we repent or we will break your face and your windows. We are all doomed and dammed and there is no forgiveness. We must return to a state of nature without the horror of history and class war. Let tumult reign.

    As D.K. has been saying simple rules get washed out in this apres-moi. Respect, gratitude, concern, tolerance of principled opposition to your brilliant ideas are ignored as bourgeois sentimentality. So, I should write to my mother you idiot, is the standard response. I would say – it’s a start.

  25. Related to 2-5, I like to sometime rile up my colleagues and friends by saying the following: “The worst thing that could happen to a minority/oppressed group is to make their well-being depend on whether everyone approves of them.” I say this because it has become fashionable to demand for these folks and groups a sort of inclusion that mandates that everyone must not only tolerate, but embrace and accept and approve of them.

    But per what I think your point is, Dan – or at least what MY point is – that puts a vulnerable person or group’s well-being in an even more vulnerable spot by removing a great chunk of it from their locus of control. If you must like me for me to have a good day, then I have very little power over my life. It is only when I am empowered enough to not care what haters think (and distance myself from them, and find others to be around) that I begin to control my life.

    We are disempowering people by sending them the message that their well-being depends on everyone else approving of them.

    1. I generally agree with this. As I’ve become older I’ve been happy to care less and less about whether or not others approve of me. However, I’ve also become more and more comfortable admitting that I care what people think of me. I want people to know I’m a considerate and reliable person, that unless they’ve gone full neo-Nazi I’ll never cut anyone out of my life for their political views (even then, I’d fight like hell to pull anyone I knew away from neo-Nazi ideology rather than ice them out completely). I have a transgendered co-worker, I’ve gone out of my way to let them know they can depend on me to be a stable and supportive person. The other day because of a clip of Caitlin Jenner making the rounds, the issue of girls sports came up at work. I shrugged and said something to the effect of, “Eh, no matter how you cut it, it’s gonna suck for someone. But as a former boxing flyweight, I would’ve pissed my pants if asked to go toe-to-toe with a heavyweight. Physiological differences matter, life’s a bummer like that sometimes.” My co-worker simmered down and responded with, “That’s a good point.” Maybe that’s because my logic was top notch (sarcasm) but I suspect she accepted my statement because I’d already proven myself a reliable and compassionate person so she wasn’t on the defensive and actually heard what I said.

      I was never able to formulate my thoughts well enough to comment on Dan’s post about authority. I’m barely cohering my thoughts right now. But I think this issue of need for approval (bad) vs. desire for reputation (good) might be somehow adjacent to the confusion between power and authority.

      1. I think all of that is right. We all care to some extent what (certain) others think of us, and it would be unrealistic and probably pretty nasty to tell marginalized people that they just should give up caring what others think. My problem is that so many seem to go to that other equally extreme extreme: sending the message that the only way, say, trans people can freely exist is if we get the entire world to embrace them. Not only is that almost certainly not achievable outside of totalitarian means, but it sets those trans people up to become more vulnerable, because we hitch their feeling of freedom entirely outside their locus of control.

        I often think of it this way: the world I want is the one where people who don’t fit whatever mold are free to find communities where they are fully accepted and such communities are easy enough to find. But in this world, there will be no requirement that everyone embrace everyone else’s identities, and there wouldn’t need to be that requirement because people can easily find the places that affirm their senses of self. My motto is that if anything is mandatory, it should be tolerance not embrace or affirmation.

        1. kevinck:
          “the world I want is the one where people who don’t fit whatever mold are free to find communities where they are fully accepted and such communities are easy enough to find. But in this world, there will be no requirement that everyone embrace everyone else’s identities, and there wouldn’t need to be that requirement because people can easily find the places that affirm their senses of self.”

          Yes I completely agree with that.

          The freedom to define oneself seems to me as basic as freedom of expression, or freedom of beliefs. In fact I feel these things pretty much go hand in hand, or at least in an ideal world, they should.

          Freedom of expression/belief is valuable not only in itself but also in order for human beings to progress (or to stand any remote chance of progressing).

          Of course there *is* a flip side to that. In a society where everyone is free to believe whatever they choose and to express these beliefs, it’s absolutely essential that no idea, no belief or belief system is beyond scrutiny, questioning or criticism. Otherwise things become horribly lopsided and simply unworkable.

          Similarly, people should be free to define themselves absolutely however they choose, irrespective of what other people may happen to think. If I choose to self identify as an asexual Zeta Reticulan, that’s my choice (identifying as non human actually feels increasingly tempting these days ..)

          Of course, there should be absolutely *no* compulsion on anyone else to embrace my self-identity, any more than anyone should feel compelled to embrace whatever my beliefs might happen to be.

          In that (I guess fairly limited) sense I agree at least in part with where this essay/list appears to be coming from.

          It is true that traditional liberal values have been somewhat under siege, from various directions, over the last 20 plus years . I’m an atheist and Secular Progressive .. I don’t believe human beings have much chance of creating any sort of future worth living in unless it is secular (one in which theistic beliefs play zero part in public life) and progressive.

          But expressing these beliefs has become increasingly fraught with danger over the last few years .. you cannot criticise Islam without being accused of “Islamophobia” and will routinely get called “antisemnitic” simply for daring to question the policies of the State of Israel, for example.

          So, it is true that traditional liberal values are somewhat under threat, and this is a serious and worrying situation.

          However it doesn’t then follow, in my opinion, that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and embrace some weird kind of reactionary conservatism (implying that younger people are somehow “screwing things up”, etc) in response.

          1. Reading comprehension!

            This is what I actually wrote.

            “ The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up..”

            This describes a *balance* of considerations. It is in no way “reactionary,” at least not if you know what the word means.

            At this point, I am tired of having what I’ve written be repeatedly and deliberately misrepresented. Closing comments.

          2. It’s great that comments have re-opened.

            I wanted to point out in relation to the arguments about this post being reactionary that phllosopher Brian Leiter, a Marxist, links to this post approvingly.

            Now I suppose you can now claim that Marxism is a reactionary conservative doctrine, but that’s a bit weird since in
            just about all political theory Marxism is considered as one of the most radical proposals of social change around.
            I do believe that doing away with entire class structure and socializing the means of production is a bit more radical than
            changing the gender on one’s driver’s license and changing from adidas to high heels.

          3. s. wallerstein. Leiter self-identifying as a Marxist means nothing. He’s a proud elitist, critical of democracy and free speech.
            Or maybe you mean Marxist referring to a form of dictatorship, in which case you’d have a point, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

            DK. “prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up..”

            Again I’d refer you facts on the ground: to Rick Hasen, Republican politicians and insurrection on January 6th.
            I think the people you’re referring to are merely annoying by comparison. You may not agree but again I’m more interested in facts than attitudes.

          4. I’ve read Leiter’s blog every day for over ten years and he’s simply not against free speech.

            As for Marx being in favor in a dictatorship, that’s a complete misreading and places you back in the era of cold war propaganda. Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat is the government of the majority of the population, the proletariat, over the minority, the capitalists, while capitalism, whatever forms it claims it has, is the government of the minority, the capitalists over the majority, the proletariat. That is, a Marxist does not see formal political democracy (elections every 4 years) as democratic as long as the economy is governed undemocratically.

            Leiter, by the way, is a Marxist, not a Marxist-Leninist. I’m not a Marxist myself, but I will insist that Marxism is a radical posture and that Marxist are not reactionary conservatives.

          5. {In reply to s. wallerstein, for some reason the site isn’t allowing me to reply directly to your post}

            I’m not sure that’s really very logical.

            The term “Marxism” seems to have been stretched all over the place in recent years, but if you take it back to its core meaning, I would say that .. certainly from a progressive perspective .. being (or “self defining as”?) a Marxist is really pretty regressive.

            Regressive because it entails clinging to a view of the world which seems very outmoded and out dated and not particularly relevant to the 21st century.

            (Marx didn’t really anticipate *consumer* capitalism, which turned the so called working classes into consumers, people who very much had a stake in capitalism and therefore in its success).

            So it doesn’t seem all that surprising to me that someone who self defines as “Marxist”, whatever precisely they mean by that, might also be sympathetic to an idea or perspective which seems essentially quite reactionary, to be honest.

          6. As far as I can see, just about everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is reactionary, even those like Marxists who believe philosophies which at least used to be considered as as far from reactionary as you can go politically. Maybe we’ll have to add a 26th item to the list of the 25 things that everybody used to understand: that there are other progressive or liberal or leftwing ways of looking at the world beside your own.

          7. Daniel Kaufman:
            “ The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up..”

            Which is quite clearly implying that it’s young people who are threatening to “screw things up”, precisely as I said. I really can’t see any other way of interpreting that, to be honest.

            As for the term “reactionary”, I explained why I felt this list was reactionary and also posted a definition which I felt supported this view.

            Specifically, from wiki:

            [A reactionary is somehow who holds] “views that favour a return to a previous political state of society that they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent in contemporary society”

            Whether this is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing is, I guess, another question, but to me this definition sums up your list perfectly, both in terns of content and also context, especially if one reads the introduction to it.

          8. Sorry you don’t “see any other ways of interpreting it.” Virtually everyone else does, and given the way the conversation has gone — and given that I don’t know you — I have zero desire to explain it to you further.

          9. Daniel Kaufman:
            “ The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up..”

            Which is quite clearly implying that it’s young people who are threatening to “screw things up”, precisely as I said. I really can’t see any other way of interpreting that, to be honest.

            As for the term “reactionary”, I explained why I felt this list was reactionary and also posted a definition which I felt supported this view.

            Specifically, from wiki:

            [A reactionary is somehow who holds] “views that favour a return to a previous political state of society that they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent in contemporary society”

            Which to me sums up this list perfectly, both in terms of its content and also context, particularly if one reads the introduction to it.

          10. Speculate away! It doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing reactionary about the piece or about my views. Fortunately, few others seem to be as confused as you are.

        2. Johnathan Haidt has made similar points in examining social messages through the lens of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is the leading psychotherapy school and its core idea is that negative emotions are caused by irrational and incorrect beliefs and judgements people have about the world and themselves. People can improve their mood by subjecting their thoughts to objective, rational testing. This runs contrary to the message often given to minorities that their experience is all they need to process the world correctly and their feelings represent proof of the truth of their ideas and experiences around those feelings.

          1. “negative emotions are caused by irrational and incorrect beliefs”
            We want a Brave New World. Corporate Stalinism.
            He works for a business school. It’s irrational to be an unhappy cog.

            It’s perfectly rational. Blind functionalism is irrational. In philosophical terms it’s “anti-humanist”


            His fear of incorrect beliefs leads him to censor his academic critics

            He’s an open defender of race science.

            Nigerians do extremely well in this country.

            Varieties of moral panic among the elite.

          2. And life is pointless. As Leiter keeps reminding us, “The Truth is Terrible”, so negative emotions come from truth, at least for the religious.

  26. “What we think of as “progress” is and always has been a mixture of steps forward and steps backward. Some things get better and some things get worse.”

    Okay, this makes me think of something I’ve heard from technologist Kevin Kelly about why he is an optimist. He says that it is not because everything is getting better, but because over time, more things get better than get worse and the ratio of changes for the good to changes for the bad seems to tip in favor of the former. So, it is not like all things are better now than they were in the past. Rather, it is that enough things are better now to more than compensate for the things which have gotten worse.

    1. The point here, Kevin, was to reject the idea that everything new is an improvement, relative to its predecessor. As a *general* matter, each generation since WWII has had it better than the previous one, but certain new, individual trends have been a disaster. [Like ubiquitous, instantaneous communications, afforded to everyone from elementary school age and up.]

  27. I said earlier

    Greg Mayer wrote on Why Evolution Is True

    “He posted a piece yesterday entitled “Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand” in which he laments the loss of shared conventions of thought and behavior that allow for a tolerant, civil, and liberal society.”

    I thought that was a rather good summation.

    On further thought I would reword this slightly to read
    he laments the loss of shared conventions of thought and behavior that allow for a tolerant, civil, and liberal society, sustained by hardiness, resilience and realistic expectations.

  28. Hi Dan, this is an excellent beginning, maybe good enough to keep expanding dialectically. Do you know the last book of Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom? It contains 365 pages, one page of proverbs or wise sayings with a thematic link to study each day of the year, and many may be mystical but the general idea is to assemble the reminders that Wittgenstein liked to use, the truisms of Rawls, or other bits of philosophy that are mobile, powerful, and uplifting. Remember the “basic rules” of life found in Jordan Peterson books can get too pedantic and tiresome quickly, but professors must really profess or they will lose their social role to loud mouths. A Boomer Calendar of Wisdom could represent the generation knowledge of the boomers that is being displaced, trolled or otherwise negated by the post-millenials. The digital natives want to create their own forms of wisdom and “community” online, feel the anxiety of influence of their predecessors, and become contrarians by reflex and more thoughtless. Being online for most of the day makes you feel disembodied and it seems also to be addictive or habit forming or impacts on your natural existence by putting it into shadows and burying you in digital overload–it is unhealthy for all human relations to be submerged in a kind of twilight zone and disembodied moral confusion. Maybe it is also time to teach a course in Social Media Ethics and Politics, a new kind of introduction to philosophy as a critique or resistance to bad communication and arguing habits they pick up online, by watching YouTube and being subject to algorithms, or hanging out with the wrong kind of friends/bad company. Kai Nielsen reminds us: “There is no escaping perspectivism….Justification is time-dependent though truth is not. … We can only gain, wth luck and careful reasoning, warranted assertability for a particular time and place” (p 51 in Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will). Philosophy as a transformational genre has to change with the times, and every generation creates a different perspective to identify themselves as such, but relations among generations remains a matter of good arguing habits/virtue ethics applied to your everyday reasoning and this is lacking in the milennial upbringing, many have been cyber-parented rather than raised by careful human hands and direct love.

  29. Some thoughts in relation to this list:

    [2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.

    I would love to know what the author had in mind when typing this, but it would *appear* (certainly given the tone of the rest of the list) to be a swipe at transgender people. If it’s not, then I’d be very interested to know what was intended by it.

    Of course up to a point this statement is true. I cannot change my annoyingly bad memory (no matter how hard I try), or the fact I need to wear glasses, or am totally uncoordinated.

    But, gender can be changed, or re-assigned. I’ve personally witnessed this with a relative who was born “female” but who had otherwise always been male, in terms of how s/he related to themself and also was viewed by others. This person’s gender therapy enabled them to feel a lot happier in themselves and simply confirmed what the rest of us all already knew, that he was, quite obviously, male.

    [7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.

    This reads like almost the archetypical, definitive statement of reactionary conservatism: we worked hard to create the sort of society *we* wanted, what right do young people have to come along and “screw things up”?

    Many men who had fought for “universal” (male) franchise in the UK were surprisingly resistant to the Suffragette movement for this reason: they saw it as ‘taking things too far’ and risking the gains that they’d made, messing things up with ‘obviously’ silly ideas about women demanding the right to vote too.

    I would guess that there are probably many similar examples, throughout history.

    [8] Not discounting individual cases [ .. ] no one living in the US and born after the Second World War is less “safe” or experiencing greater hardship or deprivation than those belonging to the generations behind them.

    This really seems a very myopic (and classic, knee-jerk conservative) type of statement.

    There are many issues young people today have to contend with which our generation did not, or chose to ignore.
    For instance, I can very clearly remember reading about the science behind Global Warming and the evidence for it in the mid 1980s (in the Ecologist Magazine and New Scientist in the UK), but very little has been done since, in terms of actual practical measure, to do anything to avert the worst consequences of it.

    It may not be a case of “saving the World” .. the Earth will continue on quite happily without us, just as it did for 100s of millions of years before we arrived .. but the prospect for current and future generations is currently pretty bleak because of the consequences of it, at least in part because of our inaction.

    Similarly, the world is a lot less stable today than it was 25 or 30 years ago, not least as a consqeuence of US and UK foreign policy .. specifically, the 2003 Iraq invasion which created the perfect conditions for the waves of grotesque religious fascism we’ve seen since. There were a lot of people in the UK who opposed the 2003 invasion, but my recollection is that it had almost universal, mindless, jingoistic support across the political spectrum in the States, at the time.

    The point is, each generation creates the conditions into which subsequent generations are born and the challenges that they face .. so I think you have to be very careful about throwing metaphorical petrol bombs at younger people, in case they bounce right back at you.

    [17] Scores of millions of people, most of whom neither know nor live near one another cannot constitute a “community.”

    This assertion is really interesting, not least since it seems to reveal an awful lot about the writer’s understanding of the word “community” (not to mention, lack of experience or awareness of online communities, which he’s obviously attacking).

    Defining “community” to mean, those (relatively few) people with whom one happens to share a random geographic proximity seems to me to completely diminish the term.

    Online, it is possible to find communities (yes, communities) of people with whom one has much more in common than simple, trivial geographic location .. people with similar ideas or perspectives, common experiences, interests, aspirations, etc. Sharing these “virtually” .. on Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp, exchanging emails, etc .. does not make these connections any less real, valid or meaningful.

    To object to the use of the term “community” in relation to this seems unbelievably reactionary and myopic.

    [18] On most occasions, in most circumstances, manners matter more than morals.

    I’d love to see come clarification of this, because on the face of it it seems an utterly bizarre assertion. How exactly are manners more important than morals? In what sense?

    There are plenty of examples of very well mannered and polite serial killers, or of members of .. for example .. the NSDAP (Nazi Party) who to others seemed very polite and well mannered, while pushing a political philosophy which was anything but “moral”.

    [20] Politics should matter less to you than your family and friends.

    Another statement I would really love to see clarified.

    Politics is not some separate thing from “family” or from “family life” .. it touches on everything, in a myriad of ways.
    Politics is personal and always has been. Whether it’s how much taxation you (or if applicable your family) are paying, what rights exist to marry whom you choose, how accessible or affordable education or other services are, the list is endless.

    So why set up this completely false dichotomy? For what purpose or to make what point?

    [23] and [24]

    You seem to be muddling up or confusing two very distinct aspects of “art”.

    Of course it’s true that, on the one hand, a tv show or painting has intrinsically the same ‘value’ (however that’s judged) in itself, irrespective of whether the artists or actors turn out to be abusers or fraudsters or closet neo nazis, or whatever.

    So in that sense, art is art.

    What you’re missing though is that all art also has a social and cultural context (which incidentally, will change over time).

    So, if you want to watch Bill Cosby shows and actually enjoy doing so, for whatever obscure reason, at home or with friends, that’s obviously entirely up to you.

    But it seems entirely appropriate to me that these shows should not be *promoted*, whether by tv stations or whomever, not least while the potential victims of serial abusers such as Bill Cosby .. or indeed others .. are still very much alive.

    Art is art, but all art has a social/cultural context, as inconvenient as that may be.

    [3] How you are characterized, spoken about, and identified by others is not generally up to you.

    So, if the perception of the people with whom I’ve shared this article is (overwhelmingly) that the writer is writing from the perspective of a reactionary conservative, that .. to all intents and purposes .. makes the writer a reactionary conservative, irrespective of how she or he may actually choose to identify themself?

    1. Sorry you didn’t like the list.

      Also, you can characterize me however you like. Most people who know me and my work, however, know that I am pretty solidly liberal.

      1. Can someone be a “reactionary conservative”? I learned many years ago that a reactionary is someone who wants to turn back the clock, while a conservative wants to defend the status quo. So it’s hard to be both at the same time.

        “Liberal” has many meanings. Dan K. is certainly a philosophical liberal in the tradition of Mill, but that seems to make him a conservative in relation to many current social trends. He’s a not a liberal in the sense that the word is generally used in U.S journalism to refer to, say, AOC.

        1. A reactionary is someone who opposes (or reacts against) change; or who, at least according to wiki, holds “views that favour a return to a previous political state of society that they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent in contemporary society”. Which pretty much perfectly sums up the main theme of the essay (or list) we’re discussing, I feel.

          Whether conservatism would imply clinging to the status quo would entirely depend on what the status quo actually *was*, I’d suggest .. if the status quo is perceived as challenging or contradicting so-called “traditional” values, then conservatives are very unlikely to want to have very much to do with it.

          So being a reactionary and conservative are certainly not mutually exclusive and can very easily dovetail, in fact (in my opinion) frequently often do.

          1. Whether or not the two terms can be used together, political terminology is relative to a certain socio-political situation. Dan K. can defend himself and does, but relative to U.S. politics, Dan K. is not what I would call
            “a reactionary-conservative”. He’s a moderate, voted for Biden, identifies as a Democrat, supports abortion rights and gay marriage, is in favor of a social safety net, is an atheist, etc.

            If Dan K. is a reactionary conservative, what would you call your typical Republican politician?

            We need to have a certain sense of proportion when we label people politically.

          2. Futurism an an ideology has long-standing connections to fascism.
            We now again have technofascists.
            Fascism is reactionary, yes?

          1. From my perspective you’re a conservative. Martin Luther King once wrote that he’d become gravely disappointed with the white moderate. In King’s perspective, they weren’t actually all that moderate. This is why I argue facts and not ideas. Ideas on their own don’t amount to much.

          2. If science advances one funeral at a time, so does everything else. And who’s to say whose funeral it is? It might be mine.

    2. —[2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.

      I would love to know what the author had in mind when typing this, but it would *appear* (certainly given the tone of the rest of the list) to be a swipe at transgender people—

      It would appear to be a swipe at self-identification…
      But that would mean “identifying” as a woman, a man, a liberal, a leftist, an anti-racist, an intellectual, or a nice guy, regardless of what others may think.

      “Of course I’m a feminist!!. Honey get me a beer!”
      “Some of my best friends are Jews”

      1. I mean, it should be obvious that self-identification can only go so far. We are living several years removed from the “Rachel Dolezol incident” and several other spectacular cases of people passing as a different ethnic identity than the one they were “born with.”

        And at very least, there is a disjunct between areas we think capable of self-definition (gender) and areas where we generally don’t (race). For my part, I think Rebeca Tuvel’s (and Adolph Reed’s) arguments have merit, that if gender is a malleable construct, then so is race. But few people REALLY believe that we can self-define our way into most things. Ben Shapiro can identify as a progressive, and no one will believe him. Rachel Dolezol can self-identify as black (and Kmele Foster as not black) and no one will believe them. People can self-identify as ages 2 years younger than the time they’ve been alive – yes, this has happened – and no one will believe them.

        So, yes, obviously this needn’t be read as a shot only against transgender people. We are culturally grappling (as we probably have been throughout the modern age) with the possibilities AND LIMITS of self-identification.

        1. There used to be a phrase with wide currency: “going native.” Anyone who isn’t familiar with the phrase could find a nice, brief discussion of it here ( You *could* look at these things as early examples of transracialism, or at least something near enough. I’d be curious in reading how so-called “white Indians” were viewed by white people of the 17th and 18th centuries.

    3. One of the problems with these “obvious” positions though is that when you really start to question them they turn out to be far more complicated than we have been told, and part of the current zeitgeist is simply that those kind of questions should not be asked. Let me take your first two points as examples.

      You start off by listing three things you can’t change, but I would ask do you mean they are unchangeable, they can’t be changed within our current limits, or you yourself can’t change them? Why can’t they be changed either? Because they are biological? Because they are inherent? All three I find rather dubious though. All are rooted in the functioning of biological systems whose structure and function can be theoretically changed, and yes even changed through force of will. Jerry Lucas the NBA center pioneered memory improvement. He used to memorize phone books.

      Then you say gender does not fit into that category and use your relative as an example. You say she was born a female,in quotations, had gender re-assignment surgery, and now is what he always was, a male. Your words lead to a contradiction though. What was it that established your relatives gender identity, the surgery or the internal self-identity? If it is the latter than your relative was a male before and a male after. There actually was no change of gender only a cosmetic change to make the exterior match the interior. If it is the former, well you are saying that it was the surgery that changed their gender, and by that logic if I who was born male and identify as male had. The surgery that would automatically make me a woman even though I have no inclination towards that identity?

      On your second point, the whole issue can be completely recontextualized though. Throughout the second half of the 20th century there were two movement that attempted to alter the status quo in racial and cultural matters. People worked for equality under the law and economic opportunity for minorities. People also worked to get various forms of entertainment freed from censhioshipnamd restrictions. It was fought over decades often against the government itself.

      Today however a common refrain is that we live in the most white supremacist society ever and one of the remedies is to purge anything offensive from the culture. So again because of that logic you are saying all those people marching in the streets didn’t accomplish a damn thing and all those people fighting censorship were working on behalf of bigotry and racism. I believe Daniel’s point was that hard fought gains of the past should not be overturned because young people don’t understand why they were necessary.

    4. So, if the perception of the people with whom I’ve shared this article is (overwhelmingly) that the writer is writing from the perspective of a reactionary conservative, that .. to all intents and purposes .. makes the writer a reactionary conservative, irrespective of how she or he may actually choose to identify themself?

      Regular readers of DanK’s blog have, over a substantial period of time, formed an accurate perception of the man and his writing and your perception is far off the mark. You should recalibrate your perceptions. He can fairly be described as rational, reasonable, balanced and insightful. These are not the polemical political labels that tribesmen use to denote their tribal identity, as you evidently do. They are instead the attributes of a first class intellect that has risen above the pitiful, petty fog of politically correct tribalism.

      1. Actually I wasn’t in any sense using tribal or polemical labels, I explained why I felt the essay (list) was reactionary .. almost by definition .. and why it seems to me to be written from a very conservative perspective.

        If you disagree with this then fine, you’re free to say *why* or to ask me to clarify any of the comments that I made.

        I had no idea (and actually find it quite surprising) that the author is considered a “liberal” in the very bipolar and two tribes political culture of the States, but that fact makes very little difference to my opinion of the essay itself.

        In fact if anything it reinforces the last point I was making.

        If we are largely defined by how other people view us, or by how other people characterise, define or speak about us (item [3] in the list), or if who or what we are is for the most part not self-determined (item [1]), then what does it matter if the author chooses to self identify as “liberal” (or conservative, or Marxist, or Green, or anything else)? Particularly if it’s possible that others could perceive them in a completely different way.

        Or are political beliefs and identity somehow considered exempt from this lack of self definition and lack of self determination ‘rule’? If so, why exactly?

    5. “I would love to know what the author had in mind when typing this, but it would *appear* (certainly given the tone of the rest of the list) to be a swipe at transgender people.”

      Nah. But don’t let me interfere with your “speculations.” I’ve written on the subject of “self-madeness” on a number of occasions, here, and those who are truly interested in what I think on these subjects can easily find out.

      “So, if you want to watch Bill Cosby shows and actually enjoy doing so, for whatever obscure reason”

      Well, the piece specifically mentions his standup of the 1960’s and 70’s, which by large consensus is some of the finest of the genre. And of course, there is the point made in #23, so there is nothing “obscure” about the reason.

      Throughout, you question my “understanding” of various things and insinuate all manner of bad motives on my part. That’s fine, as I could care less what you think of me or my work, given that I don’t know you and have no reason to think that it is especially important that you be satisfied. I am quite happy with the far larger number of people who have appreciated and even agreed with much of the piece. It’s been read almost 7,000 times in just a few days!

      1. Actually I wasn’t simply “speculating”. If you re-read what I wrote you’ll see I actually asked for clarification (several times) because I was curious about where the writer was coming from and what exactly they meant, in relation to various parts of the list.

        I was curious about the assertion that politics are less important than family (what the context for this was and why this distinction was even being made), what was meant by manners mattering more than morals and what the writer’s understanding of “community” actually was, amongst other things.

        I assumed they’d posted the list to spark some sort of actual *discussion*, but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do so or could(?) care less then that’s absolutely fine, you’re perfectly free not to bother.

        1. Normally, if one really wants it, one asks for clarification *before* telling people they are “myopic” and “reactionary” and that they lack understanding of basic things, are motivated by animus towards trans people or worse [the Cosby insinuation — my “obscure” reasons — was my favorite], etc.

          So, sorry, no, not playing. If you really did want clarification as to a person’s views, all that I can tell you is that this is not how you go about getting it.

          1. I explained (very clearly I feel) why I used the term “reactionary” in relation to your list. I also offered a definition to support my impression, that your list is essentially a very reactionary one. Whether .. or in what sense .. this actually *matters* is I guess an entirely separate question. Maybe some times human beings need to go backwards in order to go forwards (maybe).

            While I didn’t elaborate on the term “myopic”, I would have thought the context would have made my reasons for using it pretty clear too, but I’m sorry if that wasn’t the case.

            Similarly, I didn’t just say, “You don’t understand online communities”, I *explained* why I felt that .. why I felt you lacked understanding (or possibly were simply blind to) the sort of connections people are able to make online and of the potential significance of these .. i.e. of the sort of communities which undoubtedly do exist online.

            And as for “for whatever obscure reason”, I’m not sure if this phrase has a different meaning or connotation in the States, but it absolutely wasn’t intended to imply you had some sort of dark or sinister motives for watching the Cosby Show. It simply meant, this isn’t something (watching the Cosby Show) which I would personally choose to do, because I don’t personally find it funny or entertaining in any way. As in, “if you like eating jam and pickles, for whatever obscure reason, then fine, go ahead, but I personally wouldn’t”.

    6. A few thoughts on the intriguing dialogue between Paul Best and others about whether this list is a list of reactionary conservatism.

      I’ve been a regular contributor on Electric Agora for some months now, and in some sense, I certainly would depict Dan as a conservative but with important caveats. I think he is a liberal with conservative orientation a la Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott (not bad company to be in). The idea here is that society is a delicate organism that is always at some uneasy but hard won equilibrium. The concern, then, is that changing the features that hold that equilibrium in place (in quest to improve things) often risk throwing things into more disequilibrium. Both Burke and Oakeshott – in the way I suspect Dan would, but he’ll let me know if I’m wrong – prefer (in Oaheshott’s words) the tried to the untried not from a knee-jerk reactionary impulse, but because we know the tried and there is a lot at risk if we change too much of the current situation too quickly. Do not let the perfect and our quest for relentless improvement be the enemy of the possible or undo what was working. (Along similar lines, Dan also seems to have in common with Burke and Oakeshott a humility about what reason can do – one that I also share; just because it seems reasonable in the abstract doesn’t mean that it will improve things in practice.)

      Does that make him (and his list) a reactionary conservative (one)? By Paul Best’s cited definition, yes. But not in a way that I think is unintelligent, visceral, unthinking, or without justification. Take 7 on the list:

      “[7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.”

      Dan and I almost certainly disagree on this one, along the predictable lines that anyone who’s seen our past interactions could predict. But I think I see where Dan is coming from here, and it isn’t simply an unchecked preference for the status quo. If I had to guess, Dan might say that where youth has imagination and optimism, (a) adults have this significantly undervalued thing called experience and wisdom, (b) what exists now has the benefit of having been tried such that its effects and possibilities are more known than unknown (while change has the drawback of existing only in the theory in the minds of unexperienced youth), and (c) at very least, the young should start where they never seem to: by asking seriously WHY things are the way they are, figuring out what about the current situation works (and for whom), and starting FROM THERE rather than just wanting to take dynamite to any status quo at the thought that things could be better.

    7. “[2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.”
      “[3] How you are characterized, spoken about, and identified by others is not generally up to you.”

      There has been a lot of speculation on 2, and its subsequent. Here are my thoughts, for what they are woth.

      No, Paul, I don’t see this as obviously a swipe at transgender people, though I see why others could read it that way.

      I see this – as Dan has clarified – as a ‘swipe’ – at our newfound obsession with self-definition in all matters. Here is another area where Dan and I disagree, actually, because I tend to think that all things equal, more self-definition means more ability for individuals to customize themselves toward lives that they want.


      That MUST be weighed against a few things, things that I see [2] rightly hinting at.

      First, we must grapple with the sociological fact (or at least consistent finding) that the more our identity categories are up to us, the more confused, befuddled, stressed, and prone to fervent clinging people seem to get. The Nietzschean/postmodern idea that we’d all find liberation in self-creation just doesn’t seem to be going the way things were predicted. There may be something about humans that either can’t handle such unbounded choice that well, or that really in some sense function better when they are constrained (at least to a certain level). (For the record, I don’t think I fit that categorization, but when I look around, I suspect I am an outlier.)

      Second – this is the one I suspect Dan has most in mind – identity is ALWAYS a negotiation between oneself and the world around one. And at least the way I see it, it will always miss something to put the primacy of one side of this coin above the other side. The irony of the trans story is that it seems to illustrate the point REALLY well, even though a lot of folks refuse to see it. That is, if everyone recognizes me as a boy but I feel like I am a girl, the best way, it seems, to resolve this identity issue is not only to declare to everyone that I am a girl, but do what I can to present as a girl, make others believe that I am a girl, etc. It was not enough – and probably could not be enough – for Elliot Page to declare that he is a man, but he seems to feel better about his identity by in some sense becoming a man in presentation. Why? Because it is a lot harder to believe yourself a man (without pain and discord) in a world that sees you as woman. Why? Because what others think of you has a lot of bearing – whether you like it or not – on how you see yourself.

      Lastly, as I’ve argued in another comment above, it is simply a badly unrealistic expectation that everyone should think of you the way you think of yourself. Even if Page knows he is a man and lives entirely as a man, he can’t possibly make his wellbeing dependent on everyone else believing he is a man. Why? Well, he can’t control their beliefs, and even if he could, it would probably be more effort and cause more distress than it’s worth. It is probably better to accept that, while he will do everything he can to live as a man, there will always be some who think of him as the Ellen Page from Juno but acting like a man. While that will be regrettable to him (as it is to me), he will never be able to control their thoughts and it is probably best to accept this at least to some degree.

      1. I would say there are two significant constraints on self-identification/self-madeness: (1) Other people; (2) Nature. And we are discovering more and more just how potent (2) is.

        1. “Nature” is surely a constraint. But I have a bit of trouble with fleshing out what that means for two reasons:

          First, appeals to human nature as a constraint are affected always by the historical understandings of the time and frankly, those turn out to be more revealing of existing cultural attitudes than “discoveries” about nature. People argued against the abolition of slavery by appealing to nature (the nature of the slaves) as a constraint. We argued against allowing homosexuality by appealing to the alleged fact of nature that heterosexuality is the only “natural” one. Etc. Not saying that because we were wrong then, we should throw away appeals to nature. Just saying that we should always be mindful that, as with the past, our present appeals to nature will often turn out to be affected by existing cultural biases.

          Secondly, per systems biology, I distrust the idea (profoundly) that we can ever disentangle nature and culture in any thorough way. We can surely say that x is a cross-cultural trait and thus it appears natural. But we shouldn’t say any more than that. We can’t abstract humans away from culture and environment enough to know what “lies underneath” when the latter are stripped away.

          1. Ha. Completely understand.

            It may be helpful though to understand what you mean by “And we are discovering more and more just how potent (2) [nature] is [as a constraint on identity].”

            There are certainly things you can mean where you’d get no argument from me. I can not self-identify my way to 6’2″, or having a different genetic inheritance than I do. If you have in mind something like ‘nature’ as a barrier to gender identity, I am not sure I’d agree there. First, one thing the trans experience should be teaching us is that nature is a lot trickier and maybe messier than we once thought. (Sex and gender need not align in ways we once thought, so appealing to our present knowledge of nature shouldn’t give us much confidence.) Second – and maybe this is just a lesson I’m taking – the trans experience (in the face of increased medical possibilities) should be showing us that a LOT of stuff we assumed was natural and hence non-contingent is actually quite malleable. I think nature is probably more up for grabs than we once thought.

          2. Kevin, the point of invoking nature is simply part of the larger point that the current zeitgeist resents and rejects any notion of givenness; any idea that who and what one is, is not entirely under one’s own control. It involves the resentment and rejection of constraints both natural and sociocultural.

            I wrote about this at some length here.


          3. A lot of ideas generally get confused in discussion of nature.

            I take human nature to be those qualities which are found in human beings in all cultures. I believe that we have a more accurate idea of that than we did back in the days of slavery in the U.S. or even 50 years ago when homosexuality was considered “unnatural”. We have a more accurate idea because anthropologists and social psychologists have more access to date about other cultures than they did previously. Sure, they make mistakes and are influenced by their own cultural biases, but I assume that they know more about human nature than they did in 1861,

            As far as I can see, there is nothing “unnatural” about slavery. Human beings have practiced slavery for most of their history and still do in some cultures. People oppress and exploit other people: that seems part of human nature, which doesn’t mean that it’s good or morally acceptable.

            We pick up on constants in human nature by reading the literature of the past too. If we can understand Odysseus, it’s because we share certain traits of human nature with him, in spite of the cultural differences. We can understand his attitude towards slaves (or at least I can) and we can understand him slaughtering all the suitors of his wife and the slave girls with whom they have been sleeping. There’s nothing unnatural about the behavior of Odysseus or Achilles
            (for me at least), although in our culture we have other codes and I follow the codes of our culture.

          4. I’m foolish enough to go where Dan doesn’t want to go.

            Kevin, if we should be suspicious of arguments based on nature, shouldn’t we be equally suspicious of the “trans experience”?

          5. After Virtue is a critique of modern liberalism liberal universalism etc. It’s written by an ex Analytical Marxist who converted to Catholicism. Analytical Marxism was itself a form of academic liberalism, predicated on formalism “problem-solving”, and self-identification.

            DK: “They’re passionate about fighting what they *perceive* to be injustice, with the minimal knowledge and perspective they have.”

            Lindsey Graham in 2012 “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

            Republican voter restrictions are real. Racist policy is a fact. But still the best response the the new moralizing is the one I quoted above, written by a black sociologist.
            “Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism.”

            He’s not saying there’s no foundation to the anger but that it’s ignoring class. The moralism is bourgeois, the radicalism is false, but that doesn’t change facts.

          6. “Kevin, if we should be suspicious of arguments based on nature, shouldn’t we be equally suspicious of the “trans experience”?”

            I’m not sure I understand the question. Surely, the reasons I gave for being suspicious of appeals to “natural” constraints are not applicable to “the trans experience.” I am guessing that what you’re getting at is whether we should – for similar reasons to those I gave – be suspicious of the idea that being trans can be a ‘natural’ phenomenon. My short answer is yes, but the long answer requires more caveats.

            First, I do not think that humans are ‘naturally’ anything by way of behavior and sense of self. Biology – which I don’t deny – is ALWAYS in dialectic with environment and culture, and especially in the realm of behavior and introspection, biological norms of reaction are always affected critically by those two.

            Second, and maybe more controversially, no one has a sense of self purely by nature. Our senses of self and what is going on inside us is always hermeneutic, dependent on the social narratives and sets of vocabularies we have swirling around us and have internalized. Whether one is touched by god, morally defective, or schizophrenic depends on when you live and the vocabularies those making the judgment are using. Asking what you ‘really are’ is like asking what Camus’s The Stranger rmeans sans anyone interpreting it.

            Lastly, this touches none of the concerns I expressed above about appeals to nature as a constraint. It isn’t that I don’t think nature can ultimately constrain, but that since our sense of nature at any given time is always infused by cultural assumptions, and since so many appeals turned out to be entirely more normative (and wrong) than we thought at the time, I can’t see appealing to nature as a constraint as all that convincing. That is an entirely different concern than whether trans people can justly claim that they are ‘naturally’ trans.

      2. I read two as a swipe against those people who still want to believe, generally, that humans are tabula rasa, and specifically that evolutionary biology is synonymous with eugenics and white supremacy.

  30. Challenging aphorisms, the spirit of which, I think, are rooted in Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty. No one has the final solution although of course that does not mean that anything goes. Anyway, I need time to imagine a variety of different contexts in which each might be tested out, case by case. That will keep me busy for a bit! Thanks, Dan

  31. Kevin,
    in some sense, I certainly would depict Dan as a conservative but with important caveats.

    I think this whole tendency towards labelling people and judging people through the prism of their labels is a malignant manifestation.

    Now it is certainly true that many people(perhaps most) adopt labels and then tailor their lives, thinking and judgements according to these labels. The result is biased, prejudiced thinking that is nothing more than an exercise in confirmation bias. It is intellectual dishonesty.

    The human condition is complex and resists simple, bipolar categorization. Truths are elusive, context dependent and nuanced. Given this, one should start from a ground zero position of intellectual humility that discards the labels of either assumed or imposed identity.

    Then one proceeds by informing oneself and carefully considering the many perspectives at play. It is called multiple perspective taking and deliberately discards preconceived judgements. One follows the evidential trails revealed by reasoning and observation. Finally there is a summation and concluding phase that strives for fairness and balanced reasoning. The resulting conclusion may be labelled as conservative or liberal but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it is an honest striving for a truthful, insightful understanding of some aspect of the human condition.

    This is what I see DanK doing. He looks for truthful insights regardless of the label that the prejudiced may throw at him. Thus he stands above the categories of liberal or conservative, looking only for truthful insights. As this unfortunate conversation has shown, this takes courage.

    1. “The human condition is complex and resists simple, bipolar categorization. Truths are elusive, context dependent and nuanced. Given this, one should start from a ground zero position of intellectual humility that discards the labels of either assumed or imposed identity.”

      Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean categorizations can’t be useful. Here, I think what Paul Best – and maybe I – was saying is NOT that since Dan is some sort of conservative, that whatever he writes will follow some docrinaire conservative line of thought. It is to say that the list might betray a sort of conservative tendency (in what i wrote, a la Burke or Oakeshott), and that knowing that MIGHT help give some context to where Dan is coming from.

      And labels can still be valuable in a world where the human condition resists bipolar categorization. Lil Nas X’s music is idiosyncratic, but it still helps to put it under a hip hop tag for various practical purposes. I am not exactly (and ultimately, there is no such thing as exactly) 5’11, but that categorization may become useful at certain times. There is no such thing as a pure racial type, but there are (arguably) important uses for racial categorizations.

      That someone can misuse labels in the way your second paragraph spells out doesn’t mean we should stop labeling. It means we should be mindful of how to use labels better and more judiciously.

  32. A lot of soapboxes have been wheeled out, suitably equipped with pejorative megaphones, which is all very entertaining, even if hopelessly irrelevant. Which raises the question, is there anyone left who actually wants to thoughtfully critique/evaluate/respond to DanK’s essay before we succumb to the soapbox megaphones?

    1. Exactly. A mixture of veiled — and not-so veiled — accusation; transparent pretenses at “curiosity”; general, progressive and woke talking points, most of which have nothing to do with the piece; bizarre rants on Israel that have even less than nothing to do with the piece; etc.

      I actually find it kind of amusing, which is why I keep posting them. Sometimes, it’s best not to get in the way of people making asses of themselves.

      But, you are right, I should probably close comments, if nothing interesting comes through in the next few hours. All the productive things have likely already been said.

      1. I have thoughts/ vague disagreements with some of the points. But the more time I spend on this forum the more I realize just how undisciplined I am as a thinker. So I’m slow at cobbling those thoughts together into anything coherent enough to feel unembarrassed to share. Also work gets in the way of sitting down long enough to refine those thoughts. Maybe in a month I’ll have something actually worth sharing. Totally get closing the comments though. Some of these are…a bit much. I’ve enjoyed reading through a lot of it though!

    1. Right on! Work was slow last night so I managed to scribble down a couple specific objections. Hoping these aren’t a waste of anyone’s time! And please, if I’m misinterpreting or over-thinking anything or just egregiously wrong let me know!

      “[7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.”

      God help me, I’m going to sound like I’m invoking Godwin’s Law but… A while back I dated a girl whose grandfather was an unapologetic SS officer. She changed her last name, cut him entirely out of her life, and move to the States to get away from him. She did all of this, in part, as a deliberate punishment against him. He very much wanted a relationship with her but she iced him out completely because she felt that the price he should pay for his vile history and unapologetic attitude towards it was that he wouldn’t get to have a a grand-daughter (his only grand-child). Being half-Romani and just generally anti-Nazi (obviously, hopefully), I certainly don’t disagree with her decision. But she also made the point, as we grew closer, that what he did wasn’t just bad in social terms but in deeply personal, familial terms. She felt she had been denied a grandfather she could be proud of or admire. When she saw his picture all she could summon were feelings of shame and, perhaps more cutting, betrayal. I’m very fortunate with the elders in my life – most of whom struggled, intensely, to build a life here in the States. But what of those whose elders were not good or admirable people? Who tried to create a world that saw the suffering of others as a good thing? Obviously not all examples are quite as clearly and obviously bad as Nazi grandfather, but surely the right of prior generations to not have the world they created screwed up isn’t always a match to the desires of younger people? Maybe sometimes having the world they made routinely denounced is part of a price they pay for ignobility? But I can also see how that would go sideways real quick and is probably more prevalent in today’s zeitgeist than your statement, so I’m not gonna lean into that too much though. But this was enough of a bugbear to bring up in response to number 7.

      [8] Not discounting individual cases which may vary widely, as a general matter, no one living in the US and born after the Second World War is less “safe” or experiencing greater hardship or deprivation than those belonging to the generations behind them.

      In material terms I would agree wholeheartedly with this. But one thing my friends and I (most of us occupy the liminal space between Gen X and Millennial) is our relief that we graduated high school before social media became a thing. It really feels like an Indiana Jones situation where we got out and grabbed our hat right before the stone door slammed shut. Same too goes for helicopter parents, tiger moms, etc… We got a childhood and teenage years largely unsupervised. But I looking back, I see things that heralded our current age. One friend whose dad told her she’d be nothing if she didn’t go to college. Now she’s among those on social media unhinged with anxiety and concern about being thousands of dollars in debt. (Fortunately my dad tried to talk me out of university: “You like getting high and cooking. Why not study cooking at the community college?”) Matt Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft has a pretty good indictment of the anti-blue collar “work smart, not hard” mentality that I think gave rise to our current professional class. Today I work as a bar-tender, cook, and sometimes in retail and construction/landscaping. I’m not shopping too often or going on fancy vacations. That gets me pity from some folks but I love it because I never take my work home. When I clock out my time is my time. I don’t think that can be said for many of the more anxiety-ridden people driving our current “discourse” and – more important to my specific objection – the chief culprit is the feeling of imprisonment within a social media/ meritocratic panopticon. I don’t know if a materially comfortable life within that panopticon is worth the trade-off, if it really is less hard. As another aside, when I was a kid I could always run away from or fight bullies. Now the bullies follow kids into their home through their computers and phones. Maybe I’m too much of a tech-skeptic? Though this dove-tails nicely with number 9. So maybe I’m not objecting as much as I initially thought.

  33. [7] The right of young people to create the world they want to live in is matched by the right of prior generations not to have the world they went to great effort to create [often at great cost] screwed up.

    Let me start by stating the obvious. Society is not homogenous. It contains a huge variety of groups and these groups generally have differing interests. These interests compete and can be difficult to accomodate to everyone’s satisfaction. Democracy represents our best effort to resolve competing interests in a way that benefits society as a whole without imposing undue burdens on minority interests.

    One of these groups with competing interests are young people and they have no more right to impose their interests on society than does any other group. They do have the right to advocate for change and they do have the right to work for change. Working for change does not mean imposing your viewpoint on others. It is generally an arduous process of doing the groundwork, winning credibility, creating cogent and compelling arguments, creating coalitions and winning the support of competing groups. It means understanding and respecting the interests of competing groups. And finally, the very and most essential nature of democracy means accepting that one set of interests cannot dominate all other interests to the exclusion of what is vital to them. In other words, winning means finding a compromise that most people can live with.

    Now the world that has been created is one that has emerged from this process. It is not the best world, because such a thing is not possible. It is mostly an adequate world that functions as well as we have been able to make it do so. However things change and there is an ongoing need for adaptation to change.

    Young people are one of the groups supplying an impetus for change and that is a good thing. However their short time horizon makes them impatient and this results in misjudgements. Their lack of experience compounds these misjudgements. In their own eyes they are the golden group with the answer to all the world’s ills. But they get older, and as they get older they grow in competence, they discover other points of view and they discover their own mistakes. In other words, they start to learn wisdom. Which is a good thing because then they are prepared to take on the awesome responsibility of running a complex world of competing interests in a way that benefits all.

    Sadly some people never grow up. They become the radical loudmouths that do nothing useful except annoy the hell out of everyone else.

  34. [2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.

    Here I must politely disagree, though this very much depends on what DanK means by who and what you are. I suspect that he means defining attributes that go to the heart of the nature of the person. But what are the attributes that define the essential nature of the person and are they open to change? Are they open to further development.

    We have mutable attributes and we have immutable attributes. My immutable attributes are things like my intelligence, my native language, parentage, height, build, skin, hair and eye colours. Unlike some, I also count my genitals as belonging to this group. Do these immutable attributes define the essential nature of the kind of person I am? I don’t think so though celebrity obsessed people assign great weight to these attributes.

    Then we have mutable attributes. These tend not to be physical attributes but rather attributes of the mind and character. Here we have far more control though sometimes not as much as we would like. I can increase my knowledge and skills. I can gain new skills. I can learn to act with greater courage, compassion and perseverance. I can assume new roles, take on greater responsibility and make greater contributions to society as a result.

    Now it happens that these mutable attributes are far more defining of the essential kind of person that I am. After my death no-one will remember me for my immutable attributes. It is far more likely that they will remember me for my mutable attributes, for the quality of my character and the nature of my contributions to society.

    I accept that these mutable attributes are shaped or limited by the larger context or framework that we inhabit. But within that context we still have considerable power of self-definition.

  35. [19] One should care more about one’s intimates than about total strangers.

    This is unquestionably true but to understand why we need to look at the nature of caring and how it changes as emotional distance changes.

    The intensity of caring is inversely proportional to emotional distance, just as light intensity is inversely proportional to physical distance. We are like radiant street lamps, lighting things up clearly that are close to us, but barely touching things in the distance. This is emotional radiance and when that emotional radiance is shared with a nearby source of emotional radiance, the result is mutual caring. The strength of that mutual caring is inversely proportional to the emotional distance.

    And so we inevitably care more about intimates than we do about total strangers. They lie outside the ambit of our emotional radiance and we lie outside the ambit of their emotional radiance. This shared emotional radiance is responsible for the mutual caring and bonding.

    But does this mean we stop caring entirely about the people outside our circle of intimates, who are not bathed in our emotional radiance? No, but the nature of our caring changes. In his earlier essay Dank addressed this issue in “On Our Use of the Moral Idiom“. He asked

    What does the moral language add that is missing from the language of emotion and sensibility?

    My reply is that moral language is the substitute for “the language of emotion and sensibility” when dealing with people outside the ambit of our emotional radiance. This is a more difficult thing to do and it is not as innately natural to us as is “the language of emotion and sensibility“. It is something that must be inculcated by culture, training and moral priming, such as religion.

    But even so, moral training and priming only extends our moral sensibility to include members of our extended group. People outside our extended group we tend to treat like moral outlaws and that is not a good thing. And this is where the law steps in. The rule of law extends our moral concern/interaction to include people outside our extended group. Regrettably that seldom extends beyond national boundaries.

    Thus in summary, our moral behaviour is bounded by three circles:

    1) an inner circle where our emotions regulate our moral interactions, DanK’s language of emotion and sensibility.

    2) a middle circle where we cognitively apply learned moral values, reinforced by moral priming.

    3) an outer circle regulated by the rule of law.

    Beyond this outer circle lie the moral badlands regulated by tribal and national contest. We are slowly, ever so slowly, learning to bring this region into the ambit of the rule of law. Using drones to execute our perceived enemies really does not help this process along.

  36. As the conversation seems now to essentially consist of Edenbaum and Best posting (a) irrelevancies and (b) mischaracterizations [in my view it’s just trolling at this point], it’s no longer interesting, and I am going to bow out. Comments will remain open for the normal duration.

    Some things that perhaps I should make clear for those who don’t know me. First, if you are not a part of my friend or family circle, you cannot morally or politically shame me. I could care less what you think or do. Second, you cannot bait me into confrontations. I and only I choose when and with whom I fight. If you accuse and or mischaracterize me, you will receive ridicule, silence, and eventually, a block. Finally, I do all of this for the sole reason that I enjoy it. I pay for it all out of my own pocket. And I can live quite happily without it. I am also inches away from retirement. So I cannot be bullied or canceled.

    I am 53 years old and am fortunate to have had not just a first rate education, but an unusually broad and deep experience of life in a multitude of places, circumstances and eras. I am quite secure and confident in my views and will articulate them as I wish.

    One further heads up. I am on my way to NY to see my parents, whom I’ve not seen since Christmas 2019. They are in their 90’s and in quite precarious shape. So, I am not sure how often I will be get online. Please be patient with the time it may take comments to appear.

    1. My last replies weren’t even to you. And I’m not a liberal. I hate Anglo-American liberalism. You seem to want to defend it even as you criticize it.

    2. “I could care less what you think or do.” Rock on, brother!

      I have the thinnest skin and most explosive temper of anyone I know; but in a day or two, it passes, because – everything does. “Sticks and stones may breaks my bones, but words can never hurt me” (and how have we forgotten that one over the years?). Eventually even bones heal.

      Good luck on the Mom and Pop. I don’t know anything about your Mom, but I’ve read your father’s book, and he’s good people.

    3. I hope that things go ok with your parents and you find them in good health.

    4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck — True Enlightenment

      I hope you’re parents are ok. Zei gezunt

  37. Paul,
    you really are cherry picking your definitions. The Oxford Dictionary calls reactionary “opposing political or social progress or reform.

    This, I maintain, more closely reflects common English usage of the word. By this standard DanK is really not at all reactionary.

    I must also question your repeated, ad nauseum use of the word. What are you trying achieve? You clearly intend to use it in a pejorative sense. To what end? This is intended to be a place for thoughtful, considered conversation and so far you have not done this. Why? Why don’t you return to your own kind? Here you are out of your depth.

    1. He’s annoyed by the moralizing manner of the reformers; the fact their actions are affecting actual change, towards liberal goals, seems to be secondary. Police reform is popular even if “abolition” is not. Yes, racism is ubiquitous, as anti-Semitism is ubiquitous, notwithstanding anti-Semitic support for Israel.

      If you don’t want to call DK reactionary call him defensive. Alasdair MacIntyre is not a liberal. Virtue ethics is conservative; it’s predicated on pessimism. Programatic liberalism is predicated on optimism. DK seems frustrated because he wants and claims to be an optimist and his version is not broadly popular. I’m annoyed by the optimism of reformers towards themselves –self-righteousness– but again, progress is slow.

      1. “Virtue ethics is conservative; it’s predicated on pessimism. ”
        1. Virtue ethics is conservative.
        2. Virtue ethics is predicated on pessimism.
        3. Conservatism is necessarily pessimistic
        and or
        4. Pessimism is necessarily conservative.

        I am a virtue ethicist and I am a pessimist. I am however far to the left of most posting here (including yourself) Virtue ethics implicates no politics by necessity, pessimism implicates no politic or ethic by necessity, There are several streams of conservative thought that are very optimistic, and certain pragmatic liberal practitioners who are extremely pessimistic. Your premises are incorrect.

        “Programatic liberalism is predicated on optimism.” That may be why “programmatic liberals” keep shooting themselves in the foot election after election.

        I love John Dewey; but I think Hobbes had the better grasp on the nature of politics. Can there be a ‘left Hobbesianism’? Oh, yeah.

        This is just BTW of the OP, however, as Dan has noted. “Liberal,” “conservative,” – just chimes in the night from a far-away bell in a fog.

          1. 19
            Why do you hate French intellectuals?
            I hate them because they’re hippies. They want communication to be unmediated. I remember once, years ago, I asked a friend whom I trusted what he thought of Michel Foucault, since I knew even less of him than I know now. He said he thought Foucault was silly. He blamed 68 for that.
            They blame 68 for everything.
            Referring to himself, my friend said he was the only person he knew who had ever used Thomas Hobbes to back up a leftist interpretation of history. Two months later I read an article by someone else, a neighbor of mine of all things, which claimed the same thing: that Hobbes argued against a private individualized relationship to God because he thought it contributed to the breakup of all social organization.
            He was right.
            Somewhere Marx says that the Enlightenment fantasy of the individual is merely an example of useless 18th century humanist Idealism. We are pack animals after all. We don’t last too long on our own.
            What do you do when you’re alone?
            I masturbate.

            Soon after that I decided to invent a new theoretical program. I called it Left Hobbesianism.
            (long pause)…Mistakes were made.


            The friend was David Graeber. The neighbor was Oscar Kenshur

    2. @Peter Smith

      Setting aside your pointless (but somewhat characteristic, judging by other of your posts), patronising condescension for a moment ..

      This essay lays out a list of things which were (supposedly) true “just a few decades ago” .. propositions which are aspirational, since the author apparently wants to see a return to these. By definition then, this is an exercise in “opposing political or social progress or reform”, since if you read the least carefully, it touches on many social (or even indirectly political) changes which have supposedly occurred over this period of time.

      It is therefore, by definition, reactionary. In a literal sense. I had assumed when I read it (it was emailed to me) that the author was a conservative, of some sort. Evidently this is not the case, however that doesn’t alter the fact that the *list* (essay) we’re supposedly ‘discussing’ is .. in my opinion and for the reasons I’ve now repeatedly explained .. both reactionary and also, seemingly, written from a distinctly conservative perspective.

      In terms of my reasons for posting here, these are very simple.

      Because (amongst other things) I don’t accept that human beings need be constrained be ‘nature’, culture, society or anything else, in terms of how we choose to define ourselves.

      Because I don’t accept that young people are (by implication) somehow “screwing things up”.

      Because I believe that online communities exist and moreover are important. In fact I believe that ‘virtual’ communities & connections will only become more & more important as time goes on, and those defined by proximity (nations, states, etc) much less so.

      Because I don’t believe that manners matter more than morals.

      Because I strongly disagree that we should respond to the challenges liberalism faces (censorship, threats to freedom of speech, etc) by looking backwards or by trying to return to some, in my opinion largely imagined, past, which this list appears to be describing, or at least pointing toward.

      Perhaps if you had come down from your ivory tower long enough to actually bother *reading* anything that I wrote, most of the above would already be apparent to you.

      1. I generally don’t agree with Peter Smith, but he is definitively not someone who lives in an Ivory Tower.

        1. SW,
          I generally don’t agree with Peter Smith
          I should return the compliment but in fact I enjoy your comments.

          1. I didn’t say that I didn’t enjoy your comments, simply that I generally don’t agree with them or to be much more precise, that they come from a very different mindset than mine.

  38. One further heads up. I am on my way to NY to see my parents, whom I’ve not seen since Christmas 2019. They are in their 90’s and in quite precarious shape.

    My best wishes go with you as you navigate this painful stage of your life.

    1. Thank you so much Peter. I won’t deny being scared. Twice in recent memory, I’ve had to stay there for extended periods, due to my father being hospitalized. At this point, I am hoping for nothing more than an uneventful visit.

  39. The only difference between kids these days and this list, is that they won’t start creating lists with this subtext for another 25 years. You missed one about stopping to pet a cat. I’m older than you, yet can see the virtues of kids these days …

    1. The piece is not about “kids these days.” It’s about *these days*. Plenty of adults these days have forgotten these things too.

      Perhaps reading a bit more carefully might help.

  40. Paul,

    Setting aside your pointless (but somewhat characteristic, judging by other of your posts), patronising condescension for a moment ..

    Since it was your opening salvo, you didn’t set it aside, but what the heck, given the number of similar labels and asides, you are being true to form.

    And that is a real pity, because disagreements can be useful, informative, stimulating and entertaining. They refine our understanding and purify our knowledge.

    So you disagree with DanK on many points and so do I. But why make it a federal offence? Just dig in, do your spade work and make a persuasive argument. Leave out the pejorative labels since they add nothing to the debate. It is not enough to contradict the other person’s statement. You need to provide an alternative explanation and understanding.

    For example, I was only in partial agreement with his statement:

    [19] One should care more about one’s intimates than about total strangers.

    And so I proceeded to supply an alternative understanding. You may disagree with my understanding and you may disagree with the outcome, but I tried to make an honest, thoughtful contribution to the conversation that enriches the conversation. Intent matters.

    And that really is all I ask of you, that you try to enrich the conversation in such a way that the rest of us sit back in our chairs and exclaim, “golly, that was interesting, I never thought of it that way, but, by the way, you never took this into account…”.

    Turning now to DanK, this is my understanding of the man. He is an insightful observer who always looks for an honest understanding of what he observes. His understanding of what he observes is orthogonal to the political axis and not aligned to any political axis. He has no political axe to grind. Thus political labels don’t capture who he is and how he thinks. For this reason his insights are often surprising, stimulating and entertaining, even when we disagree with him. So get on board and enjoy the ride.

    1. @Peter Smith

      (this is a slightly hastily typed reply since I’m aware this topic will soon automatically close, and because it is quite late now here in the UK)

      Firstly, I wanted to apologise for my “ivory tower” comment and also for my initial salvo as you put it .. which were “best form of defence is attack” type responses to your previous post, but weren’t very fair and also don’t actually reflect my impression of your posts. So please disregard them.

      Secondly, I have not been using the term “reactionary” in a pejorative sense. I explained (I feel) why I felt the list .. the *list*, not the author .. was essentially reactionary. Not simply in some dictionary-definition sense, but in the sense that I feel it is pointing us backwards .. I personally feel that the ability of human beings to define *ourselves* is a very basic and fundamental and important one. As I’ve already said, I absolutely agree however that we do not have the right to expect others to embrace this (our identity) or even necessarily to particularly to care.

      Thirdly, I wonder if maybe there is a slight clash of cultural political perspectives going on here?

      The US appears to have a distinctly binary and two-tribes political culture .. everyone and everything has to be either “conservative” or “liberal” and gets shoved, it seems, into either of these two boxes, along with countless other ideas or perspectives which also end up getting squeezed into the same boxes, sometimes for no immediately obvious reason.

      In the UK I feel we have a rather more fluid political culture (to a degree at least, everything is relative ..).

      We for example have the term “small ‘c’ conservative” here, to mean a person or idea which has nothing to do with the Conservative Party but which could otherwise be described, in some way, as “conservative”.

      So to use this term in relation to a person or in this case idea/essay does *not* in any sense imply that the idea therefore belongs in a particular box (along with the GOP, Christian fundamentalists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, White Nationalists, abortion clinic bombers, or whomever).

      Thirdly, your description of the author’s Jewish community background was very interesting. My background and lifestyle are in many ways pretty much the complete opposite .. my parents were in the RAF (air force) so we moved around an awful lot when I was little and consequently I don’t really feel ‘from’ anywhere, but I have made lots of meaningful connections online which I guess will inevitably inform my perspective and also my quite vociferous defence of the reality and value of online communities.

      Lastly, and speaking of vociferous defence, I’m not sure how aware you are of Julia Galef, but I’ve spent a lot of time watching her videos recently and find them really interesting.

      One of the topics she’s talked about quite a lot is the difference between the “scout mindset” and the “soldier mindset”. The former which describes a willingness to look for the *truth* of something, no matter how inconvenient or contrary this might be to your pre-existing beliefs or worldview (the equivalent of taking the “red pill” in the Matrix movie, if you’re familiar with this) .. the latter, the soldier mindset, which describes a tendency to want to be guided by your existing beliefs and to defend these.

      The Scout Mindset totally seems to me something to aspire to, not only in itself, but also because realistically, it’s only by adopting this sort of approach that human beings are likely to progress, or to stand any remote chance of progressing, at least.

      But it’s not a very easy one to achieve and I am aware that I’m not particularly good at it, in the sense that I have very definite opinions and perspectives and always tend to want to defend these.

      So I accept I probably need to be guided less by wanting to get my point of view across and learn to ‘listen’ more.

  41. Paul,

    Because I believe that online communities exist and moreover are important

    And here I agree with you. For example, the open source community has been stunningly effective.

    But you need to understand DanK’s perspective. He is a Jew who is active in his Jewish community and it is this intimate sense of involvement, personal contact, customary practices and belonging derived from his membership of the Jewish community that shapes how he understands the concept. The Jewish concept of community has preserved their peoples intact for over two thousand years in a hostile world, something unprecedented in history. It is thus a uniquely powerful form of community. Against this background, online communities would, to DanK, seem like pale, ephemeral shadows of the real thing.

    So you and DanK understand ‘community’ in different ways.

    There is so much more that could be said about the subject. Will online communities ever provide the rich depth of bonding experience that DanK knows from his own life? Are online communities harmful, for all sorts of reasons? Or are they opening us up to new forms of experience and collaboration that enrich our species?

    This ship has left the harbour and can’t turn back. Right now it is in the choppy waters just outside the harbour’s breakwater so understandably the ride is quite bumpy. What lies beyond that?

  42. Seth,
    If you don’t want to call DK reactionary call him defensive. Alasdair MacIntyre is not a liberal. Virtue ethics is conservative; it’s predicated on pessimism.

    No, I call him insightful, challenging, amusing and stimulating, even though I disagree with him on many points..
    What has Alisdair Macintyre got to do with all of this? Who cares?
    How is virtue ethics conservative? And what the devil does that matter?
    How is it predicated on pessimism? I see exactly the opposite, it is predicated on optimism!
    But in any case, what has this got to do with DanK’s essay? Is this an attempt at derailing the discussion?

    There is a very simple rule for keeping a discussion on track:

    Quote the words actually used by your interlocutor
    Then confine your comments to his actual words. (avoid perjorative language and keep the tone respectful)

  43. I liked reading those. And fun. Thanks for keeping comments open.

    [2] Who and what you are is only partly self-determined. And it’s not the larger part.

    So much going on here. I get how your leaning, but like Kevin I think its hard to argue a ‘part’ is bigger than the other.

    [8] … no one living in the US and born after the Second World War is less “safe” or experiencing greater hardship or deprivation than those belonging to the generations behind them.

    I’d say yes in general. Then these numbers occurred to me, over the past 40 years there’s been a rise of obesity in particular, over 15% in children and nearly 35% in adults.

    [11] Even for those who live in modern, developed, peaceful nations and who are financially well off, life contains more suffering than happiness.

    I don’t think that’s true. I’m a bit surprised no one else had anything to say about it, but maybe it’s more my impression that’s off.

    [25] The best comedy is almost always laced with cruelty.

    Since being a teenager I’ve wondered how much that depends on developmental factors, there’s also a lot of comedy I don’t find funny anymore. I’ll pay attention to see how much cruelty is still a part of what I enjoy.


    I pretty much agree with the other 21.

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