265 Comments

Dear Noah, this article is well-argued and thoughtful.

If you wanted to bring a bit more darkness to the argument, you can look at the literature on terrorist suicide bombers.

Their backgrounds are often disaffected, medium-high educational attainment, frustrated college-aged men. There has been much research about these political assailants which echoes a number of the themes you raise here.

Apologies for bringing a much more bleak set of data to the conservation, but might be worth looking into and reflecting upon given what you’ve put forward here.

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Similar forces also fueled discontent in the years leading to the end of the Spanish monarchy and the runup to the Spanish Civil War - college graduates who couldn't get a government job that they were eminently qualified for because, as George Orwell put it, the desired post was reserved for the brother in law of some Grand Duke's catamite.

From what I know of the Arab world, a similar dynamic is are also often at play.

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Isn't the stereotypical suicide bomber an engineer?

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Yes, and sociologists set out to prove this.

In evolution vs. creationism arguments, the Salem Hypothesis postulated that a creationism advocate when claiming expertise usually has an engineering degree. This was just one of those memey Internet laws, like Godwin's Law or Rule 34.

This apparently has cross-cultural validity when applied to Islamists.

This was quoted from https://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2007/11/11/the-salem-hypothesis-explained :

"Sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog have published a paper on "Engineers of Jihad," trying to explain why "engineers alone [out of scientists, doctors and engineers] are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms ["Islamist movements in the Muslim world" and "the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries."] "

Engineering fosters an extreme rightwing mindset that has "a corporatist and mechanistic view of the ideal society", "preserving integrity in the social order", a yearning for "a unified, ordered society", as well as the philosophical features of "monism", "simplism" and "preservatism".

This frame is seen in religious fundamentalist movements throughout the world, as well as secular far-right movements. Even among soi-disant libertarians, many have crossed the Peter Thiel Memorial Bridge (the bridge is Thiel's declaration that freedom and democracy are incompatible) over to monarchist ideas like neoreaction.

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Now let's do the left-chiral version of this: why are communist and liberal movements have disproportionate amount of lawyers and ex-clergymen (from the founding fathers to Stalin and Castro)? Maybe "everything is a social construct" means people can be "programmed to be better"?

Side bet: why are fascist movement have disproportionate amount of artists and orators (Hitler and Mussolini) as part of the creative class?

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The lawyer answer is pretty straightforward: Lawyers have a working theory of law and a career progression would be to structure law and advocate for it (legislation) or be the arbiter of law (judiciary).

I don't necessarily know if there is/was a natural progression from clergy to politics, or if it's mere coincidence.

The fascist sample size is too small because most movements were concentrated in the 1920s to World War II, and when we talk about the most salient fascist governments we're talking about Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy and Franco's Spain. Italy attracted an artistic and intellectual culture around fascism. In Hitler's case, his artistry was peripheral to his life story. What was central to Hitler becoming Hitler was that he was an irrepressible antisemite his whole life.

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There was a study finding that at some point, but IIRC it failed to replicate after a few more years passed and more data came along.

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I wonder: How do you replicate a study like that? Encourage more suicide bombers?

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*conversation (this thing needs an edit button like Twitter).

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Aug 26, 2022·edited Aug 26, 2022

It does have one. It is the three dots on the footer at the bottom of the comment.

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The issue, as any conversation with former humanities majors over 50 will tell you, is that you're not at the height of your humanities superpowers until you're at least 40. Also it used to help to live in a city with rent controlled apartments, an acceptance of genteel poverty, and utilities bills that didn't include laptops, internet, cell phones, and streaming subscriptions.

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Except that the vast majority of the American population never lived in rent controlled housing post-WW2. Even by the 1990s, IIRC, a majority of housing stock in NYC wasn't rent controlled.

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Rent control was a key piece of this. As well as reduced prices on cultural events for students and even faculty. The idea was, the bourgeoisie subsidizes the creative and scholar classes.

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So basically, some folks expected handouts to continue forever.

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Yup. While I don't think most people mind paying for R&D, they may have issues with a perpetual subsidy of a class that 1) isn't producing much of economic value 2) holds themselves to be superior to the public and 3) thinks they are what makes the world run. Combine that with those people suffering from protest disorder and constantly demanding upheaval, you can see why they're unpopular.

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1) Accountability in academia is being planned by pre-submission of research proposals, so no more posturing

2) YES they kind of have to, since these people would cause problems in normal corporate or business environments ala Dilbert Principle (Universities are mental asylums for deviant individuals).

3) Historically yes, but Yarvin's thesis on "The Cathedral" is apt, there is no valuable revolutionary ideas within academia because they are suppressed, so mediocre status-inducing ideas are expressed instead

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Most people, as in actual people, don't think in deeply abstract concepts as 1) production of economic value or 2) status signaling, but 3) might because of explanations found in conspiratorial or metaphysical thinking.

Would calling it envy be on the nose? :)

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Counter: too many posers within the R&D circle siphoning resources.

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Rent control seems like a hobby-horse of people who live in a handful of coastal cities.

It seems bizarre and outright perverse to me, and I suspect most of the rest of America that doesn't live in NYC or wherever.

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It’s a bad policy that is hurting the NYC housing supply, but many people here are unable or unwilling to understand that.

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It just seems so clearly counterproductive to me that I don't know how it maintains support.

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My theory on stuff like this is that, because it benefits you personally, or makes you feel like a good person for having such an opinion, it “feels true.” And that’s enough for some people.

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This is exactly right. Not sure I can add anything.

I was talking to a few of my fellow Gen-Xers the other day about kids and college and expectations. None of us remember being told "you can do anything if you try hard enough". even "college is the only way" wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now.

I have raised 9 kids between the ages of 9 and 25. It's amazing how often I see schools pedaling this story that there are no limits. Anyone can do anything of they just try hard enough.

For those who have been around, we know this is BS. Human beings are imperfect.

These millennials have been raised with these expectations (at least a certain college educated percentage of them have been)... well simple fact is their are only so many writers, so many Architects and so many lawyers. Quite frankly, to many people overestimate their own abilities and where they stand on the pecking order.

Anyway... great article.

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author

Thanks, man!!

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I call the idea that you can do anything your heart wants, despite your actual talents, “Disneyism.”

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Fellow Gen-Xer here.

The message we as youths got from our elders was the opposite of "you can do anything". We were told you'll never amount to anything; it's a dog-eat-dog, dangerous world so suck it up and prove your worth.

We responded to this world by becoming cynical. We leaned into the slacker stereotype. As youths we absorbed America's social anxieties and anger over the assassinations of the Kennedys, MLK, the hard-edged authoritarianism of Nixon, the drug wars, the racial reaction fueled by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and busing a decade later, the political dominance of conservatism from 1964 on, Dubya, the Great Recession (Xers bore the brunt of wealth destruction) ...

Older generations said the X cohort would never amount to anything. And we lived down to their expectations.

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Your upbringing was tougher than mine. I was told you can be something… Which is different than being told you can be anything. Work hard, find a field you’re good at, working and supporting your family is honorable. Call Mike Gen X friends are doing pretty well. That’s because we didn’t have unrealistic expectations.

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You're telling me.

I'm a late-model Xer. I was a child of the '80s and came of age in the Clinton '90s. As a twist, I am the first American born to European immigrant parents. I was also a city kid, so I'm a product of crime anxiety. Also, despite being a white kid almost all of my friends were Asian, Latino and Black. Socioeconomically, I was a lot closer to them than someone who looks like me.

I wasn't even told you can be something. You *had to be* something for the very same reasons you said: Work hard, find a field you’re good at, working and supporting your family is honorable. This was coupled with an admonishment to avoid going into artistic or creative fields because they don't have a future (meaning, an unsteady paycheck brought shame upon the family). I was encouraged to get into college, or barring that, finding a union job or joining the military.

The other thing about Gen X schooling: Remember in the '80s and '90s the genre of "blackboard noir" movies like "Lean on Me", "Dangerous Minds", "187" et al? Schools were actually like that! Except for the fact that, by and large, students were not evil aspiring criminals. Society only thought that we were. And yes, graffiti was everywhere -- but that's because our school district was too poor to constantly remove the tagging and the vandals kept coming back to campus because they knew the school district was paid for every student enrolled and they'd never be expelled because of it. We did have the metal detectors and onsite school police. Again, poor school district so we didn't have the transparent locker doors. Instead, the police had master keys to the lockers and swept for drugs, pagers and guns/shivs.

What's ironic in all of this is that students chose not to engage in delinquent behavior despite society expecting us to. Growing up in schooling like this, teachers were like well-dressed jailers and they were expected to enforce rules and keep order rather than create a stimulative learning environment.

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Zoomer children gets the same message: Quiet Quitting (Laying Flat) will always be the norm, don't you dare innovate and get people fired with office politics.

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I think the expectations part is key. For the far left (the people writing 'kill landlords' and 'rent is theft' and 'abolish the United States' in my neighborhood parks), it seems that nothing is good enough. Tragically, there is no recognition of how good things are: every single one of them has access to a healthy diet, emergency shelter if needed, life-saving healthcare, clean air, public transportation, physical security (the defund movement has successfully dented that to some degree, unfortunately), K-12 education, libraries, weather forecasts, telecommunications, free vaccines, and much more. But they'll happily tell you that America is a failed state, we're in 'late-stage capitalism', etc. etc. If there was evidence that communist or socialist revolutions actually improved things or were sustainable in any way, I'd be all for it. But our best examples are Stalin and Mao, and leftists are willing to excuse body counts in the millions. (not making things up: https://www.koin.com/news/elections/iannarones-tweet-of-violent-despots-stirs-portland-mayors-race/ )

So maybe instead of lowering expectations, this is better solved by educating people about how privileged even the worst off American with a college degree actually is. I've mostly mentioned material things, but I also think the left is insufficiently appreciative of political privileges, like being able to graffiti public spaces with things like "Abolish the United States" and "Kill KKKops" and not end up in a gulag.

I guess the biggest problem with elite overproduction theory is that a bunch of humanities majors should know better. Shouldn't someone steeped in English literature and history know enough, and be enlightened enough, to find satisfaction with their very high standards of living? Even in the 'worst case' scenario of a job at Starbucks, its still a pretty good job all things considered (compare to e.g. mining in the developing world, or sweat shop labor).

It is mildly surprising that the expectations problem isn't automatically limited by the education associated with a humanities major.

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As a recent English major, you'd think that the curriculum would help tailor your expectations, but it wasn't until my very last semester that we had an explicit discussion of this: *The English curriculum is designed to produce more English professors.*

Very few colleges (I did ask around, n=6 roughly but I feel like more data points will continue to support this) bake any kind of career counselling into their humanities degrees. I was lucky enough to go to a college that was *starting* to do so and was specifically seeking student input. I hope that the feedback I gave makes the next student's college-to-workforce transition much better! But I also attended a small private college, and the reliance of private colleges on alumni donations seems to be making the "wait, we don't get money if we can't prepare our grads for jobs" realization hit much faster.

***

Depending on what is the assigned reading, you may end up with an impression of "be grateful" or you may not. A lot of the reading, in my experience, is "suburban woman has unfulfilling life" (see Kate Chopin's *The Awakening,* of which all of these are but mere shadows) or "upper middle class white man putters around and has an affair/does some other shitty thing" (god how I hate Faulkner).

If you're lucky they let you read speculative fiction. *Klara and the Sun* was one of the few books I got to read that did a fantastic job of conveying why we should be grateful, and there were a couple fantasy novels I read in a special topic SF class that had similar themes.

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Elder millennial here 🙋🏻‍♀️ And I had this same experience 10+ years ago when I graduated with a creative writing/english lit. degree. No internships or connections offered, no career instruction whatsoever by my university. I did not even understand publishing, which seems like the obvious connection. I have had to DIY how to make a living as a writer (hint: I don’t make a living—I have a husband patron cause publishing STILL has no money).

All that to say, with all the millennial dunking happening here in the comments, I’d appreciate if we acknowledged how poorly our systems were prepared to accept nearly double the kids (compared with Gen X) into the workforce and the poor training we received along the way. We’re not whining slack-offs, there just weren’t jobs for us, and many of us have been on the minimum wage train ever since, supporting the generations that came before us.

And now that we have families, it sucks to not be able to pay our bills, even within one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world. Yes, we’re greatly privileged; yes, we’re grateful; and yes, we’re pissed off. All these things can be true at the same time.

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"So maybe instead of lowering expectations, this is better solved by educating people about how privileged even the worst off American with a college degree actually is."

Preface: I'm not a leftist. I'm still center-right and more-or-less a happy neoliberal. But about that "less" part...

As anyone remotely un- or anti-woke might appreciate, telling people how very privileged they are often prompts them to double down in oppositional resentment rather than admit gratitude. That's particularly true if they agree life has improved for most people but believe they're somehow left behind. People who feel like "burdens" -- not performing as expected, despite all the resources at their disposal -- are not happy people.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/16/burdens/

All these awesome gifts come with expectations that we perform well enough to deserve them. If we sense we're floundering, reminders of the unprecedented resources our generation enjoys may not ease our real disappointment, but compound it.

Take asthma, for example. Thanks to modern medicine, for many in advanced industrial economies, asthma is controllable. Great news! Go humanity! But what of those whose asthma is not yet controlled? Uncontrolled asthma is increasingly attributed to poverty or personal indiscipline. It increasingly signals *failure*. Which makes it a source of resentment. You know others expect more of you than to "let asthma hold you back" and can blame you if it does. So there you are, failing others' expectations like some sad social parasite, and there may not be a damn thing you can do about it -- though, of course, now that life in general is so cushy, everyone and their grandma nonetheless expects that there is! So frustrating!

This frustration ≠ low individual tolerance for discomfort. Instead, it comes from discomfort's tendency to reduce performance, even in stoic individuals. *Others'* expectation that you shouldn't suffer anymore (and therefore your performance shouldn't), and the implied blame if you do, drives this frustration, not personal wussiness.

Even an otherwise happy neoliberal in this predicament might be tempted to flip the bird to the nearest happy, shiny pharma ad with an, "Up yours, modern medicine! You won't let me die, but you won't let me succeed, either, even at breathing!" It's not the lack of wondrous resources that's the problem, it's that those wondrous resources haven't done for you what was promised, meaning *you* don't live up to your promise.

If the real problem is that today's resentful youth suffer indebtedness to an inflated sense of their own promise, well, that sense is something their elders often explicitly taught them to have. Deflating a sense like that is more likely to succeed if people believe they can save face while deflating. For example, an otherwise-privileged person with uncontrolled asthma might turn to advocacy for asthmatics even less fortunate to save face while acknowledging privilege. For good or ill, advocacy or other do-gooding seems appealingly face-saving to the privileged in such a predicament.

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when faux-oppression and burden don't work as ways of taming the educated, the best thing to do is to assume "we don't owe you, and you don't owe us, do what thou wilt". It in some sense is Zizek's Courage of Hopelessness.

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I'm unsure of what kind of courage a true lack of hope would bring, other than courage for murdering one's loved ones, confident it was really mercy killing, then suicide. Perhaps what's meant by the courage "of" hopelessness is some cussed insistence to keep living despite hopelessness? -- though that insistence springs from something unrelated to the hopelessness (which could as easily prompt death instead).

"The world owes you neither life, nor cure, nor sympathy; nor flattery that you're irreplaceable; nonetheless, you owe the world," still seems a common-enough sentiment (or at least fear) among the educated, one that "we don't owe you" does nothing to stop. Indebtedness to "moral creditors" can destroy gratitude, since obsession over collecting on the world's "debt" (what you think the world promised you) so you can pay off your own leaves no space to appreciate anything as a gift. No wonder Christianity pairs forgiveness with gratitude.

Psychoanalysis is a crock, but perhaps useful to Zizek to annoy others in very witty ways. I say that not to disparage Zizek, since annoying the right people is sometimes useful. But if he still treats psychoanalysis as important, it will make it harder for those who don't anymore to relate to him.

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Kids these days don't know how good they have it, in short.

Really disappointing that the parent comment is so highly upvoted.

If the claim is that everyone in the US generally "has access to a healthy diet" et cetera it's just factually wrong. Even if the claim is just that "the far left" has access to that stuff you're still wrong. The parent commenter seem to live in Portland, Oregon; Portland was one of the cities most intensively terrorized by police, state forces, and federal forces in 2020, proving false the blithe assertion that the far left enjoys "physical security" (never mind the follow-up blaming of lost physical security on "the defund movement").

The stuff about revolution and Stalin and Mao is basically a non sequitur. Even if Stalin and Mao had killed the proverbial 100 million people that wouldn't oblige Americans to sit down and shut up about America's inadequacies. Never mind that if we're just tallying raw body counts, capitalism and imperialism don't exactly have clean hands, and that capitalist and imperialist apologists will brush off or outright ignore capitalist megadeaths.

Here's a wild idea: rather than denying that there are people in America who don't have access to clean air or physical security or whatever, why not just fix the problems? Seems potentially more effective, and certainly more humane, than just demanding they lower their expectations and be grateful for not being literal sweatshop workers.

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The claim is that everyone in Portland has access to a healthy diet as a safety net, and that is accurate; hot meals are served downtown every day of the week. Here’s one story about one of the downtown providers; there are several: https://katu.com/news/local/after-serving-900000-meals-to-portlands-homeless-blanchet-house-reopens-dining-halls

As mentioned, the far left has successfully defeated physical security efforts in Portland. It’s hard to imagine one of the smallest big city police forces in the country (per capita), under tight DOJ scrutiny, terrorizing the community. I guess we’ll never know, because activists have so successfully ensured that Portland police don’t have bodycams. Frankly I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, especially now, when Portland police just don’t have the resources to do much of anything about vandalism and riots when they do happen. Receipts: (https://www.police1.com/police-recruiting/articles/why-portland-has-fewer-cops-now-than-any-point-in-past-30-years-Zhqu31wioG0Nj7PX/ https://www.kgw.com/article/news/verify/verify-portland-commissioner-jo-ann-hardest-police-body-cameras/283-c10b4dde-8bc6-4473-b244-34a8d0113ff1 https://www.koin.com/news/crime/portland-workers-feel-like-collateral-damage-from-vandalism/ https://katu.com/news/local/doj-says-portland-police-in-substantial-compliance-with-settlement-agreement https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2022/08/more-black-men-are-dying-in-portland-homicides-than-anyone-else.html https://www.opb.org/article/2022/07/08/portland-murder-homicide-police-crime-statistics-safety/ )

Thank you for your suggestion to just fix all of our problems. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I’ll get right on it. 🪄 (Sarcastic dig aside, I spend a huge proportion of my time volunteering to try to understand and work towards solving local problems. I hope you do, too.)

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I'm likewise suspicious that you don't know what you're talking about; you seem to be ignorant of Portland cops

• doing a drive-by on protesters with a gas grenade (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1267522027273031680),

• indiscriminately firing tear gas and flashbangs into a crowd (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1268051560489193473 and https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1268190300209586177 and https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1269310960432488448),

• trying to run over people clearing a street (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1268317409095622658),

• gassing a homeless encampment (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1268695469666054156),

• arresting and assaulting people for photographing or video-recording them (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1269665202376708097 and https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1269667665116893186),

• assaulting a departing cyclist (https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1269995378646155265)

and so on — that's all just stuff from the first two weeks of the George Floyd protests, and as far as I know all attacks by Portland cops alone. So not even counting things like the feds swooping in and blackbagging people (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/federal-officers-are-arresting-people-in-portland).

And before anyone tries to dismiss such police violence as coming from a two-week period two years ago, the Portland police have been under federal supervision since 2012, when the DOJ found that the Portland Police Bureau had "a practice of using excessive force" against the mentally ill (https://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/9362012917111254750409.pdf). This April it came out that the PPB is using MORE and MORE SEVERE force against people with mental illness (https://www.opb.org/article/2022/04/29/portland-police-body-cameras-department-of-justice-use-of-force/). Last month the DOJ found that the PPB is violating its own(!) use-of-force policies (https://www.opb.org/article/2022/07/27/us-justice-department-portland-police-use-of-force-settlement/). That "tight DOJ scrutiny" doesn't seem to be working.

Funny how the cops always have enough resources to run around assaulting people, eh?

Anyway, I'm glad you spend time volunteering. I wasn't objecting to that. I was objecting to the status quo apologia. You can volunteer in the local community while NOT posting right-wing agitprop online! That actually takes less effort! I manage it!

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I won't respond in detail to every claim, but again this is a case where the Twitter version of events misses important nuance and detail (who knew local politics was so nuanced and detailed?)

- Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they are posting 'right-wing agitprop'. This attitude lowers the quality of discussion. Not everything is a team sport, and politics certainly shouldn't be.

- DOJ's report is factually inaccurate. I used to read those reports as gospel truth, but you have to remember that the DOJ is the prosecutor in the case, and the lawyers working it have their own agendas. https://www.opb.org/article/2022/08/09/portland-police-use-of-force-us-justice-department/

- The cops don't have enough resources to run around assaulting people. They barely have enough resources to handle typical duties; most nights they are one or two shootings away from having _no_ patrol officers available to take calls. Crowd control policing tends to rely on either cooperating with crowds to encourage self-policing, or in the absence of that, fear, because the police are outnumbered. In the case of anti-police protests, just being present is escalatory. But Portlanders also don't like it when police fail to intervene. There is an inherent tension between reducing police use of force, and managing the impact of riots/disorder. (https://www.opb.org/article/2021/08/23/portland-mayor-claims-victory-as-parkrose-residents-reel-from-unchecked-political-violence/, https://www.koin.com/news/crime/portland-workers-feel-like-collateral-damage-from-vandalism/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxWfTbbMhUw)

- How to handle crowd control is still an open question for Portland. I'm not convinced that there is any path forward that is broadly acceptable in terms of protecting the rights of non-rioters and rioters. I like this video for a walked-through example of why crowd control looks the way it does: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yT9bit2-1pg but if you like to read, the Cal POST guidelines on the topic are fascinating: https://post.ca.gov/Portals/0/post_docs/publications/Crowd_Management.pdf

- Dr. Brown's analysis finds an 'almost' statistically significant increase for one part of the analysis (a.k.a. not statistically significant), and a very slight increase in the other analysis (which uses deeply questionable methods). The more statistics-literate folks I've spoken with (who are closer to your politics than mine) have told me not to take it seriously. I recommend you read it and decide for yourself if 'MORE and MORE SEVERE' is an accurate characterization... https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21781581-jonathanbetzbrownmhaforcegoingupagainst-mentalimpaired

- I suggest being careful with national media covering local topics, especially on Twitter. I was similarly fired up about the protest response. But then I went to get firsthand experience, and what I learned is that it is very easy to carefully cut a video and put on a misleading caption. I recommend observing a few protests if you get the chance, it is totally enlightening to be able to assess the quality of news coverage compared to direct experience. Just be careful not to record; freedom of the press doesn't apply when antifa are involved: https://rosecitycounterinfo.noblogs.org/2022/08/uprising-lessons https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/journalist-assaulted-her-phone-and-finger-smashed-while-covering-portland-eviction-protest/

- PPB has a very low force and lethal force use rate, and it has been declining for well over a decade thanks to successful policy reforms. This was happening even before the Settlement Agreement came into effect. https://www.pdx.edu/criminology-criminal-justice/sites/g/files/znldhr3071/files/2020-08/Use_of_Force_Final.pdf If you're interested in the details, you can peruse the quarterly reports at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/62708 Note that the numbers jumped in 2017, because a new force category was added to capture things that are not reported by most police department as force; things like boxing in cars and resisted handcuffing.

- With all that said, there is still a lot of necessary reform work to be done and plenty of room for improvement. But successfully navigating a reform effort in the long term requires thorough understanding of the facts (not just what you see on Twitter) and reacting to changing circumstances.

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Nathan, I think that for the far-left types you describe, their numbness to appreciating the material comforts we have stems from two things: youth (a lack of lived experience) and a need to correct the injustices and inadequacies of life with heroic measures.

The radical, revolutionary spirit has some sense and appeal in your teens and 20s, because you're not attached to the world yet and your frustrations to intractable problems cast blame on older people for letting problems happen. You can be blissfully ignorant of your consequences.

As you get older, however, you realize that you're going to be a part of the world you so detest whether you like it or not. You're going to have to navigate earning a living and getting along with people. You're going to understand that things aren't just complicated, they are complex.

Only time, not education, can fix this. You can't teach, or make, people have a middle-age mindset in their 20s.

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The paradox is that gen-X broke this rule by living in the rough, and that economic turmoil is an accelerant of maturity. It is only when these people age that they wishes to be redeemed for their Machiavellian schemes when they were young.

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Aug 31, 2022·edited Aug 31, 2022

Zizek and others phrased this well: It is when "you" (the far left) can whine about the nation has failed, that the nation has succeeded; and in China (and MAGAmericans), it is when their citizens are only capable to harp about how great the nation is, that the nation is in deep trouble. It is not that the left is blind, but rather subconsciously acting the ritual of freedom.

The same can be said for every rhetorically absurd feminist action on pulling sexual access when they are not attractive, or PUAs/gymbros playing "hard to get" and "trad".

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I did make a similar observation about far-right nationalism that's ascendant in America and throughout the world on another message board. I didn't pick it up from Zizek, thank goodness.

I warned that even under the most totalitarian societies, people still have freedom of speech and thought. It's just that debates over those freedoms are confined solely to purity and doctrine.

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My major worry now is MAGA Communism tactic, or how the "woke and far left" can be misconstrued by literalist conservatives to do what the progs claim to demand, leading to a new era of pain (Bonapartism).

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People's expectations are not guided by "look how much air/water/X I have", they are always concentrated on what lacks. There are strong evolutionary reasons for it (indeed, if you are hungry in a forest, you are to go after food, not congratulate yourself on how good your shelter is until you die from starvation"). And there is nothing in humanities or basically any other education that would alleviate it.

(Also, they usually hate Pinker-style arguments that we have never lived better. And when you hate something, you don't listen to it.)

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This reply is to Nathan Castle, who argues humanists should understand the advantageous position they are in owing to their secure and stable societies, and who is on this account wrong about humanism and advancing an evilly complacent argument misaligning virtue with inaction.

Humanists don't recognize nationalist arguments separating them from those misfortunates you cite in "the developing world." We see that argument, actually, but we easily get past it by noting that the comfortable lifestyles sold to secure the symbolic complacency of the working masses in the Western societies comes at the price of the even greater material oppression of the working masses in the rest of the societies.

A person breaking their back to mine the minerals that enable me to enjoy my bs work-from-home job: it makes it unethical and irresponsible for me as a human being to enjoy my bs job while also remaining silent about the brutal and undignified feeling that I and others feel or ought to feel on the matter.

A person enslaved anywhere, even if it is to my comfort and ease, well, especially in that case, is a person enslaved inside my mind, is my own soul enslaved. And we in the West, who once pretended to have ideals, are the ones who must do something about it in our own way, or we will be zombies, walking but dead humans. Anti-humans.

This debate about 'surplus elite' is extraneous to the real issue, which is that we are so fixated on filling elite posts because we provide no avenues of cultural transcendence that pass not through halls of corrupted power systems still bearing the original sins of our fallen animal nature, that these sins remain unatoned for by the current occupants of those systems, and that individuals who value honesty see no place for them in a society which hunts, uses, and exploits people just like us, and divides and conquers us to secure us in complacent silence, or in a noisy industry of absent-minded Internet dissent.

We claim to revere reason in the West. And yet we in almost all cases use it just so we can suppress it among the masses. It does not matter what "niches" can be posited to exist at the alleged "top" of some alleged hierarchy. What matters is what skills can be fostered in one's own mind and lifetime, as we all already exist, no matter our status, in an implicit hierarchy of practical wisdom and the ability to interject it in the sociolinguistic dialectics of our discourses.

This is the very same argument and disagreement, it would seem, that has been miring us in these unneeded and, by the way, unheeded debates repetitiously through human history. It would seem incumbent on any intellectual person, that is, a person who enjoys using the mind and writing system to explore truths by means of opposing one another's arguments, incumbent on us all who care enough, at any rate, to move beyond the argument, accept that we are merely seeking truth and acknowledge the status symbols that dangle above our heads only insomuch as we can skate around them as we examine life together.

That would seem to be, if not the good life, a better life than the one we haunt today.

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Here is a hot take from a pure intelligence perspective:

1. Increase in diversity of intelligence, and an increase in average in intelligence, decreases economic inequality in developed nations https://kirkegaard.substack.com/p/cognitive-and-income-inequality-the

2. Average intelligence increases productivity and growth https://kirkegaard.substack.com/p/national-intelligence-really-is-the

3. If relative wealth inequality/disparity behaves like gender inequality, then it is better to have it to aide human development and displace absolute inequality/poverty https://dynomight.net/gender-equality-paradox/

4. Other tan tax havens, inequality increases wellbeing, life expectancy, and decreased suicide rates https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3392618 https://www.americancommunities.org/the-income-gaps-impact-on-life-expectancy/

5. "felt" happiness, as being correlated to relative equality, has always lead to more suicides, and is hypothesized as due to lack of meritocratic satisfaction https://www.jstor.org/stable/27522768

What this means are two paradoxes:

1. Domestic flattening of the elite sphere, and attempts at removing relative inequality/disparity, manufactures poverty and mental problems

2. Developing nations will always benefit from trade with developed nations, in so far as the former is not politically corrupt with its own form of "elite overproduction" manifesting as one-party state or political nepotism

3. Telescopic Philanthropy, as noted by Curtis Yarvin, is short-sighted and pathological in nature, and is harmful for everyone involved.

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Hello.

1. Your take is indeed 'hot' in that it has many live links you probably surmise I won't look through but that do patch it up with something that looks like inter-rater reliability. It is also, though, quite 'cold' in its recklessly imprecise assertion that 'inequality increases wellbeing.' Wellbeing of whom? Inequality in what domains? Purely income, or income+wealth? How about we just level that construct and say unequal power relations lead to wellbeing when people accept the permanence of their misfortune and settle into quiet domesticated lives? The Jews in Auschwitz had unequal relations of power, and you're right in that, as Victor Frankl was, some of them were freer and indeed happier at times than their Nazi guards. Inequality was not a good thing then in extremis, and I fail from your argument to agree that it is good in relativity today.

2. The terms you are using, like 'developing' vs 'developed' nation are not ones I consent to in the context of this debate because I am a humanist with friendships with others in some of those places you recommend stay unequal. Inequality in the context we're discussing means not just bigger houses and cars get to keep rolling out in the US and not in Pakistan or Bangladesh; it means more people get to keep drowning in floods in those regions and dying in coups in others while in the US, we continue to 'benefit' (on paper) from the imbalance of life-worth that the cheaper 'labor' in those precarious nations affords us.

3. You are making some abstracted and dehumanizing claims about intelligence that cannot be acceptable by human beings who care for one another (a prerequisite for the continued existence of humans throughout history, concomitant to the powers that in each age complacently try to kill us.) Thus, with Yarvin I suppose, you are positing a subject position capable of asserting these claims that exists outside of the consequences of a dehumanized and depoliticized planet. I fail to see how any subject can be happy in a position that callously stands apart from and indeed above the struggling experiences of the global masses, although...

4. I regard your argument, in good faith, as a coping strategy by a genuinely disappointed idealist subjectivity perhaps who, accepting as impossible the task of reorienting world affairs to privilege merely human over corporately dehumanized subject positions, decides it is more humane to keep the suffering masses as ignorant and unconscious of their circumstances as possible, as is done when anesthesia is applied to a victim of state murder. If this is true, I hope you will see that you are inevitably to become a shell of a human being as a result of your compromise with powerful anti-humanist & accelerationist agencies.

4.5. (But I suppose you must, in good faith, apply your reasoning to yourself, as well, and thus find that you, in your intelligent sophistry and compliance with the right 'thought-leaders,' are exempt from needing to be a moral decision-maker, but can rest on your eventual laurels and on the platitude that all action is fatalistically already extraneous and ineffectual in the face of the only speakable authority. My Jewish faith reminds me, though, that David slew Goliath under comparable conditions of assumed helplessness, and with Yarvin, can we not agree this is a time for reconsidering traditional powers like God and King?)

5. I've never understood the Yarvin fantasy. He has cultivated an air of mystery and historicism by pretending and getting his following to pretend he is a historic thinker. It is all an act, though, is it not? By people who long to feel like they belong in a history book. I have watched his videos and read admittedly few of his texts (they bore me, probably by design on his part, to show his contempt for learning). I subscribe to the Biblical notion of knowing a teacher or prophet by their works, and I suppose I would consider your reply post to me to be one of those works. It is wanting in my eyes, in its dehumanized half-authoritarian logic. But Yarvin's sort of, in my view, a case of 'famous for being famous' or, for him, historical-seeming for being historical-seeming. Perhaps it's all in the pen name. I don't see his argument in your point number three, I only see a term used axiomatically and a name used as an authority. Perhaps you assume I will be happy by your unequal hoarding of historicist truthiness without explaining your reasoning?

6. To defend this alleged telescopic philanthropy is to first shed the term whose judgement is implied in its ironic implication that distance makes charity unbelievable. But there is no distance between me and an equal. And yes, I am the equal of the most 'illiterate peasant' in Afghanistan because we share a common origin, a common destiny, and a common predicament, which is to be human and to content against dehumanizing agencies every day, some of which have been infuriatingly joined by our contemporaries such as yourself. I don't really care what dead famous novelists or undead infamous essayists think on this matter because I test ideas on myself and with others I love in conversation. Because I believe in the power of the individual human being to orient themselves to truth, even under conditions of outrageous neglect or hostility. I wish that for you and for everyone who conceivably could read this as well.

I recommend that we consider the ideas of any thinker only until we realize we don't need them because we lead our own lives and we don't need a master or king–and we certainly ought not to be one. It is not a happy role to play, it is a disastrous one, better left to the burial grounds of the Old World. Kings were made to be usurped.

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In your adumbration of Turchin's theory you stress the happiness element - people didn't land where they expected. People often note a moral aspect as well that young people felt they had been assured something, played their part (and paid their share), but did not get the return promised. I'd like to tack on a few consequences: distrust, humiliation, and confusion.

The borrowed unicorn graph reminds me of the success sequence: go to college, study hard, get a good job, buy a house, get married, then think about kids. Advice of that pattern is actually pretty good, but I also recall from my own youth how assured it was. This is how America works; Go to school, study hard, work hard, and you will get ahead.

It's flatly bizarre to hear people mock that as though young people made it up from whole cloth. It was everywhere. No Child Left Behind rebuilt American public education around it! The whole point was to train people in the measurable, quantifiable skills that would set them on the path to success. Why did we go through all of the testing, measuring, pressuring, and paying for school if people didn't think it worked? At least for me at the time, the Great Recession felt like a thesis long and widely held had been refuted. Everyone thought they knew how America worked and then they didn't.

As an aside: Looking back on that time and my own reactions, it is difficult to disentangle the consequences of the Great Recession and the consequences of Iraq. Finding out that the government truly had lied to start a war, bungled it badly, and setup a network of torture sites, then... nothing. It's hard to express how this too felt like a refutation - empirical proof that our process of public deliberation was farcical. People cooked up nonsense, engaged in true villainy, and seemed to go on being treated as serious and decent people. What does "serious and decent" mean if it includes torturers but excludes those who told the truth?

I imagine all would have been forgiven if other mechanisms for earning social recognition were readily available. As you note, the tenure track was largely blocked in academia, what remained of the press had publicly shit its pants pretending there was a justification for the Iraq War, and the political leadership was more than a little grey around the temples. Whether fair or not, one got the impression that an earlier generation had passed through a functioning social system where participation really did pay off. For them, going to college, getting a unionized job, participating in politics, and thinking big thoughts in the university had all been reasonably good investments as evidenced by the years of post-war abundance. They had achieved enormous gains in material wealth, but also taken leading positions all across society. Now it was difficult to get ahead and those who had earned such a grand premium in yesteryear refused to give ground on any front. They had achieved the American Dream and they were going to die holding onto it!

(In terms of political impact and social cache, I think Gen X may actually be the one slighted the most. Senility will gradually open more spots to the benefit of millennial and younger political entrepreneurs and the press has already gotten much younger. Millennials have clearly effected some changes on social mores, which allow them influence over other, less accessible social domains.)

If the old social mechanisms didn't let you get ahead the way they used to and the theory of success wasn't quite accurate, then what is going on? College education, home ownership, and, for a time, "decent jobs" did provide a lot of social mobility in the United States. They really did lift people into the middle class or higher and it was perfectly reasonable to expect that hard work would result in you living better, making more money, and having more options than your parents. America built a whole set of moral imperatives, practical advice, and causal claims around those facts. And now the facts have changed. So what is one supposed to expect? How is one supposed to interpret wealth inequality, changes in social status, and the general prudence of a life plan? If your broad expectations are nonsense, then that is indeed angering but it is also bewildering.

One final aside: None of this implies that the explanations on offer by young socialists are any more accurate than the ones they are meant to replace. That one theory falters does not imply that a stylistic opposite is therefore true. I suspect the term "socialism" was attractive because it is stylistically distinguished from trust in the market as a social arbiter, because it expresses estrangement from the American mainstream, and because it was left unclaimed at the moment. By adopting that label, one could summarily communicate: "I do not have trust that working hard will give me a fair and decent living, I don't feel like I can exercise my will through existing social/political bodies, and I want to clearly display my distrust of the people in charge (even if they claim to think government can help me." The goal then is not really to build socialism or bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat. The goal is to (1) acknowledge a change of facts in the life expectations for Americans, (2) motivate changes to government and social policies to accommodate those new facts, and (3) make oneself feel efficacious and accomplished.

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This is a great, well written comment.

I think the suite of American Dream prescriptions still yields better results than pursuing an alternative strategy. Seems to be the missing answer in the "well if I am not doing better than my parents at their age, what was the point in paying all those dues" question implicitly asked by all this frustration. The answer is, if you hadn't paid them you would be doing a lot worse than you are now (and how you are doing now is still really good!)".

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I agree with you and despite my Left wing opinions, I find the lack of perspective that one sometimes hears from my co-partisans somewhat troubling. Landing in the job market after the Great Recession and struggling to buy a house do indeed suck, but it's ludicrous to pretend one is impoverished or that one lives in a "third world country." I can forgive folks for being dramatic, but it is always important to distinguish a disappointment from a catastrophe. If the US were to get stuck at the current standard of living with minimal social mobility that would obviously be quite bleak, but it would still be heavenly compared to optimistic scenarios for many places. Acknowledging that fact does not undermine the case for more redistribution or for more growth, but I think it can be a sobering touchstone.

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If you were in a third world* country there’d be a lot of other problems, but I think you’d be able to get a house. You have to be a super rich country to afford the enforcement of all that bad land use.

* this category doesn’t really exist anymore, Ukraine is poorer than supposedly Third World countries

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Yes, I've been having some of the same thoughts, mulling over the post.

I think it's interesting, and I'm glad Noah wrote the post, but I think it goes a little too far in the direction of saying, "well there's your problem" (too many humanities majors) in a way that doesn't sit well with me.

If you re-phrase as, "we as a society have become less good at finding useful work for the majority of people and the class of [humanities majors that might have gone to law school a generation earlier] are a group in which we can see the effect of that societal change" I wouldn't argue. But the post feels closer to taking for granted the idea that there a limited number of good jobs for humanities majors and saying, "if we have more humanities majors than job spots they just need to lower expectations" which puts them emphasis in the wrong place.

It's not like, in most cases, the difference between a humanities major and (say) a business major makes any meaningful difference in terms of human capital -- though it does make a difference in signaling.

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Moreover, student loans can make the "lower expectations" process quite nasty.

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And the whole process of aging. I'm Gen-X and in my mid-40s now, and I had a stretch of several years in my early 20s when I was underemployed and really struggling to figure out how to get into a job that would be a good fit, but eventually I did find a job which had terrible pay but used real skills and from there I was able to work my way up and have a long steady process of improvement.

That feels like a normal life path.

But I can easily sympathize with somebody who never gets on that path and finds themselves in their mid 30s just getting by and feels very stuck. It was bad enough feeling stuck in my early 20s it would be much worse having the same experience a decade later in life!

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I'm 40. I have a computer engineering degree, but after college I was totally burned out and I spent the intervening years taking care of sick relatives (and being financially supported by my parents) instead of working. I don't know if I'll ever have another chance at entering the formal workforce. :/

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If you have time to do personal projects you can get a good tech job from them. (“Good” pays much more than whatever you just thought it did.)

Go off and learn some machine learning Python stuff.

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Would an RPG Maker game count as a personal project? ;)

Anyway, I don't have that much interest in "machine learning Python stuff" or programming in general except as a means to earn a paycheck. I do think that, with a significant investment of time, effort, and possibly money, I could learn full stack web development or whatever other tech will get me a junior programmer job, but proving to an employer that I actually can code is a problem that I don't know how to solve.

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Yeah, I don't buy the thesis either -- it feels like it was born out of a specific antipathy toward humanity majors that worked backwards (tech workers were plenty left wing!)

The simpler thesis is "graduating into the Great Recession labor market with student loans was really, really bad". Oh, and the Iraq War and terrible housing market don't help either. This would be brutal no matter WHAT your expectations are.

And, of course, social media and smartphones started adding fuel to the fire.

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Tech workers really weren't that left wing. I was at a big tech firm at the time of the great recession. Most people were a mix of politically apathetic or libertarian. I don't recall encountering genuine leftists until much later - after these firms ran out of experienced engineers to hire and started gorging on the endless flow of new grads.

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When did Humanities become an end in themselves instead as the process whereby, we gain knowledge and the capacity to reason? In Antiquity aristocratic elites were taught the Greek Classics, rhetoric, philosophy and how to write and debate effectively not as a means of social mobility. Aristocratic elites' careers were in the military, in the management of their latifundia and in influence peddling. I have a humanities degree, but at the same time completed my premedical studies. I went to Med School (was accepted in 6!), did my specialty, subspecialty, and an MBA. Now i am retired and enjoying rereading the classics and poetry in two languages. For me, the Humanities was a means to gain understanding of my environment; Medicine was my service to the community and my way of making a living. I think that having a background in the Humanities made me a better human and physician.

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The humanities were an elite class solidarity marker. The elite has to know the elite. In Rome one had to know Horace. Among the Franks, one had to eat lots of meat. (That's from The Inheritance of Rome. Take that, vegan peasant.) They called them the liberal arts because they were the things one should know as someone who is liberated, a member of the ruling class, and will never have to do a stitch of work in one's life.

There is plenty to be learned from the humanities. I think the traditional liberal arts have a fair bit more to teach than a lot of modern majors, and I'm sorry to say I think that includes economics.

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I think the problem is the move from educating the most elite 1% in the humanities to educating 10% of the population in the humanities. They end up very disappointed that they don't get to be part of the elite. The vast majority of humanities majors can't get into med school, then they have a ton of debt and worse career prospects than people who went to 2 year vocational schools.

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So the Clueless or Gentry is salty they can never be elite (Church's Thee Ladders), but won't settle for professional middle class or middle management life, or worse, gets none of those roles? It would be curious to see how these people can be put into place.

https://alexdanco.com/2021/01/22/the-michael-scott-theory-of-social-class/

https://alexdanco.com/2021/07/08/michael-dwight-and-andy-the-three-aesthetics-of-the-creative-class/

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This assumes that the motivation of the humanities major was status-seeking, rather than personal interest or fulfillment.

The humanities as an entree into the realm of the elite is a rich person's lottery ticket: Entry is purely random, you don't get better at the game the more you play it, and the winners are then introduced to gatekeeping and politics.

Many humanities majors are happy and fulfilled by virtue of their humanities degree. Contrary to the stereotype that the majors wash out of college-level scholarship and end up overeducated baristas or Uber drivers, they are actually very resourceful professionally and can adapt to a wide variety of career settings.

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It does depend on a person. Many of my college friends studied humanities, and indeed not a single one joined the elite. The ones that truly valued their subject for its own sake are doing alright, or at least aren't angry about it. My English-major friend does manual labor and is fine with it. My philosophy-major and polisci-major friends are a bit more grumpy about not having any opportunities of the sort they were promised, but they also aren't doing so bad. But those are just the type of person I'm friends with.

I have met, outside my friend circle, some people who went a bit off the rails when things didn't turn out for them. The defining behavior of these people is that they're clawing at the wall of the class barrier. They're ruthless in their mediocre careers, still trying to break through into the life that was promised them.

It's hard to say if the frustrated ones are the political agitators. Of course they don't come out and say that they're activists because they're professionally frustrated. But it does seem to correlate a bit.

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On the left, the political agitators became street litigators. Activists don't have to self-identify as professionally frustrated. But they have a tell.

"Woke" and "prog" activists have the same origin story = overeducation and/or degrees in a field that has little occupational use outside of an academic setting. There is a distinction and a huge difference between someone who is woke and someone who is progressive. A progressive sees human suffering in materialistic terms and believes remedies are economic. Outside of the U.S., this is called Marxism but in the U.S., progressives often come to the same conclusions without ever reading Marx or his oeuvre.

"Woke" is shorthand for a relatively new phenomenon called "intersectional identity politics," or X-idpol for short. X-idpol is similar to progressivism in identifying a cause of modern suffering, but rather than economic explanations, X-idpol stresses the psychological aspects of suffering. This is owed to its foundations in postmodern philosophy, specifically the French intellectual class of the mid-to-late 20th century (Foucault, Lacan, Baudrillard, et al).

There's very little overlap between the two camps and there's no successful synthesis of an economic-psychological explanation of suffering. So the two camps engage in bizarre slapfights over who gets to be activist AF.

Read how they write and listen to how they speak. They use a fastidious, complexified vocabulary that resembles nothing like vernacular. It's thesis-speak, with their minds trained to use discipline jargon; gratuitous use of suffixes; references of obscure people, places and times; and ideas advancing highly abstract arguments.

They don't "talk like people."

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Question: then how would people talk within the upper class, working class, and "underclass"? There are some examples on how these people whine in the comment section of

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-fussell-on-class

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Uhh ... Scott Alexander Siskind.

I don't have the energy to respond it to the justice (read: catty snark) it deserves.

What do SSC/AC10 members call a 50,000-word comment? A tweet.

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On the right, the frustrated political agitators are much easier to identify.

Robert Pape did so this year on the anniversary of the insurrection.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/06/trump-capitol-insurrection-january-6-insurrectionists-great-replacement-white-nationalism/?fbclid=IwAR1LoTb9ehe4AFW5igI0TlU6tLJIWj_DKc0_PW8OGtiQzPgDvB5j_3XFUsQ

TLDR: The modal insurrectionist is your status-anxious asshole boss.

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So they are part of the Labor ladder who wants to enter the middle, rather than the "woke" Gentry ladder wishing to enter the elite (as per the butthurt left mob)? https://alexdanco.com/2021/01/22/the-michael-scott-theory-of-social-class/

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One idea that absolutely needs to be knocked out of the thick skulls of faculty and admin is that university is there for some fuzzy nonsense like "educated citizenship" or "molding future leaders". Here's some examples (first one is frankly a caricature of a prof who's gotten high on his farts and looks down on trade school)

https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/21/the-case-against-law-school/the-right-preparation-for-lawyer-citizens

https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/21/the-case-against-law-school/a-law-degree-is-priceless

These people are fine with enriching themselves at public expense while not producing much of value. A good chunk of the artsy majors Noah writes about don't teach much of value. All they do is produce sullen protestors (which we don't need) instead of innovative workers (which we absolutely do need). The university model needs to be reoriented so that the ethos is research + training the workforce. Not whatever philosophical bullshit the bloat thinks.

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This reply is to FrigidWind who neglects the mutual interest we all share in supporting the humanities and humanism.

Innovative workers, working for what? If we do not have members of our society who ask that question, who keep their eyes peeled for when workers are ordered to do things the workers cannot oppose on their own with the knowledge and consciousness their specialized industriousness affords, what then? The workers begin digging their own graves, what then?

I am amazed by your inability to see the very practical advantages of supporting a modest set of subject positions trained specifically to ensure the safety, sanity, and stability of economic models predicated on the human use of human beings. Your very participation in this debate would seem to posit the importance of civic discussions on matters of importance. But what if the parameters of that debate shift incoherently because of some regulatory agency or Internet platform changing its mind about the value of those discussions? Who will speak or have the agency to oppose anti-human manipulations?

Humanities are important only if we value humanity and the conscious experiences we're capable of when we are not pretending to be something different than what we are. It is understandable that you critique humanism and humanities from a capitalist perspective that privileges industry over consciousness. But what about conscience? Yes, every worker, every person, has a conscience, but, as we have seen the history of recent centuries tell us, every society has its aristocrats who cultivate beliefs that oppose the ability of the masses to reproduce their cultural formations. In these cases, it can be said that conscience can be corrupted by historical forces.

In the US, we believe we possess a government with 'checks and balances,' at least enough to know that concept has real weight. Yes, the industrial revolution enables the conditions giving rise to this conversation, yes, it brings me the food on my table, yes, yes. Capitalism feeds workers. But who checks the power of the capitalist? The worker whom he feeds? Or can power only be checked by agencies not already under its thumb?

Humanities must continue if the world is to continue under human observation and control. You and I should compromise, I should tolerate that I observe capitalism and you should tolerate capitalism observed by humanism, if we want to continue living with some semblance of harmony and some acceptable apportionment of hope.

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If we're going down this road, why even bother including research as part of the university ethos? Why not write off the idea of university-centric research as "fuzzy nonsense" and superfluous self-enrichment? The private sector can carry out research, after all; where's the proof that universities generate unique innovation that otherwise wouldn't happen? Why not make all colleges into trade schools that churn out accountants and lawyers and claims adjusters and such?

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I know you are speaking rhetorically, but empirically, both university research and government funding are vital, essential even, to research and development.

The private sector can carry out research, but a for-profit company can only do so when it has fat margins and a wide moat. Either that, or it has to maintain an outright monopoly or monopolistic market power.

The problem is that research and development in and of itself is a value sink. Or in accounting parlance, a cost center. R&D deals with the fact that a lot of their trial conclusions are dead ends. Few outputs are able to generate market value for R&D as a center to earn its keep.

A for-profit R&D play has the problem of failure being punished in the market. A speculative research endeavor that flops shears value off the enterprise. (As a parallel, look what happened in the streaming entertainment industry when Netflix reported two quarters of subscriber losses this year. Despite Netflix still being a profitable, valuable company, negative growth led to not only Netflix's market cap being decimated -- it also took down the streaming industry with it and causing similar devaluations to its rivals.)

That's why research is undertaken with a concert of government, university, nonprofit and for-profit funding. No one sector can do it alone.

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It's the "who watches the watchmen" and "self-sufficient" problems again. How can the market of ideas be functional if it selects for significance rather than truth?

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What a lack of argument combined with the nonsense in the first link I posted.

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What you are saying is correct, however one has to see what attaining such wisdom in an environment corrupted by political power and money can entail. The vileness of this system is that it puts people in debt (and enslavement) to service those that are unfit to teach. Those that are fit to do so went "indie" and publish their own materials away from universities and the student loan industrial complex.

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That is true as well, but the one key to note is that "the map is not the territory" has an equivalent: the institution is NOT the truth. It is the inherent problems of excessive collectivization and centralization of both political leanings (security and industrial institutions on the right btw), and a bias towards silencing heterodox thinking that stunts innovation and progress.

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What is your counter argument? Sounds like that comment hit too close to home

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I don't usually comment, but this time I will, because I believe I've been experiencing what Noah said on my own skin, apologies if I'll be a bit loo long in my comment.

I've always loved History as a subject (and I still do), when I was 13 I was already reading biographies of Hannibal and Julius Cesar, and in High School I even had my history teacher pulling me out of the religion hour (in Italy even public school have an hour of Catholic religion every week) so that I could go to another class and teach other students of my own age how medieval armies worked, so it was only natural that in 2007 I decided to go to college to study history.

But while studying the Great Recession happened, and it didn't took me much to understand that I was completely screwed.

If you think that History majors have it hard in the US, I let you imagine how it's in Italy, where unemployment is (and was) far higher.

So once I finished my bachelor in history I did something extremely uncommon for Italy, and decided to restart from square one, doing a bachelor in Economics, and, after that, a Master in Quantitative Finance, and although it was very hard moving from humanities to something a lot more technical (yes, I did have to learn how to code!) my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

Almost all my mates that graduated in History ended up being unemployed or underemployed, with meager salaries and unstable jobs, while now I'm earning four or five times their salary, and my biggest problem is that I'm changing job too often, because there's always another company offering me a higher pay that the one I'm making.

So I can see very well why people would abandon the Humanities for more "practical" career paths, because that's in fact what I did in my own life.

I hope I haven't bored you.

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There needs to be a ban on use of the word "elites" for very large groups of people. If you want to use it to describe billionaires (or just very wealthy folks) or Nobel Prize winners okay. All other usage should stop.

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You may be right, but Noah's larger point still stands. Call it "highly educated, insufficiently upwardly mobile people" instead of "elites" if you wish, but it's the same concept, only less catchy. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

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What part of my comment about using "elite" criticized Noah's overall point? My point is that it is overused.

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"Elite" has been one word that has been annihilated of meaning. It exists as a specimen of Orwell's duckspeak from 1984.

I'm old enough to remember a time (it was before Trump as presidential candidate) when elite had a meaning: a person or group that commands a base of power disproportionate to their small numbers.

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"how do we get out of this mess? If happiness equals reality minus expectations, simple math tells us that we basically have two options for pacifying our educated youth — improve reality, or reduce expectations."

At the risk of vastly oversimplifying the problem, the happiness literature has a pretty clear suggestion -- when people are unhappy because they expected something better the easiest way to address that is to engage in an activity to help somebody else.

I don't want to blame the victims here ("people would be happier if they were just better at being of service") but to suggest that another diagnosis that could explain the same symptoms is a crisis of lack of community -- people spend more time stewing over the ways in which life disappoints because they have less connection to their peers and their community.

So perhaps the solution is more hot pot.

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I found this argument very persuasive and interesting!

One thing that has always struck me as a millenial transplant from Japan is constant outrage of my generation here. I understood this as a byproduct of incentive structure on social media but after I read this post, I increasingly start to think the causal direction might be the other way around.

Also, I personallly found interesting that gen X in Japan didn't really revolt although they faced same kinda fate (economy collapsed and their struggle in finding jobs in postraduate). My weak hypotheses for now are

(i) we had a history of socialism (or communism) movement (which involved a lot of "elite" college students) going extreme and then collapsing in 70s

(ii) Aum Shinrikyo shenanigans (which also involved a lot of "elite" college graduates) and collapsed

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This reads like a misunderstanding of Turchin's thesis. His definition of the elite has little or nothing to do with college degrees. His definition is more about the number of people who have f--k you money or the number of millionaires or billionaires. The elite are the ruling class, those actively ruling and those who would like to be. Our politicians are not necessarily members of the elite themselves. They may be, but the elite is their big donors and supporters and the people and the companies they own and run who hire lobbyists and fund "think tanks" and the like.

Consider Turchin's analysis of ancient Rome. Rome had a senatorial class, an equestrian class and a plebian class. The elite competition was largely within the senatorial class though equestrians might strive for promotion. A senator was expected to have a certain net worth to maintain his position, but competition was fierce even within the senatorial class. There was surely competition for wealth, but the real elite competition was for honors, government appointments, consuls and proconsuls and other leadership roles.

Turchin notes that after the Punic Wars, the elite to non-elite ratio was down, because so many had died in the war. That made it relatively easy to get honors, especially as Roman power and influence were growing. If you were an equestrian, this was a good time to buy your way into the senatorial class. The elite was more open. As the elite to non-elite ratio rose, the competition for position among the elite got tougher and the cost of this competition was borne by the general population. Eventually, the Republic collapsed.

You can read Turchin for more on how this plays out, and then plays out again and again and again.

Most college graduates are not members of the elite. Getting a degree doesn't get one into the elite. An elite family may want to get their children into a prestigious institution. A child at Stanford or Harvard is one of those many honors one competes for. The number of legacy admits or outright purchased slots might make it harder for non-elite children to get into the school, but that is just collateral damage from elite competition. Odds are, a child of the elite will do just fine financially whether admitted to a brand name college or they just goof off playing video games. That's not what elite competition is about.

We may or may not be producing too many college graduates or too many or too few college graduates in certain fields, but this has nothing to do having too many members of the elite. You'd do better to look at our economic policies that have been creating so many millionaires and billionaires. Look at our lax policies regarding corporations that allow unlimited, untaxed wealth to be retained indefinitely. Those are the monsters about whose feet the non-elite have to scramble to avoid getting crushed.

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That's actually Turchin's own understanding and that's the problem I have with his theory:

It works great for the Ancient Rome or medieval kingdoms but I'm not sure he can transfer it to the modern time the way he does. He literally quoted the increase in the number of lawyers in the US as the sign of elites overproduction.

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I've seen Turchin's website and he responds to comments. In one comment, he did point out the intense elite competition in modern day terms.

The American population has always grown, through natural births outnumbering deaths, as well as through immigration. However, mathematically, the elite bases of power stays relatively constant. This means that capturing that base of power becomes more valuable, and thus costly, to compete for as population and economy expand. Rather than taking a portion of economic expansion (say 20% of a natural expansion rate of 3% a year -- or 0.6% of GDP) to try to broaden the natural expansion rate from 3% to 4% (logarithmically, that's quite substantial), elites will take their wealth to capture the bases of power in society.

Among the political (ruling) classes: There is only 1 president of the U.S. There are only 100 Senators. There are only 435 House seats. There are only 9 Supreme Court seats, and these are subject to the justices' longevity. So, a president governing over 300 million people is more powerful than one governing over 200 million people. The U.S. is unlikely to dilute any of these power bases.

The Ivy League colleges maintain selectivity through prestige and history and through reputation serve as a function identical to Frances grandes ecoles, the rookeries for the economic and political elites to establish pedigree.

You then have lists of economically powerful corporations, like the Fortune or S&P 500s. You can only have 500 CEOs, and only a few thousand other top-level executives (COO, CFO, etc.), but you'll often see the same people interconnected to one or more firms, not to mention financial stakes in other firms.

Elite competition stems from entering and capturing one of these bases, and what drives this competition is the status prestige of the fixed number of power bases while everything else expands.

The solution is also *not* to dilute the prestige. Devaluing social status only motivates people toward more collusion, system-gaming and authoritarian innovation (see: the rise of Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary).

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Yow! That's true. He did say that. I've only read one or two of Turchin's books and a few papers, so I missed that. I got into Turchin after reading Hackett-Fischer's The Great Wave which is about historical cycles of price stability and instability in Europe. HF mentioned that some considered that this might have a demographic driver, but Turchin has since proposed a mechanism. I had read some Braudel on historical pricing and economics in the 1980s, but there has been a lot more research done since then. (The Europeans went big on material history back in the 60s and 70s, probably under the influence of Marxism.)

I know that being a lawyer is sort of a default upper middle (or perhaps lower upper) class career. That's why my sister went into law, faute de mieux. That's why Fermat and so many other French intellectuals were lawyers. Jules Verne's parents wanted him to become a lawyer. In contrast, Lavoisier was a titled member of the ruling class. He did not become a lawyer, but he did get his head chopped off.

I'll have to do some more reading. Maybe a glut of lawyers is a sign of elite competition.

The law can be a path for people of all classes. For example, there was a young lawyer who did a review of the co-op apartment building I grew up in. I followed him on Yelp, of all places. He reviewed my old building, positively. He also reviewed quite a few restaurants and other venues, sort of the Samuel Pepys of Jackson Heights. He remarked, in one review, that taking a date to a restaurant with common tables was like going on two or three dates at the same time. He also mentioned, apropos of a restaurant serving po'boy sandwiches, that he was "a poor boy no more". If becoming a lawyer is about about elite competition, it starts at the low end.

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The discipline of law does offer several specialties in the U.S. at least: criminal, tort, constitutional, patent/trademark/copyright, as well as numerous business specialties --- entertainment law in Los Angeles, energy law in Houston and Dallas, corporate law in Philadelphia (for its proximity to Delaware, where most corporations are born), etc.

What probably happened in the legal field was that the profession misread the demand for legal services and overexpanded. Economically, law itself is an unproductive endeavor -- it's literally a zero-sum game in which one side's work is to destroy the work of the other side.

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Best case, the rule of law is reducing risk, which does create value.

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Yeah, the mismatch between college majors and job supply is a piece of it, and maybe something that works itself out?

But the more basic issue seems to be that we convinced 50% of the population that they would be in the top 20% of the socioeconomic strata.

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Or as Yarvin noted the top 20% of the population fighting over 5% of high gentry roles.

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Ad astra per aspera.

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Kaleberg, I think Turchin's analysis of the French revolution showed a birth cohort dynamic at play. We tend to think of France as "liberte, egalite, fraternite" triumphing over an ossified aristocracy, but the revolution was brother vs. brother. The firstborn children of elites identified with the aristocracy. Otherborns cast their lots in with the masses, though it was more out of a sense of weaponizing the social upheaval to knock the aristocratic firstborns out of their lofty social positions.

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There was a demographic transition in 18th century France with a big drop in the birth rate. That's when people started to practice withdrawal and use condoms. Casanova, for example, wrote that he started using them around 1760. This raised the GDP per capita in France to a level that England, with its Industrial Revolution, would only match a century later. It delayed urbanization. It also gave France a reputation for sexual license.

I can see how there was a demographic trigger for the revolution. The population kept increasing, though at a lower rate than before. Everyone got used to the higher living standards under Louis XV, bien aimé, so when things started to get tighter under Louis XVI, things exploded.

https://www.guillaumeblanc.com/files/theme/Blanc_secularization.pdf

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Turchin does measure elite size by wealth. At the same time, his analysis includes a category called "elite aspirants", which, self-explanatory. The point is exactly as Noah describes it, people who've assumed they'll join the elite but actually won't. But still compete.

That said, I don't think anybody discussing here bothered to read Ages of Discord. I've opened the relevant chapter and actually just looking at the graphs would suffice. Say, Noah accuses Turchin "focusing on labor supply while ignoring the importance of labor demand" - cue Figure 13.3 comparing MD applicants to positions. One of the people responding to you claims he "quoted the increase in the number of lawyers" - cue Figure 13.4 demonstrating his actual argument that the distribution of lawyers' salaries became bimodal, leaving most of the profession out of the path to the elite.

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I have a copy of Ages of Discord, but am waiting for a good time to read it. I should probably move it closer to the top of my stack.

There is a lot of competition for decent billets among the middle and lower classes, but I don't see what that has to do with elite competition. The elite aren't doctors or lawyers except incidentally. That scramble for a decent billet may be a side effect of elite competition, but elite competition takes place at a much higher level. Turchin seems to have a different view of modern and historical societies and their elites. The apostle Paul was a doctor which entitled him to Roman citizenship, but he was never a member of the elite bucking for a consulship.

We repeatedly see elite competition damaging the economic prospects of the vast majority of Americans. Inflation threatens the ruling class's score keeping, but it is also an essential side effect of economic growth. Rather than ruin their game and let workers in the bottom 80-90% improve their lot, the Federal Reserve just announced that is going to trigger an economic collapse .Every time they have done this since the 1970s, the bottom 20% has seen a complete reset of all gains and everyone else has seen lesser losses.

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A recession is no economic collapse; that's just hyperbole. In any case the combination of high interest rates and high inflation typically reduce wealth inequality. When the UK embraced monetarism as inflation was in the double digits the richest 1% saw their wealth share plummet from 26% in 1976 to 17.8% in 1984. https://wid.world/world/#shweal_p99p100_z/WO;GB/last/eu/k/p/yearly/s/false/14.953/100/curve/false/country

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Yes, it is hyperbole being used as a rhetorical device. Many people consider losing their job and being unable to find a new one or having to take a job with much lower pay to be catastrophic, especially if they can't pay their mortgage, lose their home and all equity in it and so on. The use of the word "catastrophic" is also hyperbole, but, as they say, you have to have been there.

That is interesting about the share of the 1% in the UK. The richest lost share from a bit before World War I, through the second World War and into the 1970s. That was the era when the British colonial empire, to be a bit hyperbolic, collapsed. The decline seems to have ended in the 1980s under Thatcher. The US had a decline, from a lower level, during World War II, but the level started rising in the 1980s. Thanks for pointing me at a useful database.

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Unemployment sucks, but being unemployment in early Weimar Germany or post 2013 Venezuela (which is what a collapse would look like) is a very special kind of hell.

Looking at the data I'd argue the fall before WW1 was the probably result of Lloyd Gorge's people's budget much of the fall could be seen as a product of rising home ownership, inflation and estate duties (helped along with global shocks). The fact wealth inequality stood still under Thatcher is the most perhaps the interesting bit; as opposed to rising. I suspect the booming house prices of the era played a role of in reshaping the wealth distribution; being high enough to counteract the rise in share prices. (pg. 27)

https://wid.world/document/f-alvaredo-b-atkinson-s-morelli-2017-top-wealth-shares-uk-century-wid-world-working-paper/

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I think reducing expectations is probably our best bet here. If the government were to embark on a punitive campaign of progressively making life worse for young people they’d have no reason to expect life to get better.

Raise student loan interest rates to the point that credit card interest looks like a steal. Continue to hike the fed funds rate until we’re back at Great Recession levels of unemployment. Do to primary school teaching jobs what we’ve done to tenure track positions at universities. Give massive tax breaks for every job that a company manages to offshore.

There should be no expectation that getting an education is going to be a useful endeavor, and we should instead instill the opposite sentiment. The ideal situation is one where after filling out hundreds of applications out best and brightest should be extremely happy just to land a position working the midnight counter at a rural gas station.

If we want to maximize the Happiness side of the equation we need to be willing to commit to a program of decimating expectations, the labor force, and human capital for decades.

On a slightly more serious note, we have emphasized satisfaction at our jobs far too much. Given that a vanishingly small number of us will ever do something that is interesting, intrinsically rewarding, and financially lucrative, I’m not disappointed in the (stupidly named) “quiet quitting” phenomenon. This tells me that folks are reorienting their lives and placing their personal lives and interests first. This is a good thing! People should be as mercenary as their employers have been for decades, and if that means clawing back some meaning into your life that a job was never going to give you, good!

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that quiet quitting just sounds like enforcing healthy boundaries between work and home/family

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There is a massive difference between George Costanza napping udner his desk and empyees not wanting to work to midnight because the employer is dumping the work of an un-hired person on them without compensation.

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Exactly! Which is what we should hope is happening as people reorient their lives around actual sources of happiness.

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This is an excellent post. However, from personal experience things are not that bleak. I received my PhD in chemistry in 1975 and after two post- doctoral stints moved out of research and into the biopharma industry where I had a great 27 year career in drug regulator affairs. I was a project manager on a multi- million dollar drug safety project which is today doing great things. As Noah himself knows there is life beyond academia.

One of my hires who had a PhD and worked for me for five years found she enjoyed photography and is now a I highly respected event photographer who has shot at New York fashion week.

I have mentored and counseled dozens of young people. My advice has always been to learn how to write and communicate well, present yourself and all will fall into place. My first job after working as a senior fellow at NIH came partly from some book reviews I wrote for the Ithaca Journal when I was at Cornell!!

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Fidel Castro got a law degree. But lawyers were neither well-paid, nor highly respected in 1950s Cuba. Fidel had been a relatively pampered son of a prosperous farmer in the hinterlands and his maid, both uneducated. Fidel expected life to continue to indulge and acclaim him.

He was brutally dissuaded from his adolescent hubris at the University of Havana when he fell in love with the prettiest girl on campus: Mirta Diaz-Balart, of the wealthy Havana Diaz-Balart's. Her family loathed his "guajiro" background (and a maid for a mother!). Mirta was eventually allowed to marry Fidel, but the Diaz-Balart clan looked down on the eloquent, but unsophisticated, untraveled and comparatively "poor" Fidel.

He could not afford to give Mirta an upper-middle-class life in Havana. His pride and foiled expectations led to frustration. His legal education led him to Marx.

He took to the hills of Oriente, near his dad's farm, with a bunch of "over educated for expectations" "fighters". Friends he had met at the University of Havana. All had had their social climbing dreams frustrated by lack of jobs paying enough to live well in Havana.

None could even shoot straight; none had military training. But, they were pissed at the limited avenues for economic mobility and social acceptance. They were doctors (Che) and lawyers. Their frustrated rage was their ammo.

Fast forward a few years and they've taken over the country and the Diaz-Balart's were all chased out of the island.

(We are now the beneficiaries of the Diaz-Balart's enduring, "high life" presence -- you can see them on MSNBC and in Congress).

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Aug 27, 2022·edited Aug 27, 2022

Desi Arnaz was a child of one of those aristocratic Cuban families that got run out of Cuba by Castro's revolution. No Castro, no "I Love Lucy". It's strange how things are connected...

Edit: I'm a moron. I didn't know that there was more than one Cuban Revolution; Arnaz fled the one in 1933.

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The Cuban diaspora is interesting politically. Many of the exiled business and professional families wound up in Florida and became conservative anticommunist Republicans, and remain so to this day.

The second-largest cohort of Cuban immigrants settled in and around New York City. Often, these were the artisans, intellectuals and laborers. They became anticommunist liberal Democrats, and remain so to this day.

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Almost none left in NY now. They're all either dead or they left for Cuban-Mecca (Miami). As for the "artisans and laborers", they're all Republican now. Only the intellectuals and the gay& lesbian crowd remain Democrats. There's still a group in Northern New Jersey and that's how Bob Menendez got to Congress. The Jersey crowd still supports Menendez, as long as he stays fiercely "anti-Communist". But, they tend to otherwise vote Republican (split their ticket to vote for Menendez AND Trump).

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Aug 27, 2022·edited Aug 27, 2022

Given that "I Love Lucy" debuted on October 15, 1951 and Castro didn't even launch his first armed assault on the Cuban government until July 26, 1953, I'd say that's definitely strange how things are connected unless time travel is involved . . . .

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You're absolutely right, thank you. I didn't know there was more than one Cuban Revolution.

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You're welcome! I appreciate the willingness to accept a correction rather than doubling down as seems to be the trend these days.

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It wasn’t “frustrated rage” that Castro fired into the heads of people who disagreed with him, his “ammo” was actual metal bullets.

Kind of interesting that being hunted down by murderous thugs and running for one’s life can be dismissed as “chased out of the island”.

El Presidente obviously hated the “high life” of the Diaz-Balarts so much that he amassed a $900 million dollar fortune on the backs of the good Cuban people. What a humanitarian and Man of the People he was.

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Too poetic. The aspirational middle class, as pointed out by Alex Danco, to be a heart of cluelessless, and that Church's ladder thesis noted how they can never become aristocratic. Economic mobility is also a myth as IQ ("education") and GFP ("personality") are highly genetic, making SES ("class") genetic.

https://alexdanco.com/2021/01/22/the-michael-scott-theory-of-social-class/

https://alexdanco.com/2021/07/08/michael-dwight-and-andy-the-three-aesthetics-of-the-creative-class/

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“Heritable” doesn’t mean genetic.

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Check on Emil Kirkegaard first, bruv. IQ and GFP are very genetic.

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This reply is to Brad & Butter who derive their notion of IQ from the same place as all myths, from the social class that, alone in its illusion of permanent excellence, gets to define everyone's Godhead:

The only thing genetic about IQ is that our self-replicative crystal seems hellbent on forming agents such as yourself who insist on dominating others by means of illusory cultural constructs like IQ that universalize to as many hosts as possible in order to make use of them. IQ may map onto genetic variance but it describes a historically contingent toolbox of cognitive skills, in other words, it is the construct that describes how productive a military aristocracy can expect its work force to be, and also how dangerous.

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I think "expectations" is a little bit misleading term here:

I could have expectations about a dinner or a a summer vacation, but in the scenario above it means much more than that. When I'm getting a college degree and think about my future career it becomes part of my identity and it is way more powerful. I wouldn't be able to just "lower" the expectations, it is actually requires restructuring my identity and at this point it is getting much easier to blame someone else (globalists, immigrants, capitalists, freemasons, etc).

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