The Guide for the Perplexed

Are you baffled by the rise of Donald Trump? Astonished at the inanity and predictability of NPR? Appalled by the constant insistence on political correctness? These and other baleful developments are largely due to the suffocating domination of sanctimonious liberalism in dealing with public policy. Sanctimonious liberalism has three primary tenets:

First, Society divides into the oppressor and the oppressed, such as white oppressors vs black oppressed and male oppressors vs female oppressed, along with the other officially recognized oppressed groups --gays, transsexuals, the gender fluid, the differently abled, fat people, Native Americans, immigrants, the poor, Hispanics, Palestinians, and Muslims.  Pedophiles and the polyamorous also feel oppressed and are working to establish their own victim status. 

Second, victim status is important. Any differences in outcomes between oppressor vs oppressed groups (white vs black, male vs female, etc.) is ipso facto evidence of discrimination. Any social problem such as discrimination requires a political solution (the personal is political). Any discussion of any responsibilities of the oppressed group is unacceptable because that would be blaming the victim. And no member of an oppressed group can ever be an oppressor. 

Third, there are two sides to any issue, the good (left, blue) side and the bad (right, red) side. In all cases the good side is not only correct on the issues, but is also morally correct. The bad side is not only wrong on the issues, but holds these views for the wrong reasons, typically racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, sizeism, fear, or selfishness.

The Vatican of sanctimonious liberalism is the New York Times, which sets the topics to be discussed, the acceptable reactions to those topics and the proper way to think about those topics. Together this forms The Narrative. Following the lead of the NYT, the narrative gets extended in some media (Atlantic, New Yorker, Vanity Fair), while being watered down and simplified as it cascades down through the national news shows (ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR) to social media (Facebook, Twitter, reddit) to local newspapers and news shows and finally to the outlets for the lowest information voters (Time, Cosmopolitan, Redbook).

Unacceptable topics and views about topics are simply not reported. This suppressio veri (the concealment of truth) is easily accomplished by the traditional media by means of their choices of what to present. The newer social media use the input of their users and therefore Facebook has to curate trending topics, the evidently irony-challenged Twitter had to create the “Twitter Trust & Safety Council” and the Admins and Mods of reddit have to do their duty for the narrative. 

For example, every week there are articles in the NYT by women about the challenges, difficulties, and irritations of being a woman. That’s the way the narrative rolls, but the narrative misses a lot. About 80% of suicides are men. After the financial crisis men were disproportionally put out of work vis à vis women. Male-dominated jobs have a much higher death rate than female-dominated jobs. These are just a few examples of how any discussion of men (an oppressor group) doing less well than women (an oppressed group) does not fit the narrative and therefore is suppressed. The narrative is all about confirmation bias.

The coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign is illustrative of the narrative and how its good vs bad judgment works. Overwhelmingly positive Trump coverage was okay in the beginning of his campaign because coverage would get readership and clicks for the media, all with the overall pretense of fairness. Thus media disseminating the narrative could attract those intrigued by him as well as their traditional followers who were horrified by him. The positive news was not about his actual views on issues, but rather the size of his crowds, the attention he was getting, etc. As time moved on, the narrative shifted to an overwhelmingly critical tone which will reach a crescendo at the time of the election. This process plays out in every presidential race. As Glenn Reynolds observed, Mitt Romney was Hitler when a candidate, but four years later he sets the high standard of Republican candidates that the current candidate does not live up to.

For those who would like to understand the world, consider going (a) above the narrative to the Times Literary Supplement; (b) to competing narratives, such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Mother Jones and Fox News and (c) below the narrative to the Drudge Report, the National Enquirer and Internet sources of the undernews.

Equally important would be to adopt a more analytical approach rather than sanctimonious liberalism to policy and political matters, starting with the concept of dialectics. Simplified, the Hegelian dialectic posits that a Thesis is opposed by its Antithesis, out of which comes a Synthesis. This synthesis then becomes a thesis and the process continues. For example, if Sanctimonious Liberalism is the Thesis, then Trump is the Antithesis. Many people lost in the fog of sanctimonious liberalism were blindsided by the Brexit vote and the success of Trump. It is as if they believed that sanctimonious liberalism was already The Absolute Idea and is so perfect that it would never give rise to an antithesis. However, even this early in the process some have already attempted a Synthesis. Lawrence Summers, for example, called for responsible nationalism, not reflex globalism in a piece in the Financial Times.

Just as the financial crisis had a long runup, the crisis of sanctimonious liberalism has also had a long runup. The holier-than-thou, though secular, moral contempt for those who disagree with the narrative has, not surprisingly, angered millions.  In addition, free trade agreements, while a good thing overall for the country as a whole, have both winners and losers. But according to the narrative, if you object that you are a victim of a free trade agreement you are xenophobic and a “bitter clinger.” In the narrative, whites and males are the oppressors, so white males cannot be victims. However, here in pathetic flyover country, some white males are victims, in fact. The Wall Street Journal tells us in a news story, “Across 25 of the world’s advanced economies, about two-thirds of the population -- more than half a billion people -- earn the same as or less than their peers did a decade ago.” That’s a lot of bitter clingers.

A new approach (synthesis, anyone?) might start with the concept that a government should focus on all of its own citizens rather than focus on identity groups based on victimhood.  It might also focus on individuals rather than group averages and recognize there are losers in the so-called oppressor groups and winners in the so-called oppressed groups. It might also allow people to express anodyne opinions or even disagree with a member of an oppressed group without being charged with thought crimes such as racism and sexism.

Are you baffled by the rise of Donald Trump? Astonished at the inanity and predictability of NPR? Appalled by the constant insistence on political correctness? These and other baleful developments are largely due to the suffocating domination of sanctimonious liberalism in dealing with public policy. Sanctimonious liberalism has three primary tenets:

First, Society divides into the oppressor and the oppressed, such as white oppressors vs black oppressed and male oppressors vs female oppressed, along with the other officially recognized oppressed groups --gays, transsexuals, the gender fluid, the differently abled, fat people, Native Americans, immigrants, the poor, Hispanics, Palestinians, and Muslims.  Pedophiles and the polyamorous also feel oppressed and are working to establish their own victim status. 

Second, victim status is important. Any differences in outcomes between oppressor vs oppressed groups (white vs black, male vs female, etc.) is ipso facto evidence of discrimination. Any social problem such as discrimination requires a political solution (the personal is political). Any discussion of any responsibilities of the oppressed group is unacceptable because that would be blaming the victim. And no member of an oppressed group can ever be an oppressor. 

Third, there are two sides to any issue, the good (left, blue) side and the bad (right, red) side. In all cases the good side is not only correct on the issues, but is also morally correct. The bad side is not only wrong on the issues, but holds these views for the wrong reasons, typically racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, sizeism, fear, or selfishness.

The Vatican of sanctimonious liberalism is the New York Times, which sets the topics to be discussed, the acceptable reactions to those topics and the proper way to think about those topics. Together this forms The Narrative. Following the lead of the NYT, the narrative gets extended in some media (Atlantic, New Yorker, Vanity Fair), while being watered down and simplified as it cascades down through the national news shows (ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR) to social media (Facebook, Twitter, reddit) to local newspapers and news shows and finally to the outlets for the lowest information voters (Time, Cosmopolitan, Redbook).

Unacceptable topics and views about topics are simply not reported. This suppressio veri (the concealment of truth) is easily accomplished by the traditional media by means of their choices of what to present. The newer social media use the input of their users and therefore Facebook has to curate trending topics, the evidently irony-challenged Twitter had to create the “Twitter Trust & Safety Council” and the Admins and Mods of reddit have to do their duty for the narrative. 

For example, every week there are articles in the NYT by women about the challenges, difficulties, and irritations of being a woman. That’s the way the narrative rolls, but the narrative misses a lot. About 80% of suicides are men. After the financial crisis men were disproportionally put out of work vis à vis women. Male-dominated jobs have a much higher death rate than female-dominated jobs. These are just a few examples of how any discussion of men (an oppressor group) doing less well than women (an oppressed group) does not fit the narrative and therefore is suppressed. The narrative is all about confirmation bias.

The coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign is illustrative of the narrative and how its good vs bad judgment works. Overwhelmingly positive Trump coverage was okay in the beginning of his campaign because coverage would get readership and clicks for the media, all with the overall pretense of fairness. Thus media disseminating the narrative could attract those intrigued by him as well as their traditional followers who were horrified by him. The positive news was not about his actual views on issues, but rather the size of his crowds, the attention he was getting, etc. As time moved on, the narrative shifted to an overwhelmingly critical tone which will reach a crescendo at the time of the election. This process plays out in every presidential race. As Glenn Reynolds observed, Mitt Romney was Hitler when a candidate, but four years later he sets the high standard of Republican candidates that the current candidate does not live up to.

For those who would like to understand the world, consider going (a) above the narrative to the Times Literary Supplement; (b) to competing narratives, such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Mother Jones and Fox News and (c) below the narrative to the Drudge Report, the National Enquirer and Internet sources of the undernews.

Equally important would be to adopt a more analytical approach rather than sanctimonious liberalism to policy and political matters, starting with the concept of dialectics. Simplified, the Hegelian dialectic posits that a Thesis is opposed by its Antithesis, out of which comes a Synthesis. This synthesis then becomes a thesis and the process continues. For example, if Sanctimonious Liberalism is the Thesis, then Trump is the Antithesis. Many people lost in the fog of sanctimonious liberalism were blindsided by the Brexit vote and the success of Trump. It is as if they believed that sanctimonious liberalism was already The Absolute Idea and is so perfect that it would never give rise to an antithesis. However, even this early in the process some have already attempted a Synthesis. Lawrence Summers, for example, called for responsible nationalism, not reflex globalism in a piece in the Financial Times.

Just as the financial crisis had a long runup, the crisis of sanctimonious liberalism has also had a long runup. The holier-than-thou, though secular, moral contempt for those who disagree with the narrative has, not surprisingly, angered millions.  In addition, free trade agreements, while a good thing overall for the country as a whole, have both winners and losers. But according to the narrative, if you object that you are a victim of a free trade agreement you are xenophobic and a “bitter clinger.” In the narrative, whites and males are the oppressors, so white males cannot be victims. However, here in pathetic flyover country, some white males are victims, in fact. The Wall Street Journal tells us in a news story, “Across 25 of the world’s advanced economies, about two-thirds of the population -- more than half a billion people -- earn the same as or less than their peers did a decade ago.” That’s a lot of bitter clingers.

A new approach (synthesis, anyone?) might start with the concept that a government should focus on all of its own citizens rather than focus on identity groups based on victimhood.  It might also focus on individuals rather than group averages and recognize there are losers in the so-called oppressor groups and winners in the so-called oppressed groups. It might also allow people to express anodyne opinions or even disagree with a member of an oppressed group without being charged with thought crimes such as racism and sexism.