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Elon Musk Contests Network Dominance
Those who believe they own morality rage against an inconvenient takeover.
Once again — after a long break, for which I apologise — I’ve got a thoughtful longread from Lorenzo Warby. It was written in response to Elon Musk’s mooted (and still to be closed) bid to buy Twitter and take it private.
At time of writing, deal closure was being held up by Twitter playing fast and loose with how many spam or bot accounts there are on the platform as a percentage of total users. The company told the SEC the figure was “around 5 percent”, and Musk relied on that information when making his purchase (which is legally significant). He now claims there is no mathematical analysis or modelling underlying the figure, or if there is, it hasn’t been made available to either him or the SEC.
Meanwhile, Musk suspects that the number of fake or at least “controlled” users (spam, basically) on Twitter may be as high as 20 percent. This is something I’ve heard frequently from people who are far more tech savvy than me, and even detected from time-to-time myself. Interestingly — at least to my untrained eye — while a lot of Twitter users don’t seem to be composed entirely of pixels, they’re certainly coordinated, or at least behave in a suspiciously coordinated way.
That aside, I’ll leave you with Lorenzo, who is interesting & thought-provoking in his usual way. He’s on Twitter @LorenzoFrom if you want to give him a follow.
NB: Substack says Gmail will truncate this post because of its length. That means you’ll have to click the “message clipped” notice to get the last couple of paragraphs.
Elon Musk buying Twitter has caused, as we used to say, a stir. Some have been engaging in public freak-outs, others have been pointing and laughing at said freak-outs. But there has also been quite a lot of thoughtful commentary about social media in general and Twitter in particular.
Jim Rutt’s careful consideration, based on decades of online experience, of the difference between decorum moderation (yes please, I say), content moderation (clearly to be used sparingly: against child pornography, incitement to violence, not much else) and point-of-view moderation (ah, no) is a particular standout.
Elon Musk clearly believes he can increase Twitter’s revenues, that is why he bid well over the publicly traded share price. He did this because Twitter is a network good. Network goods tend towards monopoly because the bigger the network, the greater the benefit to being in the network and the cheaper each extra user becomes to add.
Musk apparently believes he can make Twitter more efficient by better management, tweaking the algorithms, etc. But the obvious way to increase its revenue is to increase market share, to make Twitter (even more) dominant in its communication space.
Twitter has a much smaller public reach than Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. On the other hand, Twitter has an institutional reach that no other social media platform can rival, since so many folk working in what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls the epistemic industries use it.
So, if Musk wishes to “grow the business”, he has two lines of attack. (1) Increase its reach among the wider public, which he has said he intends to do. (2) Increase its reach among the epistemic industries.
An obvious way to do the former is to reduce or eliminate trading-off of revenue against Twitter’s level of specific friendliness to Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (PEP aka “wokeness”). This is what many of the people shrieking about Musk’s takeover are worried about.
This generates an obvious problem for the woke, as the (shifting) opinion-sets that mark PEP (what writer Wesley Yang calls the Successor Ideology) are strikingly dominant among folk who work in the epistemic industries.
When you look at opinion data, PEPs are about 8-10% of the population. They’re an institutionally entrenched in the cultural commanding heights and — for reasons discussed below — opinion-intolerant, 8-10% of the population.
A rather larger number of people go along with The Message, accepting some parts of the package of beliefs but not others. That 8-10% of full PEPs is probably roughly the proportion of Christians in the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine (272-337) adopted Christianity (and we all know where that led).
Being PEP-friendly is surely a key element of the appeal of Twitter to its core, institutionally significant users. The PEPs are also disproportionately active, so there is also a numbers/activity trade-off issue in their use of Twitter.
A 2014 study of US political donations found that Entertainment, Academe, Online IT and News Media were strongly clustered together in opinion and strikingly separated from other industries. There is no reason to think this pattern has changed. On the contrary, given the post-2014 patterns generated, ironically, by the evolution of social media, it has almost certainly intensified, at least in the US, and possibly elsewhere.
Having the epistemic industries so dominated by a particular set of perspectives so strikingly different from those held across wider society is not a healthy situation. It gets in the way of contemporary societies being able to talk to themselves.
The disruption of the public sphere (to use historian Niall Ferguson’s phrase) that the internet, the personal computer and smart phones have let loose is having a wide range of effects.
Traditionally, there were clear rules (norms really) of politeness and civility. They mostly worked, so the attempt was made to expand their reach. Hence the development of the evangelical niceness which was the attractive element in what used to be called political correctness (PC). While some of it did become rather precious, the casual (or not so casual) verbal abuse of disfavoured groups that the evangelical niceness of PC sought to stop was a social ugliness that our societies were better off without.
Unfortunately, precisely because it was well-meaning and effective, over-reach occurred where evangelical niceness was used as a cover and justification to weaponise ostentatious compassion and anti-bigotry. A tendency which has not gone away, and which has also intensified.
What’s in a label?
The old term political correctness and the current term woke and its cognates both show the same (revealing) pattern.
A term arises among progressives that picks out moral rectitude. The term is then taken up, criticised and mocked by conservatives.
The term thus becomes a contested and contestable label, with those to whom it is applied becoming just another grouping. One, moreover, subject to public critique and mockery.
The term is then abandoned by progressives. Its use thereafter by non-progressives becomes a marker (among progressives) of out-group status, of a lack of intellectual and moral rectitude. The term becomes a mechanism for self-siloing. Those who use the term are comprehensively dismissed because they use a term now a sign among progressives of out-group status. The viewpoints and critiques of those who talk about PC or of “wokeness” are dismissed as beneath serious consideration. Which is how siloing works—systematic policing of the boundaries of who and what are acceptable voices and sources.
Notably, there is resistance among progressives to any specific label, a preciousness that writer Freddie deBoer goes to town on here.
The difficulty for progressives is that any contestable label gets in the way of the fundamental assumption that they own morality. They constantly display enormous moral entitlement, demanding respect for their moral judgements (and themselves for having them) while despising differing moral judgements and those who make them. As their identity is based around owning morality, suggesting that their ideas give them no greater standing than anyone else is a deep affront.
This explains the freakout over Elon Musk buying Twitter. He does not buy into their sense of moral superiority or of owning morality. A buying into which is precisely what they (including, of course, many of its staff) want Twitter to do. They do not support censorship, oh no: just the excluding of “immoral” and “illegitimate” views.
In-group, prestige and luxury beliefs
To understand these dynamics, it is useful to distinguish between in-group (or tribal) beliefs, prestige opinions and luxury beliefs.
Any group can have in-group beliefs. How much intense conformity there is around what beliefs varies while having in-group beliefs is normal. Both the PEPs and their order-focused-authoritarian (aka authoritarian Right) counterparts have in-group beliefs they adhere to intensely and use to enforce political boundaries. So, PEPs attack progressive-leaning moderates for enabling bigotry; order-focused-authoritarians attack conservative-leaning moderates for being “just lose politely” traitors.
Prestige opinions are status-granting opinions. Having them marks one as being of the smart and good. Nowadays, a key business model for “quality” media is selling prestige opinions to folk: what one has to believe to be of the smart and good. This is an emotionally and cognitively useful status-protecting service because we are awash with floods of information. This applies especially among folk in the epistemic industries; those whose social and occupational identity is being the people who know.
The direct implication of opinion X granting prestige and status as one of the smart and the good, is that believing any Y that contradicts X undermines status, marking one as stupid/ignorant/malicious, etc. To play the prestige opinion game is to play the “we own morality” game. It is to play the “grading opinion into legitimate and illegitimate” game.
Which is how we end up with journalists supporting censorship and people freaking out at the thought that there might be less censorship on Twitter. For it is about defending righteousness, about defending their sense of owning morality. If opinions that contradict their prestige opinions are treated as acceptable, then their prestige opinions become just another set of opinions. At best, just in-group opinions with no special status.
We Homo sapiens evolved as a group-living species. Thus, a very status-concerned, reputation-focused species. We are very good at picking up markers of status and emulating them. A process which is often far from conscious. Indeed, one of the ways in which we misread ourselves is that we tend to be far too conscious of being conscious. A lot of our cognition, even on sophisticated matters, is not conscious, is hidden from ourselves. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of status, which our genetic lineages have been worrying about since before we became human, let alone evolved into Homo sapiens.
Former CBC journalist Tara Henley provides an excellent rendition of how such status-and-reputation concerned opinion self-policing feels and operates from the inside within media. She also quotes Jacob Siegel, from The Tablet, who expresses the dynamics well:
I think that sometimes when people outside of the media haven’t seen how this operates … they imagine that we are suggesting that the peer pressure involves threats about employment status or something like that, which may be the case. But more often than not, it’s that the person who is being pressured has already fully internalized the idea that to report on the wrong kind of story, to say the wrong kind of thing, would simply be gauche. To be gauche in that way is essentially unforgivable. It’s a moral crime. It’s to step outside of the bounds of civilized society.
There is a reason that every single wisdom tradition asks us to know ourselves and says this is a hard, confronting thing to do.
Precisely because they operate as status-markers, prestige opinions are a feature of the institutionally advantaged. Increasing PEP domination of the epistemic industries, intensifying longstanding progressive domination of those industries, makes prestige opinions a feature and weapon of PEPs, but not of order-focused-authoritarians. The latter lack any such institutional entrenchment, so they have in-group opinions (quite intensely) but not prestige-opinions.
PEP domination of the epistemic industries has also led to ongoing calls from those outside the PEP-sphere for new institutions to be created, ones not dominated by PEPs. This is why some people see Elon Musk buying Twitter as portending a rare case of organisational reversal.
Luxury beliefs is a term coined by Cambridge PhD student Rob Henderson. He is the child of a drug-addicted single parent; he went through the foster-system, was adopted and then, after his adoptive parents divorced, was raised in a low-income single-mother household, served in the USAF and then went to Yale on the GI Bill. Being dropped into an elite institution from such a background led him to identify luxury beliefs: beliefs that are markers of status among elites but also have negative, even disastrous, consequences lower down the social scale. “Defund the police” is a classic example, with the (utterly predictable) surge in homicides due to police withdrawal from active policing making it a luxury belief with a horrifying body count.
Luxury beliefs are a subset of prestige opinions. Folk (of the lower orders) who are harmed by the consequences of such a belief are much less likely to adopt it, helping to preserve the belief’s elite status.
One of the greatest difficulties any human society faces is getting its elite to act virtuously, or at least dutifully. Especially as aggrandising, grasping individuals are often drawn to seeking elite status.
Using the holding of correct (status-marker) opinions as an entirely performative sign of elite status is the opposite of an elite embracing any serious sense of duty to others. Our capacity to hide self-interest behind morality makes the sort of toxic elite dynamics that creates luxury beliefs oh-so-easy.
The US is suffering from long-term decline in state capacity, the ability to make government work, in large part because performative, ritual, symbolic politics is replacing a commitment to the duty of making things work. Any such notion of duty to make things work implies a responsibility to ordinary citizens. So much of elite status-signalling has become about evidencing one’s superiority over, and contempt for, ordinary citizens. Cosmopolitan “globalist” anywheres signalling their social distance from, and contempt for, grounded-in-local-identities somewheres. Who increasingly are attracted to a politics of showing contempt in their turn, from yellow vest protests in France, to truckers in Canada, to voting for Trump and for Le Pen.
Amplifying emotional intensity
The core PEPs represent the classic “power of an intolerant minority”. Social media has greatly increased their power to network and to signal to each other, especially with like and retweet/share functions.
Social media, particularly Twitter, as it is just text, provides a very narrow slice of information about someone. Hence the emotional content of, or reaction to, words gets elevated in a literally dehumanising way. You are not dealing with the visceral impact of the presence of another person, but a narrow avatar of opinion. If all you “see” of someone is his words, that’s how he is defined.
Worse, online narrowing of interaction to just-words creates, and enables, trolling. Also, manipulative bots: high-tech agitprop.
The combination of narrow-information vectors with emotional salience is socially dangerous. It amplifies the most emotionally intense voices, regardless of views. We’re confronted by people who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject.
Social media amplifies and empowers intolerant, absolutist minorities. Worse, it allows a motivated intolerant minority to coordinate and punish, to indulge in mob cruelty.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that content as such does not drive these dynamics. It comes from the structure of social media. Particularly the amplification of intolerant minorities and the narrowing of interactions, which generates toxic online social dynamics.
As historian Niall Ferguson reminds us, the last time there was such an explosion of such narrow-vector information in the public sphere (the development of the printing press, making printed information hugely cheaper and so far more available) we got a wave of iconoclasm and vicious religious wars and massacres.
We have already had the statue-toppling iconoclasm, though mainly in the US. The post-printing-press analogy is even scarier because we live in an age of religion-substitute salvation politics. This is much of the reason we have had said statue-toppling iconoclasm.
By salvation politics, I mean politics based on visions of a transformative future. A society without alienation and exploitation (the Marxist version) or without oppression and bigotry (the post-structuralist, aka “post-modern”, version), where oppression and bigotry are defined so broadly that only truly dramatic social transformation can hope to achieve such a level of felicity.
The trouble with such salvation politics is that there is no information from the future. These visions of the transformative future are therefore subject to no reality-tests. Worse, they drive adherents to discount the only information we do have, that from past and present. The future becomes the secular Heaven, the past becomes the oppressive-and-bigoted moral Hell we must reject and the present is at best the moral Purgatory, at worst just moral Hell continued, from which we must liberate ourselves. Yet past and present are our only sources of information.
The further something is from the vision of the transformative future, or the more it is some sort of threat to said vision, the more it gets discounted. Which means discounting past and present information. There is a constant tendency to derive is-the-case claims from the oughts of the transformative vision.
The lack of information from the future gives transformational politics a huge rhetorical advantage. As the vision of the future is a pure act of imagination, it can be as perfect as one likes. Indeed, the politics of the transformational future worships what’s in one’s head. The grander the vision, the greater the grandeur in one’s head, so more noble is the believer.
Conversely, the past is full of imperfections, trade-offs and human sins and crimes. Anyone who attempts to defend what is, to defend anything that has a history, can be lumbered with all the sins of the past and present; real, exaggerated or imagined.
This leads to a situation where so much of the “progressive” critique of Western civilisation and heritage is such that even the true bits are lies; being so taken out of context, exaggerated, or so decontextualised as to be fundamentally untruthful. The sort of thing that writer Douglas Murray forensically dismantles in his latest book.
The politics of the transformative future has its roots in Rousseau (1712-1778), is given metaphysical structure by Hegel (1770-1831), and then turned into a system of social analysis by Marx (1818-1883). Though such politics have since outgrown their roots, this intellectual history is how we get secular folk talking about “the direction of history”.
When Martin Luther King (1929-1968), a profoundly Christian thinker, talked of the arc of history bending towards justice, he was invoking a Created universe whose Creator built morality and direction into the structure of the universe. A notion deeply embedded in Middle Eastern monotheism all the way back to Zarathustra (aka Zoroaster).
There is no secular basis for believing any such thing, other than that arising from a Rousseau-based reading of Hegel. Lots of folk who are not Marxists, or Hegelians, nevertheless have Hegel in their intellectual foundations and Marx in their intellectual basement because they have adopted future-derived politics. All those secular folk who talk of being on the “right side of history”, for example.
There being no information from the future means that we must rely on expectations to guide our actions. Expectations that we create from past and present experience, on the presumption that the structures of reality we are familiar with will continue.
If one is driven seriously to discount such structures, and the information they generate, because of one’s vision of the transformative future, then said visions of the transformative future become the basis of one’s expectations. One turns the oughts of the imagined future into the presumptive is of past and present.
This is how post-structuralist (“post-modern/PoMo”) attacks on science arise, for science is all about the discovery of existing structures while the politics of the transformative future is all about overturning structures. Science generates a whole set of is that threatens to confound attempts to derive is from visionary oughts.
Hence the politics of the transformative future is always driven towards “blank slate” views of humanity. For the more Homo sapiens have inherent cognitive architecture that will persist into the future, the less plausible the vision of the transformative future becomes.
All of which is a disastrous basis for judgement.
The history of Marxism displays this strongly. There are still plenty of Marxists in academe: they deny that the history of actual Marxist regimes constitutes any sort of reality-test for Marxism. This “not authentic Marxism” malarkey about actual Marxist regimes has straightforward origins in the politics of the transformative future.
Marxists believe that Marx was correct. All Marxist regimes have created murderous, tyrannical societies that lapse into economic stagnation. But if Marx is correct, this cannot be the fault of such regimes being Marxist. Hence, such regimes must not represent authentic Marxism. Hence their horrible moral failures have no implications for the truth of Marxism.
This is nonsense on stilts. Spotting how Marx got things wrong enables us to see how applying his theories to entire societies predictably leads to murderous, tyrannical societies that lapse into economic stagnation.
Yet, all the tyranny, mass murder, and economic stagnation do not constitute any sort of reality-test that contemporary Marxists accept. This is not evidence-based analysis, let alone anything remotely resembling actual science. It is much more like the dynamics of religion, with fundamental doctrines and revelations that cannot be questioned.
It is also a contemptible level of indulgence for appalling human suffering that Marxists are not remotely willing to accord to any other set of beliefs. It is the text-book case of the oughts of the vision of the transformative future being used to massively discount, and massively distort, the information that we do have.
The transformative visions of Post-Enlightenment Progressivism have never been fully adopted by any country, so they do not have Marxism’s horrifying reality-tests. That it is Post-Enlightenment Progressivism is why so many Marxists are public critics of PEP politics: whatever else it is, Marxism, with its universalising concern for structure and commitment to an overarching historical narrative, is quintessentially an Enlightenment project.
There are, however, reality-tests aplenty that apply to PEP politics if one cares to look. Michael Shellenberger sets out the disastrous consequences of PEP urban policies in his San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.
What is happening in, and to, universities and in public schools is another reality test. Turning supporting the hormonal and surgical mutilation of minors, based on the anti-scientific blether of gender theory, into a horrifying luxury belief is yet another.
But to take note of these reality tests, one must be willing to look outside the PEP framing, including giving up the belief in owning morality. Lots of folk are so, so clearly not willing to do that because it is bound up with their identity and status.
One of the striking patterns of mobbing, the call-out culture that attempts to destroy reputations, careers, businesses, lives, is how much it relies on officials (elected, administrative, non-profit, corporate) caving into online mobs. Part of this is that such officials are generally risk-adverse folk. Caving in seems “safer” than standing firm. Even though it just emboldens perpetrators by proving such mobbing works. But there is also a wider problem of norms being in flux, for lots of reasons, so people have less confidence about where to stand.
There are several big things going on at once.
(1) The end of a civilisational cycle that begins with the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in the C4th and C5th. An ending due to women getting unilateral control over their fertility and the consequent collapse in presumptive sex roles as technology fundamentally changes the patterns of risk.
(2) The feminisation of organisations and institutions due to women being far more able to invest in human and cultural capital (particularly education credentials).
(3) The expansion of social milieux (higher education, non-profits, government bureaucracies, HR departments, etc.) in which ideas are not reality-tested but are approval- (i.e. status-) tested, leading to the evolution of industrial-strength status strategies based on the politics of the transformative future.
(4) As discussed above, massive disruption of the public sphere by an explosion in access to information, toxically intensified by narrow-information, but high-emotional-salience, social media.
Collapse of a civilisational cycle
If you compare medieval and later European Christendom to the other great Eurasian civilisations of Islam, Brahmin India, and Confucian China, the situation of women (especially elite women) was far better in Christendom than the other civilisations. This was due to Christianity sanctifying the Classical Greek and Roman synthesis of single-spouse marriage and abolition of kin groups.
Single-spouse marriages meant that marriages, including elite marriages, were partnerships based on investing in shared children. It was normal for Christian kings, lords, knights and merchants to leave their wives (or mothers) in charge while they were away.
In polygynous (multiple-wife) cultures, as all other major civilisations were, the wives of an elite male would compete (sometimes viciously) for the prospects for their children: leaving one of your wives in charge while you were away, a recipe for disaster. Moreover, the pressure to be of spotless reputation due to inter-wife competition led to veiling, seclusion of women, genital mutilation, and foot-binding.
The comparative elevation of the authority of women in European Christendom extended into ruling queens becoming far more common in Christendom than they were in Islam (in 1300 years, Arab Islam produced precisely two ruling female sovereigns and one female Caliphal regent, all Shia), Brahmin India or China (which managed precisely one ruling Empress, and only a few Empress-Regents). It was an enduring advantage of Christendom that it was much more able to use the organising capacities of its elite women, from royalty to merchants.
The break-up of kin groups in first Classical and then Christian civilisation meant that women were much less tradeable wombs and much more likely to be able to exercise the consent for marriage that the Roman jurists and then the Church insisted was required. Just as the Church supported the testamentary rights of women (which, of course, increased the likelihood it would be bequeathed property). (Dis)honour killings arise because families are desperate to retain status within their kin group, so cannot have their daughters fail to be seen to be sexually “pure”, and so reliable, tradeable wombs for their kin group.
The Church and the medieval manorial elites’ relentless hostility to kin groups also meant that Christian Europe had to develop substitute mechanisms for social cooperation. This created a much greater variety of institutional forms than in rival civilisations, giving the selection process of history much more to work with and resulting in expanding patterns of bargaining politics. Particularly after medieval Christendom developed the representative principle, allowing deliberative assemblies to be scaled up and formal bargaining politics to expand from including merchant representatives all the way to universal adult suffrage.
Christendom was thus the only civilisation that was at all likely to develop feminism and women’s movements. Civilisations based on polygyny and kin groups had a vanishingly small chance of developing any such thing. The convergence between the Church and women was a key basis of the dominance of Christian mores and so of the propagation of Christian civilisation.
However, the Church opposed contraception, abortion and insisted that marital consent was sexual consent. Which meant that it opposed the use of The Pill and the legalisation of abortion. So, when women saw the possibility of having unilateral control over their fertility, they grabbed it.
The convergence between women and the Church thus collapsed, ending a civilisational cycle. That “women’s lib” was so much about de-Christianising the law and sexual mores obscured how much Christian civilisation rested on a convergence between women and the Church and could not survive its collapse.
What this collapse means is that the fundamental norms of Western civilisation are now up for grabs in a way they haven’t been since the C4th and C5th centuries. In this situation of normative flux, it is much easier for risk-adverse officials to simply cave to moralising online mobs.
One of the great ironies of our time is that feminism has adopted the Victorian Cult of Womanhood: men are uncivilised brutes who women must tame morally. It is an unspoken assumption that the movement of women into, well, everything, is an unalloyed good.
This is nonsense. Women are female Homo sapiens. The notion that they have no systematic flaws, that there are no downsides to the dramatic evolutionary novelty of being the first societies in human history to not have presumptive sex roles, is also nonsense on stilts. It is also only in societies where presumptive sex roles are collapsing due to technology profoundly changing risk-profiles that the toxic, anti-scientific blether of gender theory could have gained any traction.
Fundamental problems for creating decent, even just functional, human social orders are male violence and male sexual incontinence. The victims, and even more the perpetrators of violence, are overwhelmingly male. A Swedish study found that 1% of adults generated 63% of all violent offences. But that 1% was almost 90% male. Males also overwhelmingly dominate sexual offenders, with a similar intensely skewed pattern.
With the movement of women into professions, the creation of culture (women have always been very important in its transmission), management, politics, media has added a new problem for creating and sustaining functional social orders: female emotional incontinence. The shrieking women’s tears problem.
Women are systematically more hostile to freedom of speech than are men. As institutions, including universities, have become more feminised, they have become more hostile to freedom of speech and thought.
Homo sapiens are much more cognitively dimorphic than folk usually realise. 70% of men have a pattern of personality traits that no woman has, 70% of women have a pattern of personality traits that no man has. Shifting the male/female balance shifts the pattern of personality traits even in a large population.
For obvious evolutionary reasons (the elevated risks of pregnancy and childcare and the need to invest in emotionally intense relationships to sustain child-raising across decades) women are statistically more neurotic, more agreeable, and more concerned with propriety (moralised status) than men are. Homo sapiens women are particularly inclined to form cliques (emotionally-intense connections), to engage in relational aggression (attack people’s reputation) and to hide from themselves and others that they are engaging in aggression by claiming it is about moral concern.
These are all patterns that political correctness, and Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokeness”), display to the max. Indeed, the first wave of political correctness coincides with the first cohorts of post-Pill/legal abortion professional women seeking to feminise speech norms. This first-surge of PC restriction of opinion and acceptable thought (controlling what points-of-view were acceptable) was largely beaten back, because there was not a sufficient critical mass of women in organisations and professions. The long-prevailing norms of freedom of speech and thought largely held. But women kept coming, and the feminising of speech norms has since intensified.
Looking at the political-identification of US first-year university students we can see clear patterns. The secular drop in liberal identification, and rise in conservative identification, across the 1970s, the rise in liberal/far left identification from 1980s onwards, driven overwhelmingly by rising female identification as such, with the gap between male and female political identifications constantly tending upwards. Post-Enlightenment Progressivism, the adaptation of French post-structuralism to US conditions, is the most female-prominent ideological movement of modern times, apart from feminism itself.
Heterosexual men are strongly inclined towards taking notice of, and reacting to, “women’s tears” (for obvious evolutionary reasons.) It’s why female emotional incontinence can be highly disruptive, and why historical civilisations went to considerable efforts to restrict it.
The “scold’s bridle” and “ducking stools” of medieval Europe are typically written up as misogynist measures of patriarchy, and there was definitely some of that going on, even given that Christian Europe was, as previously discussed, the least patriarchal among major Eurasian civilisations.
Nevertheless, small, rural communities living largely subsistence lives, with the recurrent threat of famine, had to show strong concern for order and for blocking things that created disorder, which female emotional incontinence absolutely could do. We are a group-living, mutually attentive species; emotional dynamics within groups matter. As social media is now proving on a global scale.
The following prominent critics of political correctness in its various guises have something in common: Bruce Bawer, Andrew Doyle (creator of Titania McGrath), Stephen Fry, Glenn Greenwald, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin, David Starkey, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Thiel, Peter Whittle, Milo Yiannopoulos. They are all gay males. As such, they are inherently less moved by women’s tears than their straight confreres.
Western civilisation built scientifically effective, technologically dynamic, democratic societies of mass prosperity based on the moral principle of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. This is a very male-teams principle.
Male teams (which may include female tomboys) are based on ability to perform required roles. Male team members notoriously “hang shit” on each other as a testing device—Can I trust you? Will you fold under pressure? Can I say outrageous things and you still have my back?
These are things you really need to know about fellow team members. Any (male) team that operates in life-threatening situations is likely to be particularly prone to outrageous jokes and comments, precisely because the need to test and establish trustworthiness is so strong.
The demand for safe spaces, to not be offended, to always show absolute speech propriety, even in jokes and private conversations, is very much a female-cliques (which may include male sissies) pattern. Where strong emotional commitments are built by showing great concern for each other’s feelings.
Such demands about speech are very much a matter of clique dynamics, because you are clearly allowed to offend groups outside the “in-cliques” as much as you want. It is also completely incompatible with being scientifically effective, technologically dynamic, democratic societies of mass prosperity. Name one major scientific, technological or democratic advance that did not offend someone?
Name one major advance for women that did not offend someone. Indeed, lots of someones.
The demand for safe spaces, for not offending, for treating words, and silence, “as violence”, for absolute propriety (as defined by the moral elite) in all communications, no matter how otherwise private, is an utterly contemptible power-and-status play, demanding the right to raise the drawbridge now these people are safely inside the castle of cultural commanding heights.
Just as the answer to the problem of male violence and male sexual incontinence is not banning men but providing mechanisms to suppress such violence and sexual incontinence, including, of course, getting men to enforce decent social norms on each other; so the answer to female emotional incontinence is not banning women but developing mechanisms and norms to deal with emotional incontinence.
Including getting women to enforce decent social norms against each other.
Creating a social milieux where one constantly walks on eggshells for fear of breaching the (ever-changing) rules of linguistic propriety is profoundly corrosive of trust. It is socially atomising.
A key reason why academics (the majority of whom likely do not endorse the PEP package) are so unwilling to take stands in defence of their own academic freedom is precisely that increasingly feminised, clique-driven universities lack trust. And they lack trust because their speech taboos are so strong because of academic feminisation. Because the problem of female emotional incontinence is so verboten. Because the feminist Cult of Virtuous Womanhood cannot be publicly challenged.
As a recent refugee from the intolerant conformity of modern academe put it:
For a start, nobody really believes in truth anymore.
Which, of course, makes status, and beliefs as status markers, that much more powerful. Denying truth is systematically to reject reality tests.
And in terms of faculty, Universities are mostly composed of rootless individualists and lone wolf-types, full of animosity and suspicion for one another, and who possess few social graces with which to cement bonds.
So, it looks as if the emotional dynamics of academe are fundamentally hostile to team-and-trust building.
Where we are now
Setting off the modern equivalent of the post-printing press wars of religion in societies drowning a sea of evolutionary novelty while in possession of vast stockpiles of nukes is, one might say, not a good idea.
The viciously, not merely polarising but, much worse, demonising, dynamics of social media are very much not a good look.
The transformational future, because the vision of the future is so morally grand, is always inclined towards the Jacobin model of politics: politics unlimited in scope (everything is politicised, even one’s home life, one’s jokes) and unlimited in means (such a grand vision entitles one to undertake any action directed towards its creation). Jacobin politics is murderous and brutal. The sheer vicious cruelty of online mobs is not nearly as remarked upon as it should be.
But it is not only progressives who can fall prey to the temptations of the Jacobin model of politics. Order-focused-authoritarians can as well, as the Nazis displayed all too thoroughly. The amplification of the most extreme voices, and their online cruelties, is a profound threat to decent, even stable, social order.
There are various intelligent suggestions about what to do to make the dynamics of social media less toxic. For instance, as Jim Rutt and others have suggested, requiring authentication that one is an actual person, with only a single account per platform.
So here we are, trying to recreate rules of politeness and civility. Elon Musk is about to spend $44bn putting himself at the centre of all that. Only someone with billions to spend could even think of doing so.
Elon Musk is also someone oriented towards the future. But a future built on science and technology, on discovering and working with the structure of things.
He is going to need a very, very good sense of social media dynamics if he is not to be yet another, albeit extremely prominent, participant in the unfolding disaster that social media, and especially Twitter, has become.