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May 30·edited Jun 4Pinned

Quick note: this piece went mildly viral overnight (I’m not actually sure how, but never mind), which means I’ve woken up to a LOAD of comments/observations etc. I will get to them as and when I can today/tomorrow.

ETA: Every man and his dog decided this was worth reading and linking to, including Marginal Revolution. This means I have completely lost track of who is saying what to whom, and why. Apologies, one does one’s best, etc etc.

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Well written! In my personal opinion, "accepting messy human reality" probably requires some decentralization, maybe *at least* back to where we were in the 1970s, if not a bit further back...

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Tyler Cowen brought me here. I'm also a fan of Kingdom of the Wicked and didn't know you were on Substack

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He also (and very kindly) shared the FT review of Book I way back in 2017 which is probably how you found my novels!

This is excellent serendipity.

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I'm quite sure I've never felt so targeted in such a nice way. Well done.

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Why, thank-you. This was actually tricky to write, precisely because of the "I feel seen" element.

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It occurred to me that "I feel seen" has a bit of a double meaning - the first of course is as you allude, a sense of recognition maybe even validation; the other a bit more like someone peeked while you are in the shower.

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I'm using it in both senses, for precisely that reason.

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Both of which can be pleasant.

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Now, that said, there will be a social hierarchy of some type wherein a leadership is identified and promoted to do that role. The question will always be what does any organization select for in leadership. If there isn't a bias to competence what kind of organization are you going to end up with? If we have some alternate ideology promoting incompetence that just doesn't seem a good plan. Or as the Heinlein quote on the nature of prosperity ends "this is known as bad luck".

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I think that what get called 'political Ideologies' in political journalism are often better understood as social PSYCHOLOGIES....and this is certainly the case with Leftist ones. "Broadly speaking - as 20th century technological wizardry rolled out over the old verities of Christendom - the Universal Love moral imperative came to be re-imagined as Social Justice. This shares many characteristics with the old religion. A big part of the pull of the Social Justice religion (as with all the Abrahamic religions) is the salvation it promises. No you don’t get to go to Heaven but you do get to feel very virtuous. And so much more so than your ‘uncaring’ redneck peers. Thus has it become (for everyone other than intellectual contrarians) a 21st c. article of faith; existing on a rarefied plane beyond the scope of political/philosophical interrogation. Disrespecting it is blasphemy...as in “So you don’t care about injustice then?!”

I explore this theme in this essay: https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/love-of-the-people

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Nietzsche wrote to exactly this - that revolutionaries are driven by Judeo-Christian (slave morality) values. Deprived of the original meaning of course, but no less committed. Wokeness operates exactly as he says a priestly class does.

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Same with the climate catastrophists. A pagan religion to replace the absence of a Judaeo-Christian belief system...

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As if sophisticated climate change politics promotes the sacrifice of things like meat (in your diet) in order to better control the weather...

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May 29·edited May 29Liked by Helen Dale

I felt this about the COVID lockdowns which were a relative breeze for the professional middle class with access to resources, lived in homes with gardens in leafy suburbs & had the wherewithal to sign up to Ocado a year before the pandemic. It didn't work so well for poor people living in cramped accommodation, little to no home IT besides smart phones and Xboxes and worked in service jobs that required them to put themselves at risk but fuck all reward, or were completely made dependant on handouts sitting at home with bored kids slowly going a bit mental.

I'd argue that simple policing of the Peeler variety, enforcing disturbance of the peace, whilst still leaving people with an element of enough rope, would have been a better approach.

Lockdowns worked for affluent middle aged to early retired people disproportionately to those that were young or poor or both.

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The lockdowns (even more than vaccine mandates imo) represent the kind of policy mind-blindness I'm talking about.

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“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.“

I got to switch from commuting to an office to telecommuting. It gave me back the hour or more I spent behind the wheel every day.

OTOH, I miss seeing people.

I was and am acutely aware that I depend on people who couldn’t do what I did.

Many people need safety nets. I suggest that a national government is a bad way to provide them. There are too few checks on government overreach.

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And too many incentives for governments to expand those safety nets to accommodate far more people.

The one advantage of private sector charity is a limited amount of funds and a desire to get people up and on their feet again, not voting for more benefits...

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May 29Liked by Helen Dale

Mirror Mirror

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Always worth reading, but much of this feels like the right answer but the wrong working. I'm going to have to read it a couple more times, but my heuristic flags are popping up on a couple of things:

* Evolutionary biology - also my biggest problem with Lorenzo's thesis. In short, at the popular level it's mostly made up.

* My triumvirate for great colleagues is rigour, enterprise, and being great to work with. Not agreeable, but certainly not disagreeable. They exist, I have a list, and after 40 years in front line leadership I'm done through and through with arseholes.

* My parents - highly intelligent and somewhat driven, but maintained a religious and ideological commitment that cuts right across your "believing things that are in your interest". Managed to scrape by, probably by luck and prayer, but were resolutely cross cultural their entire lives. So there are exceptions to your rule.

So, I'll read it again, and thanks for the insight into the essay series as well. For, as compelling as I've found it, it's also always left me with something queasy and uncertain. Maybe this is it.

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I'm interested in "the right (good) answer but the wrong working." The whole evolutionary biology bizzo seems to be getting too much explanatory weight ?

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"Yes" to the weight given to evolutionary biology - although strictly it's probably better described as the evolutionary end of biological determinism. The "we all do this because a million years ago on the savannah..." stuff.

But I need to digest it more (and check the references) to see if the rest of my reservations leading to my first instinct response (right for the wrong reasons) are valid. I tend to pick up a gut response based on internal heuristics, but that can often prove misleading!

("Yes" to "bizzo", too - that sounds like something one of my sisters would say!)

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May 30Liked by Helen Dale

I think you hit the nail on the head re "determinism". I also have an intuition about terms being overworked (including "status" - about which much interesting stuff has recently been written but which seems to me to be overburdened.) Still puzzling it out.

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"My triumvirate for great colleagues..."

Making the personal political (or business)? Honestly, I hate the phrase and the implications of the <i>personal is political</i> - but this article does present it in a different (and broader) light.

"believing things that are in your interest"

I think you are missing a subtlety - that this is operating below the level of conscious belief, let alone reason. And perhaps that is what you are also missing in Lorenzo's work?

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I'm not sure I'm understanding your first point, but I'll digest that further, too. I'm suggesting insisting that "disagreeable is a required trait" in these situations is unnecessarily reductive, because I've observed regularly I can get all the benefits with none of the downside.

I understand that "believing things that are in your interest" as described here is generally a subconscious outcome (with Helen here recognising it in herself). My concern is that I can name immediate counter-examples - but I'm not sure that exceptions invalidate the observation. That is, it certainly can happen, but must it? And if it's non-universal, does it still have diagnostic or prognostic value, and how do you tell?

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As I've said to other people, these are all excellent questions to which I do not know the answer. I have advanced a hypothesis, one that's readily testable. You'd need big data sets in both WEIRD & non-WEIRD countries to get the best picture, though, which is expensive.

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It was a bit of word play to be honest, but it was about 'imposing' (if you will) our personal norms - which is a rather significant part of Helen's essay I believe. The normal application of the personal is political is the reverse - that the politics must become personally internalized (which obviously with some personalities will be easier than others - i.e. strong need to conform versus the unherdable cat).

Of course there are always counter-examples. This isn't machinery we are talking about. Humans are ductile, just not infinitely so. Even us introverted types can figure out what is necessary (even if uncomfortable) to socially operate. Some pathologies cause social dysfunction in the individual - some cause hyperfunctionality.

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With the proviso that a joke explained is a joke ruined...I think you're exactly right. What Helen gets at here is the reverse of the normal understanding of "the personal is political". And on that she captures something important that I certainly hadn't realised - it's a valuable insight which, while not entirely original (as she points out) is nonetheless not very commonly discussed.

And I also think you're right about counterexamples not being an issue - it doesn't have to be universal, and there are enough people pre-disposed and acting in the way Helen outlines (including herself, to the extent described - and me, too, on occasion) to make it worthy of note and analysis.

It also doesn't matter the cause - biological or otherwise - so my scepticism there may (or may not) be valid, but isn't important.

I'm still a bit leery of the "personality-type" analysis - mainly because I'm leery of all personality-type analysis. Like Helen, I've done a ton of this throughout my career (obligatory MBTI, but also Big Five and half a dozen others). Without going down that rabbit hole, I'll just concede that it also doesn't matter - a flawed analysis tool can still deliver a powerful result, which I think it has here.

My only remaining caveat would the "glass half full" to Helen's half empty - it isn't universal, and you can come to a religious, intellectual or ideological position "honestly", from the reasoning end. It's just (very likely) not as common as we thought.

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You just gave me such a nice set up that I had to play with it a little. And I do love how it reversed the meaning of the phrase.

Yes, MBTI, I remember it well; and I had the pleasure of having a class under Dr. Lippman-Blumen in my grad school days, of Achieving Styles notoriety. Perhaps not quite as bad as Myers-Briggs.

I've transcended the small and big L libertarian views. The LP itself is an "organization" (very loose usage of the term) in politics consisting entirely of people that are anti-political (in every way imaginable). I shan't wonder why they fail to gain ground in almost all electoral forums. They also represent the endpoint of classical liberal thinking (which may tend to infuriate those who wouldn't grant that position to them).

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Interesting post - lots of food for thought. I’ve always been aware that other people aren’t like me - maybe because I’ve been disabled since birth - which is actually (weirdly) a bit of a reality check.

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May 29·edited May 29Liked by Helen Dale

You can train disagreeableness. You have to call it something else, like 'overcoming groupthink', 'honesty', 'autonomy', 'assertivness' and 'avoiding a premature consensus'. Calling 'agreeableness' - 'dishonesty' or 'cowardice' can also help, if the problem is that people are censoring themselves and hiding their real opinions.

But often the problem runs deeper than that. Some cultures have an explicit 'always agree with the boss' rule. Even in cultures where this is not the norm, if people think the most dominant personality is going to carry the day, there is a tendency for to agree with whatever he or she says without giving it any thought at all. Truth is irrelevant and social positioning is all. This often happens even when the strong leaders would dearly love to hear some pushback on their ideas so they can refine them and make them better.

There are oodles of books on managing cultural differences in international business teams. Sweden features in lots of them despite it's small population because it's a cultural outlier -- cultivating disagreeableness for the sake of a better consensus does not seem to be a strategy that has been tried many other places. And so it is dreadfully confusing to those who have to learn it as adults as part of a new job in a foreign place -- here in Sweden.

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May 29Liked by Helen Dale

Avoiding a premature consensus is a great way of putting it.

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May 30Liked by Helen Dale

Regarding "You can train disagreeableness"--yes! This is what science used to do--talk about experiments, and replication, and debate, at least insofar as my undergrad in Bio twenty years ago. It's been very disheartening seeing the "Trust in Science" of the past 5 years. My generation was explicitly taught NOT to trust science, that demanding proof over and over again was science.

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laura, you raise some excellent points about the value of disagreeableness and how it can be reframed as positive traits like honesty and assertiveness.

overcoming groupthink and avoiding premature consensus are crucial for fostering innovation and improving decision-making. the cultural aspect is particularly intriguing.

in some cultures, dissent is discouraged, making it difficult for genuine opinions to surface. sweden’s unique approach, where disagreeableness is cultivated to reach a better consensus, is indeed fascinating and not widely adopted elsewhere.

this can certainly be challenging for those unfamiliar with it. embracing diverse perspectives and encouraging constructive pushback can lead to stronger, more refined ideas. thanks for sharing this insightful perspective, laura!

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May 29·edited May 29Liked by Helen Dale

I'm a newbie to Ms Dale's writings and am becoming a fan. The ability to get people to willingly look at their own priors in a not accusatory but an accepting way is a true gift.

Also appreciated the link to the post on the minds of conservative vs liberal college students. Teaching them to be depressed and anxious certainly explains a lot of today's campus activities...

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I’m trying to “think my thoughts through to the end” (which is why I offer little in the way of solutions). This is something I got from my dad, and it’s proven to be sound life advice.

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May 29Liked by Helen Dale

Very insightful. As someone who is conscientious and disagreeable, this is an original idea you have laid out, that I will think about.

It is certainly true that I have superpowers that I can observe others don't have, that give me many advantages in life. My question is, can they be learned, or are they innate? I suspect its a bit of both.

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I wonder if ideologies amplify certain psychological traits and vice versa.

Regardless, for the reasons you've described here, it seems worthwhile to call for an end to the ideological sorting taking place now.

After all such sorting usually only benefits the most vocal mouthpiece for the given ideology.

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Ironic. You recognize all relevant factors Helen, and yet the recommended solution for the academy and policy-wonkery is very much from the mindset of someone who is of a smart and disagreeable, classically liberal, temperament. :)

The actual policies adopted as eventual "solutions" will be policies that address all of the various temperaments you identify in this article, making the eventual outcomes dumbed-down, blunt, and crude. They will address some of the more obvious icons of failing modernity, yet not the substance of that phrase beloved of the era of the talking cure - "root causes." As you seem to be hoping on in your recommended solutions. Much like Rudyard Lynch on his more broody days, I'm not seeing an outcome that preserves classical liberalism.

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Conserving classical liberalism is one of those odd twists that make life interesting. The issue that ultimately arises, is you can only conserve/preserve so much before you run a great risk of being left with nothing but a façade that only stands by not being subjected to too much scrutiny (i.e. is this still delivering results consistent with its earlier function).

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As I tried to make clear (and perhaps failed), I don't have good (or even any, really) fixes here.

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The fix is a 20-25 year long one. We have to gut the schools and raise a generation of children with classical virtues. Many of whom won’t completely make it. Many will. We teach people to never tell a lie, and people still do. But in many cultures it isn’t taught at all. And those cultures are a mess as a result.

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May 29·edited May 29Liked by Helen Dale

I appreciate that you don't offer a solution that doesn't (or does it?) serve "people like me." But given we all have to live together (or do we?), we do need some kind of overarching social structure (or do we?)... What should it (they?) be?

What's the goal(s) of that overarching social structure? Should the folks with the most executive function be in charge of it? (Seems smart. HAH.) How to temper those folks' own self-interest? Etc...

I know these thoughts have been wrestled with for millenia, but since we seem to be on the verge (already over the edge of... deep in the middle of?) a big change, here in the US and globally and I'd like for no women to be forced to have sex or babies or to work or not to work (can it be both/and?), etc., which overarching social structure shall I wish and work for?

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All excellent questions to which I don’t have the answer. I’m trying to figure things out too!

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May 30Liked by Helen Dale

The USA once had something like a market for government. Domestic policy was the bailiwick of the several states. Each could make policy suited for local needs. People could leave if the local or state government became intolerable. We can’t do that since we federalized so much of our domestic policies.

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May 29Liked by Helen Dale

Very thought-provoking piece. It's true that we're not all equal in self control, and that people from high self-control environments have no idea how much chaos and dysfunction a good chunk of society lives in. But it makes me uneasy to encourage some people to see themselves as one of the few who is equipped to make good use of freedom, and who has a moral obligation to set the rules for the lesser hoi-poloi for their own protection. Isn't this the same principle behind Communist totalitarianism? Put another way, who would identify themselves as one of the hoi-poloi who needs to have their choices curtailed?

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Heritability of this type makes an awful mess of the moral equality of persons (far more so than IQ does, imo), and I don’t have good (or any, really) answers to this conundrum. A conscientious person of average intelligence is likely to have a much easier life than a disorganised person of high intelligence.

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May 29Liked by Helen Dale

It reminds me of the arguments from the very online right about taking away women's right to vote. Most people seem to be motivated by resentment towards women, but the less emotional ones are basically making a version of this argument, that women need to be protected from the destructive consequences of the political choices they are drawn to by high agreeableness and neuroticism. I don't agree with this, but I do think that finding something constructive for agreeable, conscientious people to do is very important. It's been too easy for woke institutions to use their efforts for destructive aims.

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I didn’t discuss neuroticism in the piece, so your point is well made. Its presence can mean conscientious, agreeable people (more often women, yes) don’t have good lives and often fail to fulfil their potential.

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"an awful mess of the moral equality of persons"

I have a post coming up soon that touches on that in the context of Nietzsche. I suspect it will make everyone reading it as uncomfortable as I was writing it.

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Great post, definitely true for me. I started Ritalin and de-radicalized. So did my mom. Heheh. I also can’t stand hypocrisy. But tbh I don’t have the bandwidth to, for instance, repeat the NPR line while living in a white neighborhood, having all white friends, ect. My attention would flip out. I also hate having to process what people say when they don’t mean it. I can do it in person (so I don’t think Im autistic) but over text forget it.

I’ll add though, as someone who struggles with low executive function, I’d still rather mostly side with classical libs over the paternalists. The libs want rules that benefit their high executive function selves. Ok. But the paternalists are doing what??? Keeping pets? Jerking off after bossing people around? Playing a status game against the libs? Who knows. Totally weird and untrustworthy.

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I'd never thought about politics/ideology from the perspective of personality psychology before. This piece will lead down some interesting exploratory paths for me and I'm sure others. Thanks very much! (As well as being conscientious and disagreeable, I also score as highly sincere, lol.)

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It’s a hypothesis. If you have a lab, test it! [Paging Lee Jussim.]

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