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Aw, no mention of Storm Area 51?

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"We remember the Arab Spring, those few months in 2011 when revolts spread across various Arab countries and longstanding regimes were toppled by protesters with smartphones and Twitter accounts"

No, they weren't. That a provincial American understanding of the situation, by people who have no geopolitical savvy (besides what they read in probably the worst press on the world on the matter, fully in bed with their national interests and unable to think globally - unlike, say, the British and French colonialists of yore) - and if they ever travelled anywere outside the US they just went right for the McDonalds or the local joint annointed by some travel guide.

There were protests in the Arab countries, and regimes were toppled. Like it has been dozens of times in the past. But it had nothing to do with people with "smartphones and Twitter accounts", except that this time around, because of smartphones and Twitter being a thing, there were also people with "smartphones and Twitter accounts" present to document some of them and relate to the US public.

Smartphones and Twitter documented those - and from the skewed perspective of the top 10%, westernized, part of the population, who had nothing to do with the driving force of the protests.

But it makes for a nice story (social media bring democracy) and it makes for nice heroes (like us here, modern, westernized, with smartphones and twitter accounts, who even post in English) as opposed to the disenfranchized, religious, uncool, poor, Arab-speaking masses, closer to white trash or rednecks than to the aspirational US upper 10% middle class that celebrated the Arab Spring.

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You don't remember 2014? You wrote quite a bit that year.

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Long time reader here

Re: Bay of Pigs Invasion: Allan Dulles just did it [invasion]. Thinking that Kennedy would provide air cover [which he had earlier refused to do]. His bet failed-Kennedy held his ground & refused.

Kennedy fired him.

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Can I ask you, Scott, how on earth do you write such comprehensive book reviews? Do you write your thoughts as you read? Do you read the book twice and only write on the second readthrough? Do you annotate on the margins and later revisit those notes? I'd love to write reviews as good as yours!

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The whole coronavirus response seems like a refutation of Gurri's argument, doesn't it?

Despite the general failure of experts and high modernism at everything they tried, the masses enthusiastically lined up behind the "center" and embraced all kinds of what would have seemed impossible policies. In the UK, one reason they were slightly delayed in implementing a lockdown in March 2020 was that they believed it couldn't last more than 2 weeks before the people revolted and they'd lose that option forever. Instead, the UK had one of the longest lasting and most severe lockdowns in the world. No Western government had trouble getting whatever policies they wanted through, but many of their results look pretty crappy, particularly compared against the likes of South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China (assuming you trust them).

Where was the public revolt against the pandemic response? Other than the existing undercurrent of anti vax sentiment in the US, it doesn't look to have materialized.

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But how do we know that the "revolt of the masses" against the elites isn't organized and paid for by the elites? It seems plausible to me that if you "open your eyes and look around" you will find many trends that will ultimately benefit the elites, not the masses. Namely, the elites will make more money selling useless gadgets and even more useless "culture" to the masses, and will be better able to control the indoctrinated masses. Of course, the elites do this hidden in the backstage and try to give the impression that this is a revolt of the masses against the elites. But it is exactly the contrary. Worth thinking about I believe. However, I'll read the book, sounds interesting.

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"To adopt, leaders have become “protesters-in-chief”." - I think it should say 'adapt' instead?

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There are many legitimate reasons to dunk on Daphne Leef, but dunking on her because she was "living during a time of unprecedented plenty" and so on is, more or less, a talking point (I won't say whose, to avoid generating unnecessary heat). Never mind the eternal debate about how much better the world could theoretically be made through adding (or removing!) government intervention; During that time Israel faced a debilitating housing crisis, which has only gotten worse since then, and was _the_ major grievance fueling the protests. I'm not an economist but there is strong agreement about this point across the political aisle (both that this specific crisis was the fulcrum point of the protests, and that it is and was actually real).

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Unsorted thoughts: when reading this, I couldn't help but think of:

(a): Tocqueville's Paradox (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocqueville_effect - "As social conditions and opportunities improve, social frustration grows more quickly.");

(b): Klingon Promotion (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KlingonPromotion). I suspect at least half of the reason why these movements are so often leaderless is because they eat their own, not even waiting until the revolution is over. And the bigger you are, the more tempting it is to take you down and crown yourself the new leader;

(c): Orwell's theory of revolutions as presented in '1984'. As in, there are the Low, Middle, and Upper classes; revolution is when the Middle class manages to convince the Lower class to overthrow the Upper class and install the former Middle class as the new Upper class, usually with promises of equality and abolishing the class system;

And of course, (d): Epicurean thought, judging by the reference to tending your garden (as former Roman Emperor Diocletian put it, "If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed." - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletian#cite_ref-208). I'm surprised actually that I can't think of any SSC posts about Epicureanism, given its relationship to Stoicism and Stoicism's relationship to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Epicureanism in general seems very soothing.

That's all I have for today, my thoughts are all over the place without deeper reflection, and I don't have time for that because it's like 4 AM here, I need to go to bed.

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"Defund the police" seems like a rallying cry at least as impractical as "jail all the corrupt bankers" to me. I don't think this is a good counter example.

Decertifying an election is a bit more concrete, though still impractical, and definitely matches up with a story where people think the elites are all corrupt and bad, and everyone should just listen to the people instead.

These movements were certainly localised to two separate halves of the population, with the other half in firm opposition. But they do both seem characterised by distrust of, and contempt for, established institutions and "elites". Just different elites.

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At least in the spanish case, one of the (many) dichotomies that made the whole "indignados" a stillbirth was that it was mixing old people thinking "I didn't work hard my whole life for this, I expect more" and young ones thinking that the game was rigged against them and they had it worse than their parents, in that rather than going from bad to good, they'll go from good to disaster. I feel that's why there was so much focus on "the system owing me something". Ones because the "put hard work into it", others because they felt they were being treated differently.

The Podemos party tried to ride on this for a while (as well as pretending to be nor-left-nor-right for a little bit, just "anti-elite"). Then it all came burning down, and what Spain got for it was a newly fractioned political landscape that nobody really likes, and that includes a populist-right-wing party Spain thought was vaccinated against for a while post-Franco (the shame and all that). Yay.

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I'm skeptical left/right are really solutions to this and find myself more sympathetic to Gurri's framing of Center/Border.

One reason is that elected leaders being unable to do anything due to endless checks and balances doesn't seem to be happening. COVID measures violate at least the Constitution and the Nuremburg code, probably a lot more. Judges noped out, legislatures voted themselves out of existence on the grounds that they're too slow, human rights law turned out to be worthless and so on. In reality what happened is that absolute and total power was instantly granted to a tiny handful of elected leaders, who then delegated all decision making to entirely unelected bureaucrat-dictator-science-kings like Ferguson, Fauci, etc. In the rare cases when they tried to resist doing that, the "central elite axis" or whatever Gurri would call it fought back ferociously to try and impose their will.

The root cause of all this to me seems to be academia. Whenever I try to trace the causes I can't get any further back than that. There are two factors here that interact and overlap:

1. Academia strongly promotes the idea that for any problem there's a miracle button. For any possible topic or question you can imagine, academia will produce an expert professor who claims to fully understand it and have a journal filled with pre-canned solutions.

2. Despite that fact, academia has no strong connection to reality and allows professors to routinely publish pseudo-scientific claims. They can do this because people are conditioned to believe maths=correct, hence the explosion of obfuscatory statistical modelling - it shuts people up and makes them unquestioningly accept the conclusion.

The right is more aware of this problem than the left, or perhaps just more intuitively pre-disposed to doubting the existence of miracle buttons to begin with, but across the board the prevalence of pseudo-science in the literature is very poorly understood and especially amongst the ruling elites, even when they're conservative.

The result is an inexorable replacement of democratic systems with academic con-men of various kinds. Any leader who openly doubts them is immediately assailed by universities and their allies in the media as a "science denier", and those leaders find it very difficult to push back on the detail both because they don't have a strong grip on the maths (and academics have all day in which to obfuscate what they're doing anyway), and because there's just such a huge volume of it that whacking individual bad studies is totally non-scalable.

I don't really know where this goes, but the general sense of unease and 'everything is corrupt' doesn't seem wrong to me. And central/border seems more useful a way to view things as just a continuation of left/right politics. What's happening here isn't a mere continuation. The centre is seizing direct control of power in such a way that I genuinely fear the west is becoming a communist dictatorship via some sort of bloodless revolution, one that consists entirely of mind games, institutional takeover and police suppression.

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> Why did the optimal stable ingroup size change from nation-sized to political-tribe-sized?

Because, for about two decades it seemed that the West and America in particular has crushed or subdued all external enemies worth the name, and seemed to be well equpped to continue to do so, but the promised "end of history" somehow didn't materialize. Who's to blame? The internal outgroup.

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There is some context that this review leaves out:

1. Many protest movements in history didn't have specific demands but simply wanted to make their problems more known and asked for more power: The suffragettes are the clearest example of this (votes = political power) but also the communist manifesto is light on the organisation of a new form of government and heavy on workers problems. The class struggle is less about improvements of governance than about defining an ingroup of workers and pitting them against the people who held power back then. The reason for this is simple and has nothing to do with the digital age: unlike concrete demands, demanding more power is easy to explain and won't find much opposition within your ingroup.

2. Who we think of as natural elites ("Mostly young, mostly university-educated, mostly part of their countries' most privileged ethnic groups") are not the people holding power in many countries. In aging Europe the median voter age is over 50 in many places and young people don't have a good representation in Parliament. They don't want to choose right-wing parties for ideological reasons (abortion, drugs, minimum wage) and left wing parties are very concerned about pensions (which young people will have to pay for) and unions. But unions and labor-friendly policies usually mean that old people will keep their jobs in a recession while young people are laid off: Especially Spain has a huge problem with this (youth unemployment got over 50% after the recession: https://labourmarketresearch.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12651-019-0254-3/tables/1). The rise of green parties can in part be explained by the fact that they provide a left wing alternative for young people.

3. Many of the protests where later followed by concrete policy proposals. In the US Occupy Wall Street was followed by Bernie Sanders who laid out concrete proposals to rein in "Wall Street greed". Protests about climate and housing in Germany are increasingly finding their way into policy proposals as well (ceilings on rent, shutting down coal power plants early).

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Gurri seems to have noticed a trend, but I feel like he’s totally on the outside of it. His long historical explanation is itself swallowing the narrative which has been defined by the elite High Modernist crowd. His explanation is a strange Boomer fever dream which is so far off the mark, that it doesn’t make any sense. One cannot find the reasoning of the millennium protestor who is against the establishment by using the narratives and tropes of the establishment.

The supposed prosperity of the elite children he mocks as flailing around like blind nihilistic political noobs which he bashes them with is itself a lie, what prosperity? The reason the educated middle and upper middle class children are so sensitive to this issue is that they in fact expected to build their own prosperity readily. Instead cost disease, inflation, and rigged systems that funnel all the wealth into a few hands of the 1% are what they found.

The children of the poor always expected to be poor and were not surprised to find lives of poverty before them when they reached adulthood. While the richer children who supposedly succeeded in life based on what they were told to do found low paying professional jobs and huge college debt, they used their education and noticed the disparity pretty quickly.

All their lives they were told to jump through the hoops and they’d find a good life. Instead of the endless brunch and easy high paying jobs they were told they would get…they found a rigged system which was corrupt and spinning out financial do nothing, know nothing millionaires at a record pace.

What Gurri can’t seem to do is what almost all Boomer parents can’t do. They cannot for one second listen to their children or anyone else unless it is a person in a position of power who is telling them what to think. If Walter Contrike says this is an age of prosperity, then the young person in front front of them is clearly lying and stupid and lazy.

I think Scott already has the answers. If you combine the wisdom of cost disease where everything is getting harder and even after sending all the women to work full time, even with degrees in two income households….it still isn’t enough to keep your head above water.

Mix in a bit of the wisdom from Seeing Like A State with Métis knowledge and taking the seemingly radical approach of listening to people when they tell you what their problems are…and you’ve got your answer. Cost disease is real and all the young people who have no buffers of wealth or old cheaply bought houses to protect them…they are trying to tell the world what is happening.

They might not be the shape or demographic of canary in the coal mine people want to see and they can use that to dismiss them…but the ‘forever brunch’ crowd is hyper aware that brunch is sadly no longer on the menu due to cost disease.

And they don’t trust anyone who created this world. Gurri nearly says this where he admits to this system of control and his Boomer leave it to beaver world of elite written narratives to rewrite reality…but rather than see why young folks might not want that world where Kennedy’s errors and lies persist instead of the truth about Iraq and Afghanistan or Wall Street crimes comes out…

…he balks at it and comes up with a bizarre red herring of an explanation which no young person feels or agrees with, but he is happy to judge us as nihilistic after taking the bold first step of not listening to a damn thing we are saying.

Things are corrupt and regardless of the fact that they always have been, the elites ability to pull the wool over our eyes is reduced and we don’t like what we see. Are we privileged children for not gladly accepting elite though control?

Meanwhile wealth accumulation is worse than in the gilded age of robber Barrons, monopoly power abounds, state capture by corporations is a naked truth, and cost disease has eaten away at us such that even the children of the middle class feel very poor…even if we have iPhones and people 50 years ago didn’t, so what?

We can’t afford homes, education, healthcare, wages are down in real terms, etc. we have a few bobbles and toys and a fake CPI inflation index instead of the very obvious building blocks of a good life. But that doesn’t fit into some Boomer’s 1950s political narrative of commies vs freedom loving capitalism goons. So obviously we are talking pure nonsense and need to be ignored. When really the rent is too damn high.

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I grew up when Margaret Thatcher was in her pomp and Rock Against Racism marches and the Top Of The Pops TV show drew attention to the daftness of colour prejudice. We (me & mine) hated Thatcher but the only thing that could replace her was a 'nice' centre right and politics got really boring.

My personal thesis is that the state of permaprotest now is more of a pastime, fed by an industry of creative grievance development. That's why there are no specific demands from these various iterations of 'the people' who want anything but *this*. They're having fun showing how aggrieved they are and the elites are trolling them.

Perhaps this actually *is* the end of history.

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"Any system that hasn't solved every problem is illegitimate. Solving problems is easy and just requires pressing the 'CAUSE MIRACLE' button."

My first thought on reading this was that my sympathy for the existing institutions of power ('the government') is extremely limited: after pretending that problems are easy to solve and that the low-hanging fruit wasn't picked long ago you don't then get a pass for failing to easily solve them. My second thought was that this lets the US citizenry off the hook: haven't we *demanded* this? That politicians (and CEOs, and University presidents, and...) play this game? Since the topics in the book seem to be more of a set of global phenomena rather than an arcane curiosity of the American system, I'm curious if that rings true elsewhere?

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> Why did the optimal stable ingroup size change from nation-sized to political-tribe-sized?

It seems to me, from a European perspective, that there exists a fundamental assymetry in how the political tribes approach the "national question": the right tend to be more nationalist, while the left tend to be more internationalist.

From where I sit, it looks like the concept of a nation-sized ingroup has been strongly rejected on the left. Consider modern-day left-wing values like diversity and inclusion - these don't really rhyme well with nationalism, that is homogenous and exclusive almost by definition. People in favour of close international co-operation in order to fix the big issues of climate, poverty, etc., and who would like to see increased immigration, preferably from culturally remote societies, are unlikely to identify the nation as ingroup.

In short, the modern left appears to have chosen "people who think like me, regardless of where they happen to live" as their ingroup - and this naturally leads to defining the outgroup as "people who think differently from me, even (especially) if they live right next door".

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A counterpoint to the 'We demand SOMETHING!' argument. I spent about two years actively involved in extinction rebellion in London, and got a pretty good idea of why this can (sometimes!) be a good strategy:

- Leftist infighting WILL happen to your group if you don't keep the demands as simple as possible. There was a period in 2020 after the George Floyd murder where we came very close as a group to this, even though the vast majority of people agreed with pivoting the focus to include anti-racism. People were often getting really upset at each other over it. There was just so much discussion on it that for three straight months that's all that happened - no actual action.

- How do you make decisions on the minutae of your demands when you're a de-centralised, """leaderless""" movement? How do you get thousands of people loosely connected to each other in space and cyberspace to agree on something? See above. It took us three months of discussion on what should have been a basic point to not even come to a decision. If we had decided to try and agree on whether we should be promoting hydrogen vs heat pumps, what kind of green tourism strategies to adopt, we would have been there forever.

- Keeps it easy for new people to turn up without having to have phd in the movement. All they really need is a 30 minute introduction to get the general idea.

Of course, one of XR's demands was that panels be set up where the public would hammer out the details of those solutions, which I don't think many of the movements in the review had even thought about.

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That picture quotes Antonio Gramsci, on organic crisis: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear" (Prison Notebooks, 1930)

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>Realistically this was all a sham. Alan Greenspan had no idea how to prevent recessions

The last ~40 years are known as "the great moderation" because of how little business cycle volatility there has been compared to the past.

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Scott's conclusion seems a bit too uncharitable to the theses presented. The anti-elite sentiment is alive and an important factor in politics worldwide:

1) The Yellow Vest protests in France were large and markedly anti-elite; unlike Occupy, they were driven by lower class, working people. (The description of the Spanish youth is also uncharitable, as it ignores massive youth unemployment in Southern European countries).

2)Yes, the left-right distinction is the dominating axis in American politics, but anti-elite sentiment is still discernible on the left side as well. Neither Clinton nor Biden had remotely enthusiastic support on the left side (unlike Bernie), and ideologically aligned Silicon Valley/Big tech is also deeply unpopular.

3) For some reason, scientists were never considered part of the "evil elite", maybe because they are not perceived as being in charge. Therefore, they continue to enjoy higher levels of trust, particularly in the pandemic.

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It might be worth pointing out that the "Deep State" under another name ("Sir Humphrey Applebee") is a charachter in the decades old brilliant sitcom Yes Minister. It's not a new concept.

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I have a major objection to the "personal responsibility" bit at the end - what do you do about problems that can only be solved at scale? If I'm worried about climate change, I can't build my own nuclear power plant, all I can do is point to the various "BUILD GREEN ENERGY" buttons on the government's console and suggest pushing them.

(In fact, "personal responsibility" can be used as a distraction from buttons you don't want pushed! BP released a calculator to find your personal carbon footprint, which allows them to look environmentally friendly while diverting attention from things that might cause a large-scale change in demand for oil.)

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You’re right that he doesn’t mention left/right as much as border/center. But his whole thesis (“states can’t solve literally every problem”) screams to me that it’s an argument for fundamentally limited government. This has always been an American right wing perspective, and I get the impression that there’s basically no embrace of this among American left-leaning elites. The one thing I cannot imagine democratic politicians saying is “yes, XYZ is a real problem with real human consequences, but no, the government can’t do anything about it, so it’s better not to try.”

What American people on the right seemed to want (pre-Trump) was for the government to just stop making things worse for people. But what Gurri doesn’t suggest in the book is the possibility that even this isn’t doable.

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Gurri says a few times that “networks can tear things down but they can’t build.” I suggest bitcoin both proves this wrong and provides a template for how new systems can be built in the future. Bitcoin is a collaborative project of millions of people around the world. There’s no hierarchy, and it’s entirely voluntary.

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One counterpoint is that the neo-institutions which allowed that organization have themselves been hijacked. Most of the major tech companies are being pushed internally in a particular political direction. Twitter at one point had substantial ownership by the Saudis.

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The cover is an illustration of Princess Elfrida, daughter of Alfred the Great, by Edward Henry Corbould from an 1850 collection of Victorian poems, "The Keepsake" https://dvpp.uvic.ca/poems/keepsake/1850/pom_5687_elfrida.html

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I took Gurri's argument to not just be about the impact of increased visibility and criticism on the public mood, but also that the complexity of the administrative state was such that no ordinary citizen, and maybe not many elites, could understand how it functioned or how to change things, further contributing to the vagueness of protests.

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You hint towards this in the review but a distinction should be made between actions and outcomes. Democracies can be incredibly fickle where masses demand an outcome that may not be realistic, but there are two other cases:

1. Demanding an outcome that corresponds to rather well known and obvious policy options none of which are politically acceptable (e.g. lowering housing costs) -- usually the minority that actually benefits from the opposite of the outcome (home prices and rents rising forever) is more motivated and better informed on how and what keeps the effect going the way they want it to.

Other example of this might be

2. Explicitly demanding an action that is also not politically acceptable (border enforcement and the political content of public education are examples. But perfectly actionable (Ample evidence that it is done successfully elsewhere and/or in the past)

For example... 'liberal rot in schools' If populist protestors were demanding that public school children be made *more patriotic*, that's demanding an effect to which no practical action might realistically generate. Demanding a particular topic be purged from the curriculum (CRT specifically or racial struggle sessions in general if you believe CRT isn't a real thing) is an action, even if it's a bad action. Acting like conscious decisions made by public officials are the result of passive and inevitable forces of history or progress like some caricature of a libertarian is silly [though often effective]

In general it does make sense for voters to generally demand effects rather than actions because you'll get more consensus on effects. But you do get cases where a specific and perfectly realistic action is demanded and you notice:

1. It's political poison for an elected official to take up the action as a platform

2. If the voters do manage to breach the "Containment election" none of the permanent employees of the government are willing or able to work with the representatives to make the action happen.

3. Some higher governmental body (A supreme court, house of lords) with formal or de-facto veto power comes around and strikes down any attempts at putting the action into place.

There are some modern parallels to this but the one that also comes to my mind is late republican Rome and land reform. The optimates employed every dirty trick to keep it from happening and they kept crying "Tyrant" until they actually got one.

But again, even getting to stage 1 is uncommon since voters *are* generally pretty fickle.

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I would question your description of BLM as not fitting this pattern. First, it is a deliberately-leaderless movement. Second, while "defund the police" may be a specific demand, it's one with very low public support and sort of fits the "miracle" scheme because there's no real explanation of what happens next.

Also, various demands have been but forth by BLM-adjacent groups, and they turned into the same universal-issue-grab-bags that characterized Occupy Wall Street, such as from the Movement for Black Lives (https://m4bl.org/policy-platforms/) which includes:

- Abolishing all prisons

- Reparations

- Restoring Glass-Steagall

- Ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership

- Progressive tax reform

- "A right to restored land, clean air, clean water and housing and an end to the exploitative privatization of natural resources"

- Labor-organization rights (unspecified, and also not explained as to how they don't already have this)

- Universal healthcare

Also, just in case you weren't sure if this was liberal, all of this is peppered with repeated references to LGBTQ+ people, indigenous people, etc.

I will admit many of these are indeed specific demands but they basically sum to "fix every problem ever" and while some of them might reasonably be accomplished, others are basically fantasies.

The 1/6 example is interesting because clearly that single event had an aspirational goal, but was connected with various groups that are closer to nonsense protest movements - the Proud Boys, various anti-government militias, and ESPECIALLY QAnon (which technically has a leader, albeit one who seems to have vanished and nobody can identify), which has to be the apex version of the "the elites could just press the Miracle button" idea, insofar as it claims they are both not doing that and also secretly molesting and/or murdering children, and its main goal is "arrest basically everybody and try them for their [imagined] crimes".

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I think this is a key point: "There haven't been many big viral protests lately except Black Lives Matter and the 1/6 insurrection, and both seemed to have a perfectly serviceable set of specific demands (defunding the police, decertifying the elections)."

But I think maybe they are "specific demands" clear to * you * at a high level, but I guarantee you the actual people involved in both are nowhere near that specific, consistent or even agreed upon, and even more to Gurri's point, they are "incoherent" because you can't actually do them.

A million kid march to demand free unicorns for all, even if they elect a single monolithic Dictator of Unicorns who has the strict political discipline to require every kid to sign the Free Unicorn Petition and then you, a relatively well politically informed person, see and understand that demand - is still a Gurri-style protest. Because neither the explicit top-level goal that the public agrees "yes, that's their goal" (or the subconscious-level goal of "y'all should be nicer to us kids who want unicorns") can be done, meaning that same cycle of "we demand X, the Man doesn't provide it, therefore the Man is bad and we should continue having a Revolt of the Public" continues.

yes I recognize physically we could actually defund all the police or decertify the election but A) it won't work to achieve what the people in those protests want, and B) would still be considered a evil failure of The Man and requiring further Protests when they didn't work - I am bundling "... according to the standards of the protestors" into my definition of "will this demand work?"

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Idleness is the devil's workshop. Freetime has expanded and we have filled it with garbage entertainment.

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Btw, connecting this to your previous post : In 2014, when Modi won in India, essentially defeating a member of a dynasty that had held control for 70 years, it was obvious that this was possible due to social media.

There was no way, before social media, to make jokes about the Gandhis, mock them. But social media allowed that and the dam burst.

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"In Spain, the previous forty years had seen the fall of a military dictatorship, its replacement with a liberal democracy, and a quintupling of GDP per capita from $6000 to $32000 a year - "in 2012, four years into the crisis there were more cell phones and cars per person in Spain than in the US". The indignado protesters in Spain had lived through the most peaceful period in Europe's history, an almost unprecedented economic boom, and had technologies and luxuries that previous generations could barely dream of. They had cradle-to-grave free health care, university educations, and they were near the top of their society's class pyramids."

But, that is completely normal, which has been recognized for decades, if not centuries . See https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/sociology-and-social-reform/sociology-general-terms-and-concepts/relative-deprivation (Discussing "the counterintuitive but persistent finding that typically such revolts are launched by groups that enjoy rising, not falling, socioeconomic conditions.")

Whatever the other merits of the book, I am skeptical that the new factor he identifies (reaction to the failure of high modernity) can explain a phenomenon that predates it.

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I finished "The Revolt Of The Public" about a month ago and thought it was one of the most interesting and stimulating books I've read in a while. The criticism that its descriptions and conclusions are obvious depends, perhaps, on how much time one spends thinking about such things. At least in my own case, I found its distillation of trends and motivations that underlie a lot of contemporary phenomena non-obvious enough to be impressed. It reminded me a lot of evolution (i.e. evolution by natural selection) -- very obvious in retrospect, not at all obvious at the time of its discovery, and great at providing a framework in which a lot of things make sense. For example, being at a university, I've been annoyed / upset by a lot of vague, half-baked pseudo-protests, whose character makes a lot more sense as reflections of what Gurri describes as generally leaderless, aim-less, and deliberately unconstructive "movements" -- "The public opposes, but does not propose" leading to - "... a perpetual feedback loop of failure and negation." [p. 271]

I think the better criticism of the book is in the solutions it puts forth, which seem like wishful thinking. Good solutions are a lot to ask for, though...

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Reading the review, I realize I have a slightly different take. Transitioning out of high modernism and into an age of information abundance, people are now attempting to make up their own minds on topics. It turns out figuring things out from first principles is quite hard, and most people are also quite bad at it. So you get things like QAnon adherents parroting "do your own research" but being taken in by often quite silly conspiracy theories. I can't even figure out whether my toddler really needs X ounces of milk a day like the guidelines say, and I'm probably in the top 5% of the population in terms of education and intelligence. Every decision we make is in the fog of war now that we no longer blindly trust some authoritative source to tell us what to do, and it's even worse when you get to big, complex problems like obesity or homelessness or the quality of education. I think all the apparent nihilism and "throw the bums out" protests are a symptom of being unable to come up with better ideas and throwing up your hands and telling other people they should have figured it out for you.

I'd like to think the silver lining is that society as a whole will get better at debating and synthesizing different points of view. I have to admit that I don't see a lot of actual progress, but I assume it's a multi-decade process. I just tend to think that whenever society expends a lot of energy on something, we eventually tend to understand it better. We're still grappling with the new information landscape of Google, Twitter, and whatever else, and we're pretty bad at it so far. In terms of both technology and critical thinking, I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll get better at it, and the result will appear less nihilistic.

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> Or stopping illegal immigration - many countries manage this just fine, America could do it if it wanted to.

Citation needed.

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> but the biggest and most mainstream of mainstream news organizations, like the New York Times are becoming more trusted and certainly more profitable.

This is really interesting. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post increased their legitimacy with both Trump and Clinton voters*, while Huffington Post decreased with both. CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and Breitbart all polarized to various degrees, where the group that trusted trusted more and the group that distrusted distrusted more. No outlet saw the opposite effect. (Though the delta at e.g. WSJ decreased because R trust increased more than D.)

HuffPo's failures aside, there appears to be a clear pattern that the outlets that saw a general increase in trust are paywalled while the ones that offer a free product polarized. There's quite a lot of speculation that could follow from that, but my first thought is that despite the differences in outcome they're each following their incentives pretty competently.

*Samples compared are 2016 and 2018.

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This book is more relevant than ever in 2021 and still a must-read. Your dismissiveness is baffling.

In June 2020 a lot of people thought the revolution had come. The two lawyers who tossed a Molotov into a cop car and are now facing decades in jail. The politicians who ran to an "abolish the police" platform. Ross Douthat who tweeted, a month after "The Decadent Society" came out, that this may be a quick end to decadence. And I was like, "Do you even Gurri, bro? This revolt of nihilism will blow over by the fall."

That's also why you can't build left/right institutions simply based on hating the right/left. That's just nihilism again. Reversed stupidity isn't intelligence, and owning the libs/cons isn't the same as building trust or governing. The polarization is a symptom of failing institutions, not a way to fix them.

Speaking of, are you sure you know how to build institutions for the decentralized information age? Should we appoint Zvi to head the CDC, or is the entire centralized structure of the CDC as it exists within the sprawling government hopelessly flawed and the entire thing should be burned down? Do you know where people are actually getting their COVID information from? Where are you getting your information about where people are getting COVID information from, and can you trust it? Those are real questions in 2021, and the answers to them depend on understanding deeply the themes of the book on public trust, information, and nihilism. Anyone who is sure they know what's going is almost certainly wrong, and they could do worse than rereading "The Revolt of the Public Again".

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All of the Stripe Press books are gorgeous physical objects. I wonder why? Maybe the operation is run at break-even or even a loss and that allows them to invest more in the printing?

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I've not read the book, but it sounds to me as though Gurri's ideas hold up better than you give him credit for. Your statement that there haven't been any big protests lately besides the whole Georg Floyd unpleasantness and the storming of the capital seems like a Jupiter sized caveat from my perspective.

Secondly, consider that neither of these protest movements really had leaders, either. Who was leading the Black Lives Matter movement? Nobody. Who organized the 1/6 riot? Beats me. Add to that: the 1/6 rioters, when they stormed into the senate chamber, what did they do? Took selfies, stole a few items, vandalized some stuff, then left. They didn't have any sort of plan, like say, preventing Congress from meeting until they met demands for a recount or something. It was really just an expression of anger and indignation, and a completely over the top one, at that. Seems pretty reminiscent of the earlier protest movements you discussed above.

Additionally, consider that the demand to defund the police is so potentially catastrophic and corrosive that it could only come from people whose relationship to modern society is, to put it mildly, a bit fraught. This strikes me as the reverse of the magic button that solves problems; it's the idea that we can eliminate basic government services like law enforcement and not only will this not create law and order problems, but it will eliminate existing problems with police accountability. This chain of reasoning--police act bad, eliminate the police--makes Greta Thunberg look like Otto Von Bismarck. It may not be nihilistic, exactly, but it is so deranged and sophomoric as to be indistinguishable from nihilism. The protests themselves, with the rioting, looting, burning, beatings, property destruction, etc., were a fairly absurd over-reaction to a handful of admittedly ugly viral videos of police misconduct that have trickled out into public view over the past few years, when you consider that dying at the hands of police under any circumstances is fairly rare in this country.

On the flipside of the ledger, we're laboring through a pandemic which has killed ~5 million people worldwide and made an order of magnitude more very unpleasantly sick, and when public health officials encourage people to do some very simple, common sense things like wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in public places and go and get a free vaccine when its available, you get a certain strand of people who are unwilling to do either, because they mistrust this nebulous group they call 'elites' so much, and instead they concoct weird conspiracies about Bill Gates and the deep state to explain what's happening, and more than a few wind up getting sick and dying because they wouldn't protect themselves. They're literally dying from their mistrust of people in positions of authority.

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"poverty remained as troubling as ever"

oh come *on*, don't do that. especially not about the aptly-named Great Society programs

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Even with the conclusion, you're giving Gurri a bit too much credit here tbh. All of his predictions were wrong. His descriptions of the problem were tinged with a lot of partisan rhetoric that didn't quite fit the facts. The book got famous because people claimed it predicted Trump, but Gurri himself rejected this and his afterword is a really embarrassing pseudo defense of Trump. If the one thing he gets credits for isn't even right, there's basically no unique insight here.

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Along the lines of Scott's point about the miracle button - I'm not so impressed with all this anger of the commoners against the elites. If any given group of commoners had their way and became the ruling class, their way would have its own problems, people would get mad at them, and they would start defending themselves and using lame discourse tricks to insulate themselves from criticism in the same way that the current elites do.

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I don't think it's unusual for political protests to be dominated by the educated middle class. One of the Freakonomics books has a chapter saying that terrorists are also drawn from this class, and that similarly this class is more likely to vote than the poor in democracies. They are more politically aware and engaged and have ideologies and thus are more likely to be radical. The same was true of 19th century Europe, where Marx and his associates (university educated socialist theorists) were far more radical than the workers (low-income manual laborers) they claimed to be writing about or fighting for.

The wikipedia article on Bolsheviks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolsheviks#2nd_Party_Congress) notes that "Lenin... wanted to limit membership to those who supported the party full-time and worked in complete obedience to the elected party leadership. Martov wanted to extend membership to anyone "who recognises the Party Programme and supports it by material means and by regular personal assistance under the direction of one of the party’s organisations."[7] Lenin believed his plan would develop a core group of professional revolutionaries who would devote their full-time and energy towards developing the party into an organization capable of leading a successful proletarian revolution..."

Who could work in politics full-time? Probably only someone with at least some amount of money already!

I think a recurring theme is that the really destitute are focused on immediate, obvious/material goals: a place to live, food, and safety. The middle class have the luxury of thinking about less tangible concerns, like expression and identity. They also learn how to abstract, think about idealized situations, and apply logic to those abstractions, which makes them think they have found some perfect and unassailable solution. Hence the radicalization.

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"Maybe the occasional tendency of the US to switch party systems has captured the center-vs-border conflict and subsumed it into the broader left-right one."

I'd say we know this didn't happen. Bernie voters didn't become MAGAs. Many of the BLM protests were against the political establishment in Democrat-controlled cities, but that didn't turn them to the right.

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What Scott describes as the High Modernist approach does get a lot of pushback from the left. One example area is climate change, with the obvious tension between innovating our way out of the problem and the consumption-limiting degrowth approach. I'd argue that people like Elon Musk and even the EA crowd are quite High Modernist in nature. They're just not the government.

And when most Americans mistrustfully think of 'power' they usually instinctively think of 'government power'. When the philosopher-bureaucrat-scientist-dictator-manager-kings are visionary CEOs, they're applauded, not hectored for their shortcomings. Super-efficient modernist structures are fine as long as they optimise for shareholder value and not, say, minimising obesity or homelessness.

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On thing that might have some explanatory power is generational. Young people are great at seeing what is wrong with the status quo and naïve about how hard it is to create better institutions and outcomes. The last time of huge unrest was the 1960s and 1970s when the boomers were coming of age. The current discontent seems similar. Thunberg is a good example, in that she angrily demands something be done but doesn't know how.

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No word regarding the question whether the "ClimateGate" was a non-event when not taken completely out of context? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_email_controversy

In a similar vein, Greta Thunberg saying she is demanding solutions, not providing them, is very far from her demanding that the problem just "magically go away". There are lots of proposed solutions, but they come at a cost and thus require political will. Saying that by protesting, one shows that the will is there in the populace and thus wants to motivate politicians to act on the variety of existing solutions, without reducing the support on just one that may turn out to be less optimal, sound like a very logical approach to me.

By contrast, demanding a scientifically supported complete strategy from anyone protesting anything is just a different way of saying "unless you are a scientist/economist/sociologist/etc, you are not allowed to protest."

Sure, some modern protests seem a bit aimless, but that is not a new phenomenon, otherwise "burn the witches/kill the jews" would not have been a regular product of people protesting there being a plague/famine/crisis/foreigner.

I know you like to write ironically, and not being a native speaker, I may be bad at picking up on that. But in contrast to what you write in the beginning, the book seems to very much not say things that are obviously true now, quite the opposite. Almost all the Arab Spring protests failed, so Gurri's self-provided test simply failed. The various protests that are thrown together are very different in aim, support, coherence, making a grand theory of failing modernism extremely shaky. So I have trouble identifying ANY of the things he says that are patently true now, despite your entry into the text. And your own last paragraph also shows that you do not believe his points at all, easily finding points where is analysis is way off the mark, and then looking for possible answers.

So, what is he saying that makes his book worth reading? Or is the cover really the only good thing? As most, I usually really enjoy your book reviews (the 1001 nights one was awesome), but in this one, you seem to get lost in your own rabbithole so deep that your words do not make it back out to me.

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To be fair, demanding solutions instead of providing them is perfectly acceptable in other contexts. For example, if I go to McDonalds and the ice cream machine is broken for the 3rd week in a row, it could be reasonable of me to tell them, "I demand you fix your machine before I shop here again". Yes, it would be awesome if I could just go in and fix their machine, but that's not my job. There are professionals who do those sort of things, and, being a software engineer, if I tried fixing it myself I'd probably just make it explode or something.

Or, to use a more salient example, if I'm driving on the highway and see a forest fire, it's reasonable of me to call up 911 and yell, "OMG there's a forest fire you gotta help". They have fire trucks, helicopters, chainsaws, and absurdly strong people trained to use all that equipment. I've got a water bottle and a Kia Soul. I pay my taxes so that I don't [i]have[/i] to spend my days training to deadlift 200 lbs while wearing an asbestos suit.

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Something that bothers me a lot in Scott's writing recently has been the blind pairing of Brexit with Trump, as if they were manifestations of the same broad process. This review perhaps gives us the tools to understand why this is wrong a bit better in the centre and border dichotomy.

From an interested outsider's perspective, I don't disagree that Trump was clearly the beneficiary of a movement against the centre, since he had to overthrow not one but two parties' establishments to get to the presidency, and did so by vague appeals to discontented and marginalised populations. Within a democratic framework that seems to be a clear border uprising, right down to the threats to said democratic framework.

Brexit though was more of a centre versus centre conflict. In 2014 the most powerful centre in the UK was not the Brussels government/bureaucracy/gravy train (I wasn't a fan...) but the national government and parliament in Westminster. And when the Brexit debate started it was a debate about control and sovereignty, not a rejection of elites. It was a question of which set of elites should control some aspects of our life, not an attempt to throw the lot out. Yes, most (but not all) of our governing classes were in favour of EU membership, but there were prominent Eurosceptic voices across the political and media spectra. The leave coalition was a very uneasy mix of nationalists, libertarians, old-style socialists, social democrats and members of the existing liberal-conservative consensus (see our current Prime Minister for example) who judged the EU to have less benefits than harms. What united them was arguably a very modernist view that powers should be centralised in our parliamentary government and not held at different levels with different methods of accountability. That is to say, the unifying vision of the leave party was not to attack the elites but to actually bolster the power of the strongest centre in the UK.

That this came to pass can be seen in the aftermath, when various factions and institutions tried to assert their claims to the stronger power available: the speaker asserting the power of parliament; the attempts of the courts to override government; the formation of the eventually (temporarily presumably) victorious alliance in the Conservative party of Brexiteers and remainers who accepted the result. This was not a fight with the borderers, but the elite trying to accommodate to a unicentral reality.

The media focuses too much on the workers in towns whose former coal mining or steel industries have gone, whilst failing to remember the role of many middle class women who voted for Tony Blair's government a decade earlier, or the millions of university graduates (easily enough to sway the vote) who did want to leave. This narrative, perhaps unconsciously, seeks to explain Brexit as the UK's own Trump moment. It's fun as far as it goes, but the support of the left-behind in former industrial towns is about as close as you get to a parallel between Brexit and Trump.

So, as an appeal to Scott: stop with the right-on conflation of Trump and Brexit. Whilst both perhaps drew on the support of angry communities, only on

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"Gurri isn't shy about his contempt for this. Not only were these some of the most privileged people in their respective countries, but (despite the legitimately-sucky 2008 recession), they were living during a time of unprecedented plenty. [...] The indignado protesters in Spain had lived through the most peaceful period in Europe's history, an almost unprecedented economic boom, and had technologies and luxuries that previous generations could barely dream of."

"In Gurri's telling, High Modernism had always been a failure, but the government-media-academia elite axis had been strong enough to conceal it from the public."

How does Gurri reconcile these two opinions? Wasn't it High Modernism that brought us to this time of unprecedented plenty, with technologies and luxuries that previous generations could barely dream of?

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If Scott thinks everything in here is obvious, could because Gurri was fairly well-received and influential in the tech/rationalist/libertarian circles Scott is adjacent to? In other words, do these ideas seems obvious now because Gurri is in the water?

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I am not convinced that the various protest movements in / since 2011 are more closely related to each other than they are to earlier revolutionary waves. If social media has been massively influential for protests, then we should expect that protests since 2005 have certain things in common that the Vietnam War protests did not - or the revolutions of 1848 - or the peasants' war of 1525.

The most common distinguisher given for social media movements is a lack leaders and institutions. I am skeptical, both that previous protests always had leaders and institutions, and that modern protests usually lack both. Just looking at recent US history, Occupy is no-leaders & no-institutions, the Tea Party is no-leaders & yes-institutions, Democratic Socialism is yes-leaders & yes-institutions, and Trumpism is yes-leader & no-institutions. All of these are given as examples of social media driven protests.

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"the cover image - of some sort of classical-goddess-looking person (possibly Democracy? I expect if I were more cultured I would know this) holding a cell phone"

Not necessarily needing to be more cultured; because my mind Works That Way, I identified that as "not a Classical image, it's Victorian early to mid-century idea of Ye Olden Tymes and not pre-Raphaelite, so it's meant to be a queen or noblewoman sometime in the Middle Ages".

Some Googling enabled me to finally track it down, it's an image that's been used for several other purposes but Getty Images have it as "Vintage engraving from 1851 showing Princess Elfrida (Ælfthryth) of Wessex (died June 7, 929), the last child of Alfred the Great, the Saxon King of England and his wife Ealhswith" (unfortunately they don't identify who the original artist was).


Elfrida/Aelfthryth was the third child of Alfred the Great, she married Baldwin, Count of Flanders. Her elder brother was King of Wessex after their father died and her elder sister ruled Mercia (the allied kingdom) as Lady of Mercia. She married Baldwin II, Count of Flanders. One of their descendants, Matilda of Flanders, would go on to marry William the Conqueror, therefore starting the Anglo-Norman line of Kings of England. Through her descendant, Henry I of England, she is also a direct ancestor of the current monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth II.

I think the cover artist just picked this at random as "example of old elite plus has hand out that can have something inserted into it" with no deeper meaning. I doubt they even know particularly that it's a 9th century Anglo-Saxon princess.


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The 'revolt' of the masses against the elite has been a constant concern as to how democracy will indeed devolve from rule by the demos into rule by the mob:


Much of historical writings against democracy were not intended to be opposition to giving everyone a voice (the demos, after all, is the people and the people should be interested in how their society works) but was opposed to the idea of "whoever shouts the loudest makes the rules".

And as Scott points out, it wasn't really the masses revolting, it was a lot of college-educated young people in a generally flourishing society who were expecting jam on it. A mix of idealism and unreality. The statement quoted from OWS reminds me so much of the hyped 2006 book/movie/probably fuzzy slippers and pyjama set as well "The Secret", which basically was "you can have anything you want just by asking and the Universe will provide it".


And it was in the air in the early 2000s, in 2006 the newly-elected Primate of The Episcopal Church pinned her hopes on the Millennium Development Goals (that extreme poverty would be eradicated by 2015; she was too educated and progressive to believe that stuff about "The poor you will have with you always"):



"She is eager to get on with that work, which means focusing on the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, including eradicating extreme poverty, halving hunger and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, providing universal primary education and ensuring environmental sustainability. “About 40 years ago, some economists got together and said, ‘What would it take to solve abject poverty?’ And they began to do some calculations and said, ‘Well, if the developed nations of the world gave seven-tenths of one percent of their annual incomes, we could do it in a finite length of time.’ If we work on this, it’s possible to achieve these goals by the year 2015. It’s a huge bill, but it’s doable. For the first time in human history, it’s possible to end the worst kind of poverty.”

And then two years down the road came the big economic crash...

Scott's description of High Modernism is the Golden Age SF dream of the glorious future when the technocrats would rule and Science! would provide the answer to every problem, including "psychiatry will make it possible to change people's minds and brains so everyone will function at their best and we'll do away with crime and mental illness". A lot of this kind of forecasting is precisely why I am cool on topics like AI, because we've been there before and sure, *maybe* this time it really will shake out as forecasted, but *maybe* not?

Because of the very fact of progress, enrichment, and government in collaboration with Science! and Industry! solving a lot of the low-hanging fruit problems, the expectations of these protests was indeed "there is a magic button that can solve everything and it's only because of capitalist greed and entrenched sexism and racism and homophobia and all the rest of the -isms and -phobias that the old people in charge are not pressing the button!" After all, Big Government Programmes of the past such as nationalised health services and so on had solved a lot of problems, so the evidence was there that it could be done.

And here we are today. I don't think it's much easier/simpler to break it down into Left versus Right rather than Masses versus Elites; there is that element to it, but it really is a much deeper distrust of authority and authorities. People trusted Cronkite because he looked and sounded like the dependable, trustworthy, authority figure that in the post-war years poured out the benefits from the cornucopia. He was a journalist, when that term was not one of contempt. He was a liberal, when that wasn't damned as being a wicked centrist. This was the benevolent face of authority whom people could trust. And now that has all gone away, whether you're on the right or on the left.

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You know, there's been a lot of debate about whether what happened on January 6th was a riot or an insurrection, but I'm all for calling it the 1/6 Insurrection, since, after all, if it wasn't exactly an insurrection we can at least agree it was 1/6th of one.

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Maybe Greer would get more traction if he wrapped these observations in a Planet-of-Cops-style diatribe. Call it Planet of Karens. What do we want? To talk to the manager!

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""in 2012, four years into the crisis there were more cell phones and cars per person in Spain than in the US ..."

Spain had a youth unemployment rate of 50% in 2012.

Seriously, this argument is so FUCKING STUPID that it invalidates the whole line of reasoning that is built upon it. Gurri is a flaming moron who should not be taken seriously.

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I don't know when this halcyon stable past with every soul trusting the confident High Modernist Establishment is supposed to be. Certainly hasn't been within the past half century, by personal recollection. Was it in the 80s? Hmm...President Teflon is telling me the government is not the solution, it's the problem, Nuclear Freeze marches, nope. Was it in the 70s? Hmmm....The Pentagon Papers, We Shall Overcome, marches against Tricky Dick's war, nope. Was it in the 50s, maybe, Ward 'n' June Cleaver? Oh dear, we have railroad strikes, "I have here in my hand a list...," the government is lying to me about communist spying (either way), so nope. Maybe in the 30s, the great awesome New Deal in which we all believed? Except you'd have to be deeply ignorant of history to think any such thing.

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I think this review basically took Gurri's thesis and applied the American experience of the last 5 years and said: it doesn't match up perfectly. Thats understandable because Scott is American. This falls a bit into a "USA=World" fallacy that disproportionately affects Americans. You guys are like 5% of the planet's population, and you are not representative at all. In Latin America for instance, moderate politicians are the center, while left and right wing authoritarians are fanning the flames of revolt. The Middle East is also a good example, as often they don't match up to the right-left debates. I recently read "The toxoplasma of rage", and I really think that there are some elements of that in here. The incentives are to be in the border! AOC is even trying to be border by wearing that dress IMO

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"Mostly young, mostly university-educated, mostly part of their countries' most privileged ethnic groups. Not the kind of people you usually see taking to the streets or building tent cities."

Well, in America these are the people I always associated with protesting. The tent-building was new, perhaps it was due to improvements in camping equipment?

"in 2012, four years into the crisis there were more cell phones and cars per person in Spain than in the US"

I strongly doubt the "more cars" thing.

"They had cradle-to-grave free health care, university educations, and they were near the top of their society's class pyramids."

When the government taxes you 1$ and gives you a coupon for something worth 1$, you might feel like you got back a lot less than 1$. This can be the case for healthcare and especially for education. Some people find education a ticket to a high-paying career, others just see themselves with the same job at age 23 as their Dad got when he was 19 and didn't need a degree. That doesn't feel like "progress."

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I read it, thought it was a pretty quick and easy read given the number of pages (it's generously typeset), and also thought there was some valuable advice for people who, whether they admit it or not, are part of the "elite" class (be humble and don't try to BS people for their own good).

But I took issue with a couple of things. First, Gurri made a big deal out of the ability of protests like the Arab spring to overthrow entrenched dictators, and really tried to argue that this was a unique phenomenon enabled by the information "tsunami". But people have been overthrowing entrenched dictators for at least a couple centuries! Russ Roberts briefly brought this up when he interviewed Gurri on EconTalk, and Gurri just kind of dismissed it by saying that those uprisings were different. But were they? I don't know enough detailed history to say, but I felt like he needed to address that in way more detail than he did.

My second critique is that Gurri claims that technocratic elites pretty much always failed to deliver on their promises but since they controlled the flow of information, the bulk of people never realized it. I think that's pretty condescending. The people in power might be able to cover up failures happening half a world away with the help of a sympathetic media, but if middle-class life sucked throughout the middle third of the 20th century, not even an army of Walter Cronkites would be able to hide that fact. Gurri cites a lot of the usual examples of technocratic failure to bolster his case (and believe me, I'm temperamentally sympathetic to that perspective), but I kept thinking of this ACS post


I suspect that American and Western institutions more broadly have actually become less competent and effective. The democratization and rapid spread of information might exacerbate it, but that's not the root cause.

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Gurri calls our current government a kind of "zombie democracy". The institutions of the 20th century - legislatures, universities, newspapers - continue to exist. But they are hollow shells, stripped of all legitimacy. Nobody likes or trusts them. They lurch forward, mimicking the motions they took in life, but no longer able to change or make plans or accomplish new things.

This sounds to me like the institutional equivalent of tech debt. Decisions were made; perhaps they were made for expedience, or perhaps they were intended to be robust… but now the outcomes of those decisions has ossified and the institutions are stuck, unable to change or make things better.

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"In Spain, the previous forty years had seen the fall of a military dictatorship, its replacement with a liberal democracy, and a quintupling of GDP per capita from $6000 to $32000 a year - "in 2012, four years into the crisis there were more cell phones and cars per person in Spain than in the US". The indignado protesters in Spain had lived through the most peaceful period in Europe's history, an almost unprecedented economic boom, and had technologies and luxuries that previous generations could barely dream of."

An extremely similar dynamic went on in Chile during 2019 (which I guess was too late to be included in the book). During October 2019, there were massive/violent protests all over the country involving widespread destruction of private and public property (most notably, 20 metro stations were pretty much burned to the ground in one night).

Given the scale of the protests you’d think that the this was a country with a long track record of poor economic outcomes. You’d be mistaken, though. Over the preceding 30 years per-capita GDP increased three fold, poverty went down from 45% to 10%, schooling increased, access to university increased, there was a peaceful transition from a dictatorship to a democratic government, and a large etc.

Over the past decade, public discourse has turned against the “old order,” blaming all societal ills on the "rampant neoliberalism" that has dominated Chilean economic policy over the past 30-40 years. All the accomplishments have been swept aside, often by the very politicians involved who lead the country during these decades.

Now Chile is in a very worrisome course to changing its constitution (something that has a very poor track record in Latin America) and throw out the window all the institutions that have made rapid economic progress possible. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

How could something like this happen in Latin America’s most successful nation? There are aspects of the problem that are particular to Chile, no doubt, but I think a large part of the phenomenon is connected to the rise of social media, very much in line with Gurri’s argument.

From what I could observe in Chile, I’ve developed a two-component pet pet theory. First, before social media, politicians would get very constant feedback from their peers (who were relatively sane) and infrequent feedback from voters. Since the political equilibrium was one friendly to a pro-market economic policy, and since economic numbers were strong, everyone on either side of the isle was forced to choose between holding reasonably market-friendly views, or risk being excommunicated. Twitter obliterated this equilibrium. With it, politicians started to get realtime feedback from the median voter and figured that they would do better by catering to their demands. The problem, however, is that the median voter is a paranoid, innumerate, ignoramus (see The Myth of The Rational Voter), so it’s no wonder that the output of the new political equilibrium is a bunch of insane policies.

Second, since social media rewards populist pandering, not only does it force incumbent politicians into a race to the bottom in terms of the quality of public debate, it also forces the system to select the relatively unscrupulous. That the quality of public debate has gone down over the past decade, in Chile and elsewhere, I think is widely agreed. To my mind, this is partly because with social media, democracy became worst at selecting decent politicians.

Anyway. I don’t mean to rant. I just really enjoyed the post and feel like the recent developments in Chile lend credence to Gurri’s theory.

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> There haven't been many big viral protests lately except Black Lives Matter and the 1/6 insurrection, and both seemed to have a perfectly serviceable set of specific demands (defunding the police, decertifying the elections).

...this is sarcasm, right? Right?

Minneapolis currently has a ballot initiative to make "defund the police" happen. The actual law it would enact has specific provisions, empowering the city council to do some things and requiring it to do others. The *description* that's actually on the ballot-- written by the city council-- is so vague about what the measure actually does that there were lawsuits and a court ruling to throw it out.

And 1/6-- look, I don't mind calling it an "insurrection", but *there was no plan* and no realistic scenario where it led to Trump remaining in office.

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Gurri's title and analysis would seem to owe something to Ortega's "The Revolt of the Masses," a brilliant analysis of the situation before WWII. The major trends we see now bearing fruit were mostly predicted by Sr. Ortega about a century ago.

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I don't know why this riled me, but... "boffins"? Really? That's almost exclusively a British usage and it's distracting in this context. "Technocrat" and "nerd" (thanks a lot, Taleb) are near-synonyms that are much more widely understood and still reasonably neutral.

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> It's like that thing where someone who warned about the coronavirus on March 1 2020 was a bold visionary, but someone who warned about it on March 20 was a conformist bandwagoner

Surely this is a typo for January or February? The Wuhan lockdown was international news on January 23, and my university (not in China) sent its first mass-email about covid on January 24. I was warning everyone I could to prepare for the pandemic in early February. "The World Health Organization on [March 11] declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging what has seemed clear for some time" https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/11/who-declares-the-coronavirus-outbreak-a-pandemic/

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On George Washington, see "Henderson and Gochenour on "Presidential Greatness" - Econlib" https://www.econlib.org/archives/2012/03/henderson_and_g.html

Basically, Washington was a big landowner, and the British policies of not expanding West limited the value of his holdings. The American insurrection was rather profitable for him.

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I think part of what's happened is the internationalisation of the left/right tribes. Now that everyone everywhere is connected by the internet, leftists in the US feel more connected with leftists everywhere else in the world than they do with rightists in their own country. And the same with rightists. Even if they're losing elections or their demands are not being heard in their home country, there are other countries - other parts of the leftist/rightist online communities - where they are succeeding. And this motivates them and spurs them on.

In the early days of social media, these tribes had not yet solidified and worked their way through the internet. People were confused and unified enough to just revolt against the great something-or-other. Now we've reverted back to good old fashioned tribalism, albeit in a more internationalist way.

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A possible complication to the "things are different now" narrative: you say

> When Martin Luther King marched on Washington, he built an alliance of various civil rights groups, unions, churches, and other large organizations who could turn out their members. He planned the agenda, got funding, ran through an official program of speakers, met with politicians, told them the legislation they wanted, then went home. The protests of 2011 were nothing like that. They were just a bunch of people who read about protests on Twitter and decided to show up.

I don't know enough history to confirm, but in Malcom X's autobiography he disagrees with that, he says the mercy on Washington was originally decentralized and just a lot of people being collectively angry, and that MLK et al took it over/coopted it to make it more palatable. I think he makes it sound like the powers that be basically inserted the ultimate "leaders" to temper the protests.

I guess "a protest can be taken over by a charismatic leader" might still not be viable today, but it feels pretty different then the protest being created by that person.

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I'd also argue there's an optimistic side to Gurri's argument that Modernism's failures used to be covered up, because it means that government and society aren't necessarily failing or even doing worse than they have in the past. Our information environment has just changed.

I think an examination of history at least provides some evidence of that being true. Despite the fears around Trump and 01/06, FDR and LBJ, for example, both discussed ballot fraud as if it was commonplace enough to be a nuisance and still accomplished incredible things in a time of general faith in politics and government

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Echoing some other comments, I'm surprised you think the revolt of the public is totally over and in America subsumed into the party system. I think the revolt of the public is alive and well, but that elites have become much more adept at coordinated messaging since 2014.

1) the CDC and FDA are given middling trust by rationalist types, privileged, educated, with high expectations, and noticing every institutional failure and mistake. The less educated still have highly varying degrees of mistrust in these institutions, but the ability of that mistrustice spread has been corralled over the course of the pandemic.

2) media companies have reduced the "Rho" of anti-establishment "nihilism" through better coordinated efforts and censorship. This development pushes quite hard against Gurri's thesis. This doesn't mean however that the epistemological anarchy is over, but simply that some forms of it have been temporarily reigned in.

3) the next fight is more likely to be between incumbent institutions and novel institutions, made possible through self-selection into novel institutions.

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The problem with mocking a "press Miracle Button" scenario is that sometimes there -is- a miracle button.

I mean, while universal health care is not a perfect solution - see the grumbles that the UK and Canada have with theirs - the US -could- have it too if it would just enact it. It's the blocks built into our political system which have prevented that, and this has been going on for over 70 years now on this particular issue.

Also, homelessness. I keep seeing articles about how the most cost-effective way of dealing with homelessness is to just give them small apartments, and that this is working in a few places trying it (was it Reno?). Maybe this is rebuttable, but I've never seen it either rebutted or widely enacted. Is this a miracle button? I don't know, but I'd like to see the question raised.

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Reading the review, it seems that this book is classic punditry:

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It seems to me that the social mechanisms that might alleviate or fix some of these societal ills are broken because of the large tech monopolies.

If you turn your communications infrastructure into slot machines, silly behaviour is rewarded. Rage clicks are a draw. If it pays to be stupid, some people will be very stupid. Grifters will proliferate.

If we were to shut down or properly these companies that refuse to act ethically, we would solve many of our problems.

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>>It's like that thing where someone who warned about the coronavirus on March 1 2020 was a bold visionary,<<

Coronavirus Will Kill 20 Million Or More

March 3, 2020


Does this make me an "almost bold" visionary?

BTW, 4.7 million persons have died from Covid-19 and this pandemic is certainly not over.

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Democracies get the leaders the people deserve. I really don’t think it’s much more complicated than that.

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I am 73. I have lived through many of the past prophesied events from: I like Ike..,featuring only blue collar, white people, political cartoon commercials...; to the dogs and water hoses of white southern justice..; to ‘why the fuck are we in Viet Naam, man?’..; the Black Panthers.., Chicago 7.., or 8.., or 9...but still no power.

I’ve lived through the breakin’ of Nixon..; to the movie actor calling out the national guard on college campuses; and his wife eventually running the country. Lived through ‘I cannot keep my dick in my pants’ Kennedy..; through ‘I cannot keep my dick in my pants’ Clinton..; to ‘Why are we invading Iraq?’..; to ‘Ok, now we still do not know why we are invading Iraq’.., again..; through ‘now we are calling Jordanians Palestinians”, why?

The only question: Can the Republic a.k.a., the Union of States survive?

The answer is No.

The Union will not survive.

The reason is simple:

The BDS movement is an advanced militarized invasion of the U.S. by those who desire the second rise of The Ottoman Empire.

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I don't think you give Gurri enough credit for popularizing the theory that mainstream / traditional institutions have had their sense of legitimacy greatly reduced, and that this is a result of the Internet (which is also leading to the popularization of fringe narratives, and in general totally reshaping our epistemic commons).

Even if he got some details or implications wrong, these are super important trends which are still not appreciated well enough. People do worry about the effect of social media on society but the focus is often on the 'big evil corporations manipulating us' angle without enough appreciation for effects that flow from the structure of the Internet.

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Well that's a bummer. I requested this book and was looking forward to reading it.

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