The Fruits and Thorns of Liberalism and Illiberalism | SNSMKR Daily Digest

👋 Happy Thursday, sensemakers.  In yesterday’s digest I contemplated the true magnitude of the woke threat, which seems to be a question circulating in the woke-questioning water supply as of late.  

1️⃣ Today, Helen Pluckrose, philosopher, coauthor of Cynical Theories, and Editor at Areo, is out with a piece that sharpens the question: which is worse–Trumpism or Wokeism?  In her own words:

“All the following things are true:

  • CSJ [Critical Social Justice] is neither the only nor the biggest problem in the world.
  • CSJ is a genuine problem that has been underestimated and it has respectability and power.
  • The populist, post-truth, conspiracy-mongering right is also a significant problem.
  • The woke left and the populist right feed each other’s narratives of injustice, victimhood and existential danger and thus increasingly lead people to condone violence as a solution.
  • CSJ is genuinely attempting a cultural revolution against the majority of the population.
  • The general population is unlikely to stand for this.
  • The populist right certainly won’t.

[…] The question now is not which side is worse but: How can we, making common cause with people from both left and right, defend the values of liberal secular democracies, including freedom of belief and speech and respect for science and reason, and push back the ideological lunacy before it spirals out of control and takes all of us with it?

Other Minorities Are On the Chopping Block, Too

Pluckrose, again: “[I]t has become clear that CSJ can become totalitarian. Beginning in 2019, factionalism within CSJ has been gradually replaced by hierarchies. First, white women ceased to be a priority: the white women’s tears and Karen memes demonstrated their fall from oppressed to oppressor. White gay men also fell foul of the system by frequently failing to be woke and lesbians were automatically suspected of being TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). Asians, Jews and Hispanics became “white adjacent” because large numbers of them failed to espouse Critical Race Theory.”

This all has the distinct ring of Martin Niemoller’s post-war formulation:

First they came for the men, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a man.
Then they came for the whites, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not white.
Then they came for the white-Adjacent, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not white-Adjacent.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Think it stops there?  Think again: “Straight Black Men Are the White People of Black People.”

2️⃣ In case you’re wondering whether this sort of thinking really has any sway amongst the American intelligentsia, consider this piece from David Bern at New Discourses, exploding the “minority myth,” quoted here:

“Duke University sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva takes it a step further, arguing that to maintain white supremacy, whites will allow certain Asian and Latin American groups to become honorary whites and succeed, so they can ally with them to oppress blacks and other, generally darker-skinned Asian and Latin Americans.”

Meanwhile, with the fruits of liberalism…

Unencumbered by the political and language games of wokeism, within just the past year, advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have broken some extremely important barriers.  GPT-3, a machine learning algorithm, can generate text so convincingly human it’s arguable it passes the turing test.

3️⃣ This week, DeepMind announced its verified solution to the fifty year old formal problem in biology of how to solve protein folding.  While a bit abstract, it throws open entire new vistas for advancement in treatment of disease, agriculture and more.  Who better to walk us through the basics of AlphaFold 2 than Lex Fridman?

4️⃣ If all this leaves you feeling a bit concerned about AI Overlords, you’re not alone: at Quillette, James Miller canvases the serious work being done to mitigate the threat AI might pose to civilization.

I would like to end today’s newsletter with a striking contrast between the dead end of wokeism a la illiberalism and the gleaming promise of STEM a la liberalism.  There is no doubt that given a choice, I would prefer we invest in the latter.  But we cannot pretend the fruits of the enlightenment are without their thorns.  The story of the internet, for example – a product of modernism if there ever was one – is fraught with unintended consequences and newly exploitable vulnerabilities.

5️⃣ Case in point: the ability to become an overnight mega (MAGA) star by claiming, without evidence, to have been an eyewitness to massive voter fraud.  Of course, it turns out the new star also believes shadow people are haunting his family across state lines.  Who cares, though, if we’re just cherry picking stories to fit a prefabricated narrative?

Sigh.  We have our work cut out for us – on all sides.