I Didn't Say That #4
Welcome to Friday. Finally. Now let’s do this.
‘Left’ and ‘right’ are illusory categories. What we’re really experiencing is tribal hostility.
The left-right model ignores that politics is about many issues. Like every other realm of life, it is multidimensional, yet we describe it using a graph with only one dimension. It’s true that many Americans hold their views in packages that we call “liberal” and “conservative”—those who currently support abortion rights, for instance, are also more likely to support vaccinations, income-tax increases, free trade and military intervention in Ukraine. But the question is why. Why is there a strong correlation between these seemingly unrelated issues, and why do we find them clustering in patterns that are predictable and binary instead of completely random and pluralistic?
The answer is socialization. When the Democratic and Republican parties change (as they have many times), the content and meaning of their ideologies change, too, meaning that ideologues (“liberals” and “conservatives”) will change their views to stay in line with their political tribe. Social conformity, not philosophy, explains their beliefs. Those who refuse to conform and maintain their political views independent of tribe will appear to have “switched” groups—even though they stayed consistent while the ideologies changed around them.
Although America has two dominant ideological tribes, there is nothing uniting all of the positions of either side. The parties have coalesced around the concepts of “left” and “right,” but the concepts themselves are fictions. The ubiquitous left-right model of politics frames our thinking, shapes our language, and sets the terms of public debate, but it is completely wrong. There are many issues in politics. We confuse ourselves by using a political model that reduces them to one.
Verlan Lewis and Hyrum Lewis, The Wall Street Journal
One of the authors of the piece above, Hyrum Lewis, was a recent guest on Isaac Saul’s Tangle podcast. Here’s that episode’s description:
On today's episode, we sit down with Hyrum Lewis to discuss the misconceptions of political polarization. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book The Myth of Left and Right. In our chat, Hyrum talks about how the words "left" and "right" have become meaningless in today's political climate, and how what we are really experiencing is people self-sorting into tribes. It's a fascinating chat that will challenge your perception of American politics.
You can listen to the full interview here or at the player below. You can also read a transcript of the interview by clicking the link immediately below. 👇
Let's say you are strongly in favor of tax cuts. I would seek out the strongest possible argument for tax increases and what those might be. Maybe that will persuade you, maybe it won't, but at the very least you'll open your mind up a little bit more.
Maybe you’re strongly pro-choice and you strongly believe abortion rights are paramount, maybe read the strongest arguments you possibly can from the pro-life side. And then instead of straw-manning, steel-man, or pass the ideological Turing test. If I was that person, I'm going to explain their position in ways that if they were sitting right in front of me, they would nod and say you got it exactly right.
So if you can't do that, then you're being tribal, you're being a lemming, you aren't being rational. If you can do that, then you have thought through both sides, you have the best possible argument for both, and your position is much more justified, and you can say, yes, I'm not being tribal.
Hyrum Lewis, Interviewed by Isaac Saul for Tangle
Since we’re loosely on the subject of cults (real or imagined), this should only feel like a slight shift: I recently watched the excellent “psychological horror” flick Midsommar on Netflix. Give it a go if you’re into horror or psychology or cults or Midsummer on mushrooms. It’s the best movie of its kind that I’ve seen since the ones below (ordered by year, not by preference). I’m not saying that they’re all strictly horror films, by the way, so don’t go sending me genre corrections, please.
Suspiria (2018 remake)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Everything before this is a blur
Also not totally unrelated to cults: I’ve been wonking out on a bunch of energy-related reads lately, mostly trying to better understand the pushback on “renewables” and support for nuclear, and so on. When I began my wonking, I was basically very pro-nuclear and just as pro-renewables. At the moment, I’m slightly less pro-renewables and WAY more pro-nuclear. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-renewables. I still think solar, wind, et al. have their place, and I am optimistic that technological advancements will solve a lot of their problems and downsides. But problems and downsides they do have.
One of the clearest looks I had at this came again from a guest on Tangle’s podcast, a man named Scott Tinker. Here’s the description of that episode, which includes a bit about Tinker’s background:
Scott Tinker is an energy expert, geologist, and documentary filmmaker trying to carve out the "radical middle" on the future of energy. In today's podcast, he discusses both the reasons we need to move away from oil (or make it cleaner) while also diving into the myths of "renewable" energy, which he says simply is not a thing. Tinker breaks down the pros and cons of fossil fuels, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear energy and much more.
Related to his views on being in the “radical middle” with energy, Tinker talks about being energy omnivores (i.e., basically consuming a balanced “meal” of energy), and this concept has really stuck with me. Almost every challenge I have faced or been witness to in my life has been caused by a lack of balance and solved by an increase of balance. Why would the energy challenge be any different?
Immediately below is a one-paragraph summary of a 25-paragraph summary of Scott Tinker's arguments from the podcast (phew). You can also listen to the full interview here or at the player further below. 👇
In summary, there is no good energy and no bad energy. Every form of energy has its merits and its drawbacks. To minimize environmental impact, we must seek secure energy that is affordable, available and reliable. Secure energy will lift an economy out of poverty and into prosperity. That prosperity, in turn, motivates and funds taking good care of the environment, as the most prosperous places are doing even now.
Here again, energy omnivores and balance:
Can we align third world development with net zero?
Given that the majority of future carbon emissions will come from the developing world, the question of what the developed world might do about this should be central to every climate policy discussion—and yet it isn’t.
Ecomodernists like [Alex] Trembath argue that the West itself relied heavily on fossil fuels when it industrialized. Demanding that poor countries do otherwise would therefore represent a major double standard. But this isn’t just the most moral way of thinking about development—it’s also the most practical. As Trembath elaborates, “A world with higher emissions that is warmer, but wealthier, will be better able to deal with climate change than a world with lower emissions, less warming, and less wealth.”
Thomas Hochman, The National Interest
This is from 2019, and there are a few points in it that bothered me slightly (e.g., wind, as I understand it, is only slightly less safe than nuclear, and the photo shown in the presentation, as one commenter put it, seemed kind of like a cheap shot to me). That said, I’m leaving it here for Michael Shellenberger’s excellent points about the pretty great overall reality of nuclear, especially as compared to the bad rap it often gets.
Michael Shellenberger, TEDx Talks
But seriously, nuclear’s super safe and clean.
Fossil fuels are the dirtiest and most dangerous energy sources, while nuclear and modern renewable energy sources are vastly safer and cleaner. The differences are huge.
Our World in Data
One more time, with feeling: energy omnivores and balance:
Michael Shellenberger's testimony to the House Committee on Oversight & Reform
For a hearing on: “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Examining Big Oil’s Prices, Profits, and Pledges”
We should do more to address climate change but in a framework that prioritizes energy abundance, reliability, and security. Climate change is real and we should seek to reduce carbon emissions. But it’s also the case that U.S. carbon emissions declined 22% between 2005 and 2020, global emissions were flat over the last decade, and weather-related disasters have declined since the beginning of this century. There is no scientific scenario for mass death from climate change. A far more immediate and dangerous threat is insufficient energy supplies due to U.S. government policies and actions aimed at reducing oil and gas production.
We should seek a significant expansion of natural gas and oil production, pipelines, and refineries to provide greater energy security for ourselves, and to produce in sufficient quantities for our allies. We should seek a significant expansion of nuclear power to increase energy abundance and security, produce hydrogen, and one day phase out the use of all fossil fuels. While the latter shouldn’t be our main focus, particularly now, radical decarbonization can and should be a medium- to long-term objective within the context of creating abundant, secure, and low-cost energy supplies to power our remarkable nation and civilization.
Michael Shellenberger, Environmental Progress
I just stumbled across this particular post today, and there are so many great points in it. But I will leave you with this big bunch of ‘em, as they relate to much of the rest of what I’ve already shared today:
Too bad neither party qualifies
What normie voters want is to turn down the temperature on heated culture war rhetoric and restore some sense of political normality. They are not so sure that characterizing almost half the country as fascists (or even “semi-fascists”) is going to do the trick.
Consider also the recent legislative achievements of the Democrats, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Leaving aside the issue of whether the latter act was wisely named in light of recent economic developments, investing in America’s competitiveness and future prosperity is very much a normie voter thing to do, as are provisions to contain prescription drug prices. But there are problems.
Start with the deal that was cut with Joe Manchin that enabled the Inflation Reduction Act to pass. The bill, despite its name, was primarily an energy bill with spending directed at a clean energy transition—promoting solar, wind and electric vehicles but also providing some support for nuclear, carbon capture, clean hydrogen, geothermal and other technologies that are not typically supported by the left. And fossil fuels were not left out of the mix, either in the bill itself or in the side deal with Manchin on permitting reform that would, among other things, allow the natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline to finally be completed.
This “all of the above” approach is very much in the normie voter wheelhouse. Pew asked the public which energy supply approach it preferred “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only” or “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources”. The all of the above approach was favored by an overwhelming 67 percent to 31 percent margin. Yet Democratic progressives are so incensed by the fact that the deal with Manchin would facilitate some fossil fuel projects that they are making serious noises about tanking the deal.
Ruy Teixeira, The Liberal Patriot
My main takeaways from everything above
Tribalism and social conformity are bad1.
Straw-manning? Also bad.
Cults are not only super bad, but also super dangerous3.
Movies about cults, though, are f*cking great.
No form of energy is all good or all bad.
Renewables have their uses and limits, while nuclear (often labeled all bad) is safer, cleaner, less intermittent/more reliable, and more energy-dense.
Energy abundance, reliability, and security are good, while climate panic and alarmism is bad and unhelpful and eerily cult-like4
Being energy omnivores might be the best and most realistic path forward.
Lists are fun. Especially when they have 10 items in them. Ten feels good.
“Bad” meaning: more bad than good, but not entirely devoid of good
“Good” meaning: more good than bad, but not entirely devoid of bad
“Dangerous” meaning: someone in the cult might wear your face as a mask, but there is also something kind of beautiful about all the togetherness and ritual and whatnot
“Cult-like” meaning: like a cult. EVER HEARD OF A DICTIONARY?!?!?!