*Can it Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America*

It will be out soon, you should buy it.  I’ve only read my own essay in the book, but that one is very good and also original, I haven’t made the argument elsewhere.  Presumably the other essays are better yet, as they feature Jon Elster, Timur Kuran, Samantha Power, Duncan Watts, Noah Feldman, and other luminaries.


Well, WBUR did fire "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook on Wednesday: so yes, it can happen here.

(Don't doubt Frank Zappa quite so much, either, Tyler!)

Bummer, but I think this was inevitable. Hope he finds another forum as I loved his show and the new version doesn't really cut it. New hosts are boring with uninteresting questions.

The new show is a lot less rape-y without Tom, too. I'm sure you hate that part.

All he did was yell at the associate producers and tell some stories. There was no rape allegations. This is silly.

Stand up and pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth. Now sit still for 6 hours while I indoctrinate you. You squirm or squeal and you will be punsished.

Indeed. As a child, it always felt to me like the golden calf. Almost wished I was a Jehovah’s Witness.

It can only be a willful failure of the imagination to suppose that you were pledging allegiance to a "piece of cloth". You might as well complain that reading is stupid because it involves looking at a bunch of squiggles on a sheet of paper.

It's a symbol. Humanity has used and understood symbols since time immemorial. You were pledging allegiance to a land, its people, its principles, its traditions - all of them yours, as your family is yours. Do you have a family? If so, the idea cannot be alien to you; whether or not you agree with it, as applied to a nation, surely you understand it. Any good patriot would ditch the Stars and Stripes at once if it would benefit their real object of loyalty.

[Meanwhile, if you want indoctrination, come to my university and walk around the halls. That's the grade-A stuff.]

Agree re symbolism, which is the most salient reason Trump is unfit for office. Presidential imagery/symbolism matters. It's maybe the most important part of that job. If you think it's a good idea to pledge allegiance to the flag/nation (I'm fine with it), you should be able to recognize his lack of fitness.

I don’t conflate what is good, patriotism (born here die here, property, freedom, family) with what is bad, nationalism (unquestionable support of a governments warfare, welfare programs)

Yeah, pledging to the symbol of the land that declares you inferior and undeserving. Even as a white male, I failed to qualify based on religious belief, and I had it good compared to non-whites and non-males. I was part of the masses who questioned everything and rebelled.

We took the rhetoric and demanded everyone benefit from the Constitution's promise.

Trump and many others still resent the fact the Constitution has been applied to so many more people than white men of certain dogma.

It's ironic the GOP is the refuge for so many who object to the active application of the 14th Amendment which says "person", not citizen,, not white male, not wealthy elite.

The Constitution was written based on every person having rights, (according to the dogma in the 50s to justify US superiority over the commies), all being welcomed, but the government run by elites, called "citizens", (which was confused by the 14th making the masses citizens).

The GOP wrote and passed the Constitutional amendments the GOP today hates and fights. It's ironic that those who hate the Constitution the most, demand those they want to not have rights salute the flag that symbolizes the Constitution they hate.

Funny, my family never made me pledge allegiance to the family crest every morning before I went to school...

I hear that if you have a job, it's even worse. You have to do whatever your boss tells you to do. Just like in North Korea!

Nobody in America is compelled to attend public schools, so just like voluntary employment it's not a great example of authoritarianism. It's true that parents are legally required to ensure their children get some kind of education, but there's wide latitude in what is taught and little oversight of those outside formal schools.

I don’t conflate what is compulsory (government schooling) with what is voluntary (capitalistic employment).

Knew this post would get right wing panties in a knot.

'I’ve only read my own essay in the book, but that one is very good and also original, I haven’t made the argument elsewhere.'

Originality is not about whether you have made an argument elsewhere, it is about whether anyone else has made the argument before.

Originality and democracy. Discuss.

I would guess that originality is useful at the margins, but consensus matters more.

Majority of Americans trust FBI over Trump: Marist poll

That the question is even asked though, might confirm that we are in something of a Constitutional "spot" if not yet a crisis.

I’ve only read my own essay in the book, but that one is very good and also original, I haven’t made the argument elsewhere.

Is this satire on Trump?

Is it self-recommending? Is Cowen a very satble genius? Doea he have good genes, very good genes?

Can? It already has. We are only now emerging from 8 years of it.

So, so, stupid

And yet Obama tried to government unconstitutionally with his pen and his telephone - DACA being a good example. He tried to undermine the Constitution and the rule of law by things like Fast and Furious - presumably intending to use the subsequent bloodshed to argue for overriding the Second Amendment. He turned the full weight of the State against his political opponents to make sure he won re-election by preventing them organizing or spending. Above all, it looks like he took part in a blatantly illegal attempt to remove his successor from office before the election was barely over.

Obama has been the closest America has come to a Latin-American-style Left Caudillo a la Chavez.

Very, very observant.

And you left out forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

So, you believe no one should pay for medical treatment mandated by government because doctors, nurses, should work for free?

When have you called for humanely euthanizing injured and sick people without insurance or large amounts of cash or people willing to put down cash on the spot?

Or have you called for sick and injured people be left to die in the streets until the dogs, rats, bugs, dispose of them?

The GOP embrace EMTALA as their free lunch health care solution. "No one dies for lack of money or insurance."

No they blame obamacare for hospitals going bankrupt because it ended the hospital government bailouts. Based on everyone paying for their medical bills by having insurance so hospitals no longer need government bailouts.

Obama was neither the first nor the sole president to use executive orders well outside the sphere where they are valid. That's been a growing trend since the end of WWII, and the current occupant of the White House is doing his part to further it.

Why hasn't Trump enforced the law and eliminared all 11 million illegals with the budget Congress gave him?

To argue that Obama failed to comply with the law by rationally defining rules for implementing the radically conflicting laws Congress has passed and that Trump is better by selectively executing the law by targeting people based on Trump and other racial or ethnic biases.

By the way, given the Constitution deals almost entirely with rights of persons, and very little with citizens, ie, very few persons were citizens for the century of government before the 14th Amendment, and then post the 14th, people like you were arguing persons born in the US were not only not entitled to the rights of citizenship, but not even the rights of persons in the Constitution.

Where does the Constitution give Congress the enumerated power to restrict the migration of persons?

Only a liberal living Constitution and evolving interpretations can support any of Trumps demands for immigration laws, or of the other anti-immigrationists.

Citizenship was never a requirement of being in the US or being a person with rights.

Obama's actions were far more faithful to the Constitution than Trump's.

I agree 100%. That is exactly as stupid as the other side now thinking Trump represents some new unprecedented existential threat!

I can't believe we now find it impossible to understand that someone can disagree with you, but may not be Hitler.

Think again about Trump and Duterte. Very dangerous impulses are in plain sight. We are just lucky that utter incompetence keeps them in check.


Trump's remarks (joke?) about treason in this instance are unmitigated idiocy. Just like Obama's remarks (joke) about the IRS auditing his opponents was a horrible thing to say.

Both may even show they have authoritarian tendencies that disqualify them from the presidency. The problem is that 100% of people also match that description.

Much more is in evidence


But to thumbnail it, did Trump praise Duterte's drug campaign (which was basically endorsing random murder)?

Yes, yes he did.


"I can’t believe we now find it impossible to understand that someone can disagree with you,"

Rational people don't have a problem understanding this, but most people aren't very rational.

So why doesn't Trump fulfill his oath and implement the Russia sanctions?

Agreed, one can oppose Trump (or Obama) without resorting to hysterical partisan caricature. Not everyone does of course.

In the age of Trump Derangement Syndrome, it is refreshing to recall the days of Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Symmetry may be a protective fantasy, as always.

I didn't mean to imply symmetry, but I suppose there is some symmetry in edgar coming out from under his desk after 8 years and you taking his place.

Me? Name one position of mine that is not grounded in reported fact.

In fact that cute "you taking his place" is what it always was, indirect defense and deflection protecting Trump and the status quo from facts in plain sight.

I don't like Trump. I'm not interested in protecting Trump.

You hide from the key question. If I link to stories of fact, what exactly is your problem?

Is it one of Tyler's mood affiliations? Too much fact can be harming to your "we'll survive" whatever?

Look, I understand the concept of rational ignorance, but I think there has been way too much irrational ignorance going on.

Still. Even now.

(Every time factual indictment of Trump is called derangement, yes that is functionally an alignment with and defense of Trump.)

"If I link to stories of fact"

?? Virtually every time you link to something it undermines your statement or just doesn't address it at all. Not that we mind your self-repudiation, it saves the rest of us time.

Maybe you can't read TMC, either me or the link. You think I am making grander claims, or discarding what is actually in evidence.

Example: Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

That doesn't say their impact is known, and it doesn't say criminal collusion is proven. But meddling is well documented, as are suspicious links like Papadopoulos' comments to Australians.

Can lefties please stop using the "whataboutism" and "false equivalency" memes? It's so boring and obnoxious.

How do you think this clown president was normalized?

If you think Trump is not a clown, but instead an exemplar for any particular political philosophy, go ahead, write a few paragraphs on that.

Actually Thomas, I don't think you wanted to be here. You didn't want a president who banged porn stars or defended wife beaters.

You don't actually like that, but you are still enough red team to object when someone you (mistakenly) believe is blue team notices.

I think whataboutism is what got Trump elected. Its not just for "lefties" anymore!

"How do you think this clown president was normalized"

Previous 8 years sure helped.

I mean, seriously? Trump pays off porn stars. Obama wears a tan suit. They both do it?

We survived LBJ's crudity and JFK's adventures...

This too shall pass.

Private misadventures did not quite have the same impact on public morality.

In fact this becomes a rather important time to name the public morality you want. Vote in 2020 for the candidate with the hotter porn entourage?

Grow up. The big difference between then and now is that the White House press corps used to enjoy privileged access in exchange for keeping private stuff on the down low, and that system has broken down.

This is not to say that Trump isn't boorish and cringe-worthy as Head of State whereas Obama is smooth and cool. It's just about what you are willing to let drive you crazy. You feel more justified in having Trump drive you crazy than other people do in having Obama drive them crazy, and you're probably right, but it's hardly impressive to end up marginally ahead of some other lunatic.

Yeah, bottom line BD is right. Politics makes people crazy. Try to be a true centrist and relax, because everything is going to work out. I know this because it's always been true.

Brian and msgkings are the original "this is fine" boys.


They have ridden "this is fine" all the way down to Stormy Daniels payoffs. How much lower can they go?

It is fine. You must be the only person in the country whose life is impacted by Stormy Daniels.

Oh look, there's Anonymous and edgar, all scraggly-bearded and sandwich board outfitted, hurling spittle-flecked invective at one another. Truth be told, edgar is nuttier.

msgkings, if I recall correctly you said you have had awkward conversations with your children about Trump's behavior. You might have even called it his awfulness.

And yet here you claim our main responsibility as citizens is to bow down and accept it.

You boys almost seem invested in powerlessness, as well as abdication of responsibility.

Nah, we're just not triggered narcissists and you are.

Anti-anti-Trump is pro-Trump.

That's just math.

"Anti-anti-Trump is pro-Trump.

That’s just math."

Now you are talking my language. You are either with us or against us!

Those who speak, anti or anti-anti, are taking a side, GW.

The silent are of course successfully silent.

What a narcissist like you will never understand, Anonymous polar bear, is that it's ok to agree with you that Trump sucks and yet not be so hysterical about it. That's ok, because politics is pretty meaningless for our day to day lives' meaning. Some folks treat politics like a sport or a crusade, they get their meaning from it. You're one of those, and that's fine, you do you. But you need to find some space in your self-absorption to recognize that not everyone is wired like you.

Whereas you, random commenter that you are, have authority over how concerned everyone else should be?

No mental defects there.

I just have the ability to understand other perspectives that you lack. I also have much less regard for my own importance, as an anonymous internet commenter, than you do for yours as same.

I talk citizenship and you turn it to personality to debase it.

Shame on you.

Everything that "Trump sucks" at should be your cue, as a citizen, to ask for better, and not to shirk with "be a true centrist and relax"

OK, how do I 'ask for better'? I voted for Gary Johnson, and actually donated to George Pataki (stifle your laughter please). Please, tell us what to do besides not trigger you?

Look at this page again.

I attack Trump, and complacency, and you two attack me.

Obviously you are for Trump, or for complacency, that the second suits the former.

"And" the second suits the former

So, you aren't going to answer my question? What exactly do you want me to do differently besides not hurting your feelings?

I think that was clear. Stop demanding complacency in the face of known problems (not fictional, not figments) in the Trump administration.

OK I've stopped. I do not demand complacency to Trump, and applaud the ongoing and largely successful efforts to hem him in and ameliorate his buffoonery. Are we cool?

Kurt Goedel claimed it could happen here, due to a logical contradiction in the Constitution: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2010183

Excellent link, thank you!

thanks msgkings, saves the rest of us bothering.

Why go so far as to point out inherent flaw in a restriction within an amendable Constitution when the fact of the matter is that the only thing preventing the executive from taking power is the convention of the judiciary branch being allowed to check that executive branch by that same executive branch?

Thanks for the comment. Could you explain that last sentence a bit more? At the end of the day, the judicial branch is not really an effective check, since a federal judge is not going to send the U.S. Marshall Service to the White House (or Mar-a-Lago or wherever) to arrest the President for not complying with that judge’s interpretation of of some law. So, yes, a president has the ability to use brute force (via the armed forces) to stage a coup or seize total power, but Gödel what apparently discovered was a logical contradiction in the constitution, one that would make a “constitutional dictatorship” possible...

My sentence wasn't clear but you've captured the meaning.

"but Gödel what apparently discovered was a logical contradiction in the constitution, one that would make a “constitutional dictatorship” possible"

This is true but I guess perhaps why I went to the court is because I was thinking about whether SCOTUS would rule in favor of an amendment to the entrenchment clause in Art. V, which made me think about Marbury v. Madison, which made me think about the legitimacy of the court.

I know. Being lectured on political virtue by people who are literal dogshit. Make American liberalism great again!

I am confused- didn't it happen already because of Trump?

As long as we still have the PTA and bowling leagues in America, it definitely can happen here.

Lol. What exactly is authoritarianism if not something that already exists here. We already live in a world where one is not allowed to say what one thinks, which means we are pretty much defenseless against whatever the powerful are pushing. The fact that most people internalize the commands of their oppressors doesn’t change that, it’s a feature of brave new world and 1984.

Do they really mean, will we have death camps? Or will we have to do whatever the president guy says?

Who needs Sunstein's amateur musings? Read Heinlein's "If This Goes On..." (1953 version). Better and cheaper too.

+1, an excellent work

It is ironic that Cass Sunstein is doing this. What political positions is he noted for? Well let's go to Wikipedia:

1. He does not like the First Amendment. Quite why I am not sure but I gather it is because he cannot make people listen to his lectures and the free market does not give his view enough airtime.

2. He wants animals to have the right to sue. And by that he means any political activist should have the right to sue anyone else on behalf of the supposed animal defendant. Which means everyone would be hostage to any swamp dwelling purple haired weirdo who wants to make our lives miserable.

3. He loves taxation and thinks we all should too - needless to say he has been raised on the public teat his entire life.

4. He disapproves of government recognition of marriage

5. Most famously he claims the internet is full of conspiracy theories so the government ought to form a team of undercover operatives to infiltrate every civil society organization in order to push Good Thinking among citizens. I am actually not making this up:

"We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help." However, the authors advocate that each "instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5)."

He is also famous for Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness - a book that assumes ordinary people are too stupid to control their own lives and so they need to be bullied by cognitive self-styled elites such as himself.

The early utopian societies had this problem. You start by providing good housing, you move on to nagging people about sweeping their front door steps, you move on to banning gambling, before you know you have to build a Berlin Wall to keep people in.

Sunstein in the ugly face of Politically Correct Authoritarianism. If he is truly afraid his best contribution would be to retire into silence and obscurity so the rest of us can get on with our lives in peace and freedom.

That's a pretty good riposte Sir.

Bonus trivia: it's been said that George Orwell was authoritarian as well. He worked for a while as a policeman and during the UK Red Scare reported supposed subversives to the government. In psychology the practice of imputing to others traits that you have yourself is called "projection".

Bonus trivia: it’s been said that the Lopez Family is authoritarian as well. They lorded it over ill-paid and overworked domestic staff to the point that these Jean Valjeans had no choice but to rise up and swipe some of the family silver. In psychology the practice of imputing to others traits that you have yourself is called “projection”.

Sustein: the Phillip Drummond of public policy.

I'm not extremely well-versed in Sunstein's body of work, so I was relying on you to accurately state his positions, and I agreed that some of these positions are, in fact, objectionable. Then I saw your strawman summary of Nudge (which I have read) and began to question whether Sunstein actually holds any of the beliefs you impute to him.

I think that the irony is lost for most people. Sunstein has been a strong voice for collectivism and authoritarianism but that seems to be forgotten by polite society. You are correct about Sunstein is the "ugly face of Politically Correct Authoritarianism." Sadly, most people do not wish to do the necessary homework to see it.

One of the creepiest features of both the Nazi and Soviet regimes was the ideological censorship of academia, including in nonpolitical disciplines. There is a reason people shudder at Deutsch Physik and Lysenkoism. Those regimes understood the power of the academy to direct and shape public opinion, and deliberately moved so that intellectual and rhetorical training would only be available to those who were loyal to them and their ideological underpinnings. Ideological domination could be assured for a thousand years if you could reduce your opponents to a mass of idiots; even if they were right on the one thing - opposition to your ideology and/or regime - they would be so obviously wrong or downright crazy on other issues that they could be dismissed with a laugh. (In unrelated news, those people at Fox sure are a bunch of morons, aren't they?)

It absolutely can happen here. It is happening here. But who is doing it?

At [powerful university, where I study], there are various and manifold "Multicultural" events every year; once in a while, they are creepy and blatant enough to explicitly aim them at children. One merely needs to mentally substitute "Aryan" or "Marxist" for "Multicultural" to see what is going on as far as indoctrination is concerned. The halls here are festooned with political propaganda of the most blatant and nauseating sort; in one of the main lobbies stands a collection of propagandist "artwork" so blatant it would have made Goebbels blush.

Those who say that there is a "balance", that "all perspectives are given a voice": I dare you to come here and go around with a MAGA hat for even a day.

Indoctrination is merely one prong; the other major prong is a witch-hunt. Deutsch Physik and Lysenkoism were, first and foremost, meant to root out even the tiniest seeds of potential opposition - even if those seeds were contained in facts (e.g. Mendelian heredity in the case of Lysenkoism) and not opinions. Anyone not adhering totally to the party line is whacked; even raising the question of whether the party line might be right is verboten. Think Larry Summers; James Watson; Nicholas and Erika Christakis; that poor girl at Wilfrid Laurier U who dared to show a clip of Jordan Peterson; and so on until the cows come home.

Deutsch Physik and Lysenkoism, meet your successors: https://soundcloud.com/tristin-john-hopper/recording-of-meeting-between-lindsay-shepherd-and-wilfrid-laurier-university-professors (if the link fails, this is a recording of the interrogation of the Wilfrid Laurier U student - which had to be secretly taken by the student herself, otherwise it would never have seen the light of day).

Unfortunately for the Nazis and Soviets, the existence of a strong ideology external to them - primarily in America - meant that they could not complete this program, even in principle (not to mention that the Nazis fell rather quickly). It was doomed from the start. By contrast, the new program faces no such constraint - the American university system dominates the world's education, and is arguably even stronger outside the United States than inside.

One of the creepiest features of both the Nazi and Soviet regimes was the ideological censorship of academia, including in nonpolitical disciplines. There is a reason people shudder at Deutsch Physik and Lysenkoism.

I don't think they shudder at Lysenkoism. I think it is more or less mainstream in Western academia these days. Darwinism gets lip service but they do not mean it.

I think John Lucas says somewhere that a Nazis argued that anyone who claimed there was such a thing as Capitalist Economics has no business criticizing German Physics. I would think much the same was true of Feminist Mathematics or African Science. There is science. And then there is something else. Like Social Justice Statistics. This is how authoritarianism grows - first there is the death of standards and mentality.

Lysenkoism - as in the precise beliefs of Soviet agriculture in the Stalin era - is not at all believed, and basically no academician would endorse the notion. Its modern analogues - as in patently counterfactual theories and beliefs treated as "science" and "fact" for political and ideological purposes - are of course alive and well.

The difference is that they can see Lysenkoism for what it was, hence the shuddering. Old propaganda falls flat on them because it is not meant for them; they laugh at it and don't pause to consider what the new version, aimed at them, might look like.

In short, I think we basically agree on the substantive points.

I disagree. I think that most academics know they are supposed to say they support Darwin and it would be career suicide if they doubted him. But do they believe Darwinism? I think they usually come from a Marxist point of view - even if they are not Marxists - and so are happier with the Blank Slate approach. Which is a form of Lysenkoism.

Otherwise I agree with you totally.

It seems to me like our minor disagreement is merely a matter of semantics. If you went up to a professor and asked them if they believe in "Lysenkoism", you'd get horrified looks. On the other hand, as you point out, many widely-held beliefs in academia - the "blank slate" in particular - have quite a few similarities to Lysenkoism. I call the modern beliefs "analogues of Lysenkoism" (the up-and-coming idea that mathematics and science need to be purged of 'white male' influence is of course the analogue of Deutsche Mathematik and Deutsche Physik), while you call them "a form of Lysenkoism". But it seems like we're talking about the same thing, basically.

Re: But do they believe Darwinism?

By and large, yes. What they do not accept is Social Darwinism-- which even Darwin criticized in his own time.

JonFraz February 15, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Except Social Darwinism does not exist - except as an excuse for the Left to ignore the bits of Darwin they do not like.

Darwin was, after all, a Social Darwinist. You only have to read the Descent of Man to see that. So where did he criticize a phrase that wasn't even invented until the century after his death?

Au contraire, Social Darwinism does exist--otherwise why did Darwin himself publicly reject it?

"Lysenkoism – as in the precise beliefs of Soviet agriculture in the Stalin era – is not at all believed, and basically no academician would endorse the notion."
By Lysenkoism, the right nowadays usually means not thinking Blacks and Hispanics are biologically inferior. They adopted Humpty Dumpty's philosophy: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.''

"Blacks and Hispanics are biologically inferior"

Just different, inferior is the value judgement made by individuals which underlies the left's feelings of guilt and shame on race. If we accept that there are differences, which is the scientific truth, then we accept that disparities can exist that do not necessarily imply an inherent evil in white people, which is the other part of the left's core of racism.

Just uncapable of lerning and behaving orderly and being assimilated... I stand correted.

The latter-day instance of Lysenkoism is not insisting that acquired characteristics can be inherited, but an extreme emphasis on environmental influences combined with a deprecation of the importance of inherited characteristics

Favoring nurture (environment) over nature (heredity) must be an essential ingredient to all utopianism because the environment (including especially culture) can be modified but (to date, at least) we're stuck with our DNA.

Yet Darwin's engine, by favoring some genotypes over others through the mechanism of differential reproductive rates, has shaped and determined our DNA. Utopians must deprecate natural constraints on human potential (e.g., deprecating biological sex to promote gender fluidity), yet these constraints remain those imposed by the effects of our Darwinian selection.

So, in a literal sense utopians won't question that we are descended from non-human primates, or that we have been shaped by natural selection. But, they are all too likely to reject the implications inherent in accepting this when/if that inevitably conflicts with a wish that we can be reborn as we would wish to be instead of as we are, free of those pesky constraints imposed by our origins within Darwinian evolution.

Human genomes show only minimal differences between populations-- there are human subspecies.
Meanwhile human culture has been the chief engine of differences between human societies. There should be staringly obvious from even a cursory reading of history.
Here's a very easy example to understand: there are almost certainly genetic factors which underlie human language use and acquisition. However the specific language(s) a person speaks depends entirely on what language they are exposed to as children (and perhaps learn through hard work as an adult).

Amend the above to say "there are NO human subspecies".

"Human genomes show only minimal differences between populations"

And what does this mean? There is only a 1.2% difference between human and chimp DNA according to something I just Googled. This is only 12 times the difference between human populations. How many twelfths of the way to chimpanzee does it take before someone is unrecognizable as a human? I believe you are engaged in a dishonest argument.

And do you know what the difference between a race car that is .1% better than all of the rest? 1st place by seconds. What about the difference between the 1st and second place cash awards? 40%? 50%? 75%? When you are talking about competition among humans, the difference between a Bill Gates and a $1,000,000 per year programmer at Microsoft probably isn't much, maybe nothing at all. When you are talking about the difference between Terrance Tao and my Calculus professor probably isn't much either, but it's enough that Tao is famous, does groundbreaking work, and my professor hadn't really published since her PhD.

The reason this matters is that the context of your argument is that we can identify the benefactors of immoral actions by looking at outcomes in our society. The entirety of the difference in outcomes between populations could be explained by a single SD of IQ which could be accounted for in .001% of our DNA. We don't have to punish people for having a certain skin color to assuage the anti-scientific guilt and rage of hate driven bigots.

JonFraz February 15, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Human genomes show only minimal differences between populations– there are human subspecies. Meanwhile human culture has been the chief engine of differences between human societies. There should be staringly obvious from even a cursory reading of history. Here’s a very easy example to understand: there are almost certainly genetic factors which underlie human language use and acquisition. However the specific language(s) a person speaks depends entirely on what language they are exposed to as children (and perhaps learn through hard work as an adult).

I think that there ought to be a "not" added to pretty much every statement in that paragraph. Minimal is a weasel word. What do you mean by minimal? If you mean that the human race is made up of several large genetic groups that traditionally did not intermarry and so are distinct, then sure, minimal. But I think that is not what you meant. The differences are large enough that in another species the races would be called subspecies.

It is not obvious to me that culture is the main difference between human populations. Within Europe or any other genetic pool perhaps. But Blacks have adopted a lot of European culture. They have not managed to adopt much of the technology or life style that comes with it.

However I do agree with the last bit. The question is whether or not any human language is more complex or sophisticated than another. Following Althouse's rule a medievalist can get away with saying that a Greek Christian could not explain his theological views without committing three grave heresies using Latin because it was so crude. But of course no one can say that a language that counts up to three and cannot distinguish green from yellow is not as good as anything Shakespeare wrote.

Thomas: IQ has nothing to do with matters of sin and virtue-- zip, nada, nill. There are good dull-witted people an devil geniuses.

Unsubtle guy,
If suggest taking off the blinders and looking and human cultures: how are cultural differences not the major differences among humans? Things like skin color are trivial. Language, religion systems of governance, of morality, kinship patterns, etc etc-- all are culturally determined .And on these things human history chiefly turns. Evolution proceeds slowly (with perhaps an occasional moment here and there of faster mutation)-- cultures do not change over night, but they change much faster than genomes do, thereby accounting for the pace of history. Has any other species on Earth ever shown such rapid change as we humans? Culture-- and our relative freedom from preprogramming-- explain this easily. Genetics does not. You would not (I think) posit that there was a Latin-speaking gene that suddenly mutated mutated into Spanish , French, Italian etc. genes. Nor a Pagan gene that mutated into Christian and Islamic genes. Genes give us our physical form and set the limits of the possible. But culture determines where we go with the specifics of our lives.

'powerful university'?

Quite the original oxymoron, assuming it was first used here.

How would you describe an institution which is (a) responsible for educating the brightest young people in the country, (b) supplies experts (and "experts") for virtually all the arms of government, most of the powerful NGOs, and the media, (c) commands unparalleled prestige in our society, especially when it comes to matters of truth and falsehood?

Do you really believe that an institution which in effect has a monopoly on generating, distributing and approving 'knowledge' and 'truth' in our society can be anything but "powerful"?

(Oh yeah, and I almost forgot the multibillion-dollar endowments that the biggest and best-connected of them have.)

'How would you describe an institution which' is just a cog in the intricate machine you are pointing to? Definitely not as powerful.

'Do you really believe that an institution which in effect has a monopoly' - sorry, I did not realize you were attending the only university that exists in the U.S. Of course, in the world the rest of us share, there are a number of universities, none of them possessing a monopoly on anything.

And oddly enough, in your very next sentence, you use the plural when referring to universities. Seems like you contain multitudes in terms of attending a powerful university.

Harvard isn’t powerful?

How many divisions does Harvard have?

as many as the Soviet Union?

During the last administration? All of them.

Compared to MIT, University of Chicago, Yale, Stanford, UC Berkeley? I don't know, but any two of the preceding together is more powerful than Harvard. (Admittedly, the original poster seems extremely confused about whether they are talking about one university or many, so the point is somewhat moot.)

Does that ever happen? Also, it would be fair to say that Harvard has a number of psychological warfare divisions. It’s a silly point anyway. How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?

It's prior. When he can't effectively articulate a logical rebuttal, he goes for a) large copy and pastes of largely irrelevant information or b) seizing on some irrelevant nit pick to derail the argument.

"How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?"
Ask segregationists or pro-life activists.

That's the point. They don't "have" the divisions, but they can ultimately determine their use. You think Harvard can't start a war?

Against Yale? There have been peace talks.

Doesn't the Supreme court just follow the intellectual fashions set in place like Harvard?

Half of it may do it. The other half... not so much. Or are we talking about fashions as banning segregation? Harvard may be against racial segregation, but I did not check.

Probably Harvard was in favor of banning segregation, not 100% sure on that one. Definitely, Harvard favored birth control and abortion, pornography, affirmative action, that sort of thing. Even, maybe even especially, non-culture wars stuff like bureaucratic independence and the role of scientific research in enforcing public policy.

Well, it is not just Harvard. It is the New York Times, it was Kennedy's White House (defending affirmative action at companies), it is Hollywood, it is Democrats. There is (among "people who matter") a somewhat liberal consensus. I doubt Harvard forged LBJ. And Republicans are supposedly to be against all those things. Apparently, they are not doing a food job at it.


Why do authoritarian states politicise science? Why do they say things that are demonstrably, factually untrue? Because it identifies and humiliates opponents. It exalts power.

This was ably observed in "1984". O'Brien doesn't believe 2 and 2 is 5, or rather he proclaims that point is irrelevant. What matters is that he can make Winston say it, believe it. He can make everyone proclaim it. Everyone is part of a vast collective lie which no-one believes but everyone must pretend to be true. And at the same moment they are confronted with their own cowardice and collective cowardice. It is humiliating. It is designed to humiliate.

The brazen lie is designed to exalt and demonstrate the power of the Party. He (O'Brien), is shaping reality itself to his will, his power. The opponent is shown that science, Truth or Falsehood have no meaning; there is only subordination to power.

Excellent takedown of "Global Warming" -- thank you.

Still waiting for an answer on this: are there still climate 'deniers' who think the planet is not actually warming? I thought they had all moved to much more defensible arguments that it's not caused by human activity, and/or that it won't be that difficult to deal with. It seems pretty silly to claim there isn't even a warming trend right now.

The German scientists who've said we're in global cooling and predicted GC until about 2050, then it warms up again, then it cools down again until 2200. (Instapundit linked that in the past few months) The scientists who've recently suggested the sun is going cold for the next 50 years. Suggestions of another Maunder? Minimum or Dalton? Minimum.

Yes. I do not think the planet is warming. There is no warming trend.

Why, after much of North America has been covered in snow yet again, do you think it is silly to claim this now? The only evidence that the planet is warming is manufactured.

I don't buy it. The educational system, right down to grade school level, has been engaged in a comprehensive effort at liberal indoctrination for at least two generations now. And young people are, I think, peculiarly susceptible to idealistic notions anyway. Right? Don't you remember? Or has the grinding world wrung even those memories from you?

Anyway, I think there is an arc to human development that kind of lines up with the goal of liberal indoctrination but, to the frustration of educators, it doesn't really stick after the bird leaves the nest. At some point for most people the real world intercedes and the thrilling idealism of youth is set aside or at least tempered.

I'm not objecting your main point, but I don't think there was much liberal indoctrination at the grade school level for the last 2 generations. Certainly it's been seeping down to younger ages over the last 20 years (one generation).

However, to your main point. Kids, particularly teenagers, tend to reject the authority of their elders. You can't brainwash a kid to be patriotic nor can you brainwash a kid to be environmentally progressive.

I'm not sure about your "rejection of authority" point here. The theme of teenage rebellion is exaggerated. Most teenagers are not rebelling most of the time. And to the extent that it does happen, it rarely takes the form of kids critically appraising and rejecting information and viewpoints that are presented to them.

A large portion of teenagers rebel against their parents. A smaller portion rebel against teachers to some extent, but it usually consists of slacking off or not cooperating with class rather than disbelieving what is being taught. It's a rare student indeed that is questioning things like the legacy of the New Deal as it is presented in history class (to pick an example of something where conservatives disagree with the prevailing narrative).

"I’m not sure about your “rejection of authority” point here."

Yes, I think you are correct with your rebuttal. I withdraw my "teenager rebellion" objection.

Wow, I convinced someone on the internet to change their mind :).

I think I'll stop now.

LOL, I'm a sucker for a logical argument.

More culture war blog posts by Cowen - his next blog post, about gender (and female advantage), really brings out the worst in the mostly male readers of this blog. Maybe Cowen is considering turning off the comments, and his culture war blog posts are intended to give him ample reason for doing so. Or maybe Cowen is bored and readers' comments to his culture war blog posts are intended to entertain (and perhaps confirm his low opinion of humanity). I look forward to a return to less controversial (and emotional) blog posts, such as those about inequality.

So I am one of those nuts who spent the better part of 30 years getting "educated" and then went into the military to pay off said very expensive education. Pretty much all of that education was as close to authoritarian as the petty power holders could manage. For instance, it was literally against the student code to question the teachers' expertise or authority. And many of them used this to shut down opposing viewpoints. When my parents demanded that the school meet legally required obligations for dual-enrollment that fell outside the internal bureaucracy's rules they pitched a small fit.

In college, professors routinely hijacked classes to discuss tangentially related politics. They said "my way or the highway" repeatedly to different students and of course for those of us going on in further study or into highly competitive job markets they would withhold letters of recommendation from those who "challenged their authority".

In med school, oh please. The professor could be point blank wrong, about something that data has demonstrated kills patients, and we were told not to question their authority. Doing anything, like missing a day of dissection for a funeral, required authorization forms in triplicate and exercising basic freedom that in any way clashed with their policy (e.g. scheduling a Saturday off months in advance to attend a wedding) was capricious and nigh unto impossible.

Oddly enough going into the military after all that education was a transition to a far less authoritarian culture. Yes, there were orders, but there were also well understood channels to challenge the wisdom of orders and few (if any) officers expected to be deemed unquestionable by dint of rank or position (granted this was mostly within Bumed).

My own personal experience has been that American Education is run by petty authoritarians, particularly once you look at admin instead actual educators. If they could, they would require more blind adherence just to make their lives easier. It is exceedingly rare for anyone to tell their kids to buck the petty authoritarians in education and the kids seem to get that their future rides on keeping these petty authoritarians happy for good grades, letters of rec, and access to honors & activities. Can it happen here? Given how our educational system runs, I would hazard of guess of certainly. I strongly suspect that blind adherence to policy and authority will keep leaching upward from education into HR, business admin, and politics. God help you if you disagree about any issues the authorities deemed settled already.

Is this significantly different from how education worked 20 years ago? 40? 100?


Going way back you had a one room school where parents exercised direct control over the handful of teachers who did not feel free to deviate from the subjects included in their contracts. There was a large amount of emphasis of encouraging students to learn the responsibilities to become independent.

40 years ago was also different, school boards exercised more sway and publishers/national experts/teacher's colleges less. Likewise, 40 years ago teachers had to contend with pastors, local civic leaders, and local business leaders if they tried to deeply to set up petty authoritarian fiefdoms.

Throughout all of this, the med schools were massively different. The imbalance between applicants and slots did not exist in near the amount and the USMLE was not afforded the primary role in determining residency. Medical students were expected to act in specified ways, they were not expected to believe certain things. The administration had virtually no power and was a fraction of its current size.

And that seems to be a fundamental difference today. Education of the past demanded compliant behavior and intellectual rigor, but did not carry the heavy handed threat, at all levels, of handicapping your life merely for not getting with the program. These days, it is a personal affront to educators if students do not believe what they are told. The stakes of education are so high that ever fewer students can afford to risk being non-compliant. The alternative sources of power, like civic groups, school boards, or professional organizations, are so weak that the only check on authoritarianism in education are other authoritarian loci like the government.

So yes, I would submit that the steady per student growth in expenditures, increased instructor "professionalism", increased political polarization, and a half dozen other trends have all made education more authoritarian than it used to be.

To me the question is not Can it Happen but how far down the path are we and just how bad could it be relative to what we have seen historically.

"I’ve only read my own essay in the book ...": the self-licking ice cream cone.

How many of the essays do not take an implicit view that a return to 1950's America would be a descent into Authoritarianism (as opposed to something that we might not want to do for other reasons)?

If at least some of them do, then the book may be worth reading. Otherwise, this book is a reaction to Donald J. Trump.

If we're fortunate, we get public spirited authoritarians on the Franco-Hashemite-Pinochet spectrum, and they take the Bourbons' toys away from them and kick the worst of them out of the country.

So that is it what we become. Hashemite as in antisemite Muslim tyrants...

"I’ve only read my own essay in the book, but that one is very good"

The infamous beginning of John's review of the New Testament.

Retreatism: '“Isaiah’s Job,” an essay by Albert Jay Nock that first ran in the Atlantic Monthly in 1936, is the classic articulation of “retreatism.” An anti-statist man of letters, Nock had been active in politics in earlier decades, publishing the journal Freeman and writing books like Our Enemy, The State, but found himself discouraged by the triumph of the New Deal in the 1930s. In “Isaiah’s Job,” Nock cites the examples of the prophet Isaiah, Plato, and Marcus Aurelius to argue that the superior man places no hope in masses and instead gears his message to the small elite who make up “saving remnant,” which will carry on the work of civilization. . . . In short, Nock was making the case that progress depends on the elite separating itself from the masses. In his 1976 book The Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945, the historian George Nash called attention to the “significant influence” Nock and his essay exerted on the postwar right. William F. Buckley Jr. often cited “Isaiah’s Job” as a touchstone, and reprinted it in an anthology of conservative thought. Libertarians also often turned to Nock’s words for guidance. The idea of retreat wasn’t merely theoretical, but shaped a singular strand of spiritually oriented right-wing politics." This being Lent, it's appropriate to consider "retreatism" as practiced by Jesus. The Gospel of Luke reminds us of the practice of Jesus of retreating to the wilderness or the sea for prayer and for spiritual renewal. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew remind us of the practice of Jesus of avoiding current political issues and of avoiding conflict by retreating from confrontations with His enemies.

With the editor proudly saying on the front cover that he is also the author of the "The World According to Star Wars" you know you're in for a rigorous, grown-up discussion in the pages that follow.

Grow up, freaks!

-1 lighten up. How dare an academic also do something fun!

It is not that simples!

Sounds like something written by and for people with way too much time on their hands.


I can't believe anyone hasn't written that one yet.

Unless someone has and it has been deleted.

How can an enormous, well-armed, well-funded government be anything otherwise?

"Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America . . . Authoritatively Edited by Cass R. Sunstein (Authoritative Author of the authoritative New York Times bestseller "The World According to the Authoritative 'Star Wars'")."

Sorry, TC, but your authoritative appeal to "should" (in terms of volume purchase from or through Amazon) does not make the sale.

Sheryl Atkinson recently elaborated on TedX of how an alliance between mainstream internet services, MSM, and the last administration sought to officially proclaim the good news and condemn "fake" news. It backfired when Trump appropriated the "fake" news label to throw a wrench into the political propaganda machine.

Re: Tyler's assertion: "I’ve only read my own essay in the book, but that one is very good and also original..."

Nice self-assertion, kinda ironic, in a authoritarian-lite way. Cute, really. Not quite Trumpian, though (i.e., "beautiful")

Also, "You should buy it."


I've seen no reason to doubt Mises observation from a time when he was very familiar with the authoritarianism of the mid-20th century. The Anglo-Saxon (dare we use this term anymore) nations were moving toward the highly interventionist compulsory economy, vice total bureaucratic control.

"There is the Soviet pattern of all-round socialization of all enterprises and their outright bureaucratic management; there is the German pattern of Zwangswirtschaft, towards the complete adoption of which the Anglo-Saxon countries are manifestly tending; there is guild socialism, under the name of corporativism still very popular in some Catholic countries. There are many other varieties."

von Mises, Ludwig (1947). Planned Chaos (LvMI) .

"Zwangswirtschaft (German) is an economic system entirely subject to government control. "Zwang" means compulsion, "Wirtschaft" means economy. The English language equivalent for Zwangswirtschaft is something like compulsory economy"

"The Dictatorial, Anti-Democratic and Socialist Character of Interventionism

"Many advocates of interventionism are bewildered when one tells them that in recommending interventionism they themselves are fostering anti-democratic and dictatorial tendencies and the establishment of totalitarian socialism. They protest that they are sincere believers and opposed to tyranny and socialism. What they aim at is only the improvement of the conditions of the poor. They say that they are driven by considerations of social justice, and favour a fairer distribution of income precisely because they are intent upon preserving capitalism and its political corollary or superstructure, viz., democratic government.

"What these people fail to realize is that the various measures they suggest are not capable of bringing about the beneficial results aimed at. On the contrary they produce a state of affairs which from the point of view of their advocates is worse than the previous state which they were designed to alter. If the government, faced with this failure of its first intervention, is not prepared to undo its interference with the market and to return to a free economy, it must add to its first measure more and more regulations and restrictions. Proceeding step by step on this way it finally reaches a point in which all economic freedom of individuals has disappeared. Then socialism of the German pattern, the Zwangswirtschaft of the Nazis, emerges."

von Mises, Ludwig (1947). Planned Chaos

Interventionism has become so accepted as to no longer merit mention in American society. We can only take heart in, ironically, things like Trump's election that shows the voters haven't given up on pushing back on full-bore interventionism as was promoted by the Obama administration.

Was it Mises or Hayek who thought Ruskin, for thinking that poor people should not starve, was a gravedigger of England's prosperity?

I think it is noteworth to point out that, yesterday, I, presciently maybe, said America is at crossroads.

“Certainly we value input from the Department of Justice, but if General Sessions wanted to be involved in marking up this legislation, maybe he should have quit his job and run for the Republican Senate seat in Alabama,” Grassley said, referring to newly minted Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who bested Republican Roy Moore to win the seat that Sessions vacated.

Democrat Patrick Leahy, meanwhile, echoed that sentiment.

“We are the committee of jurisdiction in the legislative branch,” he said.

“We don’t have to report to the Department of Justice.”

The gist seems to be roles within the branches of Government and clearly Sessions wants to suggest the Executive Branch should be doing something a bit more than simply making the Go-No Go decisions via sign or veto. Authoritarian mind set in a place of authority?

Seems right on target with the topic.

I don't think it will happen here. Hilary was defeated.

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