Links and Comments: Petty Rage; EO Wilson; Rutger Bregman; Conservative Causes; Zealots

Paul Krugman’s March 11 column, The Power of Petty Personal Rage discusses incidents about plastic straws, hamburgers, and Captain Marvel.

The point is that demented anger is a significant factor in modern American political life — and overwhelmingly on one side. All that talk about liberal “snowflakes” is projection; if you really want to see people driven wild by tiny perceived slights and insults, you’ll generally find them on the right. Nor is it just about racism and misogyny. Although these are big components of the phenomenon, I don’t see the obvious connection to hamburger paranoia.

Just to be clear: To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, I’m not saying that most conservatives are filled with rage over petty things. What I’m saying instead is that most of those filled with such rage are conservatives, and they supply much of the movement’s energy. Not to put too fine a point on it, pathological pettiness almost surely put Donald Trump over the top in the 2016 election.

What caught my eye was the Mill quote, in which one could replace ‘stupid’ with numerous other characteristics – racist; xenophobic; paranoid; scientifically illiterate – and the formulation would also be true.


Here’s the NY Times Book Review weekly Q&A from February 28th, with E.O. Wilson: By the Book: Edward O. Wilson. What caught my eye was his comment about what he reads or does not read.

I read about writers of fiction but I almost never read fiction. I’ve always felt, as I believe T. S. Eliot put it, that the artist is engaged in a continual self-sacrifice, a loss of the personal perception of reality. It depends on someone else’s emotional responses. The surprise in nature and the understanding of reality that science provides offer the only real independence.

Because, as evidenced by his recent book The Origins of Creativity, he certainly sees a lot of movies! In that book, which I’ll summarize here eventually, he has a chapter on archetypes — the hero, the monster, etc. — with examples for each that are almost entirely films, many of them SF films. (He does mention a book, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, but in a way that suggests he hasn’t read it himself.)


Profile of Rutger Bregman — He Took Down the Elite at Davos. Then He Came for Fox News. — author of the book Utopia for Realists, which I read recently and will discuss soon, a book that puts forth ideas about universal basic income, a 15-hour-work-week, and the inadequacy of the GDP as a measure of social health.

A highlight of the profile is how in an interview for Fox News he so enraged Tucker Carlson that the interview almost didn’t air.


Op-ed: Do American Women Still Need an Equal Rights Amendment?. Sidebar: We’re already living in Phyllis Schlafly’s nightmare. Sidebar in the print version: “Much of what Phyllis Schlafly warned against in the 1970s has come to pass.” And the world hasn’t ended! Recalls Stephen Prothero’s book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections), in which his explanation is that by the time conservatives become aware of a trend they don’t like and rally around it, the cause is already lost.


Here’s a cartoon citing part of a famous Abraham Lincoln quote to explain the support for Donald Trump, a notion that I’ve had for some time.


And here’s an article about a radio host in Britain who argues with supporters of Brexit: Fighting Brexit, One Caller and 100,000 YouTube Clicks at a Time. The point here is that zealots for a cause aren’t rational; they will hear your evidence and arguments and simply dismiss it.

Typical was a recent exchange with a caller named Julian, who contended that the Tory government had failed to convince the bloc that it was ready to leave without a deal — a common lament among Brexiteers unhappy with the government’s negotiating tactics.

Not true, Mr. O’Brien countered.

“March 2018, the European Union published 80 ‘no deal’ notices explaining the preparations they were making,” Mr. O’Brien said. “That’s nearly a year ago.”

Julian was unpersuaded. Mr. O’Brien repeated his case, then dropped the placating approach. He raised his voice and brought out the shiv.

“For you to sit here on national radio and say we never really made them fear that no deal was a possibility, it’s not even silly, Julian,” Mr. O’Brien said, barely suppressing his anger. “It’s like arguing that the moon is made of cheese” — and the next words he seemed to put in italics — “while sitting on the moon.”

There was a long pause.

“I don’t agree,” said Julian.

“Oh, my days, man!” Mr. O’Brien exclaimed. And on it went.

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