No Escaping Tribal Warfare

Items today about Hasidic yeshiva schools, “common good constitutionalism,” the root cause of violent crime, and the increasingly despicable Elon Musk.

We like to think modern society is more advanced than societies of thousands of years ago, and it is in many ways. Our understanding of the world, the universe, of course. Our understanding and usage of science and technology, of course. Human welfare has improved. People live longer and healthier lives than ever before, and not due to religion. Even morality has improved, given the steady abandonment of tribal religious claims, to Enlightenment values of reason and science. And yet there is always a portion of society bent on taking that all down.

NY Times front page, 12 Dec 2022: Why Some Hasidic Children Can’t Leave Failing Schools, subtitled “Parents who try to withdraw their children from yeshivas over a lack of secular education often cannot do so, hampered by social pressure and a rabbinical court system.”

The issue here is that the Hasidic Jewish community manages to trap children into attending their religious schools, called yeshivas, even when parents object. The yeshivas were subject of a profile in the NYT three months ago, as discussed in this post, when it became known that they basically failed in providing actual education rather that religious inculcation. They teach the Torah, not reading and math (let alone science).

The article today concerns a divorced woman who discovered the terms of her divorce, “drawn up by Hasidic leaders,” prevents her from pulling her 10-year-old son (the youngest of her 10 children) from his yeshiva.

Her 10-year-old, Aaron, brims with curiosity, and has told his mother that he wants to work for NASA. But his school, like other Hasidic boys’ schools in New York, teaches only cursory English and math and little science or social studies. It focuses instead on imparting the values of the fervently religious Hasidic community, which speaks Yiddish rather than English and places the study of Jewish law and prayer above all else. Recently, Ms. Weber said, Aaron’s teacher told him that the planets revolve around the Earth.

Cited here as yet another example of the tensions between those numerous dichotomies I listed in my Nov 29th post. Maintenance of religious tradition seems to entail shutting out the outside world, through religious schools like these, or through home schooling.


Politico, Ian Ward, 9 Dec 2022: Critics Call It Theocratic and Authoritarian. Young Conservatives Call It an Exciting New Legal Theory., subtitled “‘Common good constitutionalism’ has emerged as a leading contender to replace originalism as the dominant legal theory on the right.”

First time I’ve heard of this.

At the center of this debate was Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, whose latest book served as the ostensible subject of the symposium. In conservative legal circles, Vermeule has become the most prominent proponent of “common good constitutionalism,” a controversial new theory that challenges many of the fundamental premises and principles of the conservative legal movement. The cornerstone of Vermeule’s theory is the claim that “the central aim of the constitutional order is to promote good rule, not to ‘protect liberty’ as an end in itself” — or, in layman’s terms, that the Constitution empowers the government to pursue conservative political ends, even when those ends conflict with individual rights as most Americans understand them. In practice, Vermeule’s theory lends support to an idiosyncratic but far-reaching set of far-right objectives: outright bans on abortion and same-sex marriage, sweeping limits on freedom of expression and expanded authorities for the government to do everything from protecting the natural environment to prohibiting the sale of porn.

Mhmm. This sounds like many an authoritarian government’s aim of bringing social stability by stamping out individuality and enforcing conformity. Since American conservatives are aligned with Christianity, this means stamping out anything that threatens their ideas of Biblical (bronze-age) morality. Scary stuff. What happens to freedom and liberty in this scheme? To be fair, I haven’t read the entire article, just as far down as I needed to in order to get the gist. If I keep hearing about it, I’ll pay closer attention, but it sounds to me like just another conservative rationalization to impose Biblical morality on the entire nation.

(Meanwhile, I do keep hearing about “Effective Altruism” and need to consolidate the many articles I’ve seen on the subject into some kind of summary, real soon now.)


NYT, guest essay by Phillip Atiba Goff, 12 Dec 2022: The Root Cause of Violent Crime Is Not What We Think It Is

Cited as another example of how simplistic thinking — e.g. being “soft on crime,” not arresting enough people and punishing them severely enough, as the cause of high crime rates — is wrong. Reality is always more nuanced than black and white conservative thinking can handle.

If throwing money at police and prisons made us safer, we would probably already be the safest country in the history of the world. We are not, because insufficient punishment is not the root cause of violence. And if people are talking about how tough they are and how scared you should be, they care more about keeping you scared than keeping you safe.

The better answer the writer has seen is this:

I have seen the message of “strong communities keeping everyone safe” open the minds of Republican voters, Democratic voters and many in between. It is backed up by science. Academics, government commissions and even many police chiefs have agreed with the substance behind the message for decades. And there is evidence, including the results of last month’s midterms, that it can work politically on a larger scale.


Elon Musk is revealing himself as more and more despicable.

CNN, 12 Dec 2022: Former top Twitter official forced to leave home due to threats amid ‘Twitter Files’ release

Roth has since been the subject of criticism and threats following the release of the Twitter Files. However, things took a dark turn over the weekend when Musk appeared to endorse a tweet that baselessly accused Roth of being sympathetic to pedophilia — a common trope used by conspiracy theorists to attack people online.

Washington Post, Greg Sargent, 12 Dec 2022: Opinion | Musk’s ugly attack on Fauci shows how right-wing info warfare works

This item is significant because it suggests that the attack on Fauci, or on the former Twitter official, isn’t the point. The charges are baseless.

…the coin of the realm is the Triggering. A massive backlash from liberals and Democrats creates the impression of controversy, which draws news media attention. It also persuades the right-leaning constituencies Musk hopes to engage that he is “drawing blood.”

In much of the right-wing info-ecosystem, liberal outrage is a sign of an attack’s effectiveness. It can be only confirmation that the Libs Were Owned. Shaming is useless in such an environment, and in some ways can backfire.

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