Emily and Inez discuss how technological advancement is making it possible for larger and larger segments of the population to drop out of real life and settle for the facsimiles of porn, endless scrolling, Zoom calls, and junk food. Emily wonders where the Ralph Nader of Big Tech is in our politics. Inez gives two cheers for democracy in an era of elite failure. And both hosts comment on a post #MeToo study showing that young men think merely approaching a woman is “creepy.”
High Noon: After Dark with Emily Jashinsky airs on the last Wednesday of every month and covers the most noteworthy news of the day.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And as always, once a month, we talk through a docket of issues with Emily Jashinsky.
Emily is a senior fellow with Independent Women’s Forum, but she’s also the culture editor over at The Federalist. She works for Young America’s Foundation, training up a next generation of … I don’t even want to say conservative journalists anymore. I feel like it’s more thoughtful people trying to report on real facts and trying to find some solution in the morass that we find ourselves in.
And then, finally, she also has a weekly segment with her friend Ryan Grim over at Breaking Points with Krystal and Saager. What’s the name of that segment again?
Yeah. The show’s called Counterpoints.
So it’s Breaking Points, Counterpoints. And she and Ryan would disagree on a lot of things, agree on some things. So it’s an interesting weekly show and I encourage you to check it out.
But thanks for coming back for another episode of this High Noon docket episode Emily.
Thank you for continuing to have me. It’s truly a pleasure. Every month I look forward to it.
Yeah this is one of those fun elements of what we do for a living. Sometimes we literally get paid to sit here and talk about the stuff that we would be chatting about over a glass of wine at Happy Hour I feel like. So that’s well-done us in terms of making that happen as a career.
That’s right. We don’t have wine right now although we should. But it’s only 1 PM.
Yeah sometimes we do this later and therefore we do a real Happy Hour-style episode here. But it’s a little too early for that.
We’ll bring the After Dark mentality to the early afternoon.
Yeah, well it’s going to be colder and darker every day now which is really depressing. I can’t remember if I hate daylight savings time or I hate not daylight savings time but I hate whichever one we’re going to be going in. I hate falling back because then it gets dark at like 4 PM and it’s really depressing.
Anyway, that is not what we’re here to talk about. The first subject that is on our docket, is we both attended NatCon and Emily gave a great talk that I think is worth digging into with her at more length.
But the essential, and jump in if you think I’m mischaracterizing this in any way, but I feel like the central thesis of your talk was actually a question. Which is, why aren’t some of the most actually important immiserating factors of what defines American life in 2022, why are those almost conspicuously absent from our politics?
And you list a few of these things. You list pornography, obesity, the lack of exercise outside, touching grass and feeling the sun on your face, remote work, alienation. You touch on a whole series of these kind of factors and you wonder where are the political responses to things that oftentimes are actually more immiserating to the average American than some of the things that we’re constantly talking about in our politics.
So what are those factors, or at least some of them, and why do you think there hasn’t been as you put it in this talk, a Ralph Nader candidate for example around the addictiveness of social media and technology?
Right. And tech in general. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I actually don’t have a good explanation. Maybe just because it’s still so new and we’re finally kind of catching on to the reality of hyper-novelty and maybe that’s yet to come. But I think that’s a good way to put it. It’s best-expressed as a question.
And I think probably the clearest answer is what Charles Murray offers in “Coming Apart.” And if we think about the things that plague the daily existence of an average American, it’s everything that comes with obesity. It’s everything that comes with a lack of exercise. And these things sound kind of Joe Rogan-y, but through the lens of hyper-novelty, what they really are is that in the last hundred or so years, post-industrialization and then post-deindustrialization and the sort of Zoom workforce, we’re living very, very different lives than humans have evolved to live.
And so if we aren’t getting a certain amount of exercise, physical activity, because thankfully we’re not foraging for our food on a daily basis and we’re not making food out of our own gardens or what was locally produced and relying on highly processed food that’s coming from all over the world, which is wonderful in so many respects because we get to try food from all over the world and sort of share touchstones in that sense.
But these are big changes in the average life of an American and of a human. And they’re having downstream consequences for mental health. People are living without moms and dads and we always have that conversation when there are tragedies like mass shootings. Fatherlessness is basically the clearest thread throughout people who perpetrate these sorts of things. And fatherlessness is downstream of the sexual revolution.
And none of this is really discussed in political contexts. And I think that’s especially sad on the right as we are sort of reformulating what conservative politics should be and what government and responsible corporations and communities, not just government, but local governments, community groups, churches, and business leaders. What they can do with the levers of government and with the levers of power that they wield in the private sector and the local sectors.
It absolutely should be talked about. It doesn’t get talked about to your original question Inez, to expand on that briefly, because elites get married at higher rates, they tend to have better health, they tend to have more time for exercise, they tend to have more means for exercise, they tend to have more access to good childcare. And so can sort of cushion the blow that comes from single parenthood or whatever else it is differently than members of the working class.
So I don’t think they feel the pains as acutely as others do although I think that’s changing a little bit. So I think that’s the best answer that I have. But I also think it’s a real opportunity for the right as they are reformulating politics to really put the lens of hyper-novelty on and say so many of these issues don’t need to fall on partisan divides. They need to be contextualized with this broadened aperture and perspective of time.
As so much of the NatCon conference immediately was, there was this backlash to what you were saying online among sort of libertarian-leaning types or reporters who were coming to listen and report on the speeches. But it seems like … So in your talk, you really do … It’s funny and I feel like I’m in this position a lot myself, you are a genuine moderate on a lot of these questions. You’re just bringing them up and pointing to the fact that they are having more impact on our lives than a lot of the things that we are at each other’s throats about in many ways.
But you said that, quote, we didn’t regulate individual’s social media use or pump their feeds full of propaganda like China does. We don’t have to go full Bloomberg and confiscate Big Gulps. We just need to adjust our political and cultural conversation to account for these enormous changes. This is not a call for regulation although there is room for that.
Conservatives can and must lead the way. Our technologies can be helpful. People don’t want to be attacked but they are absolutely hungry for this message. And I guess my question for you is “how”. I mean, that is a really difficult line to walk when you’re talking about what are essentially vices.
And in a different part of the speech you quote some, I can’t remember to what magazine, but somebody being interviewed about some of these things. Basically that fast food, pornography, social media, quote on quote relationships. These things are preventing people from hitting complete rock bottom. But they’re a facsimile of the real thing.
But that facsimile, people are attached to it. I mean, this is how the conversation always goes. Especially around two things I’ve noticed, weed and porn, right? It’s just impossible to have a conversation about how those things are harmful because people immediately get defensive about them. And they immediately say something … They respond as though you just said, “We should throw everybody who has ever watched pornography in jail.”. You know what I mean?
People respond in a totally disconnected way from I think what you’re actually saying here. Which is, “Well maybe some smart regulation has a role here. Capital “P” politics might have a role here in dealing with some of these problems.”. But how do you open that conversation in a way where, as you say, people don’t feel attacked?
Because that certainly seems to be the response when you bring up any of these subjects in exactly the political context. People assume that you’re going to throw them in jail for whatever vices they enjoy.
Yeah the quote you mentioned is a really sad one. I believe it was Bari Weiss’s Substack in a post that was written by Suzy Weiss. And it was in a conversation with a twenty-something who lived outside London, I believe, who was saying, “Basically, you can subside on video games as a substitute for kind of leadership and action and the purpose that human beings get because you can accomplish missions.”. And I’m adding a little bit of explanatory, I think, context to what the person said.
And you can subside on pornography as a substitute for actual sexuality. And basically, there’s really no reason to leave your house or to sort of live as we used to. Whereas many of us still do but increasingly won’t have to because the synthetic version is good enough. What is the point?
Right if there is no purpose, and this is where in the speech I also quoted Nietzsche, who was talking about “Once God is dead, something else is going to be constructed in substitute as a replacement for the Christian moral structure.” And what we’ve seen is moral relativism take its place. And moral relativism makes it very hard for people to find their purpose.
And social media’s not a synthesis, or is not a substitute, for in-person interaction. I think we know that but one of the big things, that quote is really important to the question you just asked, because it shows exactly why we can’t attack people but why we have to talk to them and talk to all of us.
This affects every single one of us in one way or another. Maybe we love TikTok. Maybe we love Twitter. Maybe we love video games, whatever it is. Maybe we eat out all the time, like me, and don’t cook our own food. We’re all affected by this. And it reminds me of an ad that Marco Rubio ran this cycle against Val Demings, his Democratic opponent, and Rubio attacked her because she has a TikTok and she’s using a campaign TikTok.
I think that’s a completely fair attack. I don’t think it’s politically an effective attack because so many people use TikTok. You kind of have to connect the dots. And instead of just attacking people for being part of modernity, we have to talk to people. Because it’s all of us. We’re all in modernity in one way or another.
Marco Rubio uses Twitter every day. He’s online and this affects all of us. So explaining to people why this synthetic experience is not as rich and valuable. Why they have purpose. Why they have dignity. And why they’re sad and anxious and depressed. Why we all are not living our quote on quote best lives. We really need to level. And that should be easy because we’re all in the same dang place.
So we can level. But instead of launching attacks it’s … People are really sad and they’re really suffering. And they’re really unhealthy mentally and physically even though we live in an age of abundance. And so this is not a difficult message to share.
Yeah. I mean I think that’s probably one of the keys in sharing it or doing anything about it, holding a conversation about any of these things is to talk about it as a broader problem of modernity rather than … And to acknowledge that we’re all stuck in this in some way.
I feel like we’ve talked about religion in this context before or at least I have. And part of my problem with some of the way that the right talks about it, and I think I’ve repeatedly referenced her on this point, but Anna Khachiyan is I think more correct than most of the right. She says she’s not a trad because essentially, it’s a LARP. It’s a backwards … There’s an element to modernity of like self-awareness of a lot of this stuff that can’t be undone in my view.
And I think it’s just going to accelerate. I think that it’s a bad thing that there are probably more people like me in the world who don’t believe in at least any particular faith tradition and don’t adhere to any particular faith tradition. I also think it’s going to keep happening.
I mean, maybe we’ll have some kind of great awakening that isn’t woke-ism, which is our fifth-grade awakening. But maybe not. And these trends are going to perpetuate. And so, I haven’t found an answer but I feel like I’m increasingly in the position on a whole bunch of these topics that you just listed of essentially we need to punch through this in some way. There’s got to be something new essentially constructed that finds a way to give people not only purpose but a reason to live real life.
And I don’t know what that thing is going to be and I don’t know it personally, I don’t know it politically. But it seems to me that there is an element of impossibility to the whole return with a “V” kind of idea that it’s very difficult for me to imagine once self-aware and once these technologies for example are available as broadly as they are, once you can get a facsimile of the things that tickle your limbic system and make your brain think that you’re living a normal, human life or even a good human life.
I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound depressing but it’s difficult to … Something clearly has to happen or we will die out as a species. I really believe this. We will not do any of the things that are actually necessary to perpetuate the species. So something has to happen but it seems futile to me to try to will yourself into essentially taking on what is probably going to be awkward and difficult in a thousand different ways.
The harder path. And there’s always going to be people who take the harder path. But if there’s one thing we know about human beings, the path of least resistance is really difficult to avoid on a population level.
Yeah. I mean I actually share your pessimism for the most part except I do think it’s … Partially, and you would probably agree with this, we don’t totally know the answer. We don’t totally know where this goes. But it is very clear we’re numbing ourselves out of a response. It’s exactly what the quote from Suzy Weiss’s report indicates.
It’s fine to be on social media, porn, and video games because it’s fine, right? You’re not dying. You’re surviving. And we have advanced medical technologies now that can treat all of the different illnesses that are downstream of sedentary lifestyles, of the bad foods we eat and et cetera, et cetera.
So it’s fine. We’re just going to keep treating the pain and trying to mitigate the pain instead of addressing the root cause. So I mean, I definitely share the pessimism. Although on the other hand, I do think the solution or the conversation about the solution is fairly easy.
Because we do increasingly know for instance that certain foods, certain behaviors, certain sexual behaviors, we know that there are differences between men and women. We know that children are going to fare better when they have two parents and when they are born to their biological parents and raised by their biological parents as a unit.
We know that people who spend less time online are healthier. We know that porn is bad for people’s sexual experiences. We do know these things and we know what makes humans thrive. And so, I’m obviously a Christian. We needn’t have a theocracy to, I think, as a culture, have a sort of healthier understanding of what we need to do to exist as a community.
And the last thing I’ll say on that is when we’re having these conversations about the divisiveness of our political discourse. Again, put that through the context of hyper-novelty where people are extremely unhealthy and unhappy and they have incredibly new and revolutionary technologies at their fingertips where they’re communicating with people from around the world, sometimes anonymously, at the push of a button about news that is coming to them immediately in video, audio, all of these different forms.
We’re connected with every corner of the globe, people, events, everything at the touch of a button. Wifi is now like oxygen. And again, at risk of sounding like a crazy person, these are all really important changes that are brand new. And the lack of discussion of hyper-novelty I think in the political discourse, it boggles my mind sort of that we don’t have a Ralph Nader or a Ron Paul. What Ron Paul was to the Fed, why is there not someone like that to social media and to some of these unhelpful tech platforms? I have no idea.
But hopefully we see somebody so that the Overton window can be shifted and that lens can be a more common one.
I mean is the role then of politics or a regulation to re-introduce friction to some of these decisions? Maybe not to ban them but to introduce a level of … Just to give a concrete example of what I’m talking about, maybe states decide or even on the national level, since this stuff jumps state lines, we decide to require a name and a credit card number for pornography.
Right? Maybe it’s only a dollar. But you have to put your name into the thing. You have to put a charge on your credit card. That’s a bit of friction, right? And this could be done under the … I don’t want to say, “guise” but the actual basis that it would be better for screening for age, right?
You’re never going to completely be able to lock everyone underage out of these websites but it would help if you had to put in your name and a credit card. Those are things that are moderately difficult to acquire for eleven year-olds, right? Which is not to say there aren’t some enterprising eleven year-olds who will work their way around it.
But I say eleven, because that’s apparently the average first age of exposure to pornography.
Oh my gosh! Eleven.
Eleven. So I mean, that would be an example of what I would call friction, right? That maybe we can’t completely … These things are always going to be attractive to us, but we can some amount of friction … Something in the social media [inaudible 00:22:00] (silence)
I was just going to type “You froze”, but now you’re back.
Yeah. Same thing. Okay. I’ll tell them. There’s a thing in the middle of the cutout. But yeah the infinite scroll feature might be something similar that would introduce … Maybe whether that it’s corporate or regulatory, whether it’s coming from the state or it’s coming from social pressure.
Your example of Ralph Nader, right? A lot of what Ralph Nader actually accomplished wasn’t so much in the regulatory arena but the creation of all of these consumer boards and sort of the Better Business Bureau and those kinds of things where people started to report bad actors in the corporate world.
There were both government and non-government responses to the concerns that Ralph Nader had. And I’m wondering if that’s more … Because that seems like something that would be a change in our politics but it doesn’t sound crazy to me.
That seems like an achievable direction that our politics could conceivably get from point a where we are to point b where there’s consumer protectio bureaus and there are moms groups against various things. And maybe there’s a little more on the regulatory side and maybe you have to put your credit card in and maybe social media companies aren’t allowed to do an endless scroll feature.
I can see around the edges, that kind of friction being re-introduced through politics.
Yeah and I think anonymity for instance online anonymity or conversations with people on other sides of the world have always been a net benefit to politics and culture. Although I am open to arguments to the contrary, but I think yeah, they really have. But there has always been more friction there to use your word.
You had to take different steps in the past as opposed to now when it’s just like you’re swiping your thumb a few times and maybe your thumb gets sore after a little bit. But that’s the extent of the friction.
Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And I do think that’s so important because a lot of people’s criticisms of national conservatism I think can be fair. That there’s a lot of talk of using the government in ways that are not definitionally conservative. And I think some of that is entirely fair.
Now I’m basically on board with most of the anti-trust stuff. And a lot of the different policy things I’m on board with. But I do also think that the conversation about regulation et cetera, et cetera is dominated by people who do fundamentally reject, let’s say, Reaganism when I don’t.
And I think it’s a different time of course. And Reagan himself would apply Reaganism differently in 2022 and have a different set of priorities. But I do also think … It’s just harder to talk about in politics because you’re often talking about Congress and legislation and change. It’s just what’s at the forefront of the discussion. But there’s so much room for local work on this, whether it’s in the community … But actually just on a local political level, one of the things I called for in the NatCon speech was that local Republican elected officials should be installing free outdoor public gyms.
Easiest thing in the world. You don’t need to maintain them. But you can just put tracks outside … I mean, you obviously need to do some maintenance, but put tracks outside. Put pull-up bars outside. Where you are, Inez, New York has some of these.
And you know what? That can also be accomplished by private benefactors. But it’s such an easy way for local Republicans to route money in a way that taxpayers would want to see it go to and would benefit immensely from seeing it go to.
So I am disturbed by how much of the conservation is sort of dominated by federal policy solutions because I do think so much of this is just … It’s weird to talk about because we’re in the middle of it. I just taped a Federalist Radio Hour with Louise Perry who I know we’re both a fan of the work that she’s been doing.
She’ll be on this next week. We already taped it but it’ll be on, so.
Oh excellent. Okay, great. And the book that she’s just penned and has really done great work with is called “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution” and one of the questions I asked her was, I think 10 years ago, that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the media circuits that she’s been invited on to with this book, thankfully.
And that’s for some different reasons. But that’s a huge part of it. Is just increasing awareness. Gen Z, we’ve talked about that Buzzfeed article how many times? About how they’re rejecting sex positivity. Some of this is actually already happening on a cultural level. It just needs to be sort of channeled.
And I mean, that’s good news. But it doesn’t all have to come from the government certainly.
Yeah it’s … As you were talking, I’m wondering if I even consider myself a conservative anymore. I don’t have the same relationship with the label as I used to for a variety of reasons. One of which is what we were just talking about, not even the government regulation piece, but the idea that we can flip a switch and return, I think is quite … It seems totally unrealistic to me.
And so, it just seems like a lot of conservatism is not aimed at exactly punching through to the other side of modernity and kind of aimed at trying to chisel our way back. And look, I actually agree that we would be better off. But that seems like an impossible project to me in many ways.
But the other part of it is this. It just seems … A lot of the concerns, because I also haven’t rejected Reagan, I also don’t think Reagan is the caricature that later Republicans have almost made him into. I think Reagan was a good politician for a reason. And he wasn’t actually ideologically dogmatic in the same way that a lot of his, I would say, the people who invoke him today are.
But yeah it does seem to me that we need a different set of solutions than in the 1980s. And I’m much less … It’s not that I’ve jettisoned a lot of the concerns about over-extending government. And I still think the government is a bad solution in many cases. But it’s also … I increasingly see that we’re going to have to retreat into the public sphere.
That in some cases the government is the only actor that can challenge some of these forces exactly because this idea that we’re all individually making decisions in a vacuum was never true. And is even less true I feel like in a globalized hyper-novel world that you were describing in your piece. It’s the same thing that bothers about even how we talk about student loans as we’ve talked about before.
Sometimes I feel like the right just talks about it as though the world has not changed from 1983. And just, I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess I am conservative still but I have much less of a … Like, I would have once fought for the label. Does that make sense?
If somebody were like, “Oh that’s not a conservative solution to this.”. I would have been like, “No, yes it is! And here’s why it’s consistent with conservative principles rightly understood!”. And now I’m almost in kind of a crisis mode where I just don’t care.
So tell me why this solution isn’t going to work and maybe I’ll listen to you but it seems like a very quaint concern to be honest with you. A very quaint concern as to whether or not this solution … Just tell me what you think the pitfalls are or why the cure will be worse than the disease.
Because it seems to me like that to invoke a favorite, we’re in the right-to-try era of public policy where we’re going off a cliff culturally, individually, spiritually almost. And we need to try something different.
So if you’re going to tell me that that thing doesn’t work for X, Y, Z reasons I might be willing to listen to you. But if you’re just going to tell me that that thing is not in keeping with some abstract principle, even if I might have once agreed with you, I’ve found myself thinking I don’t care.
I mean, you’re going to go off a cliff for the sake of this?
Yeah! Right. Because a lot of the sort of guardians of conservatism in a literal definitional sense are people whose, I think priorities haven’t been updated since 1983. And what was happening then, I think was working better than it’s working now.
And I think national conservatives are fairly good at this. It’s important to grapple with how the system of the sort of American free market system of then, the western free market system even, led to the cultural progressive takeover of now. And I don’t think that was necessary. I don’t think that was necessarily the inevitable outcome. But I do think people in the Republican party weren’t paying attention and were mocking people who were.
And yeah. But I also think conservatism as a name is worth defending precisely because the conservative movement and the Republican party in theory and influences is really the vanguard, it’s the bulwark against big government tyranny and big government oppression. It hasn’t for a long time been a sufficient bulwark against the oppression of big business.
But I think without a conservative movement properly aligned and maintained, it’s going to be even easier for the corporate left and the neoliberals that are political establishment to bulldoze people’s rights and freedoms. And I really see, I mean, in the absence of a freaking ACLU that is willing to defend civil liberties, the only place where you’re getting that from is the conservative movement.
Even if people like, probably Dr. [inaudible 00:33:37] over at Hillsdale believed that we have too broad an interpretation of what civil liberties are and maybe we understand them post-enlightenment in ways that are overly broad. There are still things like the … Let’s see, the first amendment. The right to free exercise, all of that good stuff that I think conservatives should defend and are best positioned to defend. And I do think conservatism in the sense of a definition is worth defending for that reason.
Yeah certainly. I think the debate between sort of in the founding between whether or not we should pass a Bill of Rights right within the Constitution. It’s funny because there are still people defending, I think it was Madison’s point, right? That the Constitution is stronger without it because you don’t want these islands or sort of carved out liberty because it implies that the rest of the space is free game for the government to encroach.
I feel like that debate is settled now though. Because if we didn’t have these islands of liberty we wouldn’t even have … I don’t know. I can’t imagine an alternate timeline without the first amendment, without the fourth amendment, without some of these bulwarks that are very concrete. These islands of liberty that actually are much more difficult to transgress at least in a certain way in America.
That’s why even in the UK, which we consider a free country and our cousins and so on. You can get arrested for using the wrong pronouns or whatever because they can have hate speech laws in a way that the US cannot. I mean, without serious transformation of the Supreme Court and of our documents, the US has a bulwark against that because it’s written out.
So I think that debate … I think we’d be a lot worse off without the Bill of Rights.
Johnny Depp can’t even win a defamation suit there. What kind of society are they?
Yeah. And Arthur Miller has done some work actually saying we need to open up defamation again. Maybe he’s right. Maybe we’ve gone too far.
There are obviously limits to these things but overall I’m very glad that we have the first amendment even if it’s not sufficient to protect a genuine culture of free speech as we’re seeing now. It is nevertheless one important bulwark.
So now that we’ve attacked sort of the Reagan zombie side of the right. Let’s attack the other side of the right for a while. The other half of NatCon, especially among the attendees, is the so-called dissident right, right?
I hung out with plenty of Twitter mutuals at those kinds of events which was really nice by the way. Really nice to meet people in person. Definitely a reminder that there’s no substitute as we were saying that the facsimile of online discourse is not actually … Is not the same as meeting people face to face and having a real conversation as two human beings looking into the whites of each other’s eyes.
I think it’s really important in that way. But I wanted to ask you what you think about the fact that there’s a part of the right, especially as I’m recording this now, to my eternal shame and accidentally, I live in Dime Square in New York.
So kind of the center of this, for people who don’t know, there’s a sort of downtown Manhattan, daily conservative, or I wouldn’t even say conservative, right wing intellectual scene or art scene. And I’m wondering why so many of these folks who are smart, interesting people seem to be going in a direction that is sort of giving up on democracy.
And I don’t mean that in a pearl-clutching way of, “We’re all going to be fascists and we’re going off the rails!” I mean it almost in a very pragmatic sense where it seems like a very weird time to me to be giving up on democracy. Given the fact that the last 30 years in so many ways have been a story of the failure of not-democracy, right?
Whether that’s sort of in elitist institutions that create so much of our culture. Or whether that’s the administrative state that is doing so much of the work of governance these days or whether that’s something that’s appropriately anti-democratic like our courts, right?
If you look at a list of political problems that I think people on the right would agree are bad things that have happened in the last 20 or 30 years, maybe 1 in 10 comes from democracy. Or comes genuinely from the bottom up, right?
So it’s not that I dismiss some of the concerns about … You can’t really have a constitutional republic without a virtuous people. Maybe we have lost a lot of that virtue. Maybe as you say, we’re numbing ourselves in a hamster wheel loop, a facsimile of real life.
And it is indeed hard for me to imagine people on the Metaverse actually being part of the self-governing republic. So I take all of those points. But in a very pragmatic and concrete way, it seems like so few of our problems in the last 30 years have actually bubbled up from the people.
And in fact it seems to me the people have had a more reasonable tack on just about anything that you can name than the administrative state, than our courts, than their elites and their elite institutions. So why at this moment are we seeing so much critiques of democracy on the right? Whether that’s Catholic integralism or whether it’s Curtis Yarvin and saying basically, arguing that true change can only come by replacing one set of elites with another.
Why is everyone giving short shrift to democracy right now? It just seems very backwards to me.
Well I think it’s part of what we were talking about earlier in this mass challenging of some assumptions of the past hundred years. That democracy is … Because it was so hard-won in the west that it is the greatest system ever. And when people are in pain, I think it makes sense that they’re going to question that assumption.
And so I see that as sort of the same kind of process. If democracy is a product of the enlightenment, is it springing from a poisoned well to begin with? And a lot of that critique, integralism, et cetera, et cetera it does go straight back to the enlightenment.
And I get that. I mean, you can critique the enlightenment though without rejecting it whole cloth. And I think that’s where some of these critiques go wrong. But they would say democracy itself has been … Free market democracy has made people consumerist goblins who have elevated these bad politicians and these bad corporate leaders to power because they wanted cheap Chinese goods to sort of numb themselves.
And because we live in this objectivist world where we just are … We’re consumers, right? We have allowed ourselves, we have voted and spent ourselves willingly into this. And thus, democracy was the vehicle for the corruption and erosion of a healthier culture.
But I don’t really buy into that. And I also think it’s important to realize how much some of the same people are very concerned about the deep state. And the powers, especially in a high-tech world of an oligarchy that has the power basically, that has monopolized industries and products to our detriment, to exert this incredible control over your daily life and your culture.
So I don’t know how to square that circle at all. In a culture that’s so broken, I don’t think you can replace our bad oligarchs with good oligarchs, benign oligarchs. Or just, not even benign but better. And benign in the sense that they’re better than the bad alternative. The lesser of two evils.
I do understand why people are challenging that assumption though. That democracy is itself the lesser of two evils because it’s a sorry state of affairs. But when we’re embarking on that project, I actually think, if anything, we’ll find a lot of good as we sort of sift through the wreckage. But I think the key is to not deny the wreckage but to weigh it appropriately.
I think the American people are remarkably un-reconstructed. Given the unanimity of their elites in really wholesale pushing both a politics and a lifestyle that is destructive in so many ways. Whether that’s hating … Really, literally teaching American children to hate each other based on the color of their skin or that they are inexorably locked in conflict with one another in a zero-sum game.
And we’ve talked about this many times. I mean, I think there are limits. I think there are generational limits to essentially American middle class resilience against some of these things. And I think we are probably seeing the beginning of the end generationally in terms of people who have sort of constitutional rejection of certain really bad ideas.
But that being said, I think it’s been pretty remarkable. It’s been a pretty remarkable run from the average American in rejecting a lot of these ideas. And the fact that Donald Trump was elected in 2016 is itself really remarkable if you look at it from that lens. The fact that virtually every single newspaper including, for example, National Review, weighed in against Trump, including me.
I didn’t like Trump in 2015, in 2016. And it turns out that there was actually something salutary … Even if you don’t like Trump or you don’t think he was a good president, there is something remarkable about the fact that Americans actually flipped the bird to every major institution that was screaming, “This guy is terrible!”. And they were like, “Nah. We don’t think so.”, you know?
And it seems like actually a white pill of sorts. Americans are resistant in a very real way to a lot of these sort of woke ideas from the left. Now, their resistance on some of the things we’ve been talking about in this episode is probably lower.
A lifestyle sold by the sexual revolution, that’s been lower. And it’s been correspondingly destructive and immiserating. But I don’t know. It just seems like if you take a step back, it’s actually pretty remarkable how little Americans have budged on some of these ideas even though they’ve been sold from literally every corner.
Yeah. And I think maybe the integralist response would be, “It’s because we have replaced fulfillment from God with fulfillment from goods and material reality.”. And I think that’s absolutely true. We have replaced our source of fulfillment and we are finding it in different places and we’re uncomfortable with rejecting that because for some people it’s really been the order of their life. The moral order of their life and their culture.
So I do think that’s a really interesting point. I mean, again, the concentration of power, whether it’s in big business or big government, is not healthy and not good. And it’s an interesting question.
For instance, most Republican voters voted against Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2016. And so, that would be an argument that American democracy is not functioning. But in typical primaries, the order is not, “We’re voting against one person and channeling it to other candidates.”. It’s that, “This one candidate is unique, et cetera, et cetera.”.
And the juxtaposition of Trump with Clinton and Trump and Biden. I mean, those are just fascinating. And testaments I think to the power of our freedom. But at the same time, and as something you talk about so much, is that we can change the presidents now but they basically can just tinker around the edges of the administrative state.
So even as we exercise that power, our so-called democracy, our constitutional republic has been extra-constitutional since the early days of the 20th century with the growth of the administrative state. And certainly since the second half of the 20th century.
And so, to some extent, the president is very, very powerful and that cannot be diminished because they can direct the administrative state to behave in certain ways. Betsy DeVos rolled back what John King had done in the later years of the Obama administration.
So it’s extremely important. But the administrative state is just a Democratic enclave at this point. An enclave of neoliberalism that is … I don’t know how you possibly can fix it short of quote radical change.
Right. No, I agree with all of that for sure. But it seems to me that the radical change that makes most sense is to restore some form of democratic accountability to a lot of these things. A lot of these institutions.
And in some of them will be a very radical change as you say. It’ll mean rolling back the fundamental structure of the American government since the turn of the century, since the early 20th century. So it’s certainly radical and I am radical.
But it seems funny to me that the radical change contemplated by some on the right almost goes in the opposite direction when it seems to me that if I’m placing bets and I think let’s say a list of issues are important or not even issues, not like policy issues even, but a list of societal ills that we’re talking about, if I care about a series of societal ills and I want those things to change because I think they’re really, really bad for the country, it seems to me that if I’m putting chips on sort of the demos or the elite, there’s no question.
And so it’s just been curious to me that so many of the radical changes proposed by parts of the right that I often find most incisive in diagnosing the problem, right? I mean Yarvin for example, the whole concept of the cathedral, I mean he was out ahead of a lot of people in talking about what you now call the oligarchy, right?
And recognizing that power can be wielded through institutions that are outside of government. The right was very slow to recognize that in part because it did completely break apart, not just the policy solutions but the very intellectual structure of the post-Cold War right.
But it just seems odd to me that after diagnosing the problems so effectively, they wouldn’t go in the direction of saying, “Well, we have essentially two forces here. We have the demos, we have the people, who are, yes, divided, yes, scrolling on endless loop. Yes, addicted to various things and despairing.
But nevertheless a bulwark against some of the kookiest ideas of the elite. And it seems like a very strange moment to abandon democracy to me because it seems like actually democracy, or democratic accountability more generally, has a ton to offer.
And almost all the things, the big changes that I would want to make if I were to sort of snap my fingers and be in charge of the American right would be, “No, let’s get serious about actually empowering Americans.” Because I think imperfect as they are, they will make better decisions than their elite right now.
Maybe that’s not always the case. We had a great elite in 1776, right? And many times since then. But it seems like the ill of our era is not enough democracy. Not too much of it.
Yeah. I agree with that. I think that’s absolutely true. And I think this question of sort of denigrating things or derogatorily referring to something as the lesser of two evils is funny to me. Because again, as a Christian, I believe man is inherently sinful and inherently fallen and I don’t think you need to be a Christian to realize that.
It’s not true that man is just fundamentally good. We like to speak about it in these cozy, gauzy ways. But it’s really not true. So no system of government is going to be perfect though we are so used to perfection. And we are so used to on-demand perfection and service and greatness in our modern society that we I think lose perspective on the fact that we have is remarkable.
I was watching the Ken Burns holocaust documentary this weekend. And as is Ken Burns’s recent impulse, I think it dabbles in some really unfortunate anti-Americanism but it’s very powerful in some ways. And very I think progressive in some unfortunate ways or overly politicized in some unfortunate ways. Mis-politicized. Misdirected politics. Whatever you want to call it. But-
No one has be-clowned themselves more in the current moment by the way than historians as a professional class.
Yes. Beschloss, Meacham, Ken Burns. You can on go down the list.
I think Ken Burns is more of a documentarian than a historian, but you know.
Right. He’s in the-
He’s a popular historian.
Right. Yeah, right. And one of the things that struck me as I was watching it was how we take for granted the amazing sort of parts of our … The amazing aspects of our existence that contrast with the lives that every other person have lived. Even the poorest people in America.
And I say that with awareness as somebody who is, to borrow a term from the left, extremely privileged. But it’s just factual that people are living higher quality lives than they really ever have. They’re more peaceful. There are very not peaceful places. I live near one, so I know that, in the United States of America. But life on average is much more comfortable across class than it has been compared with what it was before.
And America, for all of America’s flaws, and we can talk about America’s flaws when it came to not intervening in the Second World War and in the holocaust in different ways. But for all America’s flaws, the story is very clearly that the glass half full and the glass is not half empty.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws. The lives that we live right now do need corrections. But our system has still produced the greatest outcome that humanity ever has. The outcome as our system of government is still the greatest that it ever has been and that any system has ever produced.
And so, we have the tools. We have the tools to issue these correctives. And we can use them. And maybe our pessimism is counterproductive. I don’t know. I have a hard time not being pessimistic but.
I don’t know. I’m pessimistic in the sense that I think it’s difficult to enact the kind of change that is necessary. I’m much less pessimistic about the American people themselves, which I guess I’m more of a small “d” democrat than I ever have been.
But just before we wrap here, I wanted to throw out something just as a quintessentially Emily and Inez kind of topic here. There was this article in Psychology Today I think, let me … Yeah, it was in Psychology Today. Based on a census-style survey, 2,000 American women 18 to 40 and then 1,000 American men 18 to 40 to understand sort of dynamics about dating.
And there are two bullet points that I thought were really interesting in this survey. So one is that 82 percent of women reported experiencing creepy behavior sometimes, often, or constantly. And the second data point was that men avoid women out of fear of being creepy.
So 44 percent of men said the fear of being creepy quote reduces their likelihood of interacting with women generally. And that jumps to 53 percent among men who are reporting that they’re single. So more than half of single men are afraid to interact with women for fear of coming off as a creep.
And I just thought in the age of dating apps and everything that it was a really interesting statistic. It’s almost like a … We talked I think a while back about the MeToo … There’s surveys that show that men are disengaging at work from mentoring women for example post-MeToo.
And at least part of the story here seems to be that women have vastly expanded what they think is creepy. And men have internalized that and instead of all becoming James Bond, what they’ve done, which is impossible, they’ve just disengaged from talking to women.
I mean, it’s funny but it’s also kind of chilling. Because it’s like, “I mean, are we going to work our way through this because of the human need to procreate and couple off?” Or, is this another way that because of access to pornography, because women for some good reasons are able to support themselves now without a man and can even get sperm donors for instance and have their own children, that over time this isn’t something we overcome because we have the tools to numb ourselves?
Or is it because something that does get worked out because of the human sort of evolutionary, biological need to procreate? I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. But it also is similar to the last conversation we were having Inez, which is that we have these expectations in the post-modern world that people are good. And we have this weird faith in humanity, that is not I think borne out at all by history or by our contemporary world.
It’s like, “What do you expect from men?” Men are men and they will always be men. And in a healthy culture, they are responsive to incentives and standards that are healthy and virtuous and moral. In an unhealthy culture, they are not. And we are in an unhealthy culture that [inaudible 00:58:32] expects men to not be men. And expects people not to act like they’re programmed to.
Women can have casual sex and just be fine. That’s not how women operate. It’s not how men operate. And we just are so far from having a world with healthier standards and incentives that this is one data point of probably many, many data points that shows how just dramatically out of whack sexual politics are in the United States right now.
And you see it showing up in our birth rates. You see it showing up in levels of happiness. You see it showing up in depths of despair. You see it showing up in levels of addiction. And this is … If men are too afraid to ask women out, yeah, they’re more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and they’re going to push, not them, but the whole system is going to push women to engage in self-destructive behaviors as well.
Yeah there’s also the app angle to this. And I think we’ve talked about this before, but it makes things that were previously not creepy, creepy. Right? Like it just used to be sort of normal, I mean, way back in the hinter years of 2009, right?
It was just normal for men, even men who didn’t know the women, to come up to groups of girls and shoot their shot. It was just part of natural human relations. And so there wasn’t that alarm bell that immediately went off in your head as a girl, right?
You [inaudible 01:00:05]
Is that how you and Jared met?
Well he came up to me at a really embarrassing political event, so maybe.
Was it 2009?
Okay. Got it.
But yeah. So it was just normal. It was part of normal human interaction. And so there was more, I think, psychological room for women to at least give a guy a shot to prove himself not a creep, right? Or not a loser?
Whereas now, immediately, that human interaction because it’s so much rarer and it doesn’t happen very often, I feel like it immediately sets off alarm bells in women’s heads that are not justified, right? And-
It’s interesting. I was just going to say the pastor where we go to church, his name is Ben Stewart, he’s fantastic and the church is called Passion City. He was giving a sermon a couple of weeks ago on exactly this point and he sang the Akon song where it’s like, “Nobody wants to see us together. But that don’t matter.”.
And he was like, “What? Of course that matters!”. And when you strip away the community from the system that we use to pair off, you just have these very isolated people coming together in a vacuum and if you strip the community away from it, that means you don’t have the benefit of the community’s protective instincts and social instincts.
And you’re relying on two atomized people to make a good, informed decision but you haven’t seen that other person in other huge chunks of their lives. Work life, social life, faith life, whatever it is. And that can lead to some, again, really, really bad outcomes. And that whole sermon’s on YouTube, it’s better when I’m not explaining it, but I think that’s a huge, huge, huge problem with the apps is they create objects.
And we’re not very good at just matching random objects together because human being are social. And it’s not Moneyball.
Yeah. It’s also … And this is one of the things in the episode that’ll be next week with Louise Perry, I was wondering about with her. But I feel like it’s almost restoring our pre-civilization or pre-agrarian society sort of harem-istic tendencies, right?
Because there’s such a thing as a guy who’s situationally overcoming certain things. I feel like women’s default towards 90 percent of men and if you look at surveys and stuff on these apps, it bears it out, women’s default towards 90 percent of men is, “This guy isn’t good enough.”.
Because women are the selecting sex. By the way, I think the sort of manosphere rage against that fact is also silly. Just like I think feminist rage against fat not being beautiful, right? It’s sort of silly. It’s a war against nature.
But that selecting behavior goes haywire on the apps because there’s nothing counterbalancing women’s tendency to do that, right? So you end up with 10 percent of men who are just really suave, really attractive, over six feet tall, whatever. Who are essentially maintaining serial harems.
The women mostly aren’t happy with this arrangement either because they’re not getting the commitment that they want from these guys but they’re dismissing the other 90 percent of men because maybe they’re not seeing that guy sharing a funny joke with his buddies, which is an attractive thing to women.
Or maybe they’re not seeing how hard he works in his job. Or they’re not seeing all these other aspects of these men. And they’re doing a straight paper rendition. And when you ask women a question, I feel like, “List all the qualities that are important.” They’ll never stop listing them, right?
And I think that’s fine that women are that way. But they were counterbalanced in real life through real, human interactions. And now, when you take that away, it’s like it really is recreating almost a sort of tribal dynamic of basically 10 percent of the wealthiest men and most successful men and the chieftains having all the women.
But in that context, they send off all the young men to die in war. And here, they just drop out and watch porn and whatever, all the other things that you were listing, right? Or that Nick Eberstadt is writing about.
And there’s this very unhealthy dynamic because you end up with a vast majority of people unhappy with the sexual market. Whereas if they were just hanging out in person, I feel like it would be a smaller percentage of people who didn’t find somebody who made them happy. You know what I mean?
I don’t know. It seems like an encouragement of all of our worst instincts has been put on to these apps. And there’s nothing to counterbalance it.
Yeah. And people are making a ton of money off the misery that they’re creating. Like misery profiteers essentially. They’re mining and plumbing the depths of human sadness for profit and I think that’s an important point too.
But we’re programmed to actually react to smells in terms of mating and coupling off. And you get none of that over an app. There are just very human things that make sense and that [inaudible 01:05:52]. That’s not to say that human instincts are always going to guide us in a more helpful direction but some of them actually really can.
And to ignore them and to just jump into the apps and … No. I don’t think it’s helpful at all. And it’s also just … I don’t know. Are the apps the least of our problems though, anyway? They’re just preying on an already broken culture. They’re just cultural vultures basically. Oh that rhymes. That’s nice.
Culture vultures? Maybe I’ll put that in the title.
Yeah I mean, that’s all certainly true. And it’s a good point that people are making money off of this stuff. But it is just sad to me on a very human level. It’s almost like the death of flirting, you know? it’s the death of an actual joy in choosing a mate that has disappeared and now it’s a process we hand over to an algorithm.
We put in what our worst instincts tell us to put in. And then the app spits out this life that is unfulfilling for a large percentage of people, which is actually very much in keeping with our nature. But it’s like isolated nature. It’s like the worst possible form of human interaction.
It’s like so many things. I feel like the world we live in encourages all our worst instincts constantly and this much I agree with the integralists or particularly with Sohrab Ahmari or some of the other folks.
You set up a world where doing the wrong thing is easy and frictionless and doing the right thing is really, really hard. Even harder than it would be in a state of nature or in a better civilization. That’s a recipe on the population level for just disaster, right?
And that, to bring it full circle, is why I think our politics absolutely has to readjust in the same way that it readjusted to the nuclear threat. Nuclear technology has taken place. It has dramatically upended the world order in ways that we’ve never seen and it’s taken place within people’s lifetimes.
Like literally the queen lived through the entire age. That’s as old as technology is. Actually older. Like a person on earth who just passed away is older than nuclear technology essentially. There are people alive right now that are older than the most [inaudible 01:08:34] and powerful and tragic technology that has ever existed on the face of the earth.
So our politics readjusted for nuclear technology and it should also readjust to the technologies that have made human life unnecessarily difficult in the sense that the costs are not worth the convenience benefits. Let’s say the moral, emotional, personal costs are not worth the benefit of the convenience.
And to your point about adding friction. There are actual policy conversations to be had here. There are actual cultural conversations to be had here. There are things that our politicians should be directing business leaders to think about. And that our business leaders should be directing politicians to think about.
But it’s totally absent. I mean, totally, completely, entirely absent from our political conversation despite the fact that there are plenty of easy conversations to be had about policy. And easy conversations to be had not just about public policy but corporate policy.
Instead of having what Mindy Kaling suggests she would support which is corporations paying for women to freeze their eggs, we’re talking about that, but we’re not talking about the obvious problems with it.
Yeah. As a great 80s movie once said, “Life is suffering, Princess. Anyone else who tells you otherwise is selling you something.”. But we do all seem to be suffering more than we need to be.
And I agree with you. I think there very well might be a political role in doing something about that. But Emily thank you once again for joining me for another episode of After Dark on High Noon.
Thanks again. We’ll see you in another month for another docket episode.
I’ll be here. It’ll be Halloween.
Yeah that’s right. God, time is going so fast. So thanks Emily and thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum.
We also have two other podcasts, if you haven’t checked those out yet. She Thinks with Beverly Hallberg which is a daily download. And At the Bar, which is something I do with my colleague Jennifer Braceras where we talk about issues at the intersection of law, politics, and culture.
As always, on all of those things, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] And please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Do not underestimate how much those reviews help. They really help push the pod in all those algorithmic things that Emily and I are condemning for the last hour.
But nevertheless, be brave. And we’ll see you next time on High Noon.