On this After Dark episode, Emily and Inez discuss the threat Elon Musk’s Twitter gambit poses not just to the culturally hegemonic wokes through free speech, but to the large number of college-credentialed people with “email jobs.” They also talk about the slippery slope of corporate-endorsed euthanasia in Canada, and whether artists have finally had it with the dullness of regime-approved themes.

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.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And as always, at the end of each month we have an episode with Emily Jashinsky. She is the culture editor over at The Federalist. She is a fellow, a senior fellow with us at IWF. She teaches intrepid young conservative journalists how to circumvent the current media environment and become real journalists over at Young America’s Foundation. And she has a show every Friday with Ryan Grim over at Breaking Points. So with Krystal and Saagar, they sub in for Krystal and Saagar every Friday where she argues with communists and nevertheless seems to have some kind of productive discussion over there. But welcome back Emily.

Emily Jashinsky:

Inez, thank you so much. It is always a pleasure because this is how I keep my calendar. I know it’s the end of the month when Inez is like, “Hey, what time can you record High Noon?”

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, that’s also how I keep my calendar, except that the next time around it’ll be already Christmas. So I can’t believe that we are closing, coming very close to the end of 2022.

So I want to kick it off by talking about something, we are recording on Monday, which means this just happened. Elon Musk is tweeting about going to war with Apple, and that is because Apple is threatening to drop the Twitter app out of its app store. Musk is accusing them of censorship. And the reason I wanted to kick this off with that subject is, I think this is something that our friend Rachel Bovard talks about all the time. There are structural constraints within the tech market that are in some ways way more concerning than any particular sort of censorship on any particular website, even one as influential as Twitter.

There are these kinds of structures where if you don’t get into the Apple app marketplace or in other fields, it’s also Amazon, Amazon hosting services so that you’re getting more into hosting services, sort of connectors and places where people can actually access your product. When those channels are implementing a kind of terms of service or attempting to control what kind of discourse happens on the internet. What do you make of all this? Musk says he’s going to war. Are we once again marching into the arena with our rock ’em sock ’em billionaire against the world? What is going to go down in this kind of conflict and what does it show us about the structure of how the private market actually exists today?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, when you’re talking about Amazon web services or banks for instance, you’re talking about how the… Do I have to sneeze? Sorry. We’re talking about how the means of production have been seized. I mean [inaudible 00:03:26]-

Inez Stepman:

That’s what happens when you hang out with Ryan Grim and a bunch of communists for too long. You start talking about seizing the means of production.

Emily Jashinsky:

Well, and this is, when people talk about cultural Marxism, it’s, I’ve always seen that as kind of an oxymoron because it’s something that Marx himself sort of was critical of the culture being co-opted by corporate interests or elite interests. That doesn’t mean that Marx accurately understood how it would happen and was prescient to understand how it would happen. But I do think the cultural Marxism that we see now, I don’t think that’s a bad way to understand it, because they really have seized the means of cultural production. And that’s what Amazon web services is. That’s what banks are, that’s what Google Ads, Google ad service is. That’s what YouTube is. And so Elon Musk, I think inevitably it was going to have to grapple with that because people aren’t just going to be bowled over by one billionaire. The woke order is not that fragile because it is now deeply embedded into the self perception of so many people.

It is their moral code. It is how they determine whether or not their life is one worth living because this is how they see good versus evil. This is how they see, and they’re in very important powerful positions at companies like Apple, Amazon, JP Morgan. You can go down the list. So it’s really not that fragile. That isn’t to say it can’t be toppled. And I think that’s sort of like you said, a rock ’em sock ’em billionaire. That’s a great way to say it. Testing the limits and continuing to push and push and push and see if maybe the boomers, the anti-woke boomers that still have positions of power, occupy positions of power at those companies ultimately cave, recognizing that it’s a threat to their bottom line. I don’t know if it is even a threat to their bottom line because they have monopoly power in so many cases. So that’s yet to be determined. But I do think that’s what… It was inevitable, that it would get to the most basic building blocks, the foundation of our society because that’s where a lot of the power has been consolidated.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I guess I’m almost looped back to my initial assessment when Musk was just making noise about buying Twitter. It is a good stress test of the system if even that amount of money and determination cannot overcome it. Now maybe he can, I don’t think of him as any kind of conservative savior, but I do have a certain amount of trust in his business acumen. I think he knows what he’s doing and he’s obviously a billionaire for a reason. So I do sort of trust him on that level, not the ideological level to actually know what he’s doing and not to… It’s a little funny, all these people second guessing his business decisions. Yeah, it’s in the public domain, but I freely admit, I don’t know nearly as much about running a business as Elon Musk. It’s like it’s funny to have all these reply guys on Twitter being like, “Oh, Musk is such an idiot for running Twitter this way or that way.”

But I want to bounce something off of you and see what you think about it. Because I think this is about more than ideology. There’s obviously there’s this pretty strong ideological battle. Musk’s not conservative, but he is dedicated to free speech. Obviously there are elements of the left. Let’s pick on Taylor Lorenz just because that’s so much fun over at the Washington Post saying basically we need to have the government get involved because we just cannot possibly deal with a single major company that is actually not suppressing primarily right wing speech. That’s dangerous. Free speech is dangerous. There’s obviously that entire angle to this. I think one of the angles that’s not being talked about as much in political circles but is being talked about in tech circles is actually more important in a certain sense. And that is this is kind of a test run for firing a lot of professional, managerial kind of useless jobs, firing people who have those kinds of jobs.

It’s not just the commissars, the political commissars. There’s a lot of this kind of diversity department or even just email job department, dead weight in the economy right now. Now it’s adding to our GDP because their salaries become part of the GDP obviously. But there’s an open question as to whether they’re actually providing any kind of tangible service to anyone. And the fact that Musk can get away with cutting 70% of his workforce or having them take that buyout that he essentially offered. If he can make this work I think the thing they’re really more afraid of is this is going to paint a target on the back of every sort of useless email job that is in every one of these Fortune 500 companies right as we might be going into hard times, recession times. I think they cannot let this succeed because in some sense it’s a proof of concept that you can run a successful tech company without the sort of diversity bureaucracy and all of these useless email jobs. In fact, you can run it with a third of or less of the workforce.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah. And I think it’s even more personal than that, to so many of the blue checks on Twitter who didn’t pay for the blue checks but had it and they were anointed blue check by God, Jack Dorsey and wear that very proudly. I think it is really embedded into their moral code because they never really had a moral code except for just being told that the Christian order was backwards and anti-science, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but their conditioned to see that by basically every institution. So I think people knew that was wrong and when all of this kind of came along in their educations and was again was presented to them as the objective moral order of good people, then all of these jobs sprang forth from that well. Companies spring forth from that well. New modes of communication, words like Latinx, spring forth from that well.

And that’s just one sort of silly example, but to cut against that grain is to cut against the moral fiber of so many of these people. And so I think Elon Musk taking an absolute sledgehammer to those types of positions. I agree with you completely. I think it is a test in the same way I agree with you that Twitter in general is a stress test of the economy. I think this is a stress test for wokeism, and I think a lot of people are watching very closely to see if Elon Musk, who obviously anticipated the chaos. I’m not like an Elon Musk defender, I think he’s totally in bed with China. I have all kinds of problems with Tesla and government subsidies and corporate welfare. But I do think that he’s not a complete idiot. He’s a pretty close student of woke culture.

And I think he understood that this would be a huge battle and a chaotic battle. And I think that’s his point. So to see it play out that way, to see him not saying, “Oh yeah, maybe I was wrong, I’m going to talk about it with the HR department and we’re going to hash it out.” But to see him just utterly take a sledge hammer to those kinds of positions, it’s an existential threat to Silicon Valley’s moral code, cultural moral code, not economic moral code so much, but cultural moral code. And there’s some overlap obviously with culture and economy, but this is what they thought the world should be and this is what they thought their lives should be. This is where they thought they would find meaning in jobs like these. And if Elon Musk takes them away, if the public turns against them, if that marketplace dries up and disappears, they have a lot of useless credentials.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I think that’s what the hysteria is about. I think they’re probably pretty confident… They will shut us up as much as they can. And I don’t know that the deep level of hysteria, especially from tech outlets and stuff, is coming only from the ideological stuff. It seems like the ideological stuff is a gloss over. We don’t know how much of, at this point of the US economy is essentially fake jobs. It’s an open question whether this kind of stuff actually generates any value. What it has generated is a pipeline from elite universities that have more control over the gateways to the successful life than they ever have in the past. There’s that pipeline straight through that ideological indoctrination to increasing very plush positions, not just in the academy and in government, which is an older sort of pipeline for these kinds of people, but directly into major corporations, all of corporate America, that this has been a very, very lucrative, powerful, culturally dominating class of people. And if Elon Musk proves that Twitter doesn’t need them to be profitable, I think that is going to have major effects, economic effects well beyond whether or not I’m allowed to say that men and women aren’t the same on Twitter.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah. Because it gets to whether or not a business can be organized around the concept or with embedded in it, not around the concept, but with embedded in its values the idea that men and women are different, meaning then, and that might sound like a silly thing, what on earth does that have to do with the business model of General Motors? Well, precisely, first of all. But secondly, it’s that we have to have a consensus on those things in order to function and clearly we don’t. So obviously it seems like it has nothing to do with the business model of GM but the left insisted that orthodoxy on that question had everything to do with the business model of GM, meaning then you had to incorporate it into literal physical economic reality. You had to spend dollars and cents and reorganize in order to point at the dogma on, for a company like General Motors, you had to point at the dogma on sex and gender or on race.

And that took an enormous amount of resources, obviously, and it’s also something that people reoriented their companies around. And our economy really was reoriented around, not entirely, but to a degree, human resources departments were at least, you sort of litigating these questions, but not even doing a litigation. These have already been settled. Trans rights, the colorblind model is out the door. These do have major implications for the way businesses function. And when you sort force the woke consensus on the population where that consensus doesn’t exist, yeah, it’s going to take immense resources. And as somebody like Elon Musk proving that there’s a market for different businesses and proving that he can increase the bottom line of a company, perhaps, we don’t know. But I would guess it seems like Twitter was enormously bloated for a little used social media network that was missing a lot of targets. So if he can come in and do that, he’s actually just undermined the kind of business model that was popularized in the last decade. And a lot of people’s careers will be affected and a lot of companies and organizations will be affected.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Speaking of color blindness and the differences between the sexes, there was that photo that was circulating of the people who actually ended up sticking around after Musk sent out those emails. And the picture is Elon Musk and like 25 Asian and Pakistani young men and like one chick in the background. Certainly a refutation of the diversity mantra. There’s a sexed aspect to this. I think a disproportionate number of these BS jobs are filled by women, and I don’t have any particular statistics to back that up, but I think it’s something that’s observationally true that a lot of the HR departments are filled with women. And some of this is good and natural where women are more oriented and on average to want jobs that interact with people. Of course, the kind of interactions that we’re likely to have with the madams of HR is perhaps not the ideal of human interaction, but-

Emily Jashinsky:

The madams of HR.

Inez Stepman:

You can put that on my, can you put that on my bio? No, but there is this sexed aspect to this. I don’t think it’s an accident that the people who ended up sticking around to work long, long hours and actually do a ton of real coding work are disproportionately, look like they’re men. And the people who fill these kinds of… Here I always my go to example is Michelle Obama making more than $400,000 a year to be the quote diversity coordinator of a large hospital. This is before, this is very early on, I think Barack either hadn’t run yet at all even for Congress or he was just a congressman. But that’s kind of this ultimate in this kind of what I would call a BS job.

Emily Jashinsky:

With a Princeton degree, yeah.

Inez Stepman:

With a Princeton degree with $400,000, and that was back a couple decades ago before Biden inflation. So this was a really, really well paying job. And there are a lot of these kinds of jobs, perhaps not at that extremely high compensation level, but certainly there’s so many of these six figure jobs out there that it actually has provided the place for all these people, not only to prove the conservative mantra about them going out into the real world and encountering the real world and seeing the error of their ways, not only to prove that wrong, but actually a platform to shape the real world.

I’ve been saying for a while that the underwater basket weaving metaphor that conservatives like is way outdated because there is a market for these DEI degrees. Wharton I think just started producing a pure, I think it was University of Pennsylvania or something, a pure DEI degree. It’s not even pretending to be anything else, it’s just a degree in DEI. But if Elon can succeed with a major company like Twitter by cutting all of that, I think that is, that’s a huge, I’m repeating myself, but it’s like it’s a huge challenge. Even one company being able to just drop all this and become profitable as a result is going to become really, really tempting, especially when it looks like we are headed into hard times where fat is going to have to be cut from a lot of companies.

Emily Jashinsky:

I think it’s a really good point because the question is how will decadence fare in hard times? And I think unfortunately there’s reason to be cynical because we’ve had this, it’s not necessarily just a bifurcation, but we’ve had this sort of national economic divorce happening where over time, even as wages have stagnated, real wages have stagnated for the middle class, you have the stock market just going up year after year after year, like explosively going up year after year after year. A lot of this on the back of tech stocks by the way. And I think that there’s already been some tightening and some course correction in the stock market on that front, but there are very different economic realities for different people. And so the two things I would say is one, that’s the case that I don’t know how much a recession actually will hurt people at the very tippy top who make a lot of these decisions, hiring decisions, et cetera, et cetera.

So I don’t know how much the bottom line, this is the second part of what I was going to say, will matter when for a chunk of the C-suite folks, they are, this is so personal that it’s their moral code. This is like what happened when Nietzsche said we killed God and could create our own moral codes. What stepped into the vacuum of the sort of godless west was this new moral code that is incoherent and is built on a house of sand, not on stone. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. And so that is deeply ingrained in people’s self-worth, self-perception in their daily lives. And so there’s this competition between people who are the pure capitalists who just want to make money, and the Jack Dorseys who was going to give millions and millions of dollars to BLM. And I think that was the Black Lives Matter global foundation, which turned out to be a fraud.

Inez Stepman:

And to Kendi.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yep, yep, yep, yep. Oh yeah. And I think I actually am thinking of Kendi, and deeply in their heart of hearts believe that this is the Manichaen struggle between good and evil and just the pure capitalists. So I think there are a lot of pure capitalists who would see what would happen at Twitter and be like the David Sachs that are just like F this. This is a definitive case study that we can trim the fat, get back to basics and make some damn money. And then there are going to be other people who they can take the hit, they can keep the fat because their reputations are as valuable to them. The reputations are sort of liberal, progressive crusaders are as important to them as the money because frankly they probably will still have plenty of money. I don’t know. But I think it’s a reasonable question as to whether just that the code of the capitalist that used to dominate like the Robert Barron age and was the engine of progress, the sort of fabled engine of progress that kept pushing us forward and forward and forward. When you lose that sort of tether with objective reality, you might be losing that engine to some degree in a super decadent society like ours. I don’t know, that’s just a sort of, I’m conjecturing about what could be to come.

Inez Stepman:

I think it’s definitely generational. Obviously there are going to be individual exceptions, but I think there’s… Musk is Gen X, yeah?

Emily Jashinsky:

He must be. Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think as long as the people in the C-suite are essentially pre full indoctrination, I think that the profit impulse, and I do think, again, not to point again to the hard times thing, but I think especially for those people who haven’t replaced their source of meaning with this stuff, they might be willing to tolerate a lot less of it if they have a counter example and-

Emily Jashinsky:

Children. If they have children, kids in schools, families. Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think once the CEOs are the people who are now around 30 or under, I think it’s going to be much, much harder. Because I think they are more existentially bought into this. And actually that leads me to our next topic I wanted talk about, there’s this horrible ad for the Canadian suicide program, M-A-I-D, MAID. So it’s assisted suicide program, and there’s a new ad campaign from actually Canadian retailer and it’s basically an advertisement to kill yourself. And you’ve seen this Emily, and I think we were talking about this in our Signal chats and stuff, that there’s something incredibly creepy about how corporate and banal this ad is. Actually Peachy Keenan, who was a previous guest of this podcast, I think had the funniest take, which was this is a live, laugh, die instead of live, laugh, love like target aesthetic.

Because it was that kind. There’s people playing cellos. And there’s a woman running around on the beach and it looks like an advertisement for, I don’t know, a resort vacation or maybe increasingly sometimes for some medications that let you if you have some kind of problem, they’ll release you. This medication will release you into life. Except they’re talking about dying. They are advertising death as an… And the even more creepy implication to me was, oh, how you die says has a lot about you. There’s almost like this sort of class competition and keeping up with the Jones’s even in committing suicide. But I guess my question to you would be like, is this inevitable if we continue, if more and more people are more bought in in an existential way, the existential way that you were referencing to the point where they don’t care what it does to the bottom line, they don’t care. This is their religion, their reason for existence.

The left has a very schizophrenic view of suicide where on the one hand they’re advertising it like this as the ultimate in autonomous sort of self-expression. And on the other hand, they’re holding us all captive with the fake, by the way, threat that there might be more suicides, for example, if we don’t chop off girls or allow the removal of girls’ healthy breasts or for minor transition. So it’s on the one hand, it’s like this kind of toddler holding their breath weapon in the discourse. Like, oh, if you say a mean thing, somebody somewhere will kill themselves. And on the other hand, they’re advertising it as a good thing, as like an endpoint of autonomous freedom.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah. And one thing I would add to that is there’s a really serious question when we get these sort of threats to your point, that if you transgress against the boundaries of progressive speech, somebody may kill themselves. It’s kind of laughable in many senses. But I think we’re getting to a point where children who are conditioned to see hate crimes in reality, biological sex or maybe their parent not being willing to call them by a preferred pronoun and wanting them maybe to get help and saying that this dysphoria is just that, it is disordered thinking, it is something that you can seek help for and you can help correct, not sort of something to normalize and validate and to correct with physical alterations to your body, et cetera, et cetera. What should be terrifying is that we’re getting to a place where that level of fragility really does condition people younger than us Inez to take drastic measures to think that if you think something is hateful or violence and every institution has conditioned you to validate that interpretation of it, we are getting to the world is going to be a very, very dangerous place for people just psychologically on a daily basis.

And it makes me think, everyone references the Sarah Palin death panels thing in this context when we see the glossy rise of assisted suicide in countries like Canada and in northern Europe. But that’s actually completely where this going in a high tech technocratic utopic system. And I feel like we’re in the very, very early stages of it. And the one thing that protects the human race is the impulse of self-preservation, right? That is the one thing that protects people. But when you tear away the meaning from life and you start telling people that the point of life is also in how you can curate your death and that there is really no meaning to floating through the ether and it can be a very comfortable, normal process to just check out of all of this because life is nasty, short and brutish and we’ve sort of always known that.

And there’s really nothing you can do otherwise, you can live in the pod. And that’s really where we’re going. And that’s why I say I think we’re in the very early stages of this, you can live in the pod and work on VR, not just Zoom, but virtual reality Zoom. And you can minimize your work to 10 hours a week. You can have the synthetic experience of sex via porn. You can have the synthetic experience of purpose and meaning via video games and masculinity via Call of Duty on VR, whatever it is. We’re just sort of careening towards that kind of reality at a very rapid clip. And when you combine ads like the one that you’re referencing with the imminent, the sort of inevitable reality, can humans withstand that sort of level of comfort and decadence if the means to exist and the justification for existence is stripped away.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. To clarify the policy here, apparently Canada, this ad is an advance of an actual law and policy change in Canada in March. They’re going to allow people whose sole criteria for requesting euthanasia is mental illness to qualify for this euthanasia. And this has been a good lesson for me because I actually have some instinct in favor of this, in very sort of selected cases when the choice is between drawn out and painful, but imminent and painless and taking control of those kinds of things. And I think that is a difficult-

Emily Jashinsky:

You have to preface your argument by saying as a godless heathen.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, like I said, it’s been a good lesson for me in the validity of slippery slopes because I have some, I don’t think it’s morally wrong or at least I don’t have the instinctive sense that it’s morally wrong for somebody to essentially take it into their own hands and at a certain point of mere pain or humiliation avoidance. I think that’s a very different question. But it’s been rapidly, the slippery slope on this has been incredibly rapid. We only started really seriously discussing this as policy maybe 10 or 15 years ago in this very… And of course that was the case that was used. Somebody who is going to die in the coming weeks very painfully and wants to take control of that process instead of suffering an immense amount of pain. That was the test case that was put forward and a mere couple years, 10 or 15 years ago was with the beginning of this discussion.

I don’t know when Canada first passed this program, but it was only several years ago. And we’re already talking now about euthanizing anybody at any stage of life who requests it, including if they’re just mentally ill. And so like I said, it’s been a good… strange new respect for slippery slopes all over the place, I think. But yeah, the sort corporate nature of this is even creepier, it’s like Futurama’s suicide booths actually seem quite clinical and clean in comparison to this kind of gauzy target aesthetic sort keeping up with the Jones’s way to advertise suicide. But is that the end point of this kind of crisis where we don’t acknowledge, as you’ve said so many times, that we’re floating in this postmodernist morass, there is no objective truth and people are grabbing onto, they’re trying to mold a self-conception. But it turns out that self-conception without boundaries of the body, without boundaries of any kind of objective reality, without boundaries of religious ethics, turns out to completely confuse people and lead them to accept incredible horrors or even embrace them as part of their identity.

Emily Jashinsky:

And it leads them to sell them too. And to say, I’m selling these on the basis of this sort of, people wouldn’t identify it this way, but this libertarian idea of self-sovereignty and individualism. So it’s moral for me to profit off of expanding this choice to others because it is not the state’s business to regulate something very fundamental. And you can have that conversation with abortion and marriage and you can have that conversation with drag queen story hour. We can have that conversation across the board about these issues. But I think it’s a really fair question as to whether, I was actually just reading today some of, I think it was Irving Kristol’s ruminations on this concept of values neutral republicanism and how that was really, we like to think of things that way, but that’s never really been possible.

Republicanism is not in and of itself values neutral. There’s always values baked into the cake, so to speak, no pun intended. But that’s where we’re getting to a point where our inability to understand collectively what values should look like. If you look at the so-called progressive center and the progressive left, they’re completely advocating for the encroachment on individual freedom by not just the administrative state, but the intelligence community. They want to monitor political dissidents, they want to empower the government to monitor political dissidents under the banner of democracy. They are repeatedly throwing out the label of democracy to justify that level of anti-democratic behavior. And ultimately, I think what a lot of it is sort of finding pro-human boundaries, not anti-human like destruction of boundaries. And that’s a project for both the business community and the political community. It can’t just be one or the other because capitalism will sell you nihilism and big government will sell you nihilism if it brings more power to people who want it.

There’s many lessons in that from the 20th century. So I think it’s about rejecting anti-humanism wherever we see it. And that’s kind of a nuanced enterprise because if you talk about, for instance, trans ideology, it’s a very, people are genuinely suffering and they’re suffering from some reasons that have to do with the big business, big government model here, but it is anti-human to encourage children to block puberty, it’s anti-human to encourage children to basically make themselves infertile before they have brains fully developed to make that capacity, it’s anti-human to denigrate marriage and to downplay its important, anti-human to downplay the importance of children, anti-human to tell people that they can live really far away from their families and eat fake food. And all of this stuff is anti-human. And I think we’re starting to recognize, because a lot of it has happened so quickly that it’s anti-human, but the question is whether we can catch up just before we implode.

Inez Stepman:

This is really the exchange of freedom for license as you point out. It is exactly the inverse of the way most of our founders thought about these questions, which is part of the reason why I really don’t think, I just, I’m not convinced by the analysis that the Enlightenment was sort of the turning point of the problem here, but I-

Emily Jashinsky:

I can’t wait for you to join the Lutheran Church.

Inez Stepman:

Well, for a lot of people it sets up the Protestant Reformation. That’s when we all started to go wrong.

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s what I’m saying. So you reject that argument. So you clearly belong in the Lutheran Church.

Inez Stepman:

But no, our founders thought about this the exact opposite way. And even up through the early 1960s, you see this in the analysis in the courts of different freedom. So it turns out that, for example, you have no First Amendment right to publish lies about people. Now we have very narrow defamation laws, maybe we should expand their scope, whatever. But that’s a separate debate that I’m talking about. But even the way the courts talked about this was the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect political freedom, is to protect people’s ability to criticize and particularly politically criticize people in power.

Anything incidental like the fact that we allow the New York Times to publish lies daily is because we don’t trust the distinction of who’s going to determine what is true and what is false. But the underlying assumption there is a truth and a falsity. And actually there is no First Amendment right to repeat falsehoods, for example. It’s simply that the structure of our government says that the government cannot be the one deciding what is true and what is false because the way that they’re going to decide that is going to be convenient for themselves. But even this seems like a distinction without a difference to a lot of people. But I think it’s a really important one, which just say, I mean obscenity is the same way. License is only protected to the extent that it is protected by our system because essentially of a pragmatic problem in handing that much power to fallible humans in charge of government who are going to use that power for their own ends.

Obscenity is not protected under the First Amendment. And to the extent that we have arguments for its protection, it’s because we’re worried that government is not going to be able to distinguish between pornography and criticism, political criticism because it would be convenient for them not to make those distinctions. And I think that’s actually really, there is a very important underlying distinction. Again, I know they sound like sort of legalistic differences, but they aren’t. Our regime was supposed to protect the right to seek the truth. For that end, we have free speech not for another end. The purpose of free speech is not pornography. To the extent that we cover pornography under first speech free speech. It’s because of the primary end of seeking and discovering the truth and the value of free speech in doing that. If you lose that underlying idea that there is a truth, that we are seeking it and seeking it is a good thing, all of this just turns into complete license.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah. And let’s ask why is it in America, pornography went from being something that was hidden in the shadows to something that was celebrated. For instance, I still remember very clearly when ABC News did a very positive documentary, short documentary on OnlyFans, and it was remarkable. Their only criticism of OnlyFans was that some people weren’t able to make enough money on it or had been subjected to threats, et cetera, et cetera, which is a serious problem of course, but not about the fundamental exploitation of a product like OnlyFans or any of the places that allows people to go morally and the people who are making money off of it. Really it was the most positive thing any corporation, let alone Disney, could have produced on OnlyFans. And so why is it that we went from point A to point B when we did.

If we’re just in a vacuum talking about pornography, what happened? It used to be that some things were shameful and that it would be shameful for somebody in business to be profiting off of these things. And that was kind of the argument that Barry Goldwater advanced about the Civil Rights Act, that if somebody wants to have their racist business, it will push society to have better morals. The sort of just way to handle it is to allow the marketplace to punish bigotry. And we’ve sort of come to a consensus that was not the way to handle fundamental questions of people’s human rights of basic racism. But then we are caught in this place where we’re now not able to even define, in the past we weren’t really able to define racism because people wouldn’t even acknowledge the humanity of black Americans. And now after all of the blood and sweat and tears that was poured, fighting to get to a place where we did, we once again can’t define racism.

In fact, some people like to define actual racial discrimination as anti-racism and they are used as Ibram X Kendi is by CBS. To that end, he’s a CBS commentary guy. It’s just insane how backwards all of this is. And I think it’s happening for a reason. And the reason… This brings us back to the enlightenment. There’s no way to get around it. Things changed, but there was a lot of decadence in societies before the Enlightenment. And it starts to happen when people are not able to find meaning and when you can’t find meaning… There’s a way that we can use the tools technologically and morally of a post-Enlightenment world to protect prosperity. And it’s not always going to be easy. And we’re never going to get to a utopian vision. We’re never just going to be living peacefully in the world.

What was it Marx or Engels that said “Fishing in the morning and writing poetry in the evening.” Or whatever it was that just, we’re never going to have that world because if you have at least a Christian perspective on the fall of man, it’s just not going to happen. There’s just no way to temper man’s sinfulness with government or culture in that way. But there are ways that sort of, in a post-Enlightenment world, we can be better and we can ensure the most prosperity for the most amount of people, but that relies on us being pro-human and not promoting, having a value system that understands what is good, what is healthy morally and physically for human beings. And we are so far afield from that right now.

Inez Stepman:

We certainly are that, to the extent that I blame the Enlightenment for a lot of this, I think it’s just the inevitability of prosperity, freeing people from scarcity and the necessity to confront that.

Emily Jashinsky:

We all need to be much poorer and in constant danger.

Inez Stepman:

But nobody’s willing to do that. That’s the-

Emily Jashinsky:

We need an apex predator.

Inez Stepman:

People always say, even the most trad types of people out there, they’ll always preface their critiques of modernity by saying, “Well no one wants to go back to the times where before antibiotics were invented and when only less than half of children made it to their fifth birthday. And people just confronted death and destruction and despair themselves and their families and were always staring directly into the maw of starvation.” Nobody wants to go back to that. And that to me, that’s more of this project that we have now before us in this modernity where at least in incredibly prosperous countries like America, it’s not that we’ve totally left scarcity behind, but we have left it behind in a way that humans have never really had the opportunity to do in all of human history.

And to that extent, yes, I think that there are Enlightenment values that built incredible prosperity, the likes of which the world prior to that had never seen. And to that extent, yeah, I “blame” the Enlightenment, but I’m blaming the Enlightenment for something that literally no one, not the most trady of trads wants to reverse, which is the prosperity itself. But I think that’s just kind of the question we confront in our age, and especially as more and more countries move into that level of prosperity.

Emily Jashinsky:

Can we have our cake and eat it too? Can you have antibiotics and-

Inez Stepman:

And meaning.

Emily Jashinsky:

Right. Yeah. And of course-

Inez Stepman:

It’s an open question. I’m not sure. But that is the question that confronts us all, is building a source of meaning outside of the scarcity that if coming from my non-Christian perspective we’ve evolved into and not having that friction, I think has created a lot of this sort of feeling of floating in the morass and disconnection from… and real ability to disconnect from incredibly important truths about the human person and your favorite culprit, technology, is certainly a massive help in that. All those things that you just listed from porn to VR. I would add the fact that we can even, for example, arrest puberty and give people cross sex hormones. Ryan Anderson was saying this on this podcast last week, but technology enables us to separate ourselves from some immutable fact about the human person and about nature and allows us to forget those. So in that sense, prosperity is the problem, but the solution can’t be to go back to extreme starvation and poverty. No one wants that solution. So we’re kind of stuck with these problems as we confront them. And I hope that we can find a way through it, but I don’t see that path through the fog yet.

Emily Jashinsky:

And technology is a feature of human existence. It’s not something unique to our age, although I think it’s advanced at a rate that is as Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying would say is eclipsing our ability to evolve alongside of it. And so fire is a technology, the wheel is technology and it’s laughable to us, but it’s actually true in the same way that mail is a technology and the way we enjoy it, air travel or modern architecture. All of these things we think about as being silly at one point were a new technology and so technology is a feature, but the hyper novelty question of right now is really a legitimate one. And that’s the question that we haven’t even started to act as though it’s informing our politics, that it’s informing the daily life of the subjects of any member of Congress, the readers of any media outlet.

It’s as though it’s just the invisible hand of progress and there’s nothing that we can do about it and there’s no questions we should ask. And people like to laugh and say the metaverse is basically face planting, it’s an entire embarrassment for Meta, et cetera, et cetera, as though it’s just dead on arrival. And that is going to be proven spectacularly wrong. I’m always open to the possibility that I’ll be proven spectacularly wrong, but I’m pretty confident that the virtual reality technology we’re seeing right now, is on the cusp of really overtaking things. And if I’m wrong, I hope it’s because enough people were sounding the alarm and starting to realize that what is happening to us is anti-human, but it gets to this question of can you have your cake and eat it too. Can you have antibiotics and meaning? And I think the reason answer of course is yes, is because we’ve had it.

Everyone likes to look at the decades that they came of age in as the best in the golden years. But-

Inez Stepman:

The ’90s actually were.

Emily Jashinsky:

…I think if you look at the 1990s and the early 2000s, it wasn’t really the end of history as we now know. But there was a level of, I think, sexual racial harmony that it’s easy of course for a white upper middle class person to say that. And that’s not just me like genuflecting and doing the virtue signal. It’s obviously coming from the perspective of somebody who’s of a racial group that was never enslaved in this country. I have a different perspective on it, I’m sure, but I think in the scope of human history, no people from so many different backgrounds speaking so many different languages with so many different traditions, faith traditions, any else have lived together in a single country like the United States of America as they did in recent American history.

And it feels like we’ve thrown a lot of that out the window. And what I think a lot of people like Sohrab Ahmari and probably Adrian Vermeule would counter that with this is inevitable. You may get a two decade period of relative peace out of the post-Enlightenment sort of Republican order, values neutral, so called values neutral order, but it will inevitably fall into decadence. You can have those periods of peace, but you can’t have them without then evolving, devolving into something worse. And I disagree with that because I think it’s a matter of learning where the boundaries are and then bringing them back. And those questions of whether what to bring back and how to do it are huge. And I’m typically very pessimistic and I’m pessimistic that we’ll see that really happen in our lifetime. I think it’s going to be a very slow process. But I do think that the human instinct to persevere is fairly strong and we have tools at our disposal to self-regulate. I’m not saying for sure it’ll happen, but I think of course it can be done.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Well I certainly hope you’re right because I don’t want the future of the human race to be begging the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to grant us legs on the VR platform, piloting it without legs, and then we just have to like Oliver Twist, we have to go and beg the tech overlords to please grant us legs in the VR universe. So that seems like a pretty dark future I’m not really interested in participating in. But before we wrap this up, I did want to point out a really great sort of, I guess it’s again showing, showcasing just the sort of bankruptcy of this worldview. But there’s this writer, Alice Gribbin, she has a Substack under her name. She writes poetry and creates art of her own, but she’s also in my mind, a great art critic. She’s written a bunch of essays, I think I’ve talked about them on this podcast, and if not in this podcast, then on the former newsletter Bright. I’ve been interacting with her work for a while, but she points out on Twitter, she highlights something, a plaque in the Art Institute in Chicago.

And this is a plaque for a Cézanne painting and it’s commentary by another artist. So this is not just somebody who has no connection to the world of art who wrote this kind of placard to put next to a Cézanne landscape. I wonder what this landscape would’ve looked like to us without colonization. Would we care about Cézanne or his work? Better yet, would there even be a Cézanne without colonization? Would it matter that he broke up the picture plane? Would the idea of the picture plane even be an issue? How would we register the light between the branches? Could Cézanne have surveyed the land creating a disintegrating picture plane if he was unaware of the disintegration happening on he and his countrymen’s behalf and the likes of Algeria, the Congo, Vietnam, and the rest of France’s colonies. I don’t know if Cézanne had put two and two together, but how do you just see the formal properties of a painting that the scholarship or the invention his work evokes without foregrounding that history?

So this is the commentary in a Museum of Cézanne painting and Alice’s commentary is basically to say that she’ll never be unimpressed by the philistinism of this kind of view of art. To be able to look at a Cézanne painting in person and this is what you come away with. This is what you come away with, is this sort of litany of genuflections that are all entirely self aware and are entirely not interacting with the art as a work at all, only with alleged context. It seems to me that this kind of artistic movement, the guy who pens that kind of placard in the art institute, it seems to me that has hit a dead end as much as we’ve been talking about an existential dead end. There’s an artistic dead end that is actually very concretely happening right now. And I don’t mean just the usual conservative critiques of modern art or whatever.

There seems to actually be some kind of real break. I think it’s actually generating a lot of the energy around the sort of Dime Square or sort of movement or whatever in Manhattan to the extent the New York Times has written that up and all that. But even in other places, I think in this case, the ability to harness some of these technologies to go around a lot of the institutionalized gatekeepers in the art world who are only interested in that kind of placard. How much potential does art have? I’ll leave you with this very, very easy question you should be able to spit out in a couple sentences and answer this for us all once and for all.

Obviously not. But to close out, I’d like your thoughts on whether art can contribute or how art can contribute to this project that you’ve laid out for modernity of essentially maintaining some level of humanization, of not living in an inhuman world. It seems like one of the most human qualities we might have is this ability to create and interact with art. Is that just part of our human condition? Are we going to be able to break out of those kind of structures through art, or is it going to be more out of political discourse? I could see, I don’t think the Dime Square scene is going to produce anything sort of worth politically, but I could see if they produce, for example, an art movement that might have more impact than anything that anybody working in think tanks in Washington DC might do. So what do you think about that avenue of breaking through this kind of morass?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, and you mentioned when we were thinking about what to talk about today, the movie Tar, which I could rattle off a critique of. The most succinct way I could put it, is that it’s one of those 800 page novels that’s like 600 pages too long, meaning that there’s a great kernel of truth and beauty in it, but it’s sort of indulgent beyond the point of being worthwhile. But Tar is a great example. You take Cate Blanchett and she’s out there in the press tour for the film talking about really just objecting to the ideology that seized Hollywood for so long. Emily Blunt is out there doing the exact same thing. And where that would have been a PR disaster for both of them two years ago. We have gotten to a place where it’s sort of like people bat an eye, there’s a click bait headline on US Weekly or wherever, or the click bait headline on a news outlet.

And everybody moves on because the industry has realized people don’t care. And if to the extent they do care, they like what Cate Blanchett is saying because it’s interesting. And she’s an artist and artists should be interesting. So I think you’ve seen it in comedy too, which conservatives, including myself, sort of zeroed in on for a long time as the heart of the culture war. It’s really that sort of ideology of safetyism in comedy has just gotten a kick in the ass. It really has been destroyed by, as you were saying Inez, these new tools, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok to some extent, where anti woke comedians, including some mainstream people like Joe Rogan and the folks he has on his show, Dave Chappelle, the woke crowd likes to say Dave Chappelle is not brave. How does cancel culture a problem when Dave Chappelle is getting Netflix specials, et cetera, et cetera?

Well, because he’s still facing penalties for it, of course. But that’s abating. It’s not at the fever pitch that it was. And this brings us full circle to what we talking about earlier in the show. I really think that the ideology that informed so much of this in so many corridors of power is not going anywhere. But I do think what we are seeing right now is it losing some power struggle tug of wars to the extent that it wasn’t, or in a way that it wasn’t two or three years ago.

That doesn’t mean it’s not ultimately going to win, but it does mean that there are some people who have been convinced over the course of the last couple years, those some people take away from the power of the others, but for the others, it is so deeply embedded. We’re going to be dealing with this literally for years and years and years to come. So what happens in the next five years isn’t going to change the formative experience a lot of people had in their youth of learning that this is what the Manichaen struggle between good and evil actually looks like. That’s a deprogramming. A deprogramming to say reality exists and it is objective and beauty exists and it is objective. And so I think what we’re heading into is a long period, a long tug of war where you have Cate Blanchett, but you also have, let’s say, what’s her name? I can’t even remember. She was so prominent during Me Too. You know who I’m talking about?

Inez Stepman:

Alyssa Milano?

Emily Jashinsky:

Alyssa Milano, yes, yes, yes. So you have Cate Blanchett-

Inez Stepman:

[inaudible 01:03:31] with her once at Congress.

Emily Jashinsky:

Oh, oh, that’s right, you did.

Inez Stepman:

I was really shocked, by the way, by somebody… She was very nice, but she was totally freaked out by testifying in front of Congress. And I was like, “How can you be freaked out? You’re an actress.”

Emily Jashinsky:

No, this is the Hollywood Washington thing. Hollywood people are just absolutely awed by Washington the same way Washington people are awed by Hollywood, but-

Inez Stepman:

Oh they can have each other.

Emily Jashinsky:

But you’re going to have the… It’s a battle between Cate Blanchett and Alyssa Milano. That is the foremost power struggle of our time going forward. You’re going to have people who are interesting and are making really good art, and then you’re going to have other people who are trying to suppress the really good art. And both of them, there’s always people like that to some extent in every industry. But both of them are going to have powerful people on their side of the argument. And so I think going forward, it’s just going to be a tug of war between those two forces. And so that means the good news is we’re probably going to get some really great art out of it because now films like Tar are actually being made because the balance has swung in that direction to the point where corporations are okay investing in projects like that and having their name on projects like that. And Cate Blanchett might win an Oscar for Tar. So I think that’s what the world will look like and the culture will look like going forward. And let me just say, if we’re ending on an optimistic note, that makes me happy because for a long time it was miserable, and that’s for like five or so years we were at a point where it was just impossible to make anything in a mainstream space that sort of subverted the orthodoxy.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I was just going to say, this has been an optimistic episode. We’ve talked about at least glimmers of breakthroughs here in the corporate capitalist world with Musk potentially proving that you can run a tech company, with not only by granting free speech, but also by firing a lot of email jobbers. We also have sort this glimmer of hope in art with frustrated and bored audiences as well as frustrated and bored artists. Something we didn’t get to, there is a backlash against body positivity in the fashion world. So that could be, we’ll see where that goes. Sort of re-Kate Mossification of fashion. But yeah, I think this has overall been pretty optimistic episode at least by our standards. Emily, I’m, I’m going to wrap it up here. Thank you so much for joining once again High Noon After Dark. We do one of these episodes every month at the end of the month, last week of the month. As always me and Emily hashing out some of these trends that we thought were important from the last month or so. So thanks again for coming on High Noon.

Emily Jashinsky:

My pleasure Inez.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. We also have other productions like She Thinks, a podcast with Beverly Hallberg and At The Bar, which is a production with me and my colleague Jennifer Braceras, where we talk primarily about legal topics at the intersection of law, politics, and culture. As always, you can send comments and questions about any of those, including High Noon to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, iwf.org, and YouTube as well. So be brave. We’ll see you next time on High Noon.