Emily Jashinsky joins the pod for the last week of the month per usual. Inez and Emily chat about what the anti-establishment “MAGA” Republicans who won victory in the House have in common — and what they don’t. Inez poses a panel prompt about unhappy families to Emily, and the ladies discuss the masturbatory artistic choices of “The Embrace,” a new MLK memorial on the Boston Commons.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features 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 at the end of every month, the last episode of the month, we always do with Emily Jashinsky. Emily is a senior fellow with us over at IWF, but she is also the culture editor at The Federalist. She works with Young America’s Foundation training up the next generation of conservative, I don’t even know what to call them anymore, journalism, has a well-deserved ill reputation now, but you are raising up the next generation of truth tellers through journalism, let’s put it that way.

She’s also on CounterPoints now every Wednesday with Ryan Grim on Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti’s show Breaking Points. You can see her all over the place. She’s our favorite. This is my favorite episode to record every month.

Emily Jashinsky:

I’m so glad you said that, because I have so much fun too, Inez.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, the dream is to get a job where you get to hang out with your friends and talk politics and other cultural and talk about TV shows like we did last time and then call it work. Anyways, but it’s always great to be with you, Emily, and I wanted to kick it off with some of the more substantive items on our docket. We’ll get to the less substantive over time.

But one of the substantive things I wanted to ask you about, especially since you have this weekly show over with Breaking Points, you’ve been very involved with realignment figures more broadly and realignment politics and this potentiality of maybe being able to break apart the current coalitions or at least the old coalitions of left and right, put them back together in some kind of populist way that connects the two horseshoe ends of left populism and right populism, which is not to say you’ve always been optimistic about that project, of course. There’s an interesting moment I think for that project coming up that’s going to come into sharper relief the longer this Republican House continues to be in power.

We’re coming to this issue right off the heels of what might be called an anti-establishment right-wing populist victory, where a handful of members in the House were able to force enough speaker votes not to dislodge Kevin McCarthy at the end of the day, but then to get a substantive number of concessions. It seems like they’re going to be using their new power to play pretty hard in these debt limit negotiation fights and other budget fights. It looks like they want to use that power to cut substantially some of the out of control spending in government.

At the same time, in the last few days, Trump, who a lot of these members identify as super MAGA, Trump has come in and said, “Don’t you dare touch Social Security.” Just as a ground to set the table for this in terms of just the facts before we get into any what is right and what’s politically expedient and so on, there is no real way to adjust the American debt trajectory without touching entitlements. Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare make up the majority of the budget. In fact, between just those three programs, we are using all of the revenue that we’re currently collecting.

All the taxes, what we are paying, are covering only those three programs basically in terms of amount of money and all of the rest of the spending is debt, right? That’s the entire Pentagon budget. It’s the entire discretionary spending budget that we argue over at each year. That’s the background reality of the way that US debt is structured. What do you think about this rift that’s opening up? Because the fights in the House sound very much like Tea Party Redux. You have this tea party or right populist uprising against the establishment from that direction and it’s been melded with Trumpism and populism.

But it seems like on these issues, they might pull apart as seen by Trump coming out and very firmly saying, as he always has as a candidate, “No, no, no, we’re not going to touch Medicare. We’re not going to touch Social Security.” What do you think about all the dynamics going on here and how they’re going to play out?

Emily Jashinsky:

One of the more interesting anecdotes, that is in some ways an answer to your question, is J. D. Vance, not surprising, but interesting, J. D. Vance coming out on Trump’s side in this conversation. It’s very interesting to have the Tea Party populism in the Trump era be maneuvered or be leveraged using the debt ceiling as leverage. Because to your point, Inez, Donald Trump said everyone was going to have health care. That’s after running Mitt Romney, who was running against Obamacare. It’s not like Trump had any plan. It’s not like any Republican really running in 2016 had any plan, but it was this idea that this is not austerity.

We’re not going to conservative austerity. That’s not populism, and it’s not what the Republican Party thinks is politically expedient at this moment in history. Where does that take us? There’s an answer, I think, and we’ve seen it from people like Russ Vought. We’ve seen it just sort of floated when, I think, Jim Jordan tweeted, this was one of my favorite tweets of the last month, “God, guns, and gas stoves.” It sounds really silly, but that’s a crystallization of what’s happening, which, this is tyranny. This is not about debt and deficits. We’re negotiating with the debt ceiling to shift the Overton window to shrink the size of government.

Now, I think everybody should be aware, that’s a drop in the bucket. To the point that you made about entitlements, you could implement… Brian Riedl at Manhattan Institute has done some… Depressing doesn’t even begin to do justice to the calculations that he’s done on the debt and the deficit, which by the way are probably worsening inflation right now, are probably worsening the lives of the average American, whether it’s financially or whether it’s at their kitchen table or in other financial ways. It’s probably having an effect. He looks at it and he says, “You could implement every populist left proposal when it comes to tax increases and you’re not making a dent in the debt and deficit.”

He shows how you could eliminate the entire Department of Defense and you’re not making a dent. You’re not even coming close to coming up with a balanced budget. This is so much bigger than either like the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. It’s something that’s looming over our head and demands imagination, but these debt ceiling negotiations are not going to be imagination. They’re going to be, I think, trying to leverage the position that these populist House Republicans have found themselves in with a slim one-person margin motion to vacate, meaning they can challenge Kevin McCarthy pretty easily to lose the speakership.

What they’re going to be doing is pushing for cuts to curb the gas stove tyranny, where you have a bureaucrat in some branch of the executive branch, a branch of a branch, saying, “Oh, on a whim, maybe we should do this, this or that,” and dramatically changing the way that business is done, that people live their lives. I think that’s the argument that’s congealing. I think there’s some real merit to it. But if they’re pitching it as… One more thing I would say, Inez, is right now when our social fabric is as tattered as it is, if your priority is taking away people’s health care… I’ve hated this argument forever that the debt can wait, the debt can wait, the debt can wait.

But if you’re going to approach Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any food stamps, whatever it is, if you’re going to approach that, you need to have a very robust plan for stabilizing. Ripping the rug out from under all of these people right now is a recipe for disaster, for inflamed tensions. I think dependence is evil. I can’t stand it. I think there are a lot of unintended consequences that come with it, but ripping out the rug from other people, if that’s your priority right now, it has to be augmented. If we can come up with an Andrew Yang creative imaginative way that both parties can get behind to help reign in the debt and deficit and make these programs better, fine. But if we were talking about cutting it right now, it’s not just politically toxic. I think we would be getting into some really frightening territory, at least in the short term, and that should be considered as well.

Inez Stepman:

What do you think about some of the critiques that… I guess for all the sound and fury of the focus on populist issues on the right that this is degenerating into… I really disagree with these critiques to be clear. Something like Sohrab Ahmari would say or has said in compact that we’re degenerating into cultural virtue signaling that in fact this realignment is entirely based on smoke and mirrors in terms of saying, as you just alluded to actually, God, guns, and gas stoves. I mean, I agree that there’s a deeper argument to be had there, and I don’t think cultural issues are at all a distraction. I think they’re the heart, in many ways, of our politics and the most important part of our politics.

But there is that critique, right? How would you answer that critique? Because on the face of it, it looks like, “Oh, hey, there was this conservative populist uprising and what we’re going to get are cuts and austerity out of it instead of some of these other cultural topics that they were talking about.” In many ways, those cuts might be, as you pointed out, those cuts might be against the interest of voters who are fed up with the Democratic Party for cultural reasons that are more economically left, but considering becoming Republican and continuing to vote Republican.

Emily Jashinsky:

I would say it’s too early to tell, because my first instinct is to say, well, actually there’s a lot of really good policies that individually don’t seem like a really big deal, but that have emerged, will emerge as a part of that populist realignment. Again, we’re not talking about sea changes, but there’s some good stuff that’s happened on antitrust. There’s some good stuff that’s happened in terms of media, all of this media that pops up that gives people better information. There’s a huge market for it, and people are actually consuming this alternative independent media. I mean, what Bari Weiss is doing is incredible, and that’s absolutely a project of the realignment.

There’s no other way to think about it. You have left and right coming together desperate for something. It’s not pretending to be neutral. But we can’t, just because it’s not something that passed through Congress, dismiss that. I think that’s a really big deal. There are other policies that people are going to get behind, whether they’re tech safety, pornography. There are real policies coming out of this marriage. I think it’s too early to say, because you still have Ukraine on the table, you still have immigration on the table.

I mean, there’s just a lot more to be said. We’re not even 10 years into this at this point. Unless you’re fully subscribed to MMT and you believe in Modern Monetary Theory, you believe in minting the coin.

Inez Stepman:

Minting the trillion -dollar coin as a solution.

Emily Jashinsky:

Exactly.

Inez Stepman:

It seems ridiculous to me. I don’t know anything about that level of economics, but that just seems like a fake solution to anybody’s problems.

Emily Jashinsky:

This is why we never should have left the gold standard because it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. The gold standard.

Inez Stepman:

Those two advocates for the trillion-dollar coin, they’re talking about how to roll tanks or whatever. There’s a Washington Post reporter saying like, “Oh, well, that sounds like a difficult thing to sell to Jerome Powell or something like that.” It’s a totally normal thing to suggest that you should override the Supreme Court and roll tanks to the Federal Reserve.

Emily Jashinsky:

Then literally said, “Send troops to the Fed.”

Inez Stepman:

Right. I mean, a good friend of mine was talking about this, and he was like, “Imagine if one of the Ron Paul gold bug types, we’re talking about rolling tanks to the Fed, and then, I don’t know, The Wall Street Journal picked it up and considered it as a reasonable theory.”

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s actually a really good point because it’s a good example of nutpicking in the media, where we had so much conversation about militaristic Ron Paul people, but they could easily elevate these guys and create a narrative out of that. They just won’t. Neither of them is newsworthy enough to do that. They’re better left on the fringes, even though these people have a direct channel into The Washington Post. Anyway, you have to. It doesn’t have to be austerity. We don’t know what it would look like, but we’re caught in this trap where it’s like it’s either austerity or socialism. I don’t think that’s helpful for anyone.

I’m not calling for a third way or whatever, but there has to be something more imaginative than mint the coin or whatever they say about throwing grandma off the cliff. Not that anyone ever wanted to do that, but there just have to be better options. They’re not within the Overton window right now. Nobody’s talking about them, but it doesn’t mean that… This is what I would take issue with, especially with some folks on the new right. Sohrab might be among them.

Inez Stepman:

I don’t think he would call himself new right.

Emily Jashinsky:

No, he wouldn’t anymore. No, he surely wouldn’t anymore. It’s not pro-worker. It is not pro-middle class to allow these programs to be insolvent for the sake of your own political career. That is not pro-worker, that is not pro-middle class, because there’s evidence suggesting that inflation is worse because of this. There’s evidence suggesting that right now the average American is getting more than they put in to Social Security and to Medicaid. They’re doing way better. They’re coming out on top. But what happens when someone busts their butt and puts money where the government forced them to put money for a really long time and doesn’t get it?

That’s BS to say the least. It’s not populist and pro-worker to just be like, “Oh, no austerity ever unless you have a good solution.” Because this is just like, I don’t want to sound like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, but it’s truly not sustainable and in a way that really hurts people. There just has to be more imagination about it. It can’t involve just cutting or just ballooning the government to the point where it can take away your freaking gas stoves on a whim.

Inez Stepman:

There’s a bit of a Chicken Little problem to this, I think, because on the one hand, it’s clearly true that this can’t go on forever. We cannot keep financing this level of debt forever. But on the other hand, we’ve heard that so many times that I think people are really not going to take it seriously until there really is a hard stop, right?

Emily Jashinsky:

You don’t see it in your paycheck. You don’t see it in your everyday life. You don’t see money going away from you, and you can’t picture it with inflation. It’s just hard even for economists to pin that down.

Inez Stepman:

But it’s really clear. I do think actually if we were able to have a sane conversation, like a reasonable conversation between citizens, I think if you presented just the financial parameters of Social Security to most people, they’ll understand the demographic parameters are not what they were when Social Security was implemented. Social Security was implemented and the age of retirement and everything were implemented when people did not live nearly as long and when they had a lot more kids. There were a lot more workers contributing into the system and fewer old people living for fewer years.

Now, it’s wonderful that people live for so many years after retirement. That’s a wonderful thing and a wonderful piece of advancement on our part that people are able to live longer lives and spend more time with their families. But if you’re not having six kids and people are no longer dying at 69, this program, on the face of it, it’s not sustainable over time. It is the most enormous unfunded liability of the federal government. Those are the facts. I’m sorry. I know it’s unpopular. I think that was the biggest victory of the New Deal was investing everybody in these programs.

I think that’s why people scoff at, like, universal programs, but that’s part of the reason I want a universal ESA program, a universal school choice program. When you invest everybody in the program, then everybody has a stake in maintaining it and those programs become completely impossible to cut. I don’t think there’s any way we’re ever going to get rid of Social Security, but it seems like at some point… Those analysis, I think it flips upside down in 2035. It used to be 2037, now it’s 2035, where it will officially run out of money.

It behooves us to change the parameters before then so that there isn’t this catastrophic hard stop where the government just can’t send out the checks. I don’t know. I’m very cynical about this. I don’t think we’re going to have that conversation until the checks stop going out because…

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, you’re right.

Inez Stepman:

And rightly so, people just don’t trust the priorities of the government. They don’t trust, I want to say rulers, because that’s what they are. We don’t really have that kind of accountability that comes in a democracy, but they certainly don’t trust people to spend money wisely or to care about their priorities. Having that conversation, I think, is basically a dead end. Am I wrong?

Emily Jashinsky:

No, I don’t think you’re wrong. And that’s, again, why we’re trapped, and it’s like a very hackneyed thing to say, but we’re trapped in this austerity or socialism. Again, it sounds like I’m literally calling for a third way, but I’m not saying go for centrism or anything like that.

Inez Stepman:

Emily just said third way fascist.

Emily Jashinsky:

No. I just mean there has to be… Actually I was reading a post, it was on The Heritage Foundation’s website, they must have published this in the ’90s, about Reagan’s deficits. They asked this list of questions. They said the Reagan deficits caused the prosperity of the ’90s, created the prosperities of the ’90s, and they were also deficits because this was money that was being used to win the Cold War and to prevent, as The Heritage author put it, possibly millions of people from dying in a nuclear conflict. You can see the parallel to that question where, as you say, the checks stop coming and that’s when it gets intense and urgent.

I think it’ll be like that. I mean, I think we’ll be a point where we’re a couple years away from it and things get urgent and we come up with something, but it has to be something that’s palatable, obviously. It has to be something that’s not just one side or the other, because neither side right now has a good solution to it. It’s the same thing with health care. We’re just stuck in these ruts. You and I talk about this a lot. I feel like this thematically comes up a lot. We just get stuck in these ruts because, actually, of the way social media organizes our discourse and incentivizes our discourse.

Again, I feel like I sound Ralph Nader here, but when it comes to debt and deficits, we just don’t have a good solution, but we do have time to come up with a better solution. Because again, it’s already monumental, an insane amount of money, so we don’t want to add to it, but we’re already dealing with a massive problem. You can eat around the edges of discretionary spending and you can shrink the size of the executive branch.

I think that’s great to the extent Republicans are going to do it because it tests this new, I think, philosophy that conservatives should have, which is that we just don’t want small government for the sake of small government, for the sake of corporate interests, who can then rape the culture and people’s finances. We want small government for the sake of human flourishing and human freedom and your ability to make your own decisions in a techno dystopia. I think to that extent, they’re testing something or I think they’re about to test something. We’ll see how it actually plays out. That could be really beneficial.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, I’d like to see, I guess, the budget fights tied to issues that seem more immediate where we don’t have so much ground to make up in terms of convincing the American people on an issue like Social Security. I would like to see these budget cuts be focused on the specific actions of agencies that are deeply unpopular. I’d like to see it focused on those 87,000 IRS agents, which I think will come up in a lot of these debates. Excuse me.

Emily Jashinsky:

Bless you.

Inez Stepman:

But I really do think it would be foolish for us to make this stand now. That’s my gut instinct of how these fights are going to go. They’re just going to go the way that they did during the Tea Party era. Why would it be any different?

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s the risk. I think it was Mike Rogers. Some camera person got him on tape saying, “People are coming up to me telling me they want to work longer.” First of all, I doubt anybody’s ever said that. If they did, it would probably be somebody who retired, market wasn’t so great and is looking to get back into it. Nobody’s coming up there saying, “Yeah, I’ll probably live until I’m 90, so I’m just really working on a way to be sure that I’m still at a desk or laying bricks when I’m 80.” Literally nobody is coming up to him and saying that. That’s the kind of thing when you’re being asked by a reporter about your plans for Social Security, I think there are still a lot of Republicans that are in especially on the House…

Well, I shouldn’t say especially on the House side, but it’s on both the House and the Senate side, that are still stuck in 2012, are still stuck in 2010, are still stuck in 1996 for that matter, despite the fact that the circumstances of this country have changed. If you want to create a country where you don’t have the summer of 2020 again, you have to think much more creatively and you have to get out of that rut, because otherwise you’re going to look like… People are coming up to you and saying, “Please let me labor on behalf of the corporations more because I just can’t stop giving all of my time to Black and Decker,” or whatever.

That’s the thing. Do I think there are a handful of people who are going to do this right? Yes. Do I think the real risk is that the rest of them aren’t? Yeah. I think Republicans, some are about to look really good, and some are about to look really bad. Thankfully, I think Kevin McCarthy for Republicans and conservatives, people who care about these issues being handled correctly and with a conservative approach, is somebody that really does understand the populists and does really understand his right flank, because he’s an opportunist. He knows where the political winds are blowing. That’s almost a good thing in that he knows he has to play both sides here.

And until those bridges totally burn up, we could see some interesting stuff from him actually, maybe along the lines of J.D. Vance.

Inez Stepman:

Let’s turn a little bit more to the cultural side of things. I think these two things are connected. I would like to see the Republican Party fight in a smart way on these cultural issues, which as you say, it’s not like they’re wholly divorced from the budget. I mean, there are so many places in the budget in which we are essentially funding one side of the culture war, the left side of the culture war. Education is a really easy starting point to that conversation. I mean, literally every agency is funding cultural conservatives’ opponents in the culture war. The woke machine is largely funded by government, and part of that is because they’re not ideologically opposed to it.

Conservatives I think need to update their battle plans. But there’s enormous benefit potentially in stripping funds from some of these projects that are essentially getting an unfair boost in these culture wars from the taxpayer who is at minimum 50/50. On a lot of these issues, it’s more like 80/20, right? But all of our tax dollars are funding one side of those culture wars. But speaking of the culture wars, I recently got an invitation to speak at this… I had never heard of this organization before, but it sounds like it’s just relatively recent, but it’s basically an organization that’s trying to do a little bit more what the FedSoc did in the legal space, but connecting socially conservative students in the Ivy League.

I do think that’s a really great project because so many of the formal right-wing organizations really do give short shrift to cultural issues. A lot of them are functionally libertarian. I think this is a really good idea, and that was furthered by the fact that I got what I think is the best prompt question I’ve ever gotten. Emily, I know at NatCon and elsewhere, you’ve repeated essentially a laundry list of issues of deep cultural catastrophes for the United States that are just not really part of our politics. Or if they are part of our politics, they’re tangential. I got this question and I wanted to pose it to you. Obviously, I gave my answer.

My friend David Azerrad gave his answer. He’s been on the podcast. But I’m really curious what your answer would be to this question. Here’s the prompt. “It has become common knowledge that most marriages now end in divorce.” By the way, I put an asterisk on that. I don’t think most marriages end in divorce, but divorce rate is high. “That trust in educational institutions is extremely low. That Generation Z suffers from a crippling buffet of mental health issues. But what about the way that we are encouraged to live our lives causes this deep and lifelong unhappiness? What are the challenges families face and how do we build healthier ones?”

Emily Jashinsky:

There’s so much going on in that question. I agree. It’s a wonderful question, because the first part is like, what is it about the world that we live in that creates these problems? And the second part is like, what can be done to help families? Again, this is where the conservative movement suffers from, I think this happens on the left too, but suffers from that reflexive landing in the same rut, where it’s like, okay, well, Child Tax Credit, cool. We can debate the validity of the Child Tax Credit and it can be one part in a suite, a package of things that are done to boost the American family. But if your answer is Child Tax Credit, if that’s your big answer, man, we are in trouble.

One of the big things that needs to be considered going forward is obviously there are age limits on pornography, and obviously social media companies have age limits, they have parameters for age. But when I think about the average American family and when I think about what might be causing tension and pain and strife in their lives, I think about pornography and I think about most of all social media and smartphones. I think there’s a way to really, constitutionally, make very robust and require very robust age verification practices for pornography websites and for things as simple as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all the things.

Because the problems with generation Z that are baked into the prompt of that question are not just generation Z problems. They’re causing issues for schools. They’re causing issues for your soccer teams, your community. They’re causing issues for parents, for family units, of course. We don’t even know. I mean, this is an experiment running in real-time. These kids are literally guinea pigs. We need to start thinking about how to prepare for the guinea pigs entering the workforce, entering adulthood period. Those are two really big ones that come to my mind off the bat.

I think what you’ve talked about in terms of higher education, just basically punishing colleges for all of the harm that they’ve done and that they continue to do in a way that also it maybe routes people towards better options that aren’t insanely expensive. I mean, hopefully brings down the price of college, but better options that aren’t insanely expensive. This is just in the policy arena. There’s just so much we could talk about in terms of the culture. I don’t know if you want to get into that. I don’t know if you want to get into what that might look like.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, no. When I was reading this prompt and thinking about it, the first thing I thought of is your list of issues in the speech you gave at NatCon that essentially may or may not… A lot of them have some plug to public policy in the same way that you talked about the Child Tax Credit, but public policy very clearly is not the beginning and end of these issues. Some of those issues that you brought up were the skyrocketing deaths of despair and addiction, the mental fragility of basically people under the age of 30 being unable to cope. Part of this, of course, is political, right?

Part of it is a culture that encourages and a political culture that for political reasons encourages that kind of identity politics and fragility and victimhood Olympics. But there also seems to be something real there. I think your third bucket was tech, social media and pornography. I don’t know. These things all seem to come together to basically create a life script, a kind of modern Life of Julia. That’s an old throwback reference. For those who don’t remember the Life of Julia, there were these ads… I think it was when Obama was running for the second time.

Emily Jashinsky:

Second time.

Inez Stepman:

But it was the life of Julia and it showed how at every stage of her life, government was stepping in. Well, it seems to me that we need an update to the life of Julia, right? It’s not just about the fact that the welfare state steps in. It’s this script that we are doling out to people is clearly making people unhappy. First of all, starting from the basics, America has a staggeringly high rate of children who are not being raised by their married parents. And even compared to the whole world, not just to, for example, European countries, also to Third World countries, I mean, America, we are truly a leader in this horrible metric.

You are less likely to be raised by your married parents in the same household than almost anywhere else in the world. And then from that environment, already not ideal, you’re put into an education track that divorces you further from the past, from your family, from any pride in your country that views any future or posterity as hostile. You go through this educational track all the way through college where you are hopefully radicalized and made into a little activist. That’s if you maintain your birth sex and your ability to have enjoyable sex and eventually procreate. The lucky people who do maintain that ability.

You go into the corporate world where the incentives are largely similar, the culture is largely similar. You spend your twenties swiping and screwing, but you don’t form that kind of meaningful and deep relationships that increasingly… I mean, all of this to say is that the good life, as we are sold it today, is one that encourages atomization. And we have this increasing body of understanding, both from the social science perspective and just from the observational basic common-sense perspective, that atomization is probably the great evil of modern life and it’s what’s making people very unhappy.

Emily Jashinsky:

Sorry, I was going to say, partially that’s where we need inventions. There’s room for industrial policy here. That’s why we need inventions and initiatives that recognize the moment that we’re in is one in which we’ve crossed the tech Rubicon. I talk about this usually within the sweep of time, post-printing press, you could probably go back a little bit earlier, depending on how many years you think humans have walked the face of the earth. It’s still a very small time period that we’ve had. Okay, first of all, social media, let alone the smartphone, let alone email, let alone internet, let alone television, let alone photography, let alone mass printing.

You can just keep going back. We need to have public policy initiatives, but also public-private partnerships that are happening specifically to say for every new technology, it’s like what we do with wetlands, with every new technology, we need to come up with a way, I don’t know what it would be in every case, but the Light Phone has now emerged. They’re selling it on Goop, actually. I was a Kickstarter that was following for years. But for a couple hundred bucks, you can get a phone. I know the government had nothing to do with this, but you can get a phone that connects to your smartphone. But all it does really is text.

It has maps on it. It’s black and white. It doesn’t even have snake on it yet. Basically catapults you back to 2007. You can text on it, all of that good stuff. There has to be a recognition of public and private partnerships that the government is going to hold you responsible if you’re creating inventions that are unhealthy and that are designed specifically to be used in unhealthy doses, and that the government then is going to find ways to make competitors to that competitive, because we know that the market can’t always solve that problem. If it’s like tobacco, where you’re intentionally being addicted, now do I think tobacco is overregulated?

Yes, and maybe someday tech will be overregulated. I will say, let’s peel back. Let’s pull some of this regulation back, but we’re nowhere even near that right now. I mean, we didn’t even touch on the one really big thing. You were probably getting to it, and I interrupted you very rudely. But the one thing that’s barely in our political domain at all is Big Ag, is food and farming and health. I mean, if there’s one thing that’s making the daily life of the average American significantly worse, other than fatherlessness, it’s obesity. The rates of obesity and obesity-related complications in this country are on us every single day. If we ate better food and spent more time moving, and I’m not just talking about outside, I just mean physically moving, these are places where you can have public-private initiatives to come up with something that counters the Zoom job. If you’re on a Zoom job, there’s studies that show Indigenous people, people who are still largely living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, get about 15,000 steps a day. Think of how many Zoloft prescriptions you could get rid of if we change the norms both through political and cultural avenues so that the average person realizes it’s not just those 60-minute lame guidelines of physical activity that they told us when we were kids, Inez, but there are products in your life that say, “Okay, this isn’t just about this.”

 We realize now that we are sitting watching TV and we’re working at computers because the economy is different. Maybe offices give you little bikes under your desk. It sounds ridiculous, but we need to have human technology, humane technology. We’re not there yet. We’re almost to the point where we recognize that the technology has to be modified to be humane. When we hit that point, there’s a huge universe for the culture and for politics to come up with new things we haven’t even thought of.

Inez Stepman:

If you enjoy High Noon, please consider tuning in to Federalist Radio Hour, a daily podcast hosted by none other than one of my regular guests, Emily Jashinsky. The Federalist team of fearless journalists, including Mollie Hemingway, Eddie Scarry, and David Harsanyi, all join in the fun, breaking down politics and culture through interviews with politicians, entertainers, and thought leaders. It’s smart, irreverent, provocative, and on the cutting edge of American political thought. Emily interviews thinkers from the right, the center, and even the left. The show covers every topic imaginable from niches like data privacy and immigration to big picture issues like feminism. If you want to be part of the conversation, don’t miss Federalist Radio Hour available every weekday wherever you download your podcasts.

As always, I’m sort of in agreement with the way that you talk about hyper novelty in tech and also in disagreement with the central placing of it, because it really does strike me that there is something more existential at the base of this. That’s why I think I always point atomization. I think loneliness and atomization is definitely accelerated by tech. On the flip side, it’s also true, there’s a chicken and egg thing, where if we had stronger families and stronger communities, we could assimilate this kind of technology in a more humane way.

One of the reasons that we’re stuck hurtling towards this future that you describe as inhumane, which I think is rightly described as inhumane, is because there is something more primary broken. I don’t even think it’s just American culture or even western culture. I mean, I think we are working through some very philosophical level… Sorry, I think we’re kind of in the death throes of the Christian West. We are very rapidly approaching a post-Christian society, by which I do not mean at all, by the way, the longer term trend to towards the nones, N-O-N-E. But in a more broad-based way, we are in many ways reverting to some pre-Christian norms in culture except updated with tech.

I don’t know. I can’t get away from the idea that there is something more existential here happening that in fact, yes, technology drives us further and faster towards some of our own destruction, but that impulse is in us. The fundamental problem here is that prosperity breeds atomization, that a lot of these communities were not always pleasant to be a part of. There’s a short-term preference for individualism not just in the United States and not because of Thomas Jefferson. Across the world we see this as increasingly more and more societies basically get beyond scarcity.

This level of prosperity creates the ability for us to execute on something that we want very much in the short term and feels very good in the short term, and then creates a whole host of problems on the backend. I very much feel like our politics does not directly address this in any way. It is a political problem, because the people, especially in a country that purports to be a democracy, obviously this is going to change the population. It’s going to change the way we think about all of those issues, whether it’s Social Security or anything else. The fact that we needed Social Security because people were not able to rely on their families to avoid scarcity.

Now they don’t need to rely on their families or Social Security for the most part to avoid the kind of scarcity that people were the most terrified of, which is starving on the street. I don’t know. I tend to think there’s something bigger here with just… We have gotten so rich that we can give in to one of our worst human impulses, which is to not tolerate the short term negative consequences of human connection and then basically suffer from not having those connections on the backend. It’s very difficult to link up those two feelings, right?

Emily Jashinsky:

You can go throughout history and find civilizational decline. One thing I think probably is a mistake that I make sometimes is not clearly, in conversations about technology, framing it as though correctly technology is a fact of life. It’s not like there’s before-technology and after-technology. As long as humans are on the earth, what they’re creating and inventing is new forms of tech. It’s new technology that makes life easier, that makes life different. People can probably make arguments about what we would never consider tech brought down the Roman Empire and caused decline in other civilizations.

I think fundamentally, you’re absolutely right, it’s about our humanity, people being brought down by their humanity. I think you can make a chicken or egg argument there, but what worries me, and the reason that I always locate tech so centrally, is because if you are too sick and fat and addicted to your phone and to a screen to be able to think rationally about these things. It would be like if we had to make our personal and political decisions on a cigarette. You know what I mean? These are products that are designed to eat away at your ability to be a rational actor. They’re chemically engineering our food.

How many times have you heard, once you pop, you just can’t stop? That’s the Pringles thing. Well, they made it that way. You can’t really just do that with a blueberry. They have technology that has allowed them to make chips addictive beyond. That’s what worries me, and that’s why I always locate it centrally, is because we do get to a point where it’s Idiocracy to be like an Xer and reference one of their favorites. Even though it’s quaint when you look back on it now, but you lack the capacity for reason broadly as a population.

Not that individuals still can’t act reasonably and people can’t still find a way to be reasonable in their everyday lives, but there’s a lot of really frightening evidence about what food and phones in particular are doing to our decision-making capacity. And that’s why I locate it centrally. But I don’t think you’re wrong at all that fundamentally, we are always trying to overcome our humanity. To be human by being able to atomize and not having to deal with the connectiveness or the connections, and not having to eat as much or not having to have sex in monogamous relationship, whatever it is. We’re always trying to overcome our humanity.

Now, we’re facing, I think, more powerful forces. The chicken or the egg thing, I think ultimately comes down to problems with being human.

Inez Stepman:

The part of this question I was pointing to, the fragility and escalating mental health issues of Gen Z. I think we’re seeing the tail end, the failure of the therapeutic answers to these questions. Here, I’m thinking about this absolutely depressing tweet that went viral of somebody basically saying, “You should never ask your friends to help you move. Why would you impose that on your friends?” Obviously, that’s just one.

I mean, it’s not that important in itself, but I remember, and I cannot find, for the life of me, I was trying to find it, there was this New York Times article that went viral also, but this was maybe a year and a half ago, basically saying, when your friend is relying too much on you emotionally, how to tell them to basically screw off, how to set boundaries in your friendships. Obviously there’s something real in all of this, right?

Emily Jashinsky:

How to quiet quit a friendship.

Inez Stepman:

Right. There’s something real in all of this. There are people who are emotional vampires and drain you of a will to live, right?

Emily Jashinsky:

Very self-aware of you, Inez. Very self-aware.

Inez Stepman:

No, but I find it very depressing, this entire discourse around the way that it’s being framed as pathological in order… Any kind of dependence or emotional reliance on a relationship, whether that’s a romantic relationship or a friendship or a family relationship, any kind of actual connection is being framed as pathological or needy. Anyway, I was thinking about all of these questions as I was watching this stuff go viral, like, you can’t ask your friends to help you move. I mean, why not?

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s insane. I mean, moving is the most miserable thing in the world. The joy is bringing your friends into the misery.

Inez Stepman:

Look, I’m not saying everybody has to ask their friends to move, especially as you get older, people tend to hire movers, whatever. But the idea that it’s somehow an imposition or a horrible act as a friend to ask, “Hey, would you help me box up some stuff or move some boxes?” The idea that you can’t reach out to somebody who’s a friend to ask for anything without it being an imposition that is unwarranted by friendship I think is really depressing. I do think we’re seeing the conclusion of all of this therapeutic stuff. They’re basically telling people not to have deep relationships or rely on other people in the guise of therapeutic boundaries.

You are not a healthy psychological person if you have any reliance on other people. I just thought that was the eclipse, the tail end of all of this stuff that started out supposedly about discovering your true self and understanding your true emotions and your Freudian impulses or whatever has now come in the tail end of you have no right or it is a psychologically unhealthy impulse to rely on other people in any way. I just think that that’s kind of a very bizarre arc to this, but in some way very predictable.

Emily Jashinsky:

This is going to sound like a super bizarre transition, but it makes me think of Ozempic. I don’t know if you’ve been following the Ozempic controversy, but Ozempic, I believe it’s prescribed for serious cases of obesity and I think maybe diabetes, but thyroid…

Inez Stepman:

Was Ozempic prescribed to kids?

Emily Jashinsky:

Well, no. That might be a component of it, but what I’ve read is that rich women are getting Ozempic prescriptions in the same way that maybe they got benzos or something in the past. They’re able to, because they have good doctors and they talk to each other, go in and get a prescription for this miracle weight loss drug that apparently has some pretty potentially bad side effects or just unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects. But because women need that so badly… It’s not that women are so vain. I mean, I think that’s been an easy take that a lot of people have run with.

It’s that actually a lot of women, if they’re not clinically obese, probably want to lose 15, 20 pounds for good reason because we’re so sedentary. It’s causing people a lot of issues because it just reminds me of Zoloft. It reminds me of Prozac. We’re dealing with these issues in the same way that we’ve dealt with friendship by Facebook. We’re dealing with these issues with synthetic band-aids. I feel like you’re right, that we’re becoming self-aware about that impulse, that we’re starting to realize. I mean, if you just look at what the most popular podcast in the world talks about, and I’m talking about Joe Rogan, his subject matter all the time is pro-human.

How can I feel healthy and happy as a human being without popping pills or scrolling social media? I think that’s a really positive thing and totally confirms what you were just theorizing, that we’re shifting from this talk your way out of it with a stranger, you take a pill, use Facebook, whatever it is. I feel like we’re becoming aware that that’s likely not healthy.

Inez Stepman:

Well, I can’t let you go without asking you about something that I find psychologically damaging to look at, and that’s the MLK Memorial in the Boston Commons.

Emily Jashinsky:

I was in Boston this weekend. I didn’t get to see it in person, but there was a stack of local papers that had a big picture of the statue on them that absolutely nobody was taking or touching, and I thought that was hilarious. Nobody wanted to commemorate the unveiling of the beautiful statue.

Inez Stepman:

For people who haven’t seen this, it’s called The Embrace. It’s just these disembodied hands. I mean, it’s based off of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, the famous photo of them hugging, which is such a human moment that has been turned into this completely inhuman structure, which from some angles absolutely looks pornographic. It just hurts my brain. It hurts my brain to look at it. My brain is trying to fit it to make it actually make sense and it doesn’t from most angles. But it seems like there was this very vigorous outcry against this, not only from the chattering classes, although there is a great piece in Compact Magazine by, I think…

What was his name? I’ll look it up. He’s a relative of Coretta Scott King’s on I think the Scott side, and he was talking about the proud history of that family and how this is an insult to his family to have this memorial. But I mean, it certainly engendered a lot of controversy and pushback. I guess, one, what do you think about this statue? Just give me your straight-up thoughts on it. But then also, what does it say about us? One, public art always says something about us. This is installed in a public place. It’s mostly privately funded, but it’s installed in a prominent public place.

I would call it public art for that reason. What does it say about us? Put it in context to the fact that we’re tearing down so many of our previous public art and replacing it with this.

Emily Jashinsky:

It’s really painful. I just looked up the Compact Magazine piece. It’s called “A Masturbatory ‘Homage’ To My Family,” and homage is in quotes. The author is Seneca Scott. I’m eager to read that because it sounds excellent, and it actually mirrors the perspective of some of our favorite podcasters who were like, “Well, this is actually perfect, because that’s what post-modernity is, is a giant circle jerk.”

Inez Stepman:

It is what this thing looks like. If you had put that as the title, I would not question it.

Emily Jashinsky:

I mean, there’s so much to talk about here, and I don’t know what the Compact Magazine piece gets into. I’m curious, because one of the things that I think is how bizarre it is to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s public contributions. I know that people pick at Martin Luther King, Jr. for some really good and interesting reasons. I think what he means to most Americans is what he said in the I Have a Dream speech, and that is a lovely, just quintessentially American borderline perfect speech. If I’m correct that that’s what he means to most Americans, I think that’s wonderful.

But his marriage is not one of the things that I would honor, because it’s not one of the things that he historically honored, thanks to the good work of J. Edgar Hoover. I’m kidding, of course, when I say good work. It was terrible work. But nonetheless, it seems to have a pretty good indication. It’s like we’re just totally in this muddle where we’re honoring Martin Luther King for the weirdest reason, because this is supposed to be an embrace after he won or accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. I get that nobody knows this picture. It’s not iconic enough at all to warrant a sculpture. Second of all, it’s just a weird, weird thing to latch onto when it comes to Martin Luther King Jr. to the point of being nonsensical.

And it is public art. What’s so jarring about looking at it is that from one of the angles I saw, what you see in the background are the beautiful streets across the street from the Boston Commons where you have some really old, gorgeous early American architecture. And granted there’s some modern buildings in between, but just beauty. It’s in the shadow now or what’s in its shadow is something that probably even adjusted for inflation costs way more. It’s just arms. If you’re going to remove the head and the body, there’s just no reason for doing it in this case ostensibly to the average consumer of that piece of art.

If you’re going to say what I want the person to focus on is the form of the embrace, you’re losing the rest of their figure. I mean, it makes no sense. I mean, it does make sense to the extent that it is just masturbatory, that it is a nonsensical act of post-modern masturbation that contributes nothing other than an homage to our civilizational decline. You know that in this case, that’s not hyperbole because everyone from like NPR to other liberals are upset about it.

Inez Stepman:

There’s a similar, well, not quite as bad, because it doesn’t look like a penis, but there’s a similar… They just completed a monument to the slaves that built UVA, which on the face of it, I think it would be a good thing to build a monument. UVA, for those who don’t know, was started Thomas Jefferson. My law school alma mater. This is the main campus, by the way, not the law school campus where this thing can be found. But the main campus is constructed on basically principles of architecture and beauty that were put into place by Thomas Jefferson in Monticello. It’s a beautiful campus, absolutely beautiful, and was largely constructed, as it turns out, by slaves.

It would’ve been wonderful to put a monument up if you actually learned something about the people who constructed this beautiful campus. But the contrast was almost insulting, I felt like, to the people who had built this beautiful campus. Instead, it’s just this circlet in the ground that looks like… I don’t know, it looks like just a piece of the ground has been burned away in UVA. You can look it up. Even the promo pictures of it are just hideous, right? It’s very difficult to feel in any way respectful or uplifted looking at it.

I don’t know what their point with that was, other than I guess if they wanted to highlight the fact that the enslaved craftsmen who built UVA were much more talented than the modernists who were being paid millions of dollars to construct this memorial, then I guess the point was well made. But the deeper point I wanted to respond, because I think you touched on something that is really important, which is like actually this debate over Martin Luther King… You’re right. Every Martin Luther King Day we have this debate. I mentioned David Azerrad earlier. He wrote a piece basically saying no.

Not only did Martin Luther King Jr. subscribe to certain socialist programs that’s trotted out every year by both the right and the left. The left says Martin Luther King was a socialist. We need to follow his dream and be socialist. And the right says Martin Luther King was a socialist. That’s bad. But David points out some other things that in various writings and speeches, he does foreshadow a lot of the more modern identity politics. The idea that disparities need to be rectified with further discrimination. Things that really do undermine, at least somehow, are the sentiments of the speech you’re referencing in some of his more famous speeches, or at least our intention with the ideas in those speeches.

But I think you made a really important point, which is we honor people for a specific contribution. This is something the left has been wholly unable to understand with regard to our heroes, well, Woody Allen for sure, but the heroes of the American past. Nobody has built a statue for Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves. That is a fact about his life. We can read about it. We can place it in context of the time, and we can condemn it. But that’s not why anyone has built a statue of Thomas Jefferson. We honor people with public honor for a specific purpose. Sometimes for a particularly great man, there may be a list of purposes that we’re honoring him for.

But I think you really touched on something important there when you said that’s not why we build statues, hopefully better ones, to Martin Luther King. We build those statues because of the idea that he introduced in those speeches that does really accord with the American dream, that did provide a way forward for tumultuous race relations in this country. And that was an incredible accomplishment, and for that we honor him. We don’t honor him because he cheated on his wives. We don’t honor him because of some of his other radical political views. We honor him for that contribution, and that’s the purpose of this public honor.

Emily Jashinsky:

Right. Instead of now, we’re just in this period where nothing has meaning because the meaning is always being challenged and muddied by the left that refuses to accept the grounds of objectivity to the point that it’s not interesting anymore. Nothing is interesting if everything is the same. If they commissioned a $10 million piece of art and get private funding for it in Boston to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., you should probably put some work into making sure it comes out all right. If you look at the patron system that’s always existed for artists, there was a lot of just this idea that all art must be nonsensically abstract.

It’s so, I was going to say modern, but so post-modern. We do it in so many different areas of life now, that instead of asking what does the statue convey, it’s just like, so what? It’s going to convey something different to everyone. And that’s not an acceptable answer. It’s not an acceptable use of precious public land like that of the Boston Commons and precious resources. We’ve lost all concept of what is human, what moves most people, what grabs the eyes of most people, what inspires most people, what’s beautiful to most people. I sound like Azerrad now, but what is beauty? What is good?

Obviously, there are so many deeper problems in our civilization where you can’t define good because truth is relative. And that, to me, I always see that as something that was induced by technology to the mainstream position that it is now around the turn of the century. Nietzsche was a big part of that. It sort of went from there. We’re so far gone that nothing makes sense anymore, and people are dying for it to make sense, desperate for it to make sense. If there’s a happy final note to sound, it’s that I think you really are right, that we are gradually becoming self-aware in a good way to the fact that we’re being poisoned by anti-human ideas.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more that if no one qualifies for honor and there is no truth, then everyone just honors themselves. Perhaps that’s the true message of this Embrace is this circular self-honorific that verges into the masturbatory.

Emily Jashinsky:

It’s so perfect. It’s so perfect.

Inez Stepman:

With that sum up, Emily Jashinsky, thank you for joining me for yet another episode of High Noon After Dark. We love having you. It was so much fun. You can find all of the things that Emily does either with IWF where she’s a senior fellow, as I said, at The Federalist where she’s the culture editor and writes frequently, or at CounterPoints where she does a show with Ryan Grim, and then I have to deprogram her from being a Marxist afterwards.

Emily Jashinsky:

Where’s the Marxism?

Inez Stepman:

With that, thank you so much to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments or questions to [email protected] 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. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.