The democratization of outrage via social media has overturned the historical relationship between media and audience, allowing us to indulge in our worst instincts.
Rage is an emotion buried deep within the human character; it is omnipresent, contributing to wars, murders, arguments, jealousies, and assaults since time immemorial. Anger can drive humans to incredible feats of courage, honor, and justice just as easily as it can power unparalleled atrocities and destruction – sometimes in pursuit of the very same hatred. Wrath, a feeling which is quite uncomfortable for most people, can – paradoxically – be addictive.
The confluence of interest and outrage has been exploited by powerful actors for centuries. Christians, slaves, prisoners, and other dissidents were publicly executed to the cheers of baying Roman crowds; itinerant preachers pressed Crusades on an ever-willing public with tales of woe betide Christians in the Holy Land; increasingly absurd antisemitic lies were lapped up by peasants across Europe and used to justify expulsions and pogroms; the list goes on and on. Since the advent of print media, the addictiveness of outrage has been of prime benefit to the press. Newspapers helped drive the American and French Revolutions, publishing polemics against government policy and promoting a robust disputation of ideas about politics. Radical abolitionist papers pushed Americans to deal with the reality of slavery and the moral and economic arguments against it, often through the stoking of righteous indignation.
Happy New Year! January 2023 has been replete with interesting stories in the world of international affairs. We’ve seen an absurd overreaction to the new Israeli government, political rioting from left and right in Peru and Brazil, and utter chaos in Mexico driven by cartel violence. In this Foreign Telegram, we discuss all three – recapping recent events, discussing the history behind the headlines, analyzing their impact, and explaining why they matter. Strap in for a whirlwind tour around the world of foreign policy in January 2023!
The trial balloon of banning gas stoves is just another example of the progressive quest to eliminate risk from American society.
The political world has been in an uproar over the past week on account of a somewhat random topic: gas stoves. This whole news cycle revolved around the idea – mooted by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. – of banning gas stoves due to their alleged harmful impact on health and indoor air quality. (I say alleged because the studies being cited are not at all solid.) Trumka, son of the famed union boss of the same name, stated regarding gas ranges that “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” Progressives rushed to the proposal’s defense, claiming that these newly-studied health risks are only part of the problem – gas stoves are also terrible for climate change. Several cities, including New York, have banned gas hookups in new buildings entirely, stopping the promulgation not only of gas-powered stoves, but also of gas heating and water boiling.
But more than anything it says about the media, progressive talking points, or the decline of scientific rigor, this whole gas stove brouhaha captures a major aspect of modern progressivism that is inherently un-American: the urge to guarantee “safety.”
When divided government spells legislative gridlock, the Congress still has a critical role to play: oversight.
For once, Congress has retaken its rightful place at the center of the American political world. It has been the talk of Washington recently, displacing even the President as the focus of attention. Unfortunately, it has seen a return to the spotlight not due to some revival of traditional constitutional thought, but instead because it has been an utter circus for the past few weeks.
The election of the Speaker of the House – in the modern era, usually a rote exercise which is decided well in advance of the first ballot – took 15 rounds of voting and dragged out over several days. After this unusually-long process, California Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy was finally elected to lead the lower house of Congress. For nearly a week, the floor of the House resounded with cajoling, negotiating, persuading, conspiring, and arguing. In short, it sounded like a legislature should: fractious, cacophonous, lively. But instead of hearing those proper legislative noises during a floor debate on a serious policy topic, we heard it in relation to internal party infighting and procedural moves. Was the extended election a national security issue, as some claimed? No, but it was embarrassing that the House only got its debate on for such a parochial partisan affair.
Still, the fact that Congress sucked up so much media oxygen during the Speaker fight shows that the Article I branch has at least some political cachet remaining. Despite the divided nature of government – the Republicans tenuously hold the House, while the Democrats tenuously hold the Senate and White House – Congress still has an incredibly important non-legislative role to play: that of oversight. Will the Republican-led House of Representatives embrace that critical responsibility, or will they waste their time and political capital on fruitless investigations into Hunter Biden, social media companies, and woke corporations?
Adversaries of American foreign policy deliberately muddy the distinction between cause and effect to promulgate their isolationist ideology, bolstering and excusing our authoritarian foes in the process.
The Greek thinker Aristotle, one of the leading lights of the ancient world, was a ‘renaissance man’ thousands of years before the term was coined. His polymathic abilities ranged from biology to ethics to political science to philosophy. In his musings on theology, Aristotle coined one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God, using the fact that all effects have a cause to posit an original cause which itself had no precursors. This ‘unmoved mover’ was the deity (or deities) which created the universe in which we live; it is the cause of all other causes, and all effects could eventually be traced back to its divine spark. The ‘unmoved mover’ argument has been used by theologians in their treatises, philosophy professors in their classrooms, and college students in their late-night, alcohol-fueled discussions. (Not to speak from experience, or anything.)
Aristotle’s argument has resounded through the ages and influences a wide variety of fields and intellectual debates, even when it is not acknowledged as doing such. The idea of an underlying cause which animates the world and all events in it is a powerful one, and can be found just as commonly in malign conspiracy theories as in benign organized religion. In the realm of foreign policy, the proponents of the ‘unmoved mover’ argument are far closer to the former than the latter.