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.
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.”
A brief polemic against widespread artifact repatriation.
Museums, especially large institutions in wealthy, stable Western countries, are bastions of cultural exploration, education, and fascination. They inspire awe in the minds of millions of visitors each year, transporting them back in time and across the full breadth of the world. These wonderful institutions hold a special place in my heart, as they are one of the factors that got me interested in history in the first place. I distinctly recall gazing in wonderment as a child at art and relics from the past, hoping to gain a glimpse into a far off time and place. Just by visiting a major museum, I could travel to ancient Rome, Ming China, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Medieval Europe. I could see cultural artifacts from regions as far afield as Africa and Southeast Asia, or explore the heritage of American Natives. I could view beautiful art from 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, or 20 years ago. All of this could be accomplished in an afternoon.
Now, there has been a major push to denude these museums of their globally-sourced artifacts in order to right supposed past wrongs. Activists and governments want Western museums to return foreign relics, regardless of whether those exhibits were acquired fairly. This is a profoundly wrongheaded move that will only hamper cultural exchange and knowledge, reduce the salience and usefulness of physical museums, and undermine the ability of people to understand our shared human past.
A broadside against the climate-fueled nihilism of Gen Z.
The kids aren’t alright.
Young Americans, especially those labeled as being part of ‘Gen Z’ (born between 1995 and 2010, give or take a year), are in the throes of a mental health crisis. Self-reported depression and anxiety have spiked, suicidality has increased significantly, and a larger portion of these young people, as compared to older generations, have had interactions with mental health practitioners. Both statistics and anecdotal evidence from clinicians prove this point. Causes have varied widely, from the easily understood to the more socially complex. On the former front, the government reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc on youth mental health. Lockdowns, remote schooling, social alienation, and masking have all interrupted the regular life cycle of the American adolescent and have caused serious, documented harm to vast portions of Gen Z (and many others). On the more complex side of the ledger, ubiquitous social media and smartphone technology have arguably made major negative impacts. The constant quest for social approval, ease of presenting a false portrait of perfection, and algorithmic manipulation of emotions all play a part in exerting a malign influence on American youth.
Another, more contentious, potential cause for Gen Z’s mental breakdown is a relatively new phenomenon: climate anxiety. A major survey conducted by Nature shows that nearly 60% of Gen Z across the world is either ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’ about climate change; a full 45% of those surveyed said that this anxiety impacts their daily lives in a negative manner. This is highly concerning – and not only because the level of anxiety is not at all commensurate with the level of threat, regardless of what radical activists claim. It is primarily concerning because it is breeding a nihilistic attitude among young people, exacerbating their existing mental health issues. A puff piece supporting this nihilism was published recently in Fortune (archive link here), and reader, it made me mad.
Antisemitism has been in the news lately after the antics of Kanye West and Kyrie Irving pushed these hateful messages to massive audiences. We’ve heard these anti-Jewish sentiments condemned as awful and despicable, but a deeper examination is necessary. What really is antisemitism and why does it matter? How has it evolved and shifted throughout history? How does it operate as a conspiracy theory, and why has it been so prevalent for so long? Is anti-Zionism antisemitism? How do different communities espouse these similarly prejudiced beliefs? And, most importantly, what should we do to confront these noxious ideas?
All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of the Rational Policy podcast. If you want to understand antisemitism so as to best rebut it, this is the show for you.