Steve Sailer and Matthew Yglesias wrote a couple of seemingly un-related posts last week that are actually interesting together.

Yglesias says:

This has become one of my refrains when talking to people in person. If you’re a progressive and you feel that the political system isn’t doing what you want, it’s misguided to look at this as a personal failure of elected officials. It’s, if anything, a personal failure of you and people like you. Justice and equality doesn’t just happen because it’s nice, people need to make it happen. If it’s not happening, then its advocates are failing. . . .

Be personally annoying about your political views when they’re relevant to your interactions in everyday life. I, being a jerk, will absolutely not allow someone to make a remark about the high prices, crowding, and mediocrity of DC bars without subjecting them to a discourse about the DC liquor licensing regime. Lots of people who think they’re not interesting in the DC liquor licensing regime are interested in its consequences. If you are in a car with me and we’re in a rush hour traffic jam, you are damn well going to listen to me talk about congestion pricing.

Sailer writes:

I am widely considered to be an extremely not nice person because I don’t believe that public intellectual discourse should be hamstrung by those virtues appropriate for an eighth grader approaching her bat mitzvah. I’m not in eighth grade anymore.

Now, in person, as those few of my readers who have met me can attest, I am the perpetual extremely nice eighth grader. But, I don’t really meet with people much in person anymore because it seems like a waste of everybody’s time. I have a goal — helping my fellow citizens understand better how the world works — and I have a talent — demolishing cant. My personal niceness tends to get in the way of my helping my country.

Setting aside the fact that Matt’s first paragraph is pretty fucking creepy – if you pause to think about it – Sailer and Yglesias are saying almost completely opposite things.

In person, Matt says he would be an asshole and Sailer says he’d be a nice guy. When they write, Sailer says he’ll tell the truth even if it hurts your feelings, while Yglesias will be studiously politically correct (almost by definition at this point).

This – more or less – mirrors the my real world experiences with reactionaries and progressives.

3 Responses to Niceness

  1. Anonymous says:

    Surely this is related to the fact that it is trendy to be radically progressive and politically informed in Yglesias’ milieu. He may go overboard on some people but it’s hardly going to result in ostracization like going on about reactionary politics will. The game is fixed in favor of the progressives who can be as bold as they want, whereas reactionaries have to be cowed and apologetic, at least away from the blogosphere.

  2. Handle says:

    I love Yglesias’ implied logic of his political mechanism here.

    1. Enlightened politicians want to enact some smart and good reform policy, but that ignorant-even-of-what’s-best-for-them voting population would react by throwing them out of office, and we can’t blame these leaders for cowering to that public pressure because we agree that staying in power by any means necessary is hugely important. On the other hand, we celebrated those Democrats who fell on their swords to get unpopular Obamacare passed and would have justifiably blamed them for cowering in that instance. Ignore the contradiction.

    2. Those politicians don’t themselves have the mysterious magical means to enlighten the public and change their views on this matter. They could put up the policy case on their website for free, but, let’s be honest, people aren’t going to read that stuff. And even if they did, they wouldn’t grasp the subtle connections of causation like we do. Anyway, presenting a rational argument of logic and evidence is not actually how most people are persuaded to want anything specific, and general political principles and beliefs are mostly socially acquired and difficult to change. Politicians clearly need help and crafty influential allies. We’re all on the same big Team Left over here – call it the “Blue Complex”

    3. A small Vanguard of highly motivated and skilled public-opinion manipulators can, through their personal interactions, can through awkward, overpowering, aggravating annoyance of captive social audiences both help people see the complex origins of the defects in the system and motivate them to support the reform. And without just creating the impressions that we’re politics-obsessed abrasive assholes! Maybe. Of course, the number of such interactions of the original cadre being too small to matter, one needs a certain viral infection chain-annoyance mechanism to operate – and everybody can annoy everybody else to death until that magic 51% is achieved.

    If that’s an accurate portrayal of how the game actually works, or even if it’s only how people think it works such that they act on these beliefs – then that by itself is the greatest popular argument against modern democracy I’ve ever heard. “Abandon this nonsense or Yglesias and crew will perpetually annoy you about obscure policy to the very edge of insanity.”

    A veritable vision of Hell on Earth. Life will be better after politics.

  3. Chris Anderson says:

    It’s fairly obvious to anyone who reads both, as I do, that Matt and Steve read each other’s blogs. Steve acknowledegs that and comments there fairly frequently. Matt hasn’t acknowledged it in years and I’ve never seen him comment with his own name. Goes to the thesis, I think.

    I know which one I would rather have a beer with, regardless of politics.

    As an aside, John Derbyshire can be really pungent in print but strikes me as the kind of guy who would make the perfect next-door neighbor.

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