An anti-reaction FAQ

I’ve previously defend Scott Alexander’s missives on reaction. However, his latest isn’t up to the level of his old stuff.

The crux of his argument is that, “It is a staple of Reactionary thought that everything is getting gradually worse.” He then goes on to show that not everything is getting worse.

In his previous writings on reaction, Mr Alexander has faithfully described the view of most reactionaries. The problem with his latest piece is that he doesn’t. It is not a staple of reactionary thought that everything is getting worse. To the contrary, I’ve never read that argument from any reactionary anywhere.

(As I’ve previously written I think most of us work in fields where advancement is quite obvious. Our frustration is that while we see progress in some areas virtually every day, nothing outside of these limited areas seems to be getting any better. Instead it all seems to be decaying – a process which itself is hardly a historical novelty).

Let’s correct his statement: It is a staple of Reactionary thought that massive improvements in technology have been very effective in masking massive declines in virtually all other aspects of society.

His first example is crime, and it’s a great one to illustrate my point.

Go look at his charts on crime. What you’ll generally see is a massive decline in crime (in civilized countries) that lasts for centuries and then reverses around 1950, increases for 50 years and then resumes decreasing in the 1990s or 2000s.

The non-Reactionary view of this is: “look how much better things have gotten in the last two decades,” or “our murder rate is now lower than it’s been since the 1950s.”

The Reactionary view is: “what the fsck was happening in ’50s,” or “is comparing homicide rates across these time periods really comparing apples to apples?”

Let’s say homicides were at their lowest sometime between 1920 and 1950. Quite a few things happened between now and then that should make homicides much lower. These factors include advances in medicine, advances in surveillance equipment, more people behind bars, advances in personal safety products, etc.

To compare the ’20s and the ’90s as if everything else was equal is a bit like comparing architecture pre and post the invention of concrete or steel and conclude by marveling at how superior the post era buildings are to the pre era buildings. The only thing you’ve revealed is your own bias.

The real thing to marvel at is not that we’ve somehow equalled the crime rate of the ’30s, but that with huge advances in technology and medicine we still can’t improve on the homicide rates that our grandparents achieved.

Other examples abound. What would previous generations of statesmen have done with the internet, modern communication technology, etc.? What have we done? Is there any reasonable argument that the governing process has improved at all in the last century? Is there any reasonable argument that the “statesmen” of today are superior to those of previous generations?

Certain technological advances make debts much easier to collect, track, and extend. Can that really be the only source of growth in economies? For how long?

The key insight is that things have improved in a lot of areas. These improvements are so massive that it’s really quite shocking that they haven’t spilled over into other areas (again, it’s just shocking that advances in medical technology haven’t by themselves massively lowered the homicide rate, or – as I suspect – if they have, it’s really shocking that today’s rate isn’t much lower than the rate from any previous era). In other words, given the technological advancements of the last 50 or 60 years, a lot of things should be a lot better. Why aren’t they? The only answer seems to be that a lot of other things have gotten much worse?

Far from arguing that everything is getting worse, the real question is how much longer advances in technology can mask declines in virtually all other areas of life?

85 Responses to An anti-reaction FAQ

  1. Erik says:

    I’m aghast at the description of reactionaries as utopian. Utopianism of all sorts worries me terribly. My argument for why things could be made to work better isn’t that I have a plan for making them perfect, but that I have an observation of them working better under other circumstances.

    • Foseti says:

      Yeah. I agree. We call ourselves the Dark Enlightenment, for Christ’s sake

      • Toddy Cat says:

        I gave up on this guy when I found out that his example of a reactionary society was…. North Korea. No kidding! I mean, if there’s one thing that reactionaries hate with a passion, it’s Communism, and this guy thinks that the Norks are an exemplar of what reactionaies want? To me, this either constitutes either ignorance or bad faith, and I don’t have time for either. I personally do not consider myself a reactionary, and I have some real problems with some neoreactionary ideas (Noecameralism, etc>). But hold up the DPRK as a reactionary paradise isn’t going to cut it, pal.

    • The “utopian” dig was intentional – I’m aware that Reactionaries want to think of themselves as non-utopian, I just don’t think that squares with their desire to radically transform society in a way that they claim will solve all our current problems.

      The North Korea reference is 2.3.2. It’s not especially interesting what different regimes want to *call* themselves. Any old dictator can claim to be a king, just as any old dictator can claim to be “working for the good of the people”. The point isn’t what the propaganda says, it’s who has the actual power on the ground. I think that’s a suitably formalist way of looking at things, in the Moldbuggian sense of formalism, and by that criteria North Korea is not at all “populist” but extremely monarchical.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        From wiki on Kim Jong-un:

        At Kim Jong-il’s memorial service, North Korean Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-nam declared that “Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un is our party, military and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage”

        His legitimacy comes from the fact that he is the supreme leftist. If that announcement said that he was the leader because he was the legitimate son of the legitimate leader then things would be different.

        It’s a coordination problem. You make public announcements so people listen to them. When the publicly announced reason for Kim Jung-un to take power is that he inherited his father’s ideology – not that he inherited his authority – then he’s vulnerable to someone who claims that he instead is the legitimate heir to Kim Jong-il’s ideology so he has to act in a manner consistent with the claim he has to power.

        Nothing super fancy about his claim to power other than that’s what his police and military believe that all the other members of the police and military believe is who you should obey. As a result they stay united and no usurper can take power.

        If he gradually moved away from announcing that his legitimacy flows from the fact that he is the perfect communist he could gradually act less like a communist but he would have to claim an alternative source of legitimacy and he would have to credibly claim it.

        The day he or his descendants do that is the day that North Korea becomes a reactionary state and not a demotic one.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        The point isn’t what the propaganda says, it’s who has the actual power on the ground.

        Shorter version – what the propaganda says is very important because it allows coordination between actors.

        The content of the propaganda doesn’t matter for holding power but that propaganda constrains the actions of the person with power into acting consistently with the propaganda.

      • SMERSH says:

        “The “utopian” dig was intentional – I’m aware that Reactionaries want to think of themselves as non-utopian, I just don’t think that squares with their desire to radically transform society in a way that they claim will solve all our current problems.”

        They only want to change some societies…

        Foseti said:

        “Do you know what a reactionary Switzerland looks like? It looks like Switzerland. You can actually visit it right now. It’ll be a nice trip – the reaction has nice airports. Do you know what a reactionary Sweden looks like, it looks like Sweden with less immigration (more (central) Stockholm than Malmo). As they say, if it ain’t broke . . .”

      • Toddy Cat says:

        With all due respect, Sir, bulls**t. North Korea is in no way Formalist, and I submit that you know it. I don’t believe in Neocameralism myself, but you’re going to have to do better than that. Now pardon me while I prepare my draft of an essay explaining how Franco’s Spain was actually the best representative of a Progressive society

  2. As technology improves both offense and defense I don’t understand why you would expect tech progress to necessarily lower homicide rates if everything else were kept constant. The analogy would be that buildings would not be getting more earthquake resistant if mother nature were sentient and used improved tech to create more powerful earthquakes.

    • Foseti says:

      Medicine and surveillance technology really only work in one way

    • SMERSH says:

      The technological improvement for offensive weaponry available to citizens has been quite limited.

      Rifles don’t make up a very significant percentage of the murder statistics and the advances in hand gun technology over the relevant time period have been very small.

      The Colt .45 (adopted in 1911) is still perfectly adequate for murdering people, when compared with modern handguns. The technology is almost identical, the only thing that might improve the effectiveness is that they made the magazine a bit larger.

      And the Thompson SMG entered production in 1921 and was available for sale to private citizens, by mail and from hardware stores. It was an entirely adequate sub machine gun for murdering people. Again, the mechanical differences between the Thompson and modern SMGs are not really relevant to murdering people. Modern SMGs are also difficult or impossible to acquire legally, depending on your jurisdiction.

      There have been significant advances in Assault Rifles, but they’re not relevant to the murder stats as they’re ill suited for general use in crime.

      Technology available to civilians for murdering purposes has arguably decreased, since full auto weapons are less available because of certain gun laws.

      No, it’s pretty clear that defensive technology has improved (medicine) while offensive technology has remained the same.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Was murder by submachinegun statistically significant back in the 1920’s? I mean, it got a lot of press, what with Al Capone and all, but how many people were actually killed by automatic weapons? I don’t onow, but I’d bet that the number was under 5%.

      • SMERSH says:

        I agree, not significant.

        I should have left that point out as it is just a pointless historical detail.

        The main point I was trying to make is that firearms technology hasn’t really improved in a way that would cause a significant rise in the murder stats. Handguns and shotguns haven’t changed much and they’ve been perfectly adequate for murder all along.

        But as we’ve discussed many times, medicine has gotten a lot better at treating gunshot victims.

    • Jehu says:

      James, the lethality of aggravated assault—essentially, the conversion ratio of wounds to kills, has fallen very significantly since the 1950s. This is due to improvements in trauma medicine and things like life flights and the like. I’ve written about this in my own blog a few times. There are similar improvements in reducing the lethality of accidents, and even suicide attempts. Unfortunately, there is also serious evidence of an increase in ‘cooking the books’ on crime stats post 2000. This makes comparisons between decades more problematic than it should be.

      • But criminals trying to commit murder likely take this into account.

      • Jehu says:

        Not as much as you might think. Certain spree killers yes (one of the recent mass shootings the killer used a ton of bullets on each person he killed). Bona fide assasins, certainly. But a lot of murder is perpetrated by screw ups, against other screw ups, and in a screwed-up fashion. Back in the 60s a bullet or two generally got the job done. Now it takes more effort. You might enjoy that article on my blog. Just search there for ‘trauma’ and it should come up.

  3. josh says:

    The murder has fallen because of technological advancements like ‘not leaving the house’ and ‘paying black people to stay put where we don’t have to interact with them’.

    • Foseti says:

      I’m not sure I’d go that far. It’s hard to argue segregation has increased that much, and most murder is still one person on another person of the same race. However, I think some technology (eg video games) probably have reduced rates some by keeping people inside and otherwise occupied.

  4. jamzw says:

    Advances in technology don’t only mask declines in all areas of life, they make decline sustainable. No good deed goes unpunished.

    A Frenchman first observed a few centuries back that all life is advancing and decaying at the same time.

  5. Steve Johnson says:

    What bothered me most about the FAQ is that the same sophistication about data that he uses to parse the “female sexual promiscuity is correlated with an increased risk of divorce” is nowhere to be found on the rest of the FAQ.

    That section he’s all about noticing confounding factors and especially noting the impact of technology (the pill). Elsewhere the raw numbers are proof that everything is hunky dory.

    So I guess progressivism is responsible for all the good parts of technological advance but the negative effects of technological advance are due to technology.

  6. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Unfortunately, reactionaries seem to disagree on everything so its unsurprising that by addressing Michael Annisimov, Scott has failed to specifically address your brand of reaction.

    Regarding crime, even if it were true that violent crime is increasing that seems like an argument against urbanization rather than “progressivism”.

    More generally, could you list some areas in which society has declined?

    • Foseti says:

      Crime Debt Sexual relations Family formation Independence Freedom of speech Religious adherence Quality of governance Industriousness (really pretty much everything Charles Murray wrote about) Detroitification of various cities and portions of nearly every city Foreign policy

      I could probably keep going

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Crime and debt are apparently controversial.

        Family formation – you mean the percentage of people who get married and have children? Why is this an intrinsic good?

        Quality of governance: question begging, I want to know _why_ you think that governance has deteriorated.

        Industriousness: what do you mean by this? People working less hours? Or is it more subtle than that?

        Detriotification: sounds like an argument against urbanization not progressivism.

        Foreign policy: More details please: the decreases in violent conflicts between states leads me to suspect that foreign policy has in fact improved.

      • josh says:

        The was urbanization before Detroitification. Detroitification is the result of progressive social engineering of the urban environment and psychological warfare (and proxy physical warfare) on its inhabitants.

        US and its satelites foreign policy appears to be mostly having people murder each other for our amusement. That and trying to make foreign peoples dependent on green pieces of paper.

        Re: the family. Are you an alien?

    • Foseti says:

      It’s easier to name things that have actually gotten better

      Communication devices Medicine Consumer electronics Craft brewing and distilling

      I’m out.

    • josh says:

      Women are less feminine.

    • rightsaidfred says:

      There is declining membership in civic groups: Jaycees, Rotary, Kiwanis, bowling leagues, etc. The Girl Scouts were big in my area, now they have about consolidated into oblivion. We used to latch our car hoods from the outside. Ditto the gas cap. Our door locks are heavier, and there are more of them. It is kind of depressing to see more fences around storage areas, and the fences are becoming more severe. Waiver and indemnifying forms are more prevalent. Playground equipment and games are more and more banal. This is just a start.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        On door locks: this seems neutral to me.

        Declining membership: why is this a bad thing? Someone hundreds of years ago might have lamented the decline of archery and fencing. We have different hobbies. So what? Why is this bad for society?

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        On indemnifying forms. Yeah the legal system is a mess. I don’t know much about this topic. Sort of tangential to the progressivism issue though, unless I’m missing something. Could a different political system disentangle the legal system?

      • Red says:

        ” Could a different political system disentangle the legal system?”
        Most sensible systems of governance simplifies and clears out the legal system every 100 years or so. Progressive democracy makes this impossible.

        “On door locks: this seems neutral to me.”
        In Israel they often have 5-10 locks on their doors and their houses are put together like fortresses to prevent attacks. Same thing in Latin america. Lots of locks is an indication of a society under siege. Our method of dealing with this siege is mostly living far away from the raiders and drive around in big SUVs making it harder to harm us.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:


        Interesting points, thanks.

      • peppermint says:

        the purpose of law is to prevent conflict by making interactions between people predictable.

        today we have all kinds antinomian laws that randomly award payouts. justice now does not mean justice but social justice.

        the result is endless lawsuits and pseudo-legal texts to try to influence the outcome of those lawsuits.

        tort reform is not an answer, because the number of lawsuits is a symptom.

        as for locks, people need to pay a lot more for security now that the police have given up on investigating burglary and people who shoot burglars can get their pants sued off by the burglars in many jurisdictions.

      • rightsaidfred says:

        Someone hundreds of years ago might have lamented the decline of archery and fencing. We have different hobbies. So what? Why is this bad for society?

        I don’t bemoan the reduction of archery and fencing because people moved on to rifles and handguns — a marked upgrade.

        But the girl scouts did not move on to space camp; bowlers did not move on to philosophy club. Retreating into passive amusement marks a decline.

  7. josh says:

    Everyone dresses terribly. There is no such thing as a town. People don’t know their neighbors. Teenagers think the concept of chastity is hilarious. Women can’t cook.

    • tteclod says:

      Women can’t cook bears repeating.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Decline of towns and sense of community between neighbors: again an argument against urbanization.

      Women can’t cook: Alright I’ll concede this, but its hardly a pressing societal concern. I do wish more people knew how to cook. People would be much healthier and I think happier. Also why the emphasis on women? Cooking is a universal part of some cultures (especially Asian cultures).

      I’m not going to get into a debate over chastity, but this is obviously controversial.

      • Red says:

        Women not cooking has lead directly to everyone being to fscking fat because we’re eating out all the time.

      • josh says:

        It’s an argument against *sub*-urbanization. Its also a telling sign of the unnatural and anti-human character of progressive social engineering. Didn’t you know that the suburbus were a progressive social engineering project.

        If you think the quality of home an hearth is not a pressing societal issue, you are in no position to discuss the problems of human beings.

        Is virtue controversial, because the kids think thats pretty funny in general.

  8. josh says:

    Almost nobody actually knows how to sing. Even fewer can play an instrument. Few people think that the ancient Greeks has *anything* of value to teach us. Women binge drink in public. Men have no sense of honor or shame. A high school diploma does not guarantee literacy. Almost nobody is more engaged in their own life than in the imaginary world created by media.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Musical instrument usage has been increasing for the past twenty years. I can’t find data beyond that, if you have any I’d love to see it. The rise of music recordings in the 1900’s is an obvious confounder. Actually I wish music recordings had never been invented because they pretty much killed classical improvisation and appreciation for concerts (haven’t done very thorough research on this though).

      Singing. I’ll take your word for it I guess, but this is hardly a pressing concern for society.

      Literacy is at an absurdly low level in right now. If it is the case that the average high school graduate is less literate than the average high school student in the past that’s because more people are high school graduates nowadays. Perhaps your standard of literacy is higher? Even if that is the case I would be very surprised if the average _person_ not high school graduate is less literate nowadays by any standard.

      Regarding the media thing, I don’t know how you would go about testing this.

      Honor and Shame: Why are these good for society?

      • josh says:

        Shame increases societal goodness by 4.5 goodness points as measured by my goodmometer. Thank goodness I have one of those since, as we all know, that which can’t be measured, doesn’t exist.

  9. FillerCrowley says:

    “What the fsck was happening in ’50s” is that the generation that came of age then was suffering from massive lead poisoning due to the introduction of leaded gasoline in the ’30s. The reason crime began to decline in the ’90s is because that was the first generation to come of age after leaded gasoline had been banned in the ’70s.

    The symptoms of childhood lead exposure are “aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ”; it’s hard to imagine a better profile for a criminal.

    • Foseti says:

      Yeah, I know the favorite progressive line, but it’s too clever. I don’t buy it though. The Warren Court followed by mandatory jail time for drugs is just as coincident.

      • el supremo says:

        The “curse of lead” explanation could be contradicted by the massive amounts of lead that were casually dumped or put into the atmosphere by Chinese and Soviet heavy industrialization, and the centers of the Chinese lead industry never turned into the South Bronx (although they did have plenty of other health effects and generally fouled up the environment).

        I am more surprised that progressives have been willing to even use the lead argument, as it involves looking at IQ and biological factors as a driver of criminality. Their party line is usually that blaming crime on such factors was only done by evil racists, as opposed to the approved explanation of calling for more social programs or blaming outside oppressors.

    • Magus Janus says:

      id be curious if said lead poisoning impacted asian americans and jews, or are they magically immune to lead?

      (serious question btw, sarcasm aside i am genuinely curious if there’s any research on those ethnicities specifically, lead and crime)

      • FillerCrowley says:

        I’m actually not sure off hand! My hunch would be that it’s a difference in baselines–an asian child that was exposed to lead might have its IQ drop from, say, 105 to 100, while a black child exposed to the same amount of lead might have its IQ drop from 85 to 80.

  10. Population aging will also lower homicides per capita. A helpful visualization:

  11. Samson J. says:

    @Alexander Stanislaw:

    Repeated, amateurish efforts at the Socratic method, in the form of “Gee, why is X so bad, anyway?” are not clever (especially when “X” was formerly a core component of Western society), and generally only college students encountering philosophy for the first time think that they are. If this kind of relativism is the sum of your insight, you have a lot of growing up to do, or reading to do, or both, and you will probably not enjoy it here.

    Here are some brief responses; they are all I have time for tonight:

    Crime and debt are apparently controversial.

    Crime: maybe. Debt: no.

    Family formation – you mean the percentage of people who get married and have children? Why is this an intrinsic good?

    If you can’t see why the formation of stable families is the foundation of a successful society as well as a major source of human happiness then you are socially autistic.

    Honor and Shame: Why are these good for society?

    Because they are powerful tools for controlling poor behaviour and incenting proper behaviour.

    If by feminine you mean submissive, then I suppose so but why is this a bad thing?

    Because traditional sex roles strongly foster happy, stable families. When female submission goes awry, we get the law of the jungle.

    On door locks: this seems neutral to me.

    Then you are socially autistic.

    Declining membership: why is this a bad thing?

    Give me an ‘S’! Give me an ‘O’! Give me a c-i-a-l-l-y-a-u-t-i-s-t-i-c!

    Women can’t cook: Alright I’ll concede this, but its hardly a pressing societal concern.

    Hardly a concern“?

    chastity… is obviously controversial.


    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m disappointed that you regard asking questions in good faith as “an amateurish attempt at the Socratic method”. Other people here don’t seem to mind.

      • Konkvistador says:

        I’m pretty sure you are asking in good faith, but considering the tone of most people who ask such questions, many expect hostility.

        I would encourage the other commenter to engage Alexander with an assumption of his good faith.

  12. Red says:

    Entering the debate on Scott Alexander’s terms is pointless. His focus is America/UK only and it’s not surprising that the decline has been less marked on the nations that not only produced the technological advances but also produced the poison that’s killing the rest of the world.

    Latin america has been a huge mess since American overthrew aristocratic governments replaced them with various forms of progressives democracy and Marxism. Ditto Africa, and now even Europe is suffering huge problems because of our system. Nations like France have no go zones that cover almost a quarter of the country and crime is insanely high. You can find similar stories all over Europe. Any nations that adopts our system is soon up to it’s ears in crime, illegal immigration, family break down, and instability. Look at the wonderful job democracy done for Egypt. South Africa once built atomic power plants and was a first world country.. Today they’re roaring back to grass huts.

    Japan is in terminal decline because we gave their women high status and now the average hard working man has no sex appeal and thus no is around to produce the next generation.

    The dysfunction is less pronounced in america, but it’s clearly there if you take the time to read older books and look at old pictures. I don’t remember the absolute slobs we see walking around walmart today when I was a child. Growing up old people actually had dignity and authority. Today they’re just as without restraint and totally lacking good manners as the people of Walmart. We’re not playing road warrior in our parking lots yet, but it’s coming.

  13. Toddy Cat says:

    Of course, one could make Stanislaw’s “why is this important” point to all of the so-called “advances” of progressivism, to much the same effect:

    Equal rights for Blacks! “So, why is this important”?
    Equal rights for women! “Rights for the most coddled females on the planet are hardly a concern”
    Easy divorce! “So, why is this important”?
    Gay Rights! “Gays are more common in big cities – obviously an argument against urbanization”

    Hey, this is kinda fun… maybe this Stanislaw guy has a point..

    Seriously, if you can’t see the importance of what Western men and women have considered part of the good life for hundreds of years, I have nothing to say.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Obviously I wouldn’t choose those criteria as evidence of societal advance if arguing with a reactionary. I would choose something uncontroversial like murder, illiteracy rates – things that everyone can agree on.

      It is genuinely bizarre to me that someone would choose declining membership in the Girl scouts or bowling league as one of the biggest societal declines plaguing the world as a result of progressivism.

      • josh says:

        People have fewer friends, but i suppose that’s hardly a pressing societal concern. After all, life is about eating, shitting, and fucking as much as possible for as long as possible, and if it isn’t it should be because we can measure those things.

      • Konkvistador says:

        The reason I think many focus on the girl scouts and bowling leagues is because they are indicators of social trust which has a strong positive dividend in many measures of society as shown by Robert D. Putnam, who is cited all the time on this.

        Scotts argument is that virtual communities replace and improve upon real life socialization and organization, based on … it seems just his personal experience? That seem anecdotal, especially since I recall that on average people engaged in online socialization to the exclusion of off line socialization seem to suffer from higher rates of things like depression etc.

      • Foseti says:


        “It is genuinely bizarre to me that someone would choose declining membership in the Girl scouts or bowling league as one of the biggest societal declines plaguing the world as a result of progressivism.”

        I think you should re-evaluate this idea. Being involved in one’s community is a prerequisite for 1) developing an actual community and 2) maintaining that community.

        Actually quite a few libertarians have written well on this subject. If people don’t have any sense of community, government grows. Shame stops acting as a social force, and everything must be quietly accepted or criminalized.

        Further, if you live somewhere that you have no connection and the schools start to deteriorate (for example), you move. If you live somewhere that you actually feel connected to and the schools start to deteriorate, you work to fix the schools.

        The importance of these differences shouldn’t be underestimated.

      • asdf says:

        Here’s a simple way of looking at it. Which interactions and relationships in your life tend to be healthier, more balanced, and more conductive to your growth as a person. Online or in person. And I don’t mean the non-voluntary in person versus the voluntary online, that’s not apples to apples.

        For myself online interaction is at best usually fruitless and at worse a youtube comments section. Real life interactions are far better, even amongst the same people. And there is some value in the fact that real life groups sometimes take you a little out of your comfort zone to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t, as opposed to little ghetto’s of the internet that become self reinforcing.

        The internet, because it can only express one kind of communication, tends to lead to lots of bad habits and spergy shit. Its one of the reasons that ideas that are big on the internet aren’t big in real life. Once you see it in real life its obviously absurd.

  14. Toddy Cat says:

    And after having shown how “Progressive” South Korea (no democracy until 1982, dominated by Asia’s largest military outside China) bested right-wing North Korea, Alexander then completes his tour-de-force by showing how things have really, sorta, kinda, improved , in some areas, since then, sorta, since thatt dark night of reaction, the 1960’s and 1970’s, primarily due to the left-wing policies of the progressive Ronald Reagan.

    I mean, ….really? Why are we even discussing this crap? Alexander has done some good work in the past, but this ain’t it.

    • spandrell says:

      Word. It’s a sad day when writing a long post with graphs is sign of a “quality rebuttal”. I’d bet 100 bucks that most people just skimmed the thing without actually reading the whole crap written in it.

  15. Johnny Caustic says:

    It is possible that the drop in the murder rate from roughly 1970 to 2010 is mostly due to just one thing: lead.

    The evidence is surprisingly strong. Although it’s usually difficult to derive solid conclusions from correlations, there’s a strong geographical connection between lead levels and crime rates, which makes the theory that lead caused most of the temporal variation in crime very strong.

    • Foseti says:

      Ok. It’s also possible it’s caused by the war on drugs.

      Nonetheless, if 2013 is roughly equal to 1953 in homicides and 2013 has modern medicine, an older population, etc . . . You still have to wonder

    • Handle says:

      Sorry, but no. I’ve refuted this lead nonsense elsewhere, but it’s such an attractive excuse that people want to believe it so very, very much. Reasons it’s not true.

      1. The US is not an island. Crime rate trend-reversals and discontinuities elsewhere in the world are not correlated with geographic concentration of lead gasoline production or combustion. Mexico, Venezuela, and Jamaica are all lead-free and have homicides near all time highs. Lead exposure in South Korea and Japan were both very high in the era after the wars, and yet US-levels of criminality were unknown in that or subsequent generations.

      2. Prison: If lead were the culprit, then remediation of lead exposure should mean less criminality today even given the same enforcement regimes, sentences, forensic and surveillance technologies. But we don’t have the same regime as in previous low-lead-equivalent eras. Instead, we are much, much better (an order of magnitude) at catching and convicting people, and we lock them up forever (again, compared to the 40’s and 50’s, an order or magnitude). Yet our crime rates have not declined to the level of the 1950’s. There’s no way you can pin that on that lead levels.

      Consider “Imprisonment Rates per 100,000” of 1972 vs 2000 for the following States:

      Illinois: 50: 371
      Massachusetts: 32 : 252
      Ohio: 77 : 406

      Those rates haven’t changed much in the past 13 years. Where’s our lead-free dividend? It should be massive – we should be much safer than in the 50’s given our capabilities and ruthless persecution of criminals. But we’re not.

      3. The Urban Coincidence Null Hypothesis: Lead was concentrated in cities more than the country because they are densely populated and house industry and automobile traffic. Blacks also moved into many Northern industrial towns in the Great Migration of the 20’s and 30’s. They established dangerously crime-prone ghettos and race-rioted in the 60’s which drove out the whites (and also the industry the a certain extent). So, the correlation is spurious and coincidental, not causative. In fact, the black population fraction ratio correlated at a much higher confidence than lead (See here)

      4. Natural Experiments. Many present US superfund sites sit on the ruins of old lead-mining towns. If the lead hypothesis had any validity to it, you could see a definite surprising spike (‘granger causality’) in the criminality of the residents of the town, or in their children as they matures. Nope, don’t see it. And you don’t see it in foreign lead-polluted sites either.

      5. Racial discrepancy: Due to sheer demographics, more whites were exposed to lead than blacks, but aggregate numbers of black and white prisoners are comparable since blacks are 8-9 times more likely to be incarcerated

      6. US History: There were two past spikes of lethal criminality in urban areas in US History that has nothing to do with lead (and more to do with huge numbers of rootless, poor, family-less, disproportionately male, uneducated immigrants participating in gang life.) Sounds like a problem any civilization would try to get under control, right? It happened during the Civil War and the 20’s. The Know Nothings tried to reduce immigration in the 1860’s, and the country did actually restrict it in the 20’s. Furthermore, the murder rate was very high in cities that didn’t industrialize until relatively late, like Atlanta (murder rate of 40 in 1937).

      As an example, here’s the murder Rate per 100,000 population New York:

      1840: 4.4
      1860: 10.8
      1880: 4.4
      1900: 3.5
      1920: 5.3
      1950: 4
      1960: 5
      1970: 14
      1980: 26

      7. Other correlations. Why pick lead when you can pick other, more obvious social causes of criminality (like single-parent households), that also correlate well with the time frame and the demographics of criminality?

      P.S. Scott Alexander’s figure for British Murders does not quite capture the essence of the trend. Look at the London Murder rate:

      1840: 0.3
      1860: 0.6
      1880: 0.3
      1900: 0.4
      1920: 1.3

      In the late 19th Century, London, a City of over 2 million, would maybe have one murder a month. With no emergency medicine. With no modern forensics or surveillance, and with guns mostly legal before the Pistols Act. Was London not polluted (who knows with how much lead) in the late 19th century? If that’s not a model ordered society, what is? Why shouldn’t that be our standard?

      • Scharlach says:

        Copy/paste this comment into a blogpost, Handle, and pingback Alexander.

      • Handle says:

        You can link to it if you like, but I’ll take a pass. I’m not going to let Alexander frame the conversation with his strawman ‘FAQ’ and thus spend my precious time taking apart each of his misleading points. No matter how successful you are, it all just disappears in the comments and lends unjustified validity to the original frame, and makes the ‘FAQ’ seem to stand as the presumptive default position.

        When life lets me, I’ll describe and support with data my own set of ‘social complaints / progressive impotence / reactionary solutions’, and instead of fighting some imaginary mythological reactionary position he can try to engage with a real one.

        But, bottom line, his piece is weak and occasionally ridiculous. To say that crime is unimportant to someone who lives near DC is laughable. If Yglesias walks in the wrong neighborhood after dark he’ll get randomly assaulted out of sheer racial animus and a justified feeling of impunity amongst his assailants. Progress!

        To say that debt isn’t a growing problem that is intimately connected with the distorting incentives of Democracy is doubly-ridiculous in an era when we are literally watching cities and countries go bankrupt and tearing their social fabrics apart because they cannot actually deliver the real transfers of resources which they one promised and under which they enticed the delivery of goods and performance of services.

        In general, I’m interested in a much, milder, modest form of reaction, maybe even just a little ‘adult supervision’ of inevitable progressive nonsense.

        If reaction is itself going to survive and thrive as a competitive ‘adaptive memeplex’, then it will have to attack progressivism exactly where it is both weakest and incurably so – as a fundamental and inevitable consequence of itself.

        I plan on making these critiques, and then Alexander can ping me back if he wishes.

      • Scharlach says:

        Fair enough. Progressives control the frame most of the time anyway, so in this case you’re probably right not to play into his priors and assumptions.

  16. josh says:

    Buildings are ugly. Public spaces are ugly and uninviting. People have no loyalty to each other. Many decent jobs are considered degrading to those best fit for them. Service employees are ruder than they have been in the past. Black urban culture has become utterly disgraceful. Rap music is considered worthy of middlebrow criticism. People no longer even have the attention span to enjoy baseball. People are narcissists. Millions of people murder their own children. Upper middle class high school students do not aspire to be parents. People have constructed a meaning of life around career success, dooming a substantial majority of people to consider themselves failures. People don’t take anything seriously except things that are utterly unserious. There is a decline in amateurism in just about all worthwhile pursuits.

  17. Jim says:

    One of the factors involved in the decline in homicides is simply improving medical care. People who would have been mortallly wounded in the past survive now because trauma care has advanced so much.

  18. Jim says:

    It’s not that unusual today for emergency room surgeons to save the life of people with knife wounds to the heart, somrthing that was rarely the case 50 or 60 years ago.

    • Jehu says:

      My sister in law treated a guy who attempted to commit suicide Hemmingway style…cleaning a shotgun with his mouth. He made a full recovery without even extreme disfigurement. Trauma medicine is REALLY good these days.

  19. When the crime rate goes up, it can be argued that people are less moral; when the rate goes down, it can be argued that people are less capable, less motivated, less passionate. If there is no change at all, it can be said that the forces of decline are temporarily in balance. Decline cannot be disproved with numbers, graphs, and charts.

  20. Scharlach says:

    I’ll just reiterate what has been said:

    It’s wildly ironic that one of Alexander’s key points proving that things have gotten better (less violence and steady crime rates!) partially stems from a) right-wing, tough-on-crime policies and b) industries that are not held to the standards of Equal Opportunity Employment legislation.

    I think it’s worth going through his post to determine whether or not many of the “progressive goodies” he points to in reality possess right-wing features.

    • Handle says:

      A fisking is not the best use of time – very little juice for the squeeze. I think it’s better to focus on ‘Major problems that directly impact the lives of most ordinary people and which progressivism won’t or can’t fix / can only make worse without essentially yielding in desperation to a few reactionary policies, and which will get even better with more reaction’

      Their ideas wont permit them to govern well. Implementation of our, opposing ideas means a better society. That’s the proper, pragmatic basis of a social critique.

  21. […] long-winded, substantive, but not entirely well-aimed rebuttal to Reaction are now available from Foseti, Bryce, Jim part 1 and part […]

  22. VXXC says:

    The Next Time you are asked for Data or the Quantifiable you cannot improve on…

    “People have fewer friends, but i suppose that’s hardly a pressing societal concern. After all, life is about eating, shitting, and f_cking as much as possible for as long as possible, and if it isn’t it should be because we can measure those things.”

  23. […] underlying problem of the anti-reaction FAQ. Related: The decline frame. Related: In response to claims concerning […]

  24. […] partially covered in various comments. Besides Michael‘s piece with which I agree with, here are some of the responses to it I may not. In one of his responses James A. Donald elaborated […]

  25. […] is, of course, old news in certain dark corners, but it is interesting seeing this point of view in a mainstream […]

  26. […] Foseti: general critique […]

  27. Dawson says:

    I tend to think of the great global improvements as primarily tech-driven, but it’s hard to separate tech improvements from features of liberalism, like the promotion of free trade and the superintendent function of state bureaucracies in R&D. maybe there’s no Singapore without the US precedent, or whatvr

    further, the rise of E. Asia facilitated by the US in the postwar liberal order seems to hold great promise, as a fresh enlistment of smartypantses to the task of developing tech that will save us from crummy culture

  28. […] Este ponto é importante o suficiente para refirmar bem, como Foseti o faz: […]

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