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UATX Series 2 - Bari Weiss and the Moral Machine
The power of outrage should not be cast into the fire, but it must be wielded with deliberate judgement.
For the second day of UATX-mas, I’ll be talking about social morality. I love writing and thinking about this topic, as my readers will know. This line of inquiry in specific was inspired by Bari Weiss, in her speech and Q&A for UATX.
The speech itself was interesting and unexpected. My impression is that Bari has been persuaded by the likes of Mike Solana, David Sacks, and Antonio-Garcia Martinez to embrace, as she put it, a “radical” approach in creating institutions. She urged all of us to be “founders” of future institutions and rebuked reformist arguments. I won’t go further in the details, or on the questions other than my own, since I think UATX will want to either publish the recording themselves or keep it in house.
To set the scene, Bari had just finished a speech which I interpreted as a categorical shift in how she thinks about institutional change. This brought my mind immediately to the recurrent fracturing of the online dissident community, in which the institutions, publications, alliances, and digital refuges were torn asunder by internal conflict over vaccines, Russia, guns, or whatever else. It occured to me, not uniquely, that the ability to maintain an internal debate, and equally importantly, an internal order, was an innovation of legacy institutions that we haven’t managed to port to the dissident world. So, it’s quite important for building something new.
How did I roll all of that into one question that didn’t require a speech of its own? Well …
Pedro and Douglas
Pedro Gonzalez is a Conservative pugilist, writer, and twitter poaster. Here’s a typical column from him: “It’s the Culture, Stupid”. He is not a detached voice whispering from the intellectual aether, but a character in and of himself. What I mean by this is that he has no fear of the personal, from displaying his own aesthetics, more often, weaponizing those of others. It is with this much context, and no more, that I ask you to read this article by Douglas Murray, published on Common Sense by Bari Weiss.
The most relevant sections, because I know some of you didn’t read the piece despite me explicitly instructing you to read the piece:
On the penultimate day of 2021, a left-wing economist named David Rothschild was doing what leftist activists do on social media. On this occasion, he was tweeting that “Republican intellectuals *despise* the Constitution.” Gonzalez responded to this low-grade click-bait by saying “Libs openly flout laws they don’t like—see sanctuary cities and DACA—but will still preach to you about the constitution. These people are as dumb as they are repulsive.” He added a photo of Rothschild.
There is already a certain problem here. For to accuse other people of being physically unattractive one must be either in a playground or in a position of extraordinary Adonis-ism oneself. You can Google Mr. Gonzalez and judge for yourself.
Then he wrote this: “That Rothschild physiognomy is pure nightmare fuel.”
“Rothschild physiognomy.” Even reading those words in the 2020s causes a degree of whiplash. But it turns out that Mr. Gonzalez has a bit of a thing for the phrase. In responding to another tweet—this one from a lawyer coincidentally named Ari Cohn—he returned to the physiognomy question. Tweeting out the most unflattering photo he could find of Cohn, Mr. Gonzalez wrote: “Oh look another cursed goblin physiognomy.”
The American right should be broad, and it should be tolerant. It should accept ideological differences as much as any other movement that seeks to gain political influence. But there are places where it cannot allow people to go while remaining within the fold. What happened just before the new year is such a moment.
Though helicoptering should not be a meme, defenestration should be. Rarely has there been an occasion when a dose of it has been more in order.
I know I just quoted a whole page of the article, but too bad, you should have read the entire thing! After providing a bit of context for the audience, I asked Bari something along the lines of “What process leads to publishing an article like this?”
Her answer was, as I described, one of “precision and grace”. She defended the article on deontological grounds and was very honest in saying Pedro’s language was simply not something she was “comfortable with”. Simultaneously, she did reiterate the importance of allowing him to speak and associate freely, which is not something that even most liberals would be able to balance in their mind. As I’ve expressed in various references to this Hanania article, I truly appreciate this type of honesty.
That being said, this answer was also practically infeasible and wrong.
The Moral Accelerator
Pedro and friends would probably want me to link to a defense like this one by his colleague explaining that Pedro is an equal-opportunity appearance-insulter. I don’t feel the need to quote it extensively since I’m going to provide a rebuke of my own, albeit quite a different one.
In recent years, the metaphor of The Scissor has skyrocketed in online popularity. A “scissor” is an idea that splits people into two groups which view the others as moral monsters. The original story, linked above, portrays scissors as being immediately salient, able to polarize Shiri and her coworkers within hours. I don’t believe scissors work like this in real life. In my interpretation, every single scissor is a polarization spiral in a teacup. It is the output of a machine which inputs converts morality and social prestige into disorder. The input to the machine is disagreement. The output of the machine is hit pieces, caricatures, black-or-white thinking, and the systematic destruction of any power the dissident class can hope to wield.
Any long-term movement must settle any scissors before they are fed to the moral accelerator. Otherwise, the tools of narrative power are turned against former friends and the ability to coordinate against actual enemies evaporates. If Pedrogate was the only such cleavage, the united front against “wokeness”, “extremism”, “totalitarianism”, etc. would be winning battles to this day. It simply isn’t.
The organization principles that protect such a united front was a major topic of discussion for me this week. The first among these principles should be discipline of outrage. Outrage is a source of power. Not your outrage, but the people who you can motivate using their outrage. Outrage is an interesting social force in that it is spontaneous, dominating, and fragile. Its spontaneity is visible in every cancel mob and in every Trump rally. It is dominating in the sense that those motivated by outrage are with few exceptions limited by any other principles. It is fragile in a structural sense. Outrage creates a contaminated group, which can no longer be an ally, even for a future shared outrage.
I could have arranged the article to make Pedro seem much more sympathetic. I didn’t because I want you to feel the full force of narrative outrage, and decide very carefully how you want to wield it. This is also because while I consider what threat Pedro’s poses to material lives, Jewish or otherwise, to be zero, I think that this type of restraint and consideration must hold even in cases where it’s pretty obvious that someone’s actions have negative effects. This is why while I think Bret Weinstein is neurotic and wrong, and that his listeners have probably died of COVID more often than comparable people in the general population, going out of your way to portray him as a monster or really, any sort of enemy is a mistake. You might notice that in the linked article he is at best a side character to which zero-covid neurotics are compared to.
In her speech, Bari expressed that “Principles are not like money, you don’t lose them when you use them.” But the same is not always true for power. It is particularly untrue for outrage, which is a form of power. When you wield outrage recklessly, you destroy. You form a cascade of conflict that makes what you did only a few years ago nothing but a fond memory. When you wield outrage judiciously, you build. You alienate people who never could or would be anything other than an enemy, while attracting a network of the best people out from the aether.
 Footnote: I could’ve provided much more justification for the moral accelerator idea and quoted extensively from Haidt. I also wanted this article to come out on time, to have a reasonably small word count, and not to turn me into a recluse for the duration of my vacation. I will have an article making this case independently at some point, which will probably compete with It’s the Midwits, Stupid and Firehose 2 in length.