21 Jul 20:27

Obama Stops Short of Endorsing Kamala Harris

by Taegan Goddard

Former President Barack Obama, who had privately shared doubts about Joe Biden’s reelection chances, stopped short of endorsing Kamala Harris even as he praised Biden for his decision to leave the race the AP reports.

Said Obama: “I have extraordinary confidence that the leaders of our party will be able to create a process from which an outstanding nominee emerges.”

22 Jul 08:05

Actual, Factual

New Comic: Actual, Factual
21 Jul 13:54

sweetener

https://www.oglaf.com/sweetener/

21 Jul 14:34

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Bad

by Zach Weinersmith


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
It suddenly became intersection of sex and technology week?


Today's News:
23 Jul 06:55

Some Practical Considerations Before Descending Into An Orgy Of Vengeance

by Scott Alexander

The “LibsOfTikTok” Twitter account found a random Home Depot employee who said she wished the Trump assassin hadn’t missed. Her followers mass-called Home Depot and got the employee fired.

Moral of the story: despite everything, there’s apparently still a norm against assassinating politicians. But some on the right interpreted this as meaning something more. A sudden vibe shift, or impending Trump victory, has handed conservatives the levers of cancel culture! This sparked a right-wing blogosphere debate: should they be magnanimous in victory, or descend into an orgy of vengeance?

I appreciate the few voices speaking out in favor of principle (eg Librarian of Celaeno), but most favored the vengeance. A sample from my Substack Notes feed:

Sorry, I don’t know how this one got in there.

The most complete response was by Postcards From Barsoom, which recommended Right Wing Cancel Squads.

That there are so many of us who feel queasy at the thought of getting low-level proles fired from their jobs for sounding off online is a very good thing. It speaks to the fact that, unlike the enemy, we actually have a moral centre. Notably, this was never a serious debate on the left. Those few left-wing voices in the early teens who championed classical liberal principles of freedom of expression were summarily cancelled themselves, and are largely on our side now.

In an ideal world, we would all give one another vastly greater latitude. No one would get mobbed, fired, forced to resign, kicked out of school, or ostracized from their professional networks for the non-crime of an unpopular opinion. No one would have to worry about people combing through decade-old social media posts looking for gotcha words that weren’t gotchas when they were written, but became crimespeak ex post facto.

In the long run, it’s essential that we aim for permissive social mores regarding public and private discourse. This is a simple matter of technological context. Social media means that there is a more or less indelible record of your every public utterance; sure, you can try to scrub it, but that won’t stop screenshots; sure, you can try to cloak yourself behind a pseudonymous identity, but that just means you need to worry about doxxing. Cell phones mean that your private conversations can be recorded. We live in an electronic surveillance society now. We’re all watching one another, all the time, and short of a Carrington Event knocking us back into the iron age, there’s no realistic possibility of that changing. If we keep holding one another to impossible standards of public discourse, we will live in a totalitarian hell; that is, indeed, precisely the world that we have all lived in, for the last decade. The only way we avoid this is by adopting a public ethos that is exceptionally forgiving.

But we do not live in that world yet, and that is entirely the left’s fault.

[...]

If we are going to arrive at a social compromise in which we do not punish people for their speech, a reaffirmation for the Sand Age of the ancient Saxon right to plainly speak one’s mind, it is necessary that everyone develop a keen appreciation of just how horrible the alternative is. This can only be grounded in a visceral revulsion at the very thought of cancellation, the way the world has looked at chemical weapons ever since the Great War, which in turn must come from direct, personal experience of what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

To this end, distasteful as it may seem, the liberal’s face must be pressed down into her own steaming pile of excrement. She must be made to taste it, and gag, and swallow nonetheless. She must be made to weep burning tears. She must be traumatized, and made to understand that this is what she did, that these are the rules of engagement that she established, that these are the consequences of loss in this awful game that she has forced all of us to play. She needs to beg for the game to end, for the rules to change.

Take a second to sympathize. From the Right’s perspective, the Left has beaten, shamed, and terrorized them for at least a decade. Now, the moment they get some chance to retaliate, their enemies say “Hey, bro, come on, being mean is morally wrong, you’ve got to be immaculately kind and law-abiding now that it’s your turn”, while still obviously holding behind their back the dagger they plan to use as soon as they’re on top again.

I won’t be able to convince anyone of the ethics of seeking vengeance vs. turning the other cheek. But a few thoughts on the specific practical arguments being deployed:

1. Nobody Learns Anything Useful From Being Persecuted

Going back to that excerpt from the Postcards From Barsoom blog:

If we are going to arrive at a social compromise in which we do not punish people for their speech, a reaffirmation for the Sand Age of the ancient Saxon right to plainly speak one’s mind, it is necessary that everyone develop a keen appreciation of just how horrible the alternative is. This can only be grounded in a visceral revulsion at the very thought of cancellation, the way the world has looked at chemical weapons ever since the Great War, which in turn must come from direct, personal experience of what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

To this end, distasteful as it may seem, the liberal’s face must be pressed down into her own steaming pile of excrement. She must be made to taste it, and gag, and swallow nonetheless. She must be made to weep burning tears. She must be traumatized, and made to understand that this is what she did, that these are the rules of engagement that she established, that these are the consequences of loss in this awful game that she has forced all of us to play. She needs to beg for the game to end, for the rules to change.

You mean like you’re doing now?

The right-wingers admit that they have suffered terribly at the hands of cancellation mobs. Okay, check. They admit it’s made them so mad that they want a bloodbath of cancelling liberals harder than anyone has ever been cancelled before. Okay, check.

And now they say . . . that lefties must suffer terribly at the hands of cancellation mobs, because it will teach them that cancellation is wrong?

If being on the receiving end could teach people cancellation was bad, it would have taught you that. It obviously hasn’t, so try a different strategy.

2. This Isn’t Tit For Tat, It’s The Nth Round Of A Historical Dialectic

“Given that liberals invented cancel culture ten years ago, shouldn’t we get ten years of conservative cancel culture, just to be fair?” asks someone totally divorced from historical reality.

Modern progressive cancel culture is the successor of the 1950s establishment that would cancel you for being an atheist pinko peacenik. Curtis Yarvin calls cancellation “the Brown Scare”, by analogy to the Red Scare that came before. And Arthur Miller called the Red Scare a “witch hunt”, by analogy to actual witch hunts, the Spanish Inquisition, and the history of burning heretics at the stake. And what was Diocletian’s persecution of the Early Church if not cancel culture?

People joke that “cancel culture began with Socrates”, but I don’t buy it. Seen on Wikipedia:

[In 1345 BC], Akhenaten … ordered the defacing of Amun's temples throughout Egypt … Archaeological discoveries at [Amarna] show that many ordinary residents of this city chose to gouge or chisel out all references to the god Amun on even minor personal items that they owned, such as commemorative scarabs or make-up pots, perhaps for fear of being accused of having Amunist sympathies.

When the Priests of Amun came back into power, they took the low road:

This culture shift away from traditional religion was reversed after his death. Akhenaten's monuments were dismantled and hidden, his statues were destroyed, and his name excluded from lists of rulers compiled by later pharaohs.

And since righteous vengeance had been attained and both sides now had experience with cancel culture being morally wrong, everyone agreed the ledger was balanced, and nobody ever tried cancelling anyone else ever again.

No, seriously, we got the entire rest of history. Aldous Huxley famously described the state of things c. 1944 as:

Only one more indispensable massacre of Capitalists or Communists or Fascists or Christians or Heretics, and there we are—there we are in the Golden Future.

Just one more indispensable cancellation, and there we are!

Instead, I think of unfreedom of conscience as a scourge that has troubled humanity throughout history, like famine or plague or war. As with all scourges, very-long-run progress coexists with occasional disastrous relapses. The solution isn’t to get the other side and balance the ledger, it’s to keep developing the physical and social technology that’s gradually improved things in the past.

3. You’re Not Debating Whether To Become Like Woke People, You’re Already Like Woke People

An old psychoanalyst’s trick: if somebody ruminates too much over some decision, it’s to distract from some other decision they’re trying not to notice.

The hidden decision here is whether to treat people as collectives or individuals.

One of the fundamental problems with wokeness was that it believed in collective guilt and collective punishment. White people caused slavery, therefore white people stood condemned. No matter that the actual white person involved was 150 years removed from slavery, or was a Polish immigrant whose family hadn’t even been in the country at the time, or whatever. They have some excuse like “well all white people benefit from white supremacy in tangible ways, or at least didn’t speak out against it”.

I hate to say it, but “some left-wing journalist got people cancelled, therefore I should be able to cancel a left-wing Home Depot employee because The Left endorsed cancel culture” is the same kind of argument.

“But wasn’t the Left monolithically united behind cancel culture?” You can find some data here. I’m presenting a representative sample of questions, but check the rest to keep me honest:

Unless you really lay on the tribal signifiers, it’s hard to find a definition where most Democrats support cancel culture and most Republicans oppose it!

(the above poll probably overestimates support for cancel culture, because it talks about saying “things widely considered hateful” instead of, like, one tweet expressing a widely-shared opinion at the wrong time)

Liberals invent a fictional entity called “The Right”, which is full of all of the most racist and fascist things that NYT was ever able to produce an out-of-context quote showing one Claremont guy saying, then believe that any action is justified against “The Right” because it’s an ontological threat against democracy, then rile up a mob against a Google guy who sends the wrong memo.

Likewise, conservatives invent a fictional entity called “The Left”, which is full of all the most horrible woke things that FOX was ever able to find one Gender Studies professor saying, then believe that any action is justified against “The Left” because it’s coming for our children, then rile up a mob against a Home Depot woman who makes a bad tweet.

4. Nobody Is Ever Both-Sides-ist Enough

I hate this because I’ve fought with these people on the Left, and they sound exactly the same.

“If you feel like compromising with the Right, it’s important to remember what they’ve done. They separated families and locked children in cages. They forced 10-year-old rape victims to carry their rapists’ babies. They murdered our grandparents by refusing to mask in the middle of a pandemic. They killed thousands of American soldiers in a war over fake WMDs, then cut VA funding so the soldiers they wounded would die on the street. At this very moment, they’re boiling our planet alive to protect fossil fuel barons’ profits. How dare you suggest it could possibly be wrong to cancel someone like that!”

This isn’t a knock-down argument. Sometimes you’re right when you think your enemies are bad, and they’re wrong when they think you’re bad. I can’t say for sure this isn’t one of those times. But:

  • The fact that your enemies are just as sure as you are should make you less sure.

  • Any rule of the form “Don’t do X, unless you can think up a big pile of negative adjectives to describe why the people you’re doing X to deserve it” will simply never prevent anyone from doing X, not even once.

5. Most Cancellations Are Friendly Fire

Postcards From Barsoom helpfully includes a list of the cancellations he finds most enraging. I agree most of them are enraging.

But they’re not stories about Trump, Tucker Carlson, or Nick Fuentes. The median victim of cancel culture is some center-left college professor who sent out an email saying that he supports BLM but questions some of their tactics.

(I would add David Shor to the list as an especially revealing case, and Al Franken as an especially clear own-goal)

This is because you mostly get the critical mass necessary for cancellation in very leftist institutions, and most people in very leftist institutions are leftists.

There’s a deeper problem here where pre-emptive fear of cancellation blocked rightists from joining these institutions in the first place. But in terms of actual cancellations, they’re usually some poor shmuck who put too few exclamation points after “BLM!!!!”

Likewise, if there are right-wing cancellation squads, they won’t cancel Rachel Maddow or Kamala Harris. They’ll get some WSJ writer who puts too few exclamation points after “MAGA!!!!”

6. Cancellation Is The Enemy Of Competence

Cancellation isn’t just morally bad. It also screws over society. And it screws over your own institutions worst of all.

By society I mean: you want scientists to be producing good science, not producing the science least likely to get them cancelled. You want the Federal Reserve filled with the best economists, not the most politically pure economists. No matter how righteous your cause, if you cancel people who don’t agree with it, you end up with the kind of low-quality science and corrupt institutions we’ve grown used to recently. This is bad insofar as you care about things like truth, trust, or national flourishing.

But even if you don’t care about those things, remember that cancellation is mostly friendly fire. Cancellers can’t 100% control broader society, but they do control their own party and its organs. I think this is part of why the Democratic Party is floundering right now. At the risk of getting cancelled myself, it kind of seems like Democrats now wish they’d put a little more of thought into picking a popular/electable VP in 2020 instead of the most diversity-box-ticking person they could find on short notice. Why didn’t they? Well, would you, as a Democratic Party insider, want to speak out against Kamala Harris, in f**king 2020 of all years? Obviously anyone who tried that would have been cancelled. So nobody spoke out against the decision, they went ahead with it, and now they’ve boxed themselves into a corner.

You, too, can one day have a party this self-sabotaging and incapable of winning elections! All you need to do is adopt cancel culture!

(“But we would only apply it to actually bad things, not to people on our own side just trying to warn us”. I’m pretty sure the Democrats didn’t go into this expecting to punish people on their own side trying to warn them, yet here we are.)

7. No, Seriously, This Is A Terrible Decision

I think the Democrats as a political party are massively underperforming their fundamentals.

They have most of the elites (elites, by definition, are powerful), most of the donor money, and their two main bases (college graduates and minorities) have both ballooned as a share of the population, while the Republicans’ (white people, rural people) are in decline. They control all the prestige media. Trump has no self-control and dozens of skeletons in his closet. How could they lose?

There are many factors - inflation, Afghanistan, the Electoral College - but part of the story has to be that wokeness and cancel culture are historically unpopular. They produced short-term gains (as people became afraid to speak out against them) but long-term disaster (as their extremism alienated friends and fired up enemies). This is still just my optimistic prediction. But if conservatives ever in fact take enough power that they can wield cancellation more effectively than the Democrats, then it will have been borne out.

In which case, you, too, will have the opportunity for short-term gains at the expense of alienating everybody with a backbone and/or conscience. What could possibly go wrong?

8. Don’t Go Mad With Power Until You Actually Get The Power

I can’t remember if this is on the Evil Overlord List, but it should be.

The right is still out of power. For one thing, Biden is still President. There’s even (according to betting markets) a 40% chance that the Dems win the next election.

(The argument in this paragraph isn’t original, but I lost the link to it): Consider an undecided voter in a swing state. As an independent, they’re probably on the right on some issues and on the left on others. Many of them are probably former liberals who left the fold because of wokeness and cancel culture. Now they check out what right-wingers have to offer, and it’s “We also love cancel culture, we plan to drop all of our principles as soon as we win, anyone with lefty opinions should be terrified.” Doesn’t sound like a great advertisement.

But also: even if Trump wins in a landslide, conservatives still won’t control the levers of cancel culture. Did the Republicans taking the White House, House, and Senate in 2016 end cancel culture? Did it even slow it down? Plus or minus a few civil rights laws, cancel culture isn’t implemented at the government level. It’s implemented at the level of media, institutions, and popular taste-making, which Democrats hold more firmly than federal government. Even if Trump wins, the median outcome of conservatives endorsing cancellation is that the few liberals in these institutions trying to restrain their worst tendencies get dismissed as useful idiots for conservatives who wouldn’t hesitate to cancel them if they were on the other side.

Why mention this? Because the people talking about cancellation insist they’re “just being strategic” and “just laser-focused on winning” when in fact writing the blog posts at all reveals they couldn’t care less about any of these considerations. It’s psychological re-enactment, plain and simple.

9. There’s Probably Other Options

“But we can’t just do nothing!”

Unfreedom of conscience, like famine and plague, has haunted us throughout history and will probably continue to do so. Still, I think the very-long-range trend for all three problems is down, and that hard work by good people can push that forward. This will look like boring incremental progress, ie the only thing that has ever worked. Here are some possible subtasks:

  1. Politicians should dismantle the government apparatus propping up cancel culture. Certainly the sorts of things mentioned in the Twitter Files count here, but so do some of the civil rights stuff Richard Hanania talks about in Origins of Woke.

  2. Academics should encourage their schools to adopt the Chicago Principles, and businesspeople should encourage their companies to become mission-focused in the style of Coinbase. Ideally these commitments would have legal force, letting students/stockholders sue for violations. Politicians should incentivize the institutions they influence (eg state universities, government contractors) to do this.

  3. Tech companies should come up with better technologies for Internet moderation that help people avoid unproductive comments without letting moderators transition into ideological censors. I’ve written more about this here.

  4. The most important job for bloggers and other public intellectuals in particular is figuring out what the heck we mean by cancel culture. The “bad” kinds of cancellation shade imperceptibly into things like social norms, petitions, and boycotts. Where do we draw the line? If there had never been cancel culture on the left, would it be acceptable for a Home Depot worker to tweet support for a would-be Presidential assassin? What if a comedian makes a joke that normalizes pedophilia? Part of the reason it’s so hard to get a strong anti-cancel-culture coalition is that most people want some things to be socially unacceptable and aren’t sure how to draw a bright line. I’m not saying you can’t be against cancel culture if you can’t define it - if you can be bad, you can also be good. I’m saying that defining it a little better is one of the intermediate steps in fighting it. I’ve tried to start this project here.

As an example of (4) - maybe we should respect in a firewall between people’s work identity and their political identity, unless the person deliberately lowers the firewall by using their work to promote their politics. So if a Home Depot worker says they hate Trump, they’re talking in their capacity as a normal human citizen and not a Home Depot worker, so it’s wrong to cancel them. If a journalist tweets from their official journalism account that they hate Trump, then it doesn’t really seem like there’s a firewall between their work and their politics anymore, and then maybe they’re fair game. I’m not personally suggesting this - I think even cancelling journalists isn’t great - but it’s one of the many principled things you could do if you felt like you really needed to revenge-cancel certain people but also wanted to have some principles and not become exactly what you hated.

The priests of Amun probably felt pretty great revenge-cancelling the priests of Aten after they regained power. But nobody remembers them today and they’re not part of the story of human progress. Jefferson and Madison wrote the First Amendment to defuse the entire conflict from above, and everybody remembers them, and it actually made a long-term difference.

21 Jul 09:51

sweetener

https://www.oglaf.com/sweetener/

22 Jul 10:16

Chapter 95: Page 3

Save it.
22 Jul 06:42

Girl Genius for Monday, July 22, 2024

The Girl Genius comic for Monday, July 22, 2024 has been posted.
23 Jul 02:21

President Venn Diagram

Hard to imagine political rhetoric more microtargeted at me than 'I love Venn diagrams. I really do, I love Venn diagrams. It's just something about those three circles.'
22 Jul 07:08

Liquid courage

by David M Willis
22 Jul 07:17

Branding for new cultural hub inspired by Brutalism and community artwork

by Tom May

StudioDBD took an original and unusual approach to developing a brand identity for Stockroom, a new cultural hub in Stockport.

There's no point being coy about it. In many cases, our town centres just aren't what they were. The twin onslaughts of online shopping and remote working mean a lot of people aren't heading into town as often, and local authorities need to think long and hard about how they tackle this. Otherwise, the consequences for social and public life could ultimately be quite serious.

So it's good to see that Stockport is gearing up for a fresh addition to its town centre with the upcoming launch of Stockroom, a new cultural hub. It will soon open in the Merseyway Shopping Centre and will house a library, children's learning area, a café bar, and more.

The project, spearheaded by Stockport Council, aims to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all residents. With this in mind, they tasked Manchester-based design studio StudioDBD, founded by David Sedgwick, with developing the brand identity, working closely with strategists Martin Carr and Graham Lister to bring this vision to life.

The goal was to design an identity that seemed like an integral part of Stockport's fabric while incorporating more fun elements, such as bright colours and illustrations, to keep it lively and engaging.

Graphic elements

The council was keen to ensure that the Stockroom's identity reflected a versatile space where diverse experiences and events could unfold. Therefore, the branding needed to be both accessible and inclusive and adaptable. StudioDBD's designs brilliantly deliver on that promise.

The word 'Stockroom' can be deconstructed into two parts: 'Stock', representing the grounded location in Stockport, and 'Room', symbolising a place where various activities and interactions can occur.

The two O's at the centre of the word evoke the idea of openness, embodying a framework for the vision of the space. They also serve a useful function for showcasing various content and visuals. This fits nicely into the centre's mission to be defined by the activities and people within it.

More broadly, the striking logo draws inspiration from the Brutalist architecture of its shopping centre home. The typography reflects the large, rectangular structures that crown the building, paying homage to the past while looking forward to the future.

Public participation

Unusually, Stockroom also engaged the local community in its design process. A workshop held in Merseyway shopping centre invited members of the public to illustrate their visions for the space.

Tables were set up with paper and pens in the heart of the shopping centre, right outside the future Stockroom location. The people of Stockport were then asked to draw what they wanted to see in the building. They contributed a wide variety of ideas, from books, food and drink items to flowers, furniture, and even simpler doodles such as scribbly lines, smiley faces, clouds, and hearts.

The best drawings were then selected as the starting point for the brand's illustrative aspect. Originally, the plan was to commission an illustrator to redraw everything based on these.

However, the simplicity and freedom of expression in the original drawings really worked and they became part of the band. They were scanned and loosely traced using Procreate on the iPad, and the result stayed truer to the community's original artwork.

Tone of voice

The centre's messaging focuses on straightforward activities like reading books and enjoying coffee, aiming to break down barriers often associated with cultural spaces. This approach is designed to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of age, background, or interests.

Establishing the right tone of voice was crucial from the outset. The target audience for Stockroom is everyone, regardless of gender, age, background, or ethnicity, so a simple and straightforward tone was essential to resonate with everyone.

Consequently, the language feels real and honest. It was inspired by the concept of a good friend describing Stockroom for the first time ("Oh yeah, you read books and drink coffee in there!"). This became the foundation for the copy, using a pattern of two verbs and two nouns to create a rhythmic flow.

Proud moment

Gwen Riley Jones, creative programme manager for Stockroom, expressed pride in the brand's development: "It really reflects the visions and ambitions that Stockport Council have set out for Stockroom," she explains.

"I love that it has been made with the people of Stockport. One of the foundation stones of Stockroom is 'with, of, and for' the people of the town, and this is integral to everything we do, including creating the branding.

"It's what goes on here at Stockroom that really matters. A place is nothing without the people who make it, and the bracket device is such a clever way for us to continually play with this idea to showcase a whole range of goings-on with and for a whole range of people.

"It also has the ability to adapt and grow with the personality of the organisation. Flexibility is built into the concept, in the language we use in the bracket statements, our ability to mix and match the logo with illustrations, statements and a range of colours to adapt our tone for different types of activity whilst maintaining a strong visual brand identity."