The language of dissidence as the mirror image of reading the room
Your take on vaccines is lazy. You really need to distinguish between the effectiveness of the vaccines and their side effects. The critical point is that the distributions of benefits and risks across the population are very different! The vaccine is good for some people, but inappropriate for others. Our society is currently too imbecilic to implement any policy which acknowledges this, resulting in mandates for children and healthy young people, which are statistically actively harmful.
A lot of people think that in order for heterodox academy to have any foothold whatsoever in mainstream academia, they have to focus on “viewpoint diversity” rather than simply saying that the academy’s mainstream positions on specific identity-based subjects are flat out wrong. Not sure I fully agree, but I can see where they’re coming from.
As far as heterodox vs “free thinker”, I think a lot of people (myself included) use them to mean the same thing. The latter just sounds cringe for some reason, even if it’s more correct.
Excellent piece, I often cringe when I read pieces by self proclaimed “dissident right” figures that are long on scaremongering about “the regime” and short on actual analysis. It pretty much amounts to an emasculating orgy of self pity written exclusively to indulge the people who already buy in to their world view, rather than convince anyone on the fence.
I think the “noise” generated from Twitter overshadowed the fact that Richard is one of the few really interesting thinkers on the “right” currently. Hoping to see more opportunities to convey these ideas to a wider audience now that the Twitter presence is reduced.
I think that "heterodox" connotes mainstream credentials but not mainstream views. That describes me in economics. It describes Richard in foreign policy, does it not?
This is the same basic reason why I really abhor being called a "contrarian". In my head, I really don't feel like I'm motivated by a primal urge to look at what the majority of people are saying and say the exact opposite. Like you, I believe the majority is correct on certain issues (evolution is true, Covid vaccines reduce the risk of death etc.) and incorrect on others (there are no differences between male and female brains, discrimination is the sole explanation behind the underrepresentation of women in STEM etc.).
I suspect that the people tossing around the label "contrarian" are so deeply steeped in social conformity that the only reason they can conceive of someone endorsing a particularly worldview is BECAUSE of conformism (or its opposite). The idea of a person endorsing a worldview because they sincerely believe it's true (without regard for how popular it is) seems not to occur to them.
Fair enough, but come on, dissenting from Wokeism can very well mean the end of one's employment, and indeed employability, in many precincts of the educated elite.
Sure it's not the Gulag, or even the Inquisition, but it's at least McCarthyism. but aren't unwoke just a tiny bit entitled to use "dissident"-type language to describe their beliefs?
1. This article seems a little at odds with your essay on How to Think about the Current Thing. In that you outlined why relying on heuristics is important when we have limited time to form opinions. You wrote "I would argue that a probabilistic approach suggests that we should be anti-current thing." But in this article you say that using anti-liberal heuristics "sometimes works, but it’s not the best way to go through life." Is the former advice for normies, while the latter advice for those who care to read about topics?
2. “free thinker” likely won't take on now that Kanye is using that term while claiming Jews are killing black babies. Gen Z uses the term exclusively sarcastically online. The best case scenario is that you get so famous that "Hananiaism" becomes your ideological label.
There is something to be said about the psychology of average right-wing "dissident." This is someone who can instinctively tell something is amiss about what the MSM says, but lacks any level of intellectual seriousness. Conspiracy theories are appealing, because conspiracy theories explain why the media lies and why bad things are happening without requiring any work. They appeal deeply to the low IQ. Watching strange documentaries and listening to podcasts by grifters substitutes for actually reading arguments and counterarguments and thinking.
I always wondered why conspiracy theorists never apply any of their (often well-placed) skepticism toward their own theories. You know about all of these studies showing how dangerous vaccines are, but why do you have no skepticism of ivermectin? But I realized, the truth is not the point. The truth is not the point for most people, after all. Conspiracy theorizing, reflexive contrarianness, these fill a certain psychological need.
Government of Canada was just fine freezing all the bank accounts of those they claimed directly or indirectly supported the Convoy. No trial or anything. No warrant.
This brings to mind something Tony Judt pointed out when talking about dissident intellectuals and artists in the USSR and other communist countries: Persecution was no guarantee of quality. Lots of the writers who struggled along in the underground publishing circles of Eastern Europe, lauded as heroes in the West, faded from view after 1989 because they just weren't particularly talented or interesting artists or thinkers. Many could have got out earlier but chose not to, preferring to be oppressed, as at least it made their work notable. I think many modern "dissident" authors are clamouring for a bit of that oppression chic, because on the market for content, it can substitute for quality or originality. But, as you pointed out, modern-day USA isn't exactly communist Poland as far as freedom of speech goes. That's not to say there aren't real censorship problems to discuss, but then discuss them, don't just poke the bear then try to get famous off getting lightly mauled.
I know it's not the point of the post but to say that "covid vaccines work" is far too simplistic a stance to be considered either right or wrong. You can make a claim that they work to prevent hospitalization, particularly among very vulnerable populations; that claim would be true. But then you can claim, as many did (and as many were banned from the public square for denying) that COVID vaccines prevent you from getting sick at all, which is clearly and obviously untrue. If you believe the latter then you probably are just room-reading, despite any illusions to the contrary, as absolutely no evidence exists in favor of that and a great deal exists against it.
People develop these blind spots, even when they think they're operating on the truth-value of claims, out of self-preservation. There are some buttons you just know not to press. For months, in fact a couple of years, the no-questions-asked, miracle-cure-all efficacy of the mRNA vaccines was one of these things. If you or anyone else still holds *that* definition of "covid vaccines work" to be true, I bet this is a factor, that it remains - vestigial - in their mind that it's unthinkable to dissent, even though now the medical establishment is quietly admitting that they "work" only in a qualified, limited way.
Your overall point, however, is a very good one, and that right wingers like to use the "oh, we poor benighted heretics are just oppressed by leftists at every turn, no wonder we can't do anything" line as cope is 100% true. To take the 2020 election as an example: we could have seen what was happening in Georgia, with the liberalization of election laws, and the very impressive GOTV operation run by the Democrats, and tried to fight fire with fire. No, much easier instead to say that there were fake ballots and fraud and everything, rather than do any actual work. A bunch of self-owns from Trump about mail-in ballots didn't help; the complete absence of any kind of GOTV operation from the Republicans did for the rest. Rather than reflect on that and do the work, much easier just to call yourself a heretic and a secret king and say that elections don't matter because they're all rigged and democracy is stupid anyway.
I agree with this piece, and aspire to a similar ideal of independent thinking. And yet, at a certain point in my life I came to realize that I am, constitutionally speaking, an intuitive contrarian. If everyone likes something, my first instinct is to dislike it. If everyone does something, my first instinct is to do something else. And if everyone thinks something, my first instinct is to assume they are all wrong.
This is merely an initial instinct, which with the passage of time I've gotten better at dismissing where it might cause needless hassle (e.g., rejecting fashion norms) or where it would simply lead me into error. Nevertheless, having a bit of intuitive contrarianism can be helpful, because it means that adopting either side of an issue bears costs:
1. adopting the popular position bears an intuitive emotional cost
2. being an intuitive contrarian doesn't exempt one from all the usual costs of unpopular opinions (social censure, ostracism, etc.)
Since both sides bear costs, it can be hoped that one will choose more carefully. (Moreover, if we look at truth-finding as a social, dialogic process, then having some interlocutors predisposed to take up contrary positions is useful, cf Sperber & Mercier's *Enigma of Reason*.)
The vaccines work really, really well... to line the pockets of pharma execs.
The problem is that the side relying on solemn debates about ideas is strictly outmatched by the side relying on tribal loyalty and fanaticism.
It's important for at least some influential elites to be aware of what the truth actually is, to the extent 'truth' can be discerned. But on a practical level, the only force capable of turning back a movement like Wokeism is an equally (or even more) intolerant and fanatical opposing movement. Stated differently, if you get what you want out of American politics, it'll be thanks to the legions of MAGA Trump cultists and devoted 'Christo-Fascists' rather than some sort of New Enlightenment rejection of leftism.
Hanania, I greatly appreciate your writing and podcasting. You've helped deradicalize me simply by being a prominent writer who sees the same problems that I do and hasn't become a white nationalist. It is admirable that you don't use "whatever makes the libs angry" as your heuristic for finding the truth, but for a lot of people, that heuristic is their best, if not only option.
Imagine that you are an average American in regards to intelligence and level of education. You trust the Cathedral (used here as a euphemism for the media + academia), because you know your limits and don't consider yourself smart enough to meaningfully critique them. One day, the people who you normally trust because of their prestigious positions all take a stance that you disagree with. The people who agree with you on the relevant issue are being met with ad hominem attacks, rather than real debate. Some of them are even losing their jobs. Wouldn't it make sense to assume, from that point onward, that the Cathedral is not interested in truth? Or perhaps that the people who the Cathedral considers unworthy of direct engagement (platforming) are the people who are the people most likely to be correct?
You say that we shouldn't assume the media is wrong on everything because they happen to be wrong on issues of race and gender. But if the Cathedral is wrong on 100% of the issues that we do understand, why should we assume that they're right about the issues that we don't? We're beyond trusting "The Science" (a euphemism for the interpretation of science spoon-fed to us by The Cathedral), but we're not smart enough to understand actual science. This leaves contrarianism as the only option.
For example, I don't understand how mRNA vaccines work. I do understand that the term "vaccine" used to refer to the injection of a neutered version of a virus into my body so that my cells could know what it looks like and develop antibodies. I find it dishonest that the media is conflating these new vaccines with the old vaccines, as though they're the same technology. Hearing "vaccines have been used for decades, and this is no different" makes me want to bash my head against a wall because I know that it IS different. I don't understand what this vaccine is or how it will effect me, but I do understand that I'm being lied to, and I don't like it. I also understand that people lying to me about this vaccine also lied about "hands up don't shoot," Nick Sandman blocking the bath of a Native American war vet, Trump calling Neo-Nazis fine people, etc. Why should I take their word about vaccines?
I think the implicit answer of this column is "educate yourself," but not everyone can. That's why we have people who identify as heterodox.
OT, but relevant to your work:
They're just going to ban any work that might prove them wrong.