I like the mental-illness theory of liberal hysteria, but I worry it may be too narrow. I certainly agree that the elite/progressive fascination with COVID restrictions is a challenge to ideological accounts of wokeness, since the same moral crusaders ended up fixated on both NPIs and diversity trainings despite the superficial dissimilarity of these causes. So far as I know, there was no preexisting movement on the left advocating for radical measures to control the spread of infection, no ideological priming on the need for biopolitical surveillance regimes; if anything, the opposite was true. Similarly, there was no emergency--certainly nothing on the scale of a global pandemic--driving the left to panic about identity issues in the early-to-mid-2010s. (Goldberg and others have shown that the obsession with sex and race preceded Trump's campaign and was accelerated, not sparked, by his election.) Instead, elite activists invented ideological pretexts in one case (controlling the spread of infection is how we demonstrate good collectivist values!) and manufactured emergencies in the other (by reacting to longstanding problems as if they were acute crises). When you throw in the Occupy movement's response to inequality and the occasional mini-panics over climate change, it does seem as if our liberal elites are predisposed to a certain form of hysteria—wildly overreacting to morally charged topics, conducting frantic purges and shaming campaigns, attributing all problems to one overarching existential emergency, and insisting on absolutist solutions.

So, yes, I do think the problem may have more to do with mental predispositions than with whatever particular ideas people are reading about in school. And I can also see the value in saying, "Look, these people aren't going to change, we just need to accept them as they are and focus on building alternate institutions." I frankly don't see how we can get *anything* done without finding some way to route around these networks of well-connected hysterics who start screaming that we need to burn society down every time someone hears an ableist comment, drinks out of a plastic water bottle, decides to have more than two kids, or sneezes in public.

But I'm not sure I agree that the details are uninteresting or unimportant, for a few reasons.

First, the definition of mental illness is subject to the same social dynamics we're discussing, so focusing narrowly on this indicator may amount to chasing a moving target. If progressive physicians expand the definition of mental illness so much that virtually the whole population qualifies in some way, the decisive factor will be who ends up seeking treatment. And that will in turn be skewed by social pressures, access to care, incentive structures, socioeconomic status, etc. Frankly, I think something like this is already happening.

Second, I suspect we're looking at something broader than mere mental illness here—something more like intense social sorting based on personality traits, ones that *might* manifest as clinical illness but have an aggregate effect on society even in milder forms. If you take all the shy people in town and send them off to mingle in a closed community with other shy people, you're going to start seeing certain social dynamics even if everyone involved is basically healthy.

Third, I worry that a narrow focus on illness is an invitation to ignore sex, which is a useful predictor of some psychological traits. If political trends reflect the social distribution of, say, anxiety disorders; and a rise in anxiety disorders tracks the entry of women into fields and leadership positions, why not look at the whole causal chain?

Finally, I personally would like to know why the distribution of pathologies seems so politically skewed, even if—perhaps especially if—there's some general p-factor that captures a predisposition to psychological distress. Why does the grassroots Right seem to have ended up with all the colorful cranks and paranoid types, while the Left got stuck with a slew of dreary neurotics? Looking specifically at the academic Left, how did our universities come to be overstocked not only with huge numbers of high-functioning agoraphobes, but with the kinds of reflexive conformists who just cannot resist certain kinds of emotional appeals? How did these two groups, the therapy-seeking activists and their therapy-providing enablers, end up joined in a weird collective version of what we would colloquially call a codependent relationship? If some of these people are just plain crazy, were they driven crazy by shared experiences? Or are we talking about clusters of genetic traits conducive to success within certain domains?

One trouble with explaining these kinds of shifts is that they're always overdetermined. Did the decline of other institutions—churches, multigenerational homes, hospitals—force people who would formerly have been shut-ins and dependents to seek refuge in the university system? Did gentrification wipe out too many urban bohemias, driving artsy-fartsy types into professional fields? Did our semi-meritocratic education system end up sorting society by psychological type as well as IQ? Did secularization deprive anxiety-prone strivers of the comforts of prayer and down-home religion? Did the transition from print to electronic media put a burden on introverts who were formerly content to sit quietly alone with their books, leaving them distracted, overstimulated, and anxious? Or has the shift to a hypercompetitive knowledge economy just plain driven a lot of people nuts?

Whatever's going on, it's not only happening in America. In a way, Haidt's work hasn't fared all that badly; he may have been wrong about the politics of mysophobia, but both COVID-mania and anti-bias zealotry fit his description of safetyism run amok. This is a global problem that seems to manifest, with regional variations, in many if not most highly modernized societies. I’m not sure America's parenting practices, private universities, or particular politicians can be blamed.

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Dec 17, 2021·edited Dec 17, 2021Liked by Richard Hanania

I think people would be much more amenable to your critiques on US foreign policy if you also found ways to be critical of China and Russia. I'm not saying you should do so necessarily, because it's good to have strident, focused critiques of US foreign policy and the harm it has caused that isn't coming from the tankie left. But, it's an option if you're concerned with gaining more traction with your ideas about foreign policy, which you seem to be. Whatabout and Yeahbut are very strong reactions for most people to easily silo. On the other hand, any critique, even one qualified alongside critiques of US foreign policy, can and will be absorbed and weaponized to support US hegemony and warmongering. Or perhaps Russia/China really are generally unaggressive good faith actors who deserve to control territories around them because its their right as powerful nations and because they really really want those places.

But everyone knows China/Russia are massively powerful states with all the attendant baggage and mistakes and foibles, so it will strike most people as odd that you don't countenance any of that (yes, even if you are right that it pales in comparison to what the US has done over recent decades, but we're talking rhetorical strategies here). Maybe you think US foreign policy is so disastrous and so harmful that it needs to be uniquely targeted at the expense of just treating other powerful adversarial nations as abstractions, which, you know, fine, but then you just can't be disappointed in a broadly negative response to that. Relatedly, I personally can't tell what your more normative prescriptions for the global state of affairs ought to be--like much of the left when they talk about capitalism, it's reasonable criticism, but just that. Placing your critiques in a broader, coherent vision would likely lessen criticisms. I don't think most people get any sense of that vision from your tweets.

You do seem (pathologically?) drawn to the snark contrarian take, which is perfect for Twitter and which you've noted will rightly garner some admiration among those who are always worrying they care too much about what others think. It is a unique and useful psychology and it's good we have people like you because you do it smartly and you generally target what I think are the right things. I mean, you realize already these are good qualities to have in our current battlefield of ideas.

Ditch Mao: The Untold Story (or anything from those authors), no one takes that seriously. You're right that it's really hard to discern good information/reading on China (99% just don't know a damn thing and anybody who doesn't admit how little they know can be generally discounted). Even people who have spent years and years in the country will still analyze it poorly or find it impossible to overcome their ideological beliefs about democracy, human rights, liberalism, capitalism, development, etc. People in the China studies field, like all fields, are protective of their "expertise" and are critical of others who just read a dozen or so books (and can't read Chinese or haven't lived there) and then pontificate (because even doing that little will make you feel like you're in the 1%), so your China takes will likely continue to face criticism. Of course, most people in the China field are also generally critical of the CCP for a number of historical and ideological reasons and they won't be able to look past Xinjiang/HK/Taiwan as easily as you can considering how many come from or have family/contacts/friends in those spaces (well, the later two).

You're right though that there's a lot to learn from China and the typical media channels cover it ignorantly and ideologically (though I think you'll be pleasantly surprised once you find the right seams to dig deeper into on the academic side). I personally will look forward to your forays and attempt to wrestle with what China's rise means, or ought to mean, for the rest of the world--especially us in the decadent and decaying west. It cannot remain beholden to the experts. Generalists with an audience like yourself have to start trying to make sense of things and affecting opinion. You might enjoy the "reading the china dream" website if you're looking for a way to drink from the faucet more directly, though of course there is curation in terms of what is chosen for translation.

Your Twitter personality is fine, for Twitter. Your psyche and ego can only survive if you treat it like a warzone.

This comes across bizarrely parasocial, but your piece was reflective about yourself to the extent it sounded like you wanted feedback.

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Dec 18, 2021·edited Dec 18, 2021Liked by Richard Hanania

Re monetizing for supporters: This is something I think about a lot! As a creator, you have this fundamental tension between making your digital work as widely available as possible (after all, the marginal cost of distribution is zero), vs recouping your up-front costs (the time and labor going in to writing each post). It's shaped a bit like the problem of funding public goods, and I'm pretty excited by innovation in the crypto world eg https://medium.com/ethereum-optimism/retroactive-public-goods-funding-33c9b7d00f0c

Anyways I've seen a few different supporter incentives that work well for writers:

- Monthly open Q&As with supporters

- Exclusive Discord/Slack community

- Early access to posts (more common among serial web fiction e.g. chapters that come out 3x a week)

These also can do double duty by granting you faster feedback, or advance proofreading/typo checks.

And if you're interested in experimenting with new kinds of incentives: how about play money for prediction markets? At https://mantic.markets, we allow creators to set up and resolve their own prediction markets. One idea we had for tying the currency to something valuable was to partner with authors, granting their supporters e.g. $100 of currency for each $10 donated through Substack. They can then bet on questions like "Will Richard write more than 10 book reviews in 2022? If you're interested at all, let me know!

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Dec 20, 2021·edited Dec 20, 2021Liked by Richard Hanania

Hi Richard very interesting. Not that you take requests like radio stations back in the day but a few topics I'd be fascinated to hear you write more about: (1) More predictions of the type you outlined in your Spring 2021 article. I really like the idea of clearly articulating predictions as an accountability mechanism. (2) Your critique of the 'Middle East wars bad but conflict with China good' crowd, specifically the thinking of people like Peter Thiel. (3) Perhaps some advice for people who have heterodox views and don't think academia is a hospitable environment but don't relish the idea of a career in law or business.

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Dec 18, 2021Liked by Richard Hanania

Richard, I say this as someone who greatly enjoyed your insights a year or two ago. You are succumbing to polarization. More and more, with each new post you write and each wave of applause you received from "based" readers, you are indulging in hatred and demonization of your political enemies. You express it in a calm and measured way, but it's clear to see all the same.

You've stopped thinking solely in terms of what is correct and joined a team. Who cares what's really right (about vaccines, for example), as long as the other side is worse? That's where you're at now.

If you don't step back from this abyss, in another year or two you will be the next Bret Weinstein. Please let yourself hear your opponents and see them as people, try harder to understand their worldview. Let Scott Alexander be your guide, not the Weinsteins. You can still turn away from this path you are on.

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Re: leaders that like vaccines and hate everything else, Mexico’s AMLO is a good candidate. You did say developed country though, so maybe you already knew that.

I love your substack and sometimes hate(d; I deleted my acc) your twitter. You tweet too much and very often its very obvious culture war stuff that gets repetitive and attracts very stupid boomer cons. You should aim for subtler attacks and do it less often so people dont feel like they are following a Fox News host.

Re university students just always being retarded, I tend to agree. People forget how intertwined nationalism and student groups were in late XIXth and early XXth century Europe. In “The Iron Ring”, which is an excellent book about WW1, it’s made clear that one of the groups very enthusiastically occupying the streets to ask for war was student organizations.

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I don’t think the mental illness feature of the left obviously has the causal structure you seem to assume, which is mentally ill groups make mentally ill decisions.

Rather, it seems to me to better show how the language and philosophy of psychological therapy has become so central in left wing institutions, in the same way Judeochristianity can be seen as the soil of aspects of the Enlightenment.

Also it does strike me (at a glance—perhaps the full read refutes this) that the Goldberg evidence might be backwards in its measurement. I think Dave Chapelle has some joke about how black people use drugs, because they can’t afford therapy. And my understanding is that other ethnic groups tend to stigmatize mental illness; conservatives probably do so more as well. So there’s at least an argument that Goldberg’s data doesn’t actually show that liberals have greater mental illness, only that they’re more likely to seek diagnosis. There are also other readings here (e.g., knowing a person with or suffering from an uncontrollable mental illness is something that inherently divorces you from the conservative idea of personal responsibility). I just would hesitate (if I were you) to jump to the reading that your opponents are defective in some way, both on a concern of your likely biases and its ability to potentially lead you towards dehumanizing your opponents (as under a conservative philosophy you might take a mentally ill person’s less-than-full agency as a black mark).

Lastly, haven’t people always been insanely overprotective of children? Think of “won’t someone please think of the children?” from the Simpsons. I know moms who worry about their kids at school still with COVID, so perhaps this is partly the embodiment of that tendency (since parents are often the “true” consumer of schooling, in the same way pet owners are the true consumers of pet grooming).

Not to say I disagree with you about activists often using politics as a means of working through their own issues, and something about left wing institutions causes them to pay these activists excessive regard. Although, on the point activists are often mentally ill, query if this is also the nature of all conversion—churches often draw the most down on their luck individuals; perhaps a similar event happens here.

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"The view held by Jonathan Haidt and others that much of politics can be understood by the fact that conservatives are more afraid of germs has probably fared worse than any other idea in the social sciences over the last two years."

It was always false: https://news.gallup.com/poll/189161/americans-cite-cyberterrorism-among-top-three-threats.aspx

"Now I see mental illness as the horse leading the cart of ideology."

I don't think excess COVID restrictions had anything to do with mental illness; they were pure anti-Trumpism. Any place that honored George Floyd could get an excuse re: COVID restrictions, there was no principled stance behind them at all.

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If you want to reduce the influence of universities, look at promotion and relegation in sports. I think a lot of college sports' unusual popularity in America is caused by the major pro sports leagues' central planning keeping the number of high-profile professional teams well below market demand. By comparison by allowing thousands of teams to compete toward getting to the country's top league, promotion and relegation meets market demand for professional teams. If America had promotion and relegation in sports, we'd have professional teams from Little Rock, Des Moines, Louisville, & wherever else there is market demand playing to large audiences instead of "amateur" teams. I know there are minor leagues in America, but it isn't the same if a team isn't allowed to earn their way to the top league versus D1 college teams playing meaningful games against national championship contenders.

Germany as an example with its federal system mixing national with regional & state league systems: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_football_league_system

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I am curious to know how you reconcile your "Sino-optimism" with the belief that masks/lockdowns have little to no significant effect? Clearly, you previously praised China for dealing with COVID better than the US. If you believe that only vaccines are effective, and both countries came about the vaccine at similar moments in time, doesn't that show a more forceful government intervention can lead to better COVID outcomes?

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New reader - where’s the line between “healthy skepticism of China” and “anti China” for you? Is it anti China to find what happened in Hong Kong frightening? Do you feel a conquest of Taiwan would be either no big deal or none of our business? Ditto the above vis-à-vis xinjiang?

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RE: "The woke are the most aggressive and least civil and tolerant political faction in the country"

Why? Consider, as just one example, war-on-drug-ers. They want to *imprison* all the people doing the thing they disagree with. How are the woke less tolerant than them?

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I wonder whether the higher self-reported incidence of mental illness is reflective of actual higher prevalence among liberal academic wokesters, or is simply driven by other factors (wealth, education, greater acceptance of mental health problems amongst college educated urbanites, etc).

My own view on the woke movement as it has extended beyond the margins of academia (where it has lurked since at least the late 60s) is that it fills a void for its adherents that would otherwise be occupied by religion. I now see this view beginning to gain traction elsewhere (McWhorter's book, etc,), although it's unclear to me why it took so long for many to recognize this (fear? a desire to accommodate these movements?).

This new religion shows the influence of Catholicism (the original sin of white privilege and confession thereof), Calvinism (the lack of redemption), fundamentalism (woke as a synonym for being born again and heresy in their demand for absolute adherence to the doctrine), and Judaism (inculcating an identity based on oppression). I have also noted its presence in the world of online dating: Hinge profiles do not simultaneously demand the dismantling of the patriarchy and profess their love of Christianity - the woke god is a jealous deity who will not tolerate rivals. I also saw parallels between the BLM gatherings of summer 2020 and the desire of conservatives (condemned by the left) to gather for religious services at the height of the pandemic.

None of the above entirely discredits the mental-illness theory, but it does call it into question, since there are a large number of individuals on the right who also embrace religion, just in a more traditional form.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Your insights into "miserable" people, and their influence on both a personal and societal level, are my favorite of yours.

Here's to you always keeping your integrity, cheers!

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Could you clarify your position on masks? I'm confused as to whether you, and Philipe's linked to piece think mask mandates don't work (because, in practice, people don't wear masks, or they wear crappy loose fitting ones) or the masks themselves don't work (because even a perfectly fitted surgical mask doesn't capture all viral particulate and the little that does escape keeps the spread going)

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“I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions, because if you’re going to make a categorical rule to do something, you should do it now.”

This is a smart-sounding throwaway remark I often hear from rationalist bloggers, but I think there is value in a yearly tradition of self-improvement that everyone takes part in. It’s easier to make positive changes when others are also trying to do better, and the fact that so many people struggle to fulfill their resolutions only strengthens the opportunity to connect with each other over the reality that we’re all human and fall short of our aspirations. It’s also worth pondering that we don’t know the counterfactual of this tradition, and perhaps individuals would fail to improve even more often without it.

Personally, I struggle to recognize and implement all the goals I have for improving myself in real-time and it is helpful to have a tradition that invites me to pause and reflect on such things.

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