Apr 23, 2023·edited Apr 23, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

> (animal suffering BTW is something I take seriously enough that it could blow up this entire analysis, but I’ll bracket the topic for now and save it for another day)

Some societal issues are mostly or fully empirical. "What energy policy will lead to the most economic growth and reduction in human suffering?" "What form of government best accomplishes objectives X, Y, and Z?" etc. Answering these questions requires the qualities that ECs excel at: an open mind, intelligence, and seeing the world as it is (as opposed to what you would wish it to be). Also, contemporary thinkers have an advantage here, because there is more empirical information available in the present.

But some questions are far more moral than empirical. "What is the moral weight of animal suffering?" "What duties do we have to fellow citizens, and to foreigners?" "What freedoms should we treasure most? How do we judge compromises between preserving freedom and avoiding chaos?" "What is the moral worth of an unborn child's life?" "What causes are worth dying for, and when is it better to compromise?" No scientific experiment can answer these, and the EC toolset is mostly worthless here. ECs may sidestep many of these questions with libertarianism, or support economic progress as a way of papering over divisions. But sometimes there is no compromise option, and the can be kicked no further.

This is where the ancients come into their own. Jesus, Confucius, Socrates, Homer, Virgil, the Buddha, and St. Aquinas may be clueless about pandemic mitigation or tariff policy. But on what it means to live a good life, what values to cherish most, and what rhetoric and symbolism to use to support these views—they are infinitely superior to the modern "ethicists" and "communications" midwits.

Tanner Greer is such a great intellectual because he excels in both disciplines. He has the detachment necessary to properly judge empirical questions. But he also has read history and the classics, and has a clear moral vision of what is worth living for.

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Apr 22, 2023·edited Apr 23, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

You touched on this a bit, but I would add that I like to read people is that people who write in plain language and use words in their standard meanings. I try to aim for this: my blog is called Simplify. Of the people from your list that I recognize, they all seem to write in a straightforward manner. They also avoid the non-standard word usage, where people say stuff like "eating sushi is colonialism" or whatever.

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I liked this post and the concept of EC certainly has some contemporary “bite” in 2023. That’s an interesting list of thinkers, too. Quite Substack-y, no? Which is a compliment to Substack.

Other people have dinged you for not taking ancient/classical thinkers more seriously, so I’ll skip that.

> Claims about previous generations having it better are demonstrably false

Globally, sure. Compared to 1500 or 1800, sure. But empirically:

- People in the US (including black people, btw) are less happy than they were in the 1950s.

- Crime went up hugely from the 60s to the 90s. It came down from then, but only because many more people were jailed, and it’s still higher than the 50s and rising again.

- Divorce is high and marriage itself is increasingly rare. This is bad for happiness.

- Relatedly, the birth rate is simply unsustainable! You can’t say “everything is fine” when your society is shrinking by like 1/3 or more every generation. That’s like a definition of “not fine”! This is the most important point; it’s amazing it doesn’t get more attention.

- Jon Haidt’s evidence on mental health is at least worth taking seriously. The decline in social trust is also empirically well established and goes back about half a century.

These topics share a common reference point in the 1950s - ie, before the 1960s. It’s worth confronting the thesis that advanced societies have gone badly wrong since then in a social fabric sense.

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My name reflects my bias, but the bit about not reading old philosophy strikes me as a symptom of our current obsession with data at the expense of generating actually useful explanations. I love statistics and all that too, but that isn’t the only thing that matters.

While there can certainly be biases in favor of old writers simply because they are old, often there is deep wisdom that is hard to find in books written recently.

I worry you have given the classics an unfairly cursory treatment?

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Good substance to this idea. Terrible label. "Enlightened Centrism" has nothing to do with centrism, and will consistently cause confusion (note that you immediately had to apologize for this confusion when you introduced the term). At best it's "non-partisan", but so are most things (pretzels, dandruff, breastfeeding). And the "enlightened" thing is just pompous and superfluous -- every philosophy thinks it's enlightened, by definition.

No, I don't have a better suggestion. But it's just a label. Make up a nonsense word. If the point is to avoid associating it with an existing political tribe, that's a fool's errand anyway: if it comes from you, the idpol left will say it's alt-right white supremacist transphobic fascist etc etc. Might as well sacrifice a nonsense word to the gods of the euphemism treadmill, instead of a term that has pre-existing semantic value.

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Thanks for writing this — it's one of my favorites so far, and really successfully ties together a collection of traits that I admire and strive to emulate, as well as a group of thinkers who I'd previously labeled (in my mind) as simply "not idiots."

You write that "if me and Matt Yglesias were in Congress we’d vote on opposite sides of most issues." This surprises me. If you were more of a libertarian, I could see this occurring simply as a result of skepticism about federal legislation in general, but it's not obvious to me that most bills are about the kind of thing that you and Matt would disagree on. It's like the Supreme Court — yeah, conservative and liberal justice disagree on the high-profile cases, but most of the time their decisions aren't party-line.

Now, I see what you're saying if by "most issues" you mean "most big issues", although I'm not actually certain it's true even then. But a big part of the EC idea (in #2, for instance) seems to be that most important issues are basically empirical and that ECs are people who are simply able to address them on the merits. If this is true, and if you and Matt are ECs, I'd expect you to agree on a lot, even on the Senate floor.

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l am a liberal who left the democrats forever in 2020. What you leave out is that one side is in power and using the state to brutally censor the other. This is the most important issue by far.

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Thanks for the shoutout. I think Lemoine and Noah Carl deserve a place here, probably in the right wing category.

One observation I'd add is that funnily enough I consider myself a centrist. Holding HBD/IQ realist views is just acknowledging reality for me, and my basic views on it are ultimately Pinkerian: https://akarlin.com/race-denial-vs-racism-a-false-dichotomy/ In fairness, I was anti-Third World immigration for a long time period, but of late I have accepted that nations are not a viable or desirable construct in the long run, and have now sided with Caplan/Hanson and shifted to Open Borders.

This might be strange ostensibly be hard to reconcile with my professed Russian nationalism, but that position is primarily motivated by the observation that Russia's embrace of stridently a-national ideologies (Communism in 20C; market fundamentalism in the 1990s) has been consistently ruinous for the Russian people, and perhaps Russia should look out for the interests of its own people and the ethnicity that makes up 85% of its population in particular for a change during 21C (much as Israel privileges the interests of a certain ethnoreligious group that makes up 75% of its population). Even in Russia, I got on better with liberal nationalists (OB, Sputnik & Pogrom, etc.) and the National Bolsheviks than with conservative monarchist types. There two Tweets represent my views on that well:


> I'm probably better defined as a centrist-nationalist/ethnocentrist rather than a right-winger. My main "right" position is racial realism/rejection of the clean slate theory. But among these there are people of almost all ideologies, including liberals and even (though rarely) leftists.


> The main goal of nationalism is to self-destruct. To such an extent "normalize" national thinking that "nationalism" will remain, by and large, become the reserve of only freaks, outcasts, and Svidomy.

I was always against Russian nationalism that was loaded in any particular "extra" ideological direction and considering late Putinism's devolution into senile jeremiads about Satanism and the 666 genders that was actually a perspicacious call.

Anyhow I did write an extensive piece on how animal rights should be gradated based on their cognitive capacities and why I avoid pork as a result of that which is kind of well beyond the normie political scales and just schizo/unclassifiable. https://akarlin.com/animals/

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Taleb is smart and insightful, and deserves credit for bringing to prominence, important ideas, but he is an emotional arguer who is prone to ad hominen attacks, and fails a lot of these criteria.

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Another issue where enlightened centrists basically agree: relaxing if not outright eliminating residential zoning restrictions.

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“I really like Steve Sailer, but he’s way too prone to zero-sum thinking, leading to policies on trade and immigration that I don’t think are very sensible.”

It seems odd to me to complain about the political externalities of low IQ Republicans or the criminal behavior of blacks and then support mass, low IQ (even lower than GOP voters!) immigration that will increase the number of criminals and/or political externalities. Libertarians will often argue that immigrants have lower crime rates than natives but then you realize than the natives include tons of non-white criminals--many of whom arrived not so long ago.

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>Covid came out of the blue. This meant we could observe its political effects as a kind of natural experiment, since pandemic policy wasn’t yet polarized, and watch how each side dealt with and processed evidence in real time.<

It seemed to me that there was essentially no opposition to lockdowns at first, in the very short term, like the first month or two. But then it got very polarized very quickly. I don't remember there ever being a moment where someone was able to question lockdowns and not have that perceived as a polarized right-wing (and therefore wrong-think) viewpoint.

>I’ll note that while Enlightened Centrists might not have a common position on major hot-button issues like gender transitions for minors or the retirement age for social security<

I find it hard to believe anyone could support gender transitions for children and still be considered any sort of worthwhile thinker. Maybe you think the issue doesn't matter, but that doesn't excuse getting something so obvious so wrong. It's about as bad as being a flat earther, arguably worse. People who believe the Earth is flat aren't really that politically important either, but it's still a pretty big marker that they shouldn't be taken seriously about much of anything else.

>the right doesn’t because it’s a movement dominated by rural interests, religious fundamentalists, and those who rely on audiovisual communication rather than the written word to receive and process information, due to some combination of stupidity and intellectual laziness.<

Doesn't this violate "no all-encompassing theories about political opponents?" The attitude that anything to do with conservatives boils down to them being stupid seems pretty all-encompassing.

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I think that this article is important and demonstrates the things that I trust in political thinkers. A few other notable similarities.

1) They seem to really like betting markets, though perhaps that's subsumed under the category of 'liking knowledge seeking institutions.'

2) They are dramatically disproportionately consequentialists.

3) They tend to be much more likely to be effective altruists or pro-animal welfare (I think Jesse Singal is a good example of another enlightened centrist, and he's also into effective altruism), and this also applies to Richard, Smith to some degree, Singer (obviously), Alexander, and like half of the people on the list.

4) Disproportionately anti-woke, but only a bit, such that it does not gobble up their identity.

I think that the animal welfare one is a decent test because it's overwhelmingly obvious that what we're doing to animals is wrong, but it's generally associated with annoying people. The people who are able to, through purely abstract reasoning, come to the conclusion that something which is very enjoyable is nonetheless deeply immoral are the people that are most trustworthy.

I think another great example of a brilliant enlightened centrist is...no, modesty prevents me from continuing.

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A common thread with all the EC names you listed is that they're a very niche set. Although I know and have read many of those names, I doubt any of them are known by even a third of the American population. This makes sense- if they refuse to identify as part of a tribe, then it's hard for them to become super popular, because humans are wired to form tribes to ensure ingroup survival. To be an EC means to reject that primal impulse and think from a very abstract level, which usually requires a high IQ and some degree of neurodivergence. I'm not surprised that ECs tend to be less popular among right wingers, considering how conservatives dislike abstraction. Matt Yglesias has written about how conservatives are much less likely to think that abstract art is "real art": https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/16/20856316/poll-yougov-art-ideology-trump

Considering how rare it is for someone to be an EC, is this ideology doomed to be a niche one? Can you imagine a world of ECs? It would probably require a lot of eugenics to get people like the names you listed, especially when you consider that high-IQ people have less children.

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Another thing: they're almost all YIMBYs.

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"Freddie deBoer is the only person on the EC list who would call himself a Marxist of any sort, although when I interviewed him he didn’t sound like any other Marxist I was familiar with."

I suspect Freddie would defend or explain this by saying that he's remained "true" to what he's long understood the principles/whatever of Marxism to be, while there are many "Marxists" who have flooded the ranks ever since Occupy that have little understanding of historical Marxist theory or policy. This is something of an axe he grinds from time-to-time on his Substack.

I am neither a Marxist nor a "Marxist" - so not my place to says who the "true Scotsman" is. Just a note to anyone curious.

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