1/People I know on the Right tend to be obsessed with the idea of "crimethink", taboos, and the (supposedly) oppressive, omnipresent enforcement of liberal cultural norms.


My new theory: A lot of it is guilt.

2/It's true that in some circles - the media, universities, many big corporations - liberal norms *are* enforced to some degree, and the enforcement has probably gotten stronger in recent years.

But I don't think this explains all of the Right's obsession.
3/The stereotype is that people on the Right tend to be more threat-sensitive. That would help explain the perception that liberal norm-enforcers are lurking everywhere, ready to pounce and anathematize anyone who makes a misstep.

But I don't think that's all of it either.
4/And of course, it's always fun - whether you're on the Right or the Left, or playing a video game, or whatever - to style yourself as the brave iconoclastic rebel fighting against the oppressive forces of blah blah blah.

But I don't think this is all of it, either.
5/The reason I think it's more than these things is that even *in private*, people on the Right express their "crimethink" ideas very gingerly and hesitantly.

I get the sense that they're not just afraid of external censure, but have also internalized liberal norms.
6/I think many people on the Right aren't just ashamed to *say* some of the things they believe, but ashamed to *believe* them. They're often their own strictest policeman.

In other words, we're not just a "shame society", we're a "guilt society" as well.
7/BUT, I also think that the idea of ubiquitous PC, or liberal thought police, or The Cathedral, etc., allows people on the Right to avoid confronting their feelings of shame over some of their own non-egalitarian beliefs.

It lets them externalize the locus of control.
8/"How dare you not let me say this in public?!" thus functions as a distraction from the more uncomfortable thought of "OMG, do I really believe this??".
9/Anyway, this is just broad-brush amateur psychoanalysis, so don't put too much stock in it, but I just wanted to put this thought out there.

To the extent this is true, it means liberals' power to make the Right feel more comfortable is limited.
10/Weakening the enforcement of liberal norms in public discourse would come at a cost (those norms are there for a reason!), but the benefit might be smaller than the Right would like to imagine.

It will not assuage guilt.


More from Noah Smith

Bloomberg Ideas conference now starting! I will be live-tweeting it. You can watch on our Facebook or Twitter pages (links below)!

Our first panel is about cryptocurrency! We have @matt_levine, @tylercowen, @eiaine, @nirkaissar, and Camilla

Ou: Crypto will be useful for the unbanked.

Cowen: Crypto has to compete against a bunch of other emerging payments technologies. Bitcoin is too inflexible.

Cowen: I'll bet on the payments companies over crypto.
Today's @bopinion post is about how poor countries started catching up to rich ones.

It looks like decolonization just took a few decades to start

Basic econ theory says poor countries should grow faster than rich ones.

But for much of the Industrial Revolution, the opposite happened.

Why? Probably because the first countries to discover industrial technologies used them to conquer the others!

But then colonial empires went away. And yet still, for the next 30 years or so, poor countries fell further behind rich ones.


Possible reasons:
1. Bad institutions (dictators, communism, autarkic trade regimes)
2. Civil wars
3. Lack of education

But then, starting in the 80s (for China) and the 90s (for India and Indonesia), some of the biggest poor countries got their acts together and started to catch up!

Global inequality began to fall.
To be honest, I think this is just the effect of Twitter.

If you're on Twitter all the time - as every political commentator now is - it's easy to think that whiny, big-talking Twitter slacktivists are "the Dems".

But what's happening out there on the ground?

This is another reason I think Twitter is so bad for society.

It convinces intellectuals and commentators that practically everyone who's on their side is an extremist.

Which makes them tolerate extremism out of a (false) feeling of necessity.

If you stay on Twitter too much (which we all do now), you start to think that the typical left-of-center person is some British wanker who quote-tweets "Imagine thinking this" to anyone who doesn't like the idea of "ending capitalism".

But he is not typical.

A majority of Americans are not on Twitter.

But *every* journalist, commentator, and intellectual *has* to be on Twitter.

So every journalist, commentator, and intellectual comes face to face with big-talking slacktivist faux-extremists day in and day out.

It's a problem!!

Online bubbles full of shouty faux-extremists are, in general, fine.

The difference is that every journalist, commentator, and intellectual is essentially forced to exist in THIS bubble, because their jobs require it.

Twitter is a dystopian technology.


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