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

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.

"Competitive wokeness", like "virtue signaling" and "preference falsification", seems to be something people on the right say in order to pretend that people on the left don't really believe what they claim to believe.

Basically we have a whole bunch of ways of saying "You can't possibly believe that!!". Which helps us avoid the terrifying fact that yes, people generally do believe it.

Of course, "believe" doesn't mean what it means in econ class. It means that people get a warm feeling from asserting something, even if they don't know what it means. "God is omnipotent", etc.

A lot of times we believe extreme things, simply because asserting those things all together in a group gives us a warm feeling of having an army on our side.

It's not competitive wokeness. It's COOPERATIVE wokeness.

"Virtue signaling" isn't fake or pretend. It's real.

"Virtue", when it comes right down to it, means membership on a team.

Sometimes, to prove you're on a team, it helps to say something people on the other team could never bring themselves to say.

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