May 29·edited May 29Liked by George Francis

"Nastiness," like "niceness," is culturally defined. If cultural conservatives don't want to be defined as "nasty," they should get down to the business of making culture -- books, music, entertainment, even comedy. Why are they almost absent from those fields of activity?

A big reason is that for the past fifty years they have put their energies into (1) winning the Cold War and (2) electing "Conservatives." They won on both fronts and naively thought that the culture war would also end. Well, it didn't. In fact, it went into overdrive.

In the early 1990s I sat on the Board of Directors of an antiracist organization. There was a distinct shift in the educational materials we were receiving. Previously, the focus had been on solidarity with the working class and things like unionization and raising the minimum wage. There was also neo-Marxist talk about opposition to NATO and U.S. imperialism. Now, all of that was gone. There was simply a very ugly "anti-White-ism." I resigned shortly after.

For that reason, and for others, it's misleading to use words like "left" and "right" or "liberal" and "conservative." The dominant ideology today is the neo-Conservative/neo-Liberal consensus. If you keep identifying yourself as "rightwing," you'll end up getting suckered into supporting causes and policies that are not at all in your interest.

I don't know how things are on your side of the pond, but here both the "left" and the "right" are in favour of massive housing construction, just as they are in favour of mass immigration. Very often, you see the same lobbies at work. Just think about it: if you let in a million immigrants and build a million houses, the housing shortage will not change one bit.

The same goes for health care. Socialized health care is being dismantled, and the dismantling is often being done by "leftwing" governments. The Americans have private health care, and the ones who suffer the most are those who are ineligible for Medicaid but who do not work for a big corporation that offers a medical plan. And to work for a big corporation, you have to support the neo-Conservative/neo-Liberal consensus.

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May 29Liked by George Francis

A lot of truth here. Also called “the cult of kindness”. I think of it as the female equivalent of “toxic masculinity”.

I think there are some further elements worth mentioning here. First: targets and weights. Should a policy benefit society as a whole? The median subject? The worst-off? Those to whom we have particular ties? Each answer will give a different “niceness” score, and often a different “goodness” score too. Socialised medicine may have worse results overall than privatised medicine, but it may be better for the very poorest. What do “nice” and “good” mean in this context? Is “nice” just a term for maximising the minimum agent's utility, and “good” just a term for maximising net utility? Even then, across what population are we quantifying? Do we have an obligation to provide free services to everyone in the world so long as they are in the UK, or only to our own people? Are these obligations absolute or weighted? My point is that I think a lot of the disagreement is not with agents selecting policies they know to be absolutely bad, but with agents holding different moral priors to you. You don't place the utility of the worst-off as your highest priority. Others do. Neither is really nice or nasty, it's just a difference of moral foundations.

Second: time and uncertainty. Policies that are good-but-nice are often higher utility in the long-term by the secondary effects they cultivate but not directly so in the short-term. Is “nice” then a term for short-run direct utility and “good” a term for long-run aggregate utility? This feeds into the unknowability of the future. In the long run there will be many confounders and as society is a non-linear system with strong feedback mechanics one could take the view that everything will end up roughly similarly. Meanwhile in the short run we can definitely increase subjects' utility right now and figure out how to deal with the consequences later. I'm not saying I'd do that: I'm a shape rotator too. But I think the option to prioritise the short run and solve its problems later is a defensible one and—whisper it—often works out better than thorough-going shape rotators like to admit. This also ties back to the targets point: do we have a responsibility to help future generations as much as we help the currently living? I think we should at least consider them, but I don't have an equation to force others to agree with that, and I don't know that they should be weighted equally. Again, there are few (no?) absolute answers in ethics.

I read a piece today that resonated with me and I think has some relevance: https://thecritic.co.uk/Why-wont-YIMBYs-talk-about-immigration/. Too often, those YIMBYs (or “right-wing hacks” as Atkinson drily calls them) think only in terms of dry net utility aggregated across all agents. “But if everyone lived in a pod in a skyscraper, global net utility would be maximised, especially for the poorest!”, they cry. But we don't have to prioritise the maximisation of global net utility, or of the poorest. We could, to take a traditional example, maximise the utility of our own people in proportion as they contribute to our society. If we want to, we can ignore the voracity of the alien hordes, we can ignore the wheedling of the lazy underclass, we can ignore the grasping of the richest. The choices we make in that paradigm might be both nice and good by that traditional standard, but nasty and bad by the standard of a universalist maximin-ner.

While there is an element of trade-off between contemporary liberal morality and effectiveness of policy outcomes, there are also choices about values that I don't think can be reduced to univariate measures of morality or quality. I think actually this goes back to your first point: the hard choices about values are being disguised by the fact that the current liberal progressive groupthink is so badly incompetent even at achieving its own claimed ends. The main thing they've succeeded at is convincing us that their ends are the only game in town.

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One of the problems with excessive niceness is that it encourages people to treat other adults like children, and hence to lie to them or otherwise try to manipulate and control them in order to spare their feelings. We can see the effects of this everywhere from personal interactions all the way up to national politics.

It is strange because, generally speaking in ordinary life, niceness is a good thing. But when perceived niceness is a major currency in status and political games, especially niceness with a tenuous connection to actual reality, things seem to get crazy.

We seem unable to say what some people consider "hard truths", even ones that a generation ago would have been considered plain as day and relatively uncontroversial.

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An argument against this reasoning is that the correlation between niceness and goodness of policies is so high, and the number of nasty and good policy is so small, that the UK or any other country really is better off following the heuristic of just avoiding all the nasty policies, because that way you only miss out on a few good ones. As evidence of this, some of the proposals here like privatizing the NHS are terrible. You link to a post by Emil, and his post reminds me of the idea that high taxes prevent economic growth, which is not true, as evidenced by the fact that Denmark exists, something Emil never seems to remember in order to remain a libertarian. The linked post is also pretty silly. Obviously people have more than one moral preference, and if you're going to try take the vote away from people who don't vote like you, well, the other side can play the same game, and in the end everyone can just argue against the vote for individuals who do not have their policies preference, in which case we return to the compromise of everyone being able to vote.

Now, regarding this article, an argument against my argument above would be that not all policies have the same impact, so even if only a few policies are both nasty and good, if they can have a very high impact then the best heuristic would not just be to avoid all nasty policies. As evidence of this, you mention pro-nuclear policy and immigration restrictionism, two good and high impact policies, much more impactful than your average policy. However, one could dispute the nasty status of these two policies. After all, they are nasty according to whom? Not according to the masses, because both have popular/majority support, and this is especially true of immigration, the policy with biggest impact of all. The majority in the UK want less and better immigration, but the elites don't, and that's why it doesn't happen. A big issue then is over who is allowed to define nastiness in the first place. Is it the majority, or the elites, or the media, or who? Because one could argue that every nasty policy is a bad policy as long as there is a reasonable/intelligent standard for nastiness, and that it is the standard of nastiness that is in dispute, but in that case, one is just left to argue over the merits of each policy anyway.

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"Good answers may include the policy not being technologically feasible before, or that it solves a new problem."

One more reason is special interest groups and rent seekers. School choice sounds good and is good, but the teacher's unions are very powerful.

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The difficult thing with 10% less democracy is that you get Chinese style covid lockdowns. Nasty and evil.

My guess is that democracy is good but only if middle class property owning family men can vote. They want their children and children’s children to do well. They need “society” to function long term for that to happen.

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