Such a joy to read Adam's analyses as always. His critique is painstakingly apt. I am always marveling at the limitless post-truth person, tilting at every windmill hyperpartisan incapable of critical thought and self-reflection, who doesn't even believe merit exists, let alone parsing information on its merits. What worries me is that in a Kantian sense, this is an age bereft of objectivity and therefore lacking morality; and lacking independent judgment, we're incapable of moral judgment. We cease to be individuals. Now we're plastic automata, who, like cult followers believe, are the play-actors of transcendent spirituality. Which forecasts I think Ivan Karamazov's "everything is permitted." ""Let viper eat viper world." If there is no higher purpose for ourselves, and so none for politics, it explains how everything is a reductive, zero sum race to the bottom in every context. Net zero in the context of the climate apocalypse is magical thinking too. Not just Trump supporters or the progressive left are addled by conspiracy theories, but even educated people with political experience, like John Kerry and the self-important idiots at the World Economic Forum. Crisis and doom plague the 21st century. AI entrepreneurs are addicted to spectacle, but I think the scientists panicking about it too are addicted to spectacle in the sense of Net Zero people. Soon AI doom will be a business and there will be John Kerry's and Leonardo Dicaprio's going around and talking about how AI is going to kill all of us. From our social lives, to geopolitics, macro to micro, and back: the personal and the political have become so intertwined without principles, that we become susceptible to grand unificationist schemas that are life and death. Ironically it's awfully boring how excitable people are, which makes writing about it hard, because you feel like you're taking too seriously people who are idiots, and perhaps you feel like them, overreacting to something. If you worry about AI, you can be afraid you're indulging conspiracy theories. I'm a nervous person, and I get hung up that I'm hung about something if that makes sense, in my obsessive effort not to panic or believe in anything grand. Adam should do a supplementary post about how to deal with mass hysteria with awareness of the paradoxes in which the task of analysis subjects you.

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I'm sorry, I had to quit reading when I got to this nonsense:

"It’s easy to dismiss these people as bonkers, but there are so many of them, making such a wide variety of wildly irrational claims. Not since the early seventeenth century have so many Westerners inhabited a world like this, populated with village wizards and cunning men, astrology and prophecies, spells and witches. This can’t safely be ignored."

There aren't that many people who think that masking kids in schools, for example, will incur the wrath of God. There are a LOT of people who think it was wrong, a serious government overreach, and serious indictment of those who told us to follow the science, then didn't. If the author consider that second group of folks to be village wizards or cunning men (or even village idiots), then...well...I've nothing to say...

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Not all the way through the article yet, but this stopped me cold. Cold, I say...

"The conflation of news and entertainment produces a spectacle, and spectacles induce a craving for more and bigger spectacles. This is the source of our political dysfunction."

I don't agree with this, not at all. I agree that people love spectacle. I agree that often folks conflate news with entertainment. I disagree that it is the source of our political dysfunction.

The source of our political dysfunction is that what passes for news and commentary has become balkanized, we have retreated to our "ideological" corners, and we don't buy anything the guy in the other corner has to say.

I live in a small town in the northwest corner of Washington state. A very liberal county, but a very conservative Christian community. Trump came here, for some reason or another. I think the late Doug Erickson (state Senator)...argh...it doesn't matter. Anyway...the point is this little town is Hard MAGA. We are FTTSs (Full Throated Trump Supporters), or at least we were. Most people I talk to, people who had previously said thing to me like "You NeverTrumpers are unhinged!", now tell me they don't like Trump. They'd vote for him over Biden for sure. They think he was wronged in 2020 for sure. They think his indictment is a political witch hunt for sure. But they no longer want him for President. They've come to realize that he is a net negative for the Republican party and conservatives. They don't actually like the spectacle. I think what they want is to go back to the days of Tip O'neil and Ronald Reagan, when we played the game between the 40 yard lines, and we could go out for a beer with our political "frenemies". Anyway...I'm rambling when I should be working...will continue to read the article later...

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This is semi related but I am wondering if Claire or any of the other Globalists have ever seen this seminar the Computer History Museum in California did on the proto internet Minitel system in France in the 1980s that fore-shadows many of the same fights we have today over the internet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlUmxUB9RhI

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Nope! Should I?

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Yes. I think it is interesting to see how much of a moral panic there was back in the early 1980s some of which was probably legitimately founded and some of which was not.

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Excellent analysis, and diagnosis. What's the prescription?

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This is my prescription, not his, but if I had a magic wand and could enact two policies of my choice to remediate this problem, they'd be the following:

1. Children should not look at screens until they turn eighteen. Not televisions, not the Internet, nothing. Occasional trips to a movie theater, okay, but until they reach the age of majority, kids should have nothing to entertain them but reading. This is perfectly possible--it's how I grew up, more or less, and it wasn't even that unusual. I was allowed to watch Sesame Street (I taught myself to read from it) and when I was a bit older, on Tuesday evenings, I got to watch Happy Days. (I nagged my parents half to death about letting me--I can't quite recall why I wanted to watch it so badly, but persuading them to let me was the sole focus of my seventh year on this planet.) If they got distracted, sometimes I could get away with Laverne and Shirley, too. I occasionally got to watch Welcome Back Kotter, and if left with a babysitter on Saturday night, I'd sneak in Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Kids will read if there's nothing else to do. It should be as unthinkable for kids to sit slack-jawed in front of a screen all day as it for them to smoke three packs a day.

In fact, it should be illegal. Yes, illegal. Everything we're learning suggests that the non-stop use of screens is having an appalling effect on kids' intellectual, emotional, and physical development. The effect it's having on teenagers' mental health is obvious. We have a massive epidemic of pediatric obesity. And, as Adam argues, it's growingly clear that people raised that way grow up to be wholly unfit for self-governance. The state has a sufficiently significant interest in rectifying this that it should pass legislation to that end.

That will of course never happen, but that would be my Step 1, and failing that, we need to change our culture such that if you hand your kid an iPad to keep him entertained, everyone looks at you like you just handed him a bottle of vodka, a line of blow, and told him to go off and find himself a hooker. That won't happen either, but maybe we could succeed in making it just a little more taboo and just a little less the way it is now--i.e., so pervasive that if you're not on the Internet, you're completely cut off from your peer group. The Surgeon General was exactly right to issue that warning. Kids just shouldn't be raised on diet of screens and hyperreal entertainment.

2. Reform our education system. I have no idea what's going on in American schools, but far too many people, clearly, are emerging from them without an education. School curriculums should specifically and consciously focus on countering the trends Adam describes. It shouldn't be possible to graduate from high school without achieving the level of deep literacy required to participate sensibly in civic and political life.

If I could wave my wand again and have a just few more policies, I'd suggest bringing back the Fairness Doctrine; and if I wanted to wave it without regard for the Constitution, I'd force Fox News off the air: They've done enormous damage, and we'd be so much better off if they ceased to exist. Heck, so long as I'm a dictator, I'd force MSNBC and all the rest of them off the air, and I'd subsidize local newspapers instead. I'd just get rid of cable TV. That won't happen either, but it might be realistic to bring back some version of the Fairness ... oh, who am I kidding. Of course that's not realistic.

It's kind of amazing that we all know that our government--of the people, by the people, for the people--is incapable of doing any of this, and none of it will happen. Obviously, the situation Adam describes is *wildly* unacceptable, and if we don't do something drastic to fix it, we'll destroy ourselves. But we all know that it's inconceivable that any such action will be taken--which suggests that in large measure, we've already destroyed ourselves.

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Jun 18, 2023·edited Jun 18, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

I'm all for 1 and 2. The movement towards charter schools and school choice, where the dollars follow the student, are the beginnings of education reform for K-12. The awareness that was raised about schools as a result of covid has accelerated reform, but there is still a long way to go.

The second challenge in education reform are colleges and universities. We are a long way from even beginning to reform those.

The fairness doctrine is a really bad idea because it ultimately empowers the government and the courts to decide what is fair and what requires equal time. Every time those in power change, what is deemed fair can change.

Under the old fairness doctrine if a local news station presented a program about a volunteer group doing good work in the community, they would be required to give airtime to anyone claiming to be against what the group was doing.

The negative consequence of this was that local news outlets would completely avoid controversial topics because they would be required to give equal time all sides, no matter how whacky. They knew dedicating airtime to all this would reduce their viewing audience, so they just stayed away from all those topics. The fairness doctrine has the effect of reducing debate, stifling new ideas, and reducing the information available to the public. Even if we tried it, I don't see how this would be practical in the age of the internet. Would every blog post opinion be required to give equal space to those who disagree with them?

When a social media company recommends links with a point of view, would it be required to recommend an equal number of links to opposing views?

MSNBC and CNN serve the purpose of exposing the crazies on the left. While the extreme conservative sites and shows expose the crazies on the right.

Best we are constantly reminded of both even though if you add up any day's cable news audience, most days would be under 5 million. Big news days maybe 10 million. That's less than 2% of our 300+ million population. The vast majority of people see very little of this.

I think the vast majority of Americans see through most of the "news" spectacle and know they really don't want to support either extreme. They just want to left alone to live their lives as they see fit.

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Wow, a lot to unpack here! Thank you!

If we are considering “six impossible things before breakfast,” I totally agree with your first prescription. The screens, indeed, are rotting away the children’s minds. My family did not have a TV set until I was around 17, and I can’t see where it hurt me. As you say, “Kids will read if there’s nothing else to do.” I had time and inclination to read all the classics during my teenage years, and it was wonderful.

I do wonder if that experience is universal. Not all kids can live inside their heads. I knew kids for whom reading was akin to torture, and if they were not involved in physical activity, they made trouble. (“Idle hands,” etc.) Maybe for them, a screen would be like a pacifier.

I LOVE this line: “everyone looks at you like you just handed him a bottle of vodka, a line of blow, and told him to go off and find himself a hooker”! I burst out laughing. But it’s no laughing matter, unfortunately. The culture has been going in the opposite direction for over fifty years now, and I don’t see what, outside a massive religious revival, could possibly start swinging the pendulum the other way.

The sorry state of education is just another manifestation of the cultural rot; or perhaps education was the prime mover, it can be argued either way. But what can’t be argued is that for the past sixty years, the kids – first in colleges, then in high school, and now in elementary schools – have been taught to despise American institutions, revile American history, and hate the country they live in. (To forestall an obvious objection: not in every school, and not to the same intensity. But enough.)

“Achieving the level of deep literacy required to participate sensibly in civic and political life” – yes, indeed, that’s what American education tried to do from the 1800s through the 1950s. Since 1963 (I’ll use Charles Murray’s dividing line), the educational system discouraged individualism and achievement (“participation trophies,” “acting white”), penalized merit and success (elimination of “gifted” tracks, admission bias), and ostracized and suppressed any deviation from the party line (“speech is violence,” “silence is violence,” “unity is diversity”).

The NEA is the country’s largest and most powerful labor union, and if it couldn’t be dealt with to return the kids to school, it can’t be dealt with in the current political situation.

The Fairness Doctrine. I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh lambasting the Fairness Doctrine. His point was simple: the whole of the media was on one side of the political spectrum. And when they tried to get his stations to “balance” him with liberal speakers, he often proclaimed, “I AM equal time!” The Fairness Doctrine was (and would be again) a political cudgel with which the prevailing party would silence the opposition.

Fox News. For many years, Fox News was the ONLY network that provided a different political slant. Now the media landscape is more diverse, and there are multiple right-leaning news organizations, newsletter, sites, podcasts, etc. Yes, Fox News disgraced itself with the Dominion lawsuit revelations, but I would question your characterization: “They’ve done enormous damage, and we’d be so much better off if they ceased to exist.” Hyperbole? I am with Louis Brandeis, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Lack of action. I believe that the reason why “our government – of the people, by the people, for the people – is incapable of doing any of this” is because it IS of the people. The people are not the same. Remember Ben Franklin’s quote: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” And John Adams’ observation: ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’

The people are no longer moral, religious, or virtuous. (Yes, many still are; I am talking about the preponderance.)

And the ones who are are cowed, demoralized, and don’t have leaders with a plan of action to restore the republic they love.

Which brings me to my original point: it is all very well and intellectually stimulating diagnosing the disease. What is the prescription? “Think desirous thoughts” is not it. “Scream in terror and run around in circles” is not either. “Await deus ex machina?” Too optimistic.

I don’t have a practical solution. Does anyone?

And if no one does, or if the problem is truly intractable and the patient is terminal, should we be doing something altogether different?

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“The better part of Trump’s base is there for the spectacle, and so are the better part of his detractors. The thrilling shows of humiliation and counter-humiliation recall pro-wrestling, and Trump understands this perfectly. This is why his campaign involves no serious policy proposals.” (Adam Garfinkle)

Garfinkle’s series has been thought provoking and very interesting. I think he’s right about a lot of things but his Trump obsession makes his argument weaker not stronger. He’s right that Trump is a creature of the media and that Trump and the media have developed a symbiotic relationship rooted in the American thirst for spectacle. But to say that Trump has no serious policy positions is simply wrong. He has many policy positions and he’s never been shy about promoting those positions or about enacting them regardless of what so-called “experts” thought.

Trump looked at the crisis at the American southern border and he advocated building a wall. People of good will can differ about the potential efficacy of this proposal but it is a serious position.

Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and he moved our embassy to West Jerusalem. Few people know more about the Middle East than Adam but there’s simply no way to argue with a straight face that this wasn’t a serious policy decision.

What differentiates Trump from his predecessors is that while they all claimed the same position (Jerusalem is Israel’s capital) only Trump actually meant what he said. His predecessors lied; Trump told the truth.

The same is true of Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Height.

When John Kerry was Obama’s Secretary of State he stated unequivocally that Israel’s Arab neighbors would never sign a separate peace agreement with Israel. Trump appointed his untested son-in-law to accomplish the impossible. Remarkably he succeeded. To claim that Trump is devoid of policy ideas and ambitions is simply not true.

While Adam mentioned Trump and AI to support his thesis, he neglected to mention the single greatest evidence supporting the idea that Americans are increasingly addicted to spectacle and ever greater dopamine hits. The media obsession with trans issues proves his point perfectly. What could be a bigger spectacle than men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men. Biological males competing with biological women in sports is a great spectacle. A bigger spectacle is the prospect of a penis being reshaped into a clitoris and the other way around. These sexual spectacles are now being promoted to children. Aren’t drag shows designed to be grand spectacles?

I wonder why Adam never mentioned any of this. Perhaps it never occurred to him. Another possibility is that like his fellow deep readers well grounded in academia, it’s simply too threatening to mention our current sexual spectacle in a critical or even objective way. After all, a wrong-turn or simple unintended but ambiguous turn of a phrase is all it takes to get someone like Adam permanently cancelled. As a matter of fact, the process of cancellation becomes a spectacle in its own right. It’s the 21st century version of a public execution or even a lynching.

Ultimately, Adam Garfinkle is exactly right. Our technology promotes our obsession with spectacle and the dopamine hits that the spectacle instigated are an addiction. This addiction, like all addictions, requires ever increasing inputs for the achievement of satiety.

I look forward to going back and re-reading the Garfinkle series a couple of more times. I think he’s really on to something.

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“If it baffles you that Tucker Carlson has come to sound so much like Noam Chomsky, remember that Hollywood, not Poli Sci 201, is the viewers’ frame of reference, and in Hollywood, governments are not highly complex systems composed of real people in their infinite variety who are striving, mostly in good faith, to remediate problems that have no good solutions.”

Actually what baffles me is that Noam Chomsky met more than once with Jeffrey Epstein and that William Burns, the CIA Director did too. Why would Chomsky be meeting with Epstein? Director Burns claims his meetings with Epstein were to solicit career advice. Many people think it’s evidence that Epstein was an intelligence asset who was spying on the likes of Chomsky (and others). Actually, that would be less scary than Burns’ explanation. If the head of the CIA, a long-time senior government official with a reasonably generous pension has to meet with a convicted pedophile to obtain career advice than we are all in trouble. The Burns’ explanation for the meeting provides perfect evidence that the “deep state” Adam claims doesn’t exist is real; very real.

There’s a reason Adam can’t recognize the existence of the deep state; he’s situated right in the middle of it. I certainly don’t mean that as an insult. I think Adam is right; for the most part people who work in government and spend their lives in journalism or academia are well-intentioned and attempting to the best of their ability to ameliorate problems with no ideal solutions. That they fail can mostly be chalked-up to the fact that they are human and humans are imperfect.

But to imply, as Adam does, that the deep state is a fiction in the hope that it bolsters his argument that bigger and sillier spectacles can explain our current culture to a tee, goes too far.

Adam is right: Americans have become addicted to ever more outrageous and ridiculous spectacles in their quest for ever more robust dopamine hits. Humans have always craved this. As evidence, think about the spectacles in the Roman Coliseum or the running of the bulls in Pamplona. He is also right that the ubiquity of smart phones and PCs have provided access to these dopamine-enhancing spectacles around the clock.

But none of this means the deep-state is a fiction. How many of Adam’s friends, colleagues (current and former) and associates are employed (or were employed in the past) at think tanks? Think tanks are designed with a specific purpose in mind-to provide a temporary perch for former Administration officials to bide their time and earn a decent salary while they wait for an Administration of their political party to once again hold power. When Republican lose power, there’s a mass migration of government officials to Republican-oriented think tanks. At the same time, there’s a mass migration of Democrats from their think tank perches back to Government. It’s an endless cycle; rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. Only rarely do these mid and senior level employees seek out real work. Other than government work they’re really not qualified to do much else. That’s why they spend their time out of government writing position papers that nobody in the real world reads or giving speeches that nobody outside of their pampered cohort listens to.

What makes think-tanks particularly corrupt is that the salaries they pay to these thoroughly credentialed, temporarily exiled, government employees are subsidized by ordinary, tax paying American citizens.

Think-tanks are almost always registered, tax-exempt organizations recognized as non-profit organizations by the Internal Revenue Service. These organizations pay no federal taxes. If they have endowments they pay no tax on the interest, dividends or capital gains that they earn. Contributions think tanks collect allow their donors to take a charitable deduction on their federal income tax. Donors who contribute appreciated assets whether financial instruments, property, artwork, etc. completely escape the need to pay capital gains taxes. Donors who are at least 65 years old can make contributions directly from their IRAs and escape the need to pay taxes on the money they withdraw for the donation.

All charitable organizations benefit from these tax advantages. Religious organizations do. So do hospitals, health care charities, museums, dance companies and food banks. The difference is that those organizations have a genuine charitable purpose while the real purpose of think-tanks is to provide a sinecure from those temporarily exiled from their government jobs due to a change in the political party controlling the White House.

Think tanks are corrupt institutions. They are the vanguard of the deep state. Americans are addicted to spectacle and their addiction is becoming deeper and more alarming. But Adam is wrong; the deep state does exist and it is corrupting American institutions.

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Jun 18, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

I do think it is fair to say though that Trump also had and continues to have many traditional politician like vague policy positions. For example repealing and replacing Obamacare with "something" much better, replacing Obama's Iran Deal(JCPOA) again with some undefined "better" deal and more recently claiming he could end the war between Ukraine and Russia in 48 hours based on some type of personal negotiating skill. These are all examples of traditional political fence straddling. A purest position on Ukraine for example would be more like Jean-Pierre Chevenment's view that Ukraine isn't a "real" country and Russia should be allowed to just take over and annex the whole country(Chevenment had the same view vis a vis Iraq and Kuwait) yet Trump refuses to take that position in part because he knows or suspects it would be deeply unpopular with segments of the electorate.

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The irony of this series is that Garfinkle doesn’t recognize his own hysteria while decrying that of Trumpists and, to a far lesser extent, of the far Left. I would suggest the editorial board of this publication take a spa trip to Sedona, align those crooked chakras, pray contemplatively to whichever God they espouse that society’s heaved overboard, take a Xanax, and realize that it’s out of our hands. Was it Irving Kristol who said, “Just because the world’s going to hell doesn’t mean you can’t live well”?

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