Links: Authoritarianism, how we got to now, NIMBYs, paper, and more!

* “Can it Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.” In 2015 I would’ve said it’s very unlikely; today, however, I’ve been proven wrong and have to think it’s very possible. One hopes for serious corrections in 2018 and 2020 but there are no guarantees, and assaults on the right to vote are especially worrisome.

* Why everything might have taken so long.

* “Of Course They Hated Her: The Uncomfortable Honesty of Mary McCarthy.” She is still startlingly honest today, and for that reason I think she will never be really popular—but The Group holds up well, while The Groves of Academe is boring and has been superseded by novels like Straight Man or Blue Angel.

* “How ‘Not in My Backyard’ Became ‘Not in My Neighborhood.’” Or, stated differently, why so many cities are now absurdly, disproportionately expensive.

* “American reams: why a ‘paperless world’ still hasn’t happened.” I think the answer is simple: paper solves a set of fundamental and important problems, and many of its drawbacks are also its advantages.

* Is Trump making Bush’s mistake in North Korea? Maybe.

* “Jordan B Peterson, Critical Theory, and the New Bourgeoisie.” If you hear someone say “Critical theory” uncritically, you are likely be slathered in intellectual bullshit.

* “Management and the wealth of nations.” I’ve had only limited experience in this domain but it’s amazingly hard to do well.

* “Let’s Ban Porn.” Not my view but an interesting take and one that one rarely sees.

* “I’m no longer advocating for clean energy; here’s why.” Important though also depressing.

* “American Fertility Is Falling Short of What Women Want.” News rarely heard.

* Students Tweet Mass Shootings Now. Wow. The Onion posts the same story, over and over again: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” By the way, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led efforts to filibuster gun safety legislation.

Links: Jordan B. Peterson, the tyranny of language, what happened to blogs?, distractions, and more!

* “How ‘Cheap Sex’ Is Changing Our Lives – and Our Politics.” But is sex cheap for everyone? I don’t think so, and that is why an essay like “Radicalizing the Romanceless” is so powerful: it describes the people truly forgotten by our society, who aren’t the people PC writers usually claim are forgotten or invisible.

* “What’s so dangerous about Jordan Peterson?” An excellent piece.

* “Tinder and the Tyranny of Language.” Goes well with the first link.

* Joel Spolsky: “Birdcage liners.” Joel is back on his blog! Finally.

* NYC finally orders more subway cars.

* “Babe Turns a Movement Into a Racket.” There are often adults in the room for a reason. Related to the above: “‘MeToo’ and the Taboo Topic of Nature.” I think the taboo topic of nature in certain intellectual precincts will, in the future, be seen as one of the stranger facets of our time.

* The only 7–8 minutes a day you need to master to be truly productive and also “Why the worst distractions are the ones we love.”

* “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track.” File under, “Things that seem obvious yet get no attention.”

* “Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism,” which I find very funny and a few of you will too.

* Ten years of Instapaper, which I use almost every day.

* The startups attempting to disrupt education. One can hope.

Links: Victimhood culture, drugs, healthcare prices, legal absurdity, and more!

* Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell Us About Victimhood Culture. See also “The race to the bottom of victimhood and ‘social justice’ culture.” We can and should do better.

* Portugal is “winning” the war on drugs via decriminalization.

* Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?

* “Why American doctors keep doing expensive procedures that don’t work.”

* “Child porn law goes nuts: 14-year-old girl charged for nude selfie.” Even by American legal standards it’s nuts to have the sole victim of a “crime” be the perpetrator of the crime, and for the victim/perpetrator to feel and argue that no harm has taken place.

* “Legal Weed Isn’t The Boon Small Businesses Thought It Would Be.” Should this surprise? Many businesses reap benefits from economies of scale and the number of small agricultural concerns in general is, well, small. The vast majority of people shop on price and larger organizations get prices lower than smaller organizations can.

* Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz pours funds into high-risk research.

* “Does a lower ‘total cost of ownership’ boost electric car sales?” Somewhat, but apparently not that much. People are bad at math, forward planning, and marginal costs. I think this argues towards “nudging” people towards electric cars that have lower long-term costs.

* “On the Front Lines of the GOP’s Civil War.”

* “Consider the Consequences of #BelieveAllWomen.” Can be read productively with “Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell Us About Victimhood Culture.”

* “The Gambler’s Ruin of Small Cities,” or why small cities are shrinking or disappearing: “Once upon a time, it was obvious what towns and small cities did: they served as central places serving a mainly rural population engaged in agriculture and other natural resource-based activities.” That isn’t very true in most places anymore. Tyler Cowen notes, “Why don’t cities grow without limit?

Links: Bike sharing, moral panics, social isolation, academic writing, Saturnalia, and more!

* Let’s start with the good news: “How bike-sharing conquered the world

* “The Current Sex Panic Harks Back to the Era of Coddling Women.”

* “How social isolation is killing us.” But, also, “Debunking Myths About Estrangement.”

* “People Aren’t Having Babies Because The Rent Is Too Damn High.”

* “Ph.D.s Are Still Writing Poorly.” This is news? And: “‘The Great Shame of Our Profession:’ How the humanities survive on exploitation.” This is news? Still, universities treat adjuncts like they do because they can.

* “Lab-Grown Meat Is on the Way.” I tried Beyond Meat burgers and they were pretty good.

* “Drug and Alcohol Deaths at U.S. Workplaces Soar.” But the real issues get little airing amid culture-war grievances.

* “Bonfire of the academies: Two professors on how leftist intolerance is killing higher education.”

* “More Thoughts on Falling Fertility.” Contrary to what you read, overpopulation is not a problem in developed countries. If anything the opposite is likely to be a problem.

* Research quality in economics tends to decline after tenure. The theoretical case for tenure seems ever weaker. Also: “Academic success is either a crapshoot or a scam.” Article is much more intelligent than the title may immediately suggest.

* Why Christmas is really just a Roman holiday: Saturnalia.

* “What to do about cheerleaders,” originally from 2005 but an evergreen. I read it as comedy.

* Hinkley Point is still an important new nuclear power plant. This distressing sentence ought to be at the forefront of many minds: “If anyone can do it, it is the Chinese, who have established themselves as world leaders in the complex engineering challenges involved in building nuclear power plants. (There were 20 reactors under construction in China at the end of March 2017.)”

* “GeekDesk “Max” sit-stand desk review: Two years with a motorized desk.”

“University presidents: We’ve been blindsided.” Er, no.

University presidents: We’ve been blindsided” is an amazing article—if the narrative it presents is true. It’s amazing because people have been complaining about political correctness and nothing-means-anything postmodernism since at least the early ’90s, yet the problems with reality and identity politics seem to have intensified in the Internet age. University presidents haven’t been blindsided, and some of the problems in universities aren’t directly their fault—but perhaps their biggest failure, with some notable exceptions (like the University of Chicago), is not standing up for free speech.

I don’t see how it’s impossible to see this coming; the right’s attack on academia has its roots in the kind of scorn and disdain I write about in “The right really was coming after college next.” As I say there, I’ve been hearing enormous, overly broad slams against the right for as long as I’ve been involved in higher education. That sort of thing has gone basically unchecked for I-don’t-know how long. It’s surprising not to expect a backlash, eventually, and institutions that don’t police themselves eventually get policed or at least attacked from the outside.

(Since such observations tend to generate calls of “partisanship,” I’ll again note that I’m not on the right and am worried about intellectual honesty.)

There is this:

“It’s not enough anymore to just say, ‘trust us,'” Yale President Peter Salovey said. “There is an attempt to build a narrative of colleges and universities as out of touch and not politically diverse, and I think … we have a responsibility to counter that — both in actions and in how we present ourselves.”

That’s because universities are not politically diverse. At all. Heterodox Academy has been writing about this since it was founded. Political monocultures may in turn encourage freedom of speech restrictions, especially against the other guy, who isn’t even around to make a case. For example, some of you may have been following the Wilifred Laurier University brouhaha (if not, “Why Wilfrid Laurier University’s president apologized to Lindsay Shepherd” is an okay place to start, though the school is in Canada, not the United States). Shepherd’s department wrote a reply, “An open letter from members of the Communication Studies Department, Wilfrid Laurier University” that says, “Public debates about freedom of expression, while valuable, can have a silencing effect on the free speech of other members of the public.” In other words, academics who are supposed to support free speech and disinterested inquiry don’t. And they get to decide what counts as free speech.

If academics don’t support free speech, they’re just another interest group, subject to the same social and political forces that all interest groups are subject to. I don’t think the department that somehow thought this letter to be a good idea realizes as much.

The idea that “trust us” is good enough doesn’t seem to be good enough anymore. In the U.S., the last decade of anti-free-speech and left-wing activism on campus has brought us a Congress that is in some ways more retrograde than any since… I’m not sure when. Maybe the ’90s. Maybe earlier. Yet the response on campus has been to shrug and worry about pronouns.

Rather than “touting their positive impacts on their communities to local civic groups, lawmakers and alumni,” universities need to re-commit to free speech, open and disinterested inquiry, and not prima facie opposing an entire, large political group. Sure, “Some presidents said they blame themselves for failing to communicate the good they do for society — educating young people, finding cures for diseases and often acting as major job creators.” But, again, universities exist to learn what’s true, as best one can, and then explain why it’s true.

Then there’s this:

But there was also an element of defensiveness. Many argue the backlash they’ve faced is part of a larger societal rethinking of major institutions, and that they’re victims of a political cynicism that isn’t necessarily related to their actions. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, for one, compared public attitudes toward universities with distrust of Congress, the legal system, the voting system and the presidency.

While universities do a lot right, they (or some of their members) also engaging in dangerous epistemic nihilism that’s contrary to their missions. And people are catching onto that. Every time one sees a fracas like the one at Evergreen College, universities as a whole lose a little of their prestige. And the response of many administrators hasn’t been good.

Meanwhile, the incredible Title IX stories don’t help (or see Laura Kipnis’s story). One can argue that these are isolated cases. But are they? With each story, and the inept institutional response to it, universities look worse and so do their presidents. University presidents aren’t reaffirming the principles of free speech and disinterested research, and they’re letting bureaucrats create preposterous and absurd tribunals. Then they’re saying they’ve been blindsided! A better question might be, “How can you not see a reckoning in advance?”

Links: The fate of private schools, the sterile society, freedom of inquiry, and more!

* Oberlin misses admissions targets, faces budget cuts; as Megan McArdle put it, “The boom times are over for colleges, not because of liberal bias, but because the long baby boom echo is waning. A lot of colleges are going to wake up with a massive hangover.” Also: “Why private schools are dying out.”

* “Bonfire of the academies: Two professors on how leftist intolerance is killing higher education.”

* “The Sterile Society,” by Ross Douthat, underrated.

* “Haemophilia A trial results ‘mind-blowing.’

* “E Pur Si Muove:” “It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.”

* “Sam Altman wants to shift the U.S. economy to universal basic income. There’s one problem. Giving away free money is more complicated than anyone thought.” Altman wrote the piece immediately above, too.

* “Help Us Build a Third Culture,” from Quillette.

* Related to the link immediately above, “Richard Shweder on the End of the Modern Academy.”

* “Bruce Brown, 80, Dies; His Endless Summer Documented Surfing.” It’s still a weird, hypnotic movie.

Links: Solidia and low-carbon concrete, political analysis, college’s perils, diamonds, and more!

* “Solidia has a way to make cement that absorbs greenhouse gases instead of emitting them.” Very cool if true.

* “The G.O.P. Is Rotting.” Seems obvious to anyone paying attention; note the source.

* Could the human mind limit our comprehension of reality? The answer seems almost too obviously to be “yes.” This is my favorite essay of the group.

* “The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone” from Bryan Caplan’s book The Case Against Education, which you need to preorder if you haven’t already.

* Why we need art: evolutionary biology and the impulse to create.

* Borrowing From Solar and Chip Tech to Make Diamonds Faster and Cheaper.

* “Dr. Strangelove Was a Documentary: Daniel Ellsberg’s new memoir would be an urgent warning about the monumental danger of nuclear weapons—even if Trump weren’t president.” Nuclear war is an underrated fear, and I worry about the analogy of our era being like 1910, with grave, unexpected catastrophe ahead despite many decades of relative peace behind. To be sure, I think the likely outcome is a continuation of peace and trade, but unlikely outcomes are still possible.

* “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.”

* “The Warlock Hunt: The #MeToo moment has now morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men.”

* I previously posted “The right really was coming after college next;” see now “My Rejection of Academia Over the Lindsay Shepherd and Jordan Peterson Affair” for more in that vein. Note that I didn’t argue that the right is right (in many ways it isn’t), but academia ought to be thinking about what it means to actively alienate half the electorate. The Lindsay Shepherd affair is in Canada, but similar dynamics seem to apply.

* College Presidents Making $1M Rise with Tuition and Student Debt.

* Alaska is warming so fast, quality-control algorithms are rejecting the data.

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