We're hooked on a feeling – of despair

Good column by Jonah Goldberg:

The great vulnerability inherent to liberal democratic capitalism is complacency. When we don’t teach people to appreciate what we have they take it for granted and, over time, they can start to see the essential things as trivial or dispensable. We think prosperity is natural. It’s not. We think liberty is baked into the cake. It’s not. The natural state of humanity is poverty, disease, deprivation, and fear. 


Whenever I make the argument for gratitude, someone will invariably read me as making the argument for complacency. I point out that America is less racist than at any period in its history, and the reply is, “So you think we should ignore racism?” When I make the factual observation that America’s environment has vastly improved in myriad, quantifiable ways over the last century—cleaner air and water, massive reforestation, any number of endangered species recovered, etc.—they hear me saying, “We should do nothing about climate change!”

Gratitude doesn’t necessarily invite complacency, but it can invite, even demand, effort. If you love your vintage car and want to pass it on to your kids, you don’t automatically think, I don’t have to take care of this. You do the opposite. You watch out for rust. You keep it in a garage. It’s only when you take the things you cherish for granted that you stop protecting and caring for them. (That’s why I think patriotism is different from nationalism. Patriotism depends on gratitude for the things you love about this country and demands effort and action from you to preserve them.) 

I recommend reading the whole thing.

It's a topic I've been thinking about for a while: the alarmism and negativity about everything from climate change to COVID. I worry it fuels conspiracy theories and fatalism. If things are really so dire, what's the point in trying to make things better? When it reality it seems to me we've never had it so good, and that while our problems are vast they are largely man-made, which must mean we can solve them too.


  • Coincidence or not, Matthew Yglesias, a center-left columnist, has a similar newsletter today. He writes about climate anxiety, which is not actually motivating people to improve the world. Instead it's just making them depressed, and it's based on an alarmist interpretation of the data.

  • edited February 11

    The problem is we're well past the stage of 'oh turn the thermostat a few notches down and turn lights off.' We're well int oterritory of 'Corporations need to start doing, and they have bene activly disinterested.'

    Also While I identify as Center-Left. I find the current 'right/left' parties to be..

    deomocrats : Right wing with a sprinkling of left thrown in to try making them look 'left.'

    Republicans : Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain.

    Neither side has had to do anything compelling beyond blow a dog whistle and point at the other guy.

    I dislike both parties because both are selfish self serving and activly have made it harder to get anythign done wit ha combination of spinlessness and a craven disregard for the people that they are supposedly looking out for.

    The fatalism I see is less out of a disinterest in helping, but seeing the landscape as is being stacked heavily and harshly against making any meaningful change and not having any idea not just where to begin, but if it's even possible to begin or if it's too late.

  • Well, I think in the US, a big part of the problem is that you have only two parties. I think multiparty systems are preferable on so many levels. You avoid the kind of polarization you see in the US. It encourages parties to meet in the middle rather than appeal to their extremes. This, in turn, tends to lead to better policy outcomes and higher trust in institutions.

    I've written quite a bit on this topic for my political blog, Atlantic Sentinel. Here are a few links, in case you're interested:

    Would appreciate your thoughts!

  • edited February 11

    Pretty well in complete agreement with your finger pointign at the two party system being a large contributor since... and i saw this time and again when it comes to roleplay spaces that allowed factioning that then ended up wit htwo superfactions all the others fell under... they end up ceasing to stand for anything beyond 'we aren't those guys.'

    as for your five things list:

    Theoretically could happen in all but fact if the deal being floated around to have the electors vote along populast lines as opposed to how they're told to vote, but even then a dissallusion of the electorate system needs to happen.

    Would be great but the republican's will block that as much as at all possible as this move would take power from them disproportionately.

    The problem is... congress itself is a large problem and it needs to be restructured if not outright purged and given a hard reset. At the very least a comprehensive series of reforms on lobbying needs to happen.

    You suggest this now but I gurentee you if the republicans could have they'd have removed obama. They all but loudly approved of trump's coup attempt, as only the turmp loyalists remain in the party now. Giving tools like that to them would be.... even more inviting disaster. So this needs to be a 'last step.'

    Yes. A five party system would work great.

    Sixth point that is my own:

    Change the voting system from winner take all into a rank based system where voting third party won't split the vote ensuring the people that are a minority win because the majority is split.

    Yet I have no hope for any of this because the people in power benefit too much.

  • I'm not one for politics, but I don't feel very desperate. More a feeling that everything is up in the air. An old order is fading out and old certainties are fading along with it and something new is coming. Not necessarily better or worse, but absolutely different. This happens every now and then. From 1914 to 1945, at the end of the 1980's and many other times across cultures and places. Change is the one constant we can believe in.

  • I'm not pessimistic, @Lazaras. Ranked-choice voting is used in Maine and was recently used in the New York mayoral election. I agree with @JohnZybourne: popular demand for an alternative to the winner-takes-all, two-party system is growing.

    Reform of the Electoral College and Congress would be difficult, yes, but I believe change can be achieved step-by-step. Revolutions are rare. Gradual improvements are not.

    A good first step would be for swing states to switch to multi-candidate congressional districts. That in itself wouldn't change the balance of power in Congress too much (which is why it could actually be done), but it would open the door for more solidly blue and red states to make a similar change, which would give Democrats in rural Texas and Republicans in urban New York representation in Congress for the first time in a long time. And it would open the door to third parties.

    Another first step could be for more states to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, by which states pledge their presidential electors to whoever wins the popular vote nationally.

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