The World That Twitter Never Made

A few months ago Jonathan Haidt made waves with a big think-piece in the Atlantic arguing that most of the ills of the 2010s can be traced back to the invention of the retweet button.1 I read the essay and disagreed with it vociferously. Today City Journal published my critique.2 You can read my counter essay here. Below I would like to add some additional thoughts on social media and American politics that could not fit into that piece.


Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Last Ten Years Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” The Atlantic (11 April 2022).


Tanner Greer, “Our Problems are Not Procedural,” City Journal (15 July 2022).

I offered three main lines of critique: first, social media (and Twitter in particular) cannot account for a societal wide decline in trust or a societal wide rise in radicalism and partisanship. The number of active twitter users is just too small. As Saturday Night Live understands, when Americans tells pollsters they are afraid to state their beliefs, it is in workplaces and over the dinner tables that these fears matter most, not on social media.

Second: the better explanation for declining institutional trust is declining institutional performance. Of course millennials and zoomers are radicalized; the formative political events of their youth were a string of national disasters. These disasters were presided over by the very forces of centrism that Haidt would like to protect. As something of a center-righter myself I applaud his stand against the crazies, but I am frustrated by the manner in which he chooses to make it.

By focusing his ire on social media, Haidt elevates the procedural over the substantive. There is little evidence that changing procedural form this or procedural form that will make any difference on the long term. At best it will allow the centrist boomers to hold onto power a few years longer. But if the radicals cannot be openly confronted on the basis of their ideas, and if centrists cannot develop an emotional appeal and political vision as powerful as their opponents, then the center will not hold.

Third, what we call “cancel culture” is not a new feature of American life. It has always been with us. If current times feel especially fraught and censorious, it is not because Americans have suddenly become less tolerant of speech generally, but because there has been a titanic and sudden change in what lies outside the bounds of tolerance. This change is disorienting and frightening, but similar instances of active thought policing can be found across our history, including our very recent past (Dixie Chicks, exit stage left).

This another example of emphasizing procedure over substance. Cancellation and self-censorship have always been with us. Trying to outroot it is impossible. The real issue is the range of things one can be cancelled for. But instead of arguing, straightforwardly, that issue x or issue y should not be on the list of things cancel-worthy, we tilt at windmills, trying to throw out the notion of acceptable opinion altogether. A better response to radicalism is needed.

All of these ideas are laid out with more depth in the main essay. But I want to raise two points that did not fit naturally in that essay here.

First, some readers might be surprised to see me write against a Twitter driven account of national affairs. After all, was not I the guy who wrote “The World Twitter Made?”

Guilty as charged. I do think Twitter has had a baleful influence on public debate, but not quite the one that Haidt sees. Haidt’s narrative of Twitter politics reads much like Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public: once upon a time we had responsible centrists keeping the gates. Twitter and Facebook have destroyed the gates and their keepers. Anarchy empowers the nasty and the radical, who hitherto had no meaningful political voice. They use their megaphone to bludgeon the responsible and respectable into silence. Consequently, radical ideologies rule the roost.

There is some truth to this, but among other things, it underestimates just how mainstream radical ideology is among America’s younger professionals. It wasn’t Twitter anons that drove the Times to Wokeness, but the Times‘ own employees. The radicals were raised inside the gates.

The role Twitter played in the radicalization of the Very Online is subtler than Haidt’s model allows. I recall a thoughtful essay by Justin Smith on the futility of debate in the world of Twitter. Writes he:

Is there any way to intervene usefully or meaningfully in public debate, in what the extremely online Twitter users are with gleeful irony calling the “discourse” of the present moment?

It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the Industrial Revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.

This predicament is not confined to politics, and in fact engulfs all domains of human social existence. But it perhaps crystallizes most refractively in the case of politics, so we may as well start there.

There are memes circulating that are known as “bingo cards,” in which each square is filled with a typical statement or trait of a person who belongs to a given constituency, a mouth-breathing mom’s-basement-dwelling Reddit-using Men’s Rights Activist, for example, or, say, an unctuous white male ally of POC feminism. The idea is that within this grid there is an exhaustive and as it were a priori tabulation, deduced like Kant’s categories of the understanding, of all the possible moves a member of one of these groups might make, and whenever the poor sap tries to state his considered view, his opponent need only pull out the table and point to the corresponding box, thus revealing to him that it is not actually a considered view at all, but only an algorithmically predictable bit of output from the particular program he is running. The sap is sapped of his subjectivity, of his belief that he, properly speaking, has views at all…

Who has not found themselves thrust into the uncomfortable position just described, of being told that what we thought were our considered beliefs are in fact something else entirely? I know I have been on many occasions: to be honest, this happens more or less every time I open my newsfeed and look at what my peers are discoursing about. For example, I admire Adolph Reed, Jr., a great deal; I believe he is largely correct about the political and economic function of “diversity” as an institutional desideratum in American society in recent decades; and I believe, or used to believe, that I had come to view Reed’s work in this way as a result of having read it and reflected on it, and of having found it good and sound.

But then, not so long ago, I happened to come across this from an American academic I know through social media: “For a certain kind of white male leftist,” my acquaintance wrote, “Reed makes a very convenient ally.” What would be a fitting response to such exposure as this? Should I stop agreeing with Reed? Easier said than done. It is never easy to change one’s beliefs by an exercise of will alone. But it would be will alone, and not intellect, that would do the work of belief change in this case: the will, namely, to trade in the algorithm that I’m running for one that, I’ve recently learned when checking in on the discourse, is preferred among my peers.

Someone who thinks about their place in the world in terms of the structural violence inflicted on them as they move through it is thinking of themselves, among other things, in structural terms, which is to say, again among other things, not as subjects. This gutting of our human subjecthood is currently being stoked and exacerbated, and integrated into a causal loop with, the financial incentives of the tech companies. People are now speaking in a way that results directly from the recent moneyballing of all of human existence.3


Justin Smith, “It’s All Over,The Point Magazine (3 January 2019).

Smith proposes that modern technology has stripped us of “subjecthood.” What Smith calls “subjecthood” I normally call agency. We want to feel like we are in charge of our own lives. We want to feel like our political opinions and prognoses were the product of careful thought and reflection. Our thought and reflection. Liberalism, pluralism, and norms of civil debate are built on the assumption that people are rational, thinking individuals that can be convinced by argument. The dueling essays and op-eds of yesteryear, with individual names attached to each lengthy, carefully edited piece, reinforced those assumptions.

Twitter tears these assumptions to shreds.

To log onto Twitter is to be exposed to a sea of a million voices. It is to observe political debates in such numbers that one can soon predict every rhetorical move every participant will make well before they make them. It is to have your likes, dislikes, opinions, and passions decided by algorithm. It means watching people climb in clout by manipulating said algorithms for personal gain. The politico immersed in this ocean of content no longer feels like an individual with control over her beliefs. Her intellectual development is no longer her story. Nor is anyone else’s story truly their story. We are all the playthings of algorithms, hosts for a “Discourse” that seems to live outside of those discoursing. Nothing in Twitter’s endless streams suggests that human beings are amenable to reason or persuasion. Tweets are not written to persuade, after all, but to game. And when the discourse is a game to win, lose, or manipulate, there is little reason to care much for free speech.

Lili Loofbourow described her turn against “free speech” in exactly these terms in a viral twitter thread penned a few years ago:

Online pundits should know (and factor in) that social media as a “public square” where “good faith debate” happens is a thing of the past. Disagreement here happens through trolling, sea-lioning, ratios, dunks…

Most arguments worth having have been had and witnessed 1000x already on these platforms, in several permutations. We know their tired choreographies, the moves and countermoves. At this point we mostly enjoy the style of whichever dunk we happen to agree with.

Does that lead to paranoid readings and meta-debates that seem totally batshit to onlookers who aren’t internet-poisoned? Yup! “All Lives Matter” sounds perfectly reasonable–as a text–unless you know the history of that discourse. (And you’ll sound pretty weird explaining it.)

“Why would you refuse to debate someone who’s simply saying that All Lives Matter?” is the kind of question an Enlightenment subject longing for a robust exchange of ideas might ask. Well, the reason is that most of us know, through bitter experience, that it’s a waste of time.

It wouldn’t be a true exchange. We know by now what “All Lives Matter” signals and that what it signals is orthogonal to what it says. Your fluency in this garbage means you take shortcuts: you don’t have to refute the text to leap to the subtext, which is the real issue….

Sure, good-faith debate would be nice. Instead, the internet pressure-cooked rhetoric. Again: people can watch the same argument be conducted a million times in slightly different ways, and that’s interesting, and a blessing, and a curse.

It produced a kind of argumentative hyperliteracy. If you can predict every step of a controversy (including the backlash), it makes perfect sense to meta-argue instead–over what X *really* means, or implies, or what, down a road we know well, it confirms.4


Lili Loofburrow, twitter thread, 9 July 2020.

Twitter presents the problem of over exposure. Debates on the blogosphere, or in the op-ed sections, were argued within a defined limit. Your opponent was a person you could identify, even if that identity was pseudonymous. The onslaught of voices in your mentions strips away the individuality of debate. You are not battling people, but a force of nature. You are repeatedly exposed to non-entities of the other side—or, barring that, to the stupidest and cringiest entities of the other side. Your interlocutors are incentivized not to tailor their argument to you or those like you, but rather to their fans and boosters. It is a poisonous environment for good faith engagement. Spending too much time there risks losing faith in good faith altogether.

The retweet button facilitates all of these problems. But it is only one piece of the puzzle. Just as important is the scope of the Twitterverse, which lacks boundaries, borders, or moderators that made the blogosphere and forums of old feel and operate like communities.

But Twitter can only poison so far. Twitter is experienced as a war against some natural force only by politicos with high follower counts. That group includes Haidt, Loofburrow, and myself, but not most Twitter users—much less most Americans. In order to trace “Why the last ten years have been uniquely stupid” Haidt must expand his vision past social media. Why aren’t the centrists winning out there?

There is something eerie when the centrist liberals of our day are set next to the older generations in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons or Dostoevsky’s The Demons. The old liberals in those novels read both comic and tragic, absorbed by the rebellions of their youth despite having long passed middle age, horrified by the revolutionary notions of their children yet paralyzed by indecision whenever directly confronted with them, so committed to idealized notions of progress and dissent that they lack the language, much less the courage, to critique their children. So it is today.

The boomer centrists do not know how to respond to accusations of racism or sexism without sounding like the echo of their own parents. So they don’t respond to these accusations. Instead they grasp for theories that allow escape from the actual issues at play. That is, they flock to theories of procedure, not substance. Haidt’s theory of the retweet button fits that bill; so do many others, such as Yuval Levin’s writing on institutions. Both are correct within limits: yes, Twitter is bad for the discourse. Yes, we need more institution building. But these theories are popular with centrists and non-politicos less for their explanatory power than for the ideological dodge they allow centrists to make.

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As usual I find your arguments incisive. I don’t think proceduralism is much else besides a life preserver for people adrift in a situation they cannot hope to succeed in because the rules are not legible or fair. I know as a somewhat young conservative, you’ve probably seen some variation of this in the late 2010s Free Speech on Campus stuff. Most of that was less an earnest belief in the marketplace of ideas and more of a plea for dissent from woke orthodoxy to not be met with administrative sanction, paramilitary violence, or some combination of the two. If the situation was less overt than that l, I would imagine appeals to natural law or just the strength of the ideas themselves would be more common. While I think trying to make equivocations between (literally 1) band losing airtime in 2003 and 1 football player not being resigned to a contract in 2016 vs the massive forces of administrative, bureaucratic, reputational and informational power being deployed in the opposite direction (and maybe I misread you on that), it’s definitely an observable trend that procedural explanations for this issue fall flat across tribes in the US.

If I could offer a critique of the general trend I see in these pieces, it would be that I don’t think your generational argument works for explaining the Trump phenomenon as well as it does for the NYTimes newsroom dynamics. In my view, it demonstrates the opposite – that boomer power can not only survive but double down. The 2016 GOP primary was a failed attempt at generational replacement. The Gen X campaigns of Cruz and Rubio and the Gen X staffed campaign of Jeb was supposed to usher in an era of Gen X Movement Conservative control of the American Right which would sideline the politics of Bill O’Reilly. Trump’s boomer id politics of restrictionism, fiscal expansion, nationalism, and overall (and I say this positively) Ugly Americanism won out over this vision. Generational replacement was forestalled, and the power centers in today’s Republican Party remain who can drive small dollar donations from these specific appeals. The most striking fact of this is how the Republican Party has become the party of people outside of the professional class, regardless of income level, and that is because the norms of that class run counter to it.

Generational turnover on the American Right is something I don’t think will happen in the same way it did on the left. But I don’t know how that will pan out, but I’m sure you have some interesting thoughts on this. The one thing I think we will agree on is that Catholic Integralism will not play a part.

Good essay Tanner.

“If current times feel especially fraught and censorious, it is…because there has been a titanic and sudden change in what lies outside the bounds of tolerance.”

The issue at hand education polarization. There’s really not a space for educated, heterodox people anymore. It seems like the prior tolerance for heterodox speech in educated circles was predicated on there being a rough parity of views. Once that parity started vanishing, then the cancellations began. These cancellations converted or cowed a certain portion of the remainder, which facilitated more cancellations, and so on.

Indeed, most of the people who take issue with cancellations are urban, educated, and Blue Tribe to their cores. They are mainly concerned with the issue as it pertains to their educated circles. I remember watching Haidt’s old talks long before the culture wars got into full swing. He identified very much as a moderate Democrat, and on occasion he would overtly trash the Republican Party.

Many of Haidt’s “IDW” compatriots understandably bristle at their new position on the Right. They are in the same position as the old neocons, who themselves were comprised of disillusioned leftists and socialists! My advice to them (us) is the same as the advice given by the neocon Midge Decter: there comes a time to join the side you’re on.

The Right is now in the political-cultural wilderness and will be for some time. The sooner educated Righties acclimatize themselves to that new reality rather than fighting for a place in institutions that manifestly don’t want them, the better off we will be.

“people can watch the same argument be conducted a million times in slightly different ways”

I would argue that this is a good thing for the rationality of public discourse. It ensures that in the long run, the argument that wins is not determined by accidents like the rhetorical skill of one or another debater, but by the nature of the arguments themselves.

An interesting point is that the left-wing identity politics that has taken the English-speaking world by storm is far weaker in most of Europe. In Italy the discourse on racism and sexism has not shifted that much over the past 10-15 years. Social media has still poisoned the debate however, and extremism and conspiracy theories are still rife. But it’s Facebook, not Twitter, that really affects the average person. Twitter is probably the wrong place to look.

It’s true that social enforcement of orthodoxy is not new, but nonetheless the extent of it varies over time, and it’s reasonable to think that times with less of it are all else equal better than times with more of it. For many of us who came of age in the 1990s, we experienced that time as one with a much larger range of non-punishable opinion than before or since. There is little if anything you “can say” now that you “couldn’t say” then, and a large and growing amount in the converse category.

If that’s true, it’s worth understanding why it was true and what we might do to bring it back. You can tell a story where the economic prosperity and geopolitical absence of threat in the 1990s powered the relatively freewheeling atmosphere, with reference to the “survive vs thrive” dichotomy and Friedman’s _The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth_. Or maybe the balance of generations was unusually tilted in favor or social tolerance. Or… something else? I honestly don’t know, but because social tolerance is so important to truth seeking and genuine diversity, it seems important to investigate.

I went back and reread that Smith essay (generally I find Smith irritating, though I can’t justify the reaction at all, it’s probably more me than him) and found at the end: “But it is hard not to see this sort of endeavor as only the more twee end of the normie’s prideful declaration that he still has a paper subscription to the Times.” Which feels like contemptuous shorthand–if you like fountain pens, you’ll love self-indulgent stands against technology!–in other words, Smith’s deployment of a personal algorithm. (Note: I love fountain pens.)

Thinking, also, of how my kids (neither of whom are in high school yet) had me playing the musical “Heathers” in the car yesterday, and the first song is all about the characters shouting insults at each other and also despairing that they can’t break out of their assigned roles of jock or loser or what have you. (And changing someone’s mind about your assigned place in the social hierarchies of high school was hard enough that it spawned an entire genre of popular entertainment between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s.) Admittedly it’s been a while since I reread Jocks and Burnouts, but it seems to me that Twitter doesn’t introduce algorithms; it simply scales them. We’ve been running algorithms on each other for a long time–which goes back to your observation that self-censorship and cancellation are nothing new. (Yes, I know “Twitter is like high school” is not a new argument.)

With regards specifically to Haidt: having just read (skimmed, to be honest) the AC10 review of The Righteous Mind, I wonder if he’s not making the “Twitter ruins things” argument specifically because he came up with a predictive algorithm (Values X, Y, Z -> socially conservative; Values A, B, C -> socially liberal) and then that didn’t hold up over time, so he’s looking for an explanation why his algorithms, which were at least based on recognizable human feelings, seemingly got superseded by different, stupider algorithms. (If you haven’t read the review yet, the reviewer hypothesizes that tribal identification leads to values, rather than values slotting a person into a political tribe.) But I’m doing this crudely, having not read Haidt myself.

“o he’s looking for an explanation why his algorithms, which were at least based on recognizable human feelings, seemingly got superseded by different, stupider algorithms.”

This is actually a very interesting take, not one I had considered myself. Good thought.

The under 30, extremely online, right wing political Twitter users weren’t radicalized by the internet. You are correct that it was our experience in life that radicalized us. Everything we were taught about how life worked “in the real world” was the furthest thing from the truth. We watched the society our parents and grandparents had transform into something fundamentally unlike what is once was, and it was nothing we ever wanted or were prepared for. Our leaders represent the entire world except us, and criminalize our every political action and belief. Don’t get me started on how every institution demands you hate yourself and your history because you are white. You know, like the kids who ran into machine gun fire to preserve this country that has turned it’s back on them and watches their slow decline and suffering. All the internet ever did was remind us we weren’t alone in this feeling. The internet didn’t cultivate it. It was already there in its entirety.

Representative government is a joke. The people who try to “understand” us never will, and they only wish to do so for the purpose of marginalizing us even further. There is no universe where anyone in any position of authority or influence does anything for us without fundamental changes in personnel and governing philosophy.

> The under 30, extremely online, right wing political Twitter users weren’t radicalized by the internet.

True, but it helped you realize you were not crazy for noticing these things.

Bitterness clouds vision and frustrates action. No institution I am a part of demands I hate myself; I do not need such institutions to survive, and most of you don’t either. We are not special snowflakes. The truth is that the challenges you face today are minuscule when placed to those faced by your ancestors. They are even more minuscule when placed next to cultural minorities in many parts of the world, and in many times in American history. Cultural minorities face a choice: they can blame the system, sink their own souls into stagnation and despair, and gain nothing from this life and prepare nothing for the generations of the future. Or they can view their status as a blessing, as a refiner’s fire capable of forging both community and character. We can devote ourselves to virtue, excellence, strength, generosity, and all the other manly virtues…. or we can choose to whimper and shift blame. That is my plea: do not choose the bitter path.

Tanner, I could say something similar in reply:

In the face of looming major foreign policy defeats dismissed due to temporary tactical successes for a thoroughly corrupt WW2 era Nazi collaborator glorifying ultranationalist frontline garrison state, facing accelerating rejections of the USD as world reserve currency you may have said that only the embittered New Right or hopeless contrarian doomsayers foresaw; when reality turns out not to be so malleable for American Empire as Karl Rove (in)famously said back in 2002, when the ‘post World War II order’ crumbles beneath your feet because the elites disdained the ordinary people who held it on their shoulders all these years; when enough of Europe finally has enough unemployment and cold after this winter then chooses neutrality if not overt hatred of NATO (the former compounded in Greece and the once Ottoman enslaved Balkans by direct Turkish support with wink and nod British backing for Azeri aggression against the first Christian kingdom Armenia) and the EU’s subservience to Anglo-American Atlanticism; do not choose the bitter path. But the Establishment will. They will blame all the contrarians of the Left AND Right for their failures.

I’m waiting for someone in a higher paygrade to explain why political polarization is a bad thing. I think it is a good thing, but all the best and brightest lament it daily.

Martin Van Buren, the man who did more than anything to codify the end of the Era of Good Feelings into a bitterly partisan system, argued in Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States that polaraization was an excellent condition. Better to have the parties defending specific and distinct political philosophies, argued he, than merely having politics be a battle of patronage networks behind the scene. A hidden motive was Van Buren’s belief that partisanship on the basis of party was healthier than partisanship on the basis of region, a partisanship that might wreck the union.

The problem with the van Buren view is seen easily over the last few decades, when the Congress and the Presidency are divided, and gridlock between two parties so polarized as to forclude practical cooperation leads to paralysis and shutdowns. I still don’t think the USN has recovered from the sequester years. And then there is the problem of polarization escalating into violence, or constitutional crisis. Indeed, it already has escalated to such–that is what Jan 6th was. Constitutional crisis where the Joint Chiefs took things in their own hands, without authorization, to solve. A less partisan populace might not let things get so far.

The final problem with polarization is more prosaic. I wrote about it here: Regular life is usually insulated from political conflict. It is a blessing to live in an era when the personal is not political. The more polarized society becomes, the larger the scope of things in life that take on political valence.

Thanks, there is merit in some of your arguments. I take issue with some, especially the characterization of January 6 as some sort of major crisis. Also, I know for a fact that many people think that gridlock and a divided government are what we need. Loss of confidence didn’t just happen last year. I don’t know the %, it’s small, but for many years there have been voters who always vote for the Presidential party and vote the other party for Congressional candidates.

My thinking is that we are, and have been, going to Hell in a handbasket and “non-partisanship” was there to guide us down the primrose path. If, and it’s a big if, necessary changes can be made, it likely won’t be accomplished through non-partisanship. Whenever I see laments about polarization, which is daily, usually several times, (it’s edging out “climate change” for 1st place on the “you need to fear this list”) I feel hopeful. It makes me think that at least there is a small chance for a better future.

But it was a constitutional crisis. Understand what actually happened: the JCS, without constitutional authority to do so, intervened in American politics to end a disturbance and decide a constitutional question of rulership. I think they acted rightly — but that does not make their actions any less extraordinary.

“the JCS, without constitutional authority to do so, intervened in American politics to end a disturbance and decide a constitutional question of rulership. I think they acted rightly — but that does not make their actions any less extraordinary.”

Have you written about this and I somehow missed it?

Interesting piece, from a pro-Trump outfit, but one that has consistently questioned the 01/06 hearings as political show trial-ing whose leaders including Kinzinger scoff at any notion of federal agent provocateuring or bad faith leading up to the Capitol riot and subsequent cover ups.

The USCP, FBI and or BATF were clearly not the only agencies with informants on site that day.

Regarding Milley, I think he was already flirting with insubordination during the summer 2020 riots, and if the books written about his post election statements are true, Milley crossed over into semi-Seven Days in May territory. One of the reasons I’m praying the next GOP nominee is not Trump is that it removes the Establishment absolution that Trump posed such an extraordinary threat to ‘our democracy’ that all manner of skullduggery and bureaucratic insubordination bordering on soft coup sedition was justified to stop him. The first thing a President DeSantis should do is lay down the law and fire some prominent three letter agency appointees and perhaps some of the JCS as well, making it clear there will be no repeats of the Gen Flynn episode where an incoming Administration is humiliated and neutered from the start by the permanent NatSec bureaucracy.

One important point that I failed make. This insight from your post on the New Right, “This is an unstable foundation for a post-liberal body politic if there ever was one.” explains my pessimism that we can find a path forward.

> gridlock between two parties so polarized as to forclude practical cooperation leads to paralysis and shutdowns.

And that’s a problem because.

> I still don’t think the USN has recovered from the sequester years.

How long do you think it will take the USArmy, not to mention the US economy, to recover from the actions the Biden administration took without effective Republic opposition?

> And then there is the problem of polarization escalating into violence, or constitutional crisis.

Unfortunately, the crisis was polarizing enough with the result that blatant, in your face, election fraud was allowed to stand.

> The more polarized society becomes, the larger the scope of things in life that take on political valence.

I think you have cause and effect reversed here. The reason everything has become so political is because one faction has been able to push its agenda way past the point of all reason (drag queen story time anyone?) without any effective opposition.

At the end of the day, calls for less political opposition and polarization are calls for continuing the status quo. And continuing on the path to perdition is not good.

The gap that became a chasm between Twitter, where Ukrainian triumphalism and dismissal of the Russians as comically inept prevailed, and Telegram — where pro-Russian channels showed massive Ukrainian casualties and UAF units bitterly complaining about being essentially left to die in artillery fire savaged trenches by their commanders…is also instructive.

I won’t Ukraine-jack this thread except to say the danger of polarization is such that facing the defeat of essentially the third largest (de facto if not de jure) NATO member military; one that from February 24 has been US/UK-led, Pentagon directed and increasingly NATO equipped army ever assembled…we could see dolstosslegende narratives emerge. That Trump MAGAcons and the ‘alt right’ are ‘working for Putin’ hurting .mil recruitment by maligning the modern military as woke and stabbing the progressive West in the back because they’re upset about trans soldiers and the like. A very dangerous time ahead for America, particularly if Trump is indeed hellbent on running again.

My fear is that, regardless of an expected GOP landslide in the mid-terms this November creating more space for the America Firsters critique of our endless wars, the Washington and hence NatSec establishment is incapable of processing a defeat in Ukraine. They aren’t capable of recognizing above all the main lesson: that the long term deindustrialization of the United States over the two generations since the 1980s has not only been socially destabilizing, but has massive consequences for US/NATO/AUKUS ability to sustain high end peer level warfare with China over Taiwan. Russia’s strategy has been one of attrition, and neither the quality of wunderwaffen combined with realtime intel (that was invaluable in the urban fighting around Kyiv, but far less so in the Donbass or Kherson steppes) nor the false belief that the well of Ukrainian and NATO Foreign Legion manpower is bottomless is sufficient to counter Russian firepower and quantity.

The bubble created by NatSec/milTwitter whereby NATO wunderwaffen such as the semi-effective but too limited in numbers HIMARS (let alone the massively overhyped Bayrektars and Javelins) is a big part of the inability to accept painful facts…so after initially viewing milTwitter with indifference I now regard it with suspicion if not contempt.

As an aside re HIMARS, of which the US has over 400 in USA/USMC arsenals, the Russians claim on their Telegram propaganda channels that the real reason the U.S. isn’t sending the kitchen sink of MLRS isn’t due to Pentagon fearing auto-disarmament from inability to restart the rockets production line, but that these systems are too sophisticated for the Ukrainians to operate and are actually manned by recently discharged US Army veteran PMCs.

A Twitter thread from a pro-CCP Chinese baizuo bashing ultranationalist, bolstering our point as to how Beijing won’t miss a golden opportunity to play the Russia card against Washington before Washington can fully play the Taiwan card against the CCP (and to a lesser extent, the Chinese through their DPRK ‘nasty’ cutouts can also send DPRK volunteers to Donbass while egging on Iranian assets attacking American troops in Syria using Russian training and targeting guidance). Ofc no idea if this fellow is connected in any way or is merely an overseas Chinese who doesn’t live under the CCP fantasizing about Red Eurasian revenge against the woke post West served up one Iranian kamikaze drone strike on US advisors who ‘aren’t’ on the ground in eastern Ukraine at a time…

For all the complaints that Twitter is an easily gamed by Western intel echo chamber for brainwashed NPCs, there is an interplay between it and Telegram during this war that has become noteworthy. It seems the Western spooks finally noticed that Twitter and Telegram weren’t exactly overlapping Venn diagrams and sought to overcome the bubble of their own creation and get inside the adversary’s propaganda loop. Therefore during the recent UkroNATO Kharkov offensive that the CENTCOM contractors, NAFO troll brigades and Russian speaking Ukrainian agitprop posters (some of whom dropped off Telegram when Russia took out part of the Ukrainian grid by destroying multiple TPPs in one night) partially succeeded in getting into the Russian propaganda OODA feedback loop to the supporters of Z, ironically being far more effective forecasting ‘6th columnist’ ie Russians are doomed because Putin is weak and Russia isn’t going to full mobilization rather than merely crowing about an embarassing retreat for the Russians (even if the casualties and equipment losses appear to have been significantly and in some cases by the ludicrous British Military Intelligence social account saying the entire 1st Guards Tank Army was wiped out, wildly exaggerated).

Last comment I’ll make on the social media dynamics of the war: at Krasny Lyman or Liman, after NATO got into the Russians’ Telegram business in a big way accompanying their Kharkov push; the Russians apparently used the ‘dooming’ of their own side on both Telegram and Twitter to their advantage and ran their own little psyop, to bait the Ukrainians (namely Zelensky) into overconfidence, pouring ever more troops into this town hoping for a mostly symbolic victory for Kyiv on the same day Putin announced the annexation of the four southeastern Donbass and seized southern regions. The UAF units now are getting hit by major reinforcements and the RuAF suddenly dropping bigger (1,500 ib) bombs with brand new T-90Ms (the MBTs the Russians were supposed to be all out of by now with the 1st Guards Tank Army fully wiped out) waiting at the Belgorod region border to enter the broader Kharkov front.

So yes, Russia can use the post-West and the Kyiv government’s obsession with PR/tactical wins over strategic victories of substance against it. And the PLA is taking careful notes, including on the value of drone swarms/loitering munitions to blunt the way NATO is trying to fight this its first ever war without air superiority, which Taiwan would also lack. Even some of the ‘doomer’ threads on Lyman incidentally were peppered with hints of the Russian Army operating Chinese trucks, something heretofore only the Belarussians did. Maybe Russia sending a signal to the NATO types that monitor pro-Russian Telegram that the trucks with the Chinese loitering munitions and or Polonez MLRS (Belarussian rocket launcher made in China to bombard Taiwan with 300 km range) are on their way to the fight.

At the end of the day, calls for less political opposition and polarization are calls for continuing the status quo. And continuing on the path to perdition is not good.

Also “continuing the status quo” is ambiguous. If a car is racing towards a cliff, does “continuing the status quo” mean stopping the car where it is or maintaining its speed?

You guys sort of missed the elephant in the room , the radicalization of college-educated Gen z and Millenials is by design, academia turned into woke indoctrination factory, media as well. The Mirriam-Webster word definitions are now manipulated by some recent grads belong to that cult.

For those in a bunker, just watch Peter Bogossian videos, he really breaks it down in a Socratic sort of way.

“The number of active twitter users is just too small.”

Yes but half of the media ecosystem is now just outposts of Twitter. My dad doesn’t own a computer and has no internet connection at his house. He knows all kinds of stuff going on on Twitter because Tucker Carlson shows him images of tweets every night. I don’t have a Twitter account and I mostly read blogs but I know plenty about what happened on Twitter on any given week because the bloggers talk about it or literally post images of tweets on their blog. Heck, I was getting gas the other day and noticed on the annoying ad screen at the pump that one of the little pseudo news segments was showing me tweets.
I do not hear about what some famous or controversial person said on Facebook or Reddit or Instagram daily. I do with Twitter. We would not magically depolarize if Twitter vanished. I absolutely think the level of existential partisan rhetoric would decrease by 30%+.

The biggest thing that happened en masse around 2011 was the widespread adoption of the smartphone. The device which brought the majority or “regular” people online for the first time (though yes mostly via Facebook) retweet button or not. Thats kinda important to remember!

The “Dixie Chicks”, now simply the “Chicks”, weren’t truly cancelled at all. They simply traded one fanbase for another. Gillette tried to do the same thing with their customer base, but with less planning and less success; I guess there aren’t enough self-loathing men who shave or enough misandrist women who also shave. Likewise with Amazon Prime and “The Rings of Power”; essentially have a “Lord of the Rings” prequel made by people who hate Tolkien. What is their target audience for this film? The “woke” will applaud, but necessarily watch, and Tolkien fans were warned in advance.

I think you’re right, but I think we can go further.

As long as America is a land of business, we have two parties of the form one is (nominally) pro-business, one anti (or at least less-pro) business. But there is something deeply contradictory within both parties.
Business, and thus ultimately the pro-business party, is in reality an engine of on-going change. But many member of the pro-business party are very happy with the status quo and have good reason to resist change.
Similarly the anti-business party, in rhetoric, calls for change of various forms, but many of its members (the poor, the ill-educated, the non-elite) are least capable of dealing with change.

Thus there is a constant tension in both parties, and a constant convection moving large interest groups from one party to the other. Just in the 20th C we can see this tension playing out as the Bull Moose Party, then the New Deal coalition, then the Southern Strategy, then Reagan Democrats, then Perot and Trump; and flow in the opposite direction of those with degrees, from Rockefeller Republicans to Woke Democrats.

The more natural political configuration going forward is
– the party of change: business, tech, & woke; each happy with change, each willing to tolerate the other insofar as they get what they want
– the party of stasis: most immigrants, the religious, old people, & workers who don’t have degrees; each disliking to terrified of change, for good reason, and willing to accept some version of what the others want in a return to the past as long as their particular fear is kept in check

These will not be given those names, of course. The politically useful (and more or less accurate) names will be something like “The Family/Community Party” and “The Progressive/Libertarian Party”.

The details are not clear, but how this plays out is clear. A second Reagan+Trump will arise, someone with the full-throated support of the “Republican Base” (ie the current Republicans who care more about “family” than about taxes and business) and with the smarts to pick up the “Reagan Democrats”, ie to talk not about “gays bad” but about “credentials bad”, who says “don’t care if you are gay or not, as long as you care about family, work, and responsibility”, who appeals to petit-bourgeois values.

The alternative will be a candidate who is very obviously a NuDemocrat (so all the current love of the actual Democratic party for business and the elite; combined with not even pretending to care about labor, unions, and the non-symbolic poor). Biden (currently aged 80!) just squeaked in as possibly the last Democrat who didn’t present in that form. Ten years from now, my guess is all the serious contenders will be of the form I’ve described, essentially combination woke+libertarian.

Point of all this is that technology (ie Twitter, or for that matter Facebook or decline of newspapers, or talk radio, or Fox News) is an epiphenomenon insofar as it is simply how this tension between who does and does not want change has played out in this generation.
It’s the same fight every forty years or so; just different weapons. But the fight is especially vicious during the periods when people sense that a great re-alignment is coming. Once the new configurations are in place, everyone will know their rank in the pecking order, and certain groups will get most of the politics they want; other groups much less of what they want. But while the new configuration is not yet settled, all bets are off! If my camp can get a good spot in the new party, we’re set for the next thirty years or more. Individuals may not appreciate that this is in play, but “the zeitgeist” is aware of it, and the zeitgeist actually ain’t wrong.