Scott Alexander:

The culture wars will continue to be marked by both sides scoring an unrelenting series of own-goals, with the victory going to whoever can make their supporters shut up first. The best case scenario for the Right is that Jordan Peterson’s ability to not instantly get ostracized and destroyed signals a new era of basically decent people being able to speak out against social justice; this launches a cascade of people doing so, and the vague group consisting of Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, etc coalesces into a perfectly respectable force no more controversial than the gun lobby or the pro-life movement or something. With social justice no longer able to enforce its own sacredness values against blasphemy, it loses a lot of credibility and ends up no more powerful or religion-like than eg Christianity. The best case scenario for the Left is that the alt-right makes some more noise, the media is able to relentlessly keep everyone’s focus on the alt-right, the words ALT-RIGHT get seared into the public consciousness every single day on every single news website, and everyone is so afraid of being associated with the alt-right that they shut up about any disagreements with the consensus they might have. I predict both of these will happen, but the Right’s win-scenario will come together faster and they will score a minor victory.

The Lady of the House was telling me the other day about an article that explored why fandom can become so toxic. For example, the barrier to entry for becoming a Harry Potter fan is very low. To differentiate themselves from the herd, hardcore fans basically have to create tiers within their subculture to make it more exclusive for them. There’s no status in having and enjoying the same thing as every teenage mallrat. By contrast, a higher barrier to entry makes it easier for a niche group to be more welcoming to newbies, as they can trust that anyone who’s here has earned the right to be here.

Listening to her, I remembered some webcomic from several years ago which amusingly noted the differences between the social-justice left and the far right with regards to their outreach programs, shall we say. Basically, it’s easy and trendy to be on the left, and you see this reflected in the contemptuous attitude that hardcore SJWs hold toward anyone who isn’t already part of the in-group. Outsiders were frequently treated with hostility from the start, as I witnessed countless times when the social-justice virus first spread through online atheism. People who earnestly tried to engage in discussion were accused of “JAQing off” and told that it was a sign of privilege to expect answers to their stupid questions. There already existed an elite caste whose main concern was to demonstrate their higher social rank by competing to see who could be the most excoriating toward the outgroup. The highly-stigmatized far right, on the other hand, was more than happy to oblige curiosity from newcomers. Oh, you got attacked for your “white privilege,” huh? Yeah, that’s typical leftist hypocrisy, enforced by the liberal media. Would you like to learn more? Here’s some information, and oh, by the way, there’s a group that meets on Wednesday nights if you’d like to come by and hear so-and-so speak! Bring your friends!

Like I said, I saw that comic several years ago, so it seems especially prescient in hindsight, now that most of us have had occasion to rub our eyes and wonder where all these outright neo-Nazis came from all of a sudden.

In any event, right-wing politics, even of the moderate, mainstream variety, has long had a higher barrier to entry for most people. It often seems too pessimistic, too unsympathetic, too severe, too demanding. There’s no cultural status to be had in being conservative. People often age into it with experience rather than get argued into it with facile reasoning. It has struck me, though, as it has likewise apparently struck Alexander, that the shifting tectonic plates in the domestic political landscape seem to be opening up some fissures which could perhaps be filled by a more reasonable, approachable center-right coalition typified by individuals like Peterson, Harris, Haidt, Pinker, etc. With a generous helping of good fortune, maybe this trend might develop from a cultural faction into a new conservative party, leaving the big two to continue becoming more extreme. Granted, that’s only if-this, then-that, unless-this, in-which-case-that speculation. I’m certainly not holding my breath for a viable third-party option anytime in the near future. But as the Republican party continues to accommodate Trumpian populism and adapt to it rather than tame it, I can’t help but wonder where the newly-homeless conservatives are going to end up. Are they going to continue to wait out what they hope is a temporary spell of madness, or will they eventually walk away and possibly encounter the refugees from the left somewhere in the middle?