Q&A Monday #1: Answering Questions from Readers of Culturcidal
Reagan vs. Trump, AI, media changes, and “complete overthrow?”
Back in the day, when I ran Right Wing News, I did over 100 Q&A Fridays. Those consisted of me giving the audience a chance to ask me just about anything they wanted to know and since people seemed to love asking questions back then, I thought I’d see if people enjoyed doing the same thing on Culturcidal. After giving the audience a chance to ask questions yesterday, here are the ones I answered. If you enjoyed this and you want it to be a monthly thing on Culturcidal, let me know in the comments section. If not, well, I enjoyed hearing from everyone this time!
* "What advantages, disadvantages, and problems do you see with AI?" – Ann H.
On the plus side, artificial intelligence is going to be one of the greatest leaps forward in human history. It has the potential to make human beings orders of magnitude more productive, to free us from all sorts of useless, dangerous, and repetitive tasks, and to answer questions we don’t even know to ask yet.
On the flip side, it has the same potential to end all human life as nuclear weapons and may be even more dangerous because it has so many practical uses and because we’re not going to be able to set it aside and discourage anyone from using it. AI is going to be used all the time, everywhere, and in a decade or two, when it’s paired with robots and machinery so that it can move on its own and it’s far more intelligent than we are, it’s an open question whether we’ll be able to control it, or it will kill us all. In essence, we are building Skynet from “The Terminator.” Maybe it’ll work out better for us than it did for them, but it’s also entirely possible it’ll end the same way, but you know, with less time travel and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
* "My question: How can conservatives balance the level of media unfairness that's clearly swinging public opinion and important elections? Helpless barely describes the feeling." – Roger Bost
So, this is a "good news, bad news" situation. Since everyone likes to start with the bad news, let’s do that first.
Fox, Newsmax, OANN, talk radio, a few newspapers, and lots of online sources have no hope at all of balancing out all the other TV news sources, all the social media networks except Twitter, and their websites as well. We are hopelessly outgunned on that front, have been for quite a while, and are likely to be for the foreseeable future – and yes, it does matter quite a bit. Having all that media firepower on their side is a big advantage.
However, the good news is that the media doesn’t even do a good job of PRETENDING to be unbiased these days, so their credibility level has taken an enormous hit. Anyone who’s not a far Left-winger already takes everything the media says about conservatives and Republicans with more than a grain of salt. This is proving to be horrible for our society because when there are no balanced, unbiased sources of news that people can trust, bad information and conspiracy theories thrive, but it does greatly undermine their effectiveness.
At this point, all I can suggest we do is try to break up the social media monopolies, ruthlessly try to prevent all government funding of mainstream media sources and keep working to build our own media sources while we try to reward any genuinely neutral sources of news if they come along. I wish there were better answers, but this is just one area out of many where liberals have spent decades gaining ground a few inches at a time while conservatives didn’t make enough moves and now, they have a huge advantage over us that would take decades to make up.
* "Why do politicians of today think they should only be working for one party or the other? And on their re-election campaign. Shouldn't our politicians, elected officials, be working for all of us? Shouldn't both sides be working together for the common good of the people? Because somewhere or another I do remember seeing for the common good of the people. Anybody remember that? So, my question is this, why can't our elected officials come to some common ground and work for the people as a whole?" – Steven Hawkins
There’s a very simple problem with finding "common ground" and working for the "people as a whole." The Left and Right in America no longer share a common culture, view of America, the Constitution, or the world. It’s almost like saying, “The Israelis and Palestinians,” “Russians and Ukrainians” or “Chinese and Taiwanese” should come together and find common ground. My idea of what’s good for America and Nancy Pelosi’s idea of what’s good for America don’t overlap in a lot of places. In fact, they are practically diametrically opposed. How do you come together on almost anything important under those circumstances? Well, you don’t. Someone wins and someone loses. That’s where we are and unless we somehow find a way to share more common assumptions about how the world should work, that’s how it will likely continue until the country falls apart.
* "How many books have you read in your lifetime? What % of that information have you retained?" – TheRightMixx
I started reading almost obsessively when I was very young. In fact, although I didn't understand all of it, I was reading "The Exorcist" at 6 (not kidding). I also remember reading the dictionary in the dugout of a baseball game. Sometime before I was 10, I read a book on speed reading and started going through even more books. I was one of these people who would sometimes check out 8 or 9 books at a time from the library. For a long time, I probably averaged a book a week (again, yes, really). Eventually, as I got into the Internet and started reading about more complex subjects, I slowed down. For the last decade or so, I have probably read and listened to, let's say, maybe 18 books a year.
If I were guessing, I'd say I've probably read and listened to somewhere around 1500+ books at this point. As to how much I've retained, that's impossible to say, but the better the book is, the more of it I remember.
* "Do you think that classical liberalism (aka Reaganism) or national populism (aka Trumpism) is more likely to be the successful path for the Republican Party?" – Kenneth Katz
I get what you're saying, but I don't look at it through exactly the same prism that you do. To begin with, I think of the Republican Party as being split between a populist and an establishment wing that have a few marginal differences in their philosophical views, but some significant differences in what they prioritize.
Although Reagan was much more ideologically principled than Trump, both of them came out of the populist wing of the Republican Party. So, while there's definitely an ideological gulf between Reagan and Trump, there was probably an even bigger one between say Reagan and W/his dad/Dole/Romney/McCain.
Trump has an almost endless supply of flaws, but one thing he was pretty good at in his run in 2016 and through a lot of his presidency was taking generally smart political stances that held his base together while he could reach out to new constituent groups. A lot of the areas where he deviated from classical liberalism were areas where it may have led to better governance, but it was unpopular. Asking NATO to pay more, renegotiating trade deals, refusing to control spending, etc, etc. I know a lot of Trump's biggest fans don't buy this at all, but I think if Trump had sounded and acted like say, Mike Pence, he would have won easily in 2020 because his agenda wasn't bad at all.
Let me also add that as much as I loved Reagan, I have long thought the Republican Party needed to move past his agenda. The reason being the world isn't the same as it was in 1980. There are new challenges, new realities, and one of Reagan's biggest issues was defeating the Soviet Union, which he succeeded at.
In other words, I think there are eternal principles, but I think agendas should be fluid. In other words, whoever the nominee is in 2024, they shouldn’t have an agenda that matches up exactly with Trump or Reagan’s agenda. They should have conservative principles and an agenda that addresses both the biggest concerns of both the base and the American people.
* "Thanks for the opportunity. My question is basic. Is there any workable, reasonably speedy way to reign in government and radically down-size the bureaucracy/shadow government, short of its complete overthrow?" – Humdeedee
There are ways to do it, but they’re all either extremely unlikely or extremely painful.
For example, the Supreme Court could dramatically limit the power of the federal government to duties more consistent with what the Founders intended via the 10th Amendment:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
I’d love to see that, but it would shock everyone if it actually happened.
We could certainly choose to implement a balanced budget amendment that would force the government to limit its size, but there is very little real appetite for limiting federal power on either side of the aisle in DC.
Repealing the 17th Amendment and allowing state legislatures to choose senators instead of the general public would also help, but again, there is very little chance that would happen.
The other thing that would do it is hyperinflation and the collapse of the dollar, which could happen anytime from the next few months to a few decades from now. That will be a nightmarish scenario that would cause enormous amounts of pain, but it will by necessity limit the power and scope of government because the money they print won’t be worth much and they won’t be able to borrow anymore.
Of course, we could always choose to behave responsibly and do the right thing as a nation at any time, but chances are, we’re just going to keep our foot on the gas pedal until we go over the cliff.
* "OK, another one: been listening to any good music lately?" – David Swindle
Yes, Here are my 20 most listened-to songs of 2023 so far:
* "What are the (7) most important ways in which… media has changed since you first started Right Wing News?" – David Swindle (I altered this question a little bit.)
I could pretty easily do a whole article on this, so I will need to keep this short.
7 Ways the Media Has Changed Since I Got Started in the News Business in 2001
1) The mainstream media used to care a lot more about at least trying to give the appearance that they were objective. Today, the MSM is much more explicitly partisan.
2) The conservative media today is several orders of magnitude less independent, more corporate, and more profit-driven than it was back then.
3) The media used to revolve around telling people the truth as they saw it. Today, it revolves around telling people what they want to hear.
4) There are a lot more stories today based on anonymous sources than there used to be.
5) The “tone” of stories across the board is much nastier, angrier, and more centered around producing an emotional reaction than it used to be.
6) What is considered a potential “political story” has expanded tremendously since then. It feels like everything has a political angle these days.
7) People across the board cared a lot more about being accurate than they do today. Getting a story wrong was a much bigger deal back then.
Thanks for answering my questions, John! A lot of great, thoughtful points here!
I was going to email you about this, but I may as well just leave it as a comment and invite others to discuss also. While I don't agree with everything you've written here, I do with much of it. However, I see one point in particular where I differ with you:
"To begin with, I think of the Republican Party as being split between a populist and an establishment wing that have a few marginal differences in their philosophical views, but some significant differences in what they prioritize.
Although Reagan was much more ideologically principled than Trump, both of them came out of the populist wing of the Republican Party. So, while there's definitely an ideological gulf between Reagan and Trump, there was probably an even bigger one between say Reagan and W/his dad/Dole/Romney/McCain."
I strongly disagree that the Right - and by extension the GOP - are only split between 2 sides, a populist side and an establishment side, nor are these differences at all "marginal" philosophically. They are MASSIVE.
I see it more breaking down into 3 camps:
1. The "soft" "squishy" center-right which gradually shifted from corporatist "Rockefeller Republicanism" in the 1960s to corporatist neoconservatism by the 00s. This is the Bush family, the Romneys, the Kristols, Fox News, and so forth. The Bulwark today.
2. The principled "Hard" conservative mainstream which combined anti-communism, hawkish foreign policy, libertarianism, and social conservatism. Frank S. Meyer was the primary theorist who created this "conservative mainstream" ideologically, by balancing what was once called "traditionalism" (social conservatism) against what was once called "individualism" (libertarianism) and gluing them together with anti-communism. This is Buckley, National Review, Reagan, and was the primary ideology of the Right and the GOP in the 20 years following Reagan. The only high up political figure I see still adhering to it today is John Bolton. It's the Dispatch and Jonah Goldberg and David French today.
3. The authoritarian-sympathizing "Far" populist-nationalist-conspiracist right. This is the isolationist conservative movement of the 1930s and 1940s, before Buckley and anti-communism came along in the 1950s. It's the John Birch Society, whose ideology has proven way more influential and resilient than I first realized when we began collaborating over a decade ago. It's been reinvented by the antisemite Pat Buchanan as "paleo-conservatism" and the antisemite Ron Paul as "paleo-libertarianism." And now it's been reinvented into Trumpism which is largely one and the same with the pro-Putin wing of the Right.
Now, when I had my ideological shift away from the left from 2007-2010, I analyzed all this stuff really carefully for years because I realized quickly that these 3 different ideological camps had totally different philosophies and were largely only held together first by anti-communism and then by hating the Democrats more than each other. There were so many different activists and philosophers and professional ideological entrepreneurs that I realized I couldn't embrace them all, I had to pick my principles and then make my choices of who was principled and legitimate, who was just out for money and fluffing up corporations, and who was totally crazy.
I ultimately picked the hard right Reaganite libertarian-conservative hawk camp, partially because I saw counter-Jihad and counter-Islamism as a replacement for anti-communism. I had become convinced that a hawkish foreign policy to defeat America's enemies had been proven right by history and that it would still work today. I still hold those views still - I am still hawkish as hell and every bit as opposed to the antisemitic, genocidal Islamists as I've ever been. (With the small caveat that the Jihadists and Muslim Brotherhood had a terrible time in the 2010s so they're just not quite the threat they were 10-15 years ago. I'm not as worried about them overall as I used to be, though they're still a threat, especially Iran, which I regard as equivalent to Nazi Germany.)
But at this point Reagan and Buckley are dead and many people like you have made the same analytical error which you articulate here:
"Let me also add that as much as I loved Reagan, I have long thought the Republican Party needed to move past his agenda. The reason being the world isn't the same as it was in 1980. There are new challenges, new realities, and one of Reagan's biggest issues was defeating the Soviet Union, which he succeeded at."
I do think the world is largely the same as in 1980. (And not even all that different from how it was 500 years ago or in Biblical times!) Know why? There are still tons of evil, godless, authoritarian slave states all over the planet which threaten free peoples and free states. And Russia is still one of them. Here's another thing I learned in my pawing through various right-wing philosophical books and histories: Russia itself was always the problem, not just the USSR and Communism. Russia was a terrible, evil country both BEFORE the Soviets took it over, and AFTER the Soviets took over. That sad, frozen wasteland has never valued freedom like we Americans do. It has always been essentially a depressing, alcoholic slave state ruled by a czar with an iron-fist. And it still is today. Putin has oppressed his people for decades and now is committing genocidal war crimes in Ukraine. And so many Americans just don't care. They think the world stops at the US's borders and we shouldn't be concerned with anything but our country's own domestic affairs.
And Putin's not the only authoritarian threat at all. There are still Iran, North Korea, and China to name a few others. Hawkish Reaganite foreign policy which doesn't tolerate authoritarian bastards waging imperial wars of conquest wasn't something that became obsolete once the Cold War was one. It is a perennial philosophy, time-tested by history. We needed it before World War II and we need it still today. This approach to the world was relevant in Moses' time and in the medieval era too. It always is relevant because the evil and cruelty of human nature remains entirely consistent throughout our species' history.
But alas, the polls are more than clear: the #AlwaysTrump populist-nationalist-conspiracist ideological tradition has come now to dominate the whole Right and has taken over the GOP as well as virtually all of right-wing media. I blame social media and the internet more broadly for it. It used to be that these sorts of voices were confined to tiny, obscure little magazines and newsletters at best. Nowadays they've had nearly 30 years of having an equal seat at the table with everyone else. And because of the nature of their narratives, the algorithms of social media are biased in their favor since social media favors emotionalism, provocation, over-the-top rumors, and trivial gossip, etc.
OK, I should probably stop my ranting and just make my own post elaborating on these points. You're smart, you get the picture I'm painting here. Perhaps this puts into more context why I no longer regarding myself as really a right-winger anymore and have shifted more toward focusing on Zionism, an ideology which the mainstreams of both parties embrace. It's only on both the Far Right and the Far Left where you find people crazy and hateful enough to be anti-Israel.
OK, enough ranting from me. Good post.
Thank you for patiently answering my question. I enjoyed reading your answers to all the other questions a lot and would like a monthly Ask Me Anything post.