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Self in Society Roundup 23

Envy, Christopher Hitchens, Ritchie Valens, postmodernism, industrial policy, socialism, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
July 21, 2023; ported here on February 9, 2024

Envy: I was curious why Tyler Cowen recommended an essay by Grazie Sophia Christie on female envy and beauty, so I read it. I've heard the theory that women are primed by evolution to seek social status. Obviously physical beauty plays a large role in the mating practices of many species. Many male birds are highly ornate. (Males of many species also are built for fighting rivals.) So let us concede, at least tentatively, that a lot of people, perhaps especially women, have a hard time getting away from envy. But we're also rational beings capable of indirectly guiding our emotions. We may concede that people's looks matter in terms of life outcomes, especially success in dating and career. But, by definition, most people have normal looks. If especially attractive people tend to have certain advantages, well, that's just their good luck. Also, how we look is substantially up to us. If we eat a healthy diet, exercise, generally take care of ourselves, and pay some attention to how we present ourselves, we tend to look a lot better than if we abuse our bodies. People can choose just not to worry too much about innate looks, whether their own or others'. Another point: Christie herself is quite beautiful. A few times I have noticed very beautiful women, although perhaps not the most beautiful women around, talk about issues of body acceptance. That seems odd. On a related note, to ask an often-forbidden question: Is some "gender dysphoria" among young girls really a negative reaction to a culture of body obsession?

Hitchens: Richard Dawkins conducted what turned out to be Christopher Hitchens's final interview. They discuss the religious beliefs of Twentieth Century totalitarians, the efficacy of Catholic charities, the problem of totalitarianism generally, American evangelicals, the popularity of religion in America, and more.

Ritchie Valens: I've been listening to the outstanding History of Rock Music in 500 Songs podcast, and recently I heard the episodes about Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. Tragically, those two great artists died on the same flight. Valens was only 17. By the time of his death, Valens had written and recorded two major hits, "Come On, Let's Go" and "Donna," and recorded the folk song "La Bamba" in a rock style. Many musicians go their entire careers without having hits like that. Then I rewatched the 1987 film La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and featuring the music of Los Lobos. I very much enjoyed the film, although it is more about Valens's family (especially his hell-raising brother) than about his music. But, then, Valens hardly had the time to build a full music career. If you watch the film on DVD you can catch the background documentary features. The podcast episode and the film are great tributes to a young man who became a legend despite having his life cut far too short.

Housing: Yimbyland reports that Austin legalized substantially more housing, including "three homes on every lot by right."

South Park AI: Yep, someone (Axios) prompted an AI app to generate a short episode of South Park in which AI rewrites the world. (It's not too interesting though.)

AI Art Contest: Bryan Caplan is running (with a friend's money) a contest for artwork for a graphic novel, in which artists are explicitly encouraged to use AI to develop their work.

Postmodernism: Nicholas Shackel (2005): "Many of the philosophical doctrines purveyed by postmodernists have been roundly refuted, yet people continue to be taken in by the dishonest devices used in proselytizing for postmodernism. I exhibit, name, and analyse five favourite rhetorical manoeuvres: Troll's Truisms, Motte and Bailey Doctrines, Equivocating Fulcra, the Postmodernist Fox Trot, and Rankly Relativising Fields. Anyone familiar with postmodernist writing will recognise their pervasive hold on the dialectic of postmodernism and come to judge that dialectic as it ought to be judged."

Industrial Policy: John Cochrane and Noah Smith square off, as Arnold Kling reviews. Kling shares Cochrane's view: "I share the grumpy position. I have described our current economic regime as 'doing less with more.' Substituting expensive domestic production for cheaper foreign goods. Substituting costly and less reliable energy for fossil fuels. I speculate that over the next five to ten years, the productivity losses from our new industrial policy will be sufficient to more than offset the gains from AI."

"New" Socialism: Noah Smith has thoughts: "The new socialists couldn't seem to decide whether they wanted a fantasy of centrally planned abundance or a fantasy of degrowth; all that seemed certain was that they were dealing in fantasy. . . . In the early 2020s, the new socialist movement started to flounder. . . . Leftist figures like Noam Chomsky came down on the wrong side of the Ukraine war, and started to look like tankie sympathizers. . . . Everyone started to get frustrated with the Left-NIMBYs who would come up with any excuse to avoid building housing. . . . This week's discourse drove this home to a lot of people. Malcolm Harris went on a bizarre Twitter rant about how under socialism, we would not eat bananas. . . ."

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