The Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson Rift

Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion—avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

John Adams, 1798

It should go without saying that the capitalist economic system has made every human on the planet materially better off than ever before in history. It could take more than an entire video series to catalogue each & every way that humans have progressed since the rise of capitalism when it comes to education, medicine, and even more basic necessities like food and water. It’s an unfortunate reality of the current political scene that this fact is constantly rejected, especially at a time when serious discussions are becoming necessary. Challenging that capitalism has delivered us nearest to universal human prosperity is to lose focus. That doesn’t mean to say that capitalism is the only ingredient in a fulfilled society. New challenges have arisen because of that same prosperity it produces in abundance. We’re seeing the disintegration of communities leading to an epidemic of loneliness, medicated with virtual worlds, drugs, or both. We’re seeing high paying jobs become increasingly complex and cognitively demanding, making them inaccessible to men who used to be able start families. One thing we all understand is that happiness isn’t just how many shows you can watch on multiple flat screen TVs or how many digits are in your country’s GDP, but rather the social connections we forge, our own sense of importance within a community, and some feeling of security during times so rapidly changing. The two largest conservative commentators had one of the more useful conversations surrounding the rapid social change we’re seeing. Taken together, they represent a rising awareness within the American people--one skeptical of the rapid changes in our society versus a more hands-off embrace of the breakneck speed of free market innovation.

Tucker Carlson’s primary mission is to diagnose what’s causing the decline of the basic building block of any community: family. Firstly, it’s important to understand the way our society has changed in the past century. It’s evolved to favor the cognitively gifted who develop the complex systems that make basic necessities affordable. Tracking with the past decades of rapid innovation, a significant segment of the population are rendered intellectually incapable of meeting the demands of these new industries. Throughout history, being especially intelligent did not grant you special privileges. Mostly everyone had the ability to support families working in a factory line, farming, or performing manual labor. Today, the rapidly expanding tech sectors of the economy require people to wrestle with complex systems whether it be cognitively demanding ones like programming and mathematically intensive ones like accounting.

Shapiro’s defenses of the capitalist system as it is echoes the arguments made by Steven Pinker in his books The Better Angels of our Nature and Enlightenment Now. Pinker himself relies heavily on the data from Human Progress, which documents all of the massive gains made in astoundingly short periods of time--such as reducing global extreme poverty to just 10%, not to mention the precipitous decline of violence--both at home and in war. Those are real gains, and not ones to be made light of. If we narrow our focus to the West, we understand that even most of those who are below the poverty line have luxuries that few members of royalty had just a century ago. But someone like Tucker argues that’s a less important metric. The primary goal, he argues, should not be economic growth, but the protection of community.

The preservation of our communities is the largest challenge we face today. A primary threat to that stability is the focus of one debate between he and Shapiro surrounding wide-scale automation of the driving industry, which threatens to displace the 4.4 million mostly men whose income depend upon that or who would support families with these jobs. Noting that it is the largest source of employment in the country for high school educated men, Carlson worries about what that would mean for them and their families if it were to suddenly be phased out in the coming decades. Shapiro countered with the fact that there are over 7 million jobs ready to be filled, the highest in 20 years, but glosses over the reality that a significant proportion of these have a high intelligence barrier. Are we meant to believe that normal Americans like truck drivers can become, let alone succeed as, programmers? This much is seriously questionable. He relies on the common response to these concerns by reminding us that this has been a universal historical response. The argument goes that whenever there’s a massive technological innovation on the horizon, the instinct of people is to find a reason to halt it in order to protect their industry. Which is fair in the context of horses, buggies, and cars, but the challenge of as-of-yet unseen opportunity doesn’t exist in the same landscape. One can imagine more jobs would open up that maintain and build on the systems of automated cars, but that baseline of skill is beyond what truck drivers could be retrained to do. This is because our rate of growth is totally incomparable to what we saw before the 21st century. Ray Kurzewill, the leading figure in Google’s machine learning sector writes:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate) [...] Although exponential trends did exist a thousand years ago, they were at that very early stage where an exponential trend is so flat that it looks like no trend at all. So their lack of expectations was largely fulfilled. Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.

The fact that this will affect mostly men is more important than it may seem. Young men especially who see no way up for what they see as unfair reasons are the ones who drive revolutions, who seek to replace the entire system with something--anything--new. This is at worst. At best, they check out of society altogether and turn to destructive means of escapism. This is where we now find ourselves.

It may be easy to view the same victims of this growth who voted for the likes of Ocasio Cortez and Donald Trump as losers threatened by change, as many do. They are threatened by economic progress, but they aren’t “losers” for a lack of will. They’re so-called “losers” because they were born into a system that no longer values the abilities they actually have, and in response they turn to those who offer them an alternate system that will give them the security they now lack, no matter how misguided. Take for instance Kevin D. Williamson of National Review, who makes a few core acknowledgements:

The life expectancies among non-college-educated white Americans have been plummeting in an almost unprecedented fashion, a trend not seen on such a large scale since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the social anarchy that prevailed in Russia afterward. Trump counties had proportionally fewer people with college degrees. Trump counties had fewer people working. And the white people in Trump counties were likely to die younger. The causes of death were “increased rates of disease and ill health, increased drug overdose and abuse, and suicide…

In numbers astonishingly and previously unseen, people are choosing to stop engaging with the system altogether. If they find the answer in demagogues, the onus is on us to answer the question of why they are doing so, and it can’t be with mockery or scorn. Those final two are supplied by that same writer:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. [...] The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

It’s of course true that addiction to opioids and welfare are rampant in Trump country. It’s also probably true that it’s for those reasons that when Trump promises them things he can’t deliver they are mobilized to support him. But what Williamson bluntly states and what Shapiro implicitly believes misses the point: at what point in our national progression did middle America stop gathering at their communities’ churches in favor of popping pills?

It wasn’t sheer selfishness, as Kevin D. Williamson claims, even if that’s a part of the story (as it almost always is). It’s much easier to cite selfishness or laziness than for intellectuals to concede the reality that some people don’t have the mental capacity to become physicians, pharmacists, or software engineers. This fact is considered radioactive by mainstream culture, if only because of how harsh it is. That inability understandably prompts them to look for an easy fix in the form of a government willing to hold back the tide of rapid change.

Tucker Carlson identifies what causes this appeal of populists as different as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Without an external, existential threat, coupled with an increasingly preachy elitist class, the wide swathes of Americans who no longer believe in the system are given voice by populists. The effects of these populists’ proposed solutions, whether positive or disastrous, is irrelevant to this group of people.

Shapiro puts forth in this discussion that the rejection of Judeo-Christian faith has caused the decline in community, but the question arises of what caused the death of God. A number of possibilities come to mind. He argues in his written response to Tucker’s Fox monologue that America’s spiritual, physical and mental deterioration can be laid at the feet of “individual decisions by individual human beings, by cultural forces militating against religious virtue and in favor of radical redefinition of human relationships, and by governmental intervention that has skewed incentives.”

On its face this makes sense, but it isn’t as though those cultural forces sprouted from the ether and spread by sheer word of mouth. As argued before, it isn’t hard to see how skewed incentives have come courtesy not just from government (even if that’s true as well,) but also from market forces. This could be by virtue of pornography, which has all the convenience of sexual gratification and none of the effort, and media conglomerates broadcasting that cultural assault into every American home. Not to mention the sexual liberation that has so recently reshaped the culture primarily because of birth control and the automobile, which were only made possible through capitalist innovation. It’s a very atomized, libertarian viewpoint that “skewed” incentives can only come from government bureaucracies, if an optimistic one. After all, if it is merely government that can be blamed for these crushing consequences, it would only be a matter of electing new leaders, undoing harmful policies, and reconstructing the administrative state. If spontaneous human behavior is to blame, that’s obviously a much trickier matter. No man is an island unto himself, nor are his choices, regardless of how much we’d like that to be true.

He continues writing: market capitalism has not destroyed our social fabric. Lack of values did that. If market capitalism exacerbated that problem through materialism and consumerism, that’s because we chose to make it so.

Shapiro’s thinking here is far too simplistic. In a strictly literal sense, we “chose” to make it so, yes. He thinks that these nefarious cultural forces are what’s preventing people from seeing the benefits of religion, but that doesn’t change the fact that seeing something and having the incentives to embrace it are two separate things. With constant temptations bombarding the average person via their pocketed super-computer, expressly tailored to their unique interests and subconscious profile, the incentive structure has never been so opposed to a religious lifestyle. And that fact has nothing to do with the Frankfurt school infiltrating our schools or media executives meeting the demands of people’s basemost urges. That, too, is a choice, but it isn’t in the self-interest of the consumer creating the demand in the first place.

In the same way that market absolutists miss that prices and market efficiency can’t produce meaning, strict, atheistic skeptics haven’t learned that reason doesn’t give meaning either. Both are tools and apparently quite effective ones, but if they aren’t tied to a transcendent ideal it’s a tool without a function. Our society’s glaring existential crisis has made obvious that so far it’s been a self-destructive one for our communities. Neuroscientist and public intellectual Sam Harris, for instance, is carried away by his blind faith in this rationalistic ideal. He misses that not only is there a huge subset of the population for whom reason itself is far too abstract. Reason just has not offered us a… reason to get up in the morning. If you’re the rare person for whom reason is itself enough, all the better; but it’s a fool’s errand to believe that you can impose that on a societal scale, especially a society in which a large minority can’t even figure out kiosks. Further, this double standard seems to be lost on Harris, who otherwise understands the subject of IQ very well. He acts as if it’s absurd that a Christian religious narrative could be the most effective consolation for people limited by mental disorders or low intelligence. But it’s hardly the case that only these kinds of people have benefited from religious belief, given that white collar workers are not immune to this pandemic of mental unwellness. The data clearly bears out that highly religious Americans are happier and more involved with family. They have a strong sense of gratitude, which allows them to see past the transient materialism that is mass marketed to the public. The idea that we can reprogram humans to become cerebral, rational beings mirrors the belief that a few sociologists can re-engineer the biological differences between men and women. It’s no coincidence that every society in history has developed a deep religious identity, and the idea that some brand of empiricism concocted by a group of intellectual urbanites is going to uproot that is frankly utopian.

It’s not hard to imagine a future that resembles secular, hyper-modernized South Korea, with its insane levels of technological innovation, fanatical work culture, plummeting birth rates, and runaway suicide epidemic. A report from Reuters paints a bleak picture of the direction we seem to be heading:

Once a country where filial duty and a strong Confucian tradition saw parents revered, modern day South Korea, with a population of 50 million, has grown economically richer, but family ties have fragmented. Nowadays 1.2 million elderly South Koreans, just over 20 percent of the elderly population, live - and increasingly die - alone.

Yoon’s former husband, whom she divorced 40 years ago, relinquished responsibility after being contacted by the hospital and told of her death. Her only son was unreachable as he had long broken off all contact with his parents.

Nothing foundationally separates us from the South Koreans. In fact, they have an average IQ that is notably higher. What binds the social bonds of Western civilization is the religious foundation it’s culture and governments were shaped in the image of. One secular, prosperous people are going to face the same crisis than another have if they abandon those values. Foolishly, the racially-obsessed corners of the political sphere believe that ethnic homogeneity is the be-all-end-all in a country’s societal health, but overwhelmingly homogenous countries like Japan and South Korea are deeper in this quicksand than we’ve ever been. These countries meet the criteria of what fringe ideologues on both the left and right say will usher in utopia: free healthcare, massive technological innovations, and racial homogeneity, and yet their societies face graver existential crises than we’ve ever seen.

Conservatives like Ben Shapiro are often ready to blame those kind of secular academics and degenerate media producers for the decline of Judeo-Christian faith, but many within this sphere are recognizing this may be a function of the capitalist system rather than a bug. Jonah Goldberg, a prominent conservative columnist, acknowledges as much:

….capitalism has its limits. It creates wealth, but is utterly silent about what should be done with that wealth. It provides avenues for accomplishment in certain spheres, but engenders a culture — on the left and the right — that often looks with skepticism or hostility at people who want to measure their accomplishments in terms not easily monetized ... Because of its insatiable and ingenious capacity to translate human wants and desires into products, it has the tendency to commercialize things best not commercialized, from sex to Christmas to childhood itself.

Capitalism is a morally neutral system. Foundationally its a structure of incentives; that is the very nature of supply and demand. Those incentives work when they direct you toward the best product for the lowest cost, but it has nothing to say about what constitutes a good, virtuous life. Removed from that central religious guideline, a whole array of bad actors will always move in to sell tickets to Pleasure Island.

Feminists adopting the idea that the altar of money creation is the most valuable thing a woman can strive for is certainly an example of this. Women are demonstrably not happier than they’ve ever been despite being overwhelmingly accepted in the workforce, and that dynamic has hardly made men happier, either. This is not to say that women joining the workforce is necessarily making them unhappy, but it does contradict the carefully packaged lie that it’s an ultimate aspiration for lifetime fulfillment. Surprisingly, beyond a certain point, you can only go on so many vacations and sip on so many margaritas. On the note of workforce gender differences, that’s what has gotten Tucker Carlson in such hot water, having cited studies that demonstrate the biological truth: women are hypergamous or as Kanye West neatly summarized, “now, I ain't sayin' she a gold digger but she ain't messin' with no broke niggas.”

Some guys will probably rush to dismiss this because their wife earns more than them and they’re perfectly happy. That’s great, and it stems from the fact that people are still individuals, but biology isn’t defined by fringe exceptions. Before the introduction of women to the workforce, the average man was just competing with other men for money and status; now he’s competing with both men and women. Naturally, that isn’t a reason to oppose women in the workforce, but it’s an added societal complication that is unprecedented. After all, the number of men women can find desirable shrinks, and men who are either unable or unwilling to attain those positions will grow resentful, bitter, and depressed. Whether they lack the willpower or the cognitive horsepower, the outcome’s the same.

“Will grow depressed” is maybe not the most accurate description, considering that process is already well underway. Fundamentally, this is caused by the cult of market success overtaking our previous moral foundation: the notion that raw economic gain is what nourishes the human soul rather than something higher. In their mad frenzy to adopt male forms of competition, women are finding that status and more money than they need isn’t returning the kind of meaning they were told it would by Women’s Studies professors.

As men realize how much more difficult it is to be minimally attractive to women, they will have no reason not to check out of the game. It’s not as if they have any shortage of alternative habits to make. Video games are progressing rapidly, and transitioning toward virtual reality. Pornography’s exaggerated depiction of human sexuality hits all of the right neurological buttons immediately. No need to develop a personality or accumulate valuable skills if you have to work beyond your cognitive or industrious limits, just turn on your computer and go. After all, it isn’t as though we have a subconscious that is any different than the one we evolved with. Surely, we can’t distinguish between the heightened visuals of a pixelated woman and an actual one, but people obviously can’t get the same emotional fulfillment from the former. It’s a cop-out that the market all too eagerly supplies, free of charge and in boundless abundance. The chief aim of life and the core building block of community which is building a family is effectively disincentivized by commercialized visual sex.

Without religious conviction, communal belonging, and economic security, the path forward is murky, but it begins with the understanding that neither market worship nor ingratitude for its fruit is the answer. Religion and spirituality undoubtedly will play a role in the solution to this communal crisis. Clearly, the human need of that is embedded deep within our neurological psychology, if the newfound power of psychedelics is any indication--it’s ability to reduce death anxiety and treat addiction being the most urgent examples. Even so, those benefits cannot be sustained with a tight knit social network. Whatever the case might be, it’s an unfortunate reality that the tribalistic elements of our politics are dominating the conversation. Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson’s discussion marks one of the first major and balanced attempts to refocus the disagreements on what actually matters to the vast majority of Americans.