Political Capital Flow Management and the Importance of Yutting

Sometimes things happen. Often they can be cast as examples of a type of thing. At the same time, many narratives and whole ideologies are based on certain types of thing being common and important. Together it means that sometimes things happen in the world that support particular narratives and ideologies.

Let’s back up. There are three ways to interpret single events. Say, to pick a typical example, that a video starts to circulate that shows animals in some factory farming operation somewhere being mistreated. This can be quite upsetting and virtually nobody supports[1] it.

The first way to react is dismissal. You might think these violations are so rare as to be negligible, or that animals don’t have rights the way people do, or that they don’t really suffer — whatever renders it not a thing to worry about.

The next way is acknowledgement. Yeah it’s disturbing and upsetting, and the relevant authorities need to clamp down on abuses like this. Animal protection laws should perhaps be strengthened.

Finally, you can generalize from it. While acknowledgement allows for moral outrage but keeps it locally contained, generalization lets it spread. In other words: this example shows just how morally bankrupt the meat industry is and how all of us who eat meat, dairy or eggs are complicit in a holocaust-level crime that goes on and on, day after day, and our only route to absolution is to give up animal products and take up the fight for animal liberation.

I’m simplifying, but I think there are meaningful distinctions between

1) dismissing some phenomenon or event as having no moral significance,
2) acknowledging the significance but keeping it contained to this particular case, and
3) making that significance generalize to a much larger narrative.

Now imagine that a jihadist just drove a bus into a crowd in the middle of a mid-sized European city. What do you do?

Do you dismiss it? “More people die from pencil sharpener accidents every year” or “the real terrorism is the US Middle East policy” or “it’s racist to be angry about this”.

Or do you acknowledge it? “It’s a tragedy and an unforgivable crime”, perhaps “we need to support counterterrorism efforts and fight against radicalization”.

Or do you generalize from it? “This is why mass immigration from the middle east has been a disaster and we need to shut the border immediately and begin deporting them.”

Now everybody and their stick insect is sharing and talking about a video in which a black man is violently abused by an American police officer. What responses are there?

D: “He probably attacked first and resisted arrest, the police don’t do that for no reason.”

A: “This is seriously upsetting, the US really has a problem with police brutality and need to set up system to ensure accountability and give victims a chance to get restitution.”

G: “This is a fundamentally racist society captured in a single image. For centuries white America has brutally oppressed and traumatized its black community, and the police is the instrument it uses to carry out this ongoing campaign of victimization on a daily basis. Abolish the police!”

In a different corner of the internet a story surfaces about a biology professor that was forced out of their job by a shouting mob for saying there are exactly two sexes:

“It’s just a few overzealous kids, and anyway they have their heart in the right place”.

“This is an affront to academic freedom and integrity. The university needs to stand up to activists and guarantee an open intellectual environment.”

“It just goes to show how universities have been completely overrun by cultural Marxists and turned into nothing more than ideological echo chambers. Burn it all down.”

To be clear, my point isn’t that any of the reactions are right or wrong, per se. I simply want to show how there are three basic classes of reaction to a single, morally salient event. I won’t bore you with any more examples. If you want some, you can fill in the blanks for these yourself:

prominent right-winger acts like a dick
prominent left-winger acts like a dick
credentialed expert is wrong about something
a crackpot crackpots
some minor irregularity regarding vote counting somewhere surfaces
any sexual harassment case
somebody suffers a side effect from a vaccination shot
American bombs kill the wrong people in faraway country
Twitter mob gets unreasonably angry
person with some demographic characteristic commits crime
controversial figure gets banned from social media platform
celebrity gets death threats
somebody says something racist on tv
famous study fails to replicate

…and so on.

Minting political capital

When there are issues a large majority of people agree on it represents raw material from which political capital can be minted. It’s like a natural resource you can harvest, and you do that by directing it towards a political narrative where the particular issue can be cast to play an important part. You want to be able to say “this thing just goes to show how we are right about everything — if you agree with us on this you agree with us on this other stuff too”.

Ideally you don’t want to even have to say it. You want it to be automatic (“oh, this single thing that happened shows that ideology X is right about everything”). You get there by making the generalization response the cultural norm, and then, whenever a suitable news event occurs, publicize it as much as you can and watch the currency flow into your coffers[2].

Once it’s safely there it can be spent on other issues. That’s the good part. The more abstract and general a narrative is the more freely accumulated capital can be used. For example, if you manage to make “a regulation regarding requisitioning of equipment in the iron ore mining industry caused a stupid, catastrophic problem” support a general “regulations are dumb and bad” story, you’ll be able to use that to fight other regulations in, say, the advertising, finance, or tobacco industries. I love abstraction, but it can also be a pretty dumb thing.

People understand this dynamic intuitively, even if they can’t always articulate it. It explains a lot of how public discourse works. It’s a metaphorical war, where different political camps and ideologies build and keep narrative infrastructures, which they use to lay claim to certain categories of event, issue, fact or phenomenon as their own, and harvest from them whenever they “pay out”, so to speak.

We build such infrastructure by spinning (or regurgitating) narratives that influence people to think of what we want them to think of when they see or hear certain things in the world.

Sure, events and phenomena can potentially be considered members of more than one category and thus support more than one narrative. However, often a type of event is unambiguously “owned” by one camp and there’s no realistic chance for another to claim it. Then, instead of pursuing it for yourself, the best counterstrategy becomes disrupting the resource extraction process. The easiest way to do that is denying that there’s any value there at all — in other words, pushing the dismissal response (that’s if you have to respond at all, the most popular strategy is just shutting up to avoid drawing attention to the damn thing[3]). That’s can be hard though, because you tend to (rightly) look like an ass or a crazy person when you flatly deny something most people agree with. This is precisely why ownership of high-consensus issues (see above) are valuable.

Acknowledgement means not denying that value but preventing it from being funneled off. It’s a more robust strategy in principle but also more difficult to pull off since it’s (minimally, but still) complicated and nuanced. It requires a “yes this, but not all that other implied stuff that your side has managed to package it together with” instead of just a “yes” or a “no”. That kind of subtlety needs a teeny bit of cooperation on the other end, which isn’t always forthcoming when it comes to hot-button issues. Which side are you on? *stares*

Yutting — cutting the flow

In my ideal world, the complexity of the “yes, but” sentiment would be boiled down into a simple concept (rather than a compound one) that you could use as a verb (or an ~interjection like “yes” and “no”). We could call it “yut”, a contraction of “yes, but”.

I yut most of what that guy says.
“I yut most environmental activism.”
I yut the idea of a war on Christmas.
“I yut many arguments for vegetarianism.”

My working definition of yutting would be to agree with a judgment on a single example, but reject the broader sentiment, narrative or ideology it’s brought up to support.

Not that I expect it to be a successful thing. People hate yutting. I think the clearest example of an attempt at a large scale yut was the response “All Lives Matter” to “Black Lives Matter” after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. It’s textbook acknowledgement response: to me it’s clearly meant to expresses something like:

“indeed Floyd’s death was a terrible crime and I’ll sign on the dotted line that police brutality is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but I don’t want to subscribe to a starkly racialized account of law enforcement as the violent arm of a white supremacist society, that transfers political capital from this incident towards generalized black identity politics[4], and I express this by phrasing my agreement in a way that excludes the particular narrative dimension that accomplishes that transfer.

My impression is that the attempt failed completely. Because people understand these dynamics implicitly, the faction who wanted generalization immediately understood how the attempted yutting worked and why — and they were having none of it. The phrase was, as I understand it, pretty successfully cast as racist, despite its literal meaning. This makes perfect sense if you construe opposition to generalized black identity politics as racist per se — regardless of whether it stems from principled opposition to demographic identity politics or genuine racial animus — which many seem to do[5].

The cost of politicization

If we’re being literal it’s not quite right to call this “politicization”, because political issues are political even when they stay isolated and not incorporated into partisan narratives. Nonetheless, the word typically refers precisely to this process where an issue is claimed by one side, integrated into their narrative, and becomes their “property” and source of capital.

It’s of course a matter of opinion whether these capital flows from the specific to the general are good or bad. I’d wager most would say it’s good when it happens in a way they agree with and bad when it happens in a way they disagree with (they’re totally different things you guys!). I’m not immune to it myself. However, I do think there’s at least one generally negative effect: when you keep extracting, the source is going to run dry at some point.

In political terms: when you attach less popular narratives to a singular popular idea in order to exploit that popularity, the popular idea becomes less popular as a result.

There was some pretty strong agreement that the 2008 financial crisis necessitated some effort to fix the excesses of the financial industry and address rampant inequality. In that way Occupy Wall Street had a broad base of agreement to stand on, but as many fringe radicals tried to tap that resource of concentrated public agreement it got spread a lot thinner. I believe that if they had kept a narrow focus on corruption in the financial industry and on the social pathologies of extreme inequality instead of letting every radical cause under the sun attach itself to it for sustenance, it could have accomplished a lot more than it did.

This unfortunately erodes our capacity for positive change by making it impossible for consensus to stay concentrated for long enough to actually accomplish things (here I’m defining “positive change” as something a large majority of the population wants).

Climate change is the big example. The evidence for its importance is strong and there’s similarly strong support for investing in technological improvements and using economic incentives to encourage cleaner energy production and greater efficiency. But this strong support represents a resource that can be exploited, by attaching your own pet ideas to it and insist they’re inextricably linked.

Consider these examples (it took me less than one minute to find them all):

Climate Change Is the Symptom. Consumer Culture Is the Disease
No, climate action can’t be separated from social justice
The fight against climate change is a fight against capitalism
Climate change: the fault of the patriarchy
4 Reasons Why Climate Change Is a Racial Justice Issue

Yeah, tap that source. Tap, tap, tappety-tap… Wait, what do you mean the right doesn’t want to acknowledge climate change? How dare they politicize the science!

For sure, right wing politicization of the science behind climate change does stand in the way of solving the problem and mitigating the risks, and it’s irresponsible and dangerous. Yut. But if you pretend the issue isn’t already heavily politicized from the other side you’re either lying or not paying attention. The left laying claim to the issue and using the urgency it represents to provide support to some of their less widely supported ideas — with the entirely predictable result that support for actions mitigating the risks weakens across the political spectrum — is also irresponsible and dangerous.

Of course this doesn’t just happen on the left. I’ve already touched upon terrorism and hostility to foreigners earlier, and there are other examples. I’ve discussed before that I tend to believe in biology as an important factor in understanding people and society. I.e. I believe in human nature, in significant heredity of important traits, and in a biological basis for many differences between the sexes. I’m far from alone in that but these ideas and their implications are conspicuously absent from most of public discourse, and the reason is the same kind of dynamic: people with far less popular ideas (often people that you frankly don’t want to associate yourself with) claim them and are allowed to claim them. Therefore, merely expressing them creates capital flows towards certain ideas whether you like it or not. Personally I rather desperately want much of that flow infrastructure destroyed, but I can’t do it myself. (Although I can do my part to try).

There was another example in the news here in Sweden this spring: a public protest against new coronavirus restrictions. This isn’t a huge consensus issue but at least it’s a somewhat popular and respectable viewpoint to oppose stricter rules. What happens? People latch onto it and use it to push more marginal and/or batshit-ish views, from garden variety vaccine skepticism to “5G-causes-covid” and “the virus doesn’t exist”. And there goes your legitimacy. Great work, guys.

The heat death of society

For climate change, like biology in human affairs and whatever else, I want there to be an effective acknowlegdement response — yutting — that allows capital accumulation but keeps it local.

I understand why people construct the pipelines, and I don’t necessarily think anybody is being exactly dishonest when they do it[6]. In most cases I think they express true convictions (for some meaning of true). No, it’s just that the more efficiently singular events or issues are incorporated into ideologies and used as sources of capital to extract and deploy elsewhere, the harder it becomes to keep political capital concentrated on specific issues and use it to get genuinely popular things done, whether it’s on climate change, policing, terrorism, inequality, or animal welfare.

Very popular ideas often don’t stay popular for very long, because less popular ideas attach themselves and suck ’em dry. This was always an issue, but in the age of the internet and social media it has become much easier and cheaper to build the conceptual infrastructure that routes political resources from where they’re plentiful to where they’re scarce. Almost everyone can speak publicly at virtually no cost, and this is what public speech does. You might even think of consensus as analogous to heat and paraphrase the second law of thermodynamics: political capital flows from areas of high consensus towards areas of low consensus, and the more efficiently this happens the faster we move towards the “heat death of society” where no usable political energy is available and nothing can be accomplished.

• • •

Notes

[1]
“Support” is of course different from “accept”.

[2]
Media plays a massively important role in this since it’s they who mostly publicize events and thus make them possible to exploit as resources.

[3]
Then we get a situation where a few things are fought over, with narratives competing to make sense of them, and other things being brought up only by one side and ignored by the other. Therefore, the “what side are you one” question can be answered either by what you think of a certain issue, or what issues you bring up or not.

[4]
You might even define identity politics as the practice of amassing political capital simply on behalf of demographic groups rather than single issues.

[5]
I don’t think this distinction is particularly difficult to grasp, but distinctions have a tendency to get unclear when the stakes are high and the prince gets involved.

[6]
There’s nothing illegitimate per se to want to transfer capital from one place to another. It’s just a way to describe a process. Simply using a fact as an argument for an idea can be construed as “transferring belief capital from one statement to another” and that’s obviously fine.

12 thoughts on “Political Capital Flow Management and the Importance of Yutting

  1. I notice the “acknowledgement” level examples are structured like this: “ ‘It’s a tragedy and an unforgivable crime’, perhaps ‘we need to support counterterrorism efforts and fight against radicalization’ ”. The two responses seem different enough to me to want to split them apart (which is I think good whenever two concepts are combined into one with an `or`-like conjunction). I’d replace “acknowledgment” with:

    * mere acknowledgement
    * acknowledgement and openness to action

    I think, for example, that would sharpen your analysis of “Black lives matter” vs “All lives matter”. In practice, I don’t think your expansion of that phrase was often what the “All lives matter” people meant. Because that’s not what they said in the words *around* the slogan. At least, when I heard the slogan, the surroundings were more often something like “Actually, more white people are killed by police”, which shades easily into Dismissal (“so black people don’t actually have this particular problem”) or Mere Acknowledgement (“yes, it’s worse for black people per capita, and yes, there’s a reason why ‘driving while black’ is a slogan and ‘driving while white is not’, BUT…)

    The BUT above is not the “I fail to buy into your generalization” of your expansion of the slogan, it’s much more typically the prelude to disagreeing with every specific proposal to make the problem less of a problem. Which I view as typically a pretty tepid (“mere”) acknowledgement. So replace “the serious problem that needs to be addressed in your expansion with “serious problem but not I think worth doing anything about”.

    *** alternately ***

    1. The truth value of slogans is very rarely what’s at issue in this kind of disagreement. That’s not why people use slogans. Analyzing their literal meaning isn’t nearly so helpful as asking why this slogan instead of some other.

    2. Slogans – or single sentences – are just not a useful level of analysis. It’s the words around the slogans that matter. Particularly important is whether the words commit the speaker to anything at all like supporting action.

    3. “Yut”, even if you could establish it, would not I think be useful because it allows people to emit a squid-ink bundle of words that disguise what is, in effect, Dismissal. Because, as our dear William James used to say when asked to make a distinction, “there is no difference that doesn’t *make* a difference”. Or:

    ” It is astonishing to see how many philosophical disputes collapse into insignificance the moment you subject them to this simple test of tracing a concrete consequence. There can be no difference anywhere that doesn’t make a difference elsewhere – no difference in abstract truth that doesn’t express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere, and somewhen. The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it will make to you and me, at definite instants of our life, if this world-formula or that world-formula be the true one.” (“What pragmatism means”, https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/james.htm – lest you be put off by the host, I have no idea why it’s hosted on marxists.org, as James was nothing like a Marxist.)

    So James would say there’s no distinction between your Dismissal and my Mere Acknowledgement, because both commit to the same concrete consequence: the status quo.

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    1. I agree the the first acknowledgement examples are a little fuzzy. It’s meant to be something like “agreed about this specifically, but I only agree to a narrow view of what the issue in question is”, but it could be sharpened.

      About the rest… well I did say “people hate yutting” and I think you’re proving my point. People do hate yutting when it’s against a narrative they want support for and unless I’m misreading you gravely, this is you hating that. This is what that feels like?

      For example…

      “The BUT above is not the “I fail to buy into your generalization” of your expansion of the slogan, it’s much more typically the prelude to disagreeing with every specific proposal to make the problem less of a problem.”

      I… just plainly disagree with the first part, before the comma. The second one I think stems from a disagreement about what *the problem* should be conceptualized as being (i.e. to what extent it should be cast as an instance of this or that candidate pattern and thus support a larger narrative, in other words what I called “generalization”). Your objection seems to be that it’s simply illegitimate to not want to support some narratives? I mean, I get it, people differ on that, and again we come back to “people hate yutting”, which I’m well aware of.

      I don’t see how that invalidates the concept, though. And I think it’s a good thing to be able to do if you want to, without having to falsify your judgments on singular events. We should be tolerant of a certain amount of internal tensions i our bundles of beliefs. To go back to the first example, I do think you can reasonably say “yes I am concerned and horrified by animal abuses, but I’m not going to become a vegan”. This is frustrating for committed vegans, no doubt, and they may feel that this is simply dismissing the issue, even though it’s not dismissal in the very specific sense i mean it in this model.

      I’ve commented on some of the rest on Twitter and don’t see the need to duplicate it right now.

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      1. > People do hate yutting when it’s against a narrative they want support for and unless I’m misreading you gravely, this is you hating that.

        I think you are misreading me.

        > Your objection seems to be that it’s simply illegitimate to not want to support some narratives?

        That is not my objection.

        > To go back to the first example, I do think you can reasonably say “yes I am concerned and horrified by animal abuses, but I’m not going to become a vegan”.

        My dragging in William James was a mistake. Sure, it’s valid to say the above. My two-clever-by-half point was that, were that the last thing we said to each other, there’s no practical difference between you being concerned but doing nothing and you being unconcerned and doing nothing. (Here, I speak from the point of view of someone concerned and wanting something to be done.) If the conversation were to continue, it would certainly matter whether you were Dismissive or Merely Acknowledging.

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        1. Let me put it a different way. Your key sentence (bolded in the original) is “when you attach less popular narratives to a singular popular idea in order to exploit that popularity, the popular idea becomes less popular as a result.”

          Here, the hero of the piece is the person who wants to focus on climate change. The villain is the person who wants to enroll the hero (and the popularity of the hero’s cause) in support of either (a) other, less popular causes, and/or (b) an unpopular all-encompassing worldview.

          I think it is easy *in fact* (emphasis important, see below) to avoid that.

          * There are lots of people (Ramez Naan, @ramez on Twitter, comes to mind) who are focused on the problem of climate change without buying into an anticapitalist or social justice agenda.

          * Decades ago, I was part of a volunteer group that became dominated by a subgroup that wanted to make it all about the Patriarchy. What happened is that the people who wanted to work on the immediate problem (date rape) broke off into their own group.

          Your villain is mostly ineffectual.

          But there’s another villain, that I introduce with a similar sentence:

          “when you attach UNPOPULAR narratives to a singular popular idea in order to exploit that UNPOPULARITY, the popular idea becomes less popular as a result.” It’s even got its own cute term: nutpicking. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nutpicking

          Sensible action on climate change has been *far* more damaged by this villain than by yours.

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          1. The ‘villain’ you claim is “more damaging” can only present itself when the ‘villain’ the article mentions has already done its job: There wouldn’t be nuts to pick if they hadn’t attached themselves to the idea in the first place.

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        2. Should’ve gotten to this sooner but things get in the way. Anyway, I think there are two things here:

          1) The meaning of “doing something about X”, and whether I support it, depends on what exactly X is conceptualized as. Re: veganism it might be either “specific kinds of abuses”, which I’m prepared to support addressing in various ways, or “the whole system around meat eating”, which I’m not. If your idea of the issue is the second, the first looks like not wanting to do anything.

          2) This is a more “strategic” angle, but the difference between acknowledging the issue but not wanting to “do anything” and dismissing the issue, is that it makes it harder for the person pushing the issue to paint you as the enemy and/or obviously wrong. If you’re asking, as the party wanting a certain thing to be done, what’s in it for you, it’s kind of the wrong question. Usually it means I/they don’t want what you want, but I/they might want something related but more narrow.

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  2. It’s not just unpopular ideas dragging down popular ones, and not just parties extracting support from popular causes by claiming as theirs events that activate their preferred generalizations.

    Parties face incentives to drain the popularity from ideas (at least in the US, curious how Sweden compares). Popular ideas encourage bipartisan action, which would destabilize existing dividing lines. Keeping the dividing lines predictable helps incumbents and other insiders maintain their positions. E.g. in a first-past-the-post system gerrymandering can avoid “wasted” votes but that leaves incumbents more vulnerable to any change in voting patterns (even in a losing party, an individual incumbent may prefer to keep their voters than risk too much change). So reliably polarizing “wedge” issues are better than broadly popular ones. You and I and even a resounding majority of our peers might prefer action. But the US political system tends towards heat death, the more hot air the better. E.g. it benefits *both* sides for climate change to get yoked to every other left cause, consolidating each coalition against the other. Especially if a broadly popular idea is unpopular among elites, as happens (e.g. more restrictive immigration, at least until recently).

    Or that’s my take on the arguments laid out here for the endogeneity of polarization: https://www.interfluidity.com/v2/6711.html
    Linked from this longer summary post: https://www.interfluidity.com/v2/7828.html
    Interfluidity’s proposals include process reforms, like continuous elections (in the direction of sortition) and more proportional forms of representation.

    @marick, seems like these conditions make any acknowledgment more mere, since the only available action (it feels like) is submission to to the whole opposing package.

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    1. This is a good point (and @marick brought this up elsewhere). Draining political capital from popular causes can sometimes be the result of hostile action. I don’t have a lot to say about it though, because I don’t approach politics strategically as such. It’s more my nature to see societal problems like engineering problems rather than power struggles, and I basically consider “popular and effective things being done” as the main indicator of a healthy democracy. You can make a strong argument that it doesn’t work like that at all and, yes, I’m aware, and that’s why I hate politics as a process as much as I do.

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      1. Some of the proposals to change the process of politics are fun (and maybe could also create conditions to get popular and effective things done, and make the discourse healthier and the identifications less binary).

        Like continuous voting: interfluidity.com/v2/7043.html
        Or quadratic voting: radicalxchange.org

        Easier to describe new mechanisms and fantasize about their downstream effects than to chart a path to them through the current process.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I think one way of making more explicit this flow is figuring out where there is alignment and where there is disagreement at what I think of are the core level of discussion. And at least in the US in politics I feel like we’ve gone backwards in these levels and that this is part of the discourse problem. If there is disagreement at a more fundamental level it is important to move the discussion to that fundamental level rather than continue to talk at a higher level where the discussion will not be productive because the hidden foundation is rotten. Your dismissal is likely the response of someone that is, or is used to, arguing at the wrong fundamental level and thus they will not be persuaded at all.

    As an example, the first fundamental level is the facts on the ground, the reality of the situation. While often this might seem straightforward, there are times when it isn’t. Sometimes there can be linked facts. For example, a fact on the ground might be that there is global climate change going on that is increasing the mean temperature in the planet. If we don’t agree about that fact it doesn’t make sense for us to argue about the virtues of carbon tax versus cap and trade versus no gov’t action, because the lack of foundational agreement is the real problem. A linked fact might be that human’s actions contribute the largest share to the cause of the climate change. Again, if we don’t agree that climate change is happening, the human part doesn’t make sense to argue about. If there isn’t this fundamental agreement, the only discussion that really makes sense is about things at this fundamental level, and someone that is dismissive of these facts needs to be dealt with in the facts level.

    The second level is when we agree on the facts but don’t agree on the goal for what we want to pursue. I.e., maybe we agree that there is large childhood poverty in the US (about 1 in 6 children) but maybe we disagree on what a goal should be. I.e., maybe I think we should work on lowering the childhood poverty rate and you think there is no problem with this condition and that lowering it shouldn’t be a goal (or vice-versa). If we don’t agree on a goal around this, even if we agree more or less on the facts on the ground, again an argument about head start or food stamps or more systemic changes to decrease childhood poverty doesn’t make sense because we don’t agree that decreasing childhood poverty makes sense.

    The third level is we agree on the facts and the goals but we don’t agree on the method. I.e., we both agree on the amount of taxes the richest/wealthiest 1% pays in the US, and we both agree the goal should be more of the tax revenue comes from this set of people but I believe a wealth tax on wealth over $10 million ought to be the main approach and you believe increasing the marginal income tax rate and changing the capital gains rate to ordinary income is the right approach. Or we both agree that there is a problem of racist police violence in the US and that we should have a goal to stop it and I think better prosecution of the “bad apples” is the right approach and you think defund the police and a more systemic change is the right approach. In both cases we have alignment on the facts and on the goals but the proposed solutions differ. In this case we can have productive discourse on the alternatives, and if we call out the levels where we agree we can be more willing to do things like try things out and look at the evidence and/or look at the cost/benefit analysis without worrying that you attacking my proposed solution is really part of a hidden attempt by you to attack my understanding of reality or my view of what our goal should be.

    So I think when there is alignment on these more fundamental levels we should be more explicit about calling it out and celebrating it to narrow the space of disagreement and discussion. When there is not alignment about these fundamental issues we should make sure we spend more time talking about the fundamental disagreement than the higher level discussion (I.e., if someone thinks COVID-19 exists and is a serious health risk and that children can spread it and the we should try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so they support a school mask mandate as an approach and someone else thinks COVID-19 is a hoax and not a serious illness and view a mask mandate as an attempt for gov’t to control us it doesn’t make as much sense to argue about the details of the mask mandate or not since the fundamental disagreement is really about the seriousness of COVID-19).

    I don’t think breaking things out here solves all discourse, but it does help figure out the first point of disagreement. It facilitates better discussion. And I think it can help halt the capital flow that you discuss.

    For instance, if you argue for defunding the police and I say I don’t support that and we don’t interrogate it more it isn’t clear am I ignorant or disagreeing of certain facts (I.e., do I think the video of police violence is false flag made up or not really serious)? Am I a horrifically very actively racist person (I.e., I acknowledge there is racially motivated police violence but I actually think it is a good thing as it keeps “those people” in “their place”)? Or am I a possible ally that just disagrees on tactics and approaches (I.e., I agree on the facts on the ground, I agree on the goal of decreasing the racist police violence, but I think it is important to still police all communities including those with lots of minority population and I think a better approach than defunding the police is sensitivity training + more spending on education and economic support + decriminalization of drugs and other low level administrative issues)? If you just leave things at a we disagree at the highest level without interrogating where we agree and where we disagree it is less clear how to engage and move forward. And if we do this interrogation and I show you that I agree on the first two fundamental levels then I can possibly stop your political capital flow of George Floyd happened and is representative of a real issue and we should all work to decrease that occurrence doesn’t automatically mean defund the police because I too believe all of the pre-requisites of that, however, I don’t support the defund the police because I think something else is the right approach to try.

    Note also for completeness I think the third fundamental level could actually be further broken down into sub-levels like I disagree with you that this approach will work versus I agree it will work but think the costs or externalities are too high versus I agree that it will work and that the costs and externalities are worth it but this other approach is even better at handling this so should be done instead. But it seems to me that most political discussion these days is stuck at level one or level two so further subdividing level three isn’t usually worth it.

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  4. If I may both generalize and propose a hypothesis of how/why “long-distance transfers of political capital” happen, I think much “reasoning” doesn’t work with the actual details of events/things, but takes the following steps:
    – identify the theme/topic/genre the thing belongs to;
    – evaluate it on the single yay/boo scale of the theme in question;
    – pick any other thing from within the theme that has the same affective charge.
    This “reasoning-by-halo/horns-effect” comes off as utterly bizarre if the listener doesn’t think there is a thematic connection between the aspects. More generally, the arguments offered are laughably detail-poor, and it is also common that “good things” (things evaluated in the context as good) are treated effectively as rewards, whether that makes any sense or not. A few examples:
    – Large public projects are often touted as having the benefit of “creating jobs” in the construction industry while they are being built.
    – “These people deserve jobs because they are nice/hard-working/moral/etc.”. Any positive stereotype can work to earn the reward.
    – “This plan is cheaper because it [insert management technique/fad].” To someone who thinks e.g. that unions are bad, period, it sounds sensible that union-busting can automatically imply some positive attribute, e.g. cheapness.
    – “These people should/n’t be admitted to university because they are the correct/wrong ethnicity.” In this case, the positive/negative attribute for which the reward is given/denied isn’t even indirectly connected via a stereotype.

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  5. This is a delightfully lucid post. What I love about it especially is the clear terminology it introduces: “yutting” and the trio of dismiss vs acknowledge vs generalize.

    And I think it’s very perceptive to note that the basically rhetorical move of generalization is what supports the political move of harvesting agreement one issue in order to drive political support for another. This is the most striking idea of the piece, imho.

    Given all this, I think the essay is missing an opportunity not to name its own central idea as clearly as the other idea that support it.

    It’s not very helpful to call it “politicization” since that’s already a common term that vaguely covers a lot of different things: seeing a previously neutral topic as political; treating a previously blandly political topic as polarizingly partisan (“partisanization”?); etc..

    Instead, perhaps what is being discussed is different kinds of generalization:

    – generalizing, which merely amplifies the magnitude of a particular complaint
    – generalizing, which links a high-agreement issue to a low-agreement issue
    – generalizing, which tendentiously links a nonpolarized issue to a polarized issue.

    As you say, generalization in general isn’t the problem. It’s the opportunistic attachment of polarizing, low-agreement issues to non polarized, high-agreement issues that is the problem. So it deserves its own name.

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