Sunday, July 11, 2021
The movement Yang describes is strategically brilliant and substantively moronic, a perfect intellectual killing machine. The Successor Ideology has blown through institutional America with great speed, coming to dominate everything from academia to the news media to Silicon Valley almost overnight.
Attempts by conservatives or even critics on the left to question any of this are usually described in news accounts as efforts to clamp down on something uncontroversially right and necessary, e.g. “educational discussions about race.” This ignores the fact that the movement seems also to be about things like ending blind auditions for orchestra applicants, or redefining mathematics to discourage a focus on “getting the right answer,” to classics teachers canceling the classics, and many other bizarre things.
In some instances it pleases intellectuals to argue that all of these things are and must be connected — that the opponent of police brutality must also stand in opposition to everything from the Harper’s Letter to the young adult novels of Amélie Zhao and EE Charlton-Trujillo. Sometimes, as in the case of the response to latest Republican backlash, the argument is not only that none of these things are connected, but that there’s nothing to connect. Which view is right?
Yang, whose new Substack site Year Zero launches tomorrow (you can find it here) is one of the few writers who takes the time to explore these issues without making an explicit project of howling in outrage about them. He outlines the “Successor Ideology” with a kind of awed detachment, like a scientist sent to describe a revolting but admirably destructive insect species. I asked him to outline his theory of the “Successor Ideology,” and explain why media discussion of it has been handcuffed by the public’s association of it with right-wing backlash politics.
Our discussion, edited for length:
So we Liberals talk about the "marketplace of ideas," as if the best ideas will inevitably win in the end, after all the evolutionary strife. It occurs to me that this is true, but only if you consider that what it takes to win, what defines what "the best" is, is not the best for some reasonable notion of the human good, but just best in defeating what the other ideas are. The "successor ideology" may well be the best in that it's easiest to think and unfalsifiable. It slips into your brain like a knife into butter or a parasite into your tissues. The medium in which this competition takes place isn't a level playing field. It's more like a petri dish waiting to get innoculated, or a precious little puppy waiting for its first case of worms. That's why the ideologies we humans have sadly so cope with so often seem so obviously, well, stupid, think (sorry about this) Nazism, Communism, various religions, Rastifarianism, and other -isms without number. Millions of people actually believe these things, often without reservation. The marketplace of ideas at best works only, ah, imperfectly, you might say. You also might say it's always just a half-step away from disaster.