NY Times piece

“How the Right Turned Radical and the Left Became Depressed

One of the notable dynamics of American life today is that conservatives report being personally happier than liberals but also seem more politically discontented. The political left has become more institutionalist, more invested in experts and establishments, even as progressive culture seems more shadowed by unhappiness and even mental illness. Meanwhile conservatives claim greater contentment in their private lives — and then go out and vote for paranoidoutsiders and burn-it-down populists.

These dynamics aren’t entirely new: As Musa al-Gharbi writes in an essay for American Affairs, the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives is a persistent social-science finding, visible across several eras and many countries. Meanwhile, the view that “my life is pretty good, but the country is going to hell,” which seems to motivate a certain kind of middle-class Donald Trump supporter, would have been unsurprising to hear in a bar or at a barbecue in 1975 or 1990, no less than today.

But something clearly has shifted lately. In Gallup polling from 2019, just before the pandemic, the happiness gap between Republicans and Democrats was larger than in any previous survey. And the trend of worsening mental health among young people, the subject of much discussion lately, is especially striking among younger liberals. (For instance: Among 18- to 29-year-olds, more than half of liberal women and roughly a third of liberal men reported that a health care provider had told them they had a mental health condition, compared with about a fifth of
conservative women and around a seventh of conservative men, according to an analysis of 2020 Pew Research Center data by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.)

There’s also clearly a stronger left-wing identification with big institutions and official expertise than in the past, and an increasing eagerness of conservative voters to cast protest votes against the system compared with the old days of “Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall apart” cliché. Witness not only the rise and resilience of Trump but also the populist takeovers of state and local Republican Parties, the valorization of Jan. 6 and other middle fingers to normal democratic proceduralism. Witness, too, the intellectual correlative of this populism, the sense of despair over America among certain right-wing thinkers, the impulse toward desperate measures to change the national trajectory.

You can see the outline of a unifying theory of these trends — both right-wing recklessness and liberal anomie — in new polling commissioned by The Wall Street Journal that traces the decline of what used to be consensus values in American society. According to the survey, the share of Americans saying that patriotism is very important to them fell from 70 percent in 1998 to 38 percent today. The percentage calling religion very important fell from 62 percent to 39 percent over the same period. The percentage saying that having kids was very important dropped from 59 percent to 30 percent. Only money saw its professed importance

Since these numbers circulated on Twitter as a kind of “black pill” of cultural despair, I should stress that the real decline probably isn’t quite so steep. As the polling expert Patrick Ruffini noted, the survey changed its methodology between 2018 and 2023, moving from phone to online polls. This may have tilted the most
recent responses in more of a harsh-realism direction — the idea being that people are less influenced by what’s called “social desirability” bias on online polls, and so in the older, phone-based polling patriotic feeling was probably a little overstated.

But even if the extremity of the change should be doubted, the direction still matches other trends and surveys. Whether or not the pandemic hit the accelerator, even before Covid it was clear that values that conservatives consider fundamental to society — and in the Journal polling, it is Republicans who continue
to value religion, patriotism and having kids the most — were experiencing a generational retreat.

In a way, just this trend alone suffices to explain how personal stability can coexist with intensified political alienation on the right. If you yourself feel secure in your own values, confident that yours is a life well lived, but the society around you
seems to swinging rapidly away from those values, it’s natural to be baffled by the shift, to feel that something is badly out of joint, to decide that the entire system needs some sort of hard reboot. And it’s easy even to fall into paranoia and
conspiracy theory, because it seems so unfathomable that so many of your fellow
Americans would be abandoning the tried-and-true; there must be more to it than
just a national change of mind.

Then consider, too, that the entire organizing premise of post-1960s American
conservatism was that the country as whole shared its values — hence the rhetoric
of the “silent majority” and the “moral majority” — and that the problem was just
an elite class of liberals, irreligious and unpatriotic but also out of touch with the
breadth and depth of American society. Remove the weight of ineffective
bureaucracy, end the rule of liberal judges, and watch the country flourish: That
was the effective message of Republican politicians and quite a few conservative
intellectuals for a very long time.

Fewer and fewer conservatives seriously believe that it’s this simple anymore. But where does conservative politics go without a traditional cultural foundation to conserve? To subcultural retreat, maybe — but if you don’t think the walls will hold, if you want a politics of restoration, it will be inescapably radical in a way that
the conservatism of thirty years ago was not. And since nobody — not the policy wonks trying to grope their way to some new form of right-wing political economy,
not the online influencers selling traditionalism as a lifestyle brand — really knows how to do a restoration, how to roll back alienation and disaffiliation and atomization, it isn’t surprising that conservative politics would often be a carwreck, a flinging of ripe fruit against a wall, no matter how happy individual
conservatives claim to be.

For liberals the problem is somewhat different. An organizing premise of progressivism for generations has been that the toxic side of conservative values is responsible for much of what ails American society — a cruel nationalism throttling a healthy patriotism, a fundamentalist bigotry overshadowing the
enlightened forms of religion, patriarchy and misogyny poisoning the nuclear family. Thus in many ways the transformations of the last few decades are ones that liberals sought: The America of today is more socially-liberal on almost every
issue than the America of George W. Bush, more secular, less heteronormative, more diverse in terms of both race and personal identity, more influenced by radical ideas that once belonged to the fringe of academia.

Unfortunately in finding its heart’s desire the left also seems to have found a certain kind of despair. It turns out that there isn’t some obvious ground for purpose and solidarity and ultimate meaning once you’ve deconstructed all the sources you consider tainted. And it’s at the vanguard of that deconstruction,
among the very-liberal young, that you find the greatest unhappiness — the very success of the progressive project devouring contentment.

But that project is now entrenched in so many American institutions that there’s no natural anti-institutional form for these discontents to take. Instead you get the progressive two-step we observed during the pandemic: A doubling down on faith
in official expertise and the expansion of existing bureaucratic forms of power, joined to a push for further ideological purification inside those institutions, a quest
for a psychological revolution that will finally uproot the white-male-patriarchal forces that must still be responsible for any persistent discontents.

And then there’s a third step, which is to deny that the obvious discontents are actually problems at all. This is the phenomenon that Dustin Guastella, writing in Damage magazine, calls “antisocial socialism” — a left-wing politics that ends up
“excusing or ignoring the steady rise of collective antisocial behavior,” out of a defensiveness about the isolated modes of urban life that experts and bureaucrats helped impose during the pandemic, plus a fear of seeming to justify bourgeois norms and notions.

Thus everything from the decline of marriage and romance and sex to issues like crime, drug addiction and mental illness gets repackaged as something that progressives are expected to live with, even valorize, lest they give an inch to the

The reality is that there is a coherent (if insufficient) left-wing account of the decline of family, patriotism, religion — one that emphasizes the corrosive role of consumer capitalism, its dissolving effect on all loyalties higher than the self, its
interest in creating addictions for every age and walk of life. Sometimes the 2016- vintage Bernie Sanders movement gestured in this direction, which was part of its appeal: socialism as a defense of normal things, ordinary working people, traditional loyalties.

But the contemporary left is fundamentally too invested in liberating the individual from oppressive normativity to sustain any defense of the older faiths and folkways — which is why it has often ended up as consumerism’s cultural ally despite its notional “late capitalism, man” critique.

Thus our peculiar situation: a once-radical left presiding somewhat miserably over the new order that it long desired to usher in, while a once-conservative right, convinced that it still has the secret of happiness, looks to disruption and chaos as its only ladder back from exile.

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States and the Years They Enacted Mandatory Schooling

I added some columns to the chart and ordered it by year compulsory education was enacted, by the area of the U.S., and whether the state is red or blue politically.

MidAtlanticBlueDistrict of Columbia1864
NEBlueNew Hampshire1871
NEBlueNew York1874
NEBlueNew Jersey1875
NEBlueRhode Island1883
MidWestRedNorth Dakota1883
MidWestRedSouth Dakota1883
WestBlueNew Mexico1891
SouthRedWest Virginia1897
SouthRedNorth Carolina1907
SouthRedSouth Carolina1915

But Alaska wasn’t even a state in 1929! I know, I know and it wasn’t a done deal until 1985 BUT people lived there before it joined the United States and those people wanted mandatory schooling so that’s what they had.

Moving to Medium


For a long time, I have been posting my stuff here, on Medium, and on the Daily Kos. I am going to start using Medium as my main site to post and will make a bunch of edits here soon enough.

If you are interested in following me there, great.

Thank you and if you have any questions, let me know!

A city under siege

I feel like I have seen this movie before

Today, a man set off two smoke bombs in Brooklyn. Opened fire and spit out 33 rounds into passengers commuting to work. After the train was cleared, police found three extended ammunition magazines, consumer-grade fireworks, a hatchet and a jug of gasoline. Twenty people were injured, some critically. It is amazing no one was killed.

This incident comes as violent crimes across the city and MTA system rise. A lot of people compared what happened today to 9/11. Early reports were that it might have been an act of domestic terrorism so it really makes sense to be reminded of that awful day.

Of course, it’s something I think about often now that I am back. Growing up on Long Island, I used the World Trade Center as my point of reference to get around the city. To this day, I do that and have gotten lost more times than I would like to admit. It’s kind of pathetic to get lost in your home city.

The current crime wave hitting the city and the attack this morning reminds me of the New York City I knew when I was a kid. It was seedy and dangerous. Then, Mayor David Dinkins and Disney remade the place. I don’t think we will go back to those times but it is hard to see where we are headed.

Today, I had an amazing day walking around Stony Brook. I worked out of a cafe in the Village. I got more creative writing done than I have all year.

Yet, looking at the blue sky, I thought of Ukraine. Myanmar. The Uyghurs in China. Paul Rusesabagina falsely imprisoned in Rwanda.

Why are someone’s rights to own a gun more important than mine to stay alive? Someone told me that it was because of the Second Amendment. So the Second Amendment trumps the Declaration of Independence? Don’t I have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

I want to think something has happened to us. Something has happened to make us hate each other so much. But whatever hatred we are seeing now it’s not new. It’s just been hidden. As long as people we had oppressed since 1619 stayed ok with it — or rather, didn’t get “uppity,” things were good. Sure we subjected millions with slavery for hundreds of years and then the Jim Crow laws for another hundred and continue to use systems made by white men to keep white men in power. Even if people in the system are not racist, it doesn’t matter because the system is. Every single white person in America benefits from white privilege.

A person I went to junior high school with commented on a post about BLM protesters with this, “We will treat you like humans when you act like humans.” When you can look at another person and think you have the right to dictate what is and is not human behavior, you are proving my point. This person is not alone in thinking that. This is the attitude we have to change.

Friends don’t let friends butcher the English language

English language

The English language is beautiul.

Over the weekend, a friend gave me a book written by an acquaintance of his. Before I go into what I thought about it, writing a book is a major undertaking. I have nothing but respect for people who follow through with this. This particular book was self-published. I see no issue there. There was a day when that was a bad thing but NOT TO ME.

This book broke my heart on just about every level. I had to look up the plot online because there is so much exposition and it was so poorly constructed I couldn’t follow it. As a lover of the English language, it felt like that author took it, beat the pulp out of it, microwaved it, ripped it up, and beat it some more. Rather than make this into a rant only about how bad this book is, I am going to offer my suggestions on basic stuff:

Alyson’s writing tips:

  • They are lazy. Use a better verb. There are rare times when you can use one but the fewer you use, the tighter your writing will be.
  • Stick with one name per character. For example; if you have a character named Anthony Rebbi, call him Anthony or Tony but don’t go back and forth. Bonus: use their full name when you first mention them and then whichever name you like for the rest of the book/story.
  • Don’t be redundant. If your character has an annoying habit, for example, just show them doing whatever they do. For example, you have a character that swears a lot. You don’t need to write, “Kelly likes to swear.” Just write her dialogue with a lot of curses. SHOW DON’T TELL!
  • Learn the rules of basic punctuation.
    • Quotation marks are not a way to add emphasis. You can do that by using the bold or italic fomatting options. Quotation marks used for emphasis give the reader the wrong impression. For example, I spent the weekend acting in a murder mystery. Another actor played my “husband.” See that shows he wasn’t really my husband. If you see a sign for “sushi,” it is probably not real sushi. If you need more information on quotation marks, check this out.
    • When using quotation marks, be careful where you put commas and periods. It is “I told you I hate dentists,” she said. “They have always scared me.” Note the period and comma sit inside the quotation marks, not after.
  • Use spell check. This is the easiest thing you can do to make your writing clearer. As a bonus, you can get a grammar check which will keep you from having sentences that omit words. This is a common issue that makes your prose make little sense. You can also use Grammarly. Great (and free!) service.
  • Get your dialogue right. Can you see what is wrong here?
    • Shelley answered the phone, “Hello she said. Do you want pizza?” You can approach this in a few ways but that is not one of them. This can be, “Hello,” she said. “Do you want pizza?” It can be in the course of a total conversaion and the whole “she said” can be dopped. Including it mid dialogue as was in the book, is just wrong.
    • “I was thinking we should go to Montauk” he said. You need a comma after Montauk and before the second quotation mark.
  • Use an editor. I was emailing back and forth with a journalist who admitted that due to budget cuts, he did all of his editing and made mistakes as a result. If you are writing on your own like that, you really need to use Grammarly. If you are looking to publish a book, or something else that matters to you, get someone who is experienced at editing. You may have a best friend who “gets you” but that person is crucial for your success (or failure) here.
  • Stick with one verb tense. Unless you are going back and forth with flashbacks or maybe images from the future, you need to be consistent here.

Writing resources that rock:

And if you want, I can always help.