Book Corner 2023.17

by Tim Urban

Really brilliant analysis of “what our problem” is – it’s neither right nor left but “low-rung thinking.”

But it takes a long time to get to the point; and then ends up feeling a bit like a screed against “Social Justice Fundamentalism.”

At first I was feeling like Urban wanted to be a cross between the guy who writes the Xkcd comic and Yuval Noah Harari, and coming up way short in both departments. Finally though he hit his stride with his depiction of the “genies” of “high-rung thinking” and the “golems” of “low-rung thinking.” The former is when we use our rational capacities, when we steelman rather than strawman our opponents, and question our biases. The latter is when we devolve into tribalism.

His drawings sometimes made me laugh out loud; I wish I could copy some here. I tended to like the ones where the stick figures had open-mouthed frowns, such as the depiction of “probably you” when Trump was elected, and the depiction of the defendant in court while his lawyer says “My opponent makes some good points, I guess my client is guilty after all.”

After Urban has laid out his definitions of high-rung thinking, and its opposite, the “golems” of low-rung thinking (it’s a golem on the book cover), he turns to some examples. He has Republican examples to lead us off. Another laugh-out-loud was the strip explaining what exactly is going on when the R’s stage one of their ridiculous stand-offs about the debt celing.

Then he turns to the big golem in the room – he terms it Social Justice Fundamentalism. I appreciate how he avoids the term “woke”, and uses “progressive” rather than “liberal” – but to understand what he means by SJF, substitute “woke.” I agree wholeheartedly that this is often a golem, and his examples were as sobering and scary as he meant them to be. But they went on too long (despite his insistence that he really didn’t want to have so many examples, just felt it was really, really necessary). I got the idea. I wanted him to stop. I didn’t want to read a book against wokeness. I wanted to read a book against low-rung thinking. He stayed too long on this bugaboo.

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