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This Week On Arc Digital

Dear readers,

Week in and week out, Arc publishes commentary mainly selected on the basis of a simple editorial metric: Is the take an intelligent one? If it is, then we want to provide a platform for it — even if it’s not a position we, as the site’s editors, personally embrace.

This means no single reader of ours should be able to say, “I agree with everything they post.” But that’s not the point, is it? The point is to read articles that enrich our understanding, not articles that flawlessly reflect our antecedently held beliefs.

Our goal is to be the internet’s best opinion space. And we want to share with you what we’ve been posting.

So at the end of each week, we’ll send out a recap of what we’ve posted in the days prior. If you’re a Medium member, then you have unrestricted access to the content we publish. If you’re not, Medium gives you three free reads per month.

Here’s what we’ve run in the past two weeks:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Gay Wedding Cakes, And Fundamental Questions About Freedom

by Nicholas Grossman (June 25, 2018)

Friday night, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got kicked out of a restaurant in Virginia called the Red Hen.

A few days before, protesters hounded Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen until she left a DC restaurant. …

This brought to mind the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which a Christian baker wouldn’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding. As with the Red Hen, the owner of a private establishment refused service to a particular customer. The customer argued it was because of who they are. The owner argued it was because of something the customer chose to do, which the owner found morally objectionable.

After the news broke, Political Twitter launched into one of its favorite activities, a hypocrisy-off, in which liberals and conservatives switch positions, and then criticize each other for switching positions. It wasn’t hard to get the impression that some were defending the people who shared their politics, and coming up with “principled” justifications after.

But while there are similarities, the cases aren’t identical. Exploring the differences leads to some interesting questions.


by Varad Mehta (June 25, 2018)

The legality of the pardons or of Trump’s authority to issue them are not in question. The pardon power is one of the most expansive powers any president enjoys. Impeachment is the only offense beyond its reach. …

Despite the accusations of his most strident critics, the president is not abusing the pardon power. The problem, rather, is Trump’s method of granting leniency, his reasons for bestowing it, and his choice of recipient. As a result, his effect is altogether more dangerous and pernicious.

President Trump is doing something far worse than abusing the pardon power. He is discrediting it.

Donald Trump and the Mainstreaming of Conspiracy

by Joshua Stein (June 25, 2018)

Many have written thoughtful and interesting articles on how the populist movement took over the Republican Party; I won’t rehash those articles. Instead, I want to focus on a particularly underappreciated and explanatorily useful dimension of that movement: To get to the top of the GOP, Trump embraced a long tradition of far-right conspiracies dating back to the early 20th century.

Though their voices have occasionally been washed out by the boiling sea of hot takes, some commentators have noted that Trump’s major political moment early on, the one that garnered him significant attention as a political figure, was his engagement in the Obama “birther” conspiracy.

In fact, he’s shown a special aptitude over the years for tabloid-worthy conspiracy theories, including the now infamous suggestion that Rafael Cruz (father of GOP campaign competitor Ted) was directly involved in the Kennedy assassination. Was there ever any doubt Trump would go on to embrace InfoWars, the “news outlet” responsible for such scoops as the world-stopping revelation that Glenn Beck was an Obama asset working out of a national intelligence substation? (Fact check: false.)

Trump‘s Effect On The Upcoming Midterms

by Luis A. Mendez (June 26, 2018)

We are less than five months away from Election Day 2018.

These midterms — like nearly all the ones before it — revolve around the status of the party and president in power. Our current moment has the Republican Party in control of Congress and the White House. This is a precarious position, as historically midterms are the electoral cycles that are harshest for parties in that position. …

For their part, however, Republicans have plenty of positives to campaign on as the status quo party.

The economy is booming — the unemployment rate is very low, job creation continues apace, incomes are rising, and Trump’s growth projections look closer to reality than what his detractors prognosticated.

On top of this, Trump and the GOP have delivered tax cuts, which have received more favorable polling since they were first signed into law. And some of the president’s actions on the world stage — most notably his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un — similarly poll well.

If that wasn’t enough, Republicans have a built-in structural advantage thanks to the way in which the congressional lines are currently drawn, as well as to some worryingly unfavorable match-ups for Democrats in some of their most vulnerable Senate battles, and demographics that favor Republicans in a midterm cycle far more than they do during presidential ones.

And yet…they remain slight underdogs to keep control of the House, will at best escape with a modest net gain in the Senate, and are poised to lose a couple governors’ mansions across the country. What explains all this?

Who’s Afraid Of Psychedelic Psychotherapy?

by Louis K Nicholas III (June 27, 2018)

Researcher Mendel Kaelen explains the neurological effects of psychedelics by an analogy of the brain to a snowy hill and of thoughts to sleds. As sleds ride down the hill, a central groove forms in the snow. Subsequent sleds naturally glide into alignment with this groove. Psychedelics act as a temporary flattening of the snow, during which sleds may travel freely.

In short, psychedelics provide an opportunity for users to access lines of thought beyond those reinforced through years of experience.

For those with mental illness, this opportunity may amount to a new lease on life. Psychiatric disorders like PTSD, depression, and addiction are marked by an inability to disengage with negative thought patterns. These patterns reinforce themselves over time and become increasingly difficult to overcome.

When a patient is treated with psychedelic psychotherapy they have an opportunity to temporarily disengage from these habitual thoughts and assess their circumstances from a broader perspective. The goal is for the insights gained during this period to help individuals overcome profound anxieties and traumas, even ones deeply reinforced within their psyche.

Like Free Trade? Good. Time to Drop “Buy Local”

by Ryan H. Murphy (June 28, 2018)

Some have tried to cut their carbon footprint by incorporating “food miles” into their mental calculus to determine which products to buy. But as long as carbon remains untaxed, getting a handle on what meaningfully reduces your carbon footprint can be incredibly difficult. Despite intuitions to the contrary, it isn’t even obvious that buying local is better for the environment.

Multinational corporations perform incredibly sophisticated logistics where one of their goals is to keep their energy costs down when moving stuff from one point to another, not up, like a Captain Planet villain. And this really applies to any firm making use of the normal American supply chain.

Are you confident that the per unit carbon footprint of a chicken thigh delivered to a restaurant as a small part of a large shipment on a single truck is actually more than the specialized shipments from the local farmer and artisanal butcher?

After The ICE Thaws

by Will Truman (June 29, 2018)

Earlier this year, President Trump effected a policy change that has had massive social and political ramifications — more so than usual.

Trump directed Border Patrol to detain all unauthorized immigrants forprosecution rather than to detain them in order to determine their immigration status. But prosecution implies criminality, and for those immigrants who come with their families, with their children, they cannot be kept together once the destination is federal jail rather than an immigration detention center.

The goal, all along, was a smashmouth enforcement protocol to make families south of the border think twice about coming here illegally or asking for asylum. Conceiving of the policy as a “deterrent,” some administration officials and Trump supporters pointed to indications that the new policy was working.

Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order to reverse this aspect of his border policy, but given that the order protects families from separation for only 20 days, the status of this administration’s directives remain uncertain.

One result from all this is we get a clearer picture of what immigration policy looked like before Trump got into office.

We Need A Dramatic Rethinking Of U.S. Foreign Policy

by Jerrod A. Laber (June 30, 2018)

As the Soviet Union collapsed, and various technological advances continued to make waging war less costly, U.S. primacy became entrenched, and remains so in the War on Terror. Yet this comes with significant political and civic costs.

A problematic aspect of America’s war-making capability in the 21st century is the lack of a national sacrifice, thereby concentrating the costs to those who bear the burden directly — members of the military, who very seldom come from elite social classes. But the average soldier has no say over his or her marching orders. And as the direct, visible cost of war to the average citizen dwindles to zero, the political cost of war for the government does as well.

Meanwhile, expansionist foreign policy creates concentrated benefits for members of the military and political establishment, who then have an incentive to perpetuate this activity. In need of an ideology to justify the continued expansion, highly motivated and well-organized special interests lobby for policies for which everyone else unknowingly foots the bill.

The Price Of Greatness

by Berny Belvedere and Jay Cost (July 1, 2018)

Madison’s contribution to the Constitution is too great to quantify. He offered a unique and interesting justification for a stronger national government at the Constitutional Convention. That was important, but he was not the only nationalist at the conclave. He was joined in that purpose with people like Hamilton, John Rutledge of South Carolina, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania. So, it is not like the nationalist argument would not have been made.

Instead, Madison’s most lasting contribution was probably the level of work he put into preparations for the Convention, which enabled the nationalists to take control of the agenda from very early on. Without this, who knows what the Convention would have produced.

How To Talk About Trans Issues

by Trav Mamone (July 2, 2018)

The Atlantic’s Jesse Singal recently came under fire for an article about transgender youth. It focused on several people who first identified as transgender, went through medical transitioning, but eventually realized they weren’t trans and “detransitioned.” Critics noted that Singal used a study that was based on sketchy science, and presented a member of an anti-trans parent group called 4thWaveNow as an unbiased source. In response, Singal asked if transgender people are the only ones who can write about trans issues.

He probably meant this rhetorically, but it’s a question worth exploring. Yes, cisgender (non-transgender) people can talk about trans issues. However, when they do, they should practice some sensitivity, because language can either humanize or dehumanize people.

Ron Paul’s History Of Racist Statements

by Joshua Stein (July 3, 2018)

Most politicians don’t handle their own social media, and it’s likely Paul didn’t post the cartoon. However, benefit of the doubt diminishes when there’s a long, well-documented history of racist material in publications with his name on them. To quote a different Texas Republican, “Fool me once, shame on you… can’t get fooled again.” If you face public scrutiny multiple times for publications with white supremacist content, perhaps it would be wise to exercise some care in who you trust with posting things on your verified account.

Even if we assume he didn’t write or approve the original tweet, Paul hasn’t fired anyone for posting something racist in his name. There’s no indication anyone paid a consequence for writing racist things in his newsletters either.

So much for personal responsibility.

As America Forfeits International Influence, China Takes Advantage

by Nicholas Grossman (July 3, 2018)

Trump claimed he withdrew from the TPP on behalf of American workers. As with any trade agreement, it’s likely some workers would’ve been hurt. However, the deal would’ve helped some businesses by lowering the cost of manufacturing inputs, and benefited everyone by lowering the cost of consumer goods.

Most likely, the TPP would have resulted in economic losses for some, but modest gains for the country as a whole. The real benefit was geopolitical.

Pro-Trump & Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Are Posing As Ex-Democrats In New Astroturfed Movement

by Caroline O. (July 5, 2018)

While the “WalkAway Movement” isn’t likely to convince — not to mention convert — many people, it offers important insight for those interested in understanding psychological operations aimed at manipulating and influencing social media users. This includes people who are interested in developing better defenses against manipulation, as well as those who want to develop more effective methods of manipulation.

Perhaps the most important observation is how quickly Russian propaganda outlets and Russian-linked social media accounts took notice of the campaign and started promoting it. While not exactly surprising, this tells us that Russia is still actively monitoring U.S. social media and looking for opportunities to amplify narratives that are aligned with the Kremlin’s goals.

Is Punching Nazis Impolite?

by Barry Purcell (July 6, 2018)

Although it might seem like a recent development, the prioritization of politeness is a traditional preoccupation of conservatism. How could it not be? Conservatives, conceptually, are averse to large-scale social change. Politeness functions as a way to preserve the status quo.

This is why conservatives, consciously or otherwise, leverage the social contract (“we must all be polite”) to silence criticism and demonize opponents as abrasive and hostile.

It would be one thing if politeness served to thwart revolutionary bloodshed — but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Instead, calls for politeness serve as discourse-policing norms that stifle attempts to raise awareness through more confrontational language and direct forms of action.

When Did Promoting Diversity Become the Chief Goal of Large Organizations?

by Wessie du Toit (July 9, 2018)

We are told that it is in the interests of the public good to see ourselves according to certain dimensions of difference, regardless of whether we personally regard them as significant. Yet at the same time these very differences — and to a degree, the idea of difference as such — are rendered trivial. Everything from religion to age to gender is reduced to merely incidental characteristics within the machinery of highly-regulated consumer and administrative societies.

Meanwhile, the veneer of moral necessity makes it difficult to question the more fundamental values — the goals and notions of success — embodied by organizations that claim to speak for us in one way or another.

In these circumstances, it actually becomes more difficult to feel secure in one’s distinctive identity and beliefs, which is perhaps why in the era of diversity people only seem more determined to assert them. Indeed, if diversity is intended to accommodate a rising identity-consciousness spawned by social media, it promises in its current form to achieve the opposite: a feedback loop in which people are increasingly anxious to find more authentic ways to define themselves.

Outrage Is Currently America’s Deepest Core Value. It Shouldn’t Be.

by Dylan Gallimore (July 10, 2018)

Because of the social, reactionary, and defensive qualities of outrage as an emotion, our fealty to it as a value drives tribalism and many of the other isms of our time. When faced with a person or idea one perceives as threatening or different, a way to recover a sense of safety, a way to alleviate the discomfort, is by expressing moral outrage alongside those in agreement. Outrage is addictive, and functions to propel individuals toward each other in search of solidarity and validation. Thus, any group of individuals who share a common outrage target are highly susceptible to constructing echo chambers and value system — what we have called “bubbles” — dedicated to protecting the very things that the objects of outrage would seek to defile.

Today, bubbles have taken over mass media in the form of Twitter, Facebook, and cable news; our latent desires to constantly feel aligned with those moral voices with whom we agree dictates how we consume information. Anyone who looks will find an outlet for outrage, the ever-present incentive to indulge in it; they’ll find that the real product of cable news isn’t coverage of the day’s issues that aims to accurately capture what really took place, but a narrative that exports outrage as a means of harnessing political action and, most importantly, high ratings.

Some Countries Are Much Richer Than Others. Is That Unjust?

by Hrishikesh Joshi (July 10, 2018)

Look at the GDP per capita across different countries and you will see staggering differences. The U.S., Denmark, and Singapore all have (nominal) per capita GDPs of between $50,000 and $60,000 per annum. On the other hand, Ethiopia, Chad, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Niger all fall below $1,000 per annum. The average resident of Denmark produces more than 50 times as much per year, measured in terms of nominal exchange rates, than the average resident of Ethiopia!

When we look around the world and observe the massive wealth disparities between citizens in rich and poor countries, many of us are apt to conclude that the differences must have arisen because of colonialism, imperial warfare, or theft of raw materials like gold or oil. Of course, all of these things have happened at various points in time, and they can arguably explain somevariation in the standard of living. Colonialism can be especially destructive of institutions that support peace and commerce. But a recent article by the philosopher Dan Moller casts doubt on the view that injustices like these can explain much of the observable differences.

Instead, Moller musters economic data to suggest that blatant injustices barely show up in the overall trajectory of economic growth in most countries over long periods of time.

Time For Civility Or Time For Resistance?

by Paul D. Miller (July 11, 2018)

There is something like a purge of the Republican Party underway, though it is nonviolent and driven by voter preferences, not by a Trumpian master plan. Republican voters like Trump — he has a 90 percent approval rating with them — and, over the past 18 months, they’ve voted to throw out his opponents and install his loyalists, most recently in the nomination of Corey Stewart as candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. Well before Stewart’s nomination, the gale force winds in Trump’s favor cowed almost all of Trump’s former critics, including Rick Perry and Ted Cruz, into obeisance.

The Republican Party has devolved into a personality cult devoid of ideas except Trump’s victory and the vindication of his incoherent nationalist pablum. The vacuity and extremism of the GOP (matched only by the Democratic Party’s increasing moves in the opposite direction) are a danger to democracy.

We Need A U.S.-Iran Reset

by Will Staton (July 11, 2018)

While Iran is a “bad” regional actor, spreading terror to achieve its goals, part of its rationale is the conflict with America. Resolving that conflict would remove some of the Iranian impetus for behaviors.

Furthermore, bad behavior should not prevent engagement with Iran. The U.S. gained from diplomacy with the Soviet Union, communist China, and other adversaries. And Saudi Arabia spreads at least as much regional terror and violence, some of which has been directed at the United States. Osama bin Laden and ISIS share links with Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

Thanks for reading!




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Berny Belvedere

Berny Belvedere

Editor in Chief of Arc Digital

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