Updated at 7:45 p.m. ET on October 6, 2022
This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Question of the Week
If you could change one thing about the culture of your country, as if by magic, by adopting a practice or attitude or folkway or tradition from another country, what would you import and why?
Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply reply to this email.
Conversations of Note
As a coda to our recent discussion of immigration, which focused on policies in the United States, I’ve been thinking about how the world might collectively address the issue. Economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees will be with us for the foreseeable future, and their numbers may rise with climate change. Already, there are far more people leaving home for their own safety, or to seek a better life, than there are spots in wealthy countries willing to accept them. Even if the United States significantly increased the number of newcomers that it welcomes, an ongoing crisis would persist; lots of European countries, meanwhile, seem to be growing more hostile to immigration.
Can anything be done? I submit an ambitious solution for consideration and study: the creation of a new quasi-country, administered by the U.S. and its closest allies, that has an open border, which is to say, free entry or free exit for anyone in the world who wants to go there. This would not take the place of immigration as it now occurs; it would be in addition to it. The hope would be to create the sorts of conditions that allowed places like 19th-century America and 20th-century Hong Kong to thrive while absorbing massive numbers of newcomers, and undermining tyrannies where too many people are trapped. The obstacles and challenges would be tremendous, but the status quo is an ongoing tragedy. So on to the first challenge: identifying the ideal piece of territory for this experiment …
Caregiving in Crisis
My colleague Annie Lowrey writes about a corner of the workforce where what she calls “the burnout crisis” is especially potent:
An untold number of nurses, teachers, and child-care workers are asking themselves Is this worth it? and deciding that it is not. Nurses are walking off their jobs and quitting in droves, while those still at the bedside are experiencing high rates of depression. Shortages of teachers are prompting some school districts to institute four-day weeks and hire educators without a college degree, and more than half of educators report wanting to quit. The child-care workforce is shrinking, spurring parents to camp out overnight to win coveted day-care spots and pushing mothers out of the workforce.
Two mutually reinforcing trends are at play. Occupations that were always difficult have gotten only more so because of coronavirus-related safety concerns and disruptions, as well as pay that is not keeping up with the rising cost of living. And the tight labor market has provided an opportunity for workers to switch to better, less fraught jobs—straining their colleagues who remain and spurring still more workers to consider leaving.
The author Naomi Schaefer Riley has partly overlapping concerns about the field of child welfare, where people “are tasked with understanding which kids are at risk and, if possible, keeping them safe from parents and other adults who would do them harm.” In Quillette, she argues that the field is in crisis:
From the study of this topic … to the training of professionals, it seems that child welfare has become almost completely divorced from the actual welfare of children. Finding, training, and supporting qualified individuals to do this important work has become all but impossible. A report from Casey Family Programs estimates that the average turnover rate at child-welfare agencies in the United States is approximately 30 percent ... That was before the pandemic and the current labor shortage. Another study found that, “for those workers who remain on the job, burnout manifests in the workplace as work avoidance, apathy toward the well-being of clients, and feelings of cynicism and futility.” And relative to their peers, “workers with high levels of burnout are more likely and quicker to conclude that children in hypothetical cases are at no risk of harm.” So, how are we ensuring that child welfare agency employees are well-trained? At the top, the field is plagued with theoretical abstractions divorced from human nature.
Tomorrow’s Nuclear Challenge
In The Bulwark, Eric S. Edelman and Franklin C. Miller reprise testimony they gave to the U.S. Senate, arguing that while Russia “remains today the only existential challenge to the United States because of the size of its nuclear arsenal,” the military rise of China poses “the most complex configuration of questions about nuclear weapons since the onset of the nuclear age.” Edelman and Miller write that this is due to “the potential that the United States will have to deal simultaneously with two near-peer nuclear powers” in “trilateral nuclear competition with both Russia and China.”
Their argument for that conclusion:
The Chinese nuclear arsenal is expanding rapidly. The commander of Strategic Command, Adm. Charles Richards, described the growth of China’s arsenal as “breathtaking” and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten called it “unprecedented.” For many years, China was thought to maintain an arsenal of about 200 nuclear warheads. That estimate has since grown to about 350, and could expand to 1000 or more by 2030. As it acquires more warheads, the People’s Liberation Army is also developing a full nuclear triad much earlier than most observers anticipated, as well as capabilities that could call “strategic stability” into question. In addition to China’s first air-refuellable bomber and its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent, the test last year of what seems to be a fractional orbital bombardments system raises the prospect of a short or no-warning attack—an extremely destabilizing development.
Enforced Ideology in Academia
Jonathan Haidt, the New York University social psychologist, announced last week that he is resigning from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology––the most significant professional association in a field where he is one of the most significant scholars––unless it repeals a new rule that it imposed on those attending its annual conference.
In order to present research at the conference, all social psychologists are now required to submit a statement explaining “whether and how this submission advances the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.” Our research proposal would be evaluated on older criteria of scientific merit, along with this new criterion.
These sorts of mandatory diversity statements have been proliferating across the academy in recent years. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the Academic Freedom Alliance, and many professors have written about why they are immoral, inappropriate, and sometimes illegal. I’ll just add one additional concern: Most academic work has nothing to do with diversity, so these mandatory statements force many academics to betray their quasi-fiduciary duty to the truth by spinning, twisting, or otherwise inventing some tenuous connection to diversity. I refuse to do this, but I’ve never objected publicly. The SPSP mandate, however, forced us all to do something more explicitly ideological. Note that the word diversity was dropped and replaced by anti-racism. So every psychologist who wants to present at the most important convention in our field must now say how their work advances anti-racism.
Haidt’s objections are best understood in light of his beliefs that truth-seeking, not social justice, is the telos of a university; that the field of social psychology is becoming a tribal moral community; and that political diversity would improve the quality of scholarship in the field.
State Secrets and the Fourth Amendment
The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University are challenging an NSA surveillance program that conducts secret, warrantless searches of Americans’ internet communications. In the past, the federal government has invoked the state-secrets privilege to avoid adjudicating such legal challenges—a tactic that the civil-liberties organization hopes to end. After all, what good is a constitutional right if all attempts to enforce it in court are dismissed?
“Historically, the state secrets privilege was not a basis for dismissing cases,” the ACLU and the Knight Institute argue in The Guardian.
The organizations go on to state:
When the privilege developed in the early English and American courts, it allowed the government to withhold specific pieces of sensitive evidence. As with other privileges—like the attorney–client or priest–penitent privileges—the sensitive information was excluded, and the case would go forward without it. Sometimes the plaintiff would prevail using other available evidence, and sometimes they would lose. But they would have the chance to make their case in court. In recent years, however, the government has invoked the state secrets privilege not as a shield but as a sword, to seek dismissal of cases even where the plaintiff can make its case using public evidence.
Running to the Right
The Time magazine political correspondent and former Atlantic staff writer Molly Ball, who profiled Charlie Crist for The Atlantic in 2014, traveled down to Florida recently to check in on Crist’s attempt to win the governor’s mansion away from the incumbent, Ron DeSantis. She doesn’t like his chances. America’s most populous swing state is trending red, she argues, and DeSantis has consolidated power in a way that is especially appealing to Republicans:
The typical purple-state political strategy would be to tack to the center, but DeSantis has not done that either. The fact that he has gone hard-right and remained broadly popular—one recent poll put his approval rating at 51 percent, vs. 43 percent for Crist—is a major component of his appeal to Republicans. Just as Bernie Sanders’ liberal acolytes contend that his socialist vision would galvanize the electorate more powerfully than the centrists the Democrats tend to nominate, DeSantis’s many fans in the GOP see him as proof that right-wing policies, far from provoking a backlash, actually appeal to voters. He would, they hope, do to America what he’s done to Florida: turn the political current to his will rather than bending in the wind. The bigger the margin he’s able to rack up as he sails to reelection, the greater the currency this argument would have in a GOP presidential primary. Many conservatives see him as a smarter version of Trump, with the shrewdness and focus to implement a vision Trump only flailed at haphazardly.
Provocation of the Week: Cops for America
You’ve heard of Teach for America? Matt Yglesias proposes a similar program but for policing:
Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.
If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.
It seems to me that almost every profession that tilts heavily toward people with one ideology would benefit from an influx of people with a different ideology, so I endorse Yglesias’s proposal while also urging a new influx of conservatives into the field of social psychology.
This article was updated to clarify the joint legal challenge of the NSA surveillance program.