I am the “25-year-old dude who loathes online dating.” The reader’s response to my email is interesting. I rather enjoyed it (especially the Tevye reference!) and it made me have to really think about my position.
I want to emphasize that I was not “effortlessly social” prior to my month-long stay in the hospital. In fact, I was very much an introvert. It took a long glance over the precipice of my existence to come to the conclusion that I applied too much pressure to my social interactions. I would sweat over dates; I would stutter and fidget. I was a wreck when it came to interacting with women or even male acquaintances.
After a brush with death, I realized that not only had I secluded myself, but I had gone about interacting with others the wrong way: I would put enormous amounts of pressure on myself to impress or to avoid embarrassment. I decided then, as I limped around the hospital with a tube 12 centimeters into my chest and emptying my inner fluids into a box that I held like a purse, that I wanted to meet people.
I know this sounds unbelievably simple; it is! But although meeting people was really difficult for me to do, I decided that it was not as hard as what I had just gone through. My experience grounded me, and it bestowed clarity. My original post implored others to not be shy, to not apply so much pressure, because life is short. I’m really concerned that the more reliant on technology we are, the less human we become—especially when it comes to meeting other humans!
I do not partake in online dating because I enjoy the moment I meet someone and we reveal ourselves to one another (with conversation, of course). I can gauge how friendly, how kind, how outgoing one is speaking to them for the first time in person, as opposed to online messages that are not limited by time constraints and facial gestures. Some like to skip that part: whatever, that’s fine. With this method, I have made many guy friends as well, usually guys who frequent the bar I go to. They introduce me to their friends, and before I know it, I have made five new acquaintances.
Or, as a dating approach, you could send a letter to the 500-year-old oak tree featured in the above film:
In June 1891, a young couple married under an oak tree in Germany’s Dodauer Forest. The newlyweds and the tree shared an undeniably romantic bond; during their courtship, they exchanged secret letters by dropping them into a knothole on the tree's trunk. Their story spread by word of mouth, and within decades, others began sending letters too. In 1927, Germany assigned the tree its own postal code. The legend of the “Bridegroom's Oak” was born.
Filmmaker Claudia Bracholdt’s utterly charming documentary considers the role of Bridegroom's Oak as both fairy tale and matchmaker. She interviews Karl Heinz Martens, a retired postal worker who delivered mail to the tree for more than 20 years. (“Usually, you have five to six letters a day,” he says. “But when the media reported on it, you easily had 40 to 50.”) He even has a love story of his own: he met his wife after she wrote him a letter—mailed to the Oak, of course—and he replied. They’ve been married ever since.
Here are two remaining emails from readers, the second one shaking his fist at the Internet cloud:
Great thread! Online dating, while I haven’t always relied on it, has for me been a net positive. Of the four serious relationships I’ve had in my life, two of them have been initiated online in some form. (One person I met on OKCupid and dated for nearly a year; the other was a friend of a friend who I had originally been “introduced” to on Facebook and whom I later ended up dating for three years after we found ourselves living in the same city.) The two initiated offline were typical younger person romances: high school and college, forced together by proximity with all the success that generally entails.
First, it has allowed me to met people on my terms. I’m friendly, talkative and outgoing, but I don’t open up that readily and therefore having the ability to pre-screen dates for some level of comfort and compatibility before I subject them to my Scandinavian-by-way-of-New-England manners and the obvious series of long pause-filled conversations that will ensue. In other words, I can appear aloof and standoffish if I don’t know you well. I don’t do first dates well (though I’m told I’m a fantastic second date) and I get along better with people who I already have some sort of comfort level with, which is why I often end up dating friends of friends. Online dating allows me to build rapport BEFORE the date and therefore not seem so damn boring.
Second, the first phase of my career had me moving around, a lot—like 20 addresses in eight years. If it weren't for craigslist, OKCupid, Tinder and the like, I would have spent a significant portion of that time lonely, horny, and just plain bored.
Online dating can be depressing and disappointing, but overall I’d say the experience has allowed me to open up to and connect with far more people than I would have if left to my wits. I’m happy for it and plan to keep it a part of my social strategy until I meet that special someone.
A very different view comes from a “25-year-old dude who absolutely loathes online dating”:
I have been called a Luddite many times in my life, but I consider myself a cultural savior for my stances. Online dating, in my opinion, mocks our very humanity and creates misanthropes, incapable of social interactions.
I made this opinion some time ago, when I was stuck in the hospital for a month after undergoing multiple procedures on my lung. For the first three weeks, I was confined to the floor my room was on. However, my doctor was generous, noticing my cabin fever, and allowed me to travel throughout the hospital for the last week. Mind you, I had not taken a proper shower in weeks, but due to the existential crises I had undergone in that time, I surmised I would not dither when I saw an attractive woman (one who was unoccupied, of course).
With a tube in my chest, trailing under my sweater, hospital socks with boat shoes, and soccer shorts, I approached one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen as she ate lunch with two of her girlfriends. My stench was palpable, my hair greasy, but no matter. Long story short, I hit it off with all three; we had a blast. I exchanged numbers with the girl and went on a few dates.
In conclusion, I want my generation, the Millennial generation, to realize we are not all that different. We are all insecure in some fashion, but we all want to interact with each other; we all want connections. If we didn’t, we wouldn't be making online dating profiles, would we?
So, when you are sitting at the coffee shop this afternoon, by yourself, and you see someone else, why not approach them, introduce yourself, and talk to each other? It doesn’t have to end with an exchange of phone numbers or a promise of future encounters. Don’t be like me, where it takes a life threatening moment to realize that staying to yourself is rather boring.
Keep me anonymous, please. And thanks for the Notes section!
Update from the first reader:
Just as an aside, I take issue with reader whose email followed mine. I find it offensive and othering that people who are for whatever reason effortlessly social (or, as we used to call them, glib) are somehow better or more deserving of relationships and that those of us who use some form of mediation are less than. Online dating is merely a digital variant of a singles scene that’s existed at least as long as traditional routes to marriage have been in decline. You might even argue that having a service that relies on an algorithm that puts people together in some way is in essence only little different from a matchmaker. Would that reader have been running around Anatevka pissing and moaning that none of Tevye’s daughters have earned it? (actually...)
The tendency to look down one’s nose at people who use online dating and color it with that broad-brush argument that digital mediation is killing the art of conversation would be offensive if it weren't so, you know, wrong. It’s a specious and fundamentally conservative argument that seeks to preserve the social primacy of the extroverted.
It’s a popular topic among readers, unsurprisingly, and many of them continue to have interesting insights. This Millennial reader certainly reflects her generation:
I’m a 32-year-old woman who has never have a long-term, committed, relationship initiated offline. My first real boyfriend was with another teenager whom I met in an AOL chatroom in 1998. My second serious relationship was started after responding to a Craigslist ad that a friend saw. Last year, after living traveling abroad and having flings and cross-cultural mis-relationships, I started using OKCupid, where I met someone I dated for a year. Then I got on Tinder, and after having a few flings, I met someone who I’ve been dating for a few months.
For most of my adult dating life, I’ve felt conflicted about my inability to have more serious relationships that start in other venues than online. I’ve spent some time thinking about this, but I hit the crux of why this works for me: 1) I’m shy; 2) with online dating, people are (usually) upfront about what they are looking for; and, 3) I have time to spool out the “getting-to-know-you” phase.
Another young woman with lots of experience dating online shares her lessons:
Hi Chris! Your reader’s note feels a little like the story of my life right now. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that love is so much more than and nowhere close to a fairy tale.
In short, I’ve been on 45 first dates in six months (not including second or more dates, or the hundreds of messages exchanged), and I’ve learned more about myself than I could ever imagine. More importantly, though, I learned what love should be. It’s not algorithmic, sure, but it’s also not a flash in the pan and all Cinderella-like where you look across the room and you see the person and fall madly in love with one life-changing look.
Online dating has taught me that love isn’t something that comes out of nowhere; it grows and it changes and it is, most importantly, a CHOICE. You choose the person you like being around the most and you make a choice to grow and learn and fight it out with someone. In a world (and especially a city!) where we constantly have what Barry Schwartz terms “the paradox of choice,” love is something that is special because it’s a choice to commit, and that’s hard to find.
In that way, online dating is the answer to so many questions and concerns. Life would be great if everyone could find that one person destined to be their great love, but I don’t believe that’s how it works. One day the shiny newness will go away, and we will have to choose to still muddle through together. I’m thankful that online dating allows me to get to know someone “long distance,” even if that just means I’m in Harlem and he is in Brooklyn. We can all put our needs and wants front and center, and the anonymity of online dating makes that easier than ever.
So online dating saved me in a weird way. It made me put my priorities in line so that I could articulate them to another person and weed out those who don’t want to commit to the same choice I do. It allowed me to realize that I have control of this ship, and sometimes that’s half the battle.
That theme of “choice” is especially emphasized with Bumble, the new-ish dating app that doesn’t allow men to initiate contact; women have to send the first message. It’s a small difference from other apps like Tinder but theoretically has a profound impact on dating culture, since it both empowers women to make the first move and lets guys off the hook for once—and limits offensive messages. Kelly Diamond, a blogger at xoJane,recently tried it out:
By forcing myself to take Bumble seriously after downloading it, I realized how hard it really is to reach out first. I understand now why some guys crack and say disgusting things. Their brains are haywire from all the pressure. It doesn’t mean I excuse their behavior in any way, but I (sort of) understand it.
Another reader provides a window into the very early days of online dating:
My experience happened before the ‘net had much to offer. First I put an ad on the local cable channel, which did lead to a six-month relationship. After that I took out an ad online for a site that let scientists connect for non-science interactions. Though that didn’t lead to a romantic relationship, I did communicate for several years with a woman I met there.
I subsequently took out an ad in the newspaper that got me three responses (though one of them left a six-digit phone number, either through a brain cramp or last-moment cold feet). I married one and have stayed friendly with the other. This was 18 years ago.
To me, the takeaway from this experience is how it short-circuits the typical tentative beginnings. Because I was quite frank and open about what I had to offer and what I was looking for, my future wife and I were able to have serious discussions immediately. If I attempted to talk about marriage, children, retirement locations, etc. on a first encounter in a bar, how likely would that lead to a relationship? But because my respondents “pre-screened” themselves (meaning any other woman who read my ad and wasn’t interested simply didn’t respond), we were able to cut through the typical uncertainty when meeting in any other social situation.
I suspect that these dating sites, algorithms or no, allow for the same sort of pre-screening that happened for me. (Though I didn’t get any information on them; it was all one-way back then). If your “about” page says you are looking for casual hookups, you won’t get any attention from someone looking for a long-term committed relationship. Try and make those sorts of screening decisions in a bar!
A final reader suggests some further reading:
I just thought I’d pass along an article about how a programmer found his fiancee through gaming the online dating system: “How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love.” As if to give both the “true love” and “love is probabilistic” viewpoints support, the programmer ended up proposing to a person he had only a 92 percent match with, as opposed to those the algorithm gave much higher probabilities for.
I may be coming at this discussion from a different perspective, but I think it’s an important one. I have cerebral palsy, which made traditional dating a little tough, to say the least. I’m lucky in that my case is extremely mild. The only visible indication is that I quite noticeably walk on my toes and am pigeon toed. But I do also have to deal with muscle, hip and knee pain, plus the occasional shakes.
None of this has stopped me from living a full life. I have a BA, have traveled through quite a bit of the country (though not nearly enough of it, or the wider world), performed Moliere and Shakespeare on stage, enjoyably got my ass kicked in many a mosh pit, lived on my own, and, much like many other people, was moderately successful in a cubicle-drone type of job that I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Being the shy, introverted soul that I am, walking into a bar, club, party, or any other similar social situation was nerve wracking at best. Couple that with the fact that I naturally draw unwanted attention simply by walking into a room, and my already high amount of social anxiety shoots right off the charts.
On the few occasions where I managed to gather myself and approach someone in a setting like this—usually with the help of a not inconsequential amount of alcohol—I was generally greeted with awkwardness and embarrassment after the inevitable “so … why do you walk like that?” question. Then it usually devolved into polite disinterest from them and one or both of us walking away. There were even a few instances with some variation on “oh, I just thought you were slow or something,” which didn’t bode well for future interactions.
Workplace romances also always seemed to end particularly badly for me, so I also swore those off by my late 20s. So my teens and early 20s were, without fail, dismal failures on the dating front.
Enter online dating. I initially hid my cerebral palsy from my profile and messages, fearing I would scare people off. And I assumed it would be no big deal to reveal this once we actually met. If we were already hitting it off during a date, why would it be a problem, right?
Well … after a couple awkward first dates where I was accused of lying by not disclosing this fact, I decided to put my CP front and center, recognizing the dishonesty in my thinking.
After these initial missteps, the beauty of online dating for someone in my situation really presented itself. Being able to communicate with someone who’s fully aware of who I am and everything that entails before committing to an in-person meeting made things far less intimidating and awkward when we finally did meet. We could have days or weeks of in-depth conversations, to the point that we feel like good friends before ever laying eyes on each other in real life.
I had my first real, serious relationships with women I met online, and while obviously not all of them turn out perfectly, I did eventually strike gold. I met my wife online and am now more in love than I ever thought I would be. We met shortly after exchanging a few messages and have never looked back. (And yes, like your other reader, we were matched by the OKCupid algorithm.) I enthusiastically followed her across the country so she could follow her career, and now I get to stay home and spend all day taking care of our 18-month-old twin girls and their two-and-a-half-year-old big sister. I couldn’t be happier.
I’m certain there are others out there with CP or a different condition who can light up a room with their raw animal magnetism and have no problem finding dates and relationships. I was not one of those people. For this shy, nerdy kid with CP, online dating really did save me. I have no doubt that I’d still be single if not for OKC, and for this I thank Mr. Rudder. I obviously can’t speak for everyone with disabilities or severe social anxiety, but I imagine that others in similar situations have had similar experiences.
I just read your very interesting post about online dating. After a long string of failed conventional relationships, all of them with women I met in college courses or extracurricular activity groups, after graduation I shifted over to online dating. I had just broken up with the last girlfriend I knew from my college years and was working very long hours in my new career. That mixture of a much busier schedule and being completely severed from my college network of friends really did a number on my social life.
So online dating was actually a bit of a last-ditch measure at the time. But long-term, it turned out to be for the best, and I think I was “Saved” in exactly the manner your reader describes. After something like 200 messages sent out over multiple sites and 20 or so face-to-face meetings, I met my future wife via OKCupid in 2009 and got married the following year. Five years later, things are as good as ever.
The biggest benefit of online dating to me was that it exponentially increased my pool of potential mates, far beyond the choices available during any of my years in school. I grew up in a small town in rural northern Pennsylvania and was completely miserable around the opposite gender in high school.
College started out the same way, but after making a few lifestyle adjustments two years in, I was at least able to have meaningful—though over-dramatically dysfunctional—romantic relationships. If online dating had not existed, I think I would have had no choice but to “settle” for one of these women I met in college, due of a lack of other options. But I know I would not have been completely happy long-term being with someone with whom I wasn’t 100 percent compatible, setting myself up for affairs, divorces, or other nasty events later in marriage.
It’s important to note that my wife and I met on an algorithm-based dating site like OKCupid, and not the shallow “meat markets” like Tinder that have become more popular since we met. My wife and I are both techie/intellectual types, and while we’re not ugly, we’re not the type of people likely to prosper in an environment like Tinder where looks are everything and words are meaningless.
So I hope despite controversies such as the OKCupid founder playing “mad scientist” with his matching algorithms, that there will still be a place out there for other dating sites used by ordinary-looking people who want to connect on an intellectual level.
Another reader makes an interesting connection:
I haven’t read Dataclysm, and since I’ve been married 35 years, I’m not dating off or online. But your reader made a perceptive comment about algorithms that made me think of matchmakers and arranged marriages.
I live in China, where the title of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” describes a surprisingly common attitude towards marriage. Stable job, house, car, status, future, health—those are the things that count. Maybe you love, maybe you don’t. A rather objective consideration of financial prospects carries more weight.
Except in some remote areas, matchmakers are uncommon, and arranged marriages have all but disappeared. But I think the algorithms of online dating are emerging as fair substitutes.
A reader just stumbled upon a piece Jim Kozube wrote for us last year, “Love Is Not Algorithmic,” which is deeply skeptical of online dating:
As a pure coincidence, I’m actually reading Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm right now and enjoying it. I think Kozube is taking a bit too harsh a view on this book, but I might also be misreading his intentions. As a software engineer, I’m enjoying Dataclysm because I spend every day thinking about the best ways to manage large volumes of online data. I think it’s important for us, in this age of “big data,” to understand what kinds of data are being collected, how this pool of data is currently being analyzed, and what the future applications for it might be.
So I don’t see Dataclysm as some sort of futuristic “turning love into equations” robo-pick-up-artist manual. I think it’s supposed to be more of a “hey, look at the trends that are appearing in this staggeringly huge pool of data we’ve collected over the years. Isn’t this neat?”
I also wish that people wouldn’t keep getting so worked up about technology replacing love. It’s possible that I’m just speaking from the viewpoint of the single (as a 25-year-old woman with no long-lasting relationships since high school). I mean, yes, love is obviously this great and amazing thing. But love can also be horrible, especially when it’s not working out for us.
When I was a depressed 19-23 year old, one of the largest contributing factors to feeling I’d never do anything worthwhile with my life was the fact that I couldn’t get any of my relationships to stick. I fell hard for a lot of people, and they were just never as interested in me. You know how I got over that cycle? Online dating.
Online dating made me realize you can have casual relationships, then they can end, and the world doesn’t end with them. It made me realize that when relationships don’t work out, it’s almost never the fault of one person. Sometimes people just don’t get along, and that’s completely normal, because some people are just not your type, or you aren’t theirs—and that doesn’t mean anyone is a bad person.
It made me realize that, yes, love is great and amazing and whatever, but you can survive without romantic love. And I think it’s good to, at times, be able to apply that more scientific, algorithmic representation to love, because then you can take a step back from it and survey it objectively when your idealization of it, and your painful awareness of your imagined failure to achieve it, might be destroying you.
Kozube also makes a point that he would overall rather stick with Badiou than read Dataclysm. That’s perfectly valid. However, I just want to counter: why not both? Reading things we might not agree with or enjoy is how we challenge our own opinions and strengthen our convictions. I’m enjoying Dataclysm. I’ve also read, in full, such books as Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Blood Meridian, so I feel like my lit cred can’t be questioned here. Don’t be like this about literature. Not all literature needs to be serious and full of lofty ideals.
Sometimes the loftiest of ideals are disguised in the simplest of language. Sometimes it’s much harder to make a truly universal, meaningful point in words that everyone can understand.
If you had a big breakthrough with online dating you want to share, drop me an email.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
They have President Joe Biden on their side. But will their ideological victory be empty?
In an Oval Office meeting with House progressives last week, Joe Biden made a joke about how much had changed in his long career: “I used to be called a moderate,” the president mused. He was, at that moment, trying to mediate a Democratic Party struggle between the left-wing lawmakers sitting before him and the moderates he had hosted a few hours earlier. When the meeting ended, Biden pulled aside Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State. He thumbed through a folder of papers he was holding. Eventually, Biden handed Jayapal a copy of the speech he delivered to Congress in April, in which he laid out the economic vision he wanted to enact—the ambitious agenda to expand the social safety net over which Democrats are currently haggling.
One of the ocean’s top predators has met its match.
Filipa Samarra could hear the pilot whales before she could see them. In 2015, out on the choppy waters off of southern Iceland, Samarra and her research team were eavesdropping on a group of killer whales. She listened as they pipped, squealed, and clicked when suddenly her ears were filled with high-pitched whistling. “Then the killer whales just went silent,” says Samarra, a biologist and the lead investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project. As the whistling grew stronger, a group of pilot whales came into view, and the killer whales seemed to turn and swim away.
“It’s quite unusual because the killer whale is this top predator,” says Anna Selbmann, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland who is supervised by Samarra. “It’s very unusual that they’re afraid of anything—or seemingly afraid.”
The controversial cult brand LuLaRoe sold a powerful idea: that mothers could succeed as entrepreneurs while spending meaningful time with their kids.
People who have heard of LuLaRoe have usually come across it for one of two reasons. Either someone they know has tried to sell them the company’s stretchy leggings and fit-and-flare dresses over Facebook, or they’ve seen some of the gleeful coverage of LuLaRoe’s very public disintegration as a brand: the lawsuits, the bankruptcies filed by its sellers, the boxes of apparently moldy clothing shipped to vendors that smelled, in one woman’s description, like a “dead fart.” (Leggings! Never not controversial!) Much of LuLaRich, a new four-part Amazon series exploring the company’s rise and fall, focuses on its alleged mismanagement and manipulative aspects, grouping it with some of the splashier docuseries of years past. No one at LuLaRoe seems to have found themselves getting the area above their groin branded, or poisoning an Oregon salad bar with salmonella. But in one scene, a former LuLaRoe vendor recalls a company meetup where everyone assembled was, like her, wearing brightly patterned leggings and a broad, be-lipsticked smile. “I remember looking around and being like, We all look the same,” she tells the camera. “I was like, Oh my God, I’m in a cult.”
A new leaked document is stirring up another frenzy over the pandemic’s origins. What does it really tell us?
Updated at 11:00 a.m. ET on September 26, 2021
As the pandemic drags on into a bleak and indeterminate future, so does the question of its origins. The consensus view from 2020, that in the likeliest scenario SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally, through a jump from bats to humans (maybe with another animal between), persists unchanged. But suspicions that the outbreak started from a laboratory accident remain, shall we say, endemic. For months now, a steady drip of revelations has sustained an atmosphere of profound unease.
The latest piece of evidence came out this week in the form of a set of murkily sourced PDFs, with their images a bit askew. The main one purports to be an unfunded research grant proposal from Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a global nonprofit focused on emerging infectious diseases, that was allegedly submitted to DARPA in early 2018 (and subsequently rejected), for a $14.2 million project aimed at “defusing the threat of bat-borne coronaviruses.” Released earlier this week by a group of guerrilla lab-leak snoops called DRASTIC, the proposal includes a plan to study potentially dangerous pathogens by generating full-length, infectious bat coronaviruses in a lab and inserting genetic features that could make coronaviruses better able to infect human cells. (Daszak and EcoHealth did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
The U.S. has fallen far behind in distributing the vaccines that it pioneered.
In April, when I received my second Moderna shot, America was on a roll. Adjusted for population, the United States had distributed more COVID-19 vaccines per capita than any country but Israel, Chile, the United Kingdom, and a smattering of small nations and islands. With a surge of doses, we could have been No. 1 in the world.
Five months later, the U.S. is no longer in the top five in national vaccine rates. We’re not in the top 10, or the top 20, or top 30. By one count, we’re 36th—countries as varied as Malta, Canada, Mongolia, and Ecuador have all surpassed us. If the European Union or the G7 were countries, they would be ahead of us too. With about 66 percent of Americans over 18 fully vaccinated, some might be impressed that it's possible to get two-thirds of the country to agree on anything. But America still seems to suffer from an internationally unique reluctance.
The pandemic keeps changing, but these principles can guide your thinking through the seasons to come.
Updated at 9:28 a.m. on September 21, 2021.
For nearly two years now, Americans have lived with SARS-CoV-2. We know it better than we once did. We know that it can set off both acute and chronic illness, that it spreads best indoors, that masks help block it, that our vaccines are powerful against it. We know that we can live with it—that we’re going to have to live with it—but that it can and will exact a heavy toll.
Still, this virus has the capacity to surprise us, especially if we’re not paying attention. It is changing all the time, a tweak to the genetic code here and there; sometimes, those tweaks add up to new danger. In a matter of weeks, the Delta variant upended the relative peace of America’s early summer and ushered in a new set of calculations about risk, masking, and testing. The pandemic’s endgame shifted.
Many psychologists wrongly assumed that coercive attitudes exist only among conservatives.
Donald Trump’s rise to power generated a flood of media coverage and academic research on authoritarianism—or at least the kind of authoritarianism that exists on the political right. Over the past several years, some researchers have theorized that Trump couldn’t have won in 2016 without support from Americans who deplore political compromise and want leaders to rule with a strong hand. Although right-wing authoritarianism is well documented, social psychologists do not all agree that a leftist version even exists. In February 2020, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology held a symposium called “Is Left-Wing Authoritarianism Real? Evidence on Both Sides of the Debate.”
An ambitious new study on the subject by the Emory University researcher Thomas H. Costello and five colleagues should settle the question. It proposes a rigorous new measure of antidemocratic attitudes on the left. And, by drawing on a survey of 7,258 adults, Costello’s team firmly establishes that such attitudes exist on both sides of the American electorate. (One co-author on the paper, I should note, was Costello’s adviser, the late Scott Lilienfeld—with whom I wrote a 2013 book and numerous articles.) Intriguingly, the researchers found some common traits between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians, including a “preference for social uniformity, prejudice towards different others, willingness to wield group authority to coerce behavior, cognitive rigidity, aggression and punitiveness towards perceived enemies, outsized concern for hierarchy, and moral absolutism.”
The two countries are more similar than is often acknowledged.
Watching the fallout from the great Anglo-American heist of France’s submarine contract with Australia, you could be forgiven for concluding that London and Paris are polar opposites in every way: whether in their leaders’ personalities, grand strategies, economic models, or social mores. The irony is that the row over the new Australia-U.K.-U.S. defense pact, or AUKUS, reveals how fundamentally similar they really are.
For Paris, the submarine episode is proof of London’s “permanent opportunism” and preference for junior status in a partnership with the United States over any meaningful association with Europe. It is as if nothing has changed since Winston Churchill exploded in frustration at Charles de Gaulle on the eve of D-Day to say that if Britain were ever forced to choose between Europe and the open seas, it would always choose the latter. In the French view, Boris Johnson’s pursuit of a “Global Britain” outside the European Union is merely the latest expression of this deep and undignified national instinct. And for Britain, in turn, Paris’s reaction to AUKUS just exposes France’s latent anti-American chauvinism, its fixation on long-lost grandeur, and its cynical strategy to use the EU as a vehicle for its doomed goal of returning to global relevance. This British view was summarized by Johnson in Washington this week when he said, in a way seemingly designed to further wind up Emmanuel Macron’s government, “Donnez-moi un break.”
After winning her award, Michaela Coel delivered the rare message meant for those outside the glitzy room in which she stood.
When the camera turned to Michaela Coel after she won an Emmy for limited-series writing, she looked overwhelmed. The creator, star, writer, and co-director of I May Destroy You kept her head down, her shoulders slouched. Next to her, Coel’s former co-star Cynthia Erivo whispered something into her ear—a pep talk, maybe. But for a few seconds, Coel remained still, as if the weight of her first, historic Emmy win might keep her from going onstage.
Luckily, it didn’t. Coel gave one of the night’s shortest speeches, and perhaps its most revealing. In her remarks, Coel did something unusual: She thought about her audience, tried to reach beyond the other entertainers seated in the room with her. “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable,” she said. “I dare you … Visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success. Do not be afraid to disappear—from it, from us—for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.” She spoke directly to the potential storytellers hoping to one day be onstage. And she didn’t just advise them; in a night of pomp and circumstance, she reminded them of the value of quieter triumphs.