Tyler Cowen was recently Interviewed by Brian Chow. Tyler was somewhat critical of excesses in the United States, particularly in universities. Chou was more critical of Wakism.

The most interesting part of the interview came after the 44-minute mark (about 20 minutes) into the podcast. Tyler suggested that many developing countries could use more vigilance and cited India as an example. Chow seemed a bit confused by this claim, and pushed back a bit.

My own views are closer to Tyler’s, but I would like to frame this question in a way that tries to understand Chow’s perspective. I will use a simple two-dimensional model of politics. You might say this is too simplistic, but in my defense I see a lot of people using one-dimensional models (for example, walkism is good, non-walkism is bad, or vice versa.)

Think of a model where the extreme right represents a political regime in which the powerful oppress disadvantaged and/or minority groups. On the extreme left, the powerful oppress the privileged. Of course this raises an interesting question—if they are privileged, how can they be oppressed? An example would be the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where people from upper class families were persecuted. (Again, I realize that this model only addresses a few aspects of politics and leaves a lot out.)

From this perspective, the “middle” position between extreme left and extreme right is not really moderate; It represents a kind of extreme liberation. People are not oppressed by anyone. The following pyramid may make my point easier to see:

Let’s say we start from the position of the extreme right, where powerful people oppress vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, homosexuals, etc. Weaker groups are gradually liberated over time. At some point the movement gains so much power and prestige that society begins to discriminate in favor of traditionally weaker groups and persecute the stronger (say Protestants, white, heterosexual men). Now instead of moving leftward from Nazism, society moves downward and leftward toward Maoism. started to go (BTW, I’m certainly not suggesting that white men are strongly oppressed in America, but this is an issue the right-wing is concerned with.)

Tyler uses India as an example of a place where more walkism is needed. Indeed by 21st century American standards, most of the world is still on the right side of the pyramid. (Africa, South Asia, Russia, Middle East, etc.) But note that in making this claim, Tyler is clearly defining Wakism with a sort of left-right approach. Woke people are pushing us to the left, towards (what they think) more aid for the underprivileged. In many countries, this means pushing for greater emancipation.

In the interview, it was quite clear that Chow didn’t care much about raising issues in developing countries. He clearly saw the phenomenon from a “freedom-oppression” perspective. He is clearly assuming that we are on the left side of the pyramid. Because the most controversial aspects of Wakism in America led to a decline in freedom, he realized how India could benefit from more Wakism. On the other hand, even many American conservatives would probably agree that India could benefit from a slightly more enlightened attitude on issues such as gender, caste and religion. But perhaps they don’t see it as wackism.

To the left in the US, more Wackism means better treatment of the disadvantaged. To the right in the US, more Wackism means more oppression of underprivileged groups. Both Cowen and Chau agree that the recent trend of wokism in US universities is doing more harm than good. But when you remove walkism from that specific context and look at it from a global perspective, one’s perspective depends on whether you view walkism as a left-right issue or along the freedom-oppression axis.

Tyler’s point is that there is a lot of oppression going on in India against women, Muslims, Christians and lower castes in general, and in that sense India needs more leftism. Here I mean leftism in the social sense, not in terms of economic policy. The current (populist right wing) government of India is making the situation worse. and (in me favorite part interview), Tyler notes that this is a blind spot for the American right when they look around the world:

Maybe absolute is too strong a word but look in India there are many groups that I’ve talked to that have been involved that don’t take 20 years to give rape victims a chance to bring a real case against their rapists. or involved in extreme humiliation. Make them unacceptable in the marriage market etc and I don’t doubt that these people have mixed intentions. There is much hypocrisy and (???) logic may apply. It seems to me that they’re basically very beneficial movements and I’m rooting for them to succeed and I see that as a very large and essential part of the libertarian vision of libertarianism and classical liberalism and I just don’t understand why what are you doing? The North American right might say it’s not entirely on board as part of its belief in human freedom.

Chow replied “I don’t think they are.” And yet I see the same thing as Tyler when I read many right-wing pundits.

All this has echoes of a time that I remember from my youth. Broadly speaking, socialism was a major global political movement in the mid-20th century, just as right-wing authoritarian nationalism was a major political movement in the 21st century. In the postwar decade, most American progressives thought the Communists had gone too far, just as most American conservatives today probably think people like Putin, Xi, Orbán, Modi, Bolsonaro, and Erdogan are too authoritarian. At the same time, American progressives, while not communists, were not sufficiently anti-communist. Likewise, I now see American conservatives intrigued by far-right foreign leaders who spout “anti-awakening” rhetoric. Trust me, the main problem on this planet is not that “me too” has gone too far. It’s not like gay rights have gone too far.

The right called progressives “communists”. A more accurate charge was “soft on communism”. It was a real thing when I was a kid. Today I see right wingers who are soft on Misogynist authoritarian nationalism.

Rest assured. I am aware that India has many positive steps. As I said, politics is complicated. It is possible for some aspects of a society to be on the right side of the pyramid while other aspects of the same society are on the left. Still, India is mostly on the right.

PPS. Oddly, the American hold on Xi Jinping is much tighter than that of other right-wing authoritarian leaders, although Xi is certainly a right-wing authoritarian. Today’s China is clearly fascist, and the constant use of the term “Chinese Communist Party” is just a fig leaf to cover up that embarrassing fact.

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