The Landscape of Our Discontent

With all necessary caveats about methodology (the main one being that I have absolutely no idea if the following is worthless or not), take a quick glance at the following two maps, this one, and then this one. I confess to not having gone through this carefully, but if you’re flying over a landscape and notice that part of it is on fire, you call that in. The anomalies, offhand, appear to be Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota. With those exceptions, it looks like well-being votes Democrat.

Now this goes some distance toward explaining the tone of our politics today. What it doesn’t explain is the distribution itself. If one makes the mistake of reading comment threads in news stories on politics, you will sooner or later see a progressive explaining that the principal explanation for people voting Republican is stupidity. That is one possibility: perhaps people lacking various capacities tend to be less successful in life and display poorer political judgment. But there are other hypotheses. Here’s one congenial to a progressive: as Nietzsche would have it, people who are less successful in life are resentful toward those who are more successful, and their moral (and hence political) judgments are attempts to sublimate and legitimate that resentment. But there is another possibility. Perhaps these are both maps delineating successful exploitation. The aristocrats would tend to be complaisant and satisfied with our political system, and be favorably disposed toward those who administer it, while the peasants on whose backs it is built, not so much. My own analysis would be more complex, as I do not think our “aristocracy” is homogeneous and I do not think it manifests itself exclusively through the political sphere, though the political sphere is inevitably involved where success is built on rent-seeking, as it often is. Also, we would need to see similar maps for a hypothetical system in which there was no economic rent; for all we know, they would be worse (says the progressive, but then again, maybe not—we just don’t know, do we Dude?) Whatever these maps tell us, it’s not good.

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