Diagnosis And Prescription

In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, David French shared his theory that the recent, astonishing number of sign-ups to Meta’s Threads occurred–at least in part– “because Elon Musk did to Twitter what Donald Trump did to America.”

Not that Twitter was so great before Musk acquired it–as French quite accurately notes,  understanding what Musk did to Twitter doesn’t require an exaggeration of Twitter’s virtues before Musk, “any more than we should exaggerate the health of our body politic before Trump.”

Even before Musk, Twitter had become a toxic force in American culture, so toxic that I wrote last year it might be beyond repair. The site lurched from outrage to outrage, and the constant drumbeat of anger and crisis was bad for the soul.
So, yes, when Musk purchased Twitter, it needed help. Instead, he made it worse. Much worse.

For all of Twitter’s many flaws, it was still by far the best social media app for following breaking news, especially if you knew which accounts to follow. It was also the best app for seeing the thoughts of journalists, politicians and scholars in real time, sometimes to our detriment. It wasn’t the American town square — there are still many places where we talk to one another — but it was one of our town squares. Twitter mattered.

French enumerates the numerous decisions that have made the platform much worse–decisions that rather clearly rested on Musk’s flawed understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

French’s essay makes a point that is applicable not just to the marketing of a social media platform, but to policy–and for that matter, human decision-making–more generally. As he says,

The new right’s theory of culture and power is fundamentally flawed, and both Trump and Musk are now cautionary tales for any conservatives who are willing to learn.

According to French,

The new right’s theory of power is based on a model of domination and imposition, and it just doesn’t work. In the new right’s telling, the story of contemporary American culture is the story of progressive elite capture of the nation’s most important institutions — from the academy to big business to pop culture to the “deep state” — followed by its remorseless use of that institutional power to warp and distort American values.

And what’s the new right’s response to its theory of the left’s use of power? Fight fire with fire. Take over institutions. They tried to cancel us? Cancel them. They bullied us? Bully them.

The “cautionary tale” to which French alludes is actually pretty simple: in order to fix a problem, you need to diagnose it properly. Medical personnel understand that–duh!– if the disease being treated isn’t the disease from which you’re suffering, you won’t be cured. If a social dysfunction is rooted in X and policymakers insist upon addressing it by attacking Y, the likely result will just be additional dysfunction.

That axiom is simple, but of course, its application can be complicated. The actual roots of many social problems are complex. That said, a significant cause of America’s political divisions can be found in the wildly different diagnoses of the country’s problems offered by the GOP cult and by more thoughtful Americans.

The cult is convinced that America’s problems are rooted in a modernity that has discarded “tradition,” by which they mean the dominance of White Christian males. The cult’s frantic efforts to outlaw abortion and its attacks on efforts to increase diversity, inclusion and equity grow out of that diagnosis. The most recent example: House amendments to the bill funding the military– funding that passed only after the far Right attached provisions limiting abortion rights, gender transition procedures and diversity training in the armed forces.

When a diagnosis–an explanation of causation–is rooted in fantasy, the medicine prescribed is likely to make the condition worse. Gun violence won’t be ameliorated by making more guns available to “good guys;” the working poor won’t be helped by reducing taxes on presumed “job creators;” history won’t disappear if we pass laws against teaching it…

What happens when a sizable portion of the polity misdiagnoses reality–when the “medicine” imposed by people in power is exactly the wrong prescription? We’ve seen the result. As French put it, a government that needed reform “encountered a politician who broke far more than he built. A social media platform that needed repair was purchased by its most prominent troll. The results were predictable.”

We inhabit a complicated world. It isn’t always easy to locate the roots of our problems–but government by people whose diagnoses and prescriptions are  reliably simple and just as reliably wrong won’t cure what ails us.


  1. Smart guys doing dumb stuff…. Musk reminds me of Henry Ford. Good at some things but out of his league when he tried to engage on the larger stage. Ford was an evil jerk in so many ways. History seems to be repeating. Business success is a poor measure of the man.

  2. Right. Pepto-Bismol will not set a broken arm – never has, never will. Diagnosis cannot be determined before the patient is presented for, uh, diagnosis. Elementary, Watson.. .

  3. There’s a show on Netflix called “Hot Skull” where the premise is that a virus is infecting the population auditorily creating “jabberers” who spout nonsense. This is how I see Hate Speech/Propoganda. Not everybody has an immunity to BS (Knows when to put their headset on and tune it out). I’m not worried about the people with immunity. I’m worried about the poor souls who are not immune to this kind of mental manipulation and then get so amped up that they start making justifications to solve their problems with threats and violence. People are getting way too paranoid and “Trigger Happy”. That’s how wars start people.

  4. It’s a universally acknowledged fact that escaping from the flood of biased news and misleading information is impossible. The mainstream media outlets have been disseminating various propaganda, as observed in the video I shared yesterday.

    Influencers and politicians heavily influence Twitter. Unfortunately, they do not qualify as reliable sources of truth, given their penchant for lying. Twitter’s primary goal is to generate profits, which makes them vulnerable to such influences.

    Eliminating the profit motive is crucial. However, society seems to prefer being told what to think, especially if it aligns with their preferences and comes from someone they admire. It’s an inconvenient truth that we must confront to make progress.

  5. The world is definitely breaking people. I’ve watched a friend, who was always pretty right-wing to be fair, fall right off the wagon into paranoia. He now wears body armor under his clothes and open carries full-time, everywhere, even to friends’ birthday parties (including 100+ rounds of ammo in multiple extended magazines). Not to mention combat knives, etc. I understand who he thinks he’s going to have to fight.

  6. Dirk,

    Your friend is a product of right-wing extremist fear mongering. Giving your friend the benefit of the doubt, one has to wonder if he also has masculinity issues.

  7. Discernment is a skill that is lacking in far too many people. It’s too bad we can’t inject it, because it seems to be an essential skill.

  8. Vernon – I think the most disheartening thing is that he always seemed very gun safe to me, but recently he was at a birthday party (for his daughter and another friend) I was hosting. We were all going swimming and so he needed to divest himself of all the things. I said I’d put his gun in my safe and he thought it would be fine stuck in a drawer. Um… no. It goes in my safe. Sticking a gun under some socks is how kids get shot or shoot someone!

  9. Dirk,

    Thank you for being so careful. I hope your friend got the message. Has he mentioned when he expects the tyrannical government agents to come storming up his driveway?

  10. “… who are willing to learn.” Are there any?
    Subtlety, and the multifactorial aspect of life, anybody’s life, all life, is too much
    for the cranial capacity of the thick-skulled. Then, of course, there is the urge
    for power. It does not allow for subtlety.
    Dirk, it is sad that some, hopefully small, percentage of people are especially
    vulnerable to paranoid thinking. I would guess that he had anxiety issues well
    before he dropped off the end, which brought him to that precipice

  11. Dirk, one of my house rules is “No Guns” and “No Drugs”. Period. If you cannot abide by that then you are not welcome here. It is your choice, not mine. It comes down to having my friendship or having your insanity or addiction. Call it “tough love”.

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