Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Life Consulting

I really like helping people solve their problems. I really like to help people understand the world better. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers -- but I do have a great many questions. And sometimes it is the right questions we need to hear.

We have all heard of therapy -- it's based on the current psychological theories and can involve a psychiatrist or a therapist or a trained therapist. There is also philosophical therapy -- it is based on the questions philosophers have asked over the millennia. Lou Marinoff calls it "therapy for the sane." There is also literary therapy, which attempts to do something similar to philosophical therapy, but with literature. And there are people called "life coaches," where the aim is to help people achieve certain goals in life.

Now, what is "therapy"? Therapy means "curing" or "healing." A therapist is attempting to cure or heal a person of what ails them. The psychological therapist of their mental "disorders," the philosophical or literary therapist of their dis-ease with life.

"Consult" comes from the Latin word for "to discuss." Consultants are thus professional people with whom you can discuss a matter or situation. The consultant gives you feedback, provides you with an outside perspective of the situation, and then allows you to do what you wish with the information.

Sometimes people just need to sit and discuss things. They may need to discuss their job situation. Or their home situation. Or their frustrations with their autistic child. Or their writer's block. Or any number of other things. And wouldn't it be nice to be able to discuss those things with someone who can point you to the right things to read or who can ask you the right questions or who can make you think about things from a new perspective?

A life coach is trying to help you realize a goal. A life consultant is not necessarily goal-oriented.
A therapist is trying to cure or heal you of something. A life consultant is just a discussant; any healing will be done on your own, and if your consultant's consultations led you in that direction, great.

The key is to provide as judgment-free discussions as possible. The key is to lead people to greater understanding. It's what great teachers do. It's what practical philosophers do. It's what the humanities are all about. It is what I would love to provide people.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Those Crazy Innovators

I recently wrote about the fact that most people are copiers rather than innovators.This is of course hardly a condemnation of the vast majority of humanity, given that being strong social learners is what allows for our high levels of cooperation that make complex society possible at all.

But the fact remains that if everyone were strong social learners and, therefore, copiers of others, there wouldn't be much social evolution at all. The occasional mistake will sneak in, and people will of course copy those mistakes that work out best, but such a system would be a relatively slow process.

Enter the innovators. You don't want too many innovators, because such a society won't hold together too well. You want fewer innovations of things that work well, and if you have a lot of innovators, you are likely to get people innovating away what works.

It is perhaps not surprising that when humans evolved ultrasociality -- meaning we started undergoing far more group selection -- a balance was struck between copiers and innovators. Copiers dominate by far, but there are just enough innovators around to innovate.

But who are the innovators?

In my last posting I mentioned that people with autism and sociopaths are good contenders for this role. To that one should add schizophrenics and bipolars, among others we label as "mentally ill." Many artists, for example, are known to be at least slightly bipolar. The Nobel Prize winning game theorist John Nash was, famously, schizophrenic. Many cultural creatives are known to be autistic. More, autistic people tend to be more analytical than strategic (sociopaths, on the other hand, are far more strategic and, thus, more like neurotypicals in their thinking; they only lack a conscience, which can free them up to do quite a number of anti-social things).

Historically, human societies have needed a combination of less social individuals. Those individuals were needed for cultural creativity, technological innovation, and quite often ruthlessness in war. The latter is where the sociopaths come in.

A group with sociopaths is likely to have someone who is willing to kill and otherwise exploit others to get what he wants; such a person might be a good leader in a war, especially given their strong strategic abilities. As we move more and more toward a global civil society, we are finding we need our sociopaths less and less. But that doesn't mean we have gotten rid of them over time. Sociopaths, with their charm and strategic thinking, often end up in government or as CEOs -- when they don't end up in prison (and sometimes that is their path to prison). Places of power are highly attractive to sociopaths, and their charm and strategic thinking make them attractive to neurotypicals, who typically swarm in the direction of the person most determined to go in a particular direction. And sociopaths are quite determined people. Thus we should not be surprised if the highest concentrations of sociopaths are in government. In fact, sociopaths make bad CEOs, because they tend to run far less productive companies (due to their arrogance and tendency to try to subvert the system to their advantage, traits which are rewarded in government), so there are fewer sociopathic CEOs (as a percentage) than elected officials.

At the other end are the autistics -- creative, analytical types who are more interested in their obsessions than in other people. Your nerds and geeks, technological innovators and socially awkward artists. They don't seek to rule anyone. They just want to be left alone to do their work. But of course, their work, being creative and innovative, tends to be socially disruptive, so they are further treated as social outcasts by neurotypicals (and their tendency to be socially awkward anyway doesn't help). Only if they create something that is adopted by the early adopters -- that group of people who are adventurous enough to try things out, but not creative enough to innovate -- can they become "accepted" into polite society. And then, not really. Nobody is dying to hang out with Bill Gates; nobody was dying to hang out with Steve Jobs. But most people deep down never fully trusted them. Their products made our lives better, but they did so only by disrupting our lives. And disrupting others' lives is anti-social behavior (no matter how good the outcome).

And then there are the outliers labeled as "mentally ill." This can often include people with autism, who are more prone than the regular population to being bipolar or schizophrenic. It is perhaps not surprising that such people tend to be cultural innovators more than technological innovators. Artists and religious innovators are well represented here. A few of the greatest scientists as well. They see the world in unusual ways, making them mad to the general populace. Once upon a time, hearing voices was proof positive that one had a strong connection to God or the gods (or to demons); now it is proof positive you have schizophrenia. We are too rational for such religious innovations, and so we tend to hospitalize such people. Unless they can prove their worth in the arts or sciences. John Nash could hear voices all he wanted, so long as he controlled himself and produced game theory.

What percentage of the population are we looking at here? It is estimated that, worldwide, about 1% of the population are sociopaths (2% in the U.S., whose history of open borders attracted the more adventurous, a group with includes a large number of sociopaths). The percentage of people with autism is closing in on about 2% of the population. The mentally ill might be another 1-2%. We can cut this in half by removing the extreme outliers -- the sociopaths in prison, the autistics and mentally ill so severe they cannot contribute their creativity and innovations to society. Thus, our 4-6% outliers becomes about 2-3% innovators in any given society/culture. This is probably about the maximum number of innovators a society can have and still hold together. And we must keep in mind that much of that innovation is killed off by the sociopaths in government, whose policies are very often anti-innovation. Thus, we probably see innovation at about 1% of the population. Given that fact, it is quite impressive what human beings have accomplished in only a few tens of thousands of years.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Innovators and Copiers

I recently finished Wired for Culture by Mark Pagel. I will be officially reviewing the book soon, so I'm not going to go into a lot about the book right now. But there is something he points out that I think is very important, and which I have been thinking about lately.

Pagel observes that (despite pop psychological narratives to the contrary), the vast majority of people are neither creative nor inventive. Rather, the vast, vast majority of people are ultrasocial -- they copy what others do exactly as those others do them. This is known as social learning, and it is what allows human beings to live in such huge groups. In fact, if most people were in fact creative or inventive, that would undermine ultrasociality (237).

Yet, it seems obvious that humans are inventive and creative. Look at all the technology we have around us. Look at all of the art and scientific discoveries.

Yes, and look at all the outrage over the latest discoveries. Look at all the outrage over the latest styles in the arts. Look at all the complaints about technology. Most people are reluctant adopters of anything new, and are in many ways Luddites at heart.

Thus, we see the same patterns for science, the arts, and technology. We have the inventor/discoverer. Then we have the early adopters. Then, when enough people adopt it, we have everyone else adopt it -- once they see that it is good, they copy it.

The great innovations are rare. More common are social learning plus mutations, resulting in slow cultural evolution.And truly revolutionary innovations are extremely rare -- and often result in the creator/inventor becoming social outcasts for their trouble. More strategic innovators will tinker on the edges of what we have so that others will accept the new things more easily. Poetic innovations go farther with more people if you introduce them in the context of poetic forms people like and know.

Humans are, overall, very good copiers, but very bad innovators (340). He observes that in game theory models, systems with many innovators tend to do far worse than those with many copiers. The systems that survive best are those in which almost all of the agents copy and there are only one or two innovators. The copiers all free ride off of the innovators, but if that did not happen, there would not be the kinds of complex societies we find in the world. To have spontaneous orders, you need mostly copiers, with few innovators disrupting the system.

I have primarily discussed artists, scientists, and inventors as innovators disrupting things, but there is another kind who also arises: political leaders. Political leaders emerge precisely because most people are strong social learners and, therefore, followers (362). As a result,
the cooperative enterprise of society is always finely balanced between the benefits that derive from cooperation on the one hand and the benefits that derive from trying to subvert the system toward your own gain without being caught or overpowered (363) 
as all rulers in fact try to do. The difference between scientists, artists, and innovators and politicians is that the latter use their tendency to innovate to try to subvert the system and make it work toward their own advantage, while the former are not working so strategically, and are primarily interested in their narrow interests.

Coincidentally, there are two groups of people widely recognized as being unaffected by social pressures.

There are poor social learners, like those with autism -- whose poor social learning may allow them to be more innovative, since they don't feel the need to adapt to what everyone else is doing. Such people also happen to be rather focused on narrow interests. If this sounds like most scientists, artists, and innovators, it may not be entirely a coincidence.

Then there are the sociopaths, who are good social learners and highly strategic, like the vast majority of people, but who do not have a conscience. They work to subvert the system toward their own gain without being caught or overpowered. We see this in the cheaters of society, those who try to scam people, those who try to get power over others. Governments are full of these people. We elect them all the time.

People from either group lead the world. The rest of the world copies them and their innovations. In the case of the cultural innovators, the result is ever-more wealth for everyone. In the case of the sociopaths in government, the result is ever-more power for themselves.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trigger Warnings

The humanities have been besieged with political correctness for a long time. I'm hardly going to argue that some of it hasn't been good. Those who have insisted that we have a larger canon, for example, have in doing so managed to introduce many in the West to a wider variety of works of literature from around the world. One of the consequences of this is that people are brought into other minds, other ways of living, other cultures and beliefs through the characters of the works, in the safe play space that is literature.

Of course, the flip side of political correctness is that it precisely views literature as anything but a safe play space. Literature is considered dangerous, not safe; and literature is to be taken with utmost seriousness, not as a place of play. It is this tendency that results in the politicization of literature. It is this tendency that results in the reduction of literature to a few political points, and which has finally resulted in the idea of "Trigger Warnings."

Most ideas out of the politically correct crowd have primarily triggered only a handful of cranks on the right. But the mostly negative reaction to this idea of trigger warnings has come from every angle, from the right as well as the left, conservatives and liberals. Jay Caspian Kang has written about it in The New Yorker, Jennifer Medina has written about it in The New York Times, Jill Filipovic has written about it in The Guardian, Conor Friedersdorf has written about it in The Atlantic, and Kevin Drum has written about it in Mother Jones. These are hardly right-wing outlets.

What, exactly, is a trigger warning? It is a warning that a work may contain scenes of rape, incest, murder, racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism, violence, war, etc., so that those who don't want to read about such things can opt out. The fear is that if you have been raped, you may not want to read about someone being raped, because that might trigger a negative response in you. Many are treating this like the supporters are saying that the last thing on earth anyone would ever want to do is make someone even the slightest bit uncomfortable. What they are saying is much more ignorant of what literature does to and for the reader than that.

Since at least Aristotle we have known that literature has a cathartic effect. One way to understand this effect is to understand that works of literature act as a safe play space. You are in a place of pretend, where nothing is real, and where you can experience things -- danger, joy, fear, love, hate, outrage, hope, wonder -- in a safe place. There is nothing real at stake, so you can experience a variety of actions and emotions, ideas and beliefs in a place you can enter into and exit out of at will. By experiencing these things, you learn how to deal with them -- or not deal with them. You learn what it feels like to be a woman if you are a man, a man if you are a woman, someone of another race or ethnicity or culture or belief system. You experience different times and different ways people treat each other. Thus, literature acts to create greater empathy for others. More, it trains our emotions, so that we are in more control of those emotions.

This latter is exactly why, if you have been raped, you ought to read works of literature in which a rape has occurred. Why, if you have experienced racism, you ought to read works of literature in which racism is presented. Why, if you have experienced colonialism, you ought to read works of literature in which colonialism is a theme. By raising those emotions in the safe play space of literature, you learn to deal with those emotions better. You learn to be in more control of those emotions.

In other words, if you understand the cathartic role of literature, you cannot be in favor of trigger warnings. But I suspect those who favor them have probably not read Aristotle's Poetics (his being a DWM makes reading him un-PC). Had they read and understood Aristotle, they would understand that the best thing that could happen is if you read things that make you uncomfortable, and evoke an emotional response. It is then that literature has its transformative effect (one of them, anyway). If you warn people away from works of literature that might trigger the very emotions literature needs to trigger to have its cathartic effect, then you are preventing them from reaping one of the great benefits of literature. You are ensuring that those people will remain delicate, fragile, emotionally immature.

I cannot imagine the emotional wreck I would be had I not read works of literature that dredged up -- and, subsequently, made me deal with -- some quite negative emotions. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe would have perhaps gone unread by me had I been warned off -- and, as a consequence, I wouldn't have dealt with a number of emotional situations I was faced with in the mid-1990s. I could say the same of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevski. Or The Immoralist by Andre Gide.

And those are works that had a personal effect on me, helping me deal with a variety of emotional and personality issues. I could go on and on about works that opened my eyes to different ways of living, different ways of being, different ways of believing, that have contributed to my increasing liberalism. That is the effect of literature -- to liberalize and emotionally mature the reader. And it is those effects that "trigger warnings" seek to ensure people avoid. Thus, the politicization of literature has finally come around to realizing its true intent: to eliminate literature from our lives, so that we won't be liberalized and emotionally matured.

If we reduce literary works to political talking points and "triggers," then we lose the beauty of the works, the complexity of the works, the role those works play in developing the soul. But losing those things is of course exactly the point. The mostly negative reaction to this idea of "trigger warnings" is a good sign, though. Let us hope that this is indeed the step too far, and that it does not become widely used and gotten used to. For if we do get used to it, we will lose literature itself. And we will have done it voluntarily.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Herman Melville on Free Will

aye, chance, free will, and necessity---no wise incompatible---all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course---its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events. -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Ch. XLVII
There is remarkable insight in this passage, an insight scientifically discovered in the form of far-from-equilibrium processes on the borderland of order and chaos. Order -- necessity; chaos -- chance. And on the borderlands, the far-from-equilibrium state -- free will. Free will? Indeed, the realm between order and chaos, between necessity and chance, is the realm of maximum freedom, the far-from-equilibrium state, where strange attractors emerge and create emergent complexity. And this includes free will. We are, psychologically, neither chance nor necessity -- alone. We are both, together. And not just us, psychologically. Our social systems and cultures are the same -- and thus, free. Our living cells are the same -- and thus, free.

Science, again, discovers what the poets knew.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blogging at LibertyChat

I will be contributing, about once a week, to My first piece asks Do Americans Have Property Rights? The answer may surprise you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Asperger's" and "Other" Poems at Awe in Autism

Two of my poems have been published at Awe in Autism, a website dedicated to art created by autistic people (or by people writing about autism). My two poems are "Asperger's" and "Other." Since discovering I have Asperger's (autism, according to the DSM-5), I have been working out how I feel about it. Yes, we do have feelings! We often just have difficulties articulating those feelings. For someone like me, poetry truly is an attempt to say the unsayable.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Answering a Few Questions from A Field Guide to the Hero's Journey

I have recently finished reading A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey by Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico. I highly recommend it.

At the end of each chapter are a series of questions. I thought I would answer a few of them.

What skills and talents do you possess?

I have good writing and proofreading/editing skills. I have a talent for storytelling. I am good at seeing complex patterns, and I am highly analytical. I have developed several skills related to writing poetry -- particularly writing in rhythm (especially iambic).

What do you enjoy doing?

Reading, writing, proofreading/editing, creating plays and poetry, working on spontaneous order theory, thinking, and cooking. I also enjoy watching plays and movies. I enjoy talking about things which interest me. I enjoy time alone to read and think. I enjoy time walking in nature. I enjoy my family, and I often delight in my children.

What do you love doing so much that you lose yourself in it?


What do you hate doing?

Pretty much anything I don't enjoy. I hate driving in heavy traffic. I hate dealing with bureaucracies and bureaucrats.

Do you tend to rush into things, or hesitate too long?
I tend to hesitate. I overthink things, and I am sometimes unsure about social situations.

Do you tend to save up for a rainy day, or does every cent burn a hole in your pocket?

Neither, though I am working on doing the former.

Are you a perfectionist who always demands the best, or are you satisfied with better-than-before?

I try to both do my best and to do better than before.

Are you a natural optimist, or do you tend toward pessimism?

I tend to mix the two, which I call "hope."

What do you have to offer?

A love of beauty, a love of ideas, hope for the future, poetry.

What can you do that no one else can do?

No one can write the exact poems and plays I write, because nobody else has the exact combination of skill and experience (life and reading) I have.

What needs do you see in the world around you?

I see a need for people to adopt a more positive, supportive culture, one that is more trusting and more conducive to the creation of wealth across as broad a range of people as possible. I see a need for more liberty so that people can realize their dreams more readily, and so that virtue and hard work are rewarded. I see a need for less poverty and for less collectivist thinking (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), for the development of a more heterogeneous culture with institutions that increase trust and social interactions, creating the conditions for wealth production and thus the elimination of true poverty.

Are you willing to take risks in the hope of great rewards?

In respect to my education, I have a history of taking risks; in respect to my career, I have a history of caution. I am willing to be willing to take risks in the hope of great rewards.

Are you ready to use your resources---your natural talents, your ideas, your money---instead of burying them?

I am always using my natural talents and my ideas. However, I need to be more willing to make public my playwriting skills.

Who do you want to become?

I want to become a great playwright and poet.

What would you like to be known for?

My plays and poetry. My work on spontaneous order theory.

What would you like to have accomplished?

I want my plays to be performed around the world. I want to write more plays. I want to write and publish a book on the varieties of spontaneous orders.

What sort of person would you like to have become?

I want to be generous. I like to help people -- especially in the area of writing. I want to be more expressive of my feelings (more expressive outside of my art).

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Culture and Wealth Creation

Culture is an important element to a society's wealth-creation.

Suppose you live in a culture in which members of your culture encourage each other to do well, whether it be in school or financially or any other aspect of life. If you do well, your family is happy about it. Your parents want you to have a better life than they had. People are willing to help you do well -- even if there is an expectation that when you do do well, that you will reach down and help those who helped you. Perhaps it is precisely due to this expectation. Doing well is praised and admired. When you see that someone has more than you, you are inspired to try to achieve what that person has achieved.

Now suppose you live in a culture in which members of your culture do not encourage each other to do well. If you do well, your family complains you think you're better than they are. Your parents expect you to have the same life as they had. Nobody is willing to help you, and there is no expectation that when you do well, that you will help anyone. Doing well is disparaged and seen as evidence you cheated someone somewhere somehow. When you see that someone has more than you, you are envious and wish they did not have more than you.

Let's take it up a notch. Let's suppose you live in a culture in which people actively discourage each other to do well. If you do well, you are shamed and shunned. Your parents don't care if you have a worse life than they had, so long as it's not better. People are actively trying to tear you down; everyone is out for themselves and expect to better their position by stabbing others in the back. Doing well is definite proof that you are a liar and a cheater, at best. When you see that someone has more than you, that is evidence they are a thief, and it is perfectly acceptable to steal and cheat to separate that person from their wealth.

Which of these cultures will result in the creation of wealth? Which of these cultures will create a stagnant culture? Which of these cultures will wallow in poverty?

Which of these is a high-trust society? Which is a low-trust one?

Which of these would you prefer to live in? What are you doing to live in it?

In what direction is American culture evolving? Why?

Monday, May 05, 2014

Autism, Empathy, and ADD

One theory of autism is that of "mind-blindness," developed by Simon Baron-Cohen. Out of this mind-blindness come a general lack of empathy. If you are mind-blind, you literally cannot empathize, after all.

Being a person with Asperger's and having a son (Daniel) with autism, I both know what it's like to have autism and to live with someone with autism. This is a quite different experience than is studying autism in the lab, through surveys (of neurotypical parents), etc.

For example, when I am ill, Daniel doesn't notice that I'm ill the way my neurotypical daughter does. She immediately notices and shows empathy. Daniel is still primarily interested in getting me to do whatever it is he's interested in doing. Most would argue that this proves lack of empathy. However, something interesting happens when my wife points out to Daniel that I am sick: he immediately looks worried and asks me if I'm okay. When you direct his attention to how I feel, he shows empathy. And he will periodically ask me how I'm doing until I'm well again. Also, we have a set of doctor toys, and he will go get them and give me a "check up" with them to make sure I'm okay. If those behaviors aren't empathy, I don't know what is (of course, my being autistic myself might mean I don't in fact know what empathy is -- but my answer to that is the same as that of George Takai on an episode of The Big Bang Theory when he was questioned as to how he could know anything about what a woman wants: "I read!").

In any case, this at least has the surface appearance of empathy. And I do in fact feel bad when my wife feels bad, and seeing her in pain induces feelings of pain. More, when my father lost his left arm in a mining accident when I was in high school, I experienced sympathy pains. Now, I will also admit that I don't always come across as the most empathetic person -- but that might be due to what I suggested with my son: I probably need my attention brought to the fact that the person is suffering. I am quite sensitive to suffering in general -- it affects my politics and support for free markets -- but I sometimes miss it in person.

Missing someone's suffering is part of the general problem of being constantly bombarded with information. It can be distracting. If there is any amount of noise in the house, I have a hard time hearing the television. While neurotypicals have the ability to cut off all but what they are trying to pay attention to -- indeed, can make background noise just that: background -- I hear the background noise at at least the same level, or higher, than what I want to pay attention to. Thus, I have to turn the T.V. volume up quite a bit. When there is nobody in the house, I can hear the T.V. at a volume of 30; when people are in the house, I have to have the volume up to at least 70, and I may have to have it all the way up to 100. And I'll still have to tell people to please quite down so I can hear.

This happens too when I am in public, at say a Starbucks, with a friend. My eyes are all over the place, noticing everyone and everything. At the same time, I am able to remain focused on the conversation. The distraction is thus sense-dependent. I can be visually distracted and pay attention to what you say. I can have auditory distraction and think and write. (I can even think while talking.)

Since much human communication is through visual cues, the fact that I am often visually distracted while I'm supposed to be focused on you, I can miss those visual cues you are communicating to me. This can result in socially awkward situations and an appearance of a lack of empathy on my part.

If this sounds a lot like attention deficit disorder, that may not be a coincidence. Many with autism are also diagnosed with ADD. I would not be surprised if ADD were in fact part of the spectrum, if we were to extend the spectrum out beyond Asperger's. Mere ADD does not result in missing social cues -- or at least, not as many as are missed by those with autism -- which is what keeps it outside the autism spectrum, but I must wonder if it is not unrelated. I will also note that, like autism, far more boys have ADD than do girls.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Crowdfunding asTruly Democratic Decision-Making

Bookforum reviews The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. With a title like that, you would think this would be a celebration of things like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms. However, this review makes it seem that it's more of a complaint that crowdfunding could replace things like the National Endowment for the Arts (and for the Humanities):
A central argument in Astra Taylor’s The People’s Platform is that Web-enabled innovations like crowdfunding make for wonderful add-ons to, but very poor substitutes for, existing cultural institutions.

Taylor argues for what she terms "cultural democracy," which seems to not be democracy per se, but rather central government spending on the arts. There is a huge difference between the two, which Taylor seems to not understand.

For example:
A good example of cultural democracy in action is France’s Lang law, which seeks to protect small bookstores from chains and online retailers like Amazon by banning the discounting of books.

Now, can someone please explain to me how it is that banning the discounting of books -- which would make books more affordable for poor people to buy -- makes culture more democratic? It doesn't. Rather, it cuts off a large number of people from buying books by making books less affordable. Culture is not democratized; rather, a few businesses are protected at the expense of everyone else -- and the culture.

Now, the reviewer does ask a rather pertinent question. I would include myself in the "some", given the example given:
what does it mean to democratize culture? To some, it means getting rid of gatekeepers such as the National Endowment for the Arts and replacing them with some kind of direct democracy, in which citizens can simply cast their votes for or against particular films or books.

I would hardly get rid of all gatekeepers. There are roles for journals, magazines, publishing houses, etc. and their editors (and galleries, etc. for the arts). But when it comes to funding, it seems clear to me that direct funding of works you would like to see made is indeed more democratic than having a government-run gatekeeper.
But this is definitely not how Taylor sees it. “Democratizing culture,” she writes, “means choosing, as a society, to invest in work that is not obviously popular or marketable or easy to understand. It means supporting diverse populations to devote themselves to critical, creative work and then elevating their efforts so they can compete on a platform that is anything but equal.”

What makes Taylor think that "society" is ever going to want to invest in works not obviously popular or marketable or easy to understand? Think about it. Somehow all of the individuals of society don't want your work that is not popular, marketable, or easy to understand, but when they are collectivized into "society," they suddenly have the insight and wisdom to not only do so, but to pick those works that will stand the test of time. This is nonsense on stilts. Government "experts" are not democratic. Government experts are oligarchic. Aristocratic, at best (and more typically, the worst get on top). And those government experts are not even democratically elected. They are appointed. And the only one appointed is the top person, who is more of a figurehead, while the people making the actual decisions are neither elected nor appointed by an elected official. In other words, there is nothing even remotely democratic about the NEA or NEH. More, picking works that the majority would not pick is also not democratic, but is outright anti-democratic. If you want to defend the existence of the NEA and/or NEH, "democracy" is about the silliest approach one can take.

Of course, I suspect that Taylor is like altogether too many people nowadays, who call "democratic" any outcome with which they agree. That is a perversion of democracy. But that is another topic.

The real problem is that Taylor does not seem to understand that crowdfunding is much more likely to fund works not obviously popular, marketable, or easy to understand. You don't have to have a majority vote to get funded; you need a small minority who believe in your project enough to put up money for it to get funded. It is much more likely that your odd project will find a few people who want to see that odd project brought to life than it is that your odd project will get the attention of a bureaucrat off in Washington, D.C. This makes crowdfunding a far more democratic way of doing things.