Bari Weiss is back

January 13, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Like all good centrist journalists who have been attacked or deplatformed for criticizing the Left, Bari Weiss has found a home for her writing on Substack. Her column is called “Common Sense” (at least that’s what’s written at the top), and you can read her first piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below.

It’s curiously discursive for Weiss, but I don’t think she’s yet found her feet, though there are flashes of her old critical acumen in the article. In essence, it’s a Kumbaya Column, calling for centrism, universal love and kindness, and damning divisiveness and hatred. That’s not so bad, but it gets a bit cloying when Weiss talks about the tears streaming from her eyes when Robby George read her some prose from Heinrich Heine predicting, with frightening accuracy, the fire that would engulf Germany a hundred years after he wrote.

Here’s the side she puts herself on, and the position she has defended and will continue to defend on her site:

. . . . you have to be sort of strange to stand apart and refuse to join Team Red or Team Blue. These strange ones are the ones who think that political violence is wrong, that mob justice is never just and the presumption of innocence is always right. These are the ones who are skeptical of state and corporate power, even when it is clamping down on people they despise. The ones who still hold fast to the old ideas enshrined in our constitution.

How about Team Light Blue?

But I do appreciate Weiss’s center-Lefitsm as someone who, like Weiss, criticizes both Right and Left but has found a more comfortable niche criticizing the excesses of the Left, hoping to keep the Left honest.

But did it have to wind up with her admiration of Glenn Greenwald?

I am lucky to know more [of the good “sort of strange” people] than most. A good number of them are people who I once regarded as my ideological enemies. Or rather: they are people who I still regard as my opponents on any number of issues that are extremely important to me, but who see clearly that the fight of the moment, the fight that allows for us to have those disagreements in the first place, is the fight for liberalism.

Well, click on the link. Yep, it’s Greenwald, who sees the Democrats as the real authoritarians, aligned with social-media sites like Twitter who will do their bidding. Somehow I can’t bring myself to admire Glenn Greenwald; and I don’t think he fights for liberalism.

Weiss spends a fair amount of time in her column calling out social-media companies for their censoriousness. Two examples from Weiss, the first quoting Matt Taibbi:

“The machines ate us,” he wrote in Tablet last month. “We are all sick with the same disease, which is being pumped through our veins by the agents of a monopolistic oligarchy — whether they present themselves as the owners of large technology companies, or as the professional classes that are dependent on those companies for their declining wealth and status, or as identity politics campaigners, or security bureaucrats. The places where these vectors converge make up the new ideology, which is regulated by machines; the places outside this discourse are figured as threats, and made to disappear from screens and search results, using the same technologies that they use in China.”

. . . . and this, where her old flash of insight and skewering of mainstream media appears:

It’s not that Trump was permanently banned from Twitter. I’d be happy to never hear that voice or see those CAPS again. It’s that Twitter can ban whoever it wants whenever it wants for whatever reason. It’s that all the real town squares have been shuttered and that the only one left is pixelated and controlled by a few oligarchs in Silicon Valley.

We were promised the Internet would be better than democracy. But then it got privatized. Corporations own it. There is no online bill of rights. There is only the frenzy of the mob and fickle choices of a few billionaires.

Please spare me the impoverished argument about the free market and private companies not being bound by the constitution. Barring businesses from using online payment systems; removing companies from the App Store; banning people from social media — these are the equivalent of telling people they can’t open a bank account or start a business or drive down a street. (To my mind, David Sacks, who has spent his career building and funding tech companies, has been articulating this more powerfully than anyone out there. Follow him here.)

That almost every credentialed journalist and liberal public intellectual appears to be cheering on this development because it’s happening to the Bad People is grotesque. They will look like fools much faster than they realize.

She has a point in the last two sentences, you know. As she does when she calls out loons on both sides when referring to Taibbi’s “machines”. Here’s the old Weiss again:

The machines ate Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran and Obama voter who slid into the gutter corners of the MAGA web and followed the siren song of Q to the capitol before bleeding out for the president in the people’s house.

The machines ate the former Jeopardy! champion and left-wing Twitter pundit Arthur Chu, who wrote that Babbit was “a pile of meat that moved and spoke and acted like a person was made to stop moving, and thus could no longer fool people into thinking it was one of them.” He said of her death: “You should feel less bad than you do about putting down a rabid animal.”

When a person with a blue check mark openly calls another human being, a fellow citizen, a “pile of meat” you should be very worried about what comes next.

Babbitt, of course, was a QAnon/Trump fanatic, but it’s not clear that she deserved to die. (Investigation is pending.) Chu is, and always has been, an odious person. But there are people on the Left who are just a milder version of him, and are applauded for it—the same people so quick to excuse Babbitt’s killing because she was a Trumpophile. It’s that kind of dehumanization we need to avoid, and it’s Weiss’s forte to take on ideas rather than people. After quoting with approval some lachrymose (though useful) advice from her friend David Samuels, including the Beatles’ “all you need is love”, she also quotes this:

“. . . And please, whatever you do, don’t embrace anyone’s sweeping program for remedying historical injustice, because history’s victims are already dead—and soon, there will be plenty more of them. I can hear the sound of the engines revving up, even from here.”

More of that, please, and less of John Lennon. I’ll almost certainly sign up to read Weiss’s stuff (like Andrew Sullivan, it’s $50 per year), but I’ll wait a couple of weeks to see if Weiss has resumed her old ways and style. Note that she does allow comments, though I don’t know if she’ll read them.

In the meantime, she adds this, and note that the event is TOMORROW:

On Thursday (10 a.m. EST) I’ll be doing an event with Jonathan Haidt, Katie Herzog and Suzanne Moore on the state of the press. Sign up here. [JAC: Tickets are free.]

29 thoughts on “Bari Weiss is back

  1. I was glad to see her essay but disappointed in it and by how many centrists online immediately praised it as if it were poetry from heaven. And I genuinely like most of her writing. Just not this time.

    1. Well, just for the record, the thread you link to does not claim that, it claims that none of the [thirteen] rioters arrested at the time of writing were active Parler users. That’s rather different.

      1. I guess I need to copy/paste for you. My emphasis.

        Greenwald: “ Do you know how many of the people arrested in connection with the Capitol invasion were active users of Parler?

        Zero.

        The planning was largely done on Facebook. This is all a bullshit pretext for silencing competitors on ideological grounds: just the start.”

          1. You tell me. These seem very different:

            Coe saysl: “the thread you link to does not claim that”. Greenwald says Zero of the folk arrested used Parler.

            His assertion was intended to make the take-down of Parler seem to be the consequence of some sort of conspiracy/pretext for silencing people for no good reason. Some sort of nefarious action made to benefit Facebook(?) or unnamed others for whom Parler users are “competitors”. Ridiculous on its face, IMO.

            1. I do not know the ratio of Parler users and arrested Capitol trespassers. However, I share the assessment that the big tech corporations engaged in behaviour that can be legitimately described as violating antitrust regulations. Indeed, Facebook in particular did radicalise users, and so does Fox News, and yet, they aren’t outright deleted.

  2. I’ll almost certainly sign up to read Weiss’s stuff (like Andrew Sullivan, it’s $50 per year), …

    The problem (it seems to me) with the Substack business model is that, to me, none of the writers are quite worth $50 a year. I’d be willing to pay $5 each or $50 for all of them, but given how much there is on the internet, and given that I really like reading a range of voices, I can’t see myself subscribing to any one writer at $50 (and I say that as someone who happily tosses a few bucks to various people on Patreon). Am I undervaluing writing?

    1. I think there’s a sense in which you aren’t, given that there truly is a lot of good writing on the internet – more than we have time to read – available for much less than $50 per year, so the free market value probably isn’t that high. But I’ve also been saddened by how little the average person is willing to donate even to people and causes they believe in. One advocacy website I read has over 400,000 readers but only pulls in about $160,000 per year. That’s a whopping 40 cents per year on average… That said, if WEIT started charging money, I’d balk.

      I sometimes think that somebody needs to invent a technology that makes it extremely easy (as in a single mouse click) to donate a buck to a website. Having to dig out the credit card and go through a normal payment process seems like just too much for most people. But then, a technology that let a website take my money so easily is exactly the kind of insecure-sounding thing I’d never use…

      1. I thought that’s what Patreon and competitors do. You give them your credit card info once. Sites that want to allow donations create a Patreon account and then they can supply a “Donate a buck” button that, when clicked, allows you to donate a buck to them. Patreon takes a small percentage to maintain their business but everything is handled by their site.

  3. Amid the doom-scrolling, it is a relief to read a writer who steps back from the fray, and tries to be objective.

  4. I have to agree with you about the John Lennon quoting. I’m a rabid and lifelong Beatles fan, but I can’t quote “All You Need Is Love” without doing my Monty Python Spanish Inquisition version of it. I can’t help but then quote Lennon saying “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” and pointing out that he’s an excellent and horrible case in that point.

    I think I agree with Weiss’s take on Greenwald in that, while he’s fairly myopic and silly on many things (Sam Harris not the least), the important thing is that he and his opponents be able to SPEAK to each other, to discuss and debate, to disagree and even sometimes to agree, without it being a zero-sum WAR of words, without it being subject to Mao-ish conformity-versus-demonization and true-believerishness (bad neologism alert) but rather as an attempt to come ever closer to solutions to problems and to a deeper understanding of human beings, society, civilization and the potential future.

    It’s an incredibly complicated universe, especially here on the surface of the Earth, where nearly eight billion of the most complex nervous systems ever evolved are interacting in an ultra-social, spontaneously self-organized murmuration. It would be very surprising if any of us had come to the best single solution on nearly any issue, but I think on the free speech one, as often supported by PCC(E), and by people like Weiss, we’ve gotten pretty close.

    Sorry if that ended up being a bit tangential.

    1. “I think I agree with Weiss’s take on Greenwald in that, while he’s fairly myopic and silly on many things (Sam Harris not the least)”

      That is a very generous take on GG.

  5. (Sorry, this is a reply to Coel at #3. WordPress hiccuped on me.) I agree. That’s the problem with these sites, like Patreon, where you connect with just one person. It would probably be good if the sites allowed the creators to band together for a group subscription.

  6. Not much bite in this bit by Bari.

    The piece she she links to published in the German newspaper Welt is better, though still not up to her old standards.

    1. Perhaps the desire for bite (left or right) is part of the polarization of society? Heartbreaking edge cases, sweeping generalisations, can make exciting (modern) journalism. Arguably we need less excitement and more reason. YMMV.

    1. As I have said before on WEIT, Matt Taibbi is part of the regressive left circle of useful idiots who carry water for fashy war crime denial in Syria. Along with [grabs sick bucket] Katie Halper (his fellow ‘useful idiot’), Max Blumenthal, Nathan Lean, Vanessa Beeley, Rania Khalek, and various other ghouls, cranks, and freaks.

      1. I like Katie Halper and the Useful Idiots, and didn‘t see anything regressive in any of their podcasts, and I tune in regularily for a long time. On the contrary, she often argued against what she called “woke-washing” i.e. diversity in the ministry of war kind of stuff.

  7. Yet another person blaming the big, bad internet companies for our situation. They don’t want to be in the censorship business and they’ve said so repeatedly. You can tell this also by the fact that they mostly don’t act until public pressure forces them to. They are practically begging society and government to solve this problem for them.

    Why do smart people like Bari Weiss refuse to see this? Perhaps it is because these companies are seen to have created these platforms and, therefore, are responsible for everything that happens on them. IMHO, this is the wrong way to think about it. The mere existence of the internet, smart phones, desktop computers, etc. created an environment where the rise of social media was inevitable. These companies and many others created social media platforms in various configurations that their designers though would work best. I doubt that any of their designers thought in terms of censorship. Their first thought was to enable communication between people and somehow monetize it. Ironically, Twitter was criticized by investors in its early days as lacking a way for the company to make money from their platform. Their first and only thoughts were to create a platform that would be useful. I doubt very much that they thought about censorship much.

    The social media bans against Trump can be reversed at any time. Lawmakers, and the public that set their agenda, should be pushing for solving the social media problem and then getting the Big Tech companies, and the small ones too, to abide by it. This will work a lot better than beating them up and forcing them to apply ad hoc censorship.

    1. “Beating them {Facebook & co] up and forcing them to apply ad hoc censorship” is working pretty well for the people doing it. That’s a problem in itself, from my point of view. I would like a clue how to redirect the incentives for that kind of behavior, without breaking the good features of social media.

    2. I don’t really agree with your analysis that they don’t really want to censor, but are responding to public opinion.

      More to the point, they are responding to their own employees, of which many are woke activists, and they shout loudest. Many woke people seek jobs in such companies specifically to then use them to change society.

      Was there really a public clamour: Hey Apple, why is the Parler app still available? Hey Amazon, why are you still web-hosting Parler? I don’t think so (a clamour from a handful of woke activists, yes). Was there a clamour to take down Facebook, which, it seems, more of the capital rioters used (that’s not surprising, far more people use Facebook and Twitter than competitor sites)?

      Second, I really do think that are acting in cohort and defending monopoly positions. (That would hardly be surprising, big businesses do that.) Parler was growing fast, and Trump taking to it could have led to 10 million additional users. Twitter would not want that, it’s a business that cares about its market share.

      Third, they were sucking up the Democrats. With the Georgia Senate run-offs, the Democrats now have free-hand to regulate Big Tech as they see fit, and the Democrat leadership certainly is woke, or at least is appealing to the woke.

      1. What Democrat leadership is woke? I mean actually woke, not just someone that’s been labeled woke because they’ve said there is a problem with racism in the US or something similar? Could you name some names? Maybe half a dozen or so junior members, none that would qualify as leaders? Somewhere between 2 and 5 percent? The way you’ve stated it indicates you believe that the DP is controlled by the woke or has pursued a woke agenda. In short, it sounds completely inaccurate, hyperbolic even.

        At best it’s fearmongering about some possible future in which the woke achieve monopoly political power. Regarding the past and the present it is very inaccurate. The woke have not had and do not currently have and are not about to achieve significant political power and the DP is not significantly woke. Wokeism is a problem that we need to stay vigilant about and continue to oppose, but it is a minor problem compared to many other major problems. And it is not a significant contributor to our current political woes in the US. Yes, the woke have been a convenient boogeyman for the RP propaganda machines, but they are just the latest. The RP machine always finds, or creates if necessary, all the boogeymen they need to rally their base.

  8. “We were promised the Internet would be better than democracy. But then it got privatized.”

    Broadcast media were privatized from the very start—which permitted their domination by the
    advertising industry and the culture associated with it—but with a small but significant chink.
    This was the space in the FM band, below 92 mHz, reserved for non-commercial broadcasters. The
    mere existence of non-commercial radio—such as the Pacifica network and its congeners—created
    some of the pressure for a national public broadcasting system, which finally materialized with NPR
    and PBS in 1970. Admirable as the best of these (e.g., Ken Burns, Garrison Keilor, etc.) have been, their strongest point is still simply that they provide an alternative to the privatized (meaning advertisingized) commercial broadcast media. What we need is the construction of more and more alternatives for the on-line world.

  9. The idea that the internet ever promised to be ‘better than democracy’ is ludicrous to begin with. Like everything that gets mass appeal it eventually just becomes another race to the bottom of the Dunning-Kruger well. To paraphrase a person named after a certain dice game: “The internet is diametrically opposed to quality control”, and I think that’s fundamental.

    Twitter is only a public platform in name and should not be considered as such. From Pew:
    “As a result, much of the content posted by Americans on Twitter reflects a small number of authors. The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users.”

    And who are those users? Political activists (slightly more left-leaning than right leaning) and journalists. They are the people who decide what ends up in newspapers, on news sites and on television. The loudest voices are the most extreme ones. And none of this is because of how Twitter is run, it’s how Twitter is used. For some reason (Trump was a catalyst in my view) it was just decided that the only important political discourse now happens on a platform ruled by a few politically opposed extreme minorities, based on short messages that are the antithesis of public debate. This is not a town square. People like Weiss seem completely oblivious that there is still a very large part of political life that has no overlap with the online world. Trump is succeeding in what he set out to try, drag everyone to the extremes. Trump decided that Twitter was his base and because he was President everyone just seemed to follow. We have to stop falling for that con. Now that Trump is gone, so should his influence be.

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