Helen Pluckrose and her associates have just started a new site that will appeal to many here, especially those who may get in trouble for criticizing the Woke. It’s called “Counterweight“, and its motto is “Weighing in for liberalism.” I suppose its name comes from the fact that it counters the narrative of Wokeness and Critical Theory (remember, Pluckrose was one of the two authors of Cynical Theories, a must-read book), and because it remains a liberal site, dedicated to civility and humane values—but not to the tenets of Critical Theory! Their methods of combat appear to include Politeness but Firmness.
Click on screenshot to go to the site:
Counterweight exists for two reasons. First, to help those who are in trouble with the Offense Culture, who are getting canceled, and who need advice, assistance, lawyers and other professionals, and so on. In addition, they’re putting out material to counteract “Authoritarian Critical Social Justice” (the theory that I refer to as “Wokeness”). They have pretty impressive resources already.
Here’s their mission statement:
The leadership team is here, the academic affiliates are here (I’m one of them, and honored to join the impressive crew, which includes Steve Pinker, Sam Harris, Sarah Haider (btw, Haider just started a subscription Substack site, some of whose content is free), Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Alan Sokal, and others), and there are nine partner organizations, including Letters, Areo Magazine, the Free Speech Union, and Critical Discourses.
Further, there’s a YouTube channel, which already has six videos, including this introductory one:
Matt Taibbi, a former writer for Rolling Stone, where he published on a variety of stuff (including sports), has now moved his writing to Substack, along with many journalists who can’t find a comfortable home in the woke mainstream media. His penultimate piece at his TK News site is a funny but scary guide to, well, see the headline below. You can read the piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below:
These ludicrous woke attacks on nearly everything are funny—or would be if they didn’t bespeak a fundamental change in our culture. Granted, that change may be engineered by a minority of chowderheads, but they’re loud and they’re powerful. Taibbi presents what he sees as the 16 wokest stories of last year. I’ve written about a few, and will put asterisks next to those. Many I missed, so I’ve given Taibbi’s links to them along with my own brief summary of what the stories claimed.
First, though, a few words from Matt:
The year 2020 will be remembered in the real world for a terrifying pandemic, mass unemployment, a nationwide protest movement, and a historically uninspiring presidential race. The year in media, meanwhile, was marked by grotesque factual scandals, journalist-cheered censorship, and an accelerating newsroom mania for political groupthink that was equal parts frightening and ridiculous.
Some of the purges were themselves amazing news stories. A contractor named Sue Schafer was fired after the Washington Post published a 3,000-word expose about a two-year-old incident in which she attended a Halloween party dressed as Megyn Kelly, who herself had been fired from NBC for defending blackface costumes. Schafer, in other words, was fired for dressing in blackface as a satire of blackface costumes, in an incident no one heard of until the Post decided to make an issue of it. This was one example of what the New Yorker recently exulted as the “expensive and laborious” process of investigative journalism, as practiced in 2020.
2.) (Story uncovered) Here Taibbi faults the media for hypocrisy, covering stories with a Woke ideology but not covering similar stories that are unwoke. One example: decrying anti-lockdown protests as dangerous sources of infection, but not mentioning that the same thing was likely with anti-racist protests.
*3.) Huffington Post, April 23: “I teach at Oxford, but I don’t want it to win the coronavirus vaccine race.” A student and teacher of women’s studies at Oxford doesn’t want her school to create the vaccine first because, after all, Britain is white and colonialist, and an Oxford vaccine would just be a “white savior” story. Curiously, though, the head of the Oxford vaccine-development team was a woman. (My take is here.)
4.) NPR, June 6th: “Your Bookshelf May Be Part Of The Problem.” If your bookshelf contains almost no books by nonwhite authors, then you’re buying into white supremacy. Or, if you have books by people of color, you better be ready to accept them whole hog. As the author says, “Anti-racist books will only do a person good if they silence themselves first and enter into the reading — provided they care enough to do so.” Oy! SHUT UP AND READ—no thinking for yourself!
5.) Globe and Mail, September 5: “Is it time to decolonize your lawn?” (You’ll have to create free account.) Lawns symbolize not only control over nature, but the dispossession of indigenous people. They’re also an ecologically unfriendly monoculture and take too much resources to manage (I agree with this bit).
6.) ABC.com, July 1: “America’s national parks face existential crisis over race.” The workforce and visitors of parks are too white, creating an “existential race crisis.” The demeanor of rangers makes others feel “unsafe,” and there aren’t enough signs in Spanish. But as the author notes later in the piece, the implied racism may be something not invoving racism in the Park Service:
Lack of transportation to national parks and the cost of visiting were cited as the top reasons people — especially Black and Hispanic Americans — don’t visit them more often, according to the study. Twice as many black and Hispanic Americans said they don’t know what to do in national parks than whites. When asked if they share the same interests as people who visit national parks, 34% of Black respondents and 27% of Hispanics said no, compared with only 11% of whites.
The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).
9.) New York Times, June 29: “A White Gatekeeper of Southern Food Faces Calls to Resign.” A man in charge of a food organization that promoted southern food was white, despite his constant promotion of African-American food and help to African-American chefs and restaurants. His pigmentation seems to be the main problem.
*10.) Vice, August 13: “Dear White Vegans: Stop Appropriating Food.” First of all, cultural appropriation: “They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes. . “. There are also misconceptions that don’t seem to involve racism:
Black vegan influencer Tabitha Brown previously told VICE that before she cut out meat and dairy she thought vegans were “white ladies who do yoga.” White people and their blogs dominate the results when key terms like “vegans,” “vegetarians,” or “vegan recipes” are plugged into Google. Nital Jethalal, a board member for Toronto Vegetarians Association, told VICE News he has been putting together a conference for vegans and it has been a lot easier to find prominent panellists online who are white. “The problem is few people think to go to the second page of Google results,” Jethalal said.
12.) Refinery29, January 21, “The Dangerous Rise Of Men Who Won’t Date ‘Woke’ Women.” This all comes from one comment by Laurence Fox, which triggers author Vicky Spratt into a long tirade. But he’s only one guy! And of course there are lots of Republicans who won’t be happy with “woke” women, but they’re dangerous for other reasons. A quote:
So it is fitting that white man of the moment, Laurence Fox – who appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme and told a BAME audience member that Meghan Markle has not been on the receiving end of racism before subsequently appearing on the cover of The Sunday Times to tell the world that he does not “date woke women” and then displaying an appalling understanding of history by calling the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ film 1917 “incongruous” – has “irrespective” tattooed on his arm.
Did you hear that at the back, ladies? Laurence Fox – who you perhaps only knew as Billie Piper’s ex-husband because you’ve never seen Lewis (what?) – does not date “woke” women who he believes are being taught that they are “victims”, irrespective of whether they are right or not. He thinks that it’s “institutionally racist” to tell the story of the First World War in a racially diverse way, irrespective of the fact that Sikh soldiers absolutely fought for Britain. And he also doesn’t believe in white privilege, irrespective of the fact that he works in a painfully undiverse industry, was privately educated and comes from a wealthy acting family which is nothing short of a dynasty.
There’s nothing funny about the things Fox – or Wokey McWokeface as he now wants to be known – is saying. It’s also not particularly sad. It’s dangerous. He is just one very privileged man, and as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day in less public corners of the internet.
“. . . .it’s becoming clearer than ever that the conventional language used to describe wine isn’t merely intimidating and opaque. It’s also inextricable from racism and sexism, excluding dimensions of flavor that are unfamiliar to the white, Western cultures that dominate the world of fine wine and reinforcing retrograde notions of gender.”
Yes, but they are familiar to people who drink wine, although one of the biggest consumers of fine with are the Chinese, who don’t seem to be excluded from this “white Western culture.”
15.) Deadspin, June 22: “We’ve Lived with ‘The Masters’ Name Long Enough.” The golf tournament needs to be renamed because “at dictionary.com, one of the definitions you get for ‘master’ is ‘owner of a slave.’ But the first definition (I looked it up) is “a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something: a master of six languages; to be master of one’s fate.”
16.) Fast Company, June 15: “5 thoughtful ways to approach discussing racism at work.” Some of the tips are okay, but the entire article assumes that black people are uber-fragile and must be catered to in meetings at every turn, not treated as equals. It’s a prime example of “soft bigotry.” And here’s one invidious tip that Taibbi singles out:
DO BE MINDFUL OF OPENING UP MEETINGS AND INTERACTIONS WITH QUESTIONS LIKE “HOW ARE YOU?” OR “HOW WAS YOUR WEEKEND?”
Recognize that by doing so, you can potentially be re-triggering what your Black colleagues are experiencing or dismissing their experience by pretending all is normal. It’s not and hasn’t been for a long time.
This I don’t get. Is the assumption here that one’s black colleagues have very different kinds of weekends than we do? And this “re-triggering” trope is arrant nonsense.
So that’s it, and I should have kept a list like Taibbi’s. These are all articles that espouse a woke point of view, but there are many more articles about the dangers of Wokeitude than these, including the many I’ve written about “progressive”, authoritarian Leftism in colleges and the media.
I see that Quillette is now being demonized by many Leftists as some sort of “alt-right” or conservative website. And although some of their articles are indeed too Right-wing for me, most of the articles seem to be doing what I do—calling out the excesses of the Left, the same excesses that, I suspect, held back the predicted Blue Wave in November’s election. Further, it’s not a good idea to denigrate an entire website as a way of avoiding—or urging others to avoid—reading anything published there. Regardless of what you see as Quillette‘s overall ideology, you will benefit from reading some of its pieces, if for no other reason than some of the follies of the Left, which threaten a liberal government, simply can’t be found in mainstream media.
Here is one piece that will repay reading, although it’s long (my printout, in 9-point type, occupies 14 pages). This should keep you occupied on a cold December Saturday:
In some ways it’s nothing really new: the piece describes a meltdown at Haverford College, a posh and expensive school near Philadelphia. What’s unusual about this is that the students went on strike for several weeks, refusing to go to classes or, indeed, do anything college-related. What’s not new is that they issued a set of demands to the administration: the usual mix of the ridiculous to the tame. And the administration, to placate the outraged students, accepted nearly every one of those demands.
To me it’s a scary harbinger of my own school which, despite holding the line on some aspects of free speech, is showing worrying signs of encroaching wokeness. I’m worried that the University of Chicago will go the way of Yale, Middlebury College, Harvard, and now Haverford. But more on that in weeks to come.
The author of the piece, Jonathan Kay, is the Canadian editor of Quillette, and has cobbled together a thorough and engrossing summary of Haverford’s meltdown. I’ll try to be brief, as I want to discuss his views on the future of fulminating college wokeness.
Earlier this year, before the death of George Floyd on May 25, Haverford was pretty much a school of comity. While there was discussion about various issues, there was not much about race, and a college committee in 2019 noted that there was, as Kay says, “little indication of mass discontent or ideological conflict.” This contrasts markedly with the many statements in the next few months, including some by administrators admitting that Haverford had long been a bastion of systemic racism.
All that changed with the death of Floyd and then the police shooting in Philadelphia on October 26 of another black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was bipolar and carrying a knife. Because it wasn’t clear that the cops had a good reason to fire on Wallace, this predictably led to rioting in Philadelphia. Earlier, the racial unrest of the summer had led the College’s President, Wendy Raymond, to issue a statement of support for the black protestors, and the students began protesting the alleged racism of Haverford and issuing lists of demands.
After Wallace’s death, President Raymond and Interim Dean Joyce Bylander (the latter a black woman) issued a joint letter of anti-racism, but made the mistake of saying that students shouldn’t go to Philadelphia to protest because they could get infected with Covid-19 or “play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” (It’s not clear whom they meant.)
This statement (like others, reproduced in the article), urging students not to put themselves in “harm’s way”, enraged those students, who saw in it a line drawn between the poor black residents of Philadelphia and the entitled bubble of Haverford students. A Zoom call ensued on November 5 in which the President, the black Interim Dean, and the black Provost, Linda Strong-Lee, talked to many of Haverford’s 1350 students. The students proceeded to revile the administrators in the call, as usual, but did so anonymously.
And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:
Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”
Not only did Raymond announce that she would be acceding to many of the students’ previously listed demands, she also reacted positively to the new requests that students put forward during the call. “All of the recommendations you’ve made here sound spot on and are excellent,” she said. “We can do those—and go beyond them.”
“I’ll just share that I hear your pain, and I know that this is something that rings hollow for you, but I am a black woman who has lived in a black body for 56 years,” responded Strong-Leek, in carefully measured tones that, among all the responses from administrators, seemed closest to escalating into something approaching candor. “My husband is black. My children are black. Every day, I worry about them and myself. Every day, I confront racism. [I’m] Looking forward to working with you and looking forward to making Haverford a better place.” She seemed to be fighting back her own emotions, but ultimately kept her composure.
The Interim Dean:
“I continue to listen and learn, and try to understand the ways in which the college has failed you and how I have failed you,” Dean Bylander calmly responds, ticking off seemingly well-rehearsed talking points. “[I] continue to be committed to trying to work to change and improve the experience of BIPOC students at Haverford.” Her face is a mask of deadpan professionalism. Or maybe she’d simply gone numb.
Eventually, the College acceded to virtually all the students’ demands. But by then the students had gone on strike, refusing to attend classes or extracurricular activities, with the intent being to disrupt the college, make them see how valuable people of color were in running the College, and to spend their time doing teach-ins and reading anti-racist literature. The strike lasted three weeks.
It wasn’t enough that there was a strike, for the striking students tried to punish those “scab” professors who insisted on holding classes during the strike as well as those students who opposed the strike, the latter keeping quiet lest they be forever demonized. Alumni banded together threatening to withhold donations to Haverford unless the students’ demands were met (this is a particularly effective way to effect college change: smack them in the pocketbook).
Social-media statements like this circulated (“Peanuts” is President Raymond’s dog, for crying out loud, and the poor mutt was threatened multiple times with death):
All of a sudden, where comity had reigned, the students, administration, and alumni discovered that all along the school had been a bastion of racism and bigotry:
The students appeared on Zoom under pseudonyms plucked from a list of past Haverford presidents and benefactors. The idea, a strike organizer self-identifying as “Henry Drinker” is heard to say at the 12:20 mark, was to co-opt the names “of the old white men who have made Haverford the racist institution that it is today.”
. . . These details help contextualize the mass email that Dean Bylander and President Raymond sent to the school community on October 28th, a six-paragraph message that student strikers would cite in the days that followed as proof of the “long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”
From an article in the college newspaper by a student named Soha Saghir:
This campus has failed its Black students (especially Black women and Black nonbinary people), its students of color, and its FGLI [first-generation low-income] students—the very people whose labor is the backbone of this campus. These emails [from the administration] were just one more way in which you and this institution neither feel nor understand how tired, angry, and ready for change we are… In this pandemic, that labor has intensified in unimaginable ways… We are no longer asking for inclusion or diversity since that gives more power to the institution. Instead, we will disrupt that order. We will be going on a strike from our classes, our jobs (which we need), and any extracurricular activities. This campus can’t run without BIPOC. This is not just a reminder that we are valuable to you on campus, but that our lives, minds, and bodies matter.
There’s more, but what’s clear is that all of a sudden students discovered that the school, once peaceful and inclusive, was really a hotbed of racism. Did the school change in such a short period of time, or did outraged students confect a “structural racism” that didn’t exist.
I opt for the latter, having long lived on a liberal campus where such recent accusations fly in the face of the facts.
What bothers me about Kay’s piece is what looks like a correct diagnosis of why the administration caved completely to the students, abasing themselves, losing their dignity, and admitting to an institutional bigotry which didn’t exist. It’s because the administration has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by standing up to the students. If true, that doesn’t give me much hope:
When campus meltdowns of this type occur, you often see conservative culture warriors demand that administrators take a hard line, demonstrate backbone, “grow a spine,” and so forth. But what is their incentive for doing so? It was once the case that a university president was able to balance different constituencies against one another as a means to achieve some kind of policy equilibrium—liberal students versus more conservative professors, administrators against alumni, this department versus that. But that doesn’t happen anymore: Thanks to the homogenizing effects of social media, all of these constituencies tend to be drinking the same bathwater from the same troughs, and so get caught up in the same social panics at the same time.
And Kay’s solution seems lame: “eventually the trend will reverse itself, and that will be prompted by the students themselves.” Dream on, Mr. Kay: I don’t see this happening:
The process of sifting through these events at Haverford has convinced me that the ideological crisis on American campuses can’t be solved by administrators—not because they are beholden to critical race theory, intersectionality, gender ideology, postmodernism, or any of the other bugbears of conservative culture critics, but because they simply have no practical inducements for doing so. Ultimately, this is a crisis that is going to have to be addressed, if at all, by students themselves. And in this regard, I do see some green shoots of hope. Nick Lasinsky, a white undergraduate student at Haverford, wrote a beautiful and thoughtful piece called Why I’ve Chosen Not to Strike. And a black student named Khalil Walker wrote an amazing series of comments in which he demolishes the idea that Haverford is a hive of systematic racism. Our culture moves in cycles, and I predict that you will see more of these brave voices in months to come.
I predict otherwise. These woke and outraged students will, since they come from elite colleges, get positions of leadership in the media as well as in other colleges, for many of them will go on to become academics and administrators. And that will make colleges even more woke, and so on. There’s nothing on the horizon to break that cycle.
As I worry about this fate for my own university (our hard-line President, Bob Zimmer, will resign at the end of this academic year), I spend too much time—especially for an emeritus professor—fretting about the University of Chicago. For decades, we were the beacon of freedom of speech and academic freedom among American colleges. This uniqueness was in fact a selling point of the University, who advertised it to potential students and their parents. But it’s crumbling.
Now we stand on an equipoise that could easily turn us into Haverford, especially because many of our students are just as woke as theirs. While I still fight for freedom of speech here, it’s getting harder and harder, and the opposition gets louder and louder. What’s freedom of speech compared to the “harm” you cause by speaking your mind?
Before too long, we may see the time when the University of Chicago is no longer the model for colleges that want to encourage all sorts of discussion and discourage none. And I find that prospect discouraging.
You may not be eager to listen to advice from a conservative about how the Left is tearing itself apart, but all Stephens is saying in his latest NYT column (click on screenshot) is what I’ve been saying for a while: it’s not going to help the Left further its agenda if it keeps engaging in internecine struggles between the “progressives” and the centrists. Since Americans have just proven themselves more willing to support the centrist program, you can’t argue that the centrists should step aside for people like Bernie Sanders or “the squad”. (I hasten to add that some of their ideas are good ones, like universal healthcare and parts of the Green New Deal, but their program as a whole won’t help the center hold. Nor will demonizing everyone who voted for Trump.)
Ergo, I suggest that the best tactic is not only to adopt a less-extreme Democratic agenda, but also (and this may be futile) try compromising more with right-centrists (compromise with most Republicans, though, is hopeless). I’ll let you read Stephens’s op-ed yourself, and then I’ll give a few quote, and let you hash it out while I’m getting drilled:
What, today, is leftism, at least when it comes to intellectual life? Not what it used to be. Once it was predominantly liberal, albeit with radical fringes. Now it is predominantly progressive, or woke, with centrist liberals in dissent. Once it was irreverent. Now it is pious. Once it believed that truth was best discovered by engaging opposing points of view. Now it believes that truth can be established by eliminating them. Once it cared about process. Now it is obsessed with outcomes. Once it understood, with Walt Whitman, that we contain multitudes. Now it is into dualities: We are privileged or powerless, white or of color, racist or anti-racist, oppressor or oppressed.
The list goes on. But the central difference is this: The old liberal left paid attention to complexity, ambiguity, the gray areas. A sense of complexity induced a measure of doubt, including self-doubt. The new left typically seeks to reduce things to elements such as race, class and gender, in ways that erase ambiguity and doubt. The new left is a factory of certitudes.
And what? A conservative shows some humor?:
For the new left — and the publications that champion it — the loss is much greater. It makes them predictable, smug and dull. It alienates readers. A current article on the New York magazine website is titled, “I Think About Björk’s Creativity Animal a Lot.” For gems such as this they got rid of Sullivan?
But I think Stephens has a point, not just about Björk, but about the Left in general. The polarization that’s occurred, largely at the instigation of the take-no-prisoners “progressives”, has made liberal political progress harder. If you’re white but not a racist (yes, they exist, contra Robin DiAngelo), being called a racist or someone filled with unconscious bias makes you take a harder stand on “anti-racism”. Similarly, damning all who voted for Trump as “racists” and “deplorables” is a losing strategy, particularly given the large numbers of women, blacks, and Hispanics who voted for Trump this time around. This is why Biden keeps harping on his desire for compromise and comity, and emphasizing that, Republicans or Democrats, we’re all Americans.
Perhaps this is pie in the sky. But it’s worth a try. Stephens:
The apparent inability of many on the left to entertain the thought that decent human beings might have voted for Trump for sensible reasons — to take one example, the unemployment rate reached record lows before the pandemic hit — amounts to an epic failure to see their fellow Americans with understanding, much less with empathy. It repels the 73 million Trump voters who cannot see anything of themselves in media caricatures of them as fragile, bigoted, greedy and somewhat stupid white people.
It also motivates them. The surest way to fuel the politics of resentment — the politics that gave us the Tea Party, Brexit and Trump, and will continue to furnish more of the same — is to give people something to resent. Jeering moral condescension from entitled elites is among the things most people tend to resent.
Which brings me back to the flight of the contrarians. As the left (and the institutions that represent it) increasingly becomes an intellectual monoculture, it will do more than just drive away talent, as well as significant parts of its audience. It will become more self-certain, more obnoxious to those who don’t share its assumptions, more blinkered and more frequently wrong.
To the enemies of the left, the self-harm that left-leaning institutions do with their increasingly frequent excommunications is, ultimately, good news. The mystery is why liberals would do it to themselves.
Of course the Right is far from immune to this kind of intranecine fighting (remember the “Lincoln Project’?), and they engage in their own form of demonizing their opponents. But we can be better than our opponents.
One of the comments I get a lot—both on this site and in private emails—is that I spend too much time bashing the Left rather than going after Trump and his minions. I’ve tried to respond repeatedly, but somehow my message doesn’t get through.
So let me say this again. I am a liberal, a Democrat, and I despise Trump and what the Republican party has become—and has been for a long time. Trump is a serious danger to the American republic, and getting rid of him in November should be the highest priority of anyone who cares about America. He is a bully, a narcissist, and deeply unhinged; in fact, I suspect he’s got some neurodegenerative condition, though it may only be fulminating and acute narcissism.
Okay, got that?
Now I could spend a lot of time, as many Left-wing writers do on their websites, excoriating Trump and calling out his follies (in fact, I do that a fair amount). But then there would be nothing to set me apart from the gazillions of Leftists who write nearly identical can-you-believe-this-man articles about the horrors of Trump and Trumpism. I don’t want to just say “me too” in post after post about Trump. It’s terribly boring for me.
Instead, I have found a comfortable niche calling out the excesses of the Left. I do this for several reasons: to try keeping my side of the spectrum fairly pure, sane, and non-hypocritical, because I fear that these excesses may help Trump gain a second term, and because I don’t think people see these excesses reported in the mainstream media (“MSM”, as it’s now called). Sure, you can see them reported by the gloating right-wing media: Fox News, Breitbart, and college sites like Campus Reform. But most readers here don’t read those sites, and a lot of what they write about is exaggerated, and certainly biased toward the Right. Readers here are definitely left of center, and so perhaps I can inform them a bit. It’s not that I set out to cater to the political tastes of a known group of readers (that’s what the New York Times does), but that readers have gravitated here because, I guess, they want to read what I have to say, and to chime in with other people who are largely (but not completely) like minded.
So I write about what interests me, and what interests me more than just getting rid of Trump, about which I can do little save vote (and call him out from time to time), is staving off the fulminating wokeness of the Left. Andrew Sullivan does that, too, though he’s more to the right than I, and there are others in the Left-wing niche, like Jesse Singal. That niche is comfortably spacious, and I enjoy occupying it more than I would adding one more Trump-bashing post to those that fill the Internet.
But it behooves us from time to time to remember that our main goal has to be the expulsion of Trump from the White House. And rather than say it myself, let me quote another Leftie, the estimable Nick Cohen. In his latest piece in the Guardian, Cohen, who’s done his share of Left-bashing, reminds us that the Right is worse than the Left (though perhaps not a lot worse than the most extreme members of the Left). But the Right has power, and the radical Left doesn’t.
Click on the screenshot to read it:
Here are a few quotes from Cohen’s piece:
. . . in this terrible year, it is worth saying that moral equivalence is not the same as practical equivalence. As the world stands, the fight against the radical right is a fight for the preservation of liberal democracy. The fight against the far left is a fight for justice for the individual denied the freedom to express his or, and more frequently today, her opinions without post-Stalinist inquisitors demanding she confesses her ideological crimes or lose her job.
Both fights are essential but the difference in scale is so enormous it barely makes sense to put them in the same category. The best way I can explain why is to imagine an American announcing they were voting for Donald Trump because they were repelled by how the New York Times and US universities had removed journalists and academics who would not bow their heads and bite their tongues. You would, I think, tell them that their sense of proportion was so out of balance it was a wonder they did not topple over. Trump has the power to threaten the American constitution. He has stuffed his administration with cronies and relatives, and damned thousands of Americans to needless deaths from Covid-19. He is hoping to retain power by encouraging far-right terrorism and ballot rigging. Given the anarchic glee that Trump and the Republicans display when they block defensive measures against global warming, his defeat is a necessity not just for the United States but for humanity.
I don’t deny that leftish cultural influence is a form of power. If you are forced out of your job in a university or publisher, or told what you can and cannot teach, think and write, it is a power that can crush you. But political power with the ability to crush tens of millions of people is in the hands of the radical right. And not just in the United States. Britain, Hungary, Poland, Russia, India, Turkey, Brazil and the Philippines are democracies that have been taken over by governments that to varying degrees despise independent checks and are determined to humble any institution that might curb them.
. . . However vicious it may be, the far left has not overrun the western centre-left as the radical right has overrun mainstream conservatism. Labour MPs were willing to give up their careers to fight against antisemitism and the toleration of totalitarian ideas and regimes. Compare that with the US, where only Mitt Romney and a handful of Republican politicians have risked losing office by fighting to stop their party becoming Trump’s personality cult. British Conservatives who were prepared to oppose the national catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit were either purged by Johnson, in an example of the Stalinism on the right, or walked away from the party in despair at the last election. They showed a courage their successors lack. With only months to go before we could crash out of the single market and customs union, no prominent Conservative politician is prepared to speak for the national interest or even debate it.
Conservatives have written with accuracy about how cancel culture and political correctness have moved disgusted voters rightwards. They always forget to mention that the converse also applies. Trump has destroyed America as an example for the world to follow and authorised every reaction against it. Extremism begets extremism. When you have an unapologetic racist as American president, all opposition is legitimate and the most zealous opposition can feel the most legitimate of all. As I say, you should not have to choose. But if you must, fight the power that presents the greatest threat, because once the far right is defeated, it will be easier to fight the far left.
I agree with all of this, so let this stand as the way I feel about the Right versus the Left— in America, the UK, and the other countries Cohen mentions above.
And while I’m at it, you won’t often see criticisms of Islam, or the theocratic perfidies of Islamic countries, in the Left-wing media. But you’ll find those critiques here.
This is just one more item in my continuing documentation of universities acting insanely when they don’t want to anger the Woke. This one is unbelievable, involving punishing a professor who, by any rational standard, didn’t do anything wrong. But this happens more and more these days.
So, from yahoo! News, which took it from the National Review, we have an article about Greg Patton, a professor at the University of Southern California who was admonished and then placed on leave when he used a Chinese phrase that sounds like the n-word. Click on the screenshot to read the piece:
Greg Patton, a professor at the university’s Marshall School of Business, was giving a lecture about the use of “filler words” in speech during a recent online class when he used the word in question, saying, “If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”
In conversation, you may find yourself at a loss for words, unable to find the correct phrase you are looking for, or simply needing time to gather your thoughts. When you experience this feeling, in English, you may say “umm” or “uhhh” or another filler word. In Chinese, the word for this is 那个 (nèige). (The word 那个 can be pronounced both “nàge” and “nèige,” but for this usage, “nèige” is normally used.)
Here’s the video of the offending statement; it’s pretty clear that he is not making a racial slur! Nevertheless, somebody must have complained.
USC issued a statement to the right-wing website Campus Reform about Patton’s punishment:
In a statement to Campus Reform, USC said Patton “agreed to take a short term pause while we are reviewing to better understand the situation and to take any appropriate next steps.” Another instructor has stepped in to teach the class in the meantime.
“Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English. We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language,” the university said in a statement.
USC is now “offering supportive measures to any student, faculty, or staff member who requests assistance,” the statement added, saying the school is “committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”
This is unbelievable. The man utters a pretty well-known Chinese filler phrase, and is demonized and placed on leave because the phrase sounds like a racial slur in English. But he neither uttered a racial slur nor had any intention to do so. Nevertheless, he’s punished, the University debases itself and then offers support to people who were offended. How can something like Patton’s grammar lesson make people feel “unsafe”. If they say that, well, I don’t have to believe that so-called lived experience. It is an offense culture where you must pretend to be offended, even if you aren’t.
This is madness, but madness is, as they say, “the new normal.” It’s as if someone referred to a “chink in one’s armor” and got reported for using a slur against the Chinese.
Eve Fairbanks is a journalist from South Africa, and her national origins play a substantial part in this rather weak essay on free speech in the Washington Post (click on the screenshot).
Increasingly, I find long-form op-eds in both the New York Times and the Washington Post—the two sources I’m subscribed to besides Andrew Sullivan’s website—that are written so poorly, so discursively, and so loosely, that you can’t ascertain what the point is. Or, at least, if I do see a point, it could have been conveyed in half the allotted space. Such is the “outlook” piece above.
As far as I can see from hacking my way through Fairbanks’s logorrhea, she argues that the liberals who decry “cancel culture,” like the ones who signed the Harper’s letter, are in effect “bullies” trying to police people in the guise of promoting free speech. On the other side stands the social justice group who “historically have been cut out of publishing, policymaking, and institutional leadership.” Not that the first group doesn’t have a point, Fairbanks argues. And of course only bigots or conservatives would oppose the second group.
It’s just that there’s a third way—Fairbanks’s way—and the way, she says, that South Africa has gone to a salubrious end. And this way is the best way, because it worked. Here’s her Third Way:
But there’s also a third group, one that may be quieter than the other two. These are American liberals who have, indeed, witnessed events or exchanges that made them feel uneasy — online debates in which a speaker’s character is inferred from one or a handful of tweets out of 16,000; episodes in which authors agree to withdraw upcoming books after accusations of insensitivity. This third group of liberals recognizes that some of what troubles the Harper’s letter-writers is happening. Simultaneously, though, they think that the problems identified by the first group are real: Whole groups of people have been underrepresented in American life and should, at this juncture, be listened to more attentively.
In fact, I’m not sure that Fairbanks even gave the Harper’s letter a fair reading. For it begins with precisely the same trope:
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.
Throughout the piece, she tries to denigrate the Harper’s letter on several grounds, none of which hold up. For one things, we read above that the signatories of that letter do recognize the need for “greater equity and inclusion,” and several have a history of that kind of work, so we can dismiss Fairbank’s “third way” complaint on those grounds alone.
What about the “bullying”? That, too, is bizarre.
What’s more, these liberals — I’m one of them — often have the frustrating sense that they’re being bullied by the very people who claim that their motivation is to uphold free speech. It’s inescapable, the observation that the pro-free-speech activists exhibit the behavior they ostensibly claim to be fighting: invoking blinding moral certainty, belittling people who disagree with them or threatening them with lawsuits. They claim to celebrate debate but don’t countenance any disagreement about the degree of threat to free speech.
Check out the two links that supposedly show bullying: one is a petulant tweet, the other Bari Weiss speculating about a workplace harassment complaint at the New York Times. The latter is illegal, and so the “blinding moral certainty” can be adjudicated by the courts should Weiss bring a lawsuit, which I suspect she won’t. Two links like that do not give powerful support for “bullying”. In contrast, there is real and substantial evidence for the bullying of cancel culture participants, like that of Rebecca Tuvel, threatened and professionally humiliated for merely drawing philosophical comparisons between transsexualism and transracism.
As for the last sentence of the paragraph above, that’s complete bullpuckey. It’s not as if the advocates of free speech assert it as an unarguable right, for many of them, including Steve Pinker, and, formerly Christopher Hitchens (not a signatory), have actually explained why free speech is necessary in its “hard” form. (I’ve argued that, too, but wasn’t a signatory.) Fairbanks’s claim to the contrary is wrong. There is article after article by liberals explaining the need for and virtues of free speech.
Fairbanks goes on (and on and on), but then raises a very bizarre argument, saying that other people whom we find odious have also argued for free speech, including George Wallace and Rush Limbaugh. And yes, they may have made these arguments in the service of bigotry, but this is basically a kind of ad hominem argument: because reprobates have argued for free speech, there must be something wrong with it.
Fairbanks’s last argument is this:
I came to feel that the speech argument was often wielded by people who worried that their points may be weak. I’ve felt that way about its use on the left, too. Think about its equivalent, rhetorically, in a marital fight: “I can’t believe you’re upset about this.” Such a statement positions the speaker as the rational one and burdens the other party to hedge himself so as not to sound hysterical. It also deflects the argument from its true subject to a dispute over its form — the other person’s way of presenting their complaint. In the Harper’s letter, and in other recent exhortations to the left to protect free speech, there’s a striking absence of any ideas. What propositions do these writers wish they were able to offer? But naming those ideas would open them up again to scrutiny and discussion.
Sorry, but this is also misguided on two fronts. While free-speech advocates do call out people for engaging in bizarre forms of cancellation (the General Tso’s chicken kerfuffle at Oberlin and the Kimono Kerfuffle at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are two examples), but they do more then highlight the abuses of cancel culture: they explain why they are ludicrous. Need I mention the many people who have defended “cultural appropriation” as a virtue rather than a vice, and done so with actual arguments? T
But the Harper’s letter was meant to highlight a more serious problem: people losing their jobs and reputations for being ideologically impure, often in a trivial way. And “absence of ideas”? What about the idea that we need to ratchet down a culture that tries to hurt people’s lives and reputations for words that don’t deserve such treatment? What does Fairbanks want the signatories to do? The letter was meant to prompt discussion about a problem, not to solve it. But I can offer one solution: inculcate all college first-year students with a unit on free speech.
In the end, Fairbanks raises her own country as an example of how the Third Way succeeded:
As in America, South Africans who resisted the firing of a columnist or the renaming of a building expressed the most alarm not for the present but for a putative future. They treated these events as harbingers of much more extreme reprisals to come: Give the people who want to “cancel” things a hand, they said, and they’ll take the whole arm, and eventually we’ll be living in a “1984”-like dystopia. You have to push back hard and early.
I believe that many who made this fearful argument really did harbor this concern. The discrimination against South Africans of color was so great over such a long time that — if they truly were liberated from social norms to be cordial — the assumption was that they would seek a comprehensive revenge. But they didn’t. Their demands to rename buildings or exclude offensive rhetoric were not mere bitter performances. Once some buildings were renamed and some academics’ reputations downgraded, they, and the country, mostly moved on.
Now I can’t speak directly to how things are going there, as I know little about the culture or, in particular, South Africa’s cancel culture. Grania, were she alive, would have something to say about this.
Clearly the “truth and reconciliation” attitude achieved great things in South Africa, but that was about apartheid and its enforcers, and surely the employment of “cancel culture” would have had a much more violent and divisive effect. A liberal attitude, however, might mandate the very actions of which Fairbanks approves.
Her “solution” is apparently to let the mob tear down statues and impose censorship on “hate speech” and, never fear, cancel culture will vanish of its own accord. Well, what we get is vandalism of Gandhi statues because of his one-time (and self repudiated) bigoted statements), and calls to “decolonize” (i.e., destroy) science by empowering superstition as another way of knowing.” This is a well known video from the University of Cape Town:
Like all the criticisms of the Harper’s letter, Fairbanks’s seems overly captious and misguided. After all, the gist of the letter is simply “treat people fairly, be charitable, and don’t try to injure their lives and reputations for trivialities.” How much is there to object to in that? But to say “not much” is to misunderstand the Authoritarian Left or, in this case, Fairbanks’s so-called Third Way.
I’ve now finished Pluckrose’s and Lindsay’s new book, and can recommend it to readers (it has a pretty good position on Amazon though it won’t come out till August 25). Click on screenshot to go to the Amazon site:
It’s more academic than I imagined and less of a screed against Social Justice (which they capitalize to indicate the woke version against classical “liberal” social justice), but I found that emphasis refreshing. While casting aspersions on the value of “Social Justice”, they spend much more time drawing out its roots in Postmodernism, which transformed itself into what they call “Theory”: the postmodern philosophy of activism that has two tenets. Their characterization of “modern” postmodernism involve these propositions (quoted from p. 31 of their book):
The postmodern knowledge principle. Radical skepticism about whether objective knowledge or truth is obtainable and a commitment to cultural constructivism.
The postmodern political principle. A belief that society is formed of systems of power and hierarchies, which decide what can be known and how.
We can dismiss the first one for reasons I’ve discussed before; the second is the basis for all “Social Justice” activism.
Their schema involves four “themes” of postmodernism: the blurring of boundaries, the power of language, cultural relativism, and the loss of the individual and the universal. The last principle involves a vision of society as a mixture of identity groups competing for power: a zero-sum jockeying to oppress others, with cis white males currently on top.
And this last idea, the replacement of the universal and the individual with competing groups, made me think (the book is good at promoting thought), and then realize why, when I was such a big advocate of the goals of the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties—at least instantiated by Martin Luther King and his followers—I am much more dubious about today’s Civil Rights movement as embodied in the Black Lives Matter program. Although I abhor the use of violence to attain any political goal, and there’s a lot of tacit endorsement or ignoring of demonstrators’ violence in the modern movement (I’m not exculpating the police here), in contrast with the foundational nonviolence of Dr. King, that’s not the main reason I am less enthusiastic about the current wave of antiracism. Yes, the goal of both movements was equality, but the modern movement comes with an emphasis on group identities that I see as repellant and ultimately divisive.
The passage below from Cynical Theories (p. 261) was sort of an epiphany for me, and I’ve copied it out:
. . . the critical approach to Social Justice encourages tribalism and hostility by its aggressively divisive approach. Whereas the Civil Right Movements worked so well because they used a universalist approach—everybody should have equal rights—that appealed to human intuitions of fairness and empathy, Social Justice uses a simplistic identity politics approach which ascribes collective blame to dominant groups—white people are racist, men are sexist, and straight people are homophobic. This explicitly goes against the established liberal value of not judging people by their race, gender, or sexuality, and it is incredibly naive to expect it not to produce a counter-revival of old right-wing identity politics. Arguments that it is acceptable to be prejudices against white people, men, straight, or cisgender people because of historical power imbalances do not work well with human intuitions of reciprocity.
If a majority feels threatened by a vocal minority with institutional power, it is likely to try to change those institutions, and not merely because of paranoid fears about losing dominance and privilege once had. If it becomes socially acceptable to speak of “whiteness” and call for punishment of anyone who can be interpreted as expressing “anti-blackness,” this will be experienced as unfair by white people. If it becomes acceptable to pathologize masculinity and speak hatefully of men while being hypersensitive to anything that can be called “misogyny,” almost half the population (as well as much of the other half who loves them), is likely to take this badly. If cisgender people, who are 99.5 percent of the population, are accused of transphobia for simply existing, failing to use the correct terminology, allowing genitals to influence their dating preferences, or even having non-queer Theory beliefs about gender, this is likely to result in much unfair antagonism against trans people (most of whom do not believe in this either).
As a classical liberal (or so I see myself), I have an instinctive revulsion towards the practice of dividing society up into competing groups and demonizing them on an oppression scale. Yes, of course we need to work towards equity, for the residual effects of slavery and bigotry are still bloody obvious in society. Dr. King’s tactics went a long way toward rectifying inequalities: who can deny that minorities are better off now than, say, in 1960?
Still, I fear that division and identity politics won’t be so efficacious—for reasons outlined by the authors above. (They also discuss the “negative stereotypes” created by Theory, including the infantilization of women and the “soft bigotry” against blacks as instantiated by the “white culture” posters at the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the patronizing tone of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragilitycriticized by John McWhorter in his review of the book.)
And I resent any movement that makes the untestable claim that all white people not only have benefited from “privilege”, but are imbued with often unconscious bigotry. Or that males are inherently misogynistic, and we inhabit a “rape culture.” You wouldn’t hear Dr. King making divisive claims like that, for his appeal was to unity: to universal sentiments that were not personal attacks but irresistible appeals to justice.
Now many of us (Including to some extent me) have been cowed by Social Justice advocates into silence, for who wants to be labeled a bigot, a sexist, or a transphobe? Further, I constantly hear that we’re wasting our time on criticizing our own side: that we have bigger fish to fry, including a large smelly one named Trump. Why don’t I just become like HuffPost and write about the odiousness of Trump all the time? But divisiveness is just want Trump wants; he uses it all the time to try to promote his moribund campaign for President. More important, when the Democrats win in the fall, and the college students have moved on to grasp the levers of power in the media and government, I don’t want to face fighting an Authoritarianism of the Left, with its cancel culture, demands, and policing of speech. To prevent that, we need to start pushing back now on the extreme Left.
So I was heartened by Pluckrose and Lindsay’s final couple of pages in which they promote not only open criticism of the pernicious and authoritarian form of Social Justice, but put forth positive principles of classical liberalism. You can, and should, read that for yourself. I’ll quote only one more paragraph:
The solution is liberalism, both political (universal liberalism is an antidote to the postmodern political principle) and in terms of knowledge production (Jonathan Rauch’s “liberal science” is the remedy for the postmodern knowledge principle). You don’t need to become an expert on Jonathan Rauch’s work, or on John Stuart Mill, or on any of the great liberal thinkers. Nor do you need to become well versed in Theory and Social Justice scholarship, so that you can confidently refute it. But you do need to have a little bit of courage to stand up to something with a lot of power. You need to recognize Theory when you see it, and side with the liberal responses to it—which might be no more complicated than saying, “No, that’s your ideological belief, and I don’t have to go along with it.”
This book will help you recognize Theory when you see it, and then you’ll start seeing it everywhere: in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, in the petulant acts of cancel culture, and on most every college campus in America.
A reader recommended that I read some stuff by Matt Taibbi, a podcaster, writer, and contributing editor for Rolling Stone. I was advised that I might find Taibbi ideologically compatible (indeed, he appears to specialize in calling out the excesses of the Left), although you’ll have to pay if you want to subscribe to his site. In particular, I was urged to read the piece below (click on the screenshot), and while I found it intriguing and in line with my own views, I also found it a bit incoherent, and so haven’t been enthused by this single specimen of his writing.
Taibbi’s thesis, embodied in the title, is that the Authoritarian Left has become as humorless, hectoring, and Pecksniffian as the Right has been for a while, and I agree with that. But the article is curiously disjointed, beginning with a long and largely irrelevant discussion of Taibbi’s coverage of the Dover Intelligent-Design suit, which the Dover School District lost. Taibbi’s point is that the Left is now guilty of Doverism:
Fifteen years later, America is a thousand Dovers, and the press response is silence. This time it’s not a few Podunk school boards under assault by junk science and crackpot theologies, but Princeton University, the New York Times, the Smithsonian, and a hundred other institutions.
When the absurdity factor rocketed past Dover levels this week, the nation’s leading press organs barely commented, much less laughed. Doing so would have meant opening the floodgates on a story most everyone in media sees but no one is allowed to comment upon: that the political right and left in America have traded villainous cultural pathologies. Things we once despised about the right have been amplified a thousand-fold on the flip.
The thing is, Dover was about the Right ignoring established science to foist a creationist scenario on its schoolchildren, while many of the examples Taibbi gives have at best a tangential connection with science. Rather, they’re about Cancel Culture, and we get a parade of familiar examples: the “white culture” posters at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, recent articles on Robin DiAngelo and her anti-racism seminars, blind auditions rethought for orchestra members, the elimination of standardized tests for college admission, and so on. Most of this doesn’t have to do with science, although empirical evidence does apply in some cases. (Remember, though, that the Cancel Culture, heavily marinated in postmodernism, generally eschews evidence in favor of “lived experience.”) However, there are a few gems in Taibbi’s list that I either didn’t know about or didn’t write about. Here’s one I knew about but didn’t write about—a recent fracas at Princeton University:
At Princeton, the situation was even more bizarre. On July 4th, hundreds of faculty members and staff at Princeton University signed a group letter calling for radical changes.
Some demands seem reasonable, like requests to remedy University-wide underrepresentation among faculty members of color. Much of the rest of the letter read like someone drunk-tweeting their way through a Critical Theory seminar. [JAC: that’s a good sentence!] Signatories asked the University to establish differing compensation levels according to race, demanding “course relief,” “summer salary,” “one additional semester of sabbatical,” and “additional human resources” for “faculty of color,” a term left undefined. That this would be grossly illegal didn’t seem to bother the 300-plus signatories of one of America’s most prestigious learning institutions.
The Princeton letter didn’t make much news until a Classics professor named Joshua Katz wrote a public “Declaration of Independence” from the letter. Playing the same role as the Dover science teacher who feebly warned that teaching Intelligent Design would put the district at odds with a long list of Supreme Court decisions, Katz said it boggled his mind that anyone could ask for compensation “perks” based on race, especially for “extraordinarily privileged people already, let me point out: Princeton professors.”
Katz also complained about the letter’s support for a group called the Black Justice League, which he described as a “local terrorist organization” that had recently engaged in an Instagram Live version of a kind of struggle session involving two students accused of an ancient racist conversation. Katz called it “one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed.” The video appears to have been deleted, though I spoke with another Princeton faculty member who described seeing the same event in roughly the same terms.
In response, University President Christopher Eisengruber “personally” denounced Katz for using the word “terrorist.” Katz was also denounced by his Classics department, which in a statement on the department web page insisted his act had “heedlessly put our Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk,” while hastening to add “we gratefully acknowledge all the forms of anti-racist work that members of our community have done.”
That statement was only [sic] signed by four people, though there are twenty faculty members in the Classics department, but the signees all had titles: department Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, Director of Undergraduate Studies, head of the Diversity and Equity Committee. The pattern of administrative leaders not only not rejecting but adopting the preposterous infantilizing language of new activism – I am physically threatened by your mild disagreement – held once again. Not one institutional leader in America, it seems, has summoned the courage to laugh in this argument’s face.
It’s unthinkable that the President of the University of Chicago would denounce a faculty member in this way, though our school is becoming increasingly woke, pondering statements on departmental web pages that violate the University’s pledge to remain ideologically neutral as an institution.
To Taibbi, all these examples show (and I agree) that this isn’t about the Democratic party moving to the Right, becoming censorious like Republicans, but “about a change in the personality profile of the party’s most animated, engaged followers.” But we already knew that: it’s called “cancel culture.” And who disagrees that the CC set is humorless, hectoring, and annoying, and is putting classical liberals like me in a bind?
Now that same inconsolable paranoiac [he’s referring to Republicans of yore] comes at you with left politics, and isn’t content with ruining the odd holiday dinner, blind date, or shared cab. He or she does this infuriating interrogating at the office, in school, and in government agencies, in places where you can’t fake a headache and quietly leave the table.
This is all taking place at a time when the only organized opposition to such thinking also supports federal troops rounding up protesters for open-ended detention, going maskless to own the libs, and other equivalent madnesses. If you’re not a Trump fan and can’t reason with the other thing either, what’s left?
What’s Left, indeed? It’s up to the Left to criticize our own side lest Fox News and Trump do it, making centrists and Republicans think that Democrats are all a bunch of bowdlerizing loons.
Taibbi’s article is good for catching up on the latest malfeasances of the misnamed Progressive Left, but others have pointed out before the “horseshoe” convergence of Left and Right in this way. I’ll move along, but will read some more Taibbi to see if he can challenge me to think.
This letter in Areo (click on screenshot) gets the point of the Harper’s letter in a way that many outraged people and offended intellectuals didn’t. The author, who asserts that he’s a “nobody”, isn’t really: his Areo bio says this:
Angel Eduardo is writer, musician, photographer, and designer in New York City. He has been published in The Ocean State Review, The Caribbean Writer, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, among other publications. See more of his work at angeleduardo.com.
But never mind who he is. His point is that, as Steve Pinker mentioned, the letter wasn’t there to protect the speech and hegemony of the many intellectuals who signed the letter; it was to call attention to a culture that demonizes and, worse, injures the livelihoods of “regular” people who committed ideological transgressions, usually on the Internet. This isn’t in the interest of debate or of producing “counterspeech”, but in the interest of hurting your opponent.
Eduardo now has put his career in danger, for in the Areo letter he says that while he believes in the principles of Black Lives Matter, he often finds their rhetoric “confused, dishonest, and based on misinterpretations of the data.” Also, while supporting trans people, he says “I cannot deny my own understanding of the science behind biological sex.” Those two statements—or even one of them—are sufficient to stuff him into the meat grinder of cancel culture. Now, he says, A target is on his back, but he had sufficient courage to write the article, and to say this:
That’s the fulcrum on which the Harper’s letter turns: I could be wrong about everything, and I am willing to hear the reasons why, but I must be given the chance to be wrong. I must be able to not only express my opinions, but to know that my life won’t crumble around me because I happen to be in disagreement with the crowd. We must grant one another compassion and the benefit of the doubt, despite our basest instincts and the social media platforms that cynically incentivize them. I’ve been wrong nearly every day of my life, and there hasn’t been one instance in which I didn’t become a better person for having learned through compassionate correction. If I’d been afraid to speak or act, or if I’d been met with righteous anger instead, I might have never learned at all.
There’s more, but you can read it for yourself. I want instead to highlight one of the links Eduardo gives below:
In the wake of the Harper’s letter, I’ve witnessed flabbergasting displays of casuistry. Critics have attacked the motives and character of certain signatories, as though accusations of hypocrisy—whether justified or not—could invalidate the principles within the letter itself. Many have argued that the cancel culture the letter decries doesn’t even exist, despite seemingly unending examples.
Of course I had to see the link, for many critics of the Harper’s letter beefed about the nonexistence of cancel culture. After all, they wrote uncomprehendingly, all those people who signed the letter didn’t get canceled; they were just defending their right to oppress others who—the beefers claimed—couldn’t speak up because they were marginalized. (The idea that marginalized people have no voice cannot be supported given the outcry and changes following the murder of George Floyd.)
Anyway, the author of the list, who runs the EverythingOppresses Twitter site, put up ten examples of “cancel culture” (non-famous people having their lives and careers damaged, mostly through firings), and then offered to give ten other examples for each 1,000 followers he/she accrued—up to 150. There are now about 7500 followers, and at the site below (click on screenshot), you can see the list.
There are now 101 examples, and I’ve looked at them all. While some don’t really fill the bill (semi-famous people simply being attacked, with calls for them to be fired), and other folks weren’t really fired but were piled on by social-media mobs, most of them do count as real examples of “cancel culture.” Not only were people’s businesses wrecked and their careers damaged, or they got fired, but I can’t imagine any of this happening 30 years ago. The closest example I can think of in our time is the red-baiting that took place during the McCarthy era. But even that wasn’t comparable because the career-wrecking was mostly done by the government and Congress, not by private citizens.
You’re already familiar with many of these examples if you’ve read this site, but I’ll give a few, and if you click on the screenshots you can read the evidence. Some of them are truly horrific examples of mob mentality. Yes, you can be attacked by the outraged if you criticize the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, or if you say something that, however obliquely, can be interpreted as racist, but counterspeech is simply a demonstration of free speech. Pushback on social media is often distressing, but I can’t say I oppose it. What makes these examples odious are the blatant attempts to ruin people’s livelihoods by communicating Ideological Malfeasance to people’s bosses. And yes, boycotts aren’t illegal, but they can be misguided and overblown, as many in the list are.
Here are a few examples (again, click on screenshots to go to the relevant news article). Remember the Burrito Truck Cancellation?
I wrote about this one, too:
One link here to represent all four cases:
You know of this incident:
Although there’s controversy about why Google fired James Damore, it seems pretty clear it was his response to the “diversity memo” that did him in. Regardless of whether he conformed to “received wisdom,” he shouldn’t have been fired:
Young adult fiction is a hotbed of Cancel Culture activity. The author gives a number of examples, but here’s an overview:
Remember this one?
Surprisingly, one of the most fertile hunting grounds for the Offense Police is the “knitting culture”: social-media websites connecting those who knit. Here’s one ludicrous example of hounding after an innocuous statement (another example is here):
And you surely remember the Gibson’s Bakery incident, in which Oberlin College decided to rouse its students by accusing the bakery of racism when in fact there was no racism in evidence (the bakery won a huge judgement against Oberlin, which behaved despicably). There are two screenshots with separate links:
Don’t forget how Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were hounded out of The Evergreen State College (NYT story by Bari Weiss):
Are ten examples enough? (Remember, there are over a hundred.) Let’s make it an even dozen. The next one is particularly odious, and you may not know of it:
To finish off, let’s not forget how Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan was kicked out as head of an undergraduate residential house for having the temerity to join Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. No matter than Sullivan had done a lot in the past for marginalized students; his presence was making students at Winthrop House feel “unsafe” (a word that should raise a red flag):
These, and most of the rest of the examples, clearly show that people’s lives have been damaged or even ruined by social-justice mobs not even offering counterspeech (they often take their positions as un-debatable), but simply baying instead for people’s jobs.
I don’t have a strategy to counteract this kind of climate; all I can suggest is that we stand up against it every time we see it. Given that the liberal media and many other powerful positions are now occupied by woke students who imbibed their ideology in woke colleges like Oberlin and Harvard, it’s going to be a long battle.