Monday, April 16, 2018

Further readings on the Mess we're in

Fascinating article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
If the political events of 2016 proved anything, it’s that our [liberal profs] interventions have been toothless. The utopian clap in the cloistered air of the professional conference loses all thunder on a city street. Literature professors have affected America more by sleeping in its downtown hotels and eating in its fast-food restaurants than by telling one another where real prospects for freedom lay. Ten thousand political radicals, in town for the weekend, spend money no differently than ten thousand insurance agents.
I will be quoting that last line a few times. Excellent article and diagnosis.


The (conservative) National Review's entertainingly-rabid pit bull, Kevin D. Williamson, was hired at (liberal) The Atlantic... and when they belatedly discovered that the pit bull really meant what he said about abortion (you mean he isn't joking?)--they fired him. Within hours. Like, this must be some kind of record.

I see this ideological lockstep as more of the same problem. If you can't handle Kevin Williamson, who is pretty extreme, what is wrong with you? You should easily be able to refute his nonsense... or can you?

I think most of the liberals have forgotten how to argue since they live in an echo chamber--so when a conservative pit bull bolts forth--fascist, funny and taking no prisoners... they collectively cower, run and scream. (And fire them, after just hiring them.)

WE used to be the people who made them cower, run and scream. Remember? The Left used to be funny and extreme and posed the existential threat to Western Civ, not National Review columnists, for godsake. Now we are a bunch of finger-wagging schoolmarms who couldn't scare a fly.

Anyway. The National Review, predictably, had strong opinions. In that last piece, Ben Shapiro offered a list:
The Left is narrowing the range of acceptable discourse and persons, and there will be a backlash.

Kevin Williamson. Sam Harris. Bret Weinstein. Bari Weiss. Dave Rubin. Jason Riley. Heather Mac Donald. Jordan Peterson. Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Welcome to the coalition of unpersons.

The people above don’t have much in common. They disagree on matters large and small. Ali is a militant atheist; Williamson is a religious Christian. Peterson focuses on the metaphysical import of myths; Harris focuses on verifiable science. Rubin is a gay Jew; Riley is black. Mac Donald is a supporter of stronger policing; Weinstein was a supporter of Occupy Wall Street.

But there is one thing that everyone on this list has in common: We’ve all been unpersoned by the Left. And that Left is creeping quietly into the mainstream.
As you might know, I belong on that list too. I am no longer on tumblr due to the vicious, 'leftist' lynch mobs that never end. They are singularly uninterested in taking on the Right or Trump--everything they do is about picking the Left apart and destroying it. As you can see, they are doing a fabulous job, and helped the Right elect their president.

These regularly-scheduled "circular firing squads" of the Left have not only rattled me, they have deeply depressed me, as I see what the online Left in America has become = a total stranger. I don't recognize it.

Historically, WE were the people who believed in free speech, remember? WE were the ones who welcomed all kinds of views from all kinds of people. WE were the ones who opposed censorship. Remember? Remember?

Here are some excerpts from the dissenting view from the Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf, with which I concur:
Last month, The Atlantic hired Kevin Williamson, the longtime National Review staffer. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of The Atlantic, announced the move, declaring him a writer “whose force of intellect and acuity of insight reflect our ambition.”

Immediately, critics began poring over Williamson’s substantial archive of published writing and public statements. Among the most controversial was an exchange on Twitter about abortion and the death penalty. Williamson declared that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.” Pushed to clarify, Williamson added, “I have hanging more in mind.” Later, he expounded, “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means.”


Do not imagine that I am any less appalled than you at the idea of hanging women who have abortions. I oppose the death penalty, full stop. I would regard any expansion of executions as barbaric and any vast expansion as authoritarian and nightmarish. Even if a politician proposed simply incarcerating women who have abortions, I would oppose the proposition in keeping with my civil libertarian convictions.


More specifically, I dissent from the way that Williamson was dragged, regardless of his position. That dragging would be a small matter in isolation, but it is of a piece with burgeoning, shortsighted modes of discourse that are corroding what few remaining ties bind the American center. Should that center fail to hold, anarchy will be loosed.

And I dissent from the termination that followed—a matter for which responsibility must fall on The Atlantic, not on Williamson’s critics, even those critics who most egregiously distorted his words or their prominence in his journalism.

What about the mode of Williamson’s dragging alarmed me?

Word of Williamson’s hiring was greeted by some as if by mercenary opposition researchers determined to isolate the most outlying and offensive thoughts that he ever uttered, no matter how marginal to his years of journalistic work; to gleefully amplify them, sometimes in highly distorting ways, in a manner designed to stoke maximum upset and revulsion; and to frame them as if they said everything one needed to know about his character. To render him toxic was their purpose.

That mode was poison when reserved for cabinet nominees; it is poison when applied to journalistic hires; and it will be poison if, next week or year, it comes for you.
Already has!--interjects Daisy.
Insofar as opinion journalists indulged in it, the mode is also a professional failure. The best illustration of why that is so requires reading a 2015 post by Williamson where he reflects on his “unplanned” conception by parents who chose to give him up for adoption. “It is not as though I do not sympathize with women who feel that they are not ready for a child,” he wrote. And later, he added, “It is impossible for me to know whether the woman who gave birth to me would have chosen abortion if that had been a more readily available alternative in 1972. I would not bet my life, neither the good nor the bad parts of it, on her not choosing it.”

A journalist plumbing the depths of Williamson’s personal archive with the intention of fully informing their readers would surely note that context in their renderings.

How many who dragged him noted it at all?

And then the termination: I worry that the firing was a failure of “the spirit of generosity,” a value that The Atlantic has long touted as a core value. I know that it raised thorny, unresolved questions about what exactly is verboten at the magazine. I fear that it will make it harder for the publication to contribute to the sort of public sphere where the right and the left mutually benefit from fraught engagement. And I expect that many of my colleagues will bear the burden of being dragged in ways that opportunists on the right and the left will now take to be effective.

Finally, I worry that the dragging and the firing were failures of tolerance.

That virtue is unfashionable these days. And I believe that those who minimize, dismiss, or reject it underestimate its value and the potential consequences of its atrophy, even as many who value tolerance have lost the words or the stomach to defend it.

I have not.
Read the rest
, it is well worth your time.

And practice saying this with me: more speech, not less.

More, not less. MORE. NOT LESS.

No opinion or POV should ever be suppressed--it will simply return in a far more angry, unmanageable and fanatical form.


Daisy Deadhead said...

Interesting update/background:

Leak: The Atlantic Had A Meeting About Kevin Williamson. It Was A Liberal Self-Reckoning. subtitle: In a staff meeting, Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed the hiring and firing of a conservative writer. But it wound up being about a lot more than that. (By Ashley Feinberg, HuffPost)