I’ve learned a lot in six and a half years of writing online, but the single most consistent, most powerful message is this: people care much more about you being part of their culture than about the things you actually believe, politically, morally, conceptually. I can write 2,000 words against affirmative action, with data and argument, but the fact that I didn’t signal appropriately to the right cultural group makes more of a difference than what I’m actually saying. It’s a lesson that’s been delivered again and again. That’s part of why I have such a hard time with Twitter; my honest experience is that it’s more a tool for arranging yourself in that cultural sense, instead of actually expressing ideas or convincing anybody of anything. And I just fundamentally don’t believe that kind of cultural signaling can ever do anything for anybody.
When I dispute people who have flagrantly misrepresented what I believe (which happens constantly), or when people react unhappily to having the contradictions in their politics pointed out (such as when carceral feminism is brought into contact with Ferguson), there’s not just anger but a kind of pure incomprehension. People are so destablized; you can hear them thinking “I am in this culture, and my presence in this cultural means that I don’t have to answer for certain things.” Things like standing with the police state when it’s convenient, or being criticized from the left in general.
I just think, at heart, it’s all associations, it’s all animal spirits. Even from those who fancy themselves rugged rationalists. So it’s hard to be someone who doesn’t want to be part of your team, someone who doesn’t care to be cool with you.