welcome to the future

For several decades, neoliberal politicians worked tirelessly to remove any checks to our systems of financial speculation, causing the inflation of massive bubbles, driven by elite greed. They simultaneously shredded the social safety nets that would allow the lower classes to better endure the consequences of the inevitable collapse of those bubbles. The bubbles did collapse. The lower classes were devastated with unemployment, instability, and economic hopelessness. Those same elites responded by insisting that the only path forward was deeper austerity, even more vicious cuts to our already-tattered redistributive systems. Anger, naturally, grew. Nativist, nationalist demagogues responded by seizing on this anger, telling ignored and marginalized people that their problems were the fault of even-more-marginalized minorities, migrants, and refugees. Their political adversaries, rather than appealing to those angry people by offering them an economic platform that works for them and by arguing that their best interests are also the best interests of those minorities, migrants, and refugees, have doubled down on austerity politics and have dismissed those voters as deluded racists who are not fit to be appealed to. In general, liberals have entrenched deeper and deeper into geographical and social bubbles that permit them to ignore vast swaths of increasingly-embittered voters. They thus ensure that those many among the angry people who are not in fact incorrigible racists but who could be convinced to join forces for a political movement of shared prosperity never do so. The worst people appeal to the desperate, while their political opponents dismiss that desperation, and the outcome is predictable.

This is the future of the West: a contest between elitist greed and populist proto-fascism. On one side, the limitless self-interest of a financial and social elite that has created not only an economic system that siphons more and more money into their own pockets but also a bizarre, jury-rigged ideology of cultural liberalism divorced from any foundations in economic egalitarianism which argues that anyone who opposes the neoliberal order is not worthy even of trying to convince. On the other side, an increasingly-unhinged movement of racist grievance-mongering and fear-stoking populist demagoguery, which utilizes the age-old tactic of pitting different groups of poor people against each other to powerful effect, helped immensely by the corruption and callousness of the pro-austerity class. These sides share nothing except for an absolute commitment to preventing the kind of robustly redistributive platform of economic and social justice that could unite the needs of all suffering people into a formidable political bloc that is devoted to opposing austerity, inequality, racism, sexism, nativism, nationalism, and the rest of humanity’s political ills.

The choice humanity had was between socialism and barbarism. Decades of neoliberalism have ensured that we’ve chosen the latter. The choice ahead is less substantive and more aesthetic: which would you prefer crushing down on your neck, the combat boot of a fascist or the business shoe of a plutocrat?

entirely too many points of entirely unsolicited advice for young writers from someone running out the door

  • The money was bad when I started. It’s gotten better for me but for the industry has gotten worse since, or so it seems.
  • If you can get into print, the money can be good, but the print world is shrinking. The kind of web-only places where you have the best shot of making real money are the places where you’ll be writing undisclosed advertising copy for Goldman Sachs. If you want to write for places that have higher ambitions the money is always going to be tight.
  • Still, have a rate, have a goal, and have a floor. Think of it kind of like applying to college, that kind of strategic self-negotiation. At some point, pick a minimum to print your stuff, regardless of publication. It should change, over time. (I mean, hopefully, by growing.) Last couple years I’ve said $250 is the bare minimum to get my stuff. Why $250? Because $100 was too little and $500 was too much and, crucially, because that’s what people would pay me.
  • I think I first got paid for my writing in 2009. $50. Since then I have gotten paid in the 4 figures, let’s see, 9 times. Most things have been news cycle web bangers, few hundred bucks a pop. Sometimes it’s $250. Sometimes it’s $750. Sometimes I ask for more and they say no. More often than you’d think, I ask for more and they say yes.
  • Worrying that other people are getting more than you is probably one of the worst wastes of your mental energy in this. If you think you’re worth more, ask for more, and don’t write if they won’t pay.  But don’t worry what anybody else is making. They probably aren’t making much either.
  • Should you write for free? You should not. If you do, do it on your own site. Start a simple WordPress (Tumblr if you must) and write a few posts – a movie review, a piece of political commentary on a hot topic, and a more personal/autobiographical musing that you connect to the broader culture, say. That’s a good start. Then pitch.
  • If you feel you absolutely must get published someplace “real” to have samples for editors and the only way to do it is to write for free (which is almost certainly not the case), then do it a couple times and no more. Be adamant with yourself.
  • If you pitch, you will get rejected. A lot. But if you write for awhile you will start getting editors soliciting you. I have to pitch infrequently these days, which is nice. But there’s no getting around the period of asking and being told no.
  • Here’s a good example of how it feels to be a writer: last year I got an email from n+1 telling me, very apologetically and politely, that they were unable to include a piece I had written for them in an upcoming printed collection. This was interesting because this was the very first communication I had received about such a collection – I didn’t even know it existed until they got around to telling me I wasn’t good enough to be in it. It was like when you get rejected by someone you weren’t even interested in to begin with. That’s what writing for money feels like, so get used to it.
  • If you pitch an editor and s/he commissions a piece and money just doesn’t come up because you feel awkward (and what if they change their mind because you asked about money!), there’s a pretty good chance they will just happily not pay you when they would have. No editor worth working with will suddenly decline to publish something they wanted to publish because you asked about money. It’s your job to be a grownup and break the ice by asking “what can you pay me?”; it’s their job to tell you and not be a jerk about it. Do not wait until the last round of edits to say “oh by the way, money would be nice.”
  • The pitch is the prequel; writing the piece is the original; The Quest to Get Paid the Money You Are Already Owed is the sequel, and that one’s the 3 hour epic.
  • You will likely have one contact person. That person is almost certainly not the money person. However, if that’s the one person you know, that’s the one person you know, so it’s part of their job (no matter how awkward this makes you feel) to field your questions related to The Quest to Get Paid the Money You Are Already Owed. Again, you’ve got to be a grownup: “Hey, So and So, respectfully, where’s my money?”
  • If you aren’t ready to undertake The Quest to Get Paid the Money You Are Already Owed, don’t pitch.
  • This may be a roundabout way of telling you that freelancing kind of sucks and that what you probably want to do is to get a few pieces under your belt and then get a staff writer job someplace, where you will get a regular paycheck and health benefits. This has it’s own set of headaches like having to go someplace every morning and finding your per-word rate is even less than as a freelancer and having to do daily news cycle-related #content generation that gradually leeches all of the interest you ever had in writing out of your very soul. This is still better than freelancing because you know, more or less, what your take home pay is going to be. Last year I had a miraculous year freelancing, in terms of the frequency and places I published. If I hadn’t taught classes and edited textbooks and tutored and ghost written, I wouldn’t have paid the rent.
  • Some people will tell you they live comfortably just freelancing. Mostly (not always) they do PR or “consulting” on the side.
  • Think tanks pay very well, give you lots of time, usually involves sympathetic and light editing, and provide real marketing for your work towards receptive audiences. However, you have to actually, like, know stuff to get those gigs.
  • Knowing stuff, in general, is good. Going to school helps, no matter how much the autodidact fantasy is part of writing culture. You have to know things.
  • Read books. You can’t be smart if you don’t read books, real books, regularly. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read books, real books, regularly. There are many things that cannot be learned from short form pieces. Sorry. It’s probably the only rule I really think of as a rule: to write well you must read books, a lot of books.
  • A subject is good – it’s good to have a subject or several that you really consider your jam(s). You can cultivate a reputation in those subjects if you want. This is one of the things that it’s hard to do when you’re in an entry-level daily blogging gig and you have to find a fresh angle on the latest child-animal encounter.
  • That said, a method is even better than a subject. A subject is an area of interest, a thing you look at and write about. A method is a way you write about the things you write about. Ta-Nehisi Coates didn’t become one of the most successful writers of his generation by having history as a subject but by using history as a methodology, as a way of knowing and looking at the world. It’s a lens he can apply to a variety of situations and he can lay his stuff down with it over and over again. I think that’s a real key.
  • Should you get an MFA? Probably not. If you’re going because you want to get a book deal, no. If you’re going because you want to teach, certainly no. If you’re going unfunded, absolutely no. If you’re funded and you’re going because you need time to write, to devote yourself to that – yeah. That’s worked for a lot of people. There are worse things in life.
  • It is terribly uncool to complain about editing. Being enthusiastic about editing is a big part of showing that you’re a Professional Who Gets It. And indeed editing is an essential part of the process that we can’t live without, blah blah blah, no argument from me. But look: getting edited sucks. It does. Even the people who wax poetic about the gentle telepathy between writer and editor secretly hate the process. Editing’s a good and necessary thing, but you don’t have to pretend you enjoy being edited. Because it sucks. It sometimes sucks for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons.
  • When an editor emails to tell you how much they liked your draft and can’t wait to get your revisions, and you look and their changes show that they clearly fundamentally do not understand what you’re attempting – that’s as discouraging a feeling as I can imagine. I’ve walked away from money several times in that scenario. Maybe that’s me being a prima donna, I don’t know. I do know that you have to have some changes where you say “this is a make or break edit for me, I can’t countenance the piece unless it has/doesn’t have X.” Stick to it. It probably will never go down like that, inshallah. But know your boundaries anyway.
  • Two great sins in editing, in my experience: the editor that knows too well what s/he wants and the editor who has no idea what s/he wants. The former will always fail because it’s not the piece they’re imagining in their head, in which case they should have just written it themselves. The latter will always fail because nothing you actually come up with can be as good as the limitless possibilities out there. The good ones (and most are at least pretty good) will have a shape, an angle, a story, an idea, without knowing too well how it turns out. They should always leave room for a twist, a direction they weren’t expecting.
  • Younger editors sometimes have trouble because they feel compelled to make a certain volume of changes, as they’re trying to justify their job. That can be frustrating. Give them a little sugar. Be sympathetic. The industry is not set up to properly mentor and support young editors.
  • I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to preemptively include intentionally-superfluous sections or to make questionable format decisions, simply to be able to accede to the inevitable editing changes and thus have a bargaining chip for preserving what you really want to keep in. I just can’t say that I’ve never done that, or that it’s ineffective.
  • Look, editors are great. There’s too little editing, not too much. Most editors you interact with will be talented, conscientious, and hard-working. (Most will also be harried, overworked, and compelled by entirely unhealthy incentives.) Everyone who has ever read me will tell you I need an editor. I’m not disputing any of that. I am saying that it’s a painful, annoying process most of the time and people who say otherwise are usually blowing smoke.
  • Nothing you can learn from a list of writing tips can help you. Everyone has the same list. Everyone is hearing the same advice. They’re all earnestly applying that advice. The problems that advice is meant to solve endure. That’s because you can’t actually solve those problems with static advice. I’m sorry to say that your problems can’t be solved by getting rid of adverbs, avoiding the passive tense, or getting rid of “ten cent words.” Everybody’s trying that. It isn’t helping. Those things are identified as problems precisely because they’re easy to spot and easy to fix. Bad writing is not easy to fix.
  • The single greatest orthodoxy in writing advice is that most people are writing too much, that we need more minimalism, more concision, and less of everything else. This has been the default philosophy in American nonfiction prose for 50 years. It’s bunkum. No one knows what it means. Strunk & White is awful and produces awful writers. That George Orwell essay has been read by all of the writers you’ve ever read, and by the laws of the universe that means mostly by not-very-good writers. Concision is not an unerring instrument for achieving clarity. Whatever problems you may have, the hoary old ghost of American minimalism can’t scare them away.
  • To develop style, write obsessively. Publish obsessively. Solicit feedback obsessively. Over and over again. Like playing a musical instrument, it’s an iterative process: performance, self- and external evaluation, adjustment, repetition.
  • No rules, no rules, no rules. (Except reading books.)
  • Write a lot.
  • Repetition, small adjustments, over and over.
  • I say without snark or pleasure that there’s a good chance you aren’t very good at this. I’m not saying this with an assumption that I’m any good myself. I’m just saying this as someone who has read, a lot, to the point of obsession and pathology, for his entire adult life. And talent in writing (as in so many other things) is real, it is unevenly distributed, and that distribution is not fair. People will tell you that talent isn’t real, that there’s just hard work. Those people are selling books.
  • Write your age. Are you 13? Then don’t write about how a politician is like a character from a TV show. Are you 13? Then don’t awkwardly use slang that is common to a high school cafeteria. Write your age.
  • Literally anything else you can do would be a better use of your time, at this point, than writing about Game of Thrones. Literally anything.
  • What’s the end goal? If you want to be a novelist, daily news blogging isn’t going to help much, but you do have to pay the rent. I do think you should have some sort of idea of the arc of how you get from one thing to another. And if your ambitions are less grand than best-selling novelist, that’s great too, but you also have to have an idea of an arc in your life. The thing about this kind of writing, professionally, is that few people have a clear idea about what career progress really looks like, through no fault of their own. I think this is part of why people switch jobs so much; where is up, so to speak, at a certain point? So I do think you should have a plan even if it’s vague and unsettled. Where are you trying to go?
  • TV recaps: not even once.
  • I don’t need to bash on gif listicles and meme-peddling as such; there’s plenty of that out there. But it’s worth saying that such things are probably useless for actually improving your writing. It’s entirely unclear to me if some people who identify as Buzzfeed writers actually want to write. Which is OK! Seriously. Look there’s a long history of writing being a means through which people gain entrance into a certain kind of social and professional milieu, with the writing itself being merely a means to that end. Right now writing, for a lot of people, seems like a way to get your foot in the door to podcasting. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. But if you know that you actually want to be a writer, and you treating writing as a craft that you take pride in and want to improve, throwing up 75 words along with some gifs seems really destructive to me. You can’t possibly get better doing that.
  • Sometimes you really will have to choose between people and principle, even though people, unsurprisingly, will tell you that you don’t.
  • You set the level of seriousness of your own work and of yourself. If you write about stuff that you find trivial, you’ll find your own writing trivial and other people will too. And there’s a real culture of triviality, you know? Not because people want to be trivial but because the economic problems are really bleak, and what’s rewarded economically is viral Facebook bilge. And so people start to self-defensively trivialize their own work and their own industry. And then in turn that creates resentment towards the seriousness that people want to engage in but can’t, thanks to structural conditions they can’t control. And so the next thing you know there’s a culture that rejects work that takes itself seriously and that has higher ambitions than click through rate. Before long the whole professional attitude is one of enforced, perpetual jokiness, a reflexive, unthinking rejection of that which presumes that depth is the destination. But you still get to decide if your work is serious or not. They’re going to call you pretentious anyway, so you might as well take yourself and your work seriously even while everything seems to tell you not to.
  • Have fun. Tell the truth. Have integrity. Have guts. Be cranky. Remain independent. Be right rather than nice. Be committed to ideas rather than to people. Cultivate a studied indifference to the petty indignities that will attend every step of your way. Stay human. Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth.
  • When you’re freelancing, have a beer with lunch. Just one.

but it’s the good kind of hurt

Emailer Jessica:

“I discovered your blog recently and I’ve been going through some of your past published work [ed: available here]. I found your piece on experimental heavy metal for Vox interesting and I liked the writing. My ex is always recommending that I get into heavier stuff too. But I’m finding it really difficult to listen to the music you recommend there. It’s too much for me – too loud, too hard, too rough. I’m not unsophisticated as a music fan. I love Wilco and the Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire. I like some heavier stuff too. But I feel like I can’t get started with the kind of music you’re into. Do you think it’s worth gutting it out, or should I just accept that it’s not for me?”

You’re not alone!

The short answer to your query is this: while I’m a big believer in the virtues of artistic difficulty, and I think that many people miss out on pleasures they might otherwise enjoy because they give up too easily, if you are truly gutting it out – continuing to listen just to listen, out of a sense of obligation – stop. There’s all kinds of music. Degree of difficulty is not an aesthetic virtue, either in production of in appreciation. Music has varieties for a reason. Sometimes you want blueberry, and sometimes you want to chew glass. That’s the beauty of it. And “it’s not for me” is a constructive, humane response to all kinds of artwork.

The long-winded, Freddie-style answer….

It was a really big deal for me when my brother John got Nirvana’s mega-platinum album Nevermind, in a few different ways. Growing up I had a kid’s taste, I suppose. I listened to an odd hodge podge of stuff: music specifically written for kids (dinosaur songs and the like), the showtunes that my theater-obsessed sister liked, songs from Disney movies,  the music my parents had liked such as the Beatles, and the Indonesian gamelan music that was both the subject of my father’s academic research and his great love. I did not really have an aesthetic. As I approached adolescence, I can’t say that I had developed anything like a coherent set of musical likes and dislikes. But in the way of older brothers, mine developed real tastes around that time, discovering David Bowie and Sonic Youth and Stereolab, and gradually his interests filtered down to me. But it was when he got a Nirvana record that I really took interest, and I was kind of shocked at the time.

I couldn’t believe that he was listening to such hard music! It was loud, and the guitars were so distorted. It was like nothing I could imagine enjoying, though in time I came to love it. I found the hard edge both discomfiting and seductive. Now, I can’t listen to the album for the exact opposite reason of why I initially resisted it: it’s just too soft, too “candy ass,” to borrow the term Kurt Cobain used to criticize the record’s production. It’s got that really distinct, soft, late-80s/early-90s overproduced thing going on, like a Boyz II Men record. It just doesn’t gel with a punk-influenced hard rock album. Nowadays, if I want to listen to those songs (and I think they’re mostly the weakest in Nirvana’s catalog), I have to listen to live tracks to really enjoy them.

How did I get from there to here? It took time. And thousands of hours of listening to records. And it’s not like I jumped from the Spin Doctors to Sunn 0))) deep cuts. It takes time. The thing is – it’s supposed to hurt. At least at first. It’s a good kind of hurting, but it does hurt. It’s like your first hangover or your first tattoo, a sensation of pain and discomfort that nevertheless feels somehow proper, necessary, important. Your first time, it’s a little frightening, a little exciting, but it definitely hurts. You’re not quite ready for it yet. And it can be genuinely unpleasant, too much, too soon. You want to ease into it but no matter how well you plan it, it seems to be just a bit too much, too fast. But for as much as it hurts, you’re also eager to do it again. And the next time it hurts a little less, and the next time a little less, and you find that your initial anxiety has given way to comfort. Then the inevitable: you want to step outside of that new comfort zone. You want to recapture precisely the kind of pain you once shied away from. So you push, looking for new experiences, things that are a little more intense, a little less safe. It’s a journey, and it can be a very satisfying one. But it’s not for everybody.

Oh, and this should go without saying, in music: for some it will never be enough. Nothing that you ever listen to will be “hard enough.” Nothing that you ever listen to will ever be real enough, raw enough, metal enough. You will never be kvlt. That’s OK. Just like what you like, and let others like what they like. I am sometimes tempted to say “ah you just like that stuff because it makes you look like the biggest badass!” But of course, succumbing to that temptation is to become the thing I hate, as that line has been used against me more times than I can count, and I’ve really come to see it as a kind of aesthetic violence. “I don’t think this thing you like is good,” always fair. “You don’t really like this thing you say you like,” never fair.

Honestly: I envy you. I really do. As much enjoyment as I get out of it now, as much as I would never take back the hours of experimenting and growing, there’s nothing quite like the start, and there’s no getting it back.

Some recommendations. As usual I’d love to share a couple dozen more. (I should just do specific posts dedicated to Death Grips and Napalm Death and the Melvins someday. And Babymetal.) If you like what you hear, and want to get more, please support the artists by paying for it. Note that I am into “rock and roll,” very broadly defined, not noise, which is more the direction my older brother went, though I can dig some Merzbow and assorted on occasion. Older brothers, man, they’re just always cooler than you, fact of life.

101: Nirvana, “Serve the Servants”

300: Melvins, “Night Goat”

Undergraduate Thesis: Melt Banana, “Candy Gun”

MA Coursework: Boris, “Feedbacker Pt 1”

Master’s Thesis: Swans, “Power for Power”

PhD Coursework: Sunn 0))), “Kannon 1”

Phd Dissertation: The Body & Full of Hell, “Bottled Urn”

I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because of her policies and her political judgment

In a New Republic forum about the Hillary Clinton – Bernie Sanders primary that seems typically, ah, imbalanced, and in a way that you’d expect for TNR, comes this from Amanda Marcotte.

What you’re seeing is a huge drift in the party, away from having our leadership be just a bunch of white men who claim to speak for everybody else. We’re moving to a party that puts women’s interests at the center, that considers the votes of people of color just as valuable as the votes of white people. Unfortunately, some of the support for Sanders comes from people who are uncomfortable with that change and are looking to a benevolent, white patriarch to save them.

I quote this merely because it’s typical of a huge number of attacks on the Sanders candidacy and his supporters: it asserts that both are motivated not by sincere policy differences but because of moral pathology, and in particular the desire to oppose the interests of women.

Despite what many people have said to me, I am a lukewarm supporter of Bernie Sanders. I am not much of a Democrat. Sanders would be, in my ideal world, the compromise candidate himself. But here Marcotte has framed the question around resistance to Hillary Clinton, and so I’ll take her lead. And I would like to point out that there are profound and obvious reasons of policy and politics that I as a socialist would oppose a Clinton presidency – so profound and so obvious I find it frustrating that I would have to defend my motives as being based on policy in the first place.

I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because I believe that her domestic agenda is inadequate to the tasks of reversing the massive social and economic inequalities in our country and of saving those many millions of Americans who suffer from material need. Inequality has reached staggering levels in this country, and neither Clinton nor the broader Democratic leadership seem to have any clear plan for addressing it. We are currently experiencing a tuition and student debt crisis; Clinton has rejected a universal free college tuition plan despite that plan being both morally necessary and practically achievable. I believe that the patchwork Obamacare reforms to our medical system are entirely insufficient to fix its existential problems. I support a single payer system of healthcare. Until the Clinton candidacy, so did most of the liberals I know. But Clinton’s loud rejection of single payer has now moved many liberals to the right on this issue, thanks to the dictates of partisanship. I believe that a $15 minimum wage, while inadequate, is a good first step towards improving the lives of many American workers. Clinton publicly opposed such a wage as too high, until gradually moving to that position under pressure from the Sanders campaign and grassroots activism. The strength of her commitment to that policy, once outside of a primary with a left-wing challenger, remains unclear. I also generally believe that her domestic policy positions are inadequately redistributive and progressive to really change an economy that functions as a machine for enriching the already rich. More dramatic means are necessary to confront this problem.

I am also opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because I think that her prior domestic policy commitments betray poor political judgment and a reflexive tendency towards the political center that is a poor fit with a historical moment that calls for more left-wing policies. Clinton was a vocal champion of the Bill Clinton administration’s crime bill and welfare reform bill. The former contributed to a larger problem of rapidly-escalating mass incarceration, particularly for black Americans and poor Americans. The latter tripled extreme poverty and further undercut our already inadequate social safety net. I do not blame Clinton for the judgments made by her husband; I do blame her for her own loud, public advocacy for such policies, advocacy that she later represented as relevant experience in her Senate run. I don’t think that politicians have to live or die based on their past failures. I do think that politicians must be evaluated for their political judgment, and in many ways Clinton’s is not impressive.

I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because I believe that her foreign policy, both in terms of substance and judgment, would be disastrous for this country. Clinton is a hawk, by any reasonable standard. She had a hawkish voting record in the Senate and was an aggressive Secretary of State. She was a vocal champion of the Iraq war, which helped other Democrats publicly advocate for that war as well. The result was a humanitarian and practical disaster of a world-historic order. She was perhaps the single most influential voice in the Obama administration pushing for the intervention in Libya, which cast that country into civil war, resulted in the serial and brutal oppression of sub-Saharan Africans in the country, and has given ISIS its most important territory outside of Iraq and Syria. I am a non-interventionist who believes that it is in both the moral interests and the self-interest of the United States to stop our aggressive military behavior, particularly in the greater Muslim world. A Clinton presidency directly and unambiguously cuts against my interests in the sphere of foreign policy.

I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because I think our financial industry has caused significant harm to our country, not only through financial crises and the ways it distorts our economy but through its aggressive currying of political favor. Clinton, like the Democratic party leadership writ large, enjoys far too close of a relationship to our finance industry than I’m comfortable with. During her husband’s presidency, she defended the financial deregulation that helped contribute to the eventual financial crisis. As a New York Senator, she was a consistent champion of the interests of Wall Street. Her speeches to Goldman Sachs and similarly deep-pocketed interests in the banking industry are not so much interesting to me in and of themselves as they are symbolic of her broader comfort in that world, financial connection to that industry, and failure to recognize the importance of symbolism in a potential head of state.

I am opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency because I find that, despite the way her supporters claim her as some sort of champion of social liberalism, she has in fact had to be dragged to progressive opinions on social questions for years. She was publicly opposed to gay marriage up until that point where it became untenable for a Democrat to be so. Her previously-mentioned support for the crime bill and welfare reform demonstrates a failure to understand where social problems come from. Her squishiness on abortion concerns me. In general, her stance on social issues frequently seems defensive and motivated by political concerns rather than principled.

I reject the insistence that it’s my responsibility to vote for Hillary Clinton out of support for the “lesser evil” because the lesser evil argument contains no coherent argument for how change occurs. The lesser evil is not good enough; lesser evilists never articulate a remotely compelling vision of how one proceeds from the lesser evil to the greater good. Politics is a form of negotiation. The lesser evil argument compels us to concede to our negotiation partner (the candidate we are meant to support) our only source of leverage (our vote) before receiving any concessions at all. You might try this in any other form of negotiation and see how well that works for you. Promising to vote Democrat no matter what ensures that Democrats have no reason whatsoever to actually improve as a party. And as long as Republicans are in a death spiral, “better than the Republicans” is a designation that simply gets worse and worse over time. Lesser evil thinking is a road that has no ending and inevitably leads to the bottom. This contention, by the way, that defeating Donald Trump is such an important priority that we all must get on board with that effort right now is undermined by Clinton surrogates themselves, as they continue to devote more of their energies and their passion to attacking Sanders than to attacking Trump.

The symbolic and substantive value of electing our first woman president is not lost on me. I do not find that this advantage outweighs the disadvantages given the clear ideological gulf between me and Clinton.

You might reject any or all of these substantive reasons for rejecting a Clinton presidency. You might find them deluded or unfair. You might take them to be self-evidently ridiculous. You might find that my characterizations of Clinton’s policies are biased or inaccurate. You might find them accurate and believe that they are the correct policies. All of those are reasonable, constructive responses. But they are all arguments based on substance, on acknowledging the existence of meaningful and relevant differences between two candidates who have vied for the same party’s nomination. Instead, so often these discussions have focused, as Marcotte and others have done relentlessly, on left-wing politics as a matter of hidden pathology, secret motives, and bad faith.

This has the effect, and perhaps the intent, of making this primary not a contest of political ideas but an attempt to represent left-wing critics of Democrats as actively immoral and pernicious. That undermines claims that liberal Democrats are eager to heal the rifts between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, and positions this primary in the long history of Democratic eliminiationism of left-wing elements within the party, such as in 1948 or 2002. Worse, it prevents Democrats from actually grappling with the ideological questions that confront the party as we move deeper into the 21st century, ideological questions that are profound.

The degree to which non-policy, non-ideological attitudes like those asserted by Marcotte have captured media attention in this primary is a matter of debate and perspective. The broader question is whether they are a subject that can spark constructive discussion, whether they create such acrimony and recrimination that they prevent real dialogue from happening, and whether there can be any meaningful left-wing presence in the Democratic coalition as long as such assertions of the moral failings of leftists are levied so ceaselessly and with such low standards of evidence. For myself, I would just have liked to have lived through a primary between a centrist Democrat and a leftist where my objections to the centrist were taken seriously for what they actually are.

Update: This should go without saying, given all that I’ve said here, but given the silly season we’re in – I will not and would never vote for Donald Trump or any Republican for the presidency. I may vote for Jill Stein, I may vote for nobody, we’ll see.

it tolls for thee

Peter Thiel’s assault on Gawker Media trudges onward. People at the company are putting on a brave face, and I hope they’re right to say that business will continue as usual. I have a hard time believing it’ll turn out well. Not because I know anything about these legal and corporate machinations, but simply because I’ve watched these past years with bored horror as the weight of money does its slow, inevitable work to crush the spirit of adversarial, provocative media. Gawker may or may not survive Thiel’s assault-by-proxy routine. But the message that this sends to an already-pliable, gladhanding digital media is unmistakable. If you don’t see that you’re either deluded by resentment or blinded by the dictates of the profit motive.

I have no interest in being the thousandth person to prosecute the case for or against posting the Hogan tape. And let’s set aside the guilt by association of that gallery of imbeciles who have cheered Gawker’s decline. I will simply say that the ability of a billionaire to use his vast wealth and seemingly limitless capacity to hold a grudge should scare everyone, including those that hate Gawker, and the fact that so many have responded to this with glee shows the capacity for self-delusion in the embittered mind. And I will say also that whatever else Gawker has been, it has been truly and unapologetically adversarial, and that this quality is rare, dying, and indispensable. No, you don’t need to accept Gawker completely or reject it completely, as some of its writers, stricken with a siege mentality, have insisted on social media. That’s an unhelpful pretense, if an understandable one in this moment. But what you do have to recognize is that there is no such thing as provocative media that does not sometimes provoke. There is no such thing as an adversarial press that is not sometimes adversarial to you and your interests. There is no such thing as a press that is both genuinely challenging to the interests of power and always civil and nice. You do not have to have as high of an opinion as I do of much of Gawker’s investigative work to understand that. And the story is so much bigger than Gawker.

It’s all coming together, from different directions, all congealing to create a media that is totally docile, totally in thrall to establishment power, totally unwilling to challenge corporations that might someday provide advertising dollars, totally eager to trade favorable coverage for access. You’ve got the traditional conservative distaste for insurgency and disrespect to those on top from below. You’ve got the power of corporate money, now only intensified in the era of the disastrous advertising-only model of media, with spooked and spineless businesses making demands of editorial at media companies in response to the internet-enabled whining of the privileged and aggrieved. You’ve got identitarian social liberalism defining harm so broadly and with such trivial standards of proof that anyone can accuse any publication of harm at any time, and in doing so kick off massive waves of righteous posturing from the performatively political. You’ve got the mushrooming charges of harassment, a term so watered down it now functionally means “someone saying something about me I don’t like,” which both makes it harder to stop actual harassment and which gives the powerful a convenient weapon with which to silence dissent. Always eager to get users that criticized them suspended, the powerful on social media have now turned to getting their critics fired in real life. From every direction at once – right-wing politics, left-wing politics, the influence of the corporate world, the cult of “nice,” the universality of litigiousness and legalistic ass-checking, the ruthless enforcement of the neoliberal consensus – the ability to meaningfully check the powerful and connected degrades.

The effects on media are obvious. With so many avenues for muscular criticism foreclosed on, media ethics crumble. We have the paper of record running sycophantic portraits of one of the most powerful women in the world, so utterly free of qualification or skepticism that it would surprise no one if it appeared as advertising on her own website. We have Facebook and Google who have carte blance to manipulate their algorithms to achieve particular political ends, with no oversight, transparency, or accountability, and thus no way for us to know if that does happen or how powerful the effect might be if it does. We have Demos firing Matt Bruenig because he dared to offend the head of a powerful thinktank. We have paid Hillary Clinton surrogates constantly appearing on cable news with no disclosure that they take money from her campaign. We have support for TPP in unlabeled advertorials for Goldman Sachs at Vox.com. We’ve got Media Matters, still routinely discussed as some sort of independent watchdog, acting as nothing else but a paid wing of the Clinton campaign, run by professional hatchet man David Brock. We’ve got “sponsored content” for Scientology in a magazine that used to publish Frederick Douglass. We’ve got Buzzfeed’s “no haters” law as it runs hard-hitting pieces on how Jiffy Lube is the place for fast, friendly service. We’ve got The Washington Post, the paper that broke Watergate, owned by an ambitious billionaire, running barely-disguised advertisements for Uber without disclosure of said billionaire’s considerable stake in the company. We’ve got Emmett Rensin drawing the sensible conclusions from liberal punditry’s own statements about Trump and then being suspended for it, as breaking the rules of propriety risks undermining monetization. And we’ve got all of the unknown corruption under the surface, all the ways prominent websites are undoubtedly trading positive coverage for money that we never find out about. The tech press, in particular, is so routinely indistinguishable from paid advertising content that I have no faith at all in my ability to determine when it’s an explicit quid pro quo. Meanwhile the demise of the expensive, unprofitable work of actually going out into the world and reporting the news that matters plunges on ahead. The collapse of the distinction between journalism and advertising isn’t some dystopian future; it’s already here. 

Even worse, the capacity to reach the people responsible for these problems seems more diminished than ever. Sometimes people assume I have the ear of a lot of people in media, and I have to tell them, I can’t get anybody’s attention. Not anymore. All of the economic woes of the industry have people digging in and circling the wagons. It’s hard to blame them but it just deepens these problems. The “RIP my mentions!” attitude — the notion that any criticism that doesn’t come from an elite vantage is ridiculous, or actively predatory — seems to grow and grow. The social capture of media, the way that media professionals come to see pleasing other media professionals as the only meaningful criterion for success in their jobs, only deepens, and leaves our journalist class more and more remote from the interests of the ordinary people they are meant to serve. This is not a critique of the character of the people in this profession, which is filled with many decent, hardworking, and principled individuals. It’s a statement of the structural forces affecting an industry and how a group of people have responded. Peel your average professional politics or culture writer off from the pack, and they’ll usually be very upfront about this. But in the pack, particularly on social media, the response is always to hold the indictment up to each other for showy, communal ridicule. It’s a depressingly efficient system for ensuring that no critique is given the attention and consideration it deserves.

If you don’t believe me, wait and see the kind of response this post gets. It will prove every point I’m making, as always happens with my media criticism.

I can’t say that this is as bad as it gets. Surely the lead up to Iraq was worse; surely the consequences far more horrific. But I’ve never felt more hopeless about the chance for progress. At least the brutal pre-Iraq period led to the dawning realization, among the public and among our pundit class, that the war was a sham and a crime, and that there was something deeply wrong with the media system that had openly championed it. Blogs and other insurgent media really did insert themselves into the national conversation. There was a sense that, perhaps, something had fundamentally changed, that there was a new adversarial spirit at play in our media. But days passed into years and the people who were wrong failed up again and again and those who were right were largely ignored. Meanwhile many of those original insurgent voices got sucked up into the maw of establishment media. I can’t blame them – you have to pay the rent – but many of them absorbed all of the old prejudices they once disdained. Today, some of the self-same people who made a name for themselves on blogs now reach immediately for “you’re just some guy with a WordPress” when we are in conflict.

In years of reading and writing about politics, I’ve heard again and again that there is some space you can occupy that is perfectly civil while remaining challenging, independent, and adversarial. And I’m more certain than ever that this is an empty pretense. For Gawker to do its necessary work in mocking the moneyed and the powerful in media, politics, and Silicon Valley, it must necessarily risk being occasionally childish, unfair, even destructive. In those times we do not have to spare it criticism. But we can’t participate in the rush to punish it with bankruptcy and, perhaps, destruction. Indeed if you believe in the adversarial functions of the media at all I think it is your responsibility to defend it, today and tomorrow. If you can’t find that perspective out of respect for Gawker or Matt Bruenig or Emmett Rensin, find it out of respect for journalism’s essential functions, and if you’re a journalist or writer or editor who maintains a belief in the adversarial press, out of self-preservation. I assure you the noose will only tighten in time.

I will leave you by saying that it seems that a widely predicted outcome of digital culture has come true: that all of the new means of interconnection serve as a vast system of mutual surveillance, that there is now nowhere for us to go where we are not constantly observed and thus constantly judged by everyone around us, that the internet’s great power is not for more human diversity but for more human conformity, that we are now all constantly under supervision, supervision of the bosses and the government and the great Puritan effect of other people’s attention, that we are training generations to fear that people with power are always watching, that the necessary and inevitable effect will be a culture of docility and fear, that the constant guilt by association leads us to relationships that are prophylactic and insincere, that the future is the fascism of the HR department, the totalitarianism of our own grinding uncertainty about who might be offended by what we’ve done, and why, and of never knowing why we’re in trouble but always being keenly aware that we are, where only the wealthy and the connected enjoy the privilege of candor and indifference to offense, our country a democracy of fear.

(If you like this, and you’d like to keep me cranky and independent for a little while longer, albeit just as a private individual, you could drop a few bucks into the tip charge at the top right. In this environment, I can’t be too proud to beg.)

what would you share with the entire internet?

We all have thoughts and feelings that are very particular, make us feel very lonely, and which we feel we’ll never perfectly articulate. And I also think we all have arguments or ideas that frustrate us that crop up over and over again, at least if you’re an internet obsessive like me. Sometimes, you find that perfect essay that really pins that feeling down, or responds to that argument or idea, and you say to yourself, “I wish I could share this with the entire internet.” They’re rare and valuable. So I decided to make a list.

Personally, I would never include just a straight takedown of an individual person or essay; unless that writer is really influential, like setting a much broader trend, it isn’t worth it. And you wouldn’t want to tie a piece too closely to the news cycle. Would an essay about Balloon Boy be worth reading today? Instead you’d want to share stuff that used contemporary events to draw conclusions about larger trends and common behaviors or misunderstandings. Let’s say for humility’s sake that assigning your own work is out. What would you share?

Here’s some of mine, off the top of my head, in no particular order. I guarantee you there’s a ton of recency bias in here. I’m sure I’ll think of five more as soon as I hit post. By the way: almost all of these appeared on blogs despite emerging years and years after blogging was considered a dead format.

Greg Laden, “Today’s Falsehood: Correlation Implies/Does Not Imply Causation

When we hear “Causation doesn’t imply causation” is the person saying that two series of, say, 200 pairs of numbers that closely describe a straight line or a nice well behaved curve on a graph are not so seemingly linked because of causation happening somewhere, and that its just random? Often, yes, that is what they are saying. Recently, a friend of mine mentioned a possible link between a number of physical things about herself and a described medical syndrome, and a friend of hers said “That’s correlation. Correlation doesn’t mean causation.” I thought that was an interesting example of the use of the phrase. My friend with the interesting symptoms was not comparing a series of measurements of two phenomena, but rather, a series of attributes, and a mixture of quantitative and qualitative attributes at that, and how well they matched a similar list thought to be linked to a certain condition. She was diagnosing, not measuring. She was carrying out a Peircian abductive inference, not a quantitative induction. Yet the phrase came up in a rather scolding manner, from a well meaning yet somehow paternalistic observer. And it meant, as it often does, nothing helpful.

Jia Tolentino, “When Everything is Bullying, Nothing Is

… the real issue is much more complicated than bullying—that, as always, the problem is people, a group that includes you and me and all our bad behavior. The problem is the way we learn to assert our interests over one another, the way we cheat on our partners, or gossip about that cheating, or gang up on someone for the fun of it, or make people believe that everything personal needs to be worked out in public when probably not much needs to be that way at all.

Michael S. Teitelbaum, “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage

Everyone knows that the United States has long suffered from widespread shortages in its science and engineering workforce, and that if continued these shortages will cause it to fall behind its major economic competitors. Everyone knows that these workforce shortages are due mainly to the myriad weaknesses of American K-12 education in science and mathematics, which international comparisons of student performance rank as average at best…. The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce.

Yasmin Nair, The Postracial Delusion

It is this “incoherence” of white supremacy that sometimes escapes notice in anti-racist circles, which have a tendency to position it as an unchanging entity. The temptation is also to indiscriminately attach the label of “white supremacy” to every instance of racial violence or hostility, which only serves to make the real nature of its power all the more unrecognizable. At the same time, of course, everyday racism is so often—some would argue always—the result of centuries of white supremacy. The trouble, though, is that in our struggles against white supremacy, it can be hard to discern how best to recognize its history and how that history manifests itself in everyday situations.

Michael Sacasas, “10 Points of Unsolicited Advice for Tech Writers

4. When someone criticizes a specific technology without renouncing all other forms of technology, they are not being hypocritical–they are thinking….

5. Relatedly, the observation that human beings have always used technology is not a cogent response to the criticism of particular technologies. The use of a pencil does not entail my endorsement of genetic engineering.

digby, “Objectively Pro-Putin

Ricks is free to think what he wants about Greenwald and Snowden’s political beliefs and if he has some evidence that they have signed on to Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine agenda, as a top journalist I’m sure he can figure out a way to prove it. Otherwise this is just another example of a certain strain of creepy social coercion that rears its head in our culture from time to time and should be resisted by anyone who believes that administering loyalty oaths and demanding intellectual conformity, whether it comes  from a church, the government or one’s social group, is antithetical to a free society. One would think that journalists would be at the top of that list of resistors, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years it’s that there are no greater enforcers of elite membership rules than political journalists.

Alan Jacobs, “Changes

These two environments, Twitter and Tumblr, have something important in common, which they share with most social media sites: they invite you to measure people’s response to you. For many people this probably means nothing, but on me it has always had an effect. Over the years I developed a sense of how many RTs a tweet was likely to earn, how many reblogs or likes a Tumblr post would receive – and I couldn’t help checking to see if my guesses were right. I never really cared anything about numbers of followers, and for a long time I think I covertly prided myself on that; but eventually I came to understand that I wanted my followers, however many there happened to be, to notice what I was saying and to acknowledge my wit or wisdom in the currency of RTs and faves. And over time I believe that desire shaped what I said, what I thought – what I noticed. I think it dulled my brain. I think it distracted me from the pursuit of more difficult, challenging ideas that don’t readily fit into the molds of social media.

ourcatastrophe, “on call-out culture

basically the issue I have with the callout is that personal reactions to it are coded as irrelevant defense mechanisms.  when the personal is totally and only political, it ceases to exist as a category worth paying attention to.  so the only valid response to a call-out that you think is unfair or cruel is to deploy a counter-callout.  it becomes a kind of theoretical arms race, and the winner is the person who can spot the most structural influence on an individual shitty interaction.

The Epicurean Dealmaker, “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

Some of the motivations behind this character creation are the same or similar for everyone who blogs: we want our online persona to appear smarter, funnier, wiser, better-read, and more articulate than we are in real life. Some of them are more unique to my own situation and adopted persona: I want to appear richer, more powerful, better connected, more successful, more handsome, and more wicked here than I am in actuality. In any event, these exaggerations or deceptions add up—we hope—to create an online “self” that is more compelling and admirable than our own and in whose reflected glory we can bask our gratified egos. We tell ourselves that yes, my online self is the real me, me as I want others to see me, minus all those embarrassing, incidental flaws and imperfections which do not define me as I would be seen. As I want to be. As I really am.

Maya Binyam,  “Watching the Woke Olympics

If, in 2008, “stay woke” was a phrase that made no sense, today it’s the guiding principle of an increasingly popular game. The Woke Olympics — broadcast live on twitter, promoted by the likes of Woke Clothing — is the multi-round tournament to which these games belong. It’s players, almost all of whom are white, are disciples of the refrain “stay woke,” a reminder to name racism when it appears, or, rather, to name fellow white folk who are lagging behind. In some white circles, the existence of racism is contested; in others, identifying racism has become a kind of contest. For those in this latter circle, racism is something to catch in the most literal sense, and successfully isolating your opponent is how you win the match. The best players are those who accumulate the names of people who “are” racist or of things that “have” racism in them. Woke Olympians, in other works, are frenetic curators of the most obvious aggressions; they launch a series of condemnations — in tweets, Facebook statuses, album reviews — and call it cultural critique: Macklemore is appropriative, Donald Trump is xenophobic, and all of their own well-meaning forefathers were racist too.

Stephen Bond, “The Ad Hominem Fallacy Fallacy

One of the most widely misused terms on the Net is “ad hominem”. It is most often introduced into a discussion by certain delicate types, delicate of personality and mind, whenever their opponents resort to a bit of sarcasm. As soon as the suspicion of an insult appears, they summon the angels of ad hominem to smite down their foes, before ascending to argument heaven in a blaze of sanctimonious glory. They may not have much up top, but by God, they don’t need it when they’ve got ad hominem on their side. It’s the secret weapon that delivers them from any argument unscathed.

In reality, ad hominem is unrelated to sarcasm or personal abuse. Argumentum ad hominem is the logical fallacy of attempting to undermine a speaker’s argument by attacking the speaker instead of addressing the argument. The mere presence of a personal attack does not indicate ad hominem: the attack must be used for the purpose of undermining the argument, or otherwise the logical fallacy isn’t there. It is not a logical fallacy to attack someone; the fallacy comes from assuming that a personal attack is also necessarily an attack on that person’s arguments.

I have relented on the tip jar

After a lot of requests, I’ve finally become craven/broke enough to add a tip jar to this here website. There’s a PayPal link in the upper right hand corner. Thanks to those who have asked for your desire to pitch in. Just remember it’s like Starbucks: always appreciated, never expected.

political appropriation

Regular readers know that I often find the concept of cultural appropriation unhelpful. That’s not universal by any means – don’t wear a native American headdress, jackass, don’t “talk ghetto” for laughs – but a lot of the specific allegations of appropriation that I see don’t make much sense. When people complain about the cultural appropriation of, for example, white people using ingredients from various ethnic cuisines, I think they’re mistaking the inevitable processes of culture for a sin. All culture is hybrid; all culture is absorbed from the influence of others. There’s no line where one culture ends and the other begins, and if there were, there would be no alternative to borrowing. No cultural practice emerges from thin air – not a lexicon, not music, not food, not morals, nothing. Cultural borrowing is inevitable. I’m not saying that’s good. I’m saying it’s true regardless of whether it’s good.

But there is a type of appropriation that I’m seeing more and more of that I do think is wrong, and preventable, and yet it’s one that seems largely excused, even embraced, by many of the same people who complain the loudest about cultural appropriation. I would call this political appropriation: when members of the dominant classes adopt political critiques that were developed by members of the marginal classes and use them against other members of the dominant classes. I’m here talking mostly about the phenomenon of white men leveling “white male” at other white men, particularly on social media. It’s become ubiquitous, particularly during this primary – I’ve been guilty of it occasionally myself – and I think it really is bad news in all the ways the discourse of cultural appropriation identifies. Every day, I see white dudes who would appear to most of the world to be the epitome of the angry white dude angrily accusing other white dudes of being white dudes. And I think it has non-trivial negative consequences for how we talk about gender and race.

Unlike some white people (mostly conservatives), I don’t find it offensive when people of color use “white” in a pejorative sense. Unlike some men (such as MRAs), I don’t think women making fun of men is offensive. In both cases, people who have traditionally occupied a subordinate social role are drawing from a long tradition of political critique – some serious and weighty, some satirical and insouciant, both often vital and necessary – that has challenged the status quo’s racism and sexism. When a person of color levels a political critique at whiteness, they are reaching into a deep archive of theory and argument about the way race functions in our society. When a woman makes a political criticism of men, she’s taking part in a storied tradition of feminist critique. And despite the fever dreams of the alt-right, these criticisms are very rarely actually anti-man or anti-white, in the existential sense, but instead attack the persistence and destruction of sexism and racism. Yes, there are radical thinkers out there that have genuine existential condemnations of whiteness and maleness, such as the Nation of Islam’s theory of the genetic wickedness of white people or certain radical feminist takes on inherent male destructiveness. Those ideas aren’t really my business. These opinions are, in any event, quite rare, and are invoked more often by conservatives looking to dismiss anti-racist and feminist movements than by most progressive people. Instead, criticisms of white men are usually a reflection of very natural frustration and righteous anger at the continuing power of racism and sexism to shape the world in 2016. That is, at least, my take, as a white guy who necessarily speaks from a limited and contingent perspective.

If you’re a white guy who feels aggrieved that a person of color or a woman has used “white” or “male” as an insult online, maybe you should ask yourself why people of color and women feel aggrieved, and how you could potentially work to change those conditions.

But something very different is going on when white men themselves critique white men as such. I don’t generally believe that the salience of political attitudes stem from identity; that way lies support for Margaret Thatcher as some sort of progressive champion. But I do think that political statements exist in a social and economic context, and that this context complicates how those critiques work. And when some white guy on Twitter with a bushy beard and dumb hat is going long on calling other white guys white guys, as happens literally every day now, I think you’re seeing the exact ugly consequences of appropriation that critics have identified: it’s the capture of cultural and social practices that were developed by particular people facing particular kinds of oppression by those who don’t face that oppression. When a white guy feels no compunction against leveling “white male” as a critique, he’s taking advantage of decades of work by feminist and antiracist thinkers in a way that drains that work of its particularity and thus its power. These casual appropriations of “white male” by white men always seem like insults of convenience to me, a way for these guys to borrow the power of a legacy of political anger that was not developed by or for them. Isn’t that precisely why we’ve become sensitive to appropriation, that kind of casual, entitled, unearned borrowing? What could be a better emblem of privilege than someone saying “even this, even this critique of me and people like me, crafted by people who are not like me in response to an unequal and unjust world, is mine to use as I please”?

Also, as I’ve often argued, these uses of feminist and antiracist politics inherently excuse the white men using them from racism and sexism. They’ll tell you they include themselves in their critiques –  good lord, how often they’ll tell you – but it’s simply a matter of social reality that being in the position of the critic always elevates you above the critique. No matter how sincere these guys are when they say that they are indicting themselves as well, they necessarily have placed themselves in the role of judge rather than accused. Maybe worst of all, these insults are toothless. They don’t threaten anybody. Sometimes when I respond to white men calling me a white man on Twitter, they come back with some version of “haha, white male tears.” But I assure you, few things are less likely to inspire tears than another white dude calling me a white dude. I have received every insult imaginable on the internet, and few have as little power to harm me as a white guy calling me a white guy. The accusation is so inherently ridiculous, and so immediately rejected by so many people, that it can’t serve as a useful social tool. Radical critiques are like antibiotics; the more they’re overused, the less effective they’ll be. That’s particularly sad given that often this type of accusation is just a way for the person using it to locate himself on the right side. Like so many other examples of white male progressive behavior, what is ostensibly done in the service of other people is really done for the service of the white guy in question, for his self-perceived righteousness and his ego.

White people, critiques of whiteness are not for you. Men, critiques of maleness are not for you. White men, critiques of white men are not for you.

That does not mean you can’t engage in feminism or anti-racism. Far from it. You have a great number of tools at your disposal. If you think another white person is being racist, you can say so. If you think another dude is being sexist, you can say so. It’s only when you attack the identity of other white men while you maintain the privileges that identity confers that you engage in noxious appropriation. You might think you’re being radical; I think you’re looking for borrowed rhetorical power and to receive credit for your progressivism. Most importantly, you can do your best to live a righteous life – by treating women and people of color with respect, by working within our political system to attack injustice, by being a good person. I would argue that part of doing so, if you really embrace the critique you are claiming to be a part of, is to pursue feminism and anti-racism quietly. To work and live for real social justice in a way that does not seek credit. I have never seen so many people performing in my life as I do now, in 21st century American political life. The open and ugly question about the broad adoption of the language and norms of social justice is whether most people involved in it would bother if they could not bask in the glow of the attention they receive for doing so. White dudes shouting “white dude!” is always an attention-seeking behavior. Always.

We live in an era of professional anti-racism educators, of commodified political movements, of seminars on the Black Panthers brought to you by banks that defrauded black homeowners, of intersectional education sold at great cost to elite private schools, of college presidents hiring sensitivity counselors while jacking up tuition, of Matt McGorry. The question for those committed to social justice is no longer whether they can get attention or change social norms. The question is whether they can use the attention they’ve gotten to create actual, meaningful change – and if all the pandering and attention-seeking is a means of making that change, or just another example of the privileged getting in the way.