what thoughts I have of you tonight

Five years or so ago, I was reading in the Russell Library in my hometown in Middletown, Connecticut, while two blocks away on Broad Street, Stephen Morgan was pumping bullets into Johanna Justin-Jinich. By then, the bookstore where she worked was called Broad Street Books, but I will always think of it as Atticus. I spent more hours picking through the same old books in that store than I can remember, while my father browsed the magazines. In that same store, as I picked through the same old books in that library, Johanna Justin-Jinich gasped for air and bled out on the floor.

In the days that followed, I thought often of another young woman who died young, and in agony, and less than a mile from where I was standing. In 1989, during our Sidewalk Sale, 9-year-old Jessica Short was approached by a mental patient from Connecticut Valley Hospital and stabbed to death, right in front of the crowds, and in front of her mother. He had wandered down from those old brownstones on the ridge overlooking the city, found a knife, and killed her. They say it killed downtown, but downtown was dying already, another boring story of an old New England factory town with no more factory. It didn’t help that Connecticut’s only real state psychiatric hospital was a 15 minute walk from downtown; they did and do call it “MentalTown” because of the people who, released with nowhere to go and nothing to do, wander down to Main Street and sit on the curb. One way or the other, Jessica Short was the nail in the coffin, for a decade or more. If you weren’t going to Bob’s to get a cheap pair of jeans or to that one Chinese restaurant that sold cigarettes without carding, you weren’t going to Main Street. Anyway: when I heard about Johanna Justin-Jinich, I thought about Jessica Short, about being just a little younger than she was, and about that mad rush in the crowd, those screaming parents, those grasping hands.

It took years for Main Street to come back. By the time Johanna Justin-Jinich was killed, I had grown, improbably, into an adult, and Main Street Middletown had become, improbably, the kind of place people celebrated. It was and is a lovely transformation; there’s bars and restaurants and, at times, shops. Most improbable of all, Wesleyan kids, notoriously adverse to townie culture, come downtown. They make the ten minute walk down, from that other set of lovely brownstones, on the other side of the valley, from the other ridge overlooking the city.

Last year, I was taking the Bronze Loop bus, that’s the #16, heading home, as it turned down Northwestern Avenue past Armstrong Hall. As we passed the statue for the old moonwalker, I thought about when he died, right at the beginning of my second year here. They stacked flowers and candles around his statue. As we turned my pocket vibrated. I had gotten a text from the school’s automated emergency system. It said there was an active shooter on campus, but it turned out that was wrong. We passed the electrical engineering building and some cops, hustling a dark haired young man in handcuffs into a police SUV. The street was packed with cars, and with men, and I knew then somebody had died.

He was sentenced today, Cody Cousins. They gave him 65 years. I hope that they are 65 years of physical safety and emotional turmoil. At his sentencing he said something awful and self-aggrandizing. They tell me that we on the left have a justice problem, and maybe we do. I don’t know. I know I oppose the death penalty in a way that is deeper than thinking. I know that our carceral state is an abomination, a stain on all of us who live free lives. I know that we have created a penal system designed to produce rape, torture, and murder, and that all of us are implicated in that casual holocaust. I still dream of a world where every prisoner can go free. But I also know that Andrew Boldt was young and alive, and he was shot and stabbed in his heart, and that Cody Cousins smiled in the courtroom. And I hope he stares at the ceiling of the cell and feels just as small and petty as he did when he came up with his murder, that he knows he’s a loser and that killing Andrew only made him more of a loser. And though I would give anything for him to live the rest of his days in health and security, it’s true that I hope that Cody Cousins dies in prison.

I fucking hate guns. I hate gun guys. I hate “I’m a lefty, but I love guns, it’s weird.” I hate the way gun guys get when they talk about their guns, their sweaty palms, their manic voices. I hate the intricacy of their knowledge. I hate their excitement, I hate the way it sounds in their voices. I hate the boutique ontology of the gun guy, the bizarre, convoluted moral reasoning, the way they all become little Kants, coming up with personal schools of logic that have a funny way of ending up with them with their guns, their bullets in bodies, and evil in the bodies. I hate guns. I hate guns. And I hate their friends.

Yeah: the schizophrenic who killed Jessica Short, he used a knife. And Cody Cousins had a knife, too. You could tell the parents of some poor kid shot to death at school that it’s not about guns, if you’re feeling up for that sort of thing.

I have no right to any of these stories. I have absolutely no connection to them except for this: I was there. It’s Forrest Gump shit, dumb luck stuff, just pointless coincidence. And with that kind of pointless coincidence, you come up with the typical hero narrative, where you’re just in the nick of time. Even when you’re eight years old. In my mind I jump in front of bullets. You know. But you also get old enough where you understand that if you had been there, you would have been like everybody who actually was there: just another dumb look on a dumb, uncomprehending face. Your gun has no bullets. All I can tell you is, as improbable as it sounds, I got that text message, and I was on that bus, and I saw his face.

My life has been steeped in these coincidences, that’s all. And so now I’m profligate in my desires, desires for love, and marriage, and for children, and for the typical things we buttress against the fact that crazy people can get a gun the way I can buy a beer. But we have to be real with each other: there’s always just another Cody Cousins, and he always has a gun, and as the woman wrote, we’re all beyond saving by children.

Freddie, Fredrik, Fred….

My dad went to Antioch College (RIP?) for his undergrad. When he got there, he had two roommates. All three of them were named Fred(e)ri(c)k, which he always chalked up to a joke by some administrator at the famously liberal, weirdo school. He would later go on to work at Wesleyan, which is where I grew up and is (was) itself a famously weirdo, liberal school. (Lately the administration has worked tirelessly to change its unique character, but that’s a story for another day.) Anyway, they resolved this by having one of them go by Fred, one of them go by Freddie, and my father by Frits. (Not Fritz, incidentally, but Frits.)

Since my little piece for the NYT listed my full name of Fredrik (its a Dutch spelling), and this website uses my full name as well, some people are asking me if I am abandoning being called Freddie in the pursuit of being more serious. Never! The NYT found me through here, and I chose FredrikdeBoer.com just because it’s a professional site, etc. But Fredrik or Freddie or even Fred are fine. It’s not part of a conscious decision to try and be taken more seriously. I would hate that! Freddie is what most of my friends and my siblings call me, although it varies a bit. You can call me what you would like.

a plurality of failing students are white

The great education journalist Dana Goldstein made this point some years back, but I can’t find the piece, and it bears rewriting: while a greater percentage of black and Hispanic students fail to meet educational performance standards in this country than their white counterparts, due to the demographics of the United States, a plurality of the students who struggle academically are white. This has rhetorical and policy implications.

Look at NAEP data, for example. The NAEP is the gold standard of American educational metrics. (Not coincidentally, it works on a stratified sampling model, not the census model typical of most state standardized testing regimes. But that’s a different post.) The sturdy racial achievement gap is present in recent NAEP scores, as it is in most metrics. (Although cf. the racial achievement gap compared to the income achievement gap over time.) Certainly, that percentage gap is important, and addressing educational inequalities requires paying attention to racial disparities.

But according to the most recent Children’s Defense Fund report on childhood inequality (PDF), “Of the 73.7 million children in the United States in 2012, 10.2 million —14 percent — were Black, while 38.9 million — 53 percent — were White and 17.6 million — 24 percent — were Hispanic.” That means that, if the NAEP findings are correct and their sampling is rigorous– and, again, NAEP’s sampling is the gold standard– then there are about 8,500,000 black students, about 13,500,000 Hispanic students, and about 18 million white students that are below proficient in math or reading. (Tons of NAEP info here to play with.)

There’s of course some sampling error here, and this is a crude type of analysis; we could chop these numbers up in a ton of more sophisticated ways. We’re extrapolating past 8th grade, which is sensible if a bit loose. I’m amenable to people disagreeing with these numbers on the margins. But in pure brute force terms, the reality is clear: given the still-large white majority, white kids are the largest single racial  group contributing to poor educational performance. The percentage gaps are real and vexing, but you could bring every black and Hispanic child in America to proficiency tomorrow and you’d still have millions and millions of students below grade-level proficiency.

Why does it matter? Working in educational and pedagogical research, I interact with a lot of people who have a tendency to perceive and portray our country’s educational inequality as a matter of poor minority students underperforming everyone else. This isn’t an artifact of racism; on the contrary, it’s usually a consequence of an attempt at progressive realkeeping. Many researchers and journalist are deeply committed to ending America’s historic racial inequalities, they think that eliminating the education gap is a key aspect of that, so they want to devote their attention and resources to that problem. That’s a natural, principled stance, but in the frequent tendency to focus on educational problems as problems for people of color, we risk developing a distorted picture of these issues.

In part, the problem is that there’s a thin line between identifying particular demographic groups as in need of help and attention, and creating a stigma about those groups. Hispanic and black children need attention and help, but if you are relentless in associating these groups with educational failure, you risk creating a cultural expectation that educational failure is inherent to these groups. I’m particularly sensitive to the ways in which equating educational failure with black and Hispanic students contributes to cultural scapegoating that is not defensible, and to the “human biodiversity” race-and-IQ arguments I’m forever arguing against. We need to advocate for the special needs of black and Hispanic students without falling into the easy-but-false assumption that educational problems are black and Hispanic problems. To do so can too easily become another way in which our national problems are projected onto these vulnerable populations.

I also think that we need to pay attention to the millions of white children who are struggling in schools because they also suffer from systematic inequality and deserve our attention and help too. This worries some of my liberal friends; there seems to be this latent attitude that if we expand our sympathetic attention to white students as well, we will fail to adequately prioritize the needs of black and Hispanic students who additionally suffer the consequences of racism. To this I simply insist on our capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time; we are fully capable of recognizing the special burden students of color face, dedicate ourselves to helping to ease those burdens, while also recognizing the potent social and economic inequalities that deeply hurt white children as well. We can, and we have to.

a little news

I’m excited to say that I’ve been invited to join the team at Kairos, an online peer-reviewed academic journal, as their Communications Editor. I am really excited for the opportunity. I admire and enjoy Kairos because it works to expand the definition of what academic work can be, publishing podcasts, visual art, interactive texts, and more. I also admire it because it is open access, and I think the need to open access to academic work is one of the most direct and important tasks we face as academics today.

When Aaron Swartz died, he was the target of a vicious and aggressive prosecution, owing to the fact that he had downloaded many articles from the academic journal archive JSTOR. This prosecution was ridiculous on many levels, but few more enraging than the fact that these articles were written for no direct monetary compensation by academics who felt they were contributing to the public good. The academic publishing cartel depends on the labor of professors and researchers who are paid by other institutions, very often public entities, and sucks millions and millions of dollars from our colleges and universities. Meanwhile, they systematically prevent access to the public. I have a very large network of academics that I am friends and acquaintances with. I bring up this subject constantly. In conversation with hundreds and hundreds of academics, I have never– never– met one that does not believe in the principle of open access to academic research.

The cost of hosting and developing the websites on which academic work can be provided to the public is not zero. But then, since colleges and universities already pay millions of dollars to for-profit entities for journal access, surely we can begin to withdraw from that hideously expensive edifice and devote funds to hosting publicly available academic research online. We need only make up our minds and create a coalition. There is no reason, in the 21st century, that we can’t make academic research universally accessible.

The work of a single journal, of course, makes little difference. But I believe that Kairos can be part of a broad movement towards open access academic publishing, so long as we as academics choose to value work that is published in freely accessible, online spaces. The academy faces many problems, some of which frequently seem intractable. But this problem is clearly, thoroughly solvable. We can move to a norm of universal free access to academic research, and someday, we will.

yes, privacy matters

Corey Robin:

One of the hallmarks of a repressive state, particularly in the twentieth century, is the use of blackmail against gays and lesbians in order to get them to collaborate and inform on their friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and other potential or actual dissidents. The Stasi was notorious for turning gays and lesbians into collaborators (see pp. 567ff); one of the key figures in Timothy Garton Ash’s The File—Schuldt—is just such an informant. So pervasive was the use of this type of blackmail during the Cold War that it also figured prominently on the US side: one of the main justifications proffered for drumming out gays and lesbians from the federal government during the McCarthy era was that they were susceptible to being blackmailed by the Soviets. Though no one ever found a single instance of that.

One of the most frustrating arguments in the post-Edward Snowden world is the argument that you should have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. This is wrongheaded for any number of reasons, but sexual practice is a perfect example. This is because many people enjoy sexual practices that a) are perfectly moral, consensual, and legal, but b) we have no interest in sharing with the public. Clearly, in this instance, part of what we need to do is to continue to chip away at the edifice of homophobia, and I am willing to admit that this is a particularly acute problem in the Muslim world. But defeating homophobia will not lead to a world where we all want to share all of our private sexual practices with other. Indeed, it’s my intuitive feeling that many people enjoy private sexual moments in part because they are taking part in practices that they don’t feel need to be shared with the wider world, in contrast with a society that has become so public in so many ways.

I always thought the best book about totalitarianism wasn’t 1984, but A Tale of Two Cities. And in that book, the most constant, important symbol is the eye– the omnipresent eye. Being free means being free to do things that you don’t want other people to know about. It has to.

“you’ll never get that window open!” say men nailing it shut

Jon Chait and Will Wilkinson got together on some sweet, Democrat-defending neoliberalism, going after poor old Tom Frank with the whole “you don’t know the complicated maths!” routine. Chait, of course, is the Andrew Cuomo of the hippie punching press, holding the Mickey Kaus Endowed Chair of Fake Liberalism and spending most of his time raging that anyone to the left of Zell Miller has a national forum at all. He writes for New York magazine, but he would fit in better if it was called Albany. Chait is the ultimate endorser of Teh Politics, the leader of the club of a political philosophy that takes as its central precept that nothing ever, ever changes in politics, ever, unless those remorseless and all-powerful Republicans decide to colonize another planet like the Borg. Thus any political project that isn’t manifested by a bill currently sitting on the President’s desk ready for signature is never worth starting. Which is useful to comfortable centrist white dudes with lifelong tenure among the Very Serious set.

The notion that all political projects that weren’t started by the Congressional White Caucus are doomed is belied by the entire history of a) American politics, b) America, and c) politics, but that’s of little concern to Chait. Chait so long ago slipped into pure self-parody that he now seems to think that unearned condescension is not only all that’s required to win a political argument but that it’s the universal grammar of all human language. I really don’t think the man is capable of considering someone else’s political position without Googling “how do I make my writing more smirky?” He writes the way Brainy Smurf talks.

Now, where someone like Wilkinson, whose politics have never been part of a meaningful mass movement (unlike, say, Thomas Frank), gets off looking down his nose at the supposed political impossibility of Frank’s preferences, I don’t know. In any event, Wilkinson has a moment of clarity when he writes, “the party that succeeds in pulling the median in its direction gets more of what it wants and is forced to concede less of what it doesn’t. This, I think, is the kernel of truth nestled inside Mr Frank’s fulmination.” This is not a kernel of truth; it is the only meaningful truth. Politics is a fulcrum. The center is defined by extremes. Conservatives have won overwhelmingly in the last half century or more– certainly including in the Obama era– not because of overwhelming demographic advantage (which they don’t have) but because they have ruthlessly and with great discipline moved the center, since the Goldwater days. That’s how you get a Chicago liberal constitutional law scholar community organizer President who gloats about cutting food stamps as a way to prove his seriousness and drones Muslim kids like it’s going out of style. (Jon Chait just suddenly got aroused without knowing why.) Move to the right to win the House? They’ll just move with you, the way they have for the last twenty-odd years. They are so much better at moving to the right than you’ll ever be, Democrats. Clinton’s triangulation looked good for about, oh, 18 months before Gingrich showed him what tacking right actually means.

Things in politics change, but they change through demand. I give you the opening section of Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm:

… the American right had been rendered a political footnote–perhaps for good. 

The wise men weighed in. Reston of the Times: “He has wrecked his party for a long time to come and is not even likely to control the wreckage.” Rovere of the New Yorker: “The election has finished the Goldwater school of political reaction.” “By every test we have,” declared James McGregor Burns, one of the nation’s most esteemed scholars of the presidency, “this is as surely a liberal epoch as the 19th century was a political one.

The rest, of course, is history. Conservatives won. And they won not despite losses like the Goldwater campaign, but precisely because of them: because they are and have been entirely willing to lose individual elections if it means dragging the fight to the right, and in doing so setting the middle in such a way that even when Democrats win, they lose. Every time some Tea Party candidate defeats an establishment Republican and loses an election, the national media laughs. But the center will have been established, and future Republicans will know that they must move to the right to ward off such primary challenges, and eventually they’ll win, in large measure because terrified Democrats will refuse to make any meaningful attempts to define their party or what it is for. And so when Democrats ride an unprecedented electoral wave, inspired by the most incompetent and corrupt administration in a hundred years, and invest incredible political capital to barely scratch out a legislative win for their health care plan, that health care plan is the one written by Heritage. That’s how conservatives win.

Conservatives do not allow their politicians to say “we can’t push for that, because of Teh Politics.” They make demands, and they enforce those demands through the primary process, and that in turns changes the politics. Democrats preemptively declare defeat on all things, and the Jon Chaits carry their water.

Now for Chait this is all fine– he doesn’t want things to change. Congressional Republicans for Chait serve the exact same function that New York Republican legislators serve for Cuomo: they are a permanent excuse for stasis. Hey, man. Those Republicans. What are you going to do? And so just as is true for Cuomo, there is no responsibility for Chait to ever fight for anything at all. He has the permanent, powerful, built-in excuse for why we’re not going to make any progress, and so he can concentrate on doing what he really loves, which is telling snide jokes about radical leftists, which in his mind includes, like, Tom Daschle. I imagine that Chait would feel total panic if, for a moment, he spied a genuine left-wing political opportunity. But then, he’s paid not to.

But I’m not sure what’s in it for Wilkinson. He’s recently gotten kind of wishy washy about the whole politics deal, seeming to go back and forth between “maybe I’ll write arch neoliberal brow furrowers about liberals that are ideologically convenient for The Economist” and “maybe I’ll draw another doodle of Henry Rollins.” I like Wilkinson and some of his work, but this is boring stuff, and of no particular use for his own project. How does he get to his groovy, open-borders minarchism by aligning with Jon Chait in seeing nothing but political impossibility around him? I don’t have a clue.

I love this, by the way: “Ezra Klein is an incisive analyst with an extraordinarily detailed grasp of policy and a crisp, bland prose style.” Do you think Wilkinson’s opinion of Klein is connected to the technocratic neoliberal nerdbro style they share? I’m thinking yes! Klein’s greatest strength, beyond modelling eyeglasses, is his recognition that being without principles will always be seen, in Washington, as the highest principle of them all. He is fond of saying that he has no ideology, only empiricism, which is like saying you never get wet because you live underwater. But to the degree that he is associated with a certain Saturday-morning-cartoon moderate liberalism based on NBER data and good vibes, it’s fair to ask: how’s all of that going for him, Will? How’s it going for all of us?

Update: One country, two major political parties, two broad ideological orientations. One side has responded to unprecedented electoral defeat by embracing its passionate base, pulling the center towards that base, treating ideological extremity as healthy and beneficial, and politically punishing members of the party that fail to support the ideological project. The other side has responded to unprecedented electoral defeat by insulting its passionate base, chasing the center as it moves towards the other party, treating ideological extremity as inherently shameful and destructive, and politically punishing members of the party that dare to support the ideological project. The former has had tremendous political success, despite the fact that it was obvious to all serious people, at one point, that the country was against them. The latter tries the same thing again and again and again and is always surprised when it fails to achieve its policy aims.

American politics is Republicans saying “I’m the true conservative” and Democrats saying “Don’t worry, I’m not a liberal.” If you think that the former’s success is written in the stars rather than thanks to that basic political strategy, you’re writing yourself out of politics and calling it maturity.

carceral progressivism

The recent scandals involving NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, for me, have revealed again this central contradiction in contemporary left-of-center thought. We have broad consensus on the left wing that we imprison too many people in America and that our police forces, in general, are overly aggressive and overly protected from punishment when they are guilty of abuse or corruption. And yet there’s also a constant impatience with any advocacy of due process, the presumption of innocence, or rights of the accused. I encounter this personally most when I am looking at Facebook or comments on websites like Gawker. People that I know to be self-identified as left-wing, or online groups that tend to be left-wing like the commenters at Gawker, are nonetheless convinced that every celebrity defendant is guilty, before the process has been given the chance to play out. Yet that due process is one of the only checks we have against the aggressive policing that, after Ferguson, we are trying to fix.

I’m even seeing progressive people putting scare quotes around “due process,” like it isn’t really a thing, or as if it isn’t an essential feature of any functioning democracy, or as if it isn’t threatened by our police state. I find this baffling.

The more sophisticated versions of this insist that rights of due process or the presumption of innocence apply only to the actual legal apparatus and that there is no obligation, moral or rhetorical, to respecting the process or maintaining skepticism about accusations. As I said regarding free speech, this is totally unworkable in actual, practical application. The notion that, for example, the NFL should mete out a harsh punishment on Adrian Peterson before he and his lawyers have had the opportunity to rebut the state’s claims just seems crazy to me. The idea that employers have no obligation to allow due process to work its course just seems contrary to a free society of laws. In a world where you have to eat to live and have to work to eat, saying that there is no expectation to due process in the workplace means that there is no expectation to due process at all. And empowering bosses to fire or punish workers at their whim seems entirely contradictory to basic left-wing commitments.

Take the creator of Cards Against Humanity, Max Temkin. He has been repeatedly referred to as an “accused rapist.” This appellation, clearly, could have a devastating effect on his life.  Many would say that he has no right to any presumption of innocence outside of a courtroom. But he’s never been formally charged with anything. As far as I can tell, the only accusation that has been made against him was second-hand and in a Facebook post. If there’s no criminal case against him, how can he defend himself and shed that stigma? Is there literally nothing he can do to restore his reputation? Conor Oberst was also in a situation where his reputation was being destroyed outside of the court system. He responded by suing his accuser, as this seemed to be the only way to actually  confront the accusation. He was vilified for doing so– how dare he sue a rape accuser? But these are the self-same people who insist that the only place we have any obligation to due process is in the court system. How can these opinions possibly be balanced in a way that isn’t a nightmare for those falsely accused? Oberst was later totally exonerated, but not before many people had already convicted him in their own minds. And that kind of conviction in the court of public opinion can have devastating social and economic consequences.

Indeed, this line of thinking is so intense that merely expressing doubt or a lack of information will get you labeled a rape denialist online. I know, I’ve been there. Those who doubted the veracity of the Oberst accuser’s story were called rape deniers or rape enablers or worse. And yet they were factually correct. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to recognize that we can a) believe that false rape accusations are rare, b) believe that sexual assaults go under-reported and under-prosecuted, but c) that false accusations do happen, rare though they certainly are and d) that for this very reason we require a system of due process. And a healthy recognition that we don’t know everything about every accusation. The notion that believing such things is inherently to dismiss or diminish rape is totally bizarre to me. Indeed: situations like the Oberst accusation, and the immediate rush to judgment by the collective will of the internet, strike me as directly undermining the effort to reduce rape and prosecute rapists.

Yes, it seems to me as well as to others that Adrian Peterson is guilty of a crime. But I know enough to know that I don’t know everything. I also know that rushes to judgment and media prosecutions have a horrible track record in civil society. I also know that presuming that everyone accused in high-profile crimes is guilty cannot help but contribute to prosecutorial overreach and police aggression. Those things go together, as they surely did in the Central Park Five case, where the absolute certainty of average people that the Five were guilty directly contributed to a politicized prosecution, and thus to injustice. More than anything, the rush to assume that we know who is good and who is bad based on our limited information seems again to be part of a juvenile vision of politics, a notion of left-wing practice as a matter of good smart people who know everything and the dumb evil people who wreck everything. That’s not a mature or workable long-term philosophy for social change, and I think the zeal with which we publicly prosecute the accused necessarily contributes to an aggressive and destructive justice system.

Update: “The difference between the Central Park Five and Michael Brown, and the NFL players you’re talking about here, is that the former are poor and lack social capital, and the latter are rich celebrities. What we want is to remove the privileges that prevent such people from facing the consequences of their actions.”

Me too! But that has to come about through challenging the general economic privilege we bestow on the rich, not by making it easier to prosecute crimes in general. Precisely because it’s very unlikely that this will make it harder on the rich, and more likely to make it harder on the poor. I worry about procedure because principle and procedure matters, yes. But also because the consequences of threats to due process and the presumption of innocence will overwhelmingly be borne by those in our culture who lack social capital. I fear that undermining the commitment to due process in these high-profile but small-in-number cases will filter down to the poor people who are typically the target of our judicial process and police.

goodies and baddies

Perhaps no instinct in American foreign policy debate is more destructive than the tendency to think that the world’s various conflicts always involve good sides and bad sides. This 25-minute Frontline documentary on Boko Haram, and the horrific excesses of the Nigerian government in hunting them, makes plain that the Manichean philosophy of foreign policy cannot withstand scrutiny. I highly encourage you to read it.

everything that you need to know about pop culture and adulthood

A.O. Scott wrote a smart, long, deep piece about the death of adulthood in art and culture in contemporary times. He’s right about most stuff, though very, very safe about everything. It has of course inspired and will inspire a vast number of Hot Takes. Some will praise him. Some of them will be part of the invincible genre of “entitled fans of pop culture cry and whine about their bogus self-conception of being oppressed.” Most will lament with Scott in the general while contributing to the phenomena he mourns in the specific. I am here to cut through the noise for you and speak to you like an adult.

1. Pop culture such as comic book movies, sci-fi, pop music, and genre TV shows has become the most powerful force in the history of human culture. There has never been a cultural force of greater economic power, artistic hegemony, media ubiquity, or social enforcement than today’s pop confections. Never. In any civilization or period of human history. Ever. Base determines superstructure. But as far as superstructure goes, this is as powerful as it gets.
2. There is no such thing as high culture. There probably never was but even if there was it died long, long ago. Outside of your fantasies, there is no group of intellectual elitists looking down their noses at the music or TV you like. Such people do not exist. When you imagine them you are being Homer at college, raging against that grouchy dean.
3. There is no conceit in current intellectual life more demonstrably false or more ubiquitous than the notion that lovers of pop culture, genre fiction, or similar “low culture” are an oppressed and denigrated minority. This is not only true, it is the absolute opposite of the truth. If you are a typical Game of Thrones/Harry Potter/Beyonce loving pop culture lover, you are part of the most spoiled, entitled, serviced, and coddled cultural group in the history of human culture. Ever.
4. In fact, the opposite of the conventional tale is the case: those who like any kind of art or media that has not been blessed to receive the bullshit, self-serving mantel of “pop culture” are subject to a never-ending stream of disdain, dismissal, and abuse. To believe that different types of cultural products should exist, and that some of these should create artistic pleasures based on work, ambiguity, or difficulty, is to be immediately and permanently labeled a snob, an empty signifier that exists simply to provide people with a convenient label to apply to those whose artistic tastes are different than their own. If you like any kind of artwork that does not leave its pleasures totally and utterly accessible at all times and to all people with no expectation that consuming art should involve effort, you will be lectured to by the aggrieved. You will get yelled at by the AV Club and Vulture and Slate, by Steve Hyden and Andy Greenwald and the rest of the crew at Bill Simmons’s Geographical Center of the American Middlebrow, in the New York Times and the New Yorker and every other sundry magazine, blog, site, app, Tumblr, Twittr, Tindr, Grindr, newsletter, listerv, forum, message board, image board, room & board, surfboard and broadsheet that humanity produces. They will deny that what you like is good, deny that you really like it, and invent all sorts of nefarious reasons that you say you like the thing you say you like. They will question not just your right to like what you like but undermine the very notion that someone else could have an aesthetic sense that is different from theirs.
5. The proximate cause of this instinct is an economically broken society in which the society of abundance and security we were promised by national mythology has turned out to be an intricate machine through which the number of winners is steadily reduced and the rewards for those still within that number are steadily increased, leaving us with permanent precarity, an inability to face the desperate need for total economic revolution, and subsequent aggression about the consumptive and aesthetic choices that we feebly use to fill the holes in our heart where our satisfaction, feelings of meaningful work, and sense of life security and fulfillment are supposed to go. Nobody, in a functional society, could really care that much about whether Jim Parsons deserves another Emmy.
6. Everyone who writes any kind of response to Scott’s piece that even minimally agrees with it will feel compelled to lard that response with genuflection and reassurance to the aggressive nerds who police our artistic discourse like prison camp screws, searching everywhere they can think of to find the disrespect they believe is simultaneously their burden to bear and the confirmation that they are part of a great and powerful master race that will rise with the completion of their very own Hero’s Journey story arc, which they imagine to lull themselves to sleep at night on their Boba Fett comforters, which we are forbidden from ever making fun of because then we are guilty of commiting a cultural Kristallnacht in the eyes of said nerds, and they own the executives who own pop culture and the writers who write about it.
7. Pop pleasures do not require defending. It’s like feeling compelled to defend respiration.
8. They’ll keep building the notion of the High Culture Elitist Monster in their minds forever, no matter how palpably unreal it is, because they have so thoroughly entangled the pleasures of art with the soothing novacane of invented victimhood. It’s not that you feel the pleasure and feel the guilt. It’s that the pleasure isn’t pleasurable if you don’t get to pretend that it’s guilty. You throw money at a vast multinational corporation and they give you sugar and you still get to keep the subversive thrill.
9. The only part of adulthood that really matters is the part where when you finally grow up, if you ever really do, it’s because you recognize that there’s other people in the world and that they matter and their needs matter and you need to set aside your self-obsession for long enough to recognize that other people’s needs are often more pressing or important than yours and to act accordingly. Every frame of Guardians of the Galaxy exists to tell you that you are the only human being in the universe.
10. None of this would ever exist if the right people weren’t getting paid.
11. Beyonce is boring.

Update: 12. Tony Scott’s problem is that he refuses to actually consider real-world virtues that come with maturity and adulthood. Like, even a little bit. For all its tweedy NYT weight-shifting, there’s no point where Scott actually bothers to look at factors like 9. here. He’s too concerned about not appearing to be a man of the people. Which is Scott’s singular, existential failing as a critic: he has the instincts and chops of someone willing to criticize the public taste, but not the heart for it. He’s too interested in being beloved to be provocative, so he settles for that NYT Sunday magazine approximation, “thought provoking.” It’s a shame.