culture eats politics, baseball edition

As I pointed out the other day, many people have reacted to the “alt-lit” rape scandal by blurring the lines between their natural disgust at those accusations and their aesthetic and stylistic annoyance with the alt-lit culture. That’s gross and misguided. Being annoyed by someone else’s style and culture should not be confused with feeling revulsion towards rape accusations. Those things are not the same, and blurring those lines just undermines the effort to seriously combat sexual assault.

Now, the same dynamic is playing out in baseball. The much-hated Saint Louis Cardinals and their much-hated fanbase are celebrating yet another trip to the National League Championship Series. As a Cubs fan, I find this deeply annoying. But I don’t find it immoral, because  who wins baseball games is not a moral question. That hasn’t stopped other people who are annoyed by the Cardinals from trying, though. Because some small number of Cardinals fans acted in very shitty manner towards Ferguson protesters, many people on social media now have ammunition to say that the team they don’t like is not only annoying, but racist and conservative. The kind of people who create the cloud of performative morality that envelops the elite internet have once again found, with typical good fortune, that what they like is indistinguishable from what is good. Me, I would say that confusing your tribal athletic passions with your distaste for racism and police violence is not a progressive or helpful way to act. But that’s just me, apparently.

(Maybe worst of all is the suggestion that there’s any fanbase alive that isn’t chock full of racist fans. I promise: the team you like is beloved by some of the worst people on earth.)

I’ve said in the past that our media elites seem to believe in a juvenile moral universe — Manichean, simplistic, and filled with perfect clarity about every moral controversy, to the point where they not only already know what the answer to every moral question is, they can’t believe that you don’t already agree with them. It’s very childish, in the literal sense of being the way that children think about the world. But it’s also a convenient moral universe. It’s one where there’s no space between their moral convictions and their aesthetic preferences, where the artists and creators whose work they enjoy are also political paragons, where they and their friends occupy a different moral strata than the rest of us, and where they are always the righteous heroes of every drama. Nice work if you can get it.

cautionary tales: get it together, you guys


So I’m not one of those pedants who thinks a misplaced comma invalidates an argument or ruins an essay, but seriously, you guys. There is no Disney movie called The Rats of NIMH. There is a movie made by Don Bluth, who had a notorious falling out with Disney and left to form his own studio, called The Secret of NIMH, released by United Artists and based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. 

I mean… 45 seconds of research.


we’re all chumps now, pharmacist edition

I’ve been banging on against the STEM shortage myth for a long time now, but this is only part of a broader argument. We’re living in an age where a lot of chin-scratching econ types a) blame people for their own unemployment on the theory that what they studied is frivolous/impractical/whatever, and b) push them to pursue “practical” degrees in fields like computer science, despite a typical lack of evidence that these fields actually ensure better employment and income outcomes. These arguments are almost exclusively delivered in an idiom of condescension and certainty, because of course there’s a shortage of computer scientists. (Actually, the latest numbers I’ve seen show an overall unemployment rate around 4% for those with bachelors degrees generally and up around 8% for those with computer science degrees.) And of course you can make a killing coding an app in your dorm room. (Actually, you almost certainly can’t.) And of course French poetry majors are to blame for the unemployment rate. (No, they aren’t.) But no one could have predicted. (We were seeing this dynamic before many current college students were born.)

Well: pity the pharm school grad. No, really. They deserve real human compassion, because like the American people in general, they’ve been sold a bill of goods. These kids were told again and again that pharmacy was a safe haven, that this was a growing field that could provide them with the good life for years to come. But as Katie Zavadski’s careful reporting shows, they were misled. The pharmacy labor market has been drying up, driving higher unemployment and lower wages. And really: of course, when you tell a generation of kids that a particular field is where the smart money is, you’re going to see a surplus. That’s how markets work! It’s bizarre to look at a supply-demand equation, propose to dramatically expand the supply, and expect to see the economic advantage remain. Every argument of the type “here’s the fields you should be pushing students into” is an argument to flood the market with graduates who are only going to be competing against each other for limited jobs. It’s a zero-sum vision that is endorsed as a long-term solution for societal economic health, and it makes no sense.

There is no such thing as practical knowledge, and so there is no such thing as a practical major. This country graduates 350,000 business majors a year. The metrics for those degrees are generally awful. But nobody ever includes them in their arguments about impractical majors, despite those bad numbers. And if you’re some 19 year old, out to choose a career path, business sure sounds practical. So they graduate with those degrees and flood the market with identical resumes and nobody will hire them. Meanwhile, they lost the opportunity to explore fields that they might have enjoyed, that might have deepened the information acquisition and evaluation skills that would allow them to adapt to a whole host of jobs, and that might have provided a civic and moral education. All to satisfy a vision of practicality that has no connection to replicable, reliable economic advantage.

What’s most depressing of all is that these changes of fortune for particular fields is always seen as worthy of mockery and not sympathy. I searched around for that New Republic article on social media and found plenty of people laughing at these kids and calling them chumps for following an educational fad. You just can’t win: if you pursue a field you actually like, they mock you for your impracticality. If you pursue a field out of a desire to chase the money, and you get unlucky, they mock you for choosing poorly. Whatever it takes to convince you that your unemployment is your own fault and not the fault of an economic system that serves only the 1%.

Read this missive from Casey Ark. Consider what his complaint is, and what it isn’t. Kid: you’re right. You were fooled. Bamboozled. Lied to. But the lie is so much bigger than the one you think you’re complaining about. Who told you that studying programming and business is more practical than studying English? And why did you believe them?

Chasing a particular employment market, for an individual, can be a good or a bad bet. But treating skill chasing as a long-term economic solution on the societal level is insane. We’ve responded to unprecedented labor market swings, and to our incredible exposure to risk through our financial system, by dramatically narrowing our notion of what skills are valuable and who gets to be considered a practically educated person. That makes zero sense, particularly in a time when automation threatens to cut the legs out from more and more workers as we move forward. We are manically pursuing a far narrower vision of what human beings can call a vocation, treating any endeavor that does not involve numbers or digital technology as useless and old-fashioned, with nothing resembling a sound evidentiary basis for believing that this will deliver better labor outcomes. (The numbers-based fields are the ones that computers will be best equipped to take over!) In a world where computers and robots will take over more and more work that was once performed by humans, we should broadening our notion of what constitutes valuable work, not shrinking it. And we should use our capacity for government-directed redistribution to share the efficiency and productivity gains of those computers and robots more widely. Instead, Google gets the money, you lose your job, and Tom Friedman makes millions telling you that it’s your own fault.

Petrochemical engineering is having a moment, in large measure because of the surprise discovery of new fossil fuel reserves. So: you want to tell an army of 18-year olds to start learning that stuff now? Even if they don’t like it? Even if they aren’t talented in that domain? You know, for that kind of job, you might need more than 4 years of school. You might need 6. You might need 12. Hope that labor market holds. Hope that bet pays off. But hey. If you’re one of the poobahs in the media telling these kids what to do, you’re not making that bet yourself.

The United States and the “moderate Muslim”

Iranian_Mohammad_Mosaddegh_Portrait_PaintingRecently on Real Time with Bill Maher, self-impressed television host and disco movie extra Maher got himself into quite an argument with Ben Affleck. Maher, along with torture apologist and New Atheist icon Sam Harris, insisted as he so often does that Islam is a religion of unique violence, and that despite what those PC liberals will tell you, Muslims writ large deserve condemnation for the behavior of extremists and terrorists. Affleck, with admirable honesty, called that attitude racist. Maher and Harris took a long soak in their own self-aggrandizing Hyper Rational Heroic Honesty.

There are ample criticisms to be made here. That all of a group’s members share blame for the behavior of some is the fundamental logic of bigotry. Beyond that moral fact, these two are very fond of their own self-conception as creatures of sublime rationality, but associating the bad behavior of, say, members of ISIS in Syria with Thai Muslims who have never been within 4,000 miles of Syria seems not particularly rational to me. Nor is there much rationality in talking about Islamic terrorism as an all-conquering boogieman. There is no chance — none — that ISIS will succeed in establishing a world-threatening caliphate. As Americans, Harris and I are more likely to drown in a bathtub than to be killed by Islamic terrorism, and yet Harris is fond of talking about Islamic terrorism as something worth laying awake at night over. Strange how these perfectly rational creatures are so unmoved by the objective lack of threat  that terrorism represents in their own lives. Really, though, what I’m interested in is this conception of the moderate Muslim, that hypothetical Muslim that is always used as a rhetorical cudgel against the world’s actual existing Muslims.

I can think of a Muslim who would perfectly fit the typical portrayal of moderate Islam: Mohammad Mosaddegh, the former prime minister of Iran. Mosaddegh was, in many ways, the picture of a cultured, progressive leader. He was a lawyer and an author. He studied in Paris, which always signals cosmopolitanism to Americans, and earned a PhD from a Swiss university. He was a political dissident for long periods, as he opposed the recapturing of power by the Shahs as a violation of the Iranian constitution. He was democratically elected to Iran’s parliament in the tumultuous post-war period. In a time of considerable political unrest, he grew to great popularity as a figure of principle and moderation and became Iran’s prime minister in 1951. Though broadly popular, his primary support base came from Iran’s educated urban classes. He instituted meaningful progressive reforms, establishing social programs to ameliorate poverty and setting many landless peasants free from literal slavery. During a fierce power struggle with a monarchy attempting to regain control, Mossadegh’s record on issues of process and democracy was imperfect. It remains the case, however, that he was far more popular among the Iranian people than the House of Pahlavi. Given that long-declassified documentation from the American and British intelligence services leaves no doubt that foreign infiltrators were indeed working against his government, Mossadegh’s actions during that power struggle can be seen as demonstrating considerable restraint. He was also a deft politician, forging key alliances with the communist Tudeh party while carefully expressing anti-communist sentiment and with Islamists while working to preserve the secular Iranian state.

In many ways, then, Mossadegh was exactly what people like Maher say they want from the Muslim world. There was just one problem: like most Iranians at the time, he was convinced that the British were ripping off the Iranian people by taking Iran’s oil at a price far below market value. He likely believed this because the British were ripping off the Iranian people by taking Iran’s oil at a price far below market  value. Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s major oil company, breaking a deal with the British that had more than 40 years left before expiration, and his fate was sealed. Within two years the CIA, at the behest of the British, had set into motion the coup that ended Mossadegh’s political career.

That the United States had directly and unambiguously initiated the coup that deposed Mossadegh– and led to the consolidation of power by the Shah, a brutal and corrupt dictator who tortured and murdered political dissidents– was for decades one of the worst kept secrets in American history. Politicians and leaders discussed it more or less openly. Documents that spoke plainly about the CIA’s role have floated around for years and years. But despite this, the CIA didn’t formally admit its culpability until last year, 60 years after it had strangled the baby of Iranian democracy in its crib. When I started to talk politics in earnest as a high school student around 1999, it was still common for me to argue with those who denied the centrality of the CIA’s role or even that the United States was involved at all. Even today, I sometimes encounter those who think that the coup was largely an internal matter, despite the fact that (for example) it’s believed that the CIA literally dictated the Shah’s declaration that the prime minister be removed from office. And the term “conspiracy  theory” still floats around this history despite the overwhelming evidence that we’ve had on hand for years and years.

The brutality, corruption, and illiberalism of the Shah’s regime created the political conditions that made the Iranian revolution possible. Dictatorship leads to radicalism. Western-supported dictatorship leads to hatred of the West. Whatever your take on the theological convictions of Iran’s revolutionaries, their complaints that the Shah was an illegitimate despot propped up by a conspiracy of Western nations intent on exploiting Iran’s resources are understandable, given that those complaints were indisputably  true. Mossadegh was not around to see the revolution, which would likely have horrified him; he died under house arrest a few years after being deposed. That’s what America does to Muslim moderates who have the gall to pursue what is best for their own people, rather than what’s best for British Petroleum.

Perhaps you are inclined to say that, hey, that was 60 years ago. It’s time to move on. But of course we could then point out that, decades later, the United States armed, supported, and funded Saddam Hussein, another brutal dictator, for a decade. Our support prolonged his horrifically bloody war against Iran and enabled his cruel oppression of his own people, including those Muslims who might have had the opportunity to be moderate, had they not been hanging by their thumbs in Saddam’s cells. Or we could go in the other direction and recognize that imperial powers are responsible for the very existence of the state of Iraq, an unhealthy collection of disparate peoples and conflicting groups, a condition that lends itself to extremism rather than moderation. We could note the similar condition in Syria, where the imperial powers established Alawite control over the Sunni majority, helping to ensure precisely the kind of political violence that has engulfed that country now, which is not entirely conducive to political moderation. Or we might mention the war we started in 2003 that led to, by conservative estimate, a half million dead Iraqi civilians, with many millions more fleeing as refugees, leading to the collapse of Iraqi civil society and the possibility of moderation. Or we perhaps could note that the United States is the single greatest supporter of an Israeli  apartheid state that has kept the people of Palestine under a state of illegal and brutal occupation for almost 50 years, subjecting them to constant harassment and violence in a way that renders moderation a kind of complicity in the eyes of many Palestinians. We might think long enough to recognize that the United States is acting, right this second, as the great patron of the corrupt monarchy that rules Saudi Arabia, which brooks no dissent from its political opposition, moderate or otherwise. We might think about the Iranian resistance that hates the theocrats but also righteously condemns the American government that, in its constant saber-rattling against Iran, merely strengthens the Islamic government’s hold on power.  Or about how difficult it must be to embrace moderation as a Yemeni citizen whose children live under threat of death from American drones. Or if your Pakistani cousin has wasted away in Guantanamo for over a decade without due process.

In each of these, I merely concede the Maher and Harris definition of moderation as a rhetorical act. That definition is of course loaded with assumptions and petty prejudice, and bends always in the direction of American interests. But I accept their definition here merely to demonstrate: even according to their own definition, American actions have undermined “moderation” at every turn.

None of these various crimes are controversial as matters of historical fact; they all happened, and no serious person disputes them. I could name a dozen more  American crimes that have substantial evidentiary basis, but I will restrict myself to these widely-acknowledged events. These are not conspiracy theories; this is history. But neither Maher nor Harris will spend much time considering this history at all. They have plenty of time for history when it comes to their narrative of a bloodthirsty and expansionist Islam, but none for America’s century-long history of exploitation and violence against the broad Muslim world. You get no credit for iconoclasm for pointing out that the United States and other Western powers have destabilized Muslim countries as a matter of habit for longer than any individual Muslim has been alive. Pointing out that American Muslims have faced constant hate crimes since 9/11 does not get you shout outs from the conservative cesspool media for “telling it like it is.” No one will call you a free-thinker for mentioning that a prominent rabbi can call for war on Islam in an Atlanta synagogue without drawing critical attention from the media. Asking Americans to grapple with the indisputable history of their government’s conduct in the Muslim world does not give you the opportunity to celebrate your tough guy, anti-“political correctness” bona fides. But it is what actual rationality requires.

I don’t mistake Mohammad Mossadegh for some sort of perfect politician., nor can I say what would have happened had he retained power. What I do recognize, in this history, is that the United States has no principle that it adheres to as blindly as it does its jealous control of the Muslim world’s resources, and that no matter how “moderate” you are, if you stand in the way of the United States getting what it wants, we will invade your country, kill your children,  destroy your government, and steal your resources. Were Bill Maher and Sam Harris actually dedicated to building a less violent world, rather than their own cult of personality, they might ask themselves how, in those conditions, moderation could ever survive.

Explainer journalism: the pop culture grievance industry

Since I’m still getting hate mail that misunderstands what I think — no, I don’t want to burn every comic book — let me lay this stuff out in easy readin’ listicle format.

  1. Pop culture and (especially) geek culture are frequently represented by fans as disrespected and marginalized, but are commercially dominant and increasingly critically acclaimed.
  2. These fans claim to hate cultural disrespect for their favored properties, but they react angrily to those who dispute that it exists, and move the goalposts wildly to ensure that the notion of disrespected pop and geek culture survives.
  3. Traditional “high” culture faces shrinking critical attention and increasingly bleak commercial prospects, with many forms of art facing extinction as professional phenomena.
  4. In the pursuit of advocating for their own cultural choices, pop and geek culture fans often aggressively reject traditional high culture, frequently by questioning the motives of people who enjoy those art forms, such as insisting that we only claim to like them out of a desire to seem cultured or highbrow.
  5. The self-defined victimhood of fans leads to toxic behavior, such as viciously policing the boundaries of who is a real fan (“fake geek girls”) and refusing to consider their own bad behavior (#GamerGate).
  6. Situations like #GamerGate demonstrate the strange tension within fan victimology: the desire for mainstream coverage, acceptance, and “respect” wedded to a profound fear of losing control of the fandom to outsiders.
  7. That respect is an ever-receding phenomenon; there is no objective, verifiable event or condition that could convince these fans that they are properly respected.
  8. So in addition to the bad behavior, this self-induced victimhood just leads to vague unhappiness and bitterness during a time of utter triumph for these genres and media.
  9. Variety is the spice of life in all things, and the world becomes more homogenous and more boring when every big movie is a comic book movie and when there is no such thing as black box theater, opera, or experimental fiction.
  10. There is potential for solidarity and friendship between fans of traditional “high” and “low” culture, but we must put aside the legacy of mutual distrust and antagonism in order to create them.
  11. The goal should not be to weigh the competing value of various genres and mediums against each other but to foster an environment of healthy respect and equanimity for different aesthetic and artistic preferences, and to encourage a critical and commercial environment where a vast diversity of different art forms can thrive.

I’m as confused as you are

So some people are sending around this interview with Berkeley grad students in their Rhetoric program as they largely avoid the question of what rhetoric is. I agree that it is not very helpful to someone trying to understand what rhetoric is and why people would study it. I would just point out that Berkeley’s Rhetoric department is wholly and entirely separate from the field of Rhetoric and Composition. This division is intentional on the part of that program and, as I understand it, an important part of their self-conception as a department. (And very, very Berkeley). I have no opinion on these students, their work, or their program, none of which is any of my business. The rhetoric stuff they do there has very little at all to do with what people do in my broader field. And I’ll leave it at that.

I will also say, once again, that though I am in a rhet/comp program, I do not do research in rhetoric myself, generally. Much in the way that a student in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences might only study hearing, for example. There’s lots of cool work being done on that side of the field, but it is not my work. I do largely quantitative work in writing assessment and pedagogy.

someday we may only have culture left

Many of my political disagreements with the broad online left can be boiled down to a rejection of the politics of cultural affinity. I think that elites have come to so closely associate their politics with their cultural branding that those domains are now totally indistinguishable. They don’t know how to think politically in a way that is separate from their various stylistic commitments to language, music, fashion. This leads to problems growing the franchise, because elite cultures only stay elite through the vigorous exclusion of others. It also leads to people who don’t know how to separate political commitments from style and socializing.

So you see this in the confused, frequently angry reactions to discussion of carceral feminism. I say “confused” because that’s the most glaring aspect of when people argue with me about it. Logically, it’s simple. Of course, if you’re advocating for the presumption of guilt and for giving our cops and prosecutors broad latitude to lock people up, you’re standing with the police state. But culturally, it’s confusing– “I’m the person who accuses others of standing with the police state, not the other way around.”

Take this Allie Jones report on the (very disturbing) accusations against Tao Lin, or even more, many of the commenters. There’s a complete inability or refusal to separate disgust over allegations of sexual assault from annoyance with alt-lit’s earnestness or pretension or whatever. “The web’s most earnest purveyors of navel-gazing self-examination may have to start looking a little harder at themselves,” writes Jones. Writing about rape allegations is not the time to start complaining about other people’s art and style. Those things are not the same.

This is just one small example. You see it all the time with various celebrities and their changing political reputations: just as he was becoming a widely beloved comedian and actor, Louis CK became seen as a political paragon. As disillusionment with his show grew, so too with his politics. People annoyed by Robin Thicke’s song find sweet satisfaction in the insistence that he is also a political failure. The power of Beyonce’s feminism seems to stem from the way in which it reassures people that there is no space where their aesthetic preferences end and their politics begin. The fear is that politics become just another fashion. What are the odds that everyone you like culturally and socially also agrees with you politically?

Yes, the personal is political. But it’s not healthy for the personal to become indistinguishable from the political, I think.

the official style

I’ve written in the past that Jacob Weisberg’s attack on Ned Lamont’s supporters is one of the worst things I’ve ever read, in the sense that it demonstrates so many of the worst instincts and presumptions of our political class. Well, Weisberg has really been covering himself with glory again, and for precisely the same reason.

First, he goes after @blippoblappo and @crushingbort for their “silly” plagiarism charges against Fareed Zakaria. As I’ve mentioned, I’m much more inclined to see plagiarism as inadvertent than many others are, but as with Benny Johnson, @blippoblappo and @crushingbort’s evidence against Zakaria is comprehensive and damning. Weisberg’s defense, such as it is, is pretty weak tea. The muscle of his defense comes simply from the imperious attitude and dismissiveness that are the stock-in-trade of big timey, Very Serious political types. Zakaria is a paid up guy, and Twitter users with funny names don’t have license to go after paid up guys in the Very Serious world.

Via the Dish, Weisberg goes after Rick Perlstein for calling a liar a liar:

As a political history, The Invisible Bridge suffers from more serious deficiencies: a lack of interest in character, and a failure to engage seriously with ideas. Both Nixon and Reagan appear here as flat figures, for whom the author musters no human sympathy and about whom he offers no fresh understanding. At various points Perlstein calls Reagan a “divider” and accuses him of telling lies. Every politician surely divides and misleads to some extent, but these loaded terms fit his subject badly. They jar because they’re in conflict with Reagan’s fogginess, his lack of cynicism, and with what he accomplished politically, which was to unify divided strands in his party, win over an entire class of Democratic voters, and achieve more bipartisan consensus in Congress than any politician has in the 34 years since he was first elected. The lack of any apparent inner life, about which Edmund Morris expressed his frustration in his Reagan biography, Dutch, makes the fortieth President a confounding biographical subject. But unlike Morris, Perlstein doesn’t wonder about what made Reagan tick. He doesn’t find him an enigmatic figure at all.

There’s a lot going on in this passage after Weisberg dings Perlstein for calling Reagan a liar. In fact, there’s so much rhetorical jiu-jitsu and playful obfuscation going on here, I’m almost charmed, bullshitter that I am. But I’m afraid I need to focus on what’s not there: an argument that Perlstein’s characterization of Reagan is wrong. “Divider” is something of a nebulous term, and as Weisberg notes, Reagan did indeed bring a lot of angry white dudes from the Democratic coalition to the Republican side. But it’s also the case that no politician did more to set the stage for the current culture war and politics of mutual distaste than Reagan, a man who never failed to make politics a matter of character and thus personal. I imagine members of the unions that Reagan took such delight in crushing would not see him as much of a uniter.

But OK — let’s give Weisberg the “divider” question, which is a question of interest to Beltway opiners and literally no one else. The liar question, now, that’s interesting to all of us, and there, Weisberg has no leg to stand on. Ronald Reagan was a liar. He was a habitual, constant, unrelenting liar. His lies have been documented again and again, including by Rick Perlstein. And not little white lies, either, but lies like “I was present for the liberation of a Nazi death camp.” So how on earth is it wrong for Perlstein to accurately reflect that history in a historical treatise? Why does calling a liar a liar “jar” Weisberg? His defenses are so weak they seem almost comic– lots of politicians lie, and plus Reagan had that “fogginess,” which I would note should have excluded him from the office in the first place. The simpler, more honest answer is that to congenital Beltway types like Weisberg, criticizing Reagan is a mark of being crass, of being unserious, of being an outsider. Never mind if the criticisms are true.

These three things — his hatred for Lamont voters, his wrist-slapping of plagiarism whistle blowers, his anger at an accurate accusation of dishonesty against a congenitally dishonest man — may seem disconnected. But in fact they are part of the same condition, the pinched, useless, unjustified-because-unjustifiable attitude of the Big Media poobahs. It’s a habit of thinking that is obsessed with visions of what properly adult, important people think about politics and decorum, and which holds those visions as more important than actual, fact-based argument and sense. I’ve written a little about being a Connecticut Democratic liberal during the Lamont primary in 2006. Nothing stands out more than the vicious anger of a lot of establishment Democrats in the state. That anger wasn’t built on disagreements of policy, though they were very wrong on policy, so much as disagreements of aesthetics, of optics. You didn’t push out a made guy like Joe Lieberman, no matter how wrong he was or how much his instincts cut directly against the beliefs of the liberal Democratic voters of Connecticut. Lieberman may have been a staunch Bush ally, cynical opportunist, and committed militarist. But he was a made guy.

Same with Zakaria. Same with Reagan. You show deference to power. You treat moving to the right as inherently more mature and serious than moving to the left. You swat away criticism like flies if it comes from those you see as beneath you. You worship at the alter of The Way Things Are Done, which always seems to redound to the benefit of the same dudes who are already successful.

We may, finally, slowly, incrementally, be seeing a loosening of the grip these guys have on power, because enough people are finally fed up with their selective blindness, with the way they carry water for each other, with the way they treat facts like inconveniences to their very advanced, very serious minds. People are finally standing up and saying, “actually, the fact that you slithered up from the mailroom at the Post in 1982 doesn’t make you worth listening to, especially when you have such a loose grasp on the facts.” It’s been a long time coming and I’m afraid we’ve got a long way to go.

that other Freddie

So I’ve gotten more aggressive in moderating and deleting comments here. A few times this has been because of people posting massive blocks of text that have essentially nothing to do with the content of the post I put up. (It’s free to start your own blog, fellas.) But mostly this stems from people telling me what I believe, and arguing with that belief that they claim I believe, rather than the things I actually do believe. And this practice often goes so far as to involve me literally saying “I don’t believe that” and people saying “yes you do.”

They’re arguing, in other words, with that other Freddie. This Freddie thinks that there are rhetorical, political, and moral problems with how we currently talk about privilege and inequality; that other Freddie doesn’t care about privilege and inequality or actively supports them. This Freddie thinks that affirmative consent laws are a mistake that could end up having unintended consequences that could actually make sexual assault harder to prosecute; that other Freddie doesn’t think rape is a problem or that rape culture is real. This Freddie thinks that pop culture enthusiasts have actually become the aggressors in the culture wars and that their own constant invocation of cultural elitism is the only place where that elitism survives; that other Freddie wants to burn your comic books. That other Freddie is a jerk, and I’m tired of defending myself by disassociating myself with him. So I’m adopting a policy of deleting comments that claim that I hold views I don’t hold.

This has, predictably, led to accusations of censorship. We could have a conversation about what censorship is and what it isn’t, if you’d like. If you think I’m someone who is unwilling to countenance criticism, even relentlessly personal criticism… that’s interesting. If I don’t think that claim is defensible, considering the stuff that is still in my comments right now. But either way: if you say I think something that I don’t think and haven’t said, your comment gets deleted. Life is just too short. So here are the rules:

You think that something I do believe should lead necessarily to a bad conclusion that I haven’t considered? Fair game.

You think that something I do believe contradicts something else that I do believe and I should think it over? Fair game.

If it’s a questionable case, I’ll tell you that I don’t believe what you think I believe and we can go from there.

If I clearly didn’t say anything implying Argument X, and you show up and say, “you believe X,” then I delete your comment, every time. I come right out and say, “I don’t believe X,” and you show up and say “You believe X,” then I delete your comment and you get banned, every time. You’ll survive; it’s not like this blog is a big deal or that commenting here is any great privilege.

Now, it’s my recent experience that this has become something of a plague in online conversation — people constantly having their views misrepresented and having to defend themselves against what they didn’t say and don’t believe rather than having productive arguments about what they did say and do believe. But I don’t want to write some sort of phony trend piece, so I’m just saying that this has been happening here a lot lately, and I’m tired of it, so I’m putting a stop to it.

If you and I are having an argument about what you believe, you win that argument by default, because you are you and I am not. If you and I are having an argument about what I believe, I win that argument by default, because I am me and you are not. That’s the only way argument can work. We’ve gotta get back to that simple principle.