Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Siri, show me a stupid person's idea of a smart person.

It's the Intellectual Dark Singularity! Where on the same strange Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan gets the sack from New York Magazine

the young throwback artist Bari Weiss, representing the liberalism of the good old days of Woodrow Wilson and Alan Dershowitz, takes her departure from the New York Times editorial board, to an extremely gloomy response from National Review's Rich Lowry

and Squeaky Ben Shapiro the Straw Man King has emeritated hinself from the helm of the alleged publication he's been associated with, "The Daily Wire" (I have to admit while I haven't seen any proof it exists, I haven't looked very hard)

Mr. Shapiro will remain involved with the Daily Wire, a popular news and opinion website, “but will no longer drive its editorial direction,” The Blaze first reported Monday.

Jeremy Boreing, the Daily Wire’s chief operating officer, said that Mr. Shapiro will remain a part-owner of the site and now hold the role of editor emeritus, The Blaze reported.

I imagine Shapiro just wants to spend more time in the lens of his video camera, but the other two are interesting—there's a hint running around that they may have unholy plans for a project together

Be that as it may, I got intrigued by bits of Weiss's resignation letter, which tells a story of hazing by The Times's leftist hooligans that sounds really horrible, and you're entitled to believe it if you want
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
(but it's really hard to imagine, say, Mara Gay or Michelle Goldberg posting the ax emojis, while HR ignores Bari's pleas for protection) but the really compelling thing is a kind of unconscious summary of what "her views" actually are, in the form of what she thought she'd been helping The Times to accomplish:
I was hired with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home. The reason for this effort was clear: The paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant that it didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers. Dean Baquet and others have admitted as much on various occasions [apparently she agrees with Trump that that was an apology]. The priority in Opinion was to help redress that critical shortcoming.
It's the idea, in the first place, that the incorrect handicapping of the 2016 Electoral College results was the worst thing The Times has ever done

Worse than its persecution of the will-o'-the-wisp case against Bill Clinton for eight years in the 1990s, worse than its cheerleading for the bogus casus belli in Iraq, worse than its acquiescence in mass surveillance and torture and administrative incompetence during the Bush administration, worse than its continual treatment of the Obama administration as secretive and criminal in intent, worse than the astonishing demonization of Hillary Clinton in article after pointless, fuzzy, question-begging, source-fellating article? Worse than their share of the responsibility for bringing about the outcome of the 2016 election?

Yes, because, I guess, according to Weiss, its journalistic dharma to get the story is more important than its social duty to be good citizens, and the bad call showed The Times "didn't have a firm grasp of the country". Which is, for one thing, weirdly insular, given that it wasn't just The Times, and weirdly misdirected, since "a firm grasp of the country" isn't the basis for election prediction, which is normally done on the basis of disparate data: public opinion sampling, quantitative and qualitative, and demographics. And of course incorrect; The Times, like most of the responsible outlets, made a very accurate call of the broad results, but missed the unpredictable anomaly in around 80,000 votes in three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) that caused a deviant Electoral College result, which was either a product of chance (the 5% chance forecasters like Sam Wang were talking about) or the secret manipulations of Brad Parscale or Alexander Nix or the Trolls From Olgino or some combination of these. Whatever Dean Baquet may have thought, it didn't reflect on the paper's "grasp of the country", and it wasn't wrong at all.

But then Weiss has something much more cosmic in mind:
the lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
She believes, apparently, that The Times thought Clinton was going to win the election because it failed to understand "other Americans", to "resist tribalism", and to give the right place to the "exchange of ideas".

Well, on the free exchange of ideas, if the politics department had paid some attention to the ideas being debated in the campaign instead of focusing all its attention on one candidate's understanding of email storage protocols in the State Department, the election might well have come out differently, but that wouldn't have changed the methods of prediction, and it wouldn't have had anything to do with Weiss's world on the Op-Ed page either. A quick search yields attempts to understand Trump's voters and outright Trump support throughout the campaign from NPR's Steve Inskeep in February (not strictly supporting Trump but praising his connection to Andrew Jackson), Chris Collins (the now jailed insider-training congressman from Western New York) in April, The Federalist's David Marcus and Jared Yates Sexton (the latter getting more into analyzing the voters' psychology in the "safe space" of the Trump campaign) in July, Appalachian Trail hiker Mark Sanford in August, economist David Malpass in September, and Erick Erickson (dropping Trump after the pussy-grabbing video but demanding attention to the voters' motives and emotions) in October.

But with the reference to "other Americans"—evidently the J.D. Vance hillbillies or "White Working Class" voters David Brooks, Salena Zito, and others fanned out across the country to reconnoitre after the election—it all suddenly starts to come clear for me: they think these people won the election and (vox populi vox dei), by the sacred principles of our constitutional republic, it's their country now.

(There's a secret real reason which you'll never get them to acknowledge, even to themselves: that Trump won the majority of the white vote. Because in their hearts that's the election of the real Americans. Which is, in turn, the real reason they think the Times's error was so bad: the subconscious belief that it didn't just miss a number, it missed American reality.)

And ought to be running it as they choose, whatever that might mean. Not needing our empathy as much as our obeisance. Our agreeing that it's legitimate to demand less immigration (especially on the part of Muslims and Spanish speakers), more factory jobs and fossil fuel consumption, more military posturing (though fortunately not action) and nastier police, less irony and more violence on TV, and so on. And the rest of us in the anti-Trump majority, black and brown people, members of liberal religions or no religions at all, ill-paid intellectuals, followers of unusual sexual practices, union organizers, K-pop and anime fandoms, are being "tribal" when we treat it with scorn.

But it isn't true. It's the result of a stupid failure to understand the demographic and polling data, alongside an (understandable) panic over Trump's election. There is no White Working Class, though there's a very loose coalition of people, petit-bourgeois tax protesters and evangelical fanatics, who identify with the words, with a stress on the "White", and who are in fact pretty tribal, along with the genuine money elite bankrolling the movement and encouraging them in the old Silent Majority strategy from 1968 and the Francis Wilhoit principle according to which they plan to continue governing themselves—

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.


I learn from a communication from Frank Wilhoit, a composer who sometimes comments at the great blog Crooked Timber, that he is the author of that passage, which originally appeared in a comment at Crooked Timber in March 2018, and not as I had originally said the late political scientist Francis Wilhoit.

That's pretty embarrassing! I can't believe I made this hugely wrong inference so carelessly, and apologize to Frank Wilhoit and all readers. 

But I'm not sorry to have learned about Francis Wilhoit's 1973 book The Politics of Massive Resistance, a study of the white southern response to Brown vs. Board of Education, which contributed more than any number of newspaper opinionists to the "understanding" of these "other Americans" and the huge diversity of their operative myths and rationalizations, the ways in which they formed a nonce political coalition under the tutelage of a manipulative political elite rather than a "class" of any kind, and looks remarkably prescient 47 years later as "Federalism" and Robert E. Lee worship make their return:
It was only when the likes of Harry F. Byrd, Herman Talmadge, Russell B. Long, Leander Perez, et al., organized and incited white southerners that the segregationist position solidified and racial hatred acquired new virulence in the White Citizens' Councils, the Knights of the White Christians and other exotic supremacist groups. Wilhoit's central focus is on the political mythology which was developed to petrify the status quo; specifically on the elaboration of the myth of White Supremacy (God created separate races and meant to keep them that way; Negroes are happier with their own kind, etc.) and the more sophisticated but equally faulty and self-serving myth of States' Rights Federalism, "an amorphous collage of theory, fancy, fact, half-truth, aspiration and plain old rationalization." Despite Wilhoit's tough-minded appraisal of the demagogues and the politicos who fired the backlash, his purpose is not to censor and condemn but to understand the peculiar, pernicious politics of the South. In a strong concluding chapter he examines some of the ""preconditions"" -- political, psycho-cultural, religious -- which aided and abetted the racist reaction, considering everything from the martyrology of Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee to the machismo ("Don't be half a man, join the Klan") endemic in the society.
(that's a Kirkus review of the book, linked above; people keep quoting the line without mentioning where or especially when it comes from, and I looked it up this morning; the argument seemed pretty relevant).

Understanding doesn't mean agreeing. In demanding recognition for the existence of this "Class" and the good faith of its argumentation, writers like Zito, Brooks, and Weiss are themselves supporting tribalism of a really dangerous kind.

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