Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on, and has me wondering if anyone has ever done this concept but with people of a different class and/or race — and if so, did they do it essentially as-is, which would make a statement satirically, or did they have it play out very differently, which would make a statement (maybe technically the same one?) tragically.

That so many people were willing to embarrass themselves by signing their names to a letter which credits the conservative conspiracy theory of a war on expression being waged by the left alas is unsurprising. John Stoehr’s latest isn’t a direct response to this letter but it might as well be.

Free speech is not in crisis. Not in the way that “First Amendment warriors” mean. What they mean is that some people, usually “conservative intellectuals,” are being “silenced” by “mobs” of “angry radicals” intolerant of “liberal values.” To be sure, some conservatives are “disinvited” from campus speaking engagements. Some have even seen “angry radicals” throw stuff at their cars. But they are not silenced. First of all, they complain non-stop about their poor treatment, and powerful people take their complaints very seriously. Second, these people have enormous followings on social media, lucrative book contracts or cushy gigs at Washington think tanks. Saying they’ve been “silenced” would be laughable if it were not also conventional wisdom.

There is, however, a real crisis of free speech. It’s the same crisis all out-groups have faced in the history of our country. College students, very often students of color, use their free speech to express views contrary to the interests of those with the power to establish the terms of debate. Put another way, young people of color are establishing new terms, and those invested in the old terms are reluctant to change. That’s fine. That’s what the marketplace of ideas is about. But partisans aren’t paid to let the marketplace work things out. They’re paid to accuse college students of suppressing speech, thus creating conditions in which student speech is effectively suppressed.

“A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” noises about a “need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences” — it never uses the term “cancel culture” but you know that’s what they’re on about — but as Stoehr notes that’s the very point: the people punching down at the marginalized are not now, nor ever have been, engaged in “good-faith disagreements”.

That’s just the one of the many phrases they wield as if an abracadabra summoning for them a total freedom from consequences. There are many names on there I’m unsurprised at (Brooks, Frum, Pinker, Rowling, Singal, Weiss), but at least one (Nell Irvin Painter? really?) that saddens me.

The sad thing here is that so many people somehow really felt that signing onto this letter was a pressing need, when all it really does is steady the hand of the powerful when they claim they are the oppressed. At least we know whose side they are on.

As a footnote of sorts: that’s around 400 words on the topic, when this tweet not by me is so much better: “Real Time with Bill Maher panelists are a step closer to unionizing.”

Stephanie McCurry’s explication of the Confederate States of America not as some “libertarian symbol of small government and resistance to federal tyranny” but as a repressive, white supremacist, “centralized state” conscripting its population to fight a “rich man’s war” includes a description of its political reality which seems mightily and distressingly familiar.

The war brought a terrible reckoning for the Confederate States of America, subjecting it to the military test of the Union armies and the political judgment of its own people. The C.S.A. was a nation built on a slim foundation of democratic consent: Of its total population of 9 million, only about 1.5 million were white men of voting and military age; the rest—white women and the enslaved—formed the vast ranks of the politically dispossessed. Political consent, and popular support for the war effort, were accordingly shallow.

Brian Stelter was just on CNN calling events around the country “disturbingly widespread” and “terrifying”, but it wasn’t at all clear to me just what part he’s disturbed or terrified by. Personally, I’m disturbed and terrified by the fact that we seem incapable of fixing what causes people to be in the streets to begin with.

Before this segment, Don Lemon had an extended conversation with Reverend William J. Barber II, who helpfully explained to viewers that there’s this entire wider context to what’s happening, such as disparities in health and wealth that black Americans and other people of color deal with even before bearing most of the brunt both of COVID-19 itself and needing to keep going to work during the pandemic — a conversation there really needs to be more of.

That’s the disturbing part, and the terrifying part. I’m neither disturbed nor terrified by the protests or the property damage, excepting the fact that they arguably are commensurate to and revealing of the ongoing violence to which they are a response.

Addenda

  1. This is the first I have had on any kind of television news in almost three months, I think.

Ed Pilkington’s excoriation of the ways in which “America’s deep and brutal fault lines […] rendered the country ill-prepared to meet the challenges of this disease” easily can be read by the light cast by Venkatesh Rao’s exploration of how the Black Death “brought a bunch of strong historical forces, which had been building up pressure, to a crisis point”.

But when appealing to a highly educated, mobile, upper-middle class resident or employer, uniqueness gives way to a candied sameness. While publicly funded arts and cultural planning efforts can serve to materially improve the lives of residents, top-down, developer-centric efforts can result in a homogenous banality. The effect is an algorithmic kind of beauty: sleek and modern, while also gorily Frankenstein-esque. Popped color palettes, parklets, and glass-walled buildings make cities indistinguishable from each other. It’s the architectural equivalent of “Instagram face,” designed with the robotic pragmatism of a targeted ad. In coding design elements towards wealth and the professional class, cities and developers also necessarily code aesthetics toward the sensibilities of white urban transplants, given the makeup of this class.

From Slicker Cities by Saritha Ramakrishna (via Paris Marx)

It’s distressing, maddening, saddening, exhausting, genuinely tragic. Lots of people are going to die. There’s so much wrong with what Patrick said – callous, eugenicist, immoral, based on false premises, obscures the real problem and motives, straight up evil – but one that keeps getting me is that he’s opposing any kind of economic restructuring in the name of these “grandchildren.” The economy, as is, works horribly for future generations. There’s a huge generational wealth gap, for example, that leaves younger generations with less money at the same age than any of their predecessors. It’s also causing environmental collapse that future generations will have to deal with. And employment-based health care, student debt, and other products of our current economy punish the youth as well. What he’s asking isn’t even for the immoral sacrifice he proposes – it’s that a lot of people sacrifice their lives so people in power can keep the illusion that nothing’s wrong.

From Imagining the future by David Iscoe

There a massive political divide between the bosses and the workers in Silicon Valley. Workers at most tech companies are most likely to donate to Bernie Sanders, the only exceptions being those at Twitter, who donated most to Elizabeth Warren, and Netflix, where Pete Buttigieg was the favorite. Amazon’s warehouse workers, in particular, overwhelmingly support Sanders. Yet elites and venture capitalists say they’d likely back Donald Trump over Sanders. In Tuesday’s Democratic primary in California, this trend was reflected in the votes.

From North America can have a little high-speed rail, as a treat by Paris Marx