Alan Jacobs accidentally reveals that despite the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over accountability culture, in the world of “the open web and the pre-web internet” you actually can’t cancel established or privileged writers, and the world he describes pretty much exactly is what Gurri and Nwanevu were talking about regarding the freedom of association and disassocation. I’ll leave it to Nwanevu.

For instance, while public universities in America are generally bound by the First Amendment, controversial speakers have no broad right to speak at private institutions. Those institutions do, however, have a right to decide what ideas they are and aren’t interested in entertaining and what people they believe will or will not be useful to their communities of scholars—a right that limits the entry and participation not only of public figures with controversial views but the vast majority of people in our society. Senators like Tom Cotton have every right to have their views published in a newspaper. But they have no specific right to have those views published by any particular publication. Rather, publications have the right—both constitutionally as institutions of the press, and by convention as collections of individuals engaged in lawful projects—to decide what and whom they would or would not like to publish, based on whatever standards happen to prevail within each outlet.

The most sobering thing about Max Abelson’s rolling interview with an anonymous, white billionaire over the course of the pandemic is that despite how he comes across in it, you just know that when he read it he felt no sense whatsoever of shame.

I thought about the rage at bosses he’d described on our last call and asked him if I could float some ideas about the source of that anger. Was it the sheer size of the gap between the rich and the rest of us? He shrugged that off. “You’ve always had that gap,” he said. “Now everybody knows about it.” I pointed out that inequality had gotten worse. He insisted that the most significant change was how much attention we’ve been paying to the gap. He blamed social media.


I reminded him that his views on some things had evolved since the pandemic began. Could he eventually change his mind about this? “It’s not ‘the system,’ ” he reiterated. “Everybody’s got to stop with ‘the system.’ ” He didn’t sound exasperated, just amused. His voice had the same tone of charmed mellowness it’d had five or so weeks earlier. It’s a rich sound.

“Grasshopper,” he said. “Grasshopper, I’ve got to teach you.”

Hannah Giorgis distills the critiques of The Letter down to the essentials, and it’s a must-read for anyone who remains unclear on what’s the big deal. Or, at least, for anyone who is unclear and who is operating in good faith.

There’s something darkly comical about the fretfulness of these elite petitioners. It’s telling that the censoriousness they identify as a national plague isn’t the racism that keeps Black journalists from reporting on political issues, or the transphobia that threatens their colleagues’ lives. The letter denounces “the restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society,” strategically blurring the line between these two forces. But the letter’s chief concern is not journalists living under hostile governments, despite the fact that countries around the world impose draconian limits on press freedom.

Emphasis mine, because if you read the Thomas Chatterton Williams interview I mentioned earlier today, you know that he as The Letter’s shepherd tried to justify just this blurring.

MARTIN: As I said, there have been these lengthy responses posted, and people can easily find them if they want to read them in their entirety. But I’m just going to summarize and say I think the criticism falls into three buckets. You know, some people are saying, well, you’re equating repressive government with a repressive culture, but there’s a difference between people being horrible on Twitter and being hauled into jail or tortured for what they write. And what would you say to that?

WILLIAMS: Sure. Well, you know, we have signatories that have been hauled into jail and tortured in other countries, in Iran for one. We have refugees on the list. We have at least two signatories who have lived for extended periods of time with fatwas on their head. So you can say there’s a distinction between kind of outrage mobs and that kind of state oppression. But these are people that signed that believe that the line is quite fine and the boundary is porous and that we should be always in defense of liberal principles so that we don’t fall down that slippery slope.

Emphasis mine again, as this argument strains credulity. This sophistry apparently is something of Williams’ calling card, at least if we go by what Giorgis notes.

In addition, the Harper’s letter tacitly conflates the president’s raft of anti-media practices and open disdain for the press with the signatories’ own irritation at the prospect of being ratioed on Twitter or fired because of the “woke” brigade. The author Thomas Chatterton Williams, who spearheaded the letter, told The New York Times that some of the events that inspired the statement echoed the actions of Donald Trump, whom he dubbed the “Canceler in Chief.” But Trump would more accurately be described as a violent demagogue and a mendacious racist. He is not, as Williams seems to suggest, dangerous simply because of his interest in stifling free expression. Even this comparison is revelatory. Amid a worsening pandemic and ongoing protests against lethal state violence, using glib internet-speak to describe the president of the United States betrays a deep detachment from the carnage wrought by his policies and ideology. It is important to remember: The president is not merely a Twitter troll, but the leader of an awesomely powerful government security apparatus.

Emphasis mine, still. Williams there is not someone seeking a good-faith discussion of either debate or justice. This is not someone who in any serious discussion of either should be taken seriously.

Which brings me back to Alan Jacobs, who posted a followup to his earlier post which sparked my rolling series of posts today.

Every good thing in this world, without exception, is commended by at least some people of impure motive and gross sin. Love is celebrated by the cruel, justice by the sexist, kindness by the rapacious.

In a sense, this simply restates something Williams himself said in that interview (about agreeing with a bigot that the sun is shining), but the real point should be achingly clear: that a bigoted person can say something true nowhere obligates the rest of us to associate ourselves with them.

The moral obligation to shun the cruel, the sexist, and the rapacious remains intact, lest some utopian delusion of liberal socializing across any and all boundaries lend such people any undue credence or credit even from our mere transitory proximity.

On Losing Privilege

John Philpin is right that this post from Dave Winer called “On gaslighting” has nothing at all to do with gaslighting, and I’m honestly not at all clear on why Winer thinks it does. In truth, it’s just Winer failing to come to terms with the fact that his political ideas are nothing special or unique, and that he’s only going to continue feeling frustration if he thinks that the world should be paying attention to another old white guy. It’s the same situation I’m in, except while I feel frustrated I don’t also feel entitled to attention or readership. Grappling with the fact that one’s writing, or the ideas it conveys, mostly are just spitting into the void is rough; I get it. But it’s not our world anymore, and when it was it was illegitimately so. I keep talking because I can’t not; the nice thing about blogging is I’m not taking up anyone else’s space with it. Those very few people who want to hear from me get to hear from me. Outside of that, the world spins merrily along without me. Winer, of course, over the course of his blogging life has had a wider and more involved audience than many of us. I’m sure it’s tough to lose the full sense of that. Here’s the thing though: loss of privilege is only an actual loss if you’re hanging on to your ego. And losing one’s privilege isn’t an example of “a person or a group covertly [sowing] seeds of doubt in a targeted individual […], making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment”. It’s just progress. That’s no judgement on my part; I trip up on this, too. In the end, though, his opinions, my opinions, they simply aren’t generally deserving of attention or applause. We aren’t special. We’re just us, writing because we do that.

Near the end of the latest Normcore Tech newsletter I learned of a particular critique of HEY that I, too, never would have considered: that doing away with email signatures might just be a privileged design position to take, as pointed out by a Black engineer.

I always have to fight for the right to get the inherit respect and “qualifications” that I belong in a conversation. So yes I have a signature because I need one and I do not have the privledge if not needing one.

Feargus O’Sullivan continues asking the urbanist question of how the push for outdoor bar and restaurant seating in public rights of way affects other demands upon public space.

But the movements of these private businesses into new spaces pose new challenges about who gets to occupy outside spaces that are increasingly in demand. Reopened parks, one of the few place to freely and safely congregate during coronavirus, are frequently packed. Many streets already have sidewalks filled with lines of people waiting to enter stores enforcing a low customer capacity. Add a new range of table service businesses to this busy streetscape, and issues about who get priority come to the fore. These questions have been exacerbated in a summer of unrest when, in the most extreme of examples, racial justice protesters demonstrate against police brutality in city streets where other people sit eating brunch.

Having been asked about my earlier “nah”, I’ll blog here the gist what I’ve been saying about cancel culture in the discussion it sparked off; obviously, you can read the entire thing over there.

  1. A story here or there does not a reign of terror social media mob ruining people’s lives by design make.
  2. Karens is, you know, a real thing. These are not random innocents being thrown into some social media guillotine in some sort of “cancel them all and let god sort them out” reign of terror.
  3. The alleged “junk-food dopamine where the crowd gets to feel like they’re dismantling racism” originated with Black Twitter punching up at legit offenses.
  4. Like all things I’m sure there are abuses but as a straight, cisgender, middle-aged white guy I’m not about to condemn cancel culture or the outing of Karens writ large, and usually the sturm und drang against alleged mobs arises out of one part or another of the power structure bearing the brunt of the punching up. I’m okay with a skeptical eye, but I’m not okay with doing the dirty work of the powers-that-be who are scrambling to keep their barricades intact.

I get the allure of the ideal that we limit collateral damage, but it’s tough for me to get too overly worked up about potential collateral damage from cancel culture when it can’t help but pale in comparison to the every day damage suffered or borne by the communities which are most often engaged in the punching up of cancel culture.

Before I go to bed, I want to say one more thing about item 3. up there. I’ve little doubt that cancel culture attracts the lazy hangers-on and the hollow performative allies; I’ve little doubt as well that they routinely get called out — which makes this just so much concern trolling.

What I’m not going to do, however, is quietly listen as white people urge throwing the baby out with the bathwater by diminishing it to nothing more than chasing a dopamine high, insulting any community which engages in cancel culture as part of their daily survival in a white supremacist society.

I’d go apeshit, I’m sure, if I actually listened to the podcast itself but based upon this description from MeFi I’d just like to suggest that if this speaks to you, keep the premise in mind in other contexts, such as when interacting with people already under various types of increased cognitive load — whether from, say, the nature of neurodivergence or from, say, the “nurture” of white supremacy.

Business coach Alexis Rockley is pushing back against the idea that we must always be doing something productive or improving ourselves. She says it is unrealistic to believe we should all master new skills during quarantine, because quarantine and the current environment are continual stressors that cognitively exhaust us.

Emphasis added because this is true for many different kinds of people for many different kinds of reasons even when there is not a pandemic.

There’s a Nazi problem in My Little Pony fandom and Kaitlyn Tiffany shows that it’s a microcosm both of the challenges of community management and of White (and primarily male) ignorance that our choices are not apolitical just because we assume for ourselves the status of the default.

When Acesential posted a drawing of a pony holding an “I Can’t Breathe” flag, and when Henry posted art containing the initialism “ACAB,” for “All Cops Are Bastards,” commenters spat back that ponies shouldn’t be used as a “mouthpiece” for politics, even though some of those same commenters have loved it when ponies wear “Make America Great Again” hats. This idea of what counts as political and what doesn’t is another thing the fandom took from 4chan—where racial slurs are just jokes but anti-racism makes you a “social justice warrior.”

White people: there is no metaphorical use of the word “racist”. There’s just things that are actually racist, and things that are not actually racist.

One of my favorite posts pops up in Posted Today, where I wondered if western/white culture only had the cynical opportunity to try (disingenuously) to claim “superiority” because of the dumb luck of geology, not the destiny of genetics. It grew out of contrasting an excerpt from Superior: The Return of Race Science with stuff I was reading in Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History.

It wasn’t being “blessed by nature to have superior genes” but being “blessed by a head start and a helping hand by the nature of geology”.

It was like stumbling into a gold mine beneath your house and then claiming to be Midas.