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Some things to read
The ‘reasonable’ rebels by Eve Fairbanks
Osita Nwanevu was effusive about this piece on Twitter:
Every now and then someone comes along with a piece that by all rights ought to be the end of an entire realm of discourse. A piece after which there is nothing left to say about the people and debates in question. This is such a piece.
The “by all rights” is very active here. It’s hinting at a world where debates end when someone turns out to be right.
Our world bears no relation to that fantasy, and yet the fantasy remains. It was the operating ideology of The Sorkin Years and it lives on today in the hearts of those that can watch The West Wing today without cringing. (“The Sorkin Years” is, I think, the right name for the period of time between the airing of the The West Wing’s pilot episode and the election of Donald Trump. The alternative is “The Long Aughts”) It lives on in the heart of every debater you ever avoided at university, and it lives on in the brains of Elizabeth Warren’s staff, who advised her to “prove” to Donald Trump that she is Native American.
Anyway, Nwanevu is right about the piece – it’s very good. It shows that the language of today’s centre-right is almost identical to the language of the Southern centrists who defended slavery.
But the piece isn’t good in the way that most pieces are good. It’s good in a more important way: it historicises a set of behaviours that until now have felt familiar yet maddeningly elusive, mysterious, and unarticulated.
Without that zoomed-out view, it’s much harder to see that the behaviours of figures like Ben Shapiro, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and Jordan Peterson are strategic rather than sincere. Once we do, we can call them what they are: bad faith, disingenuous, tactical patterns of deflection used by reactionaries to facilitate the right wing from the centre.
It’s not necessary to claim that they copied this time-trodden playbook consciously. More plausible, I think, is that we’re looking at a recurring pattern of political incentives. Making excuses for reactionary racism was a profitable industry then, as it is now. Check out this handy thread for more on why that is:
This piece targets Emily Yoffe for participating in another cottage industry – making excuses for shitty men.
The core story here will be exhaustingly familiar to women. The broader context about foreign correspondents in Beijing will be familiar to any foreigner with experience in China.
But ultimately it’s a reminder of a still under-discussed phenomenon: after their most visible injustices are enacted, sexist and racist structures then go about the quiet work of determining whom amongst us gets sympathy.
In the misallocation you get two ills – if patriarchy causes us to withhold sympathy from women, it also urges us to over-express our sympathy to men. No surprises there. But it also means that the under- and the over-giving of sympathy comprise the implicit content of the ideology as well as its enacted effects.
Something to listen to
This one feels like being 17, so be careful.