Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

being right to no effect

This post of mine from earlier today, which was based on this column by Damon Linker, has a lot in common with this post by Scott Alexander:

I write a lot about how we shouldn’t get our enemies fired lest they try to fire us, how we shouldn’t get our enemies’ campus speakers disinvited lest they try to disinvite ours, how we shouldn’t use deceit and hyperbole to push our policies lest our enemies try to push theirs the same way. And people very reasonably ask – hey, I notice my side kind of controls all of this stuff, the situation is actually asymmetrical, they have no way of retaliating, maybe we should just grind our enemies beneath our boots this one time.

And then when it turns out that the enemies can just leave and start their own institutions, with horrendous results for everybody, the cry goes up “Wait, that’s unfair! Nobody ever said you could do that! Come back so we can grind you beneath our boots some more!”

Conservatives aren’t stuck in here with us. We’re stuck in here with them. And so far it’s not going so well. I’m not sure if any of this can be reversed. But I think maybe we should consider to what degree we are in a hole, and if so, to what degree we want to stop digging.

Which in turn has a lot in common with this post by Freddie deBoer:

Conservatives have been arguing for years that liberals essentially want to write them out of shared cultural and intellectual spaces altogether. I’ve always said that’s horseshit. But I’m trying to be real with you and take an honest look at what’s happening in the few spaces that progressive people control. In the halls of actual power, meanwhile, conservatives have achieved incredible electoral victories, running up the score against the progressives who in turn take out their frustrations in cultural and intellectual spaces. This is not a dynamic that will end well for us.

Of course by affirming this version of events from conservatives, I am opening myself to the regular claim that I am a conservative. Which is incorrect; I have never been further left in my life than I am today. But you can understand it if you understand the contemporary progressive tendency to treat politics as a matter of which social or cultural group you associate with rather than as a set of shared principles and a commitment to enacting them by appealing to the enlightened best interest of the unconverted. That dynamic may, I’m afraid, also explain why progressives risk taking even firmer control of campus and media and Hollywood and losing everything else.

Which, in another turn, has a lot in common with this column by Andrew Sullivan:

I know why many want to dismiss all of this as mere hate, as some of it certainly is. I also recognize that engaging with the ideas of this movement is a tricky exercise in our current political climate. Among many liberals, there is an understandable impulse to raise the drawbridge, to deny certain ideas access to respectable conversation, to prevent certain concepts from being “normalized.” But the normalization has already occurred — thanks, largely, to voters across the West — and willfully blinding ourselves to the most potent political movement of the moment will not make it go away. Indeed, the more I read today’s more serious reactionary writers, the more I’m convinced they are much more in tune with the current global mood than today’s conservatives, liberals, and progressives. I find myself repelled by many of their themes — and yet, at the same time, drawn in by their unmistakable relevance.

What all these writings have in common is this: We are all saying to the Angry Left that it’s unwise, impractical, and counterproductive to think that you can simply refuse to acknowledge and engage with people who don’t share your politics — to trust in your power to silence, to intimidate, to mock, and to shun rather than to attempt to persuade.

I think we’ve all made very good cases. I also think that almost no one who needs to hear what we have to say will listen. So what will be the result?

Freddie is right to say that the three industries where the take-no-prisoners model is most entrenched are Hollywood, the news media, and the university. And that entrenchment leads, as I have explained before, to the perception of ideological difference as defilement — a thesis that I think goes a long way towards explaining the intensity of the outrage about Bret Stephens’s NYT column on climate-change rhetoric. The purging of those who have defiled the community is a feasible practice unless and until the departure of those people is costly to the community; and each of those three cultural institutions assumes without question that no costs will be incurred by cathartic expulsion of the repugnant cultural Other.

Hollywood could be right to make this assumption: certainly there are no plausible alternatives to its dominance, though that dominance might take new forms — e.g. more movies and series made outside the conventional studio structure by new players like Netflix and Amazon. (It’s possible, though I think highly unlikely, that those new players will attempt to exploit a socially conservative audience.)

But it’s hard to think of two white-collar professions more imperiled than journalism and academia. The belief that left or left-liberal university administrators and professors, and journalists and editors, have in their own impregnability is simply delusional. If they connected their political decisions to their worried meetings about rising costs and desiccating sources of revenue, they would realize this; but the power of compartmentalization is great.

So what I foresee for both journalism and academia is a financial decline that proceeds at increasing speed, a decline to which ideological rigidity will be a significant contributor, though certainly not the only one. (The presence of other causes will ensure that publishers, editors, administrators, and the few remaining tenured faculty members will be able to deny the consequences of rigidity.) I also expect this decline to proceed far more quickly for journalism than for academia, since the latter still has a great many full-time faculty who can be replaced by contingent faculty willing to work for something considerably less than the legal minimum wage.

But at least the people who run those institutions will be able to preserve their purity right up to the inevitable end.


  • The thing that really gets me about all this left triumphalism is that it's happening at a time of utter political failure for us. Which I know are related but still... it's so strange.

  • I agree: there are no journalists or university professors on Mt. Rushmore....

  • Tangential, to this, and the Dougherty essay linked to yesterday, there's a question I've been thinking over. Addressing outrage, its easy to fall into... I'll be cheesy and call it meta-outrage. Our instinctive response to a problem like outrage culture, is hypocritical outrage about it. See Dougherty's great example of his outrage over campus culture. How do you think we should respond to our outrage culture without furthering it?

  • Roll hard left and die:

  • Freddie, in all this I keep being reminded of the conservative Christians who insisted, decade after decade, that America is a Christian Nation — and then made a rather sudden 180º pivot. I wonder if the left will make a similar pivot from "we're on the right side of history" to "this is a sinking ship."

    Marshman, I tried to answer your question here.

  • Reflecting more on this, I realize that in general conversation I equate the categories of Hollywood/Entertainment and journalism. I might say, "so-in-so work in media," and may mean either they're an actor, or a radio DJ, or a local television news-anchor, or a meteorologist, or a sports writer, or a guitar player, etc." But I don't think there's really anything profound in using two categories to say the left controls media and academia. But two might be more convenient than three.

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