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How To Be A Jackass Without Anyone Thinking You Are A Jackass
Is it possible? Probably not!
For the last several years, The New York Times, supposed bastion of the “liberal media,” has been posting endless diatribes about the supposed “excesses of the left,” usually from white men like Ross Douthat and David Brooks, with a few Bari Weisses thrown in for good measure. In other words, people who largely benefited from the previous status quo. They’ve also published an untold number (perhaps thousands at this point, who even knows!) of op-eds desperately trying to make the case that it is possible to be a super good person who really cares about other human beings but also doesn’t so much think that trans people should have human rights.
They have yet to get the reception they have been hoping for. They’ve been widely criticized by the Left, and the Right has failed to embrace them, largely on the grounds that they are The New York Times.
Clearly desperate, they have ceased beating around the bush and published an op-ed this past Friday from Yascha Mounk, literally titled “How to Argue Against Identity Politics Without Turning Into a Reactionary.”
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Mounk starts out with The Legend of Bret Weinstein — the evolutionary biologist who quit his job at Evergreen College in Washington because people criticized him for refusing to participate in a school-wide anti-racism awareness activity and went from someone who considered themselves a liberal into a founding member of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” (a term invented by his own brother) and a conspiracy theorist and crank who “has insinuated that the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job and called for health officials who recommended that children be vaccinated against Covid to face prosecution modeled on the Nuremberg Trials.”
And Mounk? He wants to help people be Weinstein in the first half of the story without turning into the reactionary he turned into in the second.
Mr. Weinstein, in short, has fallen into the reactionary trap.
He is not alone. Other key members of what’s been called the “intellectual dark web” also started out opposing the real excesses of supposedly progressive ideas and practices, only to morph into cranks.
These dynamics have left a lot of Americans, including many of my friends and colleagues, deeply torn. On the one hand, they have serious concerns regarding the new ideas and norms about race, gender and sexual orientation that have quickly been adopted by universities and nonprofit organizations, corporations and even some religious communities. Like Mr. Weinstein, they believe that practices like separating people into different groups according to race are deeply counterproductive.
It’s serious, you guys — these people feel things. Deep things. Deeply.
On the other hand, these Americans are deeply conscious that real injustices against minority groups persist; are understandably fearful of making common cause with reactionaries like Mr. Weinstein; rightly oppose the legislative restrictions on the expression of progressive ideas in schools and universities that are now being adopted in many red states; and recognize that authoritarian populists like Donald Trump remain a very serious danger to our democratic institutions.
Mounk acknowledges that a whole lot of the Intellectual Dark Web people have followed this same trajectory without actually considering why that might be. It’s not terrifically complicated, though — the crank was calling from inside the Bret Weinstein.
Weinstein started out with the premise that his take on the situation was obviously correct; he didn’t listen to the students of color who organized it in the first place why they thought this would be beneficial to them. He assumed that he, a white guy, was the one with the answers when it came to how racial inequality ought to be addressed. That is crank behavior. That is not that far a walk from saying “I’m not going to listen to the experts on COVID, I’m going to listen to myself and I say Ivermectin is the real cure!” as he later did.
Mounk operates the same way, as he makes clear throughout the piece.
But first he explains that because he is so incredibly different from Trump and those on the Right who share his views on this subject, he’s not going to use the term “woke” — rather he’s going to make up a whole new term of his own for what it is that he takes issue with and he’s going to call it “identity synthesis.”
Does it make sense to speak out against the well-intentioned, if wrongheaded, ideas that are circulating in progressive circles at a time when Mr. Trump retains a serious chance of winning back the White House? Is there a way to oppose such practices without turning a blind eye to genuine discrimination or falling for conspiracy theories? In short: Is it possible to argue against the identity synthesis without falling into the reactionary trap?
Yes, yes and yes.
Now, it’s an incredibly long piece that goes on an incredible number of tangents — I just deleted about five paragraphs detailing this man’s deeply confused ideas about what Critical Race Theory is and what Derrick Bell was about. We will be here all day if I try to go that route, so I’m going to try to boil it down to his hot tips for “arguing against identity politics.”
There is a way to warn about these views on identity that is thoughtful yet firm, principled yet unapologetic. The first step is to recognize that they constitute a novel ideology — one that, though it has wide appeal for serious reasons, is profoundly misguided.
It’s not surprising that Mounk considers this “novel ideology” to be profoundly misguided, given that he has absolutely no idea what the hell he is even talking about. Suffice it to say, it is the usual. He is under the impression that we all see ourselves and each other exclusively as our identities — gender, race, sexual orientation — and not as people. Not as individuals. That this means we are going against Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream and judging people by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.
That’s not a real thing! It only seems like a real thing if you are a white guy and have, for the first time in your life, had to be aware of your own identity rather than seeing yourself as the default option. If you now sometimes find yourself in conversations you used to freely dominate without anyone batting an eye and now people are saying “Hey, maybe we should also hear from someone with a different perspective that isn’t, you know, also a white guy?” And that hurts, because they’re used to living under the assumption that white guys are perfectly capable of running the full gamut of opinions and takes. They don’t want people to assume that their identity affects their ability to do this or to be “objective.”
Mounck goes on to explain that it’s just really hard for those who recognize the “dangers” of “identity synthesis” and want so very much to speak out about them, but don’t want to alienate themselves from their friends, make common cause with Trumpists, or be the bad guys.
This is not a new phenomenon. Far from it! One of the catalyzing factors of the pre-Trump new Right to begin with was a growing frustration among certain people who were very upset that they couldn’t do or say sexist or racist things without others pointing out that they were sexist or racist.
His solution? Be super smug and tell people you are basically Dr. Martin Luther King, which always goes over well, especially when you know just the one line from the one speech.
[T]here is a way to argue against the misguided ideas and practices that are now taking over mainstream institutions without ignoring the more sobering realities of American life or embracing wild conspiracy theories. And the first part of that is to recognize that you can be a proud liberal — and an effective opponent of racism — while pushing back against the identity synthesis. […]
[C]ritics of the identity synthesis should claim the moral high ground and recognize that their opposition to the identity synthesis is of a piece with a noble tradition that was passed down through the generations from Douglass to Lincoln to King — one that has helped America make enormous, if inevitably incomplete, progress toward becoming a more just society. This makes it a little easier to speak from a position of calm confidence.
He also suggests …
To avoid following the path charted by Mr. Weinstein, opponents of the identity synthesis need to be guided by a clear moral compass of their own. In my case, this compass consists of liberal values like political equality, individual freedom and collective self-determination. For others, it could consist of socialist conviction or Christian faith, of conservative principles or the precepts of Buddhism. But what all of us must share is a determination to build a better world.
As long as everyone in that world understands that we are right and basically MLK and they are “misguided” for thinking that just because certain laws literally impact them more severely (or exclusively!) because of their identity, that they should bring that into politics. That’s just rude.
All of that being said, the most “misguided” thing about this whole spiel is that it is objectively insane to be “concerned” about the “excesses of the Lefto” at this particular time. Part of the reason (of so, so many) that people sound like assholes when they are whining about college students caring too much about social justice is that, you know, there are actual Nazis running around these days. Like, it is objectively insane for that to be anyone’s first priority right now.
Here is my big hot tip: If you have “concerns” about something, ask questions! Google stuff! Be curious! Think “I wonder why people are saying or doing this?” And consider keeping your mouth shut and listening and reading and learning until you really fully grasp the thing you have “concerns” about. Don’t just say “I have concerns” about what it is you think other people are on about or doing and expect people to respect that and obey your authoritah.
This way, you don’t have to worry about arguing a point that you know makes you look like an incredible asshole and which has a tendency to lead one down the path of brain worms.