Tag Archive | The New York Times

We Are Socially Awkward And Have Issues: The Online Men’s Right’s Movement

NB: I’ve been dealing with serious anxiety the past few days. Writing is hard, but it’s good therapy for me. With We Hunted The Mammoth seemingly on hiatus, I thought this a good time to promote it while also writing about the strange, ugly phenomenon of online Men’s Rights Advocates. For a glossary of terms, just click here.

We Hunted the Mammoth tracks and mocks the white male rage underlying the rise of Trump and Trumpism. This blog is NOT a safe space; given the subject matter — misogyny and hate — there’s really no way it could be.

David Futrelle, writer/editor/cat entertainer.  – We Hunted The Mammoth

It was Gamergate that drew me in.

For most people, the internet is a place to connect with friends old and new, check out the news, get recipes, seek info on local businesses, and of course peek at naughty pictures. There are some people, however, for whom their online presence is far more than a way of enhancing the comfort and ease of their actual life. For these people, being online is their life. It’s more than just the overweight and unemployed guy hanging in his Mom’s basement; there really are a whole lot of people, men and women, whose online identity is who they are. It’s strange, I know, and I still don’t get it, but it is what it is.

As some might imagine, investing so much of one’s identity into virtual space can lead in some cases to a kind of psychic break; in the anonymity and pseudonymity provided by the Internet, a person really can be just about anyone. Just today, The New York Times reports a story about an online neo-Nazi who uses a pseudonym for his online writing and claims battlefield experience in Iraq to boost his credibility. The problem, of course, is it isn’t true. Called “Stolen Valor”, this is actually quite common. While easily checked, most people don’t and are drawn into the imaginary lives of all sorts of people.

Among the many pockets of what’s being called the “alt-Right” (white nationalism with a hipster title), few encapsulate so much of what is wrong with large pockets of our society as the online Men’s Rights Movement. Bringing together white racism, white entitlement, misogyny, male entitlement, MRA’s (Men’s Rights Advocates) cover a broad swath of fringe territory but are united by their seemingly pathological fear and hatred of women. Combined with odd self-imagery and that sense of entitlement that too many men carry around with them, their online presence is a toxic, dangerous brew that destroys lives and careers, creates online fascist “celebrities” like  Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich, and further rots not only our public discourse but our whole polity. After all, were we at all healthy, such individuals and groups would not only be dismissed, but ridiculed into disappearance.

In any case, I first heard about all this back in 2014 or 2015, when I first read about Gamergate. A good summary of what Gamergate was is offered up in a New York Magazine article from last July:

The previous December, while living in Boston, [Quinn] went out with Eron Gjoni, a programmer she’d met on [OkCupid, with whom she had a 98 percent match. The first date involved drinks at a dive bar in Cambridge, sneaking into Harvard Stadium, a sleepover. They started a relationship that was intense at first, then off and on as the spring wound down. It was not an unusual course of events for a 20-something romance. But what followed was extraordinary, an act of revenge on an ex that became about much more than the two of them, that rippled across the video-game industry and far beyond. . .

The broad strokes of the episode — Gamergate, as it came to be called — go something like this: In August 2014, Gjoni published an extensive blog post accusing Quinn of various infidelities, including, he said, sleeping with a journalist at the gaming site Kotaku. The post was explosive, particularly on certain internet forums like 4chan, where it was suggested that she’d cheated on Gjoni in order to get a positive review of a game she’d built. In fact, no such review exists, but Quinn was an appealing target: She was already known for her work as a designer whose most famous game seemed built more to provoke an argument than to be enjoyable, and for her outspokenness on gender inequities in the industry.

It’s important to understand something: An episode that exploded online misogyny, advocacy of violence against women, and mainstreamed such odd terms as MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) and SJW (Social Justice Warrior, used as a derogatory epithet) began with a spurned boyfriend attacking his ex with an obvious and easily-falsified lie. What was an ugly instance of online harassment became something far larger, fueled by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young men harboring a dangerous amount of rage and fear directed at women.

While reading about Gamergate, I kept hearing about a website called We Hunted The Mammoth. The title was ironic, a jab at the self-image so many MRA’s present online. Little more than a news aggregator about the ugly, vicious side of online misogyny, it is nevertheless a window into some of the ugliest, and occasionally pathetically funny, parts of the internet. It is important to understand the social pathology on display, that the amount of hate, rage, and fear directed at women – some not only “defend” rape (Rape apologists are a thing), but either advocate it or insist “rape” doesn’t actually exist because men are entitled to sex with pretty much any woman they want any time they want – is really quite disgusting.  All the same, it leads some of these men into some truly strange ideological contortions.

Before I highlight some of the sillier things MRA’s talk about with all the seriousness of a grad school seminar, it’s important to outline the self-image many of these men carry around. Rooted in really bad anthropological notions of alleged “alpha” versus “beta” males, there are a couple subgroups who, having failed at dating (as if harboring deep loathing of women would make them winners), these men have decided they are the true Alpha Males, those who should rule, those who should have the hottest, most successful, most desired women. The problem, of course, is a conspiracy among feminists to deny these alphas their rightful place. These powerful women are actually castrating bitches who purposely seek out beta males because they are more easily controlled. Having figured out this reality, these men often decide that they’d rather have nothing to do with those they call “western women” (they believe non-western women are still in touch with the only truly womanly virtues of procreation and general service to a man’s any and every desire) and “Go Their Own Way”, either by seeking out non-western women, advocating the superiority of masturbation over sex, or giving up on relationships entirely. Searching We Hunted The Mammoth for “Men Going Their Own Way” or MGTOW brings up pages and pages of articles like the following:

The stunted human beings known as Men Going Their Own Way love to imagine apocalyptic scenarios in which women are forced to beg them for help, offering sexual favors for cans of beans.

Now, with something truly apocalyptic barreling into Florida, they’re … well, doing the exact same thing, with Florida-based MGTOWs boasting of their preparedness and mocking all those allegedly hapless women they think will soon be beating a path to their home fortresses in search of food and shelter.

Despite the anger and misogyny on display in this post, there is something pathetic about it. Except it rouses more laughter than pity, these men believing themselves the true leaders, the real heroes of their stories. Their warped psyches really are something.

As for the whole “Alpha Male” phenomenon, this post sums up the whole belief-system rather succinctly:

In Kotaku in Action, the main Gamergate hangout on Reddit, azriel777 sadly reports that:

Apparently, it’s only the real alphas who won’t fall for the whole “let’s be partners in life” line.

The other side of Men Going Their Own Way are the truly bitter men who call themselves “incel”, short for involuntarily celibate (what a shock!). The biggest incel subreddit was banned, deemed a hate group that advocated violence against women. As I suppose should be expected by a group of men who believe the fact they can’t get laid is all someone else’s fault. As one Incel – who wondered if he went on a public hunger-strike, some women might feel sorry for him and come relieve him of his celibacy – wrote on the now-defunct subreddit:

As Futrelle writes further down this same article: “The incel ideology pretty much poisons everything it touches.”

As for the deeply disturbing lack of self-consciousness and quasi-paranoia among “incels” Futrelle highlights a reddit story that sums it all up in a bow made of a combination of sadness and creepiness:

If it weren’t for feminism I wouldn’t have changed seats and she wouldn’t hate me for breaking her heart. She probably would have followed me to my apartment and asked me if she could have sex with me and I wouldn’t be a virgin anymore.

Futrelle concludes:

You didn’t break her heart. At best, she barely noticed you; at worst, you creeped her out. That’s it. Everything else is going on in your head, and nowhere else. Women do not follow strange men to their apartments to ask them for sex because they happened to sit next to each other on the bus. This is the sort of fantasy you come up with when you can’t imagine actually interacting with a woman as a real human being.

While the incel subreddit is gone, there are still plenty of places on the Internet and Deep Web for these MRA’s to advocate rape, destroy the reputations of others, and write about their sometimes insane, sometimes awkward fantasies about who they are and what they sincerely believe women think. Because their real lives are probably fairly humdrum, like most people’s, their internet identities become an outlet for them to fantasize about their own importance, becoming something outsized and more than occasionally monstrous. Exposure won’t make these men go away, of course. It was David Futrelle’s exposure to the broader society – online and in the real world – that was the real virtue of his website. Apparently health issues have kept him from blogging regularly, or at all since Christmas Day, but go check out his site to learn more about this strange, sick world you might not have known existed.


We Are Living Very Fast Now

Donald Trump, Jr. appearing on Sean Hannity’s FOXNews program last night. Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune.

Yesterday, I had a post planned on the series of New York Times articles concerning Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with people he believed to be agents of the Russian government. Monday afternoon the Times published a story online that claimed there was an email in which it specifically stated just that. The problem with that article was the email itself wasn’t disclosed and the article stated the reporters had only the word of three sources such a monstrosity existed. At that point I thought the Times had jumped the shark. I was highly skeptical for one simple reason: I refused to believe anyone involved in this kind of high-level nonsense would be so stupid as to write such things down so clearly. So, after completing some work I needed to get done, I was sitting down to write about my skepticism.

Before I did that, however, I was going through Twitter and discovered my feed had exploded with news that Donald Trump, Jr. had released the email chain that included precisely the email about whose existence I was so skeptical. I quite literally spent the next ten minutes sitting with my mouth hanging open, aghast at just how stupid Donald Trump, Jr. really is. I honestly felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Even though I was seeing it, and reading the emails, and reading what others were saying (including one independent journalist whose shock was personal; he’d spent a year on this story and Trump, as this journalist wrote, “just tweeted it out”), I just couldn’t wrap my mind around just how stupid these people are.

So my post yesterday was out the window.

Today I just want to offer some reflections on the reactions to this story. I’m not talking about Trump, Jr or his father carrying on about how innocent Junior is in all this, because the emails pretty clearly incriminate not just him but Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort as well. I think it should be obvious that many people see this quite obvious evidence – at the very least – of attempted collusion with a foreign power as not only shocking but bordering precariously on treasonous behavior. Now in the US, “treason” is the only crime defined in the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

As we aren’t at war with the Russians (although one could easily make the argument, as many have, that their cyber attacks on our major political parties constitute an act of war), I’m not sure that, legally, anyone should be charged with this specific crime. I do, however, believe it has the same general stench, a willingness to act against both the laws and best interests of the United States and receive information from a hostile foreign power during a national election.  This is appalling and, one would think, indefensible.

All the same, almost immediately, Trump supporters online, including on my Facebook page, have been out in force slinging all sorts of mud in the form of what’s called “Whataboutisms”, as in “What about when Obama worked to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu?” or, “What about when the DNC worked with Ukraine during the last election?” or, among my favorites, “Since the Russians didn’t offer any actual information, no crime was committed.” I like this last one because it elides the reality that Junior not only believed such information would be on offer, but responded enthusiastically – “If it’s what you say it is I love it” – to the offer. Now, any other campaign would immediately have taken this information to the FBI. Why? Because you don’t meet with agents of a foreign adversary trying to influence a campaign for the Presidency!

As to the matters of the US interfering in the domestic politics of Israel and dozens of other countries, all I can say is conservatives used to love all those CIA front groups, invasions, and assassinations. People such as me who were outraged by them back during the Cold War were frequently called unAmerican and communist sympathizers because we thought it was pretty horrible that the United States would, say, kill the democratically elected leaders of Iran and Chile, say, or work with dissident military officials in Greece and Cyprus to overthrow their civilian governments. Now, however, the fact that the United States has acted this way means it’s perfectly fine for the Russians to do the same to us.

Really? REALLY?!?

That’s not even close to being anything other than nihilism, pure and simple. These alleged superpatriots (at least according to many of their self-descriptions) are somehow down with the Russians attacking the United States during an election. I’m just dumbfounded that anyone calling themselves a patriotic American would ever say anything like this.

We are at a crucial point in what is clearly the biggest – and let’s say it, the stupidest, most venal – corruption story in American history. President Trump really does have the power both to fire independent investigator Robert Mueller (and not a few of his allies are insisting he do just that) as well as pardon anyone convicted of any crimes. Trump is both unstable and really quite idiotic, so we might just see these things, although I make no predictions. Were he to do so, however, this would constitute a very clear act of direct interference in an investigation (his firing of former FBI director James Comey looks more and more like just that), and would most certainly create an even deeper Constitutional crisis than the one we’re currently embroiled in.

I say we’re in a Constitutional crisis because the Republican leadership in both Houses of Congress have abdicated their responsibilities under the Constitution to act in their oversight and investigative capacities. Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are refusing to act, for very different reasons, even as Democratic members in both Houses are demanding action. Which brings me to a point about which I want to be very clear: the willingness of elected Republican officials to defend both the President and his idiot child make this a partisan issue. The Republican Party’s willing acquiescence in acts like these should become a Scarlet Letter any Republican seeking office should wear for a very long time. The Democratic Part, after the Civil War, was often characterized as the party of rebellion (along with rum and Romanism, but that’s for another post), hindering their ability at rebuilding a national party base; there were only two Democratic Presidents between 1865 and 1932, sixteen out of sixty-seven years. I believe the Democratic Part needs to begin right now to make clear the entire Republican Party establishment is tainted by these events. They’ve proven themselves again and again over the past nine years unfit to govern. With their acceptance and defense of Trump and his son, they should be labeled the part quite willing to work with foreign powers against the United States. These events should be painted on their foreheads, worn on their arms, and called to mind each and every time a politician with an “R” after his or her name is mentioned. To pretend otherwise is to invite more such actions in the future.

Events are happening quickly, and – who knows?!? – by the time I hit “publish” this whole piece may well be mooted just as yesterday’s was. All the same, I think Americans need to speak out about these events. Our civic institutions, from the federal bureaucracy to our national elections, are and have been under attack and been seriously damaged by less than six months of a Trump Presidency. These are things worth fighting to preserve. Calling out people willing to put family and Party above their country is an ugly but necessary part of ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.

No Longer Informed

So I learned from a (liberal) friend that a lot of her (liberal) friends have stopped following the news. Don’t do this. Don’t let your friend do this. We need your courage. We need your intelligence. We need your power. We need you not to be one of the people who insist to your grandchildren, “But nobody knew what was going on!” – Rick Perlstein, Facebook, 12/31/16

And yet . . . We Have Matt Taibbi, an excellent reporter and writer, casting doubts upon the matter of Russian interference in the election. We have lost any grasp of who is and who is not authoritative. We have lost the ability to ensure the right questions are asked. We no longer get have a critical facility, at a social level, to weed out the spurious from the truthful. Paying attention? To whom? Upon what authority? – Me, comment on above post, 12/31/16

The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.

If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now. . . . Matt Taibbi, “Something About This Russia Story Stinks,” Rolling Stone, Dec. 30, 2016

We are at a point where we as a people no longer know who to trust, why we should trust them, and thus we suffer from multiple realities existing simultaneously.

We are at a point where we as a people no longer know who to trust, why we should trust them, and thus we suffer from multiple realities existing simultaneously.

I saw the above FB post from historian and author Rick Perlstein yesterday, and among the many things I read as I went through the discussion that followed was a sense of a lack of any sense of security about what news sources we should trust to offer us some glimmer of reality. There was also a good discussion about what it means to “follow” the news. My comment, citing only one instance of a trusted reporter asking important and necessary questions about the entire narrative of Russian interference in our recent election, could very well have been longer. Taibbi is very clear on the sources for his skepticism: Our recent historical experience with fake intelligence information offered as “proof” of Iraqi perfidy in order to justify war.Other commenters noted another author accepted as authoritative among many on the libertarian Left, Glenn Greenwald, who has been doing much the same work as Taibbi: questioning the very foundations of this ongoing narrative not, it should be pointed out, in support of Donald Trump. Rather, Greenwald’s position and motives are simpler: He wishes readers to think critically about this story in order to stop what seems a headlong rush toward judgment.

Other commenters noted another author accepted as authoritative among many on the libertarian Left, Glenn Greenwald, who has been doing much the same work as Taibbi: questioning the very foundations of this ongoing narrative not, it should be pointed out, in support of Donald Trump. Rather, Greenwald’s position and motives are simpler: He wishes readers to think critically about this story in order to stop what seems a headlong rush toward judgment.

Both authors offer sound reasons for taking care in our over-indulgence in “official” stories precisely because “official” sources should not carry the authority they seem to be wielding. Particularly among a segment of the population – liberals and (some) progressives – who have been skeptical of official narratives for decades, there seems to be something akin to joy in repeating the official line over and over. Despite decades of dismissive comments concerning our national newspapers The New York Times and The Washington Post, our 24-hour news programs on CNN and FOXNews, we now have people insisting these organs of our establishment are somehow engaged in brave truth-telling (well, at least the print sources; the three major cable news channels are still dismissed as either to servile to the Establishment [CNN, MSNBC] or little more than Republican propaganda channels[sometimes CNN, FOXNews]) while doing little more than repeating an official line offered with what appears to be little to no evidence offered to the public.

There’s a story about how FOXNews parrotted a story first reported by Breitbart.com regarding SNAP fraud. The USDA says they have released no recent report regarding SNAP fraud (which is true). Breitbart insists its story was not about SNAP fraud (also true). Somehow, it seems, someone at FOXNews decided to make up a story about SNAP fraud (not exactly a shocker) and the organs of the Establishment found at the contemporary American version of the Volkischer Beobachter a story both about SNAP and that used a figure similar to the one at Breitbart. The evidence, however, just isn’t that clear-cut. Yes, FOXNews pulled the story about SNAP fraud out of its ass; what would FOXNews viewers think if they discovered the standard government estimate for SNAP abuse is around a billion dollars annually (while a much larger number than $70 million, it’s still about 1.4% of total SNAP outlays, so hardly significant)? In the sudden rush of stories concerning  “fake news”, and the glee among right-wing sources labeling mainstream news “fake”, this whole story demonstrates just how difficult it is to untangle the mess of sources, of who is saying what and why, and how narratives – several stories linked together – are constructed.

We should be skeptical of official sources, particularly anonymous sources. We should also be wary of self-appointed meta-journalists like Glenn Greenwald who, not being a journalist, continually tell journalists how to do their jobs. We should also be wary of pretty much anything from a source whose sole or major presence is the Web. We should be skeptical of those whose views on the world are similar to our own. We should also be wary of those whose view of the world is significantly different.

Skepticism, however, should not equal a lack of trust. Evidence matters. The history of a particular news source matters. How one particular bit of news fits into other pieces of news is important. Precisely because we have been swamped, not just in this election cycle but for years (even decades), with what is now called “fake news”, however, we have moved from skepticism to refusing any authority save that which confirms our view of the world. We are living in a time with the total breakdown of any national consensus concerning, well, pretty much anything at all. We all seem to inhabit little conclaves that share only one quality – anything “outside” is not just suspect, but a priori untrustworthy.

We as a people no longer inhabit the same world. We are not citizens of the same country. We are not speaking the same language, regardless of how much they all sound the same. How is it possible under such circumstances to insist one group or another “should” follow the news when there just isn’t any single “news” narrative to follow, but multiple narratives with their own sources, their own presuppositions, their own larger stories into which each piece of new information fits?

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was The Play?

CIA Director John Brennan

CIA Director John Brennan

Let’s suppose you’re a mother. It’s late on a Saturday night and you receive a phone call that your 20-year-old daughter was in an automobile accident and is in a coma. A blood test showed her BAC was .11. After the initial shock wears off, having awakened your husband and 17-year-old-son, you’re dressing to go to the hospital when your son tells you he received a text from someone claiming to be at the scene who says the first officer on the scene didn’t smell alcohol on your daughter’s breath. How do you spend the next several days? Do you spend them at your daughter’s bedside, not caring whether or not she was drinking, just wanting her to heal and wake up? Or do you spend time demanding someone tell you whether the police or the hospital lab techs are right? Do you insist you don’t believe them because of an unconfirmed story you heard third hand? Do you refuse to look at the actual facts of the matter, or at your daughter for that matter, demanding more information before you’ll believe any of the stories you’ve been told? Your husband starts to wonder if you’re not losing it a bit; your son, however, is on your side. Like you, he’s all over social media, insisting the hospital’s lying about your daughter being drunk to cover up something, maybe that the accident was a hit and run and someone else is responsible for your daughter’s condition. Many of your friends and family are worried about your mental health; many, however, including your daughter’s friends, are on your side. People far distant from the events are confused about the whole thing and don’t know what to think.

Such is what is happening with the bombshell news stories about the President and senior members of Congress from both parties being briefed by members of the Intelligence community about their assessments of Russian tampering in our recent national election. There are two further parts of the story that make it far more disturbing. First are reports from multiple sources that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) downplayed the information and threatened to make political hay of the story in the midst of a bitter Presidential campaign; should the President attempt to go public with the information, McConnell would simply say he received the same information, wasn’t convinced, and the President is trying to manipulate the electorate. Second, the FBI, titularly in charge of cyber-terrorism, while not part of the group of reporting agencies (CIA, NSA), insisted the information the other services had was overblown.

All day yesterday I’ve been hearing a two-part chorus of questions: Who’s right, the CIA/NSA or the FBI? Who are the news outlets reporting the story? As the FBI refuses officially to comment on anything related to this story, we have only multiple reporters stories the FBI was less sure than the CIA. Of course, the matter of the veracity of the reports is important, although hardly germane to the larger matter before us. Neither the FBI nor the Intelligence community have stellar track records when it comes to dealing with important (after the fact) national security information; political administrations sometimes take reports with a grain of salt (“You’ve covered your ass now.” – President George W. Bush on hearing a report of credible threats of terrorist attacks on US soil, one month before 9/11). That is always a prerogative, particularly if the information just doesn’t seem to gel with much the rest of the information other agencies are receiving. These are important and necessary follow-ups that should be, and I’m sure either have been or are being pursued.

The point of the stories, however, isn’t the veracity of the reports, or which agency called it correctly. The point of the stories is that people in charge of protecting and defending our country against any and all kinds of foreign intrusions were told by people who’s job it is to know about these threats before they become big and public that a foreign country was actively engaged in attempting to influence a national election. Now, this isn’t surprising in and of itself; that’s part of the game of international relations, and Lord knows we’ve done more than our fair share of the same kind of finagling. What is surprising is that, with reports already surfacing in news outlets in the summer regarding Russian hacking of DNC then later RNC databases and information, anyone who swore an oath both to abide by and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States would refuse to act upon what seems – at least from my distance from the matter – pretty credible reports. This isn’t a partisan political matter, as some of the Republicans at the meeting were willing to go along with the President’s plan to present a united, bi-partisan front regarding what seemed to be a clear and present danger to the integrity of our national elections. Nor is it a matter of dismissing the reports because they come from the New York TimesThe Washington Post, the UK Guardian, the BBC, or wherever. We don’t have the information presented by Intelligence, nor should we. What we do have is a story of a meeting, and what seems on the face of it a casual dismissal of the very real, possible, and credible threat to a major American institution for partisan political gain.

Like the Mom insisting the doctor’s are wrong about her daughter’s drunkenness and refusing to believe the accident is her fault, we have people asking all the wrong questions and never liking the answers they receive. Why don’t they like the answers? Because they’re demanding answers to questions that are irrelevant to the story we’re being told. It will take time and a whole lot of resources to decide whether the FBI or CIA are right. It seems to me, however, the very possibility of such a state of affairs should piss off any American regardless of ideology and party. It seems to me most Americans should be shocked that a senior American political figure would prefer party over country when given information regarding a possible threat to our national integrity. As long as people keep shouting those questions and others waste time trying to answer them, the main matter – the facts before the public – will be ignored as we chase all these shiny object people keep tossing on the floor.

This election was a a colossal fuck-up from the beginning. Reports of Russian hacking and interference were very public in July; the Intelligence services were sure enough of the situation by mid-September to brief senior officials. Why aren’t people pissed off about this? Why all the wrong questions? Have we become so crazed we no longer recognize a real threat to our sovereignty and integrity?

Talking About Class Without Talking About Politics

The relevant questions, then, relate to how the New High/Lowbrows can learn from the errors of the Old Highbrows and shrinking Middlebrows. How can we respect the value of vocational diversity without assuming that “these sorts of people” belong in “those vocations”? How can we ensure that individuals are fairly compensated for diverse, fulfilling careers? And how can we promote an egalitarian society without being unified by greed? – Nathan Roberts, “Farewell, Middle-Class Morality? Capital In The 21st Century By Thomas Piketty”, patheos.com, January 14, 2015

A book review looking at the increasing economic divisions in industrialized society should, at the very least, consider the sources of that inequality in the various legislative, international, and private actions of governments, international bodies, and private companies over the previous generation, including stripping unions of bargaining rights and leverage; making it easy to transfer business and manufacturing across national boundaries without undo burdens or liabilities; international treaties and transnational bodies that center their focus on trade at the expense of environmental and broader economic concerns.  Nathan Roberts, however, states up front he isn’t the least bit interested in these matters.  Rather, he follows the lead of another reviewer, A. O. Scott, who, being a cultural critic, is far more interested in the cultural ramifications of losing what is commonly termed “the middlebrow”.

To which I can only say, “Whoa, fellas.  Is this really the most important question to be asking?”  Scott’s review at The New York Times seems a bit too concerned with Virginia Woolf’s denigration of “middlebrow” culture, as if somehow the pursuit of egalitarian socio-economic policy resulted in the dulling both of the aesthetic sense as well as a desire among those not fit for “highbrow” culture to try to do so.  This is the long lament of the elite that American-style egalitarianism results in a dull mediocrity, rather than a lively arts community pursuing “the best” as already previously defined by those “highbrows” who “naturally” understand such things.

Is this really something about which we should concern ourselves, when considering socio-economic disparity?  Is it even possible, morally, to wonder whether the loss of the middle class is a good thing?  Is it possible to write the following with any seriousness?

[N]ow, as distance between the rich and the poor increases, the greediness that underlied an egalitarian 20th century made way for a stratified, polarized 21st century. Occupy Wall Street gave us a sneak preview: blasé tightfistedness from the “haves”; entitled, jealous bullying from the “have-nots.”

Because the demand for economic justice, for jobs, for a return to the more egalitarian tax and employment policies of the generation immediately following the Second World War is obviously rooted not in a desire for a better society, but “jealousy” and “entitlement”.  These are complaints I’ve heard before, yet I have yet actually to see or read anything that makes the claim true.

The loss of the middle class is devastating, economically and socially.  The question of its effects on culture are, in the long run, neither here nor there, compared to the devastating impact on human lives struggling to make a way in the world that is more and more harsh.  To write a review of a book on economic equality and wonder whether it might not be a good thing because middle class culture was some kind of malignant mediocrity that was a drag both on “lowbrows” who understood their place and “highbrows” who had to deal with “middlebrows” constantly trying to edge their way past their station is offensive, to say the least.

At the same time, it is par for the course for The New York Times, a paper that does not hide its appeal to a readership filled with their own sense of success and a dismissal of those who have not succeeded.  That Patheos, a website dedicated to religious discussions, would further this immoral tactic is both sad and offensive.  It might be nice to read what Piketty had to say about the effects upon democratic governance, and possible prospects for reversing a generation and more of policies pursued that have led us to where we are.  This is no accident.  It can be reversed.  One wouldn’t guess that was either wise, let alone a possibility, from reading these reviews.