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E-Pluribus | October 28, 2022
Looking back, with regret and shame, at the New York Times 2020 blow up; gatekeepers, old and new; and we're all Eeyore now.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Erik Wemple: James Bennet was right
As Erik Wemple himself acknowledges, his latest Washington Post column “comes 875 days too late,” but Wemple admits that he and others in the media were cowardly and wrong about the way former New York Times editor James Bennet was treated in the wake of Sen. Tom Cotton’s essay calling for the use of the military to quell riots in the summer of 2020. Wemple’s piece is remarkable nonetheless for its unflinching post mortem on the whole sordid affair.
The editor’s note [on Sen. Tom Cotton’s essay] teed up Bennet’s firing — technically, resignation — as editorial page editor. Media coverage of his departure noted that the op-ed was one of several storms under Bennet’s management; others included a June 2017 editorial that triggered a defamation lawsuit from Sarah Palin, an antisemitic cartoon and personnel fiascoes. The Cotton thing seemed like the last straw.
Except, in hindsight, it wasn’t a straw at all. In initially sticking up for the Times’s role in publishing controversial fare, Sulzberger had it right. The paper had published an opinion by a U.S. senator (and possible presidential candidate) advocating a lawful act by the president. That’s not to say it would have been a good idea: Elizabeth Goitein, an expert on national security law at the Brennan Center for Justice, says that invoking the Insurrection Act amid the Black Lives Matter protests would have been “inappropriate” because local authorities had a handle on the instances of unrest taking place “at the margins,” but that a deployment “likely would have fallen within the capacious bounds of this poorly drafted statute.”
[ . . . ]
The Twitter chain claiming “danger” to Times staffers suffered from the same journalistic failings leveled at the op-ed. It was an exercise in manipulative hyperbole brilliantly calibrated for immediate impact. “I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” Bennet told Smith — an apparent reference to his days reporting for the Times in the Middle East, where he narrowly escaped being kidnapped in 2004.
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked about 30 Times staffers whether they still believe their “danger” tweets and whether there was any merit in Bennet’s retort. Not one of them replied with an on-the-record defense. Such was the depth of conviction behind a central argument in l’affaire Cotton.
Read it all.
Michael Lind: The New Gatekeepers
In a long piece for Tablet Magazine and part of a larger series, Michael Lind examines the impact of wokeness on American institutions and what he believes can be done to address it. Lind’s solutions will lean too heavily on the power of the government to rein in the excesses, but his analysis is worth consideration.
Wokists, then, are not the new Protestants, any more than they are the new Trotskyites. They are entryists in their methods, but not in their ideology. Such identity politics is not the kind of coalition of college students and minorities that Herbert Marcuse and other Marxists hoped for in the 1960s, after they were disappointed by the lack of revolutionary fervor among the American and European working classes. Black nationalism, the model for all racial and ethnic nationalisms on the Western left, has its roots in 19th-century German racial and cultural nationalism, not cosmopolitan Marxism. Radical feminism, which spawned gender ideology, has its own tradition as independent of socialism, even if some radical feminists have also been socialists. Indeed, real communist regimes like the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Cuba have usually been repressively traditional in matters of sex and gender.
This, however, raises a question. The various streams of identity politics that feed into today’s radical ideology are not new. Indeed, they have existed on the margins of politics and intellectual life for generations. As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, “political correctness” was ridiculed into irrelevance everywhere except on university campuses and a handful of sectarian left institutions. What exactly is it that changed in the structure of American institutions so that the new entryists were able to successfully infiltrate and capture so many major organizations and professions in the 2010s, after such tactics had repeatedly been tried and failed before?
[ . . . ]
Control of three gateways in particular has been critical to the success of woke entryism. The three gateways are college education, professional accreditation, and commercial services, particularly new online media platforms like Twitter, sales platforms like Amazon, and financial platforms like PayPal. All three wield variants of the same power: the power to exclude people from the economy. Good Trotsky-style entryists that they are, woke activists, knowing that they would be defeated in free elections and in open public debates, have sought to infiltrate institutions to control key chokepoints or gateways, which empower them to be gatekeepers.
Read the whole thing.
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David Brooks: The Rising Tide of Global Sadness
Perhaps one reason the quality and tone of public discourse is so wanting these days is because everyone is just miserable. At the New York Times, David Brooks looks at the results of Gallup’s annual social survey and says it reveals a growing and pervasive dissatisfaction the world over. Brooks posits no remedies, but leaders in various sectors of society from politics to healthcare to religion can and should be aware of the trends and looking for answers to give hope in the face of what many see as a bleak future.
The negativity in the culture reflects the negativity in real life. The General Social Survey asks people to rate their happiness levels. Between 1990 and 2018 the share of Americans who put themselves in the lowest happiness category increased by more than 50 percent. And that was before the pandemic.
The really bad news is abroad. Each year Gallup surveys roughly 150,000 people in over 140 countries about their emotional lives. Experiences of negative emotions — related to stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain — hit a record high last year.
Gallup asks people in this survey to rate their lives on a scale from zero to 10, with zero meaning you’re living your worst possible life and 10 meaning you’re living your best. Sixteen years ago, only 1.6 percent of people worldwide rated their life as a zero. As of last year, the share of people reporting the worst possible lives has more than quadrupled. The unhappiest people are even unhappier. In 2006, the bottom fifth of the population gave themselves an average score of 2.5. Fifteen years later, that average score in the bottom quintile had dropped to 1.2.
In an interview, Jon Clifton, the C.E.O. of Gallup, told me that in 2021 21 percent of the people in India gave themselves a zero rating. He said negative emotions are rising in India and China, Brazil and Mexico and many other nations. A lot of people are pretty miserable at work. In the most recent survey Gallup found that 20 percent of all people are thriving at work, 62 percent are indifferent on the job and 18 percent are miserable.
Read it all here.
Around (Elon Musk’s) Twitter
Paypal is back at it:
Via Kmele, a rather comprehensive list of discourse buzzwords:
And finally, without comment: