This is a most interesting article. What with that Atlantic piece that I haven’t had a chance to read yet [I’ve only been periodically checking in for the awesome ratio], it seems some people are wondering if maybe they’re the Baddies:
That the Times was inventing new standards on the fly was perfectly obvious at the time. Why didn’t Wemple make this point then? This is the second, and more interesting, revelation from his column. He bluntly confesses his “posture was one of cowardice and midcareer risk management.”
The author of the piece, Jonathan Chait, is solemnly considering the inexorable and metastatic growth of Cancel Culture and if it is, after all, as good a thing as everyone believed at first:
When I stumbled on the news of David Shor’s firing in 2020, one thing that struck me was that nobody wanted to talk about it. Since these purges occur at institutions whose staff are overwhelmingly on the left, most of the victims in these cases have beliefs that place them somewhere from the center to the left of the political spectrum. They usually don’t want to become famous for being a victim of cancel culture. Indeed, becoming a martyr on Fox News compounds the “social death” that many of these victims experience.
Ah yes, such a conundrum. The problem with Cancel Culture—or rather, I think, the very point of it—is that you do get really and truly canceled. You experience “social death,” which is probably as charming as it sounds. Mr. Chait–a good writer making a great point–is suddenly able to dip his toe into the tepid, shallow, turgid pool of truth, because the peronsal costs of doing so are rapidly diminishing, for a while anyway. The irony, of course, is that finally calling out Cancel Culture one week before the nation goes to the polls is way too little and too late:
The motive for many progressives to follow these stifling conventions was sympathetic. If you believe systemic racism and inequality are the greatest crisis in America, which I do, and you also believe the racism of the Republican Party is far more dangerous than any excesses on the left, which I also do, then you might hesitate to admit to anything that might be used by Republicans to discredit the cause of racial justice. Yet that hesitation allows the most unreasonable people on the left to rope the whole progressive movement into indefensible and self-discrediting positions.
Funny that. If you deeply loath your ideological opponents, and are unwilling to hear what they are saying or grant that they have any humanity at all, which is literally what the last six years have been about, then you aren’t going to behave in a way that will ultimately make forgiveness—which is what you are going to want when you do bad things—possible. The only way “out” as they say (seriously, I keep hearing this phrase everywhere) is “through.” Which I take to mean that the only way out of any mess is, wait for it… to tell the truth, even if both telling it and accepting it hurts you personally more than you can bear.
One of the stupidest things about the modern age is that somehow “smart” and seemingly sensible people allowed themselves to believe that love could be in opposition to the truth. Love on one side and Truth on the other. Love is a sort of condiment that can be garnished around the edges of truth-telling. But when push comes to shove, and usually it does mean a shove, the truth will give way to those more tantalizing hedonistic feelings called love. You won’t tell the truth, finally, because you love yourself more than the other. Your love for yourself will be the measure by which you measure the truth. What you end up saying to the other will be what you want to be true, not what is.
In this way, Mr. Chait tries to even-handly consider the “excesses” of the right and the left. Both are bad, he says, but one is more dangerous than the other. It doesn’t occur to Mr. Chait that there might be some more primary, more fundamental reality to look to beyond our wretched political wilderness. He can’t see that the very paradigm which allows him to write this article ensures he will never find his way out of his troubles.
Christians, in a similar way, when they are contemplating canceling each other, often say that it is important to “speak the truth in love.” They are quoting the Bible when they say this, believing that love and truth are two equal but sometimes opposite forces. You will often have to choose between the two. Sometimes it might not be “loving” to even tell the truth at all. In this way, they fall into the same kind of trouble. They actually reject the truth–both the small truths that tether individual people to reality and the great Truth that is God. They chose “love” but it is something tragically reduced to almost nothing, the merely vestigial, skeletal remains of what had been grand and glorious. Anyway, this is how Mr. Chait finishes off his amazing insight:
I believe the cultural pressures that produced these errors are in remission. But they haven’t disappeared. As evidenced by the likes of Scocca and Katz, there remains a deep-seated impulse on the left to defend or deny illiberal norms. They insist the wave of hysterical accusations, overpolicing of language, and empowered outrage mobs were a figment of the critics’ imaginations, or that these things happened but were actually good, or perhaps, somehow, both. As people in these institutions begin to lose their fear of speaking truthfully, we need to honestly confront what happened.
That’s richly and hubristically naïve. The “cultural pressures that produced these errors” are by no means “in remission.” Mr. Chait has dropped a link to himself there but it is paywalled and so I can’t read it. Unhappily for all of us, no matter what he has written, he isn’t right because he only wants everyone to go back to the world as it was six years ago. Whereas me? I want to toil through a blasted wilderness all the way back to whenever it was that Truth and Love and Beauty and Goodness were wrenched away from their proper moorings—the divine revelation of God himself to his own creation. Until that piece gets put back on the table, until Mercy and Truth kiss each other, until we corporately discover they are both a Person who has the power to save us from ourselves, we might as well keep knitting our scarves to keep keep necks warm during the coming bleak winter.
Have a nice day!