Back when I was on Twitter I launched a tweet that to my surprise became very controversial. This power user @kept_simple, the kind of glasses-wearing bearded white dude who’s emotionally overinvested in his Twitter account, had been complaining about me without tagging me in. So I sent a tweet saying “Either tag me in your tweets or I’ll dox you Kevin.” Now, what’s essential to understand is that his name is not (and was not) Kevin. This was, in fact, the joke: I said I was going to dox him, which depends on knowing personal information, but I demonstrated that I did not even know his name, which I again stress is not Kevin. Referring to him by the wrong name while saying I would dox him was the very nature of the joke. Was it a good joke? Probably not, but you can’t win ’em all. (He now publicly shares his name, Mark. You may have deduced that Mark is not the same name as Kevin.)
My tweet resulted in an avalanche of angry reprisals (from people who already didn’t like me) because I “threatened to dox someone.” As I said repeatedly at the time, this wasn’t true - I didn’t know anything about this dude’s identity and truly did not give a shit. I couldn’t possibly have doxed him. That was the whole premise of the joke! But, to no avail. It didn’t matter that their complaint made no logical sense; it seemed to them to be a particularly damning charge, so they launched it again and again for years. I still hear it sometimes, though the people who throw it out now have no clue what they’re even referring to. Of course Mark could have cleared this up at any time by saying “hey my name’s not Kevin,” but, well, he didn’t. Which is cool. The point is that the people who complained that I was a dox threatener or whatever didn’t really give a shit either. That accusation was just a convenient pretext for attacking me, someone they already didn’t like. In the rare instance that they would concede that there was no actual threat to dox anyone they would just immediately switch to a different accusation. Because the substance was never relevant. What was relevant was their preexisting feelings about me.
Nowadays, as you would expect, the usual mode of attack is my terrible false accusation against Malcolm Harris. Is that a perfectly legitimate reason to not like me, not want to support me, not publish me? Of course. I’ve said that from the very beginning. But here’s the weird thing about being on the other side of a scandal like that: I genuinely don’t think it’s done much to change the number of people who like or dislike me. I honestly don’t. I got mega-canceled, I completely changed my life over it, and it foreclosed a lot of professional possibilities, but in basic terms of the number of humans that favor vs disfavor me I don’t think it changed things much at all. It becomes clearer as time passes. People who already liked me found a way to forgive (not excuse) what I had done. People who already hated me saw it as confirmation of everything they already believed. Sure, it created even more members in the Secret Freddie Liking Club, and people had to do the appropriate public denunciations, but over and over again I’ve found that everyone mostly resumed their old positions on the essential Freddie Good or Freddie Bad? question. This is how people function.
I think the truth is that people encounter my writing and very quickly form an unusually visceral opinion about me and they then hold on to that first impression for the rest of their lives. And this has powerful mental consequences. For example it has been common since the Malcolm Harris incident for people to say some version of “psychotic episodes don’t alter people’s behavior.” I have said over and over since that I’m morally and personally responsible, but this bit of folk psychiatry is, uh, interesting! My old tendency was to say “they can’t possibly believe that.” But over time I have come to understand that they very much do believe it - for me, in that incident. They don’t have an overall skepticism towards the banal observation that people undergoing psychotic episodes exhibit altered behavior. They simply have an elastic idea about how the world works based on what is socially and rhetorically convenient in the moment. They know nothing about me and probably nothing about psychiatry but they know who they like and the world will conform to that position.
Sometimes when people find out that Bari Weiss used to date Kate McKinnon they evince shock. I can’t claim to understand it either; though I love many dykes (platonically) I have always found lesbians kind of inscrutable. But I don’t think people are basing these feelings on some sort of sapphic relationship algorithm in their head. I think when people say that they don’t understand the pairing what they really mean is that they’d like to hang out with Kate McKinnon and not with Bari Weiss; there’s a mismatch of likability in their minds. What we’re supposed to all believe is that this antipathy stems from Weiss’s politics. I don’t think it does, not really.
How did you feel about me using the term “dyke” above? Lesbians have ceased to be a progressively protected class, for some reason, so I’m not that worried about it. But here’s what I think happened in your mind. If you already liked me, you found it a term of playful endearment, a charming resistance to contemporary language norms. If you already didn’t like me, you thought it was an anti-queer slur, a casual expression of homophobia. What I am quite certain did not happen is that you opened up a mental rolodex and said “where’s my file on who’s allowed to say dyke?” You didn’t apply some sort of abstract principle. Your sense of the principles here are molding around your personal tastes. That’s just how our social relationships work.
People don’t dislike each other because of abstract politics or morals. That’s not how humans function. People dislike each other because of pure lizard brain shit, the kind of brute emotional entanglements that determined who you were friends with in elementary school. I’m something of an asshole so I’m never particularly aggrieved when people don’t like me. I can be a real dick. I make people feel insecure. I 100% get not liking me. What bothers me is when people dress this shit up with high-minded moral or political principle, pretending that they’re so elevated that they’re only motivated by abstract notions of the right and the good. Bullshit. You don’t like my style. You don’t like my attitude. You think I’m pretentious and corny and mean. Fair game, fair game, fair game. But don’t tell me our disagreements are political when they’re personal. I’m not saying you don’t disagree with some of the things I say. I’m saying that even if you didn’t you’d find a way to justify not liking me.
Oh you hate Glenn Greenwald’s politics? What is it specifically, you have a cousin who works for the Bolsonaro administration, or a deep respect for the operational integrity of the NSA? Hmmm? Or, perhaps - and hear me out here - you just think Greenwald is an asshole but you have a vague sense that that isn’t an adult reason to criticize someone so you’re coming up with a bullshit political pretext. Doesn’t that seem like a simpler, more honest explanation? Glenn is abrasive. Glenn is imperious. Glenn is unsparing towards the media that he (correctly) feels has failed in its basic civic duties. That’s why you don’t like him. And that’s OK. If you think he’s an asshole, call him an asshole. But this song and dance where you talk like he has Andrew Breitbart’s politics is a farce and you know it. Media people have always hated Glenn because he’s been very successful in journalism despite rejecting journalism’s professional and social culture. He is very much Not One of Us to them. They can’t imagine getting beers with him so he must be a reactionary. That’s all it is. And fine, fine. But let’s be honest about this fact, OK?
Is Bruenig Derangement Syndrome a product of Liz Bruenig’s unorthodox-but-not-really-that-controversial politics? Or the weird high school mean girl shit that rules politics and media? I suspect it’s because she’s openly religious - not out of rejection of her religious beliefs but out of breaking 21st century liberal social norms about hiding those religious beliefs. Someone will no doubt pipe up and say “But she said Bad Thing!” OK. But look deep within. Think about the order of events. Did you see her as a complete blank slate prior to Bad Thing, and after your opinion on her became negative? Or did you already have an inchoate dislike that you conveniently now define through Bad Thing? Is Briahna Joy Gray’s reputation more determined by her socialist and identity-skeptical politics, or by the fact that people feel she’s refreshingly hopeful/annoyingly chipper? Is Jeet Heer a lovable old liberal uncle, or a 400-tweet response to a question nobody asked? Not a political question! Is Aimee Terese strident or crazy? Not a political question! Is Rob Delaney everybody’s cool dad cause of his lukewarm politics or because he’s just cool? Do you want to hang out with someone who has great politics or someone who has great blow? LET’S GET REAL.
When the Harper’s letter came out, people said absolutely nothing about the principles outlined in that letter. They didn’t even pretend to give a shit about the concept of free speech. The signers were friends or they weren’t. That’s all. That was 100% it.
What makes all of this particularly weird and annoying is that media culture dictates that we treat everything as trivial anyway, so you’d think they would be upfront that they just don’t like people without having to come up with bogus justifications. If there is one thing that media people want you to know about their industry and their work, it’s that lol lol nothing matters lol lol nothing matters lmao lol lol nothing matters lol lol. You think I overstate the case? Pick a random journalist on Twitter, which is where they reveal themselves as personalities to the world. Go ahead. If there is any message that screams itself out to the void, it’s that nothing is serious, that everything is a joke, that the writer in question thinks this is funny, that it would be hilarious if you cared about anything. That is the ethic of our media class. They want you to know that they think everything is a joke. Well, OK guys, you win. It’s all a big joke. Nothing matters. Congratulations. But you can’t have it both ways: you can’t spend all day saying nothing matters and then, when you selectively choose to, act like politics are very important to your lives, like you’re genuinely morally outraged. They aren’t and you aren’t. You are motivated by people and not by ideas.
Similarly, people on the internet will not. stop. fucking. telling us that referring to facts and logic is uncool. This is every wannabe lefty edgelord you’ve ever interacted with’s favorite deep sentiment, fake insight that’s been passed around like a soggy joint at a bad party. “Facts and logic, ho ho! What are you, some kind of nerd?” (The people who say this shit are enormous nerds.) Here is a platonic version of the genre, by someone who’s name is “Aisling,” lol. Facts and logic aren’t real, there’s no such thing as objectivity, blah blah blah. OK but then your opinions are based on… what? What replaces facts and logic? The default answer is, like, “politics, man,” but what undergirds those politics? From whence do they spring? Not from your intrinsic resistance to oppression. Sorry, guys. It comes from who you like, of course. From the same gorilla instinctual emotional forces that dictated who you sat with in the cafeteria when you were 8 years old. Let’s admit that.
I don’t like you, either. I don’t want to like you or be liked by you. That’s not why I got into this shit. I have many problems but the desperate social insecurity that seems to power the entire internet is not one of them. I remain baffled at how many adults seem to think that the point of life is to enjoy the meaningless mild approval of armies of strangers rather than to build a tight little network of friends and family who are passionately invested in you. But even if you don’t share my values, perhaps you can admit that treating personal animus like it’s politically meaningful is unhelpful. If you think I’m an asshole, just say I’m an asshole. If you don’t like someone, just say so. That doesn’t mean you don’t write about politics. You just drop the phony fucking holier-than-thou routine and acknowledge that you’re motivated by animal spirits more than anything else, like everyone else. For years I have played a simple game: when I meet someone in person who says they don’t like my writing, I challenge them to name an issue on which we disagree. They fail over and over again. Like literally they can’t name anything. The truth is they don’t like me, who I am, as a person, but for whatever reason they feel compelled to pretend that it’s deeper than that. It isn’t and that’s fine. If we can’t actually grow up, maybe we can be mature enough to admit that we are immature, and that all of this is a child’s game.