Cynical Motives for a Cynical Time

plus "this won't fix that problem" ≠ "I don't care about that problem"

Did you know anti-cancel culture types are just grifty grifters, doing a grift? Grift grift grifty grift mcgrift?

The idea that I “just write about cancel culture” is, for the record, a lie. I will demonstrate in this footnote1. But suppose I was just an anti-cancel culture writer in a cynically motivated way, that it’s all for the cash. Not being woke essentially freezes you out of writing for 80% of the national publications in this country, but sure, sure. It’s all for money. Let’s suppose that’s true: how is that different from being professionally woke, exactly? Here on planet Earth, the actual, obvious financial advantage (for writers or anyone else) lies in being the loudest Good White/Male/Straight/Cis Ally you possibly can be. Who in their right minds thinks that anti-anti-cancel culture writing is not cynically motivated? Being overbearingly self-righteous about social justice politics has become an obvious and lucrative career path in our media and culture industries. So stop being naïve, or pretending to be naïve. You know how the game works. Let’s grow up, OK?

You think, what? That the army of white guys who are suddenly so deeply motivated against cancel culture critics aren’t doing it for clout and pussy? Please. Can we be adults, here? I know that, for some reason, the internet has decided that using the word “grift” makes you impossibly interesting and witty. (Everyone else is saying it, so it must be novel!) Well, trust me sister, if anti-cancel culture is a grift, anti-anti-cancel culture is on another level of pure mendacious self-interest. White dudes with Warby Parkers at Do or Dive won’t stop chewing your ear off about how they hate anti-cancel culture stuff because they think they’ll get in your pants. They post it on Twitter because they think they’ll get a book deal. I’m sorry to break it to you.

Let’s watch a master of rebranding at work.

Hmmm!

You hired me for years, Nathan. Nothing I was writing about then was different from what I write about now. Was that a “deliberate editorial choice”? Or did the political wind start blowing in a different direction and you panicked and changed course? I have deep contempt for this type of cowardice and opportunism, which is almost universal in media. You can hate my writing and my opinions, but I’ve written with the same politics for 13 years and I have never chased what’s professionally convenient. (To put it mildly.) Robinson meanwhile routinely published leftist contrarians like me when he thought it would be profitable and then got woke religion at exactly the right time. For the record I and others have challenged Robinson to provide evidence for his claim about me. He has refused to do so, but has not retracted what he’s said. I don’t talk about trans issues, have perfectly conventional progressive opinions on those issues, and no one has ever come up with a specific thing that I’ve ever written or said that is meant to be transphobic, but sure, throw my name in there. It’s a simple calculation, right? It’s now better professionally for Nathan to be perceived as being against me, despite trading on my name when he was trying to get his zine off the ground, so that trumps the fact that he has no basis whatsoever for his criticism.

Come on, you guys. Can we please be grown ups here? You think every gawky white guy you know with a please-don’t-look-at-my-jawline beard is suddenly really invested in the legitimacy of political correctness because they had some sort of authentic political awakening? Or perhaps they’re responding to intense social and professional incentives to get woke by appearing to get woke? Did that ever occur to you? Drew Magary spent decades as one of those deliberately-offensive Deadspin bad boys, loving to ruffle feathers, can-you-believe-he-just-said-that shit, and then George Floyd happens and oh! Crazy thing, he’s woke now! He’s an anti-anti-cancel culture guy now!

This is a gentleman who once wrote this:

I used the word faggot all the time (even more than I do now!). I adored Dice Clay. I didn’t think gays deserved rights or anything else other than ridicule. I didn’t LIKE gays. At all. And not for any sort of bullshit moral reason. No, I was that way because I enjoyed it, and I suspect many other homophobes also hate gays simply because they like to hate them

He of course goes on to reassure us that now he’s left all that behind, he’s a reformed man… right in 2010, just when it became obligatory for liberal journalists to accept gay rights. What a coincidence. What great timing, that he would have a spontaneous total political conversion at exactly the right time for his career. And now it’s happened again after the social upheaval of 2020. Funny how that happens. So lucky to have “grown” in just the right way at just the right time, repeatedly!

Now many will pop up and say, oh, well, Magary did legitimately grow as a person, you have to let people evolve. To which I would say, would 2021’s Drew Magary ever permit anyone to “grow” in the way he’s supposedly grown? Read that SFGate piece I linked to above. Is that a person who wants to let people change and grow? Quite the opposite. So who set these rules, exactly? They seem awfully inconsistent. Why is Drew Magary, who was using the anti-gay f-slur in the last several decades - and before you pull the “it was a different time” shit, I’m only 5 years younger than him and I was writing pro-gay marriage papers in middle school - permitted to be a cancel culture hero, but someone who quoted the n-word in rap lyrics on Twitter when they were 16 a permanent social outcast? Why does Magary get grandfathered in?2 How is it that people who are totally opposed to forgiving and forgetting for others always hope you’ll forget the fucked up shit they said themselves? Why, it’s almost like all of the “rules” about this are bullshit justifications for self-interest.

The totally bizarre condition in media today is that I’m expected to just golf clap and say “I respect your journey” to someone like Magary even when it’s utterly clear he’s just another cynical opportunist, trying to find a new way to pay off the mortgage now that he can’t publish more books that amount to picking his children up by the ankles and shaking dimes out of their pockets. There’s this utterly weird dedication to pretending that cynical motivations to say progressive things don’t exist. It’s so strange. I know you guys went to expensive colleges. You never met a phony before?

The rule in media is “If I like someone, they get to grow and change, if I don’t, they don’t get to.” I mean, obviously.

The thing is no one in the industry thinks any of this is real. Every reporter and writer knows that all of this sudden political “evolution” is totally mendacious horseshit. How could they not? If it suddenly became really important to media careers that everyone knows you love Doritos, I promise journalists would suddenly start writing pieces about how Doritos are totally snacktacular. They know it’s all bullshit. Come on. But they don’t want anyone to call them on their utterly insincere politics, so they stay quiet. I promise you that if you could pull off journalists from the pack and get them alone over a beer they’d say “oh yeah that guy, he’s full of shit, it’s all an act” or even “yeah everybody knows that tons of people in the biz have bullshit performative politics now.” But the code of media omerta says they’ll never take it to Twitter or their podcasts or Clubhouse or wherever the fuck else they go to seek attention now.

Did it cross no one’s mind that establishing immense punishments for anyone who steps out of line with social justice orthodoxy ensures that we’ll have a lot of people who dishonestly embrace that orthodoxy in public to protect their selfish interests, in a way that obscures the actual political conditions of our country, leading to dynamics like Trump dramatically outperforming expectations in 2020? Silencing dissenting opinion without actually changing minds is dangerous because it lulls you into a false sense of strength. Is what I’m saying that crazy? The orthodoxy, viciously enforced, is that there’s no legitimate way to look at current liberal political culture and see anything wrong with it whatsoever. I mean, no one would report on the glaringly obvious fact that the Amazon union drive was going down in flames well before the vote3. Why? Because that would not be popular with other reporters; it would challenge their worldview. But that’s fine, just fine! It’s all perfect in progressive media, all sincere and healthy, and if you disagree you’re motivated by bigotry. That’s the consensus opinion in the industry: criticism or questions mean you’re off the team.

Black people, you have no sudden “white allies.” We have established social and professional penalties for white people who appear to be insufficiently devoted to the cause of Black people, so a lot of white people are bending over backwards to pretend they give a shit about you in order to not suffer those penalties. This condition might temporarily align the interests of self-motivated white liberals with your intrinsic need to fight racism, and if so, good. But it’s just as likely to cut against actual progress. We have surrounded you with an entire white society of utterly feckless fake allies who care about you and your cause precisely to the point that it helps them get ahead in life. Which means it will inevitably work against you too, once the worm turns again. And white people will find ways to work the moment to their advantage one way or another. The Jessica Krugs of the world might be despicable, but they’re not nuts. They’re simply responding to the incentives that we’ve established. Don’t like that? Then wouldn’t it make sense to think critically about those incentives? Nah, that’s anti-cancel culture stuff, we don’t do that. We put #BLM in our Instagram bio.

Go on the social media network of your choice and point out that there is literally no evidence that mandatory diversity trainings of the Robin Diangelo stripe do anything to reduce racism at all. You may get some sympathetic ears. But what you will definitely get is (white) people saying some version of “you don’t care about Black people.” Because the only form of thinking that exists in progressive spaces today is the Politician’s Fallacy: we need to do something; this is something; therefore we need to do this. There’s lots of racism in the workplace, no doubt. So the answer is to… pay businesses millions of dollars to come and preemptively scold bored employees who are only attending these workshops out of coercion? That’s the solution? Seems like a great way for a few people to get rich, but sure doesn’t seem like it’ll do jack shit to actually reduce workplace racism. Also... you get that employers pay for these things purely because they can use them as evidence that they have not created a racially discriminatory workplace in the event that they get sued, right? So Robin Diangelo’s business is literally making it harder for employees of color to get financial compensation for being the victims of discrimination. Cool, cool, cool. Anti-racism!

Ah, but I’m questioning a progressive and anti-racist and her worldview (and hustle), so I am surely just a classic Substack guy. When you can’t object to anything at all, lest you be consigned to the list of “anti-cancel culture guys,” you can’t ask if things make sense, if the tactics people in the social justice world endorse actually do what they’re meant to do. The point is to build an actually-more just world, right? So we have to figure out what actually works. I don’t begrudge people who are casting around for solutions to entrenched problems. But it’s not enough for a solution to have good intentions. It has to actually be a solution. To figure out if something actually is a solution you have to have an internal debate. You have to ask tough questions - not “just asking questions” but actual hard questions that stem from the world being a complicated place. But you can’t do that if you insist that any internal criticism is a con or a way to show allegiance to the alt-right.

This is the culture that liberals have created: asking “is this really going to make the world more just?” is itself impermissible. You aren’t allowed to ask if tactics work anymore! Ask David Shor. Do riots help Black people? We’ll never know. Racist even to ask, I’m told. Hard questions are not permitted. Complication is not permitted. Internal debate is not permitted. The idea that cancel culture has critics because there might actually be something wrong with that set of tactics - because they might be ineffectual as well as unfair - is dismissed out of hand. You are anti-cancel culture or anti-anti-cancel culture and there is no in between. You are a good ally or you aren’t. End of story.

There’s a weird tension in today’s fight for a more just world. On the one hand, social justice politics are immensely pessimistic; they see all of these problems as inherent and existential and systemic, built in the very foundation of society. And yet at the same time they represent all of politics as profoundly straightforward: all political conflict is an uncomplicated battle between goodies and baddies. There are no hard political questions. The right thing to do is always obvious. Internal dissent is always illegitimate. Everyone who claims to be on your side actually is on your side and has sincere and organic motives. Good intentions ensure good results. Any call to Do Something will result in the desired outcome. Everything is morally simple and the path to righteousness shines unerringly before all good people. Meanwhile right now the vast machine of American injustice wheels on all around us, intricate and vast and totally undisturbed by “social justice.” Nothing of substance has changed. There’s no reason to think anything meaningful will. When its tactics and policies fail this badly, maybe the social justice world needs sincere critics more than it needs insincere, self-interested cheerleaders. But what would I know? I’m just a grifter.

2

Because he worked for Gakwer and those people will excuse anything any of “their people” do, of course. AJ Daulerio justified publishing child porn under sworn testimony. Jokingly, jokingly, of course! You know, that type of witty jest you make about publishing video of sex with children. Under oath. I’m sure the Gawker people who still ride for Daulerio (which is to say, almost all of them) would definitely accept it if Matt Taibbi made a “joke” about child pornography, right? They’d defend him too? Hmmm?

3

I of course supported that effort, as I do all unionization efforts, but it was eminently clear from the beginning that the vote was going to fail but it was not discussed at all in mainstream media. Saving the labor movement will require being honest about it.