It’s hard to write about this without sound pious, but probably the most elementary political ideal I have is that principle has to come before affiliation. Politics is about taking moral intuitions and reasoning and using them to craft an ideology from which you derive specific policy positions and arguments. In order to put those into practice you will have to form coalitions, so affiliation is important. But it’s very easy for your group identity to obliterate your principles, as the desire to belong overwhelms your organic beliefs. And I think we’re at a space, in 2022, where the default political identity is almost purely affiliatory. I understand that claiming we’re in a tribal period is not novel, but almost every day I’m reminded of how bad things have gotten.
"Politics has" is correct so please don't notify me about the supposed typo, thanks!
Once again you have brilliantly articulated a bunch of things I've been thinking about for awhile now. I feel like I could've written every word of this (well, if I could write better haha). Totally agree with the analysis. Thank you!
I feel like I'm constantly being encouraged to denounce and cut off people in my life who disagree or have a different perspective. I realized this recently when I saw my cousin, who I used to be close with and have always loved, for the first time in a few years. We come from different worlds socially and politically. She doesn't have a lot of education and is some kind of southern baptist. I don't know for sure but think she probably voted for Trump. And most recently, her son was diagnosed with Level 2 Autism, and the internet mom groups got her so she is anti-vaccine now. But she is still a sweet, humble, loving, generous, funny, kind person, who just happens to believe some wrong information, something I do several times a week if we're being honest. And she's my family and I care about her, and the idea of severing our relationship over disagreement about the Covid vaccine just seems absurd to me. This constant pressure to not just respectfully disagree but actually hate people in your life because of different choices, to ruin Thanksgiving or whatever, is a recipe to end up miserable and alone.
"...the level of personal antipathy towards dissidents now is far greater than towards those all the way in the other camp..."
Exactly. That's why this shit is religion, not politics. In a religion, heretics are much more hated than the other tribe.
I've never thought of Quillette as being "of the right." They are more centrist-heterodox liberal, in the vein of aughts-era Slate.
What annoys me is when people insist that their narcissism-of-small-differences enemy is somehow responsible for their actual enemy—e.g., people blaming Jesse Singal for the Texas anti-trans law. I think the law is terrible and I’m not a Jesse singal fan, but the thesis that he caused the law because he laundered respectability for anti-trans sentiments by publishing articles in the Atlantic is absurd—the people who passed the law don’t care about respectability or the Atlantic. Gender-affirming care for children has increased in scope and public profile in recent years and people (including bigots) were going to react to that one way or another, and it seems bizarre to blame the guy who wrote some bland quizzical “let’s explore this topic, are there possible downsides” articles instead of all the people yelling about perversion.
A “what is this topic, are there possible downsides” article about gay teens, published in 1992, would be equally clueless and equally rebuttable and equally not-responsible for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or conversion therapy. I think people focus on the arguments in their language (science, experts, The Atlantic) because those are the ones they feel competent to rebut. They should certainly rebut those arguments, but they shouldn’t exaggerate their importance. Liberals are obsessed with idea of the guy who is “just asking questions” in order to spread hate, but the truth is that in real life, people are going to ask questions. You have answers! This is not an existential threat!
Now do Elon Musk. How did the person most responsible for the first mass-adopted electric car become the ultimate bogeyman of left-wing nightmares? Because he might let Trump have his Twitter account back?
"Even if you think he’s the world’s biggest asshole, the immense roster of people on Twitter and in the media who spend their time on the anti-Greenwald beat is very strange."
I *know* he's an asshole and I still think it's utterly bizarre and counterproductive how much time people spend hating him, which only riles him up and makes him more of an asshole. I value a lot of his work, for what it's worth.
Congrats, you inspired me to finally start paying just so I could say this:
In general, this post is spot on. But in one way, it’s wildly wrong: Greenwald exemplifies the worst of the tendency you’re describing.
No one is more obsessed with affiliation over political substance than GG. No one is more dedicated to the project of cultivating personal antipathy towards the people he deems to be Bad. No one gets higher on his own righteous anger.
The "politically homeless" out there often show this odd deference towards Greenwald. I kind of get it: he's done some amazing things in the past, and he really is fearless. But he's become an ideologically incoherent egotist who thrives on nastiness and rage. Don't waste your time hating him, but stop holding him up as some paragon of dissidence.
I have such gratitude and appreciation towards writers who can break out of the suffocating Team Blue / Team Red dynamic, who wrestle with big ideas and painful doubts and take personal and professional risks in order to swim against the tide of their own in-group. Freddie deBoer does that. Matt Yglesias does that. Ross Douthat and Liz Bruenig and Jesse Singal and many others do that. Greenwald can still do it, if he so chooses, but that's not his priority. His priority is Glenn Greenwald being right. His priority is stomping on his enemies. His feed is 95% pure invective, frequently dehumanizing and always overheated. Even when I entirely agree with him on substance, he raises my blood pressure. He makes it harder to think; he floods the zone with shit.
And that's something we don't need more of in this fucked up world.
You could make a case that Greenwald is a victim of this toxic, tribalist dynamic FdB is describing — that being called (falsely) a fascist has twisted him into the rage-machine he’s become. And it really is tragic to me that a journalist who’s done so much important work has gone down the path he now has. But, it’s a dark, ugly path, and frankly a boring dead-end. Just tune him out already.
You're not exactly a political orphan if you make statements like this: "spinning out into deranged conspiracies and pure reaction to the point that they will refuse to take life-saving medicine in a global pandemic just to defy the pointy headed elites"
"Conspiracy theory" is a synonym for spoiler alert, and that "life saving medicine" has its serious downsides. The right isn't quite as crazy as you give them credit for, especially since the left is back to seeing "reds" under the beds.
But having said that, you stumbled on the answer to all this early on. Two statements--
(A) "Affiliatory politics are always self-reinforcing, as the more that people fixate on them the steeper the punishment becomes for those who step outside of the boundaries."
(B) As Scott Alexander once ably explained, the closer another tribe is to yours, the more you hate them. You may insert your favorite aphorism about how we only hate those who remind us of ourselves.
The problem is that there is very little difference between the parties. They are both "middle of the road," if "middle of the road" is corporate owned and see the voters as obstacles to fulfilling donor promises. The only way to compete in a market like that is to spin the other side as immoral and traitorous, spin every (non)choice as a matter of national and global relevance, and keep your own sheep in the herd.
I think it’s unfair to Cheney and Goldberg, FWIW, to lump them in with Kristol. Disagree with their principles, but they’ve clung to them and can’t help that they’ve attracted support from Resistance liberals. They’ve also suffered professionally as a result. Kristol OTOH has engaged in a full-on Resistance grift. The Bulwark is an utterly banal and useless publication, a Johnny One Note with absolutely nothing interesting to say (and literally nothing to say that doesn’t include the word “Trump” somewhere).
"principle has to come before affiliation" - 100% agree!
I am a Democrat, but first and foremost, I am a small-d democrat. Here is my principle: I believe in democracy as the least-bad political system there is. I am firmly on the side of any person of good faith who upholds democracy against Trump and his minions, and yes, that includes Liz Cheney and Jonah Goldberg.
Why? I believe that the greatest strength of democracy is not that it trusts the people to choose their leaders well. (As demonstrated by Trump's win in 2016, sometimes the people make sh*tty choices!) No, the superpower of democracy is the *peaceful and orderly transition of power*. If you hate the current President, you don't have to plot to assassinate him or start a civil war to get rid of him; you wait 4 years, campaign as hard as you can, and, hopefully, your candidate wins the next election. There's no need for bloodshed, no tyranny or anarchy.
This makes opposition to democracy an absolute deal breaker for me. Trump has given me many reasons to despise him, but his attempt to OVERTURN AN ELECTION is in a class of its own for "WTF just happened, never thought I would see this in the U.S.!" This is why I support Democrats. It's not like I was raised in Boston and programmed to chant, "Red Sox good, Yankees bad.'
"But like Jonah Goldberg and Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol and countless others, Wilson has taken advantage of the total vacuum of principle in the Trump era to rebrand himself in a way designed to flatter the interests of the people who dole out respectability and elite status in 2022. (They got money, too.) "
Unless I've missed some recent stuff, this seems unfair to Goldberg. I've been reading him for 15 years and he seems to have stuck to his principles to me. He's been anti-Trump since the beginning.
"...sentient chickpea Rick Wilson..."
I nearly burned my mouth with coffee on this one, good lord that line is hilarious. Haven't finished the article yet, just wanted to comment on this gem. :]
The phrase "global pandemic" peeves me. It spread from publishing houses into our thoughts and now it won't leave. Definitions of "pandemic" vary just enough to keep me from asserting that a pandemic is definitionally a global phenomenon, but I think the word's connotations are sufficient to make the modifier "global" unnecessary.
My working theory is that it sounds nice and adds a bit of weight to what you're saying. A mere "pandemic" pales in comparison to a "global pandemic." Both cower in fear of a "deadly global pandemic." Etc.
For most people most of the time, the fastest and surest way to wind up dead or seriously disadvantaged has been at the hands of our fellow humans. At the same time, "our group", whether by faith, family, tribe, regiment, frat, whatever, are the people we can surely trust to have our back when we need support, when we are sick or threatened.
Therefore, whatever else happens, whatever we have to do, believe absurdities, participate in degrading rituals, risk our lives, blindly follow barking insane leaders, parrot obvious lies to our detriment, do or suffer terrible things, but please whatever you do, please don't kick us out of the group!
As a result, when people are presented with evidence, strong evidence, irrefutable evidence, evidence verging on philosophical proof, that their deeply held beliefs, the beliefs that people use to define themselves and tribe, are wrong, that the tribal leaders are crazy, stupid or malevolent, that we are headed to catastrophe - rather than change beliefs, change leaders, change tribe or change course, most people, most of the time will instead double down. Witness the behavior of cultists. Solzhenitsyn has documented true believer Communists heartfully confessing their guilt at a show trial because the Party demanded it.
The process is called "cognitive dissonance" and it is abundantly documented. In fact, there are entire religions organized around the principle.
Cognitive dissonance is not limited to stupid people. In fact, the intelligent are at least as prone, perhaps because they are better at rationalizing. Perhaps this is because much so-called "knowledge work" has nothing to do with acquiring or elucidating "knowledge" but is basically symbol manipulation, with the goal of justifying whatever the paymaster wants to see justified.
Maybe this was a throwaway comment, but THANK YOU for calling out "y'all." What the heck is with that? I got people born and raised in Queens or New Hampshire or Madison, Wisconsin or Seattle sending me messages or posting online and using "y'all" as if it's more inclusive or more cool than "you" or "you all" or "youse" or "youse guys" or just about any alternative. WTF? Must we all be Southern?