Wednesday, October 31, 2012

no one declaring victory on Libya could possibly care about Libyans

Back when the Libyan intervention was happening, and previously anti-interventionist liberals were pulling their hamstrings in their rush to the complete opposite side, I pointed out that political victory is short, but genuine humanitarianism takes time. Improvement in the material conditions of human lives is indifferent to the election cycle. The reality in Libya will continue to develop for years and decades. If you actually care about the Libyan people, you can't be declaring victory now.

So take something like Jonathan Chait's piece on why he's totally crushing on Barack O. Chait breezily asserts Libya as some sort of a victory, without bothering to justify that idea. (That breezy quality is indicative of the whole piece; the word "drone" does not appear within in.) If your actual concern is the well being of the Libyan people, this is an incredibly premature stance. But more importantly, even right now, it's absurd to call Libya a "win." Some of the very first actions taken by the new government were to codify homophobia; the Libyan delegate to the United Nations said that gay people threaten the future of the human race. Large parts of the country are outside of the control of the government. The country is torn by constant tribal violence. Minority groups within Libya such as black Africans and Christians, protected by the Qaddafi government, have met with brutal oppression and violence. The Libyan economy faces enormous challenges. And as for the most basic desire of those who supported the toppling of Qaddafi, removing an authoritarian dictator-- the new government shows major signs of being itself an unaccountable and strong armed entity. All of this doesn't even begin to discuss Benghazi and the simmering anger it revealed.

So why does Chait get away with offhandedly asserting that Libya is a positive for Barack Obama? Because the conventional wisdom is cool with it. The conventional wisdom likes short-term answers, shallow understanding, and glob assignations of good or bad. And despite the brief flirtation with notions of American failure during Iraq, the conventional wisdom prefers to talk about American triumph. So Chait can throw the ludicrous claims of Libyan victory out there, aware that most of his audience will just suck it up.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is already political

I observed a Facebook argument this morning about the current weather crisis and what it means to politicize tragedy or disaster. I restrained myself from entering into it; it wasn't going very well in general. The offending party had compared Hurricane Sandy's likely aftermath to that of Hurricane Katrina and referenced the different socioeconomic statuses of the two cities and their people. The offended party declared this an unfair and untoward politicization of a tragedy. I think he was certainly open to criticism, particularly considering how lacking we are in facts at the present time. But going after him for politicizing an already political event is the wrong way to approach the question.

Hurricane Sandy, like everything else, is already political. It came into the world political. Knowing that is the easy part. Making the distinctions and arguments that correctly address that political nature is the hard part. If he was really saying that Manhattan residents are less deserving of compassion or help because of their general level of affluence, as she claimed, then yes, that's stupid and wrong. (I didn't think he was saying that, for what it's worth.) But it's stupid and wrong not because it politicizes a somehow politically neutral situation but rather because it's wrong factually and morally. Conversely, anyone who wants to claim that the relative political and economic strength of affluent Manhattanites compared to poor black residents of the Lower 9th Ward won't impact disaster relief and response is being obtuse. (It must be stressed that there are plenty of poor people in New York City, and talking in these broad strokes is, I think, rarely helpful.) We have to separate different kinds of arguments, we have to separate the moral status of victims of tragedy from their political and economic status, and we have to make sure we are arguing the point we want to be arguing. We have to be careful.

Natural disasters are both sensitive and political, in part, for the same reason: because they are arbitrary. That arbitrariness is why people believe that disaster response should be equitable across difference, as opposed to response to poverty or hunger, which they assume (wrongly) to be the fault of the people so suffering. And the fact that our response to natural disaster is inequitable despite this arbitrary nature is exactly why we can't hide from politics. To refrain from entertaining political questions of natural disasters out of aesthetic resistance is to risk perpetuating the disadvantage of those most likely to be hurt by them.

Perhaps the response to Katrina would have been more forceful and more timely if the Bush administration had not been convinced that as a natural disaster, the hurricane was beyond politics. Whatever the case, Katrina was political before it ever touched land, before it even was known to meteorologist; Katrina as a phenomenon that transcended a weather pattern was the result of systematic inequalities that were the result of very specific and very conscious political choices. And so, too, will Sandy be revealed to be not just a hurricane but a nexus of social, economic, political, and ideological choices-- human choices, things we control-- that will be laden with political content we cannot responsibly ignore. There's no excuse for failing to be sensitive and considerate to those who are currently enduring a dangerous crisis. There's also no excuse for failing to recognize that this crisis is political whether we talk about it in those terms or not. The negative consequences of engaging in such political consideration are emotional; the negative consequences of failing to do so are material and thus more dangerous.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A bit of a different perspective on Sandy

For fun, I thought I would check out the air traffic over the northeast right now, using Flightradar24. The results were as dramatic as I expected. Below that is a shot of the Midwest to give you a little contrast.



critical practice doesn't feel good

Alyssa Rosenberg has written an interesting response to John Scalzi's "letter from a rapist" satire, and to a criticism of that piece from Kristin McFarland, who takes Scalzi to task for appropriating women's issues from women. It's all interesting, in part because Scalzi has built a side career for himself as a celebrated voice of socially liberal boilerplate. I don't think he's used to being criticized from this direction, and that tells us a lot about the state of online social liberalism.

With McFarland's piece, I'm disarmed. I seem almost nothing to disagree with directly, and yet I can't help but suspect that, were she to get her way, she would find the world less conducive to her own political preferences. It's a pretty classic theory/practice split, and one I have no business trying to resolve. The reality of power is that those with it are the most likely to be able to redistribute it, to stop its abuse. Poor people are more likely to be liberated from poverty with the help of rich people. Black people are more likely to become empowered with the help of white people. And sexism is more likely to be truly defeated with the help of men. I don't intend to suggest any tactics, here; that's beyond my purview. And whether you see this as a hopeful statement of human interconnectedness or a profoundly unhappy threat to truly revolutionary politics is up to you.

I'm more interested, myself, in what this all says about the "feeling good" school of online social liberalism, the gated community aspect. By that I mean the propensity of many popular social liberals, Scalzi included, to write for an audience that celebrates the writer and themselves for their political righteousness, without engaging in the uncomfortable and ugly work of self-implication. When I read posts by Scalzi or others, such as Lindy West, I see a lot of people feeling good about themselves for being better than their targets, and I worry that nothing is improving.

Part of the point of my criticisms of Gawker and its relationship to CreepShots was that Gawker derives a lot of revenue from content that is of similar prurience to the photos published on Reddit in CreepShots. This is just true: Gawker has hosted or linked to many, many pictures of naked or nearly naked women who did not consent to having those pictures made public. (Some insist that this is different because those women are public figures; I think that people maintain the right to privacy as it pertains to their naked bodies even after they become famous.) They do it constantly, and I'm told by those who know that those posts do very big numbers, meaning that they rake in a lot of revenue. Worse still is the very fact that Gawker presents this kind of content to a group of people who would never think of themselves as similar to the CreepShots crowd. By showing nearly-nude and fully-nude pictures of nonconsenting people to a population that considers itself above such things, and building in the kind of ironic metatheatrics that helps such people excuse their behavior, Gawker perpetuates the very rape culture that they claimed to be fighting in outing ViolentAcrez. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing was a net positive for the fight against that rape culture, and if so I'm grateful Adrian Chen did what he did. But the unanimous celebration and self-celebration from both Gawker and its audience suggested that there was nothing untoward or unfortunate to be discovered at all. The more that people trade praise to one another for their superior social liberalism, the harder genuine reform becomes.

When people ask me why I am such an asshole, I typically say that I have an inductive understanding of positive social change: real moral progress, it seems to me, always comes from discomfort, anger, and ugliness. That's what history teaches me. You should be profoundly skeptical of the hype that emanates from blog posts or magazine articles where the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. For that positivity to develop, such essays must be free of content that is challenging to most people who belong to the loose confederacy of web-savvy social liberalism. Given my take on the current state of human affairs, I don't believe that any writing that fails to challenge in this way is likely to prod anyone in a positive direction. When people criticize Andrea Dworkin, for example, for alienating people with her exploration of the proximity of consensual heterosexual sex to rape, they mistake a feature for a bug. If she wasn't alienating people, she couldn't possibly be honestly expressing how she saw the world and its profound misogyny. The opposite is true: if we live in a culture that tacitly permits rape and other horrors, it stands to reason that any minimally worthwhile work of social critique will leave a significant majority of the people reading it angered and unhappy.

It's for this reason that I am willing to toe the edge of sociopathy in my desire for online independence, why I so frequently feel compelled to start fights with people I respect and admire, and why I have such little use for most of what John Scalzi or Lindy West write: because I believe that truly constructive political discourse will inevitably leave many or most people (usually including me) feeling threatened and accused. If feeling good about yourself produced positive social change, the world would be in much better shape.

Rosenberg says "I’d rather have Scalzi and company in the conversation than not." And so would I. If the alternative to Scalzi writing as he typically does is for his ideas not to be voiced at all, I take him as he is, and West too, and others like them. If the alternative to Gawker outing ViolentAcrez and casting negative attention on CreepShots is that that negative attention never gets focused at all, I'll gladly take the Gawker version. (Despite what some with low reading comprehension have said, I have no sympathy for ViolentAcrez and I believe his outing was justified.) But I think that they could be doing more if they were more distrustful of the tendency of their writing to invite so many people to feel righteous and validated. The question for Scalzi is, if he could keep the critique but had to give up all the fawning commenters, would he keep doing it? And what are the odds that truly constructive discourse would always end up making him and his fans feel good?

Update: Scalzi has replied thoughtfully and at length in the comments to this post and you should read it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

the list

Atrios. For he is mighty.

Yglesias. Still smart, when he isn't being Plato. Still compassionate, when he isn't being clever. Gives a shit. Hates dill. My favorite blogger.

Edith Z. Smart in the real sense, not the Internet sense. Funny in the real sense, not the Internet sense. Can write, can really write.

Pareene. The boss. My personal hero.

Conor Friedersdorf. So wonderfully sweet and sad and square. Wrong on domestic policy but probably about five years and fatherhood away from being a socialist.

Andrew Sullivan. Has spent decades considering what the politics of Andrew Sullivan mean; has gotten it spectacularly, incredibly wrong. A guy who constantly asks himself who he is and passionately, agonizingly fails-- what's not to love? A romantic figure.

Sady Doyle. Kicked my ass. Doesn't take much more than that.

Wilkinson. Cranky. Wrong about many things. Kind of a dicknose. Hates war. Detests violence. Thoroughly incorruptible. I'll take it.

Moe T. Commie. Independent. A throat slitter.

Jamelle. The refutation of Freddie: built a career. Stayed real. Stayed angry.

Corey Robin: More radical on substance than on style, which  goes a long way. What American progressivism could be if it wasn't a sinkhole of self-hatred and uselessness. Wrote a book you should read.

El Bhask: Has managed to be juuuuuuuuust enough of a punk. Gets it right. Annoyingly young.

Alyssa Rosenberg. Smarter than me. Careful. Talented. 

John Cole. You know how the media thinks that someone is thoughtful if they think their way into the perfect mathematical median position between the media's perception of right and left? Yeah, the complete opposite of that. Thoughtful the way you can be if you aren't doing it so that other people call you thoughtful. The realest of all.

David Brooks. Just kidding, fuck that dude.

Falguni Sheth. Ferocious and brilliant.

Daniel Larison. Hung up on old timey values, like not killing people and the equal dignity of all human life. Wouldn't play Dungeons and Dragons with you but would bring snacks down to the basement while you did. (I'm guessing.)

Derek Thompson. An ace finance reporter escaped from the planet Gee Whiz. Slow thinker in the best sense.

Chris Hayes. I've only seen his show a couple times but when I have I've imagined him to be outrageously high. Seems like a good guy to drive around Ontario in a van with, looking for Sasquatch or following Firehose on tour.

Dana Goldstein. Has her particular jams locked down. Never mixes up her skepticism with her irony, which is advanced.

Choire Sicha. Elegant. Recognizes the deep savvy of true gentility. Reaches profound compassion through total exhaustion.

Michael Brendan Doughetry. Sad-eyed. Sharp. Bearded. 

Radley Balko. I mean... dude actually has gotten real innocent people out of actual, real jail. Really. In real life. You can't hate on that.

Glenn Greenwald. Just the best, you know? Just the best. Plus I get the sense that his cats are named something funny and endearing, like Mr. Sherbert and Paddington or some such.

Freddie. So, so much worse than you know about all the things you already hate him for. Writes a list full of people who would prefer not to be on it. Doesn't give a shit. Never runs for cover. Never runs to friends. Forever free. Experiences blogging exactly like this:


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

can it have come to this

I'm going to farm out my opinion on recent unhappiness to Spencer Ackerman, who's written a tremendous and tremendously depressing post about the Obama Administration's legacy of permanent, accountability- and review- free killing. Ackerman, who to my mind writes about this combination of military, technological, and political issues quite masterfully, puts it like this:
Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. Administration officials embraced drone strikes because they viewed them as an acceptable alternative to conventional ground warfare, which it considered too costly and too public, but the tactic has now become practically the entire strategy. Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration “were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings,” because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whomever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.
I'm told that the reason we must support Obama, seemingly beyond any limits and against any concerns, is because the Republicans are so much worse. Worse they are-- but they will take power someday. They will; that's the cyclicality of American politics. I don't know if that will be in 2013 or 2017 or when. But it will come. And they will have been handed the keys to a program that kills people, including American citizens, literally without any external review or restraint whatsoever. I'm told that Obama-supporting progressives hate and fear Republicans more than anyone else. If that's so, how can they possibly support such a reckless expansion of powers that will inevitably end up in Republican hands? Why are the willing to entrust this program in the hands of people they call insane and evil?

Robert Gibbs, questioned about the death of the 16 year old son of Anwar Al-Awlaki, recently said "I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father." Besides the surface level in which that's fucking insane (on account of its flippancy towards murder and also because YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE YOUR PARENTS, ASSHOLE), it essentially admits in its irrationality that there's nothing a young Muslim in the wrong part of the world can do to avoid being killed by a drone.

Because I have a talent for self-inflicted depression, I did a Twitter search for Robert Gibbs. Many people, I'm happy to say, expressed horror and revulsion. But many people supported Gibbs and called those who were outraged "emoprogs." And I really wonder: has it really come to this? That I'm frequently critical of American progressivism won't come as a surprise to anyone. But even I am amazed that things could have possibly come this far, to the point where many progressives are using pejoratives against those who object to lawless killing and the death of a teenager. Less than four years since the Bush administration, has it really come to this?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

the Twitter thing

I've gotten a few emails about this over the last couple days, so---


Reprinted with permission, as always.

Twitter is a medium and to a certain degree you have to divide criticism of a medium's use from the medium itself. But it's also true that there are certain uses which predominate with any medium, and that's especially true of Twitter, which has always famously been dominated by a small number of power users who define it. My criticisms of Twitter as its used are multiple, but largely they boil down to this: Twitter is used as a kind of consensus machine where the like-minded band together to dismiss opinions or criticism they don't like, by creating the illusion of consensus. If a particular group of socially or professionally connected people don't like a story or post or whatever, someone will tweet something disparaging about it, some other people will retweet it, some people will give an attaboy.... So you can easily create the impression of consensus. Now, you might say that Twitter is an open medium, and anybody can join. And that's true. But not everybody can actually get into the conversation. The system of followers means that rebuttals or responses are only broadcast if the people making them also have a big audience, or if an individual tweeter is principled enough to reply to criticism from people who aren't well connected. It can be kind of a closed loop in that sense. And one of the funny things about it is that people often behave exactly this way when I complain about it-- they prove the point in trying to refute it.

There's also a lot of fun and interesting content on Twitter, and when people aren't falling all over themselves to show how clever and above everything they are, it can be a useful medium. Unfortunately 90% of tweets seem intended to prove just how achingly savvy and condescending the given person tweeting is, and I find that kind of exhausting.

So I would turn the question around the other way: why on earth should I feel apologetic or embarrassed for responding to what's written on a public medium? Tweets are public. They are broadcast on the Web in exactly the same way as a blog or the New York Times. Sure, occasionally I'll do a Twitter search for my own name, and I follow a few Twitter feeds from people I think are interesting. It's a public medium! That's what it's there for! Do you think the people teasing me don't have a Google Alert on their names? I don't have a Twitter-- I did for awhile, but as a guy with no impulse control and a long history of instantly regretting the stupid stuff he's said, it's not a good idea-- so if I respond I'll respond here.

I think when people make fun of me for reading their tweets, they give the game away: they are essentially admitting that they want Twitter to give them the thrill of public expression without public accountability. Which is, you know, not that big a deal. There are worse sins. But the idea that I am being somehow silly in responding to tweets is built on an unhealthy understanding of public expression. Still, the most important point is always that the Internet is not real life and shouldn't be felt in the emotions of real life. As far as people throwing shade in general, hey, it happens. If I wasn't ready to get hit I wouldn't be willing to fight, and as long as the fights are gnarly I don't mind losing sometimes. Besides-- the people making fun of me for watching them are watching me watch them, after all.... 

If people hate on Twitter, you have my permission to tweet them the official Freddie deBoer (and Suavecito) Deal With It gif:

Monday, October 22, 2012

the "niche issues" and the big picture are the same


It'll come as little surprise to anyone that Doug Henwood is more concise and eloquent than I could be. I just want to expand on this a little bit.

It's interesting, as well as quite sad, that abortion has become the most commonly referenced issue for why we must all vote for Obama. (Someone replied to Henwood, telling him that he only feels this way because he doesn't have a uterus.) Sad, because allowing yourself to divide your commitments-- like the commitment to full and unapologetic abortion rights against the commitment to the ethical treatment of Muslims-- against each other is a politically ruinous way to behave. But also because, from my perspective, those commitments stem from the same place: the moral equality of all people. Women are denied sovereignty over their bodies because our society is willing to consider them lesser people. Muslims are deprived of the most basic right of all, the right to live, because they are considered lesser people, or not people at all. The fight is not between the priorities of either but for the basic priority of any liberal, of any leftist, of any person of conscience: the equal dignity and worth of all people.

But the more important point is that conservatism's successes in the abortion fight is the perfect argument for why liberals should stop being resistant to criticism of Obama on his foreign policy. The success of the pro-life movement-- and make no mistake, it has been extremely successful-- lies in its willingness to pressure Republicans relentlessly towards a more pro-life position. This includes not only quite strident criticism in election season but also primarying more moderate Republicans. And, yes, sometimes the move to primary has resulted in Democrats winning elections. But I think that many within the pro-life movement would take it, on balance. Contrast this stridency and resolve with your typical Democrat, who supports abortion rights but admits all kinds of caveats and limitations, accepts the inherent "tragedy" or whatever about abortion, calls for abortion to be rare, and generally starts the fight by conceding almost everything.

In the abortion fight I see the clearest example possible of the basic dynamic of the last 30 years of American politics: conservatives pull the center towards the right; liberals chase after the new center. Even when they win it, they're occupying a position they don't like. This is why I say that Democrats turn victory into a kind of defeat.

Sooner or later, Republicans will win the presidency again. We're not going to run the table. This is to say nothing of the fact that Supreme Court justices aren't, actually, perfectly predictable depending on the party of the president who nominated them. (The Souter effect.) And, look-- as long as the immediate constitution of the Supreme Court is so important and so divided, and so vital to abortion rights, those rights will be threatened. Defending abortion rights, as Henwood suggests, will take not just putting judges on the Supreme Court, but changing the tenor of our national conversation on abortion, where the pro-life side has been on the offensive for decades. It will mean a reinvigorated and aggressive liberalism, one which will recognize conservatism's significant political achievements that have stemmed from the willingness of conservatives to press their preferred party ever closer to their interests. In this sense, pressure on Obama and Democrats from the left is not a risk to pro-choice commitments; it is an effort to ensure them in a longer term and more robust way. Our goal should be to ask for more than the "rights" that are dictated by the whims of a single Supreme Court justice.

Monday, October 15, 2012

why are you the way that you are?

My project here is very simple.

The blogosphere has always justified itself in lofty terms. From its very beginnings, the blogosphere has sold itself in hagiographic terms. Whereas the old media exists under many layers of hierarchical control, the blogosphere is free. Whereas old media is reserved for those from elite colleges and old money, the blogosphere admits anyone with ideas and a dream. Whereas the old media is constrained by professional and social influences, the blogosphere is a battleground of ideas, presented openly and fairly in a space of equal power. Where the old political media was a system of control, the blogosphere is a system of liberation.

Every word of that is bullshit.

And that is alright, on a personal level. But the material reality of it all, the material conditions which make it bullshit, has to be discussed, or progress is impossible. But because of the curiously personal nature of the blogosphere-- because bloggers insist that all political disagreement is personal rather than political-- bloggers will always change the subject from the political to the personal. So Mike Konzcal, who I once knew as RortyBomb, refers to me as "that guy Freddie," because I dared to criticize Aaron Bady. Well, I've been at this a long time, and I knew Mike before he thought of me as some guy, and I continue to think of him as a person instead of some guy. But if he insists on turning political disagreement into fodder for personal unhappiness, cool. I have paid a far higher price than that for my autonomy and I am willing to pay it again. I am saying: they have told me for five years now that they don't object to my opinions but to the way that I voice them. And I am saying now as I said five years ago: there's no difference.

The blogosphere is built on a web of patronage, nepotism, and influence. The number of people who make up the prominent blogosphere is frighteningly small. The demographic and ideological diversity within them is embarrassingly constrained. The rise of the political blogosphere has replaced the overt levers of control with more insidious and subtle ones. When I say that all of the major political bloggers who live in DC hang out together, I am not exaggerating or speaking metaphorically. (Ask people in the know about "Beach Week" sometime.) So, too, with New York. And the fact of the matter is that this severely constrains our political conversation. Every day, again and again, in ways both obvious and subtle, the political character of our online conversation shrinks the boundaries of the possible. The consequences are material.

So look at my criticizing Aaron Bady. Bady is a bright, committed guy. He is also frequently wrong. In that he merely shares the basic condition of the human race. As with all people, I take the beginning of respect to be the willingness to disagree, openly and loudly. Contrast that with, say, Henry Farrell, whose advice to Bady is to ignore anyone's criticism when that criticism does not come from a place of privilege or institutional power. Farrell and Crook Timber have always been pretty perfect in my eyes: the epitome of tenured radicals, they risk nothing whatsoever in their work, and look down on anyone who believes in political passion with a kind of studied disdain, as if actual political anger should be looked at with a kind of noblesse oblige. I am, currently, telling Mitch Daniels, soon to become the most powerful person at my university, that he is a corrupt figurehead who has no business being the president of a university, at a time when I enjoy no protections whatsoever, not structural, not political, not ecoomic. I will keep my own counsel on the meaning of "serious" political discourse. And Farrell and his merry band of tenured radicals can keep putting the less in bloodless. That's how power works. There will always be Henry Farrells telling his supposed political enemies that they can safely ignore my critiques become they don't come from positions of establishment power; there always have been. I'm used to it.

The question for Bady and Sunkara is, how would they like to orient themselves towards this power, towards the constant drip of social influence? Both fancy themselves radicals; both are enjoying the temporary, costly gift of temporary political friendship. Judging by his behavior on Twitter, it seems that Bady enjoys it very much. Does he imagine that real liberatory practice can take place while he's busy accepting tweeted accolades? I don't know. I only know that as he busily retweets regard and builds a pretty little house of socially constructed blasé, he is exposing himself to every petty corruption he can. He can only make up his own mind about what that costs him.

Few things are ever more telling than disproportionate response. It is the very reality of the unanimity in reaction against me that proves my point. When conservatives and libertarians and progressives and self-professed leftists criticize me in chorus, it speaks to the sickness at the heart of their project. In more basic terms... they've said the same shit to me for five years. Who cares?

I'll take honest depravity over depravity masked as righteousness

There's a very deep and special irony involved in the recent, high-profile outing of Reddit troll king ViolentAcrez by Adrian Chen of Gawker. While ViolentAcrez was responsible for a lot of heinous-but-legal content on Reddit and elsewhere, it was certainly his participation in the CreepShots sub-Reddit that invited Gawker's scrutiny-- scrutiny that has cost him his job. CreepShots was a repository of photos of women (mostly young women, often under the age of consent) in public places, photos that the Redditors found attractive or alluring. The defense from ViolentAcrez was that, as a matter of long-established legal precedent, there is no assumption of privacy in a public place; if you are in public, the assumption is that you have waived your right to not be photographed. The irony lies in the fact that Gawker Media has endlessly invoked this precedent (this very same precedent) in defense of its own controversial invasions of privacy, such as its Gawker Stalker feature, which led to this infamous demonstration in how little power Internet celebrity actually confers, at least compared to the real thing.

Additionally, while these photos were certainly being used in a provocative context (and while I certainly find the whole phenomenon creepy), they were not nude or pornographic, and their publication was thus protected by the First Amendment. That should not imply approval on my part; I very much do not approve of this behavior, anymore than I approve of someone invoking their constitutionally-protected right to free speech by shouting racial slurs on a crowded street. But those are the consequences of living in a free society. What the commenters on the Gawker post seem not to understand or care about is that freedom really does involve massive tradeoffs, and that those tradeoffs ensure that despicable behavior will occur. And, again, it is exactly that protection of free speech that underlies the entire project of Gawker Media, which has caused an endless amount of human suffering for the enjoyment of the self-same commentariat (protected by anonymity, natch) that deplores ViolentAcrez and those like him.

I confess that I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for ViolentAcrez, though I do feel very bad for his wife and the other people whose lives have been negatively impacted by his outing. The same right to free speech that protects him from legal repercussions for his postings on Reddit, though, protect his outing by Adrian Chen. He is living with the consequences of operating in a free society, just like the young women who have had the discomfort and unhappiness of having their photos splashed all over the Internet.

No, it's not sympathy for ViolentAcrez that moves me, but rather contempt for the deep hypocrisy of Gawker, along with its always-hilarious sanctimony of convenience. I would argue that, in fact, Gawker's writers and audience partake in essentially the same thing that many Redditors who frequent the uglier sub-Reddits do: being titillated, in various ways, by content that they simultaneously disclaim and enjoy. Gawker, after all, comments on any and all sex scandals and questionable behavior, most certainly including those involving underaged women. Perhaps Gawker doesn't host, say, the latest photos of a scantily-clad Miley Cyrus, but it has certainly linked to them, and its readers certainly click those links.... And when they do, they have the all-encompassing excuse that permits essentially all Internet behavior undertaken by the chattering class: when they look at the latest Nickelodeon star to be exposed in her bra and panties, well, there's something very meta about it. They aren't like the serial masturbators on those dirty Internet forums, no. When they get their rocks off by looking at questionable content online, they're doing it the classy, socially approved way.

Then there's this, or more, the attitude it encompasses: the orgy of self-congratulation and mutual admiration that attended Chen's post in the trendy New York media scene.


I confess to not really having a clue as to what Sunkara is saying here; by Chen's account, ViolentAcrez didn't "fuck with" Adrian Chen at all. Chen found him, in fact, to be a remarkably engaged and informative interview, whose only really pushback was repeated attempts to get Chen not to publish his name. Of course, that question is less important than Sunkara's not-at-all-compatible-with-his-Marxism celebration of the loss of health insurance for a disabled woman. I don't mean to be too hard on Sunkara; the post generally invited a kind of reverie of self-importance among the connected New York media. I imagine that Sunkara was just engaging in the kind of limp influence peddling that is the constant obsession of seemingly all people who write their opinions for a living.

Sunkara and the new left that he represents-- your Jacobin, your New Inquiry, sundry other publications arranged by Marxian youngsters into something resembling a Livejournal on class oppression-- have got to understand that corruption will come in the form of social capture and the quid pro quo of "follow for a follow." The long-term, subtle (but vital, important) work of a new Marxist left is not going to be defeated by riot cops-- nothing so aesthetically pleasing to the fashionistas-- but by the New York cocktail party circuit. Ideological death for the left wing comes with an arm thrown over your shoulder, a friendly chat with the guy who maybe someday might write you checks that will pay your rent. If you'd like to depress yourself, you can find photos on Facebook of, say, arch media critic Alex Pareene at industry parties where people like Jacob Weisberg are mere feet away. Sunkara and all of them will have to decide if they want left-wing practice or if they want to participate in all of that. I'm hopeful, though recent evidence is not encouraging.

Worth saying, too, is that many people within the new Cool Kids (Cool Kids: The Next Generation, Cool Kids: The New Class) most certainly don't believe in the free speech protections that prevent us from prosecuting the ugly CreepShots set. Aaron Bady, who not so long ago got a lot of shine for his work on Occupying the streets and that jazzy jazz, is well-known for not being so hot on the whole free speech deal, and say so in regards to ViolentAcrez explicitly. Well, he's right about legal culture, but wrong on the merits. I happen to be a free speech extremist. Bady trots out the old "shouting fire in a crowded theater" workhorse; personally, I would legalize even that. More to the point, for a guy who spends a lot  of time talking about his connections to the activists in the streets, he sure is naive about the consequences of his own ideas in the streets. Does Bady imagine that new restrictions on free speech are actually going to result in a blow against rape culture, rather than, say, further erosions of the right for protesters to take the streets? Does he imagine that this is the world he lives in? I'll tell you: I find it far more likely that Bady's antipathy towards free speech will support more clubs in the face of nonviolent protesters before it supports the end of misogyny and rape culture. Bady insists that my support for the execrable but legal nature of CreepShots is support for the practice itself. I will spare him the insult of suggesting the same, that his skepticism towards free speech is tacit support for more protesters with boots on their neck.

Ultimately, I doubt anyone thinks that the world is a markedly safer or less misogynistic place for the downfall of ViolentAcrez. Perhaps some people will witness the outing and change their behavior in fear. I'm willing to bet that in fact it will simply provoke more from those who were already likely to engage in it; this kind of behavior, after all, thrives off of the perceived oppression of those who undertake it. And those who are so inclined will likely just be more careful and more circumspect. I'm sad to say that this is the kind of issue where you aren't likely to beat the Internet. This kind of behavior, ultimately, is the purest expression of web culture. Change won't come from a few high profile outings but from a general change in the tenor of a culture that continues to view women as repositories of sexual pleasure. But perhaps that ultimately is the reason for all the celebration of this. It is the ultimate in the kind of empty social progressivism practiced at Gawker Media: it does nothing to materially improve the human condition but rather establishes the relative social value of the people expressing anger. It is a conduit not for change but for actor sorting.

ViolentAcrez is a deplorable guy. But he is honest in his ugly behavior. Nick Denton, in contrast, is a deeply unprincipled person who has meticulously crafted a veneer of respectability and outlaw journalism. (I find this hilarious and depressing.) I am, frankly, terrified of Reddit and the whole dark side of Internet practice that exists on forums and message boards. But it is a culture of open depravity. Gawker, and the larger scene of elite New York media it exemplifies, are something more devious, something more dangerous.

Update: Sunkara complains... and then gets an attaboy from Matt Yglesias! Big Media Matt Yglesias himself! It writes itself! It fucking writes itself! So, so classic. We'll see if Sunkara thinks that one over. (I doubt it.)

Update II: On the Gawker hypocrisy front-- here's a post about Miley Cyrus's "sexualized new video;" here's a post titled "Ten Days After Turning 18, Miley Cyrus Has a Naked Picture Scandal;" here's a post containing pictures from her notorious Vanity Fair pictorial; here's a post titled "Disney Princess Demi Lovato Shares Her Bikini Pics with the World;" "Demi Lovato Boob Pictures Complete Disney's Worst Week Ever;" and I could go on with the links to sites hosting titillating pictures of teenagers, to say nothing of the dozens or hundreds of pictures of naked celebrities hosted or linked to, such as the pictures of Kate Middleton, taken when she was very much in private and totally without her consent.

Friday, October 12, 2012

so what are you going to do about it?



Dr. Farley is, of course, correct in the limited sense: violence is the grammar of the state, its deep structure, and the continued existence of the state necessitates continued brutish violence. (I'm not a fan of nations, either, but I find it more plausible that we'll dismantle the state before we convince people to stop conceiving of themselves as part of a nation.) But you'll recognize my dilemma: if I said that the obvious consequence of this is that all progressive people should take it as their duty to work towards the end of the state, in a direct and real way rather than as some metaphorical or vastly distant goal, I will be dismissed as unserious and not worthy of consideration. (Right? Right.)

Many, many people have given Obama an exemption from judgment on drone strikes based on this logic that the state is always going to be violent. Well: even if it's true that the state is always going to be violent, Obama himself has near total control over this particular program and could end it if he wanted to; even if he was constrained in the way people suggest, he would still be morally culpable for the consequences of the program; and if indeed this is an excuse, it is an excuse for literally any violent action the state takes whatsoever. Hey, that state is violent. Might as well nuke Tehran, right? But no one is interested in exploring the logical conclusions of that manner of thinking.

There's also been a tendency for people to suggest that some sort of moral grappling with these issues is appropriate, just not from any of the people who are actually grappling. So theoretically, there is a principled questioning of the moral virtues of the drone program, but it certainly isn't being undertaken by me, or Glenn Greenwald, or Daniel Larison, or Noam Chomsky.... There is some mythical Very Serious progressive character out there who can discuss these issues, but that person does not exist on Planet Earth. My commenters keep insisting that, yes, they have taken the drone program seriously, and yes, that there are deeply disturbing questions afoot, but that no one who has ever actually considered them is worthy of anything but contemptuous dismissal. All for all, liberal Democrats online have created an intricate rhetorical lockbox that at once permits the notion that drones could be a morally dubious issue and at the same time dismisses all possible alternatives as unserious and all people looking for them as fraudulent and unimportant.

So much of this stems from the consensus idiom of contemporary progressivism: the stance of "always already." This stance is so widespread that it is nearly universal. You see it in blogs and on Twitter and Facebook and all over. The posture is of people who are not merely correct in their positions and certain of that correctness, but have always already arrived at the appropriate conclusion. It's not just the typical liberal condescension about the superiority of their ideas. It's a special haughtiness that comes from the notion that all moral questions were settled before the current argument began. The drive now is not merely to demonstrate that you are correct, but that the issue was dispositively settled long ago. This, certainly, is the language of my liberal critics in the comments here: yes, there may be some moral confusion at hand in this issue, but it was hashed out before we ever began arguing. And of course this is all bound up in the Cult of the Savvy thing that has completely captured mainstream American liberalism, the idea that there is an incredibly narrow range of permissible opinions which all must be articulated with the passionless attitude of an actuary discussing an insurance policy.

People have asked why I have focused a lot of my disagreement on Lawyers Guns and Money, and it's for this reason: because that entire blog is an exercise is the the stance of always already. I think the bloggers there are smart people who have written some great things, but I don't know that they are capable of talking about left-wing and antiwar ideas with any tone other than professorial condescension. Even when they are acknowledging the merits of the other side, they write as though there is no way anyone could or should struggle to arrive at satisfactory answers. Hard to think of argumentative attitudes that could be less conducive to changing the status quo.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

sometimes they just come out and say it

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60 Minutes ran a piece tonight that was pretty close to being straight nativist propaganda/anti-Chinese fearmongering, on the rise of the telecommunications company Huawei. In it, a former American aparatchik from the State and Commerce department compared the difference between the Chinese and American systems like so: "Here, companies are used to, you know, throwing their weight around and telling the government what to do." (You can check the transcript.)

Well... yes. Yes, they are.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

predictions and hypotheticals

Via Glenn Greenwald, here's a comment where Markos makes the simple point that his blog (and in the larger perspective, the phenomenon of liberal blogs as meaningful and powerful) was founded on criticizing Democrats and pushing them towards the left. One of the funny things about the current attack on left-wing critics of Obama is that left-wing criticism of Hilary went a long way towards establishing legitimacy for Obama's candidacy, back when he suffered from a "you can't be serious" problem.

It's the first reply to kos's comment, though, that I want to focus on, because I've heard it a hundred times before: yes, we should criticize Obama, but not now. Not during an election season.

First of all, I think that attitude demonstrates the low priority that people give the issue of our military conduct in the Muslim world. Second, it's rather unhelpful to say "if you really care about this issue, you should raise it at exactly the time when expressing it will have the least effect." Yes, American elections are a shitshow of epic proportions. But they are the time when government is most responsive to its citizens. (This is slight praise, in context.) If you really care about a political principle, refusing to speak of it in election time is lunacy. Telling people that this issue is not worth talking about during election time essentially begs the question; it assumes the unimportance of the issue, exactly what we're arguing about.

Most of all, though, this argument would be a lot more compelling if I hadn't just lived through the past four years. I and others have criticized Obama (on drones, on medical marijuana policy, on education, a lot of issues) for a long time. I was criticizing him a year ago and a year before that. And every time, no matter what, it was never the time. Not during the health care fight! Not during the budget fight! Not right before midterm elections! Not right after midterm elections; we just got creamed, we need to rally together! The time was never, ever right. And so it will be with this election. My prediction is that if Obama is reelected, there will be no greater space for criticism from his left. The liberal blogs that are so aggressively defending his every move won't stop because the election is over. And we won't see any invigorated push from conventional progressives against our inexcusable conduct in the greater Middle East.

*****
As a way of exploring the logical consequences of lesser evilism, I asked the other day whether people would vote for Zell Miller if he was the Democratic presidential candidate. Some people complained that this is an illegitimate reductio. That actually isn't the reductio at all; taking this thinking to its logical conclusion gets you the kind of society where the candidates are all chosen by the ruling military junta. But okay, you want a more plausible candidate: Joe Lieberman. If you think that's absurd, remember that 8 years ago he was a major primary candidate for one of our two political parties. You don't have to imagine, like, Earth Prime to envision a Lieberman candidacy.

So the question is not merely whether I'd be obligated to support Lieberman, as I supposedly am obligated to support Obama. The question is whether criticism of Presidential Candidate Lieberman would be as insistently marginalized as it is now with President Obama. I think the answer has to be yes, according to the lesser evil binarism that is so popular right now. As long as you've identified the better choice, even if it's only marginally closer to your values than the partisan alternative, you're stuck. You've got to suck it up and shut up. Even if it's a betrayal of things that you deeply believe in.

*****
And, god, how bleak. What a terrible depressing vision of human political organization.

What I am looking for from people who take a hard, pro-Obama line, I guess, is a coherent theory of democracy. Because when I hear people insisting that everyone has got to get on board and let go of their unpopular criticisms, I wonder how they think long term change happens, how political evolution happens. Part of what's frustrating is that people are so inconsistent in how they say we should proceed. Some say that the important thing is to engage in the process, so you should vote for a third party candidate. But many say that voting for a third party is to throw your vote away. Some say that the place to challenge Democrats to be more liberal (and less militaristic) is through the primary process, but again, during primary season, I read in many places that primarying Obama would be the height of left-wing absurdity. Many just speak vaguely of organizing and agitating, never being exactly clear what kinds of agitating are permitted, or why this theoretical kind is allowed but the kind undertaken by prominent critics Obama is not.

From 2002 through 2008, American liberals waged a campaign of resistance and criticism against American aggression in the Muslims world. And for good reason: our conduct since 9/11 has been a profound injustice, involving collective punishment, violation of international laws and egalitarian ethics, and the dehumanization of over a billion people. In response, an apparatus of refusal was created-- blogs and documentaries and books and organizations and ideas. This apparatus has proven to be insufficient. But the attempt has meant everything; it has changed the landscape and expanded the boundaries of the possible. Just a few short years ago, this paragraph would be entirely uncontroversial on almost any liberal blog. I'm sorry to say that this appears to have changed.

The Democrats are my preferred political party, warts and all, and I have been a registered Democrat since I have been legally eligible. But I refuse to be held hostage by narrow partisan need, and I sincerely believe that both the moral interests of America and the long term political interests of the Democratic party are served by presenting an alternative to Republican militarism and anti-Muslim aggression. The only way to create that alternative is to press for it, vigorously and without apology. If Democrats prove unwilling to be moved, then the criticism will have to function as the endorsement of another way, of a politics without a party.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

requests, easy and difficult

My father use to say that, in a free country, you say what you want to say and then attach your name to it. So I've never tried to hide my identity; I think that's what basic intellectual honesty requires. And it's true that I have an online presence that is connected to my academic identity, which I mostly try to keep separate. My political views do not inform my teaching or my research, to the degree such a thing is possible. I know how the Internet works, and I've never been naive enough to think that I could create a firewall. But I have always hoped that people will recognize when parts of my academic and professional life are not germane to my political views and acted accordingly.

For a long while now, people have used my separate lives against me. It is very common for people to email me and say "what would School X have to say about this post?" It is also common for people to mutter darkly about my disconnected academic life in the comments of other places. (Take, for example, the comments at this literally and comprehensively nonresponsive post at the Mahablog.) Very often, these are merely an attempt to undermine me in a petty way, to add a hint of real danger, to invoke a kind of "I know who you really are and so you better watch it" tone. As a graduate student, I am vulnerable in many ways, but I usually brush these off. But sometimes it's a little darker. I have had, for example, people post in my comments not only with the typical "as a graduate student at School X, you should...," or to name my field, but actually to list the particular professors I am studying under, as well as their email addresses. This is one of the very few instances where I will delete a comment. Other behaviors that I think are untoward include bombarding academic sites where I have a presence with comments that are totally unrelated to the issues at hand at those sites. But I'm a big boy.

However, within the last two days, emailers have consistently insisted that they will cross a line that I frankly thought never would be. I am working under the assumption that it is one person sockpuppeting, but it could be a few loons working in coordination. I have to make a request, knowing full well that it could easily backfire and result in people doing this more: please do not contact people who I know and work with in my professional life, whether they be my professors, administrators, or peers. They have done nothing to any of you and they shouldn't ever be asked to answer for me. Almost all of them know my political ideals, anyway. Neither I nor they allow political symmetry or disagreement to affect our day to day work. I find what I'm asking to be so basic a courtesy that it barely qualifies as a courtesy at all, but it seems I have to ask for it. Also: while it's true that my university will soon be undergoing an administrative change, and not one that I agree with, I don't think that the administration will abandon academic and intellectual freedom wholesale.

I love teaching. I love it more than I can ever say. I have taught, in some capacity or another, in elementary schools and middle schools and high schools and colleges and in private programs. I have taught everything from CPR and oxygen administration to the GRE. I have taught in mainstream education and in special education. In my college teaching work, I have enjoyed immensely rewarding teaching relationships with students who were liberal, conservative, libertarian, reactionary, radical, and everything in between. I have never hidden who I am ideologically from my students, but I defy anyone to suggest that my political beliefs would influence my grading to the detriment of students whose politics I disagree with. To threaten me with recourse to the often poisonous debate about politics in academics, when you have no knowledge of my pedagogy or my personal character, is not acceptable.

I have been accused, before, of conflating vigorous dissent with the attempt at censorship. I think that people often are being too cute when they say that; my point in the previous points, for example, is that the immediate gut reaction to scream and go crazy whenever presented with criticism of Obama, no matter how anodyne, essentially forbids those opinions entirely. Many people have responded that you've got to build the case (for not killing innocent people!) and only with a lot of time will you get people on board. My point entirely is that there is no way possible to build the case when you are immediately vilified beyond anything that is directed at conservatives. But with this kind of behavior, I am willing to say that, yes, this is an attempt at actually bullying me into silence.

My prior two posts have worked as expected: the response they have generated has proven the point. The posts have generated exactly the kind of preemptive and unresponsive response that I suggested are always present when President Obama is criticized. Don't just check out these posts from the Mahablog or Steve M. or "Booman." (Nice aliases, guys.) Check the comments, the truth-telling id of any given website. They are, well, they are what I said they would be. Each of the bloggers gets stuff wrong; Steve M. tells me to get out of the basement and organize for change, which is funny, considering that I have done so since I have reached legal adulthood. I don't organize as much as I used to, I'm sorry to say. But then again, this blog is how I engage the world politically now. Just like Steve M. does through his blog. I wonder why his blogging doesn't count as living in the basement? (You can observe a humorous bit of question-changing and deliberate obfuscation, if in fact he doesn't delete my comments. I also responded in the comments at Mahablog but she has yet to unleash my comment.)

More than anything, both bloggers and commenters are relentless in keep the focus of the conversation squarely on me and my deficiencies rather than on the matter at hand. They call me all the usual stuff, self-righteous and pretentious and childish and weepy and whatever else. That all may be so. It says nothing whatsoever about the moral reality of our terrible abuses against the Muslim world. The constant reversion to the personal reveals the failure of these people to articulate an ideologically consistent defense of the drone program. And by attacking me for positions I don't hold, such as saying that I think Romney and Obama are the same (a position I have never held or expressed), they reveal the weakness of their arguments and their character.

Mistermix at least attempted a response. But he ignored important issues of considerable substance: he ignored the fact that (and it is a bare fact) many in his community at Balloon Juice and the larger progressive world hate left-wing critics more than conservative Republicans, and this has serious consequences for our politics. He ignore my suggestion that, taking the "if you don't support Democrat you support Republican!" thinking to its extreme limits, it asks you to support any reprehensible candidate whatsoever as long as the other guy is worse. Would Mistermix vote for Zell Miller, if the alternative were, say, Todd Akin? And would he be similarly angered by criticism of Miller as he is towards that of Obama? He doesn't say. Nor does he address the issue of drones in anything like a substantive way. Like many of my critics, he addresses the drone killings by waving them away: I don't like drones, but.... My purpose is exactly to make people stop changing the conversation and focus on the actual issue. I believe that the refusal to do so reveals that the continued support of Obama's foreign policy is predicated on emptiness. More than anything, he has failed to articulate what I am supposed to do, given that these issues for me are truly non-negotiable. If people don't want to engage with me personally, then fine, think of it as a hypothetical: what is someone who has a profound and unyielding opposition to our violence against the Muslim world supposed to do? If just getting over it is not an option, what are people supposed to do?

To whatever degree people actually have attempted to meet my arguments with argument, they have said that I should do what I am already doing: organize, argue, create pressure from within. That is precisely why I work on this project, here. I keep pointing this out: saying that you've got to argued internally and then support the lesser evil suggests that people will listen to the argument or admit that the lesser evil is still evil. And that simply is not how these bloggers or commenters speak or act. They act, instead, as people who have nothing whatsoever to question or criticize. They say that I must do the work but their conduct insists that there is no work to be done.

That these bloggers deflect and roll their eyes and dismiss and in general layer on condescension like frosting on a Cinnabon doesn't disprove my point. It proves it, irrefutably. That they evince so much more discomfort and unhappiness with my post than with those of the conservatives they say they hate-- that they actually answer those conservatives with substance, rather than with sneering contempt-- proves my point. That they feel they must create a typical bit of blogging groupthink to attack an opinion that has essentially no electoral support in American politics proves my point.

Our political righteousness is meaningless if our process is poisoned. It has become a truism around liberal circles that conservatism is deeply diseased. And rightly so. Certainly, liberalism is healthier. But that does not mean that it is healthy. Many within liberalism have come to the conclusion that to win, they must become more like the conservatives tactically, to "take off the gloves." The treatment of critics of Obama demonstrates that many are ready to do so. It should go without saying that blind leader worship, as well as the tactics these people are using, is inherently illiberal. People wonder how it is that conservatives don't see the deep rot growing within their ideology. But would the people who write the blogs I've mentioned ever do the same?

Bloggers are insecure, as a species. I find that if you scratch at the perfectly calculated pose of preemptive superiority, you find people who are unable to look you in the face while they tell you you're wrong. Why else would anyone adopt the tone of almost all progressive blogs? The endlessly tiring, tired pose that not only are you right and your opponents wrong but that this rightness was adjudicated long ago... there's almost no other idiom in mainstream progressive blogs today. And it signals fundamentally a fear in the possibility that your ideas might have to be met in a battlefield where they could possibly win. If you act like your ideas have always already been proven, where is the danger? But progress depends on danger. I have always known that I could hide out forever in the typical lefty circles, reading only the socialist rags and far left websites, talking only with other Marx-influenced academics, staying on the fringes.... I have chosen, instead, to stay and fight. I have chosen because I think that doing so is the duty of all people of conscience-- especially when they are alone. My critics may believe that having a network of like minded people to attack me makes them strong. I think it makes them weak.

I don't intend to speak about these matters again. I will likely not have much to say for a little bit. Until then, as always:


Monday, October 1, 2012

arts of the possible

Many of the comments to my previous post illustrate to me why the current progressive attitude toward the Obama administration's conduct in the Muslim world is so dangerous and fundamentally antidemocratic.

First is the tendency to take the greatest weakness of our two party system-- when it fails to present meaningful alternatives on issues of considerable controversy-- and render it a kind of twisted defense of that system. Because I am not presented an acceptable alternative by the two parties, many commenters say, I must simply get on board with the side that offers a superior alternative in other areas. This is a kind of aggressive, learned helplessness, a Stockholm syndrome of democracy. I am to get on board because I have no choice. And this is to me a straightforward acceptance of democracy's demise, and one that abdicates all responsibility. The truth is that while I may not have an individual choice, we have a collective choice. The Democrats could end their addiction to the prosecution of violence against Muslims. We are responsible for our own conduct. We do have alternatives. Obama does have alternatives. It is our duty to judge him for his failures to choose something better.

Next is an almost perfect inversion of the previous: if I say that I want an alternative, I must be able to articulate a fully implementable democratic action plan or else keep quiet. Whereas in the previous argument I must keep quiet because I am powerless, in this argument I must keep quiet because I am not all-powerful. This is a truly bizarre understanding of democracy. In no other issue can I recall anyone arguing this way. Certainly, no one treats our inability to articulate a fully practical political plan for ending global warming as an excuse not to talk about the issue at all. You do the long work of democracy by arguing your moral position even when you have no immediately obvious plan. Perhaps especially then.

I am deeply disturbed at how the blogging ethic of 100% self-certainly impacts the discussion of these issues. The idiom of Lawyers Guns and Money, for example, has become a thick lacquer of haughty contempt, a kind of carefully crafted professorial superiority. The LGM mode is to present yourself as someone who has always already arrived at the political truth, and anyone who has not yet arrived at your state of cynical savvy must be a rube who has to be talked down to. This pose makes self-criticism impossible. A related variety is Tbogg, a man who has worked so relentlessly to project a sarcastic knowingness that he strikes me as literally incapable of self-critical inquiry. And with those whose first political conviction is to demonstrate their pose of settled questions and obvious answers, the tendency is always to destroy stridency. Stridency suggests that there is moral work left to be done in our political deliberations; it is antithetical to those who are so dedicated to representing themselves as fully realized, unerring political consciousnesses. This is why people hate Conor Friedersdorf: his stridency and direct talk of right and wrong is incompatible with the now universal progressive attitude of haughty superiority.

Since 9/11, the United States has waged a relentless campaign of collective punishment against the Muslim world. For years, liberals and Democrats have represented themselves as the principled opposition to that campaign. The Obama administration has not curtailed that campaign. There are still thousands of American troops in Iraq. The number of US troops in Afghanistan is twice that of when Obama took office. And his administration has dramatically expanded the breadth of our campaign of assassination and death from above, without judicial or political review. Despite all the talk in my comments of how this represents some sort of tough moral choice, Democrats constantly celebrate this expansion on the campaign trail. The DNC was an orgy of self-congratulation for Democratic toughness and aggression. If the campaign of assassination and violence against Muslims is some sort of ugly compromise, perhaps someone should tell the campaign managers that.

Someday, our post-9/11 conduct will be seen as one of the great evils of American history. As is always the case, those looking back will wonder loudly how it could have happened here, why decent people did nothing to stop it. The rationalization and justification present in prominent online liberalism is the answer. And it is for this reason that liberals and Democrats are now excoriating a tiny group of politically powerless people who have insisted on resistance. In that resistance lies the logic of democracy, and it means both nothing and everything.