Kevin D. Williamson wrote an account of his Twitter mob experience in his brief tenure at The Atlantic. It appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, and it’s behind a subscriber paywall. But I will share a bit of it with you.
Williamson recalls in the piece that he was approached by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg about a job while they were at Austin’s South by Southwest festival. Here’s a devastating paragraph:
Which brings us back to that event at South by Southwest, where the Atlantic was sponsoring a panel about marginalized points of view and diversity in journalism. The panelists, all Atlantic writers and editors, argued that the cultural and economic decks are stacked against feminists and advocates of minority interests They made this argument under the prestigious, high-profile auspices of South by Southwest and their own magazine, hosted bu a feminist groups called the Female Quotient, which enjoys the patronage of Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase and Deloitte. We should all be so marginalized. If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.
True. This past weekend, I heard from a reader who holds a management position in a Fortune 100 company. The reader is a Christian, and is struggling because the reader’s company has been pushing its employees, especially at that level, to get involved in their community as advocates for LGBT inclusion. The reader, who is closeted as a Christian inside the company, has stayed very quiet, but the reader’s bosses are starting to wonder why the reader isn’t signing on. The reader is dealing with a serious medical disability, and cannot afford to lose this job. Understandably, the reader is really starting to get anxious.
It is outrageous than any company would expect its workers to be involved in any political or cultural advocacy outside of their employment. But that’s what’s happening here. Obviously I don’t know the inner workings of this company, but given where this company is located, it sounds to me more like a tribal sorting ritual. The company, consciously or not, is trying to smoke out Those Who Are Not Like Us. The reader who wrote me understands that taking a stance on conscience against this internal company activism would mean preparing to be fired on spurious “hostile workplace environment” grounds (because to refuse to engage in this activism would be construed as bigotry). As I write in The Benedict Option, this is the reality for small-o orthodox Christians throughout more and more of corporate America.
This Christian reader is at the mercy of this woke corporation. But as a traditional Christian, this reader will always and everywhere be the Oppressor in the eyes of this company, even though people with the views of this reader are powerless within its culture. Williamson is on to a truly remarkable thing about the way the power-holders in our society work: their ideology allows them to tell themselves that they are advocates for the oppressed, and stand in solidarity with the marginalized, etc. But it’s a sham. In her new book Political Tribes, Yale Law School’s Amy Chua — who, let me be clear, is not taking sides in this debate, only discussing its facets — quotes this passage from something a reader of this blog named Zapollo posted:
I’m a white guy. I’m a well-educated intellectual who enjoys small arthouse movies, coffehouses and classic blues. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably mistake me for a lefty urban hipster.
And yet. I find some of the alt-right stuff exerts a pull even on me. Even though I’m smart and informed enough to see through it. It’s seductive because I am not a person with any power or privilege, and yet I am constantly bombarded with messages telling me that I’m a cancer, I’m a problem, everything is my fault.
I am very lower middle class. I’ve never owned a new car, and do my own home repairs as much as I can to save money. I cut my own grass, wash my own dishes, buy my clothes from Walmart. I have no clue how I will ever be able to retire. But oh, brother, to hear the media tell it, I am just drowning in unearned power and privilege, and America will be a much brighter, more loving, more peaceful nation when I finally just keel over and die.
Trust me: After all that, some of the alt-right stuff feels like a warm, soothing bath. A “safe space,” if you will. I recoil from the uglier stuff, but some of it — the “hey, white guys are actually okay, you know! Be proud of yourself, white man!” stuff is really VERY seductive, and it is only with some intellectual effort that I can resist the pull. And yet I still follow this stuff, not really accepting it, but following it just because it’s one of the only places I can go where people are not always telling me I’m the seed of all evil in the world. If it’s a struggle for someone like me to resist the pull, I imagine it’s probably impossible for someone with less education or cultural exposure.
It baffles me that more people on the left can’t understand this, can’t see how they’re just feeding, feeding, feeding the growth of this stuff. They have no problem understanding, and even making excuses for, say, the seductive pull of angry black radicalism for disaffected black men. They’re totally cool with straightforwardly racist stuff like La Raza. Why are they unable to put themselves into the shoes of disaffected white guys and see how something similar might appeal to them? Or if they can make this mental leap, why are they so caustically dismissive of it — an attitude they’d never do with, say, a black kid who has joined the Nation of Islam?
(Again: Chua is not endorsing this. She quotes it as part of a wider discussion about tribalization in contemporary America.)
In a separate post, Zapollo commented:
I think today was the day it finally hit home to me that America, as currently constituted, cannot last. Some kind of division — via secession or some other means — is simply unavoidable at this point.
The occasion for my epiphany: This Google memo thing. I was trying to have a reasonable discussion with some lefty friends on Facebook about this, and it was impossible. They just kept turning it into a burn-the-witches shout-fest. Every time I tried to steer the conversation back towards calm discussion, they doubled down on their ritual list of condemnations: Racist, sexist, homophobic, blah blah blah. They strongly implied that I should not have the right to talk about any of this stuff. I got the distinct impression that if they had the power at that moment to throw me in prison for crimethink, they wouldn’t have hesitated to do so. One of them dropped what seemed to me a very subtle hint — I could be reading this wrong, but this was how it came across — that maybe, just maybe, a Khmer Rouge-style cleansing of society was necessary.
That was scary, and that was what prompted my moment of clarity.
Thing is, I know these folks. I know them in other contexts to be good, smart, fairly normal people. They’re not just random internet weirdos. They’re not black-clad antifa bully boys out there smashing windows and slashing tires. But it became clear to me today that they inhabit a completely different moral universe from the one I occupy. I’ve read Jonathan Haidt’s book and I’ve read Alasdair MacIntyre, so this not a new concept to me. I understood it in theory. But I don’t think I really grasped it on a gut level until today.
I suddenly realized that, from my friends’ perspective (assuming they still consider me a friend), I wasn’t simply making a questionable, controversial argument. From their perspective, I was affirmatively stumping on behalf of the blackest evil. They were responding to me the way I would respond to someone trying to have a “reasonable discussion” about molesting and murdering children to please Lord Satan.
Conservatives who work in mainstream media are well acquainted with the extreme angst the managerial class there has about improving “diversity” in newsrooms. It’s a sham. You will never, ever hear an editor or producer discussing the lack of having on staff people like Kevin Williamson, who describes himself as “an unassimilated conservative from Lubbock, Texas.” I have made this point a thousand million times here, but it can’t be said often enough. Why? Because the media are the people who construct and reinforce the narrative of, by, and for the power elites and their interests.
Here’s an example that’s almost comic, but I cite it because it’s on the front page of The New York Times at this moment:
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to hear about the experiences of a gay minor-league hockey referee. But this is the kind of Oppression Narrative that the Times and major media like it swoon for. You’re not going to read, see, or hear the stories of traditional Christians living closeted lives inside major corporations, fearing for their jobs because they cannot in good conscience join LGBT advocacy efforts. You will sooner read stories about the struggles of transgendered school crossing guards in the rural Midwest.
The Kevin Williamson affair is highly instructive as to how this particular brand of sausage gets made. As he points out in his Journal piece — which I wish you could read — the only mainstream media outlet that contacted him for his side of the story — a story that made national news — was Vox. In the Journal essay, Williamson explains what became apparent to anyone who dug more deeply into the story behind the abortion comments that got the Twitter mob fired up: that there is a far more complexity than the mob, or the Atlantic’s editors, were willing to see.
Again: none of this matters. Mainstream media these days — and life in major corporations — is more about tribal sorting than any kind of pursuit of truth, fairness, or even efficiency. I’ll be writing separately today about Chua’s book, which I read over the weekend. The issues she brings up there go way beyond what Williamson had to deal with, and I don’t want to get them mixed up with it here. But I’ll tell you now that her book is mighty clarifying.
Scott Yenor today reviews a new book by political scientist Darel Paul, in which Paul discusses how important corporate America was to the triumph of gay marriage — and will be to the triumph of transgenderism. From Yenor’s review:
Corporations built diversity-centered human resources departments to spearhead these and other celebrations of cultural diversity. They won approval from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights activist group. These corporations marketed to America an acceptance of homosexuality. Gay was more than OK. Many managers left religion, patriotism, and the pursuit of family life behind. Instead, their lives were given meaning by their devotion to careers celebrating cultural diversity, and celebrating homosexuality is the key expression of that diversity. Homosexuality symbolized, in Paul’s words, “creativity, cosmopolitanism, authenticity, toleration, and the reward of merit.” In homosexuals, America’s corporate, coastal elites found a minority that looked like them: well-educated, creative, successful, white, and safe. According to Paul, and the various studies he cites, this corporate elite actively avoids living near the poor or near ethnic minorities. Celebrating diversity by celebrating homosexuality thus became the way corporate managers lived with what would otherwise have been an astounding cognitive dissonance.
What could not be gained thoroughly through the learned professions, education, and the courts was gained through flexing corporate power. Corporations publicly shamed and dismissed those who dissented from their orthodoxy. They used their outsized economic power to have their way: recent examples in Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina show that corporations are on the side of normalizing formerly transgressive sexual identities and opposed to carving out protection for religious dissenters.
Kevin D. Williamson did not transgress against the Twitter mob by holding heterodox views on homosexuality (though a past KDW piece critical of transgenderism, which was removed from the Chicago Sun-Times website after the mob protested, was in the background.) What he did was transgress on abortion rights, which, despite the fact that most American women believe in some degree of abortion restriction, are held to be sacred by a certain class of educated American women working in elite jobs. Williamson took a position that’s extreme even for pro-lifers — he claims that if abortion is what we pro-lifers believe it to be, then we ought to favor, in principle, the death penalty for women who abort their children. To my knowledge, the only pro-lifer I know personally who holds that view is Kevin D. Williamson, but his argument challenges my own views strongly. That’s fine. That’s what Kevin Williamson does.
As Williamson points out in his WSJ essay, Atlantic superstar writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and the late Christopher Hitchens have written things that appall many people. They have also written important, challenging essays and reportage. If we are going to have a world where that kind of work is possible, we are going to have to tolerate it when writers take positions that offend us. I was willing to put up with Hitchens’s disgusting hatred of Mother Teresa because he was a brave and gifted writer whose work, on balance, was truly superb, if at times very wrong indeed. Similarly with Ta-Nehisi Coates. When he’s good he’s very good, but when he’s bad he’s lousy, both morally and rhetorically. Still, he’d have to go very far to merit exile from the public square in my book.
Again, though: this is not about journalistic standards. This is about setting tribal boundaries. Williamson tells a truth here that is unassailable, and which any young person seeking to get ahead in corporate America had better understand:
If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.
Note well the list of the major corporations who donate to Planned Parenthood. I’m quite sure those executives believe themselves to be standing up for the marginalized and powerless. You can’t get much more marginalized and powerless than this little girl: