How Deep is Your Love?
Where else you gonna get hot cinnamon buns, a plea not de-platform, and the Bee Gees?
Good Sunday morning! The sun is shining here in NYC, I’m about to head with Matt Welch to Home Depot for a sweet little mini-fridge and some folding chairs for the new studio, and speaking of, last week’s guest on The Fifth Column was Anna Khachiyan of Red Scare, said podcast of which was recently bumped off Twitter (you can hear Khachiyan explain why she does not, in her case, care), and who to me made a lot of sense when she talked about #MeToo and the damage many of us saw barreling toward us when we were supposed to “believe women” no questions asked and, if you did have questions, you were without question the enemy, a deduction so stupid and politically-loaded I am not going to give it specific air here. And yet! I have written yet-to-be-published stuff about #MeToo and cancel campaigns in general, where’s that file [rummage rummage...], here it is, working title, “The Children’s Crusade”:
Powerful men who’d gotten away with sexual predation and big companies that had protected the worst in their ranks were easy campaigns to participate in. With a click you could amplify the story and signal solidarity, and if you didn’t have any real skin in the game, the experience felt no less communal, as though you were helping to usher in better outcomes. Once the target was downed, there was not much revisiting of the corpse-as-cautionary-tale, which made sense, the accused no longer providing the hit needed to keep the campaign going. Fresh fuel was needed.
I thought this was a sound theory. But was it true? Maybe the people participating in the predations did continue to receive spiritual sustenance, some enlarged sense of self from having brought down others. It was hard to know. The stories in the news almost always featured one accused versus a giant pulsating mob. There were leaders of the latter, people who with one accusatory tweet could set tens of thousands calling for the head of someone who moments earlier they’d likely never heard of.
What was going on here? What were the drivers? The speed with which the Internet could deliver results — and ignore due process — was a factor, certainly, as was #MeToo mowing through the culture, a tsunami with the power to take down anyone.
It was that “anyone” that troubled me. We might have enjoyed a certain portion of schadenfreude in having a Harvey Weinstein brought to his knees, but seeing a knitter gutted, by people she considered friends, was pretty thin gruel.
Did the people leading these crusades, and those who followed, derive satisfaction from the battles, from turning the aggrieved into the aggressor? Had people, as I posited in an LA Times piece, become addicted to hate, and if so, where does this lead us all?
We saw one of the places it led on January 6. It also led, though you may not know it yet, to having Twitter and other companies cull and curate your social media feeds. Katie Herzog got properly steamed about this on a Patreon-only episode of her and Jesse Singal’s Blocked and Reported podcast. She also referenced Nellie Bowles’ new Substack, No Chill, which you should subscribe to as Nellie is buoyant and brilliant and beautiful. Here she is on de-platforming:
I am wary when private companies whose power humans have never seen before begin to exert more moral authority. It’s a free country, and these are free companies, so I’m not saying there ought to be a government response or some fairness doctrine. Lord knows I don’t want the DMV running Facebook. But tech giants have a power to control humanity beyond anything we have reckoned with before. And any increase in that already great power, any rapid shift toward more authority, worries me and should worry you. We should be scared of their power — no matter which side these companies appear to be on this week, as the winds of political power shift.
Yes, all the time yes. Do those who agree with de-platforming not appreciate that they are setting precedent? That it will inexorably someday be their heads that are called for, with no recourse, because they themselves buried the roads to recourse? The shortsightedness, the smallness of it all, is breathtaking. Example: Portland’s City Council in February 2019 passed a resolution banning hate and alt-right groups, albeit with no instruction as to how these groups would be identified. I wrote about it at the time, and as I put in a feature I just filed:
It seemed to me, then, that the resolution was left deliberately vague, a sort of all-purpose “not our kind” designation to be applied to whomever and whatever was deemed undesirable into the future. I wondered at the time whether the commission had thought this through, whether [Mayor Ted] Wheeler had considered how this might affect him should Portland’s activist class no longer consider him their guy.
We’ve seen how it’s affected Wheeler.
Musical interlude as we head to Home Depot! Said song I’ve been singing all day because I last night watched the Bee Gees documentary, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? Watch it! Marvel at the hair! The teeth! The pants! At how they wrote their songs! As Justin Timberlake said on-camera, “There’s nothing else to say about the Bee Gees except they’re fucking awesome.”
Okay, folding chairs bought, fridge on order, back to the subject at hand. Bari Weiss, too, wrote about de-platforming on her new Substack, Common Sense with Bari Weiss:
Communities can grow quite strong around hatred of difference, and that’s exactly what’s happened to the American left and the right. It is painful to resist joining a mob when that mob includes most of your friends. It feels good, at least in the short term, to give in.
So part of my hesitation about what comes next is that I have been unsure about who will have the strength to stand apart from the various tribes that can give their members such pleasure of belonging. It is hard to know how to build things that are immune to these dangerous forces when the number of the people who are — or appear to me — immune to it is so very small.
I don’t think the number of people immune to these forces is small. I think the number of people willing to speak up about being against them is small. I think Heather Heying, who knows a few things about forces being marshaled against her and her husband Bret Weinstein, put it best two years ago: A few people will stand up for you, or an issue, publicly; a few more privately, and the vast number sit on the fence, waiting to see which way the wind blows.
As for what makes people speak up, over dinner at my house in Portland (since sold) last year, Bret offered, after I told him I’d upon meeting instantly fallen in love with Heather (and Herzog, and Bari Weiss): “It’s because you’re all anti-Milgramists.” We are not, in other words, going to push the button that delivers the shock, not ever. I feel sorry for people who do, but not so sorry that I am not going to argue that it’s a moral and ethical capitulation to do so, and that whatever rationales they have for acting thus, are bullshit.
Matt and I, as we wolfed down the hot cinnamon buns seen above, had a conversation in this area. He and the Fifth Column dudes receive a gazillion letters of thanks for speaking up, for injecting sanity into sometimes insane times, especially during the past year. I get these letters myself. It seems normal to me to talk about things. But he told a pretty chilling story today, how one media company is going after the advertisers of another whose political positions it disagrees with. Matt and I have been in journalism since there was a pretty unbreachable wall between editorial and advertising. Now, it’s so much nothing for one entity to try to crush another by taking away their means to make money, to exist in society. As Khachiyan said: next, the bank calls in your loan because they don’t like what you stand for, or are afraid to look like they might. And who’s to stop it, when the loudest voices in the room promote such actions and everyone else clams up?
Okay, you want baking? I baked. It’s focaccia, kids!
… and a little bit of a cheat, as it’ll be 11pm if I wait for the dough to rise and get fina pics. Here’s the recipe. The only thing I changed is, I upped the yeast to about one teaspoon. Here’s a clip from Salt Fat Acid Heat where Samin Nosrat makes it:
I’ve been lucky to have time to consume a lot of media this week. Some recs:
Reads: “Among the Insurrectionists,” by Luke Mogelson (The New Yorker), on-the-ground reporting at its best, and kudos at the speed.
“Everything is Broken,” by Alana Newhouse (Tablet Magazine). This girl is so brilliant, so humane, her work is moving and important always.
Books: My daughter – who can read a book a day – and I made a new year’s pact to read 50 books apiece in 2021. I suspect it will be more. Here’s where I am so far:
The Woman in the Window, by AJ Finn, which my daughter brought on vacation. I liked it well enough to read on the plane, if not the last eighty “oh, not this plot contrivance” pages.
Missionaries, by Phil Klay, one of the best and smartest novels I’ve read in years. Highly recommended.
Stasiland, by Anna Funder, masterful, touching, harrowing reporting from the former East Germany. A reporter’s reporter. Highly recommended.
Movies/TV: The Bee Gees doc, as above. Another music doc I am looking forward to: Alex Winters’ Zappa, after which, I will tell a story, or two stories, of how I know Alex from back in the day…
Until then, I leave you with how I entered 2020. May we climb into 2021 with as much drunken ambition and more upper body strength
Consider paying for a subscription, peeps - I need to buy flour!
With love and hot pie xx