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Hullabaloo


Friday, May 11, 2018

 

Engage the fringe but wear gloves

by Tom Sullivan

Questioning orthodoxies is a perilous undertaking at any time. Nonetheless, as a priest friend says, it is a healthy thing, now and then, to spit on your idols.

Michelle Goldberg spends her column inches this morning searching for the line between debating taboo ideas and legitimizing them. It is a process akin to what the alt-right calls being "red-pilled" (see "The Matrix") where "one reality seems to crumble in the face of another."

Several trips to the West Bank left Goldberg questioning previous assumptions about Israel as the good guy in its dealings with Palestinians. "For my own part," she writes, "I didn't emerge as an anti-Zionist, exactly, but anti-Zionist arguments I'd previously dismissed began to make sense." Immersion in taboo ideas helped her form a clearer understanding of the conflict.

Now encounters with the alt-right and the Intellectual Dark Web have Goldberg wondering if attempts on the left to suppress fringe ideas are working. That seems only to make forbidden ideas seem edgy, like "seductive secret knowledge." Counter to the right's culture of perpetual victimhood, it is not as if its views get no play in the press, she writes, but loud shaming by the left can act more like an accelerant than a suppressant:

Consider, for example, how an online mob turned a Utah teenager who wore a Chinese-style dress to her prom into a national news story. The sanctimony and censoriousness of the social justice internet is like a machine for producing red pills. It makes people think it’s daring to, say, acknowledge that men and women are different, or pick on immigrants, or praise the president of the United States.
Goldberg explains:
Countering right-wing movements that thrive on transgression is a challenge. One of the terrifying things about Trump’s victory is that it appeared to put the fundamental assumptions underlying pluralistic liberal democracy up for debate, opening an aperture for poisonous bigotry to seep into the mainstream. In California, a man named Patrick Little, who said he was inspired by Trump, is running for U.S. Senate on a platform of removing Jews from power; in one recent state poll 18 percent of respondents supported him. On Thursday, Mediaite reported that Juan Pablo Andrade, an adviser to the pro-Trump nonprofit America First Policies, praised the Nazis at a Turning Point USA conference. ([Candace] Owens, [Kanye] West’s new friend, is Turning Point’s communications director.)

It’s a natural response — and, in some cases, the right response — to try to hold the line against political reaction, to shame people who espouse shameful ideas. But shame is a politically volatile emotion, and easily turns into toxic resentment. It should not be overused. I don’t know exactly where to draw the line between ideas that deserve a serious response, and those that should be only mocked and scorned. I do know that people on the right benefit immensely when they can cultivate the mystique of the forbidden.
Debating toxic ideas might may risk legitimizing them, but refusing to "conveys a message of weakness, a lack of faith in one's own ideas," Goldberg writes, never having found where to draw that line.

As for entertaining fringe ideas, David Brooks suggests that Donald Trump's immersion in the thuggish culture New York real estate might actually have better prepared him to deal with international thugs than diplomats schooled by our Foreign Service academies. Brooks considers that on China, North Korea and Iran, Trump's lizard brain might be right:
Please don’t take this as an endorsement of the Trump foreign policy. I’d feel a lot better if Trump showed some awareness of the complexity of the systems he’s disrupting, and the possibly cataclysmic unintended consequences. But there is some lizard wisdom here. The world is a lot more like the Atlantic City real estate market than the G.R.E.s.
The problem with Trump is he's a one-trick pony. His entire world is Atlantic City. Trump doesn't do nuance.

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