If a lion could talk
"Now he is safe from some disturbed intern whose clumsy advances he spurns."
Can you believe we’ve had this much fun exploring the captive mind? I thank all my new subscribers—the line is writhing up, like a cobra. In this cold world, it is not easy for an enemy of the people to find any real stability. I am very appreciate my friends. (Also, I owe more than several of you an email—and all of you some podcasts.)
And now Will Wilkinson, who really is a fine writer, has hit it back across the net. In fact, I owe Will an apology. Like a gentleman, he doesn’t mention it—but I called him a reptile. Which in retrospect is just excessive. This is not my usual style; I apologize.
In exchange, perhaps he’ll read my last post. If Will is the gentleman I want him to be, he might even stop talking about me like a Soviet prosecutor indicting a Bond villain—or at least, pivot to prosecuting me for my actual opinions.
(It’s cool, for instance, to find out that I am a stooge of Big Tech, when I am literally on Google’s enemies list—and wish the big, bad, un-libertarian government would just wreck all these damned monopolies by forcing them to publish their private protocols.)
To be absolutely fair, I do spend more time talking about what I don’t believe in. Which does make it easy to turn me into Dr. No. It’s hard out here for a nihilist.
And in my defense, I was actually thinking of my favorite reptile—Malachi, an iguana I owned in grad school in Berkeley almost 30 years ago, back when Will was studying philosophy in Iowa and writing his glowing review of The Bell Curve. Why can’t we GenXers all get along? Malachi was a young bright-green iguana of a gentle mien, unless you let his cage get too hot—whereupon he would get a little nippy.
Will also seems a little nippy. Probably this is because I emailed him that document (I didn’t find it—someone sent it to me). Let’s start with this masterpiece of PR—there is a reason our iguana has written for everyone up to and including the Economist (f. 1843):
Speaking of which, Yarvin later emailed me a scan of the first serious book review I ever wrote twenty-five years ago. It’s on Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s infamous The Bell Curve. I’ve looked for this for years and could never find it, so… thank you?
I’m not sure how long it took someone to find this. It was definitely less than 36 hours. In any case, imagine it’s 1938 and someone is like: why, you found that glowing review I wrote, back in 1913, of Trotsky’s Our Revolution! Thank you! I’d been looking for that! Dear readers, this is simply a master class in savoir-faire. Bond could do no better.
And the best thing is: he’s right. As he writes:
I suspect that their animating assumption is that woke scolds side with “power” out of a combination of greed and fear, have no reasonable argument or justification for their opinions and will hasten to blindly display their blameless purity by indiscriminately devouring their own at the first hint of anything even superficially resembling a past mind-crime. There’s no doubt that this is a talking point reactionaries like to use to delegitimize “the Cathedral,” but it is not, in fact, how things actually work.
No, actually—you fuckers make exceptions for yourselves all the time.
In fact, Will, I did you a nice favor by letting you spin this baby in a way that looks good for you. The sin is perfectly neutralized—because one such exception comes into play. If purging you would give me a point, it’s an own-goal and can’t happen. See?
You can tell I knew this, Will—and it also makes a nice test of your honesty—by the text of the email I sent you, which read (okay, this also was just a little too nasty):
My suggestion would be a really long, sad and remorseful, cucky apology for the bad, bad views you used to hold. Kind of like John Weaver’s “Gay Ray” piece, but for racism.
Realistically, I think that would make any future employer overlook the problem... and haven't you already done it in some ways? So it shouldn’t be a big deal IRL.
Not only did Will take my advice—he turned it into a minor masterpiece. (His Twitter feed is full of sensitive, charming praise from fellow bluechecks.) A lovely cri de coeur:
I’m embarrassed of my 1995 review of the Bell Curve like I’m embarrassed of my 1991 homecoming picture. I can’t lie. If I could blush, I’d be blushing. It’s so bad. I was trying so hard to be serious, judicious and formal — like a real intellectual.
I clearly didn’t yet know how to think on my own. I was an art major at Iowa’s third best public university! All I could really do is identify how Murray and Herrnstein were unlike Ayn Rand. And I couldn’t finish a piece without a padded “in sum” term paper conclusion. Yeah, it’s embarrassing.
You may not think much of Will as a person, but I really am not kidding about what a good writer he is, and you really shouldn’t miss his nostalgic reminiscences of finding community as a nerdy kid in Iowa—in, of all places, an Objectivist newsgroup on Usenet. (Around the same time I was trading rants with Charlie Stross on alt.peeves, and tracking the wily trilobite—which is benthic and vagile—on talk.bizarre.)
Fortunately or unfortunately, Will, my mysterious source is still active. He or she sent me your essay Books that Have Influenced Me The Most, from… March 19, 2010… I can’t find this anywhere now; you seem to have even pulled it from archive.org—BleachBit is your friend, I guess—but I think I have a decent ear for your voice:
Will, maybe it would be cool to get another revealing personal essay about your life in 2010, fifteen years later—when you were managing editor of Cato Unbound? But… you still didn’t know how to think on your own… I guess?
By the way, don’t worry. You’re fine. Me bringing this up gives you a Bell Curve pass on this crap too. I can’t cancel you; yet now, it’s no longer news. Feel free to hit me up if you have any more Trotskyite skeletons in the closet that I could help you surface.
But I think you owe the public a more explicit narrative of your road to Damascus. Since you and I have both been on the Internet for 25+ years, we both know that deleting old posts is a really bad look. You shouldn’t delete. You should recant. You kind of did that; but you could do it more, and do it better. Recanting is excellent content; the people seem to want it; so do the VIPs; and it will get you more subs.
Since you already seem to be taking my literary advice, one great way to recant would be to frame a letter to your 36-year-old younger self, explaining exactly why you were wrong—why your sociology professor in 1995 was right, and why your present self is not at all “mouthing comfortable pieties in an effort to get credit for caring”—but rather, has become deeply engaged with the urgent reality that Black lives matter.
And what’s neat about this, too, is that you know what 36-year-old Will would say back. You yourself contain the whole dialogue. And is there a more important dialogue? I am afraid you’d have to be “serious, judicious and formal,” though. It once seemed right.
A philosophical nitpick
Also, for a Master of Arts in Philosophy, I must say—you make a remarkable mistake. Contrary to popular belief, ad hominem is not the fallacy of accusing you of something. A personal accusation is not a fallacy! Cicero would laugh. The fallacy, rather, is in presenting a personal accusation in place of a substantive argument.
For example, Will, suppose you were to make a substantive argument for your factual hypothesis that all human populations are neurologically uniform—a hypothesis you have at present prosecuted only by the fallacy ad baculum. Suppose I then rebutted your argument not by any syllogism deductive or inductive—rather, by noting that it sounds just like what someone would say at some DC foam-party. That would be ad hominem. Maybe aging philosophers, like gastroenterologists, need refresher courses?
The two conversations
As I said in my email, I did not dig this up to get Will Wilkinson fired (or at least, keep him fired). I can’t do that; and even if I could, what good could it possibly do? Unlike some, I don’t subscribe to the theory that how we win is that they run out of stooges. Do not attempt to attrit an oligarchy! There are always more where they came from.
Will is a human being who like all human beings has had and will have difficult moral choices to make. The choices he has made are his own. It is for God, not us, to judge their righteousness, and to punish him if he merits punishment. And not to second-guess God, but hasn’t he already been punished enough—by getting fired for a joke that was actually funny?
Besides, I am positive that he will do great—probably better than me—on Substack. And as I have said, I am actually neutralizing his kompromat by posting it myself. Now he is safe, or safer, from some disturbed intern whose clumsy advances he spurns.
My purpose was quite different. The reality is that there are now two conversations: the official discourse, and the unofficial. Just as Will’s purpose, in his “outrageously unfair, truly scurrilous attack” (I can’t resist borrowing his words) on Scott Alexander, was to bully the unofficial discourse on behalf of the official one, my purpose was to remind the unofficial discourse—of which I am only a small part—that we need not bend one inch for hardened, bullying hypocrites like Wilkinson and Weyl—
and that we should have no truck with them, neither. (Except to bandy words, as I am doing now.) Standards are important.
Proving the uniform-slate hypothesis
But could things be different? Are these excellent writers beyond redemption? Of course not. No one is too lost to save. Here is how I think it should have been done.
Imagine if Will’s first essay had included, instead of slyly alluding to, his deleted posts. Imagine if he had said to Scott Alexander: as you are, so I was. As I am, so you will be. Let me guide you on my road to Damascus! Look what I used to believe! It was exactly what you used to believe—just four years earlier.
Here is your stolen email. I’ve caught you! And I instantly forgive you—since you sound exactly like my deleted blogposts. As Jesus said: let he who has not coveted his neighbor’s Bell Curve, cast the first stone. For lo, I have changed. I am pure. Become pure with me! Let’s take the blue pill—and chow down on that nice, juicy steak.
First, we’ll look at the scientific evidence which proves that all human subpopulations are neurologically uniform… just imagine Will convincing Scott Siskind, MD, of that. Imagine him convincing himself, aged 36, of that. Imagine him convincing Charles Darwin of that. What an amazing essay that would be! Will—you can still write it.
Of course, you will need to make the case that your uniform-slate hypothesis is not just a null hypothesis—that it can be demonstrated by its own positive evidence, not just by the weakness “as often as not” of the evidence against it. Philosophy for the win!
There are actually two versions of the uniform-slate hypothesis: the strong form, in which all God’s children got the same brain genes, and the weak or Freddie DeBoer form, in which all God’s gene pools got the same distribution of brain genes. Anyone who knows math knows how hard God would have had to work to make either true. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence—but I haven’t seen any at all. But please feel free to surprise us, Will!
I’m sure you have some reason for your beliefs—especially as you seem to have been reasoned into them so recently. Since you now believe in “an ethos of punishing political [in]correctness,” you must now be very sure that the hypothesis you are enforcing ad baculum—by the club—is actually true.
You certainly wouldn’t want to be clubbing the Economist-reading public into believing something false. At least: I’m pretty sure that’s not why you got that Master of Arts in Philosophy. Or is it? So the stakes are pretty high—which always makes a good essay. You’ll end with exactly that “censorious egalitarian refusal”—QED.
An essay like this, a completely sincere essay, an essay that respected the ancient and inexorable rules and standards of scholarship, would enable a writer with Will’s talents to “participate in intellectual life” in our informal discourse. Obviously, Will would rather fill his underpants with fire ants. Which is why there are two conversations.
If a lion could talk
Again: if the only point of my essays about Will Wilkinson was to confront one stooge, all these words would be wasted indeed. There are always more stooges—even stooges who are writers as fine as Will. Talent in today’s cruel world really is a dime a dozen.
Here at Gray Mirror, we do not confront. We are above that—or at least, pretend to be. (And isn’t pretense the first step toward virtue?) The most we can do is observe.
And essays like Will’s, while as scholarship they are pure meretricious venom, give us something we can’t get with all our skull calipers: a peek into the mind of power.
What we see is not so much power thinks, as how it wants to think; and from that we can infer, so much as possible, what it actually thinks. Our journey into the mind of power, besides being more important than just about anything, will never end. We remain in Wittgenstein’s world: “if a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” The same is true of both the junkie and the stooge. And yet: we cannot not try.
The janissary complex
Let me start with the emotional apex of the essay. This is a pure Hallmark moment. You could option this for a script. Bear in mind: dude is talking about himself—
But I remember this kid and I love him. I’m proud of him. His mom subscribed to Phyllis Schlafly’s newsletter, not the New York Review of Books. He didn’t get to go to Exeter. He drew Tippy the Turtle and got a mail-order course from the Art Instruction Schools. He didn’t get to go to Princeton. He got a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa and found his path in life at Ayn Rand summer camp. Nevertheless, a bit more than a decade down the road, that kid ends up seated next to Charles Murray at an AEI dinner and pisses him off by arguing that virtue is relative to economic structure, and that Aristotle would have agreed. Another decade down the road, he’s writing for the New York Times.
This is a class-promotion narrative. In a sort of 21st-century Horatio Alger arc, young Will has ascended from his mud-caked country roots to the world’s most sophisticated dinner parties. Since we were both born in 1973, Plutarch might even want the rights. When I was a Foreign Service kid playing squash in Le Meridien Porto, he was drawing Tippy the Turtle. When I was at Brown, he was in 4-H. When I was at Berkeley, he was at Northern Iowa…
Yet when I was being libeled by the Times, he was writing for it. Now I am on the run—texting these poasts intermittently from my ATV in the high desert, as my faithful hound, Rover, scans the blue sky for tiny buzzing dots—and Will is a big deal. He has succeeded in the same empire I betrayed. And who, really, can blame him for that? My god—if we went through history and blamed everyone with the gall to succeed… also:
Interestingly, while the hereditary principle is by no means absent in our ruling class, some of history’s most epic ruling classes have been partially or even totally adoptive. The Janissaries and the Mamelukes stand out—and (from the perspective of a Brown legacy admit) it is impossible not to think of someone whose life has taken Will’s path, born a kulak but promoted to commissar, as a modern janissary. Many such cases.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this human situation. Perhaps it is not quite compatible with being a saint. But who is a saint? Scott Alexander, maybe—but certainly not me. However, we must consider the natural pressures and constraints on the mind of the modern janissary—who, like us all, is only human.
Many commented on the sycophantic tone of Will’s praise for the Times. But when you are a janissary, you are a person entirely created by power. From your perspective, power has made you out of nothing. So when you praise power—you are praising yourself. Which may seem narcissistic, but is also only human. You and power are one thing. How can that thing not be a beautiful thing?
If for some reason your band of janissaries, SEAL-tier warriors in Vegas-tier outfits, had to sack the disgusting little Nasrani village where you were born, you would not even recognize your parents among the louse-ridden, sack-wearing peasants who ran into the street and pleaded for their pathetic lives. If you did—why would you care? They are only a sort of biological machine that printed you out. It was the Sultan who made you. And if the Sultan ordered you to march off a cliff, you would do it instantly. Respect! Once we understand the janissary, we must respect him. Many such cases.
But even if we respect him, we have to admit that Will has a sharp little tongue. If I will not bandy words with him, who will? Lo, I have a bit of an edge to me too.
I cut off that last paragraph; here is how it actually ends:
Another decade down the road, he’s writing for the New York Times, where deranged, privileged fucks like Curtis Yarvin think the real power is. (The real power is in money, Curtis.)
My wife, whose taste is immaculate, more or less ordered me to stop beating on Will “unless you have an actual point.” I told her that he is very good at helping me make actual points; and here is an example. (Also, it just plain makes me horny when he pulls out the langue du bois. Privileged! I’m privileged! I always wanted to be privileged.)
My experience is that this belief, that “the real power is in money,” is almost universal among our governing class. They really have the fish-in-water thing. I mean: what is journalism? It is exactly two things: power, plus entertainment.
I really do not believe that even Will Wilkinson is so cynical that he thinks of himself as an entertainer. Lol. Obviously, he is a person who matters; who makes a difference; who has real influence, and a record of real impact; who might even change the world. What do you think the word power means, Will? English—do you speak it?
We can test the belief that “the real power is in money” by positing a counterfactual in which the real power was in money. If the real power was in money, we can be assured that a bunch of 27-year-old journalists making $57,000 a year before taxes and sharing some shitty walkup in the wrong part of Bushwick would keep their tongues buried as deep as possible in the crotches of Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg.
When instead we find that the broke journalists are bullying the billionaires—and the latter are not even ignoring this bullying, much less fighting back (Gawker aside lol—and just how many hit points did that knock off the Cathedral, anyway?), but actually submitting—even to the point of betraying values that five years ago were sacred (looking at you, “free speech wing of the free speech party”)—what are we to think? Can we interpret “the real power is in money” as a rational observation of reality?
We can certainly interpret it as a psychological cope. Again, the fish don’t know they’re wet. But they know that water exists—so they point to the air, and call it “water.”
For the record, like so many of the minor nobility (Lenin comes to mind), we never had any money. Just cultural capital. And most people for some reason think I am rich now, which is certainly not the case—I don’t have anything like “FU money.” I know some people who do; but when you do, I find, your FU isn’t really coming from the heart. And I also know what it is to be broke and have rich friends, an experience of its own.
Speaking of cultural capital, let me spend a little of it here:
In this waking nightmare, the state is not the seat of ultimate power in American society. Rather, it is something he calls “the Cathedral,” a distributed cabal of pedigreed elites in universities, mainstream media, and other institutions of cultural production. They possess real power because they control what we, including the functionaries who control the state, are permitted to think.
It is therefore utterly necessary, according to this depraved worldview, to delegitimize the Cathedral by infiltrating as many unsecured platforms as possible to deprogram the people and turn them against their hypnotic masters at Harvard, the New York Times, and… NPR? CNN? The Brookings Institution? It’s not exactly clear. In any case, the Times’s eminent role in the Cathedral’s College of Cardinals is not in dispute.
A lovely hand for satire, if a bit heavy. What of it, Will? Is the Times a big deal, or isn’t it? (Note that the Hallmark paragraph comes after this in the essay.) It’s one thing to disagree with yourself ten years apart, but… anyway, here is a story.
I heard this story from my stepfather, who was a Senate staffer for Biden in the ‘80s, and got a PhD in political science from Harvard in the ‘60s. Like you, Will, he comes from good Midwestern kulak stock. (My wife has the same background.)
The story was that he was in a graduate seminar taught by none other than McGeorge Bundy. Maybe “cultural capital” means being one degree of separation from McGeorge Bundy. Call it “privilege” if you like! Anyway, one day Bundy strides into the seminar and says: “well, boys, the New York Times is on strike today. Washington can’t function: we’ve lost our interoffice memo system.”
So… Will, if you want to convince me that the Times (an absolute hereditary monarchy, by the way!) isn’t a big deal… well… you’ll have to convince yourself first. Even then, well, you’ll kind of have your work cut out for you, see?
In fact, I would just plain love it (unironically!) if you could get substantive, and critique my actual theory of the Cathedral. You’re right that we’ve done enough accusing. It’s never too late for real scholarship. I just want you to be a better person than you are. And I’ll be delighted if that hope comes true.
The morality of power
But we still have not quite come in contact with the heart of what Milosz called the “New Faith.” This epicenter is a phenomenon we can call institutional morality.
It is clear enough that, as with either the Vatican or the Communist Party, our captive mind is experiencing a deep connection between a faith in institutions and a faith in ideas. If we define our sacred institution not as the Times in specific, but as journalism as a whole, the historical match is nearly perfect.
Journalism as an institution does not have a single command center—but what part of it (not counting right-wing “journalism”) disagrees with any other part? Once we had Hearst and Chandler and McCormick, another kind of right-wing “journalism”—all gone as well. These days even a Bezos doesn’t even control the Post—he just sponsors it. Even the Sulzberger dynasty seems to be losing control of the Times, or at least letting the lions run the circus—a baleful portent indeed, for monarchy must be absolute.
Abstract over this institutional inside-baseball, and we’re just another one-party state. In any one-party state, this alignment of power and perspective, institutions and ideas, is the fundamental mystery of power. How can anyone even think this way? If a lion could talk, we would not understand him. And Will Wilkinson can certainly talk.
These new faiths are always Manichaean. The trusted institution is angelic in nature; thus any force that thwarts or challenges it is demonic in nature. The revealed doctrine is angelic in nature; therefore any idea that contradicts it is demonic in nature.
This is what Will means when he goes full Vyshinsky and calls my ideas “depraved.” The Party is good and my ideas are against the Party; therefore, my ideas are evil. It really is as simple as that.
Rationalizing institutional morality
Of course, this simple model is not what the believer thinks. It just predicts the results of the believer’s thought. The actual thought is always some intricate rationalization. Let’s see this by looking at a harmless, defunct rationalization of power from the past.
A typical rationalization builds a complete doctrine of morality around some concept of a dangerous idea. A great example is our own dear Constitution’s Treason Clause—“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in…”
The cause of that only was the old English doctrine of constructive treason, of which the Founders had seen enough of the sharp end. The logic of constructive treason went as follows: the most horrifying, treasonous crime possible is to assassinate the Queen. Obviously it is just as evil to plan a regicide; which is little different from proposing or suggesting this treason, or even just implying it—and so on, until, when you have some kind of issue with the Prime Minister’s new tariff reform, you find that you have been implicitly and unconsciously planning the shocking and depraved murder of the Queen. If we invented constructive treason now, we would have to call it structural treason.
When Will uses a word like depraved, he is not thinking about me garroting the Queen. But he is thinking something like that. His brain has wired up a circuit of association in which “free trade in corn” and “garrote the Queen” have become one single idea. This has not happened, needless to say, with “single-payer healthcare” and “the Gulag.” (And nor should it! Three rights may be a left, but two insanities is more insanity.)
This is how people think when they think about crimethink. In our society, with its critical testosterone deficit, the default horrible is just violence. (No wonder our men have the sperm count of a fern.) Any opposition to, defiance of or disagreement with the Party is efficiently equated with violence and (in Will’s word) sadism.
So anyone who dissents against the Party will always be a depraved sadist. So anyone who does not support the Party has no empathy. So anyone who does not believe the Party is a victim of disinformation. And no one in the Party thinks they think this way—their thoughts are always complex—but this formula always predicts their thoughts.
There is nothing even slightly illogical about this model, which follows as easily as 2+2=4 from the axiom that the Party is always right. You don’t think so? What else is more right than the Party, then? Who has more accurate information, who cares more, who is smarter, who writes better, and who has better intentions, than the Times? QED. Will wins again—unironically.
The intersection of truth and sin
In the last essay I noted Will’s “mindkilling” tactics—the method of shutting down his own cognition when it would lead him to some “sadistic and depraved” conclusion. Of course this is exactly identical to Orwell’s crimestop.
(I love that the “sealion” cartoon—a favorite of the RationalWiki/SneerClub crowd, whom Google thinks are the most reliable people in the world—makes an appearance. Many fallacies become salient in the ordinary discourse of scholars, but I have never heard anyone even try to accuse anyone of “sealioning,” which in plain English means: I am going to treat your words as unintelligible pinniped barking, and ignore them.
Usually in rhetoric this would not be a winning move, but if you have infinite Google juice it is. In any case, it is pure crimestop. When I actually do hear unintelligible barking, and I feel a scholarly obligation to respond, I pick out one bark and mock it.)
The phenomenon of mindkilling is a natural extension of the morality of power. Under all classical systems of philosophy, logic and morality cannot contradict each other: the truth cannot be a sin. But the 20th century learned to make many parallel lines meet.
A philosophical system in which logic and morality can conflict implies the singular phenomenon of evil truths. It becomes a moral duty not only to avoid these truths, but even to repress them—because, if widely known, they will harm the world. Of course, the converse of an evil truth is Plato’s well-known idea of the noble lie.
It is tempting to declare a priori that there is no such thing as an evil truth or a noble lie. I would not be so quick, but I am happy to declare a priori that the Devil is the father of lies. Those who convince themselves that they are lying in the service of God or good may in theory be right. God willing, they ask themselves whether “we’re the baddies.”
When we observe the various statements of Will Wilkinson, across the last 25 years, about race and IQ, the pattern we see is the pattern of an intelligent and thoughtful man in contact with what he perceives to be an evil truth.
He is consistently unwilling to either quite defend this evil truth, or quite assault it—even when condemning it fully, as he does now. We are wrong to even accuse him of inconsistency. The fundamental structure of his mind has not changed. All that has changed is his balance of morality and logic—not to mention power and freedom.
For instance, not only does Will never even start to prove his uniform-slate hypothesis, he never even specifies whether he means the strong or weak versions of it. In fact, he has probably not even thought about the matter. Why would his mind go there? Why would he want it to go there? This is pure crimestop.
If we could get him to actually tell us what he thinks about the facts of the matter, we would probably learn that Will is (and always was) what some have called a ragnostic. He is not a uniformist who believes in the factual certainty of the noble lie. Nor is he a ratheist who believes in the factual certainty of the evil truth.
And what he believes in, more than anything, is the certain nobility of the noble lie. Which happens to fit perfectly with his personal janissary complex and the resulting institutional morality.
This is how crimestop works. Any more thought about the subject would collapse the delicate, yet tenable, equilibrium. Therefore, any more thought about the subject is painful. It is mere human nature not to think about things that hurt to think about.
And if you think these thoughts—these evil truths—hurt others—and you have a club— your course of action is clear. It’s ad baculum all the way. Again, we cannot declare in any a priori sense that this is an erroneous way to think—which sets it apart from most other ways that Will could be thinking. So I choose to believe he is thinking this way.
And yet: Will, look at yourself. Is this really how you want to live? Is it necessary?
Here’s a concrete alternative. Why not just put all your chips on Substack? Why not turn over a new leaf—and start dishing serious dirt on your old comrades? You’d never work in DC again, of course. But then again—you’d never need to.
Your curve must already be rising like a cobra! But if you want to pour some serious Brawndo on that cobra…
Why did the republic of letters turn into the Afghanistan of letters? Why is everything about the civil war? Why are brilliant writers like Will Wilkinson playing the Soviet denunciation game? In the future, I once said, everyone will be a collaborator or a dissident. But I didn’t expect that the future would happen in, like, six months.
As you can see, dear reader—I love literary sniping. I think I’m okay at it. But every shot I fire is fired not to harm, but to save; not to bring pain, but enlightenment; not as an attack, but as an intervention. Only you can escape Plato’s cave; but I know the way.
There is only one way out of the soft reign of terror: the universal and unconditional legal and social consensus that there is no such thing as a dangerous or offensive idea. In what some call the “Tyler principle,” the new legal regime must explicitly recognize the absolute harmlessness of words and thoughts—barring traditional exceptions such as libel and slander—in any and all contexts, from Twitter to the Times to the elevator.
In America at least, the idea of dangerous ideas is easy to date. It dates to World War I, and specifically its ridiculous but freaky anti-German campaign. No frankfurters for you! Some would say the idea war has since gotten way more sane. Others disagree.
In either case, journalism has explicitly thought of itself as a psychological-warfare toolkit for approximately the last century. For approximately the last century, public opinion has been a warzone.
Why? Ah, who the hell knows. Who the hell cares. What I know is: it’s time for peace.