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?


Anonymous said...

I'm a self-professed libertarian, classical liberal actually, and while we may disagree more than agree on matters of policy and philosophy, I find your steadfast commitment to your principles and beliefs and willingness to speak your mind regardless of what may happen or the reaction so refreshing. I have been following your work for many years and would rather read, debate, and argue with someone who actually believes in something that doesn't involve some sort of navel gazing. Kudos, excellent post.

Anonymous said...

That's our Freddie, the only true progressive who's courageous enough to troll every leftist he can find and get praised by libertarians. Keep at it dude, don't let the cool kids keep you down. You'll have that cushy Manhattan Institute job before you know it.

JK said...

I just started reading this blog (why??): are you self-destructing, or are you always this narcissistically persecuted?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

If you want us to take you seriously as the Last Honest Blogger Alive, stop pulling punches on that pseud Bady.

Afshin said...


Trying to use psychoanalysis to marginalize Freddie's arguments makes you look petty. Try to take a broader view on this so you can get a better understanding of what's been going on and contribute with something that addresses the thesis of this post.


The link on Henry Farrell is a bunch of numbers, not a URL. Could you please fix it?

JK said...

I fear you misunderstand my intent. That was an honest question.

Is there a thesis here? Another honest question. I mean, this just sounds disqualifyingly crazy: "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."

But I'm just stealing time from my boring desk job - MUST BE PART OF THE BLOGGER COCKTAIL CIRCUIT CABAL.

The Rancid Sector said...

"If you want us to take you seriously as the Last Honest Blogger Alive, stop pulling punches on that pseud Bady."


Anonymous said...

All you, or anyone, can do is tell the truth as you see it and understand it. One need not defend. How does the expression go...?

Never explain--your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway. -Elbert Hubbard

You are correct about the disproportionate response. It falls into the category of, "Me thinks the lady doth protest too loudly." It's obvious when someone brings a machine gun to a knife fight.

That said, you do diminish yourself, or take away some of your authority, by calling attention to the asymmetries. A reasonably intelligent and reasonably well read lurker already sees and knows about those asymmetries. And, for those who don't? Ignore 'em. They'll either figure it out or they won't. It's like insight; there are some things you cannot teach. People either have it, or they don't, or acquire it on their own, or they don't. And, no amount of explanation will make any difference to that individual, ever.


tongorad said...

bystander -
In an era of cocksure "everyone knows" wonk-puppetry, a little explanation and perhaps even a little defensiveness is a breath of fresh air.

Also, how or why should one avoid pointing out asymmetries in a period marked by ever-widening gaps of power and privilege?

Anonymous said...

Jesus, you're really some kind of Platonic ideal of the passive-aggressive grad student.

Anonymous said...

What is the link on Henry Farrell's name supposed to link to, it seems to be a dead link and the url it uses is just "258011226955722752" which isn't a valid address for anything.

ovaut said...

I think what you're doing is making the mistake of not being fundamentally cynical.

For these commentators, that's such a faux pas they can't even see that it is. They just ostracise, and have done.

Anonymous said...

"If only bloggers had to turn their work in to their dissertation committee, the world would be dandy."

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