Thursday, April 25, 2013

bad behavior

Twitter tells me that Jeb Lund, General Gandhi, and Mark Brendle are in trouble, because they wrote this (wonderful and necessary) response to Matt Yglesias's justification of the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference. They are charged with being mean and trafficking in "ad hominem," which is a term that means "when someone accurately criticizes someone else in a way that others would prefer to not have to offer a defense against." Well, as far as the charges against them go, I suppose they're guilty. They did say mean things about Matt Yglesias, which I'm sure hurt his feelings as he paced the halls of his million dollar mansion. In contrast, Matt Yglesias justified the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference.

Now, I've been blogging for half a decade, and I've interacted with a lot of people online, and had many perfectly lovely conversations with some of them. Yet I maintain a profound lack of understanding and an inability to predict how people will react. Try as I might, I can't comprehend the human mind that says, "you know, Matt Yglesias justified the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference. But the guys at Mr. Destructo were mean to an affluent, connected guy who lives a life of ease in the halls of power in Washington DC. That's the real crime."

To me, what Yglesias said constitutes no-bullshit sociopathy, and in fact racist sociopathy, as "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's Okay" is the way that decent, Harvard-educated types say that some human lives are worth less than other human lives, based on their race and country of origin. To me, it's clear that if that was published on National Review's The Corner, there would be dozens of anguished blog posts and essays calling them out, Chris Hayes would lead with it on his show, The Atlantic would publish a piece asking if Republicans are beyond saving, etc. The fact that, instead, so many are defending him suggests that there literally is no line whatsoever once you're in, that Yglesias could dig up and re-murder Medgar Evers and if Jacob Bacharach criticized him, the Tweeters would complain about it being ad hominem. But, then, you've heard that argument from me before, and those self-same people make fun of me about it, and so I guess I'm a little silly. I write silly things, sometimes. Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias sometimes writes pieces where he justifies the conditions that kill hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference.

Now some have clucked their tongues about the Mr. Destructo piece and said, hey, that's beyond the pale, making fun of Yglesias's looks! And indeed. Those guys made fun of Matt Yglesias's looks. Matt Yglesias, in contrast, justified the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference. Some people have claimed that there's no content there, that it's all just insults. I would argue that in fact it's a profoundly effective rhetorical analysis, one that lays Yglesias's assumptions bare, demonstrates why they are both wrong and morally indefensible, and shows how this kind of being wrong serves establishment power. I would argue that Mark Brendle's section, in particular, is a direct and fair response to the actual content of Yglesias's post, one proffered by someone who is interested in actually responding to it, rather than to some nebulous conception of "Matt Yglesias is a good guy." But hey, you could argue that they didn't do a good enough analysis, that they got it wrong. If so, that was a failing. In contrast, Matt Yglesias justified the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference.

Of course, to the degree that a post like this gets any traction, it's likely to be "there Freddie goes again, grinding his ax!" And, indeed, I suppose I am. Nolo contendere. I am grinding an ax. Matt Yglesias, in contrast, justified the conditions that killed hundreds of people through explicit reference to their ethnic and national difference.

You'll have to forgive me. Sometimes I say the wrong things.

27 comments:

redscott said...

Nope, you said the one right thing: Matt Yglesias is a sociopath who justifies the deaths of others who mean nothing to him. Maybe we can argue and wave our hands over other things you said or Destructo said (I personally could give an infinitesmal shit whether MY looks like Don Draper or a slightly hairy potatoo). But I like to keep my eye on the ball, and I appreciate your doing it too.

jw said...

I enjoy how Yglesias is tweeting that he was simply "objecting to a specific call to apply US regulations to factories in Bangladesh" and just meant the two countries "should have different regulatory schemes." He notes that "I think readers should more carefully distinguish the argument I made from the one they've invented and attributed to me" and that "the post is actually quite clear."

Someone should name an award after him, in honor of his ability to appreciate the positions of the people he's arguing with.

Brett said...

To me, what Yglesias said constitutes no-bullshit sociopathy, and in fact racist sociopathy, as "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's Okay" is the way that decent, Harvard-educated types say that some human lives are worth less than other human lives, based on their race and country of origin.

For fuck's sake . . . what Yglesias said is that safety standards are always a trade-off between minimizing the possibility of accidents and what is economically possible. That's how OSHA sets standards, for example - they try to minimize accidents, but also recognize that you can't make conditions 100% super-safe without destroying a vast swathe of industries.

And different nations are going to have different ideas on where that trade-off should lie, recognizing that workers in different countries are going to have different levels of acceptance for risk in exchange for getting jobs. That is a fact, not "racist sociopathy".

All that Yglesias did was say the obvious right after the tragedy, when most of the leftist blogosphere was still in a knee-jerk "Fuck those corporate bastards!" reaction phase and inclined to snap at anyone who wasn't in that particular circle-jerk. If he had waited two weeks to talk about it, nobody would blink an eyelash.

Freddie said...

Yeah, Brett, when pure corporate malfeasance results in the slaughter of hundreds of people, the best way to proceed is to defend the corporatists because making money is hard.

Incidentally: that trade off of yours is pure bullshit, a false dilemma inflicted on us to excuse bad behavior. We are in fact perfectly capable of both providing for all of our people and ensuring safety standards that rise to the threshold of "don't force workers to work in clearly-collapsing buildings." We just can't do it while protecting the insane incomes of the wealthiest. But thanks for playing.

Brett said...

@Freddie
Yeah, Brett, when pure corporate malfeasance results in the slaughter of hundreds of people, the best way to proceed is to defend the corporatists because making money is hard.

See, you don't even have a criticism. You just snapped at me for "defending the corporatists", just like I said the reactions to Yglesias were - the leftist blogosphere screaming on a hair-trigger reaction at anyone who didn't join in on the circlejerk.


Incidentally: that trade off of yours is pure bullshit, a false dilemma inflicted on us to excuse bad behavior. We are in fact perfectly capable of both providing for all of our people and ensuring safety standards that rise to the threshold of "don't force workers to work in clearly-collapsing buildings." We just can't do it while protecting the insane incomes of the wealthiest. But thanks for playing.


It's nothing of the sort - that's how real safety rules are made. It's always a trade-off, and if you set the bar higher than what's realistic for that society, the rules just become a joke.

Brett said...

EDIT: ". . . . set the bar higher than a trade-off that's realistically what that society is willing to accept."

jw said...

I believe Freddie's point is that "what's realistic for that society" is not simply a function of amorphous, unknowable, uncontrollable cultural factors, but also contingent upon how political and business entities -- run by autonomous individuals -- choose to operate.

And your edit doesn't really help. I suspect many Bangladeshis -- not least those crushed in the factory! -- would be quite happy to accept both higher wages and better safety standards, if, say, the people cutting deals with their government officials and business leaders weren't wholly interested in getting product for the lowest price possible, regardless of consequences.

jw said...

I mean, gosh, it might even turn out there is no "realistic" way to sell cheap goods to wealthy people without poor people living and working in terrible, unsafe conditions. At that point, we would have to ask: WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT?

At that point.

PR said...

At least they didn't call him a BIG FAT POOPYHEAD!

Brett said...

I read more into it. I still think Yglesias has a point, but this is a bad example for it - it was the owner ignoring agreed upon rules, not just an industrial accident.

j r said...

I fully endorse making fun of Yglesias' looks. As a caricature, he is almost too perfect. However, what makes this particular Yggie dog-pile unwarranted is that not once do any of those guys say anything at all interesting about international occupational health and safety standards. It's all moralistic pablum.

Yggie's post was certainly tone deaf, but he' right. Although, I do question the timing of the post. And I say this as someone who used to work for the part of the U.S. government charged with raising global labor standards. That doesn't happen just because people in the United States get on a soap box or on the internet or even decide to pay $50 for chinos instead of $30. Like every single other development issue, it's a long, hard slog.

Nick DeBoer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick DeBoer said...

When I read his his freshman length essay on the deaths yesterday I was profoundly bothered, but as the internet churns you quickly move on. I am glad there are writers taking the time to critically think about what nonsense he was arguing. I generally like Yglesias, and his book The Rent Is Too Damn High is a really convincing and important book. I don't know whether to chalk up this particular shit post to a mix of callousness and post deadlines, or whether it's really an insight into a twisted elite mindset.

I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but criticism from the left is important when someone writes off the death of 150+ people as happenstance of global capitalism.

But in true Yglesias fashion, I am sure he will double down in the 48 hours, and provide 5 more paragraphs explaining why the exploited deserve exploitation.

Tom Allen said...

Get with the program. We're not exploiting Bangladeshi lives to obtain slightly cheaper T-shirts, we're allowing US wealth to trickle down through the invisible hand of the market, the rising tide thus lifting all boats. (And who knows rising tides better than Bangladesh, amirite?) And if the cost for this is a couple hundred graves now and then, well, those impoverished people should have chosen another line of work -- something safer than tailoring at least.

BigSaxmo said...

I like how Freddie rails against anti-racism as social sorting until someone he doesn't like is under attack, then all of a sudden he can't wait to imply that Yglesias'a argument was rooted in "ethnic and national difference." Fucking pathetic, Freddie, and I say that as someone who disagrees with Yglesias's post, and as a fan of your writing.

Corey said...

The post (and his reactions, imputing stupidity and malice to the genuine outcry that greeted it) are classic Yglesias. I've done a fair amount of defending him on the internet - no more.

His obtuseness here seriously calls into question the value of anything he's ever said. That's how severe it is.

Freddie said...

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/25/hundreds-of-thousands-of-bangladeshs-garment-workers-walk-out-in-protest-over-factory-deaths/

Corey said...

Yep. Rational maximizers at work, obviously.

L. Zambezi said...

And yet Matt Yglesias is just some dude with a blog . . . His critics do understand that he did not personally kill anyone, right?

Don O'Neill said...

Yglesias is a genuinely smart and often insightful blogger, but when critiquing his work it should always be mentioned that what launched his career was his since-admitted wrongness about the Iraq war. This should tell you that he's an intelligent blogger who is also capable of some gigantic lapses in judgement, as is the case here.

Interestingly, his lapses in judgement mostly seem to have a common thread of gross indifference to human suffering in deference to some greater good, usually American-dominated global capitalism. He commits the same error many communists did and the Randies do today; his faith in his system is more powerful than his love for his fellow human beings. Any suffering caused by the system must be accepted, because the system will eventually make everything better.

redscott said...

I love what Don said because it captures an essential strain in Yglesias's writing and thinking, which is what makes it uniquely repellent when it manifests itself.

Don O'Neill said...

It's also interesting how the language works in this debate. People talk about the trade-off involved in weighing what they call 'safe jobs' or 'minimizing accidents' versus what we call 'growth' or 'jobs'.

Terms like 'safe jobs' and 'minimizing accidents' are functioning as sort of weird reverse-euphemisms for what is more properly called human life. But when we talk about human lives we sound drippy and sentimental, and that doesn't help anyone trying to claw their way to the top of the commentariat through their powers of nod-inducing wisdom combined with snarky nonchalance. So what is really a trade-off between the lives of some people vs the money of others gets described in absurd language like "implementing unnecessarily immiserating workplace safety standards at the cost of economic well-being". By allowing the system to place a lower value on Bangladeshi lives than on American lives, we are actually doing the Bangladeshis a favor! We're giving the freedom "to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum".

redscott said...

That's what makes this debate kind of infuriating. Guys like MY don't even have to act like they care when they talk about human lives like they're widgets, but if you get mad about it (even amongst so-called "progressives") it's like you're some goon losing his objectivity. Whatever.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

For heaven's sake, you're a rhetoric teacher and you don't tell your students "If you dedicate half the words in your article to fat jokes, people might miss your larger point"?

redscott said...

I dunno. Ad hominem admittedly isn't fair but people use it rhetorically because it works - not only does your argument suck but you're an overfed wanker talking out of your ass about a situation you know nothing about, when it's about people's deaths no less. I got the point.

Michael said...

demonstrates why they are both wrong and morally indefensible

Something Freddie apparently can't be stirred to do under his own power of thought.

Michael said...
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