I’ve got some questions for my progressive readers. When you think of Colin Kaepernick, do you define him by his quiet kneeling and many thoughtful interviews? Or do you define him by the socks he wore once, dehumanizing cops as pigs?
When you think of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, do you define him by his hundreds of thousands of eloquent and meticulously researched words? Or do you define him by his call for violence in Baltimore, or his dehumanizing statements about the heroic cops and firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center on 9/11?
I can do this all day. (Joy Reid, anyone?) Because recently I’ve been led to believe — repeatedly, in fact — that online mobbing most definitely does not reflect intolerance towards conservatives but instead is wholly targeted at the people who are really bad. And how do we know that they’re really bad?
A tweet or two. Five minutes of a podcast. Those things, not a life’s work, tell the true tale of a man.
I bring this up of course because of the latest Two Minutes Hate, this time — oddly enough — directed at actor Mark Duplass. He had the audacity to tweet: “Fellow liberals: If you are interested at all in ‘crossing the aisle’ you should consider following @benshapiro I don’t agree with him on much but he’s a genuine person who once helped me for no other reason than to be nice. He doesn’t bend the truth. His intentions are good.”
The pile-on was so swift and overwhelming that Duplass not only deleted his tweet but apologized thoroughly and abjectly, in a tweet that condemned Ben in no uncertain terms:
— Mark Duplass (@MarkDuplass) July 19, 2018
I’m sorry, but this is pitiful. Truly pitiful. And it was accompanied, as it always is, by progressives assuring us that, no, we do want to hear from conservatives, just not that conservative. We don’t want to hear from the awful Ben Shapiro.
Or the awful Kevin Williamson.
Or the awful Jordan Peterson.
Or the awful Bret Stephens.
Or the awful Bari Weiss.
Are you beginning to detect a pattern here? The online mob picks through a writer’s past, finds the specific idea or tweet it finds most offensive, focuses on that idea, and then assures us that while it’s truly open to debate and dialogue, this guy (or girl) is beyond the pale. You see it in a Vox piece by Zack Beauchamp explaining that it was totally cool to force Duplass to apologize. Responding to one of Ben’s liberal defenders, Beauchamp says:
He’s arguing that the real Ben isn’t the sum total of his work, but rather the nice things he says to his liberal friends. We should try to reason away his beyond-the-pale opinions, when in fact they’re evidence he might not be a reasonable person.
You see a similar effect whenever one of the New York Times’ op-ed pages recent hires — I’m thinking of Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens specifically — writes something offensive or poorly thought out. You’re asked to look past the offensive work in question, like Stephens’s pieces denying climate change science, and try to have a reasonable conversation. The problem is that the so-called indiscretions are as characteristic of their work and worldview as their more reasonable sounding output — but pointing that out can be portrayed, by people like Weinstein, as evidence of intolerance, of refusing to listen to the other side.
No, Beauchamp gets this exactly backwards. Ben is the sum total of his work. He is not the isolated hot take or tweet. And no one is asked to “look past” anything — but rather to engage with objectionable arguments. What we are asking is that a debate take place, rather than an attempt to intimidate and shame a person into silence or a campaign to get him fired.
A culture that rejects real debate is a culture that stagnates and starts to decay.
The truly absurd aspect of the online mobbing of Shapiro, Williamson, Peterson, Stephens, and Weiss is that it’s taking place in a world where not only are vicious racists and bigots very real, but some of the people in the list above have taken them on (and endured the vicious blowback) in direct and courageous ways. No one endured more anti-Semitic hate than Ben during the 2016 election, for example. You might call him racist, but the actual racists hate him even more than the online progressive mob does.
I freely admit that Ben is a friend of mine. But I don’t write this piece to say, “Trust me! He’s a great guy in person!” but rather to say that if a progressive can’t even compliment a person like Ben, then our public discourse is dysfunctional and diseased.
Finally, I know full well that no one is violating Ben’s legal rights or censoring Mark Duplass. I know that online shaming isn’t censorship. I also know that it is intended to limit debate. I know that it is intended to silence. It is intended to raise the cost of engagement and hinder dialogue. It is even sometimes intended to threaten a person’s livelihood. It is also arrogant and intolerant. The progressive mob doesn’t have a monopoly on truth, and a culture that rejects real debate is a culture that stagnates and starts to decay.
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