The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

The Left Belatedly Notices the Dangers of Ideological Conformity

Customers at the Amazon Books store in New York City in 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

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Where You Been?

Welcome to the party, pal!

Cancel culture, soft censorship, the stampeding herd of independent thinkers demanding absolute conformism in the name of tolerance and absolute obedience in the name of diversity — none of these is ever a problem until it happens to a progressive.

Today’s example is Andrew Solomon, who tells his tale in the New York Times under the headline: “My book was censored in China. Now it’s blacklisted — in Texas.”

Solomon’s book is not — you won’t be surprised to learn — blacklisted in Texas. All that has happened is that a state representative, Matt Krause, has asked Texas school districts about a list of books — 850 of them — wanting to know if they have them, how many copies, where they are, what they paid for them, etc. “Most of the books on the list deal with race, sexual orientation, abortion or gender identity,” Solomon writes. “Krause is one of several candidates hoping to unseat the incumbent Republican attorney general” — he isn’t, but he was — “and this bit of extremist theater is a maneuver to raise his profile among the ardent Trumpists and social conservatives likely to be G.O.P. primary voters.”

The project, Solomon argues, is a “cynical electoral stratagem by a bigoted politician,” which sounds about right to me, though Krause is not, in fact, a candidate for attorney general, having dropped out of that just before Solomon’s essay was published. Krause is a candidate for district attorney of Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth; the biggest jackass in the race for attorney general, other than the attorney general himself, is, at the moment, Louie Gohmert.

Solomon quotes Anne Applebaum, who observes about Soviet-era suppression: “Actual censors were not always needed. Instead, a form of pervasive peer pressure convinced writers, journalists and everyone else to toe the party line; if they did not, they knew they risked being ejected from their jobs and shunned by their friends.”

I know a little about that, having been ejected from a job at the very magazine where Applebaum is a staff writer for failing to toe to the party line. If Solomon would like to know something about the experience of actually being blacklisted by, say, one of the major American book publishers, I’d be happy to tell him what it’s like.

And I am far from alone in my experience.

I think of Amazon’s effort to suppress books that take nonconforming views of transsexualism, the efforts of feminists, transexual advocates, and other left-wing critics to punish figures ranging from Camille Paglia to Harvey Mansfield to Dave Chappelle to nobodies at Google to previously anonymous high-school kids for crimes against progressive sensibilities, real and imagined. We have seen professors at major universities try to deploy actual mob violence against journalists and critics, professors driven out of major universities under ridiculous pretexts, violence directed at figures ranging from Charles Murray to College Republicans at Berkeley, arson and fire-bombings directed at right-leaning speakers on college campuses, etc. We have seen the New York Times itself acting as head cheerleader in an effort to get a college freshman kicked out of school over offenses against etiquette committed when she was a child.

Representative Krause’s pissy little list is pretty mild stuff by comparison.

Matt Krause is a nobody. Jeff Bezos has real power. When Amazon bans a book, that doesn’t just take it off Amazon — it sends a message to publishers around the world that failing to toe the party line means that their financial futures will be put in jeopardy by one of the world’s most powerful businesses. But when Amazon yanks a book by Ryan Anderson, nice liberals such as Andrew Solomon generally don’t have a goddamned word to say about it — and if they do say something, more often than not it is to encourage the suppression of books they dislike and the marginalization of nonconformist authors.

I’ll believe that our progressive friends are serious about freedom of expression when they start acting like they are serious about freedom of expression. My own experience is that they are much, much more interested in deploying economic and social power against expression with which they disagree — actually blacklisting books and their authors. If Andrew Solomon is interested in actually getting with the free-speech program, I welcome him to it.

Looking for Diversity in Texas?

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times has written another perplexing column. (I have reason to write that sentence frequently.) He wants to know why so many people are moving to Texas, and so he teamed up with a graphics editor to do a little data analysis, the conclusion of which is that the only good places to live in America are the suburbs of Dallas. (More or less.) Manjoo ranks cities and suburbs according to four criteria, two of which are reasonably obvious and two of which are . . . not obvious. The obvious ones are economic health (as measured by unemployment and wages) and affordability of housing, and the non-obvious ones are racial diversity and climate risk.

You can see how that goes: The highest wages are found in places such as San Francisco, which still does pretty well on the diversity metric even as its African-American population vanishes. But it is super-expensive, and, like much of California, it is vulnerable to wildfires, rising sea levels, and other phenomena associated with climate change. Nebraska currently has the lowest unemployment rate of any state — at 1.9 percent, the lowest rate ever recorded — but it is whiter than Copenhagen at Christmas and it is a middling performer on income, 27th among the states. If you are really deeply worried about climate risk, you could move to any number of small towns in Minnesota, but nobody is doing that. In Texas, you have lots of racial diversity — sort of — and lots of jobs and a fair bit of cheap housing. Houston would be in the running with DFW on the Manjoo matrix if not for its coastal location and consequent hurricane problem.

A few thoughts.

I have spent a great deal of time talking to a great many people about the places they live and why they live there, and I have never once heard someone say that they moved to some particular place — much less the suburbs of Dallas! — in pursuit of racial diversity. Some people will say that they enjoy the diversity of where they live, but I have my doubts that many people move for that reason.

But beyond that, I am not so sure that we actually have a lot of “racial diversity” in Texas. What we have is a population in which about 80 percent of the people are either Hispanic or non-Hispanic whites, almost equally divided at about 40 percent for either group. As many observers have noted, almost all of Texas’s recent population growth — some 95 percent of it — has been driven by “people of color,” a meaningless non-category in which Nigerians and Bengalis are lumped in with Mexicans and Iraqis. In reality, there are not a lot of black or Asian people moving to Texas: In the past ten years, Texas has seen about 560,000 new black residents and just over 600,000 new Asian residents, both figured dwarfed by the 2 million new Hispanic residents. “Hispanic” is not a very helpful category, either, being a slop-pail into which very different peoples from very different cultures are poured willy-nilly owing only to some proximity to the Spanish language. For four out of five Hispanic Texans, what “Hispanic” means is “of Mexican origin.” (“Mexican origin” can get pretty complicated, too, but that’s beyond the scope of this column.)

What I am wondering is this: If Latino people are pouring into Texas, the state with the second-largest Latino population share (behind New Mexico but ahead of California), is that the pursuit of racial diversity? From a certain point of view, it looks more like the pursuit of homogeneity: largely Mexican and Mexican-American people moving into Mexican-American communities in a state with a large Mexican-American population, i.e., people moving into areas where there are lots of other people like them. Manjoo, who is so exquisitely modish as to insist upon the pronoun “they,” seems here to be guilty of — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — “centering” the white point of view. Because a guy relocating from Oaxaca is going to experience a hell of a lot more diversity in Nebraska than he is in Dallas, where he can head over to Los Oaxaqueños, order his sope huitlacoche, do so en español, and go on with his day — in a largely gringo-free fashion, if he chooses.

A Mexican American moving to Dallas has about as much to do with diversity as an Irish American moving to Boston or a Yahoo American moving to Florida.

Similarly, while I am sure that people sometimes move away from the scene of a trauma such as a home-destroying wildfire or flood, I have never — not once — met someone who told me he had chosen his new home based on “climate risk.” For comparison, about half of the people I talk to who move to Texas from some other state cite Texas’s lack of a state income tax as an attraction, while Californians — predictably and almost uniformly — are all too happy to show their visiting California friends around the 6,500-square-foot estates on ten acres that they bought, with money to spare, after selling their homes in the Bay Area.

But if you are interested in avoiding climate risk, stay the hell away from Dallas and environs: Texas as a whole already has demonstrated persuasively that it is utterly unable to deal with severe winter weather, with a power grid and a traffic system that collapse at the first dusting of snow. With a little ice on the freeways, Dallas saw a 133-car pileup that killed six people. Not long before that, one of the city’s nicest neighborhoods was ravaged by an EF-3 tornado. And in Dallas — a badly misgoverned Democratic city that is a lot like every other badly misgoverned Democratic city, right down to the crusty bums masturbating in public — a gentle rain will put half of the city’s traffic lights out of commission. Most of the climate-change forecasts suggest that this sort of thing is going to get worse — and my own political forecast for Texas does not envision the response getting much better.

Jobs? Yes. Cheap housing? Compared to Palo Alto, sure, though not as cheap as it was a few years ago. Low climate risk? Sure, if you don’t count tornados, heat waves, drought, blizzards, and flash floods. Diversity? Oodles of it, if by diversity you mean that the vast majority of the people you meet check one of two demographic boxes.

But if diversity and climate risk are at the top of your agenda, suburban Dallas isn’t for you. You should move to Austin. You won’t find a lot of diversity there or an unusual level of climate security, but you will be positively walled in by a homogeneous mass of likeminded people who profess to care about those things.

Words About Words

I was firing up HBO Max the other day when I found myself stopped for a moment by the opening screen, which asks: “Who is watching?” The options are “Adult” and “Child.” I must have seen this screen and others like it thousands of times, but I paused for a moment at the word adult, which, somewhere in the back of my mind, means pornography.

That is a triumph of branding and a victory for euphemism: The word adult has become associated, at least in some contexts, with the least adult and most adolescent kind of media there is. (In a similar way, “gentlemen’s clubs” are not really designed to appeal to the gentlemen in any of us.) David Foster Wallace used to have a lot of fun with this sort of thing: He wrote a pair of short stories about pornography and sex shops with the title “Adult World,” the principal character of which is a recently married currency analyst struggling with “the ever-changing status of the yen.”

In a better world, “adult content” would mean Middlemarch.

Rampant Prescriptivism 

Elsewhere on the language beat . . .

The display copy introducing Farhad Manjoo’s perplexing column, mentioned above, reads:

They’re looking for bigger homes, second homes or any home at all. They’re searching for work  — or trying to escape work. Some fear encroaching heat, fire or flood. Others are repulsed by bitter local politics. Many simply hear the distant siren of a better life elsewhere.

That is not quite right. In modern American English, a “distant siren” or “sirens in the distance” refers to the noise-making device atop police cars, firetrucks, and ambulances, generally accompanied by flashing lights. That device is named for the temptresses of Greek mythology, the Sirens, supernatural sisters who lured sailors to ruin with their seductive songs. The word “siren” has at times been used to mean a deceitful woman, being derived from a Greek word meaning “cord,” hence “entangler.” A siren is someone who might rope you into something.

The usual idiom when referring to this kind of siren, rather than the electronic kind, is “hear the sirens’ song” or “hear the siren call of” this or that, and what it communicates is deceit or a false promise. A siren doesn’t call one to a “better life elsewhere.” A siren calls one to wreck and ruin.

Plano isn’t the greatest, but it isn’t that.

Use the “siren call” for that which is false, dangerous, or meretricious, not for that which is worthy, safe, or true — or risk crashing on the sharp rocks of illiterate error.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Apparently, I’m still not a big enough deal to get banned by Amazon. Maybe next time!

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In Other News . . .

Jack Dorsey out at Twitter and Professor Matthew McConoughey taking a pass on the Texas governor’s race? We haven’t seen that much promising talent sidelined since the death of Mr. Goxx.

Recommended

Frank Bruni has a new book coming in March. It is called The Beauty of Dusk. (The blurb on the cover, I just noticed, is by the aforementioned Andrew Solomon. Mine lately have come from Paul Krugman: “Truly reprehensible.”) It is partly about his own experience of partially losing his eyesight, and partly about the experiences of others who run up against the reality of physical limitation in other similar ways, often in middle age. These are not always happy stories of triumph in the face of adversity: The stories of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both briefly mentioned, both end in suicide, both by hanging, only a few days apart.

Bruni himself has started a new chapter in his 50s, having given up his position as a columnist to take a professorship at Duke. Some of the most amusing parts of the book are his accounts of enjoying the wonders of life outside New York City — a yard! a deck! a deck chair!– as though they were his first glass of champagne. (After living in city apartments for many years, it is damned nice to have four walls of your own.) Bruni got to know Bourdain when he was a food writer at the Times, and he quotes the late entertainer, who didn’t know success until his 40s and then fatherhood in his 50s, describing himself as feeling as though he had stolen a really terrific sportscar, forever looking in the rearview mirror for the flashing police lights that would announce the end of his joyride. Things ended badly for Bourdain, but surely there are many of us who have felt the same thing.

In Closing

Today is the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. Andrew is known as the protoclete, which means “the first to be called.” Tradition holds that Andrew was the first of Jesus’s followers, stirred by John the Baptist’s proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God. He was, like many of his friends, crucified. His apostleship begins with a seemingly simple exchange: He asks Jesus where He is abiding, and receives the answer: “Come and see.” That phrase, Venite et videte in Latin, became a favorite of scientists and empiricists, including the English anatomist William Cowper, who used the phrase often in his correspondence. (The almost contemporaneous Christian poet and abolitionist was a different William Cowper.) Come and see — it is a simple thing, and not a simple thing.

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