I was really looking forward to Jonathan Chait's essay in New York magazine about the inanity of social media outrage culture and the danger of letting angry name-calling and base grievance-mongering settle debates. And Chait, that cuddly old reactionary, hit it out of the park. The reaction on social media was, how do you say, "not at all surprising."
Got about halfway through before hitting a haze of "I can't with this" so someone please read it for me and sum up. http://t.co/EtP3tKlzzO
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— Heidi N Moore (@moorehn) January 27, 2015
— Ben Walsh (@BenDWalsh) January 27, 2015
If you are going to prop up the Chait piece, at least acknowledge how he almost universally trashes on WOC in it.
— Jessica Luther (@scATX) January 27, 2015
I could keep going on in this vein for a while, but this tweet more or less sums up the attitude:
Jonathan Chait and the people that agree with him are the worst.
— Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady) January 27, 2015
(You should read @AngryBlackLady's whole feed; it's a treat.)
Now, some will say that Chait has been unnecessarily provocative in his writing. That he should've made a better effort to reach out to the people he's criticizing. The problem with this framing is that it presumes the angry rage mobs roaming Twitter in search of someone who has insufficiently checked his or her or its privilege are open to debate, to having their mind changed. That they're interested in having a calm, rational discussion. This is a faulty presumption. It's impossible to have a polite discussion on this topic because the outraged don't want to have any discussion on this topic. As Chait puts it:
If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt. (Here one might find oneself accused of man/white/straightsplaining.) It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called "tone policing." If you are accused of bias, or "called out," reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous. A white person or a man can achieve the status of "ally," however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue. A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed "safe."
It's hard to have even a calm, rational discussion with someone who thinks your only appropriate response is silence. That the only thing you can do is sit there and listen and nod your head, admitting that you have been blind to the truth and, yes, deserve the vitriol heaped upon you. I kind of hope that Chait is offered a speaking gig on a college campus just to see how quickly it'll take for him to be shouted down and demonstrated against, petitioned and picketed.
All this being said, I wonder if Jonathan Chait now regrets writing that conservatives should really watch their tone when they criticize the president. Probably not. Browbeating the opposition into silence is only bad some of the time.