June 26, 2010

Yet Another Intensely Exciting Internecine Battle at Versailles!

I. Deprecatory Remarks by Way of Introduction

I try in vain to catch my breath and calm my racing heart. I remain intermittently immersed in a series of cooling showers to lower the reflected heat of the monumental struggle between competing factions of Versailles courtiers. The stakes are of incomprehensible significance! Passions are inflamed! Staggering intellectual powers have been focused like lasers on the most urgent issues of our time!

Most of us were already thoroughly exhausted by the immensity of the dilemma foisted upon Our Ultimate Leader by McChrystal's shocking comments concerning the true nature (in the view of The General and his followers) of O.U.L. and his team. And "immensity" was the word, buddy: Who did have the biggest dick? Why, O.U.L., of course. That post includes a discussion of why that controversy was close to entirely meaningless and didn't matter a damn, and also rudely analyzes actually crucial issues that no one in Versailles will ever mention.

Thus do I, lowly peasant well outside the palace walls, throw rocks at the (for now) impregnable facade. But those attending the festivities at Versailles hear the rising clamor beyond the barrier, and they know the walls steadily weaken now. The battles within the court therefore become that much more urgent. The power enjoyed by the royal toadies may be significantly diminished someday fairly soon. If they want power -- and oh, they do -- they need to grab it today.

So we have another round of charades. David Weigel had to resign from The Washington Post! C'mon, you miserable pissant, this is big stuff! Fascinating how size continually, ah, um, well, rears its head in business of this kind. (I wasn't even reaching for that one. It just popped out. "Reaching for that one." "Popped out." Dear, dear me. Okay, let's stop that.) And virtually all the participants are men! We shall have to defer consideration of the specifically psychosexual aspects of all this to another day. Drat and blast.

Here's a summary of the Weigel contretemps, with assorted links. Exceedingly condensed version: Weigel's assignment at WaPo was to write about "the conservative movement and the Republican Party" from "the inside." Turns out he offered a series of not-nice and distinctly unflattering comments about conservatives on Journolist, Ezra Klein's private and exclusive conclave for political chatterers and think-tank types. According to Klein himself, participation was restricted as follows: "The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left." (The other restriction was: "No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join." No, being a member of the permanent D.C. Establishment, even a newly minted one, doesn't count, you silly billy.) "Private," "exclusive," and "restricted." Huh. Sounds like a liberal-progressive version of a Republican country club, don't it? Well, as some scrabbling peasant has observed, "The basic dynamics of all tribes are the same." Hey, that was me! Some of my scrabbling-scribbling comments have staying power! ("Staying power"! Oh, yeah, baby.)

In tiresomely predictable fashion, the revelation of Weigel's "private" comments (by someone on Journolist or who was at least given access to Journolist's archives/messages) was regarded by Some of Those Who Matter as calling into question Weigel's "seriousness," "impartiality" and "credibility," which in turn called into question the "seriousness," "impartiality" and "credibility" of WaPo itself.

I'll wait until you stop laughing. [Time goes by ... and by ... da da da da-dum ... and by ...] We shall continue, trying to make ourselves heard above the din of your guffaws.

The right-leaning blogs attached themselves like lampreys to this "scandal" in equally tiresome and predictable fashion. Instapundit reliably, and with exceeding tiresomeness, collected numerous links, all of which you can find on your own if your life has ceased to have meaning. I consider a few specific entries below on issues I find worthy of comment, and provide some links there. But I've built up a fierce tolerance for endless varieties of this crap, and you may not be so afflicted.

Instapundit & Co. consider Journolist to be another instance of the universe-encompassing stranglehold on intellectual discourse held by Evil Liberals. Weigel's first crime was to be on the list at all. And then, oh, my, what Weigel said! He's not any kind of journalist, impartial or otherwise. He's just another Evil Liberal! Writing about conservatives just the way Evil Liberals always do, to make conservatives look bad! And so on and so on and so fucking on.

I'm going to be rude again. I'll state the critical point briefly. Follow the links if you want the hideous details. Both liberals and conservatives stand for the identical fundamental propositions. They both support the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist State (what I now refer to as the "Death State"). Yes, they emphasize somewhat different aspects, and occasionally those differences are of some significance. But with regard to the most crucial issues, they are in full agreement. As a result, their problem is one of marketing. How do you convince the increasingly impoverished and brutalized peasants to support one side over the other, when both sides agree on the basics?

From, "Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare":
On the domestic front, because the Democrats and Republicans both want and enjoy the fruits of the corporatist, authoritarian state but still vie with each other for control over the mechanisms of power, the two parties have a problem. In terms of basic principles and the interests they serve, they are indistinguishable. The Republicans are primarily financed by and do the bidding of hugely wealthy corporate powers; so are the Democrats. The Republicans have numerous and intricate ties to the defense industry, which makes incalculable amounts of money from our perpetual war economy; the same is true for Democrats. The Republicans want an increasingly repressive surveillance state to ensure their rule and their own lives of comfort and privilege; so do the Democrats.

So why should any voter support one party over the other? This is not to say there are no differences at all between the parties, as we shall see in a moment. But when we consider the deeper level of analysis, we see that the problem is not one of fundamental political principles, since neither party is about to change those. We come back to marketing.
The factional battles within the courtier class at Versailles are another manifestation of the same dynamic. The major conflict involved in the Weigel controversy is that between the fraying remnants of the old mainstream media (including the major newspapers) and the more recent arrivals from outside the previous guild system, including bloggers, like Klein and Weigel themselves. It seems that Weigel got the WaPo gig largely as the result of Klein's recommendation. Ezra Klein, wunderkind and conferrer-of-titles! Heady stuff. Keep in mind the incommunicably astonishing quality of Klein's insights. Your media at work, old and new. Sincere regrets if you just had an unpleasant accident.

And that is precisely the stinking rotten heart of this remarkably poor joke: just as the conservatives and liberals (as institutions of power in our disintegrating and therefore increasingly murderous Death State) differ on not a single issue of consequence, neither do the "old" and "new" media -- certainly not if they rise to the level of national players in the media world. The monopoly of the ruling class on the character and content of our national debate has not been dislodged in even the slightest degree. For the details, see "'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought." I will unashamedly tell you I find that to be a fine essay; interestingly, the final section discusses the deeply awful views of Walter Russell Mead, who is now a particular favorite of Instapundit's. Such a small and sometimes remarkably ugly world.

Let's consider a few more particular aspects of the Weigel controversy.

II. Concerning the Generally Odious Nature of "Private" Listservs, Including My Own Confession!

Weigel offered his own acknowledgment about his membership on Journolist. Here's mine, about a different "private" and "exclusive" list.

I began blogging in the fall of 2002. At that time, I called myself a "libertarian," although I very quickly and emphatically distanced myself from the self-designated libertarians that are so numerous on the internets. If you're interested, see this post about my intellectual journey to where I am now: a proud, contentious lefty-anarchist. Who is also unspeakably rude, and a faggot! I am truly, finally beyond all salvation. Thus you see that hope beckons to you all. "Evil liberals," my magnificent ass. I am EVIL. Yeah, all caps, baby. True evil is liberating!

I think it was in early 2003 that I was invited to become a participant in an oh-so-exclusive and oh-so-secret private email discussion group. Given what I recall, I'm now breaking the terms of my having joined: I had to swear never even to divulge that a private email list existed to which I belonged. So I suppose I need to apologize to the person who lobbied for my admittance, and I do: I'm sorry. But in all seriousness, what is this shabbily dishonest shit? It would disgrace snotty, pretentious teenagers. I won't tell you what the list is, or the basis for its formation (it wasn't political, although politics was frequently discussed), or who was on it, except to say that its members included some very well-known people (you'd know them, fer sher). In terms of what follows, the details of the particular listserv are irrelevant.

I took myself off the listserv's email distribution list about five years ago (I can't recall the date exactly). As far as I know, I can still access the list and its archives if I choose to, but I've never chosen to. But who knows, my membership may have long been revoked. Surely, my mention of the list here should get me bounced, if anyone notices my disclosure. I don't care in the least.

When I first joined the list, I was very flattered. I was still a new blogger, and I was kinda sorta "in." Whoop-ti-do! I was on a list with famous people! It was, like, totally cool, man. I'd be included in cutting-edge discussions! I'd see great, powerful new ideas being developed in real time! How fucking fantastic!

In less than a year, all that was gone. Here's what I learned, in brief. To begin with, 70% to 80% of the list messages were dull. Just dull. I had exchanges with a few treasured friends that were infinitely more interesting and provocative (and I still have those, thank God). Most of the messages offered views that I read in many other places -- and those sent by writers who also wrote for "the public" offered only variants of what they said in articles that anyone could read. Today, I can't think of even one exception that was sufficiently notable that I still remember it.

So a lot of it was simply boring. Beyond that was an element I found considerably worse, an element that I grew to dislike intensely. The toadying around the most famous members of the list was transparently obvious and frequently sickening. "Oh, your article about blah-blah-blah was magnificent!" "Oh, please, please write about X! You're the only one who could do justice to this urgent issue! And you'll treat it with your unique sensitivity and perceptiveness!" It was nauseating. Of course, the famous list members loved it. And sometimes they did write about subjects suggested to them on the list. Not that the "public" articles offered insights that were unique or arresting, which they didn't -- but the authors were certainly told they did, and often.

During the same period of time, I was developing my own ideas and my own approach, which you can see reflected in some of the archived entries here from those early years. (As I always have to mention in contexts like this, my blog archives got corrupted years ago and most of them were lost from the internet. I can manage to republish them, which I've done for some selected articles, but it takes a considerable amount of time to do that. I've only been able to republish a small fraction of them. I would personally prefer that all of my posts, including ones that horrify me now, were readily available: readers could then see for themselves in detail how my ideas have altered, sometimes very radically. I think how and why those changes occurred has some value, at least for some readers. Again, you'll find a comparatively brief overview of this process in this entry. If I manage to get to some long-planned essays concerning the process of thinking and analysis generally, I'll be republishing some of my earliest pieces. It remains to be seen whether time and my health will permit that.)

I soon discovered that the approach I was developing was of absolutely no interest to the private list. There were perhaps two or three people who liked and encouraged my still developing methods of analysis. Other than that, I was already far too outside "the mainstream." For the most part, the members of the list were completely, unalterably uninterested.

This serves to underscore a truth that I've been reminded of throughout my life. I grew up in a family with a couple of famous relatives (one uncle, one aunt, and a few others who were somewhat well-known, but less so). I've also known several famous people in the course of my life. None of them were close friends, but I had fairly regular contact with them for a time. For the most part, they were neither more nor less interesting than anyone else. The fact of their fame (and in some cases, the talent which led to their fame) was occasionally of interest in various ways -- but as people, I found other individuals, including some who did become close friends, far more stimulating and rewarding to know. And those individuals who became friends are people you've never heard of. My early exposure to fame (via that uncle and aunt especially) largely inoculated me against the lure of fame by itself, but that's not how it works for most people. As someone new to blogging, I was briefly pleased to be included in an "exclusive" group, but as I say, that wore off very quickly. And as I noted, the behavior of the "regular" members of the private listserv toward the famous members was genuinely sick-making.

In other words, what goes on in private listservs, at least judging from my own experience, is no different from what goes on in our culture generally. Most people get goggle-eyed and their brains take an extended vacation when they're in the proximity of famous or powerful people (here's a related example). "Oh, you're famous!" Which appears to mean, both in the public aspects of American culture and in private settings: "Oh, you're better than ordinary people! You're necessarily and inherently much more fascinating and worthwhile!"

If you think about it even for a moment, you will realize just how pathetic and awful that perspective is. It's also a complete crock of shit. I told you, sweetheart, I'm rude.

So in significant part, the listserv to which I belonged functioned as a private source of ego-bolstering for already famous people, so that these depressingly typical people could hear yet again how magnificently wonderful and brilliant they were. Kind of a private PR machine, if you will. Related to this was a more general perspective that most of the members of the private listserv exhibited (at least, those members who posted to the list): the sense that all the members of the list were unique and specially special, simply because they belonged to this private, exclusive and restricted list. This element seems to be inextricably linked to the nature of any private listserv (and probably to almost any private club or organization, for that matter), and you can see its operation in some posts about the Weigel business.

For example, here's part of what Marc Ambinder said about Weigel (note, too, that most of these people say they are very good friends with each other, which is, of course, another symptom of the Establishment at work). Ambinder noted at the outset of his comments that he also belonged to Journolist (as did many of those so eagerly commenting on this universe-shattering controversy), and he concludes with the following. I've inserted a few comments in brackets to stress the element of overweening self-regard and self-congratulation:
As for the Journolist project itself, I found it to be a great resource. Extremely smart people [like me!] engaging in policy debates on the stories of the day. There was no plotting and very little rah-rah rally-the-crowd cheerleading. Debate among members was often quite vigorous, and occasionally even personal. It was not a conspiracy. It was a forum. A members-only coffee shop where people who take ideas seriously [like me!], who want access to people who take ideas seriously [like me!], could test their own ideas before they refined and presented them to the public. As a reporter, I learned a lot about a lot of subjects. It was an enormous resource, and I'll miss it.
Yes, Marc, you are astonishingly, magnificently wonderful. We prostrate ourselves before your blinding incandescence.

Andrew Sullivan calls Ambinder's post "superb," and says that he "agree[s] with every word." How utterly unastonishing. So much blinding illumination!

I also draw your attention to the blatant, stomach-churning elitism of this phrase: "could test their own ideas before they refined and presented them to the public." That desultory, ignorant, uninformed "public," which is composed of those who are decidedly not "extremely smart people" who "take ideas seriously." Why, the elite wouldn't want to endanger the perfection of their brilliant insights by exposing them prematurely to such shabby riffraff. Oh, no: the elite will hone "their own ideas" only in the presence of other "extremely smart people" like them, that is, only in the presence of other members of the self-anointed elite. When the time is right, the elite will tell all those filthy ordinary people what the "right" ideas are, and the "right" ideas will be those endorsed by the elite and no others at all.

It is therefore equally unastonishing that, on every essential issue, the members of the Establishment all end up offering the same arguments from the same perspectives. Here's another example of how that works: "The Empty Establishment: No One's Home in an Intellectual Wasteland." Yes, they may differ on some details. But always keep in mind that with regard to the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system itself and its central operations, they are all interchangeable.

This is far, far longer than I had anticipated, so I'll stop here for now. But I've collected some additional links about the Weigel affair, about which I want to make some further points. I'll do that next time.