Thursday, January 29, 2015

That Chait Piece

 Andrew Sullivan stood up and applauded. Gawker snarkily deconstructed it. It should come as now surprise that reactions to Jonathan Chait's piece deriding the left's habit of self-censorship to the point of stifling discussion fell predictably along ideological lines.  It's disappointing that it's too easy to dismiss this as "white man whining," because he makes a good argument for the split between liberals and the more progressive left, but this kind of criticism needs to come from the left itself. Unfortunately, he is a white man whining, someone privileged along every possible axis, and that makes it impossible for a reader concerned with analyzing power structures to look at the article critically without taking those things under consideration.

Julian Sanchez makes a good point about progressives being more concerned with being good allies than agreeing there's something wrong with its ideological purity tests:
Progressives who think maybe he’s kinda-sorta got a point quickly move on, ceding the field to those who want to revoke his ally card and conservatives eager to welcome him, at least for the next ten seconds, to “their” side. (I wrote a tweet suggesting I thought some of the vituperative online reactions to Chait’s essay showed he was on to something. Conservatives and libertarians retweeted it; progressives favorited.) And this makes it still easier to conclude that nothing interesting or valuable is lost by any self-censorship that may be occurring. We know what the counterargument looks like, after all: It’s the garbage those assholes are spouting. Discourse gets increasingly polarized and, in the process, stupider. Which, again, seems like a bad outcome even if you don’t particularly care whether Jon Chait gets his feelings hurt.
Maybe Chait isn't the right person to talk about self-censorship -- at least if his goal is to get the progressives to agree with him -- but I think it's important someone does.  I've been writing in my small corner of the internet for a few years now, and it's become increasingly difficult to write without constant editing and re-editing, wondering if a particular phrase or wording will offend someone, that it's easier to stick to the template, even when doing so is intellectually lazy.