This is a blog post about a Twitter fight, so first, a brief defense of blog posts about Twitter fights. If you do not require a brief defense of blog posts about Twitter fights, jump:
1. Twitter matters. For better or worse — mostly worse — there is much more happening on Twitter than on blogs and even probably online journals. Just in word counts alone, way, way bigger. So let’s all just quit with the ‘It’s just Twitter’ thing. People can be both smart and dumb in successive lumps of 140 chars and ‘It’s Twitter’ is more often than not an alibi for those who insistently use their 140 chars unwisely.
2. My main beat as a blogger, for the moment anyway, is how very stupid, corrupt and toxic are the gatekeepers of what passes for left politics. Twitter offers a rare opportunity to engage with them directly, without mediation by editors or other message managers. Unfiltered dialogue with the gatekeepers of our discourse is not trivial unless all our online discourse is trivial, which is certainly up for debate but beyond the scope of this post.
3. I have a smattering of really nasty critics and they almost never engage me in long form, either in blog posts or comments here, even though they routinely troll and slime me. This makes sense because long form, of necessity, requires at least the appearance of making an argument, which is something most of my critics either consider me unworthy of — a lot of them are very nakedly status conscious — or simply wish to avoid. It’s easy for, say, a gatekeeping conformist like Elias Isquith to tone troll me on Twitter for my post on MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Harder for me to insist he answer why, exactly, my tone clearly bothers him more than does Melber’s SOPA lobbying.
4. This is my blog. If you think it should be about other things, go do your own, or read someone else’s.
A pet peeve of mine is wealthy white people on social networks who make disparaging generalizations about white people. It’s a pet peeve not because I think white people have nothing to answer for — we do — but because while superficially this sort of thing seems to be self-implicating, it’s actually a sort of preening, self-exoneration, akin to pundits who say ‘we’ when what they really mean are people they consider inferior.
It seems to me that most of the people who make these generalizations are upper middle class and beyond, and that most of the generalizations they make about ‘white people’ are as much or more about being upper middle class or wealthy as they are about being white. As a person who was born poor and to whom many of these generalizations don’t apply — I find this really irritating.
Finally, as a purely political matter, this stuff tends to dissolve class inequality — which is critically important and should not be ignored — into a faddish and unbearably vapid sort of racial essentialism. That preening, well-heeled white people (and also wealthy people of color for that matter) would cynically use anti-racism to shield themselves from attacks on their class privilege is not in the least surprising. But working and underclass people can still be worthy anti-racists without indulging them in it.
Last night on Twitter, Max Blumenthal, an Ivy League graduate, the son of the writer and ex Clinton aide Sydney Blumenthal, and obviously no stranger to privilege tweeted this:
I have since learned that this was a jab at Obama’s speech at Morehouse, but at first glance, this seemed like the’white people’ thing that makes me peevish, so I tweeted, too hastily (it was late):
I wouldn’t say this even qualifies as a troll and certainly not a hard one and Blumenthal could have straightened me out or ignored it. But instead he RT’d it and a lengthy Twitter beatdown ensued, which was probably the intent. It started with this guy, Mitch Lake:
Now even if my first tweet wasn’t what Blumenthal’s comment warranted, it didn’t seem strong enough to warrant this, the violent nature of which must certainly be familiar to anyone who ever argues with partisan liberals on Twitter.
I have a lot of exchanges with anarchists and libertarians, many of which are heated, but it is only when I engage with liberals that my interlocutors wish violence on me, and they do it quite a lot. They tell me to commit suicide or they openly hope for my assassination by drone or make light of the prospect of me being on the business end of a cop’s pepper spray can. That they do this so frequently is among the many reasons why I find them so very inauspicious as prospective political allies, especially in light of all the the apologetics they offer for state violence and repression as partisan Democrats.
You’ll note that Lake mentions that he’s made this remark before, which as I recall was in the midst of dressing me down for writing an unkind post about Comcast leftist Chris Hayes, a cardinal sin it seems for liberal Twitter trolls who risibly regard Hayes’ lofty clowning as truth speaking to power.
Moments after Lake entered the fray, Yasha Levine, of NSFW Corp and The Exiled, chimed in with this:
Yasha Levine, who trolls frequently, is part of the emerging Vast Libertarian Conspiracy cult, which I am ever more convinced is the Truther movement of unimaginative bores and self-serving fearmongerers. Along with his NSFW colleague, Mark Ames, who also contributes to Jacobin, he is convinced that I work for the Koches, since, in their world, no one could possibly dislike these assholes like I do unless paid to pretend. (h/t @HenriTroppman)
Levine, along with Ames, is also disquietingly obsessed with finding out my true identity, and their obsession with this, alongside the ‘Kill Yourself’ tweets I routinely receive from others like Lake, argues very strongly for my continued anonymity. Mark Ames’ preoccupation with my anonymity is especially strange, because if ever there was an argument to be made for anonymity, it’s his writing career, particularly his Russian period. But that’s for another post.
Levine and Ames are very fond of lobbing pseudo-gotchas, that is, remarks that, like much of what they write, are intended as smears and insults but leave you scratching your head. I once called Ames a brownshirt which elicited a tirade about how anti-semitic that is. Last night’s relentlessly repetitive non-gotcha was that I live in Park Slope, which, if you don’t know, is sort of Brooklyn’s Upper West Side. Apparently in the jumble of bromides, self-idolatry, and anarchist waterboarding fantasies that make up today’s liberal imagination, anarchism is entirely incompatible with residency in a pleasant, relatively affluent neighborhood.
Perhaps they misunderstood my original tweet which was simply to draw the class/race distinction that is persistently erased lately on Twitter. Perhaps they assumed that because I live in a nice neighborhood — which is actually more mixed than it’s given credit for — I have no right to draw those distinctions, even though I am very sure Blumenthal’s life began on considerably more charmed terms than mine did and is almost certainly more charmed now. I actually went into a little detail about my background to clarify this, which elicited more ridicule. Clearly the issue was being an anarchist and living in a nice neighborhood.
I expect this nonsense from people like Levine, whose biggest claim to fame is a hit piece he and Ames wrote for the Nation about an activist who objected to a TSA patdown. But what was most surprising was how Blumenthal, who I always took to be fairly sober-minded and not an asshole, threw in with this nonsense. A sample:
Now there are a couple things that are worrying about this. One is that ostensibly intelligent adults think that a variation on the Occupiers with IPhones trope is withering rather than appallingly stupid. It’s also worrying that someone like Blumenthal would make this joke in four or five really uninteresting variations, while Messrs. Levine and Lake did the same thing. Literally this one joke was probably tweeted at me 20 times.
It’s also really weird that someone from a background like Blumenthal’s would think living in Park Slope should be a source of shame for someone with left politics. I kept asking why it was okay for them, as alleged progressives and socialists, to live in nice places, and go to expensive schools (Lake went to NYU, Blumenthal to Penn), but it wasn’t ok for me to live in the same neighborhood as their fellow progressives Chris Hayes and Corey Robin, both of whom, I’m quite sure are doing a helluva lot better than I am. This just elicited more cringe-makingly stupid jokes about soy lattes, $900 strollers and, idiotically, the Park Slope food co-op, which is the closest thing to anarchist practice in the neighborhood.
Maybe I am missing something, but to me this is, in a weird way, a left-handed admission from these people that they are exactly what I have accused them of being all along: defenders of the state and the inequality it protects. Fellow Park Sloper Hayes, for instance, defends the political system that makes the co-existence of Park Slope affluence and South Bronx poverty acceptable and intransigent. I have some of the advantages he has (though only a fraction), but since I more radically oppose that system, I’m somehow a bigger hypocrite. How, exactly, does this work?
The other thing that’s worrying is to see people like Blumenthal making common cause with bottom feeders like Levine in anarchist beatdowns. A schism between genuinely principled lefts, including principled liberals, and the dimwitted, partisan riff raff that increasingly dominates liberal discourse is inevitable. It would be sad for all concerned, if good people ended up on the wrong side.
A Few Words on Jacobin and Purity Cults
Freddie DeBoer Smears Again