The bitching and moaning about cancel culture requires a genealogy. I’ve been thinking about where these tropes come from, the ones used by the gatekeepers to say, essentially, peons, don’t fuck with me, but in more elevated language. And I’ve been thinking about the sites that promote them. You have the Atlantic, you have Harpers, you have the NYT opinion page. In England, of course, The New Stateman. And … you used to have the New York Review of Books. You used to have The New Republic. Until some awful change came, and many of the dinosaurs were not given infinite space to scribble in. Cathedrals fell, cities were sacked. Ian Baruma lost his editing position. TNR was sold by Marty Peretz. The
Ah, the New Republic. If you are going to do a real genealogical trace of the cancel culture is mean crowd, you will inevitably land on the old New Republic, which was owned by Marty Peretz mentioned above(the man who liked to write about how black culture was primitive and Palestinians were animals, and distributed these ideas in every raving column he crammed into the mag). Peretz had a magic touch with assembling just the right krewe that went on to write for all the solid D.C. and NY mags. You’ll find Andrew Sullivan, firm believer in black IQ inferiority, at New York magazine. You’ll find Jonathan Chait there too. Weekly Standard, before it folded, was a hive of New Republic alums. So was Slate.
One name, though, seems to have dropped out: Ruth Shalit. This is an instance of the ingratitude of history. Although she was given the heave at the New Republic for plagiarism and inaccuracy, these are, really, petty crimes in comparison to her genius as a charter member of the “cancel the pc police/cancel cancel culture” group.
Her opus was not the hit piece that supposedly helped since Clinton’s healthcare plan in 1994. That plan was a self-sinking rubic’s cube of evasions. No, her opus was ‘exposing” the horrid, horrid effects of “diversity” at the Washington Post. Or, hiring black people to important positions. It was written with that brilliant trolling style: we all admit bigotry is bad, and having so admitted, we don’t have to change a damn thing, and if you ask us to, its PC Police time!
Shalit’s piece on “Race in the Newsroom”, which dissected the diversity program at the Washington Post, could be published tomorrow in the Atlantic – save for a few lamentable errors of fact, six or seven or eight, that weigh on the piece. But the basic reasoning – that once upon a time in white America, meritocracy ruled, open and free like the Great Plains (without those horrid indigenes crudding it up), and now the “brittle sensibilities” of “minority groups” peddling their grievances are messing up the whole deal, and thus, Freedom like the Great Plains! (without those horrid indigenes crudding it up).
I have to confess, the sparklines of Shalit’s prose, for which so many praised her in DC, seems sort of paste jewels to me. But the general thrust seems so contrarian, so Harpers, so “lets write a letter with this in it and get Steven Pinker to sign it”, that I think Ruth is owed. Time for a comeback.
Here’s a few bits: Here’s the being “sensitive” [thinking that there might possibly be a legitimate P.O.C viewpoint] is a surrender of truthseeking bit: “But it's unclear how sensitivity training can be "woven" into a profession which has traditionally held that reporters should tell the truth as they see it, without fear or favor. Public reaction, hostile or not, is not supposed to be anticipated and muted in the editing process but embraced as a healthy consequence of the search for truth, since the charge of bias is best dealt with in the marketplace of ideas. [the boilerplate prose just drove DC thumbsuckers into paroxysms of praise. There’s nothing that helps you succeed as a contrarian more than tossing approved clichés at the wizened old thumbsuckers. They go for it like seals smelling smelt at feeding time.
There a dozens of bits all about lazy stupid black peeps are hired instead of bright washed white ivy leaguers, so I’ll leave that out – although Atlantic would definitely go for that sort of thing. It is all told in a more sorrow than anger troll voice, too, which adds to the general tone of frolicking centerism. Then there’s the appeal to the old order, the noble cause, even, being threatened by (at that time) PC!
“Indifference is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it denotes neutrality and a desire for objectivity. In recent years it has become fashionable to criticize objectivity, to attack it as a mask for interests. For journalists, however, such a view is dangerous. If objectivity is not possible, then journalism is not possible. And a newspaper's indifference to the subjects of its coverage is the sign of a newspaper's integrity. Or so it used to be.”
Talk about contrarianism - the proposal that keeping in place an almost all white newspaper in a 60 percent black city has finally found its legitimating joke. Ruth Shalit, the distinguished signatories of a deeply brave Harper’s Magazine letter salute you! I’m thinking: isn’t it time to give Shalit the Orwell medal she so obviously deserves?