passions and principles


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I have no problem with “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

    I have no problem with “I was right then changed my mind and I’m still right and you’ve been wrong until I agreed with you.”

    I have a small problem with “People who disagree with me are wicked.”

    For the most part, most people aren’t wicked. Some are more self-interested than others, some are more locally-interested than others, and some are more self-righteous than others… but, for the most part, most people aren’t wicked.

    Where I love Andrew is when he has an insight into a world view he’s never considered before. “Whoa!”, I find myself thinking. “I never thought about it that way.”

    Where I find him insufferable is where he comes to the conclusion that the *GROUP* of folks who disagree with him are wicked. Not even “Cheney is wicked” or “Palin is wicked” but “those/you people”.

    Man, that drives me nuts.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Isn’t’ that what is so puzzling about him. He can be insightful and smart, then in the next post he is obsessing about Trig Palin. He either hits a home run or strikes out on a pitch that bounced 5 feet in front of him.Report

  2. Avatar Mark says:

    He is right about Sullivan’s lack of empathy:

    “Andrew Sullivan is still alive because he can afford the medicine to treat a disease that kills millions worldwide who can’t afford it.”

    Sullivan has always simultaneously 1) sang the praises of his drug regimen; 2) attacked Medicaid, which pays for over 50% of the HIV treatment in the country. I can understand a rich man (and there can be no doubt that a man with a second home is rich) being so heartless as to not care about most of the people Medicaid treats…But for a gay man to attack the system that treats HIV in this country displays a lack of empathy even for people *just like* him.

    To be fair, Sullivan seems to have come around to the idea of a right to health care in recent months, but for economic, not social justice reasons. He has yet to admit that he has spent so many years attacking the system that treats HIV-positive people who are not as fortunate as he is.Report

    • Avatar jfxgillis says:


      To be fair, Sullivan seems to have come around to the idea of a right to health care in recent months ….

      Not impressed. Really. I bet if you asked the cohort of progressive health care advocates whether they wanted Sullivan engaged on their side of the issue or not, they’d vote him off the island.

      We don’t like him, we don’t believe him, we don’t trust him on this issue. There are elements of the progressive agenda on which we do trust him. Not this.

      As you acutely note, the reason we’d vote him off the island is that however much his conclusions appear to support the progressive agenda now, since they are founded on First Principles in diametric opposition to progressive First Principles, we know in the end he’ll betray us.

      I was actually somewhat surprised when he started focusing on this a couple of months ago. It didn’t seem like he had anyplace to go with it that did not leave him hopelessly mired in a swamp of self-contradiction and paradox.Report

  3. Avatar A. Jay Adler says:

    Will I seem Sullivanly solipsistic if I repeat – this is the point I’ve been making? I don’t know that anyone is going to do a better job than Gillis does here short of a New York Review of Books length piece. We all might pick different examples and subjects (though Gillis’s are, for the most part, pretty damning). Maybe nothing riles more than Sullivan’s startling recognitions of the obvious that others have long understood. Gillis’s post is a very coherent attack on Sullivan’s incoherent and ever shifting set of positions. My one criticism: Gillis goes over the top in the manner of – Sullivan. However unreliable, however flawed (and we won’t be discussing my flaws here), however much he pisses me off these days, he’s a decent person. To “despise” him is a bit much.Report

  4. Avatar jfxgillis says:


    My one criticism: Gillis goes over the top in the manner of – Sullivan.


    Now, I could retreat to the idea that that was simply a literary device, which I guess to a certain extent it was, but I won’t. What pushed me over the top–what actually inspired the whole article–was that Betsy McCaughey post, (the one linked from “terse reference” in my article.

    You really had to be there during the Health Care debate in ’94 to truly understand how malignant and powerful that article was in framing the debate, how deeply progressives resented it and the consequent demagoguery, and since then how rancid the grudge we carry over it.

    For instance, although they appear to have the kind of cordial relationship that co-employees of the same firm have to have, I doubt that James Fallows has ever forgiven Sullivan for it. The difference is, Fallows long ago had the ability and opportunity to vent. Until now, I did not.Report

  5. Avatar A. Jay Adler says:

    Jack, understood. It was easy to feel that way, too, in 2004, when Sullivan saw the light on Bush. I have followed his whole career too, though I’ve never made myself expert on health care or focused on the McCaughey article. (Interesting sidelight question: in ’92 I did work briefly in Minnesota for a universal health care grassroots organization. The number we then all used was 48 million uninsured. Seventeen years later – with all the social and economic changes, for ill and good – that’s the very same number everyone cites. A little suspect. Anyone out there more knowledgeable than I am on the issue – you, Jack? Ed? – who happens to know the current sources for the numbers cited?)

    Regarding your response to Mark on Sullivan’s support of some progressive issues? Exactly. I’ve had some back and forth with some conservatives who have taken to calling Sullivan a liberal – though they’ve appeared to be conservatives who understand clearly neither the nature of liberalism nor of conservatism, beyond a set of current political attitudes and positions. Liberals, or progressives, call them what we will, know that Sullivan is not one, on First Principles, and that his judgment on issues they care about is not reliable.Report

    • Avatar jfxgillis says:


      As tristero noted over at digby’s in his commentary on the tyler cowen/Matt Y exchange on defining “libertarian” and “progressive” (quadruple bloggy name-drop, you like?), there are in fact areas where libertarians and progressive share First Principles. On those sorts of issues, I do think progressives shouldn’t mistrust Sullivan so much.

      On your numbers question, the discourse is so polluted with claims advanced by institutions with an agenda to press that’s it’s pretty much impossible to sort them out. My personal rule on things like that is to just pick a source and stick with it. The source I prefer is The Statistical Abstract of the United States According to them, it looks like your group was exaggerating and/or combining populations (uninsured and underinsured) back in 1992.

      We forgive you for that!


    • Avatar jfxgillis says:


      Hmmm. Reply seems to have been eaten. Possibly because I included two links? I’ll drop one.

      As tristero noted over at digby’s on the Tyler Cowen/Matt Y exchange on defining “libertarian” and “progressive” (quadruple bloggy name-drop, you impressed?) there are areas where libertarians and progressives share First Principles. In those cases, progressives shouldn’t mistrust Sullivan too much.

      On your numbers question, it’s almost impossible to sort them out because everyone citing them has an agenda. My personal rule on that is to use one source and stick with it. I prefer The Statistical Abstract of the United States .

      Looks like your group was exaggerating and/or combining populations back in 1992. We forgive you!


      • Avatar A. Jay Adler says:

        Thanks for the uninsured source.

        On your quadrafecta blogger reference (pays 100 to 1), I do think essential to tristero’s argument is that any meeting between progressives and libertarians is philosophically accidental. On that basis, I don’t think Sullivan’s reliability is any better assured where the meeting occurs. In fact, I think it runs counter to your argument (and certainly mine) to think so. You argue well that

        In Sullivan’s worldview, the one true and enduring doctrine, the one First Principle, is always and only …. Andrew Sullivan’s mind. It can never be that, say, conservatism maintains certain characteristics and an appeal to certain populations across generations while Sullivan has changed. No, it must be Sullivan who is fixed in the firmament while conservatism changes. Even though, as he himself seems to now dimly acknowledge, almost all the characteristics he now deplores were both present and prominent all the time he was perfectly comfortable in the conservative movement.

        That his judgment is unreliable (in general, most importantly, but to liberals, too) is a function not of political philosophy but his own intellectual and temperamental weaknesses. But I also believe that tristero gets only one thing wrong – one crucial thing. He claims “the conflict between the one and the many is primary.” This common belief itself is the fundamental source of conflict between those who lean toward the libertarian pole and those who lean toward the collective. I argue that what is truly good for the many, as whole human beings, is good for the one – not any single one who, according to Rand, will define his own good, even in principle, as against the good of each other one, but each one; what enhances individual lives in their individuality (not their disregard for others) is good for the many. I think a liberal regard for civil liberties (in contrast to conservatives’ own vision of those liberties) joined to their belief in pursuing the common social good is expressive of this commonality. Both the individual and society are pointless concepts understood to the contrary.

        Sullivan, like many others believes in the conflict, as I wrote about a while back. Certainly to a liberal that will always make him a ship passing in the night.Report

        • Avatar jfxgillis says:


          Hmmmmm. I need to ponder some. As I just mentioned to E.D. privately, the Sullivan article is actually an offshoot of an article I was trying to write to suss out some of the “one versus many” permutations tristero mentioned.

          So let me respond tentatively subject to a fuller treatment later. My own view is that the “one versus many” plays out not just in politics, not just in other institutions of social organization, from the nuclear family to Red Sox Nation to the Catholic Chruch, but within the psyche of each of us.

          There are times when it is our individual desire to surrender to the collective will and times when it is the collective will to gratify individual desires. That triggers a realm of paradox and cognitive dissonance that is really only resolvable by recourse to measures that are arbitrary, or that seem to be so to somebody somewhere.

          More later …Report

          • Avatar A. Jay Adler says:

            Just to be clear, for your ongoing and future musing, I didn’t mean to suggest at all that our various notions and feelings of inherent conflict between the one and the many, in all aspects of life, don’t engender those very conflicts as a fundamental aspect of life: as in choosing as a matter of “will” to believe that there is “surrender” being enacted or “gratification” of something not inherently beneficial to all.

            With regard to Red Sox Nation, I can offer no prescription but the time-honored bennies of a good Yankee thumping.Report

  6. Avatar jfxgillis says:

    Grrr. I waited ten minutes before reposting from memory.Report