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Poetry Should Hurt

Poetry Should Hurt

“Poetry should hurt.”

I don’t remember where I heard that, but it was part of an argument for using language in poems that startles, shocks or makes the reader uncomfortable. I have remembered the phrase and used it to justify to myself word choices in poems which I second-guessed as too raw or “unpoetic”.

In a world of political correctness, cultural sensitivity, and unintended microaggressions, I normally find that careful language is not a steep price to pay to be respectful to my fellow humans. I will use your pronouns or describe you as black instead of African American, or vice versa, if you prefer. It costs me nothing.

But when language takes precedence over context or meaning, I see a problem.

I ran across a link to this poem by Anders Carlson-Wee, entitled ”How-To”, published in The Nation — along with an apology from the editors for publishing it. The poem, they said, contained offensive, harmful, ableist and disparaging language. You should click that link and read the (very short) poem and decide for yourself, but my opinion is that this is unfair.

The poem, in my interpretation, is making a statement about the tendency of people to only find a person deserving of help if there is a “good reason,” such as  pregnancy, disability, or age, rather than simply because they are a fellow human being seeking help: “If you a girl, say you pregnant — nobody gonna lower themselves to listen for the kick.”

I suppose I could understand how a shallow reading may result in interpreting the poem as mocking, urging folks to pretend to be ill or disabled in order to scam the sympathetic. But why would anyone write that in poetry form? There’s more meaning there. Even a casual reader of poetry could discern that, I would think.  But when the poet proudly posted a link to his work in a now-deleted Tweet, nearly every reply was a harsh, resounding rebuke of the writer — which told me to take a closer look.

I still don’t find it offensive.

“How-To” is an uncomfortable piece of poetry. But at a time when ever-more stringent work requirements for welfare and food stamps are finding favor in an effort to weed out the undeserving poor, the poem makes an important statement. The starkness with which it does so is good poetry. The poem is startling in its bluntness, but it disparages no one — no one except those who require a certain level of physical infirmity before they are willing to assist their fellow man.

There is one area in which I will acknowledge a problematic choice on the poet’s part. In addition to the “ableist” criticism, many called out the white poet’s use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). This is a valid critique, a conversation to have about cultural appropriation and the use of “black voice” by a white author. One Twitter user called it “literary blackface”. When I read the poem, I imagined an older homeless man advising younger people, those new to the streets, on the best way to make themselves visible and sympathetic to passersby. Perhaps due to the language used, I did envision a black man speaking. But is this offensive and harmful, as the critics say, or simply a well-painted picture? I’m willing to listen. But I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and call the entire work “hot garbage”, as some have.

In the de rigueur apology issued following the backlash, the author stated that he intended the poem as a statement on the invisibility of the homeless, along the same lines on which I read it. It is not enough to be homeless and struggling; one must also be aged, sick, or physically infirm to get be seen as worthy of help. I think that message was a worthy one, and effectively expressed through this work. I didn’t think there was anything to apologize for. But he did apologize, and said that the criticisms were eye-opening (a phrase which was promptly pointed out by a response Tweet as also being ableist).

I am a liberal. I am a leftist. I believe “political correctness” is just treating people with respect. But here, I draw a line. It’s not that I don’t think there can be such thing as offensive poetry, but this isn’t it. This poem has a point, and disparaging, mocking, or marginalizing the disabled is not it. The issue among critics seems to be that the disability is portrayed at all, rather than why it is portrayed, and that is unfortunate.

I find it a further absurdity that even after the editors apologized for publishing this work, Fresno State professor Randa Jarrar called for them to resign, along with all other white editors, for publishing these harmful words.

You remember Randa Jarrar; she’s the one who made headlines when she cheered the death of Barbara Bush.


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Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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98 thoughts on “Poetry Should Hurt

  1. Em, I agree with you assessment of the poem.

    On the specific point of disability I agree with “This poem has a point, and disparaging, mocking, or marginalizing the disabled is not it.”

    I don’t know if any, most, some of those criticizing the poem as ableist are disabled of not. What I do know is those championing intersectionality frequently ignore disability unless it suits their purpose or they can pat themselves on the back. I’ve been brain damaged for 25 years and seen my leftist friends and relatives say the most appalling things without even realizing it. Organize events with no thought about how people with a variety of disabilities might participate. Or worse yet, be patronizingly concerned without changing anything. My recent cardiac brush with death meant I used a wheel chair for long enough to see how people react, treat you, when you wheel into their space and take up too much of it.

    So the lines

    If you’re crippled don’t
    flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
    Christians to notice.

    rang true enough. It would be tough to get it to scan, but “good enough Christians and lefties” would have been swell.

    So sure some harsh language comes out from time to time. I took “crippled” in this poem to be reclaiming the insult. If the poet isn’t disabled, I appreciate the solidarity. Lord knows there isn’t enough of it out there.

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    • Yes, I agree.
      No, the author is not disabled, female, homeless, or a person of color. The criticisms he faced were for daring to speak in a voice belonging to someone else, using more vulgar (in the definition of vulgar as something common to the masses), less delicate language.

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  2. There’s a poem that’s generally considered racist these days: Plain Language from Truthful James, by Bret Harte. (I’m not going to link to it, but it’s one web search away.) Parts of it are probably familiar to you. It’s the story of two card sharps who try to cheat a Chinese man, only to find out that he’s a more skilled cheater than they are. They are righteously indignant and beat the crap out of him.

    The story is pretty clearly anti-anti-Chinese, but it’s narrated by one of the card sharps, who describes his intended victim in stereotypes and insults, and readers often don’t distinguish the narrative voice from the author’s. As a result, it’s misunderstood and shunned.

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      • It does surprise me that they felt the need to include the disclaimer rather than counting on the intelligence/good-will-to-not-misinterpret of their audience, but maybe these are the times we live in.

        Also, “being told how to interpret” the poem in the disclaimer….actually seems to remove some of its gut-punchiness, at least for me.

        I did a lot of units in high school English on poetry and poetry interpretation and now I wonder how schools do it, with all the concerns. (Granted, it was a private school, but still: there was some assumption we had SOME underlying intelligence to be able to see satire when it was used)

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        • I don’t know if it’s still on Twitter, but when the poem link was tweeted out the backlash was immediate and outraged. The poet was excited to tweet out that he’d been published in the nation and all the replies were basically telling him how he was Literally Hitler. That tweet is gone, replaced with an apology, which of course was not good enough.

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              • Then again, I know of people who have had to turn to their university’s media-officers and the like to manage the ugly mobs responding to scientific papers that the people published, so, yeah, I guess I’m dismayed but not surprised.

                (And am glad I do research that literally no one gives a fish about; I’d hate to have to deal with a social-media hate-mob. And you can’t just quit doing research, like maybe an amateur fanfiction writer would quit writing fanfiction – you quit research, you lose your job, a lot of places)

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  3. I get so tired of complaints about appropriation just because someone spoke in a voice not their own, or crafted a narrative not their own.

    The poem is fine, people need to stop trying so hard to signal their virtue, and artists and publishers need to stop apologizing and stand up to virtue bullies.

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    • people need to stop trying so hard to signal their virtue

      Just a small point here. I read that and thought “maybe”. That is, it’s not clear to me that virtue signaling is the best way to account for these types of public expressions. Eg., …

      Suppose we eliminated the concept of virtue signaling from our analytical tool kit. How would we finish the sentence “people need to stop trying so hard to signal their virtue ________”? My guess is we’d say something less amenable to concision and easy dismissal, something like “analyze events and actions in terms of ideologically narrow theories which aren’t a complete description of the world and lead people to incorrect conclusions about it”. Unwieldy, but perhaps accurate. On the other hand, does “analyzing events and actions …” = virtue signaling? Maybe, if you go up a level and do some work. But probably not.

      Seems to me that most folks who adopt these types of views aren’t signaling their virtue. They really believe, correctly or not, that their beliefs follow from some set of coherent moral premises. And if so, then critiquing what are conclusions of an argument as an act of virtue signaling won’t be descriptively accurate. It’ll miss the point by quite a bit, in some/many/most cases.

      That isn’t to say I don’t share your frustration with folks who take PCism to levels of obvious absurdity.

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      • Well, and if we don’t exclude it, it’s a criticism that can be leveled against the poet as easily as the lynch mob. Look at him signalling his compassion to those whose lives are harder than his own!

        (To be clear, it’s not that I want to criticize him in that way, I’m just agreeing with Stillwater that it’s not necessarily very useful . But then again maybe it is. :/.)

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        • Yes, I completely agree. (I’ve tried to make that point here at the OT in a clumsy and unconvincing way: that if we accept signaling theory as baseline, the act of calling something “virtue signaling” is itself a form of virtue signaling, so the concept hasn’t explained anything. Saul, I believe, has argued something along those lines as well.)

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      • Excuses aside, no matter how cute, I should expand on my original thought a bit.

        To me, ‘virtue signalling’ is something that is, for lack of a better explanation, a thoughtless gesture. Or perhaps a ‘reactionary gesture’ is more appropriate. It’s something that is brief, off the cuff, in response to something, etc.

        A poet attempting to find and use a compassionate voice that is not their own is not necessarily virtue signalling. Writing poetry is hard, and takes considerable time and effort to craft it well. I read a poem like this and I grant the poet the benefit of the doubt that they are honestly trying to be respectful of the voice and the subject matter. You’d have to be some kind of messed up to put that much work into something just for the purpose of being an a$$hole.

        Ergo, if a person is going to be honestly critical of the poem, they should take the time and do the work to bring clarity to the missteps of the artist. Like, write a blog post like our good Em here did. If you are just going to throw out an angry tweet, and leave it at that, IMHO you are virtue signalling.

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      • I actually don’t think one entirely precludes the other, at least not in the way the term is used in practice. You’re right, that in the abstract, an accusation of ‘virtue signaling’ could itself be considered virtue signaling. What I think is actually happening though is an accusation that the person in question is signaling adherence to what you aptly described as ‘ideologically narrow theories which aren’t a complete description of the world and lead people to incorrect conclusions about it’. Moreover the accusation adds that the adherence is out of laziness or conformity (as opposed to rationality), and that if the accused thought more broadly about the issue that person might realize the narrowness/insufficiency of the theory as applied to the world as it exists.

        Now I think it would be fair to argue that oftentimes the person making an accusation of virtue signaling is a hypocrite because they themselves have their own ideologically narrow theories. Where I think you’re right is that accusing people of virtue signaling is probably not effective at getting people to stop buying into ideologically narrow theories. The way to do that is to directly attack ideologically narrow theories on their merits, which is itself difficult because doing it credibly necessarily involves circumspection about ones own theories, something there is absolutely no place for in 140 characters.

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        • No theory, ideological or otherwise is ever a complete description of the world. Even ideologically narrow theory seems to cast too wide a net.

          Consider myself. More than 3/4 of my political criticism (at least over the past few years) comes ultimately from a single political theory: Rawlsian Political Liberalism (or something very close to it) and rawlsian political liberalism boils down to a single moral requirement: respecting others as moral agents, that is, as people capable of reasoning about moral principles and responding to moral reasons. There are other auxiliary hypotheses that I employ, but so do all of us.

          Virtue signalling is basically people being holier than thou and is as old as human morality. As long as people can invoke moral norms to get you to do things that you would not do otherwise, people are going to exploit the authority of moral norms to elevate their social status.

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          • No theory, ideological or otherwise is ever a complete description of the world.

            Correct. The proposal on the table is that *some people* (you know who they are :) think their preferred theory IS a complete description of the world, at least the world as restricted to certain privileged contexts. Two problems arise: one is the certainty that no competing account or analysis of events in that context is even possibly correct; the other is extending the application of the theory to new and exciting contexts conceptually distant from those giving rise to the theory itself.

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        • Actually I don’t think so.

          Clearly stuff like a bunch of people angrily complaining to The Nation because they were offended for frivolous reasons are acting in a way informed by their ideology, but the underlying behavior, if you want to stop it [1], is people banding together and letting their knees jerk in unison. Many of these people, in other contexts, would probably not react that way [2].

          I don’t think the incentives are necessarily what describes—signaling can be about status, but it can also be about building trust and a sense of solidarity. Without more productive ways for people to do the latter, I think we’re going to see this kind of thing keep happening, and suggestions that it’s all about being self-righteous are simply going to fall on deaf ears.

          [1] I mean it’s not great, but a bit amused at how, “I’m going to write an angry letter!” has gone from a parody of progressive ineffectualness to a hallmark of progressive tyranny.

          [1] How many even read the poem in full, or read it with enough of an open mind to appreciate why it used the language it used?

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    • Given how everything Trump says or does, no matter how disgraceful, is praised by his toadies (i.e. the GOP), these days I’m less concerned with virtue signaling than vice signaling. (Not that this is new. Being against torture was pretty universal until W made it a sign of weakness.)

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        • The good thing about vice signalling is that you know the guy means it.

          Someone virtue signals about something, you don’t *KNOW* whether she means it. Maybe she’s doing it because she’s hip. Maybe she’s doing it because she actually believes it. But you don’t *KNOW*. Maybe wait a couple of years and see if she says something like “oh, I still think that” vs. “I have a lot more information now and I think it’s disgusting that you throw old news like that in my face as if it were relevant to my strongly held beliefs today!”

          The vice signaler? That’s got the whiff of authenticity straight out of the gate.

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          • I don’t find that it necessarily confirms *that* vice, actually – but it confirms at minimum the vice of lying about being vicious… there’s no virtuous alternative (well, unless you get really creative in your interpretations)… so there’s that at least.

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          • The vice signaler? That’s got the whiff of authenticity straight out of the gate.

            Seriously? We just spent three days dissecting Jeong’s vice signals and no one seriously believes she wants to kill all men.

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              • I didn’t know you were such an advocate of radical feminism, Oscar, willing to view your own murder as virtuous.

                You guys have to make up your mind about what you mean by the word “signal”, seems to me. Sometimes you use it to mean a statement devoid of substantive content, other times you use it to mean a statement entirely comprised of substantive content.

                See Maribou’s comment above for an example of how absurd signaling theory is when taken to the limits. (Or my own above hers!) Seems to me our discourse would be infinitely improved if no one ever used the term again. Or at minimum, learned the lesson of signal theory and didn’t use the term as a mere signal itself.

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                      • Scene from a Trump-country diner:

                        “There’s this crazy lady on the internet who won’t stop talking about killing white men. She sounds like a racist nut. She may be dangerous.”

                        “That does sound crazy. Is anyone checking into whether the threats are serious?”

                        “I don’t know, but don’t think so. She just got hired by the New York Times.”

                        “Ahh. You’re talking about Sarah Jeong. She’s an Asian American feminist.”

                        “Oh. Shoot. Well, that explains it.”

                        “You want more soup?”

                        “Sure, thanks.”

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                          • I actually disagree. I think they’re getting a very particular read on it filtered through Fox News and/or talk radio. No they aren’t debating it or spending a lot of time pondering the bigger social and political questions it raises. But there are people in the conservative pundit class/media machine that want them to know. Those forces are going to at the very least ensure as many as possible heard about another crazy feminazi liberal that actually believes white people should be killed got a job with the MSM.

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                            • InMD,

                              A big part of conservatism, especially recently, is that idea that unseen “forces” are actively trying to destroy conservatives’ values, communities, religion, livelihoods, freedom, America itself. None of these inexorable forces can be directly observed, of course, but they’re very real, manifesting as academic cabals intent on indoctrinating the young, “globalist” financiers intent on controlling our domestic economy, powerful international neo-Marxist institutions intent on subjugating political dissenters, domestic institutions intent on eliminating private property rights, individual freedom, Christianity, traditional marriage, free-and-fair elections, and on and on. This isn’t a new phenomenon. The paranoid style is apparently baked right into the American cake and part of our history. The only difference is that now the paranoids control all the levers of federal power.

                              So, I see what you’re saying.

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                          • Ummm no. Conservative media is telling them all about her and why they should be afraid. For whatever else she may be or have done, Jeong has been a dream for producers of conservo media. They can fill endless hours with her and have been doing so.

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                • Darn sarcasm tags failed to deploy…

                  As I said elsewhere, the signal is something devoid of substantive content (or, alternatively, where being able to grok the substantive content requires a great deal of previous context).

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            • Yeah, the debate was over whether or not she really meant the stuff she said and, seriously, how she didn’t and how we needed to take what she was saying in context and whatnot. How we needed to *IGNORE* the whiff of authenticity in favor of the deeper meaning of what she was trying to communicate.

              Her vice signalling turned into an argument over whether she was *REALLY* vicious.

              Luckily, the NYT editorial explained that she now knows that vice signalling is not appropriate for the NYT editorial board.

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            • Well, how’s this? They’re willing to pay a price for their social inclusion with those other vicious people.

              Someone willing to pay a price for their view is easier to trust than someone saying (parroting!) something that the dominant power group rewards without even thinking about it.

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      • I’m not saying that Broward County didn’t do anything wrong when they restricted the sales of 2 Live Crew’s stuff, but merely that nobody should have bought the album and that we would be better off if the albums had never been made in the first place so that nobody could have listened to them.

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      • This is a good example of how the boundaries of etiquette shift depending on whose POV is given voice.

        It used to be that frank sexual imagery was taboo, then the voices of secular men like Hefner and Mailer rules changed to make it acceptable.

        But then women’s voices gave a different POV, different than the first two.

        I mean, the rowdy sexual fun and games of the rock world look a bit different when you read the accounts of how women are actually treated.

        The feminist voices were often potrayed as grim and humorless, crushing the free wheeling spirit of adventure under priggish correctness.

        I connect this with the conversation about Sarah Jeong. Notice how when the shoe is on the other (#killallmen) foot, we don’t hear a lot of the “Lighten up, its just a joke!” stuff.

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          • Pattern matching based on affect and historical analogy is difficult to avoid, but it’s also a good way to wind up sending angry letters demanding The Nation fire its poetry editors because they published a poem that had the word “crippled” in it.

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  4. Ezra Klein had an article on the Sarah Jeong affair which I think is related and illuminating:

    https://www.vox.com/technology/2018/8/8/17661368/sarah-jeong-twitter-new-york-times-andrew-sullivan

    Goldberg got to tell a story, so now I’d like to tell one. A few years ago, it became popular on feminist Twitter to tweet about the awful effects of patriarchal culture and attach the line #KillAllMen. This became popular enough that a bunch of people I know and hang out with and even love began using it in casual conversation.

    And you know what? I didn’t like it. It made me feel defensive. It still makes me feel defensive. I’m a man, and I recoil hearing people I care about say all men should be killed.

    But I also knew that wasn’t what they were saying. They didn’t want me put to death. They didn’t want any men put to death. They didn’t hate me, and they didn’t hate men. “#KillAllMen” was another way of saying “it would be nice if the world sucked less for women.” It was an expression of frustration with pervasive sexism. I didn’t enjoy the way they said it, but that didn’t mean I had to pretend I couldn’t figure out what they meant. And if I had any questions, I could, you know, ask, and actually listen to the answer.

    Here’s the other thing, though: all that was happening inside my community, which both inclined me towards generosity, and gave me more context for what was going on. If I had been on the outside of it, perhaps my ultimate reaction would’ve been different, perhaps I would’ve let my initial offense drive my interpretation.

    Further down:

    Twitter is a medium that rewards us for snark, for sick burns, for edgy jokes and cruel comments that deepen the grooves of our group. And then it’s designed to make the sickest of those burns and the worst of those jokes go viral, reaching far beyond their intended audience, with untold consequences. That’s good for engagement on the platform, but it’s often bad for the people it happens to.

    The canonical example is Justine Sacco, a PR executive who was bored during a 2013 layover at Heathrow and tweeted the bad joke, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The tweet went viral, Sacco’s name was trending nationally as she was in the air, and she’d lost her job by the time she landed.

    Sacco’s joke fell flat (clearly), but it was meant as a commentary on privilege for an audience of people she thought she knew, whom she thought would read her generously. Then, of course, it was flung across the world, to audiences that didn’t know her and had no interest in reading her generously, and it upended her life.

    For a wide-variety of reasons, we live in an age of bad-faith and not wanting to interpret with grace and charity. This is a universal problem seemingly.

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    • Bumper-sticker politics, that’s what Twitter politics is.

      I once opined to a friend that if you could sum up your political stance in the space of a bumper sticker, I probably didn’t want to interact with you, because you lacked nuance.

      That said, I do have a bumper sticker on my car: it is pro-planting milkweed, to feed monarch butterflies.

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    • I enjoyed this thread talking about the article:

      1/ @ezraklein has written an important essay. A Rosetta Stone for SJWs/Non-SJW Left/Conservatives.This piece on the @nytimes’ hiring of gender & race-baiter @sarahjeong is also spectacular in that it somehow manages to combine deep insight with barely believable cluelessness. https://t.co/G0bZR0yp9Z— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      2/ @ezraklein describes “Feminist Twitter” (which doesn’t of course actually exist by virtue of Twitter’s open design) as a place where the words #KillAllMen came to mean simply “it would be nice if the world sucked less for women.”You sorta have to read it to believe it: pic.twitter.com/qu9V6vdKFK— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      3/ As you can see from @ezraklein’s emotive shadings, he’s deeply troubled by patriarchy, yet only mildly annoyed at #KillAllMen feminism. What I would call open racism/sexism against whites/men is to him a kind of edgy snarky in-group lingo, but weirdly sent in the open to all.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      4/ What’s so interesting about @ezraklein’s line of thought here is that he is describing a massive transfer of empathy. We are asked to understand @sarahjeong’s wild gender & race baiting as snark in the context of alleged oppression as she and her group police micro-aggression.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      5/ What @ezraklein is describing to conservatives here is a recently mainstreamed Left I’ve never seen before…and I’m on the Left. The woke-network got confused that by breaking into the big time, #KillAllMen level privilege is scrutinized out of network as STRAIGHT-UP-BIGOTRY.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      6/ Also, I learn on “Social Justice Twitter”, @sarahjeong & her ilk don’t mean “white people” when they say “white people.” They mean “the dominant power structure”, & anyone with an iota of self awareness gets this on the Left.That’s the mother of all memos I missed. If true.— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

      End/ This is hard to believe if you haven’t read it yourself. I almost feel like I’m making it up. But right now @sarahjeong in her new job at the @nytimes IS the dominant power structure. And by Ezra’s claims on SJW lingo, is therefore, improbably, a white male. Fight the power. pic.twitter.com/jOpOVhVBJc— Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) August 8, 2018

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      • Eric R. Weinstein is a managing director of Thiel Capital. He is also part of a dominant power structure. Probably one more than Sarah Jeong at the NY Times Editorial Board (though her job is a plumb one).

        Like , I find it interesting to what he implies here about his own position in dominant power structures.

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          • If someone is making arguments about power dynamics and systems, they open themselves up to (and indeed many comments here have argued about) examinations of their own relative level of power within those systems. Someone arguing for the little guy while not acting for him/her is not a trustworthy arguer.

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              • Yeah, you’ll notice i don’t quote / link to Vox, either, at least not for political stuff (Klein is a wonk with a sizeable, profitable media empire of his very own, which means he’s a wonk I don’t trust for unfettered arguments — PLUS more importantly, his company is owned by the same bigger company as Verge, which currently employs Sarah Jeong and has during many of the tweets that are now being yelled about. Biases much?)

                But the executive director of Thiel Capital has quite a lot more power than Ezra Klein does, nonetheless.

                Well, but, you may be saying, if you take that argument to its logical conclusion we’d basically not listen to the leaders of major investment firms about anything to do with systems and power structures, like, ever, or at least we might listen to them but we wouldn’t RELY on them without a hell of a lot of careful analysis and trying our best to take their arguments apart at length on our own, first.

                And yeah, I think that’s a fair characterization of my position.

                Banks neither.

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          • I think we are on the same page. I haven’t been following the Jeong story to closely and some of her tweets might have crossed some kind of line but I guess to me the satire is obvious. Women and minorities need to deal with a lot of harassment on twitter and sometimes really open rape/death threats.

            Your point on nobody thinks they’re part of the dominant power structure is spot on and a big part of the problem of weaponized bad faith readings.

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      • I’m totally not shocked that Eric Weinstein has this thread, since he needs to throw out these takes to keep his support from the IDW as the leftists standing up against the SJW’s who are ruining the nice leftism he believed in that didn’t talk about race or power ever..

        I hate to break this to Eric, but if he honestly believes that the dominant power structure in modern America consists of the (still too white and male) NYT editorial team, then I have some bad news for him. Then again, you can’t convince a man when his paycheck is on the line, after all.

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      • How does the managing director of Thiel Capital sincerely get to speak on behalf of those excluded from the “dominant power structure?”

        I concede that Sarah Jeong had a cushy job and working as a reporter or editorial board member for the Times is a top-tier position but I don’t think the managing director of an investment firm founded by Peter Thiel is exactly a salt of the earth commoner either.

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    • Oh, I just checked Ezra’s Wikipedia page. The interesting part is at the bottom:

      Klein is married to Annie Lowrey, an economic policy reporter at The New York Times.

      (He doesn’t mention this conflict of interest in his article either.)

      Now, her Wikipedia says that she only formerly worked for the NYT, but her most recent work published there was one month ago.

      So we get to talk about this instead of Klein’s argument.

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  5. I’m sure what I’m about to say is entirely predictable to anyone who knows me.

    1) It’s ridiculous to run around demanding disclaimers, calling for people to be fired, insisting people have to hate old historical poems that were written in a completely different context, etc. (Not to excuse actual gross stuff which DOES still happen, just so much of this is heat rather than light, and unnecessary, and not even coming from the people who are supposedly being attacked.)
    2) All of this is nonetheless part of a backlash to having heard one’s whole life that one should affirmatively *love* thiings that make one feel belittled and small, that one is ignorant or stupid for not loving them, etc., and worse yet, seeing people who aren’t in the disfavored categories reap laurels for being so ‘compassionate’ and ‘insightful’ about those categories, while people who are in them receive not even a fraction of their accolades.

    When we as a society are at least equally or perhaps even slightly more interested in the voices of the homeless, the disabled, the female, the non-white, etc. as we are in creative interpretations of those voices by people who are not in those categories, a lot of this (completely disproportionate and unjust, to be sure) anger will just dissipate on its own.

    Being angry at the anger is less effective than working to mitigate its causes, both on a personal and a societal level. I learned a lot more once I became programmatically willing to be seriously uncomfortable.

    (But again, I am *not* saying that I endorse or would participate in Tweet-storming this dude. He’s an individual who wrote a reasonably good poem, not a scapegoat for all society’s fuckups. It’s just if you don’t fix the situation, and you do reinforce the social norm of not expressing the frustration, all you get is seething underground frustration that doesn’t seem to have an outlet, leading to oppression, segregation, or revolt, depending on other conditions.)

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    • I was looking forward to your take on this, Maribou! I don’t disagree with you. In addition to elevating the voice of the “outraged on your behalf” over the voice of those living it, there is similarly the argument of futile “awareness raising”, or flat out slacktivism, in which merely expressing solidarity is seen as “good enough”, when real action and change is needed.

      I just see room for both- the expression and the action-and in poetry especially I don’t find it a totally worthless endeavor or inappropriate topic.

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      • Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t blame the poet. I blame all the editors who blithely continue to not notice they somehow only publish (or more common these days, far disproportionately publish) men, white people, straight people, etc., especially on topics of marginalization, no matter how hard they argue for diversity and inclusion, and when pushed, get huffy and defensive. If the Nation had issued a disclaimer that went “We suck for having a publishing record that made you jump on this poet, we’ll try to do better in the following ways that *you will be able to see if we’re doing*, in the meantime we stand by our writer, his intentions, and the quality of his work,” I think there would be a lot less to criticize!

        Part of why I think things like the VIDA count are important: http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count/

        Even though metrics are not the be-all and end-all, they are sometimes a good tool for forcing self-reflection. I think a publisher can only say, “It’s not MYYYY fault that 90 percent of the good-enough-to-publish manuscripts we got this year were by men,” so many times before they start recruiting differently, fostering workshops at a level *before* its time to submit the work, etc. Which in turn leads to them meeting more people who don’t fit their steretype mold of an author people want to listen to, which in turn, etc etc etc….

        The good thing about the VIDA count is that rather than a mass movement to reject anyone with a “bad count”, they just publish the numbers and let people make their own decisions. That pushes the industry to improve, rather than segregate, IMO.

        PS As a statistically-trained person I have allllllll kind of quibbles with the VIDA count and was really grumpy about it when they first started doing it, though I did not complain *at* them, there were plenty of condescending male persons doing that for me. Now that things have notably been improving (according even to people OTHER than them ;) ), I find myself feeling much more pragmatic about it.

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