Call Us, Maybe? Ordinary Times, By Any and All Labels Necessary


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website

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48 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Yeah, I love this place.

    Back when it started, it was kind of a deliberately conservative place that tried to cultivate a liberal discussion at its core.

    Culture11 (remember Culture11?) had crashed and burned and there were a bunch of folks who wrote for them and didn’t know how to stop. This place found a lot of thoughtful libertarianish conservativish liberalish writers who wanted to be able to talk about stuff. Or, more accurately, couldn’t stop talking.

    You’d wake up with an essay on the surface of your brain. Like a pimple. And you had to pop it.

    It was mostly a shared consensus on tone that matched everybody up more than anything. A vaguely conservative set of social markers (in the “there are a set of things that will all end in tears and you should avoid those things” sense of the term) but a vaguely libertarianish attitude toward what pies the government should have its fingers in and a liberal set of markers for culture (educated people… well-read people… well-travelled people).

    The ability to see it from another angle before wandering back to their original position, I suppose is the best way to describe it. The ability to see someone else seeing things from another angle and immediately thinking “I need to try to get them to see it from mine…” rather than shock and horror that they don’t already do so.

    A strange set of inclinations that had a bunch of people who, while they weren’t of a particular mindset, weren’t offended by people who were.

    And this was at a time when performative offense was a thing.

    Which, at the time, made people who avoided performative offense look crypto-conservative.

    I wouldn’t see us as a conservative site, as much as a Slate Star Codex for midwits.

    And I couldn’t be happier here.Report

  2. I don’t think Will knows what he’s getting into when he invites most of us to join in.

    But to everything you’ve shared above, Andrew, ditto. I remain convinced what we’re doing here is remarkable and important, particularly given the times in which we live.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    Yeah this place is special. I wandered in when Sullivan linked some of Freddie’s pieces from the Dish and ended up living here even before the Dish sank beneath the waves (because-hey- you could comment here!).
    It is amazing how the discourse has shifted about over the years. It’s awe inspiring how many people who wrote pieces here ended up stopping because they got “real” writing gigs and had to go write there.
    And then there’s the commentariate. Man I love all the people who comment here and the ones who commented here and no longer do. It’s a great place for those of us who can do an occasional witty comment but can’t hack it for writing actual posts.
    This is home on the internet. I’ve grown old(er?) here.


  4. Avatar greginak says:

    This is going to turn into a big group hug post isn’t it. I’m not sure how many places on the intertoobz have had a set of people hang around for so long. So we got that going for usReport

  5. Avatar Zac Black says:

    I don’t think this place is right-leaning, per se, or rather it hasn’t always been — it’s swung around a lot over the years. But I do think it is very narrowly from the perspective of a particular combination of demographic qualities, which anyone who has hung around in this community for long enough can discern over time, and that that creates a lean all its own. Certainly, this is the most right-leaning site that I frequent (well, at least of the ones that allow political discussion at all), but while I’m pretty sure most if not all of the commentariat and writers here are considerably to my right, I still don’t think of this place as primarily conservative. It’s more like a conversational DMZ, where people from different persuasions can come to argue and know that even if it gets a bit acrimonious, we’ll usually still come back again the next day, so to speak.Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    My own experience on the editorial board leads me to offer this reflection:

    It’s all too easy and common for people these days to immediately tribalize and classify something. Particularly in media aimed at a broad audience, a certain segment of the people insist on being able to put a partisan label on thoughts, actions, and people. Long ago and in a very different context, I once deplored that “people let labels do their thinking for them.” I continue to deplore that facet of our culture today, and I continue to visit here because this is a place where reliance upon labels like “right-leaning” or “liberal” continues to be deprecated in favor of a substantive assessment of content.

    And yeah, OT articles and maybe even the comments section probably had a greater aggregate left lean during the editorships of Tod and myself than it does today. To the extent that such a thing could be quantified and measured at all, which is at best an inexact science and much more a gestalt impression. But as Andrew correctly notes, the priority since before I served as an editor and continuing through to now has always been finding people who can write well and giving them a space for their muses to sing. Certainly we never applied any sort of a metric, even if from time to time we thought about what was needed to foster a diversity of opinions. We’ve tried a lot of different things to get a diverse community of high quality thought expressed in high quality writing, open to the whole world to read and discuss.

    For more than a decade, OT has been, following the lead of Founding OG Ordinary Gentleman Erik Kain, a place where people can TRY IDEAS ON FOR SIZE AND SEE IF THEY FIT WELL and if they don’t, they can later discard them and move on to something else. That goes for our authors and our commenters as well as our readers.

    Which is why I fully sympathize with Andrew’s angst at the dismissiveness and inaccuracy of the label used in this instance. Yes, there are right-wing thinkers and writers here, but it’s so much more complex than that. Whatever else the future brings, may Ordinary Times continue to be a place where we refuse to let labels do our thinking for us.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    When I started commenting here, I felt that it was fairly mixed with a general lean towards right-libertarianism. Then it swung left for a while during the Obama years especially around 2011-2014. Now it feels a bit more right-libertarian leaning again and often comically so in an ever present search to find reasonable conservatives who haven’t been Trump.

    I am probably proving Tod’s point.

    I do maintain that there are commentators who probably do more harm than good in terms of attracting readers and that they often do more harm than good in editorial’s mission to appear high-minded and a place for debate among all.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I think we’re hitting the reasonable and good writing part well. Whether they are C’s , or whatever, shouldn’t be and isn’t really relevant if the other two boxes are ticked. Finding people who want to write long form and then be shredded in the comments can’t be easy. And it’s not that our comments are terrible, far from it. We’re better then most, but every internet comments section is a bit of hyena feeding frenzy especially with important topics like politics and Godzilla.Report

    • Avatar Zac Black in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “I do maintain that there are commentators who probably do more harm than good in terms of attracting readers and that they often do more harm than good in editorial’s mission to appear high-minded and a place for debate among all.”

      In total fairness, I will acknowledge that I am probably one of those people, which is why 95% of the time I lurk, and really only engage if I see an opportunity for a good joke, or if I’m particularly exercised about something.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Zac Black says:

        We’re all one of those people.Report

        • Avatar Zac Black in reply to Marchmaine says:

          Sure, but I’m not going to pretend I don’t get especially vituperative when my ire is up about something, and given that that is a big motivator in posting at all to begin with, at least on the political threads…

          Point is, I know my beliefs are not super popular around here, and that I’m…blunt, let’s say, with others when my ideological hackles are raised. To a degree that doesn’t really raise the water level of comity here. Now, I’d argue that sometimes there are things that are more important than everyone being civil with each other. But still, there’s a value to maintaining that ethos as part of this place’s DMZ-ness, and I recognize that even if maybe my argumentative style doesn’t reflect it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Zac Black says:

        Not you.Report

  8. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Puting a label on something is akin to puting it in a box. That way it is easy to put on a shelf, let it slide to the back and ignore it. “I put those things away, they don’t need to be dealt with any more.”

    One of the things that attracted me to The League (as it was known at the time) was that it had multiple sets of views, along with the Libertarianism that I was increasingly identifying with. And it wasn’t the token (take your pick of which side you think is just rong, rong, rong) that appeared elsewhere. Heck, it was ArghTod who brought me on. The OT writers, tried to look at things from a cross eyed prespective. They wanted to be challenged. And, hence I stayed.

    If another site/writer is simply trying to put you in an easily handled box, I see it as having made a dent in the armor of their partisanship. Because anyone who can be bothered to look, ie people who actually think, will see that the dismissor is the one to be taken lightly.Report

  9. Avatar Damon says:

    “Amash was block quoted in a Vox piece by the talented Jane Coaston, with the explainer it was by “a writer at the conservative-leaning blog Ordinary Times”” She obviously didn’t read the site much, or since the site is right of her views, it must be conservative. That’s just bad journalism….what I’ve come to expect.

    Frankly, I’d find this site hard to classify as anything to the right of center left. Yep, it moved left a few years ago and I really see no movement back–especially in the majority of the comments. The comments ARE much better than Slate though. Overall it’s still a place for intelligent & sometimes witty, discourse,.but a lot of people I enjoyed reading bailed and frankly, national politics is something I’m weary of. I live in a deep blue state….I get enough deranged bitching about politics in my personal life among my friends. 🙂Report

  10. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Considering that online liberal often means accepting a lot of social justice and intersectionality theory that many on this site reject in part or in total, calling this a right-leaning site isn’t that off. We aren’t a pro-Trump site, even though we have a few pro-Trump posters. We aren’t a liberal site by the online definition though.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to LeeEsq says:

      There are a number of folks here who do “accept” a lot of social justice and intersectionality theory… that’s one of the things I come here to see live and in action. Now, if that’s all that was here and if any time someone like me tried to make a comment I was subjected to my obvious patriarchal failings… well then we’d just be LGM. And who needs that?Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Marchmaine says:

        When every argument comes down to the race/sex/sexuality of the person who made it there’s just not that much to talk about.Report

        • Avatar Zac Black in reply to InMD says:

          Again, this is one of those things where I want to say: can’t we just understand that that is one factor that is absolutely worth incorporating, but is not necessarily the sole or even primary determinant of an argument’s quality or validity? Surely there’s a very reasonable middle ground here?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to InMD says:

          That’s what I’d expect a white/het/cis/male/O-/10D to sayReport

        • Avatar veronica d in reply to InMD says:

          When I was a teen, I was really into wargaming and military history. I painted little soldiers. I used dice and complex rule to play pretend battles with my friends. I was good at it, invested. I thought I knew a lot.

          In a sense, I did know more than your average person. I had read a lot. I could recognize different kinds of tanks on sight. On the other hand, “nerds who read a lot” have a habit of being hyper overconfident in their meager knowledge. They have a habit of arguing with people who clearly know more.

          But anyway, the point is I thought war was cool.

          Intellectually and morally, I knew it was not. So I rationalized my hobby. It was, I told myself, really about history, not a fascination with mass slaughter.

          In any event, I was that person. Go into any war-simulator video game forum and you’ll find people just like I was.

          I worked with a guy, call him Mike (not his real name). He was older, a veteran. In fact, on one particular day he crawled up Omaha Beach under machine gun fire. His unit drove onward into France.

          Shit happened to Mike. He did stuff.

          Mike wouldn’t talk about it with me. I would ask. In fact, I would pester and pontificate. He was visibly uncomfortable, but I was a dumbass teen. Eventually my boss pulled me aside and explained some of what had happened to Mike, just a little bit, to give me a sense of why he wouldn’t talk about it. I sort of understood, but not really. I was a neurodiverse kid excited about a topic. I was not strong on empathy. In any case, I’ll say to my own credit that I at least understood that I needed to stop bugging Mike about war.


          People are situated. That have life experience. They also have emotion and trauma.

          I had another friend who worked at the same place, call him Len (again, not his real name). He served in Korea and Vietnam. He had been a Green Beret. He fucking loved war. He loved talking about it. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time talking to Len.

          Why was Len different from Mike?

          I don’t know. They were just different. They had different character, a different core.


          Recently I saw a video on Twitter of a black man being murdered by a couple of racists monsters in Georgia. I watched the video. It — well — it fucked me up. I couldn’t stand what I was feeling. It shocked me.

          People should see a video like that, right?

          I chose not to retweet it. The reason is, before I saw the video, some people I follow on Twitter, all of them black, were asking people to stop posting it.

          Does it matter that they are black?

          Of course it matters. We live in a deeply racist society. This was clearly a racist murder. Seeing a racist murder affects them in ways it won’t necessarily affect me, just as Mike’s experience in war affected him in ways I couldn’t quite understand, as a dumb teen who (at the time) had never seen real violence.

          Their basic refrain: “If you as a white person are shocked by this, you haven’t been paying attention.”

          Does that apply to me? I was certainly shocked. However, I do listen to black people, quite a few. I’m aware of racism.

          It’s quite a conundrum.


          Here’s the thing: I know that Travon Martin was murdered by a dipshit paramilitary wannabe. I know about BLM. I have an intellectual understanding of these things. However, I don’t live my life 24/7 steeped in them. To me they are separate, something I think about, a topic. They aren’t my life.

          To me, war was a topic. To Mike, it was lived experience.

          But it was also lived experience to Len.

          I saw a debate on Twitter between two black people, one who thought the video should not be posted, another who thought it should. You can, no doubt, recreate this argument in your own mind. They each made the expected points.

          I never saw Mike and Len talk about war. In fact, I had the sense that they understood each other in a way, and understood that conversation would be neither necessary nor productive.


          I often get frustrated talking about gender stuff with cis people. To them it’s a topic, something they can debate, on which they can pontificate. For me, it’s an essential part of my life. If they’re intellectually stubborn, as many smartypants types are, if they’re incurious, there isn’t much I can do.

          There is a difference between talking about someone and talking to them. There is also a difference between pontificating about a topic and listening to someone who knows first hand.

          Would you explain to a mountain climber what it is like to stand atop a mountain, when you had never climbed one?Report

  11. Avatar rexknobus says:

    FWIW…I am a constant lurker, very occasional poster, and wrote a “special snowflake type” article some time ago. I come here on a daily basis because of the intelligent and (mostly) civil exchanges. I never really think of the “lean” of the site as a whole. Individual posters? Sure. Some left, some right, some center, some from outer space — but all intelligent and well-spoken, a thing that I don’t find much of anywhere else that invites discussion. For me, it’s place where I can take comfort in agreeing with people who can speak my opinions better than I can, and try to learn from folks who shoot from a different angle. Somebody above wondered if this might just turn into a giant hug-fest. Hell yes! And you all richly deserve it. Thanks! See you tomorrow…Report

  12. Avatar Silver Wolf says:

    I come here to read well articulated, good faith arguments from more conservative and libertarian leaning writers as well as the thoughtful articles from liberal posters and the non-political stuff is entertaining too. Though I may disagree with some of the stories, I have never been infuriated by the hackery and partisanship seen on other sites.

    I have also been impressed by most of the commenters in here.

    Important note: most of the time when I say conservative, libertarian, or liberal it is referring to the one-dimensional person whos politics dictate their worldview and not the other way around. I cannot say that any regular writer on this site falls into any of these categories and it is refreshing.Report

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