A Letter to the Editors: Freddie deBoer and Writing About Forgiveness

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Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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  1. Andrew Donaldson Andrew Donaldson
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    Couple things right off the top here:

    Everyone involved here knew before this piece was being published and talked with the editors before we posted so this is not an attack or swipe on anyone’s part.

    JDD didn’t know Freddie was an OT Alumnus when he initially wrote the piece.

    Nothing about Freddie’s situation was in the original JDD piece that Freddie himself has written on publicly and extensively.

    Having said all that, let’s keep this one civil, like Kristin says in here piece the discourse is what makes this place special.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    I’ve been reading this site for about ten years now, and I have no recollection of Freddie being here. I’ve seen him elsewhere and knew that he used to be a contributor from older-timers mentioning him, but I have no idea when. Did I just miss him?Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman
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    We ordinarily do/would shy away from discussing a contributor’s mental illness. Freddie is something of an exception not because he is not active with the site, but because he himself has talked quite a bit about it. The thing we ordinarily worry about is the association of mental illness with bad behavior, either because the mental illness has caused bad behavior or is something they struggle with that could influence their behavior going forward. In this case, though, it is Freddie himself who talks about the role of his mental illness in his previous behavior, as well as his ongoing struggles with it.

    While I did not run it by him, my sense of Freddie is that he would not object to JDD’s piece at least as it pertains to that aspect of the story nor about us talking about him to begin with. He seems much more concerned about the people who want to minimize the role of his mental health problems in his previous behavior. Those who think the mental health angle is an evasion of responsibility. He wants it to be a part of the story because it is a part of the story.

    Speaking personally, it is not my place to forgive Freddie or not. All I can say is that I consider him a member of the community in spirit if not in fact. He is an alum in good standing. He is a part of the history of this site and should he ever decide to come back as far as I am concerned he would be welcomed. (This is not a universally held view, though those who disagree did not play a part in approving the piece.) When we did the ten year anniversary project, he was among the first people I reached out to. (He was receptive, though ultimately decided that he was not yet ready to re-engage the public.)

    I stand by running the piece, though accept Kristin’s criticism in the spirit it was meant and know that different people may come to different conclusions.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Will Truman
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      says:

      I completely agree that Freddie would have been fine with it.

      But I also think this is a good rule for OT as a whole and I want to see it maintained IN PRACTICE, as a part of the culture of the site. Whether or not someone writes about their mental illness or even just their quirks publicly, people who choose to weaponize that are a) not nice and b) will diminish the participation in the site AND what readers get out of it. Because it’s way too easy to chalk up things you may knee-jerk disagree with as stemming from someone being crazy.

      To give a completely hypothetical example that I totally made up, I joke about being on Twitter too much (in the sense of an addiction or a form of mental illness). I even sometimes say that NOT in jest. But people then weaponizing that to diminish the stuff I’m writing instead of engaging with it honestly, deliberately trying to undermine me in the eyes of other people by doing so, even going so far as to attempt to undermine my self confidence and feelings of sanity for doing nothing more than attempting to write interesting stuff for people to read, I find it pretty lousy and yet it happens over and over again. I KNOW it’s not just me who has had this experience. It seems like an ongoing issue with certain parties on this site.

      (As you guys know I wrote this piece days ago so this is my sincerely held and ongoing belief, and nothing that happened today is influencing my response here. I really think this, I’ve thought it for a while and Sarcophagus of Virtue brought it up in my head again)Report

      • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kristin Devine
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        says:

        Case in point, my comments in this thread of two years ago where I tried to express the same thoughts. https://ordinary-times.com/2019/04/01/susannah-the-first/ This is an ongoing concern I have and have had for a long time now.

        Freddie aside (because I just used this situation as JDD used the situation in the first place, to write about something we both were interested in) it is immensely, enormously uncool to treat the writers of this site like they are mentally unhinged FOR ANY REASON.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kristin Devine
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          I am assuming you mean the exchange there with BookDragon, which does not in any way seem to treat you or any writer of this site as if they are mentally unhinged. One of the hallmarks of this site is the ability to disagree without things becoming or being made personal. So I agree with you that that should remain a goal and a norm and an expectation, including making someone’s mental state off limits. But I would argue that concurrent with that is not knee-jerk assuming a disagreement or criticism is meant to do as much absent strong evidence.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            bruh momentReport

          • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            Except for that by looking at one comment, you missed the greater context in which that particular poster had made the same sort of comments over and over again over a period of a few weeks, as had others, hence MY REMARKS. Not what the person in question had said, my remarks in regards to that. I was merely pointing out that this perception that I have is longstanding and was prevalent prior to the writing of this piece.

            Look, you guys know damn well that there are ongoing beefs on this site that when you look at one of them in isolation you’re like “wow what was that about”. So don’t dare to pretend that isn’t applicable to me. The truth is people regularly take sly little potshots at me, I rarely respond, but that doesn’t mean that these potshots exist only in my head or that I’m delusional on the rare occasions I choose to respond. I’m a direct person, so generally I try to be upfront, even annoyingly so, when I have an issue about someone rather than making these thinly veiled insults, but personally I believe that is to my credit.

            It’s both deceptive and shitty to hold up one exchange and say “see this is proof of so and so overreacting”. No, it isn’t, any more than it’s “overreacting” when Jaybird and Chip go back and forth in the comments based on past exchanges and anyone who was unaware of those would be wondering what they’re about. There are relationships that form on this site – both positive and extremely negative – that are going back years that underwrite the exchanges people have in the comments, add nuances that other people may not understand, and to pretend those things did not happen is IMO akin to gaslighting.

            You are NOT, I repeat NOT going to be able to turn this into a “Kristin can’t take criticism” thing because it’s 100% not the case. The fact is, some you guys come at me with “criticism” that is completely soaked through with this notion that “no rational person cares/would write about this, only a unhinged lunatic would bother writing about something so silly” to make me look foolish or feel stupid. THIS IS NOT CRITICISM. Not only is it uncool on a personal level, it’s against the rules of the site, and it’s against the SPIRIT of the site which is supposed to be a place people can actually discuss the issues of the day instead of a bunch of too-cool-for-school folks standing on the sidelines NOT having a discussion at all but instead saying “meh, only morons and crazy people would have brought THAT up”.

            Again, someone has to write the content for this site. We gotta write about something, buddy! A lot of people are reading that content who never venture into the comments (and who can blame them really) . Many of us are trying hard to make this site succeed . It is ridiculous to roll your eyes and scoff at the choices of subject matter from the people who are doing the heavy lifting of the site. It’s even more ridiculous to suggest we should tailor the content of this site around things that are of interest to the handful of stuffed shirts at the expense of countless potential readers.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kristin Devine
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              My apologies. I looked through the thread you linked to as I thought you were offering it as another example of a time you were criticized for your mental state.

              For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece here — by you or anyone else — and thought, “Why the hell did they write that? Who cares? It shouldn’t be here.” I sometimes, often even, think, “Well, I don’t really care about that,” and often just move on from the post. Sometimes I linger in the comments because the discussion will have a way of drawing me in and giving me an opportunity to learn about something I might have otherwise missed or just consider experiences and perspectives outside of my own. I *like* that folks are encouraged to write about things they find interesting or that they anticipate others find interesting, even if I don’t find them interesting.Report

              • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                It was my fault, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been when I posted that. I didn’t like the perception that this was me making it about myself when really it’s this overall vibe that keeps cropping up.

                I really don’t have an issue with you, Kazzy. It’s a couple of other people and somehow you and I ended up here having this discussion.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kristin Devine
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                says:

                No worries. It happens. The internet is a sloppy place and I’ve had my fair share of moments where I misunderstood, misread, or mistook folks and their positions. Hell, I still sometimes mix up regulars here who I have consistent interactions with simply because they have vaguely similar handles. And as someone who is really only active on this blog, I am not always wise in the ways of broader online discourse.

                I like your writing. I like when I agree with it, I like when I disagree with it. I’m sorry if anyone has ever made you feel less than or like your positions were illegitimate, no matter the reason. And if I did contribute to that in anyway, I apologize.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Some of the long knives have started to come out for Freddie.

    Not just the “has he even friggin’ apologized to Malcolm Harris yet?” gambit, but he is now a member of the Problematic Writers Of Substack group and there is at least one writer who has said “I can no longer write on Substack because it also hosts transphobic writers such as Jesse Singal, Scott Alexander, Matt Yglesias, and Freddie deBoer.”

    There was this *HUGE* thing where all of these guys were asked to talk about how much money they made off of their substacks and, it turns out, substack’s business model makes money for, presumably, itself as well as these writers.

    Given that, at this point, the business model appears to work, they’re stuck with a boycott model of “well, if those guys still write here, then I can’t write here” and turn substack into the new Alt-Right clearing house where it publishes such alt-right luminaries as Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Jesse Singal, Scott Alexander, Matt Yglesias, and Freddie deBoer.

    At this point, I don’t think it’s about Freddie at all. (Though he is, sadly, a great example of a person you can point to to explain why Substack is bad.)

    If you want to read his essay with his response to being lumped in with other problematic writers on Substack, you can read that essay here.

    If, instead, you prefer your Freddie on the offensive rather than on the defensive, you can read the essay titled “Some Principles & Observations About Social Justice Politics” here.

    Reading that second essay might give you a better idea why Freddie delenda est…Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Where is that quote from?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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        says:

        I failed to get the quote exactly right but the gist is there:

        The guy who is leaving Substack is Nathan Tankus. He talks about why in his essay here:

        If you go down to the paragraph that says:

        Some of Substack’s most prominent writers are contributing to this climate of bigotry. Other prominent Substack writers are feeding it by disingenuously defending their commentary and coverage of trans issues. Their contribution is all the more troubling coming from writers who style themselves as “center-left”, thus legitimizing bigotry that would otherwise be associated with Trump and the Republican Party. This is exactly how transphobia entered the mainstream in the United Kingdom, leading to a harsh rollback of trans rights there.

        You’ll see that his “most prominent writers” link to to commentary on Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and Jesse Singal.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          So Nathan Tankus did not name Freddie, but Nathan was used as an example of someone leaving because of people like Freddie and Freddie was then likened (by someone else entirely) to the writers who write screeds about trans activists.

          Smudge and smear them all together.Report

          • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            So the quote doesn’t actually exist.

            But otherwise though! (As for long knives being out for Freddie, I think the issue continues to come back to what he did and whether he has actually made any amends for doing so. He has apologized publicly, but it is not clear why that matters, given that the issue is between him and the individual he falsely-accused.)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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              says:

              Pardon. I have a very bad habit of putting quotes around paraphrases. I know that the style guide says “DON’T PUT QUOTES AROUND PARAPHRASES” but I keep doing it anyway.

              It has happened before and it will happen again.

              I do think that the issue where Freddie is now a member of the Problematic Writers of Substack issue is there, though. And the dynamic I was describing exists, even if I used quotation marks when I should have not used them.

              Sam, I think it’s more than whether he has made “amends”. I mean, here:

              Here is a link to his essay where he talks about the Malcom Harris Incident.

              I’d like to point to this part here:

              Beyond apologizing and removing myself from the forum where I acted so terribly, it hasn’t always been clear how to make up for what I’ve done, at least in terms of outward behavior rather than the type of internal work I’ve done through therapy and introspection. When I’ve been able I’ve donated what I can to rape and sexual assault-related charities, such as these recent donations:

              (images of receipts from donations given)

              It isn’t much but I intend to do it more often now that I’ll have a little more financial security. I had no intention of ever making these meager attempts at amends public but since I joined Substack the angry email has been so relentless that I feel I have to.

              Now, I don’t know if this answers your uncertainty of whether he has actually made any amends for doing so.

              Does it? Does it actually make any amends?

              If it doesn’t, what would?

              But, here, allow me to do a very small thing for Malcom Harris. Here is a link to Malcolm Harris’s book: Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials.

              Get a copy for a Millennial friend of yours! Say “I saw this and thought you’d like it. Keep it up!”

              Then tell them that Wannabe will soon be on the oldies station and Mister Brightside is classic rock.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Interestingly, here is the opening to the paragraph that follows my excerpt from his essay:

                The problem is that to many people what I do now makes no difference. There’s nothing that I could do to assuage people who think my conduct, and their perception of how I have defended it, are beyond the pale. Which itself would be fine, except they pretend like there’s something that I could do, some atonement ceremony I could take part in that would cleanse myself in their eyes, and… there isn’t. I don’t know why they maintain that clearly false pretense.

                Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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                “I don’t know why they maintain that clearly false pretense.”

                Because if there is something he could do, and he’s still being yelled at, then obviously he hasn’t done the thing yet and therefore being yelled at is his own choice and he’s being a silly hypocrite for complaining about it.

                “Well, what could he do?” The point is not that there’s something he could do, the point is that they want to keep yelling at him.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                Well, I see no reason to change my view of this sort of thing as the “has he even friggin’ apologized to Malcolm Harris yet?” gambit.

                And when it comes up again, and it will come up again, it will always be as if this conversation never happened.

                Every day a new day.
                Every day a fresh start.
                Except for that guy. It’s still 2017 for that guy.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Maybe it’s the thing where he’s asking to be understood as being very sincere in his apologies, despite the great big in-neon-lights example of his insincerity being the starting point of this. Maybe there is doubt because he gave everyone reason TO doubt.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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                says:

                Now, I don’t know if this answers your uncertainty of whether he has actually made any amends for doing so.

                Does it? Does it actually make any amends?

                If it doesn’t, what would?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I mean, get this. I understand being hesitant about going back and reading Freddie as if 2017 never happened.

                I’ll make an analogy to police work, even.

                If a cop wrongfully shoots a guy, I think we can understand, even if we don’t agree with, the argument that says “this cop should never carry a gun again”.

                Freddie shot somebody.
                Sure, the guy survived and Freddie wrote an apology and is doing what he can to make amends but there is only but so much you can do and some wounds never heal.
                And now we’re in a place where Freddie, once again, has a gun.

                It’s reasonable to be apprehensive about that!

                And now he’s writing a blog where part of his job is to criticize people and, seriously, that’s why people give him money is because he’s pretty eloquent! Or, if you prefer, self-important people find his self-important prose to self-importantly scratch their self-important itches. He’s not good. Not like this other guy that isn’t getting millions of subs on substack.

                And so I can understand looking at what Freddie is doing and hoping he doesn’t shoot another guy. I can understand looking at his stuff and knowing, deep down, that it’s only a matter of time.

                But that’s different than “he’s insincere”.

                It’s a “you’re part of the group building the gun he’s someday going to use to shoot a guy”.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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                says:

                What are the neon green flashing examples of his apology being insincere?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to North
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                says:

                Make sure you use actual direct citations, please. Wouldn’t want to base our opinions on quotes that don’t actually exist.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to North
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                The hugely damaging lie that started the whole thing. He was willing to very stridently claim that something was true that, in fact, was not true.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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                says:

                Now, I don’t know if this answers your uncertainty of whether he has actually made any amends for doing so.

                Does it? Does it actually make any amends?

                If it doesn’t, what would?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      *snorts* If all of the assorted Woketariat absented themselves from Substack then the discourse within substack would merely consist of 95% of the continuim from raving lefty to raving righty rather than 100% like it does now. Twitter commentary (and Twitter commentaries critics) continues to imagine that it is a lot bigger in meatspace than it actually is.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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        says:

        Stuff like Substack is blurring meatspace and the once-tumblr-now-twitter realm.

        The Discourse? 100% Capital-O Online.
        The money? That’s meatspace money, baby.

        It goes from your pocket into Freddie’s and then he uses it to make rent.

        I honestly think that Substack is going to upend a *LOT* of stuff… because, let’s face it, there are a lot of tentpole kinda writers that do a great job of propping up the writers that are good, I guess, if I’m there anyway… and there’s a link to their stuff… and if the headline is sufficiently grabby…

        I’m thinking that the writers selling stuff directly to the reader (well, via Substack, anyway) will be something that needs to be squashed and squashed RIGHT FREAKING NOW if it’s going to be squashed at all.

        Otherwise you’re going to have people reading Freddie and having to give him $5 for the privilege of policing him to his face.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Ehhh, I’m more dubious about the transformative power of Substack, it isn’t like people haven’t had the ability to paywall their blogs prior to this. That said I’d be delighted if Substack did upend the paradigm since the existing one is mostly a decaying carcass so change probably is warranted. I am very dubious that anything can be done to “squash” substack because, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, the ability of the woketariate specifically or the media more generally to squash things is limited to an ability to direct an intense but fleeting surge of electronic indignation at their targets. Substack simply isn’t vulnerable to a brief fleeting surge of electronic indignation.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to North
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            I think you’re right North. They’re serving a market that legacy publications increasingly aren’t. It’ll sink or swim based on the economics of it, not retaliation from legacy publications and/or denunciations on social media

            I mean, has anyone ever legit not read or bought something solely because someone on twitter said it was immoral?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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            says:

            Hey, maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t.

            But I’ve read a lot fewer essays at Vox ever since Jane, MattY, and Ezra left.

            Judging by what wanders into my timeline, I am not unique in this.

            I still get a lot of Jane and a lot of MattY (not Ezra so much) but not a whole lotta Vox.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              My heart bleeds for Vox /sarc
              In all honesty I am reading less Klein, Matty and Jane since they went to sub stack since ya gotta pay to read em individually and I just don’t think I can shell out that kind of money for a single author. I’m considering adding Freddie because his writing is fire and he’s OT Alumn and needs the money.
              And yes I recognize I’m ruined by the era I grew up in. The aughts and early teens were a golden age for free internet media as we cannibalized the old institutions.Report

  5. Avatar Sam Wilkinson
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    says:

    This has never been the rule at Ordinary Times and, if it ever was, it damn sure was never enforced.Report

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