Andrew Sullivan on tribalism

I’ve watched with approbation as Andrew Sullivan, with whom I’ve often disagreed, seems to have mellowed, becoming at least a centrist instead of a conservative, and remaining mum about his mystifying Catholicism.  Sullivan’s nice new column in New York Magazine, on tribalism, starts with Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, and then goes into the bitter and acerbic polarization of the American electorate, as exemplified by the fracas around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination (I still am unable to automatically equate accusations with fact) and the firing of the New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma simply because he published a piece by an accused sexual assailant (Jian Ghomeshi) who was acquitted. Sometimes I feel the world has gone mad, and I no longer know where I fit in. I can’t align with the extreme Left, whose actions often seem fascistic, but I despise the ideology of the Right. I consider myself on the Left but am constantly accused of being an alt-righter.

Sullivan feels the same way:

And it’s this reflexive, reptilian sorting of in-group and out-group that has now been supercharged by social media, by Trump’s hideous identity politics, and by campus and corporate culture. There seem to be just two inalterable categories: the oppressors or the oppressed; elite globalists or decent “normal” people. You are in one camp or the other, and, as time passes, those of us who don’t fit into this rubric will become irrelevant to the discourse, if we haven’t already got there.

And one more excerpt:

Haidt and Lukianoff are particularly acute about how the generational shift has intensified the trend. Their hypothesis is that the members of the iGen generation (those born in the mid- to late 1990s) have been raised (unwittingly and with good intentions) in such a way to maximize tribal identities rather than dilute them.

They have been told, in Haidt’s and Lukianoff’s view, that safety is far more important than exposure to the unknown, that they should always trust their feelings, and that life is a struggle between good people and evil people. This infantilizes them, emotionalizes them, and tribalizes them. These kids have been denied freedom, have little experience of confronting danger and overcoming it themselves, have been kept monitored to all times. They tend to have older parents and fewer siblings. There is a reason the safest generation in history is also the most anxious, the most depressed, and the most suicidal. It is not that it’s all in their heads — prejudice and discrimination exist — but that they do not have the skills to put any of this in perspective. And so rather than rebel against their authorities, as students used to do, they cling to them like safety blankets, begging them to protect them just as their parents did.

This is what a cultural revolution feels like. It is given legitimacy by the top, but it is enforced horizontally from below. You are encouraged to denounce and expose your friends, your co-workers, and your bosses for the harm they inflict. Colleagues vie to signal that they are not guilty of being an oppressor, partly because they are not, and partly to avoid being the next scalp. Soon, silence is not enough — in fact, it’s suspicious. And so it becomes necessary to endorse the revolution, celebrate it, and enforce it, prove that you are in good standing. Examples are made of slackers — the more arbitrary the better — to keep fear alive in the minds of everyone. If you so much as quibble, you’ll be the next head on the chopping block. When the very existence of people is at stake — and it always is for the catastrophists — there is no limiting principle.

We live then in a paradox. Our society has less crime and less danger than ever, and yet we see threats everywhere. It has become more racially and culturally diverse than any society in the history of humankind, but it is plagued by “white supremacists” or “hordes of illegals.” And you cannot question these feelings because subjectivity is more important than objectivity, and sensitivity trumps reality. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people live in a world unimaginable to the overwhelming majority of humankind, and to our predecessors of only five years ago, and yet we are told by our leaders that we are “under siege.” As women kick ass in our economy and culture, as they achieve success that previous generations would have thought extraordinary, what is the response? Rage, of course! Furious rage!

This is a mind-set that Haidt and Lukianoff see as very similar to a clinically depressed one, catastrophizing, paranoid, leaning into ever-escalating feelings of victimhood rather than pushing against them with reason. . .

. . . I was struck in Haidt and Lukianoff’s book by a quote that is almost a perfect inversion of today’s political conversation. “When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists — the ones driving much of the conversation around Kavanaugh and, on a much smaller scale, Buruma — in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

Indeed. I think I’ll go feed my ducks.

h/t: Simon


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Andrew Sullivan, with whom I’ve often disagreed, seems to have mellowed, becoming at least a centrist instead of a conservative …

    I’m not so sure Sullivan was ever a doctrinaire conservative. He turned pretty hawkish after 9/11, but, I believe he endorsed Obama — both elections, if I’m not mistaken.

    Still, he’s peregrinated further to his left in the Age of Trump.

    • Historian
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Sullivan still considers himself a conservative, although he does not think of Trump or the Republican Party as conservative. He views himself as what can be considered a traditional conservative, one who is not opposed to progress, but it should not take place in haste without due consideration.

      In this column, he goes into detail in describing what kind of conservative he is.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, he also explained it here, in his piece about “Obama’s long game.”

  2. Caldwell
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Quote attribution –

    “I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods,” [Pauli] Murray wrote [in 1945]. “When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”[1]

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Individuality has become perverted. As people to try to establish their uniqueness, they forget that there remains much commonality between us, as Shylock pointed out.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Don’t think it is so much individuality that is the problem, it is herd following. That is why they refer to the tribe. If individuality was with us we would not have the tribes. Instead of a congress of parties, we have tribes. Step out of line and you are out. The tribes do not even eat together, if you are caught talking to someone of the other tribe, watch out.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        “You’re all individuals.”
        “We’re all individuals”
        “I’m not.”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink



  4. Historian
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    What should not be overlooked in assessing Sullivan’s column is that he understands that tribalism exists on both the right and left. The Trump cult is an extreme and powerful example of a tribalism on the right. As has been the case for the last few decades, the right has been much effective that the left in demonizing its opponents.

    Another point is that it sometimes appears that tribalism is a new phenomenon that has arisen in opposition to some sort of mythical golden age where people thought of themselves as part of a larger group than ones revolving around markers of identity such as race, religion, or sexual identity. Such identities have existed everywhere at every time. There is nothing new here despite the mock or genuine horror expressed by so many people. However, it is true that the malignant elements of tribalism become more pronounced at certain times than others. It may take decades for scholars to reach some sort of consensus as to explaining why tribalism seems to be so extreme in the current period. In the meantime, many societies throughout the world have not been very successful in tampering down the excesses of tribalism. Failing to do so could result in internal explosions, the end result being the emergence of authoritarian regimes.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      I would also say that the internet has accelerated this movement. It becomes the perfect place for the herd mentality we see today. Many people get all of their information and knowledge from the internet and spread it around to the herd. Actual experience in anything is no longer required. Just find what you like on the internet and send it to the tribe.

      Trump runs the perfect tribe for today’s political system. Just Tweet instructions to the tribe and watch. You don’t need to know anything. In fact, it is better if you don’t.

  5. Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    There are two arms of the Left:
    Authoritarian Left and Democratic Left.
    I am a supporter of the Democratic Left.

  6. Posted September 21, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I addressed tribalism in my short essay published here on WordPress. Normally I wouldn’t self-promote on another’s page, but it seems germane.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    A,though I don’t agree with the firing of Ian Buruma, Juan Ghomeshi was not exactly innocent. He settled one account of sexual assault of a coworker by signing a peace bond. I believe much of the criticism was that it originally gave no background to the seriousness of the accusations or that Ghomeshi wasn’t found innocent on all counts or how the Canadian justice system works. There is such a preamble on the article now.

    I actually think it is perfectly fine to give a voice to Ghomeshi and I wanted to read his perspective. I think it’s completely wring headed to get rid of the person for publishing it. I would have published it too.

    • mikeyc
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I googled him and found that you’re right he did settle one sexual assault case but in another, for which he was acquitted, his accusers were caught setting him up. They conspired to lie repeatedly, including on the stand, about what happened. Their lies and conspiracy destroyed the prosecution’s case. It seems to me that though Mr. Ghomeshi is a certified creep, he’s got a legitimate gripe with that case. Why his accusers were not themselves thrown in jail for so egregiously lying to investigators, prosecutors and the court, I simply don’t know.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        I think you need to dig a little deeper. Canadians lived through this case and Ghomeshi did systemically harass coworkers (physically and psychologically) and the union and CBC didn’t act because he was a big star. Several women came forward and I absolutely believe he was violent toward them – there was even documented evidence of his violence. He had extremely good counsel and in Canada we see parallels between this case and the OJ case. He may have been acquitted, but he definitely wasn’t innocent.

        • mikeyc
          Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          Well, I hadn’t any knowledge of Ghomeshi until today and, as you say, there is more than to just an acquittal in many trials and my googling also showed that me that this guy is real shit.

          However, this is from the judge’s decision at the trial I mentioned;

          “At trial, each complainant recounted their experience with Mr. Ghomeshi and was then subjected to extensive and revealing cross-examination. The cross-examination dramatically demonstrated that each complainant was less than full, frank and forthcoming in the information they provided to the media, to the police, to Crown counsel and to this Court.”

          I also read a bit of the linked testimony. His accusers colluded in their lies and we caught in them on the stand. How is that not perjury, I don’t know.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

            Where did you read about the witnesses colluding?

            • mikeyc
              Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

              In the transcript of the trial*. They conspired to get him and they colluded about their testimony. It all came out on the stand when they were confronted with their emails where this was clear. They lied about times and places of events too, proved by their emails. They lied about conversations. They told the media one thing, the police another and the prosecutors and courts another. Terrible witnesses.

              I stopped reading after awhile, but it was very damaging to their credibility.

              *It’s on line somewhere but I have to run now and can’t find the link. I’ll look later.

        • Merilee
          Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          I agree 100% with Diana on Ghomeshi. I followed the whole drawn-out drama in the Toronto papers and though I was very disappointed by the evidence against him – I had really enjoyed his interviews through the years – I am convinced that he did in fact sexually and physically abuse a number of women, ones who did not consent to the rough sex he seemed to enjoy. Not to mention many workplace underlings coming forward to discuss his patronizing attitudes.

          I also agree that Buruma should not have been fired. We subscribe to the NYRB but have not yet received the issue in question.
          Ghomeishi’s letter is supposed to have been pretty non-apologetic and self-serving but we can let the readers respond in the letters.

          • Martin Levin
            Posted October 3, 2018 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

            The Crown’s case against Ghomeshi completely fell apart owing to the unreliability, contradictions, and collusion among witnesses. The police had actually asked the women in question whether there was anything they needed to add to their testimony. So, Ghomeshi was quite properly acquitted, But his career and reputation and future are ruined, so he hardly went unpunished. The NYRB article is self-serving and self-justifying, and I would probably not have commissioned it. But for the excellent Ian Buruma to have lost his job over it is an indication of the all-or-nothing time we live in.

      • David
        Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        The peace bond was nothing more than a face saving tactic for the Crown Attorney. That case was also going to fall apart at trial. To go to trial would have been very expensive for Ghomeshi . He signed a meaningless piece of paper to save money.

  8. Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris Interviews Jon Haidt and it is a really good interview. I bight his book after listening to it.

  10. garthdaisy
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on just about all of this but the Buruma firing is not a case of tribalism or bullying by the extreme left. It’s not a partisan issue. Those of us in Canada know that Ghomeshi was “acquitted” like OJ was acquitted. He punched women first and asked if it was OK after. He is scum and his essay was filled with bs. It was a pathetic attempt by him to get back in the spotlight that he never deserved. His essay was not error checked and is of no value to anyone. It was a reckless move to publish it. He deserves no platform and anyone giving him one, especially without doing the due diligence deserves to be fired.

    But on everything else we are in complete agreement.

    • dd
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      But fired for that?

      In other times the NYReview of Books would have solicited a counter piece that would demolish the claims in the essay.

      • garthdaisy
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Jesus. There is a BIG difference between publishing someone with controversial views and publishing someone who punches and chokes women because he gets off on that sort of thing. Moreover he gets off on punching and choking them first to see if they like it rather than asking before hand. This is not a case of someone with suspect views its a case of someone who assaults women for kicks. You don’t just write a counter piece to that. You fire the idiot who published this piece of shit.

        • Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          New York Review subscribers will get to read the Gomeshi article in question in the October 6th issue. Many Twitter users say “retweeting is not endorsement” in their profiles. Reading should not constitute endorsement either. I look forward to reading it just to find out what all the fuss is about and to support free speech.

          • garthdaisy
            Posted September 21, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            In the case of Bannon or even Richard Spencer you have a good point and I would whole heartedly agree. The case of Ghomeshi is a different animal all together. The firing was not over controversial points of view. It was about publishing a man who goes on dates with women, gets them back to his apartment and then blindsides them with a punch to the head and chokes them onto his bed. If they object he says “oh sorry I’m into that sort of thing and was hoping you were to. Now that I see you’re not I won’t do it again.” This is irrefutably true.

            If you look forward to reading an essay by this man you might also want to check out a great book by OJ Simpson called “If I Did It.” OJ was acquitted after all.

            Or wait for Harvey Weinstein’s next essay when some fool publishes it. This is not about viewpoint diversity. Its about publishing men who kill, rape or beat women. One of these things is not like the other.

            • Posted September 21, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

              Well, if Ian Buruma had ok’d OJ’s and Weinstein’s articles for publication in the NYR, I would read them too, but I wouldn’t promise to like the articles and/or their authors though.

              • garthdaisy
                Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                Because he’s Buruma? Or because you think publishing essays by rapists, assaulters and murderers is morally acceptable?

              • Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                Because I respect Buruma as a writer and NYR as a publication.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:16 pm | Permalink


                So, do you think Mein Kampf should be banned?


            • Michael Waterhouse
              Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

              And yet Ghomeshi was acquitted due to lying and collusion.
              That too is fact. The lying and collusion.

              • garthdaisy
                Posted September 21, 2018 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

                And OJ was acquitted because “if the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit.”

                Great cause you’ve chosen. Enjoy the essay by the woman puncher.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 7:52 am | Permalink

                I’m not convinced there was a big conspiracy to get at poor Ghomeshi. I think if anything the lying and collusion were actually technicalities of witnesses speaking to one another and not remembering things clearly. Read the McLean’s article I posted. Mcalean’s Is a respected magazine and with good journalistic integrity. He has decades of history abusing women and manipulative behaviour.

            • PeteT
              Posted September 22, 2018 at 2:19 am | Permalink

              I find it very difficult to work out for myself what I am and what I am not supposed to read and I’m grateful for your guidance. I am unfortunately completely incapable of reading anything without instantly adopting the viewpoint found therein. Please could you provide me with a full set of guidelines to help? You strike me as just the sort of moral arbiter I need in my life. In fact, would you mind adopting this role for the whole of society? There are just so many grey areas which need sorting out and you seem to be just the person. Where do we stand on Dostoevsky, for instance? He was a convict, after all, convicted of reading banned material. If I read something by someone who had in turn read ‘If I did it’, would that still count against me? I’m so confused, thank goodness you’re around to help.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 5:04 am | Permalink


                I love a good bit of sarcasm


              • bobkillian
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                That’s a model response. Four stars.

              • garthdaisy
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

                Your mistake is thinking anyone is telling you what to read. NYROB fired their editor for publishing a known woman beater. Some of us understand and support that move. Others think they have been robbed of viewpoint diversity and are welcome to shun NYROB and seek out the woman-beater’s essay and read it. It has not been banned nor is anyone calling for it to be banned. And no one is telling you not to read it. Enjoy the essay. Let me know what you think after you seek it out and read it.

              • Diane G
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                @ garthdaisy

                Hear, hear!

              • Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                Isn’t it more likely the NYROB fired Buruma because their hand was forced by the public response? If they are like most such publications these days, they live on the edge as a business so are particularly sensitive to threatened boycotts. I don’t really care about this one author, probably because I don’t know enough about him to share in the disgust portrayed by some. However, this kind of deplatforming really bothers me. I worry that the same group of activists will revel in their power and go after lots of other authors, editors, publishers, and publications with whatever grievances they can come up with. Why should they have this power? If they don’t like an article, don’t read it. If they don’t like the magazine, don’t subscribe. It seems simple to me.

              • garthdaisy
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                @Paul Topping: Don’t we have civil rights because of activist mobs? Didn’t women get the vote because of activist mobs? Are boycotts not an important component of market economies? The internet is new but activist mobs raising awareness of wrongdoings is not. Sometimes the mob is right and sometimes the mob is wrong.

                NYROB would be wrong to fire Buruma solely because of the demands of an activist mob, and they would be wrong to not fire him solely because you can not allow the mob to bully you. In the end I think they looked into it and found that the mob was right. Ghomeshi is a creep and deserves no platform in their prestigious publication. And Buruma should have known that but he did not do the proper due diligence. He’s a great writer but as it turns out he’s a negligent editor.

                This was not a case of viewpoint diversity. This is about publishing a man who punches women for sexual gratification and he doesn’t ask for permission first because that would ruin his boner.

                His employer in Canada, the CBC, fired him because they did not want to be associated with a man who gets off on punching women even if it turns out the 23 women who say they did not consent actually consented.

                Ghomeshi never denied punching and choking these women. He claimed they consented. This claim seems highly implausible given the number of women who say they did not consent.

              • Posted September 22, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                “NYROB would be wrong to fire Buruma solely because of the demands of an activist mob, and they would be wrong to not fire him solely because you can not allow the mob to bully you.”

                Although I had trouble parsing the second part of your sentence, I think I agree with this. Unfortunately, publishers these days are often forced to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in order to survive. I would hate to see the NYROB shuttered over one author and one article. I have enjoyed it for many years and hope to continue.

                I agree with you on the value of boycotts generally. However, without even being able to read the article yet, this particular threatened boycott is a case of deplatforming, something which many of us on this website deplore. The mob is complaining about the author, not their article. Let them protest all they want once we have had a chance to read the article. Then we can have a debate over its merits. As it now stands, none of us, except Buruma, can argue in favor of the article’s publication because we haven’t read it.

              • PeteT
                Posted September 22, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                Your mistake (any patronisation is purely accidental) is in thinking that this argument is between those who are really really upset about women being beaten and those who don’t care as much. This partitioning is incorrect. I will not be seeking out this individual’s essay and I hope you will pay me the courtesy of assuming I am equally horrified by his actions as you without my having to tiresomely virtue-signal it in every other sentence. Even if I were to choose to read it it would not be for reasons of agreement or approbation. I truly am capable of reading whole paragraphs without agreeing with the author. The argument is between those who think people should be fired for publicising objectionable people and those who think they shouldn’t. The danger does not lie in this case (for what it’s worth I would have advocated against publishing but not fired someone for judging differently) but in the precedent it sets that publishers must watch their backs when deciding whose views are verboten and whose are ok or they risk their jobs. Who decides where the line is drawn? You? Me? Twitter? Donald Trump? Today publish Ghomeshi and you get fired, tomorrow publish Sam Harris, that well-known torture-supporter, and ….

    • mikeyc
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps it was a different trial, but in at least one sexual assault trial that Ghomeshi was acquitted, it was because his accusers conspired to lie about what happened (including on the stand), fabricated evidence and thoroughly destroyed the prosecution’s case.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        He was more than a creep, he was a violent manipulator and he beat women. I’m not so sure about the conspiracy of women to over through him. Are you referring to Lucy DeCoutere’s testimony? In that trial the lawyer questioned Lucy’s and the two other women’s memory and suggested that they were not upset at how they were treated because of texts they sent him after. This type of behaviour is actually common among victims for a lot of reasons but it was probably enough to cast doubt in the judge’s mind (there was no jury). There was no big set up among accusers and Ghomeshi’s violent behaviour was an open secret that went back decades. This article gives a good over view of who he was and what he did and how the CBC covered it because he was a star.

        • Rita
          Posted September 21, 2018 at 6:19 pm | Permalink


        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          I definitely think there was a big setup.

          Another Canadian Diana who I watch followed and analysed the case from a neutral perspective and shows over and over all the holes in the prosecution case.


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 22, 2018 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            There were so many men and women who came forward with stores of his abuse over decades I just done buybthat everyone was out to get him and especially the several staff that came forward to CBC over the years with documented cases of his abuse but who were dismissed. And how do you explain him signing a peace bond for sexual assault of a coworker of he was just set up? Oh that was just a one off? Sexual assault of a coworker is serious in my mind.

      • garthdaisy
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        OJ Simpson was also acquitted. The evidence that Ghomeshi punched first and asked questions later is more overwhelming than the evidence that OJ killed his wife and her friend.

        Again to equate this with the Bannon thing is a simply gross category error. The Ghomeshi situation is not about viewpoint diversity.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      There is no comparison between the OJ verdict and the Ghomeshi one.

      Ghomeshi was acquitted because the accusers were found to be lying about their accusations and colluding with each other to bring him down.

      We all know why OJ got off and to suggest parallel is absurd.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 22, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        Th me victims spoke to each other. They were not trying to lie to bring down Ghomeshi who had video evidence against him assaulting women, pictures of a woman he had hit and choked, and a peace bond he signed admitting to sexually assaulting a coworker. Yeah sounds like he was a real innocent guy that bad women set up. Maclean’s again explains it well:

        Believing there was a mass conspiracy to take down an innocent man in this case is tantamount to believing researchers have a cure for cancer but big Pharma is keeping it under wraps to make money from it.

      • garthdaisy
        Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        In both cases a man was acquitted and in both cases it’s obvious to anyone with a brain he did the crime. Enjoy his essay. No one is banning it or telling you not to read it. Some of us support NYROB in their decision to fire the editor who made the decision to publish him. And some think NYROB have robbed them of viewpoint diversity. That is all.

  11. Linda Calhoun
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “…I no longer know where I fit in.”

    Since I have never fit in anywhere, ever, you have my sympathy.

    I don’t see any of this as a new phenomenon. I was maybe twelve when I came to the conclusion that what most people wanted, more than anything, was for someone else to do their thinking for them. Nothing in my subsequent experience has caused me to alter that opinion.

    The fear toward those who think, by those who don’t, has been around for a long time. (Herman Hesse, in Demian, addressed this. When was that? Post WWI?)
    Complexity seems to be really problematic for many. Ditto ambiguity.

    That said, I don’t find the attitudes of younger people all that monolithic. Sure, many are as you describe, but many of the ones I know are not.

    And, I look with hope upon the kids just out of high school who are embracing participation in our politics. They are clearly showing more courage than anyone has a right to expect from people of any age.

    We can turn this around. Speak out. Vote. Don’t drop it. And, don’t just criticize when you see a problem, but be willing to stand up and applaud when you see principled behavior.


    • darrelle
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink


    • Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      I feel that I know whereof you speak. I also have never felt like a tribe member. I hope I may be permitted to consider myself a member
      of your tribe (or non-tribe).

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Geeks Anonymous?

        Or maybe, not so anonymous.


  12. Kirbmarc
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Tribalism is, sadly, part of human nature. Religions are all about tribalism, and so are traditions.

    There’s nothing new in the right-wing/reactionary/religious tribalism that has caused and is causing issues from the revival of muslim authoritarianism to the creation of nationalist movements from Germany to India, from the US to the Philippines.

    What has changed in the more recent years is that many among those who call themselves progressives have embraced the tribal mindset and have started to celebrate it.

    Historically progressive movements have always tried to curb the excesses of tribalism with appeals to common human dignity, universal values, epistemic and moral equity, lessening the importance of cultural and religious identity, etc.

    Today there’s a branch of self-professed progressives which instead celebrates cultural separation, group identity, different degrees of epistemic and moral dignity, all in the name of allegedly repairing the damage caused by previous tribal/supremacist mindsets just by reversing their polarity.

    Those people think that they should fight fire with fire, and remedy to identity-based injustice with identity-based forced reparation.

    They see universal values as a sham or a trick and see ethnocentric and cultural biases not as an impediment to knowledge, but as a source of knowledge if they’re the biases of marginalized sub-groups and sub-cultures.

    They see morality as a matter of identity, of picking sides, of collective guilt.

    In practice they’re adopting tribal, often even reactionary ideas in the name of social progress.

    This is baffling to those who still adhere to the ideals of limiting the damage of tribal affiliations.

    It’s not that the left has moved on, it has moved backwards.

    Lots of people don’t know how to fit not because they’re old and reactionaries as the SocJus fans claim, but because the SocJus itself has turned to reactionary projects based on identity.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      A thoughtful analysis.
      I knew something was wrong when self-identified liberals tried to argue with me that humanism — with its focus on science, reason, shared values, and universal human rights — was oppressive and guilty of colonialism.

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        What, exactly, do they see as a better alternative?


        • Sastra
          Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          Spirituality. They translate that as an ability to transcend both reason and the material world so that one lives a simple, selfless, nonjudgmental life based on the inner wisdom that all things and all people are Love manifest. Indigenous, non western, and more primitive cultures are mostly already there. When they’re not, it’s because they were contaminated by fundamentalist monotheism and enlightenment humanism, which are, to their way of thinking, virtually the same thing.

          They don’t have a practical agenda. They apparently believe that if enough people are spiritual and practice unconditional love there will eventually be a tipping point for the entire world and the goals of material progress (consumerism and egotism) and rationality (control and dominance) will be renounced as a world of bliss ninnies creates a faith- based culture of harmony, peace, and love for one another. This culture will be VERY diverse and ALL viewpoints and forms of knowledge equally respected. Unlike now.

          You have to pull this out of them and piece it together over time, as the Spiritual are reluctant to share it with anyone still stuck in the lower realm of analysis and physicalism because such benighted beings are “not yet ready to accept.”

  13. Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Haidt and Lukianoff trace the roots of the phenomenon of “safety culture” among parents to the early ’70s and a number of high profile child abductions. It occurred to me that “safety culture” may also be evident in our institutions, like law enforcement. I remember when cops were all about “to protect and serve” and was unclear as to when “officer safety” became the priority. I ran this quick NGram search which seems to correspond with Haidt and Lukianoff’s timing:

  14. David Evans
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    “the fracas around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination” is more understandable to those of us who remember that the Republicans stole a seat on the Supreme Court by refusing even to consider Obama’s nominee for 293 days. But now apparently it’s urgent to get Kavanaugh appointed before the allegations against him can be properly considered.

    • Linda Calhoun
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I think the urgency has nothing to do with his ideology. The Republicans have a whole stableful of people with similar views.

      I think the urgency is because he doesn’t think Trump should have any accountability for anything as long as he’s President. He would be the deciding vote to shut Mueller’s investigation down.


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      The Dems have brought the confirmation process to a sudden, screeching normal pace. How dare they interrupt the orderly process of cramming a Party hack through a compliant, Republican senate!

  15. Posted September 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The outgroup have ye always with you. It doesn’t help to play the “whack a mole” game of denouncing its infinite variations. You can denounce the racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, misogynists, etc., for hating the “other” until you’re blue in the face, but if you take a good look in the mirror, you’ll find you hate your own outgroup just as virulently, whether it be Trump’s “deplorables,” and “depraved,” or the “libtards” and “cucks” of the Left. Ingroup/outgroup behavior is as much a part of our innate “moral sense” as altruism. That’s one reason why blindly responding to our moral emotions is probably not as advisable today as it may have been, say, two million years ago.

  16. Sastra
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    They have been told, in Haidt’s and Lukianoff’s view, that safety is far more important than exposure to the unknown, that they should always trust their feelings, and that life is a struggle between good people and evil people.

    This reminds me of religion. But maybe that’s my own tribalism kicking in.

  17. maryellyn gilfeather
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink


    My only comment If kavenough really did what he is accused of She waited a long time to get justice And I hope she does

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Posted October 21, 2018 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      The most important word here is “if”.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I am continously surprised that people read ad hoc analyses like Sullivan’s. The likelihood that any of it is correlated with reality is apriori low; if it is ideologically filtered even lower posterior.

    Some examples of social media bloviating (election frequency 87.18 percent):

    – The right extremist ‘Alternative For Sweden’ party printed 10 million tickets – election outcome was some 20,000 votes.
    – The neonazi ‘Nordic Resistance Movement’, which has gathered 800 in demonstrations – election outcome was some 2,000 votes.

    The majority of social media was concerned with extremist points – the election response correlated to 1/100 – 1/1000 of that.

  19. Taz
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    There seem to be just two inalterable categories: the oppressors or the oppressed

    And if you’re not sure where you fit, Cornell is distributing a handy guide.

    • Merilee
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Jesus! That Cornell package is really disturbing🙀

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        I’m old, white, male, straight. My parents totally failed to abuse me (though some man did try to touch me up in a public toilet once), not seriously disabled, not overweight (much), my immediate ancestors were not horribly oppressed (though if I went back far enough I could probably find some who were, quite likely by other of my ancestors), not awkward enough to have Asperger’s, not bright enough to have ADHD, no mental issues other than an occasional tendency to scream at the TV screen (isn’t that normal?), no criminal record (though I do have a couple of suspect DVD’s and a few speeding tickets).

        In short, there is NOT ONE THING in my favour. Not one. I have no possible justification for my miserable existence. (Well, it isn’t miserable actually, I quite enjoy – oh bugger, another point gone). I humbly confess and apologise and grovellingly beg forgiveness from all the oppressed, everywhere.

        (Hey, I just found it: In the ‘oppressed’ column in that pamphlet – Atheist. I’m saved!

        But wait – that’s only in a US context. I’m in NZ where nobody oppresses atheists. I’m back in the shit again…)


  20. Posted September 21, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    The Woke bully to adopt their particular views, or at least their framing. It’s either their view, or it’s miso-trans-islamo-racist-gistic-something. Every slightly different view is collapsted to a chimaera they then call “alt right”, because even they see that it isn’t like the “normal right”. Many who anyway didn’t like the Left used the opportunity and make this about “The Left”, uppercase.

    But, why believe any of this. The woke are only considered left due to the hyper-partisan American political landscape, and their powergrab. There are only two meaningful camps, and they grabbed one. Already in the 1990s, the woke forerunners declared that they and their relativistic views were left proper, and everyone who clinged to realismn was a conservative. Alan Sokal, himself on the left, had to put up with it.

    In a recent discussion about Ronell, guest writer Bernd Hüppauf makes the astute remark about one “academic leftist”:

    “Leftist? Avital Ronell’s father figures are Martin Heidegger and, often quoted and paraphrased, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. Who could possibly describe them as left-leaning theorists? If Ronell has a political agenda, it is the liquidation of the legacy of 1968.”

    This is not say that leftist intersectionalists don’t exist, but they aren’t the type you see on the internet. I read some intersectionality, critical race theory text, and they are usually more concerned with class on two pages than the entirety of Freethought Blogs for a year. The baying mob of safety concerned law and order types are simply authoritarians. Here’s what bell hooks (!) has to say:

    “The class-based academization
    of American feminism created the context for its deradicalization and for the takeover of gender studies by opportunistic women and men who were simply not interested in radically changing society. Ironically, focus on race and racism was one of the new directions in feminist thought that deflected attention away from issues of class” (Where We Stand, p. 105)

    Noam Chomsky is practically the left pope, and he’s a free speech advocate, and to his own detriment even stood up for odious holocaust deniers. He mocked the postmodernists many times as “so-called left wing”, too.

    Of course, left and right is what people make of it. They are supposed to be descriptive attributes. The purpose of the label should be a shorthand to express that you feel about matters in a certain way.

  21. revelator60
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    According to a recent interview with Buruma (/, he was forced out by university publishers.

    Buruma claims the NYRB’s publisher/owner Rea S Hederman “made clear to me that university publishers, whose advertisements make publication of The New York Review of Books partly possible, were threatening a boycott. They are afraid of the reactions on the campuses, where this is an inflammatory topic. Because of this, I feel forced to resign – in fact it is a capitulation to social media and university presses.”

    I think Buruma grossly miscalculated by commissioning an article from Gomeshi, but I’m not sure if he deserved to lose his job as a result—he could have commissioned an article from one of Gomeshi’s victims (or another victim of sexual abuse) to compensate. But one can also argue that a tone-deaf editor would only mire himself in further embarrassments. In any case I hope the NYRB’s next editor is left of center but not a Ctrl-Leftist or espouser of radical chic. The NYRB is a valuable publication and shouldn’t go the way of The New Republic.

  22. Rita
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised at the idea that those of us objecting to Kavanaugh must be part of the authoritarian left if we believe the accusations brought by Christine Blasey Ford, because this doesn’t feel remotely like some of the other instance of ctrl-leftism you’ve written about in the recent past. Those of us who were in college in those days (give or take 10 years on either side) are familiar with the entitled frat boy culture that existed on at least some campuses. And, it doesn’t make sense to me that this woman would fabricate a story that included another witness who was a good friend of the accused. If this is a fabrication, this woman is a genius! But, I don’t even think that’s the worst of this whole situation. What is most upsetting to me is to see so many men who cannot seem to see the difference between, say an inappropriate grope versus pinning the girl down while trying to rip her clothes off, and covering her mouth when she tries to scream! So we see comments by Republican congressmen and average men (and a few women) who are saying, “Well, even if he did that, it was years ago, and this woman is a snowflake for complaining, because boys will be boys.”

    • Merilee
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink


    • Historian
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you are quite right that the Kavanaugh controversy has nothing to do with the so-called Ctrl-Left. We do not even know Ford’s politics, as far as I know. As you indicate, Ford would have to be some mad genius to fabricate this story. It is possible that Kavanaugh is telling the truth when he said he doesn’t remember the incident even though it actually took place. Ford reports that he was very drunk that night. It is not uncommon for extremely intoxicated people not to remember what took place when being in this state.

      It is crystal clear that the Senate Judiciary Committee, under Republican control, has no intention of giving Ford a fair hearing. Two of its members, Chairman Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch were on the same committee in 1991 when they tried to destroy Anita Hill. A few days, Hatch, with never hearing Ford speak, said that she is “mixed-up.” They haven’t changed in 27 years. The Republican goal is to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court so to placate the Republican base. Their actions will contribute to the erosion of public confidence in the court, when the odious Mitch McConnell refused to give Merrick Garland a hearing. When the public’s faith in all three branches of the federal government is severely undermined, then so is the faith in democracy. Yes, there is extreme polarization in this country and 90% of the onus for this falls on the ruling party. This is why the mid-term elections are so important. In 47 days we will know if the madness has a chance to be arrested.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 22, 2018 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      None of us knows what did or did not happen between Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford in that Maryland home 35 years ago. But I am at a loss to see why Dr. Ford would be lying about it now, under these circumstances.

      The Senate Judiciary Committee should be endeavoring to arrive at the best achievable version of the truth concerning that incident. But it is clear that the 11 Republican men who constitutes the committee’s majority do not intend to do that; they intend to conduct a show trial. (In the judiciary committee’s 202-year history, the Republicans have never had anything but white men on it.)

      As Historian points out, two of the Republicans still on the judiciary committee — 84-year-old Orin Hatch and the committee’s chairman, 85-year-old Chuck Grassley — are holdovers from the days of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. Grassley and Hatch were two of the leading perpetrators of the hit-job done on Hill then (with Hatch promoting the ludicrous theory that Hill had lifted part of her testimony from the novel The Exorcist).

      Grassley and Hatch and the other Republicans do not want a replay of the Hill debacle, given the changes in American society over the last quarter century (including the Me-Too movement). But it’s clear they have no more interest in getting to the truth, either, only in ramming the nominee through the confirmation process in advance of the upcoming midterm elections. They seem to have settled on a coordinated theory, to avoid a frontal attack on Dr. Ford’s credibility, that she was attacked that night, but that she’s confused as to the identity of her assailant — and it’s complete bullshit.

    • Posted October 21, 2018 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      I do not believe Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations, but I do not see any reason to think that my opponents are Ctrl-Left. There are many possible reasons for one to believe Dr. Ford.

  23. Merilee
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink


  24. garthdaisy
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    @Paul Well NYR fired Buruma so I guess you you have now a conflict in supporting them both. I think NYR made the right call.

    @Infinite Of course not. Nothing I have said here is a call for a ban on anything. I would expect NYR to not publish Hitler or fire anyone who did.

    A publisher has the right to decide they do not want woman batterers to be published in their magazine. That is not a ban or an infringement on anyone’s speech.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 21, 2018 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      (I take it this was a response to the long thread at #10).

      “Nothing I have said here is a call for a ban on anything. I would expect NYR to not publish Hitler or fire anyone who did.”

      So far as I can unscramble that, it doesn’t make sense. It looks exactly like a call for a ban on something, viz. any author whose other actions meet with your disapproval.


  25. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 21, 2018 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    “Sometimes I feel the world has gone mad, and I no longer know where I fit in.”

    You don’t. You’ve been left standing in the middle (or just slightly left of it), while all the trendy leftists and rightists have rushed off to opposite sides to hurl abuse at each other like two tribes of baboons.

    You haven’t moved, they have.


    • Posted September 22, 2018 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      “Clowns to the left of me,
      Jokers to the right, here I am,
      Stuck in the middle with you.”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 22, 2018 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        Goin’ with the Gerry Rafferty sample, eh, Colin? 🙂

  26. KD33
    Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Today Sullivan reviewed Jill Lepore’s book, “The American Past: A History of Contradictions” in the NYT, and it looks interesting. His review had some insightfull perspective, but at the same time seemed lazy to me, and included these comments: “And these religious waves advanced the cause of the spiritual equality of all human beings, which in turn became political equality” and “She notes how recent presidential candidates have declared vast swaths of the public as “unworthy of their attention” (Romney’s 47 percent of “takers”) or beneath their contempt (Hillary’s “deplorables”). They both deserved to lose.”
    Wow. How can you equate the Romney and Clinton comments? I still think Clinton’s was spot on, if careless in a political context, much like Obama’s comment on many (not all!) rural folks “clinging to guns and religion.”

    • Posted October 21, 2018 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      In politics, one should not say everything that is spot on, because one can lose because of this, and deservedly.
      So I hope next time the Democrats will supply a nominee that will not insult large groups of voters, even if the insult is spot on. But I rather expect a 2nd term of Trump.

  27. Marou
    Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Sullivan’s points and those of Haidt and Lukianoff may be well-made (and I agree with most of them) but even they are not immune to the hysteria of those they anathematise, all following to a greater or lesser extent the golden rule of tabloid publishing – simplify and exaggerate. Pinker is the antidote to most catastrophising.

  28. Diane G
    Posted September 22, 2018 at 12:49 am | Permalink


  29. peepuk
    Posted September 24, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “Our society has less crime and less danger than ever, and yet we see threats everywhere”

    Lower crime and a lesser crime rate doesn’t mean crime rates are low and that we live in safety.

    It may also be that some groups live much safer than other groups of people.

    Crimes have an higher impact on some/most than traffic accidents or diseases; humans are not rational agents whether we like it or not.

    “safety is far more important than exposure to the unknown”

    Seems not wrong to me.

    But I agree of course that universities shouldn’t be safe places; safe places are dull and lead to boredom. Besides that, words are never dangerous, but acting on false beliefs is.

%d bloggers like this: