The Truth is Hard, But Kinda Funny

Two views of William F. Buckley from the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, visible at exactly the same level on the same page of the print edition:

 But most of the world — including most of the Jewish diaspora — will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel’s apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail “politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.” The “sobering answer,” he concluded, was yes, given the white community’s superior civilization.

–Michelle Goldberg, “Is Liberal Zionism Dead?”

Same page, five inches away:

There’s a hierarchy of excellence in every sphere. There’s a huge difference between William F. Buckley and Sean Hannity, between the reporters at this newspaper and a rumor-spreader. Part of this struggle is to maintain those distinctions, not to contribute to their evisceration.

–David Brooks, “The Decline of Anti-Trumpism

Might as well quote Nietzsche while I’m at it:

257. EVERY elevation of the type “man,” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society and so it will always be–a society believing in a long scale of gradations of rank and differences of worth among human beings, and requiring slavery in some form or other….To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (that is to say, of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type “man”): the truth is hard.

–Friedrich Nietzsche, “What Is Noble?” in Beyond Good and Evil

Yes, I know that’s not what Brooks means a “hierarchy of excellence.” But it’s still kinda funny.

And yes, I know: we can always save William Buckley’s reputation by way of a developmental thesis about his oeuvre: he changed! To his credit, Buckley eventually figured out that black people have rights worth respecting (as did George Wallace). But history isn’t done yet with Sean Hannity, is it? Like Buckley (and Wallace), Hannity, too, might have his Road-to-Damascus conversion to moral decency. To paraphrase Solon: call no man decent until the end is known.

Moral of the story: The American right has been a rotten borough for a very long time. And promises to remain that way for just as long.

23 thoughts on “The Truth is Hard, But Kinda Funny

  1. I came to consciousness just late enough that Buckley has always been a figure of the past for me; for as long as I can remember listening to anybody talking about conservatism, Buckley has been an example of how conservatives used to be better, or at least less bad. My only real direct exposure to him is through some old episodes of Firing Line on YouTube, and I’m certainly not familiar with his opinions about Jim Crow. That said, I wonder whether the two assessments you cite are even in prima facie tension; given that the comparandum here is Sean Hannity, it seems entirely possible to me to acknowledge that Buckley had backwards views on race and to maintain that Buckley is to Hannity as the New York Times is to a rumor-spreader (and without any insinuations about the deficiencies of the NYT!). My impression, at least, has been that Buckley was an intelligent person worth listening to and disagreeing with. Hannity isn’t any of that; even someone who supported white supremacism in the 1950’s could conceivably manage to sit well above him in the hierarchy of excellence in political journalism.

    You’ll get no dissent from me on the moral of your story, though.


    • I can’t claim to have much more exposure to Buckley than you. Maybe a smidgen more, though: I grew up watching “Firing Line” on TV (indeed, on a TV set) every week throughout the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t think I ever made it all the way through any of his books, but I read his newspaper column every week for as long as he wrote it. I vividly remember watching this debate live, from start to finish. And I attended a luncheon (not a lunch, but a luncheon) in the late 1980s where he gave the keynote address, so I got to sit two yards away from the great man as he showered accolades on this book, which had just come out.

      There’s no question that Buckley was smarter and more educated than Hannity. So if there is a hierarchy of excellence in political journalism, Buckley sits (or slouches) somewhere above Hannity. But how far above him? Not far enough, in my view, to make Brooks’s point.

      For one thing, as I said, Buckley is dead, but Hannity isn’t. We can’t rule out the possibility that Hannity might change radically for the better. After all, Buckley apparently did, and more impressively, George Wallace did. (I gave a paper at a conference on virtue ethics a few years ago at Notre Dame where one of the other presenters gave an interesting paper on character change, using Wallace as a case study. I don’t know if the paper’s been published, and I’m blanking out on the author’s name, but I found the case study striking. This isn’t it, but gets the point across.)

      Second, I think that Buckley’s virtues were more a matter of style than substance. He was bright, he was eloquent, he was witty, and he was a good conversationalist. He invited some interesting guests to his show, but as I remember it, “Firing Line” was interesting less because of anything Buckley said than because of the things his guests said. The ones I remember best: Christopher Hitchens, Mortimer Adler, Jesse Jackson, Bishop John Spong–all liberals or leftists. I remember finding them impressive, not Buckley.

      Buckley himself had a tendency to verbosity, pomposity, and sophistry. And the offensive tendency to civilizational chauvinism was always there. The “Firing Line” debate above, on dealing with the Soviets, was essentially an unapologetic defense of imperialism in the service of anti-communism: the “semi-savage” nations of the planet (Buckley argued) needed imperialism if the Soviets were to be held at bay. (“Semi-savage” was his phrase, verbatim: I remember it thirty years later.) He made excuses for every right-wing dictator you could think of, and apologized for every alliance with them we ever made, up to and including the P.W. Botha’s South Africa. Etc. So while I was always impressed with Buckley’s wit and charm as a debater, I don’t think I ever learned anything of a substantive nature from anything he said or wrote.

      At the end of the day, I’m not sure whether we’re disagreeing on Buckley’s merits, or disagreeing on the nature of a hierarchy of excellence, or both. I guess I’d say this: I think you’re either giving Buckley too much credit, and/or closing the book prematurely on Hannity, and/or have a conception of excellence-hierarchy that’s more formal (or less moralistic) than mine. Giving Buckley too much credit: I don’t think he was as good a journalist as you make him out to be. Closing the book prematurely on Hannity: yes, Hannity sucks, but to make it a fair comparison, we have to wait until he dies. Too formal a conception of hierarchy: there are, as I see it, two dimensions to journalistic excellence. One is being right, the other is putting things well. Neither Buckley nor Hannity score high on the first dimension; I’d grant that Buckley beats Hannity on the second. But if you weight the first more than the second (as I do), Buckley ends up an inch or two ahead of (or above) Hannity, but viewed from a certain angle, that’s less a hierarchy of excellence than a tie in moral mediocrity.

      The bottom line is that they both suck, and so does David Brooks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure that Hannity’s potential for dramatic intellectual and moral improvement undermines Brooks’ point, or not very much. Sure, Hannity could turn out to be the sort of guy whose show is worth watching. But he isn’t right now, and Brooks’ comparison is between Hannity as we know him and Buckley as we know him. Ultimately, I don’t think there can be any doubt that Brooks just has a much higher estimation of Buckley than either of us do, and if we take that estimation down a few notches, it weakens his point. Still, from my limited evidence, I’d say that there’s a very important difference between Hannity and Buckley, namely that Buckley was at least minimally respectable in the sense that he could be worth watching, listening to, reading, and arguing against; Hannity is none of that, except in the strictly incidental way that a person becomes worth watching, listening to, reading, and arguing against because he has the ear of so many people who would benefit from coming to see how worthless he is. I haven’t seen nearly as much Firing Line, but from what I have seen, I’m with you; it’s interesting for the guests, not for Buckley. Still, would Sean Hannity be able to have comparably non-conservative guests on his show, let them present their ideas at length, and engage them in civil discussion for an hour without mocking them, shouting them down, drowning them out, or having some other right-wing stooge there to take up half of the time? I happily confess that I haven’t watched more than two minutes of Hannity at a time in about ten years, but unless he’s already become dramatically different, the contrast between him and Buckley seems sharp. What little I’ve heard from the guy in the past two years does not suggest that he’s any better than he used to be; if anything, it suggests that he’s worse.

        So maybe that’s overestimating Buckley, and as I say, I’m not in a position to offer any nuanced judgments. But I can watch videos of Buckley’s show without feeling like I’m wasting my time and having my intelligence insulted, and that seems to me to distinguish him from Hannity not merely in degree, but in kind.

        Sure, Hannity could change. I won’t hold my breath, but he could. But that wouldn’t make pre-change Hannity any better, and I can’t regard that guy as within the realm of people worth taking seriously.

        I was going to make a joke about how we have to relativize our judgments to the type conservative journalist, and therefore can’t expect even the best specimens to score very high on the scale we’d use for journalist, but I’ve learned that I am not very funny, so…

        Liked by 1 person

        • To really resolve this “dispute,” I think we’d both have to watch a lot more of Buckley and Hannity than either of us is prepared to do. It’s something of a point in your favor that the prospect of going back to watch old episodes of “Firing Line” appeals a lot more to me than the idea of watching Hannity. But again, that says more about the show than it does about Buckley himself. I ingested large quantities of Buckley growing up, and got little out of it (or him).

          On this question,

          Still, would Sean Hannity be able to have comparably non-conservative guests on his show, let them present their ideas at length, and engage them in civil discussion for an hour without mocking them, shouting them down, drowning them out, or having some other right-wing stooge there to take up half of the time?

          …the answer is no, but there were times when Buckley did that kind of thing. One example is Buckley’s famous run-in with Gore Vidal. Another that I happened to see was Buckley’s conversation with Derek Humphry over euthanasia–not far from the Hannity treatment. Yes, Buckley was more outwardly civilized and genteel than Hannity, but that’s not quite the same thing as genuine civility. One underhanded tactic of Buckley’s was to play good cop/bad cop on the show, by inviting someone he disagreed with, then playing good cop to the person, and inviting someone else (with whom he agreed) to play bad cop. That’s what happened when he invited the liberal Episcopalian minister John Spong to his show: Buckley treated Spong with kid gloves, then invited someone else (I think it was William Oddie, but not sure) to play bad cop.

          I think it’s too easy on Brooks to take Buckley’s career as a whole and compare it to Hannity’s up to the present. For one thing, if Buckley hadn’t reformed from his pro-Jim-Crow days, it’s not clear he’d ever have been worth taking any more seriously than we take Hannity. And I’m not sure what Buckley would have done had he lived to encounter the age of social media. Granted, he had inherited wealth, so the question of financial survival might not have been pressing. But if it were pressing, would Buckley have turned into a Hannity-like figure? I find it plausible to think so.

          The deeper question, I think, is how we judge journalistic excellence. Obviously, an ascription of journalistic excellence to someone is not to say that one agrees with the person. At some level, we can abstract from our agreements or disagreements with a journalist and acknowledge his or her excellence. But the more rebarbative a journalist’s moral perspective, the harder it becomes to abstract from that fact and describe the individual as an “excellent journalist.” There are, after all, reactionary journalists out there who are a lot smarter than Hannity (Joseph Sobran, Patrick Buchanan), but one would be hard-put to say that, over all, they stood much higher in some hierarchy of excellence than Hannity. They may be smarter or cleverer than Hannity, but their very intelligence makes me reluctant to call them “excellent journalists”–unless one thinks of “journalistic excellence” in purely amoral terms. But in that case, you’d have to say that David Irving and Julius Streicher were “excellent journalists.” So is Greg Johnson, the white nationalist who runs Counter-Currents (i.e., this guy, which is to say, this guy). You can learn something from Sobran, Buchanan, and even Streicher, Irving, and Johnson but then, you can learn something from Osama bin Laden, too. I hesitate to say that journalistic excellence is compatible with the promotion of moral evil.

          I wouldn’t go so far as to call Buckley “evil.” But I think my moral verdict on his message influences my verdict on him as a journalist. In that respect, he and Hannity aren’t that far from one another. Given that, the respects in which they differ, and in which Buckley comes out ahead, don’t matter as much, at least to me.


          • Well, if resolving the dispute requires watching Hannity, I’m happy to leave it unresolved.

            I suppose one thing that motivates my response — aside from the fun of joking at Hannity’s expense — is a reluctance to let our assessments of journalistic or, more broadly, intellectual excellence be driven by our agreements or disagreements with the objects of assessment. Much of the time, all people are really doing when they say that so-and-so is a good journalist or writer is saying that they agree, and they’ll call virtually every writer or journalist with whom they disagree bad. I find that sort of attitude obnoxious and dishonest. I don’t mean to accuse you of it, because I don’t think you’re guilty of it here or anywhere else I’m aware of; I just mean that it’s a widespread attitude that I try to avoid, and it would be easy to fall into it in this case. Indeed, I think for most progressives, there would appear to be no significant difference in quality between Hannity and Buckley. But it seems clear to me that there is; even if Buckley sucked, he sucked less than Hannity.

            I might just be expecting too much from journalists, though. I have no trouble whatsoever thinking of philosophers who I think are seriously mistaken but who are eminently respectable and worth reading. I think most philosophers I’ve met feel similarly. But the de facto norms of journalistic discourse are not much like the de facto norms of academic philosophy. Maybe that’s as it should be. But I often wish it were otherwise.


            • I suppose one thing that motivates my response…is a reluctance to let our assessments of journalistic or, more broadly, intellectual excellence be driven by our agreements or disagreements with the objects of assessment.

              I agree with that, but the motivation can only go so far. I’m not disputing the legitimacy of the motivation, just stressing its limits: at a certain point, a journalist’s views cross the threshold of the merely in-error-from-my-perspective to being indecent-as-I-see-it. Yes, one’s judgments of the decency or indecency of others’ views is fallible, but one can’t always invoke that fact to avoid making wholehearted judgments of others’ indecency. I’m magnanimous enough to admit that indecent views can be held culpably or non-culpably, and that the degree of culpability for holding one can vary a lot, but an indecent-view-culpably-held seems a good target for adverse judgment.

              I guess what I’m saying is that when adverse judgment of that kind is justified, the adverse moral judgment trumps (or overrides, or discounts: one of those) the positive judgments we might justifiably make about the person’s purely intellectual or rhetorical skills with respect to our all-in judgment on their merits as a journalist. A journalistic (or “journalistic”) apologist for white nationalism, Islamism, or the Israeli occupation is not in my view a good journalist, no matter how clever he may be at defending those things. And in my experience, apologists for totalitarian causes are extraordinarily good at what they do: practice makes perfect.

              I regularly read Counter-Currents, the white nationalist blog. It’s evil and dishonest, but the writing is often quite good. Michael Young and I both happen to know Greg Johnson, the editor, from way back. Greg is extraordinarily intelligent and well-read, much more so than the average journalist. He’s also a much better writer than the average journalist. I won’t speak for Michael, but I regard Greg’s writing as a paradigm of the culpably indecent category I just mentioned. But for that very reason, I don’t regard it as journalism, and don’t regard Greg’s talents as exemplifying journalistic excellence. What he writes is racist and fascist propaganda. There may be a family resemblance between what Greg does and journalism, but they’re still fundamentally different things.

              I suppose I’m importing a sort of honorific into “journalism,” as one might with “doctor”: just as Josef Mengele was not a real doctor (or not really a doctor), Julius Streicher was not a real journalist (or not really a journalist). The one was a torturer masquerading as a doctor, the other a propagandist masquerading as a journalist.

              Even as I write all that, however, I become conscious of the potential counter-examples. If we think of journalists by analogy with artists, I suppose, things change. Can good art be evil (or evil art be good)? I think so. Can someone be a great artist and a promulgator of evil through her art? Yes. Can you hate a piece of art but recognize its aesthetic excellence? Again, yes. I’m just musing out loud at this point, but if journalism were more like art than it is like medicine (or philosophy), the view I’ve been defending would turn out to be false. And maybe that’s sort of what you’re getting at in your last paragraph: the de facto norms of journalism are murky, because it’s a little murky what the telos of journalism is supposed to be in the first place.

              That said, I guess I have (Buckley aside) a less critical view of journalists than you do. The de facto norms of journalistic discourse are certainly different than those of philosophy, and that is as it should be: they’re different fields, with different aims.

              I don’t so much “wish it were otherwise” as wish that journalists and philosophers interacted more and learned more from one another. Journalists could learn something about logic, objectivity, and conceptual precision, but philosophers could stand to learn something about how difficult it is to “get the facts straight” about an event without resorting to hand-waving devices like thought-experiments, idealization, and dodges like “ex hypothesi,” “presumably,” and “as far as can be ascertained from the armchair.”

              Consider the tendency of, say, moral realists of a certain stripe to pound the table about the “facts that are out there, really out there,” and then punt on getting them right on any given occasion with the excuse that philosophers need not concern themselves with factual details. But from the first-person perspective of the moral agent, details tend to matter. A dose of good, old-fashioned journalism would help there–think William Shirer, Seymour Hirsch, Ahmed Rashid, Steve Coll, the early Christopher Hitchens, parts of Susan Sontag, Paul Starr (as a journalist). The problem with contemporary journalism is its degradation by social media. It sounds nostalgic, but once upon a time, things were different.

              Or maybe I’m just getting old.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I might be guilty of importing a sort of dishonorific into ‘journalist’; it’s not that I think they’re mostly bad so much as that I don’t expect much of them. That makes Hannity’s failures even more egregious; it’s not like I’m judging him by especially exacting standards here.

                But I’ll defer to you, because you plainly read more journalism than I do. Hell, you read white nationalist blogs regularly. I haven’t got the energy for that; I don’t even read respectable journalism — or, if you like, actual journalism — regularly anymore, because I’m too busy and tired and inundated with an overflow of information to convince myself that it’s worth it.

                I will, however, be reading a contemporary newspaper account of the storming of the Bastille with my 10th graders this week. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to consider what the goals of journalism are and whether we think the report achieves them. Unfortunately I don’t know the details of the source (it’s part of an in-house course packet I’ve inherited), but it begins like this:

                On July 14, 1789, Parisian crowds in search of weapons attacked and captured the royal armory known as the Bastille. It had also been a state prison, and its fall marked the triumph of “liberty” over despotism. This intervention of the Parisian populace saved the Third Estate from Louis XVI’s attempted counterrevolution.

                First, the people tried to enter this fortress by the Rue St.-Antoine, this fortress, which no one has ever penetrated against the wishes of this frightful despotism and where the monster still resided. The treacherous governor had put out a flag of peace….

                Fair and balanced, for sure.

                Liked by 1 person

          • A bit of digging on the newspaper account: it comes from Révolutions de Paris, a newspaper that began publishing on July 12, 1789. It continued until early 1794, when its publisher, under suspicion of being a moderate and worried that he might lose his head for it, stopped publishing it.

            At least our current leaders’ animosity to the press hasn’t quite reached that level of influence yet.

            Liked by 1 person

          • You should have seen some of their faces today as we read Robespierre’s defense of the terror. They were already riled up by the idea that virtue can exist only in a democracy. By the time we got to virtue being powerless without terror and terror being nothing more than justice “prompt, severe, and inflexible,” the more thoughtful kids were ready to, well, revolt. Best remark: wait, first he says that terror is nothing more than justice with these qualities, but then he agrees to the objection that despots and tyrants use terror too; but he doesn’t think despots are just; isn’t that, like, a contradiction thing?


  2. I just happened, completely by chance, to take a book off of one of my shelves and encounter a passage of Buckley’s that seems to me to speak directly to our conversation. The book is Angelo Codevilla’s No Victory, No Peace (2004), chapter 5 of which reprints an exchange between Codevilla and five right-wing critics (Buckley, Frank Gaffney,Mackubin Owens, Norman Podhoretz, and David Tucker). The year is 2002, and they’re all discussing Codevilla’s super-militaristic (but idiosyncratically heterodox) advice for dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Here is part of Buckley’s comment. Bear in mind that this is Buckley near the end of his career, at the age of 77. That’s 77 with two 7’s, not one.

    I myself wrote, soon after September 11, that we had a great deal to fear from actually finding and shooting bin Laden, which would have left us theatrically triumphant, queen bee inert in our hand, while the swarm continued its depredations. Something much larger than bin Laden needed decapitation, and I liked also that Codevilla declared that a great deal was to be gained by precisely condemning a real enemy–Saddam Hussein, a head of state–to death. Executing Saddam Hussein in Baghdad would not absolutely eliminate the hive, but the mailed fist would have been felt, and the consequences of it would still the hands of most of the terrorist-minded who think themselves agents of a political ideal. (74)

    Pause on this vintage example of Buckley’s mind at work. It’s certainly more literate-sounding (or seeming) than anything Sean Hannity could come up with. Put another way, it has a certain pompous, pseudo-archaic grandiloquence that Hannity lacks. But substantively speaking, how far is it from Hannity’s world view? If anything, Buckley’s love of metaphor commits him to more nonsense than Hannity could have served up in a comparable space.

    Buckley’s claims in plain English:

    1. Bin Laden was responsible for the attacks, but we wouldn’t want to target him, because no one would take our killing him seriously.
    2. Islamic terrorists are like killer bees; they swarm about and sting even after you kill their queen. (It’s not clear to me that that’s even what Africanized bees do, but never mind: plain old accuracy is obviously not the issue here.)
    3. It’s perfectly OK to elide the issue of Saddam Hussein’s connection to the 9/11 attacks; maybe there is a connection, maybe not, but what matters is that unlike our actual attackers, he’s an enemy we need to “decapitate.” So that’s why we need to wage war against Iraq. A war is not only the right kind of theater, but the right kind of speech act for the occasion. So let’s have one.
    4. A war against Iraq might not deter the entire hive–the mindless hive mentioned above, the one that wouldn’t be deterred by the death of its “queen”–but it’ll deter them enough to make it worth waging. Because mindless hordes of psychopathic killer bee terrorists are bound to be deterred by the thought that we decided to go to war against a country whose head of state, while totally irrelevant to the jihad they’re waging, was once an ally and is now an enemy of ours.

    Incidentally, Buckley is responding to Codevilla’s conspiracy theory, offered in 2002, that bin Laden was already dead, a fact he (Codevilla) infers because in Godfather Part II, those who sent the assassins killed them as well (p. 63). Hence those who “sent” bin Laden must already have killed him. I mean, if the Godfather movies aren’t the perfect template for understanding Islamist terrorism, what the hell is? “Missed it by that much,” as Maxwell Smart might have said.

    You’ll have to take my word on this: this isn’t an anomalous Buckley production. This is the kind of thing Buckley served up for decades throughout the Cold War, and into the post-9/11 years (I’m not sure when he stopped writing, but he died in 2008). It’s mind-blowingly stupid shit–the kind of thing you’d expect from some drunken blowhard at your local dive, not America’s premier conservative intellectual. And it’s not something he said way back in 1957, as a 32-year-old youngster who couldn’t be expected to know better. No, this is Buckley after a lifetime’s experience thinking and writing about public affairs–a WFB who, as an adult, lived through Korea and Vietnam, and reported on them.

    What does he do? He buys into the dumbest conspiracy theory to come down the pike, then doubles down and offers the dumbest set of prescriptions imaginable, justifying them on the dumbest basis imaginable. We all lived through the 9/11 years. To state the obvious: this was fringe stuff believable only to complete imbeciles. But Buckley ate it up. But then, this is the same WFB who advocated the “routine” use of tactical nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War.

    Now go back and watch some Hannity. Precisely because Hannity has a boringly predictable, pedestrian mind, he seems sane by comparison with Buckley:

    Stupid? Yeah. Dishonest? Yes. Embarrassing? No question. But not worse than Buckley. The basic technique–“see how it all ties together?”–is indistinguishable from Buckley’s (and Codevilla’s) own conspiracy theorizing. I suppose you could trawl through the Hannity Archives and find stuff crazier than the preceding video. But you can do the same with Buckley.

    Having reminded myself of what Buckley was like, I’m inclined to double down on my original claim: I honestly don’t think any substantive “hierarchy of excellence” distinguishes Buckley from Hannity. They’re peas in a pod–one a Yale-educated pea with Larchmont lockjaw, the other a loudmouth from New Yawk.

    And don’t get me started on Codevilla.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, ok, the Buckley is pretty stupid. Maybe not quite as stupid as you take it to be, but pretty stupid. I don’t know whether it’s dishonest; I think I’ve met people who honestly believed things like that. But I’m still not willing to put him on the same level as Hannity; there are many circles in hell, after all.

      I think what we really need is someone who knows Buckley’s work well and admires it to show up and start defending it. I’m a bit worried that we’re making the mistake of looking at Buckley’s worst work rather than his best, but I’m definitely not going to sacrifice hours of my finite, fragile life looking for something better.


    • So many different but converging reasons, at least in my case.

      Generally, I thought it was wasting too much of my time (or rather: that I was wasting too much time on it). The quality of conversation was often abysmally low and wildly irresponsible: I got tired of having to see Facebook “friends” saying stupid, offensive things. I was also beginning to think that it was making me irresponsible: the platform practically incentivizes grandstanding and narcissism. Every now and then, you’d stumble on or into a good conversation, but Facebook tends to be a bad platform for having a good conversation: for instance, it seems opposed, on principle, to the concept of the paragraph.

      And though I had a mere 415 Facebook friends, I couldn’t think of any real principle (beyond whim) by which to add or unfriend them. So every now and then (more often than I expected), some asshole “Friend” would wander onto my page and say some asshole thing that I could neither unceremoniously delete (without hearing about it), nor leave there without resenting it. Beyond that, I couldn’t get my students to understand that Facebook Messenger was not meant for university business. So they’d leave me messages and expect me to answer. When I didn’t answer, I’d get plaintive follow-ups, and when I did, they got the impression that it was OK to do–no matter how often I said it wasn’t. And then I had some privacy concerns: too many people getting hacked on Facebook for my comfort.

      And then Mark Zuckerberg’s do-gooding started to get on my nerves, along with this kind of thing, not limited to Israel/Palestine. In the summer of 2016, my friends and I were on the receiving end of an hours-long Israeli military incursion into Abu Dis, where I was staying: three hours of tear gas, stun grenades, helicopters, and gunfire. Over what? Over a kid who had posted a Facebook profile pic of himself pointing a toy gun at the camera. I’m not particularly keen on contributing to that, and Facebook also opened me up to the possibility of extended interrogation on entry or exit into Israel (or elsewhere).

      The Israeli government now uses advocacy of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions as a reason for visa denial, and will force you to open your Facebook account so that they can read your private posts–something they can’t do if there aren’t any. (I’m not saying I am an advocate of BDS; my point is that they’ll use the suspicion that you are as a pretext for an invasive search.) There were a large enough number of right-wing supporters of Israel among my Facebook “friends” that I could imagine some of them feeding half of what I was saying to Shin Bet without being asked. So I figure if I have something to say, I’ll say it in the open.

      Short question, long answer!

      I do miss the opportunity to upload photos, especially when I travel. Maybe I’ll open an Instagram account. Truth is, I still need to overhaul this site.


    • My reasons are just the boring version of Irfan’s. I wasted too much time on it, and it left me feeling curmudgeonly and misanthropic. I have an Instagram account to scroll through pictures, mostly of dogs, without political commentary, that can serve as my five-minute break from mental effort once or twice a day, and pictures of dogs tend not to irritate me like Facebook posts do. It has its positive uses, to be sure, but I find that for the most part it just offers people, including myself, a temptation to indulge in dialectical and personal vices. But I’ve also been generally trying to avoid spending more time on the Internet than I need to, and more time reading old books that have managed to remain interesting after a century or twenty.

      I do, however, still have Facebook messenger, and people who were my FB friends before can contact me through that if it’s the most convenient way for them.


      • Is your Instagram public? I can’t find it. Too many David Riesbecks out there.

        Had no trouble finding the Instagram for the family grocery store, however. Fourteen locations, but alas, the closest one is seven hours away.


        • Only seven hours? I’m surprised. I admit I wasn’t sure we were up to 14 yet. Obviously I do not attend stockholder meetings. I just cash the checks.

          Turns out there are a whole lot more Irfan Khawajas than I’d expected, too (and no grocery store, alas). I follow and am followed by Allison, if that helps to find me. But searching for ‘djriesbeck’ should do it.


  3. Lots of good reasons, Irfan. Thanks for all the things to think about. Boy, I sure was surprised at some of the things some of my FB friends thought about things. Especially among the one’s I’d been out of contact with for a long time. Participation there does require more of my time than I like, although from the purposes to which I’ve used it, overall it’s been good for me. In the initial setup of the account, I selected that people could not add a new post to my timeline without me clicking approval. It turned out that was intimidating to friends, and very few have ventured a post for approval. They just comment on what I put there. That’s been fine for my purposes.

    I do de-friend and sometimes even block friends who turn out to have invited my friending them only to increase their audience for a stream of political talk they put out on their timeline; but they never had time for a click on anything at my own page. Some FB friends have only personal life things at their page, on which I click or comment, yet they never do that on my own page. I leave them as FB friends. I think a lot of the members there who are still visiting FB at all don’t realize that you won’t be notified of most of your friends’ activity, and you have to visit their page on your own initiative to find out what’s been happening with them. I’ve found that time-consuming but rewarding.

    My main interest in joining was to be able to access notification for certain meetings people would announce there. But it also turned out to be a place I could announce my posts (essays) at posting sites. And I was able to create by photo albums and my narratives in them a record of my life and of loved ones in it. That turned out to be precious for me.

    Thanks again. I’m gonna leave the computer now (we don’t have smartphone) and open my philosophy books and that vast precious world. –S


  4. David Brooks in today’s New York Times, on our Jordan Peterson moment. He’s referring to Peterson’s recent confrontation with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News in Britain:

    Peterson calmly and comprehensibly corrected and rebutted her. It is the most devastatingly one-sided media confrontation you will ever see. He reminded me of a young William F. Buckley.

    Some people never fucking learn.

    Here’s the Newman-Peterson interview, for whatever it’s worth.


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