Looting, Burning, and Blathering

Jason Brennan, prefacing a blog post on looting:

Before I get going, I’d like to remind you that I was writing about police violence and systematic injustice against blacks (and others) in the criminal justice system years ago, before it was cool and on your mind. So when you see me talking about protestors’ excesses, it’s not because I think that’s the most important issue, but because it’s what I find philosophically interesting now.

“Before it was cool and on your mind.” WTF. Whose mind?

I was first falsely accused of a violent crime (aggravated assault) and interrogated by the police at the age of 7–in 1976, three years before Jason Brennan was born. And false accusation regarding violent crime has been a minor motif in my life ever since–one day I’m accused of wanting to bomb a plane, the next of shooting up a school, the next of sending anthrax to a bank, the next of assaulting a non-existent “female” in a hotel room, the next, vaguely, of “constituting a danger to self and others,” etc. etc. Systematic injustice in the criminal justice system has been on my mind my whole life. Partly because it’s been more than merely on my mind.

What Brennan says about looting and burning in that post is fair enough, but maybe skip the preface, and just “get going.” Police malfeasance may well be a late-breaking issue for the presumptively whitebread libertarian readership of 200ProofLiberals, but it’s been a longstanding issue in a lot of non-libertarian, non-whitebread lives for quite some time now. Jason Brennan didn’t discover it, any more than Columbus discovered America, or Bull Connor discovered the German shepherd. Leave it to some grandstanding white guy to think he did.

10 thoughts on “Looting, Burning, and Blathering

  1. His writing only “your” was sloppy. Omitting and sloppy usage of quantifiers is very common. I guess he had in mind a big majority of readers or people in general. You could ask him if he meant specifically you.


    • I think it’s more than garden variety quantifier omission. I think it’s more the adoption of a delusional form of self-importance: he really seems to think that no one before him had ever concerned themselves with systematic police malfeasance. You could only think something that conspicuously stupid if you thought that your audience consisted of whitebread libertarian academics who had never actually dealt with systematic police malfeasance. (I’m not saying that they haven’t; I’m saying that he seems to be operating on the presumption that they haven’t.) Imagine prefacing comments to a local chapter of BLM or even the NAACP, and saying, “I was on this before you thought it was cool…” They’d deal with him less gently than I have.

      A person who can’t stop throwing crap like that in everyone’s faces should get used to readers who throw some of it back at him.


  2. There’s a substantial portion of the “whitebread libertarian” movement that’s been concerned about police malfeasance for a long time. See, e.g.:





    Or, for that matter, the Libertarian Party Platform (see this on from 1982):


    • Understood. That’s why I said “presumptively whitebread libertarian readership of 200ProofLiberals,” i.e., referring to a presumption in his mind, not mine. I hadn’t meant to be criticizing libertarians, just him.


  3. I could be wrong, but my first-pass speculative approximation is that the presunedly oblivious “you” in Brennan’s post is more likely intended to be relatively affluent, presumptively progressive NPR listeners and progressively-inclined academics than it is either movement libertarians or libertarian-inclined academics. This is partly because he springboards off of an NPR piece in his post; partly because he seems to be concerned about warding off potential criticism from a dialectical direction that most whitebread libertarians, movement or academic, would be less likely to come from, but lots of people who want to demonstrate their sympathy with or emgagement in social justice causes would be likely to come at him from.


    • I considered that, but why think that progressive NPR listeners are reading 200ProofLiberals in the first place? And how does someone who’s writing for 200ProofLiberals ignore the fact that the “you” is most likely to be taken to the actual audience of the blog, which consists of whitebread libertarians? But even on the most charitable reading, how does Brennan know that affluent, progressive NPR-types have, unlike him, only recently climbed on the racial justice bandwagon, and done so because it’s “cool”?

      No matter what rhetorical effect he was trying to achieve, the claim itself is monumentally presumptuous–a bit of stereotyping, a bit of well-poisoning, a bit of grandstanding. A predictable mix, considering the source.


  4. <>

    Well, on the one hand it could be the usual sort of empty open letter apostrophe to an audience you’d like to address, whether or not that’s an audience you have or ever have had.

    Anyway, alternaticely Brennan genuinely has had some Crooked Timber types who read and responded to his stuff over at BHL, and more than enough self-regard to figure that, since it closed up, they must have diligently made sure to find new Brennan blogging outlets to follow.

    (In the post, he does at one point directly address his presumed readers as “protesters,” for whatever that’s worth. Which is potentially much broader than just relatively affluent professor types and NPR listeners, but it includes the latter as one faction, and I figure it’s a pretty rare day when Brennan gives much evidence of caring about what any other socioeconomic group thinks about anything.)

    If I’m right about the intended or imagined audience then I think the claim about bandwagoning is a mix of fair critique and unfair stereotyping, and layered over with an awfully thick spread of defensive grandiosity. I don’t think the stereotyping is grounded in ignorance of what affluent progressives think, since Brennan like nearly all American academics is swimming in it every day, but rather in a characteristic unfairness and incuriosity or impatience with drawing out differences within the spectrum of his rhetorical targets. To some extent I can understand where the defensive feeling comes from and sympathize to some extent. But as to the grandiosity and the cartooning of imagined interlocutors, sure, consider the source, etc. etc.


    • Some day, one fine day, I am going to remember how HTML markup of comments works on this here blog.

      In any case, the remark I had intended to quote above, and reply to, was Irfan saying this:

      I considered that, but why think that progressive NPR listeners are reading 200ProofLiberals in the first place?


    • I find the Crooked Timber hypothesis implausible. Yes, Brennan may have a few readers from among the Crooked Timber folks, but far too few to make them the “you” of the post. Taken as a whole, Crooked Timber is about as interested in what Brennan has to say as 200ProofLiberals is interested in what I have to say: they could care less. For Brennan to be addressing them seems to be a case of the tail’s wagging the dog.

      The you=protester hypothesis is more plausible, but seems to me to make things much worse for Brennan. Imagine that he was addressing “the protesters,” including the Jesse Franklin mentioned in this article, who had never been to a political protest of any kind until about a week ago. A week ago, after the Jacob Blake shooting, Franklin attended a BLM protest in Kenosha. “Enough is enough,” he says.

      Jesse Franklin is described as being in his 30s. Brennan is around 41. So they’re of roughly the same age. Now try to read Brennan’s preface with Franklin in mind, i.e., imagine Brennan addressing that very Jesse Franklin in a one-on-one conversation:

      Before I get going, I’d like to remind you that I was writing about police violence and systematic injustice against blacks (and others) in the criminal justice system years ago, before it was cool and on your mind. So when you see me talking about protestors’ excesses, it’s not because I think that’s the most important issue, but because it’s what I find philosophically interesting now.

      What’s striking about this thought-experiment is that I think it’s essentially impossible: the scenario is unimaginable. No one, not even Jason Brennan, could say that to this person. Indeed, it was soon after reading this Times article that I wrote my blog post. Precisely because Brennan could not intelligibly be addressing the Jesse Franklins of the world, the question arises: who, in his own mind, was he addressing? My answer: a bunch of whitebread libertarians. My point here is not to insinuate that libertarianism is a white-bread movement insensitive to racial injustice. It’s to suggest that even if Brennan was addressing NPR types, he had to be addressing this whitebread audience, as well.

      Consider the lack of moral imagination displayed by the passage I quoted. if you imagine it addressed to Franklin, it fast-forwards past the “enough is enough,” and fixates on the fact that Franklin is a mere neophyte protester who attended his first protest a week ago. It reduces Franklin’s desire for change to a desire to be “cool.” It then puts Our White Savior, Jason Brennan, on a self-conferred pedestal because he’s written published work on criminal justice these past few years, and Franklin has not. But in doing so, it demotes Jesse Franklin’s life-long experiences, the ones that led him to say “enough is enough” to a kind of nullity. What matters is what Brennan has written, not what anyone has gone through. What matters is that the issues have been on his mind for years, not that anyone has been dealing with them for much longer.

      Of course, I don’t happen to know Jesse Franklin. Maybe his “enough is enough” really is empty. But there many, many people who can say “enough is enough” with wholehearted conviction because they’ve lived what it means. Jason Brennan doesn’t get to address those people (even by implication) with White Savior condescension because he’s written books and articles on criminal justice. And I can assure you, that facing a BLM or NAACP audience, he wouldn’t give it a try. It’s precisely because he’s writing at 200ProofLiberals, a very different venue, that he gets away with shit like this.

      People can agree with this or not, but I think I’m pretty sparing about playing the race card. Problem is: there’s no avoiding it here. The passage of Brennan’s I quoted above is exactly what smug white people characteristically sound like when they’re talking to other white people about race.

      The TL;DR of what I want to say is: argue your case, but lose the smugness, dude. You haven’t earned it. And a couple of books and articles isn’t going to earn it for you. Meanwhile, you can’t imagine what an asshole you’re making of yourself with talk of this kind. It’s one thing not to be interested in protest, not to be a protester, not to get protesters. It’s another thing to insist, rhetorically, on taking a crap on them at every opportunity. When a person does that, he should expect the targets to throw it right back.


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