Negative Action

The self-pleasuring way that a certain type of commentator approaches Ta-Nehisi Coates reinforces his argument on prejudice, but does so destructively, repelling anyone not already inside the circle of solidarity, all those wrongly or rightly hesitant or suspicious. This supportive undermining is achieved not principally by creating impossible expectations, but rather by encouraging familiar ones: see, e.g., President George HW Bush nominating the “best qualified” Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. If in this way exaggerated praise ironically amplifies the original justification for what is transparently confirmed in being denied – some voluntaristic species of affirmative action – it does so against the writer’s or nominee’s or candidate’s best interests; against the primary interest in proving oneself, and knowing oneself proved; in literary work, even punditry, against a young writer’s need for critical engagement more than premature advancement; in politics against anyone’s greater interest in achievement than in adulation. As for the ones negatively affirming, their overdoing it, laying it on too thick, making a show, is an aggressively paternalistic form of not really listening, least of all to oneself.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

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20 comments on “Negative Action

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  1. an obviously unserious expression of admiration such as this bit of Coates-holding doesn’t merit that response.

    is there something about Hayes (with whom I’m barely familiar) or some other stuff from him about TNC or such that moved you to drip that stuff into his ear?

    • Are you saying you need a list of similar comments from Hayes and others to believe that Coates, a thoughtful and promising young writer, gets over-praised in a familiar and predictable manner? I chose Hayes’ tweet because it was so obviously ridiculous – and weird – but it’s typical of similar comments regularly put up by the likes of Jon Chait, Jonathan Bernstein, and others. The tweet was re-tweeted, and I’ve yet to see any indication that anyone took it as satire. I’ve never been in Coates’ position, but I’ve seen others in it or approximations of it in writing, politics, fine arts, academia. The whole thing often goes poorly for all concerned, despite initial appearances and all or most people’s conscious intentions. It’s corrupting and distorting, and, as I tried to suggest, the fact that we’re not beyond it rather confirms and extends Coates’ base argument.

      • yeah, i guess that I am…. Hayes’ tweet here was 50% of all praise for TNC that I’ve seen. Hadn’t realized the he was almost a legend in his not-yet prime time.

        it wasn’t satirical, but I read it as obviously and consciously hyperbolic.

  2. So should I stop praising CK so much? CK has always recommended that, but I figure he’s old enough to not let it go to his head.

    • I think I’ll put up a payment button that says “Your love gives me such a thrill, but your love won’t pay my bills.” I predict that after the first one or two times you paid rather than praised, you’d be cured of both temptations.

        • Truth is that Mr. Miller knows very well, as I hope he also knows I know very well, that he’s more than paid his dues. If that warn’t the case, you’re right, I might have less hope for the behavioral mod.

          • The truth as I see it is that if Mr. MacLeod had been half as okay with commerce as he professes to be he would have no bill problems. But he knows what comes with real commerce orientation and can’t abide by it, so he doesn’t play the game in a way that works financially. No amount of bill paying (whether or not it was connected to love) would keep him from bringing it to ruin because he doesn’t believe in success and he’s right not to. Or at least he’s been right. If he doesn’t think he’s right now, and really wanted his bills to be paid he could make it happen. He’s just too big of a secret long-haired commie hippie-type pinko word lover to really allow himself to be commercially tainted.

            • Any idealism I claimed, or anyone claimed for me, as a justification for… what I’m not… could be taken as an easy cop-out…

              However, the only think I hate worse than success is being understood, so I may just have to sacrifice avoidance of the former in order to maintain resistance to the latter. That’d show you.

  3. In re two comments moderated into the void: I thought you’d just gotten through promising to knock that kind of stuff off, Mr McKenzie. Perhaps you should avoid commenting on anything having to do with Ta-Nehisi Coates at all.

    FYI – I took the featured comments widget off the sidebar because I’ve been using this site to test out certain novel commenting features. Had nothing to do with you, and, as a matter of fact, I’m encountering a new problem just right now that may also lead to some unexpected commenting and formatting results and behavior as I investigate.

    In the meantime and forever-like, how you feel about Ta-Nehisi Coates is not the kind of thing I’m interested in. How one happens to feel personally about anyone at all is the kind of thing I’m interested in isolating, reducing, and setting aside in the interest of a fair and as minimally prejudicial discussion as possible. Whatever value you imagine your comments possess, you disfigure them with the racialized loathing that you cannot restrain yourself from ejaculating across their surface. Consider such expressions streng verboten. Consider foul insults of any type and regardless of target also streng verboten, whether or not cut apart once the intended meaning has been made clear enough. You can pretty much assume that whenever you start imitating modes of speech for would-be humorous or insulting or humorously insulting effect, you have almost certainly overstepped the line. Spinoza wouldn’t have hesitated to “moderate” the results – that is, to forbid them strictly – if he were in my position.

  4. I thought you’d just gotten through promising to knock that kind of stuff off, Mr McKenzie.

    Well–I fell off the wagon, CK. I’m resolved to get back on.

    you cannot restrain yourself from ejaculating across their surface

    Oh, for Christ’s sake, MacLeod–please don’t stoop to this sort of gutter talk.

    Spinoza wouldn’t have hesitated to “moderate” the results – that is, to forbid them strictly – if he were in my position.

    Well that would be quite a comedown for Mijnheer Benedictus, wouldn’t it?

    Mach’s gut



  5. CK: You’ll forgive me one last remark, then I promise to leave you alone for at least a few days.

    “In the meantime and forever-like, how you feel about Ta-Nehisi Coates is not the kind of thing I’m interested in. How one happens to feel personally about anyone at all is the kind of thing I’m interested in isolating, reducing, and setting aside in the interest of a fair and as minimally prejudicial discussion as possible.”

    Notice how you characterize your ambition to carry on an impersonal discussion as something that emanates from–your personal interests. I suppose I might justly reply that what interests you personally isn’t the sort of thing “I’m interested in”.

    In all seriousness, I think that whether you should be aspiring–and compelling others so to aspire–to have an impersonal discussion about issues wherein you and everyone else can’t help but be personally implicated is the very sort of thing we ought to be discussing and not censoring.

    • Afraid I must add a brief appendix to my comment–because I realize I didn’t express myself as clearly as I would have liked.

      Firstly, I made it sound as if my reference to “censoring” a discussion about the appropriate tone–personal or impersonal, partial or impartial–of any discussion was a reference to my preceding “gag” comments. It wasn’t.

      Secondly, I also made it sound as if you wouldn’t be interested in having a discussion about the appropriate tone of any discussion–when I know quite clearly that you would.

      But you’d like to have an impersonal, impartial discussion about whether or not personality or impersonality, partiality or impartiality is the more appropriate tone for any discussion–and you’re loathe to allow for any other sort of discussion: the personal, partial sort. It is in that sense that you would “censor” the discussion in my view, by presuming the very thing that is to be discussed.

      • And really you should have your own site if you simply must go on about those things so immoderately and unpleasantly. My rates for setting you up would be quite reasonable, though they would include a loathsome enemy client surcharge, of course, since I would not expect to be able to add the site to my portfolio.

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Noted & Quoted


And this programmer suggested a way to avoid user input all together:

Eventually, programmers on Reddit started making fully-functioning, interactive versions of the awful forms, like this and this and this. Someone even created one out of the classic game Snake. The meme hasn’t stopped for weeks now, and iterations of it seem to be growing more detailed and elaborate.

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Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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State of the Discussion

Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Wade, your last paragraph is crucial to your argument. Certainly it expresses economically the source of the weight of a country's foreign policy, and [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Not sure where you got the idea that I ever wrote “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!" - bob's idea for a possible rallying [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ The conversation that you and Bob were having at the time that I wrote my comment had everything to do with the recent missile strike [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic