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. 

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


To take power, May had to pretend that she, too, dreams these impossible dreams. And that led her to embrace a phony populism in which the narrow and ambiguous majority who voted for Brexit under false pretences are be reimagined as “the people.”

This is not conservatism—it is pure Rousseau. The popular will had been established on that sacred referendum day. And it must not be defied or questioned. Hence, Theresa May’s allies in The Daily Mail using the language of the French revolutionary terror, characterizing recalcitrant judges and parliamentarians as “enemies of the people” and “saboteurs.”

This is why May called an election. Her decision to do so—when she had a working majority in parliament—has been seen by some as pure vanity. But it was the inevitable result of the volkish rhetoric she had adopted. A working majority was not enough—the unified people must have a unified parliament and a single, uncontested leader: one people, one parliament, one Queen Theresa to stand on the cliffs of Dover and shake her spear of sovereignty at the damn continentals.

...Brexit is thus far from being a done deal: it can’t be done without a reliable partner for the EU to negotiate with. There isn’t one now and there may not be one for quite some time—at least until after another election, but quite probably not even then. The reliance on a spurious notion of the “popular will” has left Britain with no clear notion of who “the people” are and what they really want.

Comment →

The most extraordinary paragraph in this op-ed, however, is this one:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

...First — and this is so obvious I can’t believe I have to type out these words — the United States can’t simultaneously proclaim “America first” and then claim any kind of moral strength. Saying loudly and repeatedly that American values are not going to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy strips you of any moral power whatsoever.

The second and bigger problem is that the “embrace” of a Hobbesian vision of the world by the most powerful country in the world pretty much guarantees Hobbesian reciprocity by everyone else. Most international relations scholars would agree that there are parts of the world that fit this brutal description. But even realists don’t think it’s a good thing. Cooperation between the United States and its key partners and allies is not based entirely on realpolitik principles. It has helped foster a zone of stability across Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim that has lasted quite some time. In many issue areas, such as trade or counterterrorism or climate change, countries gain far more from cooperation than competition.

Furthermore, such an embrace of the Hobbesian worldview is, in many ways, anti-American.

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The rise of the military, if coupled with the undermining of civilian aspects of national power, demonstrates a spiritual exhaustion and a descent into Caesarism. Named after Julius Caesar — who replaced the Roman Republic with a dictatorship — Caesarism is roughly characterized by a charismatic strongman, popular with the masses, whose rule culminates in an exaggerated role for the military. America is moving in this direction. It isn’t that some civilian agencies don’t deserve paring down or even elimination, nor is it that the military and other security forces don’t deserve a boost to their financial resources. Rather, it is in the very logic, ideology, and lack of proportionality of Trump’s budget that American decline, decadence, and Caesarism are so apparent.

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State of the Discussion

CK MacLeod
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CK MacLeod
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+ Thanks, Mr. McK. I don't see the Rs in any better a position, nor the independents for that matter. All the People's Political Scientists and [. . .]
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+ It's a common tactic in scholasticism (vide Edward Feser) to take a term of religio-philosophical significance (such as "creation" or "eternity") that has a commonly [. . .]
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