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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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

This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance.  They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

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[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

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+ BTW, I recently upgraded some this and that on the back end of the blog, and it does seem to make comments post much faster [. . .]
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For WordPress self-hosted people, there is already a "restore legacy editor" plugin, even though Gutenberg hasn't been installed yet as the default.

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+ I thought you were on WordPress.com, not self-hosted WordPress. I can't find any info on WordPress.com and Gutenberg or Gutenbergerish editing, so I don't know [. . .]
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