Guest post: The ability to have nuanced discussions

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on A firm grasp.

first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home

David Brooks, Bill Kristol,Thomas Friedman, Ross Douthat – just off the top of my head.

To a large extent the New York Times’ editorial page has long been a who’s who of “very serious people”, AKA the same centrist “very serious people” whose propagandising helped land America in Iraq. To say that centrist writers wouldn’t see the New York Times as their home, would imply that they’d never heard of it.

But the big thing that struck me here was this:

This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.

This is one of those things that pisses me off with centrist pundits. In one breath they will proclaim that we should be able to deal with nuance. Defending somebody’s right to say something, for example, is not defending what they’re saying.

A big part of this is what the whole “Intellectual dark web” schtick is trying to claim its about: The ability to have nuanced discussions which are supposedly verboten under “cancel culture” because the people having the discussion aren’t allowed to broach uncomfortable territory.

Apart from the awful name, I could get behind that if it wasn’t a lie.

So look at Weiss’ first example – the Soviet space program is lauded for its diversity. The Soviet space program achieved a lot of firsts in the space race, America was first to the moon in part because on just about every other milestone the Soviets got there first.

Now I don’t know how diverse the Soviet program really was, but her issue isn’t one of fact, it is one of praising the Soviets for something.

When did it become a bad thing to recognise that bad governments are in fact capable of doing some things right? Isn’t that part of the same nuance that the centrists claim to stand for?

You know what else the Soviets did? Opposed Apartheid. Are we supposed to pretend that’s a bad thing because the Soviets did it? Long before America did?

Isn’t this the precise sort of uncomfortable territory that Weiss’ “Intellectual dark web” is supposed to be able to explore? Isn’t this the exact sort of thing she’s made a brand out of championing? Or at least, wants us to think she’s made a brand out of championing?

And then you look at the rest of it, and I can’t help but think the first example demonstrates the problem that gives rise to the others. If you cannot acknowledge the Soviets getting something right, then can you see the humanity in a pack of teenagers wearing MAGA hats?

If you can’t see the nuance in communist history, are you going to be able to see the nuance in American history?

And much as I would disagree that America’s caste system is up there with Nazi Germany’s, how does what she’s saying gel with an opposition to “cancel culture” and “safe spaces”?

Maybe I’m looking at this weird, but I can’t help but think there is something very snaky going on with a centrism that finds race realism more acceptable than discussing the successes of the Soviet space program.

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