OK—let’s play the old game again. How do you find out who really holds power in a chosen society. Easy question: who aren’t you allowed to criticize?
There’s a fantastic piece by Suzanne Moore in Unherd about this very principle. A lifelong feminist, Moore ran afoul of the trans community, much like J.K. Rowling’s own row earlier this year, and was never forgiven for it by the Woke crowd. Over 300 colleagues at The Guardian signed a letter that reaffirmed their unwavering support for the trans community and, without naming Moore, in one of those Orwellian tricks of this Information Age, thus implicitly leveled the metaphorical equivalent of a full battery in her career’s direction. She had no choice but to leave the newspaper. Like so many long-outspoken writers who quickly find that their opinions are no longer needed, she is in the weeds.
It’s no coincidence that in this era of rampant cancel culture, our foremost cinematic offerings come in the form of gauzy superhero megamovies. Short on story, long on stan-ing, they wrap a neat bow on the rote development of good faces evil; evil looks like it might win; then good comes back and defeats evil for all eternity in the end. Or, at least, until the next sequel.
Life is a bit harrier than all that cut-and-dry, but not to the generations coming up who have been weaned on this steroidal certainty. You can see it in the treatment of Moore: the social justice warriors attacking her sense a threat to goodness in the world and see no problem whatsoever in destroying a foreign antigen; the problem arises, however, in the aftermath. Once Moore is defeated, she does not go *poof* and disappear for all eternity. She has bills to pay, children to support, life-affirming work to produce. She’ll find a way; she’ll come back with a vengeance. She might pivot from asking “Why did they treat me this way?” to making it an odyssey to find the truth.
Never did Moore, or Rowling for that matter, insult the trans community. They were simply focused, as they have always been, on establishing rights for women. That they met such vitriolic opposition should be worrisome. It is an interesting development that those who often profess to feeling most maligned in modern society tend to unleash barbarous assaults upon those they perceive to be their transgressors—often times, they are applauded for doing so.
To be victim and bully, simultaneously. There’s a buck in it for a psychologist who distills that personality proclivity. That online interaction, let’s focus on Twitter for now, has devolved into a kind of drone warfare, with warriors lobbing snark rockets at each other across the internet highways from the safety of their own rooms, has only exacerbated the problem. When you don’t have to look your “enemy” in the eye, or interact with them for any length of time, it’s far easier to feel conscience-free about ruining their lives.
One always thinks back to that book Tribe, about how humans are so poorly adapted for modern life, not just the hustle and bustle, but also the hundreds and thousands of people with which we interact. It’d be a lot harder to keep a Twitter beef going if you had to see the other person every day as you went about your business, is what I’m getting at.
And don’t get me started on forgiveness—or the lack thereof, today.
But then, this is a society that has shunted religion to the sidelines. The only time you see it is when click past one of those evangelical services on public access TV. Sensing a void, corporations have taken it upon themselves to provide the masses with moral instruction.
Last night, I watched an Xfinity ad in which Steve Carrell dresses up like Santa Claus and is convinced by his elves that after the trying year we’ve just had, it would be great to eschew material goods and instead serve up some of the best aspects of the season—Grandma’s cooking! Snowball fight!—in bundles of joy. Because that’s what Christmas is all about—now, brought to you by Xfinity.
I should disclose that I’m somewhat biased against Xfinity, which is also, at the moment, running an insipid ad set to a lame cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” that follows a handful of intrepid cyclists zipping about San Francisco on strangely empty streets. I guess that’s not too great a stretch in quarantine, but watching them breeze through Broadway tunnel sent me over the edge.
If you’ve actually ever had to pass through that tunnel while cycling, you’ll know that you’re actually relegated to getting off your bike and walking it a quarter of a mile on an elevated, narrow pathway. (It makes for awkward shunting should you have to pass, or pass by, anyone.)
Should you not prize your life too highly, you can certainly ride alongside traffic, but you’ll be met with a cacophony of honking abuse from cars zipping dangerously close to you. But, you know, go your own way. You deserve it.
Oh, right. This was about Jason Whitlock. If you’re not familiar with the name, Whitlock is one of the biggest personalities in sports journalism, an iconoclast unafraid to level strong opinions. After a lengthy career in print and radio, he recently joined Clay Travis at Outkick, one of the fastest-growing companies in sport coverage.
On Saturday, in response to news that the Vanderbilt football team was bringing Sarah Fuller, a women’s soccer player, onto its roster to deputize as a kicker after a rash of positive COVID tests, Whitlock posted the tweet seen at the start of my article. Uh oh.
It was met with the now-standard lobbying of snark rockets from the woke glitterati, who are somehow always near Twitter when an “incendiary” opinion is voiced. Rather than argue the point, they reverted to sarcasm and politely informed the hopelessly out of date Whitlock that “Vanderbilt doesn’t have a men’s soccer team, dummy.”
Heaven and earth were moved put the heathen back in his place. Why, exactly, the Woke Twitter mob feels it must do this escapes me. Twitter does not pay them for their trouble. I have to believe they are doing what they believe to be an incontrovertible good for society. Ridding it of noxious opinion. If you make the transgressor miserable, all the better!
Whitlock wrote a column in response to the response.
Saturday morning via Twitter I asked a couple of harmless questions: 1) Does Vanderbilt have a men’s soccer team? 2) Did Vanderbilt choose the best candidate or the most publicity?
My mentions were overrun with negativity. You would have thought I’d spoken poorly of a religious figure. You would’ve thought most of America disagreed with my skepticism.
When I published a poll asking what was the driving force powering Vanderbilt’s decision to use Fuller as a kicker, 15,000 people responded within an hour. Forty-two percent of the respondents said Vanderbilt was virtue signaling. Another 39 percent said it was a publicity stunt.
Most people agreed with me.
Whitlock noted numerous times in the article that Fuller is an elite athlete. By all metrics, however, she is not a great football player. These truths can be held simultaneously; we could even get into a discussion about why Vanderbilt doesn’t have a men’s soccer team—and an overall treatise on Title IX as a whole. Title IX has been a godsend for female athletes, allowing them paths to collegiate education while performing at the highest level of sports—pathways that were closed off to them not fifty years ago.
It is also true that in order to balance its athletic budgets, colleges have drastically cut back on men’s sports to accommodate. I remember speaking to a mother of four kids—three daughters, one son—who watched all three daughters earn Division I basketball scholarships. The son, who worked his tail off, was only able to get a full ride at a DIII school. This is not to feel sorry for him; it’s just a fact, the mom said. It’s harder for a boy to get a DI scholarship these days than it is for a girl.
It’s OK to have disagreements; no one’s getting hurt over words. What quickly turns into a slippery slope is when some causes are deemed sacrosanct, and therefore off limits to discussion. Then there is the tricky thing about a gathering storm of youngsters, and even adults for that matter, who believe that since they have the right ideas, the right politics, they can treat anyone who does not hold those same views with contempt.
It’s something that Douglas Murray elucidated, far more eloquently, in an editorial after it was revealed that Penguin Random House’s Canada office had held a “tearful” town hall in which employees took the company to task for agreeing to release the book of Jordan B. Peterson, whom they labeled a Nazi transphobe. Murray argued quite convincingly that the language of the bully has changed, in this era. Now, one establishes one’s credentials as a helpless victim in order to exert force over another.
It’s not the bullied becoming the bully; it’s both at the same time.