20 Years and Counting

Here’s a great analysis of the Biden-Putin encounter in Geneva. I have absolutely no idea why it made sense for the US to give Putin this big PR win. Or to give him Nordstream 2. Twenty years of these pathetic meet-ups, and nobody learned anything.

Bogged Down in Triviality

It really bugged me when people acted outraged by every trivial little thing Trump did or said. It bugs me just as much when their opponents do it.

There was absolutely nothing scandalous or “undemocratic” about Biden’s response to the journalist today. Just like there’s nothing shocking about Kamala Harris not “going to the border.” The ritualistic nature of the invocations of this utterly spurious need to “go to the border” is downright embarrassing. There’s no use to be derived from Harris getting photo-ops at the border. And when she does go, you will have wasted all that time and outrage on absolutely nothing.

Wailing to the skies over insignificant little things is the most reliable way to strengthen your opponent’s support. If the worst you can say about Biden is that he snapped at some reporter, the inevitable conclusion is that he must be pretty great.

And since I’m at it, Lilibet is a really cute name. Let’s not become the kind of resentful losers who bitch about baby names. Babies are great, and their birth should be greeted with joy even if their parents are often annoying. The only curious thing about that name is the mother’s complete self-effacement from it. Projections notwithstanding, nobody has a clue what happens inside any marriage except the people who are in it.

The Yevtushenko Strategy

Yevgeni Yevtushenko was a famous Soviet poet. In the early 1970s, 100,000 copies of his new book of poetry sold out in a few days. A hundred thousand copies of a collection of poetry is an insane number. There are 2,5 times as many people in the US, and who’s the poet who can sell 100,000 copies? And in under a week?

Of course, Yevtushenko was talented, so people liked his poetry. These are legit good poems. But even great poetry rarely finds that many readers. Only the tiniest minority has the capacity to enjoy poetry, and that’s OK. But the biggest reason why the book sold out like this was that people perceived Yevtushenko as anti-Soviet. This was utterly ridiculous because nobody got published in the USSR who wasn’t approved and promoted by the regime. To get a 100,000-copy publishing contract, you needed to be a huge favorite with the regime. Soviet publishers weren’t expected to make a profit. Their goals were 100% ideological.

Yevtushenko helped the regime channel the protest feelings of the public in a way that allowed people feel subversive while not doing anything against the regime. Each totalitarian society has these little escape valves, these little outlets for popular resentment. And there are always intellectuals who lend themselves to the task of creating an illusion of subversion while eating out of the regime’s hand. You know them by the vagueness, by the “we are all in on the secret” attitude, and the incapacity to say anything that would seriously annoy the regime.

Say Their Name

Everybody is excited over this post by Chimamanda Adichie but I don’t like it. It begins with some utterly trivial, catty complaints about former fans who overstepped their bounds. You don’t even have to be all that famous to have a litany of stories like this to tell. Making a big deal out of them publicly is kind of pathetic. Yes, people will try to use you to advance themselves. Welcome to the human race.

The part that everybody is gushing over is not that great either. Chimamanda never says who these “people” she is criticizing are:

People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves, while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’ People who do not recognize that what they call a sophisticated take is really a simplistic mix of abstraction and orthodoxy – sophistication in this case being a showing-off of how au fait they are on the current version of ideological orthodoxy. People who wield the words ‘violence’ and ‘weaponize’ like tarnished pitchforks. People who depend on obfuscation, who have no compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Ask again for clarity and be accused of violence. 

Who are these “people”? What is the name of their ideological orthodoxy? Without any specificity in this description, the very “people” Chimamanda is trying to criticize are going to use her words to clobber their opponents.

This is not a both-sides issue. There is one side with the power and the license to destroy people for disagreeing. It’s the left, the Democrats, the “Democratic Socialists.” Let’s stop pretending that these are just some “people” that spontaneously sprout in the most unexpected places. There’s a very concrete political force that produces this behavior. And it counts on our terrified, embarrassed silence to stay in power.