As a philosopher I often write about conversation, including conversational norms (see the first post on this blog). I think this is interesting and important, because conversation is one of the most important things we can do with one another. But I'd be lying if I said that I thought conversational norms were the most important thing facing us. Yet there is a section of mainstream intellectual discourse that cannot stop talking about their own conversation, including what is or ought to be looked down on or rejected and what not. There is danger in this.
We now face a horrifically corrupt American government, and, like (the mythologizations of) Watergate, we should be able to unite in rejecting it---not in histrionic terms, but in accurate ones. (Note: I am not saying this is the worst thing about the present government. I am just saying it is something we should all be able to reject in the strongest possible terms.) This should be nearly non-ideological, too; very few people have ideologies that say that the kind of revolting bribery and self-dealing of the current executive is ethically or politically appropriate. (Perhaps some do, but that's a kind of cynicism I'll set to one side here.) During the 2016 election, there emerged a kind of Republican or rightish centrist that was willing to denounce Trump, and despite the many policy disagreements that I and many others on the left had with them, I took that to be a broadly good thing. Yet as things progress, I notice that many of those people with whom I disagree ideologically have turned their attention to "the discourse", to liberals and progressives being mean to those whom those liberals and progressives take to have atavistic views. This is, I will argue, a mistake. In a slogan: whether you agree with her or not, please don't let Bari Weiss distract you. (One could of course give many other examples.)
Why, in the face of present corruption, is the intellectual class constantly squabbling? In the past, there have been deep, substantive differences over policy that generated mutual hostility. What's striking about the present moment is that, whatever those deep substantive differences are now, they're not the root of it. My hypothesis is that, right now at least, the cause is a distracting obsession with the discourse itself. It divides us and enables politicians to be bought by the highest bidders with impunity. No one, not the most ardent capitalist or whoever else, should think that that is okay.
The question I am focused on is one of priority. It happens very rarely that the ideological spectrum of a political community can overcome, or at least deemphasize, their disagreements. World War II was one such case, and so was Watergate. That does not mean our disagreements aren't important or fundamental. Nor does it mean we should stop talking about those disagreements until (we may hope) Trump is removed from office. But the question of, say, whether Kevin Williamson should or should not have been fired from The Atlantic can be used to divide people and turn their attention away from the massive overlap all quasi-respectable ideologies have on the kind of corruption in the Trump administration.
Attention is a limited resource. I often find the rightish people I read on various platforms and in various media unaware of the incredible scale of the corruption of the present administration. When made aware, they do, at least typically, reject it. But often what they write about and think about concerns the elite discourse---who shows up in the various legacy publications, etc. It is something that I will not ask them not to be angry about, at least not here. (I personally think that Williamson is a very bad thinker and that some ideas are genuinely horrific, such as the ones that got him fired. But that is not my point here.) But it is not harming people on nearly the scale that the present corruption is. Our government is sick right now, and so is our country as a result. The kind of corruption I'm talking about thrives when we---voters as a whole, and intellectuals in particular---are divided, preferring to focus on less important disagreements. We cannot fix this problem unless we are united in seeing it as one, and devoting our attention to it and rejecting any person, politician or other kind of stakeholder, who enables it.
So, as a plea from someone whose professional life is devoted to how we ought to relate to one another in conversation, I have to ask: please stop focusing on this quite so heavily. We have work to do together. Let's rescue our government, and then afterward we can busy ourselves with who should be in which elite publishing venue.