Sunday, February 14, 2010


I don’t know much about Andrew Sullivan. I know enough to be sure that we’re not in agreement politically or in terms of religion. But when Peter Beattie linked* to this piece by Glenn Greenwald about recent accusations toward him, “TNR’s ugly and reckless anti-semitism games,” I had to read up. I highly recommend that people read it and the linked pieces (especially Sullivan’s longer reply) with an eye to recent events. (For the record, I'm not very familiar with most of the personalities involved here.) Peter Beattie singles out two short quotations from Greenwald, but this stood out to me:
(4) Writing about the TNR attack on Sullivan, Yglesias writes: "when I raised this issue on a liberal listserve some people said they had no sympathy for Sullivan because of one or another of the things he’d done to piss them off over the years”….

What Yglesias' fellow listserv members are saying, in essence, is that they determine their political commentary not based on the merits of an issue, but rather based on whom they like and who their friends are. Even if I find Wieseltier's anti-semitism accusation to be pernicious and ugly, I won't say so because Andrew Sullivan isn't my friend and I don't like him. The converse of this juvenile mentality is: even if I find that critique to be true and compelling, I'm going to object to it and attack the critic because it's aimed at my friend. The accompanying worldview is: I'm not going to criticize that politician, even when he's wrong, because he's a Good Democrat and is on my team. I find it amazing that this small-minded, clique-based "thinking" persists beyond the sixth grade, but it obviously does, and it particularly thrives among Beltway denizens.

What one thinks of Andrew Sullivan, or how angry he's made one over the years, ought to be about the most irrelevant factor imaginable in determining one's reaction to this TNR attack. Sometimes, even people you don't like are the targets of odious and harmful accusations, and sometimes, even your Bestest Friends, fellow party members and listserv pals might do wrong things that merit criticism. Wieseltier's polemic is a classic example of anti-semitism accusations tossed around with no conceivable basis and for purely ignoble ends. It's the very tactic that has caused significant damage in the past. So obviously unhinged is this particular assault that it actually presents a good opportunity to discredit behavior like this once and for all. That's all that should matter; how many grudges one nurses towards Andrew Sullivan is nice fodder for gossipy listserv chats, but no responsible or even adult commentator would allow it to influence one's views on this matter.
This reminded me of how grateful I am to people whom I have come to know (and who have come to know me), to the extent that this is possible online, who have come forward to object to the baseless insinuations and allegations against me. This has included several people I have had strong disagreements and less-than-cordial dealings with in the past, such as heddle and Russell Blackford. Given what I’ve seen in the atheist/science/skeptical blogosphere, I’m happy to say that I’m not surprised by this. My most heartfelt thanks.

*I am not asking anyone to go there and contend with Laden, Wormtongue, and the Dingbat Sycophants. Their intellectual dishonesty renders any discussion impossible, and Greg Laden’s ethical breaches of the past few days – in addition to the spurious charges and their repetition without basis, intimidation, altering comments without noting it, and revealing the personal email of a commenter – should lead everyone to be wary of interactions there and to question why Scienceblogs would tolerate such behavior.**

**I just saw that Laden has closed the thread (with a stunningly obnoxious and self-serving characterization of the situation and a ludicrous demand for an apology from Paul W.) due to a death in the family. My condolences.


  1. I found your reply to Laden's would-be appeasement post on the never-ending thread spot-on. AFAIC, I can't imagine ever again wanting to post on his blog, or even interact with him somewhere else. As Sigmund reminded me, GL's been nearly as free with the shotgun labeling in his race discussions (funny how, for someone decrying racism, Greg does more talking about races & ethnicity than anyone else I read at SB...), and as maddeningly obscure. Since attention seems to be his opiate, I'm glad the PZ crowd seems to be ignoring his attempts to get back into good graces.

  2. Are you sure you don't agree with Sullivan politically? He's changed a lot since the early years of the Bush administration---he supported Kerry and Obama; he's been beating the drums for war crimes investigations into Bush and Cheney and co.; he was one of the earliest bloggers to play up Sarah Palin's unsuitability for the VP nomination (and McCain's cynicism in picking her) (some might say he is somewhat obsessive on this subject); he's been one of the biggest supporters of the Iranian opposition; and so on. I (a liberal) read his blog semi-regularly, and I think the only major issue I disagree with him on now is abortion. (But I grant that that is a major disagreement that sometimes detracts from my ability to enjoy his writing.)

  3. Are you sure you don't agree with Sullivan politically?

    Quite sure. But then, I'm an anarchist, and a particular sort of anarchist at that, so there aren't many I agree with politically. :)

    I didn't want to go too much into his specific politics since I wasn't (and am still not) familiar with him and the point was that his other political views and disagreements shouldn't matter in evaluating (and speaking out against) this specific accusation,* and also because I don't think the cases are parallel in the sense that our past actions and statements aren't remotely similar. But I would certainly say that, beyond the general and fundamental differences I have as an anarchist, if he opposes women's reproductive rights I would say that constitutes a major political disagreement. Further, anyone who could not recognize what tripe The Bell Curve is (I looked up his posts about it based on some people mentioning it in the comments on the various sites) is foolish.

    There is an interesting question about whether political views that appear to overlap really do. If he's a strong supporter of the Iranian opposition (broad term) for the same reasons I am, for example, then he should be equally outspoken on behalf of the democratic opposition in Honduras. But in fact he appears to be the reverse. Since it seems his political views on various matters have changed fairly drastically over a relatively short period of time, I have to wonder about the solidity of his principles. Strange fellows can stay out of my political bed. ;)

    *I know you know this already. Just restating it.