How to critique the press without devolving into nihilism
I tend to get annoyed by those around me. Most of my adult life I’ve spent in academic institutions, and this has created a revulsion towards the woke. As my writing has gained attention over the last two years, I’ve made friends with lots of conservatives, and that has made me notice their flaws more and more, including ones that I could more easily overlook back when sexual harassment and diversity trainings were part of my life. Most writers have to worry about “audience capture,” but for me it’s the opposite. When I see what those around me think, I have to struggle not to get consumed by all the ways in which they’re wrong about the world. This isn’t a narcissism of small differences thing. It’s a matter of real philosophical disagreements about morality and epistemology becoming more salient. I don’t have this reaction to libertarians, because I agree with them on almost everything, and even when I don’t I sympathize with and appreciate their way of reasoning about the world.
Spend any time among conservatives, and you’ll before long realize that few things get them as riled up as a chance to attack the media. In the article “Why Do I Hate Pronouns More Than Genocide?”, I wrote
Having come out of academia, I’ve known many liberals, and I’m also an observer of our political culture. Following Kahneman and Tversky, we can say that there is a “System 1” (instinctive) and “System 2” (analytic) morality. I’m sure if you asked most liberals “which is worse, genocide or racial slurs?”, they would invoke System 2 and say genocide is worse. If forced to articulate their morality, they will admit murderers and rapists should go to jail longer than racists. Yet I’ve been in the room with liberals where the topic of conversation has been genocide, and they are always less emotional than when the topic is homophobia, sexual harassment, or cops pulling over a disproportionate number of black men.
I like the idea of understanding people’s true motivations not just by what they say, but what they seem to have the strongest emotional reaction to. No matter what liberals tells you, opposing various forms of “bigotry” is the center of their moral universe. For conservatives, the equivalent is clearly hatred of the left. Tim Miller, a Bulwark writer who became disillusioned with the party during the Trump era, wrote in his book Why We Did It that there’s a lot of cynicism in Republican politics, but to the extent that many operatives have one genuine belief, it’s wanting to spite and harm liberals. And by liberals, they often mean what we refer to as the “mainstream media,” as represented by institutions like the Washington Post, the big three TV networks, CNN, Reuters, the Atlantic, and, most of all, the New York Times.