From the G-File on The Dispatch
Dear Reader (except those of you who really, really should know better)
So I’ve reached the conclusion that arguing that antisemitism is bad has reached the point of diminishing returns.
One of the things that can make this chapter of American life so ass-achingly stupid is that the demand for plausible hot takes dwarfs the available supply. The key word being plausible, because plausibility requires some fidelity to facts and reason.
And just to be clear, I love me some plausible hot takes, particularly about history, because a lot of the established narratives about the past are exactly that—narratives. The literary critic and historian Leon Edel once said that a “biographer is a novelist under oath.” I think that gets at what a lot of history is. Good historians construct narratives about the past they believe are true by selecting the facts that support the story they want to tell—and that they think is true—but also necessarily downplay the facts that undermine that story. Good journalists do the same thing about the present. The best in either field get the weighting more or less right, but there will always be room for alternative interpretations, because life is complicated and people see the world differently. Hindsight is not, in fact, 20/20. If it were, no one would argue about the past. I mean if hindsight were 20/20 why is anybody arguing about the history of the Middle East, slavery, the Catholic Church, capitalism, imperialism, baseball, or, well, anything, including “the Jews”?
By now, it’s a cliché to talk about how social media and the internet have served to knock down the old walls and dethrone the “gatekeepers.” I was one of those conservatives who, for a very long time, thought this was mostly a good thing. The hegemony of the old media deserved to be toppled. A handful of newspapers, magazines, and television networks—90 percent of which were headquartered within walking distance of one another in New York City—manufactured a political consensus that places like National Review were founded to stand athwart, yelling stop. Now, with the benefit of hindsight—as unreliable as it sometimes is—it seems obvious to me that some valuable things were lost.
One thing the internet in general (and social media in particular) does is flatten the topography of political discourse into a two-dimensional space. Mountaintops seem no taller than valleys. Accumulated knowledge has no altitude over knee-jerk instant conclusions. If something seems superficially true, or even superficially plausible, that’s given equal weight to things with deep foundations and layers of established fact. For instance, the other week, Candace Owens—who has all the learning of a lobotomized amnesiac—explained that Israel was like the Jim Crow South because Jerusalem has a “Muslim Quarter,” which was all she needed to know to assert that it’s a ghetto and the only place where Muslims are allowed to live. She couldn’t be bothered to google or read a Wikipedia page before making her claim of Israeli anti-Muslim apartheid (22,000 people live in the Muslim Quarter, 350,000 Muslims live in Jerusalem). To name another example, Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge was a farrago of half-truths, whole lies, and decontextualized facts about the January 6 Capitol riot that constructed a seemingly plausible façade for a giant pile of bullsh-t.
William James proposed that under his conception of philosophical pragmatism, truth should be measured by what has “cash value.” Now before some Owens-type reads that and thinks James was arguing for a capitalist scheme that monetizes truth claims, that’s not what he meant at all. He merely meant that the veracity of claims should be tested in the real world based on their consequences. Now, I have monumental problems with James’ consequentialism. But the ironic thing is that the Owens types seem to actually believe the stupid version of measuring truth by its “cash value.” Like literally. Whether something is true—or, again, even plausible—is an afterthought. What matters is what will boost engagement, traffic, eyeballs. It’s the Ka-Ching theory of Truth.
Because truth and falsehood look equal in two-dimensional space, the incentive structure is all screwed up. Repeating boring truths doesn’t pay. Spewing transgressive, shocking, attention-grabbing falsehoods that get people riled up and confirm their angriest or darkest passions is where it’s at. Hot takes that confirm our “Main Character Syndrome” and fuel our self-regard as rebel-victim-martyr-heroes get eyeballs in our attention economy. The better mousetrap of hot takes that has people knocking down your door—on the right and left—generally takes the form of, “That thing they tell you is bad is actually good.” Taboos are bad because you’re not the boss of me. Third rails must be touched because touching them makes me a rebel. Established truths need to be unsettled, according to the Chomskyites at either end of the horseshoe, because the establishment uses them to manufacture consent, or something.
This explains the Vesuvian eruption in hot take idiocy on TikTok this week in which scads of kids declared that they found Osama Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” was some profound manifesto of truth-telling. A cocktail of Jihadist death worship and Chomskyite anti-Americanism was the perfect elixir for young know-nothings desperate to stay drunk on their own ignorance.
Which bring us to antisemitism. Telling people antisemitism is bad is like telling Donald Trump he cannot press the Big Red Button on his desk. The mere act of saying it invites people to say, “Well actually … ”
So instead let me try to explain why antisemitism is stupid.
Elon Musk got himself into yet another briar patch this week by endorsing a ridiculous claim that the Jews have been fomenting hatred against white people.
On Wednesday night a Jewish X-user posted, “To the cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and posting ‘Hitler was right.’ You got something you want to say? Why dont you say it to our faces.”
Some white nationalist dufus responded:
Jewish commun[i]ties have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.
I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest shit now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that [they] support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much.
You want truth said to your face, there it is.
To which the richest man in the world—and an immigrant himself—responded, “You have said the actual truth.”
Before I get to the main point, let me just note something here. The jagoff who can’t muster the most minuscule fecal particulate of sympathy for “Western Jewish populations”—that’s a whole lot of Jews—who are being attacked or vilified is endorsing collective punishment for an entire people, a great many of whom do not hold any of the B.S. views he ascribes to them. And so is Elon Musk.
Specifically, he’s endorsing the version of the Great Replacement holding that “the Jews” have been importing dusky hordes of Third Worlders with the aim of replacing white people. That’s why the tiki-torch peckerwoods in Charlottesville chanted “The Jews will not replace us.”
I have never understood why “the Jews” would want to do this, and to my knowledge no one has mustered any remotely sane explanation. It’s almost as if the reasoning goes: A bad thing is happening, therefore the Jews must be responsible.
But let’s assume that “the Jews” are as smart and as powerful as this theory contends. Let’s even assume that they decided upon the policy of importing millions of Middle Eastern immigrants to the U.S. and the West. These are the same immigrants who have a disproportionate tendency to hate Jews and Israel, as we’ve been reminded in the last month. Surely at one of the meetings some Rabinowitz or Greenberg would have chimed in and said, “Hey maybe we shouldn’t let those people in.”
But that’s the thing, there are no such meetings. And even if there were, how exactly are they supposed to make this immigrant importation thing work? To believe that “the Jews” have the power to make these sorts of things happen—with no paper trail, no whistleblowers, no exposes—is every bit as plausible as saying we subsidize sugar in this country because the Lizard People want it that way.
I’m Jewish, though not particularly observant. But you know what? I know a lot of Jews. I know a lot of important Jews, and I know a lot of important people who happen to be Jewish. And guess what? They all disagree with each other about, well, almost everything. We are a disputatious lot. George Soros is Jewish. So was Sheldon Adelson. The GOP got a lot of money from Adelson. Democrats, particularly left-wing Democrats, get a lot of money from Soros. But to listen to a lot of hot takers out there you can lump them both under the category of “Jewish financiers.” That’s the term Charlie Kirk deployed to defend Musk’s endorsement of a white supremacist.
Of course, Kirk just says “some” “Jewish financiers” have funded “anti-white” stuff. And you know what? That’s sort of true. You know what’s also true? Some Jewish financiers have funded groups opposed to said “anti-white” stuff, including Kirk’s own organization. So what does the Jewish part have to do with anything? You know who else has funded cultural Marxism or “anti-white” nonsense? Episcopalians, atheists, and agnostics. It’s funny though, if you said “Episcopalian financiers” or “Agnostic financiers” that would sound ridiculous. But “Jewish financiers” is so edgy and cool.
This gets to the core of the idiocy undergirding so much antisemitism. It treats “the Jews” as a monolithic block, as if there’s a transitive property indicting all Jews for the actions or beliefs of some Jews. Again, I think that’s bad because, you know, that’s textbook bigotry. If I hold Tom Sowell accountable for the statements of Cornel West, or the actions of some inner-city carjacker, that’s racism.* But if I put “the Jews” in the dock, for actions or statements by Noam Chomsky or Bernie Sanders, well that’s different because, wink-wink, “the Jews.” But it’s also just really stupid.
Let’s zoom out. For antisemites, wherever bad things happen you can find a Jew, and that proves that Jews were behind it. The tragic and inconvenient thing is that if you look hard enough you can often—by no means always—find some Jews involved in bad things. But you can also find them involved in good things—that just doesn’t count. Sometimes, when you can’t find some convenient Jews people just make up Jewish involvement. (There are even some asinine fantasies about how Jews were behind the Holocaust. I won’t link to them.)
Antisemites who hate capitalism, Karl Marx most famous among them, count noses among the capitalists and say, “Capitalism is a Jewish thing.” Antisemites who hated Soviet communism, Hitler most famous among them, count noses among the Bolsheviks and declare “it’s a Jewish thing.” Antisemites who hate Marxism love to point out that Marx came from a once-Jewish family. His grandfather was a rabbi, but Marx’s father converted to Lutheranism. But don’t you dare blame Lutheranism for Marxism. (No, seriously, don’t blame Lutheranism for Marxism, that would be stupid.) Jews get dinged for being too cosmopolitan and for being too clannish, for being meddling philanthropists and for being too stingy. In country after country, Jews were told they were unwelcome in mainstream society and then they were demonized for sticking together too much. A handful—you know the ones who weren’t peasants or shopkeepers—were told they had to be moneylenders because moneylending was a sin for Christians in Medieval Europe and then they were demonized for being moneylenders. Sorry, “financiers.”
At various points they’ve been kicked out of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, France, England, and Spain, to name a tiny fraction of places. They’ve been harassed, ghettoized, demonized around the world. But they’re supposed to run the world? Man, are they bad at it. But in response to millennia of persecution, the survivors moved back to the first country they were expelled from, Israel. And the response to that is. “How dare they?”
My own view is that antisemitism is a dye marker for other societal pathologies. Out of painful necessity, Jews learned some habits that will serve one well in any society. They emphasize education, hard work, thrift, mutual aid and cooperation, etc. These bourgeois habits are the original success sequence. When some Protestant sects started behaving in the same way, it’s hailed as “the Protestant work ethic.” When Jews do it, it’s considered cheating. When societies indulge their illiberal tribal instincts, Jewish distinctiveness stands out and is seen as a threat. Jews are the original “other” in Western civilization. That’s why it should come as no surprise in this asinine moment when tribalism in all its ancient and modern forms is seen as a source of authenticity and rebelliousness that it is coming back with such vengeance among the tribalists in all parties. I would like for people to recognize it as a bad thing. But I’d settle for people recognizing it as such a stupid thing.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: Many of you have probably heard by now that Zoë had a terrible week. I took her to the vet on Monday for a dental cleaning. She had a few teeth removed a year or so ago. But her bad breath had come back with such vengeance that her panting could cause birds to fall dead out of the sky. The vet found abscesses that were so infected they threatened her jawbone. So they said they wanted to pull 21 teeth. They settled for 18. When my wife texted me the news, I started to cry. Zoë had been so scared at the vet and I already felt so guilty. Yes, I know I am a giant softie when it comes to my dogs, but I think you knew that. Anyway, the first day or two she was a pathetic mess with a swollen snoot and raspy breath, walking around like John Belushi doing a Joe Cocker impersonation. But her appetite was good and she didn’t seem to hold too much of a grudge against me. She’s rebounded amazingly well. We didn’t let her go on walks with Kirsten for a couple days. But then yesterday when Kirsten came by, Zoë was so happy to see her and so eager to go, Kirsten couldn’t say no. And Zoë did great. She still struggles eating some things and the mix of a new, softer diet (including ice cream!), and her pain meds had her farting for a couple days to the point where we should have bought carbon offsets. She has enough of her show teeth that she still has a good dingo smile. Both Pippa and Gracie gave her ample space. They’re all good girls.
I’ll just add that I’m really touched by all of the people who reached out this week. The whole Canine Update was started when she had parvo (which I think may be the original cause of her bad teeth). I know some people don’t care about the dog stuff and that is totally fine. But it’s gratifying to know that a lot of folks appreciate it—and them. So thank you.
And now, the weird stuff
*Correction, November 20: This newsletter originally misspelled Cornel West’s first name.