Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Wanna Be Like Freddie Now

When I first discovered Freddie deBoer's blog several years ago, it was revelatory for me. Not only was he an excellent writer, his criticism of the social media left managed to thread the needle perfectly — it was constructively critical without becoming reflexively contrarian. It reminded me of Jacob Bacharach in his IOZ persona, except that IOZ always seemed too in love with his own cleverness and too relentlessly ironic; Freddie, at least, wasn't afraid to earnestly stand for something. I respect him for that, even if the things he earnestly stood for seemed increasingly cringeworthy to me.

Therein lay the problem — Freddie was invaluable for pointing out how online progressives practiced politics the same way they maneuvered through the social hierarchies of the high school cafeterias they had only recently left behind. Once you had seen the ubiquitous virtue signaling from his perspective, it was impossible to un-see it, and impossible to take any of these people seriously again. But how many times does this need to be pointed out? At some point, the question has to come up: are you constantly criticizing these people because you think that social media can seriously become a force for 21st-century socialism in America if only they would quit clowning around? Then I don't think you clearly understand the nature of social media. Are you just criticizing them because it gives you a more exclusive niche from which to play the same signaling game? Then you're just as bad as they are. Or do you honestly think there's a silent majority of "true" socialist lurkers who are inspired by your example to do things correctly? Then I fear you're deluded.

Most importantly, if you honestly think that incoherent socialism and legally-sanctioned polygamy are good ideas, I can't take you seriously either. In fact, if that's the sort of thing you want people to come together to work for, I'm perfectly happy for them to keep being pathetic and ineffectual while seeking status on social media. Power to the hashtags, baby.

Now he's apparently done with his blog. I haven't read him regularly for over a year, but I appreciate him in retrospect for the inadvertent way he helped me to a greater level of self-understanding, though he would probably be dismayed to think that he had played a significant role in turning someone away from radicalism. He convinced me that something was truly, deeply wrong with the left, and I spent years trying to understand what that was, only to conclude that he had severely underestimated the problem, and that the social media/justice left was actually a predictable feature, not a bug; the entire radical left project was diseased at the roots, incapable of being saved. Nevertheless, I have both intensely agreed and intensely disagreed with him, and it's rare to find that, in my experience. It's sad to see one more regular blogger give up and pack it in, and I wish him well.