OK, What’s Going On Here?

In the Washington Post yesterday, the Washington Post’s Sunday “Outlook” section included an op-ed in which  Lawrence Downes,  a former member of the New York Times editorial board, enthusiastically wrote about his new pastime:

[I have] right-wing culture war books from the Fox-News-angry-White-person’s superhero universe. Besides Hannity, I’ve got Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik. The list is not comprehensive. It includes Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt but not Newt Gingrich, Tucker Carlson or Donald Trump…The Fox folks seemed so bilious and out of place in that pleasant company, like toadstools among the daffodils. So I’d buy them up and take them home. Not for reading, which brought no pleasure, but for quarantine. The books are dispatches from a phony war, the one Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes helped gin up and got obscenely rich on. If you believe, as I do, that the plutocrat propagandists of Fox, talk radio and the GOP are lying liars who have vandalized our politics and country, then finding a Hannity or Ingraham book is like finding one of their bricks. The books piled up in my basement, out of circulation (which was the point) but always naggingly present, like asbestos. I wanted to be rid of them. And yet I paused, because even contemplating destroying books felt terrible…

I hit on the answer…. About once a week, I tear them into strips. I add them to the coffee grounds, potato and carrot peelings, onion and avocado skins, asparagus stubs, the papery bits of garlic, eggshells and dead flowers, and let the worms do the rest…

Turning propaganda into worm castings is not going to measurably reduce the amount of Fox News-iness in the environment. It is not strictly necessary. But if Hannity and company want to keep telling us that we are all at war, to keep stoking the flames and fanning the fear, then, for the good of this country, the people we love, the democracy we might lose and the world we want, so be it.

What’s going on here?

Is this supposed to be a humorous article, mocking sufferers of Stage Five Trump Derangement? I don’t think mocking those with emotional problems at such length is  funny.

Is Downes so far gone that he thinks there is a meaningful distinction between burning books he disagrees with and mulching them? There isn’t, you know. Isn’t “quarantining” books one disagrees with exactly what those who pull “Huckleberry Finn” off library shelves are doing?

If his objection to the books is that they are “propaganda,” why are only the books written by conservatives being mulched? I read one such book a long time ago; I think it was by Ann Coulter. Yes, it was a one way hate-orgy about Bill Clinton, not one of my favorite Presidents, and I quit after two chapters. Such books are only useful for making people who have already made up their minds happy. They aren’t informative, because they leave out any facts that don’t advance the narrative. It’s like reading only one side’s brief in a Supreme Court case. The books from leftist warriors are no better: Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Dan Rather, Lawrence O’Donnell, and the rest. I would read Bill Clinton’s autobiography because he was a President, but all autobiographies are propaganda in their own way. Hillary’s book was no different as a genre from the one-sideed rants of Maddow or Hannity. No, Downes only wants to destroy books that advocate particular ideas and opinions he objects to, and he believes that it is virtuous to prevent others from reading them. What do we call that?

Does Downes think trumpeting conduct demonstrating pure hate is virtuous?  Isn’t this exactly how public discourse has turned so rancid? Isn’t this just a symbolic equivalent of what the antifa does, punching those they disagree with in the face?

Why would the Washington Post publish such a sick, ethically-warped piece? There is literally nothing substantive here, no opinions backed up with facts or arguments,  just insults  and name-calling. Downes usually writes for the Times—did this screed even fail to meet that paper’s standards? Why isn’t the paper embarrassed—for its ideological clones, for its field, for itself?


18 thoughts on “OK, What’s Going On Here?

  1. Heh. Maybe it ended up in the WaPo because even the NYT realized it revealed that one of their staffers was batshit crazy?

  2. One thing that’s certainly going on here is that Downes is writing a kind of fantasy. I really, really doubt he actually ever bought any of these books, and he certainly isn’t composting them. He came up with what he thought was an amusing idea, and wrote it up as though it actually happened. Maybe he’s trying to encourage like-minded proto-authoritarians to buy up and remove such books from circulation, but he certainly doesn’t have a basement full of them.

    Also, unless he’s stealing the books, the authors of such tomes wouldn’t give a damn if he read them or destroyed them. They’re still getting paid, with this dumbass’s money. None of the people he’s talking about are writing these books to change people’s minds or advance a cause. They’ve just found a way to feather their own nests by preaching to the choir.

  3. Such easy questions:

    Is this supposed to be a humorous article?

    No. The left doesn’t do humor. They are humorless. The guy is virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is always done in dead earnest.

    Is Downes so far gone that he thinks there is a meaningful distinction between burning books he disagrees with and mulching them?

    Yes. Again, he’s virtue signaling. Mulching demonstrates his environmental bone fides while he’s eliminating a toxic material and actually turning it into something … virtuous: mulch for his organic, self-sustaining, locally sourced, doubtless community garden.

    If his objection to the books is that they are “propaganda,” why are only the books written by conservatives being mulched?

    You silly man, you. The left never propagandizes, it simply speaks truth the power. Only Republicans and conservatives, who are NAZIs, engage in propagandizing. You could look it up.

    Does Downes think trumpeting conduct demonstrating pure hate is virtuous?

    Are you kidding? Of course he does. Pure hate of the GOP and Conservatives and anyone who isn’t fully on board with leftism and Democrats and the woke, et al. is absolutely essential to good behavior. Haven’t you looked at Facebook? He’s virtue signaling by demonstrating how creative he’s been in being hateful of the right. He’s strutting his stuff.

    Why would the Washington Post publish such a sick, ethically-warped piece?

    Because its writers, editors and readership all think the same this guy does and he’s done a wonderful job of articulating their thoughts.

    There, that was easy!

    • No. The left doesn’t do humor. They are humorless. The guy is virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is always done in dead earnest.

      I’ve a great anecdote. I became aware of a Reddit page called “therightcantmeme”. The page is meant to be a repository of bad right wing memes for leftwing redditors to mock. Well, Reddit has been deleting pages where right wing ideas were discussed openly and favorably, so the right wing redditors hatched a plot. They began posting hilarious far-right memes on “therightcantmeme”, doing an end-run around the censorship and giving the lie to the page’s premise.

  4. I think the fact that one side is openly not participating in a free exchange of ideas is related to the current difficulty in finding 5.56 ammunition.

    What’s strange to me is that this seems new. Every argument I ever heard in my life on the television was a vacuous pretense for the aggregation of control. I think it’s that it now lacks the pretense, or at least that it’s employed artlessly. No, I can’t be sure. Psychology is fickle wherever it isn’t outrightly fraudulent. It seems clear, though, that a lot of people are feeling that sense of inevitability, as though chained to the belt of an automated slaughterhouse disassembly line.

    Talking never solved any real problems, anyway. Well, there was Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun, but we don’t have a pope like that. Ours seems to be a Hun, himself.

    Welcome, friends, to my waking nightmare! If you all become me, what will I be?

  5. I have many books in my house, last month, I added Ben Shapiro’s “How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps”, Ali Almossawi’s “An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments”, and Mike Chase’s “How to Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender”. All of which I can’t recommend enough. Particularly How to become a Federal Criminal, Mike Chase runs the Crime a Day twitter account, if you’re familiar, and the book is brilliant.


    You know what books I don’t have on my shelves? “White Fragility”, “What Happened”, and “How to Fingerpaint Femistly with Menstrual Blood Version 3.14”. you know why I don’t have those books? Because one of them doesn’t exist and I didn’t want the other two. My question, past the obvious mental health concerns, is how the hell all this icky conservatism invaded Mr. Downes progressive basement of solitude. Did the Fox Fairy put them under his pillow in exchange for half his frontal lobes?

    • Actually, Jeff, one key thing you need to get from the article itself is that Downes bought these books for a dollar a piece at a library sale.

      • Well, I would read the article, Steve… But it’s behind the paywall, and I’d rather scrub tender parts of my body off with a rusty SOS pad than give the times my money.

        Second…. I don’t care whether he paid full price in a store or a dollar from a library… Why the hell would you ever buy books you so obviously loathe”

        • I wouldn’t, although I DO own a copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” which I bought before I knew what he was all about. I think he thinks he was doing other people a favor by taking them out of circulation and making the world a better place by ensuring there were fewer of these books around.

    • Oh man, can you imagine giving enough of a tiny, tiny fart about Hillary Clinton’s book to buy see it in a store, carry it to a checkout counter, pay good money for it, and then ritually destroy it?

      People who voted for Hillary Clinton don’t care that much about Hillary Clinton.

    • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is one I am looking to read. It seems to me actually crucial to read it and as many of the popularly circulating books that my enemies are writing and reading. It is important to read it, but to read it *sideways and upside-down*. That is, to read it against the will & intentions of the writer. But — and this should by now be obvious given the way I work here — just as I can identify ‘enemies’ in people and idea-sets as obvious as Robin DiAngelo, I am forced when analyzing ideas, presentations and declarations such as I read here in these pages to also identify *unfriendly* ideas.

      It occurs to me that in the stretch in the ideas expressed, let us say, between David Duke’s My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding and DiAngelo’s White Fragility we have a sort of puzzle to work out, to the degree that we have a mind to do so. I read about 35% of My Awakening (on Kindle) and I realized that by the measure of original Americanism — the sort like Washington, Jefferson and many others of these former generations — that David Duke was indeed ‘a great American’, a worthy American. But in the present dispensation he cannot even be considered. And indeed his name is synonymous with ontological malevolence. That is a peculiar state of affairs!

      However, I know that no one who writes on these pages, with the exception of just a couple, would ever have a positive thing to say about David Duke. For one reason because they would never read what he actually wrote, nor understand what he actually says, but largely because of the effect of ‘social shaming’ and ‘social coercion’. The sort of social coercion that runs through Americans and American thinking. Controlled thought. Mediated thought.

      Here, I am reminded of something that HL Mencken said about universal democratic education: its purpose is less to actually educate people and far more to regiment them and to control what they can think about. Here the *Orwellian* factor enters in. And this is part-and-parcel of modern, highly-organized society. One must see and one must accept that in a mass society it is necessary and imperative to find ways to control the thinking of the masses.

      Edward Bernays famously put it:

      “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

      So, on the pages of this blog I have come to take a none-too-appreciated tack. That I cannot really rely on *yous* to provide truth nor clear-seeing, though of course you can in some areas, sometimes with great insight. Here, I can rely on you for similar types of distortion, and similar (or related) types of lying and mistruth. It is critical to say this. Someone has to contradict yous, someone has to challenge yous.

      The basic fact? The United States has entered a time of extreme civil conflict. It will not just go back to normal and the days of *normal* are done. This must be faced. There are now various, not one, and not one *united* America, but rather numerous americas. They will not live together, and they cannot live together. What separates the visions is, to all appearances, differences that hinge on metaphysical understanding. One’s metaphysics determine to a great degree one’s value-system, indeed ones values.

      Later I have a few other observations to share. Just no more time right now this morning.

  6. Does Downes understand Plutocracy?
    Wealth and power rule. So tell me where do the tech firms come down on policy? Where do the trial lawyers stand? Everything they do make t harder for small business to start and grow.

    How does extensive business and environmental regulation help disperse economic power by facilitating enterprise creation? What he is advocating is a kleptocracy where one large group,whose consumption/ saving decisions render them poorer, can vote to make others,whose consumption/saving decisions have allowed them to accumulate wealth, pay for things they feel entitled to.

    Everything the big government, pro regulation, consumer protectors do leads to Plutocracy. It is just that they want to be the Plutocrats

  7. Jack,
    And if he’s so serious about quarantining hateful thoughts, why not also buy up Mein Kampf or the Anarchist Cookbook?

    Also, does he not understand how publishing works? Buying one copy only boosts sales while creating no real shortage, and buying multiple copies only creates a brief shortage before they restock the shelves. He’d have to buy out an entire distributor to make any real dent. Whatever the case, the “quarantines” authors would have their last laugh all the way to the bank.

  8. Humor? Not at all, thought he might be looking for some laughs. However, they wouldn’t be the kid of laughs you get because something is funny. They’d be the kind of laughs you get from being cruel to someone you dislike, you know, like when you told your classmate you didn’t like who had just lost his mom that she probably died because she couldn’t stand him, or when you gave your other classmate whose voice hadn’t changed yet a wedgie. The danger of writing is that every time you write, you give the reader a window into your mind, or some part of it. It isn’t necessarily what you broadcast, or what you advocate most strongly for or against that gives the most candid view of who you are under the surface: it’s what you laugh at that gives that view. It’s what you think is witty and funny that gives that view. When you laugh at something, you are saying it’s more than ok. It’s saying you take pleasure in whatever you are laughing at. It’s one thing to laugh at bad but harmless puns, which is something I do a lot. It’s one thing to laugh at a good subtle parody. It’s one thing to laugh at humor that points out something everyone knows, but no one wants to admit. It’s one thing to make a joke to try to take the sting out of a bad or painful situation.

    It’s not funny to say you hate something or someone and you’re now going to spend a whole article mocking, making fun of, abusing, or destroying it. That’s the kind of behavior we should have left behind in the first couple of years of high school. Hate really isn’t a funny emotion, nor is it a virtue. Cruelty isn’t funny either. Unfortunately the digital world has made it all too possible to publish what you want to the world, and have the like-minded cheer you on, while also being able to shut out those who disagree with you at the touch of a button. There was a woman I knew in college who I hated, because she was usually the smartest person in the room, and had to make damn sure everyone else knew it. Well, all her smarts, achievements, and honors couldn’t stop breast cancer from taking her life just over a year ago, at the all-too-early age of 49, leaving a husband and two children. I got the alert from one of my classmates I DO like while I was in Oshkosh, WI, getting ready to shoot another day of the greatest airshow of them all. Part of me wanted to snark, snipe, and say I was glad this woman was dead and the world was just a little better now that she wasn’t in it… the mean, vengeful, unrestrained 15yo part who always wanted to respond to someone saying something I didn’t like with violence.

    Thankfully the part of me that is my current age of 50, the lawyer, the teacher, the scholar and the mentor, stepped forward and said “No, Steven, you are not doing that. Why? I shouldn’t have to tell you why. You know damn well why. You haven’t talked to this person in over 20 years. You shouldn’t be stuck in the past. Plus you don’t even know her kids, who I’m sure are pretty broken up their mom is dead. Attacking them in their moment of grief is wrong. More prosaically, why tell the whole world “I am stuck in the past, I am bitter, I am vengeful, I am cruel, I can’t let things go, and I am willing to deliberately and publicly do a cruel and hateful thing when I know it will hurt the most to make myself feel avenged?” You of all people should know better. Your grandmother died of cancer. Your own mom died of cancer in your arms. A very good friend just beat cancer…for now… after a tough fight. You saw what it does to people. Is that something anyone deserves? You hold your tongue.” So I did, wisely.

    Turning to the question generally: is anyone here really all that comfortable with hearing someone talk at length about how much they hate something or someone? Do you enjoy hearing about how that something or someone is the first thing someone thinks about when he wakes up in the morning? Do you really want to hear about how he would hurt this someone or something if he could? Or would you try to steer the discussion elsewhere? If necessary would you say, “I think you should change the subject, I don’t like where this is headed?” What would you think if you opened someone’s yearbook and found that he had blacked out the picture of a classmate? Would you be creeped out? Probably. Honestly, don’t you think that someone talking about personal hatreds and what destructive things he does to work them out is kind of narcissistic? Don’t you think that destroying books or images, or whatever, that can’t fight back, is kind of cowardly?

    Lawrence Downes told the world “I hate those who disagree with me so much I want to silence them. I want to hide their thoughts and words and and destroy their opinions and work in a disgusting way, because I hold them in such hostility and contempt that that is what I believe they deserve. What’s more, I expect others to applaud this hatred, hostility and contempt, as though it brought something positive into the world.” What’s more, the Washington Post decided it would give this hatred, hostility, and contempt a forum, instead of telling him “Larry, we aren’t printing this. Save it for your personal journal.” Who’s the bigger jerk? Is it the jerk, or the jerk who gives him a platform to amplify his jerkiness? You decide.

  9. TM 31-210.

    Some people keep firearms in case of emergency. I keep this book.

    I have mulched books in the past – but only ones fire or flood damaged so they were un salvageable. Some I really prized.

    I keep one of Monbiot’s works strictly for entertainment value, just as I have copies of Plan 9 from Outer Space and Attack of the Killer Tomatos.

    Somewhere I even have a copy of Terence Haile’s “The Space Train”, if only to callibrate the zero mark on how bad a published book can be.

    I’ve never been able to finish Mein Kampf, it is turgid beyond belief. Let’s put it this way.. Das Kapital is a light read in comparison, as is the multipage speech in Atlas Shrugged.

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