In William Deresiewicz’s article in the online service UnHerd March 8, 2022 “Escaping American tribalism” he says that he started to listen to contrarian podcasts including Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable in 2021, when he thought that American National Public Radio (“NPR”) has become partisan, on the “woke” side of the cultural divide:
“Moral clarity” became the new journalistic standard, as if the phrase meant anything other than tailoring the evidence to fit one’s preexisting beliefs. I was lamenting the loss, not of “journalistic objectivity,” a foolish term and impossible goal, but of simple journalistic good faith: a willingness to gather and present the facts that bear upon an issue, honestly and clearly, regardless of their implications.
For months, I felt trapped, alone with my incredulity. Was I the only person seeing this? Every time I turned on NPR, my exasperation grew — basically, I was hate-listening after a certain point — but what was the alternative? I literally couldn’t think of any. Then, by sheer dumb luck, I was invited on a podcast to discuss a book I had recently published. It was The Unspeakable, with Meghan Daum, and while I had never thought of myself as a podcast person, I so enjoyed myself, was so impressed with her intelligence and humour, that I became a listener.UnHerd, March 8, 2022, Escaping American Tribalism
The implies that the audience, particularly in America, has become polarized, by identity politics, into “tribes”. Writers criticized, in the Atlantic:
- Trumpist national populism – Ronald Brownstein, The Tragedy of President Trump’s Tribalism, in 2017;
- Leftist “woke” identity politics – Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism, in 2018.
Some academic writers – e.g. Dominic Packer and Jay Van Bevel in The Power of Us and in an extract in the Atlantic defend the social benefits of tribalism.
William Deresiewicz had been an adjunct professor teaching at Yale but after he was not granted tenure, he ceased to teach in 2008. He wrote articles and books as a public intellectual. He wrote Excellent Sheep in 2014, criticizing (1) the admission policies and curricula and (2) the high cost of attending of American elite universities. His book had a mixed reception. Some of the reviews – for instance by Douglas Greenberg and by Kevin Dettmer in the Los Angeles Review of Books – were harsh. The reviews insinuated – a common enough capitalist/competitive polemic strategy – he had not been good enough to get tenure, or had failings.
Meghan Daum’s book of essays, Unspeakable and William Dersiewicz’s books are good, but were not best sellers. Neither writer is a white supremacist, a Q-Anon supporter or an anti-vaxxer. They are worth reading and listening too.
In 2020, Deresiewicz published The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech on how artists sustain themselves in the Information Age. He appears to have turned to writing for contrarian platforms. In his UnHerd article, he suggests the publishing world became as censorious as the academic world. The publishing world rewards less of the few writers who attract and sustain large audiences. It extracts “content” from less popular writers and maintains – perhaps pretends – that writers are fairly compensated for content. The internet platforms prefer to publish unpaid content. Publishers say that writers are compensated by learning the business and creating a reputation that may, with luck. eventually earn advances and royalties.
Deresiewicz risks being labelled a right wing conspiracy theorist by woke academics and woke adjacent publishers – igf he is not woke, he must be against justice, or a deplorable. Attacking the writers, editors and publishers of competing media would be a way the established media would deal with dissenting and competing voices.
The effects of sectarianism along the dividing lines of ideology, religion and policy, affect writers and publishers:
- the audience segrates, intentionally into epistemic bubbles; and
- publishers and electronic platforms seeking “engagement” & revenue build filter bubbles or echo chambers, reinforcing polarization.
UnHerd, after time and experimention, has found subject matter and material beyond Brexit, and British politics. As of March 2022 writes at UnHerd have been taking shots at Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbin, the anti-Semitism of the new Left, the new Labour leadership, woke activists, Green activists, Trans activists, the corporate leadership of the Church of England, racist immigation policies in the EU, Vladimir Putin and Britain’s embrace of Russian oligarchs.
The late George Carlin said: “It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for you.”
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