The Inquisitor Becomes the Heretic, Part II

In a prior post, I explained what happened when Ace, a hard right blogger, dared to suggest Sarah Palin hurt her future political prospects by resigning — to make a long story short, he got into a battle with commenters on his site about whether it ought to be verboten for conservatives to voice doubts about their own side. Ace summed up the attitude among some of his readers as follows:

Either you agree with us and you are a Good Conservative, or you don’t and you are a Bad Liberal or Bad Squish. When the Conservatively Correct opinion gets set, you cannot simply be in error. No, when you disagree with the Conservatively Correct opinion, you’re obviously *bad*, not just wrong, and also, of course, not really a conservative.

Being called a heretic upset Ace enough that he swore at one point that he’d take a week off from blogging. As it turns out, he pulled back from that statement after reflection.

I’m glad he did.

Since the 2008 presidential race, I’ve watched the right — especially the conservative movement — hunt for heretics. On sites like Ace of Spades HQ, moderate Republicans like Colin Powell, alternative conservatives like Rod Dreher, and intellectually honest commentators like George Will are often called out as elitist traitors. How refreshing to see Ace spend a couple days pointing out all the flaws to this approach. “I don’t have a lot of patience for Heretic Hunters and Witch-Finders,” he wrote here. “Nor do I have patience for those who offer populists popular opinions they don’t believe, just because they know they can get some traffic for them.”

In a subsequent post likening some Sarah Palin supporters to cultists, he writes, “If you really hit a point at which your ‘message discipline’ becomes powerfully uniform, you actually start to drive a lot of people away, because people naturally recoil from such creepy displays of group-think.”

The most interesting followup post, however, is easily this one:

I’ve been a real dick lately and I want to apologize for being thin-skinned, whiny, and also for insulting people. I insulted because I felt insulted, but that was largely because I was being thin-skinned.

What got under my skin is this: We conservatives have certain ways of thinking, certain techniques of dismissing or insulting those we don’t consider worthy of debate. One of the main ways we do this — and by “we,” I mean me too; I do this a lot — is to brand a disagreement as occurring between the “elites” (out of touch, condescending, snobbish, and possessed of that very bad mixture of overestimation of brainpower and wisdom and actual underutilization of the same) between what is called variously the “grassroots” or “real people” or just “non-liberals.” I don’t know what the other side (us) is called, really; but I know what the wrong side is called. Elite, RINO, liberal, etc.

Correction: Elitist, I really mean, though frequently this term gets conflated with “elite” as in “media elites” or “political elites.” The meanings often blur together, and I have so blurred them here.

The thing is, this really is a pretty powerful and stinging put-down — especially if, like me, you are accustomed to tossing that put-down out there yourself. I’ve come to internalize very bad associations with such words. “Elite” is everything I don’t want to be.

It also pretty clearly tracks with “insider, ally” and “outsider, enemy.” We don’t often say “Hey, that guy is an elite! What a great guy!”

And so I react badly when people either call me that, or imply that, or, sometimes, when I’m being overly sensitive, I merely think they’re implying that.

And being off cigarettes, mostly, is not helping.

So I am sorry to everyone I insulted. I can only offer the mitigation (not justification; mitigation) that at various points that “elitist” sort of insult was being directed my way, that I was being lumped in with David Frum and so on. And it really stings.

What remains unclear is whether Ace now recognizes the irredeemable flaws in commentary by heretic hunting. You’d think so, given that he’s clearly articulated the pitfalls of that approach, and experienced them himself. Will he continue objecting when he himself isn’t a target? Will he shut down future debate by labeling others elitists rather than engaging their arguments?

Metablog will be watching!

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5 Responses to “The Inquisitor Becomes the Heretic, Part II”

  1. Conor Friedersdorf - Metablog - The Inquisitor Becomes the Heretic, Part I - True/Slant Says:

    […] All will be revealed in my next post… […]

  2. ktheintz Says:

    Well I’ll leave the low-hanging fruit to the rest of the commenters (there’s a Wonkette link, so you might get a few that way). I’ll just observe that, if you are running a site that (to phrase this as neutrally as possible) acts as a focal point for the grievances of a community, and is energized by that collective sense of grievance, it is probably not a good idea to tell them anything they don’t want to hear.

  3. Rick Ungar Says:

    Conor-
    As a fellow ex-Culture 11’er who landed at True/Slant, nice to have you here!

  4. The Purges Will Continue Until the Membership Reaches Zero Says:

    […] Friedersdorf offers a fascinating analysis of the counter-reaction in the right blogosphere against any recognition of what Sarah Palin did to […]

  5. Conor Friedersdorf - Metablog - Ace Explains the Pathologies of His Readers - True/Slant Says:

    […] reading parts one and two of my Ace of Spades HQ coverage, a reader forwarded me an interesting exchange that occurred when […]

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