Andrew Sullivan’s Complicated Legacy

The one-time wunderkind, blogging pioneer, and same-sex marriage champion is now on the outs.

In his feature, “I’m Still Reading Andrew Sullivan. But I Can’t Defend Him.,” Ben Smith encapsulates a problem in elite media circles with one of its most important figures.

Mr. Sullivan hasn’t changed much since he arrived in Washington in 1986 with an internship at The New Republic and a veneration of Margaret Thatcher. Among many other convictions, he believes in safe, lawful and relatively quiet streets. I was sitting with him on the back porch of the tiny, yellow cottage he owns here when videos of unrest from Kenosha, Wis., crossed his Twitter feed.

“If the civil authorities are permissive of violence, then that’s a signal to people to commit violence,” he told me, winding himself up for the dire newsletter he would write later in the week. “The idea that it’ll just burn itself out — it just doesn’t work that way,” he said.

I came to Provincetown to better understand why Mr. Sullivan, 57, one of the most influential journalists of his generation and an obvious influence in my own career, is not as welcome as he once was at many mainstream media outlets. But my visit helped me see something more: how Mr. Sullivan is really a fixed point by which we can measure how far American media has moved. He finds himself now on the outside, most of all, because he cannot be talked out of views on race that most of his peers find abhorrent. I know, because I tried.

He was a star in his 20s, when he ran The New Republic, so celebrated that he posed for Annie Leibovitz in a Gap ad in a white T-shirt and a memorably coy expression. He was a master of provocations there that included one that defined him, arguing long before it was part of mainstream political debate that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. But he also published a cover story, an excerpt from “The Bell Curve,” that claimed to show a link between race and I.Q., a decision that has increasingly consumed his legacy.

Mr. Sullivan trended on Twitter on Friday, as his critics there took a paragraph out of context in the uncharitable way people do on social media to suggest that his cries against civil unrest made him a “fascist.” He was trying to argue the opposite: that law and civility are what make democracy possible.

The newsletter in question, “The Trap The Democrats Walked Right Into,” illustrates the problem perfectly. I’m largely in agreement with Sullivan’s larger point. And yet I couldn’t get past the introductory paragraph:

It finally happened. We have lethal battles in the streets between the two tribes of our polarized politics. This week, a 17-year-old man, Kyle Rittenhouse, brought a rifle to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in order, it appears, to protect the businesses that were being burned down or ransacked by rioters after the police shooting of alleged rapist, Jacob Blake. In a series of skirmishes between Rittenhouse and BLM and Antifa activists on the streets of Kenosha, three men pursuing Rittenhouse were shot and two killed by the vigilante in what appears to be some kind of self-defense.

Not a word of that is untrue. But it’s a truly, truly bizarre account of what took place. As such, the following paragraph, which I largely agree with, is rendered the worst possible example of both-siderism:

I’m doing my best to convey the gist of what happened — and there’s an excellent, detailed report of the incident from the NYT — without justifying any of it. No excuse for vigilantism; no excuse for looting, rioting and arson. The truth is: even a few minutes of chaos and violence can contain a universe of confusing events, motives and dynamics that are extremely hard to parse immediately. And yet it is the imperative of our current culture that we defend one side as blameless and the other as the source of all evil.

Like Sullivan, I am adamant that there is “No excuse for vigilantism; no excuse for looting, rioting and arson.” And, yes, because we as a society have drawn the battle lines on all of these issues as one of good versus evil, rational and civil discourse about any of it is next to impossible.

But by beginning with casting a white supremacist who traveled across state lines looking for a chance to shoot Black protestors as some sort of Gary Cooper and a Black man shot seven times in the back by police as a lowlife scum based on bogus allegations, the well is beyond poisoned.

And, again, I’m on much the same lonely island as Sullivan: a conservative, middle-aged white man who thinks Donald Trump and all he stands for is a danger to our country and yet deeply worried about an elite discourse that makes criticizing rioting fraught territory lest one be accused of racism. And, yes, worry that the unrest has given Trump a wedge issue to somehow win enough Electoral votes to stay in office.

At the same time, I’m increasingly sympathetic to the views Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed two years ago when his magazine reversed its decision to hire Kevin Williamson. (See my thoughts at the time here and here.)

So the genesis of me as a journalist is like, mid-’90s — I got my first writing job in ’96 — and a big ideas magazine at the time was The New Republic. No black people worked there. I’ve actually verified this. No black people worked there at all. And to my mind — other people will probably feel quite differently about this — but as far as I was concerned, it was basically a racist publication. And that was how I perceived it. But nevertheless, I had to read it. I had to read it because I wanted to do what they did. And there weren’t — and I don’t know how to put this without sounding like an asshole — but there was no me to learn from. In other words, there was no “Case for Reparations” for me to read and say, goddamn, I want to go do that. I mean, maybe there was some of that, but it really was not in the ethos.

There were certainly black writers who would be brought in. They would come into places like the New Republic, New Yorker and sometimes even The Atlantic, and they would give a view of black life that I felt like very few black people actually would recognize themselves in their own private spaces. I got, I think, incredibly used to — and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I guess for a long time I probably thought it was a good thing, but this week it made me think I don’t know whether it is or not — but I got incredibly used to learning from people. And studying people. And feeling like certain people were even actually quite good at their craft, who I felt, and pardon my language, were fucking racist. And that was just the way the world was. I didn’t really have the luxury of having teachers who I necessarily felt, you know, saw me completely as a human being.

This extends not just from my early days as a journalist, but if I’m being honest here, from my early days at The Atlantic. You can go into The Atlantic archives right now, and you can see me arguing with Andrew Sullivan about whether black people are genetically disposed to be dumber than white people. I actually had to take this seriously, you understand? I couldn’t speak in a certain way to Andrew. I couldn’t speak to Andrew on the blog the way I would speak to my wife about what Andrew said on the blog in the morning when it was just us.

[…]

And part of it was, going back to that earlier thread, I learned how to blog from Andrew. That was who I actually learned from. That was who actually helped me craft my voice. Even recognizing who he was and what he was, you know, I learned from him.

Sullivan’s views on race are complex and subtle. As a public intellectual, I’m predisposed to admire his talent and craftsmanship. As a free speech absolutist, I’m predisposed to think discourse and debate are how we refine our understandings of the complexities of the human existence.

But I can certainly see how, for a Black man like Coates, the whole thing is just exhausting. And, indeed, while he shares my predispositions toward open discourse, he’s far more acutely aware of the costs:

And I was not like, don’t hire that dude [Williamson]. To the contrary, I thought, OK, well he can come in and represent the position, and then we can fight it out. You know what I mean? So I think I should say, A) I feel like I failed Jeff in that advice. I feel like I kind of failed The Atlantic in that advice. I feel like I failed the writers of color here in that advice. I was here when I was the only black writer, and then Gillian came, and then we got a bunch more people. So I feel like I kind of failed you guys in that. I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry so many of y’all are on social media and catching shit for this, and I’m not there, so I’m not catching anything at all. I feel really, really bad about that. But then after, realizing that, I thought about, OK, so how did I muck this up?

[…]

I’m Mr. Blackity Black, how did I miss that? And I think one of the things that happened is, again, like understanding the mission of The Atlantic, which I get. It might not be my mission, but I get it, and I work here. I understand it. Debate various views, you know, we fight it out. “Of no party or clique,” right? And I told Jeff this already, but we have been of a party and a clique. The Atlantic, like most magazines — not The Atlantic because it’s specifically bad, but for most of its history it has been basically white dudes. That’s what we’ve been. I mean not totally, not completely. We did publish Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. And I mean, it’s not that that’s all we published, but that’s basically been what one would say the consensus is. When you have an already established consensus like that, certain values are then easily manifested.

I think one of the things that happened at this magazine now that I’ve championed, I’m happy to see just looking at this room. If we had done Atlantic University in 2008, 2009, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13, it would not have looked like this. This publication is diversifying. And I wonder if that consensus that says of no party or clique then has to come up for question. What is debatable comes up for question because you bring different people in, and those people are not just brown-skinned or dark-skinned or women who would normally — you know, who are just the same as any other. Their identity — and I know this is bad in certain quarters, but I don’t think it is — that identity cannot be neatly separated from the job. So maybe the job changes a little bit.

There’s a whole lot more to Coates’ exchange with editor Jeffrey Goldberg and it’s worth revisiting. The Overton window has shifted considerably in the mainstream media since then.

Goldberg is pretty liberal, at least in the American context. He’s constitutionally bound to support free and open discourse. But he freely admits that there are “at least 200” ideas that are so anathema they couldn’t be debated in his magazine.

And Coates notes that the window works both ways: while we have rendered more and more ideas outre, at least from the elite discussion, the diversification of the writing staffs means ideas once absurd become in-bounds.

Ironically, as Smith notes, Sullivan himself did that.

Mr. Sullivan was in his way among America’s first out gay celebrities, and his largest impact was on gay rights. He seems especially grounded here in Provincetown, where he first spent a summer in 1989, the same year he published the cover story making “The Case for Gay Marriage” in The New Republic. He returned in 1994, joining other H.I.V.-positive men who moved here at the time expecting to die from AIDS. He worked on a book on same-sex marriage that he hoped would be his legacy.

[…]

Mr. Sullivan, of course, never pretended to be a grass-roots activist. He’s a proud member of the elite, and his case for marriage was partly conservative — that it would be, as he told me, a “civilizing” influence on gay men who he believed had been emotionally damaged by discrimination. He testified before Congress on marriage equality in 1996, and when a moderate Democrat, Chuck Robb, voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, he quoted Mr. Sullivan.

“The core conflicts that really persisted through the 1980s were about assimilation versus liberation,” said Sasha Issenberg, the author of a recent history of the marriage battle. “The assimilationists won, and Andrew was unquestionably a leader.”

Top-down media influence can be hard to measure, but I know I felt it: As a local news reporter in the early 2000s, I learned about the marriage issue from Mr. Sullivan’s blog. And I pushed New York politicians to take a stand on it, in part because his writing persuaded me it was important, and in part because I wanted one of the biggest bloggers in the country to link to my stories.

The marriage question is so settled now that Mr. Sullivan’s role feels like ancient history. It’s also rarely noted these days that he played as large a role as any journalist in the rise of Barack Obama. His 2007 Atlantic cover story “Why Obama Matters” arrived while many Democrats were on the fence about the Illinois senator, and it helped sway elite opinion and money his way.

“He articulated the rationale for Obama before it was widely apparent,” said Ben Rhodes, who was then one of Mr. Obama’s speechwriters.

Alas, while hardly “canceled”—he’s reportedly making half a million a year on his new Substack site—he’s now out of bounds for polite society—or, at least, elite magazines—because he hasn’t evolved quickly enough (or, at least, molded what he will say in public) on racial equality.

Of course, the other point Coates and others make is that views like those of Williamson and Sullivan are hardly from the lunatic fringe. By taking their voices out of the elite spaces, they’re being driven underground, likely expressed by people with less intellect and nuance.

Like Smith, I’m still reading Sullivan. I don’t see him as a racist, much less a fascist. Rather, I see him as a brilliant, curious man who has spent his entire adult life thinking out loud and therefore bound to have some stumbles. But, in this moment, everything he writes is seen through the lens of his decision a quarter-century ago to highlight the worst part of The Bell Curve on the cover of the New Republic. And, alas, he’s not learning fast enough.

*UPDATE: @R_Dave points out that the direct evidence Rittenhouse is a white supremacist is thin. While there’s substantial circumstantial evidence that a white high school dropout from the Chicago suburbs who travels across state lines with an AR-15 to “defend property” as part of a loosely-organized militia and spouts “Blue Lives Matter” is less than an ally to Blacks, it’s possible that he’s just a cop wannabe and not a junior Klansman.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Media, Race and Politics, Society, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Lounsbury says:

    But by beginning with casting a white supremacist who traveled across state lines looking for a chance to shoot Black protestors as some sort of Gary Cooper and a Black man shot seven times in the back by police as a lowlife scum based on bogus allegations, the well is beyond poisoned.

    Sullivan is deep down quite racist. A polite one who does not actively mean harm and manages to convince himself he means well and is not at all like those vulgar Klannish types.

    Sullivan’s views on race are complex and subtle.

    Not really. He is merely a very British imperial culture bound racist, a polite supremacist. His irrational clinging to racial genetic inferiority views (completely untethered from what the genetic science says)

    Outside of race he is indeed interesting, but race is his intellectual failing, one where his views are not truly complex nor subtle, they are merely old Edwardianish imperial politesse with some ad hoc Americanism as further maquillage.

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  2. But, in this moment, everything he writes is seen through the lens of his decision a quarter-century ago to highlight the worst part of The Bell Curve on the cover of the New Republic.

    The thing is, however, is that he himself is helping it be that way, especially lately (as the excerpt from his newsletter that you quoted above).

    And from the end of the Ben Smith piece:

    I tried out my most charitable interpretation of his view on race and I.Q. (though I question the underpinnings of the whole intellectual project): that he is most frustrated by the notion that you can’t talk about the influence of biology and genetics on humanity. But that he’s not actually saying he thinks Black people as a group are less intelligent. He’d be equally open to the view, I suggested, that data exploring genetics and its connection to intelligence would find that Black people are on average smarter than other groups.

    “It could be, although the evidence is not trending in that direction as far as I pay attention to it. But I don’t much,” he said. (He later told me he’s “open-minded” on the issue and thinks it’s “premature” to weigh the data.)

    “I barely write about this,” he went on. “It’s not something I’m obsessed with.”

    But he also can’t quite stop himself, even as I sat there wishing he would. “Let’s say Jews. I mean, just look at the Nobel Prize. I’m just saying — there’s something there, I think. And I’m not sure what it is, but I’m just not prepared to accept the whole thing is over.”

    He is too smart, and too aware of the context here, to so easily demur on the subject.

    He has to know that he is sending a signal that yes, he does think race and IQ are linked, but also knows the further cost of saying so.

    (Although I have to admit, being paid 200K/year, let alone 500K/year to write a few columns a week makes it hard to accept the notion that he is an outcast).

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  3. @Lounsbury:

    He is merely a very British imperial culture bound racist, a polite supremacist.

    This sounds about right.

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  4. Scott says:

    The problem about exploring scientific curiosity is, at the end of the day, there needs to be some finality to it or it can be continually exploited to sow confusion and dissent. I have no patience with the “teach the controversy” crowd about evolution. It is not scientific curiosity driving that but a means to undermine the science. When 999 of 1000 climate scientists conclude that global warming is happening, the 1 out of 1000 doesn’t get equal say. Because the point would be to sow confusion and undermine the science. And when someone wants, out of curiosity, explore genetic science and intelligence, especially when you are not versed in either, I have to question the sincerity of the explorer.

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  5. EddieInCA says:

    I’m always surprised when members of a persecuted minority are unable to see how badly they can treat other persecuted/oppressed minorities. How Sullivan has never been able to see how the Gay Rights struggle was similar to the struggle for rights for African Americans and other minorities is mind boggling to me.

    Deep down, he believes Black, Brown, Asian (in the British sense, which means Pakistani and Indian) are inferior. That’s what I took away, reading him for 15 years plus.

    ** Thank you for the edit function!

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Deep down, he believes Black, Brown, Asian (in the British sense, which means Pakistani and Indian) are inferior. That’s what I took away, reading him for 15 years plus.

    I think that’s quite possible. And, yet, as Smith notes, he was one of the first to come out in favor of Barack Obama for President.

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  7. R. Dave says:

    But by beginning with casting a white supremacist who traveled across state lines looking for a chance to shoot Black protestors as some sort of Gary Cooper…

    What are you basing this characterization on, James? I haven’t seen any evidence that he had white supremacist beliefs (other than being a Trump supporter, if you think that’s evidence enough in itself), and the three people he shot were all white. From the evidence so far, this guy sounds like someone who fetishized the police, military, etc. as noble warriors protecting the public and desperately wanted to make that his own identity, leading him to seek an opportunity to live out that fantasy.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @R. Dave:

    What are you basing this characterization on, James? I haven’t seen any evidence that he had white supremacist beliefs (other than being a Trump supporter, if you think that’s evidence enough in itself)

    Maybe that’s leaning forward too far in guilt by association. He’s been described that way repeatedly but, as an NPR report notes, the evidence is thin. There’s strong evidence that some of the men he traveled with were white nationalists but the group appears fairly loose in its organization. But a high-school dropout from the Chicago suburbs who travels across state lines with an AR-15 to “protect property” during racial unrest while touting “Blue Lives Matter” is, at the very least, not an ally to Blacks.

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  9. Barry says:

    “Sullivan’s views on race are complex and subtle. ”

    No, he published ‘The Bell Curve’, and only published criticisms of it (you know, by people who knew the stuff) after backlash.

    A few weeks ago he had a tweet accusing people who wouldn’t debate this with him of [can’t remember the exact insult].

    In the end, he was, is and always shall be a right-wing BritTwit who substitutes wit for wisdom, and wears a nice tailored suit.

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  10. Barry says:

    @EddieInCA: “I’m always surprised when members of a persecuted minority are unable to see how badly they can treat other persecuted/oppressed minorities. How Sullivan has never been able to see how the Gay Rights struggle was similar to the struggle for rights for African Americans and other minorities is mind boggling to me.”

    He assumes that since he is a white Tory British citizen, that he is in the end a member of the elite, and that the gay thing was just a foolish matter which should not affect how He and His Friends are treated.

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  11. Kathy says:

    @Scott:

    When 999 of 1000 climate scientists conclude that global warming is happening, the 1 out of 1000 doesn’t get equal say.

    I don’t disagree, but it really does depend on the evidence.

    Take the matter of peptic ulcers. The scientific, or at least medical, consensus was they had to be treated by diet and beta blockers. A lone doctor believed they were caused by a bacterial infection, and could be treated, and cured, with antibiotics.

    He was right. he proved it by giving himself an ulcer by ingesting H. pillori, the bacterium responsible, and then treating himself with antibiotics. Of course then there were clinical trials as well.

    But the reason the wrong attitude persisted so long was that a bland diet and beta blockers worked, to some extent, as did managing stress, in controlling the adverse symptoms of ulcers. So the bulk of physicians were wrong, but not entirely wrong.

    It’s worth noting this is rare, especially in fields other than medicine. Usually the consensus is far closer to being right.

    Anyway, if a dissenter has evidence for an alternate cause of climate change, and they can prove it convincingly, then they should, no matter what the consensus says. But the proof needs to be very convincing, needs to address all known effects, and perhaps unaddressed ones, etc.

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  12. Barry says:
  13. Moosebreath says:

    Sullivan has always struck me as someone who is so sure of his own convictions that he cannot accept that others are arguing in good faith (especially his line accusing those who did not support the War on Iraq as being a fifth column). So for me, it is funny to see him complaining about being cancelled, when he felt that others deserved the fate long ago.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I lost patience with Sullivan after he grew hysterical over circumcision, equating it with clitorectomy, evidently unaware that Jews, Muslims and quite a few Americans have managed to be quite happy in a way that no mutilated woman can be.

    I missed his racial stuff. But I found Sullivan overly-emotional and insufficiently rigorous. Good, competent writer, just not as clever as he thinks he is.

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  15. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I think the thing I find most frustrating about reading Sullivan is that he alternates between periods of genuine brilliance, and periods of bull-headed self righteous prick-ness. Unfortunately he’s mostly in the latter phase recently.

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  16. Monala says:

    @James Joyner: most racists make exceptions for a few members of groups they look down on.

    12
  17. CSK says:

    One of Sullivan’s weirder obsessions was his belief that Bristol Palin and not Sarah Palin was the biological mother of Trig Palin. I hold no brief for Sarah Palin, but come on; she was 44 when she gave birth to the kid, an age when the chance of having a Down Syndrome child skyrockets.

    10
  18. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: But a high-school dropout from the Chicago suburbs who travels across state lines with an AR-15 to “protect property” during racial unrest while touting “Blue Lives Matter” is, at the very least, not an ally to Blacks.

    I think you mean a 17-yr old, who lived 12 miles from Kenosha in Illinois (Chicago is 3 times that distance), who was working a lifeguard job in Kenosha. After leaving his job, he helped clean graffiti off the local high school before answering a call for people to defend what was left, mainly two mechanics shops, of a car dealership. His lawyers claim the firearm he had was from Wisconsin and did not cross state lines. During the night, he left the car dealership to go to a service station to render first aid to injured protestors. He was finally cut-off from returning to the car dealership by the advancing police line. He started toward the second mechanics shop when he was “followed” according to the official complaint, chased in the video by first individual shot and someone fired a gun, unclear as to whether at or in the air, during this chase. Whereupon, Rittenhouse turned around in self-defense. The first individual shot tried to grab his rifle, was parried then shot. Rittenhouse then rounded back to render first aid but left as the mob started calling out to get him.

    You really need to improve your sources. Try this AP report on a Chicago ABC affiliate. Note the quotes from the official complaint that at least are attested to, if not true.

    Prosecutors said Rosenbaum followed Rittenhouse into a used car lot, where he threw a plastic bag at the gunman and attempted to take the weapon from him.

    1
  19. Northerner says:

    But by beginning with casting a white supremacist who traveled across state lines looking for a chance to shoot Black protestors

    How did he end up shooting three white protesters if his intention was to shoot Black protesters? Bad eyesight or just poor aim?

    He might well have gone there hoping to shoot protesters (why else bring the AR-15?), but he didn’t seem to be particularly worried about their race. This is actually normal. Most whites are killed by other whites, most Blacks by other Blacks. Intra-race murder (and Rittenhouse is a murderer) is much more common than interrace murder, despite what Trump and company are trying to sell to win elections.

    There have always been people ready to murder (read up on the murder rates in say London in the middle ages if you think its mainly about politics). The problem now is how easy it is to do with guns. The key political element of murder is the GOP opposing gun control.

    1
  20. mattbernius says:

    Can anyone point to any topic that Sullivan is a defender of that he doesn’t personally benefit from? I mean, do anyone seriously believe that if he wasn’t gay he would have still advocated for (versus against) same-sex marriage?

    Sullivan was lucky enough to have cultivated great rhetorical/writing skills (not to mention a entrepenurial sense) and was a unicorn (a conservative out gay person) at the right historical and cultural moment. And that timing and his specific focus covered up a multitude of sins that at any other time would have been far more clear much sooner.

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  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    After leaving his job, he helped clean graffiti off the local high school

    Manson used to play guitar at church and lead singalongs. John Wayne Gacy was a birthday party clown. And you are a racist, fascist piece of garbage with a head full of snakes.

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  22. Pat Curley says:

    “But by beginning with casting a white supremacist who traveled across state lines looking for a chance to shoot Black protestors as some sort of Gary Cooper and a Black man shot seven times in the back by police as a lowlife scum based on bogus allegations, the well is beyond poisoned.”

    You’ve already had to cross out “white supremacist”, and you should cross out “traveled across state lines” (he was in Kenosha for a summer job) and “to shoot Black protestors” (he appears to have only shot whites). Not sure where you get the “bogus allegations” from. That said, you did get the number of bullets right.

    1
  23. Monala says:

    @CSK: And Bristol had her own baby about seven months later.

    1
  24. @JKB: @Pat Curley: Yes, let’s defend his honor.

    Law and order, indeed.

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  25. @mattbernius: I have gotten a profound sense of “I got mine” and so I don’t care about anything else from Sullivan of late.

    He is passionate about gay marriage and marijuana legalization, but weirdly less so about racial injustice.

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  26. Monala says:

    @JKB: Rittenhouse joined two friends in beating up a girl a few weeks before the shooting. And he was a HS dropout. If he were black, you’d be calling him a thug. Link

    There are some claiming it’s not him, but the young man in the video has his build, hair and glasses, and most tellingly, the same shorts and red, white and blue Crocs that he is wearing in many of the photos that have been shared about him online.

    Note that the video was taken by two black guys watching the incident from a car. They get out and holler at him that he shouldn’t be putting his hands on a female like that. Then the video ends. Some are speculating that maybe Rittenhouse got a beatdown from those two guys, and was looking for ways to reclaim his masculinity.

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  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But I found Sullivan overly-emotional and insufficiently rigorous. Good, competent writer, just not as clever as he thinks he is.

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I think the thing I find most frustrating about reading Sullivan is that he alternates between periods of genuine brilliance, and periods of bull-headed self righteous prick-ness. Unfortunately he’s mostly in the latter phase recently.

    These two comments capture quite a bit of my feelings about Sullivan, but not all. As long time readers of the comment section here may remember, I frequently express appreciation of Sullivan, although I rarely defend him because I often agree with the fault finding. That said, I paid for a subscription to his newsletter and am happy to have done so.

    I have a longer comment on why his continued insistence that he is “only looking at the facts and debating the issues” when it comes to race has long since become disingenuous at best (although I think the person he lies to the most is himself). I’ll save that for after work if I have time. But at the risk of piling on I think he does not get enough grief about his sexism. I suspect this is because he rarely comments on women in any way. Like some artists, in this case the true nature of his work is defined by the negative spaces surrounding what he writes about, and to get that you have to have been a long time and close reader. Women and women’s issues are just not part of his world view. He lives in a world of men and he really only notices women when their behavior is “masculine”, with his ultimate example being Margaret Thatcher.

    6
  28. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK:

    One of Sullivan’s weirder obsessions was his belief that Bristol Palin and not Sarah Palin was the biological mother of Trig Palin

    To me, this was a case of conspiracy theory obsession. He did note a bunch of odd things about the birth and certainly caught Palin in some lies designed to make her look more noble and virtuous than she was. But then he latched onto one possible explanation (that Palin was not Trig’s actual mother) and just couldn’t let it go.

    2
  29. Monala says:

    @MarkedMan: I think the weird things surrounding Palin’s pregnancy – hiding her pregnancy for as long as she could, followed by doing a number of high risk behaviors for someone in her situation – make the most sense if you think about her hoping for a miscarriage. She was in her 40s, had a high profile job, with kids ranging from 7 to 19, and the last thing she probably expected was to get pregnant again. Then her baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, so she knew he would have a number of special needs. Because she was anti-abortion, she chose to continue the pregnancy but behaved in ways that suggest she hoped it would end on its own.

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  30. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius:

    Can anyone point to any topic that Sullivan is a defender of that he doesn’t personally benefit from?

    “Defender” isn’t quite the right word so maybe this isn’t a good example, but I have seen very few things like the very long and painful journey he so publicly took regarding late term abortion in his blog. At the start was a repeated “Gotcha!” about how abortion supporters couldn’t be reasoned with because they wouldn’t even concede that late term abortion was always immoral. He delivered this in the snarky , self righteous and smug voice that is Sullivan at his absolute worst.

    And then over the course of about a year, the editors he had hired for kept putting truly heart rending cases in front of him, over and over and over again. And he struggled to grapple with them, publicly and in real time. I don’t know if he ever worked it out or whether he just continues to hold multiple and conflicting beliefs.

    The blog ended up collecting all the stories and they are still available at the Atlantic site. Here’s what he had to say about it last year:

    And so I’m a little reticent on the subject; but if I were forced to offer the view I’ve come to take, it would be this awkward mess. I believe both that abortion is the taking of a human life, and that in a free society, rooted in property rights, an individual has complete autonomy over her body — autonomy which the state cannot violate. And so I used to believe that late-term abortion was particularly awful, as close to infanticide as one can get. One day, on my blog, I said as much, and then a flood of emails came in.

    As this topic has come up again, I just want to add that, after reading and listening to the women who had had such abortions, whose testimonies are grueling and mind-expanding, I came to the conclusion that late-term abortions are actually the least objectionable.

    7
  31. Monala says:

    @MarkedMan: I recall that, too. It was often the readers’ emails and stories that he would share that made his blog worth reading.

    2
  32. CSK says:

    @Monala:
    If it’s true that Palin, as she herself said, went into labor and flew from Dallas to Anchorage (I was under the impression that airlines prohibit women over 7 months pregnant from flying) then it’s very likely she was hoping for what’s known as a “fundamentalist abortion,” a miscarriage or stillbirth that occurs “accidentally.” Then she could retain her pro-life creds.

    2
  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Monala:

    I think the weird things surrounding Palin’s pregnancy… make the most sense if you think about her hoping for a miscarriage.

    That makes sense to me.

    Back in the late 70’s I got onto the Kennedy assassination conspiracy train, at least to some degree, and to this day I am agnostic as to whether Oswald acted alone. But I reached a turning point when I read a book called “Best Evidence” concerning the assassination.In the first half of the book the author laid out meticulous research indicating significant gaps and omissions in the initial investigation of the shooting. In particular, he made a compelling case that the autopsy had a lot of problems and may have indicated that there were actually two autopsy’s done. But in the last section he basically said “So we have these gaps and omissions and things that don’t add up, and so that proves my theory that he CIA killed him.” (I might have the wrong culprit, all the theories blur together.) Much like Sullivan and Trig, he failed to see gaps and omissions are the start of an investigation that may or may not lead anywhere. They are not proof of anything in and of themselves. That was what got me off the conspiracy train.

    4
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    it’s possible that he’s just a cop wannabe and not a junior Klansman.

    Which may well be a distinction without a difference.

    12
  35. Or it could be Sullivan’s 5th column warblogging from 2001-2007ish that makes one question his judgement.

    3
  36. KM says:

    @JKB:
    Wow, so much BS to justify a killer but let’s start with

    His lawyers claim the firearm he had was from Wisconsin and did not cross state lines.

    Really, now. So if it “didn’t cross state lines”, where did he leave it and pick it up from? Considering it was used to kill someone, whomever was holding on to it might give a damn the law will want to talk to them…. Wonder what the person this kid is trying to frame thinks of being tossed under the bus?

    After leaving his job, he helped clean graffiti off the local high school before answering a call for people to defend what was left, mainly two mechanics shops, of a car dealership.

    So you admit he willingly went there to “defend” property that’s not his. Because you are NOT allowed to use lethal force in defense of other’s property, JKB. Aside from the fluff trying to make him sound harmless, you also admit he has ZERO security training so he wasn’t officially there to “protect” anything on the payroll of the owners, the one thing that might have given him legal cover.

    Also, as others have noted there’s video of him in a recent violent altercation. You might wanna skip trying to paint him as a saint and save some egg from your face.

    He was finally cut-off from returning to the car dealership by the advancing police line.

    So he broke the police line? Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like something a law-abiding soul would do. If the cops wanted civilians to be behind the line for their own safety, why did the kid disobey the police – I’m told that’s a no-no to Law and Order types. He deliberately went to instigate things where the cops could back him up and oh look – they did!

    someone fired a gun, unclear as to whether at or in the air, during this chase.

    Yeah, him. Ballistics are a thing, as is video. Nice try. They’ll be able to tell how often the gun was fired unless he tampered with evidence and if he did? Crime!!!

    Whereupon, Rittenhouse turned around in self-defense. The first individual shot tried to grab his rifle, was parried then shot. Rittenhouse then rounded back to render first aid but left as the mob started calling out to get him.

    No, no and no. He shot at them and they tried to defend themselves. He attacked them and they tried to disarm the kid firing widely into the crowd. Again, plain video of this kid just firing at a group, not a specific target. You cannot, cannot, CANNOT spray and pray at random people while trying to claim self-defense. It has NEVER been seen as defensive because you are actually attacking innocents by not aiming. The laws that y’all pushed for to protect gun owners? Doesn’t allow this.

    You can try to defend this all you want but the truth is this kid’s a killer and criminal. He broke several laws, the least of which is being a minor out after curfew (notice you ignored that) and the worst is homicide. Any Law and Order type would have told him to stay home since he was, you know, BREAKING THE LAW just by being there, let alone armed and ready to kill over property not his in a completely different state.

    12
  37. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner:
    There is no particular contradiction there. You’re viewing his racism through the manichean American racism. His racism isn’t from the American tradition, it is a very British racism, the old imperial racism. British imperial racism (and here as my own dear family is part of said tradition I am more than slightly familiar, being rootless imperial cosmopolitans…) was (or is maybe) rarely exclusionary or unable like American and particularly old Slave state racism, unable to admit value among the Not Quite As Good peoples. It did not (or doesn’t) have the same utter instinct to complete denial of black or brown worth.

    I suppose the difference of the American slavery and then ugly post-slavery experience.

    Viewing him through an American lens in terms of racism is getting him rather wrong.

    For me he’s quite familiar, almost familial.

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Yes, he is not as clever as he thinks he is, well not as broadly as he thinks he is. He is quite clever and as clever as he thinks he is in some specific cultural-political analytical areas, and utterly out of his depth in anything hard sciences or even mathematical which he understands purely through is cultural politics.

    8
  38. R. Dave says:

    @KM: You should really watch the actual videos of the events yourself, as it sounds like you haven’t done so. Someone else did fire a handgun into the air moments before Rittenhouse shot the first guy (the one who died), and the guy who got shot was in fact chasing Rittenhouse at the time. And the other two victims, one of whom was armed with a handgun, were likewise chasing and attacking and/or attempting to disarm him when he shot them. Lastly, there’s no evidence of any “spray and pray” in the videos. He fires a few controlled shots at specific individuals who were engaging him directly, and then he continues attempting to leave the area.

    I’m not saying whether any of that makes out a legitimate “self-defense” defense under WI law given that he shouldn’t have been there in the first place and was likely committing multiple crimes by simply being there and being armed with a gun he may not have been legally allowed to carry. I’m just saying your understanding of how the shootings themselves played out appears to be contradicted by the available video evidence, and I figured someone with a little less baggage on this blog than JKB should point it out.

    And now that I’ve somehow managed to make two posts defending a guy I really have no interest in defending, I think I’ll go watch some cartoons or something else happy and light.

    7
  39. mattbernius says:

    @R. Dave:

    And now that I’ve somehow managed to make two posts defending a guy I really have no interest in defending

    And that’s a difficult but important step to take if we’re trying to get closer toward a system where we are dealing with the known and pertinent facts for all system impacted folks (not just those who fit our pro/con narratives). Trying to look and openly acknowledge all evidence is important.

    Again, this isn’t intended as a specific defense of Rittenhouse. But guessing at (so far) unarticulated intentions based on incomplete information takes us down the path of people deciding that because there was an (inaccessible) knife in a car Blake was obviously a clear threat.

    6
  40. Monala says:

    @mattbernius: Matt, I really appreciate your consistent support for criminal justice reform, regardless of the accused or the crime that is involved. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    Maybe our blog hosts would be willing to give you an occasional column to share more? (Hint, hint, James and Steven)

    3
  41. sam says:

    I’ve always thought of Andrew as something of soft-shelled Tory.

    As for Rittenhouse, unless they’re Marines, 17-year olds shouldn’t be walking around with weapons. Given the precursors, the wife and I were wondering what would have happened if a young black kid with an AR had walked by the police that night.

    6
  42. CSK says:

    @sam:
    Funny you should say that. Rittenhouse tried to join the Marines and they rejected him.

    3
  43. @Monala:

    Maybe our blog hosts would be willing to give you an occasional column to share more? (Hint, hint, James and Steven)

    In fact, Matt has contributed in the past (longer ago than I would have guessed). He is still welcome to do should be like.

    2
  44. Jan says:

    “…….as a lowlife scum based on bogus allegations, the well is beyond poisoned.”

    What are you talking about bogus allegations? Did you not read the warrant out for his arrest for third-degree sexual assault? Jacob Blake broke into his ex-girlfriends home, vaginally penetrated her with his fingers against her will in front of one of her children and then sniffed his fingers and said “Smells like you have been with another man.” He then stole her car keys and debit cards. Fast forward to last week, he broke back into her apartment and she called 911. How is it wrong to say “alleged rapist?” We shouldn’t “Believe all women” now? He then resisted arrest, put a cop in a headlock, didn’t respond to getting tased and had a knife. I am not saying the shooting was justified, just that the media narrative that an innocent black man trying to break up a fight between two woman was gunned down by a white cop because he is black is completely false. There is no evidence whatsover race had anything to do with this. And it is irresponsible to spread this narrative. It was a complicated situation where a suspect was resisting arrest and potentially about to drive off with 3 kids in a car who possibly weren’t supposed to be with him. Lets see all the evidence that comes out and then make up our minds if the shooting was justified or not. Or if it was racially motivated.

    2
  45. Blue Galangal says:

    A man who promoted The Bell Curve and calls Jacob Blake an “alleged rapist” is a racist. Full stop.

    5
  46. Thomm says:

    @Monala: here is the complete video showing him getting tossed around the child he is. https://t.co/uWkOR4do05

  47. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    Anyway, if a dissenter has evidence for an alternate cause of climate change, and they can prove it convincingly, then they should, no matter what the consensus says. But the proof needs to be very convincing, needs to address all known effects, and perhaps unaddressed ones, etc.

    I don’t think it would have to cross all the “t”s and dot all the “i”s, but it would have to be credible and would have to wait in the wings until supporting evidence accumulated.But anyone who showed warming isn’t real, or is mostly due to something other than man made carbon, would win a Nobel eventually. The other usual examples are continental drift and the Yucatan impact causing mass extinction. Both of which were viewed as silly until almost overnight they became obvious.

    Science has often been wrong, sometimes horribly wrong, as with eugenics. But it does get better over time.

    Try to explain to a conservative with little or no scientific education that science is preferred over religion precisely because it can be wrong. Theologians have argued about the nature of the trinity forever. And they all think they’re right. But they can think they’re right because there’s no way to prove they’re wrong.

    2
  48. Dan says:

    @Blue Galangal: Well his ex-girlfriend, the same one who called 911 on him the day of his shooting alleged that he broke into her home, raped her in front of one of her children, and then stole her car. There was a warrant out for third-degree sexual assault based on this incident. What is inaccurate about calling him an alleged rapist? It is certainly relevant to the shooting since the police were trying to arrest him for it.

    1
  49. The Q says:

    lounsbury, just for sake of argument, let’s say 50 years from now science DOES confirm that IQ is inherited.

    Do you think your grandchildren should then look at you as a stupid old fool for believing in that antiquated notion that IQ was not transferable biologically? That those scientists back in the day, who denied this new “fact” should have their names removed from academic awards and any buildings named after them be renamed?

    What if it is confirmed that Jews and Asians DO have innately higher IQs than whites or blacks. Does that future generation then censure all those naive affirmative action liberals of the early 21st century who really did discriminate against Asians and Jews who were denied enrollment to universities in the hysterical need at the time for “Diversity”. Do those future Asians and Jews then get to sue for “reparations” because ignorant white folk like you in the 2020s denied studies showing that IQ is partially inherited.

    Does that generation heap scorn and ostracize those figures like Coates Or Glaude who mistakenly believed that black IQ was equivalent to Japanese or Chinese IQ? When science unequivocally proves this wrong?

    The great thing about “science” is it is not immutable. We may find a way to travel faster than light or prove there are 6 dimensions in space. And if that happens, the old theories and dogmas disappear.

    I just hope future generations are a little more tolerant to the failed, dumb ideas (Hillary in 2016, not Bernie) that some of us accept as gospel currently, but in time will look as out of place as steppin Fetchit in the next Black Panther movie.

  50. Monala says:

    @The Q: Your scenario is unlikely. What science has shown so far is that first, race is not a real thing. There are population differences and genetic differences, but they are not linked to race per se. Thus, people of west African and southern Mediterranean ancestry are prone to sickle cell disease, but southern Africans are not, even though the first and the middle are not the same “race,” and the first and the last are the same “race.”

    Second, science has shown that IQ is malleable. It increases with circumstances – nutrition, safe housing, medical care, educational opportunities.

    Given the two points above, it’s not likely that concrete evidence of some fixed level of IQs based on fixed ideas of race will be discovered.

    10
  51. EddieInCA says:

    @Monala: @The Q:

    Monala says:
    Monday, August 31, 2020 at 22:20

    @The Q: Your scenario is unlikely. What science has shown so far is that first, race is not a real thing. There are population differences and genetic differences, but they are not linked to race per se.

    As I’ve mentioned before, being of Dominican descent gives you a myriad of possible skin tones. I have first cousins that are darker than Michelle Obama, and others that are lighter than Elizabeth Warren. When the dark ones, go out, they’re black. Period. Full stop. When the lighter ones go out, they’re white. Even when they speak Spanish, it is their skin tone to which people react.

    So, theQ, what “race” are these two cousins?

    8
  52. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @The Q: IQ is a white european construct designed by them for them. Frankly, its also a ridiculous concept. What a writer, dancer, and engineer do is all “intelligent”. What method could be designed to measure the intelligence value of all three disciplines?

    How can one call themselves more intelligent than an indigenous native when the 150 IQ would starve in the indigenous man’s world while watching him eat everyday.

    4
  53. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, let’s defend his honor.

    They are called facts about the exact incidents.

    Here’s a Chicago CBS affiliate that lays out the criminal complaint in more detail. Still, the 17-yr old was followed, and the two dead tried to take his firearm. Trying to take a firearm creates reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury. Not to mention, he was being stalked by a mob. Even the attempts to write these articles in an adverse way to Rittenhouse cannot obscure the very good argument for justifiable self defense.

    McGinnis said before Rittenhouse reached the parking lot and ran across it, Rittenhouse had moved from the middle of Sheridan Road where Rosenbaum initially tried to engage him, prosecutors said. Rosenbaum was trying to get a closer look at Rittenhouse and advanced, at which point Rittenhouse did a “juke” move and started running.

    Others were also moving quickly toward Rittenhouse as he tried to evade them, McGinnis told prosecutors.

    That’s called trying to avoid a confrontation and leave the situation.

  54. JKB says:

    @KM: No, no and no. He shot at them and they tried to defend themselves. He attacked them and they tried to disarm the kid firing widely into the crowd. Again, plain video of this kid just firing at a group, not a specific target.

    You appear to have information that the actual investigators and prosecutor do not have. You should contact Kenosha police ASAP.

  55. Gustopher says:

    I was not aware that Andrew Sullivan was complicated in any way. Smart-ish man, really into eugenics and racism-lite, thinks anything unfair that affects him is horrible, and doesn’t make that leap to others. That’s what he’s always been.

    The only way Sullivan is complicated is if one was vaguely into that stuff as a younger man, learned enough to grow out of it but not enough to look back at one’s self accurately. Sullivan never changed, but a lot of the people who read him did.

    And all I can say there is that some people need to learn to look at themselves and who they were with honesty and compassion. And maybe even be proud to now recognize Sullivan as something of a putz.

    2
  56. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: Race is kind of bullshit, but ethnic groupings are very real, and there are actual significant differences. Not really in the Caribbean, though, where the population is a mix of several different imported African ethnicities, native ethnicities and Spanish ethnicities.

    If there are groupings that have a greater likelihood of sickle-cell disease, why would we assume there aren’t other groupings with stronger spatial-reasoning, imagination or abstract reasoning? Or empathy?Any number of which could affect IQ tests. (IQ tests also being pretty bullshit)

    Even across broad sets of ethnicities, which might be called race, we have found differences. East Asians have very different (generally lower) risks with cardiovascular health, from China to Japan to Vietnam and everywhere in between, despite being a huge number of ethnicities.

    I don’t think we are going to ever be able to glance at a person’s skin tone and say “this person probably has a higher than average intelligence,” but that’s probably because there are so few skin tones compared to ethnicities. And shitty tests to measure it. And a poor definition of intelligence. And such a large variation within an ethnicity.

    Conversely, though, we can look at someone’s skin tone and say “this white person is likely to have a deep sense of entitlement”. Mostly joking, and that’s mostly learned.

  57. Matt says:

    @JKB: Antioch Illinois to Kenosha is a bit over a 21 mile drive. Takes around half an hour depending on traffic. So are you disputing his mom’s claim of driving him there?

    Watch all the related videos including the confrontation before the first shooting. He didn’t try to render aid to anyone.

    @mattbernius: Yeah I never liked Andrew for that exact reason. He only cared for injustices that personally affected him while having no apparent ability to see or care about injustices affecting others.

    2
  58. Lounsbury says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    IQ is an older constract prior to modern advancements in both genetics and brain science. Calling it “white european” is a profoundly stupid thing to do. It’s an outdated, outmoded approach lacking sophistication and collapsing different phenomena into one. When it was proposed one might have found it reasonable. Now it is outmoded.

    @The Q:

    lounsbury, just for sake of argument, let’s say 50 years from now science DOES confirm that IQ is inherited.

    Et alors? It’s already clear that some things that IQ tests measure are inherited in part. Equally clear from current science that genetics is not the pure driver. Even more clear the primitive 19th century concept that is Race with a capital R (Blacks, Whites, Asians, etc) is not genetically coherent in the least.

    Do you think your grandchildren should then look at you as a stupid old fool for believing in that antiquated notion that IQ was not transferable biologically?

    Insofar as I said nothing of the sort, it is a rather stupid over-reaching proposition.

    My grandchildren however in real world should be quite proad of a grandfather who based and updated his understanding of the issues on solid science, and discarded antiquated concepts.

    That those scientists back in the day, who denied this new “fact” should have their names removed from academic awards and any buildings named after them be renamed?

    No idea what this silliness refers to.

    What if it is confirmed that Jews and Asians DO have innately higher IQs than whites or blacks.

    Rather like “what if we confirm gravity is an illusion and the aether concept is valid for flying to the moon, which is made of cheese”
    One can play fantasy What Ifs all one wants, rather sterile excercise.

    The primitive, archaic 19th century race model is already well-disproven by current genetics as completely incoherent to actual genetic traits distributions, and this even with a massive under-sampling of genetic diversity in African and some Asian populations, meaning missed variation.

    Does that future generation then censure all those naive affirmative action liberals of the early 21st century who really did discriminate against Asians and Jews who were denied enrollment to universities in the hysterical need at the time for “Diversity”.

    Hysteric strawman that rather has nothing to do with the issue of science, but appears to be all about the very boring manichean American racist model stuck in 19th century thinking and understanding.

    Rest of the boring blithering shan’t bother with, completely uninterested in American racialist obsessions and atavatistic obsession with its 19th century racialist models.

  59. Northerner says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Its pretty easy to prove that say Jews and Asians don’t have innately higher IQ’s than whites or Blacks — an innate property is one that is always there. You need only find some whites and Blacks that have higher IQ’s than some Jews and Asians to show the property of having a higher IQ isn’t always there. The strongest statement you can make is that statistically Jews and Asians have a higher average IQ than whites and Blacks, but that is a very different thing than saying its innate.

    Beyond that, IQ tests are very good at measuring the ability to do IQ tests, just as weight lifting competitions are very good at measuring the ability to lift weights. Of the two, I’d say the importance of measuring the ability to lift weight is far more important, since we’re always moving heavy things around in our world. Doing the kinds of problems found in IQ tests is very rare in real life, even in academic fields — they’re measuring the ability to do something that is rarely done.

    1
  60. Barry says:

    @Gustopher: “I was not aware that Andrew Sullivan was complicated in any way. Smart-ish man, really into eugenics and racism-lite, thinks anything unfair that affects him is horrible, and doesn’t make that leap to others. That’s what he’s always been. ”

    IMHO the core thing is that Sullivan was a magazine editor, and therefore was a paymaster for many low-level writers and intellectuals (real, aspiring and pretend).

    This gave him an undeserved reputation for being an actual intellectual, and since he was white and right-wing, he could coast on that for quite some time.

  61. wr says:

    @Jan: “I am not saying the shooting was justified”

    No, you’re just repeating smear after smear because you’re are fighter for the truth. No way you’re saying that yet another black man deserved to be murdered by the cops for the crime of being uppity. You would never say that, because that would make you look racist, and you’re certainly not a racist. So you just spew out this stuff to insist the murder was justified for, well, reasons.

    4
  62. @JKB:

    They are called facts about the exact incidents.

    The most salient fact, in this case, is that an armed 17 year inserted himself in a situation clearly thinking himself empowered, with no cover of laws, to deploy deadly force against other citizens.

    All subsequent facts have to be understood in that context.

    The exact evidence and details of the shooting will ultimately determine his legal fate. That he committed a crime is almost without a doubt, the question is: for what crimes will he be sentenced?

    And you are trying to defend him. Why?

    6
  63. wr says:

    @JKB: “Not to mention, he was being stalked by a mob. ”

    Yes. Because he murdered someone.

    According to you, Dylan Roof acted in self-defense if one of those uppity church-goers tried to stop him from murdering others.

    3
  64. @Jan:

    I am not saying the shooting was justified

    Yeah, you kind of are. Why else focus on allegations about Blake? The fundamental question is whether there was justification to shoot a citizen in the back 7 times. As I noted in the post, part of the problem here is that people, such as yourself, start to justify police violence against citizens because, after all, they’re criminals.

    There is no evidence whatsover race had anything to do with this.

    The broader context suggests that it clearly does.

    5
  65. mattbernius says:

    @Monala:

    Matt, I really appreciate your consistent support for criminal justice reform, regardless of the accused or the crime that is involved. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    That’s kind of you to say. I appreciate that feedback. This has been a journey for me as I’m still relatively new to the Criminal Justice Reform and Civic Tech space (I’m in my third year).

    Maybe our blog hosts would be willing to give you an occasional column to share more? (Hint, hint, James and Steven)

    As @Steven L. Taylor pointed out, I have contributed in the past. It was at a time that honestly wasn’t the best in my life and I wasn’t able to keep up with the daily grind that the regular contributors have managed. I’ve talked with James and Steven about returning at some point, however, 2020 probably isn’t the year.

    First, I still feel like I have so much to learn about the CJ space (as mentioned above I’m still a newbie and there is so much to learn). More importantly, I am still working on learning to write and respond from a point of curiosity versus talking (or more often) yelling past people. Looking back some of my comments around the beginning of the current pandemic of violence I was doing far more of the latter than the former and that does nothing to advance Criminal Justice Reform (or other equity movements that I care about).

    5
  66. @JKB:

    That’s called trying to avoid a confrontation and leave the situation.

    BTW: this is laughable given broader context. He actively pursued confrontation up and until the point he didn’t.

    He came to a protest armed. That is the very definition of actively pursuing confrontation. And he killed two people.

    If I show up to a giant pile of dry leaves with a flaming torch in my hand, and fire later ensues, I bear a hell of a lot of responsibility for that, regardless of the steps between me deciding to go to the leaf pile with fire in my hand and the actual outbreak of the bonfire and its commensurate outcomes.

    6
  67. @Jan: Let me repeat, because I think it bears repeating: as long as we concentrate on the criminal record, whether alleged or actual, of a police shooting victim, we are missing the point and focusing on the wrong thing.

    The fundamental question should be: is this the best way to handle these situations? I am unequivocally on the side of no, it isn’t.

    I find it unacceptable and going to “yeah, but what about X, Y, or Z” is giving at least some level of acceptability to it.

    I mean, after all, he was a criminal! It’s not like they shot a normal person!

    4
  68. Jan says:

    @wr @Steven L. Taylor:

    The allegations against Blake are incredibly important since that was the reason the police were responding to the 911 call in the first place. It was not just an innocent person minding their own business, and the police came and started to harass them for no reason. Do you not agree that someone who has a warrant for their arrest for a violent crime should be arrested? The police were required to arrest Blake when they arrived due to the warrant and he resisted. So let’s not act like it is a “smear” to bring this up. It is literally the reason why this situation took place.

    I am not justifying the shooting at all. I am saying there were actions committed by Blake (resisting arrest, ignoring verbal commands, putting a cop in a headlock, having a knife, being wanted for a violent crime, etc) that are his responsibility, that lead to a situation where the police used deadly force. The situation would not have escalated if Blake would have complied and allowed himself to be arrested for what I hope we can all agree is a justified arrest. To ignore these actions by Blake is to obfuscate the situation to push a certain narrative. If you want to ignore these actions, you would seem to be admitting that it is never justifiable to use deadly force against a citizen.

    When all the facts are out the shooting could potentially be justified or it most certainly won’t be justified. I am against creating a false narrative that causes people to riot and burn down cities. And then creates vigilantes who go patrolling the streets and gunning down people.

    The fundamental question that America is debating is not about if there was justification to shoot a citizen in the back 7 times. This is a worthy question to try to answer, obviously. The fundamental question is if the shooting was racially motivated since that is the narrative that has led to riots, NBA teams going on strikes, etc. For every Black person killed or shot you can find a similar situation involving a white person. The correct narrative would be that we have a problem in the United States with police using excessive force too much in general. If we wanted to create a racial narrative that is accurate, we would discuss how Blacks are more likely to be stopped and pulled over, more likely to be roughed up during routine police interactions etc. But using this situation to create a narrative that Black people are being gunned down and hunted in the streets by white cops is incredibly irresponsible when the statistics unequivocally deny this.

    The media pushed a fake news narrative that Jacob Blake was there innocently trying to break up a fight between two women. He was shown to be related to people who marched with MLK. Do you really think it is healthy that a cell phone video shown without context can be used alongside hyperbolic headlines to create a narrative that leads to more people being killed, businesses being looted and destroyed, etc? And now the media is doing “fact checks”, debunking that Jacob Blake raped an underage girl (people pushed this idea because third-degree sexual assult in other states involves sex with a minor) to make it look like he didn’t have a warrant out for his arrest. When they haven’t fact checked at all the fake stories that they wrote where he was just having a BBQ at his house or that he was there trying to break up a fight.

    Can you explain the “broader context”? That seems like a subjective reframing of a situation to fit your given narrative, not an objective pursuit of the facts.

    The only way you can prove race had anything to do with this is if the policeman who shot Blake has a history of not shooting white suspects in the exact same situations.

    @wr: It sounds like you are assuming my race. And you really like to put words in my mouth. “Crime of being uppity”. Yes, Black people deserved to be gunned down for being “uppity”. What does that even mean? Sounds like you are the one who has a preconceived notion of how Black people act. It is not an argument when you call the other person a racist. It usually means you are wrong.

  69. Jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: you said “The fundamental question should be: is this the best way to handle these situations? I am unequivocally on the side of no, it isn’t.”

    I am in complete agreement with you. There needs to be some type of reform where police are less likely to use deadly force when arresting suspects. And especially in non-violent situations like routine traffic stops, etc. but with the number of guns on the streets in the USA, this is a difficult task. I am not sure what the answer is. I am not sure sending a social worker to arrest Jacob Blake would be the right answer.

    But I don’t think that is what the riots and protests are about in a broader context. They are pushing a racial narrative that the United States is built on White Supremacy and every single interaction between a White and Black person is racist.

  70. Jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would like to add there is a clear difference between the following situations:

    1. A person is shot by a policeman while they are walking down the street at night, minding their own business. They did nothing wrong. All they did was have their hand in their pocket. It turns out they had a violent criminal record. Or the George Floyd incident. Many people brought up his violent background in order to try to justify his death and say “he had it coming!!”.

    2. Jacob Blake situation. His alleged violent background is the reason why he is having an interaction with the police in the first place.

    In situation #1 the person’s criminal background has no bearing whatsoever on the shooting situation. There is no reason to discuss it.

    In situation #2 the person’s criminal background is a fundamental aspect of the shooting. That doesn’t mean at all he deserves to be shot for his past crimes. But it also doesn’t mean it is wrong to discuss this aspect.

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  71. Northerner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Let me repeat, because I think it bears repeating: as long as we concentrate on the criminal record, whether alleged or actual, of a police shooting victim, we are missing the point and focusing on the wrong thing.

    Sure, but its human nature to dig up bad things about anyone on the other side who gets targeted by violence. “They had it coming to them” is a fairly common refrain. Yes, this is blatant both-siderism, but it has the virtue of actually being true — and so consistently true that its impossible to miss. Look at the widespread support of Trump calling for people to hit protesters at his rallies and the and the widespread support of ‘punch a Nazi’ or finding a teenager’s face punchable. Violence is cool so long as its against the other side, so people will look for ways to justify it.

    So I agree, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for people to stop justifying violence to their opponents. Its always different when we do it.

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  72. Lounsbury says:

    @Northerner:

    Its pretty easy to prove that say Jews and Asians don’t have innately higher IQ’s than whites or Blacks

    It is rather more pertinent that these archaic categories are not genetically coherent to begin rendering an entire genetic analysis on false categories rather besides the point – the innate silliness is always caveated and hand waved.

    Doing the kinds of problems found in IQ tests is very rare in real life, even in academic fields — they’re measuring the ability to do something that is rarely done.

    I am indifferent on this – a subjective statement given the variety of IQ tests.

    It is evident IQ tests do capture a form of intelligence, one that has some meaning or association with academic performance.

    That entirely misses a range of other intelligence. It’s overall an archaic testing approach of limited meaning (and one that seems to obsess most those with personal worth issues). Effects like the Flynn effect also highlight there is clearly a strong measurement artefact. Once brain chemistry and structure is better understood, it will doubtless go on the ash-heap of borderline pseudo-science of surpassed initial attempts at understanding.

  73. Northerner says:

    @Lounsbury:

    It is evident IQ tests do capture a form of intelligence, one that has some meaning or association with academic performance.

    If you mean association with academic grades, you’ might well be right. If you mean association with actual performance in academic fields I’m skeptical. Take Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century (by just about every physicist’s standard). He had a measured IQ of 125, yet could solve real physics problems (as opposed to cook book problems given in 3 hour exams) that physicists with much higher IQ couldn’t even start on (hence his receiving a Nobel Prize and too many other honors to mention). Clearly the IQ test didn’t measure his actual ability to deal with the abstractions in physics, even though solving real physics problems is probably closer to what is measured in an IQ test than what you see in other sciences, let alone in fields like engineering and medicine.

    I suspect there are a lot of other examples as well, though its hard to say because so few top level scientists have taken IQ tests — the numbers you see for them are always guestimates.

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  74. Michael Reynolds says:

    IQ is a white european construct designed by them for them. Frankly, its also a ridiculous concept. What a writer, dancer, and engineer do is all “intelligent”. What method could be designed to measure the intelligence value of all three disciplines?

    IQ is horsepower. It’s a nice, big engine. Doesn’t say anything about the transmission, the steering, the tires, the brakes or the driver’s judgment. I have a high IQ, but a cursory look at my life would cast severe doubt on that fact.

    IQ also doesn’t tell you what sort of vehicle is being driven by the engine – is it a race car, a family sedan, an SUV? If your intelligence is focused on words, that registers very nicely on IQ tests, ditto math ability. If we’re going by IQ I’m probably smarter than, say, Eddie Van Halen. Sit back and watch/listen to him play and tell me who has the better brain. None of what Eddie can do shows up on an IQ test, everything I can do, does. @Jim Brown 32: is right. It’s a rigged game with rules designed to favor a preferred iteration of intelligence.

    Would Van Gogh do well on an IQ test? Can you imagine giving a damn?

    It’s a flawed concept, simplistic, superficial. It has some very limited utility in assessing an individual, absolutely irrelevant when discussing a large population.

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  75. mattbernius says:

    @Jan:

    I am not justifying the shooting at all. I am saying there were actions committed by Blake (resisting arrest, ignoring verbal commands, putting a cop in a headlock, having a knife, being wanted for a violent crime, etc)

    One key thing here is that it should be stated that these are the allegations being alleged by the police and the police officer’s union. Some of these — the putting the cop in a headlock and having a knife in his hand the entire time — have yet to be verified by the independent investigation that is happening (see for example the following reporting – https://abcnews.go.com/US/family-investigators-police-offer-starkly-views-jacob-blake/story?id=72675684). Likewise the investigation has yet to confirm the account that the police knew who Blake was when the arrest took place.

    It is entirely possible that all of those allegations will be proven true. However, it’s also not a good idea to take anything the police, or the police union, allege as unassailable fact, especially given a lot of recent examples of police accounts not matching eye witness accounts, cell phone videos, or even their own body cam footage.

    As with the case of Rittenhouse people should not be rushing to judgment with incomplete facts.

    They are pushing a racial narrative that the United States is built on White Supremacy and every single interaction between a White and Black person is racist.

    Saying that the United States was built on White Supremacy isn’t a racial narrative — it’s a historically accurate one. From slavery to jim crow to redlining to many aspects of our modern drug war and law enforcement, to our approach to social services, White Supremacy (or if it’s easier to accept systemic racism) has been a key part of the founding and development of our nation into the 21st century. And no, not every single interaction between a White and Black person is racist, but a lot of them are based in a system of structural racism that continues to this day and we all participate in whether we are conscious of it or not.

    It’s uncomfortable to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

    Or if you think that is an incorrect representation of US history, I’d be interested in understanding why.

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  76. mattbernius says:

    Also, unfortunately (while they are no silver bullet) Kenosha hasn’t implemented any form of police body cam and there were no dash cams available:
    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/25/jacob-blake-kenosha-delayed-body-cameras-years-before-shooting/5630766002/

  77. Lounsbury says:

    @Northerner: I meant only student performance in the world of tests and the like, not academics in academic world. You know, what ordinary human beings who are not academics would mean by that phrase. Why I would mean professorial performance in the university world rather escapes me.

    @Michael Reynolds: I think this is actually a nice metaphor although you need only focus on the engine for illustrating the limitation of the metric without needing to go beyond it.

    1
  78. Jan says:

    @mattbernius: I think you are making the same point I am trying to make. We don’t have all the facts. So before we rush to create a narrative based on flimsy evidence that has deadly and destructive consequences, we should wait until we have all the facts. But the media created a narrative based off of Jacob Blake’s lawyer who wasn’t even there when it happened. He said he was breaking up a fight, unarmed, etc. Which is not true. It could turn out the police union is exaggerating their description of the events, but the second cell phone video seems to confirm what they say. We do have the 911 call audio, which proves the police were responding to the call from the ex-girlfriend who said he took her keys and wasn’t supposed to be there.

    I should have written, “They are pushing the narrative that the defining aspect of the United States is that it built on White Supremacy.”

    I am sorry but I just don’t think Critical Race Theory is the best way to solve race relations in the United States. I find it counterproductive to solve racism by making everything about race.

  79. jan says:

    @mattbernius: I will add that in the 911 dispatch the police were informed of a “10-99”, meaning the dispatcher was informing the officers that Blake was wanted. So it is true that the responding officers knew of his warrant.

  80. Grewgills says:

    @Gustopher:
    Any complex trait (and intelligence certainly qualifies) is going to have a complicated inheritance. In this case complicated means that it involves multi genetic inheritance, epigenetic factors, along with a host of environmental factors.
    Relatively simple (compared to intelligence) things like height and skin tone are complicated in this way. Heights of Western Europeans now are greater than they were for those born in the 40 through the 50s and they were taller for those who reached adulthood before WWII. That wasn’t about a change in genetics, it was about nutrition (also a factor in intelligence).
    Sickle cell is monogenetic and so MUCH easier to tie to particular population(s).

  81. mattbernius says:

    @Jan:

    I am sorry but I just don’t think Critical Race Theory is the best way to solve race relations in the United States. I find it counterproductive to solve racism by making everything about race.

    Can you define what you mean by critical race theory?

    I ask because the examination of structural racism, its roots, and how its perpetuated by current systems is not my understanding of what critical race theory is. Perhaps you are working from a different definition.

    And I am curious what you would suggest would be a better way of addressing the significant role explicit and implicit racism has played in the creation and continued structuring of this country? Its appears to me that there are still very clear indicators that race is a factor i people to be treated unequally (see for example the disproportionate impact of C19 on black populations).

  82. mattbernius says:

    @Jan:

    I should have written, “They are pushing the narrative that the defining aspect of the United States is that it built on White Supremacy.”

    I agree that it isn’t fair to say it’s “the” defining aspect. However, give the long shadow racism and white Supremacy have cast on our history and currently on our present day, I think it is correct to say it is “a defining” aspect — especially since so much of the last ~150 years has been attempting to undo that aspect of our founding and we still clearly have so much more work to do.

    How is that view different than what MLK wrote about during the Civil Rights Movement

    I am curious, could you agree with the idea that “a” defining aspect of the United States is that it is built on White Supremacy? Or if not, I would love to understand your thinking as to why not.

  83. Rick DeMent says:

    @Jan:

    For every Black person killed or shot you can find a similar situation involving a white person.

    Really? I mean you can find evidence of a white guy getting shot in the back 7 times by police, or being choked to death? I just did a google search and came up empty. I did find a few videos\stories of a white guy resisting arrest, violently and just being wrestled to the ground.

    If an offer is shooting someone in the back they are , by definition, not in a life threatening … because the perp is running away from you. You call for back up and you go catch the guy and then you tack on resisting arrest to the charges.

    I have yet to find video of a white guy getting choked to death. And remember, if we have one video, which requires police doing these things in front of a crowd of people in public who we all know have cameras, I shudder to think how many more are not being memorialized with a video recording, out of the sight of by-standers.