A few further thoughts on Applebaum, neoliberalism, ideological pigeonholing, etc.
First off Allan, I didn't mean to imply that you were advocating pre-screening, I was just making an observation about an increasingly common tendency worldwide to retreat into comfortable silos where one's own views are forever reaffirmed. As has been observed ad nauseum, the contemporary media and academic environments are so dominated by algorithms either actual (but is an algorithm real? evidently yes) or internalized/ ingrained that it produces the echo chamber effect I mentioned, reinforcing tendencies towards 'us and them' tribalism. So for example I don't give a toss if Applebaum was once friends with creeps like Dinesh D'Souza, particularly as she now openly rejects that, not if I can glean valuable insights from her research into the social and political mechanisms permitting something like the Holodomor (that is, Stalin's starvation of Ukraine), or how resurgent authoritarian regimes from widely disparate ideological backgrounds are pooling knowledge, supporting each other, and sharing techniques of social control. Because it's highly relevant to grasping what's going on globally as we speak. It's no accident she got a Pulitzer for her famine book. There was a ton of original research in it. I would feel differently if she herself was a criminal or displayed unethical conduct. But no, she's an intellectual with a background of sometimes questionable views, many of which she herself has modified under the weight of her own experience, and all this needs to be kept in mind when reading her, no more and no less. Sometimes she's right and nails it, and sometimes (very) wrong. I mean, I didn't hand the keys to my mind over to Deluze and Guattari either, even while working out that their views were creditable, for example D&G on how revolutionary movements on the left largely failed to rid themselves of the vices they loudly proclaimed they were trying to overthrow: power hierarchies, nationalist tendencies, prejudices, etc. (See Timothy Laurie and Hannah Stark). In a windy piece in the NYRB on her last book, Jackson Lears tries to palm Applebaum off as someone under the influence of behavioral economist Karen Stenner, who (he says) views ideological differences as "merely" reflections of varying "cognitive styles." I think that's a bit dismissive, given that it's pretty undeniable that such "styles" (that is, of the kind that tend towards actual cognition rather than the reverse) tend to produce the most resistance to the authoritarian impulse and the most awareness of ideological manipulation. And he quotes Applebaum from her book "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism" (Doubleday, 2021) as observing: "Authoritarianism appeals, simply, to people who cannot tolerate complexity... there is nothing intrinsically ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’ about this instinct at all." He calls this a view stemming from "the rarefied atmosphere of the meritocratic elite, where political disagreements evaporate into elusive distinctions between those who can tolerate complexity and those who cannot." I concede that her take on complexity and authoritarianism is probably not the most profound insight into the mechanisms of authoritarianism ever written. But I don't think it can be dismissed as 'rarified' either. (Lears invests some effort in portraying Applebaum as an elitist arrogantly surveying the world from a first class airline seat at 35,000 feet.) In fact I think it's a valuable observation, and probably earned from observing the trajectories of her neoliberal onetime fellow travelers. Because there's undeniably a refusal to entertain complexity, to register nuance, to allow for diverse competing ideas, in the historical record of both the far right and far left. A marked, relieved reprieve from ideation due to relaxation into ideological certainties. A bit of a 'reaching for my Luger when I hear the word 'culture.'''And I don't think attempting to discern the boundaries and gradations of that phenomenon isn't worthwhile. On the contrary. But okay, I see I've really gone out on a limb on behalf of Anne Applebaum here, something strange even to me. To quote Ted, I'm not a fan, but I do think some of her work makes a valuable contribution. And to be fair to Patrice, he himself wrote that he didn't necessarily share 'all the viewpoints' he forwards, but finds them interesting and worthwhile. Best from the north, Michael
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