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Mainstream Psychosis Is the New Normal
My argument is not “the news media lies,” or “there’s a lot of misleading discourse.” My argument is that whole overlapping layers of high-status America — in academia, in media, and in politics — are psychotic, fully detached from reality and living in their own bizarre mental construction of a fake world. I don’t mean this figuratively, or as colorful hyperbole. I mean that the top layers of our most important institutions are actually, literally populated by people who are insane, who have cultivated a complete mental descent through the looking glass.
So: Jill Lepore.
Lepore is as high-status as it’s possible to be. She holds an endowed chair at Harvard, she has a Bancroft, and she’s been on the masthead at the New Yorker for almost two decades. She has about as much institutional validation as an academic historian can get. And she just published an essay that wouldn’t be out of place in foot-high crayon letters on the wall of a mental institution.
“What happened to antisemitic rants before social media,” is the actual subhed. You see, before Twitter, people who said that Jews were bad were very marginal, and no one ever listened to them. At the risk of giving away too much personal information, I’m writing this in a bar, and the bartender is giving me some fairly aggressive side-eye over the burst of nervous laughter that I just dropped. Musk’s grandfather was named J.N. Haldeman, and he wrote a lot about how much he didn’t like Jews, and here’s what Lepore has to say about that:
But Haldeman’s legacy casts light on what social media does: the reason that most people don’t know about Musk’s grandfather’s political writings is that in his lifetime social media did not exist, and the writings of people like him were not, therefore, amplified by it. Indeed, they were very unlikely to circulate widely, and are now quite rare.
Jill Lepore has a PhD in history, and she thinks that antisemitic speech was quite rare before social media. Here’s a link to a non-paywalled version of the essay, and I encourage you to go read it. Otherwise you’re going to struggle to believe me. See for yourself, and then come back and I’ll talk about it.
How, if you want to argue that negative statements about Jews had little reach before social media, do you explain….Jewish history? Why didn’t they have time for the bread to rise, Jill? Before Twitter, screeds against Jews “were very unlikely to circulate widely,” except for, I don’t know, Mein Kampf? We dip the parsley in the salt water to remember the bitter tears of our ancestors, who never faced any antisemitism because it was very marginal and never allowed to circulate widely.
It gets better, though, because Haldeman was born in Minnesota, then raised in Canada, and then moved to South Africa two years after the formal implementation of apartheid. He wrote white supremacist tracts in apartheid South Africa, and Lepore maintains that the reach of his racist literature was sharply limited by the absence of social media. See, it was very rare to be able to read racist views in apartheid South Africa. In the 1950s. Screenshot of two back-to-back paragraphs, and watch these claims collide like Kate and Leo’s ship hitting an iceberg:
He said bad things about black people in 1950s South Africa, so he was an extremist whose views weren’t widely heard. His writings were so extreme that they were completely ignored and totally forgotten, like these archived documents Jill Lepore is about to quote from. I invite you to imagine my current facial expression. Here, have another screenshot, and again look at how these paragraphs fit as they roll together:
Elon Musk’s grandfather was a wild-eyed extremist and a crazy cultural outlier, someone whose views were little-heard because they were far outside the realm of the acceptable.
He defended “white rule.” He defended the existing power structure, the actual dominant authority of the prevailing system in the country where he lived.
How is it possible to be this stupid? This is one of our top history professors, writing in what surely is our most prestigious magazine, and it’s insipid, ahistorical, mindless nonsense — absolutely shameful horseshit, false from start to finish. One more screenshot:
Haldeman was a dangerous extremist, a wild-eyed outlier, a lunatic on the fringes. Also, he wrote “stock apartheid propaganda,” the mainstream prevailing narrative of power.
Jill Lepore devastates Jill Lepore’s argument, and no one at the New Yorker noticed?
What’s happening to us? How have we gotten here?
Harvard — Jill Lepore’s intellectual home — just scored 0/100 on FIRE’s academic freedom-of-speech ranking, and Lepore, a celebrated historian, embraces the view that a too-open discourse allows dangerous speech to be heard. She doesn’t see the implications of her own argument, and has no thoughts on what a discourse restricted to respectable mainstream voices would have meant for, say for example, the African National Congress, or for the escaped slave Frederick Douglass. Before that bad man Elon Musk proposed an open discourse on social media, the free black Boston merchant David Walker had to smuggle his anti-slavery tract into slave states, which kept abolitionist literature out of the US mail. It’s a good thing he didn’t have access to this open social media thing, because he would have been allowed to speak freely, and that would allow extreme voices to be heard.
Our institutions have been consumed with madness, and they need to be burned to the ground.
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