This past week I spent some time thinking about resistance and the forms it takes, and how people can get into a “resistance” mindset that seems strange or misplaced to others.

You can’t make me

I once knew a writer I can only describe as “cussed.” He was a friendly person, but contrarian in the manner of the mid-century “smartest guy in the room” archetype. He hated the official line on anything. I think he was a Linux user mostly because nothing else would have served to establish his violent resistance to “mainstream” operating systems, of which Linux was not one at the time I knew him. Thinking back, he probably should have been a NetBSD user, but Linux got to him first and it was good enough.

He also hated to be touched. In an unguarded moment I once made the mistake of clapping him on the shoulder over something funny he’d said, and he stared at my hand with a kind of affronted shock until I pulled it away and took a step back.

His cussedness and his manifest irritation over being touched added up to me as a kind of intense concern over his personal integrity — a deep and heartfelt need for independence that he taught me to spot in a lot of people I’ve encountered over the years since. As a “go-along” kind of person, I’ve never completely understood people like that. Sometimes I’ve felt irritated by them when it has felt like the resistance they’re expressing has been for its own sake, and at the cost of something important to me. But I’ve also felt a level of respect, even when that resistance has felt unexamined on their part — perhaps the result of some old hurt — and I give them their space, knowing that the worst thing you can do is poke them.

I can feel when I’ve accidentally stepped into whatever zone of personal integrity they’re policing for themselves, mistakenly assuming consensus that doesn’t exist. I can feel the guard going up and I know to quietly take a step back if I want to have any hope of salvaging the interaction — I know that the worst thing I can do is turn the thing into a matter of principle for them. Their resistance is its own thing.

This writer and I used to disagree a lot on how to talk to people we disagreed with, and he once got playfully angry with me as I tried to reason some matter out with him: “You’re so fucking reasonable,” he muttered, before granting a rare concession. It felt like a real accomplishment.

I liked him a lot, and thought he was a fundamentally decent person: He might not do what you wanted, but he was open to conversation and persuasion. He was combative toward most liberals, but had me in the ledger as “fucking reasonable,” so his reflexive prickliness and occasional jag of smartest-guy superiority would give way.

We have lost touch. I think I could find him online if I wanted to try, but simply haven’t.

I have no idea what he has made of the past two years, but can guess from his politics from long ago. I have thought about him a lot because he was my first education in the rigidity with which people can define personal integrity, and the zeal they’ll bring to defending it if they think their boundaries have been pushed. I’m pretty sure we all know people like this: It’s a common American “type.”

So, what does all this to do with what I’ve been reading over the past week?

If you can’t spot the hegemon in the room, they may be you

There was this very brief bit by Freddie de Boer, including these passages:
“It would be a mistake to say that social justice politics - OK, alright, fine, fuck it, wokeness - is winning. It's not losing, either. I think winning and losing implies a level of coherence to the project and materialism to the stakes that simply aren’t there. [...] “There is no hope for reform in the expected manner, no chance that billowing Republicans or whining liberals or antique Marxists like me will talk the world out of it, will convince elite society to believe in freedom and nuance and forgiveness again. That will not occur. “But. There is a second front, in this war, a hidden battlefield on which the social justice movement is slowly losing to the forces of ... not liberalism, not reaction, not conservatism, not civil liberties, not plain ol’ common sense, but anarchy, resistance, revulsion towards piety, the desire for revenge, the death drive, animal spirits, the id, the unheimlich, Jungian impulse, and most of all utter and total moral exhaustion. These are chip chip chipping away at the arrogant command of our moral betters. There are forces arrayed against the piety and vengefulness of social liberalism that cannot possibly meet it on the open field but which every day wage guerilla warfare and, slowly, the great shaggy beast is bleeding out, that creature of preening righteousness slowly crippled by its hubris and arrogance. What looks like the inevitable and impregnable demands of history right now will look in time like the decaying aristocratic mores they are.”
The post featured a picture of Dasha and Anna from the Red Scare podcast posing with Alex Jones, whom they recently interviewed. It perplexed a number of people and angered a few more (as did Alex Jones appearing on Red Scare).

The expressions of confusion the post garnered were puzzling to me, in turn. One of the more disorienting turns in political style over the past … while? … has been the reactionary right’s collective shift toward “triggering the libs” as its own good, along with a shift toward humor more concerned with hypocrisy and preciousness that is more heckling and needling. Its tone is more one of resistance than the traditional charge of “punching down” we used to apply pretty liberally. I’m not trying to argue that traditional charge of punching down doesn’t still apply. It is still on display.

That bothers people who try to understand conservatives, because it’s hard to both have an analysis that identifies the United States as fundamentally white supremacist; and also believe that reactionary white people with their gerrymandered districts, electoral college advantages, and elevated privilege could be punching up when they set out to trigger the libs.

But there’s a lot going on in this country that keeps it from being simple:

It’s not a contradiction to note that the United States is structured in such a way that the more reactionary parts of the country have institutional advantages, and also note that the wealthier end of the middle class has widely embraced liberal social values and has generally embraced social justice politics, even if there are some corners where the “embrace” is more of a management attempt to metabolize those political values, and square them with assorted corporate missions.

How we got there takes some documentation. I’ve read three books in the past year that do this:

Barbara Ehrenreich’s Fear of Falling is a history of the professional managerial class (PMC), recounting the rise of management and how the PMC inserted itself into labor/capital relations, then eventually displaced labor in the political system. Fear of Falling is the most journalistic or reportorial of the three.

Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal expands on Ehrenreich, which was written in the late ‘80s, by bringing the PMC up to 2016, just before the election that year. It’s a specific indictment of the Democratic party for its embrace of the finance industry and turning away from working class politics, written from a left-populist perspective.

(This is probably a good place to pause and toss in this Jacobin piece, because “populism” means a lot of things to a lot of people, and has a number of ideological inflections:

Tucker Carlson, Your Boss’s Favorite “Populist”, (Jacobin)

“His shtick is the bread and butter of business-friendly politicians: divide the working class on fault lines of race and cultural issues, and package a defense of the interests of business and the wealthy in lazily pseudopopulist terms, so that the ‘haves’ who watch you feel like they’re the put-upon little guy, and the ‘have-nots’ think you’re on their side.

“But as we’ve seen with Carlson’s coverage this year, sooner or later you have to take a side on an issue. Siding with the rich and powerful once might be an exception. When you do it again and again, maybe you’re just another corporate stooge.”

Moving along: Catherine Liu’s Virtue Hoarders is written from a socialist perspective, is the shortest, prickliest of the three books, and does the most work to demonstrate how a conservative shit-poster could, indeed, “punch up.”

Taken together, the three form a left critique of 21st century liberal (in the “left of center” sense) politics, and demonstrate how there’s more than one “left” in the United States, with each left tendency offering divergent analysis and solutions.

The confused fallout from de Boer’s column was enough for him to come back around the next day:

“The post isn’t really about Red Scare as such, but - the connection is that Red Scare is a strong example of the threat to social justice’s hegemony and what it is not. Red Scare does not try to convince anyone of anything and it doesn’t need to. Red Scare does not have political power; Red Scare has soft power. 19 year olds who list their pronouns on Instagram and never say ‘Black people,’ only ‘Black bodies,’ and otherwise do the ritual ablutions of social justice nevertheless listen to Red Scare and chortle every time they say the word retard. That picture shows the obvious and loud and explicit political resistance to the social justice era, the old version, epitomized in Alex Jones. It also shows the new axis of resistance, the strange one, the oblique one, the opposition that sneaks into your house in the middle of the night and vapes on your futon while you sleep. Red Scare is not respectable, but Red Scare is cool, and its gay army as a mass rides indifferent to the mores that its members dutifully honor as individuals in so many other contexts.”
So there’s a component of one left tendency’s resistance of another’s mores there. And then there’s the ideological disagreement, which Adolph Reed crystallized from a socialist perspective:
“... although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines. As I and my colleague Walter Benn Michaels have insisted repeatedly over the last decade, the burden of that ideal of social justice is that the society would be fair if 1 percent of the population controlled 90 percent of the resources so long as the dominant 1 percent were 13 percent black, 17 percent Latino, 50 percent female, 4 percent or whatever LGBTQ, etc.”
I talked to someone about all this, drawing connections back to the 2016 election and the clash between the socialist left and social justice left. We had both seen it get sort of ugly and stupid among mutual friends on Facebook, who were busy calling each other “Bernie Bros” and “snakes.” They expressed some despair. “We all want the same things! Why the constant bickering?”

But we don’t all want the same thing. There’s a collective deficiency in perspective about what it means to be “left” that collapses distinctions between those different tendencies, and there’s a lot of “signification as politics” that leaves people confused about who wants what.

Get your shots and wear your mask

Resistance came up in another way this past week. I was talking to a friend whose workplace is preparing to implement a Covid vaccination mandate.

“In my house, people cheer vaccine mandates on and think people who don’t get their shots are idiots who deserve to get fired.”

But a friend of theirs is about to be caught up in a workplace mandate, and “it feels kinda bad.”

Back in August there was a pretty good interview with Zeynep Tufecki about Covid vaccine resistance:

COWEN: Question from the iPad — how would you convince a COVID vaccine skeptic?

TUFEKCI: It depends who they are, obviously.

COWEN: Someone from Staten Island, and they walk into the room, and they say, “I don’t trust the vaccine. I don’t trust those authorities. I’m going to wait.”

TUFEKCI: I’m going to go back to the sociology fallback, which is that people don’t exist as independent atoms. The person to convince that person is a friend, an acquaintance, or somebody else from Staten Island. The way you want to deploy these convincing is — and we have this from so much sociology. If I come to you and say, “Your field is terrible, and you’re wrong about everything,” you’re not going to all of a sudden like me, right?

If we want to convince people, we need to deploy the people on the ground that we have, wherever it is, who’s closest to those people. If you want to convince people on Staten Island, you’ve got to send people who live on Staten Island who can work for this, or whatever community it is.

Instead, we’re lecturing at them. Nobody likes being lectured. Even if the lecturing is all correct, it just doesn’t work. I would try to say, “Hold on, my Staten Island friend, I’m going to find you somebody that you relate to, who’s going to tell you why you should get vaccinated.”

I don’t know many Covid vaccine resisters. I’ve known some generically anti-vax people and I’ve known some people who have flirted with anti-vax sentiment, though that usually felt more like a social pose than outright resistance to anything.

In some of those cases, I’ve sensed that coiled resistance I used to sense in that writer I knew. I’ve also felt a lot of curiosity. I wonder what could reach them. And I wonder how much less people are reachable, precisely because it is so easy to get at them:

They Died From Covid. Then the Online Attacks Started. (New York Times)

“Even as Ms. Scott and her daughters grapple with grief, they have also had to focus on deleting the scathing comments that have flooded their social media accounts. ‘Within hours of him dying they were attacking on Facebook,’ Ms. Scott recalled. ‘They said, ‘Had your husband got the vaccine you would be with him now’, or ‘How good of a man was he? He wouldn’t even get vaccinated.’ Just very cruel jabs.””

Other Links

Criminal Trials Are Not Moral Reckonings, (New York Times)
“Convicting Kyle Rittenhouse would have sent Kyle Rittenhouse to prison — that’s all. Laws and legal procedures are not ethical codes and cannot sustain the weight of moral reckonings on a national scale. Looking to these trials to repair social damage, answer a larger question or fulfill some notion of justice is a mistake. Beyond the futility of hope, looking to the criminal system — which was heavily influenced by slave codes and still serves to reinforce racial hierarchies — further centers it in our moral discourse.

“Why do we turn to blockbuster trials to satisfy our hunger for justice? Americans are told from birth that punishment solves problems. Retribution is the closest thing we have to a common religion. Redress certainly feels good, like a sugar high; I, too, felt a wave of relief upon reading that Mr. Bryan and the McMichaels had been convicted of killing Mr. Arbery — but it does not make us stronger or healthier as a society.”

Liberal Hypocrisy is Fueling American Inequality. Here’s How., (New York Times)
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“It’s easy to blame the other side. And for many Democrats, it’s obvious that Republicans are thwarting progress toward a more equal society.

“But what happens when Republicans aren’t standing in the way?

“In many states — including California, New York and Illinois — Democrats control all the levers of power. They run the government. They write the laws. And as we explore in the video above, they often aren’t living up to their values.

“In key respects, many blue states are actually doing worse than red states. It is in the blue states where affordable housing is often hardest to find, there are some of the most acute disparities in education funding and economic inequality is increasing most quickly.

Instead of asking, ‘What’s the matter with Kansas?’ Democrats need to spend more time pondering, ‘What’s the matter with California?’”

E-Reader Roundup: Kobo Sage, Kobo Libra 2, and Kindle Paperwhite, (Six Colors)

I’m a Kobo user, myself, and I’m still doing well with a Kobo Forma. The software highlights for me are Pocket and public library integration. The hardware works as well for me as my Kindle Oasis used to. I think the overall experience is a bit of a wash, but it’s worth it to me to be one bit less entangled with Amazon.

The tyranny of metrics has overtaken journalism, conflating consumer choice with democratic needs, (Jacobin)

“Petre’s analysis implicitly draws attention to the not-so-hidden eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: the monstrosity that is Facebook (a subject to which the book could perhaps have devoted more attention). Given the platform’s gatekeeping position as the primary portal to a massive global readership, reporters internalize an almost-instinctual awareness as to what types of content capture attention and perform well on the Facebook news feed. Such dynamics incentivize journalists — many of whom face intense job insecurity — to craft their reporting according to clickbait criteria that emphasize controversy, conflict, sensationalism, and anything that prompts people to engage with stories, thereby generating more advertising revenue.

“Critics have long argued that metrics-driven journalism privileges fluff over high-quality news, while conditioning journalists to treat audiences as apolitical consumers and entertainment seekers rather than engaged participants within a democratic polity. By conflating consumer choice with democratic needs, these market-based values reduce audience engagement to a commercial transaction and devalue other less easily measured concerns, such as how well the press serves democracy.”

Why I’m Tired of Hearing About ‘Wokeism’, (Chronicle of Higher Education)
“Here are two thoughts we ought to be able to hold in our heads at the same time. First: Our institutions are still riven with centuries-old inequalities. Second: Sometimes well-intentioned people respond to this problem by overcorrecting and inflicting unfairness on others. Keeping both thoughts active at once is difficult.”

Meta: How I’m reading

You know, Feedly is pretty good! I first started using it after Google ended Reader, but mostly as a syncing back end for other RSS readers. When Reeder finally got its own iCloud-based sync, I dropped Feedly.

At the time, I didn’t really appreciate what Feedly was going for. My conception of RSS was “I want to have a list of RSS feeds, I want you to show me what’s in them, otherwise leave me alone.” Feedly sensed opportunity in discovery and automated curation for people who do a lot of online research and trend-spotting, or who otherwise want more control of their inputs. It also decided not to declare RSS dead. Where a few other news apps went in the direction of entirely social-networking-driven backends, Feedly decided to stick with RSS.

Personally, I could never deal with the social-news apps. I’ve worked in content marketing, and I know some of the things those teams do: It’s not uncommon to repost the same item three or four times over a few weeks using different content in the social post each time. Social news readers don’t usually pick up the duplication, so you waste time clicking through to stories you already read, wondering why the story seems familiar. RSS feeds don’t tend to have that problem: They’re pretty linear.

Anyhow, my first time around as a Feedly user I was conflating the delivery method (RSS feeds) with the reading experience (RSS readers, which all look and act pretty much the same below the skin.) Feedly deserves some credit for figuring out a business model around RSS.

So, after my first go at Feedly, I ended up using plain old RSS readers, and Apple News as a heavily curated reader for national media. I had it set up to restrict its front page to sources I selected (vs. whatever it cared to cough up). I used RSS feeds to keep up with more narrowly focused or more personal interest stuff.

The two big issues with Apple News are its mysteriousness — there’s no real telling why it picks what it does, when it’s going to refresh, or what it means to tell it “more/less like this” — and its crummy insistence on sharing Apple News URLs from the share sheet. For the latter, there’s a hit or miss possibility you can get the original link but it is pretty inconsistent. There’s also a Shortcuts workflow out there that sometimes succeeds in ferreting out the original URL, but sometimes it just spits back the XHTML namespace page from

There’s no way I’m going to use Google News, so I gave Feedly another look hoping to unify my Apple News-style and RSS reading in one app, and I appreciate it.

On the RSS front, it pretty much just behaves like a typical feed reader. You tell it an RSS URL, it subscribes. If you’re coming over from another reader, it can import OPML files. There are a number of presentation options, running from a plain “just text” list to a more “magazine” style list (meaning there are summaries and featured images). It integrates with Pocket and Instapaper so it’s easy to send articles to one of those services with a swipe.

It also features keyword and topic filtering. It took about ten minutes to come up with a pair of keyword and topic filters that eliminated almost all the “deal posts” tech sites do. It also offers some refinement features. For instance, I want to follow news about homelessness in Portland — I was able to modify that canned search to exclude news from Portland, ME and focus on news from Portland, OR by filtering on location.

You can also do some training: If you come across an article you’re not interested in, there’s a dialog that presents the topics Feedly identified in the content and you can tell it to filter out those topics.

As a way to replace Apple News or Google News, it provides a bunch of curated topical lists you can just drop in. It’s easier to pick a list and whittle it down than assemble one from the ground up. You can also have it do topical searches, then filter out sources you don’t want when they pop up.

It’s also got a few social networking features. You can add Twitter feeds or lists and extract links from them. You can do the same with Reddit.

So, I flipped from free user to paid user in the space of a few hours.