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July 20, 2010

A response to Ross Douthat's "The Roots of White Anxiety"

Yesterday we here at the Newswire linked to an Op-Ed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called, "The Roots of White Anxiety." I generally avoid linking to Douthat because I think he is deeply disingenuous making suggestions and accusations and vague correlations in the place of an actual argument. The gist of his pieces is often interesting, but he totally botches the execution. He is like a man trying to hammer a nail who every time, at the very last moment, hits only his thumb and calls himself the victor. Below is a response to his column, pointing out why he is so wrong. (And here is another response.) TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect
Today's Ross Douthat offering has already prompted a thoughtful response from Adam, but I wanted to note the conservative NYT writer's inability to assess competing arguments. First, from his opening statement: While the assembled Ivy Leaguers accused [Pat Buchanan] of homophobia and racism and anti-Semitism, he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians. The key fact that Douthat never returns to is that Buchanan is homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic. Those despicable Ivy Leaguers are right! There is also plenty of evidence that Buchanan is wrong -- starting with the fact that a plurality of Ivy Leaguers are white Christians. So Douthat has to draw a narrower case -- that America's elite colleges discriminate against not just white Christians but working-class, rural white Christians. Oh, and the presumption is that they must be his kind of Christian -- you can't be liberal and Christian, or "elite" and a Christian. As Adam notes, what discrimination exists comes down to a question of class, not culture. Douthat's second strange equivocation is the concern he is trolling -- that the lack of interaction between poor white Christians and liberals creates a dangerous paranoia between groups in this country. (As a side note, I'd love to know how much time Douthat spends with white, rural, working-class Christians himself.) He observes that conservative-leaning white voters think Obama is a "foreign-born Marxist," among other conspiracies, while liberals perceive an increase in "crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs." Once again, the conspiracy theories of the conservatives have no basis in reality. Meanwhile, the idea that liberals see right-wing conspiracies "everywhere they look" reveals that Douthat has as little knowledge of liberals as he does of rural, working-class whites. Liberals do fret that the Tea Party and like-minded right-wing groups are providing an outlet for racist and violent sentiments, but that's only because the Tea Parties do provide an outlet for racist sentiments -- and McVeigh-types have already attacked federal buildings and been arrested for plotting similar escapades. This is the worst kind of opinion column, a sort of tease -- Douthat airs competing claims but declines to weigh in on either side, instead offering a mealymouthed support for a kind of soft affirmative action for, well, he doesn't quite say white Christians, which is where he began his column, but for those whom he believes are culturally affiliated with white Christians. It's awfully similar to Douthat's commentary on gay marriage -- it's clear that he opposes it, but realizing that his reasoning is indefensible, refuses to argue the issue. Reading today's column, you get the sense that Douthat agrees with Buchanan's white grievance, but he doesn't have the courage to come right out and say so.

Janitors of the unfettered electronic expression of the id

Jobs that didn't exist 10 years ago for images that no one would think to share 15 years ago. Because none of us are as cruel as all of us. Concern for Those Who Screen the Web for Barbarity - NYTimes.com
An Internet content reviewer, Mr. Bess sifts through photographs that people upload to a big social networking site and keeps the illicit material — and there is plenty of it — from being posted. His is an obscure job that is repeated thousands of times over, from office parks in suburban Florida to outsourcing hubs like the Philippines. ... Workers at Telecommunications On Demand, who make $8 to $12 an hour, view photos that have been stripped of information about the users who posted them. Rapidly cycling through pages of 300 images each, they are asked to flag material that is obviously pornographic or violent, illegal in a certain country or deemed inappropriate by a specific Web site. Caleris, an outsourcing company based in West Des Moines, Iowa, says it reviews about 4.5 million images a day. Stacey Springer, its vice president for support operations, says the job is not for everybody and that “people find they can do it, but it is usually a lot harder than they thought.” The company offers counseling as part of its standard benefits package for workers. Ms. Springer says she believes that content moderators tend to become desensitized to the imagery, making it easier to cope. But she is called on to review the worst material, like sexual images involving children, and says that she finds some of it “hard to walk away from.” ... Ms. Laperal also reached some unsettling conclusions in her interviews with content moderators. She said they were likely to become depressed or angry, have trouble forming relationships and suffer from decreased sexual appetites. Small percentages said they had reacted to unpleasant images by vomiting or crying.