Friday, April 6, 2018

On The Williamson Firing

Kevin Williamson--conservative pundit--was hired by The Atlantic and then, before he even started--fired. Why?

Because he has said, and stoody by, his position that women who have an abortion are murders and should be hanged (also the doctors, nurses, etc.). This, if you just restrict this to women who have had abortions--never mind all the nurses and doctors and whatever--that's like 20% of the female population or something.

Now--let's be clear: Williamson doesn't want to go and kill these people now. No--what they did was morally worthy of wholesale execution--but thanks to it being legal at the time he doesn't think they should all die now.


No--not okay.

According to what was said publicly, the hiring manager, J. Goldberg believed that Williamson had been somewhat misunderstood, and was worth a second chance anyway. However, as they baying of the mob increased, he checked back in with Williamson and discovered that Williamson wasn't backing down from his position (and had reiterated it in a podcast not so long ago) and would stick to it.

So he fired him.

The conservative pundits freaked out: this was proof of silencing conservative voices. One person told me they had inside information from Goldberg that the firing was, really, because of the mob and not, as the public statement said, because Williamson was going to say the same incendiary stuff again--this time under The Atlantic's masthead.

So--is it?

1. The Logical Position Problem

The problem that pro-life people have is that if abortion is murder then hiring a doctor to perform an abortion is hiring a hitman to kill your baby. If a woman really did want to get rid of her infant, couldn't bear to do it herself, and hired a literal hitman to kill the child? Yes--we would give her the death penalty. You bet we would.

And how.

So pro-life people have a problem: either their proposed solutions (make abortion illegal--go after the doctors alone) are inconsistent or they do not quite believe what they are saying they believe.

In fact, the problem is that a lot of Americans (most?) do not consider a 1st trimester fetus to quite be "a baby." This is an emotional line--medically, the fetus is certainly going to turn into a baby--but, still, if you hang women who have 1st or 2nd trimester abortions, you're going to be looked at as a monster.

In a secular democracy you don't want to look like a monster--so they have adopted a position that the woman is the victim of the evil abortion industry and she has been duped into making a horrible mistake. She's not culpable--the doctor is.

The other thing they do is focus hard on the incredibly rare 3rd term abortions which, in fact, do register as "killing a baby" with enough people to make an impact.

But Williamson didn't go for that dodge--no. He followed the stated logic through to its logical conclusion: abortion is murder, all these people need to be hanged for murder.

It's a solution--but it's not (a) the standard pro-life position (at all) or (b) a position that polite society considers reasonable.

So: on the face of it, Kevin Williamson is rhetorical bomb-thrower. He knows it--he embraces it. Whatever was going through The Atlantic's head when they hired him, it was probably some version of the "he was misunderstood" defenses we are seeing now.

He was not misunderstood*.

* Well, he was misunderstood by people who say he wants to have a mass, lethal purge of women--but his actual position--that those women are just morally worthy of execution isn't, in fact, any better.

2. The Baying Of The Mob

So was it the baying of the mob that got him fired? Well, according to "inside info" Goldberg said ti wasn't fair--but, hey, mob justice. The Omnivore can't compete with "inside info"--but let's make sure we're clear about a couple of things here despite that:

  1. You could always get fired for saying shit. In the history of work, there has always been some social position that you could get fired for holding. White supremacists Paul Nelhen just got BANNED from Gab--the Nazi-home that bans no one--for outing "Ricky Vaughn." (a topic of another Omnivore, to be sure!). So--yeah: despite what you may want to think, there is always a line.
  2. The Atlantic is not a fire-breathing publication. It's intellectual. It's thoughtful. It's not given to extremism. Williamson is not--in his entire oeuvre--an incendiary bomb-thrower--but he has staked out a position that is, in fact, very socially offensive--and defended it--and made it clear to Goldberg he would continue to defend it.
  3. This Is Clearly Over The Line. If we are to have a party of personal responsibility then we must acknowledge that holding a position that is out of step with the entire fucking pro-life movement--one that got President Trump chastised (in horror) by the pro-life movement--for suggesting punishment far less than execution by hanging--then that is going to risk being over the line.
Ergo: People who want Williamson to not-be-fired want him to cross the line and still keep his job. That's nice--but it's not the conservative position, is it?

3. What's Really Going On

What's really going on is that conservatism has had a history of saying things that were popular--but offensive (that gays were sub-human in some ways, for example, or that women, being emotional, should not be able to vote). Things have changed for various reasons and now these sorts of things have a social backlash.

That upsets a lot of people for far baser reasons than "the silencing of conservative voices."

Today what constitutes a conservative voice is Milo Yiannopoulos trying his best to start a riot or Ben Shapiro finding college kids to argue with. A lot of the problem here is that "conservative dialog" has been degraded over the past 8 years thanks to the necessity of mixing in a culture war that, to be blunt, had to encompass Trump-voters--without acknowledging that they are not, really, compatible with conservative ideology. 

Today it is hard to separate this--and it has degraded everything. Williamson, to be a rising star, has to be both conservative and provocative. He has chosen a position that would get you fired in an august publication . . . and, well, it did.

1 comment:

  1. The idea that it's the *conservatives* who demand that people be able to say whatever offensive thing they want and have no consequences amazes me.

    Equally the idea that a private publication (like the Atlantic) or a private network (like any of the social networks) should be obligated to host everyone's speech.

    These ideas are the polar opposite of conservative, and wildly off base for any ideology that respects private ownership or expects personal accountability of any kind.