Creeping Ever Upward
Racism, Respectability, Careerism
The affair caused by HuffPost’s investigation into right-wing pundit Richard Hanania’s past on the “alt-right” continues to rage. He has now issued a rather lame mea culpa. Despite its obvious deficiencies, it has garnered no small degree of support. After all, he says he is a reformed man. Aren’t his persecutors just being ungenerous, incapable of recognizing growth, and of accepting apologies? Shouldn’t we allow this bright young fellow another chance? Isn’t this just a blood-thirsty attempt at cancellation?
I kind of don’t want to contribute either to the torment or martyrdom of a solitary individual, whose views may very well be the result of intellectual debility rather than deliberation. Indeed, many of his defenders seem to be animated by sentimental regard: they treat him as some kind of pitiable creature. In doing so, they actually grant less respect than his enemies, who at least treat him as an able man, responsible for his words and actions. But that all aside, I think the entire episode is becoming insulting to the truth. This is all bullshit.
Public apologies or confessions are usually not apologies at all. They are political statements: they employ powers of rhetoric to rally one’s crowd, to gain public support. And in Hanania’s case it’s apparently having the desired effect. His goal is not to express regret or contrition, but to burnish his reputation and advance his career, which was at risk of being damaged by this affair. Through the employment of a few mawkish clichés, he’s able to wring victory out of defeat: he turns it into a story of personal redemption and growth. The fact that this sorry and meager attempt garners such applause does not recommend either the moral or literary condition of our society.
The premise of this entire exercise is just patent nonsense. Hanania says he has transformed from racist to something else: a small-l liberal, he is no longer a bigot, he is open to other views, a humble and respectable citizen of the republic of letters. This is false on two levels. First, it’s just plainly untrue on the face of it. He has demonstrated a passionate sort of misogyny and racism that’s still not acceptable in polite society on Twitter, in one notable case calling Blacks “animals.” He writes in his missive, “The reason I’m the target of a cancellation effort is because left-wing journalists dislike anyone acknowledging statistical differences between races.” This is simply a lie. The reason he garnered attention to himself is that his racism was patently obvious and, again, passionately and openly expressed. He was either baiting people deliberately or just not very smart about hiding his views. He angered people through his brazenness. That is why he is now under attack.
Second, the “statistical” and “scientific” turn of his racism does not make better: it makes it far worse. This is what makes it go from mere prejudice, which can be unlearned through experience, to the basis of an entire ideology. This is truly pernicious. By taking on the air of scientific authority, racism goes from being hot blooded to cold blooded, a matter of premeditation. It thereby becomes an engineered device for the systematic denigration of the dignity and worth of other human beings. Through this trick, it sneaks from the back alley into the parlor and becomes the subject of polite and “educated” dinner conversation. It makes it an appealing ideology not just for the mob but for the bourgeoisie. And, most disturbingly, it is how it becomes becomes policy.
Hanania is actually quite self-revealing at moments:
That said, it would be dishonest to pretend like my thinking has always been purely the result of dispassionate analysis. It’s probably not too difficult to believe that at an earlier point in my life, I wasn’t the greatest at forming normal and healthy relationships with other people. Around 2008, I had few friends or romantic successes and no real career prospects. Naturally, this led me to look around, and come to the only logical conclusion, which was that I was naturally superior to everyone else and women in particular shouldn’t have any rights.
I submit that this remains the core passion animating Hanania, like many others who share his politics. Nothing he has written or said recently contradicts this. He has not improved, he has become worse: he is able to dissemble more and express himself as a somewhat normal and respectable individual. He has become a professional, no, a vocational, racist. And so he has made himself more useful to the political machinery that’s pushing these beliefs into the public sphere. Make no mistake: He is part of a political movement to advance these sorts of views. He started out on its lunatic fringes, now he is part of the vanguard that tries to introduce it into the public consciousness. All of his utterances should be understood in that context.
Hanania has not “reformed,” he has just taken on the aspect of seriousness. This is what is at stake here: Should he be taken seriously? He badly wants to be, to be taken as committed to some respectable intellectual project. This is what all pundits are able give and receive: being taken seriously. “Well, I may disagree but I take you seriously.” This yet more bullshit. What is happening in the case of Hanania is an exercise in simple careerism and social climbing: with little dashes of flattery, guile, and mock sincerity he has learned he is trying now to move from the world of the mob and trolling into better company, but he brings with him in barely disguised form the contents of the gutter.
The frustrating thing about all this is that he is not even particularly good at being deceitful. By his own account, he is not a very smooth operator. All his attempts at self-expressions are cackhanded and clichéd. He has not done a very good job at covering up his past or present. This is a not-so-talented Mr. Ripley. This is still yet more bullshit. It only adds to his sentimental appeal. Ah, this poor victim of modern society, but what an effort he has made to better himself, to learn and grow! Should we not welcome him? The ultimate insincerity of the whole shpiel is surely some of the fun of it for the people watching. Can he get away with it? Can he just barely pay lip service to ideas of tolerance and liberalism, while still spewing out filth on the side? Sadly, I think he will.