Bad Faith
September 10, 2021 9:37 AM   Subscribe

 
Dale Peck vs Andrew Sullivan—I love these Alien vs Predator matchups!
posted by betweenthebars at 10:14 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


I confess I parsed that as "Dane Cook vs Andrew Sullivan" and almost lost it.
posted by chavenet at 10:37 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


That is some grade A quality evisceration.
It’s Sullivan and not his father who comes across as the parody of toxic masculinity, Sullivan the quintessential manbaby who hopes that if he talks about his own marginalization loud enough it’ll distract people from the fact that he’s claimed far more than his share of the world’s attention and resources. The man living through a pandemic that’s killed more than four million people worldwide and felt the need to reassure readers that it “probably” won’t claim the seven hundred thousand American lives AIDS did (because only American lives matter, and American deaths) has given us five hundred pages revealing not just his inability to see the world, but his insatiable contempt for anyone who dares to point it out...
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:57 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


You’d think it would be the most offensive sentence in this book, but you’d be wrong.

Savage.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:03 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


Section heading "Bigmouth Strikes Again" is just a chef's kiss here.
posted by knotty knots at 11:06 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


People like him are why the word intersectionality needs to be the next big hard lesson for mainstream society. Just because your own personal battle has been largely won doesn't mean you get to sit on your ass and pretend the war is over.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:05 PM on September 10 [15 favorites]


It is a solid evisceration and dismissal, and if that's it's point, it does it well. But if this was supposed to be a review of the work and thinking of Sullivan, I found the title to be more indicative of the review itself than it was of this assessment of Sullivan's failures.

Sullivan has always had a conflicted relationship to conservatism. He was one of the first and most prominent public conservatives to come out against Bush and the Iraq war and to identify the neoconservative militarism coming from the Project for a New American Century as a radical project, rather than a conservative one. His idea that there had to be a place in Republican politics for homosexuality, one that is defined by legalizing and recognizing gay marriage, was also an important intellectual contribution at a time when the party still wrestled with larger intellectual abstractions, prior to the acceleration of Republican anti-intellectualism during the Obama era.

I'm not suggesting that we need to praise Sullivan for any of this, but this write-up and review feels like preaching to an already ardent choir, and it's unfortunate. Overall, i think society benefits from conservatives with a much broader and deeper wrestling with conservatism and their own nature, rather than merely assuming that certain identity issues are antithetical to those on the right. That said, I suppose that's not the Baffler audience.
posted by hank_14 at 12:24 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


At the beginning of this book you get the sense that Sullivan’s gaslighting his readers, but the deeper you go you start to wonder if he’s actually gaslighting himself.

That pretty much sums up my feelings about everything I've ever read from Sullivan.

This was a deeply satisfying read. Thanks for posting. Signed, an ardent choir member.
posted by WhenInGnome at 12:37 PM on September 10 [13 favorites]


Outlawing abortion and homosexual intercourse (not to mention marriage), restricting voting rights to as few non-Republicans (read: non-whites) as possible, compelling prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in school, ramping up penalties for recreational drug use (another strategy for disenfranchising African Americans), spying on citizens, imprisoning and torturing without trial those it deems its enemies: the lacuna between the policies championed by real-life conservatives and what Sullivan claims to admire about conservatism gapes as wide as Matthias von Fistenberg’s rosebud.

Dang.

If you're a podcast person, Bad Gays did a pretty good Sullivan teardown a while back, albeit in a slightly more... restrained fashion, but still tinged throughout with palpable disgust about the man and his limitless capacity for hypocrisy, not to mention his deep, intense racism. Among other things, they cite this 2001 Village Voice piece about Sullivan, aka "RawMuscleGlutes."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:43 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


I'm not suggesting that we need to praise Sullivan for any of this, but this write-up and review feels like preaching to an already ardent choir, and it's unfortunate. Overall, i think society benefits from conservatives with a much broader and deeper wrestling with conservatism and their own nature, rather than merely assuming that certain identity issues are antithetical to those on the right.

The problem here is that Sullivan no longer represents this at all, and has regressed even beyond his already-awful 90s/early aughts nastiness into another bitter right wing nutjob. In fact, pretty much the only reason Sullivan isn't considered to be part of the RWNJ chattering class seems to be the fact that (a) he had lots of good stuff to say about Obama and (b) "cancel culture" liberals eat up his anti-woke bullshit as a paragon of free speech rather than puffed-up, sesquipedalian bigotry. He's just an awful, hateful piece of shit: his tiny overtures towards racial justice have become white supremacist screeds, he absolutely despises any queer activism to the left of Log Cabin Republicans, wrote a piece titled "The Trans Question" calling for popular and government suppression of trans rights, and all in all seems like your garden-variety "radical centrist" contrarian asshole.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 12:54 PM on September 10 [33 favorites]


Overall, i think society benefits from conservatives with a much broader and deeper wrestling with conservatism and their own nature, rather than merely assuming that certain identity issues are antithetical to those on the right.

I think the review makes a pretty strong case that Sullivan is not, in fact, doing this.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:54 PM on September 10 [12 favorites]


Sullivan had a sweet spot for his media appearances. I don't remember when exactly, but there was about a 3 year period in there where he was saying actually intelligent things and he felt like someone who had grown into being a real person. Unfortunately he flew right past that into outright batshit territory, and anymore I see him and I just cringe and cringe at his pronouncements which are so obviously seated in self-hate.

His thing about the bears is really insulting. I was sort of involved in the very early days, when "bear" was a political movement within the gay subculture and it was important in expanding the tent of gay male identity to include a lot who had been excluded previously. It has long since morphed well beyond it being that, but Sullivan's assertion that bears are the "heterosexuals" of gay men is just... beyond gross.
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on September 10 [11 favorites]


I think Sullivan embodies James's observation: "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
posted by SPrintF at 2:13 PM on September 10 [37 favorites]


Well, that was a fun read, certainly vastly more enjoyable than Sullivan's work, even the very short pieces. Over five hundred pages of that crap? I don't think I could get through five at this point.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:42 PM on September 10


A friend of mine once said that Sullivan's entire act was to take longstanding, sensible, well-reasoned positions that the left has been pointing out for years, dilute them beyond meaningfulness, and package them up as a great revelation that nobody before him was capable of grasping. On the right, that's more than sufficient to count as an "intellectual."

But even that is no longer even remotely true; at some point in his descent to regurgitation of right-wing nuttery, he stopped even trying to fool anyone of his pretend intellectual bona fides, and just started spewing flat-out nonsense.
posted by mystyk at 3:00 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


This was magnificent. I have spent almost 20 years loathing Andrew Sullivan's assimilationism. It probably makes me a bad person, but I adored every little piece of this.
posted by the tulips are too red in the first place at 5:09 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I would just as soon pretend the guy simply didn't exist, tbh.
posted by praemunire at 6:18 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Oh god I loved this. So many good lines, but these jumped out at me as particularly scathing and apt:

This was one of a dozen times my margin note read “Physician, heal thyself.” But there can be no healing when there’s no ability to recognize one’s plight in others, and Sullivan remains resolutely uninterested in any losses but his own.

and

It’s Sullivan and not his father who comes across as the parody of toxic masculinity, Sullivan the quintessential manbaby who hopes that if he talks about his own marginalization loud enough it’ll distract people from the fact that he’s claimed far more than his share of the world’s attention and resources.

and finally this, which gets to the essence of the perpetual victim that he is:

Liberals poke holes in Sullivan’s fantasies, and as such they’re a convenient proxy for his real enemy.

Yep! For this kind of person, the real enemy is the one who states the truth you can't bear to face. Far easier to blame and hate someone else than look yourself in the mirror.
posted by sir jective at 7:28 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


The cheap sexist digs at Ann Coulter really take away a lot of moral high ground dude’s trying to claim here. Like, she’s terrible for a lot of reasons, but the best you could do is call her a cunt? It’s still sexist when leftists do it, y’know.
posted by dorothy hawk at 8:31 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Sullivan is ...
Not my cup of tea.
posted by james33 at 8:39 AM on September 11


Sullivan has always had a conflicted relationship to conservatism. He was one of the first and most prominent public conservatives to come out against Bush and the Iraq war ...

Eventually. But in the days right after 9/11, he was spewing shit like this:

"The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount a fifth column."

If you're a thinking person and you pay any attention to Sullivan for any length of time, you eventually realize he's not interesting -- he's stupid, narcissistic, and nasty. The fact that he occasionally stumbles into being right about something doesn't make up for all the times he's been grievously wrong. I've never understood the fascination with this fool.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:18 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


During the Obama years I was really into Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish. I went to his site daily thinking wow, this is amazing! He treated blogging like a magazine and had a real research staff. There were variety and diversions (view from your window: you had to figure out where in the world a photo was from). He pushed back on racists like John Derbyshire, who wrote a letter to his son warning him from being near black people in groups.

Sullivan's slogan (I'm not sure if it's still there on his substack or wherever he posts to now--and I've followed with some horror his anti-trans, anti-feminist stances and fixation on the "woke" colleges)--was from George Orwell, To see what is right in front of your nose requires constant effort.

He probably needed that slogan.

I've also been a major booster of The Baffler over the years, ever since I came across physical copies in Kramerbooks in DC, where Monica Lewinski was getting a book on phone sex for Clinton around the same time. In maybe 2002 or 2003, The Baffler's offices suffered a major fire and I sent them a hefty check, grateful for them showing me there was another legit point of view amid high triangulation to Reaganism.

The Obama years gave some of us on the Left more room to maneuver and that's not appreciated. Even if you thought something like UBI was a nice idea in theory, we all had this idea that all political action to be effective had to appeal to the "swing voters" who were basically Archie Bunker raging at the lazy people who'd get handouts.

Being a critic of "excess of liberalism" is not so useful when liberalism or leftism has been stymied so much and when the very obvious excess of proto-fascism are causing a dystopia.

But left remedies can come with problems too.

I thought this review hit on some problems with Sullivan but was kind of puerile.
posted by Schmucko at 6:45 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Right, Artifice, he was definitely spewing his fair share of vitriol and anger and confusion after 9/11. Doesn't that make it all the more notable that he was one of the first on the right to say, wait, that vitriol is not sufficient to justify claims that are clearly dubious in nature about the war efforts that followed?

I mean look, dunk on Sullivan as much as feels good, but I'm not sure I understand the benefit of such vehement dismissal of a person whose own thinking is slightly more nuanced than that. Again, I am not a Sullivan fan, but I'd much rather hear Sullivan talk about his approach to conservatism, and have actual conservatives engage with his thinking, than I would have them engage with Shapiro, Cruz, Levin, Hannity, Rantz, and on and on and on. As such, I guess I'd like progressives and leftists to also not be so eager to dismiss him with such evident and simplified disdain.

I think that at some point, for a variety of reasons, many progressives became as obsessed with a politics of purity as so many conservatives had been and continue to be. I think such a politics is easier, and in lots of ways, emotionally justified, but it seems far less effective when it comes to thinking of solutions. Put another way, it carries pragmatism as its opportunity cost.

Just a feeling. Maybe I'm just sufficiently old to be bummed out about everything.
posted by hank_14 at 8:33 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


This is fun and catty, but also not exactly good or helpful. Diagnosing someone’s pathologies from afar is weird and gross, and Peck seems to kind of want to deny the very existence of Andrew Sullivan as a gay person. There are some really good quote pulls and analyses, but as a whole the pettiness just feels off. (Sullivan’s Catholicism doesn’t match Peck’s Idea of it, so it doesn’t exist. Sullivan’s idea of conservatism doesn’t match Peck’s so it never existed. Peck figured he had Sullivan’s number when he published excerpts from The Bell Curve, but I’m not clear what that number is supposed to be. Maybe that Sullivan is conservative because he’s racist? Peck doesn’t actually say.)
posted by Going To Maine at 12:08 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I am not a Sullivan fan, but I'd much rather hear Sullivan talk about his approach to conservatism, and have actual conservatives engage with his thinking, than I would have them engage with Shapiro, Cruz, Levin, Hannity, Rantz, and on and on and on.

This sentiment is symbolic of the so-called "liberal media"'s constant efforts to put forth some Republican as a "serious, honest conservative" (remember how they sought to portray Paul Ryan as a policy wonk?).

Sullivan may not be as intellectually dishonest as Ben Shapiro or Ted Cruz, but he's still far too intellectually dishonest, far too prone to bad faith, to take seriously.

Indeed, one of the benefits of the Republican descent into screeching know-nothing tribalism is that anyone who phrases their dismissive contempt of anyone to the left Spiro T. Agnew in polite language of is regarded as "civil," even though arguing in bad faith -- which his review establishes as Sullivan's stock in trade -- is inherently uncivil.
posted by Gelatin at 7:46 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


You really think this review establishes that Sullivan's stock in trade is arguing in bad faith? Like you are certain that the review shows that Sullivan does whatever is convenient in a given moment of argument, without any real belief in what he's arguing, that it's part of his dismissal of his own sexuality, or just his unreasoned belligerence toward the left?

There has to be some room between disagreement, dismissal, and disdain. Serious and honest conservatives aren't a question of are or aren't; they're not pregnancy, they're a spectrum. As are serious and honest progressives. I think we have the ability to both disagree with a thinker but still find them worth more serious engagement than we might others.
posted by hank_14 at 8:42 AM on September 13


You really think this review establishes that Sullivan's stock in trade is arguing in bad faith?

My own experience reading Andrew Sullivan establishes that Sullivan's stock in trade is arguing in bad faith.

Yes, there has to be room for disagreement, and yes, we can find conservatives that are worthy of engagement as such -- witness our recognition that Lynn Cheney, for all her other other reprehensible positions, at least opposes establishing Republican rule thru Trump's authoritarian methods.

But again, that doesn't mean that we have to accept some bad faith because that's all we're ever goin to get. Because if we do, bad faith is all we're ever going to get, because it's all we get right now. Just because we'd dearly wish to argue with a serious, honest conservative doesn't mean we have to pretend some that aren't, are.

Sullivan's job has been to make conservatism sound reasonable, and if that means pushing racist garbage in the pages of the New Republic, so be it. Though I will concede that his subsequent behavior indicates that he seems to believe it, but so what? That doesn't make him interesting or worth engaging.

Again, look at the media's desperate and pathetic attempts to pretend that Paul Ryan, of all people, was a "serious, honest conservative." Feh.
posted by Gelatin at 9:21 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Also, since when does "arguing in bad faith" mean "arguing a position you don't actually believe"? One can argue a position one believes in sincerely in bad faith, when facts and logic doesn't actually support one's position. Such as, just to pull an example out of a hat, advocating for conservatism by deploying the straw man that "the left" and its "coastal enclaves" would form a fifth column in support of Islamic terrorists.
posted by Gelatin at 9:27 AM on September 13


Ahhh, I think we're operating with different definitions of bad faith, so I'll leave at that.
posted by hank_14 at 1:26 PM on September 13


I'll simply leave it that I was done with the Deanna Troi defense -- "you can't say he's lying because he might believe the obvious nonsense he's spouting" -- way back in the George W. Bush presidency. Which is, after all, when Sullivan was prominent.
posted by Gelatin at 1:30 PM on September 13


Ok, so I didn't leave it. Here's Sullivan, writing 9 years after the fifth column remark referenced a few comments above, and quoting something written the day after that comment was originally made. For those who won't bother with the link, he apologizes, says he didn't mean it that way, but is ashamed that he wrote it nevertheless.

Now we can say he's full of shit, and lying about it, in both moments, but I think there's a point where the desire to condemn is itself the argument in bad faith. That collapse of distance between disagreement (you're wrong), dismissal (I wouldn't value you even in moments you were right), and disdain (you're incapable of being right, so why would I bother), seems self-fulfilling. Bad faith turtles all the way down.
posted by hank_14 at 2:26 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Bad faith is arguing as if you're trying to come to an understanding without having any intention of doing so. Here I feel it's the difference between "his apology wasn't serious" and "his apology wasn't enough." Regardless what one might think of his apology, did anything change after it, or perhaps more realistically in the 9 year interim?

That said, he's really getting his money's worth out of that Terry Colon illustration.
posted by rhizome at 2:51 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Technically, prior to my looking for it, I'm not sure anyone in the thread cared enough to see if he had ever addressed, clarified, or apologized for the comment regarding the fifth column, so I'm not sure the difference between serious and sufficient mattered a ton here.

That said, you're spot on - I wish I could find an illustration with that much utility, lol.
posted by hank_14 at 3:18 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


For those who won't bother with the link, he apologizes, says he didn't mean it that way, but is ashamed that he wrote it nevertheless.

I'm loving the groundless implications of bad faith on the part of your interlocutors; it's the clearest admission possible that you're failing to defend Sullivan on the merits. Yes, he apologized. Nine years later, and after it had been more than abundantly clear that the war he championed was a disaster. Big deal. "Your apology is too little, too late" is not at all a bad faith position.

On top of that, what's this feeble claim that "he didn't mean it that way"? Sullivan is supposed to be valued for his abilities as a clear thinker and writer, and we're supposed to believe he just accidentally accused the "coastal enclaves" of liberals -- note, by the way, his supplication to the Republican definition of only the rural Midweat as "real America" -- as potential traitors?

Sullivan was rightly taken to task for his loathsome "fifth column" comment at the time, so if he had wanted to clarify his meaning then, he had abundant opportunity, and did nothing. Doing so nine years after the fact and after the verdict of history is already against him is hardly the mark of a paragon of intellectual virtue.

In short, while he may be ashamed he wrote it, and rightly so, yes, his apology is arguably as dishonest as the original argument, in that he tries to let himself off the hook and pretend he wasn't as wrong as he was. He doesn't admit he was wrong; he claims he was misunderstood. "I didn't mean it like that," indeed. The difference between serious and sufficient doesn't matter a lot when it's neither.

Maybe there comes a point where the desire to condemn is indeed bad faith, you haven't established that pointing out that Sullivan's intellectual dishonesty far outweighs any dubious value he might have as a "serious, honest conservative" rises to that level. The dishonesty inherent in the conservative project is a big reason we're in the mess we're in.

Bad faith is arguing as if you're trying to come to an understanding without having any intention of doing so

This exactly. Regardless of whether you find him occasionally right or interesting, Sullivan can rightly be dismissed because it's intellectually dishonest and lacks credibility, and that's no one's fault but Sullivan's. Shame on you for implying otherwise.
posted by Gelatin at 5:05 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Also, straw man alert: No one is saying Sullivan isn't capable of being right. The charge is that Sullivan is too intellectually dishonest to deserve credibility as a public intellectual. If conservatives can't advance their agenda honestly -- and apparently they can't, because they sure don't -- it doesn't follow that we have to accept them doing so dishonestly. We're allowed to demand honesty and reject those who refuse.
posted by Gelatin at 5:37 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I appreciate that you are so absolutely certain in your convictions on this matter. And of course, you're right: nine years is way too long to wait before addressing the comment.

Incidentally, the link I gave also includes quoted text from an apology he made immediately after he wrote the original piece in question. You might have missed it, but he does quote it, and like right away. Like second paragraph of the linked article. Then he apologizes again, and describes the previous use of the phrase fifth column as disgraceful.

But again, it's probably Sullivan and Sullivan alone who is arguing in bad faith about the facts and and what not. My bad.
posted by hank_14 at 5:29 PM on September 14


Fraid I had to jump ship about three quarters of the way through.

Reading about Sullivan at this kind of length is damn near as bad as reading Sullivan, especially when the writing comes from somebody who clearly despises Sullivan almost as much as Sullivan does.
posted by flabdablet at 4:31 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


You're referring to the "apology" in which he says "I have no reason to believe that even those sharp critics of this war would actually aid and abet the enemy in any more tangible ways than they have done already"?

The one in which he declares that he retracts nothing? The one in which he says he obviously doesn't mean everyone in New York, because New York supports Bush now?

The one in which he reiterates his conviction that he believes the "fate of liberty" hangs on Bush's adventures in Afghanistan and his condemnation of those who opposed -- even questioned -- those wars? (Who, let's not forget, history has proven right, a fact nowhere acknowledged by Sullivan.)

In which he acknowledges later deploying the same kind of arguments about opponents of the Iraq war?

That last bit is key -- an apology without change in behavior is a worthless formality. Sullivan may have acknowledge that he went too far in his phrasing, but his defenses are feeble, his subsequent behavior unchanged, and, to bring it all back to topic, he admits he's driven by his hatred of the "academic left," so once again he makes it all about him.
posted by Gelatin at 5:40 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


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