There’s a kid in Iowa or Kansas, somewhere that doesn’t appear on New York maps, named Derek who is constantly replying to my twits by going ballistic about my friendship with Mike Cernovich. Yes, that Mike Cernovich. I’ve known Mike for a long time now, as he was doing a blawg called Crime and Federalism with Norm Pattis back when SJ was born. Mike, you see, is a lawyer, and a very smart one. That’s when we became friends.
And there’s another kid who used to be ridiculed for being a bit overweight, not being the best speller and being a little loose with details when he wrote at Above the Law, after winning David Lat’s “ATL Idol” contest by being very funny. And he was very funny, and very smart, and provocative but in a way that would have you rolling on the floor. Elie Mystal was a friend, he would jokingly call my “angry black man friend.” At least I thought he was joking, but he never came to dinner, so who knows?
After writing a review of Elie’s book,* Allow Me To Retort, some people jumped all over me about being so kind and forgiving to Elie’s rationalization of law, Constitution and reality, given that most of it was wrong and, well, wrong.
Elie’s name came up in a column by John McWhorter this morning.
To be a “heterodox” Black thinker on race is to be often accused of claiming that racism is extinct or doesn’t matter. For example, when he reviewed my book “Woke Racism” for The Washington Post, The Nation’s Elie Mystal described it as “a pleasing bedtime story to a certain kind of white person who is always looking for a magic Black person to tell them what they want to hear.”
Classic Elie, planting himself at the other side of the line of racial harmony, of any compromise so we can all live together rather than spend the rest of our existence in misery fighting for racial hegemony.
I don’t think Elie means it. I don’t think Cerno means it. Not that they’re living lies, putting on airs, but that they’ve become exaggerations of themselves** in order to promote their views, and their brands, to people upon which subtlety is lost. They beat their audience over the head because the audience doesn’t get it otherwise and they kinda like being beaten over the head. They have to or they wouldn’t put up with it, wouldn’t beg for more. Yet they do.
How is it possible to like both of these guys? By all outward appearances, these are people on opposite ends of the chasm, on the edge that they couldn’t be farther apart. And yet, here I am, a guy who tends to abhor radical insanity, feeling friendship, brotherhood, with two rascals like Cerno and Elie. How can this be?
Tolerance of people who believe, think, say and do things with which you completely disagree is one of the more difficult principles for a liberal to hold dear. It’s hard to be tolerant. It’s hard to know, even if you don’t talk about it, that someone with whom you’re friends thinks something you know to be absolutely false. How could a reasonable person believe such an unreasonable thing? Even worse, how could that person believe something dangerously nuts?
Liking people is more like preferring maple walnut to chocolate ice cream than it is wanting to do a group project with them for your grievance studies class. There is no rational reason for it, nor does there need to be. It’s just how you feel, and feelings are not rational. Most of the people we interact with regularly, like or not, are people whose politics or views are unknown to us.
Do you ask the cashier at the Supermarket who she voted for or what she thought of the backdrop for Biden’s speech the other night? And yet, she’s always pleasant and, over time, you’ve come to know her name and develop a supermarket camaraderie with her. You’re friends, albeit contextual since you don’t have her over for dinner. But if anyone asked about Sally Mae at the Piggly Wiggly, you would say, “Oh, I know her. She’s great!”
When did people decide that they were so dedicated to their religion, to their cause, they couldn’t tolerate being friends with, maybe even in the same room with, someone who didn’t agree with their wildest view? Today, college students won’t room with students who would vote the “wrong” way. Lonely, disconnected and too often mentally broken young people would rather rub against their cat then swipe right (or whichever way you swipe to connect) for someone who doesn’t throw bombs at the other tribe.
And some of you here have been critical, or at least surprised, to learn that I refuse to break from my friendship with either Cerno or Elie because they are awful and wrong and you hate them. Do you want to hate me for it? Hey, that’s your right if that’s what you want to do. As for me, I like my old friends just because I like them. I don’t always agree with them, and sometimes I vehemently disagree with them, but they’re still my friends unless and until they cross a line like what Norm did, and even then I will do my best to be kind when they do something right.
Having friends is good. Having friends who span the spectrum of views helps you to remember that people see things differently, and while you may ultimately agree or disagree with them, you will be more inclined to consider ideas that come from friends before rejecting them out of hand. But most importantly, even when they’re completely wrong or batshit crazy, they’re still friends and you can enjoy a meal or a potable beverage with them, laugh, relax and have fun. And if people don’t like you because of who you have as friends, fuck ’em.
*I never did a review of Cerno’s book, The Gorilla Mindset, but he was kind enough to send his original review copy to my son.
**Orin Kerr coined a new fallacy based on ad hominem, which he called ad twitterem, “an argument attacking the person who a Twitter user imagines the person probably is, but hasn’t actually bothered to check to see.”