So recently I read this piece about Glenn Greenwald. Personally I’ve never had much of an opinion about the guy, but I think this description near the beginning of the article kind of sums him up:
Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”
The thing about Glenn though, is that when you look at his complaints about the Russiagate scandal, they’re not terribly irrational. Here’s his quote on the subject:
“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”
This is entirely fair and in many ways mirrors my own position on the subject. What I don’t get though, is why he, like some other commentators, has to constantly leap to Russia’s defense the second anyone mentions anything related to Russiagate?
What exactly is the harm in acknowledging that there are other governments out there which do bad, and occasionally worse things than your own? What is he afraid is going to happen? If he admits that yes, Russia did act to negatively influence our domestic politics, does he fear that he’ll suddenly be on the cover of TIME magazine as America’s newest neocon pundit? Does he think that some neocon cabal is just waiting for him to say something they can use to greenlight their secret plan to invade Syria and Russia simultaneously?
Realistically this is much bigger than Glenn Greenwald. I think this case just speaks to a larger problem of tribalism in politics, and the fear that any concession will be seen as weakness. To be fair, it’s not just an irrational fear. In the information space today, concession can be capitalized upon by bad actors to “win” internet debates. This video gives an example of how this works:
Going all-in on offense has a proven track record, especially today. But you also sometimes have to ask who these arguments are actually convincing. Alt-right and “anti-SJW” Youtubers have managed to garner large audiences by using this tactic, but who are they really getting? I’d reckon the majority are teenage to early twenty-something males who are gullible enough to be duped by endless videos telling them that Anita Sarkeesian is going to ruin their precious video games by lobbying the government to require all video game protagonists to be mixed-race body-positive females with colored hair. Of course Fox News has also managed to do well with a certain demographic- old people who are going to die soon.
My point is that integrity and consistency may also have qualities of their own, and even better- attract better, more reliable people. I realize it’s easy to be pessimistic these days, but at the same time the overwhelming fakeness of our politics these days, coupled with the polarized tribalism, may eventually reach a peak where increasing numbers of people start to rebel against joining a tribe and parroting one line in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Of course what would I know? I’m no where near as successful as Glenn Greenwald. But on the other hand I’ve often been complimented for my balance and objectivity, even by people who strongly disagree with my politics. A lot of my friends and colleagues are also praised for their refusal to join a team. Hopefully in the future, more people burnt out on tribal politics will start seeking out nuance, if only to escape the cynicism of those dead-end politics.