We Need to Talk About John

One of the odder maxims of old YM was to never ‘report on’ conversations that happened during casual gatherings. I believe I was the progenitor and the logic was something on the order of extending a courtesy of privacy so  that people need not be guarded for fear of some lazy gotcha down the road. As much as we insisted it was a valid moral stance, it was conveniently and often ignored. And the almost galling naivete it contains was supposed to be leavened by the belief that social norms would be upheld to the degree that bad actors ‘in the scene’ would be exiled absent any requirement that wider exposure of misdeeds be broadcast. But there’s something a little more sinister at work — self censoring perhaps in deference to the reality that any exile would ultimately come at the behest those with greater social capital. No amount of hectoring about someone you felt was legitimately a dick would bring about any reckoning if people just tacitly picked someone because they felt they were better friends. Or, crucially, they had a clear path to professional advancement by way of that choice.  

I would hazard much of the above covers my reasoning for never really saying anything overt about John Carney in any social media context. That and the only real thing I had to call out was his seedy, drunken tendency to grope at most women within his reach. He was not unique, and perhaps not even the worst of the lot, but no one else seemed to be terribly exercised about it (I had heard worse things, but secondhand facts for a second rate blog does not make for exceptional journalism). In duly reporting my tepid policing, I’ll offer that mostly my efforts were limited to not introducing him to any female friends of acquaintances if at all possible. 

I can’t say there was any conspiracy to protect him — I’m going to assume the logic for most was probably on the order of not wanting to have a light shined too brightly on our own worst moments, even as we probably all felt pretty smugly that they weren’t as bad.

This isn’t some hand-wringy attempt to paper over the failures of my generation; the loutish behavior John was known for (at least in my closer friend circle) wasn’t what made him stand out — it was his nearly comical embrace of neo-reactionary politics. It was far easier to find people willing to observe that perhaps his inclusion should be more tenuous because he was so willing to espouse fairly gross social and political beliefs.

He staked out a fairly predictable territory — it was just the 2007 version of Jordan Peterson. Back then it meant romanticizing of Hitchens, boarding school intellectualism, and an extreme excess of alcohol. I looked at him the way he mostly likely did so in return: a posturing intellectual lightweight who had glommed onto a misguided ideology for mostly personal and emotional reasons, yet to realize that being an adult meant you could just grow up and let go of childish misapprehensions cast as ironclad ideals. 

So which one of us is right? Well, I’m doing this blog and John is doing this: 

FWIW, I remember John telling me he grew up in Westchester. YMMV.

This followed stints at nominally more professional outlets: CNBC and the WSJ. For most of that time, it seems that whatever personal or professional bonds people had with him persisted, perhaps just inertia and the winnowing of that particular scene meant no one really had to call anyone out. Mostly out of sight and mind.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed arguing politics with him (or economics). I found it helpful – I do think being able to make your ideology comestible regardless of context is a good and necessary social ideal (as someone who was more than likely to offer “Well if you haven’t read Bourdieu, then I’m not talking to you” in a bar only a couple years prior, this was something I did have to work at), and perhaps it’s less evident to a stranger watching the clip above, but he isn’t completely bloodless. If anything he exudes a little of what people like Peterson or Milo lack – the sense that he should know better

Once he took the Breitbart position, there was, to my eye, a brief “this is the last straw” moment (and perhaps he had been socially and professionally exiled already – again, I don’t have the direct knowledge to say either way), which was manifest in a couple Twitter threads, but that’s about it. 

The context for all this is course the Great God of Both Sides, the New York Times, did what it loves most: trolling the hell out of people who fancy themselves arbiters of conventional wisdom. That they continue to do so even in the freighted stakes of a Trump presidency and impending global destruction perhaps illuminates why they can green light something like this so glibly. I intended to spend a little more time on this section, but Twitter proved why it’s so deleterious to long form taking.

Maybe this is a subtweet directed at our (well, your) generation’s Buchanan/Kinsley, maybe not. It will work for the purposes of this screed. There’s a longer and more nuanced take from Wallace Shawn in the postscript of Aunt Dan and Lemon, and I’d encourage anyone to read it. I did, but that didn’t really equip me any better to act on principle with John. Look, if you want to be friends with someone who gets their political philosophy from a gum wrapper, have at it. But don’t pretend that bond mitigates in any way either the repugnant ideas they are promoting or your responsibility to hold them accountable.