Who’s in? Who’s out?

This might be the most important – and most challenging – question that I have yet to fully answer. Who gets a seat at the table? Who deserves to be completely ostracized and stigmatized, as opposed to simply having some unpopular opinions?

You can see me struggling with this problem here. And here. And here. But I’m not sure that any of these attempts really get the job done.

Well, in the past week I found myself hammering away at this question once again, this time around the subject of Kevin Williamson’s controversial new gig at The Atlantic.

It’s no surprise that liberals balked at the hiring decision. He’s a very socially conservative thinker, prone to some unfortunate bouts of trolling. I don’t deny that he’s had some misogynist and maybe even racist moments, especially on Twitter.

While I don’t believe he was being serious in these instances, given the rest of his work, I’d still prefer that he address these questions head on, and I’d like to see an apology for a lot of it. But I’m not expecting that to happen any time soon.

People rarely – if ever – truly come to terms with their own mistakes.

And yet, with some hesitation, I still think it was a good hire. How can I say that? Especially when many other talented writers were undoubtedly passed over for this position? Good question.

I actually jumped into the fray a bit on this one, so if you’re curious what that kind of interaction might look like, here you go.

But for now, I’m more interested in setting out the rules for this kind of evaluation. Here’s what I propose:

In my book, you have a seat at the table so long as,

  1. You do not advocate targeted political violence
  2. You do not flatly deny our shared, common humanity

Those are my two rules. I think we could definitely beef this up some more, maybe with a couple additional rules here and there. But so far, that’s all I’ve got – although of course I’m open to suggestions. In fact, that’s the whole point: feedback. By all means, chime in.

So, where does that leave us with Kevin Williamson? He has called for women having abortions to be hanged, hasn’t he? He used the adjective “primate” to describe the hand gestures of a nine year-old kid, didn’t he? Both examples are ugly, no doubt, and again, I do not try to defend them. Like I said above, he should come to terms with this and apologize, preferably in no uncertain terms.

But, I do not see them as a violation of either of the two rules above, for this reason: While both positions would be violations if he were to seriously advance and defend them as his actual stances or beliefs – that’s simply not the case.

My understanding of both these mistakes is that they are evidence of a pathological tendency to troll liberals. That’s something he could get away with when he was at The National Review with a purely conservative audience, but probably won’t be doing as much of with The Atlantic.

But to suggest that he actually supports these ideas, to insist that he wants to hang one out of every four women, or to imply that he believes minorities are sub-human, all based on a single adjective or the content of heated twitter exchanges over which he has already expressed regret?

Sorry, but you’re going to have to meet a slightly higher burden of proof before I’m willing to dismiss absolutely anything he says outright.

Please understand, taking stances like this definitely leaves me somewhat uncomfortable. We’re all hypersensitive from watching the rise of the “alt-right” over the last few years.

But Kevin Williamson is not Richard Spencer. He’s just not. And if we’re tired of the line between the center-right and the far-right becoming more and more blurry, maybe it would help if we stopped conflating the two of them.

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