Something Gitlin said in 1989!


Something Shapin said this past week: At one point, Todd Gitlin was head of SDS, back during the early Vietnam street-fighting days.

He went on to become a widely respected, influential professor and author. When Professor Gitlin died last weekend, Michelle Goldberg offered this well-composed memorial essay in the New York Times.

Also in the New York Times, Katharine Seelye authored this detailed obituary of Gitlin. At one point, she linked to a profile of Gitlin from early 1989.

In that earlier profile, Professor Gitlin made an interesting statement about the 1960s "New Left." First, though, consider the things Professor Shapin said to The Atlantic's Yair Rosenberg just in the past few days.

"For decades, Steven Shapin has taught the history of science at Harvard University," Rosenberg says early on. "We sat down to discuss why some people trust podcasters over professors, how Joe Rogan and other iconoclasts tap into the myth of Galileo, and why 'following the science' [about the pandemic] is a lot harder than it sounds." 

Why do so many people refuse to trust the usual experts? To our ear, Rosenberg's interview with Shapin seems a bit murky early on. But near the end, the analysis by the Harvard professor seems to pick up steam.

Professor Shapin has spent his academic career studying the question of why people believe the things they believe and trust the people they trust. This may seem maddening, he seemed to say, but we possibly need to get over ourselves and we might try behaving like humans.

Long story short! Professor Shapin seems to feel that we probably shouldn't be calling The Others names:

SHAPIN (2/10/22): I think it’s really wrong that people believe Joe Rogan and Trump, but I understand, and I think we should all understand, why they do this, and how we might hope to move them. It’s going to take a lot of work; it’s going to take a lot of time. But we need the right science in this, and that involves the science of credibility and the science of people—their beliefs, their perceptions, their emotions, and the science of how people come to know science.


It needs a face, it needs PowerPoints, it needs metaphors, it needs analogies. It needs a face of sympathy, and a face that says, “I am caring about you and we are all in this together.” Because America is so divided, it’s very difficult to talk about that. But if you want to ask people to believe something, and to do something based on that belief, you’ve got to show that you care. And you’ve got to show that we’re all doing our bit. It’s following the science of credibility as well as the science of viruses. But it bloody well is complicated.

Professor Shapin is quite a squish—but so, perhaps, was Professor Gitlin. He led the SDS back in the fabled street-fighting days—but a few decades later, when he'd become a Berkeley professor, he said these things to Katherine Bishop of the New York Times:

BISHOP (1/8/89): Even on the Berkeley campus where it happened, it can be difficult to separate the F.S.M. from the mythology surrounding it. ''The Free Speech Movement has something of a halo around it,'' Dr. Gitlin said. ''My sense of it is that there's a vacuous pride, a feeling that whatever it was, it was good for us. It's our glory. But the attitude is disconnected from knowledge.

''There's a temptation to say that our crowd was better than you—that we were more moral,'' Dr. Gitlin added. ''It's not true. I try to convey that nobody was walking on water.''

Professor Gitlin was there at the start. In his view, it just isn't true that Our Own Exalted Crowd was better, more moral, than They Were.

We offer these observations for entertainment purposes only. There is zero chance that our self-impressed tribe will ever drop the various poses by which we express our superiority and alienate many Others.

We love to scold them for "banning books." We're fairly sure they're Nazis.

We believe they hail from East Bumfuck, or perhaps from some place worse. We don't mind saying so.

We invent crazy statements they didn't make, and then we insist that they made them. This is part of our tribal DNA in a way which isn't going to change. We've been signaling these deep beliefs for a very large number of years.

Today, truckers are blocking a bridge to Detroit. This may be the early face of our coming "civil war." Much more of this may be on the way. This may be just the start.

To many residing within our own tribe, this is simply the way our lessers behave. Within our tribe, we're fairly sure of such facts.

According to major anthropologists, nothing about this is going to change. This is the way we humans are wired, crestfallen experts now tell us.


  1. "crestfallen experts now tell us"

    As if the entire history of the human race isn't proof enough that tribalism and the associated behaviors are ingrained in us. If there was a better time in history, where we all came together and worked together as one, where there was equality and fairness... name it.

    Our best chance is still now.

    1. Modern humans have been around for over 100k years - maybe even 200-300k years, it is only in the last 10k years that we have formed hierarchical agrarian societies increasingly based in cities, violent and war-like. That is a tiny amount of relative time, for most of humanity we were fairly non violent, egalitarian hunter-gatherer types. It sounds amazing, but broadly-speaking, this is the case.

      Our best chance is to use our technology to return to our more natural state. What we have now is a Reactionary minority holding progress hostage.

    2. In those early societies, if people didn't cooperate within their extended family groups, they didn't survive. We should be emphasizing the importance of collective effort for mutual benefit, not self-interest. That may be what "caring" means and what people will recognize and respond to.

    3. Some people are damaged beyond what any caring could undo. This is basically why people become right wingers.

  2. "This may be the early face of our coming "civil war.""

    Oh puh-leez, dear Bob.

    Meh. Your "tribe" of pencil-pushers who haven't done a single day of honest labor in their whole useless lives is not a warrior "tribe".

    Repressions -- yes, as long as your tribe's honchos control the levers of power. Civil war -- nah. Unlikely.

  3. "We invent crazy statements they didn't make, and then we insist that they made them."

    This is so totally incorrect. Somerby has been claiming this without evidence for days now. Dragging a bunch of 60s politicos into the mix doesn't help his argument at all.

    I was there in the 60s and attended SDS meetings at UCLA. They were a hugely sanctimonious bunch, entirely closed to any ideas not their own, speaking in shorthand and very emotional about their cause. Their primary approach to convincing others was propagandistic, not any of the techniques advocated by Professor Shapin.

    And when you think about it, the right doesn't use those techniques either. They are coercive not convincing. They offer bread and circuses to their followers and never debate anything substantive. Their appeal is not intellectual. So the explanation of approaches for changing people's minds has nothing to do with the way the right operates.

    Shapin is talking about unilateral disarmament. I think we are at too crucial a point in the history of our democracy for the left to abandon our democracy in order to coddle a bunch of deplorable people who prefer to make the wrong choice because they like the red hat and snappy slogans on the t-shirts.

    Somerby is wrong.

  4. The right wing media and political leaders are far more guilty of victimizing and condescending to the right wing rank and file than liberals.

    Right wing elites have been telling their rubes for years that they are no good, they’re dirt, they’re shit. They do it by propagandizing 24/7, telling them “liberals think you’re no good, liberals think you’re dirt, liberals think you’re shit.”

    It turns them into victims, and makes them more receptive to authoritarian nutcases like Trump.

    “Showing that you care”, the professor’s homily, treats the “others” like a bunch of patronized children. It’s also victimization in its own way. I don’t ask politicians to “show they care” about me personally, just that they support the policies that I do. I’d much rather they actually care about that than “show” they care about me with some sort of rhetoric. And I don’t need or want to be coddled or cajoled into believing facts or science.

    It might be worthwhile to remember how widely mocked Bill Clinton was for “feeling their pain.” He was impeached over nothing, as I recall.

    Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. It didn’t stop him from appealing to millions. Biden is empathetic and stressed bipartisanship. He is widely hated by the right.

    Perhaps it seems odd to disagree with such a simple and seemingly true statement like “show you care.” But that’s because it is a mindless, offensive platitude that ignores present realities, offered up in place of actual thought by people who think they’re brilliant.

  5. Nice little post. Haven't visited for a while, but I think this comes across well to me. After all, I really am working around highly intelligent people with whom I disagree vehemently. For example, I'll never call the guy who wore a MAGA Hat to work a MAGA Hat - a snide dismissal of MH wearers everywhere - because I have no clue what his beliefs are in that regard.

    We each have our experiences, our own library of knowledge, that we've gathered through our senses for lo, the many years. Where and how we each came to that knowledge varies wildly. You just can't use totems, like a hat, to read what someone else's book really is, and why they have it.

    It really _is_ hard to understand someone else on an individual level. " bloody well is complicated," sayeth Shapin. Indeed.


    1. Leroy, none of us talk smack to conservatives in our daily lives. I have family members and a couple of dear friends who are Trump voters. I dislike a lot of their politics, but I still treasure them. And so it is offensive when Somerby accuses “liberals” of looking down on the “others” as he weirdly calls them. It makes the lives of ordinary liberals that much worse.

    2. Leroy, you say you disagree vehemently with people who you also say you have no clue what their beliefs are. And yet, and maybe because of your circumstance, a coworker took effort to plainly tell you what his beliefs are, and STILL you claim ignorance. I feel bad for your coworker, who made a conscious effort to announce his beliefs, and you just dismissed his efforts.

      There are people who can't "read" others, people with autism or Aspergers, let's not shame them or otherwise be ableist.

      Right wingers have beliefs, they even write them down, codify them, etc. They are wrong-headed people but they can function normally on a basic level. Fundamental to right wing beliefs is that man is essentially bad, that we are on our own (aside from the christian god), that we must compete, and only the strong and worthy will succeed and take ownership of material goods. This is nothing new, or anything right wingers would particularly disagree with; this is why Somerby's post today is so dumb.

    3. Mh liberal trolls on this very comment section call all Trump voters and all conservatives "bigots" everyday.

  6. “Show that you care:”

    Ok. Does that mean agreeing with the “others?”

    I suggest, for Democrats, it means telling all who will listen, including the “others”, that the Republican Party is bad for America and is screwing their voters. It is true, and needs to be said. “Caring” isn’t just about rainbows and unicorns and such.

    1. mh, please. You and the Anonymices are abjectly more scathing in your invective than "...the Republican Party is bad for America..."

      There's been far too much water under the bridge for the ole bit of ...'cherished conservative friends and relatives' be anything but utterly laughable.

      You can't tolerate a fellow Democrat saying you're blinkered for labeling half your fellow citizens as the devil. You loathe him, let alone them.

      That's why you're here.

    2. Cecelia… did some liberal meanie hurt you once? You voted twice for a President who (in addition to openly possessing the mentality of a cheap hood) insulted the leftish half of the Country almost daily. And no, this is not mitigated by his insulting you if you stray from worshipping him. So spare us your free speech libertarian shtick, you are only distracting yourself. You hate more than we can because, as a total dullard, you have more time for it.
      I’ve known conservatives all of my life, some are applauded by Trump, some I’ve remained friends with. Some pretend they were never that into politics (the Dennis Miller approach). The friends I tell … “don’t despair, the people we’ve thrown under the bus trying to appease you clowns shows a lack of character damn near lowly as yours.”
      Part of Bob’s chiding, when it wasn’t this current line was “ you liberals just sit there and take it!!”
      Meaning media abuse. Funny how he’s dropped that. But we ARE still looking the other way, more than ever, at what Bob now wants us to kindly dismiss as mental illness.

    3. Greg, I can tell you’ve endeavored to look the other way when it comes to the terrible character of conservatives and the unreasonable and suspect expectations of Somerby.

      I can see that it has been quite an imposition for you to share a country with the rest of us.

      It’s angering as heck when the dullards don’t fall in line, even when they are, for the sake of illustrating your patience and generosity, cherished (if flawed to the bone) family and friends.

      All I can tell you is to just keep on keeping on with your fine self, Greg. Despite all the burdens that an intellectually varied society has imposed upon you. God’s speed.

    4. "AnonymousFebruary 11, 2022 at 3:28 PM
      No apology then, huh Cecelia?

      CeceliaFebruary 11, 2022 at 3:31 PM
      But of course. I’m sorry you’re psychotic,"


      You don't belong here. You add nothing positive to discussion here. You are behaving here like a troll.

    5. When Right-wingers put the effort into being funny, and not being bigots, we'll start calling them "funny", instead of "bigots".

    6. Anonymouse 6:15am, no one can not be
      fond of mm, there’s something endearing about her. She’s got that all over you tidily anon drive-by shooters.

      However, mm is psychotic. It’s her most heartfelt endeavor.

    7. Cecelia, your sense of grievance or victimization won’t let you accept the truth of what I say, that I have friends and family members that I like who are Trump voters. I don’t hate them. I hate the Republican Party and what it has come to stand for. Can you understand that nuance? But you are determined to view liberals the way you’ve been programmed to, and apparently, the hatred you perceive in them drives you to distraction. That’s what I mean about you being a victim.

    8. This “liberal condescension” thing is about all they’ve got left.

    9. mh, I’m perfectly willing to believe that you are someone different than what you portray in your words here.

      Go in peace.

    10. W showed that, given all possible chance at success, Republican policies quickly fail unless you’ve got money like W’s. So now it’s projecting their frustrated hatred tendencies onto others.
      We shouldn’t be shocked, this is basically how the corporate press has always played it, and liberals end up thinking the likes of Bill Maher are on their side. So, sad Cecelia, spare me the strained sarcasm, your character does suck, but all we are asking is you go back to Monster Truck rallies and professional wrestling and leave the issues of the day to people who have some chance of making sense of them.

    11. What have my words portrayed here, Cecelia? Go back and read some of my comments.

      I dispute Somerby’s disparagement of liberals. That bothers you.

      I don’t like to think of Republican voters as victims, because I keep thinking they’re adults who don’t have to be victims. And adults should be told when they’re wrong.

      You keep wondering why liberals come here if they don’t like Somerby. I keep wondering why you come here. Perhaps it is to get a daily dose of victimization, to convince yourself how mean liberals are and feel superior.

      At any rate, if you truly cared about civility, you wouldn’t be here attacking liberals (and calling me a liar). You would find a way to help clean up your side of the aisle, recognizing that your side is at least 50% responsible for the present mess.

      But I suspect you don’t and have no intention of doing it.

    12. mh, huh? I’m not here to champion civility and I don’t make it a point to try and clean up on either side of the aisle.

      I’m here to read Somerby’s take on our chattering class because he’s dead-on in his summations.

      In the course of doing that, I reply to attacks on him and occasionally comment upon the ringing endorsement anonymices endlessly give themselves and less often upon the Soviet era denunciations that anonymices wax theatrically upon their neighbors.

      I have no intention of doing anything other than that. I’m not here to win anyone to Jesus.

    13. As a leftist I do see right wingers as victims. Cecelia suffers from unresolved childhood trauma, these people need help, but Somerby's takes are nonsense, easily refuted, and poorly defended by Cecelia.

      Furthermore, science shows that most likely Cecelia's brain is physically different than ours - perhaps resulting from trauma.

      The scientific truth about right wingers like Cecelia sadly merely triggers these people into incomparable contempt (see the inevitable empty and wounded response).

      From an anthropological viewpoint I find Cecelia's weird writings helpful data, like a psychological case study, it certainly verifies what the scientific research is indicating about right wingers.

  7. The idea that it's even possible for a liberal to be more condescending to Republican voters than Republican politicians are, might be the stupidest Right-wing meme Somerby has ever repeated.

    1. Edmund Burke called it "pleasing illusions".

  8. Who deserves more praise for killing Republican voters, Republican politicians who lie to the voters, or Republican voters for believing the Republican politicians lies?

  9. There's much more than two tribes. This blog doesn't seem to argue for that position though. Joe Rogan fans are a tribe, so are maybe video gamers and whisky drinkers. Not everything is politics, and what about politics that aren't American, men, capitalist etc?