How scripted and dumb can our own tribe get?


Consider these braindead comments: Back in November 2020, after Biden had won the election, with Thanksgiving fast approaching, a fiery college kid wrote an opinion column in her student newspaper.

The student, a junior at UVa, wrote on the subject of pushing back against racism. Dual headlines included, here's the way her fiery column started:

Stand up to your racist family
This holiday season, white progressives must privilege their principles over personal comfort

As the holidays approach, the typical jokes about family political fights will no doubt abound—especially with a contentious presidential election marred by conspiracy theories, misinformation and threats of violence. While Biden’s win signals a return to basic decency at the presidential level, the nation remains very much divided. Worse, misinformation on the legitimacy of the election is spreading rapidly, further driving conspiratorial thinking and other alt-right messages to the fore of current political discourse. Thus, behind the jokes and the family feuds which inspire them are very real consequences for millions of people in the United States—something the recent election made incredibly clear. As such, this holiday season, white progressives need to remain consistent with their supposed commitment to social justice—they need to stand up to their racist loved ones.

While the results of the election spurred celebration across the country, white progressives must not be complacent. Yes, a proto-facist leader has been defeated, but the hateful rhetoric, conspiratorial thinking and virulent racism, xenophobia and sexism he espoused during his tenure remain deeply entrenched in American political discourse. Thus, not only is the fight for the rights of marginalized communities ongoing, but our new president—while better in a myriad of ways—must also be held accountable and face demands to execute a progressive agenda.


This holiday season, white progressives should not continue to favor their own comfort and familial peace over the tangible suffering of vulnerable people. In failing to stand up to their families and friends—whether their statements are “meant well” or not—white liberals show a distinct complacency with white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia and the countless other ways in which bigotry rears its ugly head. 

As a general matter, we wouldn't agree with the overall thrust of that column. That said, it seems fairly clear that this UVa junior wasn't a brainwashed right-winger.

This student said that Candidate Biden had defeated "a proto-fascist leader" in Donald J. Trump. Despite that fact, she said, "alt-right messages" were still all around—and the "virulent racism, xenophobia and sexism" Trump had espoused during his tenure "remain deeply entrenched in American political discourse." 

Looking ahead to the Thanksgiving break, this student said that white progressives should kick familial peace to the curb. If they don't stand up to their racist family and friends when they're home for Thanksgiving, white liberals would be showing  "a distinct complacency with white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia and the countless other ways in which bigotry rears its ugly head."

Personally, we wouldn't agree with the overall thrust of that fiery column. That said, we feel fairly sure that the person who wrote the column isn't a crackpot right-winger or a tool of the right-wing machine.

That said, you can see this person described that way in one comment after another in response to this post by Kevin Drum. The reason for that lunacy would be this:

Yesterday, the New York Times published a guest essay by this same college student, who's now a senior at UVa. Her name is Emma Camp; in her essay, she complained about a stifling atmosphere on campus—an atmosphere which keeps students of all political persuasions from freely expressing their views, or at least so she says.

Camp's essay in the New York Times isn't the greatest essay ever written. That said, Drum challenged a snarky tweet Dave Roberts had posted about the column, and the hysterical meltdown proceeded from there.

Increasingly, we've been suggesting that we liberals need to understand how dumb we often are. Beyond that, we've been suggesting that we need to understand another point:

When we behave in ways which are transparently dumb, The Others are able to see us.

You'll rarely see a bunch of comments as dumb as the comments we liberals attached to Drum's post about Emma Camp. Most strikingly, the silly children of our own liberal / progressive tribe kept expressing the braindead belief that Camp must surely be a right-winger, based on her essay in the Times—an essay, it was quite clear, very few of these nitwits had read.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our tribe can be very dumb.

We're also addicted to denial. In one comment after another, Drum's wounded readers expressed one key point—there's no possibility that our infallible tribe could ever lack perfect wisdom. 

Camp's essay wasn't all that great, but it wasn't the dumbest thing ever written. By way of contrast, dozens of those comments were.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans were born to run. We're also wired to deny reality at times of tribal warfare.

If you ever doubted that point, just sift through those ludicrous comments. We humans are wired to stand with the tribe—to stand with the tribe unto death.

Back in November 2020, Camp said that her fellow students should tell off their racist family and friends; you can read her full column here. For the record, she linked to that column in the essay which appeared in yesterday's Times.

Drum's utterly vapid commenters were too dumb and too lazy to click the link and read the column. They were sure that Camp was one of The Others. Because of what they seemed to think she was saying, she had to be one of Them.

Even here in our own infallible tribe, our brains are wired to respond in such ways. Disconsolate experts have told us this again and again and again.

Tomorrow: One example from Camp's guest essay


  1. Meh. Don't worry, dear Bob, no one -- no normal ordinary humyn being -- reads the nytimes, or your friend Kevin's dembottery, let alone braindead comments to it.

    Cheer up, dear Bob, you're safe, perfectly safe.

    ...they are, however, well aware of your tribe's fascist methods of suppressing dissent. May we suggest that you should be worried about that?

  2. There's a handful of dumb comments over there but also a few good ones.

    I don't know what Bob's fascination (or obligation) with Drum's comment section is exactly.

  3. "You'll rarely see a bunch of comments as dumb as the comments we liberals attached to Drum's post about Emma Camp."

    Come on, Bob! Have you ever read the comments to your own blog?

  4. Someone who disagrees with right-thinking views is therefore a bad person, someone who therefore must be a conservative or even a fascist.

    Reminds me of an old book by Thomas Friedman. Discussing Middle Eastern situations where the sides differed on issues that have no parallel to the issues in the US. Asked how reporters decided how to decide whether to call one side the "right" or the "left", Friedman explained that the good guys were referred to as "left" and the bad guys were called "right."

  5. Drum’s commenters are mostly not attacking Camp. Rather, they are being skeptical of Camp’s claims, asking about her possible motivation for writing the op-Ed, whether her claims are true or lack appropriate context, and why the “liberal” New York Times might have chosen to publish such an editorial.

    Those seem like legitimate questions, especially if you’ve spent 20 years reading (or writing) the Daily Howler, where the notion of being skeptical of everything you read in the New York Times has been drummed into your head.

    But that skepticism long ago departed Somerby’s brain when it comes to anti-woke editorials, apparently.

    1. "drummed into your head"

      Great pun. Intentional?

    2. Appeal to motives is a logical fallacy. If that's what they were indeed doing it would just further strengthen Bob's thesis about our species-wide reasoning deficit disorder and our inability to even recognize or acknowledge it. On the liberal side it comes with a large dose of superiority and arrogance which makes it even more difficult to observe.

    3. 6:40 if one has the means, one's life can be extremely comfortable theses days, so no, there's no issue of species-wide bla bla bla...

      This is not a science lab, nor a courtroom, this is a place for discourse. Free your mind and your ass will follow.

    4. Thanks for the original advice and sound logic George.

  6. I'm not really sure what's going on in schools is just hurting conservatives, a lot of progressives get chased off too. But the newspapers often favor them. The most recent victim that the conservatives formed a brigade around here was a professor who joked about killing his students (they think I'm homicidal, he said) and was put on suspension. Did the crybully conservatives include this in their retellings? I saw no mention. I don't see a huge crisis for them. A dumb guy got mildly punished for being literally scary.

    But I think the progressive left mostly should use righteous anger as a card you play, usually in the streets, lobbying your government. They are sluggish and complacent.

    Those who believe conspiracies, like many Republicans and some others, according to experts, require thoughtful attention, listening, questions. It's not something I want to do, I have patience and anger issues, but intellectually I know others are good at it.

    Norman Finkelstein likes to say when you know your facts then you don't lose your temper as much although he concedes he isn't perfect. But I have done this before and this works. (He was also chased from school to school by an establishment lickspittle named Alan Dershowitz). Students should be encouraged to learn a lot first and then have at it in arguments, rather than just regurgitation from textbooks and putting it down on a scantron. Automated schooling is a waste of time, maybe you can grade math tests on it.

    Debating, deprogramming, and protests are all different ways of communicating and there is not a single correct mood to have. Sometimes you should be calm, other times less so.

    1. (cont'd)

      The benefit of debate is much more in the preparation. You should be able to argue both sides before you even start.

      I don't believe debate for its own sake is all that educational.

    2. I suspect why conservatives like to say "debate me debate me debate me" is because being seen by someone as winning a debate is a good way to recruit people into your politics. But that the school's role, where do you draw the line between finding out new ideas and political recruitment in a classroom where everyone is just starting to getting used to new facts? Seems a little bit of a power imbalance. (3/3)

    3. ** but is that the school's role?

    4. "The most recent victim that the conservatives formed a brigade around here was a professor who joked about killing his students (they think I'm homicidal, he said) and was put on suspension."

      The context for the teacher's remark was that Ethan Crumbley had just killed 6 students at the same school where this teacher worked. Do you imagine any student found his remark fun or comforting? He was suspended for insensitivity.

  7. Somerby mistakenly reasons that if Camp was progressive as a junior, she will be liberal/progressive as a senior. That is not necessarily true. Hillary Clinton entered school as a Republican and became a Democrat before she graduated. Why couldn't this also have happened to Camp? The point of learning is to change what you think and sometimes that leads to shifts in political perspectives, especially for teens.

    And here is what Somerby doesn't tell us about Emma Camp:

    "Despite claiming to be "a liberal," she's a writer at the libertarian outlet Reason and a former intern at the right-leaning Koch-funded Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE's latest tweet is apparently a defense of right-wing activist Andy Ngo, who the Columbia Journalism Review describes as a "discredited provocateur."

    My impression is that Emma Camp is an opportunist, trying to find her niche in political commentary. She is following the wrong models, in my opinion. But she isn't saying things now that a liberal would recognize as consistent with their own beliefs. Much like Somerby, she can claim whatever she likes as a political identity, but the proof is in her words.

    I wouldn't be surprised if some of the anger directed at her weren't because she is being dishonest about her political identity and trying to pass herself off as something she is not. Just like you know who (explanation for AC/MA just like Bob Somerby, who calls himself a liberal but behaves like a conservative).

    1. Well said, appreciate the research. Somerby's lack of integrity is something else.

  8. Why is it that Somerby as the space to excerpt Camp's 2020 piece but cannot present anything of what Camp said in her recent essay, the one that folks are now arguing about?

    Is he scared to let us see for ourselves what she said, scared to let us decide how progressive she sounds or how libertarian/conservative? Her ideas should stand on their own, regardless of what she may have written last year.

    But why does Somerby always hide the very thing that he is most concerned about? It is as if he wants us to just take his word for it and believe what he tells us to believe, not think for ourselves.

  9. That would be great if Camp would push back against the single parent culture and encourage people to not have children when single. Of course, before this happens the sun will rise in the west.

  10. It's possible to give an analysis of this ritual violence, which India has already made illegal. Indian feminists have done so, although who would want to read about that? Pretty awful.

    A few concerns about what camp's weird, hyper-specific social movement could be up to though:

    The conservative goal for decades now is to prove that the liberal arts are not valuable, and that white people are a culture that is to be defended, with the exclusion of the white members of the civil rights movement who should quiet down. Then white rich guys can run their private schools in segregated neighborhoods, and all it will take is a massive culture war.

    Well here someone is baiting white progressives, here someone is shifting attention to an obscure search term that will eventually lead back to her opinions, ironically, taking it away from the actual feminists who have analyzed it.

    The conservative "libertarian" movement takes strong positions on how schools are funded and provocations like this seem quite intended as political provocations rather than academic curiosity. In this context, Camp was denied her debate in class, which is unfriendly, but I don't think they can be happier about it. The goal is to embarrass white progressives and there are many more of those outside the school than in. The school is just the stage for the theater.

    Some history:

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