Pity for Nathan Robinson

He read an article in the NY Times that praised Ben Shapiro as a “conservative intellectual” and “the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill and references to Aristotle.”, so what did he feel compelled to do? He read a whole lot of Shapiro’s writings. I’ve read a few bits and pieces of Shapiro’s spew, and then had to turn away to cope with the gagging and retching, so I’ve never taken the trouble to read it at length and figure out what rotting carcass of conservative thought he’s pawing over now — he was invited to speak on our campus by our College Republicans last year, which isn’t a good sign. They like to invite provocative idiots, so I skipped it entirely.

But now Robinson has clearly immersed himself in the Shapiro oeuvre, and produced a thorough shaming of the man’s shallowness and inhumanity. You’ll discover how Shapiro deals with the race issue…dishonestly.

What dispirited me about Shapiro’s approach is that he’s clearly not actually very interested in Facts at all. The role that race plays in American life is a serious sociological question, one that isn’t answered easily. But Shapiro plucks only the statistics that suggest race doesn’t matter, and pretends the statistics that suggest it does matter don’t exist. Nobody can trust him, because if he comes across a finding showing that incarceration rates more closely follow crime rates than racial demographics, you can bet it will appear in his next speech. But if someone shows that a white man with a criminal record is far more likely to receive a job callback than a black man without a criminal record, you’ll never hear it mentioned.

And then there’s Shapiro’s racism. He’s got to be aware of it, because every talk of his I’ve heard includes a pre-emptive salvo in which he claims that being called a racist is the worst slur in America, because it shuts down rational conversation (he’s very big on “rational conversation”, while not bothering with any himself), so pointing out that what he says is racist is inherently irrational.

My initial impressions were also soured by Shapiro’s casual bigotry. That may not be the wisest observation to lead with: I’m sure Shapiro would be very pleased with himself to hear me call him a racist. (Though Shapiro always looks somewhat pleased with himself.) Nothing could better prove his point: the left has no arguments, so they resort to calling people they dislike “racists.” And since he explicitly says that he isn’t a racist, what am I doing if not using the classic left-wing “bullying” tactic of dismissing your opponent as a nasty, bigoted individual?

But, well, I don’t know what else to call a statement like this: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” (Shapiro followed it with the hashtag #SettlementsRock.) Arabs like to bomb crap and live in sewage. Perhaps I’m crazy. Perhaps there’s a definition of the word “racism” that wouldn’t include a statement like that. But since the statements “Black people are violent and want to live in sewage” or “Jews are violent and want to live in sewage” would both sound… somewhat racist, I don’t see how the conclusion can be avoided. What do you call a crass pejorative generalization about an entire ethnic group?

So not-racist Ben Shapiro can advocate a not-racist solution to the Middle East problem by condemning an entire ethnic group as evil, which is not-racist because you don’t get to call him racist.

Usually conservatives are careful to draw a distinction: they are not condemning an ethnicity, but rather adherents to an ideology, namely Islamism. Not so with Shapiro: for him, the problem is not Islamism or even Islam writ large. It’s Arabs: “The Arab-Israeli conflict may be accurately described as a war between darkness and light. Those who argue against Israeli settlements—outposts of light in a dark territory—argue for the continued victory of night.” Arabs “value murder” while Israelis “value life,” and “where light fails, darkness engulfs.” Arabs are therefore, as an undifferentiated unit, a people of darkness. Palestinian Arabs are the worst of all: they are a “population rotten to the core… Palestinian Arabs must be fought on their own terms: as a people dedicated to an evil cause.” The “Arab Palestinian populace… by and large constitutes the most evil population on the face of the planet.”

His solution, by the way, is mass deportation of all Palestinians to somewhere else.

And then there are his arguments that transgender people don’t exist, but if they do, they ought to be confined to an asylum.

Shapiro’s position on transgender people is very simple then. He rejects “the pseudo-scientific nonsense that a man can magically turn into a woman,” because it is no different than thinking an undergraduate can turn into a moose. Shapiro says that “individuals who believe they are a different sex than that of their biology are psychologically ill—self-evidently so” and has compared the idea of being transgender to his schizophrenic grandfather who thought the curtains were speaking to him.

But for a man who loves Logical Argumentation and would never “mischaracterize his opponents’ positions,” Shapiro doesn’t actually seem to grasp what the left argument about gender actually is, or what it is he’s actually supposed to be disproving.

That’s not enough? There’s a hodge-podge of odious nonsense that is quickly surveyed.

There are plenty of other points at which Shapiro has showed that his command of Logic may not be terribly strong. He loves Facts, but will make statements like “monitoring mosques is the simplest and most effective way of preventing terrorist attacks” and cite “simple common sense” as his source. He will look back fondly on the era of the Hays Code, in which movies that did not portray correct moral messages were censored, and state that it is “no coincidence” that many great films were made during this time. (Someone ought to introduce Shapiro to the idea that just because two things occur at the same time does not mean that one of them was responsible for the other.) The ACLU’s attempt to bring Abu Ghraib photos to light was “designed as a direct attack on American soldiers abroad.” (Again, there’s no argument here, he just says it.) Hip hop is “not music,” people only say it is because of “cultural sensitivity,” and it is the product of a “disgusting” culture; again, one presumes these are just Facts, not Feelings. (No, he didn’t like Hamilton either, and spent part of a radio show playing Hamilton and West Side Story side by side, like a cool kid, in order to show that Hamilton has “forced rhymes that aren’t actually rhymes” and has “no harmony, no melody, just rhythm, and this is my problem with rap generally.”) The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was literally worse than Plessy v. Ferguson and the case that allowed mentally ill people to be sterilized. (Shapiro believes the decision “said that the federal government can force you to do anything” because it can “tax nonbehavior,” though since there is zero practical difference between providing “a tax penalty for not doing something” and “a tax credit for doing something,” this framework means every tax credit is a form of totalitarianism.) Some of his arguments just make no damn sense at all: witness his contention that capitalism doesn’t mean the greedy pursuit of self-interest, corporatism does, while capitalism just means… I’m not sure. (Try to reconcile his statement that capitalism isn’t about economic self-interest with his statement that capitalism values people by their economic usefulness.) Or his case that socialism is racism because in capitalism people are valued entirely in accordance with their market worth, irrespective of race. (Shapiro has argued that shop owners who discriminate among customers would go out of business, which might be true if there wasn’t a huge racial wealth gap and no consumers ever preferred to patronize racially segregated establishments.)

Keep all that in mind if you ever have to deal with a “conservative intellectual” like Ben Shapiro. Those two words contradict each other.


  1. rietpluim says

    There is a new kid in our parliament who argues exactly like that. He doesn’t like atonal music, so cultural Marxism is a Fact.

  2. says

    Holy fuck, that stuff about Palestine and the Israeli “settlements” has me too enraged to leave any comment other than Ben Shapiro is a racist ahistorical murderous piece of shit.

  3. woozy says

    “and references to Aristotle”

    What the hell is it about Aristotle that brings out the conservative whack-a-loons?

    What is this? High School Civics where we are expected to cowed by the text-book name of a famous philosopher simply for being the name of a famous philosopher?

    It’s probably not fair to Aristotle who probably has greater depths than I give him credit for, but he is clearly the most overrated philosopher and I’m treating any “references to Aristotle” as whack-a-loon deflection and adherence to dogma.

    If you have something important to say, find some other philosopher to support it. Or, maybe, let the ideas stand on their own.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Yes, how foreign to the Western tradition that is.

    Well…. ancient and medieval epic poetry has almost nothing to do with our music. It’s a Western artform or tradition, but it’s not in the musical tradition. For that matter, ancient European music has almost nothing to do with our music.

    It’s more directly to the point to cite a piece of music for percussion, since that’s a thing. It exists, Ben Shapiro, and your intellect doesn’t.

    Also, he’s obviously wrong on both counts anyway, regarding harmony and melody in Hamilton, which has plenty of both (not that it matters). The same goes for rap in general, of course. Someone that spectacularly wrong about it has no business doing music criticism, music journalism, philosophy of music, or whatever he thinks that shit is. Maybe for a small fee he could make it into The American Scribbling-Papers of Ignorant Fuckwittery, but that’s basically it.

  5. drivenb4u says

    I need some more material from this guy. I have a friend who’s neck deep in conservative media bullshit and especially likes Shapiro (I know this because facebook helpfully tells me when he likes or comments on articles about him). Next time we get in to it I’d like to be prepared.

  6. says

    Complaining that hip hop focuses on rhyme and rhythm is a bit like complaining that a classical symphony has no lyrics. You’ve missed the point.

  7. microraptor says

    Of course “conservative intellectual” is a contradiction. Conservatives are anti-intellectual.

  8. unclefrogy says

    I hate being around people like that though the ones I run in to are not so highfalutin as Ben Shapiro but every bit as “intellectual” . I getting old and it really tries my patience. All most nothing they say makes any sense or has the slightest bit on consistency. I get so frustrated trying to point out the inconsistencies and contradictions in their “arguments” that I want to resort to using a 5lb hammer.
    uncle frogy

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To microraptor
    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.
    “I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it.” — John Stuart Mill, in a parliamentary debate

  10. chrislawson says

    There are such things as conservative intellectuals, but the modern political conservative movement has no place for them…to the point where Republicans with multiple university degrees like Santorum and Romney openly use “intellectual” and “academia” as insults.

  11. monad says

    What the hell is it about Aristotle that brings out the conservative whack-a-loons?

    Maybe because they want to reference Plato, who argues for a rigid oligarchy that lies to the lower class and bans subversive music, but it’s a little too on the nose?

  12. microraptor says

    chrislawson @ 12: Or George 2, who graduated from an Ivy League college (no matter what may have been involved in that graduation), then ran for office portraying himself as a good old country boy.

  13. Alt-X says

    Why do the Rights “intellectuals” ALWAYS end up being just a bigoted, racist, angry out of touch white man, that wants people to ignore science and history, and focus on hatred of people? So weird.

  14. John Morales says

    Alt-X, you’ve just claimed that there are no people who are “Rights “intellectuals”” and are also not also neither: bigoted, racist, out of touch, a man, angry, wants people to ignore science and history, or focuses on hatred of people.

    (A single counter-example to any one of those clauses suffices to refute your claim. Care to test me? I only need to find a woman who otherwise meets all of your criteria to refute you, though of course I also need only find anyone who does not meet any one of your criteria to refute you.)

    So weird.

    (It’s only weird if you are genuine in your claim; I doubt that very, very much)

  15. woozy says

    Maybe because they want to reference Plato, who argues for a rigid oligarchy that lies to the lower class and bans subversive music, but it’s a little too on the nose?

    I don’t get why we are supposed to be impressed. “the cool kid’s philosopher! who references to Aristotle!”

    What’s next? A musician! Who listens to Mozart! Or maybe a scientist! Who can cite Newton’s Laws of Motion!

    I guess maybe the bar’s so low that any one who knows how to spell “their” is considered an intellectual heavy-weight but sheesh….

  16. emergence says

    I like how Robinson was sure to include plenty of sources that debunked Shapiro’s horseshit. Conservative shit-munchers love to style themselves as champions of Truth and Logic, so I think that it’s important that we show how ill-informed and dishonest people like Shapiro really are.

  17. emergence says

    Also, that plan Shapiro has to forcibly relocate all Palestinians is pretty much what Richard Spencer wants to do to everyone in the U.S. who doesn’t fit Spencer’s definition of “White”.