The day of the announcement, I sent a direct message to my friend Ken so that he would be aware, adding:
I have never felt so old, irrelevant and out of touch as I did when I read this.
He lol’d, knowing my thoughts on the subject. My first exposure to Jeong was through Ken’s twits, and for the most part, I didn’t find her views disagreeable as expressed in her posts. She was generally a supporter of free speech, due process, ideas with which I agreed. The only times I saw her twits was when Ken RT’d them, and I noted that she and Ken seemed to get along well. But I never shared his affinity for her.
You see, Sarah Jeong has never been one of my favorite writers. And I swear I tried to like what she wrote. I even read her e-book, “The Internet of Garbage.” But I didn’t, and I said as much back in 2015.
In looking at people’s thoughts on the Pao ruckus, I stumbled across an e-book on Amazon called The Internet of Garbage by a young lawyer, Sarah Jeong, a 2014 Harvard Law grad, who writes online rather than practices, and has gained a decent following. While I find her legal analysis spotty, her principles conflicted and her writing often incomprehensible, she is gifted at snark.
And like almost every other Millennial, she believed she knew better about what was happening in the world than us old white men. This was an exceptionally uncontroversial idea within the Millennial cohort.
So, Jeong has decided that she has the cred needed to divine what is, and what is not, garbage on the internet for everyone. Curiously, she may be right. Old guys like me don’t have our fingers on the pulse of what digital natives consider over the top. Here, I rail against the war on all the undefinables, hate speech, microaggressions, the anti-isms, but what do I know?
She saw what I didn’t and wrote about it. Just like so many others like her, gathering likes and twitter followers, with her snarky retorts on whatever was the trendy target du jour.
Does that mean Sarah Jeong’s in charge? In a way, it does. Not Jeong, per se, but the millions of Jeongs, with their exaggerated valuation of their own opinions, confused principles and incomprehensible expressions. As the future owners of the world, you get to decide what type of internet it should be, what is garbage and what is valuable.
But this wasn’t about Sarah Jeong being racist or sexist. This is about Sarah Jeong being a young person on the internet, in social media. To maintain her prominence amongst her peers, she had to out-edgy others. And what is completely ignored at the moment is that she was rewarded for it, gaining the adoration of her young tribe. Beyond her tribe, no one cared in the slightest what this young woman twitted.
Now that this 2014 law school grad, barely worthy of carrying a trial lawyer’s briefcase, has been hired to be on the New York Times editorial board, there is a sudden obsession with taking Sarah Jeong down. Andrew Sullivan went at her. Vox tried to come up with the biggest words it could muster in her defense, stealing any chance of the Onion doing a parody. This wasn’t about some kid with silly pink hair on the internet, whose writing was at best shallow and witless, and more usually incomprehensible and pointless. You know, the way kids are these days.
Nobody cares about Jeong. She’s just the baloney in the political sandwich.* The left did the dirty with Kevin Williamson and the right was going to pay them back, starting with James Gunn, showing that the sword cuts both ways. It just happens now to be Jeong because the Times took this fairly obscure, very young, very shallow tech-law writer and elevated her to a position of some prominence. But they couldn’t care less what Jeong might actually do, might actually write, at the Times. She’s just the convenient target. And obviously, her twits made her a very easy target.
I have no doubt that Sarah Jeong isn’t ageist, racist or sexist, at least no more than your average Millennial. I have no doubt that her twits were anything more than the usual effort to gain validation from her peer group by trying to use her minor celebrity status to appear to be a leader to her followers, making her more a slave to their approval as so many people who want to be more important than they are. But then, none of this is really about Jeong at all. She’s just the excuse for the battle.
The battle raises questions that divide the sides. Cathy Young discusses the issues, whether attacking white males can be racism, given the narrative that the powerful(?) can’t be victims. It’s an article of faith to the left. It’s nonsensical and annoyingly stupid to pretty much everyone else. And the New York Times hasn’t, because it can’t, explain how its tepid defense of Jeong isn’t flagrant hypocrisy given its treatment of Quinn Norton, or its readers’ treatment of Bari Weiss. Weaseling won’t change what happened.
But I feel badly for Sarah Jeong, as she’s nothing more than a convenient target. Yeah, yeah, she left her flank exposed, bigly, but children have long said dumb things to seek validation of their crowd. That doesn’t make Jeong evil, but ordinary.
Let her write. Let them all write. It will be interesting to see whether her words say much of anything, are comprehensible to a grown-up, come within striking distance of logic and have the depth one would hope for in someone on the New York Times editorial board. If her high self-esteem was unwarranted before, it isn’t now. She’s been hired by the Times. I haven’t, so she must know stuff that I don’t. And indeed, maybe she’s better than I give her credit for. Just because her writing, her thinking, isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean others, you, can’t think she’s brilliant.
And if not, don’t read her. Criticize her. Ridicule her, if you think she deserves it. But cut the crap about her old twits, about anybody’s old twits.** Anybody’s. Whatever they have to say going forward should stand or fall on its own merit. Again, from 2015:
I hope you decide to err on the side of free speech, by a wide margin, but if you prefer to sit on the couch in the basement and watch Harrison Bergeron over and over, that’s your call. No one’s feelings will ever be hurt by the internets, but no one’s consciousness will ever be expanded by the breadth of thought, views and ideas in the world either. I hope you choose wisely.
So she’s a snarky Millennial who plays to her crowd.*** Get used to it. And if I’ve ever written anything that was unfathomably wrong, it’s that “no one’s feelings will ever be hurt by the internets.” This could explain why the Times would rather have someone like Sarah Jeong than me on their editorial board, and why this makes me feel “so old, irrelevant and out of touch.”
*The Times, and Jeong, offered statements making up silly excuses and apologies, an inept attempt at crisis management that merely opened the door to prove the rationalizations were lies. Jeong’s current employer, The Verge, issued a more strident statement, making Jeong the victim because all women of color are oppressed after graduation from Harvard Law School.
**These attacks, regardless of side, fall into the categories of two logical fallacies, ad hominem and tu quoque. And for the lawyers, consider 404(b), where whatever they might do in the future is forever tainted by prior “bad” acts, despite the prejudice exceeding the probative value.
***In a talk at Harvard Law School, she offered her deep thoughts, “this is why so many things suck.” Well, that explains it.