CNN Segment on “Extremism” Equates Racism and Homophobia With “Prejudice Against Business People”
John Avlon's new video series on the "threat of extremism" is an unintentional parody of middlebrow centrist false equivalency schlock.
CNN recently launched a video web series produced by and starring former Rudy Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon that’s a distillation of everything superficial, hypocritical, and power-serving about mainstream “extremism” discourse. For purposes of criticism, we’re going to focus on the segment, “The reason we're becoming more extreme,” from Dec 2 and break down every smarmy, incurious moment to show the shallowness of this thinking, why it’s harmful, and how corporate “anti-extremist” discourse is little more than conservative pseudoscience designed to pathologize and belittle legitimate discontent from poor, minority, LGBTQ, and/or anyone who soberly understands the urgency of climate chaos.
There’s a lot to criticize in this 10 minutes and 43 seconds, but we’ll begin by highlighting the most clearly offensive part that best sums up how silly this type of “extremist” discourse is. Start at roughly 3:00:
“Social categories” here is doing a lot of work. Avlon casually equates traditionally protected classes of people—along lines of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—with professional choices, namely “business people” and “the military.”
Needless to say, one cannot harbor “prejudice” against “business people” since “business people” aren’t born business people, nor is there any coherent tradition of oppressing or discriminating against “business people” as some type of vulnerable class. “Business people” are an economic status with distinct economic interests, and equating them with “ethnic minorities” and “gays and lesbians” makes absolutely no sense. But this is what’s required in drawing equivalency between fascists on the far right and those on the “far left” seeking a fairer, more just economic and legal system. It’s a common rhetorical trick used by corporate-friendly “anti-extremist” discourse.
It’s also worth noting that conservatives don’t have “prejudice” against “feminists” as much as they have prejudice against women. Or put another way: They promote hate against feminists and feminism because gaining complete control over women’s sexual faculties in central to their political project, as evidenced by their pouring hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of hours into overturning Roe v. Wade in the past 40 years. That “feminists” is some discrete ideological category conservatives simply dislike or discriminate against glosses over the profound misogyny of their movement.
From here the video is a mess of false equivalency and empty posturing. Repeatedly, Avlon references “studies” that are alleged to show the pathology of “extremists” with the basic take away that they view the world as good and evil, or in moral binaries, or have strong emotive responses to political content. All of which is to say they care about politics, and make the mistake of understanding that political debates aren’t academic or theoretical but truly represent life-and-death stakes. That one side, the right, views the “other side” as evil because the right is racist, illiberal, homophobic, anti-trans—and the left hates “the other side” because right ideologies are actively trying to harm or kill them—is ignored entirely. “Hate,” as some abstract pejorative, regardless of moral context, is said to be bad. Chill out, have a beer, watch The Masked Singer and let the Serious Adults handle all the messy political stuff.
Avlon then invites Jonathan Haidt, NYU professor and co-founder of the recently launched University of Austin (sic), to talk for six minutes. The University of Austin, as I noted last month, is a who’s who of Intellectual Dark Web ideologues with zero power analysis, who traffic in “race science” and bigoted anti-trans ideological production. This is who Avlon thinks credible to speak on the problems of “extremism” on the left. In theory, the segment is about “both sides,” but 90 percent of the video is a vague and nonspecific broadside against the supposedly intolerant left, with only token mention of far-right violence or campaigns against vulnerable populations. Haidt, with a straight face, leads off his criticism by saying, “in 2015 there is what we now call a great awokening,” a glib, conservative label that, in addition to mocking the AAVE origins of the term “woke,” makes blanket claims about a rising new, runaway PC culture. Of course, Hadit isn’t asked to support this claim, it’s just a profound cultural shift we are simply to take for granted.
For years, Haidt’s schtick has been drawing absurd equivalencies between the “far left” and “far right.” In one lecture from 2013, Haidt decries “left denial” of “IQ,” “sex differences,” and “stereotypes,” which he unironically argues are mostly correct.
Somehow the “extremism” of the United Arab Emirates—which disappears journalists, outlaws homosexuality, helped carry out mass slaughter in Yemen—wasn’t mentioned, perhaps because these extremists fund CNN. The “extremism” of “business people”— whose organs, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pushing dangerous “reopenings” and anti-COVID measures—weren’t mentioned. Neither was the “extremism” of the U.S. military which is currently helping Saudi Arabia blockade and destroy Yemen, polluting dozens of countries, and bombing a half dozen more.
Haidt's suggestion to stop the rise of this supposedly intolerant left? When asked by Avlon how we “fix” the problem, without missing a beat, Haidt insists we “eliminate Twitter, Facebook, and various other platforms” (9:47). That’s it. No qualifier, no “maybe curb their influence,” no “rethink how we use them,” no “more oversight.” Haidt simply wants to remove social media platforms he deems to be giving too much voice to the unwashed masses from the internet. A solution some may consider to be quite extreme.
h/t Robert Nottoli