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They Know Exactly What They're Doing
Those who follow recipes want to make the dish. Those who stay neutral about this fact want it made for them.
Good morning my friendlies. Let me give you a hypothetical.
Imagine if you will that you watched me gather the following ingredients: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour; 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened; 1 cup granulated sugar; 2 large eggs; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1/2 cup whole milk.
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Imagine now that, once you had seen me gather these ingredients, I set my oven to exactly 350°F (180°C) and begin to grease an 8-inch cake pan with butter or cooking spray—and then, in a medium bowl, whisked together the flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Furthermore, imagine that, in a separate large bowl, I began to cream the softened butter and sugar together, until it was light and fluffy, using an electric mixer, adding the eggs, one at a time, and beat until each is fully incorporated.
“Ah ha,” hypothetical you hypothetically says. “He is making a lovely cake.”
Now, imagine that when hypothetical me hears this, I get upset with hypothetical you. No, not upset—furious. I accuse you of twisting my actions to suit your narrative of lies and abuse. I threaten a libel suit. How dare you, I ask, suggest that I am making a cake when I haven’t even put the ingredients in a cake tray yet, much less put it in the oven. It is just beyond the pale that you would suggest that I am baking anything, much less a cake. I am, I insist, only curiously experimenting with how ingredients mix—and anyway, it would be impossible to bake cakes, because the idea that cakes are something that exists in the world is a malicious lie; everything that people call “cake” is simple an improperly-shaped muffin.
Now, imagine you have two friends sitting on either side of you, right and left. Let’s name them, oh, I don’t know, Jonathan Chait and Jesse Singal. Let’s say that they scold you for what you’ve said, because it’s impossible to know what I am really trying to cook. They have once spoken to a person who used to work in a bakery, and she claims that nobody there has ever even heard of “cake.”
And you’re confused, and it’s not only because I have assembled the ingredients for a cake and begun to mix them together in exactly the sequence that anybody who has made even a cursory study of cake-ish matters knows will, if continued, result in delicious cake for all.
No, you’re also confused because we are all currently on the set of a show called Cake Wars, in a kitchen set up specifically for making cakes, with you and your friends in the audience watching, and there are many other contestants also working on what appear to be cakes, and both I and my fellow contestants have been given some instructions about what sort of cake we are supposed to make, and some of my competitors already have their cake trays in the oven; and not only that, but there have been episodes in the not-so-distant past that followed this exact format, and you won’t believe it but those episodes resulted in many delicious cakes (and a few failed ones).
Oh, when I presented this hypothetical did I initially leave out the part about how everyone is already taking part in a cake competition television show called Cake Wars?
Do you think that would be a weird piece of information for me to withhold?
So what’s my point? Well, my point is that I feel guilty this morning, because you all seem like nice people, and many of you just woke up to discover that an hour had been removed from your day, and at least some of you don’t know who Michael Knowles is and I know I’m going to end that bliss for you now, and I’m sorry about that.
And, since I feel bad about that, I figured I would offer you some paragraphs about something nice. What, I thought, is nicer than cake?
OK, nice part over. Now for the nasty part.
Michael Knowles is employed by Ben Shapiro, and Ben Shapiro is a twerp-voiced mogul whose company, The Daily Wire, creates and spreads toxic and hateful far-right extremist horseshit, including things that call suspicion upon Muslims and demonize immigrants and glorify massacre weapons as tools of freedom. This doesn’t really distinguish him from many others like him in the far right extremist propaganda ecosystem, so to aide in disambiguation: Shapiro is the one who, if you replaced him with a puppet made out of felt, you might not notice the difference. Ben Shapiro was one of many individuals whose angry, frothy, hateful content (as investigators later discovered) the Quebec City mosque shooter was obsessively consuming, particularly right before he decided to solve the established problem of Muslims and immigrants by taking a gun and going to a mosque and opening fire on around 50 worshippers, killing six and injuring five others.
Now it’s very important to Ben Shapiro that it be stated for the record that the fact that his content is a part of an ecosystem that demonizes Muslims and immigrants and glorifies firearms has nothing to do whatsoever with a viewer who decided to solve the problem of Muslim immigrants with a firearm. Again, there is absolutely no connection between the dot of Ben Shapiro’s content and the dot of a mosque massacre, and the fact that those dots are right next to each other, helpfully labelled 1 and 2, is an absolute coincidence, as is the fact that they have been helpfully set into the context of a connect-the-dots book.
And who can say for certain? After all, a lot of people are skeptical, which means there’s a lot of skepticism, and I’m given to understand that as long as there’s a lot of skepticism over a matter, then that matter must still be up for debate.
As I said, Shapiro is by no means alone in the content he creates. There’s a huge market for it, and there are many other purveyors of it, and the Quebec City shooter obsessively consumed the content of many of them as well, and anyway all the collective mass of conservative propagandists ever said was that firearms are just the thing to rid the country of tyranny should tyranny arise, and also that Muslim immigrants are among the many groups replacing white people like the Quebec City shooter, and that this replacement represents tyranny. None of them told him personally that those specific Muslim immigrants should be gotten rid of, or that firearms were an awesome solution to that specific instance of tyranny.
But there was a massacre.
And I could have mentioned any number of other massacres.
And it’s just a coincidence that the people who insist on pushing for harsher and harsher conditions for immigrants and travel bans for Muslims, and so forth, are the same as those who ensure that massacre weapons are as easy as possible to get.
I am told it’s very important to understand that nobody is to blame, and that assigning any blame for these massacres is dangerous polarization and grotesque politicization in a way that politically motivated gun massacres are not, as is anything that involves noticing that there is an observable recipe that leads to gun massacres, and that some people are following that recipe to the letter.
Oopsie-poopsie, I guess. Thoughts and prayers.
But I was talking about Michael Knowles.
So Knowles is a Daily Wire guy, as I said, and in recent days he’s turned his moist unblinking eyes and vapid fixed smile to the most recent target of harm and hate for Republicans, which is trans people. If you are a hate group like the Republican Party, trans people make a pretty good target, because there are so few of them (about 1.6 million in the U.S., or roughly 0.48% of the population), and also because general public acceptance of them is very recent and nowhere close to total, which means that their demonization and persecution can proceed far more directly.
And direct it is! Knowles kicked it off last week in a screed on his program, where he made a sort of anticipatory defense, insisting his ongoing invective about trans people can’t possibly represent genocide because “transgender people is not a real ontological category. It’s not a legitimate category of being.” A few days later, he put on what I assume was his uncle’s suit and strode onto the stage of the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) to proclaim that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life.”
Now, just to put it simply, this is openly genocidal talk.
There’s a recipe for genocide, and it involves targeting a group, and then classifying that group’s existence as an illegitimate category of being, and then excluding them, and then eradicating them from public life, and then eradicating them from actual life.
The Nazis, for example, targeted many categories of people, including trans people, for elimination. They followed the recipe, and they made the dish. It’s the same recipe that the Republican Party is following now.
I’m told evoking the Nazis is very dangerous talk, very polarizing. I’m told that evoking this is disrespectful to the millions who died, and such a radical rhetorical leap that it disqualifies my points. And perhaps so, though I think that the lesson we all learned about Nazis was to speak up when somebody started following their recipe before we arrive at the the industrialized systemic murder of millions, and that the true disrespect to those who died is if we ever allowed someone to do it again … but I’m given to understand that what’s far more dangerous and polarizing than the actual eliminationist rhetoric is pointing out that this is exactly what it is, as long as the slightest scrap of deniability exists to pull over the shame of it, as long as the slightest rationale exists to name that deniability “reasonable.”
Anyway, yes, it’s openly genocidal talk, performed from platforms like CPAC and Daily Wire, platforms designed to promote openly, and to test the outer limits of acceptability of, genocidal hate speech.
It’s genocidal talk.
But now we have a debate on our hands that equates to: “yes but is it, though?”
Yes, that’s right; you heard right. We’re not debating what do we do about an empowered hate group spewing genocidal talk. We’re debating whether or not they are following the recipe that we can all see them following, and whether or not they want to make the dish they’re clearly making.
If you really want to dig in, Radley Balko wrote this essay and it’s excellent; among other things it’s about how, even though it’s likely that people who push oppressive and genocidal narratives probably don’t really want genocide, it also doesn’t matter what they secretly want, because the results of pretending they want it are going to be the same. It’s a good and necessary point to make, and I’m glad he made it.
And Parker Molloy wrote this essay and this one, and they are excellent. The first is about how open genociders like Michael Knowles are still welcome to speak on college campuses—in large part because there are self-proclaimed neutral free speech advocates whose sole or primary defense of what they call “free speech,” in a time of book bans and the clearing of library shelves and criminalization of entire fields of study, seems to be laser-focused on demanding that hateful monsters be given unrestricted platforms to promote their monstrous hate on colleges campuses without the bother of a protest. Molloy’s second essay is a meticulous cataloguing of all the reasons that yes, eradicating “transgenderism” is the same as wanting to eradicate trans people, and why, yes, that is genocide. They are good and necessary points to make, and I’m glad she made them.
If you truly need to understand why Knowles’ language is genocidal, you can click the links and read and find your answers. Me, I think if you don’t know it already, you’ve almost certainly decided already not to know it, and for me, the invitation to explain observable things to people who have demonstrated a determination to not observe them feels like a thankless task, one designed to squander the time of good-hearted and talented trans people like Parker Molloy, and allies like Radley Balko, by forcing them to constantly re-establish facts simply as a matter of survival, when they otherwise could be doing something that would progress more constructive conversations.
So what I’d like to focus on is the fact that Balko and Molloy, and many others, had to do this work, because there are people who refuse to know what is already known, and refuse to acknowledge what should already be acknowledged.
They had to explain all these observable things because there are people who refuse to understand that we’re already on the set of Cake Wars, watching a bunch of people baking cakes, having already been given instructions on what cake to bake.
In short, the crux of all this useless debate we’re being forced to have is that Knowles and others aren’t calling for the elimination of trans people, but a so-called ideology called “transgenderism” that is harming everyone including trans people—very much, they claim, as somebody who wants to eradicate racism might engage in efforts to eliminate that ideology from the public sphere, but would not propose to harm racists by using the power of the state against them: imprisoning them, or persecuting them, or harassing them, or harming them, or killing them.
OK. Fine. Let’s allow that framing.
Here’s what I know:
If the entire debate is predicated on establishing the fact that there is an ideology called “transgenderism,” then we can clearly see that ideology is already being enthusiastically eradicated from public life by people with the power to do so, and doing so quite observably involves not helping trans people, but eradicating them by using the power of the state against them: imprisoning them, or persecuting them, or harassing them, or harming them, or killing them.
Everywhere we look, they are “helping” trans people, not by providing medical care but by cutting it off, not by supporting their families but by threatening to seize their children, and by criminalizing them in schools, libraries, and universities (even while claiming to promote free speech), and by conflating them with pedophilia (even while a list of instances of conservatives fostering and covering up for actual pedophiles would bloat this essay to unmanageable lengths), by protecting those who demonize them under cover of free speech (even as they eradicate free speech from the public sphere), by threatening their freedom, their jobs, their families, their selves, and their lives (even as they claim to work for individual freedom).
They are eradicating trans people.
They are following the exact recipe.
They say they’re doing it to protect children, even as they pass bills removing child labor protections, even as they slash education funding and block college debt forgiveness, even as they mortgage our future to pay for their past. They say they’re doing it to protect women, even as they strip women of bodily autonomy, even as they do all they can to enforce hegemonies of male domination.
Everywhere we look, we see conservatives enacting harm and menace against people they claim they are trying to help, in order to provide what they insist is a necessary defense on behalf of some other group of people that they are also working to harm, from dangers they themselves are actively creating—all the while demanding that we not know that they’re doing what they’re doing, and demanding that we understand their words to mean something other than what they mean.
And we could be talking about many things.
For example, as much as Knowles and the rest of the toothy-grinned razor-parted tribe of hate mongers would like you to conflate their attempts to eradicate “transgenderism” to good faith attempts to eradicate racism, we actually know that they don’t want to eradicate racism, either. We know this because we know there is a recipe for eliminating racism, which involves awareness of racist structures and the harm they do, leading to a conviction to repair racism within those structures, and pay the cost of doing so—and conservatives are doing everything in their power to prevent that recipe from being followed, using the exact same oppressive methods and demonizing rhetoric they use to attack trans people.
They call it “woke-ism.” Then they declare themselves “anti-woke.” And then they follow their “anti-woke” recipe—not to eradicate racism, but to defend it. They even throw trans people into their lazy and increasingly congealed antiwoke stew, an ill-smelling bouillabaisse of hate and resentment, which no longer defends only racism but every form of supremacy.
Or we could talk about the way they force us to live in a world of plentiful and easy massacres, in the name of keeping us safe. In fact, I think I already did.
Or we could talk about the way these same people agitate for something to be done about the devastating train derailment in East Palestine, or to bail out the collapsing Silicon Valley Bank, in the interest of consumer protections, while ignoring the fact that they vigorously pursued the deregulations that made these disasters inevitable, and are vigorously pursuing the deregulations that will make the next disasters inevitable, and that they actually oppose all consumer protections as onerous expenses and needless big government overreach.
And we could be talking about many other things, as well.
They’re lying by the very terms they themselves set. They’re out of focus within their own frame. And they know it.
And we know it, too.
We don’t need permission to know.
Because we know this, too:
People who follow recipes intend to make the dish.
But what about those people who refuse to know knowable things? The ones who keep the debate focused on whether or not rather than what do we do?
I’ve already done some of you the disservice of making you aware of Michael Knowles.
I’m afraid I am going to have to make you nice people aware of Jesse Singal and Jonathan Chait, and maybe Bari Weiss, too.
I’m going to do this fast, because I’ve lost my patience with these dudes, so I can only imagine what it will be like for you to hear about this.
Jonathan Chait and Jesse Singal are a couple of very successful opinion columnists who are frequently described by themselves and others as journalists, and they have Substacks just like me except that their Substacks do way better than mine, so all of what I’m about to say is almost certainly being driven by an insane jealousy. Certainly it’s possible, because I could be criticizing any of dozens and dozens of others; Singal and Chait are by no means the only people who are doing what they are doing.
What they’re doing is establishing themselves as the neutral mediators of reality, as the people whose permission must be granted before a thing can be known. And the reason they are the natural mediators of reality is because they, unlike the vast majority in this time of political polarization, are neutral parties.
Being “neutral parties” means both of them spend a ton of their time professionally curious about the transgender question—this question, in fact, much more so than most others. And it’s just a coincidence that the topic they are most interested in is the one that conservatives most want to keep front and center in public discourse, which we know because of how neutral they remain. They’re very open-minded and bloodlessly curious, and very interested in considering both sides of the matter, which as a practical matter they accomplish by considering only one side. They find the mountains of evidence supporting the trans position to be very suspicious, and they find any anecdote supporting the anti-trans position to be extremely credible, and worth pursuing until it has been thoroughly exhausted by the mediators of reality—themselves. And they frame anti-trans activists as “concerned parents” and pro-trans civil rights advocates who insist that trans people are human beings deserving equal consideration under the law are “activists.”
And this is their neutrality—a very necessary component of journalism.
They don’t care, either way, you guys. They are so neutral.
They are just asking questions.
What questions? Good question!
Questions like “What exactly are people here at Cake Wars doing? Are they baking something, or participating in some other activity? If they’re baking something, is it a cake?”
They just aren’t sure about any of that, because they are such neutral parties, such curious and open-minded question askers, who are so interested in their questions they just keep asking them, over and over, and never take any time away from the asking of the questions to learn what the answers might be.
Here’s an example that’s been in circulation recently.
Recently another of their fellow self-proclaimed neutrality aficionados, Bari Weiss, published a piece that was widely shared among anti-trans people, which chronicled a former employee of a trans care hospital, who claimed to be “a queer woman married to a transman, politically to the left of Bernie Sanders,” and who positioned herself as a concerned whistleblower, alleging any number of horrific instances of predatory abuse and malpractice on the part of a children’s hospital providing health care to trans children. And Jesse Singal and Jonathan Chait were among those people who found this account extremely credible and interesting, and thought it raised many new questions, which were actually all the same old questions.
Now it turns out that all this was bullshit. Turns out this person was actually an anti-trans activist and all of the things she was claiming have been completely debunked by people who actually know from personal experience. And this was something that most people who are actually neutral anticipated, because most people who are actually looking at this in an open-minded way look at things that actually happen, and are aware of a militant and active anti-trans political movement that is not above using outright falsehoods and propaganda to achieve their aims, and that they frequently use Bari Weiss specifically to launder their nonsense into general currency, because laundering far-right nonsense into general currency is what Wiess has spent her career doing.
And because Jesse Singal is such a neutral party, such a curious and open-minded question asker, he changed his mind. Hahaha! No, I’m kidding, he wrote a long article attempting to discredit the discrediting of the discredited account. And Chait took to the Twitter-machine to defend him, which turned into a mutually appreciative celebration between them and other like-minded lovers of neutrality about their mutual persecution from polarized people who hate neutrality, because they allow themselves to be swayed by biased things, like evidence and context and clearly observable patterns.
And they’ll keep on insisting on their right to mediate reality after this debacle, because of their self-proclaimed neutrality.
It occurs to me that neutrality over matters that are life and death for a targeted minority is a position of real luxury for those that decide to hold it. It’s a neutrality that refuses to understand anything that would force one to make moral judgments. More, it’s a neutrality that costs those that hold it nothing, because it forces others to pay its exorbitant rates, while allowing them to reap the gains of profitable respectability as arbiters of discourse and reality, as well as an impervious deniability for the atrocities their neutrality facilitates.
It’s the same neutrality that Elie Wiesel pointed toward when he said: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Wiesel had seen up close what sort of recipe people like Michael Knowles propose to follow on the road to mass extermination—and he knew that one thing the recipe requires is a mass of people committed to a luxurious and impenetrable neutrality—an activating agent, you might say, like heat, like moisture, like yeast.
Anyway, I’d say that those who follow recipes want the dish.
I’d also observe that those who remain luxuriously neutral about those recipes seem to want the dish, but don’t want to dirty their hands making it.
No, they want the dish made for them.
I don’t know if Chait and Singal are much into cooking in their personal lives, so I don’t know what sort of familiarity they have with recipes, or what experience they have in following recipes. But because they are so curious and meticulous, I’m sure of this: whether they bake or they allow the baking to be done for them, they always know exactly what they’re doing. And because they are such meticulous fellows, I’m sure that if they do any baking, they are always sure to keep their hands clean.
Yes, I presume as a general rule, they make sure their hands are clean.
And, as a general rule, they know exactly what they’re doing.
“Neutral” parties always do.
A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He loves the shiny music that descends from overhead.
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