April 1, 2021
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Chrissie Teigen

A supermodel tried to operate a wholly unobjectionable Twitter account, mainly about recipes and parenting, and has just quit it because of the amount of hatred, trolling and threats all social media involves. As someone who uses no social media at all, I am an interested spectator to the convulsions of journalists and academics struggling sincerely with the sense that "you have to be in it in order to win it", and that the hatred, and especially the photo-shopping of your Jewish face into a gas chamber, is just some kind of background noise we all need to learn to tolerate.

The Georgia massage parlor murders

The mass shooter who visited massage parlors and killed mainly Asian women earnestly assured the cops that he bore no racial bias. We are used to hearing that a mass shooter's motives are "unknown" even when he shoots mainly members of a particular ethnicity. When I was young and stupid, I found this reassuring ("At least they weren't killed for being _____!"). Today I regard it as a devaluation of the dead: Mainly white police using the occasion of a mass murder of people Other than them to deny that racism exists. The Georgia event became particularly iconic when a white sheriff giving a press conference said the murderer had merely had a "bad day". A bad day is when you lose your keys, not when you kill eight people.

Alan Dershowitz

I have despised Alan Dershowitz ever since I was a student of his at Harvard circa 1976, when I saw how arrogant, vain and superficial he was. In the forty-four years since, I have watched attentively as he became what should have been an embarassment to the law school: a professor whose entire time was consumed as a loudmouth and camera hog, and who never publsihed any kind of scholarly work. He couldn't have been more different, more of a comic offset to Iconic law professors like Laurence Tribe. Then Professor Norman Finkelstein, a scholar and gentleman, outed Dershowitz either as a plagiarist or as (a ubiquitous phenomenon in publishing today) at the least, someone who failed to supervise a ghostwriting plagiarist. The outcome: no consequences whatever for Dershowitz, who bullied Finkelstein's own school into withdrawing a grant of tenure they had just made.

Then Dershowitz became involved with Jeffrey Epstein--and stands accused by one of the underage women Epstein raped of having sex with her. Dershowitz has undergone no social consequences for this either--he has bullied and sued his accuser. For anyone who socialized repeatedly with Epstein, I say that you knee exactly who he was and what he did. And I ask: When there was a knock on your hotel door at midnight and a fourteen year old girl stood there he was sending you as a gift, did you turn her away?

One of the greatest epistemic shocks of my later lifetime, as an American, is the continued presence in the landscape of people like Dershowitz who have accumulated such power and immunity they can get away with almost anything. Yes, I was and am naive. But part of the shock is that they are not even sophisticated Borgia figures, charming or subtle in their evil. Their vanity, superficiality and stupidity can be their most astonishing feature.

I actually felt relieved learning Dershowitz was now "emeritus" at Harvard--and I hoped there had been some secret settling of scores behind the scenes, to remove him from the school he had so devalued. But I am thinking of Dershowitz because he has just done it again: bullied Yale into nonrenewal of a psychiatrist, an adjunct, who Tweeted about him. In Brooklyn, we had an expression that "what goes round comes around"-- which, come to think of it, is adjacent to "the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small". In my twenties, I let the question of whether the world had any actual meaning turn on the unanswered question of whether the destructive actions of people like Dershowitz had ultimate consequences or not. I no longer, for so many reasons, worry about that every day. But I am thinking about it now.