Gregg Easterbrook is a think tanker at the Brookings Institution, a more or less centrist / status quo-ist (i.e. center/left) joint that generates a lot of well respected scholarship. He’s right a lot of the time, wrong some times, and generally pretty amusing. Easterbrook is also the brother of Frank Easterbrook, the very brilliant and very conservative appellate judge (with equally wide ranging interests) who sits on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
As a sidelight, Easterbrook wrote Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a very entertaining, wide-ranging weekly column wrapping up all the NFL’s weekend action.
He is widely respected in Washington among policy wonks, though he tends to be a bit of a moralistic scold at times. He’s sex positive, violence negative, and SUV very negative. And his wife is a bit of a MILF who works (worked? not sure of status) at the State Department.
In other words, he ain’t a punk. And he ain’t a dummy. But his column was wrong not so much for his conclusions, as for his premises.
Easterbrook’s column, in case you missed it, drafted a blog entry that asked why so many Jewish film executives are hell bent on producing films that utterly glorify violence. He asked the question as an aside in a rant about Hollywood violence generally. If I can paraphrase, he said that it was surprising, that a group of people whose recent ancestors were nearly wiped out by nihilistic violence, would be so comfortable with exploiting human bloodlust and the systematized, joyous depiction of the same. Another one of the asides pointed out that Miramax is part of Disney, both companies run by Jewish guys (Eisner, Weinstein) and so forth. Disney, in case you didn’t know, also runs ESPN, which used to run Easterbrook’s columns.
On one hand, I want to agree with him and defend him on the merits. Why is it that this generation of Jews isn’t horrified by the casual brutality of Hollywood culture, and the glorification of mindless, industrial killing depicted in our action films? For God’s sake, as an American of Scots & Irish descent, I’m aware of the decimation that booze has wrought on “my people” and although I like booze, I’d definitely intervene if any of my friends were heading down the slippery slope. Easterbrook’s logic, at first glance, doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable.
On the other hand, he’s dead wrong, but not for the reasons the jackanapes at ESPN (and its owners) would cite. He’s not an anti-semite.
Instead, Easterbrook is wrong because of his premise, that we in America should think that our ancestors’ ethnicity-specific experiences are actually relevant (because of our own race or ethnicity) to our business decisions today.
Applied in other contexts, a French restauranteur in New York ought to think twice about seating a second generation American of German descent. After all, what Jerry’s ancestors did to his…
Easterbrook’s logic wasn’t quite that extreme. It was more like arguing that Blacks ought to be especially sensitive to sex slavery involving Chinese girls in a Peking brothel, since the ancestors of many of today’s American Blacks were themselves enslaved and used as sexual chattel.
The problem with this is that it’s not an attack on Blacks — just as Easterbrook’s comment wasn’t anti-semitic in any way. It’s quite the opposite, pushing the idea of a tribal solidarity – Black Power versus anti-Black sentiment. It is an argument based on the assumption that Black folks in all times and all places ought to be somehow linked by their skin color, and that this ought to trump the day-to-day concerns of Blacks in America today. By this argument, Blacks should somehow be more sensitive to the question than Whites — just as Weinstein and Mel Brooks ought to be inextricably linked to the Holocaust victims by their Jewishness, and sensitive to the problems that plagued Jews a continent away nearly two thirds of a century ago.
Expressed categorically, Easterbrook’s premise is a presumption that tribal loyalties ought to trump present-day sensibilities, and that’s the truly offensive thing about it. If you assume that tribal loyalties trump one’s role as a free and unencumbered individual in society, then the conclusion is ineluctible: failure to put your tribe first is an unforgiveable act of disloyalty.
If you find this argument offensive, then you ought to ponder a couple other things.
Are you uncomfortable with racial preferences in employment and education? If so, perhaps you don’t believe in assigning guilt or worth, or handing out benefits based on race or ethnicity.
Does the idea of slavery reparations make you cringe? Is it the higher taxes that the reparations would bring, or is it the fact that you think what some white guy did to some black guy 160 years ago is irrelevant to our situation today?
Do you think somebody’s prospects in life ought to be limited (or unlimited) based on their membership in tribes (race, sex, ethnicity) that they had no choice about?
The stunning thing is not that Easterbrook figures that Jewish tribal loyalty ought to trump the profit motive. The stunning thing is that this conceit was deemed anti-semitic.
By that reasoning, racial preferences are anti-minority, and the proportionality rule of Title IX mandating proportionality in collegiate athletics is anti-woman. Hmmmm… come to think of it, you could make that case.
Yeah, that’s why I’m offended. It’s not that he was critical of Jews for not being Jewish enough. It’s that the logic he used is widely accepted among the liberal elites. Just change “Jews” to “Blacks”, and change “Kill Bill” to “gangster rap” and you will have perfectly acceptable criticism. Or change “Michael Eisner” to Clarence Thomas and argue that Justice Thomas ought to be more attuned to the interests of Blacks, because after all, he is one.
Yep, I think the underlying logic of the screed is the most offensive part, and Disney (and the “anti-semite” screamers) — often the same folks calling for quotas for Black NFL coaches and female sports teams — fail to recognize the irony.
But all of that is irrelevant. Disney (known as “Mauschwitz” by some) didn’t fire Easterbrook for pissing off Jews, or even for the (ludicrous) charge of anti-semitism. Disney likely fired him because Michael Eisner is the meanest, most vindictive bastard in the valley, and he fears no evil. Nope, they fired Easterbrook for slamming the bosses, and complaining about the studio; an unforgiveable sin for an ABC/ESPN/Disney journalist.
And this piece, in which Easterbrook outs himself and a conventionally Christian, moderate, intellectually honest sort of anti-abortionist, probably didn’t help a whole lot either.