Earlier this month, Jonathan Chait wrote a piece about the firing of a progressive data analyst named David Shor. Shor was fired after tweeting out some research that supported the idea that “race riots” wind up hurting the Democratic Party, an idea that many progressives find offensive.
As Chait pointed out, Shor wasn’t citing his own research but that of Princeton professor Omar Wasow who is black. Shor was called out by Ari Trujillo Wesler who runs a Democratic canvassing group. Wesler suggested the tweet reeked “of anti-blackness.” Shor eventually apologized for being an imperfect messenger but the backlash was so strong he lost his job.
It turns out that wasn’t the end of the story. After Chait’s piece appeared it launched a discussion within a progressive listserv called Progressphiles, which started out as an online hangout for progressive data specialists. Both Shor and Wesler were members along with about 1,000 other people until Shor was ousted over the same tweet.
Yesterday, Chait revealed that he has now received a record of the complete discussion about Shor’s firing that appeared on Progressphiles. While he doesn’t use anyone’ name, he argues this is “a case study in the norms of discussing race and gender within the progressive universe.” And what he sees looks like the modern equivalent of a struggle session. Here’s Chait followed by a quote from the listserv:
Shor’s expulsion prompted a heated but heavily one-sided debate. The handful of members who defended Shor were met with reminders that a person who says they were victimized must be believed, and that anybody who questioned the charge needed to undergo self-examination:
I rarely post here, but I think the way this conversation has unfolded has been egregious, and I feel called to name that. I thought this was meant to be a progressive space. Many of us are not acting like it. I’m really disappointed to see so many people here reacting to defend a white man who was being held accountable for his actions, and prioritizing that over the harm he did to a queer person of color.
To all the BIPOC and especially Black folks reading this, you deserve better than how this space is behaving. To my fellow white people: If you find yourself leaping to defend a white person when they’ve been called in for doing something racist, notice that impulse, and then SLOW DOWN. Stop. Sit down and breathe and feel your feelings, take a really close look at what you’re doing and why. Find another white person who is an appropriate person to help you process them. (I am willing to do that for a few folks! Email me directly.) Find a different, more constructive action. Keep breathing. Black lives matter, Black safety matters, Black mental health matters, Black emotions matter.
Shor’s citation of data was itself considered problematic:
You might think the “progressive data space” would give more leeway to the citation of data. But that assumption proved incorrect. The majority of posters affirmed that sharing Wasow’s paper was indeed ipso facto racist, because it could be used to support the conclusion that violent protest is harmful:
For those of you who don’t realize what makes the tweet problematic, try not to overanalyze the statistical validity of the research paper and think about the broader impact it will have if people perceive it to be true. Democrats will wave this tweet urging people to protest their oppression peacefully, which will conveniently ignore how the majority of the most visible of these actions have occurred in areas where we have Democrats running the city council. Shor had initially defended his tweet by saying “Helping Trump get re-elected is not going to lead to better behavior by cops,” and I’m certain many people here would be inclined to agree. But it is this sort of binary thinking that we have that can be so oppressive as well. Helping Trump get un-elected (in itself) is not going to lead to better behavior by cops, when the goal of abolitionist work isn’t to have better-trained/nicer/POC cops but to systematically dismantle the very institution of policing to begin with.
Personally, I find it interesting to know that abolishing the police isn’t just something that randos in the street are shouting, it’s something some members of the professional left also endorse and support.
Shor was accused by the moderators of the listserv of going directly to Jonathan Chait and begging him to write the article critical of his firing. Today, Chait denies that saying that Shor never came to him. In fact, Chait discovered the exchange between Shor and Wesler on Twitter on his own. He described Shor as ” uncooperative and fearful.” In any case, Wesler was allegedly harassed because of Chait’s article and the listserv blames that on Shor (for allegedly going to Chait in the first place). Chait points out that when one member of the listserv asked for evidence this was true, he was told this was insensitive:
“Present the evidence” is incredibly insensitive to the nature of situations like these. Victims have a right to privacy, and I ask you to pause and consider that.
Chait argues that the vocal minority who pushed Shor out of the listserv don’t represent everyone there but they probably did make many people afraid to speak up. He may be right because today one person did speak up by going to Rod Dreher at the American Conservative. This person who Dreher calls Walter (not his real name) believes Shor’s firing may even have been justified but thinks the moderators of the listserv went way too far by blaming him for threats against Wesler:
If they had said that they were removing him for making bad arguments that help Republicans, a lot of us would have grumbled about it, but we could have said it made sense. But they didn’t say that. They accused him of inciting a mob. They have libeled him on this list. It did not happen that David Shor called up Jonathan Chait and said this happened to me and you should write a blog post about it. That did not happen.
According to Walter, the problems at the listserv began after Trump’s election when a group of hardcore feminists demanded the right to take over:
After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, said Walter, some of the women on the Progressphiles list became very assertive and authoritarian. To disagree with them as a male was to set yourself up for an accusation of sexism.
“These people started complaining that they were being undermined by the patriarchy, and demanded that the list’s leadership be given to women exclusively, without term — meaning that they would be able to govern the list like they wanted, without end,” alleged Walter.
“Under their tenure, this list has become more terrifying to be on,” he continued. “There are sublists now formed where people get together and plan what they are going to say on this list, who they’re going to attack. There are Facebook groups where people do this. There are people on the list saying things like ‘cis white males should not apply for this job.’”…
Since Jonathan Chait first started writing about the Shor controversy, Walter said, a number of Democratic Party donors and campaign managers have begun inundating campaign professionals with e-mails and phone calls. They are afraid that the accurate numbers and analysis that they’re paying for, and that they depend on, are being distorted for ideological reasons.
“This is all happening because these hard left women have taken over the list,” said Walter.
Clearly, there is a hard core element at Progressphiles, just as there is on college campuses, that cares less about data and more about the ideology of identity politics. And just like we saw at Evergreen State College, the extremists can’t rely on superior numbers so they use intimidation and threats against people’s careers and professional lives. It really is a short walk from the student’s demand that biology professor Bret Weinstein be fired to the firing of David Shor. Meanwhile most of the left sits quietly watching it happen but saying nothing because they know they could become the next target of the cultural revolutionaries.