Did you know there is a species of arctic shark that eats polar bears, lives for 400 years, and contains an unusually high concentration of urea? Yes, I am referring to Twitter’s beloved pee shark. The Greenland shark is a real animal that really has been found with polar bear remains in its stomach, and it really does tend to get crustacean parasites that eat its eyes. Whether the parasites attract more prey by glowing and whether the shark really eats polar bears on the hoof—as opposed to dead ones that happen to fall into the ocean—are matters of debate. Further outside the realm of scientific controversy is the Verge’s report that no, the Greenland shark isn’t actually made of pee. Fake news. I think the reason people loved @joffeorama’s Twitter thread is that it captures the almost comical horror of the Greenland shark’s lived experience, not that they believed its body was 100% urine. Today is Friday, and our urge to correct people overthrows all other senses. Won’t you miss the point with me?
First, the good news: Russian hackers did not alter the final vote counts of the US presidential election. The bad news is that they might have done almost anything else, and no one is in a position to find out. The New York Times reports that Durham, North Carolina was beset by software problems on election day, including registered voters turned away as ineligible and voters automatically redirected from their correct polling places to the wrong ones. Durham also used the vendor VR Systems, which was compromised by Russian hackers earlier in the year. Maybe that’s why everything went haywire, but maybe it was just software glitches. State and local authorities don’t have the resources to find out, and federal intelligence agencies are prohibited from operating domestically. It’s the ideal epistemic environment to support ideas like this:
“We still don’t know if Russian hackers did this,” [election monitor Susan Greenhalgh] said about what happened in North Carolina. “But we still don’t know that they didn’t.”
We don’t know that I didn’t do it, either, but there’s actually a pretty good rule of the thumb for such situations. The beauty of the “Russians hacked the election” narrative is that it’s unfalsifiable. As long as we wish the country didn’t really elect Donald Trump, the belief that Russians did it will always be there to comfort us. You cannot prove they didn’t.
Speaking of the absence of evidence, former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled Yes, antifa is the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis. In it, he complains that antifa wields violence against anyone who opposes their “totalitarian worldview.” Quote:
And let’s be clear: Totalitarian is precisely what they are. Mark Bray, a Dartmouth lecturer who has defended antifa’s violent tactics, recently explained in The Post, “Its adherents are predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists” who believe that physical violence “is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective.” In other words, they are no different from neo-Nazis.
“In other words” is a term of art that means “in words that would not be necessary if they conveyed the same meaning as what I purport to translate.” Say what you will about anarchy, but it is not a type of totalitarianism. And I’m not sure the defining feature of Nazis is that they regard violence as justifiable and effective. The Allies regarded violence as justifiable and effective during World War II. So did the United States, when it bought into the just-war narrative Thiessen pitched as a vociferous advocate for the invasion of Iraq. But whatever. The real story here is that fascists and the people who violently oppose fascists turn out to be exactly the same. It’s a real coincidence, when you think about it. I mean, what are the odds?
Meanwhile, in the Pacific Standard, Malcom Harris offers this spirited defense of antifa. I’m not sure I agree with it, but he makes three convincing points. The first is that fascism and neo-Nazism are inherently violent positions. A peaceful march in support of removing nonwhites from the United States is not peaceful. Second, punching Nazis works. Quote:
There is no such thing as a non-violent fascist march. Maybe some people feel safe with bands of armed Nazis roaming their streets, but I certainly don’t. The key to preventing violence isn’t ceding public space to the torch-bearers because they’re willing to hurt people, it’s making sure they have no room at all. The proof is in the pudding: After being overwhelmed in Boston, the alt-right canceled a 67-rally day of action scheduled for September 9th. If masses of people hadn’t showed up to confront them in Boston and the Bay, we don’t know the kind of violence and brutality we would be preparing for.
Harris’s third claim is perhaps the most trenchant: the people who condemn antifa as equivalent to Nazis aren’t interested in justice so much as order. The two groups may play equal parts in street violence. But fascist victory in public space means more violence. Anti-fascist victory in public space means the end of antifa. They are a fundamentally reactive movement, not a proactive one.
Nazis and anti-Nazis are only equivalent if your main interest is in preserving the status quo. If conditions as they are work great for you, breaking the window of a Starbucks really is as bad as marching for white nationalism. And look how beautiful order can be! University of Maryland professor Philip Cohen shared this memorandum reminding faculty and staff that UMD is:
…exclusively a Pepsi campus—which means that any and all beverages provided or served on campus property must be manufactured or distributed by Pepsi. This includes drinks for sale or provided at no cost, including bottled water.
Lux et veritas, you guys. That’s the official slogan of the University of Montana, which has partnered with Big Sky Brewing to license cans of Griz-branded beer. I’m sure we will never look back on this decision as an unforced error by a school carefully trying to rebuild its reputation. Football season is just around the corner, and I look forward to finding these reminders of my alma mater’s commitment to top-notch scholarship strewn across my yard.