You can be a merry prankster or you can lead a life of public service, but you probably can’t do both, as Toby Young discovered.
You can release shock and awe humor on the public stage or you can work quietly for educational reform, but you probably can’t do both.
The baying mob can come for dissident thinkers at any time and you can’t escape. Like Toby, I’ve also done a great deal of volunteer work but I’ve always been prepared to step aside at any time and I’ve always chosen the least public types of jobs. I understand that everything scandalous I’ve said and done in the past can be thrown at people I associate with at any time and many such people won’t be able to handle that pressure and will distance themselves from me under pressure. I think I’m prepared. I maintain multiple income streams. I stay away from leadership positions in polite society. Toby made a mistake in sticking his head above the parapet given the life he’s led and how that can be spun in modern times.
Toby writes: “I had to give up all the charity work I was doing as a result of the scandal.”
Well, choosing work with children as your volunteer vocation was not a wise choice, Toby, after a lifetime writings for lads magazines. I enjoy Toby’s tweets and essays, but because of them, he was never going to be a lasting fit for kids charity work.
In Orthodox Judaism, if you are a bachelor, you stay away from children. You don’t hand out candy to them. You don’t hug them. You don’t take them camping. You don’t volunteer to be alone with them. This is commonsense. I’m not sure why Toby didn’t see this clearly before he embarked on his mission.
When you make one controversial choice in life, all sorts of other choices are forever eliminated.
When you are called a porn addict, it doesn’t help your situation to say, “No, I’m not.” You have to embrace the abuse to tame it. I’ve created a life where I can almost say anything I want because I don’t put much effort into contesting the horrible things people write about me online. I avoid feuds. By and large, I don’t complain and I don’t explain. I’m a man of few words. I keep a stiff upper lip. Queen and country and all that.
Toby writes: “That’s one of the worst aspects of seeing your name dragged through the mud—the fear that people you know and care about are going to believe some of the terrible things people are saying about you and the feeling that there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Recovery begins with accepting that there are many things you can’t control, and you need to surrender them to God, and some things that you can control, such as your own choices, and here you need God’s gift of courage. As an apparent non-believer, Toby’s at a disadvantage when life’s storms engulf him.
Like Toby, I am an attention-seeker. I accept that most of the attention I am likely to receive as a result of my addiction is going to be negative.
Steve Sailer has written a thousand more socially unacceptable things than Toby Young and yet almost nobody dares to go after him. I suspect that they fear being carved up by his superior intellect.
When Rabbi YY Rubenstein went after me in 2009 with all barrels, I responded in kind and after that, nobody tried to bully me again.
Toby writes: “The allegations continued. Two of the most hurtful ones against me were that I’m a misogynist and a homophobe.”
Nobody should bother to defend themselves against such imaginary sins.
Parts of Toby’s self-presentation in Quillette reminsd me of the 2005 movie The Weatherman, which was reviewed by Roger Ebert:
We think of tragic heroes outlined against the horizon, tall and doomed, the victims of their vision and fate, who fall from a great height. “The Weather Man” is about a tragic hero whose fall is from a low height. David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a Chicago weatherman whose marriage has failed, whose children are troubled, whose father is disappointed, and whose self-esteem lies in ruins. “All of the people I could be,” he tells us, “they got fewer and fewer until finally they got reduced to only one — and that’s who I am. The weather man.”
There is nothing ignoble about being a weatherman, especially in Chicago, where we need them. David’s fatal flaw (all tragic heroes have one) is that he does not value his own work. Perhaps his broadcast viewers sense that, which is why they throw fast food at him from passing cars. They sense that he has embraced victimhood, and are tempted. To feel inadequate is Dave Spritz’s life sentence. His father Robert (Michael Caine) is a famous novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize, and who has always been disappointed in his son — disappointed, we sense, at every stage of Dave’s life, and by everything that he has done.
In Robert’s mind, it’s not that Dave is a weatherman, but that he is a bad one. He hasn’t done the homework. He’s not even a meteorologist. He gets the weather off the news service wires. “Do you know,” his father asks him, “that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing?” Dave has made life easy for himself, but Robert tells him, “Easy doesn’t enter into grown-up life.” Dave’s life does indeed seem easy. He does the weather for two hours a day with hardly any preparation and makes the occasional personal appearance; we see him in costume as Abraham Lincoln.
This is one of those Nicolas Cage performances where he seems consumed by worry, depression, and misdirected anger.
Toby writes: “Those claims were based on ill-judged comments I’d made on social media. Like James Gunn, I had deleted them—because they were asinine, ill-conceived attempts to be provocative, usually late at night after several glasses of wine…”
If you are doing things under the influence of alcohol or any other substance or process that routinely hurts your life, you might just have a problem that needs a solution greater than yourself. In this case, it seems alcohol might be a symptom of a deeper sickness. I have never said or done anything under the influence of alcohol that I regretted because I don’t drink and never have (due to my knowledge that I have an addictive personality).
Toby’s article would have been strengthened by the quoting in full of tweets and other writings he regretted.
He writes: “Being publicly shamed is a brutal, shocking experience that strips you of your dignity…”
I suspect that the more your social standing matters to you, the more brutalized you will feel. On the other hand, if your sense of self resides elsewhere than in the public sphere, you won’t feel as knocked for six.
Toby writes: “But the gap between the person she knew herself to be and the anti-feminist villain she was being portrayed as on social media became too much and on February 7 she took her own life.”
I don’t blame the braying mob for suicide. I hold suicides accountable for their choices.
Toby writes: “If so many people think I’m a bad person, maybe I really am.”
If your sense of self depends upon what others say about you, you are vulnerable. By contrast, if you have a largely internal sense of self, you are less vulnerable. For example, I know I have done good writing when I like to read it. Nothing anyone else can say will move me from that opinion.
Toby writes: “Surveying the burning wreck of my career, I was initially consumed by a terrible sense of injustice.”
These sorts of situations are wonderful opportunities to do a Fourth Step. Have you ever engaged in behavior that’s as bad or worse than those who tormenting you? All honest people will say yes. If so, and if you want compassion and understanding for yourself, then you have to be prepared to grant it to others, and when you do that, your anger disappears.
Resentment is a poison we swallow and hope it hurts others.
Toby writes: “Why were some people prepared to cast judgment based on such meager evidence? Why did certain words I’d used in the past count for so much more than my actions?”
Because that’s how most people operate. They find it too taxing to take everything into consideration before declaring a judgment. That’s reality. We only have so much time and attention and it is easier to hate others than than to understand them.
Unhappiness comes from denying reality. According to the Big Book, if we are disturbed, the problem is with us. There is some part of reality that we refuse to accept.
We never know when we might be tested by public humiliation. That’s why we have to stay in shape by rigorously tracking down all sources of our resentment and doing a regular Tenth Step (getting clear about reality and the role we have played in our own misfortune, and then forgiving others for being soul sick like ourselves).
Which is why it pains me to see fellow conservatives mimicking the mobbing tactics of the identitarian Left, whether it’s going after Al Franken, Joy Reid, or James Gunn. We should not embrace the witch-hunter’s credo that says people are defined by their worst moments, that if you’ve said something crass or insensitive about a victim group, particularly if you’re ‘privileged’, then you suffer from a form of original sin so deeply imprinted on your soul that no amount of good works can expunge it. The outrage mob seem to be in thrall to a particularly unforgiving religious cult. Nietzsche said that the West’s tragedy in the 20th-century was that we would be afflicted by the same puritanical abhorrence of out-group behavior as our Christian forebears, but because we could no longer bring ourselves to believe in God there would be no way to save these malefactors—guilt without the possibility of redemption. Good theory, wrong century.
Will I get a second chance?
I’m still writing for the Spectator, which has never wavered in its support, doing some editing for Quillette (thanks Claire!), and working on a book about the neo-Marxist, postmodernist Left. None of this pays the mortgage, but it keeps me busy. My wife Caroline, a lawyer who gave up her job to care for our children, has re-entered the work force, so our household income should recover.
In March, I stepped down from the board of the charity I co-founded that looks after my schools—the fifth position I’ve had to give up since my public shaming. That was the biggest blow of all. I’ve written an international best-seller, starred in a one-man show in London’s West End, and co-produced a Hollywood movie. But getting involved in education and trying to give others the opportunities I’ve had is easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I hope that one day, when this period of liberal McCarthyism has passed, I’ll be allowed to resume that work.