Discover more from Beck of the Pack
Demonization tactics are brutish, destructive and obvious. So who benefits?
Exaggerated, even fabricated claims of serious problems in running are the bait. If the public bites, the goon-squads won't have any solutions to propose
Most runners I know personally, or can imagine putting my arms around without actually touching, are off to promising starts this year. That’s probably a biased sample, and there’s plenty of time for the whole precarious Jenga stack to topple, but consider the direction in which you probably think the picture should be biased. And it was a genuine treat to watch the HOKA ONE ONE (SORRY TO YELL!) Project Carbon x 2 100K unfold in real time, except for when I headed outside to do my longest run of the week and therefore missed about 15 percent of the race somewhere near the middle, crawling back into bed for the last few hours of the show and its thrilling finale.
It takes a solid effort for someone who knows her way around the sport as well as Alison Wade does to projectile-vomit all over something while framing the result, however lazily, as advocacy. For one thing, I’m aware of no rule or convention that restrains event managers from promoting their event as a world-record chase when this only applies to either the men’s or the women’s race. As Wade admits, the women’s record is practically unbreakable anyway (before Saturday, the men’s American record was only 5:27 slower than Abe’s unlikely mark).
Also, this was a 62.4-mile nine-loop race in the Arizona desert, in January, during a pandemic. Does Wade really think that HOKA decided to invite a half-dozen women and stop? How many female athletes did they turn away, and how many instead declined invitations? Might it indeed have been on the organizers’ minds that plenty of hawkish observers in the running media now tend to notice anything that might be construed a racial, gender or other disparity? Finally, the inclusion of Camille Herron—who said in advance that she was hoping for an American, if not world, record if her hip held up—in any ultramarathon field should by itself answer any questions about the organizers’ intention to have a top-class women’s line-up.
Wade’s complaint is clearly just another in an already long series of examples of the same voices mining the world for petty reasons to take offense, but it’s worth saying anyway: Not every instance of literal inequality is an injustice. For example, Wade failed to express concern that the 2020 women’s U. S Olympic Marathon Trials was twice as large as the men’s—in an event with nearly 800 entrants rather than the 20 or so who lined up for the 100K, at that; in fact, she wants the women’s Olympic Trials field to grow even larger, even while acknowledging the absurd overall and (especially) marginal costs.
I also learned from this same newsletter that, in the wake of a roundly criticized Outside article dissing Tracksmith, Kamilah Journét, one of the central subjects of that publication’s most recent character assassination attempt, was recently on the Ali on the Run podcast to share her reaction to the story. (I had heard of this podcast, but didn’t know it was operated by a Feller who grew up one town over from me in New Hampshire, a lawless and fear-scorched burg where vicious instances of cow-tipping and “belching the alphabet” once occurred on a near-daily basis; if she has any sense at all, she goes running in the Mast Yard State Forest in the safe part of town when she visits home.)
Journét was gracious, respectful and reserved in expressing her discomfort and consternation with the piece; I support this mature approach, as it’s usually the right way to go when evaluating the awful work of dissembling, bitch-ass jokers. She told Feller that at first she was so shocked by the disconnect between what she presented in the interview and what the story itself presented that she thought she might have been imagining the barbs she was seeing, largely because of her implicit trust in anyone with a record of writing for big-name (in the fitness universe) publications.
I could have told her, as could anyone who has read this blog before today, that she’s likely to encounter plenty of “journalists” who are happy to turn whatever assumptions they can make about others’ thoughts and intentions into whatever unflattering profile they have already committed to generating. Next time, she will, at least, know that Outside’s chief overseer and commissioner of slanderous editorial operations, Molly Mirhashem, seems to see props, not human beings, in the work she commissions from Huber, and has dealt unprofessionally with certain writers, and that, in accordance with critical-race theory doctrine, she apparently has no qualms whatsoever about deceiving and besmirching a living, breathing individual of color if it means more easily achieving the more important goal of disrupting the power-structure status quo.
I didn’t expect to hear this part, but Feller and Journét also surmised that Huber, a man, chose to pick on the one Black woman mentioned in the article. See? Wokeness is a social form of cannibalism. Of all of the impressions Outside wants to make, sincere or not, anti-Black, anti-woman racism assuredly isn’t among them; yet from the perspective of readers unaware of Outside’s ethos, it could certainly look that way. Anyway, nice job, my people in Santa Fe! We* can add this one to the pile of friendly-fire damages resulting from your various spirited “equality” machinations.
Journét also noted, or so it sounded to me, that if white people are going to invite people of color to offer their perspective, it would be nice if those white people would not choose to direct the narrative and actually listen, and let the person tell their own story in their own way and words. In other words, at least make it less obvious that you don’t actually care to hear someone’s perspective when this is the case, which, when it comes to a lot of well-off white identitarian liberals, it usually is.
To add to the fun, on the day Huber interviewed Journét, someone at outside evidently posted a tweet about Eliud Kipchoge failing to win the 2020 London Marathon that said (per Journét) “Sometimes monkeys fall from trees”—text not included in the linked story—and was up for several hours. While “Even monkeys fall from trees” is a fairly common expression, one can appreciate why it was an especially bad choice here. At some point, whoever was operating the account deleted the tweet and posted some kind of short apology, but again, I only learned of the whole episode from the podcast.
I hate to speak in even short bursts of the silly, coded version of English that pervades ersatz social-justice efforts, but that’s all these carefully (but still stupidly) designed slow-motion tantrums are—attempts to slowly dislodge every nut, bolt and rivet from the present “system” under the weight of rhetorical corrosion until the whole thing is a smoldering pile of rubble that has entombed a great many disenfranchised, pissed-off and confused people. And if you think I’m over the top with that, recall that Laz Lake, who is well on his way to his goal of giving away a million dollars before he’s done, was beset last year, with a huge assist from Outside, by some of the most ridiculous behavior ever to be featured by a running media outlet in a way intended to portray righteousness—and the resulting hassles weren’t enough. Nothing ever is with blind identitarians; there are no lessons or learning in play here—it’s be on the train 100 percent or be in the path of the wrecking ball.
Still others in the joggersphere are finding heartening subjects of their own to promote. Among these is the number of regular runners who are forgetting to pack white hoods into their race-gear bags. On January 10, Women’s Running casually offered up the concept that running suffers not merely from suboptimal citizen relations, but from a flat-out “white supremacy” problem:
First of all, the “nobody was acknowledging the tragedy” and “nobody cared”—and wasn’t one of these enough?—isn’t just facile, shaming and clearly wrong; it destroys the trust of any discerning reader from the start. It assumes that none of us will react as I did—by recalling our own sense of violation and desolation upon learning of the killing, and thinking, “Seriously?”
It’s also frankly irrational, as well as terrifically divisive, to portray the murder by a posse of rednecks of a Black man who was out for a run as indicative of white supremacy within the running community. That’s not just an unjustified leap; it’s a non sequitur.
But as I read the rest of the piece, it became apparent—and honestly, this is something of a relief—that Alison Désir is saying these things at least in part because she wants to sell a book this year, and is using the Arbery murder as a springboard for justifying its premise. She plans to title this book The Unbearable Whiteness of Running, which sounds mostly funny and only a little racist until you discover that “whiteness” is a formal term in critical race theory, and that it’s in fact quite racist. Basically, the idea is that if you happen to be born with skin of a certain color, you possess innate deficiencies that you can never overcome—though you must always struggle to try so as to give the appearance of caring. If that sounds to you like the sort of idea that would fit nicely into a manifesto by some charmer like David Duke or Stefan Molyneux, you’re not alone.
Of course, according to critical race theory—which is both completely without rules or sanity yet completely airtight in vital respects—if you’re white and push back against this stuff, you’re a racist; if you don’t, your only real choice is to admit to intrinsic, insuperable racism that, at best, you can partially counteract with diligent, self-flagellating attention to acknowledging the racial identity of every individual you meet, and responding to them on that basis. Racial injustices are presumed within this canon to be the wellspring of all social interactions, although the advent of intersectionality has worked other oppressed groups (i.e., fat people) into the “privilege-no privilege” hierarchy at various levels:
Third-wave anti-racist [TWA] people, to be sure, claim that all of this is ultimately about changing society. But in practice, the performance and fury are the main meal while the mundane but urgent work of changing society seems distinctly underplayed. One treatise on white privilege after another gives this away…After almost 200 pages of teaching the reader that being a good antiracist requires bowing down to any claims anyone not white makes about race, we assume that the final chapter might show how this counterintuitive ideology is supposed to change the actual world. Instead, that chapter simply repeats the minatory mantras from the previous chapters.
If TWA were really a political program, it would focus much more readily on making change from the grassroots on up; the psychological cleansing would feel like a prelude cherished by a few but best gotten past as quickly as possible. The idea that political work must be preceded by a massive mental overhaul of the nation is not self-standingly obvious. It is a tragically fragile proposition that reveals TWA as in essence not politics but Sunday school. [Emphasis mine]
According to the very progenitors of critical race theory, it “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law." Translation: “Take ‘your’ feminism, ‘your’ science, and ‘your’ laws, and shove ‘em up your ass. That party is over.” This thinking is as detached from common reality as it gets, and gives the world no avenues by which to help.
Anyway, what I myself found most disturbing about Arbery’s killing is how often I take for granted not just having a safe place to live, but safe streets and other spaces in which to run. That this is a luxury unknown to tens of thousands of American kids, many of whom will spend their lives as undiscovered track stars, and something I too often forget when instead complaining about Boulder’s outdoor-mask Schutzstaffel and irresponsible dog handlers. So, lame as that is, I did get a needed reminder from the piece.
The author of the Désir piece, notably, is not pleased with others’ displeasure at the increasingly popular rush to gleefully over-punish people and ruin their careers and reputations:
I do understand her point. It’s easy to use the complaint “They cancel everything now!” as a Trojan horse for passing off ugly words or behavior that should be punished as legitimate expressions First Amendment rights. But what we* could consider not going blubbering to an editor with canceling powers if you discover uncomplimentary blog posts about yourself or someone you know by someone who has worked with that editor for about 20 years. This teaches the blogger nothing, as they remain unclear exactly what the problematic issues were, and instead leaves them likely to frown, shrug their shoulders, and continue whatever they were already doing, only with greater vigor and a dash of resentment. And newly non-cancellable.
(Pop quiz: What former Pac-12 (then Pac-10) coach was heard to call some of his women runners “entitled cunts” while they were racing, later bragging in private that his social status protected him from adverse consequences? This and a panoply or similar escapades didn’t end his career, nor did it impede it in the slightest.)
Strout’s Women’s Running article bears echoes of Wade’s wondering last year if boycotting philanthropic race directors for imaginary infractions might be a good way to improve the running world, and the doofus tweet by Chris Chavez that set in motion a hapless anti-speech cascade of posts about the need for sports commentators to avoid any mention of the moving bodies the audience is looking at (with the usual unself-conscious glaring exceptions).
That this is all being spread by allegedly informed and straight-faced running figures leaves the whole presentation equal parts ghastly and gallows-humorous. The ghastly part is that this demonization is part of a very old and dirty playbook: Identify a problem, and an enemy responsible for that problem, and cast all operative ethics out the window when it comes to making that enemy—which may exist, and may in fact be an ugly actor—appear as terrible as possible. The funny part (and remember, humor is a complex emotion) is watching all of this unfold almost as if scripted, with things now reaching the point at which accusers begin to find themselves among the ranks of the accused. This aspect is a feature—the main feature—of the “movement” in question, not a bug. It is a circular firing squad, only even more slapstick because the identity of the person or institution in the center keeps changing.
If you agree with people pushing ideas like these, fine, but please admit one thing to yourself, even if you’ll never say it in mixed company: This is not about even the most bastardized version of “equality.” It’s about being personally disenchanted and looking for a suitable target upon which to unleash the fury, bonding along with way with whatever strange bedfellows and moral lepers this requires and ideally cashing in along the way. Those behind it are unfurling some startlingly stupid ideas, but are not really dumb enough to believe that what they are doing will, or even could, result in an improved version of today’s running world. They claim to want, for example, running’s testosterone-poisoned structure torn down and rebuilt on a foundation of their own inflated egos, hoping that people don’t notice that high-level running has enjoyed the services of skillful and dedicated coaches of women—both male and female—for a long time.
If anyone really has any plans for making anything better primarily by accusing everyone in sight of either some “-ism” or fake wokeness, they have yet to present it in easily digested form. Meanwhile, companies like HOKA—does this look like a team on board with simmering racism?—risk having their reputations dinged by insatiable harpies.
I invite any of the indirect detractors of my work here (so far, every last one of them) to explain why it smacks of someone who is, say, off his rocker, or on a quixotic quest to hurt people and institutions for no reason (yes, another irony-meter flash-fried), or disapproving of genuine social justice efforts, or too indecipherable or male or white or plain unsympathetic to comprehend or bother listening to at all. That’s as substantive as the chatter has been so far.
It’s one thing to simply reject a viewpoint, even one you clearly haven’t read past the first few sentences of. But it has become commonplace for commenters to try to discourage bloggers from “amplifying”—a cute new term—voices they don’t like, even if those voices represent a significant or even majority opinion outside the roving safe-spaces these types of commenters continually demand for their fragile, stupefied selves. The sheer level of moral self-importance at work here is both appalling and laughable. I’ve accused a people in the media of lying and distorting science, pretty serious charges, and ones I would be eager to rebut if made against me. The response, such as it’s been, has amounted to “Well, screw that guy. How many followers he got?”
Think of how leprous a character it take for you to want punish bloggers and podcasters just for sharing content they find interesting, but you dislike, on their own pages. Some of these creators have sponsors and rely strongly on donations, so to some extent their creative freedom is constrained by feckless mobs, even small ones. I gladly accept any money people insist on sending me for this ongoing love letter, but I don’t care who anyone goes crying to about it or what they say in aggrieved sidebars. Anyone is free to engage with these posts. I won’t count on this happening, because wokesters are craven and shady people by definition and intent, with taking responsibility for mistakes or needless harm the last thing on any of their minds. This is why they almost never act alone, and why Twitter, Instagram and Facebook assume supreme importance in shaping and reinforcing even the worst of their ideas.
I’ve been wrong many times about many things, but I try to face these errors head-on, and I really can’t get my head around an unabashed willingness—at times by people whom I’ve long respected—to incorporate flagrant dishonesty and hypocrisy into any career, much less one in journalism or activism. Those are not complementary enterprises, by the way, but that’s for another tale.