Outside continues hacking away at its peers, and we* shouldn't expect a let-up

This endless spate of hit pieces isn't just for clicks and revenue; the editorial staff sees dishonesty, hypocrisy and internal disruption as ethical guiding principles

The editors of Outside Online, apparently unable to locate a human Internet prop to help them gin up another imaginary example of racism perpetrated by a popular, socially conscious running figure, have taken the predictable next step: Accusing a popular, socially conscious running-apparel maker not of racism but of the equally grave offense of inappropriate social-justice advocacy. That this thesis rides shotgun alongside the dolorous contention that Tracksmith’s offerings are pricey and, when you get right down to it, unnecessary is the perfect touch of ironic dark comedy; Outside Online’s sociopathic presence now acts undisguisedly as a parasite of genuine equality movements as well as a business whose ads don’t exactly target the indigent.

It’s unusual these days for someone to express despair over an Outside Online story before I’ve even seen it, especially someone like Mario Fraioli, who metes out criticism only after careful deliberation and in measured doses. But Fraioli more than noticed Martin Fritz Huber’s multi-purpose, slowly waving middle finger at Tracksmith, and in his Morning Shakeout newsletter last week, he wrote (emphasis at the bottom mine):

I was incredibly confused and disappointed by this Outside piece from Martin Fritz Huber about Tracksmith. I say confused because I can’t for the life of me figure out what Huber, a writer I’ve corresponded with numerous times over the years and whose work I mostly enjoy and respect, was trying to get at with his odd mix of historical anecdotes, original reporting, and passive-aggressive undertones. I was also disappointed by the flippant disrespect shown toward Tracksmith employee Kamilah Journét, who is helping to shift the status quo for Black women in the outdoor and running industries through her work, and Huber's curt dismissal of the company's fellowship program that she helped launch. 

…[I]n my admittedly biased opinion, formed through firsthand observation and experience over the past six years, there is no brand in running today that makes more considered products, has remained more true to the soul of the sport, is more respectful of its history, or is putting more effort into making it more inclusive and accessible to a modern generation of runners through the content and experiences they create than Tracksmith. Is the brand perfect? No, of course not—and their apparel, aesthetic, price points, and overall vibe aren’t for everyone—but riddle me this: Why attempt to bastardize a company of runners that’s putting a lot of effort into producing quality products, celebrating history, creating content, cultivating communities, opening up opportunities for under-represented people, and generally injecting life into a sport and culture that they don’t want to see die?

Jeanne Mack had misgivings about Huber’s wokeness double-standard, which as of this nattering had gone unanswered.

Letsrun.com noticed, too, taking a light dig at Huber’s faux anti-capitalism.

Both Fraioli and Mack are using “confused by” in the polite sense of “annoyed by, as you make no sense and have some explaining to do.” You don’t have to know or have had personal dealings with Mario Fraioli to perceive that he’s among the most fair-minded and, basically, trusting as well as trustworthy running communicators and experts working today. I, with no record of niceties of my own to protect, will simply suggest that something that looks and sounds like contrived, unjustified hostility usually is—especially when Molly Mirhashem, who edited Huber’s story, is an ingredient in the anti-journalistic stew.

I can therefore clear up the “confusion,” and with a great deal of confidence: Outside Online is not only not trying to be helpful to anyone in the running community, but its principals are actively trying to be un-helpful. Theirs isn’t a noble quest being conducted badly; it’s an ignoble one going exactly as it’s supposed to, other than the fact that I’m still alive and have Internet access. And because the article is self-evidently awful, I won’t review it in detail, and instead will explain why I think it and countless similarly ugly stories by the disingenuous Mirhashem-Huber combo exist in the first place. (I do have to point out, though, that when I see ads for things like Land Rovers between the paragraphs containing Huber’s whiny, hypocritical laments, it sorta deflates the “How dare anyone market expensive swag at runners!” vibe—not that this was ever meant to be a serious charge. It’s just a Trojan Horse for the SJW stuff.)

Before concluding that Outside Online is stirring up controversy solely for the sake of attracting website visitors and the associated ad revenue—though I’m sure they appreciated the link from the otherwise-reviled Letsrun.com—please appreciate that the truth really is more sinister: The editors directing purposeful malice toward principals within the running community would rather see the whole running environment toppled than continue to operate under the direction, rules and standards of the infernal pale-faced patriarchy.

First, it’s safe to say that far-left liberalism has become both a constant theme in running outlets and coverage of running in the mainstream press; not inconsequentially, it’s the only brand of politics treated as legitimate. As a lifelong liberal Democrat who supports total body autonomy, quality public education, universal healthcare, and sufficiently taxing the super-wealthy (and churches) to help repair the American classes and institutions they have helped degrade, it was easy for me to miss much of this at first; it seemed that a number of people I typically agreed with on most matters were developing social-cognitive indigestion when it come to ideas about fairness. This has turned out to be more like an outbreak of intellectual-emotional cholera. Having what for the moment is a well-circumscribed faction of prevaricating narcissists in charge is no more appropriate than the far Christian right gaining disproportionate control of the sport’s output, or anything, as these kinds of extremist voices are reflective of neither honest progressivism nor majority-held beliefs.

As a result, a power struggle now exists among the liberal voices within running, and Outside Online wants to be yanking the controls the center of the show, in an, um, “equal representation” way. No one in this arrangement has true allies any more than a contestant on Survivor ever did. I am no oracle, but in early November I promised we* would be seeing a lot of bizarre infighting among those seeking to take full charge of running as a social enterprise while methodically tearing down its competitive aspects. I expect to see flailing jerks continuing to be the same flailing jerks until all of these miserable outlets wither and die, which shouldn’t take long at this rate.

In support of the idea that Outside Online’s swing at reading Tracksmith’s mind was no anomaly, I present the Iron Law of Institutions:

Democrats operate according to the Iron Law of Institutions. The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

I know it’s hip to link to a website with a fancy-looking breakdown of oppositional terminology, say “This very neatly explains the argument,” and declare the matter over, until someone else one-ups that by finding a more elegantly presented online repository of social-science sophistry. But we* really are seeing a growing trend of bullying, double standards, and deploying a panoply of illiberal precepts being successfully framed as advocacy or activism. I find this alarming not just on its face, but because it means that decent, thinking people are watching indecency gain more and more legitimacy as a result of no one wanting to look bigoted or merely unenthusiastic themselves. After all, there could be a personal cost.

That brings me to my second main point: This strategy of trying to deflate every attack on a nonsense movement in advance using accusations of “-isms” is intentional—using rhetorical self-tightening knots to lash critics into contorted positions of inaction. This is how brazenly unreasonable and hostile ideas are allowed to gain traction among people who generally reject or even abhor them.

Over the past decade, liberal feminism—which has long helped address problems such as wage gaps and a lack of paid maternity leave in evidence-based ways—has been supplanted by a notion of “intersectionality,” which I’ll save you the trouble of looking into: It’s a way to develop more granular “oppressed groups” without proposing any solutions and while denying the whole importance of individual identity (hence the rush among otherwise educated “feminists” to, among other strange efforts, attempt to preserve Caster Semenya’s farcical standing as a world-class female athlete). At the level of discourse, it is an incoherent, downward illogical spiral that, if it has a coherent ideology at all, specifies that the only real way to gain power in a white world is to break nice things. And back in 2015, a young editorial fellow at the National Journal, who has since moved on to other things, was very interested in the whole concept. The rest of us* remain “confused,” because in the past, genuine liberalism, while grossly imperfect, has been a better mover in the end of public opinion than postmodernist babble, arbitrary quota systems, and shady, cowardly editorial practices.

This is why it’s pointless to trust anyone involved with the editorial direction of Outside, including Huber, its reliably smarmy hatchet-man. This isn’t overreach or sloppiness; the various apparent bugs, taken as a swarm, are the marquee feature. The only solution to unfair power structures, on this view, is their toppling by any means and at any cost.

I imagine it’s easy enough to dismiss at a surface level any criticism I level at these people as being too tainted by profanity or personal agitation to take seriously, even if a fair reading of the content shows otherwise and that these people do in fact behave in disgusting ways. But go ahead and wait and see where this kind of systematic evil quackery takes running if allowed to persist unchecked. I get the sense that Huber is sort of milking this somewhat against his will and would rather directing his talents toward writing a novel about summiting Mount Everest entirely in Champion gear from Target, but that could just be me inherently if grudgingly giving a fellow cracker a pass. I’m through being in any way charitable to the other figures involved in the damaging charade.

Far more influential liberal pundits than me are converging on similar ideas. Just yesterday, longtime Rolling Stone polemicist and now-Substacker Matt Taibbi, in examining the relevance of a 1979 book titked The Culture of Narcissism in today’s America (a new edition was published in 2018), observed:

We’re being led into a purer version of our sadistic “war of all against all,” in which human beings and their traditions are replaceable, but the corporate state remains. The latter grows stronger as we battle each other for envy, admiration, and things, in a utopia of mandatory competition and self-absorption.

Even truth is now settled in trial-by-combat fashion, by the competition for attention. Lasch in addition to everything else predicted a future in which being correct or incorrect, right or wrong, would become secondary to the ability to “command assent.” Truth becomes a numbers game: the person who can demand belief, either by force or by the creation of the most successful image, is right.

So when someone tells you to check your privilege, they’re reminding you it’s not the content of your ideas that matter anymore, it’s the identity group that produces and markets them. Outstanding work, everybody!

In closing, it occurs to me that the natural complement to the visibly oppressive figure of an older, white (throw in “presumably conservative”) male like Laz is someone in multiple visibly oppressed groups: Female (or non-binary), fat, dark-skinned. To preserve the disruptive symmetry, this individual, rather than being a do-gooder falsely accused of badness, would have to be an evil-doer falsely promoted as a good person. Outside Online may have not found the ideal choice, but one of its competitors has. My next post will be about running and pleasantly wonky, but I need to get back to and complete my Runner’s World series before other malefactors create a backlog of material elsewhere in the running world.

A digression on personal privilege

One of the many ironies if the SJW insistence on getting all of us to acknowledge our “group,” and hence out level of conferred privilege and place in the hierarchy, is feeling invited to compare my background and provenance with what’s easily learned about some of the members of this “inclusion” vanguard.

I’ve mentioned that I was raised by a dad who’d fled a dirt-poor hillbilly Ohio town for the Air Force and a mom who’d dropped out of UNH to marry that guy. I was almost never consciously aware of my family being half an income bracket below those of most of my friends, and had I been it wouldn’t have mattered because I had all the toys I needed and almost all of the books anyone needed. My folks (and grandmother) had tons.

That my parents were rapacious consumers of all sorts of literature, along with having a few acuities I didn’t choose, paved the way for school to be ridiculously easy for me for thirteen straight years. I didn’t care that I had to take out sizable student loans; I was good at something that was both valued and potentially useful. It still is. For this, I will always be unfathomably grateful to my parents. It all just happened, and a lot of the grave mistakes and misapprehensions I have made and held in life have been mitigated by this reality. I am what I am. I can’t even brag about having a history of serious alcohol abuse or an eating disorder anymore, as at least one of these is practically universal and the other an instance of gender appropriation.

Since I’m more interested in who people are than who they pretend to be or claim to represent, and because I am tired of the idea that certain people need to get out of the way so that others can usurp my unearned status as me, it seems appropriate to note that I don’t have any parents who hold two doctorate degrees. I didn’t go to Harvard and find myself writing for a major newspaper despite reality-denying levels of narcissism steeped in the journalistic integrity of Freddie Lounds. I don’t live in the wealthiest town in my state despite producing a newsletter about how white and entitled running is being my full-time job. Despite these shortcomings, I am certain that I could resolve any mutual material philosophical disagreements between us in my own favor in a matter of minutes in a moderated conversation that will never, ever occur. Thoughts ‘n’ prayers.

I never used to feel compelled to make these comparisons and draw associated conclusions, but apparently that’s the point of this circus: I’m supposed to recognize my place and offer my unique, humbled perspective on this, known only to me as a member of my in-group-of-one, despite being, at root, just a standard monochrome Gen X guy bumbling along in the slow lane of good inclusive behavior. And I’m supposed to figure out how to relate to you as a color or label or piece of history, or maybe as a pile of ineluctable mistakes, rather than as the whole person I see, who probably doesn’t think or behave exactly like the last person who looked much like you do.

Well, that’s what I’m doing. I hope everyone is happy so far with my seamless assent. We’ll* see where it all leads.