The Party Is Cancelled

From The New Yorker:

Every month, more than two hundred people from the media, academia, and other intellectual circles are invited to a private hangout in New York City, which is known as the Gathering of Thought Criminals. There are two rules. The first is that you have to be willing to break bread with people who have been socially ostracized, or, as the attendees would say, “cancelled”—whether they’ve lost a job, lost friends, or simply feel persecuted for holding unpopular opinions. Some people on the guest list are notorious: élite professors who have deviated from campus consensus or who have broken university rules, and journalists who have made a name for themselves amid public backlash (or who have weathered it quietly). Others are relative nobodies, people who for one reason or another have become exasperated with what they see as rampant censorious thinking in our culture.

The second rule of the gatherings is that Pamela has to like you. Pamela is Pamela Paresky, the gathering’s organizer, a fifty-six-year-old psychologist who lives in Chelsea. She has spent her life among the intelligentsia; she attended Andover and Barnard before going to the University of Chicago for her Ph.D., and spent years living near the tony ski town of Aspen, Colorado. In early 2019, while Paresky was visiting New York, a friend forwarded her a dinner invitation from the journalist Bari Weiss. “Dear Thought Criminals,” Weiss’s note began. Paresky found the greeting funny and decided to copy it when, during the first fall of the pandemic, she invited a few people to a dinner of her own. She began holding her gatherings on a monthly basis and eventually moved to the city. Now anywhere from a dozen to sixty people might show up at each event. (Some of the attendees I spoke with refer to themselves as Thought Criminals, embracing Paresky’s tongue-in-cheek nickname. Others find the moniker cringey and avoid using it.)

“In a place like New York, you feel surrounded by people who are so far removed from where you are,” Nick Gillespie, an editor-at-large at the libertarian magazine Reason and a regular at the gatherings, told me. “Every conversation is about how capitalism is evil or how America is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country in the world.” As a result, he said, “There’s a lot of political homelessness.” On average, the group probably leans to the right, at least when compared with the rest of the city. But a few socialists go, along with a contingent of libertarians, such as Gillespie, who come ready for debate. “And you bring drugs,” he added.

Many of the attendees aren’t interested in advertising their participation. Others, including Michael Thad Allen and Samantha Harris, co-owners of a law firm who jokingly refer to themselves as the Lawyers to the Cancelled, are more open. “We’re not at Thought Criminals soliciting business,” Harris told me, although she has sent several clients toward the group—including Joshua Katz, a former Princeton professor who wrote a controversial essay in 2020 calling an anti-racist protest group, the Black Justice League, “a small local terrorist organization.” In 2021, Katz and his wife, Solveig Gold, a former student of his who finished her undergrad at Princeton a few years ago, started commuting into the city to attend Paresky’s gatherings. In 2022, Katz was fired from Princeton after the university said that, among other things, he had not been fully honest and coöperative during an investigation into a consensual sexual relationship that he had with another student in 2006 and 2007. Paresky was texting him and his wife every day to check in on them. “I doubt we’re the only people she’s doing that for,” Gold told me. Katz has taken to calling Paresky the Mother Hen of the Cancelled.

. . . .

It’s a commonly held belief on the left that concerns about cancel culture are overblown, if cancel culture even exists at all. Paresky considers it a genuine threat. In our conversations, however, her definition of “cancelled” was somewhat elusive; it encompassed people who suffered professional consequences, sure, but she also referred to instances of social-media pushback as “attempted cancellations.” However she defines it, she’s clearly preoccupied with the idea. Her writing, primarily featured in Psychology Today, focusses in part on the social dynamics of ostracization. She was the lead researcher and an editor for “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s 2018 book about campus safe spaces and trigger warnings. As part of that project, Paresky coined the term “safetyism” to refer to a culture that elevates perceived physical and emotional safety above other practical and moral needs. She worked for four years with Lukianoff at the organization he leads, the advocacy group fire, which is primarily known for promoting free speech on college campuses.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

3 thoughts on “The Party Is Cancelled”

  1. Note the strategic vagueness of “deviated from campus consensus” and the like. This makes it sound outrageous that these people have been “canceled,” which we later learn includes “instances of social-media pushback,” which is to say, they were criticized.

    What does this look like in practice? Does it include “I am sorry that Hitler did not manage to kill your grandparents. I would have come to his assistance, had I been there”? It is outrageously closed minded to prefer not socializing with this person, and perhaps even to push back? We are not told, the question obscured in that haze of vagueness, allowing for deniability. This is not open mindedness. It is plain old fashioned weaseling.

    • Is it outrageously closed minded to say a woman is an adult, human female? I’d say no, but really don’t care if anyone is outraged.

      Is it outrageous to fire someone for saying that? I’d say yes, regardless of who is outraged by the statement.

      Cancellation demands a material action against an individual subsequent to the publicly expressed outrage. Without such action, it’s just a bunch of blather.

      • I would note that banning you from social media in the modern age is the functional equivalent of confiscating your printing press in earlier times. (“Shadow banning” is similarly analogized to allowing your printing press, but confiscating your leaflets.)

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