The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Niskanen Cowards Cave in to Mob

I have previously said two think tanks I can support are Niskanen Center and Cato Institute, well Niskanen is now off the list. They pulled the same sort of stunt Reason pulled with Shikha Dalmia. Both fired one of their better writers. Niskanen just fired Will Wilkinson to placate a mob of humorless dunces who can’t comprehend satire.

Wilkinson tweeted a smart one sentence satirical statement that was aimed at the Trumpist thugs. He said if Biden wanted unity with Republicans “he’d lynch Mike Pence.” This was a jab, not at Pence, but at the Insurrectionists stomping around in the Capitol like petulant children with diapers full of their own doings, chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Any intelligent person reading Wilkinson’s tweet would understand he wasn’t advocating violence, but ridiculing it. But one common trait among those with fundamentalist-like logic is an inability to comprehend humor. The fundamentalist mind-set takes everything literally.

Will Wilkinson

Now, Republicans are ignorant peasants and can’t understand what was really being said. It was about how much Insurrectionists hated Pence for not going along with the Putsch and the plans to install a permanent dictator. Trumpist Republicans immediately started howling and claiming the tweet was a literal threat against Pence, something only a moron would believe, and something they didn’t seem concerned about on the 6th when their fellow party members with rope were storming the Capitol looking for Pence.

Admittedly it takes a little logic to realize what was being said wasn’t aimed at Pence or Biden, but at the haters of Pence in God’s Own Party. Niskanen’s Jerry Taylor fired Wilkinson, which makes Niskanen far less reputable in my view. It also shows Taylor as a humorless prig without the intellectual wherewithal to decipher a one sentence satirical statement. If he understood the humor, but fired Wilkinson anyway, he’s worse than one working above his intellectual pay grade, he’s a coward afraid of the mob.

Taylor originally issued a statement, but I believe it has been removed without comment. In it he tried to justify his heavy-handed antics: “As an organization, the Niskanen Center appreciates and encourages interesting and provocative online discourse. However, we draw the line at statements that are, or can in any way be interpreted as condoning or promoting violence. As such, the Niskanen Center has, with a heavy heart, parted ways with Will Wilkinson.”

Please note how wide a latitude that is and how it encourages the mob mentality. Taylor said if a piece advocates violence it will lead to a termination. Fair enough. That’s a reasonable standard, but he then says anything that “in any way [can] be interpreted as condoning or promoting violence” will also lead to termination.

Perhaps one reason Taylor’s statement vanished is the pure hypocrisy of it. In his justification he says anything that can ever be interpreted as condoning violence is justification for termination. Does this mean he’ll resign for the tweet below? Or is there one set of rules for people not Jerry Taylor?

Wilkinson’s statement is clearly NOT a call for violence, while Taylor’s post quite clearly did the opposite. Instead of ridiculing violence as Wilkinson did, Taylor said he’d engage in it and “wouldn’t apologize for it for one goddam (sic) second.” Taylor is clearly guilty of the crime he has accused Wilkinson of committing.

This is like the old claims about erotica where anything, anyone, anywhere, finds offensive is obscene and should be banned. Condoning violence is a clear line of demarcation. Sure someone might word it in a fuzzy way, but the line itself is clear. The other parameter is non-existent, it gives power to the would-be censors who want to shut down discussion. “In any way” is not defending a border line, it is surrendering everything to those who want to stifle criticism.

The New Republic noted:

Those familiar with Wilkinson’s work should have been armed with the knowledge to shrug off the complaints. Instead, Wilkinson fell victim to a smear campaign on both social media and right-wing media. Fox News, The Washington Examiner, and The Federalist ran stories with headlines suggesting that Wilkinson literally called for Pence to be lynched, a willfully obtuse reading. The Niskanen Center, in response, only managed to distinguish itself as the latest chickenshit company to bow to the demands of bad-faith actors, instead of standing up to them. Its demonstration of spinelessness ensures that Niskanen will continue to be a target of bad-faith actors who have no interest in civil discourse.

The right thing for Niskanen to do is admit they made a mistake and offer Wilkinson his position back. I doubt they have enough spinal fortitude to do that. It is rare individuals who cave like cowards at the start will develope a backbone a day or two later, rare but not impossible. Luckily we won’t have to wait long to find out.

In the meantime I took myself off the Niskanen mailing list, why would I be interested in what cowards have to say. They won’t tell me the truth, they’ll just say what’s “safe.” If they are so quick to surrender to the mob then I simply can’t trust them. It’s a shame I can no longer in good conscience recommend them.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.