That headline might be confusing if you’re not neck-deep in Twitter on a daily basis, and the story is a little confusing too, so let’s see if we can break it down.
At Bloomberg, rich libertarian “thinker” and Koch Brother pal Megan McArdle celebrated her 45th birthday by descending from her personal Mount Sinai with 12 rules for life. There was a lot of innocuous cloying shit like “be kind” and “be grateful” and “give yourself permission to be bad” and “eat new foods” and various other strains of seize-the-day-ish pablum. But stitched in between the soft-boiled guru hokum are a couple attempts at concrete advice. Such as:
Politics is not the most important thing in the world. It’s just the one people talk about the most…keep some perspective about politics. It doesn’t matter as much as the real people around you, and the real things you can do in the world. If you have to choose between politics and a friendship, choose the friendship every time.
Save 25 percent of your income. No, don’t tell me how expensive your city is; I have spent basically my whole life in New York and Washington, DC. You can save if you want to; what you really mean is “There are all these things I want more than financial security.”
This stuff is pretty self-evidently bad and privileged in the manner of all meritocratic self-help moralizing, especially if you know that Megan McArdle comes from a rich, connected family, graduated from an Ivy League college, and went from liberal to libertarian at a young age because she thought Ralph Nader was evil. I could critique it at greater length, but luckily, Noah Berlatsky already did that for me.
At Splice Today, Berlatsky summed it up as follows:
That all sounds innocuous, in large part because self-help libertarianism is the vacuous default ideology of the sensible spineless centrists who have a stranglehold on most mainstream media. But the plea for depoliticized gratitude isn’t the universal nostrum that McArdle blithely assumes. It’s easy to say, “be grateful, not bitter” if things are going pretty well for you. But it’s far more difficult if you’re homeless, have a chronic, life-threatening medical condition which your insurance won’t pay to treat, or if you don’t have the proper documents and so ICE agents kidnap you while you’re taking your child to school. Politics “doesn’t matter” until it really does.
Politics can and does kill people. And bitterness and anger at the real violence and pain caused by political decisions leads people to work for change. McArdle, in accord with the twin philosophies of libertarianism and self-help, urges her readers to turn inwards; to prioritize their private lives and mental states over concern about community and society. Focus on yourself and all will be well, she says. That seems like a live-and-let live philosophy. But in practice it means that McArdle is blaming people who, for various reasons, have no choice but to treat politics as if it’s important. If your relative is shot by a racist police force, “be grateful and don’t pay too much attention to politics” isn’t good advice. It’s a dismissive insult.
You should read the whole post—he attacks the notion that it’s so easy to save 25 percent of your income when you’re poor—but that about says it all. McArdle would have been wise to let it die.
She was not wise.
In a 14-tweet thread, McArdle explains how she was once poor. However, as you might guess, she was not actually poor—she was a girl from a rich family who opted to go without creature comforts for a time in her youth, some of which she spent actually living with her parents. To understand why the thread was so insufferable, all you have to know is that even if she’s telling the truth about a period of hardship, there was always a safety net beneath her that mitigated the actual consequences afflicting those who suffer true poverty. A sampling:
God, it's amazing how she scraped by and lived to tell the tale, isn't it? I mean, to succeed against those odds, when the only things in your favor are top-notch education, a free place to live, and incredible connections to jumpstart your career, you're basically a Dickensian wretch. Move aside, Andrew Carnegie and Oprah Winfrey—this is the greatest rags-to-riches tale I've ever read.
This meets all the criteria for an egregious self-own—an unnecessary tirade that is obviously myopic, unflattering, and clueless. These tweets let you see inside McArdle's vacuous soul, and once you do, you understand the intellectual abyss.
Of course, there was another level of owning yet to come…
I shall let the people speak for themselves!
(Some context on Francis X. McArdle. Some more.)