Posted on | January 23, 2010 | 44 Comments
Everybody’s now blogging about the New York Times profile of Charles Johnson. Rather than extend the previous post, I’ll collect the reactions in a new post. This aggregation will be extended and updated until it’s time to deliver The Final Wisdom:
- One of the more amusing carom-shots of the LGF meltdown is Barrett Brown’s proposal for a CJ-BB collaboration that Dennis the Peasant dubs “Axis of A$$hole” and “Operation F*ck Everyone.” D the P notes that CJ is being disingenuous about whether his 2007 departure from Pajamas Media was (a) “completely amicable,” as he said at the time, or (b) a bitter ideological breach with a “right-wing parrot organization.” We might alternatively hypothesize that it was (c) neither and that CJ just decided to cash out, since he contributed very little to PJM in terms of management or content.
- Tim Blair of the Telegraph likewise notes that Johnson’s “shrinking support base and paranoid self-obsession seem like an ideal platform from which to launch The Next Big Internet Thing.”
- Dan Collins at POWIP: “Just for the record, Barrett: I warned you about Charles. . . . In the long run, I think, you’ll regret hitching your fortunes to a falling phaeton.” A warning likely to go unheeded. As Franklin observed, experience keeps a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other.
- Ace of Spades aridly observes that not even the Strange New Respect factor could prevent the New York Times from reporting the most obvious truth about CJ: “They discovered he’s kind of a dick.” The AOSHQ commenters have a field day, as might be expected.
- My friend Dan Riehl criticizes my tactics in engaging CJ. Should I be offended? I’m not. Dan fights his way, I fight mine, and as long as we’re both winning, any criticism between us is like the guys on ESPN doing a postgame analysis. Johnson sought to destroy me and all that matters in a fight for survival is winning the fight. Johnson probably still doesn’t understand how and why he failed, and he displayed his complete befuddlement by naming me twice (sandwiched among such luminaries as Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter) in his final fatwa, “Why I Parted Ways With the Right.”
- The much larger Johnson, Scott Johnson of Powerline: “I don’t follow Dee’s take on what happened to Johnson, but I think few readers can fail to conclude that Johnson has gone haywire.” This is an astute observation, as Dee’s reporting stops short of deriving any definitive explanation from the facts reported. Dee wisely avoids the error of telling the reader what to think about the controversy, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions — and “gone haywire” is certainly a fair conclusion.
- Pat Austin in Shreveport: “I’m a relative newbie to the blogosphere and never followed LGF in the first place, so the whole blogwars episode with Johnson wasn’t ever really on my radar.” Indeed, if you arrived in the blogosphere after 2007, you’re not likely to remember when Little Green Footballs really mattered. It’s nonetheless important for newbies to learn from this textbook example of what awful things can happen when Blogger Mood Disorder rages out of control.
- Patterico faults his own judgment: “I was critical of Charles in several ways, but I think I gave him the benefit of the doubt far too much.” This raises the question of why Patterico gave CJ the benefit of the doubt, but that is a tangent perhaps best left unpursued today.
- Very interesting contemplation from Blog P.I.: “While there certainly appears to be a personal element involved for Johnson — one Dee apparently wasn’t quite able to crack — there is also the possibility that events occurred as they did because the Internet elevates the importance of links and the act of linking, opening the possibility for the forging of novel (and possibly false) relationships. On the Internet, the possibility of creating new contexts is limited only by any one person’s imagination.” Part of what happened with CJ, it seems to me, is that he succumbed to the belief that everything that can be known is available online, so that what is reported on the Internet about Vlaams Belang (or me) represents a total, definitive and indisputable truth. Ergo, by online research, you can become an “expert” about people you’ve never even met. This is so obviously a fallacy that it is astonishing to think any intelligent person would succumb to it, but CJ did.
- Blogospheric veteran Michael W. of Q and O adds some historical perspective and concludes: “Poor code monkey. So lonely and misunderstood.” The epithet “code monkey” highlights the fact that CJ’s strength was as a programmer and page designer, and that his excursion into the political arena took him outside his natural metier. That fact strikes me as quite significant. As the blogosphere grew and became more competitive, and as off-the-shelf blog software made technical skills less necessary to the enterprise, CJ was eclipsed by others whose skill-set and background were more suited to political commentary. His resentment at being eclipsed was the bad seed from which sprang the poison fruit of his rage.
- Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit enjoys Dee’s characterization of LGF as the “Animal Farm of the Blogosphere.” CJ’s totalitarian tendency — the sadistic bent that went unnoticed by conservatives so long as Johnson trained his fire on jihadis and their MSM apologists — was deeply implicated in his meltdown. One moment of startling clarity in last September’s bloggerdammerung was when CJ called Hoft a “borderline illiterate bigot.” If you actually know Jim Hoft, he’s one of the gentlest and most generous souls in the blogsophere. Anyone who would attack Jim is clearly a twisted personality.
- William Teach at Pirate’s Cove captures the essence of Johnson’s thin-skinned paranoiac tendencies: “Remember, this is a guy who is so delusional that he has programs that monitor if someone said something about him somewhere on the ‘Net. In real time.”
- Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post humorously avers that, like LGF, his own blog is a Cult of Personality. Lucky dog. Back in the day when I was at The Washington Times, I could never convince my editors to let me run my own Cult of Personality blog on their dime. They laughed at me! Fools! Bwahahahaha!
And now at last, having aggregated like a mofo for more than three hours, I feel The Final Wisdom congealing in my cerebral cortex like sweet vanilla pudding. Unfortunately, Mrs. Other McCain has just called me to the dinner table with our six children, you’ll have to wait a little longer.
UPDATE: OK, I’m back from dinner. People tell me all the time how lucky I am to have a wife and six children, and when I’m bummed out over stuff happening online — e.g., Why Does Alyssa Milano Hate Me? — people remind me that my friends and family are what’s really most important in life. This strikes me as cold comfort compared to the incredible joy I’d feel if Alyssa Milano re-Tweeted me to her 600,000 Twitter followers. And yet there is an important truth here: Satisfying interaction with flesh-and-blood human beings is vital to emotional health.
This is at the heart of why Charles Johnson went off the rails. “At least the chances of a ‘Downfall’ video about this are slim.”
That video is posted at Atlas Shrugs, where Pamela Geller comments:
The irrational hatred and determination to destroy others no matter what lies need to be told to do it, the paranoia, the roaring-mouse totalitarianism and cultishness, the self-obsession and self-righteous preening, the howlingly superficial thought processes — in short, every tendency we have come to know and love in Charles Johnson over the last two years is on display in this piece . ..
What was to have been CJ’s moment of triumph — profiled in the New York Freaking Times! — thus turns out to be bitter gall and wormwood, another occasion for his erstwhile victims to gloat at his undoing. And none of his victims suffered more from Johnson’s unrighteousness than did Geller.
Why do you think Geller was targeted? If you’ve ever met her, Pamela is vivacious, funny, extroverted, gregarious, charming — everything Charles Johnson is not. And Jonathan Dee reports an important fact without drawing the all-too-obvious conclusion:
In October 2007, Johnson was asked to take part in what was billed as a Counter-Jihad Conference in Brussels . . . but he did not go.
Johnson was invited, but did not go. This he explains opaquely: “I’m just not a joiner of these things.” In fact, Johnson is anti-social, uncomfortable around other people, exhibiting a distinct aversion to crowds.
Bizarre Facts, Bizarre Theories
Very few people in the blogosphere have ever met Charles Johnson in the flesh, but among those few, all who are willing to speak about him have remarked on his aloof, standoffish personality. The NYT article notes how his meltdown has led to bizarre speculation about CJ:
The flip side of the fact that his acolytes felt so close to him without ever actually knowing him is that he serves now, just as credibly, as a sort of blank screen upon which to project conspiracy theories. It has been suggested online, with a gravity that is hard to overstate, that he is a convicted child molester worried about public exposure; that he is a closeted homosexual threatened with blackmail; that he is in sexual thrall to an unnamed woman; that he is being paid by George Soros . . .
The very wildness of these theories testifies to the extreme nature of CJ’s behavior which the theorists seek to explain. There is something twisted and perverse in his actions, and mystified observers naturally tend toward the Dark Secret explanation.
However, if Johnson’s “acolytes” didn’t actually know him, this was by Johnson’s design, a function of his reclusive personality. And when he lashed out at Pamela Geller, he was lashing out at one of the most outgoing personalities on the Internet — a woman who enthusiastically celebrated the very Brussels conference that CJ refused to attend. She’s there, having a grand old time, the belle of the ball and Charles Johnson can’t stand it.
The misanthrope’s instinctive hatred of good cheer and fellowship — this is the envious root of it all. And here we come to the most telling passage of Jonathan Dee’s article:
He has banned readers because he has seen them commenting on other sites of which he does not approve. He is, as he reminds them, always watching. L.G.F. still has more than 34,000 registered users, but the comment threads are dominated by the same two dozen or so names. And a handful of those have been empowered by Johnson sub rosa to watch as well — to delete critical comments and, if necessary, to recommend the offenders for banishment. It is a cult of personality — not that there’s any compelling reason, really, that it or any blog should be presumed to be anything else.
Charles Johnson had built an online Cult of Personality with a gaping void at its center. And self-awareness is a bitch.
LGF and the Insane Boss From Hell
Decades in the workplace — not the solitary world of blogging, but in a wide variety of working environments beginning with my first part-time job on a furniture delivery truck at age 15 — taught me a lot about different types of personalities and how they interact in what sociologists call organizational dynamics.
Personnel is policy, and if you get the wrong person in the wrong position, bad things inevitably result. The regime of “worker’s rights” in our hyper-litigious society has made it very difficult for corporate managers to fire, demote or re-assign employees, and one consequence of this is that more and more workplaces have become toxic environments, poisoned by the resentments of the disgruntled.
Everyone who’s been in one of these situations can tell their stories, which have a certain familiarity in the types of personalities involved: The Office Gossip, the Two-Faced Backstabber, the Sycophantic Toady and — almost invariably — the Insane Boss From Hell. This is the sine qua non of the true toxic workplace.
Leadership charisma and organizing capacity are not automatically conferred by attainment of a college degree in business management, nor does a person instantly become a manager merely by acquiring the title. Someone in the executive suite with a poor eye for talent picks the wrong person to head the department, and suddenly this person — who might have been quite competent in a subsidiary role — turns into a human nightmare.
Mere managerial incompetence does not qualify a person for the status of Insane Boss From Hell (IBFH). I’ve worked for ineffective or disorganized bosses who, aware of their own shortcomings, didn’t feel the need to engage in the kind of self-defeating vindictiveness that characterizes the IBFH.
What lies at the root of IBFH behavior is the boss’s obsession with his or her status as boss, combined with a guilty knowledge of their own inadequacy to the task, which causes them to engage in a frantic (and ultimately futile) effort to blame all their failings on others. If you’ve ever been there, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like working for Pol Pot or Idi Amin.
LGF Goes Green With Envy
This is essentially what happened with Charles Johnson. The toggling-GIF device in Rathergate elevated Johnson to a level of prominence in the conservative blogosphere where he exercised a tremendous influence. He was in a position to pick and choose which stories got highlighted (or not) and which blogs got linked (or not).
That was late 2004 and, about a year later, CJ became a founding partner of Pajamas Media, an enterprise that aimed to bring political blogging to previously unimagined heights of power. Whatever the success of PJM, however, it did almost nothing to enhance Johnson’s status as an arbiter of influence. In fact, other PJM members — including Instapundit, Ace of Spades and especially Michelle Malkin — seemed to catapult ahead of Johnson’s LGF during the two-year period between the late-2005 formation of PJM and Johnson’s late-2007 resignation.
Meanwhile, the political environment had undergone an upheaval. The Bush Era reached its apogee in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 election (remember how the Left panicked over those “values voters” exit polls?), hovered weighlessly for much of 2005 and then began a rapid descent. The 2006 midterm elections wiped out the GOP’s congressional majority and by October 2007 — when Johnson lashed out at Geller — it was clear that whoever won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 was almost certain to become the next Commander in Chief.
So, not only had Johnson failed to capitalize on his early prominence in the conservative blogosphere, but now he looked forward to the dire prospect of being a second-tier contributor to the weaker side of the ‘sphere — a loser among losers. Whatever his more purely political reasons for going to war with his former colleagues, it was in this discouraging environment that he made his choices.
This is the key insight: Charles Johnson’s war on the Right ultimately wasn’t about the Right, it was about Charles Johnson.
That’s why it was always futile to try to resolve the argument about Geller, Spencer and the European counter-jihad by exploring the biographical minutiae of Vlaams Belang, Filip De Winter and so forth. Whatever their past activities or associations, none of them had been goosestepping and sieg-heiling at that 2007 Brussels conference, so any attempt to use that conference to smear Geller and Spencer was bogus.
Yet CJ relentlessly pursued that smear with a frightening fanaticism and anyone who came to the defense of CJ’s targets was thrown under the Little Green Bus. What was at stake for Johnson was his status, his influence, his unquestionable righteousness as an arbiter of who was or was not acceptable as an ally in the counter-jihad.
Charles Johnson and Charles Manson
My old friend George Hall worked for decades in the U.S. Postal Service and once made a keen observation about the nature of working in a bureaucracy: “There are people who are on lists and there are people who make lists.”
Charles Johnson’s obsessive ambition to be a list-maker — a Decider, a Gate-Keeper, a Blog Czar — was his undoing. And the damage he inflicted on other people in pursuit of that ambition was, to him, a thing of little consequence because Charles Johnson is a sociopath.
Yeah. I wrote that. And put it on the Internet.
The characteristic trait of the sociopath is his lack of empathy toward others. To the sociopath, other people are really just objects or symbols. He is so narcissistically obsessed with himself that he cannot comprehend that the people around him have thoughts and emotions equally as real and valid as his own.
It was this sociopathic selfishness that enabled Charles Manson to manipulate the naive hippies who flocked around him in the late 1960s. It was this lack of empathy that enabled Manson to demonize and dehumanize the victims of the Tate-Lobianco murders — people Manson had never met, people who had done him no wrong, people whose brutal deaths were simply a means to Manson’s grandiose insanity.
Of course, this analogy is extreme. Charles Johnson has not (yet) commanded Killgore Trout to seek blood vengeance on the objects of his hatred. Yet the sociopathic phenomenon is otherwise quite similar, as is Johnson’s demand for abject loyalty among his LGF cultists. Sharmuta is CJ’s Squeaky Fromme.
Of Cults and Personalities
Da Tech Guy summarizes: “Johnson’s attacks on individuals were dishonorable.” Such an old-fashioned notion as honor is incomprehensible to someone like Charles Johnson, because honor requires respectfulness and a chivalrous regard for the frailty of others — a spirit of kindness and generosity utterly lacking in the sociopath, who demands from others a respect he is not prepared to reciprocate.
And there, but for the grace of God, go I. When Jonathan Dee wrote that there is no “compelling reason” why “any blog should be presumed to be anything else” but a Cult of Personality, I confess to having felt a slight sting of rebuke. No one ever accused me of self-effacing modesty. The avowed purpose here is to take over the entire freaking blogosphere: All your links are belong to us!!1!1!
While I was in Pasadena last week, there was a spat between Stogie at Saberpoint and Carol at No Sheeples Here in which Stogie accused Carol of excessive fandom toward me. If “basking in the warm glow of universal adulation” were a job description, I’d be first in line to apply for that job, although no one could ever admire me as much as I admire myself.
This egocentric trait presents a nagging question: “If I’m so damn good, how come everybody else refuses to acknowledge my self-evident superiority?” And it is very tempting to answer: “Because they’re all just jealous of me.”
Paranoia is a narcissistic disorder, you see. If the world is dominated by powerful forces bent on your destruction, obviously you must be an extraordinarily important person.
The paranoiac has erected a series of defensive rationalizations to protect himself from having to acknowledge his own weaknesses and failures. He projects his secret fears and hatreds onto others as a means of distracting himself from the guilty knowledge of his own worthlessness. The grandiose ideation and insane fears of the paranoiac — e.g., the CIA monitoring his thoughts because he alone is onto the Big Secret — are a product of the psychological house of cards erected in defense against self-knowledge.
There is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy involved in sociopathic behavior. Just as Hitler had trapped himself in that Berlin bunker, so too does the ordinary sociopath — that is to say, the personality disastrously flawed, but not possessed of extraordinary ability — progressively cut himself off from other human contact. He selfishly manipulates and exploits the people around him; those people respond by distancing themselves from the sociopath, reinforcing his belief that others have hostile motives toward him. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The Final Wisdom Approaches
All people possess, to some degree, the egocentric traits that can lead to sociopathic narcissism and paranoia. And it is hardly surprising that in the upper echelons of any enterprise one encounters oversized egos. The timid and unambitious self-select themselves out of such an environment, and those who scale the heights quite naturally take pride in their abilities and achievements. Why, then, doesn’t every successful blog turn into the cesspool of negative karma that Little Green Footballs became?
The best answer, I think, is that most successful bloggers are sensible enough to distinguish between the virtual world in which they work and the real world in which they live with actual human beings.
There was a moment last year, for example, when I had sleuthed out the identity of the person behind the “Palin’s Deceptions” blog and was ready to expose them — and didn’t. It dawned on me that this person had innocent family members who would be harmed by the revelations I was prepared to make. So I sent an e-mail intended to persuade the blogger to cease making unjust attacks on Palin, and the unnecessary harm was averted.
Many people have asked me why I didn’t go ahead and “out” that blogger and the answer is simple: I put myself in their shoes and imagined their mortification, their shame and suffering. It was within my power to inflict that suffering or to have mercy, and knowing that I am certainly not without fault . . . No, I couldn’t do it.
The narcissistic sociopath is mercilessly sadistic because to empathy would require that he acknowledge his own weakness and failure. His imagined superiority to others is what makes him so dangerous.
So you see, The Final Wisdom eludes us still. To claim to have The Final Wisdom — complete knowledge, omniscience — requires a perfection of which we are incapable.
We can infer the general nature of Charles Johnson’s problems by comparing them to examples of similar phenomena, but we are not privy to every factor that contributed to the LGF meltdown. And for all we know, Johnson may yet come to grips with the personal problems that led to his spectacular self-immolation. He may realize that he has made a complete fool of himself by his unjust behavior. He may repent and make amends to all those he harmed. He may . . .
Oh, what the hell kind of lunatic gibberish is this? We’ll talking about Charles Johnson. He’s a hopeless asshole who has burned every bridge behind him on the way to becoming an even bigger laughingstock than either Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Greenwald.
Charles Johnson sucks.
And that, my friends, is The Final Wisdom.