On Richard Cohen's gag reflex


Cohen’s subsequent claim that he’s actually not on the side of the “conventional” people consigns him forever and always to the League of Laughable Bumblefucks.

And speaking of laughing, he’s no doubt doing that up his sleeve, having once again drawn attention to himself, while also giving voice to the “persecuted” conservative minority he clearly thinks he’s bravely, if covertly, speaking out on behalf of.


Would this count as a kind of concern-trolling? The argument seems to be: “It’s not that interracial marriages are inherently bad or that I personally dislike them. It’s just that society disdains them, and you’ll experience discrimination, and won’t someone think of the children?”

I don’t mean “trolling” like he’s being insincere and being provocative only for the lulz, but as a strategy for arguing with people. It’s an aspect of Good Cop/Bad Cop, not in terms of extracting information but in terms of maintaining sympathy while you put forward an opposing viewpoint. “Don’t be mad at me for warning you about the dangers of interracial marriage. I’m letting you know because I care about you. Society is the bad cop, I’m the good cop. Be mad at the bad cop that I’m using as a proxy for my actual beliefs, I who am so concerned for you.” See also every middle manager who ever told you, “It sounds like a silly policy to me, but the new policy came down from upstairs and we’re both stuck with it. (Be angry at the bad cops who set the policies at the company, not me for reluctantly enforcing it on their behalf.)”


Well, he’s just plain wrong:

. . . acceptance of interracial marriage is overwhelmingly conventional. A July poll from Gallup finds that 87 percent of Americans approve – up from 4 percent in 1959.


Baffling. There were certain times and places were just the last name “Cohen” would’ve induced gag reflexes.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill


I think Coates nails the problem with Cohen’s column most thoroughly in this paragraph:

The problem here isn’t that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist, but “conventional” or “culturally conservative.” Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn’t racism, then there is no racism.


Humble Pie makes Just Desserts.

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The specific issue seems to entirely revolve around his use of the word “conventional”. I thought it clearly meant “conventional cultural conservative” and that it didn’t necessarily exclude “racist”.

Ta-Nehisi Coates says that when taken as part of Mr. Cohen’s entire catalog, it’s clear he’s full of horse shit. That may be. I had just read the one article.

[edit] OK, he did exclude “racist” with the first sentence of the paragraph. So… he’s on his own.

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Read the sentence before it. He says the contemporary Tea Party is not racist, then he says that those with a conventional view of marriage would gag at a mixed-raced marriage. Not racist -> Would gag.


Strictly speaking, ‘Cohen’ would probably have given you the heebie-jeebies, rather than caused gagging.


I recall a poll from the 1950s in which White people were asked a variety of questions about their legal, political, and social relations with African-Americans. Less than 20% believed the latter should have inferior legal and political status; about half took exception to their having equal access to jobs and real estate; 80% objected to interracial sex and marriage. If Cohen is writing about conventional social conservatives, then, he’s simply reporting the facts. He should be thanked, however, by the many to whom he’s given an opportunity to display their own righteousness.

I’m taking that survey of ~4k people with a grain of salt.

If I called only people over 50 where I live I’m pretty sure that graph would be inverted. But it’s not like the South is known as a haven of social/racial progress.

But that’s not the problem, that’s a feature.

If the majority (or even a select group) holds a specific opinion or ideology then that is a feature to them. It might not be right, it might be the most repulsive stupid thing ever, but if the majority (ever how you categorize it) has that opinion then it becomes part of society. I’m having a hard time seeing how this is any different than say a woman’s rights in a more traditional Islamic society. I don’t agree with either one, yet there they are.

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I found a problem in your logic.


But you are implying that all Tea Party members hold a conventional view of marriage, and only with that implication would the entire party be racist.

I can easily point out people I know in my personal life that are conservative and align with Tea Party values and are somewhat racist. I just as easily know people who share many of the ideas of the Tea Party yet are far more progressive socially.

This is like saying Conservatives are racist because a portion of them are old white guys, or Democrats are more likely to be homosexuals because of their progressive views.

Does that mean they’re not actually racist at all? Or just less racist than the view I might hold of the Tea Party?

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Does Cohen’s drivel remind anybody else of a much stupider (for all his faults, Kass was at least a very sharp guy, albeit a very sharp guy who probably hit the Aristotle harder than is advisable) version of Leon Kass’s “Wisdom of Repugnance” concept, which so defined his tenure on the ‘President’s council on bioethics’, and which was basically a academic-robed variant of the ‘squick’ concept from BDSM circles?

What? How is it not a problem “that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn’t actually racist”?

And what opinion are you claiming the majority has that has become part of society? The opinion that interracial marriage is “repulsive”? If so, you’re wrong – the majority in Cohen’s society, the U.S., currently think and feel no such thing.

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I didn’t know that racism was a convention. Does Mr Cohen perhaps attend RACISTCON in full cosplay as a Nazi? That would be … awkward.

I think it’s not a problem in relation to the context of how I interrupted what he wrote. I didn’t perceive his “majority” to be the US, I took it to be the group of hard right wing/ultra conservatives. No they aren’t the majority of US society, but in their group - and only in relation to that group - the idea of being repulsed might be a common thing.

I certainly agree that for society at large the idea of interracial marriage is seen as either neutral or positive, but I can certainly see how for a select group it could be a problem.