Why Did Noah Smith Post This?

Noah Smith wrote a piece at his newsletter (which I generally find interesting) titled “Western leftists have lost the plot” where he collects a handful of extreme reactions to the recent Hamas attack and then pivots to psychoanalyzing why the Left has reacted this way.

The short of it is that the Left, in his view, suffers from an end-of-history ennui: their successes have succeeded, their failures have failed, and there is not much action to organize around. In this vacuum, they have become overzealous about the relatively small Israel-Palestine conflict because it is one of the few conflicts that resembles the old-style conflicts that animated so much of leftist anti-imperialism.

Smith ends his piece this way:

In any case, don’t let my analytical tone hide my moral disgust here. People always have a choice whether to cheer for atrocities or to refuse to cheer for them. When your rallies end up with swastikas and “Gas the Jews” and people making fun of dead innocents, well, you made the wrong choice. This episode is going to show a lot of Americans that the leftist movement contains, at the grassroots level, a lot of very inhumane, bloodthirsty people. Ultimately that revelation will hurt the movement in the eyes of progressive Americans, draining some of the goodwill it built up over the last decade.

The point of this ending is also peppered throughout the piece, including in the subtitle.

Personally speaking, international conflicts don’t interest me very much and contemporary commentary on them interests me even less because that commentary is loose with facts and frequently overheated to the point of absurdity. But I have found myself somewhat interested in the meta-commentary about this event, which is what Noah Smith, Eric Levitz, Joshua Leifer, Gabriel Winant, Michelle Goldberg, Carl Beijer and many others have been engaging in over the last few days.

What I find strange about this meta-commentary is how much it takes seriously the idea that occasional rhetorical excess by some people in a faction has some kind of deep significance or world-historical meaning.

It’s been especially weird to watch Noah Smith spend days tweeting much more extreme versions of the anti-Left argument he made in his newsletter. The reason I find this weird is because Smith tweeted and then deleted this post early on in the recent conflict.

Is this not exactly the same kind of morally grotesque posting he says is infecting the Left? Is he also bored by the end of history and infected by a base thirst for blood? Is that why he posted this?

I point this out not to say that Noah Smith is a hypocrite, but rather because I think that, if Noah actually reflected on why he did this, he could develop a better understanding of why someone else might do it.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Noah’s outrage at the underlying situation was so great that he impulsively engaged in a bit of overzealous posting to try to make his enemies angry and to get some kind of catharsis. In most cases, rhetorical exuberance is not that deep and its origins can be found in a particular person’s emotions in the moment.

Of course, some people are as mad about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as Noah was about the Hamas attack.