My heart went out to the subscription department at The New York Times last week. Chances are they fielded more subscription cancellation requests during the course of a few days than ever before over the same period.
Their misstep? Hiring a "climate denier" columnist.
You likely heard the story. In an attempt to even out the ideological bent of their opinion section, the Times hired a well-known conservative writer, Bret Stephens, as its new columnist.
Many eyebrows raised at the news of Stephens' hiring. The Times already had two conservative-leaning writers on staff, David Brooks and Ross Douthat. But, as a friend of mine tweeted, Brooks is really a technocrat, and Douthat is such a wonk that neither do much offending.
Stephens is their first fighting conservative. And boy did he come out swinging.
In his first column, Stephens did the unthinkable. He denied climate change. Or, at least that's what the masses cried hysterically.
Witnessing the meltdowns across social and regular media, you would think Stephens completely balked at the notion that the earth is warming, giving all the cute penguins and polar bear cubs the finger while he was at it.
Here's a selection of his heretical prose:
"None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power."
What about that first sentence, huh? The one where he explicitly says "none of this is to deny climate change." Ahem. Yeah, so he's not one of those mouth-breathing "climate deniers" after all.
The sin spurring a wave of subscription cancellations wasn't science denial. It was that Stephens doesn't buy the absolutist "the science is settled" line, and he maintains a healthy amount of skepticism about how we're dealing with the important issue of climate change.
These days, nuance like Stephens' is lost on most, as he was labeled intolerable by those who don't think exactly like him.
Of course, the most ironic thing about the age of intolerance that we've slipped into is that many of those who shout down dissenting opinions fashion themselves as enlightened advocates of tolerance.
Higher education has become a caricatured environment of this trend, the most visible examples being the way right-leaning speakers are treated on some campuses. Middlebury College and Cal Berkeley come to mind here.
But as David French wrote in the National Review last month, the intolerance irony is no clumsily arrived-at accident. It's an intentional state, tracing its roots to a 1965 essay by philosopher Herbert Marcuse.
In "Repressive Tolerance," Marcuse encourages "intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left." His justification being that he grounds his philosophy in a subjectively constructed rationality, a quality his opponents (in his view) lacked. Therefore, opinions discordant with his own need not enjoy toleration for they are, he argues, irrational, and a "true, new tolerance will require driving out the old."
Marcusean missionaries have zealously advanced such thought over the decades. And, as often is the case, it has escaped the confines of academia, seeping out into the popular mind.
It would be easy to think I've assigned sole proprietorship of the intolerance irony to the Left here. Let me bat that inkling back some, for it transcends ideological and partisan bounds.
Yet this urge to be "intolerant in the name of tolerance," as French puts it, is wholly flawed. Unless you're the type of person who wants to live in an echo chamber.
Contact David Allen Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.