A fundamental problem of our time is the exploitation of people’s inability to comprehend language. I don’t mean in the sense of “people can’t speak English” or anything like that. Words like “discouraged” are now misinterpreted as “banned.” “It’s okay to be white” is labeled “white supremacy.” Terms and phrases are arbitrarily redefined on the fly to fit whatever narrative or line of attack is most convenient. While this phenomenon is by no means unique to the era we live in, the amplifying ability of social media allows slander and misinformation to proliferate in a short period of time.. The mischaracterizations reach millions of people, and by the time they can be countered or debunked, the damage is already done. They’ve been mythologized into the public consciousness.
Andrew Yang is getting a taste of just how dishonestly and opportunistically people’s views get misrepresented in the current year. In many cases pundits / opponents just outright lie when they mischaracterize someone’s beliefs, while other instances can simply be chalked up to poor comprehension, omitted context, etc…to equal effect but with benign intention.
The most recent example of Yang running into this has been regarding his position on circumcision. It’s pretty simple. Yang said he would discourage the practice. He thinks parents should have a choice and be informed that it isn’t medically necessary. Notice how people twisted that into “This guy wants to effectively ban Islam and Judaism.” Totally bogus insinuation. There was nothing at all controversial in Yang’s statements about the issue.
Another instance was when he predicted whites would shoot up churches. Yang’s timing could not have been more “perfect.” Not only did this prediction eerily come true (the New Zealand shooting occurred on the same day Yang was defending his statements on this very issue,) but Yang’s broader point was to illustrate why it’s important to treat whites fairly as they become a minority and offer them an incentive to have a share in the future. Taken in their entirety, Yang’s comments clearly were not attempting to denigrate whites but to promote empathy and understanding.
I’ve also seen a number of people refer to Yang as being “anti-robot,” due to his emphasis on how automation will impact jobs. Far from being a Luddite, Yang is a futurist who surely supports advancements in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. It’s just that he believes the humans workers displaced by automation should reap some of the benefits of these increases in labor efficiency. Everyone wins. The companies get the increased productivity from automation, and the former employees get a shorter work week and a cash dividend on the backend. The American revolutionaries used the slogan “No taxation without representation!” Yang’s variant might well be “No automation without compensation.” Similarly, with his proposal to demand social media companies give users a percentage of the money they get for collecting and selling users’ personal data, an apt rallying cry might be “No data extraction without a piece of the action!”
Yang is essentially being “jumped in” to the dissident political arena. These early, absurd distortions of his positions should serve to toughen him up and provide an eye-opening experience. If he realizes how easily his views can be grossly mischaracterized in this way, perhaps he might question his assumptions about the views and intentions of some of his more contemptible, “unpersoned” supporters. This is my third article promoting Yang for president. One might say that given some of the (mildly) controversial things I’ve written in the past, people like me aren’t welcome in the campaign. Well, that’s too bad. Yang is going to have a broad base of support whether he likes it or not. As long as we can remember this is about unifying people toward a common goal, there’s room on the Yang Yacht for everyone. Crack open a cold one, and set a course for bag island.
Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere and several other books of poetry.