Malhar Mali is the founder and editor of Areo Magazine, an outlet that supports free debate on political, social, and academic issues. B+D editors Mitchell Blatt and Sumantra Maitra have each contributed to Areo.
This is the first in our series of B+D’s Q+A’s with writers, editors, pundits, and other figures in society and politics we will be publishing. Follow them all here in the category Q+A.
1. When did you start Areo Magazine, and what was your goal with it?
I launched Areo on November 22nd, 2016 because I was extremely frustrated by what I was reading in American media in general. I think I mentioned Huffington Post and Brietbart as the two opposing poles that I would have liked to avoid when I first “announced” this venture.
What you read and the media you consume is so important because it literally shapes the worldview of what you believe and how you see life and everyday occurrences. I say this because most people generally believe what they read without hesitation and rarely search for the rhetorical moves that writers might be making to hide information, influence opinion, and so on. We are rarely critical.
In this regard I think we are failing ourselves. Of course it’s easy for me to say that and I make no claim of being a paragon of rationality and self challenge — It’s tough to do that consistently. Realistically people will read what suits their ideological viewpoint. It’s extremely difficult to challenge yourself consistently enough where you’re actively seeking information that refutes your worldview. But it’s worth endeavoring to do so.
2. Do you feel the traditional left-right divide is sufficient to explain politics today? If not, what are some of the factors that are more important?
No. Absolutely not. I don’t even know who subscribes to this type of divide these days anyways. I mean it’s difficult to omit this type of vernacular from our political discussions related to governance and laws, but in terms of culture I think the real battle is — and many people have pointed this out before me so I’m not making any claims of originality here — between those who value rationality, open discourse, free speech (basically the values of the Enlightenment), etc. over those who are opposed to those ideas. I don’t mind people wherever they sit with their ideas as long as they are willing to argue and confirm their positions through those means.
But this anti-Enlightenment view manifests itself in differing ways in our world today: in American politics you have Trump and the GOP engaging in some demagogic post-truthiness while his supporters stand behind every action as if the man’s infallible. Then you have the Yiannopolous types all the way to the Info Wars crew which is downright nutty.
But then you also have issues with progressives who are unable to identify problems within their own sides. Just take a look at what is happening to Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State University and the similar incidents before. Liberal outlets, and more importantly people who claim to be liberals, need to realize that these are stories they should be covering and paying attention to — because otherwise places like Fox News, Daily Wire, etc. will snap them up with glee.
And then their response is: “Oh, well, Fox News is reporting on it, so it must be wrong.” Or, “It must be right-wing hype!” Or, even, “These places don’t care about the plights of marginalized people! They are just making fun of them!” To a tiny degree this is kind of true. But by not addressing these growing problems in academia liberals are effectively treating POC as petulant children who have to resort to violence and intimidation on college campuses to enforce their views.
3. The ideological leanings of the articles you publish at Areo appears to be pretty diverse across the spectrum. Do you make an effort for balance? What do you look for in authors you publish?
I don’t necessarily strive for balance per se. I just look to see if an article is well argued, and, sometimes, whether it will ruffle some feathers! I welcome all types of writers, from college students, professors, PhDs, to professionals to contribute. I am very cognizant of the responsibility this lays on my shoulders and I am sure that I have made mistakes in the past and will continue to make them in the future. My guiding question is usually: “Is it true?” or “Is it accurate?” I work from there when assessing articles. What’s that saying? The truth will set you free, but first it will piss off a lot of people. But I understand that I can’t use that as a methodology for assessing articles all the time.
4. Having been born in India, living in Australia, and studied in the United States, how does your global perspective inform your view on the world and on political and social issues?
I’ll add two more! I’ve lived in Canada and New Zealand as well. Having lived in numerous places has afforded me the great privilege of perspective. Just paying attention to how people all over the world live out their lives has had a tremendous impact on me as well as experiencing different economic conditions with my own family.
Growing up, I used to believe that people on the right were all evil and the only good guys were the left. I’ve since shed that view and realize that both sides harbor their fair share of loonies and problems. The thing I abhor most is blind tribalism — which I have seen from everyone and everywhere. I also hate the “policing culture” we find ourselves in where people try to dictate to others what they can and what they cannot do or say. Freddie Boer has a really great essay on this titled, “Planet of Cops.”
I don’t hold any utopian visions of the world where everyone sings kumbaya but I will say that of the two families who took me in America, one had Fox News on 24/7 while the other had MSNBC on almost as much. I felt equally loved by both. Not to sound too cheesy but that gave me a lot of hope for humanity.
5. Much of the discussion about gender studies and topics involving postmodern thought in academia seems to be taking place on college campuses and within academic journals. To what degree do you think ordinary people at a dive bar, in a grocery store checkout line, or anywhere outside of a university library believe this stuff? What kind of threat does or could postmodern thought post to society as a whole?
Great question, and one which is often brought up by people who are highly skeptical that there is anything — to co-opt one of their favorite words — “problematic” going on in universities. And, sure, I have to be specific here: You will rarely find postmodern thought and post structuralist theories accepted and extrapolated in state technical colleges, business and engineering schools, or the hard sciences. I did a cut and dry B.B.A. for my undergrad. Only when I enrolled in a M.A. did I encounter the postmodern/post structuralist thought that I have been highly critical of in Areo.
I am a pretty careful person so at first I assumed that I simply didn’t get the great and profound ramblings of these authors. Of course not all of it is ramblings, but only after a year or so in did I start to realize a lot this stuff was jargon-laden for the sake of being “profound”. While usual people might not be able to tell you about Foucaldian regimes of truth or Lyotard’s mini narratives, it’s not that difficult to spread the boiled down versions of these ideas out through the general populace.
An example: In a Digital Rhetoric class one of my professors said casually: “Of course all truth is relative, this is a basic realization that all freshman have after taking a few courses,” while the rest of my grad class nodded along without an issue. What I realized was that a lot of the theories that we read made direct truth claims about human behavior and condition. Claims, when dissected by other fields, are pretty laughable.
Like I mentioned above, what you read matters. Which is where websites like MTV, UPROXX, and Everyday Feminism come in. Things like cultural appropriation, privilege hunting, the idea that social power structures dictate human behavior, and social constructionism abound in these publications. These all have roots in academic theory stemming from the humanities. Postcolonial theory fuels cultural appropriation. Peggy McIntosh from women’s studies started the idea of privilege. Reading Foucalt (or trying to read him) means focusing excessively on power structures, etc. So while these ideas might be confined to academic journals and small departments of college campuses, they are disseminated en masse to a readership who, like I said above, is gobbling up these ideas without a critical thought at all. I would compare the phenomenon to popular science magazines which simplify ideas for readers… but obviously what these publications peddle out is entirely different.
And, who reads these pieces? Take a guess! These are major outlets for proselytization of these ideas.
In relation, on college campuses, I’d add that it is a small but highly vocal minority who operates through intimidation and striving to enforce their dogmatic ideologies of being — and calling anyone a racist, bigot, misogynist, if they don’t tow the party line. People are afraid to speak out because there just isn’t really any support when they do. One of my favorite articles is “Left Outside the Social-Justice Movement’s Small Tent” by Conor Friedsdorf in the Atlantic. It details the treatment of a person of color when he begins to question some of the methods and tactics of the activist circles he operated in. I’d highly recommend anyone reading this to check it out.
But the craziest thing to me is skeptics who support this type of nonsense. They will be rightly critical of Christianity but will not question or critique any of the theory related to “social justice,” simply because they believe it forwards some type of progressive agenda. This is a huge blindspot, in my opinion, and I would urge them to apply skepticism in these areas as well.
6. Cultural appropriation, mansplaining, transmisogyny, misgendering, misandry. Which is the biggest problem? (</sarc>)
The biggest problem? That people spend time and energy on the internet and real life witch hunts on people who are usually anything but. What these idiots don’t realize is that their targets are usually moderates or supporters of progressive ideas.
Ultra conservative or alt-right personalities don’t care that they’re being called racists, misogynists, etc. by “social justice warriors.” They’re badges of honor. But I know many liberals — people who care about individual rights, freedom and liberty for all — who are so turned off by the actions of these people that they feel they must distance themselves from the “progressive” label. That was me.
7. What is your favorite Everyday Feminism article?
The cancer of the internet. If you wanted a blueprint of things wrong with feminism today, I’d direct you to that website. It’s a shame, really, that a movement that once accomplished something is being tarnished by that website. A common criticism of today’s feminism is that it entertains the view of the tabula rasa or blank slate — that everything is socially constructed.
See this quote by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate and read through 2–3 articles on Everyday Feminism with it in mind and you will realize what I am speaking about.
“Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology. Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive — power — and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised. The third is that human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups — in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender.” – Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate