Interview: A Frequent Commenter On The Spectator Op-Ed Section
Written by Zack Abrams
If you’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of reading Spectator op-eds, first of all, you and your loved ones may be entitled to financial compensation. Second of all, you may recognize the profile of Man With Axe, a frequent commenter with conservative viewpoints. When I went to his Disqus profile, I realized that he comments on many other college newspapers and blogs. So, I reached out to Man With Axe over email to talk about internet comment culture, the protection of anonymity, and the politics of college students. Some questions were omitted for conciseness.
Bwog: Tell me about yourself. Are you currently a college student? Where are you studying / did you study? What are you studying / did you study?
Man With Axe: I was a college professor for 31 years, now retired. I have degrees in history, law, and business administration. My undergrad was from an Ivy school and my graduate degrees were from another highly ranked private university.
Bwog: You comment on just about every major campus publication. What are your favorites and least favorites?
MWA: My favorites are the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, and some of the major state universities, such as Michigan, Berkeley, Maryland, Texas, UNC, and Virginia. The only negative thing I would say about some schools is that they rarely print anything. For example, Ohio State doesn’t do much.
Bwog: Your comments usually come from a conservative social and political perspective. Why do you think fewer op-eds from college websites come from a conservative perspective? Is this an issue?
MWA: The fact that so few op-eds are written from a conservative perspective is why I comment as much as I do. I spent my life with college students, and I’m very interested in what they are thinking. I’m troubled to discover that they are receiving a partial education from their virtually all-progressive faculty. They seem to come to college already hell-bent on being progressive activists, and they don’t seem to realize that half the country disagrees with them. Or, perhaps they do realize it, but they believe that the half that thinks differently are all evil and/or stupid. And they thought this before the rise of Trump. This belief that the other side is evil leads them to adopt anti-free speech positions, to believe that violence is justified to silence their enemies. And then they go out and demonstrate these beliefs. “Your speech is violence, and my violence is speech.”
I am particularly upset by the rise of anti-white editorializing in college papers that has become ubiquitous. It has gotten much worse in the last couple of months. I now read every single day one or more of the following: all whites are racists, whites suffer from white fragility, whites all enjoy white privilege, whites engage in performative allyship, whites should sit down and shut up, and so on. It’s disheartening to see so much blatant racism go unchallenged, so I challenge it. An archetypal example is the story this week from Penn about the grad assistant who won’t call on white males in her class. As if they didn’t pay their tuition, too.
Bwog: Why do you comment so frequently? Who are you trying to communicate to? Do you ever feel like your messages have an impact on readers?
MWA: I started to comment about two years or so ago after I came across a story from Wesleyan, as I recall, concerning the student government wanting to defund the school paper for publishing an op-ed critical of Black Lives Matter. I thought that I should read the op-ed so I could better understand the story. Then soon after I saw a story about the Oberlin newspaper printing something beyond belief. And so I read that. After a while, I realized there were plenty of university newspapers I could read and by doing so regain some sense of what was going on in higher education today. What I found was not pretty.
I comment often because I truly believe I am making a contribution to the education of the students who might otherwise never come across the conservative perspective. The ones who argue with me the most vociferously are the ones on whom I hope to have the greatest effect. I’m not certain that I am, but I do get a fair amount of likes on Disqus. I also like to think that I am modeling how to debate online, by avoiding ad hominem and trying (mostly) to interpret what people write in the best possible way, and to allow for the youth of the editorial and op-ed writers. I don’t know if the authors read the comments, but I hope they do. Some of them are pretty awful, but some are worthwhile.
Bwog: People on Twitter often complain about ‘eggs’ harassing them, or people whose profiles don’t have their real name or a picture. Why do you use the moniker “Man With Axe” with that particular picture? Why generally do you use a pseudonym?
MWA: I don’t think I’m harassing anyone. When I first started commenting I used my real name and picture, but after reading about a few conservative commenters receiving death threats I thought it might be better to lower my profile. One of my kids, who is college professor, counselled me that anonymity on the internet is a reasonable precaution. The name itself, “Man with the Axe” is an inside joke that comes from a poker game my friends and I played years ago. We called the king of diamonds the man with the axe. The picture is just a man with an axe that I found on the web.
Bwog: What’s your total time commitment daily to reading and commenting on college student publications?
MWA: Probably an hour or so every day when school is in session.
Bwog: What do you think are the biggest issues with college student publications’ op-ed sections? What advice would you give the editors of these sections?
MWA: I admire the op-ed sections quite a bit. Some of the writing is really good, even when I disagree with it entirely. My advice would be to go out of your way to find a wide range of opinions. Editors should challenge those authors who attack the person instead of the idea. It’s too easy and not worthy to insult Trump, or white people, or conservatives. I would ask the writers to ask themselves when writing any statement that deals with race: would you say this if the races were reversed? Can the SPLC be relied on to judge, without liberal bias, who is or isn’t a hate group? Are people responsible for the sins of their ancestors? Do you really think that college is supposed to be intellectually safe?