Priorism, or the Joshua Katz Affair

Teach your tongue to say: I do not know, lest you be duped. Talmud Berachot 4a The phrase “Joshua Katz,” as it is ground down and churned out by the national rumor mill, refers not to one character but to many. He is a conniving fiend; a wronged and saintly genius; a bitter man who has responded terribly to genuine mistreatment; the perpetrator of abuse; the victim of abuse; a valorous defender of independent thought; a sad sack manipulated by a powerful puppeteer named Robert George; a befuddled but well-meaning and brilliant professor, and so forth. It took me several months to notice that all of these Katzes refer to the same man, and still longer to recognize that the name, as used in public discourse, is not a name at all but a rallying cry. The rumors that are think-pieced about Katz do not reflect any serious empirical consideration about what exactly unfolded at Princeton the summer of 2022, though that is their purported subject — but of course that is not what they are intended to do. His name is a speech act, a token, a shorthand, a move in a game. How someone invokes “Joshua Katz” depends entirely on where that individual’s stands on trends that have little directly to do with the man. Ignorance is a primary fuel of opinion. Joshua Katz, a classicist, made tenure at one of the most prestigious universities in America when he was just thirty-six years old. That is not why I know his name, though it is among the reasons that the implosion of his academic life was an affair of national significance. (Our country’s pathological obsession with the glitteriest members of the Ivy League — provincial ecosystems that bear little resemblance to anything beyond their hallowed walls — is

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