Lain Rejects, then Accepts, then Reneges on Terms of MHI’s Podcast Invitation

Last week, after an attack on Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) instigated by Marxist entertainer Doug Lain, the organization invited him to be interviewed on a podcast to discuss his differences with MHI and his behavior. In response, Lain rejected the invitation, then accepted it, and then attempted retroactively to change the terms of the agreement.

In an April 4 Facebook post, Lain accused MHI of “acting inconsistently.” He provided no evidence or argument. He merely leveled the charge and invited his entourage to speculate about the cause of the alleged inconsistency.

None of the entourage asked Lain to back up his allegation with evidence or argument. They either took it or faith or embrace the “post-truth” ethos for which facts don’t matter. Instead, they called members and supporters of MHI “assholes” and “marginal personalities,” alleged that we are “mentally caged by orthodoxy” and not “smart,” and compared us to flies attracted to “shit.” C Derick Varn, Lain’s sidekick, proclaimed—again, without providing any evidence or argument—that we “are as guilty as those they critique of the things they critique.”

Lain did not invite us to respond to this attack. He even failed to inform us that it had taken place. 

The fact that Lain and Varn saw no need to back up their allegations, and were not asked by others to back them up, is very revealing of the “post-truth” horror show we are currently suffering through. The garbage on Lain’s Facebook page is not reasoned discourse. Its goal is not to get to the truth.[1] It is not even speech in the proper sense of the term.

Instead, it is an attack that employs words as weapons. It is “performative”; no less than in the case of Donald Trump, the purpose of the vicious and false utterances is to assert dominance and show that one can get away with humiliating one’s opponents. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo calls it “dominance politics.”

In response to this attack, MHI invited Lain to be interviewed on a podcast of ours, to discuss his disagreements with our editorial opposing Trump and Trumpism and his behavior. We assured him that “we will extend to you the same degree of fairness, collegiality, courtesy, and accuracy that you extended to us” when he recently interviewed representatives of MHI.

Lain’s two-word reply was “No thanks.” He later alleged that he didn’t think it was a real invitation, because MHI supposedly does not “have a podcast.” However, while we do not currently conduct a podcast series, the term podcast can refer to an individual podcast; and that is what Lain was invited to participate in. The real issue, as we will discuss below, is that Lain does not wish to engage with MHI in situations that he doesn’t control or stand to benefit from.

However, once we made the invitation public, Lain seemed concerned to protect his brand’s image. “Oh, well … if you’re going to call me out in public about it then I just have to accept, right?,” he wrote. “I’ll be available for an interview in early May.”

But then he realized that he had tried to correct a mistake by making a second one. Apparently afraid that he is not up to debating us under conditions that he does not control, Lain acted quickly to correct the second mistake by making a third one.

The day after he accepted the podcast invitation, Lain suddenly tried to impose new conditions on the interview: “here are my terms: I would like to include C Derick Varn in the conversation in order to have a sympathetic individual involved on my side. Also, I would like for there to be only one representative from the MHI involved. Finally, … I would like three uninterrupted minutes at the start.”

Whether or not this was a conscious ploy to make us rescind the podcast invitation, Lain must have known that the inclusion of Varn is absolutely unacceptable on moral grounds. Varn is a “left” McCarthyite who succeeded in “outing” a member of MHI, despite the organization’s vigorous efforts to keep the individual’s affiliation confidential.[2] He also publicly makes accusations against the organization, and people associated with it, in places where we do not have the opportunity to defend ourselves, and even fails to inform us that he has done so. The incident described earlier in this article is by no means the only one.

Nor does Lain need a “sympathetic individual” to help him out. We reassure him that we will extend to him the same degree of fairness, collegiality, courtesy, and accuracy that he extended to us when he recently interviewed representatives of MHI. Any problem with that, Mr. Lain?

Our invitation to participate in the podcast interview—under the original, unvarnished, terms–remains in effect.

We are not at all confident that this invitation will be accepted, because (as we mentioned earlier) Lain does not wish to engage with MHI in situations that he doesn’t control or stand to benefit from. He first informed us that he disagreed with our August editorial opposing Trump and Trumpism shortly after the U.S. election in November. We asked what the nature of his disagreements were. In response, he sent us a 1300-word document that vaguely tilted in the direction of white nationalism, but said nothing about the editorial.[3], [4]

Three of us then spoke to him on Skype to try to find out what his disagreements were. He kept resorting to formulations like “It could be read as …” (translation: Varn (and maybe others) in his entourage misrepresent it as ….). After a lot of that, plus a good deal of hemming and hawing on Lain’s part, he finally managed to disagree with the editorial’s reference to “Trump’s class bias”! Go figure.

During the next couple of months, MHI and individuals in it kept trying to get Lain to express his disagreements with the editorial and to debate them with us. These efforts all failed. He kept promising to lay out his disagreements, but still has not done so. We doubt that he has any disagreements with what we actually wrote, even now. Clearly, our implacable opposition to Trump and Trumpism put him ill at ease, but that’s a different matter.

Part of the problem is that Lain neither understands nor wishes to understand our philosophy and politics, so he is ill-equipped to deal with what we actually say and write. So he sets up strawmen and knocks them down. But another part of the problem is that he evidently has a compulsion to control debate and force it to be on terrain he feels comfortable with. Hence he keeps his attacks on us well-hidden—or at least on a Facebook page which he controls, and on which his entourage and their degraded norms have free rein—while assiduously avoiding discussion of the text of our editorial with MHI members and supporters in MHI fora.

We have little doubt that we will be criticized for forcefully defending ourselves against unsubstantiated allegations and the slander and innuendo that is leveled behind our backs. Those criticisms will come from people who do not have our interests at heart.

We have little doubt that we will be told that “tone matters.” If that were the case, Donald J. (“they’re rapists,” “grab ‘em by the pussy,” “nasty woman,” Lyin’ Ted,” “Miss Piggy,” etc.) Trump would not now be in a position to endanger the well-being of billions of people. And if one really thinks that tone matters, how about solidarizing with us to combat the people responsible for the despicable invective hurled against us behind our backs?!

We also have little doubt that we will be told that we’re our own worst enemy, that our vigorous self-defense puts off people who would otherwise be attracted to us. But we are not Marxist entertainers. So why should we ingratiate ourselves with people who will “like” what we say and write, but who will refuse to ally with us when the chips are down?  

[1] By “truth,” we mean actual truth, not “alternative facts” that resonate with one’s audience despite their falsity, not politically expedient positions, and not usefulness. We stand with Marx, who denounced capitalism’s degradation of the status of truth as follows: “In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. Thenceforth, the class struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic.”


[2] If Varn or Lain dispute this, documentation will be provided. Otherwise, it will not be provided, since we much prefer to try to safeguard the anonymity of the individual who was outed.


[3] [Footnote added on April 26, 2017:] MHI asked Lain for permission to upload this document and post a link to it here, in order to support our claims and to allow readers to decide for themselves, but he refused to grant permission. However, a reader has brought to our attention an April 21 public Facebook post by Lain that contains a substantially identical document. We invite readers to decide for themselves whether it says anything about our August editorial and whether it vaguely tilts in the direction of white nationalism. If Lain wishes to contest our characterization of the document in the comments section below this article, we will be happy to approve such a comment.


[4] [Footnote added on April 29, 2017:] Yesterday, Lain sent us an e-mail message containing an implied threat of legal action against MHI. In response to this threat, we have changed the link in footnote 3; it now takes one to his post, rather than a screenshot of it. We originally linked to the screenshot in order not to disclose Lain’s political associations, which his post disclose, but which the screenshot blacked out.

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