YEAR OF THE SPECIES: Snapshots of an organism!


Part 1—Script never sleeps:
Our friends in China are finishing up their current "year of the rooster."

Presumably because they live on the other side of the international dateline, their current year won't end until February 16. At that time, they'll enter their latest "year of the dog."

There is no absolute time! (We believe Hollywood moguls first said that.) For ourselves, we're entering our own new year at this award-winning site.

Today, we're starting our "year of the species"—a year in which we'll focus on Homo sapiens, our own biological form.

Our species has been floundering a bit of late. Not infrequently, our bumbles exhibit one strong inclination of the species—the tendency to overstate our moral and intellectual greatness.

Are we really "the rational animal," as was allegedly claimed so long ago? Actually no, not exactly! Just consider what was said on Sunday's Meet the Press.

Our old pal Chuck Todd, a very good guy, was conducting a year-end discussion. As is conventional within the realm of TV news, the year-end discussion was largely built around useless predictions about the year to come.

At one point, Todd threw to NBC's Kristin Welker. Welker displayed one of the defining behavioral traits of our struggling species:
TODD (12/31/17): You know what's interesting, Kristen...many times when [Donald J. Trump] dabbles into sort of culture wars, it's at a moment of political weakness for him. Where he did the NFL riff is when he was embarrassed to be endorsing Luther Strange, at a time when he knew that candidate was about to get thumped by Roy Moore in that runoff, that weekend before. And literally, the story wasn't about him supporting Luther Strange. It was about him and the NFL.

WELKER: That's right. It's a great way to energize his base, to rally his supporters around him. It was very similar during Charlottesville when he made those remarks, which, by the way, enraged some people within his own administration. But I think you're starting to see a backlash at the polls. You saw that with how energized African-American voters were to come out in Alabama, and that's what's concerning a lot of Republicans when they look at 2018.
As we enter our "year of the species," we start by highlighting a behavioral tic we've been citing for years—our tendency to recite standard stories, no matter how baldly inaccurate.

Like rust, script never sleeps! In this instance, Welker repeated a story-line which emerged from Alabama's recent Senate election—the claim that black voters in Alabama turned out in huge, overwhelming, even historic numbers, all as part of the reaction to Donald J. Trump.

Within our mainstream and liberal tribes, this script emerged, with lightning speed, from that recent election. Rational animals have been repeating it ever since.

That said, is this script supported by the facts? Biologically speaking, our species isn't heavily wired to consider such questions.

How "energized" were the voters to whom Welker refers? According to Kevin Drum, black turnout in Alabama was 38.6 percent in that recent election—an election in which the craziest person in human history was poised to become Alabama's junior United States senator, while running against a (latter-day) hero of the civil rights movement.

Under the circumstances, does that seem like an "energized" voter performance? If we might borrow from our Wittgenstein, as translated by Professor Anscombe:

"No such thing was in question here," only what makes us feel good!

It's like what happens to your knee when the doctor hits it with a hammer! The repetition of ludicrous claims in an inborn biological trait of our flailing species. In this year of the Homo sapiens, we'll almost surely observe this trait again and again and again.

Here in the United States, we've gone through thirty consecutive years of the not recognizably human. The huge historic turnout that wasn't is only one part of this programmed game.

We'll offer several such snapshots this week. As we do, we'll be kicking off our latest fruitless year.

Tomorrow: Fifteen years later, our smartest newspaper discovers health care spending!


  1. Somerby has turned something that is relative (comparative) into something all-or-nothing. Either black voters were energized or they were not, according to Somerby. Not were they energized compared to previous non-presidential elections that did not feature a historic black candidate running for president. Not were they energized in their turnout despite efforts to suppress minority voting. Somerby may be happy only with 100% black turnout -- then the claim that black voters are "energized" would be indisputable. Short of that, what percent is required? Black voters did help defeat Moore and elect Jones. To denigrate their contribution strikes me as churlish, especially for someone who pretends to be liberal. But this diatribe is consistent with Bernie's dislike of identity politics and with the whole Brooks thing of tribalism is bad and identity politics is tribal, so lets not be concerned about civil rights any more and lets give away to conservatives one of the strengths of the Democratic party, our historic concern with the well-being of diverse people within our society.

    Maybe this will be the year that Somerby comes clean and declares himself a Republican! It would feel good to be authentic and self-congruent. I urge him to stop subverting our party by sowing dissension among us and come clean. Or will Russian then stop contributing to support the Howler?

    1. Yes, Russian will stop. I promise.


  2. Trump is the craziest person in human history, not Moore.

  3. Drum's calculation of black turnout, like Somerby's a while back, is based on the results of an exit poll plus some approximations or guesstimates. I'm not clear how the correct number can be derived this way. An exit poll samples random voters at certain polling stations. Perhaps Somerby should refrain from embracing the low numbers to make his point, just as he chides others for embracing the contrary narrative.
    It would also be instructive to compare turnout rates of registered voters, not just rate relative to voting-eligible population.

  4. What's crazy is how easily these "it's the economy, stupid!" bullshitters switch to "it's anything but the economy!". Shows the desperation.

    1. Bill Clinton won partly based on his focus on the economy (Carville used that "it's the economy" to keep the campaign focused), and the economy soared under him. You must be thinking about Trump when you say "anything but the economy", because the economy was doing fine under Obama. That's why Trump had to resort to racist dog whistles.

    2. It's the massive giveaway to plutocrats, stupid!

  5. Be wary when someone tries to justify ideas as emanating from human nature.