You saw no journalist ask: Is it true, what sacred Aristotle is frequently said to have said? Can his paraphrased statement be true:
"Man [sic] is the rational animal?"
In fairness, it's hard to know what Aristotle meant by whatever it is he said. For all his greatness, he never learned English, and he lived at a different time and in a different place.
This means that even his most storied statements are subject to the vagaries of translation and to the misunderstandings endemic to cultural difference.
Sometimes, Aristotle made mistakes, as in his controversial statement about what all matter is made of. In this instance, we may not know what he actually meant by whatever it is he said. but we do know how the famous remark has been taken, at least in the western world.
Man [sic] is the rational animal! We humans have found a hundred ways to distinguish ourselves from the lesser animals, who either lack consciousness, or lack a soul, or just aren't as smart as we are.
The idea that we humans are "the rational animal" is part of this sweeping self-affirmation—though it increasingly seems that, in imagining ourselves this way, we're "seeing ourselves from afar."
Are we humans the rational animal? If we might borrow from NAME WITHHELD, in a sense, but not as such! What kind of animal are we really? We would suggest these ideas:
Homo sapiens, observed in the wild:How we love to do these things! Consider this morning's newspapers.
Man [sic] is the animal which divides itself into groups.
Man [sic] is the animal which invents and repeats tribal script.
In this morning's Washington Post, Christine Emba complains about these all-too-human impulses. She discusses our love of tribal script in terms of thE recent academic hoax in which deliberately silly papers got published, and in terms of the recent fight over Christine Blasey Ford's charge against Brett Kavanaugh.
We can't say that we agree with all of Emba's assessments. In this passage, it seems to us that a category error may be lurking::
EMBA (10/11/12): In the battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, two tribes organized around closely held identities that relied on narrow preoccupations (liberals: “Believe women!”; conservatives: “Roe v. Wade!”). The dysfunction that followed was the result of straining to buttress those positions rather than seeking an actual common good—which is what, so I’ve heard, politics is actually for.In this passage, Emba criticizes liberals for tilting toward an emerging tribal dogma which basically doesn't make sense. (Stating the obvious, there is no category of people who should be believed in every instance. Just consider Kathleen Willey, who pundits hailed as incredibly credible when she first appeared.)
Somewhat fuzzily, Emba pairs this emerging dogma with conservatives' devotion to a certain position regarding abortion. We're conventionally pro-choice ourselves, but strong adherence to a position on an issue would seem to differ from the adoption of an irrational dogma.
In that passage, we thought Emba was perhaps a bit unfair to conservatives. In this passage, she seems to tilt things the other way:
EMBA: [In the case of the academic hoax], supposedly rigorous journals on the left proved all too willing to accept any nonsense that aligned with their obsessions. Meanwhile, the researchers, attacking from the right, were willing to act unethically to get their “point” across. The end result? No truth gathered, no new knowledge shared. An exercise in cynicism rather than creation, sowing doubt about the academic enterprise in an era when truth and education are already under attack.Emba assumes the hoaxers came "from the right," a claim they seem to dispute. She then says they acted unethically, and she says that, for this reason, no learning emerged from their work.
This strikes us as wrong in several ways. Regarding the hoax, we'd say a lot of knowledge emerged, as you can see from reading the first half of Emba's column!
We don't agree with elements of Emba's analysis, but we think she's squarely on target in her major point. She's describing our failed human nature, in which we tend to divide ourselves, in unhelpful, invidious ways, into unreasoning, warring tribes.
Do we humans really do such things? It's easy to see The Others when they engage in such conduct! If you want to see our own liberal tribe behaving this way, we'll suggest that you read an op-ed column in today's New York Times.
Online, the headlines say this:
Maybe Girls Will Save UsThat headline strikes us as amazingly dumb, and as deeply unwise in the political sense. But dear God! How we humans love love love to split ourselves into Us and Them, often on fairly narrow statistical distinctions drawn from certain selected studies.
They’ve eclipsed boys in political participation and shown incredible moral clarity.
Girls aren't going to save us! That said, if girls or any other group ever planned to do any such thing, they should have started in early 1992, when the New York Times launched a 26-year journalistic war with the first of its front-page Whitewater hoax reports.
Girls aren't going to save us! As long as we keep dividing ourselves in invidious ways, neither will anyone else.
It's also true that no particular group of people can always be believed. Meanwhile, we liberals are making The Others mad when we adopt such invidious attitudes and such dull-witted tribal beliefs.
In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, the New York Times "asked women across the country to tell us how they were reacting." For background, see yesterday's report.
The Times received 40,000 reactions. On some basis which went unexplained, the newspaper published eleven.
On a statistical basis, those eleven published reactions are representative of nothing. That said, we were struck by the several reactions in which women complained about the way our liberal tribe divides us up, in invidious ways, on the basis of gender and race and region and age and anything else we can find.
We'd have to say that those women have a point. Consider the way our corporate hacks behaved on corporate cable.
Again and again and again and again, our own tribe's corporate hacks on our own "corporate liberal" TV complained about the "old white men" who supported Kavanaugh in spite of Blasey Ford's accusation.
They also wondered about how Collins and Murkowski would be voting. They asked about this again and again and again and again. After that, they asked about it again, then they asked about it some more.
Members of our extremely prehuman tribe knew how to snark and complain about "old white men." They never asked about Senator Scott, a 53-year old Republican man who is socially defined as black. They never asked about Senators Rubio and Cruz, who are defined as Hispanic (each is 47).
They never asked about Senators Capito, Ernst, Hyde-Smith and Fischer, four other Republican women (average age: 59.5). They never asked about Senator Sasse (age 46), who spends a lot of time defining himself as a type of free-thinking free thinker.
All those Republican senators voted for confirmation. What did they think about Blasey Ford's claims? We never saw anyone ask!
Did they think Blasey Ford was lying? Did they think she was mistaken in the statement she advanced with 100 percent certainty? Did they think the march of time meant that her charge didn't matter even if true?
What exactly did they think? Nobody ever asked!
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans just aren't very sharp. We've extremely good at praising ourselves and our own select groups, less skilled at everything else.
As we finish today's deep thoughts, let's add to our earlier definitions:
"Man" is the animal which divides into groups and plays it dumb all the way down!
Still coming: What did The Others actually think concerning Blasey Ford?