The ways we humans were wired: Michelle Goldberg's new column in the New York Times starts with a fascinating example of human "narrative grievance."
According to experts with whom we've consulted, "narrative grievance" is a future anthropological term. The current example, attributed to a voter, is highlighted below:
GOLDBERG (5/21/19): On Saturday afternoon, at Joe Biden’s official campaign kickoff rally in Philadelphia, I asked every attendee I met why they were supporting, or at least considering supporting, the former vice president. Often, they mentioned other people whom they thought Biden might appeal to. Again and again, they said they cared about beating Donald Trump above all else.According to Goldberg, the voter in question would be inclined to vote for Candidate Harris or Candidate Warren. "But 2016 made her think that Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman," so she's thinking that she may vote for Candidate Biden instead.
“On my list of 10 things, 1 to 10 is beat Donald,” said Shyvette Brown, 63. “Health care is 11. And everything else comes after that.” Brown said that she likes Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, but 2016 made her think that Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman. “I don’t like it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair.” But given the stakes, she wants the surest possible bet. “We can’t play. This is all or nothing. This is the end game right here.”
The voter doesn't think that's fair. But that's the hand she's been dealt, this voter is said to believe.
Goldberg spends the rest of her column urging against such thinking. A cynic's translation might go like this:
Goldberg won't be voting for Biden in the primaries—and she doesn't want you to vote for Biden either.
Whatever! At this site, we're most intrigued by the somewhat peculiar judgment attributed to that voter. Our reason goes something like this:
According to Goldberg, the last election has that voter thinking that "Americans" aren't ready to elect a woman.
Such thinking is now being widely bruited. We find that fact intriguing, because the vote total from the last election went exactly like this
U.S. presidential election, 2016All the voters were Americans. Despite that fact, the female candidate received 2.9 million more votes than the male candidate did. On a percentage basis, she beat him by 2.1 points.
The female candidate: 65.9 million votes
The male candidate: 63.0 million votes
The female candidate out-polled the male by almost 3 million votes! Despite this widely-bruited fact, a somewhat peculiar judgment has somehow widely emerged:
In the face of those vote totals, voters and pundits have been saying that this very election indicates, shows, proves or suggests that "Americans" (sometimes spelled with a "k") aren't ready to elect a female president! According to this line of thinking, more Americans voted for the person they didn't want!
How do such peculiar judgments emerge? Future anthropologists say this judgment reflects the strong inclination of humans to generate feelings of "narrative grievance."
What exactly was narrative grievance? According to these future experts, the story went something like this:
According to these future scholars, the human race was strongly inclined to separate itself into rival tribes. Once these tribal groups had formed, each group would fashion potent group "fictions"—compelling stories built around a sense of tribal grievance.
According to these disconsolate scholars, individual humans were "hard-wired" to adopt the prevailing narratives of their particular tribe. So strong was this "devotion to grievance" that—to return to the current example—an election in which Americans favored the female candidate could leave people thinking that those very same Americans would never elect such a type!
According to these future experts, humans were especially inclined to adopt such a "grievance narrative" when they saw their tribal leaders expound it. This brings us to a remarkable, multiply-bungled essay which appeared in the high-profile Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post.
The essay was written by Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for Time magazine. It was waved into print by Adam B. Kushner (no apparent relation), current editor of the Post's high-profile Outlook section.
Each attended the finest schools, with Newton-Small prepping at Deerfield. According to future anthropologists, this added to their air of authority within prevailing American culture.
That said, sure enough! Hard-copy headline included, Newton-Small's high-profile essay started exactly like this:
NEWTON-SMALL (5/19/19): Why some women won't vote for a woman for presidentTwo days before Goldberg's column appeared, Newton-Small had been talking about Harris and Warren too! And she had voiced that same slightly odd thought:
There are already six women running for president in 2020, an unprecedented number, and two of them—Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.)—routinely poll in the top five among the nearly two dozen Democratic hopefuls. But But it’s still not clear that America is ready to elect its first female president. overachieving women in the race will have to surmount the sexism of other women—specifically, non-college-educated white women.
Despite the recent election in which the female candidate got way more votes, she said it’s "still not clear" that "America" is ready to elect its first female president!
Newton-Small handed that copy to Kushner; Kushner put it in print. In several of the nocturnal submissions the haters like to deride as dreams, future scholars have explained this manifestation to us on a purely anthropological basis.
We humans! We were always "the narrative-churning animal," these despondent scholars have said. Meanwhile, these same experts have said that another basic trait of our war-inclined species emerges in that opening paragraph.
They've called our attention to the end of Newton-Small's opening graf, in which she defines, then slimes, a group of Others. "This was an extremely common human impulse," these future scholars have said.
In this case, the Others are non-college-educated women—rather, "non-college-educated white women. By the early 21st century, grievances of the "liberal" American tribe were constantly tied to claims concerning gender and race, these future experts have said. Familiar slights at the "non-educated" were often thrown in, especially by "Ivy League" types.
The sin with which Newton-Small's group of Others stands charged is their alleged sexism. According to Newton-Small, this trait explains why Amerika may not be ready to elect a female president.
Due to the sexism of these Others, we finer Americans may not be able to elect a woman president! The tendencies which emerge in that claim were very common among human beings, these glum future scholars have said.
For what it's worth, Kushner also published this peculiar piece by Donna Zuckerberg (close relation) this Sunday. In her essay, the 31-year-old cyber classicist seriously considered the pros and cons of a nationwide female "sex strike" to protest and counteract state-level abortion laws.
As almost anyone can see, Zuckerberg's piece made zero sense. But according to our scholars, it emerged from the same general stream of "narrative grievance" as the essay by Newton-Small.
Within the context of narrative grievance, that was typically "close enough for human work," one future wag glumly said.
Apparently for that reason, Zuckerberg's piece was placed in print. It supported the feel of narrative grievance, our mordant future scholars have told us. Among the humans, it was pretty much "anything went" once that box had been checked!
Tomorrow: It was "no incompetence left behind" in Newton-Small's plu-bungled piece
Full disclosure: Through a set of technical oddities derived from random nuclear blasts, our anthropologists speak to us from the years which follow Mister Trump's War.
As far as possible, we try to honor their discouraging use of tenses.