Embarrassed experts complain: With apologies, it has happened again—and according to expert anthropologists, it tells "the ultimate story."
The article appears on the front page of this morning's Style section, the only part of the Washington Post anyone actually reads.
The article explores an important part of yesterday's impeachment hearing. Rather, it provides a novelized account of same, appearing beneath this headline:
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOKOn Thursday morning, the New York Times had teased a vast amount of meaning from George Kent's bow tie. That ridiculous piece, by Vanessa Friedman, had been published as an actual news report in the Times' National section.
At hearing, former ambassador's scarf is draped with symbolism
By Robin Givhan
This morning, the Washington Post asked Givhan to fabulize in similar ways about the wardrobe selections of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The headline focused on her scarf, but after some introductory sputtering, Givhan started with the various things we could learn from her brooch:
GIVHAN (11/16/19): She entered the room with her American flag sparkling and sabers flying.Before she'd uttered a single word, Yovanovitch had defined herself—had signaled her intentions—through the lines of her sizable brooch, which borrowed from Albright's diplomatic vocabulary. The tribalized conclusion was inevitable:
Former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch sat before the House Intelligence Committee already speaking the language of diplomacy with its peculiar mix of calm, bluntness and symbolism. Before she uttered a single word, she had already announced her patriotism, toughness, experience and individual humanity, all with her style.
Her clothes sketched out the broad strokes of her identity as a veteran of Washington. “The woman,” as President Trump referred to her in a July 25 phone call, had slipped off her red coat to reveal a sizable American flag brooch glittering from the lapel of her dark jacket. It was striking because of its size, but also because it was a classically feminine accessory with its sparkly stones and its swirling lines. It was notable in the room, because the lapels of the mostly male panel—which was separated by party—were adorned with their congressional pins. Those little round discs rooted them in politics, in the inescapable talking points, inevitable grandstanding and poisonous unctuousness.
Yovanovitch signaled that she was there for country, for elusive, nonpartisan facts. Her brooch was in the stylish tradition of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright who built an entire diplomatic vocabulary on the symbolism of her many and varied pins.
Through the magic of her brooch, Yovanovitch had somehow "signaled that she was there" to provide "nonpartisan facts." She wasn't there for grandstanding or even for poisonous unctuousness!
Given the messages conveyed by her brooch, it's odd to think that Yovanovitch had been required to take any questions at all! At any rate, Givhan now transferred her anthropologically meaningful mind-reading act to the former ambassador's scarf:
GIVHAN (continuing directly): In addition to her jewelry, Yovanovitch was also wearing an oversize scarf draped around her neck. It wasn’t tied. It wasn’t prim. The scarf was like a silken billboard. The eye was drawn to the gold, military references in its formal design. The scarf appeared to be a “grand uniforme” design by Joachim Metz for Hermès. In the center of a red border, there are eagles and crowns and references to sabers. It’s not a ghoulish or overtly violent pattern. It’s a stately declaration of military might, of a willingness to fight for one’s honor and the importance of respected traditions.To those who would fabulize in these ways, that oversize scarf was no scarf at all. The oversize scarf was a billboard, and it wasn't ghoulish at all!
The Post has allowed Givhan to fabulize and dream in these ways since 1995, with a four-year "sanity break" starting in 2010. On this occasion, the fabulizing was so extreme that even the Princeton grad briefly took a step back, taking stock of her procedures:
GIVHAN (continuing directly): Is that reading too much into a few feet of silk? When committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Yovanovitch to assess her work abroad, she noted, “I actually think where I’ve served over the years, I and others, have made things demonstrably better.” And then, she quietly but firmly pointed out that credit for improvements in areas where she was stationed goes to “the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador.”Even Givhan briefly wondered if she might be "reading too much into a few feet of silk." Quickly, though, we got her answer—Hell no!
Yovanovitch did not come before Congress to deny, play down or shrug off her professional acumen and her experience. She was prepared to defend her reputation because it was a presidential assault on it that had brought her there in the first place. And as she stood up for herself, she also tried to protect the country she served. Her scarf was a billowing reminder of the value of the state—the beauty of it, even.
Stating the obvious, "journalism" of this type lies just this side of madness. The same was true of the New York Times' bow tie exegesis, which it published as a news report in the paper's "National" section.
Anthropologists pulled us aside, then glumly denounced the foolishness. "They might as well be running news reports about the witnesses' horoscopes," these despondent future exoerts exclaimed.
The disconsolate scholars despondently told us what this sort of thing means. "Our species was never the 'rational animal,' " these future credentialed experts said, exhibiting a slightly embarrassed tone.
"The impulse toward building tribalized fictitions was in fact always bred in the bone," these scholars despondently told us. Any impulse toward "rational" conduct was especially likely to disappear at times of major tribal warfare, these experts despairingly said.
Indeed, novelized stories are everywhere as impeachment looms. Next week, we'll be covering "The Impeachment Monologues" at this site, with some emphasis on the excited, self-involved presentations of Our Own Rhodes Scholar.
That said, the stone-cold flight from "Enlightenment values" is now on display wherever you look. Or so these experts have told us.
For ourselves, we almost "got Schwedeled" today when Slate offered a link to the latest exploration by its most puzzling journalist. ("A Viewer’s Guide to the Conspicuously Hot Guy Who Comes Out of Nowhere in Charlie’s Angels.")
For our anthropologists, though, the note of sadness was brought in when Andrew Sullivan discussed Ibram X. Kendi's current best-seller, which apparently includes this proposal for an antiracist constitutional amendment:
KENDI: It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.To those who thought the DMV was occasionally poorly run, this proposal may seem unwieldy.
Wryly, Sullivan notes that these “formally trained experts on racism” would "presumably all [be] from critical race-theory departments." He also notes that these formally trained experts would be "unelected"—and according to our future experts, therein lies the ultimate illogic of Kendi's proposal:
Who would choose these "formally trained experts on racism?" Who would decide that these formally trained experts were actually "experts" at all? Such questions take us back to the dawn of the west, to the western world's first halting attempts at logic, when Plato suggested rule by philosopher kings.
"There's no escaping this hard-wired mess," embarrassed anthropologists have told us. Persistently, these scholars lament their failure to speak in real time.
Coming next week: Next Monday, we'll finish our series on the fictitions which have flowed out of Flint. At that point, it will be on to impeachment.
That said, we plan to transfer soon to "The Rational Animal Files." One thinks of Plato's despair in the Seventh Letter. We still think that Professor Lee has it just about right:
PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of Thirty given supreme power. As it happened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do. My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times.Is it all anthropology now? Yes, but this opens the door to the humor of despair.
Bring on Lord Russell's wonderfully comical "set of all sets not members of themselves!" Or so we jauntily cry, in these last few final days before we meet Mister Trump's War.