Plus, unarmed man shot and killed: We'll run through the history quickly:
Long ago and far away, Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, once again gave the best advice.
Homer was there to record the whole thing. In Book 9 of his famous best-seller, The Iliad, he records the way it went down:
The tide of battle had very much turned against the Argives (the Achaeans) in their attempt to sack Troy. "Godsent Panic seized them," Homer reports, "comrade of bloodcurdling Rout."
That evening, Lord Marshal Agamemnon rose in counsel. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he said the Achaeans should cut and run.
"We'll never take the broad streets of Troy," Agamemnon said. He said the Argives should "cut and run—sail home."
(We're working from Professor Fagles' 1990 translation.)
So Agamemnon strangely advised. Other members of the counsel were "struck dumb by his orders," Homer reports. Finally, the headstrong young Diomedes rose to speak.
"Desperate man!" Diomedes said, boldly addressing the lord marshal. "If your spirit drives you to sail home, then sail away, my King!...But the rest of the long-haired Achaeans will hold out, right here, until we've plundered Troy."
So spoke the headstrong young lord of the war cry. "And all the Achaeans shouted their assent," Homer recalls, "stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge."
Based on very limited reading, we regard what follows as one of the great moments in world literature. Nestor scrambles to his feet, eager to restore order.
He praises Diomedes' power in battle, even his general judgment.
"In council you excel all men your age," Nestor says, meaning this as a compliment. But he then points to Diomedes' youth and concomitant lack of wisdom.
"How young you are—why, you could be my son, my youngest-born at that," Nestor coolly remarks.
"It's my turn now, Diomedes," the seasoned adviser coolly said. "I think I can claim to have some years on you. So I must speak up and drive the matter home. And no one will heap contempt on what I say, not even mighty Agamemnon."
Before the evening is done, Nestor has restored unity within Argive ranks. Before a more limited council of "senior chiefs," he has directly chastised Agamemnon, causing him to retract his earlier rash remarks.
The basic advice he gives Diomedes is of no particular relevance here. But we thought of that famous scene from world literature when we sampled the Sunday Review section of yesterday's New York Times.
More specifically, we thought of that famous scene when we read Wesley Lowery's attempt to devise new rules for American journalism, such as it is.
Lowery's essay was the featured piece in yesterday's Sunday Review. We'd say the piece displayed revolutionary ardor. On the other hand, we'd have to grade the fiery essay as something like D-minus work.
Needless to say, D-minus work is nothing new in New York Times guest opinion writing. Decades of branding make the following point hard to credit, but it's true nonetheless:
If it weren't for all the D-minus work, there would frequently be no New York Times opinion work at all. We offer this unfortunate assessment as an anthropological statement.
In our view, Lowery's essay needed a lot of work. For ourselves, we wouldn't have published the piece as it is.(Childishly, our journalists tend to refer to such essays as "stories.")
Before the week is done, we'll show you what we see the major shortcomings of Lowery's piece—its shortcomings of evidence and of logic.
We'll get there before the week is through. For today, we're going to start with Lowery's recent essay in The Atlantic—an essay about police shootings, a very serious topic.
For ourselves, we wouldn't have published that essay either. As editor, our questions for Lowery would have started with his second paragraph.
For unknown reasons, Lowery and the editors at The Atlantic explicitly refer to his essay, at two different junctures, as a "story." You may think we're picking nits when we mention that fact.
You may think we're picking nits. We would say that we're starting at the beginning. At any rate, the essay deals with a very significant topic—and the essay starts like this:
MINNEAPOLIS—Miski Noor watched just the first minute of the video of George Floyd’s killing before closing the tab and walking the two blocks to join the protests already forming at the scene. The days since have been filled with a maddening sense of déjà vu.In the fourth paragraph of his essay, Lowery mentions three Minnesota events. These events are said to be part of a "gruesome cycle."
Noor had joined the Movement for Black Lives in 2014, after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The 34-year-old activist’s first protest was that December, a demonstration that shut down the Mall of America during the peak of the holiday shopping season.
Noor soon became intimately familiar with the gruesome cycle: The police killed someone. Activists protested. Small reforms were won. The police killed someone else.
In Minnesota, St. Paul police killed Philip Quinn, a Native American man in the midst of a mental-health crisis, in September 2015. One week later, a Kanabec County Sheriff’s deputy killed Robert Christen, a white former fullback for the Wisconsin Badgers who was enduring a mental-health crisis of his own. Two months after that, in November 2015, Minneapolis police killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old unarmed black man. Hundreds poured into the streets.
After the third of these events, "hundreds poured into the streets." But how are we supposed to judge or assess these events? At no point in Lowery's "story" are we given help with that.
By now, of course, everybody reading that essay knew what they were supposed to think about those three events. They understood why those events constituted a "gruesome cycle"—or at at least, they knew what they were supposed to assume about that.
A powerful narrative preceded Lowery as he composed his story. The Atlantic published his story. For ourselves, we would have judged that Lowery's essay needed much more work.
Tomorrow, we plan to describe the events of one of the police shootings cited by Lowery in paragraph 4 of his essay. We'll ask you what you think of those events once you've seen them more fully described—and in this case, there seems to be no disagreement concerning what actually happened.
Tomorrow, we'll show you what happened in that one event. We'll ask you what you think about its placement in Lowery's overall "story."
According to the Washington Post's invaluable Fatal Force site, American police officers have shot and killed roughly one thousand people in every year from 2015 through 2019. (When he was still at the Washington Post, Lowery was involved in creating this invaluable site.)
On a per capita basis, many more people are shot and killed by police officers in this country than in other comparable nations. It's also true, of course, that our nation is commonly said to be "awash in guns."
Sometimes, police officers shoot and kill people who are, in fact, unarmed. According to the Fatal Force site, police officers in Minnesota have shot and killed six unarmed people since the start of 2015.
For the record, five of those people are listed as "white." One is listed as "black."
How gruesome is the gruesome cycle to which Lowery referred? There is, of course, no ultimate answer to that question. But that may be a harder judgment to make if we start reimposing traditional rules on the way we write our "stories."
As for Lowery's recent work, it reminds us of the famous phrase, "Revolution of the saints." If memory serves, we first heard the phrase in connection with Professor Walzer's 1965 book of that title.
At present, it seems to us that Lowery is largely performing the journalism of the saints. This is hardly his sole doing, of course. For better or worse—it's a matter of judgment—the journalism of the saints is now being widely performed.
All this week, we'll be examining Lowery's two recent essays. In closing today, we want to assure you of one important point:
We'll be offering our remarks as examples of anthropology. As we've acknowledged before, we're being advised in our work by top experts in the field.
We offer this work for those who want to consider the way the human brain compels the human mind to work. That said, absolutely nothing is going to change because of anything we write. We'll still be allowed to tell and repeat our stories.
At this site, it's all anthropology now. Elsewhere, revolution and its rules, or its lack of same, now quite widely prevail.
Tomorrow: Unarmed man is shot and killed "by Minnesota police"
Nestor's advice: Nestor's advice to Diomedes isn't especially relevant here. For what it's worth, here it is:
"Lost to the clan,Or at least, so Homer recalled.
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.”
In the current situation, our journalism could conceivably be much improved if practitioners waged war on its current ways from within.
But they'd have to be offering good sound advice—advice which made good solid sense.