WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2020
Major logicians too: When we were still in high school, we encountered the early films of the gloomy Ingmar Bergman.
Bergman's gloomy protagonists pondered the absence, the silence, of God. We tend to feel the same way about the anthropologists. Where have these experts been?
It didn't start with Donald J. Trump. That said, the Trump years have been quite a time for people-watchers.
Aristotle is said to have said, "Man [sic] is the rational animal." The Trump years have made it clear—this formulation, as commonly understood, was quite substantially wrong.
How should we understand the craziness we see all around us? As Bergman's protagonists were failed by the silence of God, the average American has been left on his or her own by the anthropologists' silence.
When psychiatrists tried to explain the crazy behavior of Donald J. Trump, the giants of our upper-end press corps had them disappeared. Should anthropologists have stepped forward to explain this peculiar behavior?
(They seem to spend the bulk of their time filming programs for PBS. As the Trump years crashed down upon us, they were filming themselves digging up bones somewhere near Greater Sumeria.)
A larger question surrounded the lack of "rationality" on display as our failing nation split into tribes. At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior recently offered the modest start of an outline:
SENIOR (10/7/20): Back in the 1950s, the psychologist Leon Festinger came up with cognitive dissonance theory, which can essentially be described as the very human desire to reconcile the irreconcilable. Our brains, he realized, will go to baroque lengths—do magic tricks, even—to preserve the integrity of our worldview, even when the facts inconveniently club us over the head with a two-by-four.
These brains today! These brains today do magic tricks, Festinger explained.
Senior's synopsis was perfectly cogent. Indeed, "cognitive dissonance" has long been an active part of liberal reasoning on the web, though only in ruminations about the conduct of others.
Indeed, Senior's column focused on the crazy behavior of the people who work at Fox News. "Today, perhaps the best case study of cognitive dissonance theory can be found in the prime-time lineup on Fox News," she wrote.
We aren't saying that statement is wrong. We're grading it incomplete.
Let's move past the Doocys and the Kilmeades and even the Judge Jeanines. What explains the conduct of the maskless marauders who show up at Donald Trump's rallies?
With Bandy X. Lee and her group of psychiatrists banished to the dustbin of journalistic history, it fell to the anthropologists to step forward and speak to questions like that.
Along the way, they might have addressed the tribalism of our own defeated tribe.
They might have addressed the puzzling ways our sachems behaved in the decades which spawned Trump. More recently, they might have addressed the angry way we scolded the mainstream press when it tried to interview others—when major news orgs made tiny attempts to investigate the nation's vast tribal divide.
Please don't speak to the others, we said. Anthropologists could have tried to explain that.
The psychiatrists made an attempt to be heard; the anthropologists didn't. This helped produce the remarkable state of affairs which obtains at this site:
Within the past few years, we've repeatedly been approached by spokespersons for a despondent group of highly credentialed scholars, Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves.
We can't say that we understand the technology which permits the apparent "time travel" of these despondent spokespersons. That said, they've directed our inquiries into the shape of the human conduct which preceded the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.
Their insights have left our jaws agape; so has the weeping which spills from their caves. They've often returned to that "rational" hook, rolling their eyes and emitting loud sobs as they denounce this false framework.
Even more than the absence of plumbing, they describe their own silence during the era of Trump as the source of their vast regret.
We humans had always been inclined to split into tribes, these major top experts have told us. And after we would split into tribes, we would descend into war.
Professor Harari tried to explain, they still sadly say. Any further attempt at discussion is swallowed up by their sobs.
Bergman griped about the absence, the silence, of God. Before him, so did sacred Kierkegaard, the gloomiest person in Europe.
Years later, one group of professors tried to speak, while another group stayed silent.
The logicians were off in "la-la land" too. Or so spokespersons for the Future Anthropologists have repeatedly said.
Tomorrow: Senator Hawley's logic
Still coming: Reactions to the Inka's death—but also, the set of all sets!