TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2022
A lesson in novelization: "That is no country for old men." So Yeats says at the start of his famous poem, Sailing to Byzantium.
In 2007, that line supplied the title for an Oscar-winning film by the Coen brothers. The LitCharts web site starts explaining the Yeats poem in the manner shown:
“Sailing to Byzantium,” by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), is essentially about the difficulty of keeping one’s soul alive in a fragile, failing human body. The speaker, an old man, leaves behind the country of the young for a visionary quest to Byzantium, the ancient city that was a major seat of early Christianity. There, he hopes to learn how to move past his mortality and become something more like an immortal work of art.
As far as we know, that's close enough for literary work. At any rate, in Yeats' third stanza, he pens the following plea:
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is...
The aging poet's uncertain heart is "fastened to a dying animal." In a somewhat similar way, our extremely self-impressed liberal tribe is currently fastened to Storyline—to the falsified stories from which we liberals keep deriving our endlessly phony group consciousness.
(The falsified stories from which we construct our falsified identity.)
What does it mean to be yoked to Storyline? Consider New York magazine's new presentation about the last ten years:
10 Years Since Trayvon / The story of the first decade of Black Lives Matter.
On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, because as a Black boy walking in a gated community, he was deemed “suspicious.” Zimmerman’s acquittal appalled a nation often willfully blind to the vulnerability of living while Black. Ten years later, “Black Lives Matter” has grown from a hashtag to a protester’s cry to a cultural force that has reshaped American politics, society, and daily life. It is, at the same time, a specific collection of organizations and people whose decisions have attracted both applause and criticism; whose actions have been a source of intrigue; whose personal relationships have both strengthened and splintered under the stress and exposure. This special issue attempts to tell the story of the first decade of Black Lives Matter, the movement—as well as the country it moved.
—Lindsay Peoples-Wagner and Morgan Jerkins
We have no doubt that Peoples-Wagner and Jerkins are thoroughly well-intentioned. But the first two sentences of that account are heavy-duty novelization.
You're looking at tribal falsification—at narrative all the way down.
Why do we offer these insensitive comments? Let's return to those first two sentences:
On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, because as a Black boy walking in a gated community, he was deemed “suspicious.” Zimmerman’s acquittal appalled a nation often willfully blind to the vulnerability of living while Black.
The world would be a better place if Trayvon Martin hadn't been shot and killed that night in Sanford. But was he shot and killed that night "because as a Black boy walking in a gated community, he was deemed 'suspicious?' "
Not exactly, no. At the specific time he was shot and killed, he was banging George Zimmerman's head on a sidewalk, or perhaps on the ground, in a way which Ta-Nehisi Coates described as plainly life-threatening.
When our tribe novelizes the story, we know we must leave that part out. Meanwhile, riddle us this:
Is it true that George Zimmerman's acquittal at trial "appalled a nation often willfully blind to the vulnerability of living while Black?"
Not necessarily, no. Some people were appalled; of that there can be no doubt. But other people weren't. For example, the jury which delivered the acquittal was unanimous in its verdict, after watching the entire trial.
For the record, another part of our tribal novel is lurking in those two sentences. The first of those sentences is designed to disappear an obvious possible fact:
In that first sentence, the writers imply that Martin was deemed suspicious that night because he was black—full stop. That said, George Zimmerman said he deemed Martin suspicious that unfortunate night because he was behaving suspiciously as he walked through the gated community.
Is it possible that Zimmerman's statement was true? Of course it is, and New York's novelists have no way of knowing whether it is or not. We can't tell you whether it's true or false either, but we don't plan to pretend.
There's little doubt that Martin's shooting death triggered a whole new era in liberal politics. On balance, that era may turn out to have been morally helpful for the nation—or then again, it may not turn out that way at all.
As we've noted in the past, national interest in the Martin case was apparently triggered by a blatant factual misstatement in the New York Times—by an ugly, blatant factual misstatement which apparently came from the Crump legal team and which has never been formally corrected by the Times.
(The Times quickly sidled away from this blatant misstatement, without ever penning a correction. We've covered this several times in the past. We don't plan to waste our time doing so again. In a world which runs on Storyline, there's no information flow.)
Our tribe then invented a second false statement about what happened that night. This second false statement was widely repeated. It painted Zimmerman in the worst possible light, as the apparent aggressor in the fight which occurred that night.
In the case of this second false claim, the New York Times eventually came to debunk it explicitly, but not before our tribe had repeated the claim about ten million times.
That said, our tribe has been inventing phony facts about cases of this type all through the past decade. We invent (and repeat) inaccurate facts; we disappear relevant accurate facts; and we stress completely irrelevant facts. In these ways, our failing tribe insists on inventing the childish, cartoonized stories we apparently need and we very much like.
Yeats was tied to a dying animal. Our tribe is tied to false (and disappeared) facts. We insist on constructing these tribal tales as a way of creating a cartoonized world in which we are The Very Good People and everyone else is very bad. This is the conduct of a people who simply can't handle the stress of the actual complex world.
We keep inventing phony facts and stressing the wholly irrelevant. In these ways, a dying tribe insists on inventing the novelized stories it needs.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Joan Didion apparently said that.
In the current devolving era, a pair of hopeless warring tribes insist on inventing stories about each other. The news from Fox is routinely (though not always) insane. Our tribe isn't a whole lot better.
What happened on that unfortunate night in Sanford, Florida? Simply put, Peoples-Wagner and Jerkins have no way to know.
They're telling a standard mandated tale—a tale designed to exalt the tribe. But that mandated tale is a novelization. It's highly cartoonized Storyline—Storyline all the way down.
Yeats was fastened to a dying animal. Our culture is fastened to that.