FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2022
Next "civil war" emerges: Much as the Chinese warned, we live in interesting times.
We mean that as a matter of anthropology. We live in times which make it all too easy to see the truth about our war-inclined, vastly self-impressed species:
Man [sic] is the tribal animal—the creature which works from script.
In his new column today, David Brooks quotes René Girard, "a French thinker who is enjoying a vogue." As quoted, Girard is voicing that very same bromide, though in a fuzzier form:
“Man [sic] is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind.”
That's what the late philosophe is said to have written. Presumably, Girard is being quoted in translation.
Is man [sic] the creature who turns to others in order to make up his mind? Is man [sic] the creature which works from script?
We'd say there's a great deal of truth to such claims! Last night, Lawrence O'Donnell, sans Dorchester accent, opened his "cable news" hour with this pitiful though thoroughly human statement:
LAWRENCE (2/10/22): Well today, a federal judge responded to the unanimous declaration by the Republican National Committee that the attacks on the Capitol on January 6 were, quote, "legitimate political discourse."
He challenged no one to a fistfight this time. Sadly, though, he said that.
Lawrence then went on to quote the federal judge to whom he had referred. Unsurprisingly, the federal judge hadn't made the statement Lawrence attributed to her.
Unsurprisingly, Lawrence had misparaphrased the judge. That said, he had made a truly remarkable claim, speaking in his own voice.
Had Lawrence made a remarkable claim? Just consider:
During the January 6 attack on the Capitol, substantial numbers of people conducted vicious, violent assaults on members of the Capitol Police.
As the weeks and months have passed, reams of video footage have emerged showing those vicious attacks. Everyone has seen the footage of those violent attacks. No one hasn't seen it.
Everyone has seen the reams of footage of those vicious, violent attacks. And yet, according to Lawrence's statement, the RNC has unanimously declared that those violent physical attacks were—and he even used the word "quote"—"legitimate political discourse!
Has the RNC actually said that? In all honesty, it seems fairly hard to believe.
Briefly, let's be clear. As a general matter, the RNC's members don't tend to be the sharpest knives you can find in the drawer.
Their views may sometimes tend to be strange. They may not always be compulsively honest.
The RNC isn't the world's most impressive bunch. But had its members really said that? Lawrence hadn't sought a fistfight this time, but he had made a truly remarkable claim.
In a world which wasn't inherently tribal, such a remarkable claim would be hard to believe. But we live in a world which is thoroughly tribal, and deeply unsettling.
We live in a world whose creatures don't necessarily know what to say, and so they may be inclined to turn to others in order to make up their minds.
Anthropologically, we humans are the animal who repeats whatever it is the last ten tribals have said. For that reason, everyone in our failing blue tribe has been making the remarkable claim which Lawrence made.
By now, that claim qualifies as mandated speech. Here are two of our tribal intellectuals in today's New York Times:
LEONHARDT (2/11/22): On Tuesday, [Mitch McConnell] criticized the Republican National Committee for its response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The committee—the party’s official organization—had described the events of Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse”...
KRUGMAN (2/11/22): I wonder how many voters remember how close the Trump administration came to repealing the Affordable Care Act...That effort failed only because three Republican senators had the courage to stand up to Donald Trump.
Does anyone imagine that we’ll see a similar display of courage if a party that considers a violent attack on the Capitol “legitimate political discourse” regains control of Congress and the White House?
Leonhardt and Krugman have said it too! According to the RNC, those vicious beatings at the Capitol were "legitimate political discourse!"
Members of the RNC are rarely the sharpest knives in the drawer. But did they really make a crazy statement like that?
To be honest, no—no, they actually didn't. Unless you're just a frightened child who wants a newer, even crazier claim to make about The Others, as you yourself crazily beat the drums for a good solid tribal war.
Did the RNC "unanimously declare" that those violent attacks were "legitimate political discourse?" In yesterday's award-winning report, we showed you the full text of the resolution which has been paraphrased in that way—and no, they never even mentioned those violent attacks, except in the minds of the frightened children on MSNBC and in the New York Times who hand you the scripts you should now run out and repeat.
They tell us what scripts we should recite. We run off and repeat their creative paraphrases, just as it ever was.
They did this to Candidate Gore in an earlier day. Today, these hapless, frightened children are directing their skills at misparaphrase at a group of more hapless players.
The RNC has never been especially bright, dating all the way back its years under Chairman Nicholson. (At the 2000 Democratic Convention, we interviewed him for MSNBC.com, but failed to pull the trigger.)
The RNC has never been especially bright. Perhaps not unlike the DNC, the RNC has often seemed to perhaps be slightly less than compulsively honest.
That said, even the RNC isn't so utterly stupid as to have made the crazy statement in question—the crazy statement our frightened children now say that the RNC made.
The statement simply doesn't appear in the text of their resolution. Over the course of the past week, its members have said, a million times, that they don't regard those violent attacks as "legitimate political discourse."
They've said it and said it, then said it again—but so what? The Krugmans, Leonhardts and Lawrences continue to state the preferred tribal claim. According to disconsolate experts, this is the way our benighted species has always invented its wars.
Did the RNC actually say that those vicious physical beatings were acts of "legitimate discourse?" If you live with Alice, in Wonderland, it's possible that they did.
Otherwise, we're sorry, but actually no—they didn't. On Tuesday night, "CNN political commentator" Mike Shields offered an account of where that claim had come from.
Years ago, Shields was chief of staff as the RNC. On Tuesday, spoke with John Berman, who was subbing for Anderson Cooper.
Berman began with a poorly paraphrased account of something Mitch McConnell had said. Shields then offered this account of where that standardized claim had come from:
BERMAN (2/8/22): Mike, as a Republican, I'm curious—why do you think Mitch McConnell felt the need to be so forceful in rebuking the "legitimate political discourse" notion? And you agree with him?
SHIELDS: Well, look, I think that this was a resolution passed at the RNC that's not binding, it doesn't carry the weight of law. They passed four other resolutions that day.
When it was passed in the room, none of the reporters in the room thought that they were talking about the violent part of January 6. But afterwards, a reporter said, "Hey, we can make this connection."
And now, here we are on Day 5. Mitch McConnell is being asked about it. We're talking about it—and it's not the position of the Republican Party.
The RNC has said many, many times, including today, including yesterday, that they condemn the violence, okay?...
We'll actually no, it's not OK! During this segment, Berman and Van Jones went on to embarrass themselves as they pushed back against Shields' claims.
We thought their behavior was almost shocking, but was also entirely human.
Meanwhile, it was true! The RNC had already said, many times, that it condemned the January 6 violence. But any such statements will disappear when frightened children in a failing tribe need an even more astonishing claim to lodge against The Others.
We can't speak to the overall accuracy of Shields' novelistic account. Expressed most simply, he was saying that journalists had invented the remarkable claim about what the RNC had supposedly said.
We don't know who invented the claim, but the supposed statement by the RNC doesn't exist in the text of the resolution. It's a thrilling, imaginative paraphrase—and by this morning, everyone including Paul Krugman is repeating the thrilling claim while ignoring (while disappearing) those endless disavowals.
Anthropologically, this is the way our species behaves when its members divide into tribes, then begin longing for war. (We often mention the silly Southern boys who pranced about, telling Miss Scarlett what they would do to the Yankees.)
Your lizard brain will tell you it's true—that the RNC actually said it. We showed you the full text yesterday. Except in the minds of frightened children, the crazy statement in question simply isn't there.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our coming "civil war" has begun to take shape.
What would a modern "civil war" look like? It would start by looking like a bunch of truckers, with very large trucks, bringing international commerce to a major halt.
The scenes would continue from there. Last night, Tucker went on and on, then on and on some more, about the greatness of the way the truckers were blocking those bridges between the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, our silly Northern boys were all over our own channels, repeating the crazy statement the RNC had supposedly made.
More such scenes are likely to come. This is part of the shape of a new "civil war," modern post-American style.
All in all, our own corporate stars don't know what to say or to do. And so they're doing what our species always does:
Engaging in imitations of life, they repeat whatever it is that the last ten people have said. The craziness of what they're saying about The Others just makes their statement more pleasing.
On the whole, the RNC is a gong-show organization. But no, they didn't actually say what our children are now standing in line to say that the RNC said.
He didn't challenge anyone to a fight, but Lawrence was pleasingly wrong again last night. How do we like our blue-eyed boys now, as Cummings once thoughtfully asked.