THE EMPIRE’S LOW IQ: Welcome to the idiocracy!


Part 1—Paul Krugman’s foolish act: Last Friday, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman did something extremely foolish.

He wrote a highly informative column about several important topics.

His column concerned the current discourse concerning the high price of oil, which affects the high cost of gas. Each evening on Fox, viewers are treated to various claims about President Obama’s key role in creating this unfortunate state of affairs. As he started, Krugman named a major political candidate who has been making similar claims:
KRUGMAN (3/16/12): To be a modern Republican in good standing, you have to believe—or pretend to believe—in two miracle cures for whatever ails the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and more drilling for oil. And with prices at the pump on the rise, so is the chant of “Drill, baby, drill.” More and more, Republicans are telling us that gasoline would be cheap and jobs plentiful if only we would stop protecting the environment and let energy companies do whatever they want.

Thus Mitt Romney claims that gasoline prices are high not because of saber-rattling over Iran, but because President Obama won’t allow unrestricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Obama has caused the high price of gas! He won’t let the drill babies drill!

The chanting of this powerful mantra continued on the Fox News Channel last night. Midway through last Friday’s column, Krugman offered a different take:
KRUGMAN: Strange to say, however, while natural gas prices have dropped, rising oil production and a sharp fall in import dependence haven’t stopped gasoline prices from rising toward $4 a gallon. Nor has the oil and gas boom given a noticeable boost to an economic recovery that, despite better news lately, has been very disappointing on the jobs front.

As I said, this was totally predictable.

First up, oil prices. Unlike natural gas, which is expensive to ship across oceans, oil is traded on a world market—and the big developments moving prices in that market usually have little to do with events in the United States. Oil prices are up because of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, and more recently because of war scares in the Middle East; these forces easily outweigh any downward pressure on prices from rising U.S. production. And the same thing would happen if Republicans got their way and oil companies were set free to drill freely in the Gulf of Mexico and punch holes in the tundra: the effect on prices at the pump would be negligible.
You can and should read the full column yourself. Krugman only gets 800 words, but his piece was full of information concerning some major topics.

Behaving this way was very foolish. This isn’t the way our world works.

Krugman’s piece would make perfect sense in a world of the type the ancients described—a world in which we “rational animals” conducted intelligent discourse. In fact, we don’t live in any such world, although the norms of western mythology tend to prevent us from noting this fact.

That, and our manifest dumbness.

In the world the ancients described, Krugman’s column would have been part of an unfolding public discussion—a discussion about the actual reasons for the rising price of oil. But we don’t live in that world or in a world dimply like it.

We really aren’t part of a “rational” culture. Our IQs simply aren’t up to the task. We don’t partake of intelligent discourse.

We aren’t the rational animals. In truth, we don't even come close.

As an example of what we mean, consider an intriguing news report in today’s New York Times.

In some ways, the piece is a breakthrough. The report was written by Jonathan Broder, a veteran New York Times reporter. Its headline announces a new, long-overdue approach to our nation’s political dialogue.

We’ll use the headline and text which appear in our hard-copy Times. Given the New York Times’ crazy-quilt pattern of warring editions, your headline and text may differ:
BRODER (3/20/12): Obama Energy Policies Differ From Romney’s Portrayal

In a television interview on Sunday and a Web video released on Monday, Mitt Romney said that President Obama has sought higher gasoline and energy prices and called on the president to dismiss three cabinet officers Mr. Romney claims have abetted him.

But the assertion is largely unsubstantiated or misleading, as are other statements Mr. Romney has made in recent days about Obama administration policies.
For the on-line version of Broder’s report, just click here.

On its face, Broder’s report represents a breakthrough. In this report, the Times is doing something observers have begged for in recent years. The Times is printing the major statements of a major political candidate. It is then subjecting these major statements to an accuracy test.

In a rational world, this would be a normal part of upper-end journalism. In our own low-IQ world, major newspapers sometimes perform this type of function in segregated “fact check” columns. But it’s very rare to see a newspaper conduct this type of truth test as part of its normal reporting.

Within our journalistic culture, major dissembling by powerful figures is almost completely ignored.

Here at THE HOWLER, the analyst cheered when they saw the headline on Broder’s report. Their cheering grew lustier when they read those first two paragraphs.

Then they read the full published text, and their faces fell.

We live in a very low-IQ world, although prevailing mythologies of various kinds work to obscure this obvious fact. Mike Judge addressed this problem in his 2006 film, Idiocracy.

We will examine this low-IQ world over the next several weeks. Overpaid stars of the liberal world do play a key role in this culture.

Tomorrow: Broder’s best effort


  1. Mr. Somerby writes, "The chanting of this powerful mantra continued on the Fox News Channel last night."

    That's it?

    Mr. Somerby offers a gazillion paragraphs about Gail Collins and Seamus, an episode that's become grist for comedians like Letterman and Colbert all the way down the food chain, and scarcely a dozen words about how the most watched cable news channel chants a "powerful mantra" (not a lie, mind you) in an effort to pollute our public discourse?

    Disgraceful is the only word that comes to mind.

    1. This tiny report by Somerby looks like what is called "a teaser." That is to say, more is to come.

      I doubt you'll be satisfied though. Unless reading comprehension has failed completely, Bob does not intend to deal with Fox (as you would have him, apparently), but with the New York Times.

      Far from "disgraceful," such a plan would make perfect sense: If we want to know why *liberals* don't understand much about the world, we don't go to Fox to find out.

    2. "If we want to know why *liberals* don't understand much about the world, we don't go to Fox to find out."

      Then maybe Mr. Somerby ought to employ truth-in-advertising and rename this blog "Why Liberals Don't Understand Much About the World" in place of the current misleading title "Musings on the mainstream "press corps" and the American discourse."

      You'll be hard pressed to find any media critic who doesn't say one of the major events of the last 15 years or so is the rise of FOX News and its effect on the media that came before it.

      Mr. Somerby employs a much different model: first there was Imus, then Stern, then Limbaugh, then you fall off the earth.

      We all know this is dishonest.

    3. You don't get it, Mr. Real. This blog lives for demonstrating we're all tribal. Any distinctions among what we're tribal about, or how we're tribal, don't matter in the slightest.

      The fact that "conservatives" (for example) are tribal in apparently wanting to make access to contraception difficult or prohibitive, and that liberals are perhaps tribal in wanting to retain access to contraception, proves that liberals are no better than conservatives.

      Is that perfectly clear now?

    4. The Real AnonymousMarch 20, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Yeah, I get it.

      Mr. Somerby is really an anthropologist, not someone exploring the "press corps" and its affect on "American discourse."

    5. Gail Collins is on David Letterman's show tonight, talking about Seamus! She even recounted the story the way Bob Somerby criticized, imputing thoughts to Seamus. Dave and the audience were laughing uproariously. David Letterman tried to get her to draw conclusions about Mitt's character from the alleged mistreatment of Seamus! The audience cheered.

  2. Real,

    You hate some things, a lot. I get it. What I don't get is why you think Bob should be an extension of your will.

    On a long post praising Krugman for pointing out falsehoods by the right wing machine, you provide a comment - "Disgraceful."


    1. The Real AnonymousMarch 20, 2012 at 2:08 PM


      I thought I made it clear, gazillions of paragraphs about Collins and Seamus the dog and around a dozen words about FOX News.

      In no way, shape or form does that accurately reflect the realities of the current media landscape.

      Mr. Somerby has even started linking to sources whose raison d'etre is it inject lies into the "public discourse" in the name of "balancing" the "liberal" media.

      I am seeing less and less difference between what Mr. Somerby does and, say, what Brent Bozell does.

      Does Mr. Bozell hit upon a truth once in awhile? Sure. That doesn't make him a reliable source.

  3. "The fact that "conservatives" (for example) are tribal in apparently wanting to make access to contraception difficult or prohibitive, and that liberals are perhaps tribal in wanting to retain access to contraception, proves that liberals are no better than conservatives."

    See, because conservatives *are* tribal, and liberals are *perhaps" tribal, we can know that we are better than them. Always. So do not fear, it's good to be tribal (as long as you're on the better one). No, no, don't worry your pretty little head over it.

    1. Exactly right. It doesn't matter what the issues are, or what the factual basis of the argument is. As long as all sides jockeys for rhetorical advantage (so what if they've got corporate America, Hannity, Limbaugh and hundreds of others, 24x7; we've got Bill Maher, who's liberal on some issues, plus the indispensable Gail Collins!), then nobody's better than anybody else.

  4. Real,

    But why do you comment on a post about Krugman? Do you even realise that you are just telling Bob that he should be stressing what you want stressed? You take the *subtitle* of his blog, then spew about what you think he should write about. The solution is obvious: write your own blog.

    1. The Real AnonymousMarch 20, 2012 at 3:28 PM

      "You take the *subtitle* of his blog, then spew about what you think he should write about."

      Don't be ridiculous.

      A subtitle usually indicates what the following content will be about unless you want to claim Mr. Somerby is an anthropologist as well as a post-modern novelist.

  5. Since Krugman is universally despised by conservatives, despite his marshaling of fact, generally dispassionate presentation and (for the last few years, at least) accurate economic predictions, you'd think it would be incumbent on Bob to explain why the truth (at least as Bob sees it) has so little currency and sways so few voters.

    Is it possible -- just possible? -- that in a mass-culture, the loudest and most market-tested voice wins, and that this quest for the literal truth, and nothing but the literal truth from liberals alone (you can be damned sure the other side has no intention of following that route), is a little silly? That's it's preposterously blinkered?

    When were American elections ever won on the merit of the arguments?

    1. Paul Krugman is brilliant, knows his facts, has a great sense of humor and of popular culture, posts great videos and often difficult-to-grasp technical charts, and deserved his Nobel Prize, but "dispassionate" in his "presentation" he surely is not.

      He is hyperpartisan, does go on rants, can be shrill, and sometimes nearly descends to ad hominen attacks. He is usually right on the points, but he is anything but dispassionate. Or do you regularly read him?

    2. So (for example) is calling Ryan a "flim-flam man" "hyperpartisan"? Would the same budget with the same phony claims and deceptions, presented by a Democrat lead Krugman to praise it? If not, how is his reaction "partisan"

      Perhaps "flim-flam man" strikes you as "shrill". In that case, how would suggest Democrats -- or anyone, for that matter -- describe current mainstream Republican policy?

    3. "Would the same budget with the same phony claims and deceptions, presented by a Democrat lead Krugman to praise it?"

      Absolutely yes. See his comments about Obamacare. It will get everyone covered, increase the quality of care, AND save money! Makes your dick bigger too!

  6. The fight against truth! Awesome.

    1. Ah, no, not against truth. Just against Bob's naive notion that in a mass-culture, the better argument wins; and in the face of his remarkable insistence that only liberals need to observe the rules of discourse, since nobody in his right mind has any hopes for Fox, Limbaugh and thousands of lobbyists and professional propagandists on the right.

      This is realism, not a preference for lies or a liking for the incompetence of those liberals designated as such by major media conglomerates.

      Of course, it's also true that the country's fortunes are not decided by Rachel Maddow, Gail Collins or Bill Maher. Which is why this whole discussion seems rather a waste. Nor does it t help that no major political party in the U.S. represents liberal interests.

      I'd say we have worse problems than Rachel Maddow.