FAUX AND FALLEN GENIUS WATCH: We recommend the Roxane Gay piece!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012

We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow: We’ll recommend the new piece by Salon’s Roxane Gay about the latest faux genius.

Gay asks a lot of good questions about the genius Lehrer (no relation). Before we mention another young genius, let’s look at a few of Gay’s clips:
GAY (7/31/12): There is a cult of bright young things, a cultural obsession with genius, a need to find beacons of greatness in an ordinary world. In a December 2002 article in The Atlantic Monthly, Marjorie Garber writes, “At this point in history genius has become a commodity, an ambition, and even a lifestyle.” She also notes that, “Deep within us lies a certain strain of longing for genius, a genius worship, that might be described as messianic: the hope that a genius will come along to save us from our technological, philosophical, spiritual, or aesthetic impasse.” When young people display remarkable intelligence or creativity, we are instantly enamored. We want or need geniuses to show us the power and potential of the human mind and we’re so eager to find new people to bestow this title upon that the term and the concept have become quite diluted.
The quote from Garber sounds strong. How about yet another "strain of longing" on our part—the hope that a genius will come to save us from our own manifest dumbness? From our manifest lack of purpose? From our horrible tribalized values?

We live at a time of enormous stupidity. We liberals try hard to blame it on Them. But our side has proven its ginormous dumbness too—dumbness so vast that we’re on the verge of electing a nightmare like Romney.

Sorry. In large part, this is a world of our making. We have spent the last thirty years creating the danger we face.

Gay is intrigued by the culture which elevates climbers like Lehrer. Before we name another name, we’ll recommend this:
GAY: How did Lehrer think he could get away with making up quotations from a singer who is still alive, notoriously reclusive, and obsessively followed? In the age of the Internet, when everything is just a click away, how did Lehrer think he wouldn’t get caught, both when he plagiarized himself and again when he simply lied over and over? What else is fabricated in his books? Does he think that little of his audience?


The question isn’t really why did Lehrer fabricated those Dylan quotations and then lie about it nor is the question why did he plagiarize himself time and again in his highly visible position as a staff writer for The New Yorker. The question that intrigues me most is how this happened at all, how Lehrer was elevated to a position of such prominence. Are we that enamored by bright young things that they can act with impunity?

Lehrer’s success and this current humiliation, how far he had to fall, is a symptom of a much bigger problem, one that is systemic, one that continues to consistently elevate certain kinds of men simply for being a certain kind of man. Jonah Lehrer fits the narrative we want about a boy genius. He is young, attractive and well educated. He can write a good sentence. He can parse complicated science for the masses and make us feel smarter for finally being able to understand the complexities of the human mind. He is the great white hope.
How did Lehrer think he could do this? These people are very young and poorly grounded—and the rewards are gigantic. Regarding the culture that allows this to happen, Gay feels this is only done with and for men. But here’s another name:

Rachel Maddow.

In many ways, Maddow is one of the frauds of our age. On her cable TV show, she has set records for blatant crackpot dishonesty.

The liberal world simply can’t tell.

Beyond that, the liberal world refused to speak when Al and Lawrence and Charles lied in our faces, week after week, about the killing of Trayvon Martin. (Is there anything these people won't con you about? By the way: making up a quote by Dyulan egst you fired. But in the modern liberal world, making up reams of shit about amurdre is just part of doing your job.)

The truth is, we are very bad people. In part because of our moral sloth, we keep getting played by these frauds. And we've helped create a world where Romney may get to the White House.

Back to Lehrer and his type: The rewards today are very great for these hustling young climbers. Tomorrow, we’ll finish our current series on Chris Hayes’ new book, which proved quite hard to review.

We’ll only say this—we find a great deal of hustle and pop in Hayes’ work now too. We weren’t thinking such thoughts about young Hayes until we tried unpacking his rather odd book, which disappears his own elite and seems to say that the others failed because of their "social distance."

On its jacket, this very fuzzy book is fulsomely praised by the usual suspects of the liberal elite. Do these people know how to read at all? If they do, when do they plan to start?

The world is full of ambitious young climbers. We recommend the Roxane Gay piece. We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow, unless liberals hold her to rules.

Additional bonus point: Some of these youngsters would turn out fine—if we didn’t have the need to get played by them in these ways, the impulse that has Gay puzzled.


  1. By the way, spell check:

    * * *
    By the way: making up a quote by Dyulan egst you fired. But in the modern liberal world, making up reams of shit about amurdre is just part of doing your job.

    1. So is Bob finally admitting that the killing of Trayvon Martin was a murder? Or is it "amurdre"?

      Actually, this entire post reads like that moment of brilliance you have between downing a quart of Jack Daniels and passing out.

    2. Puerile. Is that all you have? You and Anon @ 7:51 need stand in a corner for 30 minutes until....

    3. We just had a week in which Mitt Romney completed an utterly embarrassing foreign tour. And what's got Somerby's attention? Yet another young person considered smart and successful.

      After spending Lord knows how long showing to the world what a dummy Chris Hayes is. And months on Rachel Maddow. With the Trayvon Martin case thrown in for good measure, and for absolutely no reason.

    4. "So is Bob finally admitting that the killing of Trayvon Martin was a murder? Or is it 'amurdre'?"

      It was amurdre . . . amurdre most foul!

  2. He got away with it because Malcolm Gladwell's nonsense has been accepted for years. How is this guy any different?

    1. Yeah, mostly Lehrer built his career by out-Gladwelling Gladwell. Gladwell served as a perfect model for how well high-sounding pseudo-scientific bullshit sells among the idiot elites who lack even the slightest understanding of science but want to pretend that they do.

      And if you are allowed to construct your career from the get-go on bullshit, where exactly do you draw the line for unacceptable fraud? It becomes a pretty hard call.

  3. When Obama is not called on plagiarism for using part of another politician's speech verbatim during his campaign in 2008, how can we expect other bright young men to understand that plagiarism is wrong?

    Higher education is being farmed out to machines in an initiative to move everything online and do away with professors. Professors model and teach ethics of their professions. I understand that a machine can catch plagiarism using something like TurnItIn.com, but how will a machine get a young writer to care about its opinion of him? How will it inculcate a sense of shame about what has been done?

    There are no consequences for misbehavior until it occurs in such a public fashion that a load of bricks falls on someone. Until then, it is all done by everyone and just part of getting ahead.

    We cannot only care about this in certain circumstances and not others without teaching up and coming professionals that no one cares and it is OK to do whatever gets you a good job, makes you more money, brings you attention and promotion, and gets you elected.

  4. Rachel's presentation of the news makes me feel very knowledgeable and I find her adorable.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. It's funny how a few "liberals" claim to believe every exculpatory claim Zimmerman makes, even though we know he's a liar, while disregarding that he stalked, pursued, accosted, and killed an innocent person. And those facts are the only certain things that we know.

    1. Braintree fom a public computer.

      In truth, Unkown, we know no such things. We do know that Zimmerman saw Martin whereupon he called the police. The call went on for almost two minutes after which Zimmerman told them he'd lost sight of Martin. When the police asked him not to follow Martin he agreed, which indicates that any pursuit that may have started was halted. You do not know that he accosted Martin. Nor does anyone really know if he did not (although inviting the police over as witness should cause any reasonably impartial person to doubt it). Neither do you know that Martin was innocent. It is entirely possible that he attacked Zimmerman who then acted in self defense.

      On the other hand we were told that Zimmerman was allowed to keep his gun when he wasn't, that wasn't brought in for questioning when he was, that was allowed to keep his clothing when he wasn't, that he had no sign of injury when in fact he did and that he was buddies with the cops when in fact, he protested what he considered to be their unjust treatment of a black homeless man.

      And, of course, since Zimmerman is accused of killing a black kid, he has, without question, just got to be a racist.

      In short, you are one righteous imbecile.

    2. Oops. One sentence should have read that Zimmerman was on the phone with police for almost two minutes after he'd lost sight of Martin, no "after which." My bad.

    3. Yes, Hieronymous, we now know for a fact because of all of MSNBC's misreporting, that Zimmerman didn't get out of his vehicle with a gun and shoot an unarmed kid.

      It all makes sense now.

    4. Some folks here are confusing a condemnation of false reports and unprofessional conjecture as being arguments for Zimmerman's innocence.

      That's the danger of narration vs reporting. It becomes such a matter of emotional/psychological associations that play into our dear bud, tribalism, so that there's instant alignment, and deviation from the narrative is tantamount to bolstering all past villains, both real and imagined.

    5. "When the police asked him not to follow Martin he agreed, which indicates that any pursuit that may have started was halted"

      Horse puckey.

    6. "Some folks here are confusing a condemnation of false reports and unprofessional conjecture as being arguments for Zimmerman's innocence."

      No. No they aren't "confusing" anything.

      They're doing it on purpose.

      It's called being a troll.

      It's the MSNBC-lovers' defense of their beloved's indefensible actions.

    7. Are they MSNBC lovers especially?

      I think trolls are generally people who can't bear dissent on anything or from anybody.

      They're ever the warrior for their ever more imposing will.

      Normal people would become completely exhausted and sick of the effort, but pressuring people is a troll's crack cocaine.

    8. As someone who has repeatedly been accused of being a troll (and repeatedly banned from sites for being a troll), my experience is that a troll is basically someone who dissents from the general opinion of a group and keeps defending one's point in the face of overwhelmingly stupid attacks. (Incidentally, I love dealing with people who actually respond to what I'm actually saying and who disagree with me but do so intelligently. The problem is such people are an extremely tiny minority.) It has little to do with the merit of the "troll's" argument. Such is the magic of group think.

      If I go over to Digby's Hullabaloo and point out how full of shit the liberal/left has been on Zimmerman there I'm a troll. Because I tend to agree with Bob and have a significant percentage who agree with me as I agree with them, here I'm not.

      And Anonymous at 11:46 AM, you can say my claim is "horse pucky" but I note you have utterly failed to provide any reason to justify your assertion. Horse pucky to you too.

  7. I don't mean to sound utterly cynical, but I wonder if Lehrer might have gone on spinning narratives if he hadn't misquoted a cultural touchstone of this generation of our current elites.

    "Truth" is now the servant of our ideas, opinions, and subjective experience. Truth ain't what she used to be.

    1. Well call me cynical, but I have no idea of the relative importance that this Lehrer kid has to anything that really matters. And here we have the Great Somerby, a pioneer in political blogging, wasting two posts in one day proving that he is smarter than yet another upcoming "intellectual" who also happens to be younger than than he is.

      Meanwhile, Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination for President of the United States by doing two things: 1. Grossly outspending his competition and going extremely negative on them; 2. Out-"Tea Partying" them by abandoning every principle he once held -- or at least said he held.

      And in the first seven months of this election year, what has the Great Somerby -- the world's leading opponent of the trivial at the expense of the substantial -- spent his time on?

      Proving how vile MSNBC was in its coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, and taking on every "intellectual" who is younger and more successful than he.

    2. "I don't mean to sound utterly cynical, but I wonder if Lehrer might have gone on spinning narratives if he hadn't misquoted a cultural touchstone of this generation of our current elites."

      What does "spinning narratives" mean and why is it bad?

    3. It means approaching a topic with something that is beyond a personal perspective.

      It's a SURETY that you know the whys and the wherefores, and that the facts play second fiddle to some indisputable personal, political, or historical truth.

    4. Anon 10:32, yet there are people here who find the topic to be extremely pertinent.

    5. "proving that he is smarter than yet another upcoming 'intellectual'"

      Somerby's post only comes off that way in your mind, douchebag.

      The rest of us can actually read, you know.

  8. Gay: "This is also about entitlement. Only entitlement can explain why someone would choose to lie in plain sight."

    Really, Roxane? Really?

  9. Well, I would have liked to read the comments on Gay's piece, to see if anyone besides me doesn't think "self-plagiarism" is the crime of the century (the quote fabrication and subsequent lying about it IS pretty bad), but Salon's incredibly crappy interface won't let me even open the comments.

    So, I'll just ask here why recycling one's own work is considered to be such an offense. I mean, yeah, if someone is paying you for new original work, I can see why they might get cranky, but I'm not really sure why I could care.

    It's hardly on a level with actual plagiarism, which is passing off SOMEONE ELSE's work as your own, is it?