THE YEAR OF THE LIBERAL: Coates' first stand!


Prelude—A possible conflict with script:
Way back in July 2013, a Florida jury reached its verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Not guilty, the Florida jury found. The very next day, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered his reactions at his Atlantic blog.

Coates offered a fairly short, four-part post in which he assessed the jury's decision. He then engaged in extended Q-and-As with readers in his "Comments" section.

At that time, people were still allowed to have different ideas about that jury's verdict. You can read Coates' full post at the link below, then click for his subsequent comments.

Warnings! Coates refers to "the verdict of innocent." Our legal system provides no such findings. He also seems perhaps to be unfamiliar with some of the most basic facts of the high-profile case. We can't riddle you that.

Whatever! In our view, Coates' responses to reader comments were especially instructive that day. But in this part of his formal post, he expressed his basic view of the jury's verdict:
COATES (7/14/13): I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eyewitnesses.
For the record, there actually was one eyewitness to one part of the incident. At any rate, Coates said he thought the jury "basically got it right."

In comments, you can see Coates expressing a further view. According to Coates, George Zimmerman did have reason to fear serious injury or death once the fight with Trayvon Martin got started.

Coates explains this judgment in several different comments. At one point, this exchange occurred:
COMMENTER (7/14/13): I don't see how being on the losing end of a fist fight means a person "reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."

COATES: I am on the ground and you are on top of me wailing away. I am most certainly in "imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
That was Coates in July 2013, expressing views of this incident which have, since that time, almost wholly disappeared within the liberal/progressive world. A slightly cynical observer might say that views of the type Coates expressed that day have essentially been disappeared.

Was Coates correct in his views that day? That's a matter of judgment. It's important to note that Coates never said that Zimmerman's actions were morally correct, though we must again note that he seemed unclear about some basic facts of this case.

Rightly or wrongly, Coates seemed to feel that Zimmerman instigated the fight which occurred that night. His essential point was this:

Once that fight began, Zimmerman did in fact have reason to fear for his life. For that reason, the jury was right in its legal finding.

This post appeared in July 2013. Concerning what occurred that night, we'll call it Coates' first stand. We call it that because, in the past year, Coates wrote an award-winning book—a book which mentions the death of Trayvon Martin at George Zimmerman's hand.

Next week, we'll ask you to notice a certain fact. Coates' account of these events in that book may not sound a whole lot like the account he sketched in that blog post.

To our ear, the account Coates gave in last year's book sounds different from the account he gave in July 2013. Next week, we'll ask you to ponder a question:

If it's true that Coates' account changed, did the change occur because 2015 was the year of liberal script?

There's no way to answer that question, of course. But it lets us start to ask if our own analysis is correct. Was last year, 2015, really the year of liberal script, the year of liberal narrative? If so, to what kinds of script has the liberal world decided all liberals must bow?

For today, we'll only suggest that you read the thoughts Coates expressed in 2013, both in his original post and in his subsequent comments. To our ear, his book conveys a different picture of the events in question. At various times, it also seems to have "problems with the truth"—in its first seven pages, for instance. In our view, the book is also a superb, potentially instructive memoir.

Despite its virtues, does Coates' book perhaps have problems with the truth? Does it emerge from an era of script? If so, the liberal world knew how to react. It hurried to give the book its highest awards.

The conservative world has played this way for a very long time now. Does our own more exalted liberal world now play by this same set of rules?


  1. The purpose of script, narrative, schema is to support memory as the details of an event fade. It is a normal part of human memory functioning. It occurs in all areas, not just with respect to highly charged events like Zimmerman's trial. It occurs for both Democrats and Republicans. The main difference is whether someone with that natural fading of memory takes the time to go back to documentation to see what facts were recorded at the time an event occurred, or whether they rely on their own memory for the details. People who write memoirs generally keep journals or diaries so that they can look this stuff up later, when writing. Coates may not have done that. That is his mistake, not his drift toward narrative, which is the prop upon which everyone's memory rests.

    1. Good comment. Thank you.

    2. Maybe Somerby is complaining about the particular narrative that has formed around this incident and the way the media creates such narratives.

    3. [QUOTE] ...People who write memoirs generally keep journals or diaries so that they can look this stuff up later, when writing. Coates may not have done that. [END QUOTE]

      Done what? He may not have kept a private journal or diary but, unlike most people, his words on the subject are in print that has been publicly disseminated and is readily available to him for review. Is your point that Coates can hardly be expected to be offering thoughtful and grounded commentary on significant issues of the day but rather he should be understood to be someone who shares but the random meanders of his own stream of consciousness?

    4. Thank you CMike!

      That first "good comment" was in serious need of some thinking-through, particularly given the unwarranted pretense of "thought" it presented.

      "his words on the subject are in print that has been publicly disseminated and is readily available to him for review"

    5. It seems pretty obvious that if Coates had looked back at his own reaction at the time, he would have written differently and explained or acknowledged a shift in his opinion. If Somerby can do this, so could Coates. That he didn't does say something about his style of memoir-writing, his process. It raises the question of accuracy about his much earlier memories too. A stream of conscious memoir, especially a well-written one, still has value but not as oral history.

  2. As I recall (said Winston Smith), a lot of people thought the jury pretty much got the verdict right in this case because the prosecution was either too ambitious in charging Zimmerman or too lazy in making their case, or both.

    Remember, too, that Coates is a public intellectual, self-styled or no, implying he can be as fanciful in his musings as he likes, and readers will eat it up.

    Besides, The Zimmerman incident was about the first shot fired in this latest spate of cops vs. blacks. In writing his book, Coates is recollecting (reconstructing)the shooting in light of what's occurred since. Now that a pattern has emerged, he seems to imply, a fresh perspective is called for.

    I'm looking forward to Coates's take on this year's all-white Oscars, over which so many lilly-white critics are peeing their pants over. This assumes, of course, that, as an officially anointed PI, he is willing to abase himself to commenting on popular entertainments.

    1. The Oscars are a scandal because only 10% of the Academy members are POC whereas African Americans are 12% of the population. The complaints are hilarious because Innaritu and del Toro shift from white to brown depending on who is writing, illustrating the problem with basing so much on a fluid social construct. I'm just glad Tarantino wasn't nominated. His violence-porn movies are an affront to humanity -- how can anyone seriously complain about violence (police, domestic or war) while admiring his films. Samuel L. Jackson should have boycotted, in my opinion.

    2. "There is an attempt on the part of insane or very low IQ idiots to normalize a social condition under which citizens are obligated to allow themselves to be beaten or murdered before defending themselves against cops."

      Fixed it for you.

  3. Look, I know TDH is in the habit of returning to certain incidents and statements almost endlessly, but this is a real recycling job. Didn't we do this one before? Why doesn't Bob visit or revisit one of the cases of Police Brutality that are indeed very troubling, instead of this admittedly dubious case. We might also mention the portrayal of Zimmerman as a balanced, soft spoken nice guy (as presented by the right) seems to have been considerably off base too. I won't hold my breath for "Year of The Conservative."
    Coats seems like a dubious character and his victim mongering ways will probably catch up with him, after his paranoia for profit nets him a nice piece of change. But I know this by the praise he has garnered from lightweights like David Brooks as much as anything else.

    1. The book? Huge.
      Coates (that's the spelling, champ)? Huge.
      The case? Huge.

      Greg? Tiny.

    2. Let him write something that isn't racist drivel and I'll spell his name correctly. Now get back to your Tarantino movies and Daily Show, my suggestive one.

  4. Year of the Liberal. Baltimore reaches highest murder rate in history because SJW progressives attacked innocent police officers who now understand their choices are standing down and letting thugs be thugs, or facing prosecution for doing their jobs well. Numerous "unarmed teens" have been murdered by other "unarmed teens" since, but it's worth it if SJW get their feelz on.

    1. An ad campaign that writes itself:
      Standing down is such a smart way to counter any criticism for doing a shitty job at work.
      Try it at your job today!

    2. It's working out better for the cops who live to write out traffic tickets another day and don't have to risk life and limb by involving themselves in violent situations. Unarmed Teens not so much.

  5. When your community has called the police 400 times within a year and has an epidemic of home invasions including on young mothers, it is morally correct for the men of that community to police the community, call police dispatchers when a suspicious individual is noticed, and keep eyes on that individual until the authorities arrive. If that individual brutally attacks the neighborhood watchman, it is morally correct for that citizen to defend himself with lethal force.

    1. @ 4:38 & 4:41 - David in Cal's sockpuppet(s).

    2. After watching those cop videos last year, neighborhood stalkers are a step in the right direction.

  6. "For the record, there actually was one eyewitness to one part of the incident."

    For the record, this comment in no way detracts from the accuracy of Coates but furthers the Somerby narrative that he is dishonest.

    1. Coates: "there were no other eyewitnesses"

      So yeah, Somerby's "comment" -- really a citation of fact -- does indeed "detract from the accuracy of Coates." Or, in a world where we know how to use the language, we might say "The fact cited by Somerby impeaches Coates' reputation for accuracy, such as it is."

      As for the second part of your "record," Anonymous of 5:35 PM, there is no evidence of any narrative that Coates is dishonest. Rather, there is simply plentiful evidence that he has changed his tune, plentiful evidence that he is determined not to let facts get in his way.

  7. Slightly off topic. Several decades ago, being a victim began to convey greater status than having real achievements. Thus ruffians like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are more renowned than Dr. Carson was, until he ran for President. The brilliant David Blackwell, who invented a field of mathematics, is essentially unknown. IMHO this shift has damaged the black community. It gives black children the wrong people to emulate.

    1. Funny you place this in the context of "[s]everal decades ago..." [LINK]

    2. This one's for mm. Here's the new pose, quite a bit different from the old pose. Isn't life grand? [LINK]

    3. CMike -- I recall a glossy Time-Life book in 1965 about successful blacks. I particularly noticed David Blackwell, because he was a Math Professor at UC Berkeley and I was a math grad student there. I later attended one of his lectures. He had the wonderful ability to present highly complex stuff with such understanding and clarity that he made it seem simple.

      Blackwell lived a long life, not dying until 2010. Yet, I never saw any public reference to him subsequent to that book in 1965.

      Here's an imperfect analogy: If Jewish children were encouraged to identify with Michael Milken or Meyer Lansky, instead of Albert Einstein, that would be a bit like black children being encouraged to identify with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, rather than David Blackwell.

    4. Anon 2:26 -- did you really mean what you wrote? You seem to be implying that someone who becomes a brilliant mathematican and invents a new field of mathematics is acting like a Republican. OTOH you seem to imply that a big bully who beats up a puny convenience store clerk is acting like a Democrat.

    5. David in Cal says:

      I particularly noticed David Blackwell, because he was a Math Professor at UC Berkeley and I was a math grad student there. I later attended one of his lectures. He had the wonderful ability to present highly complex stuff with such understanding and clarity that he made it seem simple.

      I don't quite get how an upper level math lecture could be clarifying. The only presentation in prose about math that ever did me much good was Lancelot Hogben's Mathematics for the Million which provides a step by step history of mathematics, showing how practical challenges have inspired developments and how one field has served as the foundation for another [LINK]. That and I guess I picked up some math concepts from trying to understand some simple issues in physics.

      Otherwise, for me, it has been taking a lot of time working by myself with a textbook's exercises along with those in a Schaum's Outline [LINK], or maybe some other workbook, to make any progress in being able to make use of any particular branch of mathematics.

      I rarely get much in the way of understanding out of watching a documentary on a field of mathematics or from the bio of a mathematician. That said, I do understand people with your background are able to discuss the subject with each other- it's just not a conversation I've ever been able to follow.

      I'd be curious to hear about an example of how an upper level mathematical concept can be clarified in a lecture other than marching the auditors through the symbolic logic of a proof.

    6. CMike -- thanks for mentioning that book. I had a copy as a boy, but in the course of many moves it's long gone. All I remember is that the title is "million" in the singular, because Hogben believed there were one million people who had trouble with math, and the book was written for this group of people.

      There is a skill to laying out mathematical development so it's understandable. I don't claim to have that skill. I do know that some textbooks and some lectures make the material easier to grasp than others.

      Your description of teaching math by "marching through the symbolic logic of a proof" is very apt. Most mathematics is taught that way, today. But, some people don't like that appoach. They point out that this is not how the math was actually developed. It was developed through big concepts and deep understanding. Over time, the proofs were made elegant, but some of the intuition was lost.

    7. A conservative praising someone that knows ANYTHING about math is quite the irony.

    8. As for Hogben's Mathematics for the Million, I'd suggest to anyone who sits down with it, that they skip Chapter 2, The Grammar of Size, Order, and Shape. That one drags, but all of those that follow, from Chapter 3 Euclid as a Springboard to Chapter 12 The Algebra of Choice and Chance, are well worth the effort of mastering them.

  8. David 2:21AM -- I have the sad duty to agree with you on one point. In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, Jews were marginalized. Anti-semitism was a serious problem. Jews reacted not by idolizing their thugs by by emulating their high achievers. Jewish-Americans are now the most privileged minority.

  9. You are stretching, Bob. Where did this particular jones come from?

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