Part 1—These deaths-by-hex today: When did The Daily Howler go meta?
You're asking a very good question, one we can't actually answer. But yes, we think it's time for a change in "paradigms" as we liberals try to discover the way the world actually works.
More specifically, it's time for a change in the assumptions we might be inclined to make about our "intellectual leaders," including our mainstream and liberal journalists and our liberal professors.
In fairness, it's also time for a change in our paradigms concerning us in the rank and file. But for this week, we'll focus on those at the top of the heap. We'll focus on snapshots of the elite—on postcards from the ledge.
Are our major journalists, and our liberal professors, actually rational actors? As a starting point in our search, consider Connie Schultz's review of Sally Quinn's new book.
The review appeared in yesterday's Washington Post, on the first page of Outlook. Given Quinn's long-standing role at the Washington Post, it's remarkable that the review appeared at all, let alone in such a high-profile location.
Quinn has written a personal memoir about her life with her husband, the late Ben Bradlee. Also, about her life before she met Bradlee—and about the several people she seems to believe that she has killed through the use of hexes!
Yes, you read that correctly! According to Schultz, Quinn seems to claim that she and her mother have dispatched at least five people through this ancient art. As told by Schultz, Quinn's story starts like this:
SCHULTZ (9/10.17): Quinn was a Style writer and columnist at The Post, and a celebrated Washington hostess who, for decades, threw some of the biggest parties in town. She is also widely known as Bradlee’s third—and longtime—wife.Her great aunt was a devotee of Scottish mysticism, whatever that is, and the servants all practiced voodoo! That said, Quinn's mother seems to have practiced voodoo too, or something very much like it:
Her belief in magic and the occult began in early childhood in the 1940s, when she often lived with maternal relatives in Savannah and Statesboro, Ga. As she writes in the memoir, her great-aunt Ruth was a “nice Presbyterian lady” and “a devotee of Scottish mysticism,” and all of the black domestic staff members “were adherents of voodoo, which they practiced regularly.” Quinn describes spirits showing up to make breakfast before the family rose. Years later, she writes, one welcomed her to Grey Gardens, a famous mansion in the Hamptons that she and Bradlee bought in 1979.
SCHULTZ (continuing directly): Quinn seems to have few reservations about revealing her belief in the deadly power of hexes—her mother’s and her own.For ourselves, we haven't read Quinn's book. Assuming Schultz isn't hallucinating or misrepresenting Quinn's tone, it sounds like Quinn attributes at least two heads above the mantle to her murderous mom.
She writes of the veterinarian who repeatedly refused to take seriously her mother’s pleas for the beloved family dog, Blitzie. After one such rejection, they returned to the car to find that the dog had died in the back seat. “I had never seen my mother so upset. I was devastated. My mother grabbed my hand pulled me back to the office and started screaming at the SOB. ‘I hope you drop dead,’ [Quinn's mother] sobbed.” Days later, Quinn claims, he did.
A few years after that, her mother lashed out at a U.S. Army major she thought had mistreated Quinn as a patient in the pediatric ward of a Tokyo hospital: “I hope you drop dead!” her mother said. Quinn claims that he, too, succumbed.
That said, it sounds like Quinn has engaged in murderous hex-casting too. As Schultz continues, so do the mystical deaths:
SCHULTZ (continuing directly): Like mother, like daughter. In some of the most troubling passages of this book, she describes casting hexes on people who later died. One was an attractive young woman who flirted with one of Quinn’s earlier boyfriends. “I won’t say exactly what I did—even now I think that would be bad luck for me—but I practiced what I learned and observed. I worked on the hex for several days until I felt that it would have some effect.”Assuming Schultz isn't hallucinating, Quinn's book perhaps sounds a bit odd. In the second half of her review, Schultz discusses other unlovely-sounding aspects of Quinn's memoir.
It did, she claims. The woman committed suicide. Quinn vowed never to cast a hex on someone else—a promise she did not keep. When New York magazine wrote an unfavorable profile of her, she “decided to put a hex” on the magazine’s editor, Clay Felker. He later died of cancer. Not her fault, she told herself, “but still, my embedded religion and my Southern upbringing made me believe otherwise.”
Quinn’s last hex came after a psychic gave her a “devastatingly brutal” reading about her son. The woman dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. “I vowed once again never to put another hex on anyone,” she writes. “Believe me, I haven’t, though I have to admit to being sorely tempted on occasion.”
(For more background on Quinn's recent doings, you can read this report in the February 9 Washington Post. It concerns her sale of that summer-home mansion in the Hamptons—for $20 million.)
Bradlee was 93 when he died in 2014. Just last week, Just last week, the Post published an excerpt from Quinn's memoir in which she reports that he suffered from dementia in the years before his death.
Quinn is 76. It's always possible that she is suffering from some form of diminished capacity too. But the apparent oddness of her memoir, including her apparent claims to occasional death-by-hex, serve as the latest example of the mental disorder on display among our high journalists and our professors—in postcards from our failing society's highly disordered ledge.
Traditionally, we in the rank and file took part in a national discourse whose parameters were established by journalistic and professorial elites.
We got our news from Walter and David. Neither man seemed to be stupid. Neither man seemed to be nuts. They established the boundaries of American ideation, information and thought.
As a matter of theory, a democracy probably shouldn't work that way, with the boundaries of discussion being set by a handful of players. But the "democratization of media" we've experienced in recent decades has brought us face to face with some unpleasant facts:
Many of our professors, journalists and corporate leaders aren't like David and Walter. They may not be obsessively honest. They may not be real smart.
The growing role of wealth and fame in these preserves only makes matters worse. Did we mention the fact that Quinn's summer home went for $20 million?
The western world has long been built around a self-flattering claim, in which we the people believe ourselves to be "the rational animal." Again and again, our professors and our journalists are giving the lie to that pleasing old claim—and we in the rank and file may be even worse.
Did Sally Quinn commit death-by-hex? Schultz has reported, now we can decide!
All of a sudden, everything goes! Quinn has sat at the top of the heap for years—and now, intellectual leadership is being provided by a range of players who may be even less capable than she!
All of a sudden, a very wide range of elite players are telling us what we're allowed to think, imagine, contemplate, bow to, recite and believe. In theory, this is the way a democracy ought to work, with many players setting the boundaries, nut just a very small few.
Given the way we rank-and-file work, this practice increasingly reveals itself as a bit of a shaky idea. Our society is currently floundering badly. Does this mess possibly start at the top, among a relatively wide range of hapless, disordered elites?
Coming: Memoirs from the ledge! Also, these assistant, associate and full professors today.