Part 2—Gods call discussion a fail: According to several Olympian gods to whom we've granted anonymity because they haven't been authorized to discuss our unraveling veil of tears, the most revealing event in "human" history occurred on an NPR radio program last Wednesday morning, August 30, 2017, in the heart of New York City.
The gods referred to The Brian Lehrer Show, a daily program on Gotham's WNYC. The program is branded as high end. That's where the comedy starts.
Our interest in last Wednesday's radio show began in the New York Times of Thursday, August 31. On the famous newspaper's recently reimagined page A3, an anonymous journalist cited the program in the Spotlight feature, which can't be seen on-line.
The conversation on Lehrer's program had caught page A3's eye. Here's how the feature started:
SpotlightThe day before, Appiah had chatted with Lehrer for some 21 minutes. In this Spotlight feature, the Times provided a version of their conversation which was edited and condensed.
ADDITIONAL REPORTAGE AND REPARTEE FROM OUR JOURNALISTS
On Wednesday, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor of philosophy and law at N.Y.U., who writes the Ethicist column for The Times Magazine, appeared on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show" to discuss ethical quandaries and his new book, "As If: Idealization and Ideals." An edited and consensed version of their conversation follows; to hear the entire segment, visit wnyc.org/bl.
Somewhat implausibly, several Olympian gods have now told us that this radio chat was the most revealing event in "human" history. With their smirks and the rolls of their eyes, they inserted scare quotes in that description exactly where we've placed them.
How could a fairly brief radio chat possibly be so revealing? Before we share the gods' perspective, let's get clear on who the participants were that day.
First, the philosopher. As the Spotlight synopsis reveals, Appiah isn't just any philosopher. He's the official "house philosopher" of the New York Times, our most foppish American newspaper.
As such, he's also regarded by the Times as a journalist. This legitimates his presence in the Spotlight feature, which presents "reportage and repartee" from this newspaper's journos.
Appiah isn't just any philosopher; he's the official house philosopher of the New York Times. He spoke last Wednesday with Lehrer, who isn't just any NPR star, he'd an NPR star in New York.
As such, rules of branding established their chat as the brainiest discussion possible within our journalistic firmament. That's why the gods smirked, and rolled their eyes, as they discussed what occurred.
We asked the gods about this program because, when we listened to it on line, we found it so—well, what's the word?
Our youthful analysts had lowered their heads as they listened to Lehrer's exchange with Appiah. We tried to tell them that the chat came straight from the heart of our full-blown fail, and was therefore extremely significant. But nothing we said could excite their interest, and the gods seemed openly derisive when they discussed this chat.
Is Appiah a competent philosopher? Is he a philosopher at all, in any meaningful sense?
Is Lehrer a competent journalist? Would a competent journalist engage in a discussion of the type he staged with Appiah that day?
We ask these questions for an obvious reason. Over the past perhaps thirty years, our American public discourse entered a long slow downward spiral, a downward spiral which has produced our current absolute fail.
That absolute fail is embodied in the rule of Donald J. Trump. His strange behavior was evaluated by the philosopher in the following manner, starting in minute 6 of that NPR program:
APPIAH (8/30/17): It's true that almost everything the current president says is strictly speaking false. But a lot of it is false in the mode of hyperbole, and I don't think we should object to those ones, we shouldn't object to the ones where he's overstating the case. People overstate the case all the time!We should expect him to overstate! He copped to this in his stupid old book. Why should we be surprised?
LEHRER: Didn't he use a phrase like that in his book, The Art of the Deal? Your phrase [in the book As If] is "strategic untruth," that so many people employ as a method of dealing with reality. And I think he said "strategic hyperbole," or something like that?
APPIAH: Yes, he did, yes. So that's overstatement. So we should expect him to overstate...
A defender of the faith could say that we're quoting Appiah selectively. In tomorrow's report, we'll examine his statements in more detail. But we think a person could fairly say that Appiah seemed to be saying that we shouldn't be all that concerned if "almost everything [Donald J. Trump] says is strictly speaking false."
We should expect him to overstate! He said he would in his book!
What, us worry? So the philosopher seemed to say last Wednesday, with no push-back from the journalist, who seemed to think he might be engaged in some sort of deep discussion.
The philosopher's take on Donald J. Trump may seem a bit odd on its face. But that exchange seems like Einstein's next breakthrough as compared to the philosopher's later remarks, which had the analysts glumly staring into middle distance.
Sad! In our view, the philosopher seemed to be auditioning for a sequel to Being There; the NPR journalist showed no sign of noticing this state of affairs. Tomorrow, we'll look at what the philosopher eventually said, and we'll discuss the mirth of the gods.
Our society's long, ridiculous downward spiral has now produced a total fail. Our "philosophers" and our "journalists" stared into space for thirty years as this fail developed.
The gods smirked as they discussed Wednesday's radio chat, but we thought they also seemed perhaps a bit chagrined. We almost thought the gods believed that a wonderful joke—a source of amusement on Olympus for several millennia—had at long last gone too far, had yielded a tragic result.
Last Wednesday morning, a court philosopher chatted with a name-brand journalist. According to several gods, their discussion can be described as a snapshot from the fail.
We think the gods were strongly on point. Your lizard will tell you we're wrong.
Tomorrow: Human, oh so less than human!
Coming next: Memoirs from the fail