It's making us dumber, Rosenberg says!


Rosenberg gets it right:
It's making us dumber, Alyssa Rosenberg says.

Actually, she says it's making us "stupider,"
a term we tend to avoid. She refers to the latest angry debate—the debate about John Kelly's comments regarding the Civil War.

It's hard to believe we could get any dumber, but Rosenberg clearly is right, at least on the big picture level. We've seen dumbness in the past day which would fry the soul.

On the level of details, Rosenberg disagrees with Jonathan Chait's claim that Ken Burns voiced the same view of the Civil War in his 1990 PBS film as Kelly did last week. We don't have a view about that.

(Our main complaint about Burns would be this—he almost seems to glorify the dying which happens in war.)

Yesterday, we linked to Chait's post to highlight his claim about the way we humans tend to react to members of the two eternally warring tribes—Theirs and Ours. But was Chait right about Burns' view?

We don't know if he was right. Rosenberg says he wasn't.

All that said, the debate about Kelly's remarks is making us very much dumber. But then, at times of maximum tribal dispute, dumbness is almost the goal.

It strikes us as monumentally dumb to be arguing, 150 years later, about whether Robert E. Lee was, or wasn't, "an honorable person." Inevitably, today's stiff-necked editorial in the New York Times strikes us as the dumbest, least insightful approach to this matter which we've seen so far, not counting Don Lemon's discussions.

When we call the editorial stiff-necked and dumb, we mean it largely seems to exist to express moral superiority over Those People, The Others, the bad people found Over There. It would be depressing, and pointless, to try to list the various dumbnesses found in the piece. But people like those who wrote that piece are people who long for war.

(Sacred Homer, quoting Nestor, the seasoned charioteer:
"Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people...")

Just a guess! Two hundred years in the future, if there is such a time, people will look back at us and marvel at our own moral squalor. They will revile the men and women of the Times editorial board in precisely the way that self-impressed gang reviews the American past.

The editors are too dumb to understand what we mean. They're too dumb to imagine examples of advanced future moral belief, or to imagine the way they'll be reviled by some of the people who hold such beliefs.

You can pretty much trust us, though: If their great-great-great grand children exist, they will look back at these loudmouth prigs with a sense of incomprehension and embarrassment. Their unfeeling descendants may even revile the editors in the same way the editors revile their own ancestors. The lack of wisdom, feeling and sense may turn out to run in the genes.

Do prigs give birth to other prigs? We've never seen a study!

For extra credit only: Were the Confederates trying to "destroy" the United States, as the fiery editors write? Or were they trying to leave it?

Granted, their cause was morally bad. But were they trying to "destroy" the United States?

Related question:

Are the secessionists in Catalonia trying to "destroy" Spain? Why not? Also, are they committing "treason," a capital offense?

Additional questions:

What makes people seek the most dramatic, inflammatory ways to present a situation? Is it simply the ancient love of war, the secret desire to murder The Others? Or might it be an inbred desire for the greatest subhuman joy—the glorious joy of knowing that We, the very good people Over Here, are morally superior to the hideous Others?

Last question:

Is it possible to cite Ta-Nehisi Coates without committing an instant logical howler? Just to be clear, the howler belongs to the glorious editors, not to Brother Coates.


  1. It's hard to tell sometimes because Bob Somerby is all about what those aligned with the Democratic Party shouldn't be doing, never about what they should be doing, but his point seems to be that their way forward is to concede we are a Christian nation and had the South not been terrorized by Sherman and Reconstruction "we wouldn't have all these problems over all these years."

    1. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

      Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

      It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

      The idea that you can have a modern nation-state if any part of it can withdraw from it at any time would have come as news not only to Lincoln but to Bismarck and Garibaldi as well.

  2. About 10 or 15 years ago, the Times was faced with something they did in the past that violated today's norms. In fact, it violated the norms of the time it was written. I'm referring to their positive reporting on the Soviet Union, at a time when Stalin was starving to death millions of Kulaks. The Times was asked to return the Pulitzer Prize Walter Duranty won they won for his fallacious reporting. They refused to do so.

    1. David here's the statement of Papadopoulos' offense.

      See if you can figure why he lied.

    2. Thanks, Caesar. I guess Papadopoulos was trying to his efforts to get a meeting between Trump and some Russians. That was naive Trying to set up such meeting wasn't illegal, and, arguably wasn't even immoral. But, lying to the FBI was illegal.

    3. @David in Cal:
      "wasn't illegal, and, arguably wasn't even immoral."
      Unless he'd been part of Hillary's campaign. Then, treason sirens would have been going off from the Republicans.

    4. This attempt to arrange the meeting happened while Trump was a candidate. It is illegal for an individual citizen to try to conduct diplomacy without authorization by the President (who was Obama). Private citizens of the US do not talk to leaders of other countries about national affairs or issues. I've forgotten the name of the Act that regulates this, maybe someone here can help my memory.

    5. So, Comrade DinC, do you think AG Sessions committed perjury when testifying under oath to the Senate?

      I'll just wait here for your honest answer.

    6. @Anon 7:02pm: Logan Act

    7. mm --as you know, Sessions maintains that his answer implicitly included the conditions of Franken's question. That is, Franken had been talking about improper contact with Russians. OTOH ignoring any implicit context, Sessions said something false.

      If I were on a jury, I'd find Sessions not guilty, because there's a reasonable doubt about what he meant in his answer.

    8. I see. So you don't think a campaign advisor communicating with Russians promising stolen campaign information and emails on Hillary Clinton is something that Sessions might have found improper?

    9. And you do realize, Comrade DinC, that Sessions' qualified bullshit perjured testimony explanation that he meant "improper" came before the revelation of P's guilty plea.

    10. If the Russians had valid information that Trump or Hillary had done something scandalous, I think it would be appropriate for his or her opponent to try to make that information public.

      Now, if the candidate promised some Presidential policy favorable to the Russians in exchange, that would be a different story.

    11. They have already said they discussed the Magnitsky Act at the Trump Tower meeting.

    12. AnonymousNovember 2, 2017 at 8:55 PM -- so what? This is not illegal. In fact, it's appropriate for a candidate to meet with foreign leaders during a campaign. As I recall Trump personally met with the President of Mexico during the campaign.

      We are not at war with Russia.

    13. The Magnitsky Act imposes sanctions on Russian oligarchs. They obviously want it repealed. Colluding with them to remove those sanctions, imposed by the US government, in exchange for campaign help, is actively working against US interests in support of Russians. Not to mention that it is forbidden to receive in-kind donations to one's campaign from a foreign government. So, there is lots wrong with what they did.

      Trump did meet with the President of Mexico during the campaign and yet, lots of people said at the time that it was inappropriate for him to do so. He made a huge fool of himself and previewed the kind of clown he would be in office, which Trump voters ignored or failed to recognize in their abysmal ignorance.

      Russia's interests are not America's interests. Our President is elected to promote our interests -- not his own and certainly not Russia's. They have their own leader for that.

    14. Isn't it amusing how one has to explain treason to trumpbots. David, you've moved the goal post so far it is actually not in the same stadium anymore.

  3. "It's hard to believe we could get any dumber"

    You got that right, Bob. And indeed the Robert Lee statue episode of this sad comedy is hard to beat. But hey, it can get worse, and it probably will...

    1. Mao, raise a statue of Friedrich Paulus.

    2. "it can get worse, and it probably will"
      With Trump in office, ain't that the truth.

    3. The real sad comedic part is in "Mao's" homeland where statues of Stalin are going back up.

  4. If you read the NY Times editorial yourself, you will see that it is about Gen. Kelly, not Lee. It is about whether Kelly is being racist when he today, in the context of racial tensions, expresses a picture of the Civil War that gives comfort to white supremacists and a species of Civil War denial. Kelly has picked this fight himself -- it wasn't brought upon him. His comments are only overtly about Lee and the Civil War but carry a strong subtext of support for white nationalism, from the height of the President's office in our government. That is what the editorial is about -- not judging Lee through the lens of modern racial attitudes, as Somerby suggests.

    Kelly is as unfit for the position he holds as Trump is. That is the point of the editorial.

    1. Are we talking about Gene Kelly or Gen. Kelly? If the former, I think he would make a good chief of staff for President "Bone Spurs" but unfortunately he passed on a while ago.

    2. AC/MA - Don't disparage dancers in politics. George Murphy was a fine Senator as well as an outstanding tap dancer. Watch him with Fred Astaire at

    3. Murphy was a intellectual cretin who did his part to ruin the California standard of living that was the envy of the world.

  5. Somerby asks: “Granted, their cause was morally bad. But were they trying to "destroy" the United States?”
    I suggest that Somerby study his oft-named paragon of virtue, Abraham Lincoln, for HIS answer:
    [Fourth of July Address to Congress (1861)]:
    And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy—a government of the people by the same people—can or can not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth.

    At the beginning they [the South] knew they could never raise their treason to any respectable magnitude by any name which implies violation of law. They knew their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of devotion to law and order, and as much pride in and reverence for the history and Government of their common country as any other civilized and patriotic people. They knew they could make no advancement directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments. Accordingly, they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps through all the incidents to the complete destruction of the Union.
    The sophism itself is that any State of the Union may consistently with the National Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully , withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State. The little disguise that the supposed right is to be exercised only for just cause, themselves to be the sole judge of its justice, is too thin to merit any notice. With rebellion thus sugar coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the Government the day after some assemblage of men have enacted the farcical pretense of taking their State out of the Union who could have been brought to no such thing the day before.
    The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has.
    The seceders insist that our Constitution admits of secession. They have assumed to make a national constitution of their own, in which of necessity they have either discarded or retained the right of secession, as they insist it exists in ours. If they have discarded it, they thereby admit that on principle it ought not to be in ours. If they have retained it, by their own construction of ours they show that to be consistent they must secede from one another whenever they shall find it the easiest way of settling their debts or effecting any other selfish or unjust object. The principle itself is one of disintegration, and upon which no government can possibly endure.

    It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war power in defense of the Government forced upon him. He could but perform this duty or surrender the existence of the Government

    (...more to come...)

    1. (...more Lincoln...)
      [First State of the Union address (1861)]:
      The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed. We should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable.

      Lincoln’s views on slavery as a cause of the war:
      [Second State of the Union address (1862)]:
      Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.

      Lincoln’s view on compromise:
      [Letter to James C. Conkling (1863)]
      If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise. I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible.

      Lincoln’s MLK-like compassion:
      [Order of Retaliation (30 July 1863)]
      It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person, on account of his color, and for no offence against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age. The government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy's prisoners in our possession. It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war

  6. In 200 years I envision a country similar to Mao's China. All the school children wear the same shapeless cloths, have the same light brown skin color, and have identical haircuts, male and female. Of course most will not have yet settled on a gender or be expected to. They will marvel at the effort we expended to be individuals. They will be proud of how equal and interchangeable they are.

    1. And they’ll be called mud people, right?

    2. And they'll be plagued with misery and mental illness because their society exchanged accommodation of the 99% whose gender would be normally and happily expressed with accomodating the 1% abnormal oppressives who forbid acknowledging difference.

    3. So, you think that if you allow a person to wear what they want you will be forced to wear what they want? Does this thought plague you with misery?

      You argue that you are protecting individualism when you are in fact suppressing someone else's individualism.

      Better trolling please.

    4. The dream of trannie activists is to disassociate gender from biological sex in 100% because the disassociation exists in 1%. They want to force a denial of the reality of gender and its normal biological association. These oppressors are on the wrong side of history but no worries because this fad will pass and be ridiculed later. The human spirit eventually resists and rebels against these insane schemes.

    5. "The human spirit eventually resists and rebels against these insane schemes."

      Still waiting on the human spirit to resist Conservative economics. Human spirit needs to realize Wall Street isn't going to burn itself down.

  7. There was once an ultimately-unsuccessful comedian who opined that the one thing he learned doing standup comedy was to hate the general public.

    1. I see that you too have watched the Syracuse University/Newhouse School produced documentary about stand-up comedy that featured Bob at a local Syracuse comedy club in the early 1990s...

  8. I knew Somerby would somehow criticize the outcry over Kelly's Civil War comments. Damn liberals!! If only the Democrats bent over backwards to flatter white voters, then we could all get along! Only foppish elites fail to realize that discussing issues that matter to women or minorities condescends to normal Americans. Once liberals shut up about that nonsense, Republicans will like them more and will definitely stop stoking cultural divisions.

  9. Yep, there is a lot of stupid going on regarding Kelly and his comments, and Bob is no slouch at throwing new dumb on
    the idiot's bonfire.

    Yes, at the very least it illustrates what a bubble liberals live in if they are shocked at an old Republicans excuse making for the Confederacy. If they strayed beyond their bubble once in awhile they
    would hear a lot worse. It's hardly a good use of a press briefing to bulldog race on a President we all know is a dumb white racist.

    Beyond that, Kelly's debunked by video evidence account of the Florida Congresswoman's speech is revolting. It smacks of race based fantasizing. Trump put Kelly in a rotten place with his comments about the death of his son and Obama. The honorable thing to do was simply to say "no, President Obama did not offend me in the way approached my son's death." (Unless the extreme unlikelihood that he was offended is true, I suppose) and gotten on with it. He might have even explained that there is no good way to deal with grieving relatives, and let it go at that. But instead he makes up these lies. Sickening. The old Howler would have noted this, and examined the Press's reaction to it. But, those days are long gone....

  10. Two things bothered me about Kelly. The media hurried response to find a historian, any available one, quick..because we can't say WE know what the Civil War is, we need an alibi? And secondly that the historian is Ken Burns and not Howard Zinn.

  11. R. E. Lee was a vicious slaver with total control over other human beings which he felt he had the right to torture with the lash and the branding iron. It is no surprise that (Republicans) those who are presently seeking to realize the totalitarian world of rule by plutocracy and theocracy want to see such men honored. But they are all part of the class of the despicable and the dishonorable and deserve only condemnation.

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