Part 4—Preferably a cartoon: On January 17, 2016, Daniel Shaver had an extremely bad day. He was shot and killed by a Maricopa County policeman as she crawled on his belly, submissive, in the hallway of a Mesa motel.
On December 8 of this year, prolonged videotape of the deadly incident was released to the public. In an online report for the New York Times, Vivian Wang described what she saw on the tape. Almost five minutes of videotape accompany Wang's report:
WANG (12/9/17): Newly released body camera footage shows a police officer shooting an unarmed man in an Arizona hotel after the man sobbed and pleaded with officers not to shoot him.Was this really the most horrific such videotape yet? Arguably, yes.
The graphic video, which was released after a jury on Thursday acquitted the officer of murder and manslaughter charges, stoked outrage on social media and renewed calls for reforms in law enforcement.
“This, to me, is the most horrific shooting I’ve ever seen,” Mark Geragos, a lawyer for the widow and the 5- and 8-year-old daughters of the man, Daniel Shaver, 26, said in an interview on Saturday. Mr. Geragos, who said he had seen thousands of body camera videos, said the footage was evidence of “the criminal justice system at its worst.”
The previous worst videotape showed Walter Scott being shot in the back in North Charleston, S.C., as he ran from a pursuing police officer. Arguably, the new tape was even worse than that, in that 1) it showed the entire incident, from start to finish, and 2) it included the extended crazy instructions given to Shaver and a female friend by the officer who was later acquitted.
Should the officer have been acquitted? We aren't examining that question today. Today, we're discussing what anthropologists have told us about the way the tape of Shaver's death has been treated within the American press and pundit corps—by the way the videotape has disappeared from view.
According to Wang, Geragos said the tape was the worst he's ever seen. She also said the release of the tape had "stoked outrage on social media and renewed calls for reforms in law enforcement."
If so, how odd! Despite the focus on police shootings in recent years, the incident was never reported in the hard-copy Times.
Wang's report appeared online only. According to Nexis, readers of the hard-copy Times have never heard of the incident, or of Shaver at all.
Then too, there's this. Despite the focus on police shootings in recent years, this incident has provoked zero pundit reaction. According to Nexis, the incident has never been mentioned on MSNBC's evening programs, or on any CNN program except for overnight time-kill programs.
(MSNBC doesn't prepare transcripts for its daytime programs.)
The incident has never been mentioned by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon. It has been mentioned by no columnist at either the New York Times or the Washington Post.
Despite the recent focus on police shootings. that remarkable videotape has come and gone with barely a word of comment. Plainly, everyone knows why that is. But major anthropologists have tried to help us place this incident in a larger context for our award-winning documentary, Anthropology Now, which is scheduled to be filmed in some future year.
The shooting of Shaver has disappeared. According to these major figures, the lack of press and pundit interest can be explained as follows:
Our floundering species, Homo sapiens, is a species whose mental functioning is heavily focused on the contemplation of illustrative stories. Our species isn't instinctively focused on facts.
"Jesus employed no charts or graphs," one witty scientist told us.
How strong is our desire for parables? "Even today, our brainiest journalists routinely describe their news reports as 'stories!' " So this scientist sadly said, shaking his or her head.
According to these anthropologists, the problem with our instinctive functioning runs even deeper than that. Our species isn't content to seek out stories, these scientists say. We're wired to seek the most simplified tales we can find.
"The truth is, we're strongly wired to seek cartoons," one of these scholars said. He or she proceeded to explain what he or she meant, offering specific examples:
"Starting with the death of Trayvon Martin," this anthropologist told us, "members of the American liberal tribe have been constructing cartoonized stories about matters of gender and race."
According to this scientist, facts have routinely been invented or disappeared to cartoonize these stories. In other cases, wholly irrelevant facts have been stressed in the telling of these cartoonized tales.
"As a species, we love the smell of cartoons in the morning," one anthropologist said. Also this:
Sometimes, entire incidents must disappear to drive the overall story! This explains the non-reaction to the shooting of Shaver, these major academics have said.
These major figures are painting a rather gloomy picture of our species' instinctive functioning. As a matter of fact, they've repeatedly said, we humans aren't strongly wired to behave in classically "rational" ways, or to pursue "Enlightenment values."
Especially at times of social stress and tribal division, we're strongly wired to seek cartoons—and the more dumbed-down the better! Or at least, so these well-known figures have said.
Let's make one point perfectly clear. At first, we assumed these scientists were describing the internal wiring and external tendencies of "those people," The Others, the ones who are found Over There. When we made a comment betraying this thought, these scholars brought us up short.
They stressed the claim that this is also the way we liberals are inclined to behave! This seems like a highly irrational claim, but these major anthropologists have stressed it again and again.
Again and again in recent years, we liberals have disappeared facts to create cartoonized tales! In the case of the shooting of Shaver, we've disappeared the incident altogether, despite that remarkable tape!
These anthropologists say these facts about human wiring help explain our liberal tribe's recent moral panics and stampedes. They say these basic facts help explain Kirsten Gillibrand's shaky behavior, even Patrick Leahy's recent flip concerning Senator Franken!
They further say that these facts help explain the way we liberals ignore the public schools. We don't actually care about the kids in those schools, these major figures allege. We only care about our cartoons, which we cling to as a drowning man or woman might cling to twigs from a raft.
Alas! It was with these crazy thoughts in mind that we recently read Cat Person, the New Yorker short story which recently became a sensation among us liberal types. In our view, the story is fascinating and instructive right up to the end, when it becomes a cartoon.
The New Yorker has long been famous for its cartoons. Back in the day, did the famously brainy magazine present its cartoons in disguise?
Final point about Shaver: In the Washington Post, Wes Lowery offered a news report about Shaver's killing. Online, the headline says this:
"Graphic video shows Daniel Shaver sobbing and begging officer for his life before 2016 shooting"
The report appeared in the hard-copy Post on Saturday, December 9. According to Nexis, there has been no subsequent mention of Shaver in the Post, whether hard-copy or online. According to Nexis, Shaver has never been mentioned in the hard-copy New York Times at all.
Earlier this year, Lowery published a best-selling book, "They Can't Kill Us All." It was recently picked by the New York Times as one of the hundred best books of the year.
We aren't judging the quality of the book, which we own but haven't read. The book itself may be superb. We have no way to judge.
That said, "Is that title perhaps a cartoon in itself?" That's what one of our anthropologists somewhat Socratically said!
Full disclosure: Back in the 1990s, we appeared, for the second time, on CNBC's Equal Time. During the course of a hurtful discussion, we were compared to Margaret Mead by Mary Matalin and Tony Kornheiser, our excessively puckish co-hosts.
We were appearing as a comedian! In the new year, we'll try to post the tape.