YEAR OF THE SPECIES: We offer two "questions of the year!"


Part 4—Professor Gates' question, then ours:
In China, they're finishing up their current "year of the rooster."

Over Here, we're just beginning our latest "year of the species." In this new year, our pseudo-discourse will almost surely unfold in thrall to the several unhelpful instincts our species' flesh is heir to.

It isn't completely our fault. It's largely the way we're wired!

Within our own culture, flesh tends to be heir to the joys of entertainment. Just today, on Morning Joe, the AP's Julie Pace explained the latest way this pattern is unfolding:
BARNICLE (1/5/18): Julie, we've been talking obviously for 48 hours about Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, Michael Wolff, the book, the Mercers, Bob Mueller, obstruction of justice, the Trump administration in disarray.

But while all of this is happening, I'm wondering, do you pick up any vibes, comments, feelings from people on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, about all the little things, and they're not little, slipping under the threshold, like the front page story in the New York Times today about basically giving away both coastal waterways, Atlantic and Pacific, to the gas and oil companies for drilling. Things like that...

Do you pick up any vibes on that?

PACE: Yes, actually, in the last 48 hours, we've had some really major policy news that has gone under the radar. We had the drilling announcement yesterday...

On the Democratic side, though, what you hear is a belief that some of this is strategic, that the president wants to create this chaos, or at least is happy to let the chaos reign, so that some of these more unpopular decisions don't end up being what we're all talking about, and what the American people are hearing about.
For the full exchange, click here, move to the five-minute mark.

Pace referred to "the drilling announcement" in which Donald J. Trump sold off the nation's coastlines. And sure enough:

If you were watching cable last night, that very much didn't "end up being what we're all talking about." That news did go "under the radar," as Pace (and Barnicle) said.

We didn't hear about that last night. Instead, we heard about the exciting "true crime" chase after Donald J. Trump. We heard about that, and about little else. We heard about that again and again. It was exciting, entertaining, dramatic, tribally pleasing and fun.

In our experience, Pace was one of the past year's best journalists. She doesn't wander outside her lane. She doesn't get over her skis.

In this instance, Pace was noting an obvious fact: cable news is indulging itself in the excitement of the latest "true crime" drama, the chase after Donald J. Trump. The auctioning of the American coastlines is simply too dull to discuss.

Almost surely, that's the way it's going to go in our upcoming "year of the species." On cable, the stars will feed us drama, and that's where the feeding will end.

That's how it will be in the upcoming year. Looking back on the year just ended, we make a dramatic announcement:

Today, we announce two different "questions of the year!" The first was asked by Professor Gates. We'll debut the second right here.

Among people not employed at this site, we thought Professor Gates asked the year's best question. He popped his question to Ava DuVernay on his PBS program, Finding Your Roots. His question went exactly like this:

"What difference does it make?"

What difference does it make! In our view, the question was transplendent. For our prior report, click here.

Gates' question concerned the meaning of "race," a concept and topic which dominates much of our own tribe's thinking. We expect to return to that question and to that topic in the coming year.

We thought Gates' question, to which he required no answer, was potent, on target, outstanding. For ourselves, as the past year reached its end, we had an additional question.

Our question can be tied to recent columns by Paul Krugman about the Republican tax bill. Transparently, the bill was a scam designed to reward GOP donors, Krugman repeatedly said.

Transparently, everyone else was destined to lose, red and blue voters alike! But then, so too with these remarkable data:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Canada: $4608
Australia: $4420
France: $4407
Japan: $4150
United Kingdom: $4003
Italy: $3272
Spain: $3153
South Korea: $2488
Everyone is getting looted, red and blue voters alike! Our question therefore is this:

What keeps liberals from explaining this fact to Republican voters?

Our tribe has an answer to that question—an answer we very much like. That said, our own "question of the year" can also be rendered like this:

Is it possible that we are somehow at fault in this pathetic matter? Is there some part of our tribe's game we could somehow improve?

We loved Professor Gates' question. We expect to explore his startling question in the year ahead.

That said, we like our own question too! We present these queries as dual "questions of the year"—as questions of the year just ended and of the year ahead.

Tomorrow: Even more sex in the cinema


  1. Everyone is destined to lose? I own a small business, am not a GOP donor, and I'm destined to benefit bigly, as are most of my employees.

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerJanuary 8, 2018 at 12:32 PM

      The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money. Enjoy your bigly bribe.

  2. That drilling announcement didn't go under the radar in California. We care about our coastline.

    Somerby again demonstrates his lack of training in the social sciences. The history of psychology includes extensive debate about what is instinct and what is learned behavior. Around the turn of the 20th century, behaviorism arose out of a rejection of structuralism and functionalism, two approaches to explaining behavior that relied heavily on instinct as an explanation for almost everything people do.

    We do not have an instinct for entertainment. There is a subfield of psychology that focuses on explaining why humans and animals play -- it is to practice essential survival skills. The experience of pain and pleasure is also closely related to identifying the things that promote survival and the things that are dangerous to us. Aberrations involving the experiences of pain and pleasure are the result of civilization, not natural responses, like those of animals. So Somerby has this a bit twisted around.

    He wants to call us all primates (hence his remark yesterday about the year of the monkey) and he wants to ascribe anything he doesn't like to animal instincts. Unfortunately, the facts about human behavior don't justify such shortcuts in explanation.

    Amateurs should stay out of dabbling in complexities or they risk making huge fools of themselves. Somerby looks like an ass again today. The further he goes down this path, the more he will make himself sound silly. He should take a break and read a few books about psychology or go back to justifying his opinions using specious logic and argument, like normal people do. He doesn't have the chops for this line of reasoning.

    1. “Somerby again demonstrates his lack of training in the social sciences. The history of psychology includes extensive debate about what is instinct and what is learned behavior.”

      Did such history include TV and cable news? Did it examine the concept of a rich, sedentary society that works to buy their next big screen viewing portal?

      Would that be structuralism?

      “Amateurs should stay out of dabbling in complexities…”

      Well, if they do that, how can they advance beyond amateur? Btw the root of amateur is love, from the Latin.

      “He wants to call us all primates…”

      I’m so slow. I just realized that you’re trolling. But damn if you didn’t give me food for thought.


  3. Is offshore drilling actually an unpopular issue? It's certainly unpopular among those who oppose any sort of energy development. But, I suspect that the majority of Americans don't care one way or the other, because it doesn't affect them directly.

    1. How about people who oppose any sort of energy development in sensitive natural areas designed for preservation?

      You don't have to be against all energy development to wish to preserve some specific areas of our natural resources. I don't live in Santa Barbara, for example, but I want our coastal marine life and views (important to our tourist industry) to be preserved. Based on polls and voting, most Californians agree about this.

  4. Not being a member of Congress, I don't recall having a vote on tax reform or any of the health care bills. I think it is great that Somerby wants to hold someone accountable for their passage, but I think he is off-target when he focuses on us as the people who let these things pass.

    "Is it possible that we are somehow at fault in this pathetic matter? Is there some part of our tribe's game we could somehow improve?"

    The answer is no.

    1. Did you do what you everything could to influence those that did have votes? Are you merely a pawn with no influence over policy? Are we not citizens of a free society with a duty to influence our leaders every way we can? Are you too comfortable draped in the honeypot of consumerism to do what you could do to influence the votes instead choosing to play the role of a helpless piano key in all things voted on in congress? We get what we deserve. We are the citizens of a free democracy and we do influence policy. Every time you watch a millionaire on tv mug and clown about a tabloidesque non-issue as a really important one slithers under the radar unnoticed, you cast your vote for the status quo, you forfeit your moral duty as a citizen to influence policy and, as you sit there inebriated in the spoils of the capitalism, yes, you take your share of the blame for what we do and who we are as a country.

  5. "We thought Gates' question, to which he required no answer, was potent, on target, outstanding."

    So, you do understand it, in your lucid moments?

    But then what in the world compelled you to type all that tasteless shit categorizing students as "black", "white"?

    And it's the same with offshore drilling, which, obviously, is nothing like 'selling off the nation's coastlines'. You criticize clowns on TV - and then start clowning yourself like there's no tomorrow.

    WTF, man? Split personality?

    1. "offshore drilling, which, obviously, is nothing like 'selling off the nation's coastlines'. "

      It's just yet another typical Trump/ GOP giveaway to the Establishment, non-elites be damned maneuver.

  6. Republican voters don't listen. That's why its hard to explain things to them.

  7. "Is it possible that we are somehow at fault in this pathetic matter? Is there some part of our tribe's game we could somehow improve?"

    It's a legitimate question. I appreciate Somerby using "pathetic" to describe this "matter" and not our tribe.
    Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is complicated. I would like to see Somerby discuss this, beyond saying we need to figure out how to talk to The Others ( a term Somerby has used in the past), which is pretty much the same thing as saying we need to "up our game."
    Assuming we're talking about potential areas of agreement with R voters, (taxes?, Social Security?, Medicare?) and not single-issue voters, like pro-life voters, it isn't clear that Democrats haven't been trying to make persuasive arguments here, but there's always room for improvement, I suppose. Or are we talking not about R voters, but independents? swing voters? That's why the term "The Others" is imprecise.

    There are regional differences, there is a built-in anti-liberal bias from Fox and other right wing outlets that is very pervasive, and is an unavoidable obstacle.
    As a historical note, the South voted solidly Democratic for almost 100 years, with zero Republican successes. That was historical and traditional, despite the best efforts of Republicans to counter it. The reasons for the switch should be examined as well. Somerby would like to forbid liberals from discussing race, as being a losing strategy. He may be right, even if race is an undeniable factor in our society. R's have managed to use it successfully.
    And in a place like Alabama, a candidate like Moore barely loses. That should tell you something about Alabama.

    Heck, the left can't even agree if it wants a Bernie Sanders or a more centrist Hillary Clinton.

    1. That was decided when Hillary won the primaries and the nomination.

  8. Democrats have do not want to make too much of a stink about "big government." The Republican party slams them on it, calls them Venezuela lovers, and being the party of the middle class, they're already incredibly passive and confused about how social programs for the poor even work.

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