Part 4—When tribal dogma attacks: The inanity of the New York Times provides a daily anthropology lesson, though only for those who are willing to know who and what we humans are
The "Harari heuristic" lights the way toward what we can expect to find when our species records its deathless insights. According to the professor's now-famous heuristic, we probably shouldn't look for "rational" conduct from our kind.
Instead, we should look for "gossip," and for evidence of the invention and adoption of sweeping group "fictions." So this heuristic now says.
The gossip is offered in today's Washington Post, whose web site pimps a hard-copy front-page report with this deathless grabber:
WASHINGTON POST SYNOPSIS: The Conways, like the rest of the country, have been jolted by the [sic] President Trump. They love each other, exasperate each other and talk behind each other’s backs. Take a look inside the marriage of one of Trump’s most loyal advisers and her husband, an increasingly outspoken critic of the president.A look inside Kellyanne's marriage! So cool! Also, so in line with the potent Harari heuristic!
The Post is providing the gossip. But if it's sheer inanity you want, we'll recommend the New York Times' hard-copy page A3, which features Jason Zinoman's take on a recent claim by Jerry Seinfeld—a claim which "is more radical than it appears, worth mulling over and also, on some level, deeply true."
At some point, the New York Times made a fateful decision. It decided to treat stand-up comedy as an "art form."
Inevitably, this meant that the paper would have to treat practitioners of this art form as "artists."
Personally, we'd recommend avoiding the term "artist" altogether, except in its most literal traditional sense, in which a sculptor is referred to as a "sculptor" and a painter is perhaps called an "artist."
(Under this restrictive regimen, singers would be referred to as "singers." Actors would be referred to as "actors.")
That said, the Times' decision to extend the term "artist" to stand-up comedians has created a wealth of unintentional humor. Zinoman is the fellow they chose to advance this brave new regime.
If you don't have today's hard-copy Times, you can go to Zinoman's Twitter account to ponder Seinfeld's idea, which is more radical than people think and also deeply true. Prepare to think of Harari's heuristic, which tends to undercut the old misstatement about members of our species being "rational animals."
(Seinfeld's radical idea, as quoted by Zinoman: "People assume that when you say something that you believe it. It’s purely comedic invention. You know, I do this whole bit about Pop-Tarts and how much I love them. I don’t love Pop-Tarts. It’s just funny. It’s funny to say it, so I say it." Presumably, you can see what we mean about unintentional humor, and about the obvious relevance of the Harari heuristic.)
The sheer inanity of the Times is a daily anthropology lesson. This afternoon, we'll flesh out the data behind our post about yesterday's op-ed column, the column which advanced a key, if unintelligible, aspect of current tribal dogma, a latter-day form of group fiction.
As our nation slides toward the sea, we liberals have been inventing, and clinging to, new sets of tribal dogma. (They represent our floundering tribe's version of "guns and religion.")
The pain such dogma can produce is joined, in today's New York Times, to a stunning example of the newspaper's world-class, relentless inanity. The pain is found in an alleged letter from an alleged reader who allegedly wrote under the pseudonym "Whitey."
If this alleged person really exists, he or she—we'll go with "she"—didn't write her letter as a "letter to the editor." Instead, she sent her letter to one of the Times' three million advice columns. Specifically, we refer to the column called The Sweet Spot, a weekly column in Thursday Styles written by a pair of clowns who fashion themselves as "the Sugars."
In our view, the Sugars should be ashamed of themselves with every breath they take. For today, though, let's start with "Whitey," the letter writer, who may or may not exist.
If Whitey exists, she's a college student—and a possible victim of new and intense tribal dogmas. In the grip of genuine anguish, she decided to turn to "the Sugars" for help.
Hard-copy headline included, her letter starts like this:
Shedding the Cloak of White Guilt"Dear Sugars!" That's what it actually says!
I’m riddled with shame. White shame. This isn’t helpful to me or to anyone, especially people of color. I feel like there is no “me” outside of my white/upper middle class/cisgender identity. I feel like my literal existence hurts people, like I’m always taking up space that should belong to someone else.
I consider myself an ally. I research proper etiquette, read writers of color, vote in a way that will not harm P.O.C. (and other vulnerable people). I engage in conversations about privilege with other white people. I take courses that will further educate me. I donated to Black Lives Matter. Yet I fear that nothing is enough. Part of my fear comes from the fact that privilege is invisible to itself. What if I’m doing or saying insensitive things without realizing it?
Did some actual person actually write that letter? If so, the writer is a young person—a college student—who needs and deserves some actual help from some actual person, not from a couple of con men like the Sugars.
Her letter continues as shown below. In best advice column style, it's actually signed that way—"Whitey:"
Another part of it is that I’m currently immersed in the whitest environment I’ve ever been in. My family has lived in the same apartment in East Harlem for four generations. Every school I attended, elementary through high school, was minority white, but I’m now attending an elite private college that is 75 percent white. I know who I am, but I realize how people perceive me and this perception feels unfair.If this alleged letter writer really exists, we'd say she deserves some actual help from someone who isn't a pseudo-journalistic clown.
I don’t talk about my feelings because it’s hard to justify doing so while people of color are dying due to systemic racism and making this conversation about me would be again centering whiteness. Yet bottling it up makes me feel an existential anger that I have a hard time channeling since I don’t know my place. Instead of harnessing my privilege for greater good, I’m curled up in a ball of shame. How can I be more than my heritage?
Instead, she's handed large piles of steaming hot cant by the Sugars, who recite aspects of current tribal dogma, a form of "fiction" to which our liberal tribe currently clings.
(You can hear the dogmas recited all day all over anti-Trump cable. Quite routinely, this is done by people who never showed the slightest sign of racial involvement until it became a requirement starting a few years ago.)
If you can stomach their level of self-satisfaction and gross indifference, you can read the advice of the Sugars yourself. But this is a form of tribal cant which the New York Times currently traffics.
The op-ed column in yesterday's Times bowed low to one of our favorite tribal fictions—a fiction in which we pretend that we're invested in the search for racial justice. We've invented an amazing array of dogmas in this general area, which every establishment pundit has skillfully learned to recite.
Does Whitey really exist? If so, she seems to be one of the many people who are suffering under the strain of this sub-rational bit of performance art, in which people announce they belong to the tribe through their recitation of an array of mandated, facile group fictions.
This afternoon, we'll flesh out that topic a bit more fully. For now, you can read the appalling work of a shameless pair of Sugars. Is there anything we rational animals aren't willing to do to get hired by the glorious Times?
Tomorrow: Defending the professor