Part 2—These professors today: At tribalized times like these, can you believe a thing you hear, even from tribal leaders?
Plainly, the answer is no. At times like these, the "Aristotelian assumption"—the assumption that we the humans will tend to behave in rational ways—gives way to the "Harari heuristic," which suggests that gossip, and affirmation of fictions, will more likely characterize the conduct in the town square.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut, a provisional rule of thumb. It tells us where we can most sensibly start in assessing, characterizing or explaining a given state of affairs.
A heuristic may turn out to be wrong in some given case. But alas! At tribalized times like these, the Harari heuristic is likely to serve us quite well:
Just consider the new Fact Checker post by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
Oof! Kessler awards a full four Pinocchios at the end of his new fact check. These "Nokes" are awarded to Nancy Pelsoi, on the basis of a recent statement which, in one form or another, we've all heard a million times.
Pelosi made her statement to guest host Jonathan Capehart on Sunday's Morning Joy. As transcribed by Kessler, here's what Pelosi said:
Let me remind you that when the Republicans took power when President Obama was president of the United States, what Mitch McConnell said is, "The most important thing we can do is to make sure he does not succeed." If that wasn’t a racist statement. That is unthinkable.We must make sure he doesn't succeed! Every liberal has heard that statement attributed to McConnell about a million times.
On Sunday, Pelosi seemed to say or suggest that the alleged statement had carried a racist motive. Suggestions of racism to the side, Pelosi's basic assertion here is extremely familiar. Here's a fuller transcript of Sunday's Q-and-A:
CAPEHART (8/12/18): I’m going to ask you the same question that I asked my previous panel in terms of, we focus a lot on President Trump and his culpability in sort of worsening race relations. But you’ve been on Capitol Hill for a long time. You’ve worked with Speaker Ryan, you know Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Why haven’t they spoken up as leaders in the United States against something as pernicious as white supremacy and racism?They had to make sure that he didn't succeed! Why did McConnell say that?
PELOSI: Let me remind you that when the Republicans took power when President Obama was president of the United States, what Mitch McConnell said is, the most important thing we can do is to make sure he does not succeed. If that wasn’t a racist statement—that is unthinkable.
We worked with President Bush, although we had our differences. You don’t make a statement, "make sure the president doesn’t succeed."
Why did he say that? Why did he say that? So I think that when you ask that question, you’re attributing a higher set of values to the speaker and to leader McConnell than is worthy of their actions.
Almost surely, you've heard that statement attributed to McConnell a million times by now. Today, we're setting Pelosi's attribution of motive aside. We'll focus instead on the basic statement Pelosi attributed to McConnell.
We were struck by Kessler's fact-check of that alleged statement by McConnell, in large part because we've heard the attribution from tribal tribunes about a million times.
We offer a brief aside. We've cautioned liberals, again and again, against believing everything we hear from our own tribal leaders. We've offered that basic warning for years. That said, even we were surprised by what we read in today's fact-check.
Put aside Pelosi's suggestion concerning McConnell's alleged racist motives. Focus instead on Kessler's review of what McConnell actually said, back in the old by-and-by.
Like you, we've heard McConnell's famous statement paraphrased, described and assailed again and again and again. Despite our awareness of the fact that our own tribal leaders will sometimes misstate, it had never occurred to us to go back and review what he actually said.
Go ahead—read the Kessler fact-check! We'll admit that we were surprised by the actual chronology, and by the actual content, of McConnell's actual statement. As a matter of fact, we were so surprised that we bumped today's planned post, which would have concerned These Professors Today.
Tomorrow, we'll plan to start with the frightening headline on Ed Kilgore's recent post for New York magazine. The headline was already wrong when it was posted last Friday, but so what—these are parlous times! At any rate, neither the headline nor the article has ever been corrected:
A Study Says That 24 Million Americans Have Alt-Right Beliefs. What Does that Number Mean?That headline was already wrong when it was posted last Friday. As of today, it remainss uncorrected. Why do you think that is?
At times like these, the errors and hustles comes thick and fast, even from those within our own flawless tribe. In our view, the op-ed page in today's New York Times contains a couple of absolute dillies.
This front-page news report in the Times also helps us see that Aristotle, at least as quoted, may perhaps have been wrong.
Long ago and far away, the far-seeing people at Bally produced Wittgenstein's pinball machine. Its iconography portrayed a humanoid species which did only one thing:
The humanoids pictured on Bally's RockMakers spent their whole day making rocks. That was their form of life!
As those humanoids banged out rocks, our species tends to bang out gossip and group fictions. Or at least, so the Harari heuristic now says. Is it clear, in any serious way, that this heuristic is wrong?
At times like these, the Harari heuristic helps explain the intellectual chaos around us. The Kilgore headline, and the Kilgore post, involve an avalanche of embellishments and errors.
It all began with a youngish professor. It's much as the later Wittgenstein said:
These professors today!
Tomorrow: One thing after another