No pointless event left behind: For our money, Christine Emba does a decent job with a certain recent random event in today's Washington Post.
Emba plays the Rashomon card as she discusses the recent interactions between the MAGA hat-wearing high school kids, the group of slur-slinging obvious crackpots and the Native American elder with the drum who, as the novelized matter turned out, isn't a Vietnam vet.
Because they tend to be simple-minded and tribal, our journalistic elites had big fun with this peculiar random event. We think Emba basically gets it right as she ends today's column:
EMBA (1/25/19): By the end of Kurosawa’s film, only two things are certain: A samurai is dead, and truth can be elusive. The same is true of the moment on the Mall: An ugly confrontation occurred, and for all our camera angles and polarizing debate, it will be impossible to truly know who, exactly, was most at fault.For ourselves, we wouldn't call that peculiar random event an ugly event. It seems to us that the impulse to do so is part of the overwrought novelization which has come to dominate the way we now routinely hijack our failing American discourse.
Our time would be better spent turning the lens on ourselves.
We'd also advise against instantly trying to determine which people are "most at fault," especially if the people in question are a bunch of teenagers. Maddow wants everyone thrown in jail. It isn't an admirable instinct.
That said, in the end, Emba gets it right! The next time an unusual event like this occurs, our time would be well spent trying to figure out why we rush to build novelized narratives in which Our Own Tribe turns out to be morally good and flawless, with The Other Tribe evil and bad.
The impulse is everywhere at this point. It's also deeply childish.
Over Here, in our own liberal world, we've been playing this game for years now. We manufacture morality tales in which we've almost always invented a bogus fact; disappeared a relevant fact; or emphasized a fact which is totally irrelevant to the matter at hand. In these ways, we improve the story, in which Our Side is flawless.
This tribal impulse, which dates to prehistory, is presumably bred in the bone. Liker many instincts bred in the bone, it's also destructive and stupid. Over at Slate, we think Lili Loofbourow pretty much gets it right:
LOOFBOUROW (1/24/19): This is just the latest instance of a phenomenon you could call “event politics”—that familiar flurry of knee-jerk responses sparked by a single image or clip that a little too perfectly illustrates one side’s worldview. There was the notorious Melania jacket that launched a feverish outrage cycle as soon as she appeared in it. There was the photograph of the little girl crying at the border that went viral and ended up on the cover of Time because it put a face and a feeling to the cruelty of Trump’s family separations. The problem: She herself wasn’t separated from her mother.We could suggest better examples than the ones Loofbourow presents in that passage. That said, she's willing to complain about "motivated reasoning" (in the form of dimwitted novelization} by players from various political tribes, including her own.
This is motivated reasoning, the kind everyone uses when an image that seemingly proved something—whether it’s that antifa is a danger to society or that Kavanaugh-lite teens are entitled and racist—collapses into irresolution. To the people circulating it, that the image doesn’t portray exactly what they thought it did matters little. They knew the truth it demonstrated before and still know it after the image is debunked.
In this passage, she comes back to the most recent event, and she floats a sagacious one-word critique:
LOOFBOUROW: This is where event politics always seem to wind up: A ton of energy gets spent, but there’s no cognitively satisfying conclusion—no understanding, resolution, or shared meaning that helps the country progress in its conversations with itself. “It’s a jacket” might be the White House equivalent of the “it’s just a hat” defense of the Covington Catholic teens’ MAGA caps. It’s not true, and everyone knows it, but it seems dumb to overlegislate such petty terrain.In our view, Loofbourow tends to overthink a bit, but something she floats in that passage is right. It's dumb to beat up on a bunch of high school kids because thy're wearing MAGA hats. And yes, it's tremendously petty terrain—the only kind the tribal mind wants to stampede upon.
Dumb and petty is what we do. Increasingly, it's what we are. This is the tribal mind in action, and as Aristotle forgot to say, "Man [sic] is the tribal animal."
Professor Harari explores that terrain in the early chapters of his widely-praised best-seller, Sapiens. When the new year finally starts at this site, we'll be reviewing Harari's presentation.
According to Harari, our species runs on "gossip" and "fiction." Such conduct tends to be petty and dumb, but dear lord, how good it can feel!
Also this, of course:
In the age of "cable news" and the Net, petty and dumb are big business. People are selling you petty and dumb. It's up to you to just say no—to resist, to step back, to move on.