1619 Gone Wild: At times of stress, top experts tell us, our war-inclined species' tribal instincts will often, in fact, go wild.
"It's just the way our species was wired," these future anthropologists despondently say, speaking in the past tense.
Tribal narratives will be imposed on any and all situations, they've glumly told us. Last Sunday morning, we thought of what these scholars have said as we read the Washington Post.
In fairness, the famous paper's Outlook section is strongly inclined to publish a wide array of wonderfully ill-reasoned work. Next week, we plan to get back to the wonderfully ill-reasoned recent essay by "science journalist Richard Panek."
The essay appeared on Sunday, August 5. It was published beneath a wonderfully eye-catching headline:
"Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong."
That particular Outlook essay had nothing to do with politics. It had nothing to do with "race."
It had nothing to do with tribal dogma, or with ongoing cultural stress. It was just good old-fashioned balderdash, of the type Outlook seems to love.
If it makes no earthly sense, Outlook is likely to run it! All by itself, this practice on the part of this upper-end platform gives the lie to that ancient claim, at least as conventionally understood:
"Man [sic] is the rational animal."
We're sorry, but that claim never was accurate, or so our top experts have said.
On Sunday mornings at the Washington Post, man [sic] is far from the rational animal! And so it was that last Sunday's Outlook section was fronted by a 3000-word piece by the exiled Eve Fairbanks.
Needless to say, Fairbanks graduated from Yale (class of 2005). Including photographs and artwork, her essay consumed 80% of Outlook's front page, plus roughly half of a two-page spread inside the high-profile section.
Fairbanks' essay is a masterwork of irrational conduct—and, according to major experts, an example of the way our species tends to behave at times of cultural dislocation amid great tribal stress.
Eve Fairbanks has been hearing things—and she hasn't been hearing America singing. Beneath a powerful pair of headlines, her essay starts like this:
FAIRBANKS (9/1/19): The 'reasonable' rebelsFor what it's worth, we don't think we've ever read anything by Shapiro all the way through.
Conservatives say we've abandoned reason and civility, writes journalist Eve Fairbanks. The Old South used the same language to defend slavery.
After the El Paso shooting, Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative podcaster, asked Americans to draw a line between the few conservatives who are white supremacists and those who, like him, aren’t. Almost all Americans are “on the same side,” he said, and “we should be mourning together.” In his telling, we aren’t, for “one simple reason: Too many on the political left [are] castigating the character of those who disagree,” lumping conservatives and political nonconformists together with racists and xenophobes.
Fairly or otherwise, we're inclined to think of him as a pseudo-conservative rabble-rouser. Nor does Fairbanks try to describe what the gentleman actually wrote in the piece from which her brief shards of quotation emerge.
That said, Fairbanks describes Shapiro lodging a complaint. He complains that some on the left—"too many," he says—have been lumping conservatives together with racists and xenophobes, apparently in a promiscuous manner.
This alleged lumping has Shapiro annoyed. It's the basis of his complaint.
We have no idea what Shapiro went on to say, or how well he supported his claim, not does Fairbanks attempt to tell us. That said, can anyone doubt that some on the left have tended to engage in the type of conduct Shapiro seems to describe?
Shapiro seems to have said that this occurred in the wake of the El Paso shootings. But having said that, good grief!
As our nation's deep tribalization has spread, this general type of conduct has been rather widespread. During Campaign 2016, Candidate Clinton distinguished herself by her generosity—by giving half of Trump's supporters a pass:
CLINTON (9/9/16): You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it."You name it," the candidate said, even as she quite memorably did!
And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.
In fairness, every candidate makes a dumb and/or unfortunate comment at some point in a campaign. Clinton went on to say that half of Trump's supporters actually weren't racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and therefore weren't deplorable and irredeemable, the way the others all were.
That said, her famous statement was quite sweeping. More generally, this type of "lumping" is done within our tribe pretty much all the time, often with no escape hatch of redeemability for anyone found Over There.
Fairbanks could have crafted an interesting study of Shapiro's remark. Is it true that a gang of liberals responded to El Paso by lumping conservatives in with white supremacists in a promiscuous way?
In theory, that could have been interesting. Instead, Fairbanks quickly veered off course, describing "a very specific deja vu" she once fought to identify:
FAIRBANKS (continuing directly): I grew up in a conservative family. The people I talk to most frequently, the people I call when I need help, are conservative. I’m not inclined to paint conservatives as thoughtless bigots. But a few years ago, listening to the voices and arguments of commentators like Shapiro, I began to feel a very specific deja vu I couldn’t initially identify. It felt as if the arguments I was reading were eerily familiar. I found myself Googling lines from articles, especially when I read the rhetoric of a group of people we could call the “reasonable right.”Fairbanks had been hearing something she couldn't identify. She heard it when she read the rhetoric of "the reasonable right."
Soon, she says, she found herself Googling, possibly in her sleep. As it turns out, a lot of people belong to the group Fairbanks now dubbed, perhaps a bit mockingly, as "the reasonable right."
In our view, some of the people she went on to name are pretty much obvious jerks. On the other hand, some of them plainly aren't.
In her initial listing, Fairbanks even included Jonathan Haidt as part of the reasonable right. Meanwhile, is Sam Harris part of the right at all, reasonable or otherwise? Frankly, we aren't sure.
At any rate, Fairbanks soon provided her reason for lumping these people together. "They typically dislike President Trump," she wrote, "but say they’re being pushed rightward—or driven to defend the rights of conservatives—by intolerance and extremism on the left."
Candidate Clinton had assailed a wide swath of people who supported Candidate Trump. Fairbanks now moved on to a group of people who don't support President Trump—but even that couldn't save this new group of miscreants from the lumping to follow.
As we all know, when cultural revolution starts, absolutely no one is safe! In this instance, the sins of which Fairbanks complained included the sin of being "driven to defend the rights of conservatives"—an incorrectness which, it would seem, is no longer allowed!
Already, Fairbanks has moved us into a very strange realm, except during cultural breakdown. But she took the last path around the bend when she described the "deja vu" which had once been lodged in her head.
What did Fairbanks think she heard when she heard people like Haidt "defending the rights of conservatives?" At long last, she finally got it! This is what she'd heard:
FAIRBANKS: ...I finally figured it out. The reasonable right’s rhetoric is exactly the same as the antebellum rhetoric I’d read so much of. The same exact words. The same exact arguments. Rhetoric, to be precise, in support of the slave-owning South.Lumping is rarely so bald.
Finally, Fairbanks had it! When Haidt defended the rights of conservatives, his rhetoric was "exactly the same" as that which had been employed, long ago, "in support of the slave-owning South!" All those people who don't support Trump evoke that era for Fairbanks!
By now, Fairbanks had matched Shapiro's charge of "lumping" and moved on to the next level. Had conservatives been lumped with supremacists in the wake of El Paso? We don't know, but she was now lumping people who don't even support Trump with people who once had argued hard in support of the slave-owning South!
Jonathan Haidt and Christine Hoff Sommers were lumped in with this band. In particular, who did their voices remind Fairbanks of? It even came to this!
FAIRBANKS: It might sound strange that America’s proslavery faction styled itself the guardian of freedom and minority rights. And yet it did...John Wilkes Booth had stressed the importance of logic, facts and truth. And now, members of the reasonable right were stressing the exact same things!
They stressed the importance of logic, “facts,” “truth,” “science” and “nature” much more than Northern rhetoricians did. They chided their adversaries for being romantic idealists, ignoring the “experience of centuries.” Josiah Nott, a surgeon who laid out the purported science behind black inferiority, held that questions like slavery “should be left open to fair and honest investigation, and made to stand or fall according to the facts.” They claimed that they were the ones who truly had black people’s best interests at heart, thanks to their more realistic understanding of human biology. “No one would be willing to do more for the Negro race than I,” John Wilkes Booth wrote shortly before he assassinated Lincoln. He alleged that any pragmatist could see that freeing black people into a cold, cruel world would actually cause their “annihilation.”
Or something; we invite you to spend some time trying to figure it out. But before she was done, Fairbanks would cite Booth again and his "antebellum reasoning." She was now lumping the most famous villain and crackpot in American history with a wide range of modern writers, connecting them to this assassin in the most far-fetched, distended ways.
For the record, Fairbanks returned to Shapiro before she was done. When she read his recent complaint, this is what she heard, at least inside her head:
FAIRBANKS: In Ben Shapiro—who ascribes right-wing anger to unwise left-wing provocation (“How do you think people are going to react?”)—I hear a letter printed in the Charleston Mercury, which warned that “if the mad career of the hot headed abolitionists should lead to acts of violence on the part of those whom they so vindictively assail, who shall be accountable? Not the South.”Instead of examining the validity of Shapiro's claims about modern-day provocation, Fairbanks explained what she heard. She actually heard a letter in the Charleston Mercury. When Shapiro made a claim about present-day conduct, that's what our soothsayer "heard."
Fairbanks' endless essay is one of the most unhinged acts of "lumping" ever put into print. But as with Panek, so too here—precisely because the reasoning is so poor, Outlook rushed to print it.
Before she was done, Fairbanks had even fingered the highly suspect Nicholas Kristof. She almost seemed to borrow her format from Brother Foxworthy's famous "You might be a redneck if...:"
FAIRBANKS: If you hear somebody lament, as Bret Stephens does, that political “opinions that were considered reasonable and normal” not too long ago now must be “delivered in whispers,” it might be antebellum reasoning. If somebody says—as Harris has—that our politics are at risk of ignoring common sense, logic or the realities of human biology, it might be antebellum reasoning. If somebody such as Nicholas Kristof says they don’t like noxious thinkers but urges us to give them platforms for the sake of “protecting dissonant and unwelcome voices,” it might be antebellum reasoning.Kristof might be a redneck too! Everything "might be antebellum reasoning" when tribals like Fairbanks unwind.
This is one of the dumbest, most promiscuous acts of "lumping" we've ever seen in print. Major top anthropologists have come to us with several thoughts:
On the one hand, they've sadly said that our species was always hard-wired for this type of tribal display. "At times of tribal stress and cultural breakdown, this sort of thing always occurred," they have despondently said.
Beyond that, they shocked us with a brilliant insight. "This is The 1619 Project gone wild," they told us late one night, stressing the point that much of that project's work may be insightful and valid.
The identity of our present-day pseudo-liberal tribe is built around race and gender, these top experts explained. Given current levels of tribal stress and cultural dislocation, the tribe is now devoted to discussing our nation's brutal racial history, full and complete total stop.
In such ways, our shaken tribals convince themselves of their ultimate moral grandeur, and of our own as a tribe. At times of stress and dislocation, this is how human tribes act.
When we encourage this kind of behavior, this is how humans will act. Given current stresses, the simplest possible claim or complaint will make many liberals believe that they've heard the voice of John Wilkes Booth! They'll offer such dreams to the Washington Post, and the Post will put them in print.
Reading Kristof, a certain Yale grad thought that she heard John Wilkes Booth! "We've got your 'rational animal' right there," one disconsolate glum scholar said, despondently breaking our hearts.