Plus, the revolution arrives at the Post: Should Juneteenth be a national holiday?
We don't have a fixed view on that. That said, everyone suddenly favors that designation. By "everyone," we mean a wide range of public figures who may not actually care.
Yesterday, we performed a minor bit of research. Our effort was driven by curiosity, though it also was fueled by jaundice.
Yesterday, we decided to see if people who are so ardent now had ever said even one word in the past. By "people," we mean certain corporate multimillionaires. That's where the jaundice comes in.
Yesterday, we decided not to post the fruits of our research, intriguing though they were. We'll probably post our results on Monday. But yesterday, we decided to take a step back from our jaundice.
The sources of our jaundice are possibly more than several. They're reasonably well documented—for one such example, see below—and they've been piling up for well over twenty-two years.
Still and all, at some point, jaundice becomes too much. We decided to sit on our findings.
This morning, we stumbled upon a remarkable bit of reporting by the Washington Post. By "remarkable," we mean that it's an example of pure anthropology—anthropology all the way down.
It's an example of the way we humans have behaved all through the annals of time.
We can't necessarily tell you whose behavior was right and whose behavior was wrong in the episode under review. (As a general matter, we believe in staying away from judgment and punishment culture.)
In the end, we can't tell you whose behavior was wrong at all, let alone most wrong. We can tell you that the pattern emerging from this strange news report has obtained all through human history.
It emerged during the French revolution. It emerged during the Chinese "cultural revolution."
It even emerged at the dawn of the west. We think of the remarkable story which ends with Socrates' death.
Just as a basic frame of reference, Socrates seems to have wrong, or at least incoherent, in almost everything he ever said. It isn't hard to understand why some people found him annoying.
Still, the story to which we refer is deeply foundational. As told by Plato in The Apology, the story starts like this:
The oracle at Delphi declares that Socrates is the wisest person in Greece. Because Socrates is sure that this can't be true, he sets out to prove the oracle wrong.
So far, we might say, so good! At this point, we're encountering a type of origin myth about a foundational principle—the refusal to (blindly) accept the statements and judgments of authority figures.
In theory, we still honor that principle, though we routinely honor it in the breach. That said, in this famous origin myth, things went sideways from there.
In order to prove the oracle wrong, Socrates journeyed through Greece, speaking to men [sic] with reputations for wisdom. Since he was sure that he himself knew nothing, he felt sure that one of thrse men [sic] would prove to be wiser than he.
That's when things went sideways. In Professor Lee's translation, Socrates, as quoted by Plato, explains what happened next:
SOCRATES, AS QUOTED BY PLATO: After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, "Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest."Having annoyed everyone in Greece, he ended up on trial for his life. This happened at a time of political turmoil, upheaval, unrest.
Accordingly, I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows:
When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.
So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: "Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him."
Then I went to another, who had still higher philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.
That was a type of cultural revolution too. At certain times, we the people decide the time has come to silence those who disagree with the group wisdom which has emerged. Also with those who have made mistakes, or who are perceived to have done so.
A similar story, from this very time, was published in Thursday's Washington Post. This peculiar report was very long. It appeared on the front page of Style.
One piece of good news appears in the lengthy report; the target has apparently lost her job. We thought of great revolutions past, but also of Salem Village.
We can't tell you who was ultimately right or wrong in the matter under review. As a general matter, we would advise you to stay away from judgment and punishment culture, though of course that advice could be wrong.
That said, we were struck by the fact that the lead reporter was Marc Fisher. We thought of an earlier remarkable piece, an opinion column from the distant, destructive past.
Let us start by telling you this. We have no doubt that the veteran journalist of whom we speak is a good, decent person.
For ourselves, we would never have commissioned, or published, a report like the one which appeared in yesterday's Post. But these are matters of judgment, and it's better to limit judgment to particular acts, without moving on to condemnations of particular people.
For ourselves, we would never have commissioned or published a report like the one which appeared yesterday. For all we know, Fisher felt the same way, but his editors made him do it.
Whatever! At any rate, we thought back to the opinion column Fisher wrote in late November 1999. A mob was running in the streets at the time. The episode in question ended in many deaths.
At that time, the mob was chasing Candidate Gore through the streets. In the eyes of the mob, he hadn't condemned Bill Clinton harshly enough. For that, he was being pursued.
As part of the larger pursuit, the mob was also was chasing Naomi Wolf.
At the time, Wolf had written three books, two of which had been chosen as New York Times Books of the Year. No matter!
Revolutionary fervor had gripped the membership of a certain guild. And as will happen at such times, there was nothing too crazy for these people to say or to do in support of their fervor.
At the time, the journalist in question was writing a weekly column for the Washington Post's Sunday magazine. In the column under review, he slimed Wolf hard, not failing to mention her troubling hair, and he wrote utterly crazy things about Candidate Gore's unacceptable wardrobe.
In fairness, this particular wardrobe-shaming has been underway for a month at this time. As a matter of basic anthropology, crazy statements grow crazier still as such group actions proceed.
But as a result of this guild-wide frenzy, many people ended up dead in Iraq. And as a result of the concomitant sliming of Hillary Clinton—a sliming which never really ended—Donald J. Trump ended up the White House!
The column in question was barely sane. This is the way it ended:
WASHINGTON POST SUNDAY MAGAZINE COLUMN (11/28/99): [W]hen Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book jackets, we have two choices: We can say Gore's a good man who's been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.Today, these human specimens say that Trump's not fit. They say that because they don't have the intellectual integrity to question his mental health in direct, grown-up terms, using their big boy words.
A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, “Okay.”
To call him unreadable is to be charitable.
Back then, they were saying that Gore wasn't fit! As part of the deal, and at no extra charge, they were sliming Wolf as an "oddball."
They were troubled by Gore's brown suit—it was "alien to virtually every American"—but also by Wolf's "teased hair." In our view, the Washington Post has lost its mind this week, but that was also true back then, when that lunatic column was published as part of a much larger action.
Today, our tribe is quite sure of itself. But our sachems said nothing about any of this in real time, and they still won't discuss these past episodes. There's no sign that they ever will.
In yesterday's peculiar report, one piece of very good news obtained—the current target has apparently lost her job. That said, we see many others in yesterday's report who could perhaps be marched through the streets now that the initial target has been taken down.
We're astonished to think that the Washington Post would publish such a report. But as we've told you for the past several years, it's all anthropology now.
This is who and what we are. According to major anthropologists, we're a highly tribal species, with a strong inclination to war.
Our brains are wired that way, they say. We do it every time, they say, leaving you to decide if it's wrong.