FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2021
Making the rubble bounce: Today, we perform a confession.
In the past eight or nine days, we've often thought of Charles Mann's widely-acclaimed book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
Mann's book appeared in 2005. His sequel bears a related title. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.
(According to the leading authority on that second volume, Mann "argues that Columbus paved the way to the homogenocene, a particular feature of the anthropocene that is marked by a global homogenization of (agricultural) species, diseases, and tools brought about by the migration and transport that set in with the discovery of the new world." People, we're just saying.)
Mann's initial volume is one of the two books we've most admired in our 23 years on this campus. We'd pair those books with the two we've most enjoyed because of the ways they went instructively wrong.
We may build next week's reports around those four seminal volumes.
Back to Mann's initial book, his 1491. We can think of no other book which has the power to amaze with each and every rereading.
Mann's "revelations" are no longer new, but they always seem new to us. We'll confess that the passage we've been thinking about involves the death of the Inka, and its aftermath.
We humans! All through our long and war-inclined history, we humans have been able to believe the darnedest things.
The Inka was the ruler of the Inca empire. According to the leading authority (and to Mann), it was "the largest empire in pre-Columbian America" and one of the largest and most advanced administrative states in the world at that time.
The Inca empire was a masterwork of human organization. That said, the Inka was held in such high regard that his advice would still be sought even after his death.
They couldn't let the Inka go. We'll give you a tiny glimpse:
MANN (page 98): Because the royal mummies were not considered dead, their successors obviously could not inherit their wealth. Each Inka’s panaqa [royal lineage] retained all of his possessions forever, including his palaces, residences and shrines...The mummies spoke through female mediums who represented the panaqa’s surviving courtiers or their descendants.
Soon after arriving in Qosqo, Pizarro’s companion Miguel de Estete saw a parade of defunct emperors. They were brought out on litters, "seated on their thrones and surrounded by women with flywhisks in their hands, who ministered to them with as much respect as if they had been alive."
The royal mummies were paraded about and consulted as if they were alive.
Throughout his book, Mann stresses the fact that Europeans of the era could match their American counterparts, crazy belief and cruel practice for crazy belief and practice. This helps establish the point we wish to advance:
We humans! Wherever we've been found, we've been inclined to believe the darnedest things!
Why have we been thinking about the death of the Inka this week? We offer that new revelation below. For now, just consider the range of crazy beliefs which have driven American politics over the past thirty years.
At present, a not insubstantial number of people believe that world government is dominated by a cabal of cannibalistic child abusers. This belief, or something like it, is or was the foundation of the so-called QAnon "theory."
All the way back in 2016, people believed that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children for sexual purposes out of the basement of a D.C. pizza joint. For whatever it may be worth, Michael Flynn's son and business partner seemed to be part of that true-believing vanguard.
Many people have believed, and still do believe, various things of this type. Decades earlier, Rush Limbaugh strongly suggested that Hillary Clinton had been involved in the (suggested) murder of Vince Foster, a long-time friend and associate of the Clintons who had taken his own life.
Many people believed that insinuation. At this same time, one of the nation's holiest men—the extremely holy Reverend Falwell—was peddling the Clinton Chronicles videotape, an attempt to further the widespread claim that Clinton and Clinton had been involved in a wide range of murders.
Plus the drug-running, of course!
As of 1999, Gennifer Flowers was running a for-profit web site which was strongly promoting the long-standing claim about the many murders. Being human, it's possible that she even believed it.
During this period, a wide range of upper-end mainstream liberal pundits had anointed Flowers as the most credible person on Earth. (Frank Rich was one such seer.) Chris Matthews proceeded to give her a half-hour on Hardball, during which time he made a large point of telling her how incredibly hot she was.
This was shortly after Matthews almost got the Washington journalist killed. All the other humans pretended that this crazy behavior made sense.
(You never hear about these things because of the code of silence which obtains among our massively self-impressed tribe's "favorite reporters and friends." If you simply repeat what the host/hostess said, you will never go wrong.)
During that same period, mainstream pundits invented and pushed the claim that Al Gore had a major, psychiatric-level "problem with the truth." They promoted this confected claim for years, sending George Bush to the White House.
They invented a series of wacky claims Gore was said to have said. Virtually no one ever pushed back against this astounding group behavior. Inevitably, many people believed the things they heard about Gore.
Starting in 2011, Donald J. Trump invented himself as the king of the birthers. He kept it up until circumstance forced him to issue a "hostage video"-style recantation at some point in 2016.
Many people believed that claim!
When Trump announced his campaign in June 2015, he'd already been pimping the claim for four years, but Rachel Maddow made a point of saying that she had no personal objection to Mister Trump. Her drinking buddy, Greta van Susteren, had been Trump's "birther caddy" on Fox News during those long, slimy years.
We humans! There's nothing so stupid that we won't believe it, or at least avert our gaze from those who are making the claim. As a matter of anthropology, our astonishing lack of basic discernment is a very large part of our species' profile. Or so major experts have said.
It's also true that we're strongly inclined to construe the world in a highly simplistic tribal manner. More specifically, we're strongly inclined to create and demonize the other, observing such rules as these:
Rules for fashioning others:
1) Never speak or listen to others. Never ask others to explain what they think or believe. When journalists do so, complain!
2) Heighten the grievances of the elect. Spend no time trying to think of the best ways to win over (some of the) others.
3) Always turn to punishment-based approaches and ideation. Always look for ways to criminalize the conduct of others.
4) Always heighten fear of others. Assume that the others are all just alike. More specifically, assume that the others are all just like the most heinous individuals among them.
5) Invent a handful of highly simplistic tribal Storylines. Cling to those Storylines as if to life itself.
These rules are very widely observed in the streets of Our Town. They dominate life on the "cable news" channels most frequently heard in our homes.
We humans believe the darnedest things! We're also inclined to construe the world in the darnedest, most simplistic ways.
In our reports this week, we've stressed one bit of simple-mindedness which has been widely observed in Our Town. We've noted the fact that we don't seem to believe in the basics of psychology / psychiatry.
More precisely, we don't seem to believe in the existence of "mental illness."
Is the ruling commander-in-chief in the grip of powerful "psychopathologies?" If so, should we pity him for his disorder, the approach Bob Dylan once suggested?
(Removing his ability to cause harm would come first, of course.)
Should we pity the commander-in-chief for his apparent disorder? Here in Our Town, we look through a moral lens only. We seek to criminalize and to punish. As with Michael Flynn, so with us:
We are very strongly inclined to want to "lock them up."
This is why we've been recalling the death of the Inka this week. By instinct, we can't seem to let our own Inka go, any more than those earlier humans could.
Only a people as fearful as we could miss the humor in our current approach, in which we want to remove the president from office even after he's left office. Even after our Inka is gone, we'll be looking for a way to make the rubble bounce.
We're not saying this approach is wrong. We're just saying it's humorous.
We want to lock our Inka up. With respect to impeachment, we want to keep making the rubble bounce, even after he's left office!
Beyond that, we want to bar him from ever seeking office again.
The constitutional authority for such a move is extremely unclear. (For the rare explainer, click here.) Even we humans can probably see how this action would heighten the perceived martyrdom of the disordered former commander-in-chief.
That said, our tribunes keep telling us that it only takes a simple majority vote. We're that sure that we couldn't win a future debate about so plainly disordered a person!
For ourselves, we're not saying that this week's impeachment was the wrong thing to do. It may even have been the best approach to a disastrous situation which offered no good approach.
We are saying that our vast desire to punish, and to keep punishing, is "human, all-too human." In the present circumstance, it's an addition to the atavistic way we've refused to imagine the possibility that the absurdly disordered person in question is some version of mentally ill.
Long ago and far away, Dylan seemed to suggest that we should "pity" such a person. He described the commander to a T:
That man who with his fingers cheats,
Who lies with every breath.
Who passionately hates his life
And likewise fears his death.
Who eats but is not satisfied;
Who hears but does not see.
Who falls in love with wealth itself
And turns his back on me.
At this site, we've polled the youthful analysts. They all feel sorry for the child who was raised by the deeply disordered Fred Trump.
These youngsters have all seen Citizen Kane. They all understand the concept of Rosebud—possibly the most famous single word in Hollywood history.
The Inka is dead, these youngsters say. Long live our pitiful Inka, who was mistreated as a child and seems to be mentally ill.
These youthful analysts know how to feel. They face a hard time in a town without pity, in a town very much like our own.
Full disclosure: Our Inka could still start a nuclear war. (We've also spent years avoiding this fact.) Active pity for the Inka only begins after he's been disarmed.
In our view, our Inka seems to be very badly disordered. In Our Town, we've spent four or five years refusing to discuss and explore that apparent fact.
We humans! We sent Cordelia (Bandy Lee) away. But we'll be keeping the Inka around. We'll cart him around on his litter!