On the one hand, we apologize!

FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2021

Then too, afternoon delight: On the one hand, we apologize on this rainy afternoon.

Michele Norris' modest proposal raised so many questions that we couldn't get to them all in the course of a week. 

We do think her "pronoun shift" points in a very serious direction. In fairness, it only matters if you want democracy (such as it is) to win, and autocracy to lose.

We didn't discuss the best part of Norris' essay, the part in which she describes the shortcomings of Germany's ongoing attempt at Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung (her word). 

We didn't discuss the howler she published in the Post a few months back, a giant howler which remains uncorrected. Such things happen quite routinely when journalistic and cultural stampedes take place.

We didn't even really explain why that "pronoun shift" matters so much. Basically, it comes down to this:

Do we intend to try to be one people, or do we intend to move ahead as an array of fundamentally separate identity groups? This nation's pursuit of the "one people" ideal has ebbed and flowed over the course of time. Under the stresses produced by the current wave of highly selective journalism, are we moving back away from pursuit of that ideal?

It seems that the answer is yes. People are free to construe our floundering nation's essence in whatever way they think makes sense, but we're going to guess that Vladimir Putin regards that as a win! Also, Donald J. Trump.

That said, afternoon delight:

We've returned, in the past few days, to the explanation we once called the worst explanation ever made or given. And yes, it's a phantom explanation. It makes exactly zero sense, but it seems that no one has ever noticed.

We first discussed this "worst explanation" when it appeared in a Nova retrospective about Einstein's theory of relativity, we think in 2015.

At that time, we didn't realize that Nova had cadged its presentation, step for step, from Einstein himself. Specifically, Nova cadged the explanation from the "Einstein made easy" book Einstein published for general readers, a book which first appeared in 1916.

Yes, it's true! Einstein penned this worst explanation ever. Also, it doesn't make sense!

In the past few days, we've been visiting this worst explanation as it appears in Walter Isaacson's 2007 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. (See pages 122-125.)

In that book, Isaacson explains how an intellectual giant like Einstein could have created a book for general readers which, in fact, makes little sense. The secret is this:

While Einstein was the greatest physicist since Newton, he wasn't especially skilled when it came to popular writing. In the course of creating his book for general readers, he came up with a comically awful way of making sure that its presentations would be accessible to such regular folk.

Isaacson explains the comically awful method, apparently without spotting one of its results: One of the basic explanations Einstein offered in his "easy reader" book simply didn't make sense.

(Isaacson's account: Einstein decided to have his teen-aged niece read his manuscript to see if she understood it. In fact, she didn't understand, but she was too much in awe of her famous uncle to be willing to say so. She told him it all made sense to her. Publication followed.) 

The explanation didn't make sense in Einstein's book; it doesn't make sense in Isaacson's. This is the way of much high-end academic work, the later Wittgenstein pretty much said.

Einstein failed to explain that part of his work in a way which made actual sense; major journalists have failed to notice.  This is the way of "phantom explanation," which is found all through our higher-end discourse.

It's a bit like the old joke from the Soviet Union:

"We pretend to work," a rueful Soviet laborer says, "and they pretend to pay us!"


23 comments:

  1. Einstein didn't have the option of writing an interminable, vague, repetitive blog in which refers to himself in the third person plural and never actually says which passage he is talking about.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Do we intend to try to be one people, or do we intend to move ahead as an array of fundamentally separate identity groups?"

    Whoa, dear Bob, finally.

    Is there any doubt that your liberal-hitlerian cult is doing its best to achieve the latter condition?

    And you're a member of it, so it has to be your dream too. So, rejoice, dear Bob: it's happening.

    But not for long, we hope. Your liberal-hitlerian clowns (Michele Norris, and all the rest) are so dumb, all they deserve is ridicule and scorn. But of course you know it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Do we intend to try to be one people, or do we intend to move ahead as an array of fundamentally separate identity groups? "

    If Somerby had ever taken a psychology course (preferably developmental psychology or social psychology) he would know that identity is an important part of a person's sense of self. It is acquired in early childhood through identification with important caretakers (parents, siblings, relatives) and learned along with the traditions, values, morals, and modeled behavior of those around them. We become who we are through that process of identity formation. Because we are not all the same, we form different identities. This isn't about who we choose to be, but who we become as we grow to adulthood.

    Somerby's insistence that we should all form a singular common identity is nonsense in a multicultural pluralistic society. Further, men and women form different identities too. Does he insist that should stop too? Our identities are multi-faceted, including different roles, our skills and interest, who and what we like, and where we live and work.

    Somerby's complaint that Norris's view divides people is ridiculous. Further, his view that people can be united if they only ignore race is also ludicrous. Are black people all supposed to become like white ones, because I cannot see Somerby volunteering to become black. Which racial identity are we all to rally around? You know it will be the one Somerby prefers -- he isn't going to become more like Norris.

    Further, when racism is based on observable skin color, the person bearing that skin color doesn't choose an identity. It is foisted upon them, whether they wish it or not. And there is stigma attached for many people, discrimination, stereotyping and systemic racism arising from a checkbox on a mortgage application or indicators of black culture on a job application. Does Somerby think black people should all change their names, move to different neighborhoods, adopt different musical tastes, learn to dance differently, all so that they can avoid being stigmatized by bigots or a system set up to weed them out of opportunities?

    Somerby hasn't thought any of this through. That's because he is not sincere in his views but is saying what he must to avoid changing the social status of African American members of our nation. He won't listen to history and he won't listen to African American voices (such as Norris) and he definitely won't change anything about the way he interacts with people. Why should he? His is the master race.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Somerby thinks racism is over, but someone forgot to tell this guy (from The Root):

    "A white man was arrested in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday over a May 27 incident in which he was filmed telling his Uber driver, a Black man from Chad, which is in central Africa, “I hope to hell you get shot, nigger.” After going full Cosmo KK-Kramer on the driver, he got out and allegedly vandalized his car. What prompted such a hateful attack? Well, maybe he was drunk; maybe he was dissatisfied with the driver’s service—or maybe he’s just a racist piece of shit taking his own mediocrity out on the first negro he could find to lash out at.

    Fox 19 Now reports that 60-year-old Michael Winterman was arrested and booked into the Hamilton County Justice Center on charges of ethnic intimidation, criminal damaging and disorderly conduct. He appeared in court on Thursday and his bond was set at $26,000."

    ReplyDelete
  5. "While Einstein was the greatest physicist since Newton, he wasn't especially skilled when it came to popular writing. "

    Writing is an act of communication. That means it involves two people: (1) the writer, and (2) the reader.

    If someone were to write a perfectly reasonable sentence in Aramaic, a language only a few small groups of people and Biblical scholars know today, it is likely the reader would be unable to decipher its meaning. Is that the failure of the author or the reader?

    If Einstein writes an explanation using knowledge only available to those with some physics background, and it is read by someone without any training in physics, that explanation will fail to be understood. Is that the fault of the author or the reader?

    Somerby appears to argue that the author must make a clear explanation intelligible to everyone, regardless of their background. That seems unreasonable to me. There are many people who might like to read such an explanation but who may not be able to understand it without providing an enormous amount of coaching in basic principles familiar to some but not most readers. How much can someone like Einstein say to fill in the clueless without writing a phone-book sized volume? But Somerby is quick to blame the author, not the reader. Why?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Some commenters here don't appreciate that the melting pot is a goal or an ideal. The fact that this ideal isn't perfectly realized doesn't invalidate it as a goal.

    Today, that goal has shifted for many. Race blindness is considered racism by many. I was raised with the value that each American is a unique individual and should be treated on her/his individual characteristics. We are individuals, not elements of a race. I consider Critical Race Theory to be racist on its face. Other consider opposition to CRT to be racist

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "each American is a unique individual and should be treated on her/his individual characteristics. "

      If you are going to treat someone as a unique person with their own characteristics, you must respect race (a marker for subculture), not ignore it or demand that everyone behave in accordance with the mainstream or dominant culture.

      You clearly don't understand what CRT is about. It is not racist to study "History of China" or "History of Latin America". Slavery in America is a historical circumstance that has affected our country going forward in time. It is essential that it be studied and not ignored.

      Delete
    2. Meh. Discrimination by protected characteristics is prohibited, dear dembot, but certainly no one is required to respect your "subculture", my dear. Your subculture is entirely your personal business.

      Delete
    3. Mao, I don't think you know what the word "respect" means.

      Delete
    4. Note that Mao is commenting at what would be noonish in Moscow, since I (anon @5:29) am in Iceland and it is around 9:45 am here. No God-fearin' American is up and about at those wee hours.

      Delete
    5. Whatever 'respect' might mean in your zombie-subculture dialect, dear dembot, no one is required to do it.

      Like we said: your subculture is your personal business.

      Delete
    6. Mao,
      Then why pretend you don't love the Establishment?

      Delete
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  7. This is why we cannot ignore race, as Somerby and David want. It is also why education and protective legislation are needed. Some people are racist and cannot get past whatever Somerby and David are considering irrelevant:

    "A Texas tourist was charged with a hate crime after attacking a family on a Florida beach.

    Wade Anton was at Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island around 4:15 p.m. on Thursday when he became angry at some children for petting his dogs, and he hurled racist abuse at them and their mother, who are of Asian descent, reported WEAR-TV.

    "Go back where you came from," Anton told the woman and her children and used racial slurs, according to sheriff's deputies.

    The 54-year-old Anton had been standing about 25 feet away but ran around some railings and repeatedly punched the woman's husband.

    The husband said he pulled a handgun to protect himself as Anton approached, and a bystander separated the two men.

    No one was injured in the encounter, and Anton was charged with hate-crime related battery."

    ReplyDelete
  8. Here is an interesting contribution to the discussion about CRT in the classroom (from Lawyers Guns & Money blog):

    https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/06/what-really-happens-in-the-college-classroom

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here is the part that Somerby apparently missed at Harvard, since he has no respect for those who teach at the college level:

      "Students must also trust they are being told the truth. Their ideas must contend with evidence, not explain it away. They need to acknowledge that expertise matters, that people who study a subject for a living know more than those who do not, that professional standards extend beyond “opinion” and are tested in peer review, debate, and further instruction."

      Delete
    2. Here’s a peer-reviewed article:

      https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00030651211008507

      Delete
  9. ""We pretend to work," a rueful Soviet laborer says, "and they pretend to pay us!""

    With this remark, Somerby maligns Einstein, pretending that if he doesn't explain his work to Somerby's satisfaction, he is not doing important work at all. Somerby wants us to believe that all knowledge is pretense, even work in the physical sciences which proves its worth many times over in technology that works in our daily lives.

    ReplyDelete
  10. He doesn't even mention what particular Einstein discovery he doesn't understand. Special relativity can be understood by someone with high school physics. But Somerby is a Trumptard, so naturally he doesn't understand it and is dismissive of expertise. Perhaps if he spent less time defending DJT, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz and frothing at Maddow, he might be able to understand Special Relativity at least.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Bob doesn't understand Einstein.
    Einstein is stupid, Bob is smart.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Kevin Drum asks:

    "Is guilt an effective motivator for change in the first place?"

    The answer is yes. That is its purpose as an emotion.

    ReplyDelete
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