We're sorry we spoke about "dumbnification!"

MONDAY, JUNE 21, 2021

But do you believe these claims?: We're sorry that we referred to the (additional) essays in question as examples of "dumbnification."

That said, the essays appeared on the front page of the Outlook section in yesterday's Washington Post. Outlook is a very high-profile Sunday section—and we can't say our description was wrong.

One essay was written by Joshua Zeisel, "a clinical psychologist in Winston-Salem, N.C." The other essay—technically, a book review—was written by Emily Balcetis, "an associate professor of psychology at New York University."

Because it forced us to offer this further discussion, we're sorry we used the term "dumbnification." But here's the way the professor started. Do you believe this is true?

BALCETIS (6/20/21): I’ve tried a bunch of strategies to increase my intelligence, and you probably have, too. I’ve made flashcards to memorize the definitions of archaic words. I’ve subscribed to daily crosswords. I’ve eaten avocados and salmon. I studied the French language and had a brief affair with German.

What did I get for it? Mediocre scores on standardized tests. A bunch of unfinished puzzles. Shinier hair. The power to order a coffee and baguette in Paris and come in third place at a karaoke contest in Leipzig. But I can’t say any of those tactics made me noticeably smarter.

Do you believe that's true? Do you believe that this psychology professor has engaged in those strategies in the attempt to make herself smarter? 

Has she really tried eating avocados, and making flash cards with archaic words, with that goal in mind? Did she really make these hapless attempts, eventually discovering that nothing worked?

We're not sure we believe that. And it seemed to us that Zeisel's essay started out in a somewhat similar way:

ZEISEL (6/20/21): When I pledged to be a better husband and father, offering to plan our youngest’s 4th birthday party seemed like a good place to start. But as I squinted at the computer screen, trying to assemble a threadbare online invitation and wondering how to find email addresses for all her classmates’ parents, I realized it was going to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated.

The truth is, although I have been a dad for eight years, I’d never taken the lead in planning a birthday party for any of my three kids. I’d never even given these parties much thought. It was always my wife who sent the invitations, ordered the food, decided on the themes (and then redecided when a kid changed their mind a week later). She would sometimes enlist my help on the day of the party—at which point, being the dutiful, feminist husband I believe myself to be, I would gladly help out and feel good about contributing equally to the cause.

Balcetis started out by ruefully reducing herself to the level of the average rube. Zeisel started out portraying himself as a dumbbell too, but he went a bit further.

By that second paragraph, he was already mocking his pre-pandemic belief that he'd been "a dutiful, feminist husband." As he continued, we were asked to believe these further claims about his previous cluelessness:

ZEISEL (continuing directly): The pandemic changed that perception of myself. Yes, I did my share of dishes and laundry. I even cut down my work hours to be home more and helped the kids get set up for distance learning. But I soon realized that even though we both worked full-time outside the home, my wife was doing immensely more “mental labor”—the invisible, logistical tasks that make a household run smoothly, such as scheduling doctor’s visits and making plans for summer child care.

As a clinical psychologist, I was already familiar with this concept in the abstract. Research has shown that in heterosexual, dual-income households, women spend more time thinking about unpaid, family-related matters than men do. Women are also significantly more likely to keep tabs on tasks that need to be completed by both partners and are more likely to issue reminders than men are—a phenomenon I frequently discussed with couples in therapy that was perceived by men to be “nagging” and by women to be necessary because their husbands could not be counted on to do these tasks unless reminded. These roles develop not because of biological predisposition, but rather because women face heightened societal scrutiny and are usually the ones others blame if family tasks are overlooked.

Confident that I wasn’t one of those unsupportive husbands, I shared my observations with my wife one night while I was eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on the couch after putting the kids to bed (all by myself, no less!). She burst out laughing, marveling that I was lecturing my clients on mental loads when I didn’t understand how the concept played out in our own household. She rattled off a list of things that hadn’t crossed my mind even once over the course of the year, like acquiring masks for the children and figuring out child care for yet another pandemic summer.

I was dumbstruck. While I thought I was seeing so much that needed to be done, I was missing a whole swath of my family’s needs...

As a clinical psychologist, he'd been familiar, "in the abstract," with these (rather widely-discussed) phenomena. 

He had frequently discussed these matters with couples he was counseling, but it had never occurred to him that he was one of the slacker husbands he was counseling others about! Finally, his wife clued him in as he ate his Ben & Jerry's!

Do you believe that either of these portraits is actually true?  We're not sure we do. We're not sure we believe that the NYU psychology prof tried eating avocados to make herself smarter. We're not sure it had never occurred to the clinical psychologist that he was slacking off at home in the same way he was counseling clients about. 

It doesn't really matter, of course. (According to experts, nothing much does at this point!)

That said, these presentations struck us as an increasingly familiar form of dumbnification. In this particular form of dumbnification, the author is expected to assure us rubes that he or she is just as clueless as the rest of us are. Only then can we be asked to receive his or her expertise or advice.

In effect, we're handed a type of sitcom journalism—variants of Life With Father or possibly I Love Lucy. Before we can read these Sunday essays, we have to be assured that the authors are regular people—that they're basically Dumb Like Us.

Yesterday morning, we weren't sure we believed what these two writers said. We'll now admit that we found their opening salvos annoying. 

(At least they weren't complaining about the fact that Walmart is selling Juneteenth t-shirts. No Complaint Left Behind!)

Did those presentations on Outlook's front page involve deliberate dumbnification? That's almost the way it seemed to us, but as the dumbnification proceeds, there's no way a rube can be sure.


  1. "Did those presentations on Outlook's front page involve deliberate dumbnification?"

    Most definitely they did, dear Bob.

    That's the thing with liberals, dear Bob: if you neglect dumbnificating them, after a while some of them might begin using their brain cells again, assuming there are some live ones there still. And that can't be allowed, dear Bob. We're sure you understand.

  2. “Do you believe that's true? Do you believe that this psychology professor has engaged in those strategies in the attempt to make herself smarter?”

    I am certain that nothing will help psychology professors become smarter.

  3. "Has she really tried eating avocados, and making flash cards with archaic words, with that goal in mind? Did she really make these hapless attempts, eventually discovering that nothing worked?"

    Excessively literal, as usual. This is impairment-level literalness.

  4. 'We're not sure we believe that the NYU psychology prof tried eating avocados to make herself smarter. We're not sure it had never occurred to the clinical psychologist that he was slacking off at home in the same way he was counseling clients about.'

    Naturally, Somerby only believes anything that is spewed by his idols -- Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz. Because Somerby is a hardcore malignant Trumptard.

  5. "Do you believe that either of these portraits is actually true?"

    How much do you think Somerby, a confirmed bachelor, knows about the division of labor between married couples?

    Do you believe any of Somerby's comments are true, given his lack of experience and thus lack of credibility as a critic of psychologists' statements?

    1. 'Do you believe any of Somerby's comments are true,'

      No, except purely by accident, when he heaps abuse on 'our town', since his town is the town of malignant Trumptards.

  6. Speaking as a psychologist, it is certainly possible for someone to be unaware of their own misbehavior even while pointing that behavior out to others as a therapist. Very few men are aware of how little they do around the house, so why should this guy be any different?

    Somerby loves to kick around anyone with expertise. Psychology is a legitimate profession and not some joke. The reason why people disrespect the field is because it makes most people uneasy to think that psychologists may know things about them that they do not know themselves. People also think psychology is nothing but common sense -- which is far from true.

    Somerby has clearly never taken a psychology course and he knows less about this field than he does about the other things he chooses to pontificate about. It gets old.

    1. If you're a psychologist or any other kind of professional, why would you spend time every day, day after day, pissing in the wind on an unpopular blog?? You are a psychologist and you piss away your time with quixotic rants that make no impact on anyone whatsoever day after day? Talk about being unaware. You're a loser.

    2. Answer: they are not a psychologist. Most likely they are a mental patient.

  7. Apparently Anonymous at 4:01 is a psychology major.

  8. "But I can’t say any of those tactics made me noticeably smarter."

    As a psychologist, she should know that it is "use it or lose it" when it comes to intelligence. Everything you learn adds to knowledge and helps you preserve your cognitive processing ability against the inevitable declines with age. Learning a new language is especially good for that. So is eating right. It makes no sense to think that a person living their life would notice the fluctuations in intelligence that occur with physical effects (blood sugar, fatigue, alcohol, mood and so on). You do the right things and expect that they will be helpful in the long run. There is no magic elixir that makes someone smarter, but doing a combination of things can maximize your potential, especially down the road.

    Somerby's belief that other people must be dumbing themselves down, if he finds them dumb, is ridiculous. He tends to react to things emotionally and then call whatever threatens or annoys him "dumb," but that term has nothing to do with intelligence. It is just name-calling. The woman's fault was in reminding Somerby that he has no control over his own intelligence, a thought that is probably threatening to him given his age (when we all feel a bit dumber).

    This exercise in which he points out all the dumb things in the newspaper every morning isn't doing him or anyone else any good. Calling other people dumb in order to make yourself feel smarter produces only momentary reassurance. He would be better off going for a walk to improve his circulation and perhaps reduce his bile.

  9. Calling others dumb doesn't make you any smarter either.

  10. There's a circular argument

  11. I quit reading the Daily Howler for five years, and my IQ jumped twenty points.

  12. "we weren't sure we believed . . . " What does he mean "we"?

  13. TDH: As part of the "foolishness culture" widely observed in Our Town, subscribers swallow such undisguised guff from the pampered, super-privileged malcontents who get published by our upper-class newspapers...As part of their dumbnification projects, newspapers like the Post and the Times rush such drivel into print.

    Right on, Bob! They are the “braindead megaphone” of the owning class that has waged a vicious and profoundly devastating class war against the rest of us. They're scum.

    “A RAND Corporation report found that $50 trillion was redistributed from bottom to top since the mid-70s.”


    1. Glaucon X,
      Yet, still, some idiots really believe Hillary Clinton is corrupt.

  14. I think these pieces were attempted exercises in humor. If Bob wants to continue to avoid the deeply unfunny, beyond satire nature of the issues of the day, he should probably take the fluff he wants to hide in less seriously.

  15. I’d have to check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

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