TUESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2021
Especially for the young, has the die already been cast?: We strongly agree with a letter which appears in in today's New York Times.
The letter-writer lives in Nashville. In her letter, she laments the situation unfolding in Afghanistan:
To the Editor:
It makes some sort of logical sense to say we should let the Afghans control their own infighting, their own religious wars. It really does. American heroes have paid the price, extravagantly.
But, and this is the crux, women and girls are going to suffer. They are going to be under the cruel thumb of the Taliban men (and other rigid groups) who won’t let them be fully human.
This is heartbreaking, any way you look at it. In 2021, there is a country where men of the ruling class are going to completely subjugate women.
This is a tragedy of epic proportions. And the will to stop the despicable Taliban is dead. So, sadly, we’ll be reading about the ruin of Afghan women for years to come.
That's what the letter said. A link was provided to this front-page report in yesterday's hard-copy Times.
(Headline: "As Taliban Capture Cities, U.S. Says Afghan Forces Must Fend for Themselves.")
In fact, many people are going to suffer under the Taliban, even including boys and men. More precisely, a whole lot of people are going to suffer, and quite a few others will die. They're being murdered every day in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.
For these reasons, we weren't inclined to support the removal of American troops. That said, the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan is only one part of a larger mosaic as a certain world seems to be nearing its end.
In the last two mornings, front-page reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times have described the new climate projections from the IPCC.
For perhaps the last decade, for perhaps a bit more, it has seemed to us that the die had already been cast—that there was no conceivable way to forestall future climate disaster.
Last Saturday, we enjoyed a drive-by visit from two great-nieces, ages 9 and 15, and from their charming parents. It seems to us that people of their generation are almost surely looking forward to a world of massive dislocation and gigantic hurt.
Then too, we have our nation's tribal disaster—our increasing division into various warring groups.
As we've noted in the past, we see no good way out of this second mess, or out of the warfare it portends. Again, here's why we say that:
Modern technologies have made tribal division a very large, profit-based business. Thanks to "cable news" and talk radio, through the behavior of Internet sites and even in the realm of social media, it's easier than it ever has been to spread tribal narratives all around, including narratives built upon complete total screaming bullsh*t.
It isn't just that it's easy to spread such matter around. Under current arrangements, this practice is also highly profitable. And as a wide array of individuals and institutions have pursued such ends, we've all been exposed to a new anthropological fact:
It's amazingly easy to get us humans to believe any damn fool thing you want! It's amazingly easy to get us to truly believe, so long as you're advancing tribal narrative at a time of high tribal division.
At times of heightened tribal division, we humans are very suggestible. In his column in today's Times, Paul Krugman explores this theme, though he does so exclusively from our own blue tribe's tribal perspective.
"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the paranoid, anti-rational streak in American politics isn’t as bad as we thought; it’s much, much worse," Krugman writes.
We agree with that assessment, but a basic point should be added. This "anti-rational streak" isn't just as Amerikan trait. This impulse exists all over the world, and it always has.
Still, the past dozen years have demonstrated that this anti-rational streak is stronger than we ever would have imagined. For us, the starting point would probably be the widespread acceptance of the claim that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.
Your starting-point may differ.
We agree with Krugman today, except on one major point. Reading his column, a person would think that this reflexive adherence to tribal narrative is only happening Over There, among the red tribe's clans.
Sadly, no! It's also happening within our own blue tribe. Generally, this involves our tribe's adherence to various narratives involving gender and "race."
The journalism of the Post and the Times reflects these instincts and fluffs these narratives on a daily basis. For today, we'll link you to one horrendous example.
We encountered that remarkable news report on the Post's web site this past Sunday evening. It wasn't accompanied by this related news report. At that time, it appeared on its own.
It seemed to us that the news report defines a tribal era. Eye-catching headline included, the news report starts like this:
‘Lynchings in Mississippi never stopped'
JACKSON, Miss.—Since 2000, there have been at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, according to court records and police reports.
“The last recorded lynching in the United States was in 1981,” said Jill Collen Jefferson, a lawyer and founder of Julian, a civil rights organization named after the late civil rights leader Julian Bond. “But the thing is, lynchings never stopped in the United States. Lynchings in Mississippi never stopped. The evil bastards just stopped taking photographs and passing them around like baseball cards.”
In classic fashion, the headline is a quotation—a quotation expressing one person's stated belief. The opening paragraph in the report floated the idea around which the report was based:
There have been at least eight suspected lynchings in Mississippi just since the year 2000! Needless to say, the key word there is "suspected."
The report proceeds to list all eight "suspected lynchings." In at least several cases, the report fails to include the impressive body of information which led to the deaths being viewed as suicides. In at least one case, this judgment was reached with as many as 30 FBI agents investigating the case.
How many of those eight deaths really were suicides? Aside from one beating death which was successfully prosecuted, were any of those "suspected lynchings" actually homicides?
We have no way of knowing. Neither did the reporter or the editors who put that report on line—and the answer, of course, could be no. (As best we can tell, these two related news reports haven't yet appeared in print editions of the Post.)
The Washington Post doesn't know! But the report is clearly designed to send a tribal narrative out into the ether. Tribal excitement was hurried along by the elimination of information which cuts against the grain of preferred belief.
Commenters quickly fell in line, asserting their unexamined belief that all eight cases were lynchings! So it goes as an army in blue resembles an army in red.
In simpler times, the word for a report like this would have been "irresponsible." In this time of heightened tribal anger, the report is stunningly "anti-journalistic," a near relative of the term Krugman uses today.
According to major anthropologists, this is the way the human brain is wired, whether we like it or not. Throughout the course of human history, the fruit of this wiring has been the death and destruction of full-blown war, as in today's Afghanistan.
Over the past few months, we've found it harder and harder to write about this depressing tendency within our own blue tribe. A month ago, we switched to a more high-minded topic. We began exploring a lofty question:
Have elite writers—journalists, academics, book authors—ever been able to make Einstein easy? Have such figures ever been able to make Einstein's universe understandable to general readers—to us non-specialists?
We plan to continue this investigation next week. For this week, we've decided to explain our interest in this topic—why we think it's worth discussing.
Does this question actually matter? Probably not. As we noted above, it's our impression that the die has already been cast.
It's our impression that there may be no good way out of the various disasters we currently face. That impression could always be wrong, but it remains our best guess.
That said, there's a striking shortage of cogency / clarity skills among our culture's elites. It shows up in various fascinating ways when academics and writers try to make Einstein (and Gödel) easy for general readers.
Does it matter if non-specialists can understand Einstein's universe? No, it basically doesn't. Relativity is a point of interest, but nothing turns on such understanding among the nation's unwashed.
Meanwhile, does it matter if our academic and journalistic elites lack those cogency / clarity skills? Conceivably, yes it does!
We speak here of a type of trickle-down. If the nation's logicians chose to serve, we could imagine a possible spread of cogency into our daily assessments of topics which really do matter.
We can imagine such trickle-down, though it's clear that it never will happen.
Tomorrow, we'll discuss this notion a bit more. We'll start with a small, perfectly understandable misunderstanding on the part of the analysts' Uncle Drum, our long-time favorite blogger.
The Drumster described our interest in this matter in this recent post. We'd have to say that he misconstrued what it is we're after.
In the end, we do suspect that the die has been cast. As we explore these lofty concerns, it's like we're hanging around on the beach, like Gregory Peck before us.
Tomorrow: What their Uncle Drum said