THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2021
...we may start resembling The Others: Right on through the 20th century, the warring sides continued their age-old battle.
In this instance, we aren't referring to the Croats, the Muslims and the Serbs, the principal groups in the ugly and tragic Kosovo wars of the early 1990s.
Instead, we're referring to the Unitarians and the Revisionists, whose extremely high-end "forever war" we cited just last week.
The dispute between these determined tribes has extended through thousands of years. That helps explain why we rubes have to fend for ourselves, in the abandoned state major experts describe as "the silence of the logicians."
The logicians no longer offer guidance. Instead, they engage in this war:
The Theaetetus is a principal field of battle for one of the main disputes between Plato’s interpreters. This is the dispute between Unitarians and Revisionists.
Unitarians argue that Plato’s works display a unity of doctrine and a continuity of purpose throughout. Unitarians include Aristotle, Proclus, and all the ancient and mediaeval commentators; Bishop Berkeley; and in the modern era, Schleiermacher, Ast, Shorey, Diès, Ross, Cornford, and Cherniss.
Revisionists retort that Plato’s works are full of revisions, retractations, and changes of direction. Eminent Revisionists include Lutoslawski, Ryle, Robinson, Runciman, Owen, McDowell, Bostock, and many recent commentators.
In the twentieth century, a different brand of Revisionism has dominated English-speaking Platonic studies. This owes its impetus to a desire to read Plato as charitably as possible, and a belief that a charitable reading of Plato’s works will minimise their dependence on the theory of Forms...
Those Platonic Studies Today! An emergent brand of Revisionism "owes its impetus to a desire to read Plato as charitably as possible."
Hopefully, this more charitable reading will minimize scholarly focus on Plato's theory of Forms, which has always seemed ridiculous, especially to freshmen in college.
Our Unitarians and our Revisionists are off in the Holy Land. This has left us to fend for ourselves, as we attempt to conduct unaided public discussions.
Left on our own, we aren't real sharp! Today, we'll start with a minor but persistent type of groaner, after which we'll move on to a Mandated Tribal Howler.
Left on our own, we aren't real sharp! Yesterday, we encountered this pair of headlines as part of a high-profile opinion column in our hard-copy New York Times:
Chaos at the School Board Meeting
Americans like to take out their grievances on low-level officials.
Those headlines accompanied an essay by Michelle Cottle. Cottle's lengthy opinion piece sat in the space which would otherwise belong to a New York Times editorial.
"Americans like to take out their grievances on low-level officials," the boxed sub-headline said. To its credit, the Times spelled the word "Americans" with a c, not with a k.
That said, how many Americans "like to take out their grievances on low-level officials?" Do most of us take pleasure that way? Is that what we all like to do?
Cottle made no attempt to say. But she started and ended her essay with these sweeping claims:
COTTLE (9/8/21): America’s school board meetings are out of control.
All these fights are purportedly waged For the Good of the Children, even as the children are being used as pawns. It is not a pretty sight. But it is the American way.
Readers, to what extent are America's school board meetings "out of control?" In the course of her long essay, Cottle didn't say.
To the extent that some such meetings have been tumultuous, even borderline violent, to what extent is that "the American way?"
There was no attempt to make that assessment either. We were left with the sweeping claims—the blatantly silly, sweeping claims which can quickly be translated, by The Others, into the latest version of Hating Amerika First.
In this way, our blue tribe's journalists tend to spout when the logicians are away. For a similar example, you can go to Slate, where Willa Paskin started a TV review as shown:
PASKIN (9/7/21): Authorization, like authority itself, is a tricky thing. Impeachment: American Crime Story, about the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky affair, is the third season of the FX anthology series, but the first to be effectively authorized by the real-life version of its major character. The creators had already optioned a book on the scandal (by the disgraced Jeffrey Toobin) when producer Ryan Murphy saw Monica Lewinsky at a party and told her he thought it would be “gross” for anyone to try and tell the story without her. Lewinsky, who was just 24 when the nation turned her into a punchline and destroyed her life, agreed to come on board as a producer. Impeachment is the grand apologia she authorized—but maybe not the one she deserves.
Sadly, the latest hustlers are making a buck by pretending to examine this unfortunate episode in a high-profile "docudrama" series.
Credit to Paskin, after all these years, for describing Lewinsky as 24, rather than as the journalistically mandated, though inaccurate, "21-year-old intern."
Back in the day, and for years afterward, our journalists seemed to love the inaccurate description. They used it again and again and again, and then they used it some more.
That said, did "the nation" turn Lewinsky into a punchline back in the day? Did everybody take that approach, or did some players cast themselves in the leadership role?
This question may not have occurred to Paskin. A bit later, she offers this:
PASKIN: All of this would seem to make [Lewinsky] a perfect subject for American Crime Story, which has always had a revisionist bent...Lewinsky occupies a unique place in the culture as the woman so scandalized it’s nearly impossible to forget her. She is the figure we did dirtiest, most lastingly, and for the least offense. Unlike with [Marsha] Clark or Versace, her story doesn’t pack a “well, I never thought of it that way!” punch. If you never thought we did Monica wrong, you’ve just never thought about it.
Did "we" all do Lewinsky dirty and wrong? Did no one play a lead role?
Paskin may not want to say. Or this type of casual dumbness may be so widespread that it never occurred to her to winnow her sweeping claim down.
On balance, our blue tribe is extremely unimpressive. On the other hand, the other tribe seems to have lost its mind altogether at this point in time.
For this, and for reasons of basic brain-wiring, it's hard for us, in our blue tribal towns, to see how unimpressive our thought leaders routinely are. But in truth, our tribe just isn't sharp at all. The evidence is on display in the Post and the Times every morning, not excluding today.
Does "America" likes to beat up on low-level officials? Did "we" do Lewinsky wrong?
This is one of the (many) childish ways our top journalists tend to reason. For a more remarkable example of where our flailing tribe currently stands, consider Robin Givhan's latest column in the Washington Post.
Givhan was discussing the acting career of the late Michael K. Williams. Early on, she clambered aboard the "What We Do" train, then gave it a mandated twist:
GIVHAN (9/8/21): In Williams’s rendering of [the fictional character] Omar, there was a broader story about stereotypes and prejudices and our stubborn need to place people into either the darkness or the light. We want to sort folks into categories: good or bad, innocent or guilty, deserving or undeserving, perfect or canceled. White or suspicious.
In that passage, Givhan said that "we" want to sort folks into categories. She then suggested that "we" want to sort people like this:
White people versus suspicious
Do "we" all sort the world that way? Do "we" always do that?
In Our Town, our journalists will routinely pretend that we do, even as we frequently do the opposite. Amazingly, Givhan went on to offer this:
GIVHAN: It’s more difficult making room for the wounded or the righteously avenging in real life. It’s harder to make peace with Black and Brown agitators even when the laws that have been broken are more like twigs than tree trunks, even when what’s actually been broken isn’t a law but a glass ceiling or a velvet rope or dusty, old tradition. In the real world, Black men selling loose cigarettes like Eric Garner or accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill like George Floyd can barely get their due as flawed humans—let alone as defiant heroes.
Omar marched down the street wielding a sawed-off shotgun and people found him redeemable. Philando Castile had a permit for his gun and was killed by a police officer whom a jury then acquitted. Trayvon Martin was a kid carrying candy when he was killed and a toxic public tried to use his childish missteps and impetuousness as evidence of malevolence. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging and made the mistake of being curious about an empty house.
Is that true? In the real world of the past sixteen months, was the late George Floyd barely able to get his due as a flawed human being?
How invested in propaganda must someone be to disregard the actual ways in which the actual Floyd has been widely memorialized and remembered? Meanwhile, was Trayvon Martin "a kid carrying candy when he was killed," full stop?
For better or worse, he wasn't. He was also a kid who was banging someone's head on the ground, or on some pavement, in a way which Ta-Nehisi Coates quickly said could have been fatal.
But here within our own dying tribe, such facts are routinely airbrushed away, so desperate is our need for Culturally Perfect Tribal Tales which keep the world sillily simple.
By the way: Did "a toxic public" really "try to use [Martin's] childish missteps and impetuousness as evidence of malevolence?"
Some members of the public certainly did! Elsewhere, people like Givhan set to work washing those "childish missteps" away. They've made it all about the candy, even as they've eliminated the head being banged on the ground.
According to leading anthropologists, our human brains are wired to produce these kinds of assessments. In bringing such matters to our attention, anthropology may seem to hurt.
To a large extent, the other tribe seems to have lost its mind at this juncture. That said, the journalistic leadership of our own failing tribe is reliably unimpressive, whether with the minor flaws or with the Gross Reinventions.
Here within our own failing town, we complain about The Others. But are we mainly different from The Others, or are we quite a bit like them?
We complain about Others. Meanwhile, our logicians are off in the holy land, conducting their silly forever crusade concerning the theory of Forms!
Tomorrow: McWhorter (pretty much) gets it right