ANTHROPOLOGY HURTS: As logicians conduct their forever crusade...


...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, Di├Ęs, 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.

Also this:

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


  1. "...we may start resembling The Others:"

    You wish, dear Bob. At this point what you're resembling most is the Heaven's Gate cult.

    "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."

    "Kosovo wars", dear Bob? We've heard that cult members are ignorant, but we certainly did expect better from you, dear.

    1. Here's your opportunity, Mao. Tell us the truth about the horrors which Bob has called the "Kosovo wars."

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  2. "In this way, our blue tribe's journalists tend to spout when the logicians are away. "

    Michelle Cottle is an experienced journalist and holds a job as an editorial writer at the NY Times. Her column didn't appear in place of an editorial but is an editorial for the NY Times.

    She is not a conservative, but that doesn't make her liberal or "blue" either. Somerby likes to label journalists as members of the blue tribe, but we didn't hold any vote and there isn't such a tribe either, so it is hard to see how this woman, who is doing her job at a major newspaper, fits into the niche that Somerby has consigned her to.

    By training, most journalists prefer to stay out of politics themselves. Cottle, as a political reporter, has not made her own political views known. Some journalists take this attempt at objectivity so far as to not register to vote with either party. Nevertheless, Somerby places these people in the blue camp.

    Today he is picking a nit over how many Americans attack low level officials. Clearly there are enough to make these fights at school boards daily news. Other evidence includes the harassment of public health officials and the many resignations of mayors and other local officials due to stress. It is hard to call her wrong about the increased focus on local officials by angry Americans. Where this is traditional or a wide practice beyond the right fringe is another question, but she has a lot of support for the idea that local officials are being attacked more today than in the past.

    But Somerby doesn't care about that issue. He only wants to launch his own attack on a female journalist over a single remark, exaggerating that remark into spelling America with a k and attributing a bunch of anti-American attitudes to her (arising from the right, as if she has single-handedly inspire the right to attack the left as anti-American, something they have been doing forever.

    Today's essay is very thin gruel.

  3. Is it a coincidence that Somerby has singled out three female journalists for complaint today? Two were writing about entertainment news.

    How is the use of "we Americans" by these writers any different than Somerby's repeated references to anthropologists and major experts? Those figures don't exist in support of his essays but are just a rhetorical device. Most people will consider the "we Americans" approach used in these excerpts to be something similar and not literally call for a statistical analysis of what percentage of Americans did Monica dirt.

  4. I don't consider Lewinsky to be a victim, but clearly the show being reviewed does and Paskin accepts that framing in her review. Lewinsky's production is entirely self-serving and so far, no one has questioned that. Perhaps it is considered water under the bridge and no one wishes to be mean to her now that she is politically irrelevant.

    In the past, Somerby might have objected to the way that any right-wing consideration of Lewinsky also drags in Willey and Flowers and a slew of other women with unproven and specious claims against Clinton, justifying calling him a rapist, murderer and predator. Lewinsky's own account in her deposition never portrayed her affair with Clinton that way, but the right seems to have co-opted her story in order to once again smear Democrats with events that happened before younger voters were born. But Somerby is apparently done defending Clinton from the right-wing press. These days, he is busy attacking logicians and Einstein.

    1. 'These days, he is busy attacking logicians and Einstein.'

      It would still be an improvement over the 4 years he spent defending Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and others. That established his Trumptard credentials.

      Attacking Einstein merely reveals that he is too stupid to understand HS physics. But then we already knew that he was an idiot, since he is a Trumptard.

  5. "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?"

    The people enumerated were portrayed in different ways, by different writers, for different purposes. Yes Trayvon Martin was initially carrying candy when he was targeted by Zimmerman, but he was banging Zimmerman's head on concrete when he was shot. But there is a lot of complexity in discussing who was the agressor in that situation. Somerby blames this reporter for ignoring complexities, but he himself doesn't acknowledge the left's points when they portray events differently than Somerby would has done himself. Edges are being rounded off in this listing of deaths, but Somerby illustrates the point of the reporter when he insists that a more favorable portrayal is inaccurate. None of these black men deserved to die for their petty crimes. None of them were treated fairly by SOME media. That fact is not negated by the tendency of other media to treat them too favorably in reaction to the unfairness of their deaths. Somerby has never acknowledged that unfairness in press treatment of the victims of police abuse of force.

    And Somerby likes to rehash this stuff. Who gets off on such complaints, if not bigots who resent that police are being held to account?

    1. Who gets off on such complaints?

      People who prefer unbiased accuracy in mainstream news reporting and don't need reporting that takes it upon itself to balance perceived unfairness with favorable treatment.

  6. Somerby talks about the Revisionist vs Unitarian philosophers as if that were the only thing they ever think about. It is one opinion about an esoteric subject that probably consumes very little of their time.

    This is like expecting that if you are a Yankees fan, that is all you think about 24/7 and you have no time to be anything else.

    Why does Somerby say this stupid stuff?

    1. 'Why does Somerby say this stupid stuff?'

      Because he is a Trumptard, and Trumptards are stupid.

  7. Nice return to your media criticism, I suppose, couched as it is. You’re going to drive Elba nuts with this one. Just a prediction. I haven’t (and often don’t) read the comments, though I’m sometimes surprised by cogency.

    But I suppose I get the gist after these many days – or is it years? “The Media” serves as interlocutor for “Logicians” these days.

    It’s been that way for lo, these many years, but I agree – the quality has seriously diminshed ever since “Manufacturing Consent” and the industry it describes was published. One wonders how we’ve got so far.


  8. The real danger to our nation is coming from the right, not from neglectful logicians or careless journalists -- from a political party that does not believe in democracy:

  9. Here is what the NY Times says about its comments:

    "We will continue focusing on making comments a core part of the reading experience and finding opportunities to invite diverse perspectives. Doing this helps us develop lasting relationships with our readers.

    And we’ll keep looking for ways to get more of our journalists involved in the comments sections. You may even hear from a reporter interested in following up with you.

    In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. Tell us what you like and what we can do better.

    And to those who already contribute to these valuable discussions across the site, thank you for building our communities and improving our journalism."

    In contrast, Somerby supposedly does not read his comments. It is true that Somerby makes no pretense toward being a journalist these days, but an unwillingness to listen to feedback is out of keeping with sincere interest in any topic and shows a lack of respect for one's audience. Not to mention a lack of desire to learn. Exactly the qualities you would avoid in a teacher.

    If there is a degradation in thinking or dialog in our society, Somerby demonstrates an important reason why. He urges liberals to listen to conservatives (The Other), but he won't listen to his own critics (or supporters, or people in between, or anyone else).

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