WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2021
And make the darnedest statements: Deeply disconsolate major experts all tell us the very same thing.
When they do, they say they're discussing the biggest topic in future anthropology. They call it "the actual state of the race"—the actual warp and woof of human mental functioning.
Forget the old "rational animal" hook, these anthropologists despondently say. How do—or perhaps, how did—we humans actually function?
More precisely, how do we function "above the neck," as we sometimes say?
How do we humans actually function? What's the actual state of the race? At the start of his new essay for The Atlantic, Barton Gellman produces an interesting case study in that very question.
For good reason, Gellman's new essay is being widely discussed. Early on, he describes a long conversation with Richard C. Patterson, 61, and also 6 foot 4.
Patterson, who's now retired, once held an important position. Gellman's account of their conversation starts exactly like this:
GELLMAN (12/6/21): At the edge of the Capitol grounds, just west of the reflecting pool, a striking figure stands in spit-shined shoes and a 10-button uniform coat. He is 6 foot 4, 61 years old, with chiseled good looks and an aura of command that is undimmed by retirement. Once, according to the silver bars on his collar, he held the rank of captain in the New York Fire Department. He is not supposed to wear the old uniform at political events, but he pays that rule no mind today. The uniform tells the world that he is a man of substance, a man who has saved lives and held authority. Richard C. Patterson needs every shred of that authority for this occasion. He has come to speak on behalf of an urgent cause. “Pelosi’s political prisoners,” he tells me, have been unjustly jailed.
Patterson is talking about the men and women held on criminal charges after invading the Capitol on January 6. He does not at all approve of the word insurrection.
“It wasn’t an insurrection,” he says at a September 18 rally called “Justice for January 6.” “None of our countrymen and -women who are currently being held are charged with insurrection. They’re charged with misdemeanor charges.”
Based upon that description, Patterson once held a highly responsible position in the community. Gellman suggests that Patterson has "saved lives." Most people haven't done that.
Apparently, Patterson had a long and substantial career. But as the conversation unfolds, we learn, or possibly seem to learn, two other things about him:
He seems to believe the darnedest things. Also, he seems to reason in the darnedest ways.
Whatever his various merits might be, Patterson doesn't exactly seem like "the rational animal." Gellman continues as shown:
GELLMAN (continuing directly): Patterson is misinformed on that latter point. Of the more than 600 defendants, 78 are in custody when we speak. Most of those awaiting trial in jail are charged with serious crimes such as assault on a police officer, violence with a deadly weapon, conspiracy, or unlawful possession of firearms or explosives. Jeffrey McKellop of Virginia, for instance, is alleged to have hurled a flagpole like a spear into an officer’s face. (McKellop has pleaded not guilty.)
It's common for people to be misinformed. Patterson seems to be misinformed on that particular point.
But as the conversation proceeds, he seems to be misinformed on quite a few other points. Despite his apparent desire to proceed in good faith, his logic often seems bungled.
He may not seem like "the rational animal." What follows is just a tiny chunk of the conversation which ensues:
GELLMAN: We fall into a long conversation in the sweltering heat, then continue it for weeks by phone and email. I want to plumb the depths of his beliefs, and understand what lies behind his commitment to them. He is prepared to grant me the status of “fellow truth-seeker.”
“The ‘Stop the Steal’ rally for election integrity was peaceful,” he says. “I think the big takeaway is when Old Glory made its way into the Rotunda on January 6, our fearless public officials dove for cover at the sight of the American flag.”
What about the violence? The crowds battling police?
“The police were seen on video in uniform allowing people past the bicycle-rack barricades and into the building,” he replies. “I mean, that’s established. The unarmed crowd did not overpower the officers in body armor. That doesn’t happen. They were allowed in.”
Surely he has seen other video, though. Shaky, handheld footage, taken by the rioters themselves, of police officers falling under blows from a baseball bat, a hockey stick, a fire extinguisher, a length of pipe. A crowd crushing Officer Daniel Hodges in a doorway, shouting “Heave! Ho!”
Does Patterson know that January 6 was among the worst days for law-enforcement casualties since September 11, 2001? That at least 151 officers from the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department suffered injuries, including broken bones, concussions, chemical burns, and a Taser-induced heart attack?
Patterson has not heard these things. Abruptly, he shifts gears. Maybe there was violence, but the patriots were not to blame.
"The patriots were not to blame?" Patterson now explains:
GELLMAN: “There were people there deliberately to make it look worse than what it was,” he explains. “A handful of ill-behaved, potentially, possibly agents provocateur.” He repeats the phrase: “Agents provocateur, I have on information, were in the crowd … They were there for nefarious means. Doing the bidding of whom? I have no idea.”
“‘On information’?” I ask. What information?
“You can look up this name,” he says. “Retired three-star Air Force General McInerney. You got to find him on Rumble. They took him off YouTube.”
As it turns out, General McInerney is now 84. When Gellman interviews him by phone, he makes a series of claims.
According to Gellman, some of McInerney's claims seem to be contradicted by basic facts. According to Gellman, McInerney offers no factual basis in support of other claims.
At this point, Gellman receives a call from McInerney's 58-year-old son. The son seems to tell Gellman that his father may not be mentally competent at this point.
(Quoting the son: “He wants what’s best for the nation and he speaks with a sense of authority, but I have concerns at his age that his judgment is impaired.")
So said McInerney's son. Here's what happens next:
GELLMAN: I tell all of this and more to Patterson. McInerney, the Military Times reported, “went off the rails” after a successful Air Force career. For a while during the Obama years he was a prominent birther and appeared a lot on Fox News, before being fired as a Fox commentator in 2018 for making a baseless claim about John McCain. Last November, he told the WVW Broadcast Network that the CIA operated a computer-server farm in Germany that had helped rig the presidential vote for Biden, and that five Special Forces soldiers had just died trying to seize the evidence. The Army and U.S. Special Operations Command put out dutiful statements that no such mission and no such casualties had taken place.
Of course, Patterson wrote to me sarcastically, “governments would NEVER lie to their OWN citizens.” He did not trust the Pentagon’s denials.
"There are seldom words or time enough to lay a conspiracy theory to rest," Gellman writes of his conversation. "Each rebuttal is met with a fresh round of delusions."
(In fairness, it's Gellman who says that these claims are "delusions." Patterson holds a different view.)
Gellman's conversation with Patterson continues on from there, But at this point, he's making an important observation about the actual state of the race—about the actual state of play which underlies our species' mental functioning and our attempts at debate:
"There are seldom words or time enough to lay a conspiracy theory to rest," Gellman writes of his conversation. He seems to suggest that a "conspiracy theory" (as he puts it) actually could be laid to rest, "had we but world enough, and time."
If he's making that suggestion, Gellman is technically wrong. Future Logicians Huddled in Caves, a group of despondent award-winning scholars, have repeatedly informed us of a basic point:
Any attempt at rebutting a claim can be met with some further claim. In the end, there is no way to dispute a claim which compels agreement from the other party.
Patterson seems to believe the darnedest things. Gellman is unable to dislodge him from these vivid beliefs, or from the chains of his logic.
That said, if some people believe the darnedest things, other people make the darnedest public statements. Recently, Lara Logan stepped forward as one such person.
This is the actual state of the race! With respect to Lara Logan, why did she say what she said?
Tomorrow: Logan speaks