ACTUAL STATE OF THE RACE: Adults believe the darnedest things!


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


  1. "He seems to believe the darnedest things. Also, he seems to reason in the darnedest ways."

    And so are you, dear Bob, and so are you.

    Darnedest-ness of things, dear Bob, is in the eye of the beholder.

    In fact, what you, dear Bob, believe and the way you, dear Bob, 'reason' (if we could call it that), it often sounds completely insane to us.

    But so what, dear Bob? It takes all kinds.

    1. Mao, what's your point? TDH asserts that Patterson "seems to reason in the darndest ways" - you counter that in your view the way TDH reasons, seems to you to be "completely insane." What about Patterson. I'm curious - are you implying that TDH's view about Patterson's reasoning is "insane?" Or not necessarily that, just that TDH's reasoning in general, is "completely insane." And what is your take on Patterson - any validity to TDH's opinion that Patterson "seems to believe the darndest things?"

    2. So is Bob Somerby.

    3. It's just what we said, dear AC/MA: dear Bob reasoning often sounds completely insane to us. Moreover, our impression has been empirically confirmed many times: where's, for example, that Big Mr Trump's War? A bunch of hateful nonsense -- and then silence where dear Bob's concerns would really make sense, like with the mental abilities of our new glorious leader. Sorry, but that's just how we see it. for Mr Patterson, unfortunately (though not surprisingly) dear Bob doesn't produce any his reasoning, apart from a few snippets tendentiously picked out by Mr Gellman.

      It's absolutely impossible to judge Mr Patterson's beliefs and reasoning from dear Bob's post. All we can discern is that Mr Patterson isn't parroting liberal cult's talking points. And if that's a "darnedest thing", tsk, well, that's fine; we'll take it as a compliment...

  2. This was bound to happen after Ronald Reagan raped and murdered 17 kindergartners, and the MSM swept it under the rug.

  3. "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. "

    Somerby calls this "the biggest topic" but a Google search on the exact terms Somerby has used here "state of the race" yields nothing whatsoever coming from any anthropologist. A search including with word "race" instead gives many sources discussing the theory that races exist, studies of cultural beliefs about race. Nothing whatsoever about the state of the human race, much less the state of its mental functioning.

    So, one must conclude that Somerby is making this up again. This attribution to anthropologists is how Somerby hides his own ideas, based on nothing since he has no expertise in "mental functioning" and, as near as I can tell, has never taken a psychology course and knows nothing about how people think.

    Somerby is pulling this stuff out of his ass.

  4. The status of the human race does not depend on Patterson's mental functioning. For one thing, he may have inhaled too much smoke during his career as a fire fighter.

    Somerby says that few people have saved lives. I think that is likely to be untrue if you consider the many ways in which people both save lives and improve lives in their various careers. Grocers save lives by providing food. Teachers save lives by teaching children how to live and make good choices as adults. Religious leaderrs save lives by providing hope. Of course doctors and other medical and health workers save lives by keeping people healthy. Car mechanics save lives by keep cars safe on the road. And so on. We all work together to save lives and help people be safe and prosperous.

    This lauding of a few men in uniform who put out fires, mostly in buildings in which people have fled due to the warning provided by the smoke detectors (build by those engineers who save lives too), may be appropriate but by no means distinct from the efforts of so many others in our society -- people who Somerby doesn't recognize, in order to inflate the importance of Patterson's thoughts and excuse his rule-breaking as he wears a uniform he is not supposed to wear to a political protest, as if he has the right to break whatever rules he wishes, since he may have rescued someone once upon a time.

    I don't think Somerby own thought processes are sufficiently clear to permit him to analyze anyone else's.

  5. "As it turns out, General McInerney is now 84. "

    Somerby adds this info himself, as if being 84 were the cause of the mistaken beliefs of these two selected individuals.

    The large majority of Trump supporting conspiracy theorists are not elderly former military or fire fighters. That does not explain why people on the right believe crazy stuff.

    Somerby wishes to generalize the mistaken beliefs on the right to the entire human race, suggesting that we all believe wrong things, have wrong facts. He is incorrect about that. This is not a both-sides do it, humans are flawed thinkers kind of situation. The right wing via Fox News and other propaganda outlets has fed mistaken information and beliefs to its followers for decades now. It makes them more loyal, easier to manipulate. The outrage that is fed along with the mistaken facts motivates them to engage in unlawful acts that would have been horrifying to Republicans in the pre-Fox era. And this has been done on purpose, to seek and maintain political power on behalf of grifters who steal from their own supporters, as well as the American people, via government corruption.

    Somerby is as mistaken as the men he describes here. And if he isn't, then he is part of the grift and there is no excuse for what he writes here day after day.

    1. Who wants to know?

      This illustrates the silliness of anyone using a consistent screen name. Even "anonymous."

  6. Somerby might perform a useful function if he were to "research" why conspiracy theories seem to have more traction in this time period, than previously. One suggestion is that the internet allows those who hold such theories to find each other and feed off the validation provided by social support. Fringe ideas previously remained on the fringe and didn't gain traction. Today, Q-anon isn't only a theory but a cult of like-minded people.

    Somerby never tries to explain where these beliefs come from. He himself plays a role in their maintenance, when he repeats all those "facts" that he hears on Fox about Rittenhouse, claiming that the left is being misled because it doesn't repeat the same misinformation.

    Somerby too is in the vulnerable age group, although, to my knowledge, no standup comedian ever saved a life. It never occurs to him to apply his concerns to his own behavior. Instead, he wants to shake our belief in our own sources of information, our own logic and thinking, until the entire electorate of the USA is open to the filth spewed by Tucker. People believe wrong things for real reasons, not because people are bad thinkers, but because bad people are lying to them. Restoring faith in our information sources would be a good start at combatting Trumpism, but Somerby doesn't call for that. He instead seems to be reassuring the right that their thoughts are part of being human and that everyone ;is in the same boat. Tomorrow, he may try to tell us that the left believes more lies than Patterson. Don't believe him.

  7. Over at Lawyers Guns & Money, they are discussing a new podcast that will interview the original bloggers in the progressive blogosphere. Gratifyingly, no one mentioned Somerby for a very long time, then the comments about him were appropriately negative, asking whether he has gone insane and decrying his repetitiveness. Here is a sample:

    "Sweet Jesus, don't say his name 3 times or he'll show up and read CNN transcripts at you."

    So, it is nice to have my opinion validated and know that other progressives see him the same way I do.

    1. Also at Lawyers Guns & Money, Paul Campos asks why right wing propaganda, with absurd statements about the Democrat Party, can succeed:

  8. This article addresses Somerby's claim that the Democrats are unsuccessful at winning elections because of the behavior of leftist wingnuts who say outrageous things (a conservative meme):