SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2022
Adventures in dumbnification: Last evening, a raft of despondent intellectual giants gifted us with their current view of the world.
(Full disclosure: They did so through a series of the nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.)
In a nutshell, these disconsolate experts said this:
Vladimir Putin spent the past month preparing to gobble Europe's second largest nation. As he did, North American leaders were trying to get a bunch of crackpots to move their trucks off a bridge.
Yesterday, David Brooks sanitized this bleak view as part of a highly insightful column. We refer to this part of his essay:
BROOKS (2/18/22): What is the key factor that has made the 21st century so dark, regressive and dangerous?
The normal thing to say is that the liberal world order is in crisis. But just saying that doesn’t explain why. Why are people [around the world] rejecting liberalism? What weakness in liberalism is its enemies exploiting? What is at the root of this dark century? Let me offer one explanation.
The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, [Fiona] Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in during the 1990s—“weakened at home and in retreat abroad.”
As we struggle to clear a bridge, does Putin think such thoughts?
We don't know what Putin thinks. But if he doesn't think that we're "weakened at home," we'd say that he certainly ought to!
We strongly recommend Brooks' column, which was widely praised in comments. In part, we'd call your attention to these parts of the gentleman's thesis:
BROOKS: The real problem is in the seedbeds of democracy, the institutions that are supposed to mold a citizenry and make us qualified to practice democracy. To restore those seedbeds, we first have to relearn the wisdom of the founders: We are not as virtuous as we think we are. Americans are no better than anyone else. Democracy is not natural; it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.
Then we need to fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills: how to weigh evidence and commit to truth; how to correct for your own partisan blinders and learn to doubt your own opinions; how to respect people you disagree with; how to avoid catastrophism, conspiracy and apocalyptic thinking; how to avoid supporting demagogues; how to craft complex compromises.
We aren't as virtuous as we think, Brooks sagaciously says. He also makes these assessments:
We need to learn how to weigh evidence. We need to learn how to commit to truth. We need to learn how to correct for our own partisan blinders.
We need to learn to doubt our own opinions. We need to learn how to respect people we disagree with.
We agree with all those points! We think our own tribe's recent "adventures in paraphrase" provide a good object lesson.
Friend, do you believe it? Do you believe that the RNC issued a unanimous statement saying that the violent assaults of January 6 were examples of "legitimate political discourse?"
Friend, do you really believe that? Granted, the RNC didn't explicitly say that.
But do you think that's a valid paraphrase of what the RNC said? Do you believe that that's a sensible account of what they actually meant?
For ourselves, we've regarded the RNC as a major clown show for more than twenty years. That said, no:
We don't think that's a sound paraphrase of what the RNC said. And we see no reason to believe that that's what the RNC meant.
The RNC has long been a clown show—but we don't believe that even they are anywhere near that crazy. (It may be that Donald Trump is.) And here's another key point:
We don't believe it's honest or decent to keep reporting that the RNC said that—to keep presenting that as an established fact—without mentioning these two points:
First, the resolution doesn't say any such thing in an explicit way. And second, major figures in the RNC have repeatedly said that they do condemn the violence which occurred on January 6.
In our view, the RNC is a long-standing clown show. Also, much of what one sees on Fox News may border on the insane.
The gruesome behavior of our own liberal stars becomes more and more like that on Fox with each passing day. Routinely now, our corporate stars assail us with script in ways which reinforce a pair of major assessments:
First, people will do and say a lot of things to retain massively high-paying corporate jobs. Also, man (sic) is really the tribal animal—the creature which runs on script.
The O'Donnells, the Dionnes, the Woodruffs, the Capeharts? The Velshis, the Melbers, the Kilgores, Chris Hayes?
One after another, the leading lights of our own failing tribe stood in line to make the remarkable claim that the RNC had described those violent assaults as "legitimate political discourse."
The resolution in question had made no such explicit statement; RNC leaders had quickly denied that that was what they meant. But our horrifically tribalized stars all crept forward to recite. This is who and what we humans are, major top experts all tell us.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. If Putin doesn't think we're in trouble here, he's dumber than anyone thinks.
We're largely dissolving into a Babel of exceptionally dumb warring tribes. As we do, very few people seem to know "how to how to weigh evidence" about tribal claims as they attempt to "commit to truth."
There's nothing so dumb that people won't say it! (We watched C-Span this morning.) Sadly, that's increasingly true within our own tribe, from Woodruff and Dionne right on down.
Importantly, let's be fair. For the average person, it's harder "to weigh evidence" now than it ever was in the past.
In the past, it was hard to gain access to crazy viewpoints and claims. Today, the promulgation of crazy claims is a very large, round-the-clock business.
On Fox, they're constantly selling such cars. But our favorite stars are selling such cars on our own cable channels too.
Even within our self-impressed tribe, we have very few skills with which to assess such claims. Within each tribe, we tend to believe whatever we're told. In the process, our Babel expands.
We become a dimwitted Babel composed of inane warring tribes. As this happens, the traditional strongmen of the world look on, and they see that it's good.
Putin's about to gobble Ukraine. Over here, the Woodruffs, O'Donnells and Dionnes increasingly make us dumber.
More on this to come next week. As Dylan said, it's a drag to see Us! We need to confront who we are.