THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2022
Job One is defining The Others: We recently had occasion to visit a large medical facility.
We entered a very large parking garage, so filled with cars at 8 A.M. that we had to snake up, up, up. From there, we proceeded to a truly overwhelming edifice—a gargantuan building which filled our heads with flashbacks to early Brasilia.
We wondered if it made good sense to overwhelm patients in this architectural manner. Mainly, we were amazed to think that we humans know how to design and construct such complex buildings at all.
As the week proceeded, we read about those Nord Stream pipelines, lying on the floor of the Baltic Sea. We read about the tons of concrete involved in their protection.
We humans are surprisingly good at building things! We say that we're surprisingly good because, in every other area, the most elementary type of clarity simply isn't us.
We build things with much more skill than we tend to reason. Consider the most recent offering from the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin.
Rubin used to be a reliably scripted conservative. She's now a reliably scripted Never Trumper. She's reliably one of Us.
We humans! When it comes to banging out tribal script, clarity isn't us! It isn't one of our leading skills. Defining the Others is!
We thought of that, as we often do these days, when reading Rubin's column. But before we look at what she wrote, briefly consider the text of the following statement:
“White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.”
We'll ask two questions about that statement:
1) Do you agree with that statement?
Also, perhaps more importantly:
2) How well do you understand what that statement means?
Readers, how well do you understand what that statement means?
For obvious reasons, it's often said that people aren't responsible for the sins of their parents. In various contexts, the reason for that judgment will strike most people as obvious. It will seem easy to explain.
In various contexts, it's often said that we aren't responsible for the sins of our parents. But is that what is meant by the statement we've posted above? In practical terms here in the real world, what would that statement mean?
What does, or would, that statement mean? In our view, you're asking a very good question!
In response to your very good question, we're going to showcase a certain rumination, a type of rumination we unveiled in Sunday's award-winning post.
We're going to show you the correct answer to a certain question. The correct answer goes like this:
QUESTION: Are White Americans living today responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past?
CORRECT ANSWER: I'm not sure what you mean.
"I'm not sure what you mean!" Again and again, then again and again, that turns out to be the correct answer to a wide array of questions (and statements) in a wide array of fields.
Even more politely, "I'm not quite sure what you mean!" That answer challenges the questioner to be more precise about what he actually means—about what he's actually saying or asking.
It asks the questioner to traffic in clarity. And no, it isn't a dodge!
We offer this preamble in reaction to Rubin's new column. Her column appears beneath a mandated headline:
Just how racist is the MAGA movement? This survey measures it.
Happy days are here again! Rubin says she's found a survey which measures how racist a certain movement is.
You'll know, without reading, what the survey has found. But who exactly is part of that movement? And how was their "racism" measured and/or defined?
In his own most recent essay, Ed Kilgore joins many analysts in describing the heightened state of tribal loathing in our contemporary politics. He quotes this passage from a recent column in the Washington Post:
KILGORE (9/28/22): In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. “Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,” they write.
We're dividing into warring groups and describing each other in harsh terms. This has been said again and again. Everybody knows this.
For better or worse, no one is much more scripted than Jennifer Rubin is. You always know what she's going to say. Tomorrow, we'll look at what she said in her recent column.
Also coming, this latest from Blow. For today, we'll leave you with this:
Our species is good at building things—and at spotting Others.
Down through the millennia, clarity has rarely been our strong suit, even (or especially) at the highest academic levels. Job One has been defining The Others, a prelude to one of our wars.
Tomorrow: "72 percent"
Full disclosure, to set hearts at ease: This tendency won't be going away. It's all anthropology now!