“We live in a time when the news media and other purveyors of conventional wisdom like to report on the future more than the past. They draw on polls and false analogies to announce what is going to happen next, and their frequent errors — about the unelectability of Barack Obama, say, or the inevitability of the Keystone XL pipeline — don’t seem to impede their habit of prophecy or our willingness to abide them. “We don’t actually know” is their least favorite thing to report. Non-pundits, too, use bad data and worse analysis to pronounce with great certainty on future inevitabilities, present impossibilities, and past failures. The mind-set behind these statements is what I call naïve cynicism. It bleeds the sense of possibility and maybe the sense of responsibility out of people.” – from The Habits of Highly Cynical People by Rebecca Solnit
“Sometime around now – it may have happened five years ago or 50 years ago – but sometime around now, the rules for living successfully on earth shifted, and an opportunity, unseen before, began to reveal itself. This opportunity is a context – a particular space or paradigm, a way of being – which unexpectedly creates the possibility for a person’s life to truly make a difference. In this context, the way each of us answers the question, ‘What is my life really going to be about?’ can literally alter the course of humanity.
The possibility to create the context in which people’s lives really matter is undoubtedly the most profound opportunity available to anyone, ever.” –Werner Erhard
“Whoever is overrun with suspicion, and detects artifice and stratagem in every proposal, must either have learned by experience or observation the wickedness of mankind, and been taught to avoid fraud by having often suffered or seen treachery; or he must derive his judgment from the consciousness of his own disposition, and impute to others the same inclinations which he feels predominant in himself.” Dr. Johnson
What an odd little week that was.
Did you notice it too?
Here I as all set to go on and on and on about why I think I’m punishing myself by looking at Medium every day. I had this terse little summary claiming Medium is nothing more than people secretly trying out the TED Talks they some day hope to give. The summary took pity on these sad, poor souls who three times a week run out 1500 words under the general premise that they’re goin’ out there a nobody, but they were comin’ back a star. As if there’s some all-knowing all-seeing TED version of Flo Ziegfeld out front and he’s lovin’ it!
No, instead I got sidetracked.
On Tuesday I got an invitation to go to a conference for life coaches.
I have no idea where that came from, but it certainly got my attention. I got stuck in a loop wondering how someone goes about spending a whole weekend at the Marriott trying to tell people what to do when those people already make a living telling people what to do.
Granted, to be able to be a witness to such an epistemological dumpster fire would be fantastic, but the simple fact is that I cannnot go.
Keep your pants on and hold onto something because here we go.
OK so you’re at this shindig and you’re going up and down the aisles and there’s no end of people who have taken you for a mark. Right there, all in one place, all on the hoof, are oh so many rubes, Jethro’s, hayseeds and hicks* that it’s all the boothers can do to restrain them selves from letting out a good squeal. Once some convention lizards catch your eye they cuddle up and start to talk. They lay it on thick with no end of gusto and big smiles as they have come to believe it’s all about the attitude you put forward. So while they’re busy putting all that energy into that your job to to go limp in the eyes, look marginally slack jawed, and no with a small amount of feigned goodwill in your voice you say, “Never thought of that!”
Then they turn away to grab something to shove in your hand because, as my father used to say, “If you get in their hand it’s as good as sold!” But when they wheel around it finally dawns on them.
The gray hair?
The bags under the eyes?
The subtle, but obvious smirk?
In that instant there is the realization that leads to the audible gasp that means they know just one thing. While they were sizing you up they got sized up instead. The dropped g’s, the folksy aphorisms, and the Gomer-esque facade were only a sham.
It was a waste of time.
Which brings me to the larger point of this drivel –
The city gent vs. the bucolic bumpkin is one of the oldest theme in American lit and there is no better example of it than the current relationship between Donald Trump and the American mainstream media.
Take a minute, catch your breath and let’s run out another quote from Ms. Solnit
Maybe it also says something about the tendency to oversimplify. If simplification means reducing things to their essentials, oversimplification tosses aside the essential as well. It is a relentless pursuit of certainty and clarity in a world that generally offers neither, a desire to shove nuances and complexities into clear-cut binaries. Naïve cynicism concerns me because it flattens out the past and the future, and because it reduces the motivation to participate in public life, public discourse, and even intelligent conversation that distinguishes shades of gray, ambiguities and ambivalences, uncertainties, unknowns, and opportunities. Instead, we conduct our conversations like wars, and the heavy artillery of grim confidence is the weapon many reach for.
Naïve cynics shoot down possibilities, including the possibility of exploring the full complexity of any situation. They take aim at the less cynical, so that cynicism becomes a defensive posture and an avoidance of dissent. They recruit through brutality. If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naïve; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naïve cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.
The point of this exercise is that Mr. Trump’s campaign has recreated in life the what the trope of the sophisticate vs. bumpkin has been to American lit since the 1600s. Since the end of WW2 there’s been a media aristocracy, a media curia of sorts, made up of columnists and writers who took it upon themselves to maintain the conventional wisdom. Sunday after Sunday they stood on guard to remind the populace of how they should think about certain subjects – or at least that’s how it was perceived.**
Over time this broke down.The most obvious example was the entire Bloggitysphere of the early to mid- 00’s. Suddenly everyone became his or her own best pundit. The conventional wisdom was still there, but it became diffused and scattered. Parallel thinking sprung up, but it had no master. It could not be ostracized by the DC-Beltway cocktail circuit. Not that this concerned the long-standing columnists and writers. Panic hadn’t come to the newspapers’ bottom line yet so – as a class – the print pundits thought of the Internet as little more than the JayCees fund-raiser talent show.
And on it went. The pros continued Walter Lippman’s tradition of looking into the souls of men and finding them – to borrow from Plato – too brassy for words, but nothing a good 1000-word Sunday-edition talking to couldn’t fix!
That’s why earlier this year the punditry believed they were line of defense against the eventual nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP candidate. But as of this past March it became obvious – even to a few pundits at least – that no one was paying attention to any of them – not even the great phallynx of the National Review. It finally became obvious that all those little brassy people – at a bare minimum – stopped paying attention to them long ago. What at least Kristof and some of his NRO associates had to come to terms with in the last 60 days is the small fact that lots and lots of people who were supposed to be kept in line by the punditry’s recitation of conventional wisdom had in fact written the pundits off as stuffed shirts as early as ’05.
So once again, as has always been the case in American lit – the bumpkin got the better part of the dandy. Trump sails on and the chattering class has to come to terms with the fact that nobody cares what they have to say.
My sole theory of how we got here – and it’s not much – is that economic upheaval always changes relationships. Since 2008-09 the newspapers are other large media have had problems and in flopping around it has dawned on a few of them that they aren’t the big deal that they used to be. Even the ones who worked their way out of the ’00s Bloggitysphere and found jobs in conventional media find themselves wondering if anyone is listening. Even the ones who made the transition from mere blogger to speaking for the entire media industry are in rough waters. More than a couple take to Medium now with diatribes that amount to little more than “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I’M STILL HERE!”
In closing let me say, YMMV, FOOM!,Excelsior! and you’re free to blame me personally for Trump.
I will take the hot tears rolling down your cheeks at this very moment as your way of thanking me for that.
* DICLOSURE: I self identify as a ‘hick’ and believe ‘redneck’ is a lifestyle choice.
** I believe this is the white-core core of all media hatred, but we’ll have to save that subject for another time because I gotta go to the grocery store.