There is so much of this flying around our ‘culture’ right now, it can almost be too much. It’s like everyone is walking around dizzy from the constant eye-rolling, but can you blame us?
So this is really perfect, plus an expert book review:
By incoherence I don’t mean an “extreme” position or the shriek of the provocateur, but a specific genre of chin-stroking, brow-furrowing, “eye opening” sophistry that’s now robustly represented in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Fluttering near the political center (they refuse to be pinned down!), the exponents of the new incoherence look at the Right’s mushrooming despotism, then at the enfeebled, regrouping Left—and, with theatrical exasperation, declare that both are a bit tyrannical. These pundits are the opposite of adherents; all hail the Incoherents! Like the dadaists and the X-Men, the Incoherents are bound by a shared mission: in their case, the valiant disputation of other people’s missions (which we now know are really “orthodoxies”). Anecdotes and dazzling inanities draped over an individualist common sense—this is the technique favored by the scramblers of our discourse. Faced with Incoherent writing, the reader embarks on a psychedelic saga: the truly trippy liquefaction of virtually all of social reality, especially those parts that have been politicized by the Left. So if you crave a “fresh” opinion, feel free to open the New York Times—on class, read David Brooks; on gender, read Bari Weiss. And on race, read Thomas Chatterton Williams, who has now published his second book.
It has been interesting, at the very least, to observe Williams’s ascent. His first book, released by Penguin in 2010, was the memoir Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture—the subtitle is now Love, Literature and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd—which strode boldly, if rather late, into the “conversation” about black youth culture. (The Washington Post had run Tipper Gore’s famous op-ed “Hate, Rape, and Rap” a full twenty years before.) The volume’s original cover was a picture of the author in a suit: jacket collar popped, tie whipping in the wind. Behind him is a building emblazoned with graffiti.
Read the whole thing. Actually, read other book reviews, too. Hell, read books – but choose wisely! Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Mr. Haslett.
Glenn Greenwald has a nice meta re-cap of his latest encounter with established media re: L’Affair Assange. It’s an instructive reminder of just how inseparable are the ‘who’ that provides your news and the ‘what’ it is supposedly all about:
It’s not news that establishment journalists identify with, are merged into, serve as spokespeople for, the political class: that’s what makes them establishment journalists. But even knowing that, it’s just amazing, to me at least, how so many of these “debates” I’ve done involving one anti-WikiLeaks political figure and one ostensibly “neutral” journalist — on MSNBC with The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari, on NPR with The New York Times‘ John Burns and former Clinton State Department official James Rubin, and last night on CNN with Yellin and Townsend — entail no daylight at all between the “journalists” and the political figures. They don’t even bother any longer with the pretense that they’re distinct or play different assigned roles.
And there are identical notches in that belt for climate, environment, high finance, taxes, business generally… the list is its own scandal. Where does it start? This kind of rot is re-inforced from two directions, at least: the top of the food chain at the journalism-government crossover, and at the j-schools themselves. The kids learn how to network and are instructed by the commencement speakers who demonstrate not how to afflict but how to comfort, and thus move up the hierarchy into the anchor/editor’s chair. It’s all a celebration of career success, practically apart from what makes the career. The notion of muckraking doesn’t even come up; instead the news bleeds towards the most vulnerable, i.e., those least equipped to defend themselves, who can be dissected in public without push back or a loss of advertising revenue. Immigrants, the poor, criminals. I should qualify that: low-level criminals. Accordingly, no voices allowed that vary from the corporate line until the playing field is sufficiently skewed that you can be easily disregarded as a radical for advocating things like… high speed rail.
Oh, the horrors. But the Cossacks work for the Czar. Some of this is in exchange for the comfort we get from news that is based on things like the ‘war on Christmas’, black friday and shark attacks in summer. So it’s in part our fault for not rejecting the poolside, corporate, rolling green carpet viewpoint more stridently. The other part is a testament to how difficult it is to rock the boat, especially when things are going so swell.
So resolve and be resolute – without the self-condemnation of cynicism or conspiracy. There’s more room there to be skeptical than you think.