Binary Situations

It happens that we are reading Jonah Goldberg’s email and Kevin D. Williamson in the print version of the National Review on the same day.  You should always read all of both of them for the joy of their prose if nothing else.  We don’t have links for either because Jonah’s comes as an email (it is the Goldberg File: Mob Ascendant) and Kevin is, as Jonah says, on dead tree (ODT).  Make sure you read Kevin’s footnotes.

Sidebar One: Yes there is a digital version of the National Review and we do subscribe but there is a paywall.  You should subscribe so you can look.  Frankly, we prefer to read stuff ODT.  End Sidebar One.

We are generally with Jonah that mob-like actions are a big problem in politics and society.  Then he reports (we’ve pasted the tweet):

Sohrab Ahmari tweeted amidst the Trump rally the other night: Every political situation like the one we’re living through is a binary. Would that it weren’t so. But it’s as ironclad as the laws of thermodynamics.

We expected a response like nonsense on stilts or some such Jonahism.  Instead we get the weakest gruel possible from him:

I think this is axiomatically true—if enough people believe it to be true. Then, it becomes true. It’s just not obvious to me that Sohrab doesn’t want it to be true.

Jonah’s first sentence seems to contradict itself.  The tweet is much closer to being axiomatically false.  There are many factions: Trumpers, NeverTrumers, libertarians, social conservatives, crunchy conservatives, and economic conservatives to take a few of the factions from one side of the aisle.  Some folks might be in more than one faction.  Political situations like tabling the impeachment of The Donald, and the steps in their resolutions have a variety of wins, loses, and no impact.

Votes are different than political situations.  Votes by citizens are often binary.  In the general election you generally pick between two choices and hope for the best.  If you were a member of Congress voting on legislation then you can try to game the system.  You might have voted to table the impeachment of The Donald now because you think that chances will improve later.  The spin doctors will work on declaring victory and try to influence future outcomes.  So, for citizens the NeverTrump argument fails because we can’t influence the 2024 GOP nominee.  People arguing that things are binary don’t make it so.

Kevin has a better argument on a similar topic that he puts in the title: A Herd Has No Mind.  Or put another way: Only an individual can think.  He agrees with Jonah that the mob is ascendant but has a better analysis of the challenges we face.  The problems with the mob leads him into a wide ranging discussion of discourse and antidiscourse.  Language is the instrument of discourse while antidiscourse is mob rule.  Kevin didn’t use a hyphen so we will not either no matter what the word processor does.  It is a wonderful rambling, acerbic, and thoughtful piece.

Sidebar Two: Kevin’s footnote eight asks in part who could read the sentences of Moby-Dick?  It is part of his test of the intellectual skills of the electorate to conduct discourse.  We don’t think that is a good test for understanding an argument, political or otherwise.  Before we retired from teaching we used to use a passage from another Melville book, Pierre, to make a point about the difference between types of writing.  We can’t find the passage but our recollection was that it included a 125 word sentence with lots of punctuation.  Our point was that emulating Melville was not an effective way to convince others.  End Sidebar Two.

Kevin comes to a related but different conclusion.  He says that our INSTANT CULTURE that leads to antidiscourse has become neatly binate.  Binate?  Binate: Growing in pairs or couples.  Kevin uses the example of Proud Boys and Antifa as such a pair.  We are not entirely convinced but agree that binate is much closer to our current political reality than binary.




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