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Resistants de la dernière heure
March 21, 2012 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Too Smart to Fail : "A résumé filled with grievous errors in the period 1996–2006 is not only a non-problem for further advances in the world of consensus; it is something of a prerequisite. Our intellectual powers that be not only forgive the mistakes; they require them. You must have been wrong back then in order to have a chance to be taken seriously today; only by having gotten things wrong can you demonstrate that you are trustworthy, a member of the team. (Those who got things right all along, on the other hand, might be dubbed “premature market skeptics”—people who doubted the consensus before the consensus acknowledged it was all right to doubt.)" —Thomas Frank, The Baffler
posted by enn (44 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was 90% expecting this to be a Ron Paul thing...
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on March 21, 2012


Might have saved a lot of name naming had the writer noted that both political parties responsible for dumping regulations that led to the mess. Both.
posted by Postroad at 8:32 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was 90% expecting this to be a Ron Paul thing...

Ron Paul's a really good counterexample to the thesis of the article. He's somebody who really doesn't seem to care whether he's in conformity with mainstream thought or not, and as a result, while he hits on sense every once in a while, he also holds some seriously nutty positions that would be a disaster if implemented. This lack of concern about conformity is a precondition for both his good positions and his awful ones.
posted by gauche at 8:38 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's probably a deliberate reference to "premature anti-fascists"
posted by Slothrup at 8:39 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


@Postroad, the crux of the article is not to come up with an exhaustive list of who to blame, but to recognize that,
But the problem goes far beyond politics. We have become a society that can’t self-correct, that can’t address its obvious problems, that can’t pull out of its nosedive. And so to our list of disasters let us add this fourth entry: we have entered an age of folly...
The authors /specifically/ call out some of the players and list their dubious accomplishments that led the most of the so-called Western World to one of several brinks, but make it clear that this is, really, beside the point.
My aim here isn’t to take some kind of victory lap or to get in the granite faces of our eternal pundit corps one more time ... Nor is it to blame Republicans for our problems.
Frank is one of the smartest American writers still bothering to try and present nuanced criticism of Our Modern World.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Slothrup: I assume so; it reminded me of Bernard Knox's essay of that name, which is where I got the title.
posted by enn at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2012


Nice title, and nice essay.

While I'm totally sympathetic to Frank's piece, I have to wonder why (or if) he thinks there's anything unusual about our society in this regard. I mean, hasn't civilization always had this element of "consensual reality" about it which binds us together and is often only tenuously connected to "objective reality"?
posted by Slothrup at 8:57 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


responsible for dumping regulations

Postroad, what are you referring to?
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 9:02 AM on March 21, 2012


responsible for dumping regulations

Not to speak for Postroad, but the repeal of "Glass-Steagall," and a lot of other post-Reagan neo-liberal economic policies were embraced by Clinton right along with most Republicans.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


So wait, there's a new issue of Baffler? I bought a subscription in 2003 (when it claimed it was published quarterly) and I think I've seen 3 issues in 9 years.

And then they redesigned and launched a new Web site in 2010 ... only to never publish another issue.

What's going on? Is Frank full-time at Harper's or something? It's not like he needs to write and publish the whole thing himself ... he was never the best contributor, imo.


... actually reads the article and site ... OK, new editor. But has anyone seen this issue yet? (I am impressed at their ability to track me over a multitude of residences through the years, so I expect to eventually see it if the issue really exists.)

Frank does have a wonderful way of bringing loose ends together. Great article.

(Postroad does not seem to have RTFA. Or at least not more than a few graphs. The article is far from partisan.)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2012


Welcome back, Baffler! Depressingly, the world still needs you!
posted by RogerB at 9:21 AM on March 21, 2012


Maybe this state of affairs can go on for years. As you watch the anointed men of the Washington consensus shuttle through the CNN green room or relax comfortably at the $10,000 Halloween party the neighbors are throwing for their third grader, you begin to wonder what kind of blunder it will take to shatter this city’s epic complacency, its dazzling confidence in its own stupidity.
Nice essay until the massive cop out at the end. Maybe it's just that I've been running in the wrong circles, but after working with congress and living in DC for two years, I've seen no evidence to support the nebulous "complacent, wealthy Washington DC insider" narrative that so many journalists seem to be so eager to tell.

If you're going to come forward with an accusation targeted against the people of Washington, DC (who, in my experience, far more often than not, have good motives and intentions at heart, on both sides of the aisle), you need to make specific accusations, rather than falling back on a cadre of faceless, and anonymously-evil K Street lobbyists or congressional "power brokers" (whatever that is) to prove your point.

There's no doubt that the "consensus" mentality, and the media's tireless quest to find two sides to every issue (regardless of one side's legitimacy) is hurting the country. However, the number of "consensus idiots" that we can individually single out probably number no more than two dozen. Really.

Most folks here actually do want to make things better. For everyone. The blame for the corruption and the fact that this does not happen should not fall upon the backs of the legions of career bureaucrats and civil servants toiling away in DC, or even Congress's legislative staff (which seemingly has a higher staff turnover rate than WalMart, with virtually none of those former staffers actually achieving the coveted K Street lobbying positions; that's like winning the lottery...). Even the influence of the various lobbying groups seems to be far less insidious than what most are led to believe... Unless you're coming forward with specific and targeted complaints about a particular lobbyist, politician, style of lobbying, or piece of legislation, please don't use the "DC Insider" cop-out to prove your point.

...and why is it always DC's fault? The politicians here were democratically elected by people from all 50 states. Can we also blame the average American's piss-poor understanding of our political process, as outlined in the constitution? How about the massive number of out-of-town lobbyists, interest groups, and over-eager reporters around the country who are equally ignorant of the legislative process, and help to perpetuate the consensus bias described in the article.

I've seen practically no evidence to support the existence of the "Washington Insider" as portrayed by the media. The (non-elected) people who hold the most power happen to be whomever has a lot of money, and the ability to tell a compelling narrative to the American people to justify or legitimize their lobbying activities. These people, almost by definition, do not come from the Washington area. It's not logically congruent to simultaneously tell a story about "beltway insiders" and "outside influence."

Sorry for the rant, but I'm growing tired of journalists incorrectly taking pot-shots at my home as The Root of All That Is Evil And Wrong In This World, and using it to paint a wildly-distorted picture and build a plausible scapegoat for people who have never been here. I thought I was going to escape that sort of thing once I left New Jersey....
posted by schmod at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Might have saved a lot of name naming had the writer noted that both political parties responsible for dumping regulations that led to the mess. Both."

This is somewhat true, but I would qualify that. It's not a "both sides do it" issue. Republicans do it as a matter of ideology, blind faith in doctrine. Democrats do it to cynically serve their lobbyist constituencies, despite their party's ideology.

The outcome is the same, but there is a subtle distinction; one outlook is redeemable, the other is not.
posted by Xoebe at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Glass-Steagall

See Saul, you called Regulation Glass-Steagall, but you refused to use the same naming criteria for deregulation. Of course my question was rhetorical, its called Gramm-Leach-Bliley, but the media has removed that label, because they are all Republicans, and it is now called the thing that both parties supported.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah schmod, as a Southern Californian, I feel your pain. I have to listen to incessant snide self-righteous sniping from my Texas family every time I visit. And when people start in on "Hollywood" I want to punch them in the mouth.
posted by Xoebe at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


True true schmod, as someone from New York I understand bristling at the assumptions people make about places. Remember folks, don't assume maliciousness when it's probably just good old greed and ignorance at work. It is not limited to certain populations. Late stage capitalism has made us all stupider and callous to a degree. Idiocracy was a documentary, etc. It must be hard or impossible for a society to break out of this groupthink. It's not isually a turning point and more often a dead canary in our country's mine.

Also, all the bad things people assume about New York and New Yorkers is true and in fact we even like it thay way. Fuck off I'm walking here.
posted by fuq at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most folks here actually do want to make things better. For everyone.
On behalf of everyone could I just say.


Be. Less. Shit.
posted by fullerine at 9:59 AM on March 21, 2012


There's some epic point-missing here: as if merely having good intentions would excuse the mess that the ruling classes have made of the country and the world!  To say nothing of the idea that condemning the "Washington consensus" is a dis against the residents of the District.

Not complaining about specific lobbyists and politicians is exactly the point of Frank's systemic critique. The piece is quite clear about this:
What I didn’t understand was that these were moral failures, mistakes that were hardwired into the belief systems of the organizations and professions and social classes in question. As such they were mistakes that—from the point of view of those organizations or professions or classes—shed no discredit on the individual chowderheads who made them. Holding them accountable was out of the question, and it remains off the table today.
posted by RogerB at 10:06 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


When someone says, "We want to make things better!" I always hear now that unspoken addendum, "Unless my lifestyle would have to suffer!"
posted by Slackermagee at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most folks here actually do want to make things better. For everyone.

This may be the least relevant argument a person can make. Outside of Comic Book Supervillains, there are damned few people doing terrible things who don't believe in their own hearts that they are not working to make things better. For everyone. Even those acting on purely selfish motives have the grossly misnamed Objectivist philosophy to give them a cushion of belief that they are doing is better for the world at large.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


okay, I think I triple negatived there, but I hope you get my drift.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:10 AM on March 21, 2012


But has anyone seen this issue yet? (I am impressed at their ability to track me over a multitude of residences through the years, so I expect to eventually see it if the issue really exists.)

Mine showed up with today's mail (which I didn't realize when I made this post).
posted by enn at 10:18 AM on March 21, 2012


RogerB: "Not complaining about specific lobbyists and politicians is exactly the point of Frank's systemic critique."

There's nothing wrong with providing a systemic critique. However, that doesn't excuse you from providing examples, and if you're going to use this particular topic, you're going to need to provide something more than Enron or Abramoff.

I guess I should have been a bit clearer. This particular problem doesn't necessarily dis the residents of DC per se*, but it does strongly imply that all of the Fucked Up Stuff is happening here. That's a very partial truth; the people who are fucking things up just happen to be renting some offices here.

This is not a Washington problem. It's an America problem.

*But there are plenty of others doing that.

This attitude also perpetuates the toxic belief that anybody who knows anything about the legislative process is a "beltway insider," and that knowledge of the inner-workings of the federal government is somehow a bad quality for a politician to have. That's completely batshit insane, and we're seeing the results of it in the 112th Congress, where half of the House (still) isn't even familiar with basic parliamentary procedure, and bills are being proposed (and passed!) that are either blatantly unconstitutional, or have zero chance of passing the Senate or Veto Pen. It's one of the most inept legislative bodies in the country's history.

posted by schmod at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Schmod, I'd tell you about the stereotypes we here in San Francisco deal with but I don't have time. Master is calling for his daily oiling.
posted by Blue Meanie at 10:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not even so much the stereotyping that bothers me...it's the blame-passing.
posted by schmod at 10:35 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> (who, in my experience, far more often than not, have good motives and intentions at heart, on both sides of the aisle)

And yet they've taken decisions based on willful ignorance and prejudice that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in just the last decade. We need to judge our "representatives", not by the lying narratives that they used to justify their crimes to themselves and to others, but by their actions, and the disastrous consequences of their actions.

And, as I have said here before to almost universal disagreement, I no longer believe this argument that everyone has good motives and intentions at heart, and no one is the villain of their own movie. If this were true, and they were simply inept, then just by the law of averages, some large fraction of the time they'd do something that was actually positive - but many, many of these individuals decide and act destructively, absolutely consistently, almost 100% of the time.

I think that these people tell themselves and other people that they have good motives and intentions to hide their actual motivations, which are simple greed and the hunger for power. I fail to understand why this is always dismissed on Metafilter - particularly since many of these representatives publicly subscribe to some variant of Ayn Rand's "ethical" system, one which extols greed, selfishness and aggression as virtues.

Regardless, we have to judge our representatives on their actions, not on the motives they present to us, or else we get into a situation just like we are in right now, where there seems to be almost no level of fuck-up that results in the slightest consequence for the rich and powerful.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


A counterpoint: Obama broke consensus and spoke out against invading Iraq from 2002 on. He wouldn't have been a serious presidential candidate without the attention and differentiation from other Democrats this opposition brought him.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I should also point out the flip side, which isn't so well discussed in this article - the people who correctly called bullshit on these issues were marginalized in the media as Not Serious at the time and are still marginalized now, even though they've been consistently right all along, while the people who were consistently wrong all the time are still the only grown-up, serious people whose opinions are worth considering.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:12 AM on March 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


Christ, I worded that "Good Intentions" thing poorly.
posted by schmod at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2012


> Most folks here actually do want to make things better. For everyone.

One of the main themes of Dale Carnegie's (great great little) book How to Win Friends and Influence People is that absolutely nobody, not even Al Capone (he details the Capone story from Al's point-of-view) is a villain in their own mind.
posted by bukvich at 12:03 PM on March 21, 2012


but it does strongly imply that all of the Fucked Up Stuff is happening here.

Well, no it doesn't. I didn't come out of that article feeling that it's DC's fault. The author's criticism about DC is more that, given its position of power, why has its people consistently failed to fix the problem. That is the complacency that is being described.

Yes on the one hand maybe he/we are demanding too much out of our leadership. On the other hand, given DC's dominant position in our hierarchical system, just like being the eldest amongst sibling, the symbolic DC can and must weather these criticisms as sharp as they may be.
posted by polymodus at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2012


polymodus: "why has its people consistently failed to fix the problem"

Yeah, but that's a faulty assumption. DC doesn't "have people," or at least, not in the way that the author imagines it. The churn rate here (especially in the legislature) is astonishingly high, even if you don't count election-year shakeups. The people have been thrown out and replaced literally dozens of times since this meme began to circulate.

I mean... the author's premise is great: he's very correct to identify the groupthink mentality and refusal to admit wrongdoing that is present at virtually almost every level of American culture. I take issue mostly with the fact that he wraps up the article by vaguely blaming a faceless group of Washingtonians, repeating the endlessly hackneyed "Washington is broken" line without going into any sort of specifics, and failing to claim that the people of "real, outside-of-the-beltway" America had some part of responsibility for the present state of affairs, or the power to fix things.

It's a shitty, finger-pointing conclusion to what was otherwise a good and provocative article.
posted by schmod at 1:22 PM on March 21, 2012


The blame for the corruption and the fact that this does not happen should not fall upon the backs of the legions of career bureaucrats and civil servants toiling away in DC, or even Congress's legislative staff (which seemingly has a higher staff turnover rate than WalMart, with virtually none of those former staffers actually achieving the coveted K Street lobbying positions; that's like winning the lottery...). Even the influence of the various lobbying groups seems to be far less insidious than what most are led to believe... Unless you're coming forward with specific and targeted complaints about a particular lobbyist, politician, style of lobbying, or piece of legislation, please don't use the "DC Insider" cop-out to prove your point.

Well, if you'd read the article, you'd know that this article didn't blame them. Not even a little. The only "insiders" mentioned are Wall Street insiders.

He is talking about journalists (mostly of the opinion-writing sort), think-tank types, and academics (particularly economists).
posted by phrontist at 1:54 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


DC doesn't "have people," or at least, not in the way that the author imagines it. The churn rate here (especially in the legislature) is astonishingly high, even if you don't count election-year shakeups.

Really? There are plenty of Op-ed columnists and think tank types who have decade-spanning careers.
posted by phrontist at 1:56 PM on March 21, 2012


Well, if you'd read the article, you'd know that this article didn't blame them.
Yes, I don't think you meet "the annointed men of the Washington consensus" by hanging out with typical DC residents. They're in the "CNN green room" or the "$10,000 Halloween party." Many of them don't even live in DC.
posted by Coventry at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2012


Frank's well-written piece is essentially a good example of confirmation bias - a cognitive phenomenon that all humans engage in. At the end of his piece he wonders about how long we might remain in this funk. I think it will be a while - at least until the confirmation bias held by those in control is overrun by events that push them to the brink, where it's impossible to ignore new facts - i.e. crisis that their preconceived notions cannot repair, or cover up. Hang on!
posted by Vibrissae at 2:12 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


He is talking about journalists (mostly of the opinion-writing sort), think-tank types, and academics (particularly economists).

Yup! See, someone literally paid attention to the writing (I skimmed, because you can't read everything under the sun).
posted by polymodus at 2:19 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just remembered
a giant biker in a bar threatened to beat me up for talking shit about DC when I was doing an internship there. I talked him down and bought him a drink but jeez he was really going to kick my ass there for a second.
posted by fuq at 6:37 PM on March 21, 2012


Conservative/Chicago school economists love to remind us that neither government nor academic intervention can help the economy. Indeed, any attempt to sway the might free market is not just doomed, but detrimental in and of itself.

To these wizened sages I must ask, as Mr. Frank does, why the fuck do you still have a job if everything you do is meaningless?
posted by bardic at 8:44 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


See Saul, you called Regulation Glass-Steagall, but you refused to use the same naming criteria for deregulation.

I really, truly wish I could parse this sentence, because I want to engage this in a mutually-informative/constructive way. But--but... I really can't make heads or tails of it.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on March 22, 2012


Postroad was talking about Gramm-Leach-Bliley, but he didn't use that phrase because it doesn't fit into his belief that banking deregulation was bipartisan

My complaint is that when people talk about banking regulation, they will use the phrase Glass-Steagall, because that is the name of the legislation. but when people talk about deregulation, they won't use the name of the sponsors of the legislation, because the Republican sponsors make their bipartisan argument wrong

Read the legislative history in wikipedia. If Clinton had embraced Gramm-Leach-Bliley right along with the Republicans, they wouldn't have needed to water down the legislation to get enough Democratic votes to overcome a possible veto.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2012


Ah--I see your point now, rakish. That's a good observation. I still say the Dems have too often gone along with Repubs down the path toward dismantling public programs, services and functions that should actually just be better managed or even expanded. But your point is well taken: Dems tend to go along a little more reluctantly with it, while Republicans are like the Pied Pipers of Deregulation (feel free to use that as a band name, BTW).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2012


My band has been banned in this state, maybe changing our name is the way back
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2012


Metafilter: the Pied Piper of Deregulation
posted by clvrmnky at 7:43 PM on March 24, 2012


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