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The First 10,000 Hours...
April 30, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Long before he became a staff writer for The New Yorker and the bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell began his career writing for a politically conservative monthly magazine. Some of his early work for The American Spectator is now available online.
posted by pjdoland (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm. I actually like the piece more than I like his new stuff.
posted by No Robots at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2012


..... one of [Chuck] Colson's tasks as a young secular humanist in the Nixon White House ....

Humanist?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:47 PM on April 30, 2012


Boy did he get Colson wrong. By the time they hit the big time, he was on board with the Christian Right.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Evangelical circles, 'humanist' is code for 'anti-religion.'
posted by shakespeherian at 2:54 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


shakespherian: That's not much of a code. Humanism attaches "prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters"
posted by aubilenon at 3:12 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The American Spectator was not always the vile rag it has become. In the late 80s and early 90s it was a mix of fun libertarian-conservative writings (PJ O'Rourke was a regular back when he was funny), clever book reviews and literary essays, and interesting opinion pieces. In retrospect, the rot was always there just below and sometimes above the surface (they published those David Brock hit pieces on Anita Hill), but it was infinitely better than it is now.
posted by LarryC at 3:18 PM on April 30, 2012


That's not much of a code. Humanism attaches "prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters"

Respectfully disagree. It's quite possible to attach prime importance to to human matters without being anti-religion. If you believe that religion provides a source of comfort and meaning to humans, then it's possible to be pro-religion and humanist at the same time. I think there are a fair number of humanists in the Unitarian church.
posted by compartment at 3:35 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I only count 1 article from Gladwell in The American Spectator, dated 1986. Are there others?
posted by jabberjaw at 3:43 PM on April 30, 2012


~ In Evangelical circles, 'humanist' is code for 'anti-religion.'
~ That's not much of a code. Humanism attaches "prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters"


Yes, but evangelicals tend to expand upon that brief definition of Humanism to include shadings like "Intent on doing Satan's unholy will and destroying the one true faith"
posted by Thorzdad at 4:11 PM on April 30, 2012


Sadly the secular humanist boogeyman remains active in political discourse, and, unlike the 1980s, today it has crept into less conservative circles, including some Democratic discourse. See Frederick Clarkson's "The New Secular Fundamentalist Conspiracy!"
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:16 PM on April 30, 2012


Normal, reasonable people associate humanism with Montaigne, Montesquieu, Shakespeare, etc.

Evangelicals associate it with Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
posted by jayder at 4:19 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Colson's tasks as a young secular humanist in the Nixon White House

I think that's likely to be an accurate representation of Colson's self-image probably at that time and from the perspective of his later conversion to Evangelical Christianity. Being a secular humanist was considered a good thing by most of the Republican establishment in the 1960s.

Now, if I were the editor, I would have insisted on "what Colson describes as his 'secular humanism'" (if Gladwell had the quote) or "what the Colson of today would probably describe as a his 'secular humanism'" (if he didn't), just to make the point that this was Colson's perspective, not the piece's.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:50 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The American Spectator was not always the vile rag it has become.

I grew up in Bloomington, IN, where the mag was published at this time, and I dispute your assertion.
posted by mwhybark at 5:11 PM on April 30, 2012


The American Spectator always had some really vile editorial content, but it used to have politically neutral content as well, some of which was interesting and well-researched.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:16 PM on April 30, 2012


I highly doubt that the Colson of that era would have described himself as a secular humanist. (I'd love to see evidence that did. It would be fascinating.) I'd bet he'd just say he was "a good Christian and a good American". To call oneself a "humanist" smacks of being an intellectual, not something Nixon appreciated.

I'm bothering to make the point because it jumped out at me as an indicator of how Gladwell functioned at the Spectator. Most of the piece seemed like straight-forward reporting, while that line seems like a smear, and probably just plain factually incorrect (though that's just guess). It bumps up the icky-ness of his involvement.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:21 PM on April 30, 2012


"secular humanist" is definitely code for "atheist" and has been for years. It's also the term they like to trot out when for the usual false equivalencies of "all worldviews are equally valid, therefore God exists".
posted by DU at 5:39 PM on April 30, 2012


This thread is particularly rich in the disputing of assertions.
posted by LarryC at 6:06 PM on April 30, 2012


This thread is particularly rich in the disputing of assertions.

I disagree. Every disputed assertion is itself an assertion, which actually makes the dispute-to-assertion ratio quite lean.
posted by compartment at 6:14 PM on April 30, 2012


...anyway, shouldn't we really be talking about what an ass Malcolm Gladwell is?
posted by LarryC at 6:19 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


He looks like Sideshow Bob!
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:10 PM on April 30, 2012


...anyway, shouldn't we really be talking about what an ass Malcolm Gladwell is?

Howso?
posted by Cosine at 7:33 PM on April 30, 2012


So.

Blink is supposed to be about the power of the snap judgment. It is supposed to be about the wonderful things that happen when we think without thinking. And in the end, he tells us, if you want a little justice, best to give yourself some time to really think it through. The nicest thing that can be said about Malcolm Gladwell is that he doesn't even really believe his own mental garbage. If he is salvageable as a human being, it might be for the simple reason that he's a bad fraud.
posted by LarryC at 7:38 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also so.

The Economist was astute to observe that the sheer obviousness of Outliers' core ideas, which were "unlikely to take even the least reflective reader by surprise," marked a departure from The Tipping Point. But when the magazine described The Tipping Point's chief attraction as its title concept's capacity to lend "the power of apparent inevitability to almost any argument," it failed to mention that the concept was central to Outliers as well--this despite that the purported aim of Outliers was to remind readers that "success," for most of us, is anything but inevitable. Such are the contradictions that seem to riddle not just Gladwell's thinking but the thinking on Gladwell's thinking, and perhaps even the thinking on thinking on that, and it is precisely these slippery but substantive contradictions that have allowed Gladwell to tout his revolutionary "big ideas" without couching them in anything so mundane as a logical, well-supported or otherwise sound argument. In this failing, he is not unique among either media mavens or the intelligentsia, but he is, perhaps, outstanding.
posted by lhputtgrass at 8:20 PM on April 30, 2012


The American Spectator always had some really vile editorial content,

YMMV.

The decline of the American Spectator a source of independent, libertarian (and often damned funny) editorial content into a partisan, defend-the-castle at all costs, humorless rag like Mother Jones is what's vile.

The American Spectator used to be a harsh critic of the Republican establishment and all things Democratic. Most often mockingly so. As a counterweight on the right to the broad circulation conservative magazine National Review, it used to be worth reading. Note that this piece from 1986 is basically a take down of the evangelical right and has few kind words for Jerry Falwell and his fellow Christian Republicans, e.g., "On occasion Colson will even sound like a radical when he talks about modern Christianity's evasion of social responsibility."

The last time I flipped through the magazine at the airport, it was like reading AM radio. I quickly put it back in the racks feeling a bit soiled for having handled it.
posted by three blind mice at 8:25 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This FPP has really weird framing. Presenting it as some sort of exposé of Gladwell's "secret history" ("some of his early work? it's one article) is screwy stealth editorializing. And I'm no fan of Gladwell or the Spectator.
posted by neroli at 9:04 PM on April 30, 2012


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