How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”
And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.
The Tiny House Movement began in the ’90s, but has only been rising in popularity since the recession. And to be fair, it’s rooted in a very real problem: more and more people being displaced as a result of soaring housing costs, especially in tech-boom areas like the Bay Area.
It’s likely, from where I sit, that this back-to-nature and boxed-up simplicity is not being marketed to people like me, who come from simplicity and heightened knowledge of poverty, but to people who have not wanted for creature comforts. For them to try on, glamorize, identify with.
Such appropriation isn’t limited to the Tiny House trend, or even to the idea of simplicity. In major cities, people who come from high-income backgrounds flock to bars and restaurants that both appropriate, and mock, low-income communities. Perhaps the most egregious example is San Francisco’s Butter Bar, a trendy outpost that prides itself on being a true-blue, trailer park-themed bar, serving up the best in “trashy” cuisine and cocktails. With tater tots, microwaved food, and deep-fried Twinkies on the menu, the bar also serves cocktails that contain cheap ingredients, such as Welch’s grape soda. The bar has an actual trailer inside, and serves cans in paper bags, so that bar flies can have a paid-for experience of being what the owners of this bar think of when they think of trailer trash.
It’s but one example of an entire hipster movement — can it be called a movement when it’s a subculture rooted not in political consciousness, but in capitalism? — that has brought with it an ethos of poor-culture appropriation and the “re-invention” of things that have largely been tools of survival for poor, disabled, working class, and/or communities of color for decades.
April 25, 2017
April 24, 2017
Amy Alkon fisks a recent Teen Vogue piece on soi-disant “cultural appropriation”:
Silly Teen Vogue-ers, Fashion *Is* Appropriation
This bit — from Teen Vogue — is hilariously sad and sadly hilarious:
In our new column Don’t Do It Girl, Jessica Andrews explores the cultural appropriation epidemic at Coachella.
EPIDEMIC! Like AIDS, Zika, or Ebola!
Fashion always has been about appropriation. Appropriating style and appropriating culture. Those lace-up-the-ankle sandals? Ancient Rome!
Yet, do you see Italian kids mewling that you stole their culture? Of course not, because Italians, generally speaking, are exuberant people who really know how to live life.
Meanwhile, back here in America…
The kids growing up now, especially in the United States, are the freest people in human history — both as individuals and through the technology that removes the drudgery that’s been a constant companion for humans throughout the ages.
Naturally, their response to all this unparalleled freedom is to try to control other people’s behavior.
Fashion policing, in this case. Here, from Andrews story on that EPIDEMIC of appreciation:
Even when people feign ignorance, there’s little excuse. In the past, I’ve worn a Pocahontas costume for Halloween. It’s a mistake I regret, and I’ll never do it again knowing how hurtful it is.
Oh, please. I grew up Jewish. If you pretend to be a character from Fiddler on the Roof, should I take to bed and cry for a few days?
With appropriation being such a huge conversation these days…
So much talk…so little reasoning
Like fashion, appropriative hairstyles are now ubiquitous at Coachella. Cornrows or box braids are not a “hot new festival trend”; black women have been wearing them for centuries. When outlets cover the hairstyle as if it started with Kylie Jenner, it’s not appreciation; it’s erasure. Those celebratory headlines are yet another reminder that black hairstyles are only acceptable when they’re removed from actual black people.
Do you need to be high to write for Teen Vogue? It’s a fucking hairstyle. Women wear it because they think it will look good on them. If they’re white with dark hair, they’re probably wrong (nothing like rows of scalpage showing through to make a woman’s head remind us of freshly plowed fields). Women with big honking faces like mine don’t look so hot in them, either.
Unbeknownst to some Coachella attendees, there’s a stigma associated with cornrows and braids when black people wear them.
Unbeknownst to a fucking lot of us, I’d guess.
April 23, 2017
Published on 20 Apr 2017
The legendary comedy group Monty Python was once a force of nature, influencing everything that came after them with their surreal, absurdist approach to comedy. So, why don’t we hear from them anymore? When Graham Chapman ceased to be in 1989, fellow Python member Terry Jones described it as “the worst case of party-pooping [he’d] ever seen.” His death came the day before Python’s 20th anniversary, and what followed was a bizarre but fitting eulogy, written to pay tribute to the man who’d written a dead parrot into one of the troupe’s most famous sketches. Chapman becoming an ex-person seemed to put a damper on any kind of authentic reunion, but what about the others? What happened to the late, great Monty Python?
Terry Jones’s illness | 0:44
Michael Palin’s travel shows | 1:54
John Cleese’s purism | 3:01
Terry Gilliam’s moved on | 4:13
Eric Idle’s Broadway ambitions | 5:06
They want to finish on a good note | 6:02
Read more here → http://www.grunge.com/53323/never-hear-monty-python-anymore-2/
April 22, 2017
One of the worst aspects of the First World War was the attempt by Ottoman forces to eliminate the Armenian “threat” by launching an organized campaign of murder and deportation that killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. A new movie which is set in this time has been drawing trollish attention from Turkish detractors:
The Promise, the grandest big-screen portrayal ever made about the mass killings of Armenians during World War I, has been rated by more than 111,300 people on IMDb — a remarkable total considering it doesn’t open in theaters until Friday and has thus far been screened only a handful of times publicly.
The passionate reaction is because The Promise, a $100-million movie starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, has provoked those who deny that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred between 1915 and 1923 by the Ottoman Empire or that the deaths of Armenians were the result of a policy of genocide. Thousands, many of them in Turkey, have flocked to IMDb to rate the film poorly, sight unseen. Though many countries and most historians call the mass killings genocide, Turkey has aggressively refused that label.
Yet that wasn’t the most audacious sabotage of The Promise, a passion project of the late billionaire investor and former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian.
In March, just a few weeks before The Promise was to open, a curiously similar-looking film called The Ottoman Lieutenant appeared. Another sweeping romance set during the same era and with a few stars of its own, including Ben Kingsley and Josh Hartnett, The Ottoman Lieutenant seemed designed to be confused with The Promise. But it was made by Turkish producers and instead broadcast Turkey’s version of the events — that the Armenians were merely collateral damage in World War I. It was the Turkish knockoff version of The Promise, minus the genocide.
“It was like a reverse mirror image of us,” said Terry George, director and co-writer of The Promise. George, the Irish filmmaker, has some experience in navigating the sensitivities around genocide having previously written and directed 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, about the early ’90s Rwandan genocide.
George bought a ticket to see it. “Basically the argument is the Turkish government’s argument, that there was an uprising and it was bad and we had to move these people out of the war zone — which, if applied to the Nazis in Poland would be: ‘Oh, there was an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and we need to move these Jews out of the war zone,’” says George. “The film is remarkably similar in terms of structure and look, even.”
The movie itself, however, didn’t win over A.V. Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky:
Among the many virtues of James Gray’s The Lost City Of Z is its sense of proportion, which turns a decades-spanning historical epic into a pas de deux between vision and madness. Unfortunately, most recent historical epics have been more on the order of Terry George’s The Promise: messes of soap and cheese. Here at last is a film that tackles the Armenian genocide by way of a flimsy love triangle and an international cast (it really captures the diversity of the Armenian people), straining so hard to show its good intentions that it doesn’t bother to be directed. What does a movie that can’t even mount a competent horse chase — despite repeated attempts — have to say about the murder of 1.5 million people? At least George can rest easy knowing that his film is less bungled than Bitter Harvest, the February release that turned the Holodomor into the stuff of schmaltz. Up next, presumably, is Nicholas Sparks’ Auschwitz.
Doing his best impression of Omar Sharif, Oscar Isaac stars as Mikael Boghosian, a village apothecary who agrees to marry doe-eyed local girl Maral (Angela Sarafyan) in order to use her dowry to finance his dream of becoming a doctor. (Pity poor Maral, as no two members of the cast seem to agree on how to pronounce her name.) Arriving in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Mikael moves in with his wealthy uncle and enrolls in medical school, but soon develops a crush on Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), the modern young woman who tutors his uncle’s children. But it’s 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is about to enter World War I as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary and within months will begin a strategic elimination of its large Armenian minority. As if to make matters worse, Ana has an American boyfriend, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), the Associated Press’ bureau chief of Armenian genocide exposition.
Earlier this week, Kevin Williamson lamented critics both on the right and on the left for misguided complaints about the costs of the presidency:
The Obama administration represented a great missed opportunity for conservatives, because conservatives spent so much time criticizing him for the wrong things. It’s not that there wasn’t serious criticism of the president’s thinking and his policies (see eight years worth of this magazine, for starters) but much of the popular/populist criticism was pretty dumb: He plays too much golf, he takes too many vacations, his family spends too much money on fancy hotels and resorts, etc. Some of these stupid criticisms were made in a similarly stupid fashion by similarly stupid people for similarly stupid reasons when George W. Bush was president.
A lot of those stories went something like: “Heavens, it costs $x for the Obamas to spent six days at Martha’s Vineyard!” But that $x is generally misleading, inasmuch as it costs tons of money to keep Air Force One staffed and prepped and ready to fly irrespective of whether the president actually is traveling in it, and we pay those Secret Service (the name of that agency is odious) agents irrespective of whether the president is in the White House or Hawaii. It isn’t lobster tails and upgrades at the Ritz that really drive the cost of presidential travel expenditures: It is the presidency itself.
The presidential entourage is bloated and monarchical, and it is an affront to our republican traditions. But “even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm,” the cost of operating the presidential household is small beans in the context of federal spending. It just doesn’t matter — it is boob bait for Bubba.
Now, we’re getting the same thing about Trump. It costs $x for him to keep moving about from Trump Tower to the White House to Mar a Lago. Some have tried to make hay out of the fact that some $500,000 in Trump campaign funds (not tax dollars, contrary to some claims) has been paid out to Trump-affiliated companies. This is deeply silly criticism: If there is a campaign event at a Trump hotel or another property, then of course the campaign has to pay for it: If it does not, then the Trump Organization almost certainly is making an illegal political donation to the Trump campaign. Trump did not write the rules.
(They’d probably be a hell of a lot worse if he had.)
April 21, 2017
Charlie Martin discusses what really drives Donald Trump and why the media is so hard-pressed to pin him down:
The confusion here is rooted in trying to figure out what Trump’s convictions are, what his foreign policy is. This inevitably goes astray, because Trump doesn’t actually have any firm convictions, at least along those lines. He can be in favor of and against gun control; be against the government being involved in healthcare and in favor of a government single-payer system; be opposed to bombing Syria and okay with Tomahawk cruise missiles striking Syrian airbases—because he doesn’t actually have any sort of coherent large-scale vision or any particular ideals about the human condition.
He’s a salesman. What he cares about is the Deal. He even says it outright: his autobiographical business book is called The Art of the Deal.
If you want to understand salesmen, the best start is to watch the famous “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross.
“Always Be Closing” is not David Mamet’s invention, it’s an observation. It was the advice given to salesmen back at least into the ’60s when I was reading sales training materials that my grandfather had for the salesmen that worked selling pianos and appliances in the family business. (Yes, I actually will read anything.) It’s the advice given to salespeople now.
“Always Be Closing” means everything you do should be in the service of getting the deal, getting a signature and a check.
Whatever else one may think of Trump, you have to admit that Trump is a master salesman. Look at the campaign, where he took various positions — expel Muslims, deport Mexicans, or well, maybe not all Muslims, and Mexicans are mostly wonderful people — one after another, clearly responding to the reaction. Always Be Closing: he made sure his positions got him closer to closing the deal on the presidency. Did it matter that he contradicted himself? No! Concerns about things like that weren’t helping him close the deal.
In the New York Post, Nicole Gelinas points out that Mayor De Blasio has set a precedent that might well come back to bite the city (the example she cites would be “Black Lives Matter protesters want a statue of police brutalizing a black man in front of One Police Plaza”. She also explains why the statue highlights an uncomfortable detail about the role of women on Wall Street:
But the bigger problem with Fearless Girl is that it casts stereotypes in bronze: Men do important things, and women get in the way.
The bull is the primary actor: He is charging. The girl’s job is to impede him. This is how Wall Street has long worked — and it’s changing, but slowly.
Take the management committee of State Street’s parent company. Of its 14 members, two are women. One, the chief administrative officer, is a top regulatory official. The other is the human-resources chief and “citizenship officer.”
On Goldman Sachs’ 33-member management committee, five of our women — at least four of whom are in similar, growth-restraining positions.
Yes, growth-restraining: These are great jobs and require deep skill. But they’re bureaucratic rather than entrepreneurial. If a department head — a man — wants to start up a new unit, it’s the regulatory experts who will say, no, you can’t.
Similarly, a trading head may want to hire someone — but the human-resources chief nixes it.
Indeed, the area of “compliance” — which sounds like an S&M activity but has to do with ensuring that the bank and its employees don’t launder money, steal or do other bad things — is where women have done well.
This work is necessary. A company can’t grow if it’s convicted of money-laundering or if its employees are thieves (in theory).
But it’s also the depressing age-old relationship: A man wants to do something fun and cool, like take the children paragliding before they’ve had a proper breakfast. His wife says, “But honey, the kids have band practice today, and maybe we should save the money for the mortgage.”
Fearless Girl fails in another way. It’s terrific to have courage and fight important battles. But it’s not a good idea — for men, women or children — to be recklessly fearless.
Fear is a good thing. If a bull is charging you, according to the farming manuals, the best thing to do is what you instinctively do: get out of the way. If you don’t pick your battles, you’ll lose them.
What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive – but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era. They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.
My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman – and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm – to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in Sexual Personae is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.
The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women – the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers – they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong – whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men. But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”
Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c. The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends – as in Sex and the City. That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other. But that’s not a style that straight men can do! Gay men can do it, sure – but not straight men! Guess what – women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women – their brains are different!
Camille Paglia, interviewed by David Daley in “Camille Paglia: How Bill Clinton is like Bill Cosby”, Salon, 2015-07-28.
April 15, 2017
Published on 23 Apr 2013
Take the “A” Train
live on April 12, 1964
filmed in Norway
Charles Mingus – Bass
Eric Dolphy – Bass Clarinet
Clifford Jordan – Tenor Sax
Johnny Coles – Trumpet
Jaki Byard – Piano
Dannie Richmond – Drums
April 10, 2017
Harry Shearer has launched a suit against the owners of the movie Spinal Tap after he and his co-stars earned a pitiful sum on merchandise and music royalties, despite the film’s continuing popularity. Movie studios and music conglomerates use impenetrable and complex accounting “rules” to hide any profits (as profits need to be shared with actors, directors, musicians, and writers):
Behind the ambitious, creative talent that is Hollywood lies a darker side of the entertainment industry little appreciated by the ordinary moviegoer. It’s an opaque world of film financing, revenue accretion and minimal profit share. If exposed, as our Spinal Tap lawsuit against Vivendi aims to do, fans will no doubt be horrified at the shameful gravy train that rolls for corporate rights holders at the expense of creators. So far, challenges to media conglomerates’ comfortable status quo provoke little more than derision, since the power balance is so skewed in their favor. But, for how much longer?
Spinal Tap began as a mock rock band that we four – Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and myself – developed for an appearance on a TV pilot at the end of the 1970s. On our own initiative, we wrote and recorded most of the songs and performed them live in several music clubs around L.A. before any cameras rolled. The ultimate movie was truly, in the words of Michael McKean, “the result of four very stubborn guys working very hard to create something new under the sun.”
Unfortunately, “Hollywood accounting” isn’t a practice confined to California. Within the success story that is the European film and television industry, which generated €122 billion in 2013, less than one-third of 1 percent was shared with the writers and directors of the works created. A peculiar definition of “fairness,” you might say.
Under French law, filmmakers should be paid a fee for their work plus an ongoing remuneration proportionate to the exploitation of their creation. In reality, less than 3 percent of French writers and directors receive anything more than the initial payment of that minimum guarantee. And 70 percent of all European film directors are asked to defer a proportion of their original fees (as we, the creators of This is Spinal Tap, originally agreed to do).
The Europeans are simply following Hollywood’s lead; however, Spinal Tap‘s rights are determined by US law. In fighting for creators’ rights against a French conglomerate, Spinal Tap is simply pursuing a legal path well-trodden by our American creator peers. The well-known science-fiction “flop” of a film, Return of the Jedi, has apparently never gone into profit despite earning almost $500 million worldwide. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, apparently “lost” almost $170 million.
April 8, 2017
April 5, 2017
… in the back of my mind always ran the great anti-perfectionist utterance of Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s indelible comic character, in Part 1 of Henry IV: “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.” A world of perfect sense and good behavior would be well-nigh intolerable: we need Falstaffs, even if we are not Falstaffian ourselves.
If we were to describe a man as deceitful, drunken, cowardly, dishonest, boastful, unscrupulous, gluttonous, vainglorious, lazy, avaricious, and selfish, we should hardly leave room in him for good qualities. No one would take it as a compliment to be described in this way, and we would avoid a person described in such a fashion. Falstaff was all those things, but probably no character in all literature is better loved. Only Don Quixote can compete; and our love of Falstaff is not despite his roguery but because of it. Certainly we would rather spend an evening in his company than with the totally upright Lord Chief Justice of Part 2 of Henry IV. A world of such rectitude, in which everyone had the justice’s probity, would be better, no doubt: but it would not be much fun.
But there is everything in the fat old knight to repel us also: he is almost certainly dirty, and, as a doctor, I would not have looked forward to performing a physical examination on him. He is so fat that the slightest physical effort causes him to exude greasy sweat. As Prince Hal says, he “lards the lean earth as he walks along.” To enjoy Falstaff, you have to be in a tavern; but the world, for most people, cannot be a giant tavern, and outside that setting, Falstaff is distinctly less amusing.
When Falstaff toward the end of Part 2 of Henry IV learns from Pistol that the old king is dead and that Prince Hal has succeeded him, he immediately sees his opportunity for the unmerited advancement not only of himself but of his cronies. He knows the worthlessness of the rural magistrate, Robert Shallow, and of the ensign, Pistol, only too well; yet he says: “Master Robert Shallow, choose what office thou wilt in the land, ’tis thine. Pistol, I will double charge thee with dignities.” He gives not a moment’s thought—he is temperamentally incapable of doing so—to the consequences of treating public office as a means only of living perpetually at other people’s expense.
Again, when given the task of raising foot soldiers, Falstaff has no compunction in selling exemptions from service and appropriating to himself the money for arms and equipment, leaving his soldiers ill prepared for the battle and with, as he says, “not a shirt and a half” between them: “I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered [with shot]. There’s not three of my hundred and fifty left alive.” Falstaff sheds not even a crocodile tear for his lost men; their fate simply does not interest him, once they have served his turn and he has made his profit from having recruited them. Even Doctor Johnson is too indulgent when he says: “It must be observed that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.” True, he is not sanguinary as a sadist is sanguinary; but depriving 150 men of the means to fight before a battle that ends in their deaths is no mere peccadillo, either.
Why, then, do we forgive and even still love him? If he had been thin, we might have been much less accommodating of his undoubted vices (Hazlitt, in his essay on Falstaff, emphasized the importance of his fatness). At a time when to be a “stuffed cloak-bag of guts,” as Prince Hal calls him, was unusual and most men were, of necessity, thin, Falstaff’s immense size was a metonym for jollity and good cheer — as fatness still is with Santa Claus. It would not have made sense for Julius Caesar, after noting that “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,” to say that such men are well contented. And had Falstaff been slender, he would not have been what Johnson called him, “the prince of perpetual gaiety.”
Falstaff appeals to us because he holds up a distorting mirror to our weaknesses and makes us laugh at them. Falstaff’s dream is that of half of humanity: of luxurious ease and continual pleasure, untroubled by the necessity to work or to do those things that he would rather not do (Falstaff will do anything for money except work for it). There is luxury in time as well as in material possessions, and no figure lives in greater temporal luxury than Falstaff, to whom the concept of punctuality or a timetable would be anathema. Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was — or rather, appeared to be — a kind of Falstaff figure, admired by many, though eventually detested by even more, who seemed to lead an effortless life of merrymaking and who was unafraid of the world’s censure. He was therefore able to say heartless but witty things that the rest of us, cowed by the moral disapproval of others, laughed at under our breaths but would not dare to say ourselves.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Why We Love Falstaff: There is some of Shakespeare’s incorrigible rogue in all of us”, City Journal, 2015-08-16.
April 4, 2017
Published on May 21, 2013
The wonderful Ray Manzarek tells of the making of “Riders on The Storm”
Rest in peace Ray
March 27, 2017
In Reason, Noah Berlatsky reviews The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols:
Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise.
That is the thesis of Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.
There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued — and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. “The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed’ on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong,'” Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that “within my living memory I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that “holding the line [of ignorance] isn’t good enough” and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn’t know that Americans are not getting more ignorant.
The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a “folk theory” holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire.