Image result for encyclopedia britannica

The fact proves the intellectual.

But in most circles, we graciously don’t press the intellectual to see how factual the fact proving the intellectual’s intellectualism is.

Intellectualism implies civility. It would be rude to ask, “How many actual facts do you have, and how many facts, and what kinds of facts, reside behind your facts?”

It is enough to be confidently in favor of facts, and say with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Yes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan! To be an intellectual is to never question this wisdom.

Here’s what intellectuals like to ask these days. “When did America become untethered from reality?” So begins an essay, How America Lost Its Mind, by Kurt Andersen in September’s Atlantic. It’s long. You can just read this one, instead. Anderson starts his piece by quoting talk show host Stephen Colbert satirizing right wingers (the bad guys):

Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart… Face it, folks, we are a divided nation… divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart… Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.

Brilliant satire, this. Thanks, Stephen Colbert!

Colbert, and Andersen—who runs with this glib anti-gut philosophy in his article—surely knows, however, that truth is never a pile of facts. Facts are a given. Facts are so numerous that to say one is in favor of facts is to assert nothing. The “gut” (as anyone knows) is simply a metaphor for what selects facts, interprets facts, combines facts, and decides on an action in the face of too many facts for any of us to comprehend.

This is the important fact: facts are never enough, and sometimes too much, in themselves. There is no “division.” We need 1. facts (actually they are everywhere—we don’t need them, but we do need to weed them out) and 2. a gut to make sense of them.

Before we get too comfortable with Colbert’s easy “division” between head and gut, we should understand that not all facts are created equal.

The eye (that is, the gut) of da Vinci, the artist, who created the Mona Lisa, has nothing to do with the Panama Canal, or when it was finished. The fact that the Panama Canal was finished in 1914 is not a particularly useful fact, unless you are an historian looking at a certain era, or you are playing a Trivia game. If you asked a thousand readers of The Atlantic when the Panama Canal was finished, 999 would be ignorant of this particular fact. The fact-lover would need to go into a book—and perhaps never come out.

Kepler, the scientist, was the first to observe the fact of elliptical orbits—and…(wait for it) discover the significance of the fact—the universal law of gravity. Kepler’s “gut” found out the fact, the fact which solved what—to everyone else in the universe, awash in facts—was a puzzle.

Before Kepler, the fact of elliptical orbits was a mystery.  A fact. But a mystery. They can be the same.

All facts are mysteries until the gut comes along.

“Division” is the last thing we want here, despite Colbert’s point. This fake “division” distorts what facts are, and what scientists do.

To fancy oneself superior to the heart, or the gut, is the last refuge of the intellectual-who-is-never-befuddled.

The crucial understandings are those which help airplanes and missiles to navigate the atmosphere, automobiles to navigate roads, farms to produce, electronics to project images and sound, humans to live and create.

The correct divide is not the one created by intellectuals to feel superior to those governed by the “heart;” if we really want to call attention to a divide, it would be between important understandings and trivial facts—a divide not usually pointed out by the fanciful, divisive intellectual.

Different kinds of facts merge in a manner which recommends gut as more important than fact.

There is the fact of a quickly moving baseball, and the fact of the baseball player who, armed with no facts whatsoever, hits that baseball.

I saw the baseball. But I couldn’t hit it.

I saw in the Encyclopedia Britannica that the Panama Canal was completed in 1914.


I’m an intellectual who writes for The Atlantic!

As we might expect, Andersen’s piece in the distinguished but fussy old magazine which first published Henry James is nothing more than a small, glittering pile of facts. There is no philosophy, no gut, no heart. It is a mere recounting of opinions which “they,” or sometimes “we Americans,” or, “one-third of all Americans,” once upon a time (ah, history!) held. The reader is made to assume, meanwhile, (on pure faith,) that Kurt Andersen and his friends live in a “reality-based community.” Buzz words—pro-abortion, climate change, Monica Lewinsky, Lee Harvey Oswald, 9/11, UFOs, God—are dangled in proximity to the wonderful notion that “facts”—which are assumed to belong, as we read the essay, solely to Kurt Andersen—are a good thing.

Andersen’s topic is credulity (how ironic!) and he informs us this—universal—phenomenon resides only in a certain time and place.

Credulity began, according to Andersen, in America, in the 1960s, coinciding with Andersen’s childhood—a coincidence, perhaps. Seances were all the rage in the early 19th century, and credulity abounds in all nations and eras, but Andersen mentions no other time and place. (Except, very briefly, P.T. Barnum is alluded to, associated with Trump.) The small scope of Andersen’s essay is stunning.

Andersen’s narrow view serves his thesis well, however; he blames the phenomenal growth of American credulity on the Internet, Rush Limbaugh, and the fall of the Fairness Doctrine, which would have helped to suppress ideas Andersen dislikes. Freedom of speech, exchange of information, and democracy are great, Andersen admits, but freedom shouldn’t go “overboard.” (!!)

And in the 1990s, as the Right gained ascendancy, it did!

Andersen has a soft spot for Nixon, whom his parents, level-headed in every way, supported, and perhaps this is why, in his essay, he makes more than a passing mention of Cuckoo’s Nest, Esalen Institute nuttiness, and general conspiratorial paranoia, on the Left. A small window of time, existed, he tells us, once in the mid 60s, and then once again in the late 70s, when the Left was crazier than the Right.

When he reaches our present day, the only pro-Trump credulity he can come up with is the one about the popular vote.

Very disappointing.

Wasn’t Andersen going to show us how, since that awful day in November 2016, America was more “untethered from reality” than ever?

He fails.

There is no point to his essay.

He obviously needed more facts.

Has anyone seen the Encyclopedia Britannica?



  1. noochinator said,

    August 14, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Quoth D.H. Lawrence, from chapter three of his ‘Fantasia of the Unconscious’:

    The primal consciousness in man is pre-mental, and has nothing to do with cognition. It is the same as in the animals. And this pre-mental consciousness remains as long as we live the powerful root and body of our consciousness. The mind is but the last flower, the cul de sac.

    The first seat of our primal consciousness is the solar plexus, the great nerve-center situated behind the stomach. From this center we are first dynamically conscious. For the primal consciousness is always dynamic, and never, like mental consciousness, static. Thought, let us say what we will about its magic powers, is instrumental only, the soul’s finest instrument for the business of living. Thought is just a means to action and living. But life and action take rise actually at the great centers of dynamic consciousness.

    The solar plexus, the greatest and most important center of our dynamic consciousness, is a sympathetic center. At this main center of your first-mind we know as we can never mentally know. Primarily we know, each man, each living creature knows, profoundly and satisfactorily and without question, that I am I. This root of all knowledge and being is established in the solar plexus; it is dynamic, pre-mental knowledge, such as cannot be transferred into thought. Do not ask me to transfer the pre-mental dynamic knowledge into thought. It cannot be done. The knowledge that I am I can never be thought: only known.

  2. noochinator said,

    August 15, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Here’s Talking Heads on facts:

    Facts are simple and facts are straight
    Facts are lazy and facts are late
    Facts all come with points of view
    Facts don’t do what I want them to
    Facts just twist the truth around
    Facts are living turned inside out
    Facts are getting the best of them
    Facts are nothing on the face of things
    Facts don’t stain the furniture
    Facts go out and slam the door
    Facts are written all over your face
    Facts continue to change their shape

  3. noochinator said,

    July 6, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

    “Our politics fall into bad hands, and churchmen and men of refinement, it seems agreed, are not fit persons to send to Congress. Politics is a deleterious profession, like some poisonous handicrafts. Men in power have no opinions, but may be had cheap for any opinion, for any purpose,—and if it be only a question between the most civil and the most forcible, I lean to the last. These Hoosiers and Suckers are really better than the snivelling opposition. Their wrath is at least of a bold and manly cast….

    “The communities hitherto founded by Socialists,—the Jesuits, the Port-Royalists, the American communities at New Harmony, at Brook Farm, at Zoar, are only possible, by installing Judas as steward. The rest of the offices may be filled by good burgesses. The pious and charitable proprietor has a foreman not quite so pious and charitable. The most amiable of country gentlemen has a certain pleasure in the teeth of the bull-dog which guards his orchard.”

  4. noochinator said,

    July 7, 2018 at 10:07 am

    From a piece titled “Who Killed the Center-Left?” by Matthew Continetti:

    If there is a common denominator to these electoral shakeups, it is the politics of migration. The overthrown establishments all benefited from the economics of illegal immigration and used migrants as chits in a humanitarian sweepstakes in which the leader who signals the most virtue wins. Migration became a symbol for the “flat world” of globalization where not just people but also cultures, goods, and investments flowed freely, borders had little meaning, and sovereignty was pooled upwards to transnational bureaucracy as identity was reduced to racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual characteristics. The fantastic wealth produced by the global marketplace enriched the center-left to such a degree that its adherents became walled off from the material, social, and cultural concerns of the working people they professed to represent. And so middle-class workers who believe a country’s leadership ought to be accountable to a country’s citizens went elsewhere—devastating the ranks of the center left and creating a vacuum for the neo-socialists of the twenty-first century.

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 7, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      This is quite observant. Politics today is like a kicked over anthill. The ants are running very fast, and as usual “the good” are trying to make sense of the chaos on a micro, or individual level: everything which represents the “other” (the sea of frightened ants) needs to be loved. The “pragmatic” are happy to “make a killing” in the confusion from their transnational perches. But the truly wise know that “globalization” is nothing new—it is Rome, it is, most recently, the British Empire—adept at everything global. The British sided (delicately) with the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War, used globalist “free trade” to turn China into a nation of opium addicts, divided and conquered the whole middle of the planet, used MI6 and the CIA to install Khomeini (SAVAK coddled and groomed Khomeini behind the Shah’s back) and the result of the U.S transforming into the new British Empire is Hillary is Nixon and Trump is Che. Anthills inside of anthills are falling open in the new social media age. The narrative has flipped—but remains the same. The American Republic still fends off the British Empire.

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