Overweening Generalist

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rachel Maddow's Herman Cain Thesis

First off, full disclosure: I know Ms. Maddow prefers the ladies, but O! what I wouldn't give to just snuggle up with her for an hour or two. (Rachel? Call me!?)

I'm feeling a bug coming on, I'm watching my DVRed Olbermann and Maddow very late last night, virtually gargling with strong beer to bathe my throat in numbing ethyl alcoholic splendor. And Rachel - the smartest pundit on Unistat TV - by a very long margin, no one's even close - began her show with her thesis that, all along, Herman Cain's candidacy has been one long bit of performance art. She's kicking herself for not seeing it ALL sooner. The gnomish hints were there from the earliest Republican debates, when Cain read his prepared final remarks by citing the words of a "poet" who turned out to be Pokemon. And the gorgeous Ms. Maddow goes on to marshal quite a lot of data to support her thesis - Cain's numerology, the absurdist responses to questions about abortion, surrealistic campaign ads, etc - and it was very entertaining, but I'm not convinced, for reasons I'll get to after this clip - the one that lays out Maddow's thesis/interpretation:

What I found particularly interesting about Maddow here: this is the sort of pattern recognition that very intelligent people use to make artistic and scientific breakthroughs. It's also a mode of thought that brilliant minds can use to convince themselves that some sequence of data that supports a hypothesis is cogent, each piece of information suggesting a "fit" in a puzzle in which, following the logic of the original abduction, reveals the hypothesis as "true," when it will later be found to not be true. There's an overall plausibility when you're "in" the hypothesis and excited about the robust richness of your overarching idea. It's seductive, and encourages the brain to continue on, deeper into the thesis, making connections.

If anyone takes issue with me implying Maddow has come up with a "conspiracy theory," please be aware that I admire conspiracy theories for their artistic components, whether the theorist(s) see themselves in their own act of creation or not. To be blunt: my stance towards conspiracy theories is by and large Ironic, and I'm not sure of this could be helped, after so many years of reading the works of Robert Anton Wilson so closely.

And besides, many conspiracies contend in the night, despite what Academia tries to tell you. Watergate, Iran-Contra and the buildup to the Iraq War by the NeoCons are all recent examples. History is filled with conspiracies, and when you re-read Shakespeare's oeuvre take note that at least half of the plays involve conspiracies, especially the history plays. Q: Where did Billy Shakes get these ideas? A: From history.

Rachel (Notice she's "Rachel" to me. I am a deluded heterosexual male, but I can dream, can't I?) can't make sense that Cain, despite not knowing anything about taxes or foreign policy or even basic geography, coupled with the fact that he's had to pay settlements for sexual harassment, is currently more popular than ever with Republican voters in polls. There must be some explanation that we're missing. He's clearly a motivational speaker with a book to sell. Why a run for President? Ahh...that's just the tip of it all. You need to have an IQ of 150 (or whatever Rachel's is) to see It.

This business of very intelligent, witty, whip-smart people (Rachel was a Rhodes Scholar) seeing something that might not be there is a phenomenon that has long fascinated me. For anyone interested, the thinking processes of smart people making errors in trying to make sense of the data in a complex sequence of events, is displayed in baroque detail in two novels, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's 805 page book The Illuminatus! Trilogy, and Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, tallying a mere 641 pages in my hardback copy. (Readers are invited to add other titles or films in the comments section.)

It was either Nietzsche or Oscar Wilde who said, I paraphrase probably, "We are all far greater artists than we realize." And this was derived from the observations of the propensity of the human mind to see puzzles when there may not "be" a puzzle in the first place, or at least not as assumed by the thinker trying to solve the Mystery. In tandem with this, we need a Narrative to explain to ourselves what we're doing. We need Narratives - at times rather ornate ones, apparently - like a junkie needs junk. The classic Occam's Razor can probably be seen as the obverse in this overall cognitive conceptual schematic I'm groping toward.

Why don't I buy Rachel's thesis? Because my intuition tells me this guy is more of a bumbling phony out to enrich himself. A shameless huckster. A classic American Type. Occam's Razor, folks. I admit Rachel's thesis seems far more intellectually interesting. (See the Isaiah Berlin quote at the bottom of this page?)

I think maybe stupidity can look artistic if placed within certain preconceived assumptions and within certain domains of "reality" in which we are not used to seeing stunning ineptitude. Art seems to me to require conscious intent. (IF Cain's consciously, intentionally doing art, I think how he ends the "piece" should be telling.) Rachel says something about three-four minutes in that Cain's level of gaffes don't occur "in nature." I like that line, but I'm not sure it's true. How easy it is to forget GWB43's daily idiocies! (See my faves, #5 and #1 HERE.) I think Cain's probably just a banality who knows he's full of crap politically, but may be surprised he hasn't dropped back into the single digits in the polls yet. He figures it's only a matter of time, and he sure as hell ain't trying. But the money is rollin' in, the Koch Bros keep throwing cash at him, his book's selling.

But consciously artistic? I don't see it. I have to wonder about the mentality of people who hear, "Don't blame the banks and corporations. If you're not rich it's your fault!" and cheer loudly. Unistat is brimming with mindless drooling fascists, lapping up every other sociopathic "motivational speaker" who comes along. I see THAT as a major problem...And Cain probably has a lot of people working for him who don't believe he's viable, and they're sub-mediocrities he met on the pizza circuit at some point. It also doesn't hurt that the mouthpieces representing the mainstream media seem dumber every year. (This thesis begs the question: how come so many saw through the females Bachman and Palin? Is there somehow a gravitas that aids a verisimilitude that attends a dapper, glib African-American MALE, no matter his vacuity? And if so, what does this imply about some sort of unconscious sexism in our culture?)

I find Maddow's thesis provocative and highly entertaining, and also hold a steady suspicion ever since seeing her lay out her explanation about the Herman Cain Conceptual Art Experience/Put-On, that she's in turn ironically putting the thesis forth. She has her reasons. (This might constitute a meta-conspiracy theory?) One only need understand that Maddow's politics are very very far away from Cain's putative dumb-show, I Know Nothing and I'll Try To Act Like I Care and I'm Proud of It Act. To float out a proto-meme that might go viral, that Cain's making you look like a fool if you take him at his word, could have an effect on the race. IF Maddow is consciously doing ironic art herself here, I applaud her. Who gets it?

Finally, my understanding of the sociology of knowledge and neuroscience and the logic of perception and reasoning from an abduction and other areas requires me to admit Rachel Maddow may be right and I'm wrong in asserting she was earnestly putting the pieces together in a brilliant, artistic Fool's Errand.

Another reason for her side: she's smarter than me.

I may be the Fool here. But if I am, Maddow is once again the Smartest Person in the Room, the first to "get it" and millions of Republicans will be shown to have been duped in a new way, the most artistic con yet. If anyone out there has on record a date before November 4th in which someone else declares definitively that Cain is pulling some sort of prank, let me know, please! As of the date above, millions of Republicans are apparently being "taken" in a way that seems a distant cousin to Jerzy Kosinski's Chauncey Gardiner, from the novel Being There. I will admit that I hope Rachel turns out to be right and I'm wrong. If only for the entertainment value of the reactions of fascist morons like Limbaugh, Coulter, and Bozell, who spent the past week defending Cain against the "liberal" attacks on him. (As if his settlements for sexual harassment weren't FACTS!)
Politics as Art. If it's something like Maddow is suggesting, then what's the worst that can happen? We all realize there's another conceptual frame that may be used in politics. Art has had overt and covert political messages for eons. Maybe now it's time for Politics to use Art as a pinprick for our perceptions?



Annabel Lee said...

It's funny that she brought up the entire politics as art thing. I was thinking something similar, that this couldn't be real. It seems like something from a movie, or what you'd have some guy do that lost a bar bet. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that it was a bar bet that he lost to David Koch. The ultimate practical joke on the American public.

Also, since you're talking about the entire Rachel Maddow/call you thing, I keep asking Buddy Roemer to sit down and talk with me. Of all the GOP candidates, it's such a shame that he's been so lost in the shadows. There are a lot of aspects about his campaign and his platforms that intrigue me. I mean, seeing him on Rachel and The Daily Show was great, then he just disappeared again. So, yeah, I'd totally love to sit down, talk to him, write about it on my site. Wonder how I could set that one up being a complete and total nobody.

michael said...

@Annabel: When we critiqued the Mark Block "Smoking Man" ad we both expressed thoughts like, "This seems like a put-on." I think a lot of people did. I remember when W said he'd run, around 1998, and I said to everyone, "That guy's such a loser-rich kid- moronic-clown there's now way he can be serious!" Boy, was I wrong!

I was wondering if there was anyone before Rachel who wrote that Cain's doing art or pulling trying to punk the public, and here's why I think that: X, Q, Z, P...

From what I've seen of Roemer, he's too SANE for the GOP, who have aero ideas, are bought by the 1%, and only want to cut taxes build prisons, crush labor movements, gut the EPA and the social safety net. "Corporations are people, my friend!" There was a fat book written around 1983 by a guy named Gross, first name Bertram, I think. It's called Friendly Fascism. That is one underrated book.

Back to you and Buddy: Maybe you can get a small consortium of fellow bloggers and tell Roemer (and whatever happened to Gary Johnson? Too sane also, I suspect), and invite him/them to Meet the Bloggers?

Back to Cain: if Rachel's right, this Performance Art project should end in some way that makes it clear that it WAS a put-on.

Annabel Lee said...

I think he should show up to a debate wearing a clown costume, complete with the wig and makeup, and then begin juggling plastic elephants before leaving the stage riding a unicycle. That would be a pretty clear indication that this was all a stage show.

I'd love to do something like that. I think Johnson might be far too sane. I'm surprised what happened to Huntsman in this entire thing. He never really got going, which is a shame because I loved him as governor when I was living in Utah. Shame that I don't know too many bloggers in my part of the world yet. Would love to get a small group of lesser candidates together and talk with them and write about it.

Speaking of writing about things, I'm sure once I get back home to MD from NC, you'll be very excited to see what all I've got in store for the rest of November. I'm excited to be writing it, so I can only hope people will be excited to read about it all.

michael said...

I LOVE the Clown Scenario!

It seems like he has to, if indeed this is a massive put-on, keep upping the ante.

I'd like see him get another straight Q, about, say, nuclear power plants and Japan and what he'd do about nuclear energy (He has no idea how it works.) And he just goes off about how he wants to take over Japan and make them "our bitches." Something like that.

I wonder how many of the Koch-loviin' GOP faithful would finally get it then?

I'll read anything you write, Annabel. I look fwd to your November writings.

Did you notice on the Google post your comment didn't show up? So I posted it from my email. I wonder if they censor if someone talks about Word....uhhh....your blogging platform?

Annabel Lee said...

I saw where you said something about it, but I don't know why it did it. I think we're at the point, we might as well just IM one another or email each other. Might be less time consuming, though I lack the natural talent and eloquence that you put through in your written vernacular.

michael said...

Annabel, I suspect you have at least as much natural talent, but the bit about eloquence really made my day when I read it. Thanks!