Fear and Loathing 2020: A Step Back

I’ve got upwards of 37,000 words assembled thus far and there’s an end in sight.  So far so good, right?  Time to take a quick step back from the task and survey the whole, to see if there’s any major adjustments that ought to be made before it goes too far to recover.  On any other project I might instead be looking to see if it’s worth finishing, but this one’s gone too far for that.  It’s got momentum of its own, and I wouldn’t dare try to stop; the book would devour me.

Which is a problem, because I’m thinking book, and events are going too fast for a book to be useful during the present campaign cycle.

Let me explain:  Most of this was written before, during, and just after the New Hampshire primaries.  I’m presently assembling things and writing bridge pieces and transcribing the unwritten on the 15th of February, one week before Nevada caucuses and two before the South Carolina contest.  If it could all be gotten into people’s hands during the next couple of days, all would be well; they could have a week to read it and then comes Super Tuesday.

But it just can’t happen.  There’s only so many hours in the day; by the time I even finish my transcriptions, Nevada will be done and there’ll be more to write.  Even if I get that appended the same day, there’s still bridges to compose and a few vignettes to add.  Nobody’s financing this, so the work is all me.  This also means nobody’s gotten in touch with Juan Thompson, who (I assume) could sue me for using “Fear and Loathing” without permission.  And that doesn’t account for time to print, bind, distribute, and let’s not neglect marketing.  Forget South Carolina; Super Tuesday will be not only upon us but long over before any of that could get done.

Honestly, I haven’t got a clue how it all works anyway.  That’s not my thing.  I write; I can use Calibre to assemble an eBook; I can print and bind by hand if need be, or prep copy for a local print shop.  But if this is to have any impact at all, it can’t just be me.  And, since I don’t have an agent or a publisher behind me, there’s next to no funding available (I’d ask Bloomberg, but he might well demur considering the language I use to refer to him).  As a result, it’s likely this will only be useful after the fact, as a sort of Diary Of The War Years.  I’m a poor excuse for a Klemperer, but I guess it’ll have to do.

You’ll have noticed by now:  This isn’t a normal introduction.  I’m basically thinking out loud, but in Times New Roman, and you’re my sounding board.  That’s what I use my internet following for; you’re my Brain Trust, and I rely on you to keep me honest.  Honest as the written word can be, anyway.

Something I composed earlier today on that topic – the honesty of the written word – with respect to Elizabeth Warren.  It’s chasing a hare, but it’s essential to explain the concept before we go on from here.  Note that it’s not vital you understand it; it’s just important that I get it out there.  Once I’ve said it, whether you get it or not is up to you.


It began with an internet friend condemning Warren as someone who is owned by the Establishment.  Brought me up short; I’ve got some self-control, but it’s tough to let that one pass unchallenged.

So I told him:  Respectfully, I think you’re misinformed.

I base my assessments on having met her, having read her books, and having done about a hundred hours of in-depth research on her. I won’t say she’s compulsively truthful, but I’m quite confident that the Establishment rightly fears her.

Look:  Everybody lies. We do it every day, all the time, every moment we interact with another human. Communication is the art of lying in a way that can be understood, and listening in a way that finds the truth. We may not think of it that way, but every time we oversimplify, or gloss over things, or just tweak a detail so we don’t get sucked down a rabbit hole, we’re at the least failing to Tell The Whole Truth.

But that’s too profound. More to the point, then:

Warren right now is Candidate Warren. What she says is the truth as distilled by her speechwriters, the people who invent policy, those who come up with talking points. Her words, and those of any other candidate, are as true as comic books. They’re valuable as parables, less so as a manual on how to fly.  It’s an unavoidable fact of life:  There’s only just so much truth you can cram into a six-second sound bite.

Earlier, she was Senator Warren. Again, her words were tools aimed for public consumption. They were truthful, more or less, but they were mostly designed as persuasive implements. That’s how politics functions. So we interpret her words of that time as those of a politician.  She condemned Hillary Clinton because it was politically necessary; later, she endorsed Clinton for the same reason (and, we can presume, a healthy fear of the only alternative:  a Trump presidency).

Before then, she was running for Senate, and she was actually compulsively truthful in the same way most of us are. She told lies only under duress from her campaign organizers or opponent, and only rarely. She was as a result quite bad at politics, which speaks well of her as a person.

But before even then, she wrote.

Her books are masterpieces of cogent thought and reason. They are simple and easily understood; well-crafted. But, like all communication, they partly rely on simplification and metaphor and hyperbole. They are stories, just like the news on TV. They’re written to make us understand, not to provide us with lists of raw facts. Their relationship with Truth — ideal Truth — is tangential at best. This is the nature of language and storytelling, not a condemnation at all but rather a description of how the process works.

Having said that, they are as truthful as anything else you’ll ever read, and valuable for their content.

But if your gripe is not with all that but instead the idea that she might have lied once for professional advancement, I fear you’re easily fooled.

(And from here I go on to that vignette entitled, “But She Lied…” Read it if you like, or keep going. I’m coming to the point.)

The point is, this is exactly what Hunter S. Thompson meant when he wrote the following words:

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here — not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”
from “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972”

Seriously: Every media outlet has bias. If they’re for-profit, the owners will oppose any story that threatens ad revenue; if they’re not-for-profit, that’s arguably worse as the volunteers and staff are usually True Believers in The Cause, whatever the cause happens to be — not a great way to avoid bias.

And, come right down to it, we shouldn’t expect unbiased reporting. Oh, it’s great if you want to know how many points your Umbrella Corp stock went up last night, or how many errors, hits, and RBIs were added to your favorite player’s totals. But if you’ve ever tried to read anything that’s perfectly objective, you’ll notice it’s a bit of a slog.

Everything — including word order — conveys meaning. If someone’s driving a big brown car and you phrase it “brown big car”, it’s jarring, and it emphasizes the color. If you include only the details you consider important, you might mention that the car is brown but not that it’s brown and white or that it has a sheriff’s star on the door. Alternately, you might go into detail about the star but not that it’s been crossed off by spraypaint because the car was purchased at public auction last week. And these are just the salient details; it’s possible to err in the other direction by describing the car intricately yet not the truck, when in fact it’s the truck that knocked over the stop sign.

These may seem obvious, but it illustrates that there must always be a person to interpret what’s important and what’s not. There’s always a perspective from which a story is told; otherwise, it’s not a story but instead a list of facts that may or may not be related.

By reading with all this in mind, every news outlet becomes a good news source. You just have to understand the biases in play and account for them in your interpretation. Then, double-check each story through other sources, bearing in mind that most people just echo whatever came off the AP wire, so CNN saying the same as MSNBC isn’t actually validation but when the BBC reports much the same it might be.

This is a part of what’s meant by the axiom, “Reading is a collaboration between the writer and the reader.”  Be ready to do your part in this.

Again, I’m not going to be lying to you.  Quite the contrary:  I’m going to do my damnedest to convey the truth to you as best I can.  It’s just, sometimes the only way to do that is to use metaphor, hyperbole, and other tools of the writer’s trade.

For example:  When I tell you in a few pages that I’ve got Tom Steyer on tape endorsing the legalization of cannibalism, it’s completely, literally true.  When I illustrate this by explaining the consequences of doing so once the cheese board has run low, it’s still true — just not literally.  Which is probably just as well; I wouldn’t have an exclusive so much as I’d be a witness at the trial.

If that’s hard to process, that’s OK.  Just suspend your disbelief and read along, following the story as best you can.  Trust me:  It’s more true this way.

 

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