Punditocracy and Howard Dean

It’s hard to know if we’re at the twilight of Broadcast Politics, but it’s interesting that so many of us feel we need to sound like the talking heads on TV.

The characteristic of PunditSpeak is certainty in the presence of open issues and single mindedness when confronting complexity. Nuance is reduced to serial certainty.

There are two kinds of people who have no knowledge of what the outcome will be: people who are paid to be expert and people in their audience.

It’s laughable when the pundits have convictions about the unknowable.
It’s kind of sad when we the audience mimic their uninformed confidence.

That’s why I was struck by the explosion of certainty about why Dr. Dean didn’t sweep the field in Iowa and how he’d do from here out.

The Illusion of Control

Howard Bloom, my reliable seer into human behavior, teaches us a lot about our all-too-human need for control. Apparently, it’s not control we seek, but just enough of an illusion of control and hence of a reliable future. A reliable future does not seem to require a lock-in. Rather it depends on a shred of plausibility. People buy lottery tickets because they want to entertain themselves with the thought of controlling their future, which is not a lot different from the RIAA suing teenagers under the illusion that they can control their destiny.

Bloom tells a story about three tribes in Africa. They are, respectively, farmers, craftspeople and priests. They trade with each other for what they need: food, pots and implements, and . . . spells. The farmers and craftspeople live reasonable lives, understanding rough parity between food and goods.

Of the three tribes, the shamans live the best because, when someone’s sick or dying, there’s no price too dear for a spell to ease their burden. If the initial spell fails, then the victim’s family is told to bring more offerings to pay for a stronger spell. If the spell works, its because the priests’ magic is strong. If not, it’s because the family ran out of offerings to up the mojo. Perhaps its where we learned our system.


Is that why most of us feel compelled to hold an opinion about the unknowable? In one moment in his role as his team’s Player-Coach and Dean is declared finished. Even some Dean supporters seemed ready to throw in the towel (though most of us just threw in more money). Doc just read me a NY Post N.H. Debate report declaring that Edwards and Clark are toast because they did not do as well as expected. Not satisfied with just any horse race, the press is compelled to jiggle the lead every half-week.

The capriciousness of some Dean supporters really threw me off. Unbridled enthusiasm melting into terminal gloom in 3 hours. Yet we all know it just doesn’t work that way. It’s as if Dean had let them down, failing to maintain the crescendo of hope and optimism they’d been investing in for 6 months. Where’s the conviction? Where’s the gumption?

It feels to me like a vague analogue to how we once regarded desktop apps and how we now seem to. Productivity software once seemed a bright promised land of power and promise. We couldn’t wait to master the next app and add it to our toolkit. Now someone releases a new widget and we greet it with a collective yawn.Where we once sought power we seem now to simply avoid complication. Is that what’s at work here? As long as Howard Dean maintained a steady arc of promise, our work and contributions seemed their own reward.

But the prospect of work without assurance attracts a smaller crowd than easy pickings.

12:17:34 AM    

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