(What’s antiprise? It’s the opposite of expertise.)
If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably run across playwright David Mamet’s weird screed against gun control and Obama. Now Andrew Sullivan (late of England’s blessed shores) has weighed in (via LGM and Ta-Nahesi Coates). As Coates notes, Sullivan presents himself as the Voice of Reason as usual. He characterizes Mamet’s blather quite correctly: “This is a sentence only a teenage anarchist could write.” Harsh.
And yet Andrew Sullivan goes on to write nearly 650 words, plus a graph that he apparently has spent the time to work out himself (though maybe he’s had his research assistant do it for him), explaining the actual data that would have to be used in order to support Mamet’s factual claims, and explaining how they actually show Mamet’s factual claims are false rather than true.
So I guess Mamet’s essay wasn’t such a waste of dead trees after all. It’s served an educational function of its own. And maybe Sullivan’s attack on Mamet, accusing him of being as sheltered and ignorant as “a teenage anarchist,” isn’t as harsh as it seemed at my first, superficial glance. Maybe it wasn’t an “attack” at all. A more charitable reading, one that takes Mamet’s importance in the world of thought into account (and the fact that they're both largely on the same side, politically, and neither gains from making the other really look bad), is that Sullivan is recognizing the fact that obviously Mamet was really covertly dramatizing the thought processes of “a teenage anarchist” with whom he obviously disagrees. Thus, Sullivan is telling readers what Mamet really intended to convey by the piece: “This is a sentence only a teenage anarchist could write.” Mamet’s piece is clearly the product of an author who believes the opposite of what he says in the Newsweek piece. He’s just engaging in division of labor. The American Prospect is right: Mamet isn’t a political analyst. What he is, clearly, is a prophet. He’s harsh, scolding, and factually incorrect so that responsible journalists can be bland and informative. But he’s the prophet and he gets to claim the moral high ground.
Apparently, the information economy of the Internet is that prophets propose, and crowdsource to bloggers to dispose.