Monday, November 10, 2008

New Yorker Profile of Thomas Friedman Actually About Malcolm Gladwell

Posted By on Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 6:10 PM

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So basically last week's New Yorker profiled a writer for a major New York-based publication, whose accessible pop-theory books are megapopular among college-educated people who read less than twelve works of fiction a year, mostly because he writes in nut-graf anecdotes that sum up Unified Theories of Everything which are, like, "totally thought-provoking" in that they offer people the chance to sound deep, without actually having to think deeply about dauntingly complicated issues about which much has already been written and learned. This person, the profile revealed, is always thinking about his current Big Theory, and as such his regular dispatches tend always to end up, slightly altered, in his books, and in retrospect reflect his thinking during the process of writing said books, even quoting the same experts and contemporaneous news reports.

Also in last week's New Yorker was another Malcolm Gladwell article, which just like his last half-dozen or so contributions seemed to mostly be a paraphrase of or outtake from his forthcoming book (in stores in time for holiday shopping!).

It also represents a particularly egregious example of the Gladwell Principle.

The Gladwell Principle basically states that conventional wisdom is the product of thousands, nay millions, of similar case studies and data points, and thus somehow vulnerable to being overturned by one perfect against-the-grain counterexample. Like, did you know that Head Start and other examples of trying to level the playing field for disadvantaged kids might actually totally miss the point, because of that one time where adversity was turned to an advantage?

Worse, he actually seems to back away from this point, in a paragraph buried near the end of the story. Every Malcolm Gladwell article basically sets out to prove that It's Not That Simple — "It" often being a bit of conventional wisdom widely recognized as kinda oversimplistic — by offering an alternate, equally simple thesis. And then he backs off both while you're not looking, because The Truth Is Not What You Think sells better than The Truth Is Somewhere in the Middle.

Also, "Truthtelling is easier from a position of cultural distance," to quote from Gladwell's general discussion and endorsement of the cult of the outsider. This is true, of course, but it requires a very special kind of willed autism not to suggest, in light of oh say Sarah Palin for instance, that this might not be an entirely Good Thing.

God, a fucking tequila enema for Malcolm Gladwell, is what is happening in my head right now, what a cocksmoker.


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