Daniel Dennet is an American philosopher, cognitive scientist, and author of the book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. The Guardian has kindly posted an extract from the book detailing 7 lessons life has taught Dennet, most of which relate to interactions with other people.
The last lesson in the article is “BEWARE OF DEEPITIES”. A deepity is “a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial. The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth from the second reading, and the devastating importance from the first reading, and thinks, Wow!”
Before giving my admittedly partisan take on the word deepity, I would like to apologize to Dennet for basely using his insight to further my own political agenda. I do not know if he is liberal or conservative, and in no way do I mean to imply that he would agree with anything in this post. With that disclaimer out of the way…
If the word ‘deepity’ is ever entered into the dictionary Peggy Noonan’s picture should accompany the definition. Noonan has built a very successful career as a conservative wordsmith using ambiguous profundity, that upon further review proves trivial and false. Here are some recent examples.
All three of these scandals makes a cluster that implies some very bad things. … This is so broad. … This IRS thing is something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.
So profound. So deep. Upon further review however one must ask… really Peggy? Noonan was born in 1950. In her lifetime there have been several instances of the IRS targeting the enemies of the president at the request of said president. Noonan asserts that President Obama is indirectly responsible for the latest IRS imbroglio by creating the climate in which underlings thought it would be acceptable to target conservatives. On the one hand we have presidents who have expressly targeted enemies with the IRS, and on the other hand the supposed indirect responsibility of Obama setting a tone. Comparing the two Noonan is aghast by the Obama model?
Upon hearing the Noonan argument one is invited to join the obviously sensible majority in disapproval of a horrible event, but the slightest bit of research proves that she has endeavored to sway us with deepity, which deepity knows no bounds. Here she is trying to prove that Americans had it up to here with President Obama because of the most recent controversy.
We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they’re seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration’s credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don’t look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.
Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
Saying conservatives thought Obama was sketchy prior to recent events is a bit of an undersell to say the least. The incessant drumbeat of conservative vitriol against the president is not a new event, and acting like it has just recently increased is to be wilfully obtuse on American political history since the summer of 2008.
Noonan is obviously heavily invested in making the recent controversy the worst since Watergate because she just keeps beating the skeletal remains of that once healthy horse. It should be noted that her assertion about the popularity of the president was just flat out wrong. Obama’s popularity was up when that deepity laden column was posted to the WSJ, which happens to be the day (May 18th) I wrote a post on this very site detailing the increasing popularity of the president since the scandals had been disclosed. Unlike Noonan, my post actually had links and numbers in an attempt to prove my assertions.
Had I written that post as Noonan approaches hers I would have written something to the effect of: “After witnessing the baseless attacks of the far right the American people are rallying to provide support for one of the greatest presidents since JFK. This support is reflected in the rosy faces of the children who meet this great man, and the desire of the common folk to only shake his hand.” Another 8 or 9 paragraphs of such deepity (heavily edited for content and glaring gramatical error which is my bane!) would be the perfect liberal mirror for the typical Noonan column, no?
In her best effort to tie President Obama to the IRS story Noonan deploys deepity of mass deception.
A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too.
Let the deepity engulf you and feel yourself being inexorably pulled by the undertow of condescension and resentment that this arrogant black man has been too partisan. How dare President Obama spread his poisonous attitude around the executive branch (as if this assertion could ever be subjectively proven). America pines for the days of great Republican presidential leadership of which a certain writer once deepitied:
He was probably the sweetest, most innocent man ever to serve in the Oval Office. … He was never dark, never mean…. This sunny man touched so many Americans. … Ego ties us all in knots, but not him. … ”No great men are good men,” said Lord Acton, who was right, until Reagan.
That my friends is deep… ity.