How to Write Political Pap

As an aspiring writer myself, I am more than aware that some literature sells better than others. If you write a 700-page epic fantasy adventure about repressed semi-aquatic warrior women and their society of sex monsters, the major publishers won’t touch you.

Fuck you Random House. You KNOW it would sell.

Fuck you Random House. You KNOW it would sell.

On the other hand, Chicken Soup for the Nascar Soul is a REAL GODDAMNED BOOK! Here’s proof:

Also available on Kindle. Seriously. How fucking small is that demographic?

Also available on Kindle. Seriously. How fucking small is that demographic?

Amazon currently has 106 used copies on their site. Meanwhile Myrmidonia, Queen of the Sea-Harlots languishes in the manuscript phase. What’s the difference between these two books? Three words: “Lowest common denominator.” Why would publishers risk precious wood pulp on a niche market item when they can just copy/paste their last bestseller, stick a new graphic on the front, and sell a kerjillion of them. People forget that writing at a sixth-grade level eliminates FIVE WHOLE GRADES that you could otherwise market to. In short, pap sells.

No. I'm not going to do this joke.

No. I'm not going to do this joke.

A problem arises, however, in the realm of political writing. Politics is traditionally thought to be the domain of the well-informed erudite. Thoughtful and provoking political commentary requires a an incisive wit, a deep knowledge of strategy, and a commitment to constant information gathering. How can the common hack survive?

Fortunately for all of us lazy idiots, conservative pundit Thomas Sowell gave a master class in dumbing it down in a recent article entitled, I shit you not, The Brainy Bunch. Watch and listen as the maestro works:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

Frankly, I beg to differ. Oh please. Please allow me to differ. I could point to the epic forest fires started by careless morons or deaths arising from mass hysteria and stampedes, but that’s too easy. How about the worst industrial disaster of all time? In 1984, a tank at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India released several dozen tons of methyl isocyanate gas. MIC is highly toxic. The local government reported nearly four-thousand deaths from the initial incident, with long-term exposure mortality estimates ranging from 17,000 to 25,000.

Why did this tragedy occur? Was it some mad scientist in a misplaced bid at supervillainy? Did Union Carbide’s cadre of geniuses think so hard that they passed out on the release button? Did a lone maverick polymath blow the tank up with his mind?

Nope. It happened because some idiots decided to clean the tank’s pipes with water. Mixing MIC with water produces an exothermic reaction, which increased the pressure inside the tank until it vented the toxic crap all over half-a-million people. Of course, the tank had safety systems in place, all of which had been turned off to save money. At the very least, valves in the pipes should have prevented water from entering the tank. They probably would have, too, saving thousands of lives, if Union Carbide had used stainless-steel valves on a corrosive chemical tank. Or if they had done any maintenance on the valves to prevent them from rusting out. Or if they had tested them periodically to make sure they worked. Or if the pipes leading to the flare stack (which should burn excess gas before it gets released) had not been removed. Or if anyone had turned on the scrubber that cleans the vent gas. Or if the water curtain (water sprayed over a vent area to force gases downward) had actually been high enough to reach the gas vents. Or if they had decided not to store forty-some-odd tons of cyanide compound in one tank. Or if anyone had noticed that the tank was heating up to four-hundred degrees in the hour and a half before the release.

This is not the work of geniuses.

This is not the work of geniuses.

Okay, so stupid people are at least as good at fucking things up as smart people. That much is obvious, mostly from the definitions of the words “stupid” and “smart”. The thing is, Sowell probably knows this. He’s no dummy himself after all. He graduated from Harvard and Columbia, and holds a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (renowned for developing one of the two major modern fiscal theories, creatively named the “Chicago School of Economics“). Sowell has taught at Howard, UCLA, Brandeis, and Cornell, and he holds a fellowship at Stanford. Sowell can’t seriously be prejudiced against intelligentsia. The smart money (no pun intended) says that he’s not. He’s simply following the first rule of political patronizing.

1. Justify your audience’s ignorance.

Smart people are scary. They use big words and wash their hands for no apparent reason. By framing intelligence as a vice, nay, a danger, Sowell makes his brain-damaged audience seem almost noble. Not only does he justify their fear of critical thinking, he practically turns stupidity into a moral imperative.

2. Revise history

When writing for the academically impaired, you can be fairly certain that your audience’s grasp of history is tenuous at best. You can pretty much make up anything you want, and they’ll believe you. You’re the one that got published after all. As long as it’s even remotely feasible, they’ll gobble it up without question. For instance, you can’t say that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by Godzilla, but you could easily claim that it was caused by syphilis, or dung beetles, or the downfall of “family values”.

How cool would that have been, though?

How cool would that have been, though?

Sowell puts this principle to good use with the claim that FDR’s “brain trust” not only failed to end the Great Depression, but actually prolonged it. As he puts it:

They [people who think government spending ended the depression] never ask the question as to why previous depressions had always ended on their own, much faster than the one under FDR, and without government intervention or massive government spending.

Of course, Sowell never answers the question either, and it’s because he knows the answer. When the economy takes a dive, the bottom rung of the economic ladder take the hardest hit. These folks are just a paycheck or two from starvation to begin with. When the unskilled labor market dries up, Malthusian economics sets in. As in the early Depression, the working poor start dying from starvation or disease caused by squalid living conditions and poor access to health care. Either way, as the population dies off, the decreased demand for basic needs stalls inflation in the cost of living. Meanwhile,the ever-shrinking labor pool boosts wages. Everything becomes cheaper, and those that survive make better money. The economy magically resurrects itself! And all we have to do is wait for a portion of the population to contract typhoid! Hooray!

Thomas Malthus. Like Alan Greenspan, but with less interest rate reductions and more smallpox.

Thomas Malthus. Like Alan Greenspan, but with less interest rate reductions and more smallpox.

FDR’s New Deal wasn’t implemented to bounce the Dow a few points. It was put in place to keep people from starving to death. But who cares? Surely Sowell’s readers don’t.

3. Bullshit psychology

Sowell plays this one to a tee by explaining exactly why intelligent people are such fucking idiots:

Such people have been told all their lives how brilliant they are, until finally they feel forced to admit it, with all due modesty. But they not only tend to over-estimate their own brilliance, more fundamentally they tend to over-estimate how important brilliance itself is when dealing with real world problems.

Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so much admired by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government.

Did you get all that? Smart people are dumb because they know how smart they are. They never gain any experience, probably because they’re too busy saying and doing smart things. Dumbasses.

4. Segue to Hitler

When in doubt, go Godwin on their asses. In an article nominally about Barack Obama, Sowell spends fully one-third of his time talking about Hitler. He also throws in a couple of paragraphs on Argentina for reasons of who the fuck knows why.

This, people, is how you dumb it down. Waaaaaaay down. In 700 words, Sowell has lowered the bar further than daytime television ever has. Vaguery, pandering, gross fallacy, gibberish, and outright lying are our tools, and Thomas Sowell has shown us the way.


4 responses to “How to Write Political Pap

  1. The Bhopal disaster doesn’t count as a “monumental disaster.” Sowell is concerned about the type of disaster that kills millions, like a corrupt or misguided government run by intelligent people like Hitler.

    • There are a few thousand Indians who would disagree with you. It was the most deadly industrial disaster in history. It killed eight times more people than 9/11. You need a monument? Here you go:

  2. Sowell does not frame intelligence as something negative. What he considers dangerous is not intelligence per se. He thinks it dangerous when intelligent people aim to tell less intelligent people how to live their lives.

    Many of his writings go into detail about how the intelligentsia (a word not to be confused to mean “intelligent people”) intend to help by imposing laws or by creating social programs, but end up hurting the people they intend to help.

    He is not biased against intelligent people, but faults the intelligentsia who smugly attempt to determine what is best for the “little people.” He is concerned with their arrogance and the harmful ways in which they influence government and society.

    Sowell considers himself more libertarian than conservative.

  3. Hitler’s government caused about 25,000 times more deaths than the idiots running the Bhopal plant, and that is Sowell’s point — that intelligent people can be much more dangerous than idiots, and further, government should not have so much centralized power as to allow intelligent people to create situations like WWII ever again.

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