Friday, November 06, 2015

Life Along The Nile

I was not especially bothered by Ben Carson's original comment about storing grain in the pyramids.  It's exactly the sort of thing that is knuckleheaded, popping off about subjects you don't know about, without doing real harm.  Knowing bits of classical history is something of a class signifier that elites use to demonstrate that they are smarter than others.  Meanwhile, of course, they believe other more modern myths that are just as inaccurate and cause more damage.  Yet because those are more popular and current myths, believing them is seen as a badge of honor.

But Carson really lost me on his subsequent response.  The man knows a hundred pastors, I imagine, and could have called up any of them and asked "Hey, Charlie, am I off base on this?  Is this thing possible or did I just hear it somewhere?"  Takes two minutes.  Or he could have used those two minutes googling the pyramids and deciding for himself how much grain would have fit in a solid brick structure. He was challenged on a fact and couldn't be bothered to get it right. (My wife said "He's a doctor.  What do you expect?")

He didn't bother.  Thought he knew it all and doubled down.  That's exactly the sort of arrogance I have disliked in Obama, and I'm not going to find it endearing just because Carson's a Republican.  The idea from the First Things essay I recently posted that suggests that Carson is seen as a sort of un-Obama, a conservative black man who can reverse the damage of the last seven years, is intriguing.  Not much way to measure that to see if it's true, of course.


Texan99 said...

Some professionals have incredibly narrow educations. A lot of lawyers are this way, too: never read anything outside their professions. An old boss of mine was very dear to me, in part because I practically never mentioned a book--highbrow or lowbrow--that he hadn't read. (And he obviously had read many I'd never touched.) I don't miss much about my old law firm, but I do miss him.

Particularly in the age of the internet, it's hard to understand casual ignorance about things that are so easy to check, even if you hadn't previously made a hobby of knowing that sort of thing.

ymarsakar said...

The idea I find funny is that anyone thinks they know what happened back then, including those here that think Carson is wrong. He has the same source of authority as everybody else peaking at the past, a human brain.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

So by your reasoning anything that happened fifteen minutes before the oldest person alive was born is unknowable.

Don't say silly things just because they sound fun.

Donna B. said...

I did not find this argument persuasive:

terri said...

Not really having much exposure to Ben Carson's former books and speeches, I am really struck by how many stories he has out there telling everyone just how extra-special he is. In the midst of all the pyramid comments, these other stories from his past promoting how wonderful he is and how wonderful other people have told him he is throughout his life....well it's something that should make people stop and think about the general claims he makes and how he views himself.

There is some kind of narcissism there. It's quieter and takes a more socially acceptable tone, but I wonder if it is all that different from Trump's in-your-face version.

It's easy to see in Trump who is completely comfortable telling everyone how great he is and how everyone else is a loser. He doesn't try to hide his inflated estimation of himself. It's what people either love or hate about him.

Texan99 said...

He is a neurosurgeon, after all. Doesn't that usually go along with a pretty strong dose of narcissism? It wouldn't necessarily have to be a dangerous level. But imagine what personality it takes to start off poor and black, fight your way through medical school, become a successful neurosurgeon, and start making good money selling books about how to get the country back on the right track--then run for president without ever having held elective office before.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

terri - my second son sent me a photo series of Carson's home, and how much wall space is dedicated to shrines to the awards he has received.

He reminds me of Obama's narcissism much more than Trump's.

terri said...

Actually, I came across that link about an hour after commenting here and thought of posting it.

It does seem rather excessive to surround yourself with so many awards. After about 10-20 I think I would have to stop!

Does someone tell these stories and surround themselves with all of these things because they truly believe they are so awesome, or because they need constant validation to reassure themselves that they have some kind of value or worth? I'm not sure...maybe both?

I don't see what you see in Obama. I am not looking for it and, in general, wouldn't classify him as a least no more than any other politician. I think it's probably required to be a narcissist to even contemplate running for high offices such as governor and president.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Obama is a profound narcissist. He is diagnosable. (Tangent: When someone says "I'm being honest," BTW, it always means "I am going to tell you an audacious lie that I actually talked myself into." That's not politics, that's mental health for 40 years.)

It's one thing to be Larry Bird and say "everyone here is competing for second place." But Obama is not actually a very smart person. He's above-average, no more. To believe he is actually better at everything than the people he hires - except the faux-humility of not knowing how to play political games - is frankly insane.

I get it that most people don't see that, including some people near and dear to me. I have theories why that is, but nothing that seems to hold universally. I also get that even saying that makes me look like some hate-filled fanatic who is simply unable to deal with a liberal in power. Folks can believe that if they wish, I suppose. But take it for what it's worth. I don't always disagree with him, and I think some of his ideas are at least defensible. It's his character that scares me to the core. Hillary Clinton may be selfish and ambitious, caring more about herself than the country, but that is a very standard arrogance of politicians, just somewhat worse than most. Obama is in another category altogether.

ymarsakar said...

So by your reasoning anything that happened fifteen minutes before the oldest person alive was born is unknowable.

By my reasoning, if you think you're an authority on ancient swords, you might want to start by learning to hold one in your hand first before relying on the testimony of so called experts.

But people don't expect to build pyramids and reconstruct history, they just want an authoritative answer. Even though they avoid answering questions like how the Egyptians fed so many slaves that built so many pyramids. It's not a question someone needs to ask themselves, Assistant, because you have no intention of building a pyramid, with or without slaves. You just go ask some expert to tell you how it works. And then you're like the specialist that thinks he knows what's actually going on.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, you can just look up information, including alternative possibilities, and evaluate what makes sense. There is value in learning things first-hand, certainly. But at Yogi Berra said - you can observe a lot just by looking. First-hand knowledge about holding ancient swords is actually a pretty limited understanding. Nice, but limited.

It is also true that all our knowledge relies on those who have gone before, and we are dependent on a vast edifice of knowledge that others obtained for us. That doesn't make that knowledge wrong or contemptible.

ymarsakar said...

No, you can just look up information, including alternative possibilities

Looking up information is only valid for polymaths and generalists that have several specialties and lots of actual experience to back up the expert testimonies of other, random, people online.

The idea that you think you've become an expert or an authority on anything, because you somehow 100% transferred your non existent experience based upon some information elsewhere, is inferior.

I'll tell you what else is inferior, although slightly better.

terri - my second son sent me a photo series of Carson's home, and how much wall space is dedicated to shrines to the awards he has received.

He reminds me of Obama's narcissism much more than Trump's.

neo-neocon Says:
November 8th, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Do you really think that, for a guy like Carson, who came up from nothing and reached tremendous heights of achievement, his life loaded with testimonials and honors to his work helping other people, that putting the plaques on the walls means he’s an egotist? The people I’ve known who’ve gotten honored by various charities and organizations (and that includes my grandmother and my parents, who were quite far from being egotists), as well as philanthropists, have put their plaques and honors on the walls. It’s just that Carson got more of those honors than most people.

And sports figures with trophies? Do they ordinarily hide them in a closet? Would you think more of them if they did?

Carson has a right to be proud of his accomplishments in helping others, and to put them on display. As for the painting of him with Jesus—certainly not to my artistic or aesthetic tastes, but I don’t think it expresses egotism. I actually think it expresses his religiousness and humility. Seems to me what it’s saying is that Jesus is his help and his rock.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, could have nothing but the best art on his walls, and nary a testimonial in sight, and he would still be an egotist. You know why? Almost every word out of his mouth is loaded with his egotism and narcissism. I, I, I, me, me, me (same for Obama, but Trump is actually worse). His lifeswork, unlike that of Carson, is not doing for others. Yes, in the process of what Carson does, he makes money and he gets awards (which yes, he puts on the wall!!). But the work itself is all for others. Trump’s work is to make money, although in the process he does hire people. But his work is his trophy and the tower he raises to his own egotism.

When you start judging people due to armchair prognosis you make of politicians, that's called the sin of superbia, and it is not humility at all. But it's slightly better than judging based on non existent authorities/experience, at least. Since, Carson has made more than one successful surgery but Assistant has made more than one successful diagnosis.

GraniteDad said...

Ymarsakar, can we pick a goalpost? I'm pretty sure that no one has claimed here that reading about a subject makes you a perfect authority on the matter. Your initial assertion was that we could not know things if they had happened in the distant past. That is demonstrably false. And if it was true, why would holding a sword help? Osmosis of history?

Unknown said...

In my undergraduate years I ended up doing a digression into a master's-level graduate religion class where I focused my research on early-iron-age religion of the Jordan valley, trying to work out what could be inferred about a particular locale's cult from the archeology and from its similarity to neighboring peoples who had writing.

One thing that I noted at that time was that there are "biblical archeologists" who are very keen to peg any physical evidence on or in the ground to the biblical story. Sometimes their interpretations are a bit at odds with what other archeologists surmise from the same sites and digs.

My limited knowledge is the wrong region and wrong era to be any help to Dr. Carson, but I think it worth pointing out that most commentary on this is assuming that he's talking of the great pyramids at Giza, which are completely the wrong era for any plausible link to the biblical character Joseph. Djoser as Pharaoh might be more likely, and I have seen plenty of people online calling this pit (which is part of the pyramid complex at Saqqara) a granary:,31.2162101,3a,75y,232.56h,56.59t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sgm1gNbbrFWoyY4gwpF3wRA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
... because of it's resemblance to pyramid burial model granaries. One of the leading proponents of the "Joseph is Imhotep" theory was a member of Carson's denomination. Other archaeologists call it a mastaba pit.

On the shrine to himself in his home, at first glance it is stashed in the basement, so not really the public face that he is giving to visitors. On the other hand, if someone visits and asks if he has displayed some particular award tchotchke or honor certificate, it is there to show. It does seem a bit impolite to hide away the honors people have bestowed upon you.

In my work I've had several occasions where notable people have sent me handwritten letters of thanks or I've been forwarded photos of us together, and for some reason my wife wants to get them framed for display. It may be Candy not Ben who is behind the shrine...

I am not trying to argue for Carson, but much of what is said in the post and comments above can be turned around straight back at the writers -- there may not have been a hole at the tip of the pyramid to dump bags of grain into, but anyone who spent a moment looking into it would find lots of evidence for large granaries as part of each pyramid complex, and know that the association of biblical Joseph with particular pyramid complexes, while a minority view, is not completely out of the blue.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you very much for that information.

GraniteDad said...

Very cool info, thanks.