It’s official! Imitation is no longer the sincerest form of flattery. Criticism through dissenting opinion truly has now taken its place.
In recent years, it has become almost de rigueur for one side of the political/ideological spectrum to offer up its own version of the truth to a successful documentary think piece. For every Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, there’s a Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. For every Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, there’s a Why Wal-Mart Works hot on its heels. And for every Stupid White Men and Fahrenheit 9/11, there’s guaranteed to be a Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man or FahrenHYPE 9/11 right behind it.
Is it no surprise to learn, then, that even a seemingly benign guy like Malcolm Gladwell can have detractors manufacturing dissent?
In case you just got back from a tour of duty in Iraq, the soft-spoken and well-rounded Gladwell published a number one New York Times best-selling book of non-fiction last year called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. With Blink, Gladwell posited that going with one’s inner gut—not long drawn-out belly-gazing—is the best way one should go about making decisions. Obviously, this idea probably struck a chord with readers in George W. Bush’s America, even before they picked up Gladwell’s book. Blink is now about as white hot as its minimalist cover: it has sold at least 1.3 million hardcover copies in North America alone, and, late last year, Gladwell sold film rights to the book for a cool million dollars to Universal Pictures.
Success breeds snark, of course. We now have not one but two rebuttals to this runaway success: Michael R. LeGault’s Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye, and an almost Daniel Pinkwater-esque parody called Blank: The Power of Not Actually Thinking At All that came out in February. Yep, the knives are out. But is it because Blink is a fun, engrossing read that incites a jealous reaction? Or is it because a very minor part of Blink suggests that, if we all just thought a little bit differently, maybe certain right-wing Presidents wouldn’t be elected? Consider this more intuition, but Dear Reviewer places his money on the latter.
Thus, one can, fairly or unfairly, make a snap judgment about Think before opening its cover (which is oddly similar to Blink‘s). This book is merely an agenda-forwarding piece, nothing more. This feeling is bolstered when one learns this is the debut release from the publishing imprint of Simon & Schuster run by Mary Matalin, a former Republican Party strategist to both Bush presidencies. From there, you can merely contrast the flip flap biographies of LeGault and Gladwell. The latter grew up in southwestern Ontario and went to university in Toronto before going on to write for The Washington Post and The New Yorker. LeGault, on the other hand, is a former columnist for The Washington Times and is now an American working at Toronto’s National Post.
Logical readers should then come to Think with an overtly critical eye: not necessarily how you want someone stumbling out of the starting blocks with your book. In fact, for something that purports to be a throw-back to the power of logical thinking, it soon becomes fairly easy (and fun!) to shoot fish through the logic loops found in these pages. There are some real howlers sprinkled throughout Think, examples of pure lunacy that would be unintentionally funny on a Reefer Madness level if some of them weren’t so patently offensive. Here are just a few examples:
1. In railing against the evils of Survivor and Extreme Makeover, this book cautiously warns us that Battle Royale is coming down the pipe sooner than we think: “The logical outcome of reality TV is snuff movies,” warns LeGault, quoting the opinion of another analyst without any facts to merit this assumption. Meanwhile, the author defends and applauds “the television sitcom, with its dialogue and conflict resolution, [since it] at least has roots in a type of comedy invented by the Greeks.” This is kind of odd, since Survivor does offer its moments of narrative deus ex machina—that’s Greek for “the god comes from a crane,” by the way—through the use of immunity idols. We think Euripides would be proud with the work of Mark Burnett. Really.
2. In a really bizarre chapter, LeGault hollers against a feminist conspiracy that prevents young men from claiming their rightful place at the top of the flagpole. He claims, without offering much in the way of research, that part of the feminist agenda is to see boys blindly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or its variants to prevent them from progressing in society. He goes on to say that, “Ritalin, it would appear, is being used to treat nothing more than a ‘boy’ gene, not a true medical condition.” At no point during this chapter does LeGault soberly remind us about the “refrigerator mother” theory from the 1940s, which argued how a mother’s “coolness” or aloofness towards her son(s) could be responsible for bringing out autistic behaviors in her male offspring. Women have been just as unjustly victimized by specious claims, but mentioning that, perhaps, would have seen LeGault’s chapter about the evils of political correctness landing with a thud on the editing suite floor.
3. LeGault must love Scottish electronic musician Mylo, for he, too, is out to Destroy Rock & Roll. The Devil’s Music, LeGault says, “has played a large role in creating the perception that raw, artistic passion and emotion are superior to reasoning and formal learning.” And yet, by the end of the same paragraph, he adds, “Few fans would be inclined to think of Mick Jagger, Bono, or Bruce Springsteen as well-read and thoughtful, but that’s exactly what they are.” Huh? Did we miss something there? How can a well-read, thoughtful rock star promote passion and emotion? Doesn’t thought two contradict thought one? (Not to mention that one probably shouldn’t put “well-read” and “Mick Jagger” together in a sentence. Neil Peart? Maybe. Mick Jagger? We’ll get back to you on that one.)
4. “The barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re dining with us,” cautions LeGault in opining about the lack of sophisticated artistry in popular culture. But wait! Who are these barbarians? Why “their names are J.Lo, Ja Rule, and Paris Hilton.” Never mind that the first two artists have arguably moved onto eating from the cultural dessert tray due to diminishing record sales, let’s draw attention to the fact both of these people belong to ethnic minorities and the word “barbarian” is being used as a descriptor. Not to sound PC or anything, but in this supposedly enlightened world of 2006, couldn’t a slightly more appropriate adjective be used? After all, between this and describing the Japanese as “wily,” one can’t help but wonder if LeGault is a self-unaware racist.
And on it goes. For a rebuttal of Blink there’s an awful lot of stereotypical gut-level reasoning involved here. Which actually shows that LeGault either didn’t fully read or understand what Blink nattered on at all. He appears to think Gladwell’s text was an argument for not thinking at all, when the book was really asking people to think smarter, not harder.
Think is an unintentionally dangerous and irresponsible book, tied to almost fascist political ideas. (One of LeGault’s solutions to his imagined thinking crisis in society is, predictably, more discipline.) One can’t help but be easily reminded of a few reactionary sayings or two in pondering about the book and its potential ripple-effect. Namely, think before writing/publishing a book offering little more than Colbertian Truthiness, especially if said tome is all about the absence of logical reasoning. And that’s to not speak of piping down during those times you can’t say anything nice about somebody else’s work.
Silence, in LeGault’s case, might have been a golden response to Gladwell’s earlier, far more successful, call. Since marketing a mud-wrestling match is an easy way to promote a book, and thus is probably the only true reason this book got written, you just may want to consider saving your money by refusing participation in this latest literary brawl. You want to truly flatter Malcolm Gladwell? Buy his book or write one like it.