Populist Boojums

Today, the term Snark stands for an attitude or expression of mocking irreverence and sarcasm (Merriam-Webster). Urbandictionary.com defines it as a combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment(s). That might neither be the portmanteau word nor the meaning which C. L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) had in mind.

C. L. Dodgson’s definition is different. The Snark
※ has a meagre and hollow, but crisp taste,
※ gets up late,
※ is slow in taking a jest,
※ likes simplicity (e.g. the design of bathing-machines),
※ is ambitious.

If your Snark just is a Snark, then:
※ Fetch it home by all means.
※ You may serve it with greens.
※ It’s handy for striking a light.

If, however, your Snark is a Boojum, then you are in trouble:
※ You will softly and suddenly vanish away
※ and never be met with again!

Important: Common Snarks do no manner of harm, but some are Boojums.

As long as they are just Snarks, they probably won’t make good populists.

For Dodgson, I think, Snark stood (also) for a still civilized controversy. Today we might need such a controversy in order to understand what populism stands for. However, in these times the effects of populism probably would turn also the controversy about populism into a Boojum. Populists, as we experience them today, thrive on toxic disputes.

Once upon a time, populism may have been an approach of politicians to really listen to people and to try hard to fulfill their wishes and to lead them at the same time. That is not easy:
    “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
        As he landed his crew with care;
    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
        By a finger entwined in his hair.

    “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
        That alone should encourage the crew.
    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
        What I tell you three times is true.”

    Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
        A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
    That frequently happens in tropical climes,
        When a vessel is, so to speak, “snarked.”

    But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
        And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
    Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
        That the ship would not travel due West!

    This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
        That the Captain they trusted so well
    Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
        And that was to tingle his bell.

To some people it takes more time to find that out.

Politicians with bells and tweets are paying respect to people, don’t they? (I don’t know whether populism ever really worked like that. But, admittedly, some politicians are not Boojums.) Today’s populism, however, does harm to us. People feel respected, but in reality they are beeing made fun of, yet so silently that they don’t really notice it. The means to make them feel better are to make others feel worse and let them vanish away. That’s what Boojum torned Starks do.

What I tell you three times is true!

001    “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
002        As he landed his crew with care;
003    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
004        By a finger entwined in his hair.

005    “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
006        That alone should encourage the crew.
007    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
008        What I tell you three times is true.

329    “’Tis the voice of the Jubjub!” he suddenly cried.
330        (This man, that they used to call “Dunce.”)
331    “As the Bellman would tell you,” he added with pride,
332        “I have uttered that sentiment once.

333    “’Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep count, I entreat;
334        You will find I have told it you twice.
335    ’Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete,
336        If only I’ve stated it thrice.

 
Kelly Ramsdell Fineman told us …

… that President Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Wharton were huge fans of the Snark. On one visit to the White House, Wharton learned of the following exchange that occurred between the President and the Secretary of the Navy (undoubtedly unaware of Carroll’s poem, or at least unaware that Roosevelt was quoting):

During discussion, Roosevelt said to the secretary of the Navy,

“Mr. Secretary, what I tell you three times is true!”

The Secretary replied stiffly,

“Mr. President, it would never for a moment have occurred to me to impugn your veracity.”

Yes, better don’t impugn your leader’s veracity. Even though he will get rid of you rather sooner than later, you don’t need to push it.

 

The Bellman’s Rule is stated in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, line #7 and line #335. I said it in Lua – wrote it in Python, I made that indeed, but I wholly forgot (when finally done), that Haskell is what you need! So, here is an example for how to implement that rule:

#! /usr/bin/haskell
import Data.List
statementList :: [String]
statementList =
  ["I am a stable genius!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"There are 9 Snark hunters."
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"I am a stable genius!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"6 * 7 = 42"
  ,"I am a stable genius!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ]
atLeastThrice :: [String] -> [String]
atLeastThrice sL =
  [head grp | grp <-
    group $ sort sL, length grp >= 3]

Result (if loaded and executed in GHCi):

*Main> atLeastThrice statementList
["6 * 7 = 39","Brexit promises will be kept!","I am a stable genius!","There are 10 Snark hunters."]

If you want to prove other claims, just change claims.

 
2017-12-16, update: 2018-07-25

Flat Earth

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

One of my articles in this blog has the title What can Science reveal? This is the quest of the Snark (quoting Philo M. Buck, 1942). I think, that the question what science can reveal is only one among several quests of the Snark. Another quest might be, how science reveals the world and how science can be threatened. Here, flat earth theory is a good example. That theory doesn’t not only aim at reverting scientific findings, but also at damaging science itself. I don’t know whether Dodgson/Carroll took any interest in that theory and the related debates, but its history helps me to improve my understanding of popular science debates and businesses in the Victorian society at around the time when Lewis Carrol wrote The Hunting of the Snark.

This week in the New Yorker, Alan Burdick wrote an article about Looking for Life on a Flat Earth, What a burgeoning movement says about science, solace, and how a theory becomes truth (2018-05-30). Very regrettably, Burdick failed to mention Christine Garwood‘s book Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (2008). That shouldn’t happen in a magazine like the New Yorker. Didn’t Burdick read that excellent book before he wrote his article?

Garwood shows why and how science can be threatened and is being threatened. This includes John Hampden‘s (1819-1891) discrediting of journalists 1870 (p. 76), who probably had quite similar reasons for media bashing as Donald Trump had and openly described them in February 2016. If you want to make a living as influencer, you need to control the presentation of knowledge. To understand that is as important today as it was in the 19th century. It is amazing how similar the 21st century anti-scientific populism is to what happened since “Parallax” started his flat earth business in the Victorian Britain. And he meant business.

Truth Tweaking Tweets

Why Donald Trump Can’t Kill the Truth, by Errol Morris, TIME, 2018-05-22:

[…] What is so scary about the present time is that people believe that they can assert truth just by screaming louder than others or repeating themselves endlessly, like the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”: “What I tell you three times is true.” […]

In my view, tweaking the truth is nothing new. But the ability to tweet the tweaked truth within a few seconds to millions of people makes the difference. It turns Trump’s language (as well as the language of Trump haters) into a wide spread epidemy.

Henry Holiday's BoojumI think that Carroll’s tragicomedy (or even tragedy?) The Hunting of the Snark is very much about what we are experiencing in these days: Legimate dispute (Snark) is turning more and more into toxic eristic (Boojum). And beware if it bites you, it’s contagious! Our pursuit of happiness can take many paths, therefore conflicts are unaviodable parts of our journey. But beware of the day, if your Snark be a Boojum! For then you will softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again.

 


By the way: As for an on-line Snark, Morris’ article links to the Poetry Foundation. They do a good job, but Ebooks Adelaide offers a better on-line rendering of the poem. My version is based on an earlier Ebooks Adelaide version.

Original Manuscript Found Among Brexit Impact Study Tables

Here is the manuscript. Also I publish the secret road map used by the British government to navigate through the Brexit.

 
What I tell you three times is true:

349       “The thing can be done,” said the Butcher, “I think.
350        The thing must be done, I am sure.
351        The thing shall be done! …”

 


Links:

 


The Beaver’s Lesson

The Butcher reasoning with the Beaver.

This is the illustration (partially inspired by various works of other artists) to the chapter The Beaver’s Lesson.