"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong."
--H. L. Mencken
The Great Explainer is at it again. Every era has one, or maybe quite a few if it's as enlightened, liberated and gullible as our own. Think of the 1920s, when Freud was a rising star, Marx was about to be, and Charles Ponzi had figured out a way to make any investor millions. Now we have Bernard Madoff, and our great explainer is Malcolm Gladwell.
Who he? He writes best-sellers, which may be the most damning of judgments on the popular taste of our time -- apart from some of the fare on television.
Malcolm Gladwell's specialty is the kind of pseudo-intellectuality designed for the carriage trade, and delivered with an air of insight -- and only the air. Pretentious, and ponderous, it's mostly piffle -- when it's not just plain wrong-headed.
Should you think I exaggerate the combination of vast ignorance and baseless condescension represented by the Literary Works of M. Gladwell, just take a look -- if you can bear it -- at the August 10-17 issue of The New Yorker. It features Mr. Gladwell's expose of Atticus Finch, attorney-at-law. That's right: the hero of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," that staple of high-school English courses.
You wouldn't recognize the book or the South in general from Mr. Gladwell's account of the trial that is the centerpiece of the book. He quotes a legal expert's solemn judgment that Atticus Finch's defense of Tom Robinson is all wrong. Indeed, that it amounts to an abuse of an innocent young woman who was victimized by the defendant. By the same logic and evidence, the Scottsboro Boys -- who would spend years establishing their innocence of rape charges -- should have been executed as a tribute to white womanhood.
Our author blames Atticus for choosing to save an innocent man rather than using him as a martyr in the cause of civil rights (much as the Communist Party used the Scottsboro Boys), and for conspiring with the local sheriff to avoid dragging a recluse who can't stand the light of day -- Boo Radley, every little Southern town's bogeyman -- through a pointless public trial. Which would have been torture for Boo, and in the end would have proved only that he was guilty of justifiable homicide.