The Weekend Zeitgeist – 6.2.2019

Every morning, we run The Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 

The back of the Leviathan [NWA Online]

After a year of devastation to parts of the American midwest, flood coverage has gone from being a third choice for coastal national media to being a prime attraction. Its language now gets sprinkled throughout a great many different news articles.

Some of this is because it connects to narratives about climate change. Some because it connects to discussions of agriculture, the plight of farmers and the trade war with China. Some because it references human interest, suffering or destruction, which happen to use similar language no matter whom the disaster might strike.

The natural, political and financial world’s indifference to our models is slowly but surely becoming part of the narrative.

The Distance of the Leap [The Good Men Project]

Our Weekend Zeitgeist query this week brought back 469,000 articles. This one was among the ten most interconnected to different topics by language.

I suspect you will find, as I did, some amusement in the blog’s masthead:

Probably also in the paragraph where it reaches a crescendo:

If you read my recent “Fellow Contrarians Unite” brief, I expect you’ll start seeing this everywhere, if you hadn’t already: people using the most common, interconnected language under the mistaken belief that it represents an unusual – or worse, unique -perspective.

Where Is the EPA’s Respect for the ‘Unborn’? [Bloomberg]

Yeah, I’m not touching this with a ten-foot pole.

What I will say is this: in late 2012, a colleague and I had breakfast with Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Bush campaigns and RNC chair. KKR had recently hired him in the policy/government relations/biz dev role now so common to mega-buyout-land. They trotted him out liberally to meet with clients like us. I was surprised by something he said. Heavily paraphrased, Ken said, “In 10 years, no one will be talking about gay marriage. It will be a given. In that same time, abortion will become a bigger issue again. Relative to prior generations, the emerging voter will develop his/her views through personal experience shared through multi-layered social media connections. Even the culturally conservative ones have known lovely, happy gay couples and don’t get what all the fuss is about. On the other hand, abortion will become a much more conflicted issue.”

I don’t think Ken was right about the mechanic – I haven’t seen any evidence that millennials are all that conflicted about this issue in particular. But he certainly understood some of the changing Zeitgeist. The capacity of an issue to evoke an emotional, existential response – and the willingness of political parties to leverage that capacity – is the soul of the Widening Gyre in US politics today. You may think that your position on the issue IS existential AND it may be AND I think it’s still necessary that we know when that existential importance is being exploited to keep us shouting past our fellow citizens.

Whatever your opinion, brace yourself for a deluge of purposefully inflammatory takes over the next 18 months on this issue.

Cats, Hootie and the Blowfish and Florence and the Machine kick off the weekend [Raleigh News and Observer]

Image result for what year is it

Europe’s Populist Storm Rattles the Windows of the E.U. But Fails to Move the Foundations [Time]

Yes, Time is a magazine, not a daily newspaper. Yes, it specializes in ‘feature journalism.’ Yes, anyone who accidentally happens upon it in a dental office waiting room should know at this point what they’re going to get. But they call themselves and are widely regarded as a news magazine. It’s a by-lined piece. It’s being sold, shared on Facebook and retweeted to you, the reader, as news.

And it ticks about every box in the Fiat News checklist.

A presumptuous headline asserting an obvious opinion. Adjectives meant to condescend, like “giddy.” Words meant to shape your impressions of the subjects without providing more information, like “strident” and “thundered.” Implications of causality, bald-faced opinions, unsupported projections – all meant to make the reader believe that certain things are Common Knowledge.

Even if you – like I – have pretty serious concerns about a rise in nationalist politics in Europe, this kind of Fiat News isn’t just bad form. It aggravates and deepens the widening gyre. It should always be resisted, even when it serves our own political leanings, and even if and when we think it serves to ‘offset’ equivalent biases from other media outlets.


  1. Congratulation ET - I now read certain articles and all I see is Fiat News - grrr. (Just like I now see narratives freakin’ everywhere.)

    This ⇩ WSJ article this morning is Fiat News on steroids, but in fairness, whenever an article is noted as “analysis,” you know a big spoonful of Fiat News is coming your way.

    “Trump’s Trade Levers Test Long-Term U.S. Alliances
    President’s threats against Mexico and others can work in the short run, but global rules could be strained”

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