Literally small-minded

Granted, playwright turned conservative-screed artist David Mamet lately comes across like that kid in philosophy class who just got hold of Atlas Shrugged and believes everyone should read it immediately. Still, he’s not an idiot. Which is what makes Ta-Nehisi Coates’s critique of Mamet’s recent gun rights essay so, well, idiotic. Consider the paragraph that particularly offends Coates:

The Founding Fathers, far from being ideologues, were not even politicians. They were an assortment of businessmen, writers, teachers, planters; men, in short, who knew something of the world, which is to say, of Human Nature. Their struggle to draft a set of rules acceptable to each other was based on the assumption that we human beings, in the mass, are no damned good—that we are biddable, easily confused, and that we may easily be motivated by a Politician, which is to say, a huckster, mounting a soapbox and inflaming our passions.

Coates actually believes that Mamet is claiming the Founders didn’t hold political office. What Mamet meant, of course, is that the Founders were not like today’s politicians, neither in worldview, career uniformity, nor behavior. No matter to Coates; this is evidence of a powerful man working “violence against language.” It’s an excessively literal view necessitated by Coates’s desire to be uncharitable. Excessive literalness is rarely distinguishable from small-mindedness.

Coates inadvertently raises a point worth remembering, however: violence against language can work both ways. Writers must endeavor not to be foolish, but then again, so should readers.