Last night my wife and I went out for dinner. Our server was French, a fact that allowed us to spend a few moments practicing the language. When the server left, my wife said, "It's everywhere." Indeed. Some years ago I decided to learn French. It turns out that means more than talking to people, reading books or watching movies. It means understanding the difference between a definite and an indefinite article, the deeper meaning behind "Prêt A Manger" or "Le Pain Quotidien," or the fact that the language you take as foreign is actually "everywhere"—on the buses and trains, on the lips of mothers remanding children, out the mouths of cab-drivers yelling at each other.
These are Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns"—not simply a lack of answers, but an obliviousness to questions. The awareness of this is humbling and euphoric: If French is "everywhere," how many other things are "everywhere?" What does "everywhere" even mean? At that moment one realizes that it isn't the cool facts which wise you up, but the awareness of a yawning, limitless, impossible ignorance.
Yesterday Dylan Byers, Politico's media reporter, sent out this tweet:
Ta-Nehisi Coates's claim that "Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost public intellectual" sort of undermines his intellectual cred, no?— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) January 7, 2014
He was then asked to offer suggestions of his own. Byers didn't immediately answer. After being berated for an hour and a half he decided he should:
Bernard Lewis, Noam Chomsky, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Krugman (tho not anymore), E.O. Wilson… Obviously Sontag before she died cc @Mattyglesias— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) January 7, 2014
Byers's contenders were all white men and a white woman disqualified on account of death. This was caricature—a pose not wholly unfamiliar to Byers—and it was greeted with all the mockery which #blacktwitter so often musters. But black people—and #blacktwitter—mostly laugh to keep from crying.