Death of a Client, Analysis

I have been thinking the post “Death of a Client” and why it went so viral.

The common assumption is that smart people are persuaded by ‘facts and data’ whereas less intelligent people are persuaded by rhetoric, appeals to emotion, sentimentalism, etc. This reductionist categorization/dichotomy fails to agree with reality, in that among the intellectual-web [1], the personal experience is as valuable, if not more so, as ‘facts and data’. The above post describes a public defender’s personal experience with an elderly drug-addicted client. There is not a single study or piece of data cited in the entire post…it entirely a first-hand account, yet the post was hugely successful with a very positive reception by a high-IQ readership. Had his story been posted to an average-IQ forum/sub-Reddit, the response would have probably been much more taciturn. Instead of essay-sized replies in the comments critiquing society and the criminal justice system, maybe you would get a few “cool/interesting story’ type replies, and maybe a dozen upvotes instead of hundreds.

That is not to say objective data and studies are unpersuasive; rather, data complements the anecdotal. If you read articles from The New Yorker or any ‘smart’ publication, typically the author begins with a story which ends on a cliff hanger to help build suspense and capture the human interest angle, and then introduces data and the opinions of experts, and finally concludes the article by revealing the outcome of the original story.

It is hard to top the human-interest story, especially a well-written one that appeals to shared narratives , as above. In a news cycle dominated by high-stakes stories such as Biden, stimulus checks, and Covid, the lowly, unsexy human-interest story is a tough one to beat. This is also related to the ‘celebration of the mundane,’ in that since 2016 or so, there has been a push-back by online intellectuals , related to rise of the IDW, against hype and sensationalism in the media, and a yearning for slower-paced, introspective stories that shed light on and critique society and the ‘human condition,’ that reveal or expose the shortcomings and ills of modernity, etc.. Among the intellectual-web, these seemingly mundane personal accounts rank in equal or greater significance as the much-hyped Megan Markle interview, which made international headlines and was discussed all over social media. Modernity and consumer culture seeks to paint a pretty varnish on society, covering the despair , dysfunction, and suffering that lies beneath it and has always existed, both in modern and historic times, such as an elderly man addicted to drugs dying before his court appearance after being entrapped by police. It does not get any less glamorous than that. That is what human-interest is about–not about showing humanity at its best, but humanity at its realest, most existent condition/state.

There is the shared belief, among conservatives and liberals alike, that the criminal justice system is broken, that the war on drugs is a waste of money and other resources, but no one has any idea how to fix it. What may work for Nordic countries may not scale for a country as large, diverse, and low-trust as the US. My own opinion is that the purported superiority of the Nordic justice system, of nice prisons and short sentences, masks considerable crime that is unreported or ignored; in short, it does not work nearly as well as its proponents want to believe. I think long sentences are an effective deterrent and help reduce crime, and that if Norway had the same demographics as the US, violent crime would rise.

This also explains the enduring success of Dr. Jordan Peterson, who in early 2017 exploded from nothing to being among the most important and visible public intellectuals alive, by making videos and giving talks, in large part, about human suffering–sorta the opposite of TED talks, in which successful people boast about their successes or turnarounds. People don’t seek despair, but they seek the truth, and there happens to be a lot of truth contained within despair.