Failure Of Human Understanding, Indeed

You might not be aware, but Governor Deval Patrick has become a right-wing punching bag over the past 24 hours or so, for saying in his 9/11 speech that the attacks were the result, in part, of "a failure of human understanding."

As I reconstruct events: yesterday at around 3:30pm, the Boston Globe put a brief (uncritical) article on with the quote and video of Patrick's brief address (I suspect some radio and TV stations carried it live or replayed it soon after); Howie Carr quickly picked up on the quote and went nuts on his radio show; this led local conservative blogger D.R. Tucker to post a small "Say What" item on it on one of the Margolis brothers' rabid-right web sites (DevalWatch); from there it quickly spread to other Margolis-connected sites, including Radio Equalizer and Hot Air, where much harsher critiques were issued; eventually the nationally popular Little Green Footballs site provided a link, generating more than 1000 comments, many of them vicious; the Boston Herald then lent credence with an editorial in today's paper condemning Patrick's comment; and that prompted the ordinarily reasonable Peter Torkildsen, chair of the Massachusetts GOP, to issue a press release today responding to Patrick's "outrageous statement."

Whew. I apologize if I got some of that timeline reconstruction wrong, but I think it's pretty close.

The complaints seem to run along two lines. First, the Patrick comment is said to be weak. "Mealy-mouthed," the Herald put it. "Lesson one of Psych 101," scoffed one blogger. Torkildsen complained that "the governor sounds like he's talking about schoolyard bullies, not cold-hearted terrorists who will murder innocent people on command." Second, some interpret Patrick as  suggesting that we all -- Americans and the terrorists -- failed to understand one another. Carr (as I understand it, I did not hear the show) said that the remark implies that the US, to some extent, brought the attacks upon itself. One of Hot Air's main bloggers wrote that Patrick's comment "tacitly blames America as much as it does Osama."

I'm not so interested in getting into those arguments and interpretations, but I find the rapid explosion of this whole thing fascinating.

Also, here are two aspects I thought worth addressing.

First, this is far from the first time Patrick has used this phrase in respect to 9/11. In fact, I am able to quickly find three instances, including two graduation speeches from back in May, which you can read here and here. They are quite different and both worth reading. The second one provides the most elaboration and context; yesterday's highly truncated version was left more abstract and thus more open to the above attacks, I think. On the other hand, if you read the two graduation speeches you'll see that his context has a lot to do with fear driving us toward destructive anti-Arab paranoia and Guantanomo Bay abuses, sentiments that would only bring Patrick more derision from the right.

Second, whence "failure of human understanding?"

Although it can be taken more prosaically, my understanding of the concept (if not the exact wording), is from religious philosophy, and I suspect that is how it's intended by Patrick. I would define it, very (very) loosely, as suggesting that we would behave a lot better if we could see things from God's view -- that the world does not inherently contain conflict and evil and sin, but that people create those via their mistaken, human-flawed behaviors and beliefs. Kind of a WWJD kinda thing, if you like.

Anyway, does anybody know the actual origin and context of the phrase, or if it's original, any clue as to whether Patrick intends it as I've taken it?

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