Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hello again

I've had some serious writer's block -- at least in this venue, not so much elsewhere -- and now I have George Soros to to explain it for me. This is from his essay in the New York Review of Books called "My philanthropy." The first part is what the title says it is, and more -- an explanation not only of what he's been doing with his considerable charitable donations, but how he is structuring the foundation he will leave behind. It seems an honorable gesture. But then he more or less jumps the rails, and much for the better, I would say, and talks about current U.S. politics:

[My mentor Karl] Popper had argued that free speech and critical thinking would lead to better laws and a better understanding of reality than any dogma. I came to realize that there was an unspoken assumption embedded in his argument, namely that the purpose of democratic discourse is to gain a better understanding of reality. It dawned on me that my own concept of reflexivity brings Popper’s hidden assumption into question. If thinking has a manipulative function as well as a cognitive one, then it may not be necessary to gain a better understanding of reality in order to obtain the laws one wants. There is a shortcut: “spinning” arguments and manipulating public opinion to get the desired results. Today our political discourse is primarily concerned with getting elected and staying in power. Popper’s hidden assumption that freedom of speech and thought will produce a better understanding of reality is valid only for the study of natural phenomena. Extending it to human affairs is part of what I have called the “Enlightenment fallacy.”

As it happened, the political operatives of the Bush administration became aware of the Enlightenment fallacy long before I did. People like me, misguided by that fallacy, believed that the propaganda methods described in George Orwell’s 1984 could prevail only in a dictatorship. They knew better. Frank Luntz, the well-known right-wing political consultant, proudly acknowledged that he used 1984 as his textbook in designing his catchy slogans. And Karl Rove reportedly claimed that he didn’t have to study reality; he could create it. The adoption of Orwellian techniques gave the Republican propaganda machine a competitive advantage in electoral politics. The other side has tried to catch up with them but has been hampered by a lingering attachment to the pursuit of truth.

And that's why it has been difficult for me to keep up the energy and quality here. In a society where truth has no power and no honor, it just feels futile. Well, don't fear for me, I'll be over it by tomorrow morning. I just thought I'd let y'all know.

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