Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum

Vonnegut fans will recognize the title of this post as a singularity in the space-time continuum where all possible opinions are true. That is perhaps not quite the same as saying that there are no facts. Peter Pomerantsev, in Granta, finds that we are living in a post-factual society, a development for which he blames a combination of mendacious politicians, Your Intertubes, and post-modern philosophers.

I don't think our situation is as yet quite that bad. In Putin's Russia, it probably is, but that's because he controls all of the mass media and can maintain a fact-free environment. Pomerantsev invokes the counterfactual, emotion-driven Brexit campaign, but as we know the Brits woke up from their dream the following morning to find themselves doused in the ice water of reality. Karl Rove mocked the Reality Based Community but ultimately, he discovered that he could not create the new realities of his imagination: the Weapons of Mass Destruction™ weren't there, and Iraq did not become a bourgeois republic allied with the West. Donald Trump's fans are impervious to facts but they will discover on November 9 that they are in the minority and their hero is a loser.

I do share Pomerantsev's contempt for post-modernism and it's bizarre claim that truth is the servant of power, that scientific claims are arbitrary, and that denial of intersubjective reality is liberating. And I am as frustrated as anyone by the power of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, which has indeed been amplified by the instant availability of whatever congenial bullshit you are looking for at the click of a mouse.

Nevertheless, sitting here in a university, I know that we still have the tools to recognize truth and a large corps of people who live by them. We may go down the infundibulum soon, but not today. 

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