Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A worthy review of the post-truth world

Michiko Kakutani, in The Guardian, summarizes ideas from her forthcoming book The Death of Truth. This ranges over several related ideas. It digresses in the middle into literary criticism, which was her job for most of her life, which I don't think is highly relevant. Novelists who adopted a highly subjective voice were not denying the existence of objective reality. But the other bullet points I take from this are:

  • Nazism and Soviet Communism were both "predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth."
  • Today, "disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth."
  • Many interests have been undermining truth for a long time. Right-wing think tanks and corporate interests have invested heavily in denying truth, as have creationists, white supremacists, and other ideologues.
  • The post-modernist movement in academia "both encouraged a more egalitarian discourse and made it possible for the voices of the previously disfranchised to be heard. But it has also been exploited by those who want to make the case for offensive or debunked theories, or who want to equate things that cannot be equated."
  •  Reportorial conventions of "balance" have media presenting debates between real experts and cranks, rather than simply telling us what is true. "False equivalence was the result of journalists confusing balance with truth-telling, wilful neutrality with accuracy; caving in to pressure from rightwing interest groups to present “both sides”; and the format of television news shows that feature debates between opposing viewpoints – even when one side represents an overwhelming consensus and the other is an almost complete outlier in the scientific community.  
  • The Internet and social media funnel people into epistemological silos. (My own awkward metaphor, not hers.) 
So we get Cheeto Benito, Mussolini as clown. As Kakutani writes early in the piece,

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated he’d made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office – an average of 5.9 a day. . . . . If a novelist had concocted a villain like Trump – a larger-than-life, over-the-top avatar of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, prejudice, boorishness, demagoguery and tyrannical impulses (not to mention someone who consumes as many as a dozen Diet Cokes a day) – she or he would likely be accused of extreme contrivance and implausibility. In fact, the president of the US often seems less like a persuasive character than some manic cartoon artist’s mashup of Ubu Roi, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and a character discarded by Molière. But the more clownish aspects of Trump the personality should not blind us to the monumentally serious consequences of his assault on truth and the rule of law, and the vulnerabilities he has exposed in our institutions and digital communications.
And then, to conclude:
 Trump’s ridiculousness, his narcissistic ability to make everything about himself, the outrageousness of his lies, and the profundity of his ignorance can easily distract attention from the more lasting implications of his story: how easily Republicans in Congress enabled him, undermining the whole concept of checks and balances set in place by the founders; how a third of the country passively accepted his assaults on the constitution; how easily Russian disinformation took root in a culture where the teaching of history and civics had seriously atrophied.
Indeed. At some point the edifice of lies will have to collapse, the scales will fall from people's eyes, and we'll have a rebirth of common interest and democratic accountability. Or we will suffer a catastrophe beyond World War II.


Don Quixote said...

Can't think of anything to add to that.

As Shitler would say, "Sad!"

Anonymous said...

It's always entertaining to see the chattering class just make up reasons why they lost. From the article:

It’s easy enough to see Trump as having ascended to office because of a unique, unrepeatable set of factors: a frustrated electorate still hurting from the backwash of the 2008 financial crash; Russian interference in the election and a deluge of pro-Trump fake news stories on social media; a highly polarising opponent who came to symbolise the Washington elite that populists decried; and an estimated $5bn‑worth of free campaign coverage from media outlets obsessed with the views and clicks that the former reality TV star generated.

DOJ IG report said there any Russian interference had no effect on the outcome of the election.

We found that while neutral stories made up the bulk of the reporting (43.1 percent), there were far more negative stories (611) than positive ones (334). Stories on Hillary Clinton were 31.6 percent negative and 22.3 percent positive. It was worse for Donald Trump, with 44.5 percent of the stories portraying him in a negative light, and only 17.4 percent positive.

Bottom line is this lady doesn't know shit from shinola because she's lazy, didn't do any research and just made up something that fit her preconceived ideas. She should have actually ASKED people why they voted the way the did. That's what Salena Zito and Brad Todd did and their surveys show a different picture entirely.

Don Quixote said...

I no longer read the posts of "Anonymous." I found him and his posts to be a complete waste of time, nothing but ignorant, intransigent, invidious, racist propaganda.

Don Quixote said...

The Nightmare Scenario:

... in which the USA sacrifices itself on the corruption of the Republican party and the madness of a sociopathic egomaniac in the White House.

"It can't happen here ..."