Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Post Truth

There have always been widespread beliefs that do not accord with reality. As readers know I put all of religion in that category. But post-Enlightenment we've generally adopted a compromise that places religion in a separate epistemological category. Hence for example, the Catholic Church can accept the truth of the claims of physicists and biologists about the antiquity of the earth and origin of species while simultaneously embracing mystical doctrines such as Original Sin which are inconsistent with science.

In the realm of non-mystical, non-religious reality, the mainstream view is, or at least has been, that can be definitively distinguished by evidence, according to agreed-upon evaluative rules. It is purportedly the job of journalists to apply these rules, and damaging to politicians to be caught in lies.

That is not to say there have not been numerous hoaxes perpetrated on the public post-Descartes, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Joseph McCarthy, through the Tonkin Gulf Incident and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. But most people accept the truth about these matters once evidence comes to light. Of course politicians of all stripes sometimes overreach and exaggerate, shade or spin the truth, or hold on to convenient beliefs that aren't really correct. But we've been in new territory ever since George Bush II, as famously encapsulated by Paul Krugman's satirical headline: Shape of the Earth, Views Differ.

Still, we eventually found that no, Saddam did not have Weapon of Mass Destruction ™ and that he was not the mastermind behind 9/11, and even Republicans generally agree with this. But now we're in a new era which is definitely qualitatively different, in which one of the major political parties lives in an alternate universe, and the corporate media's addiction to Bothersiderism prevents them from coming down clearly on the side of reality.

Digby discusses the wacko hoaxes that sent America's Clown Mayor and the Secretary of Sycophancy State gallivanting about the planet at taxpayer expense to try to cajole foreign governments into fabricating evidence. She might also have mentioned John Solomon's fantasy writing for The Hill, which may be Rudy's most important source of inspiration.

But of course it is not just on matters of historical fact that the Republican party has abandoned objective reality. The party also rejects science as a whole. As a group for the Brennan Center reports (one that includes old fashioned Reality Based Republicans such as Christine Todd Whitman and Chuck Hagel):

Objective data and research are essential to effective governance and democratic oversight. But over the last few decades, the safeguards meant to keep government research objective and publicly accessible have been steadily weakening. Recent administrations have manipulated the findings of government scientists and researchers, retaliated against career researchers for political reasons, invited outside special interests to shape research priorities, undermined and sidelined advisory committees staffed by scientists, and suppressed research and analysis from public view — often material that had previously been made available. In many cases, they have appeared to pay little political price for these missteps. This trend has culminated in the efforts of the current administration not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves.
Now, we are at a crisis point, with almost weekly violations of previously respected safeguards.
  • The acting White House chief of staff reportedly instructed the secretary of commerce to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — a part of the Department of Commerce — issue a misleading statement in support of the president’s false assertion about the trajectory of a hurricane, contradicting an earlier statement released by the National Weather Service. The secretary of commerce reportedly threatened to fire top NOAA officials in pressuring them to act.
  • The Department of Agriculture relocated economists across the country after they published findings showing the financial harms to farmers of the administration’s trade policies.
  • The Interior Department reassigned its top climate scientist to an accounting role after he highlighted dangers posed by climate change.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted rules that prevent leading experts from serving on science advisory boards and encourage participation by industry-affiliated researchers.
  • The White House suppressed a report showing a toxic substance that is present in several states’ water supplies endangers human health at levels far lower than previously reported by the EPA.
 Do read the whole thing.

Anyway John Quiggin sums up our plight:

Apparently, one side, based on eyeballing, thinks the earth is flat, while the other, relying on the views of so-called scientists, or the experience of international air travel, regards it as spherical, or nearly so.
In the past, before the rise of partisanship, we would have agreed on a sensible compromise, such as flat on Sundays, spherical on weekdays, and undetermined on Saturdays. Moreover, there was a mix of views, with plenty of Democratic flat-earthers, and Republican sphericalists. .  .


Don Quixote said...

Left and Right can differ. But today's administration and congressional "Republicans" are truth deniers. They are flat-out, out-and-out liars about matters large and small. They exist within the vacuous propaganda vortex known as Fox, and get their information there. Therefore, the government "Republicans" of today are being dictated to by conspiracy theorists, haters, bigots, and corporate greed.

But the funny thing is that when any one of these "Republicans" goes to the hospital or doctors for treatment of illnesses great or small, vaccinations, emergency treatment, etc., they suddenly believe in the same science-based methods that rightfully and accurately warn us of global catastrophe, harmful contaminants in our waters, and help these shitty, soulless people when they or their wives give birth to more of them ...

I say, let's pass an amendment that prohibits medical treatment for climate change-deniers. You can't pick and choose your reality.

John Bachtell said...

I enjoy your posts. I like to read what others think. And on many issues, I may agree with you. However, supporting your positions with radical media sites isn't helpful.

Salon, NewRepublic, CrookedTimbers, DailyKos and similar sites ain't helping any.

The reader recognizes them and will take them with "a grain of salt" knowing they have strong biases. You would feel the same if you were weighing someone's arguments supported by The Federalist or DailyCaller.

Cervantes said...

Give me a fucking break. Those publications aren't "radical," they're highly reputable fact based and in the case of TNR something like 100 years old. The Daily Caller is a propaganda organ that spews lies. There is no comparison at all.

See that's our problem John. Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Don Quixote said...

I don't enjoy reading The Nation as I did when Victor Navasky was its editor. I can't take the idiocy of that "scholar," Stephen F. Cohen, who has learned so much about Russia that he knows nothing. But in the 1990s and earlier 2000s, it kept me informed about what was actually going on. For instance, during the first Gulf War atrocity under Idiot George the First, I knew about the bomb shelter massacre that the US committed at Amiriyah. I didn't read about that in mainstream media till years later ... I knew about the weapons of mass destruction that we were using there (nuclear-tipped anti-tank warheads that made our own soldiers sick, fuel-air explosives designed to flatten the area of a football field, anti-personnel devices that exploded at ground level and sliced people to smithereens); and I of course knew that the woman who testified before Congress about "Kuwaiti children being pulled from incubators" was completely full of shit--hadn't been there--and turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US.

So, this "leftist" magazine kept me INFORMED. I've never, EVER seen a right-wing mag--and now they tend to be rags--that kept me informed about things that turned out later to be true. Their economics are complete bullshit (supply-side will NEVER "work"), and they use language to obfuscate and to create a false alternative to facts.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, You're entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to your own facts. There's only ONE political party that stands to "gain" from telling lies--but in doing so, it endangers EVERYONE'S existence. Follow nonsense and insanity at your own peril.

As Cervantes noted, reality does indeed seem to have a liberal bias. Wish we had a time machine so we could Just Ask Jesus--I'm pretty sure I know what he'd say about today's Republicans! He had a serious bullshit detector. Funny that so many "Republicans" claim to follow him--I suppose it's 'cause they haven't read the bible and don't know history.