Toward Truthiness: "After the Fact"
March 17, 2016 8:37 PM   Subscribe

"The era of the fact is coming to an end: the place once held by 'facts' is being taken over by 'data.'...No matter the bigness of the data, the vastness of the Web, the freeness of speech, nothing could be less well settled in the twenty-first century than whether people know what they know from faith or from facts, or whether anything, in the end, can really be said to be fully proved." Jill Lepore's essay for The New Yorker, "After the Fact," looks at the current state of American politics as a symptom of a bigger question: Whose reality is it, anyway?
In his 2012 book, “In Praise of Reason,” [Michael P.] Lynch identified three sources of skepticism about reason: the suspicion that all reasoning is rationalization, the idea that science is just another faith, and the notion that objectivity is an illusion. These ideas have a specific intellectual history, and none of them are on the wane. Their consequences, he believes, are dire: “Without a common background of standards against which we measure what counts as a reliable source of information, or a reliable method of inquiry, and what doesn’t, we won’t be able to agree on the facts, let alone values. Indeed, this is precisely the situation we seem to be headed toward in the United States.” Hence, truthiness.
And, perhaps, a deep alteration in America's "culture of fact."
posted by MonkeyToes (49 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's extremely worrying. One of the main reasons I moved left from my teenage libertarian days was simply that I started following politics closely during the Bush years, a time when one party was clearly more in touch with factual reality than the other. The more I've stayed on the more liberal side, the more I've seen believing convenient lies rather than inconvenient truth is not the sole realm of the right. It's very difficult to expect good ideas for government when we govern in an alternative reality.

Go too far down that path, like Republicans have, and you can end up with a straight up conman (not as in he lies about his politics, though he does, but in that he literally sells his name to various scams and schemes to make money) receiving mass support. Grifters thrive when they get to control the information their marks receive.

That said, although solutions are unclear to me, I don't think the Internet really dooms us. A lot of this loss of commonly accepted facts is blamed on the end of people getting news from a few broadcast networks who had reasonable journalistic standards. While that is true, I'm not sure they really created a factual consensus that was totally factual. The consensus in America used to be more racist, more sexist, more-anti gay, etc. None of that was based on fact, it was based on fear.

I think we can trust the digital natives of the future to find a better way to forge a more factual consensus with the tools now at our hands. Or else we're probably pretty screwed, yeah.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:56 PM on March 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


we'll act again, creating other new realities
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:57 PM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


we'll act again, creating other new realities

tmotat, I almost made that the title, but worried it would be seen as ancient history, if not something someone maliciously attributed to its origin...
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:11 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It truly is a shame that Jean Baudrillard is dead now. This unhinging of truth from data is precisely his kind of thing...
posted by prismatic7 at 9:22 PM on March 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Other than ideological purity, I can't imagine a bigger trap than wanting to believe something.

The thing about a capitalist market is that everybody is willing to sell you something. If you want to believe something, you're a pretty easy mark.

Messages are worth a lot to the people who sell them. Religions, governments, political parties, social groups.

Reality exists solely in the minds of the people who perceive it. We have something of a consensus reality, but being able to get your facts wherever one chooses enables the consensus to be fragmented. Without a society-wide natural defense, in the form of robust critical thinking, a fragmented consensus reality spirals out of control quickly.

The american education system, as it currently exists, is not designed to give every american student strong critical thinking skills.

This has profound implications.
posted by Strudel at 9:23 PM on March 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


we'll act again, creating other new realities - in case people don't recognize the allusion.
posted by cgc373 at 9:26 PM on March 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Truth is tricky. Really fucking tricky. I liked that article a lot, thanks for posting.
posted by maupuia at 9:28 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is a reality. It's just not anything that can necessarily be honestly described in words or mental representations, so all our words and mental representations have flaws that can be exploited to contribute to the perception that the actual truth or fact of any matter is unknowable and not even objectively real, when it's just that the truth isn't describable using the piss-poor technologies at our disposal. Our words and ideas can always be shown to be false, even as their objects--the things they are intended to point to--remain independently real on their own terms. I think we are getting better in some ways and worse in others when it comes to keeping all these confounding factors to understanding straight. But it's tougher than ever to figure out how to sort the good info from the bad.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is what capitalism does: the more people, across all classes, are made to forfeit their intellectual right, the easier they are to exploit. Science is culpable, because science and capitalism as they are today go hand in hand. So props to the author for subtly arguing that, actually, the Enlightenment was a priori to science!

For before Reason, we had God. And then God died, and we're suddenly on our own. But since Reason is faithless--it cannot defend itself, in the author's words--so people would rather worship money and its promise of power. Therefore, God didn't die; He merely renegotiated social relations through commodity fetishism and capitalist ideology.

The grand idea, the visceral and theoretical attraction, of the Internet (ignoring the factual fact that its origin was sponsored by the military industrial complex) was that science researchers could share within their own community objects of Reason such as the proof to Fermat's Last Theorem with occasional cat pictures.

What they didn't forsee, and what pro-technology elites tend to not discuss, is that the very innovations we thought could help cultivate Enlightenment ideals could also be used to amplify the opposite.

What's worse, there's no stopping it. Technology controls us (just as it always has), not the other way around, and that's gonna be our history.

And that was a totally reasonable explanation.
posted by polymodus at 9:34 PM on March 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Technology doesn't control us. People are behind technological innovations, after all.
posted by k8lin at 10:00 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Technology doesn't control us. People are behind technological innovations, after all.

a runaway horse will drag you to places neither of you intended ... which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
posted by philip-random at 10:08 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


People are behind technological innovations, certainly, but also technological innovations are behind people. Who we are is in large part shaped (if not strictly determined) by our environments, and our environments are shaped by our technoscientific artifacts and practices. I mean not to drop the big d word or anything, but what we're talking about when we're talking about humans and technologies is less a matter of independent agents making independent choices, and more a mutually determining dialectic.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:11 PM on March 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yes, Everything We Know Is Wrong, but I have long come to accept that Science, if done right, gets us "less wrong" and "closer to right" but still requires a healthy skepticism. And the move toward 'Big Data' just reminds me of the book that first fostered my healthy skepticism, a slender volume full of cynical humor titled "How to Lie With Statistics", which essentially stated SIXTY YEARS AGO, that, with enough Raw Data, you can essentially 'prove' anything you want.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:27 PM on March 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


So there are at least three strikes against this book:
  1. The title is frankly ridiculous — a parody of the sort of thing it is.
  2. The book itself is very, very long.
  3. It includes a lot of neologisms and new weird acronyms.
but nevertheless it seems so far (I'm only about halfway through) to be the most thoughtful account I've yet read of how we understand scientific practice (alongside other modes of practice — religious, legal, economic, and so forth), and how those practices and the institutions built up around them relate to ideas like truth.

here's a review that describes it slightly better than I can.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:54 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


What we're talking about when we're talking about humans and technologies is less a matter of independent agents making independent choices, and more a mutually determining dialectic.

Yes; we are all actors in a network.
posted by k8lin at 11:07 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


except we're not actors, not exactly. and the network isn't a network. and no one's got a really good theory of it yet.

But aside from that actor-network theory has a lot of things to recommend it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:22 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


What they didn't forsee, and what pro-technology elites tend to not discuss, is that the very innovations we thought could help cultivate Enlightenment ideals could also be used to amplify the opposite.

I would prefer to say, "It's made of people!" The oppression is us, not the means we use to enforce it. I assure you, oppression worked just as well pre-Enlightenment with low wage earners and clubs in pre-literate societies.

To echo some others, systems merely are. If our systems are failing us, it's because we made them in our own image. To say it's anything other than us acting out our own worse impulses is to abdicate responsibility. If technology controls us, it's because we're welcoming it. It's no more effective than belief systems, cults, etc. To abuse another quote, "The human organism always worships. First, it was the gods, then it was fame (the observation and judgement of others), next it will be self-aware systems you have built to realize truly omnipresent observation and judgment."

After all, this trend isn't replicating itself perfectly across all societies with the same (nominal) freedoms and access to the same technologies.
posted by Strudel at 11:44 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


If technology controls us, it's because we're welcoming it.

Try that proposition with any of [biology, geography, weather, the economy] in place of "technology" and see if it still reads like a useful proposition.

I mean, it's not that I don't share some of that sense of abdicated responsibility, but c'mon.
posted by brennen at 1:14 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


apparently not just politics and culture...
Beyond Experiment: Why the scientific method may be old hat - "[Sean] Carroll has explained his views in more detail here, arguing that falsifiability is an idea that needs to be retired, to be replaced by 'empiricism'. 'Empiricism' seems to mean 'ability to account for the data', with 'the multiverse did it' an acceptable way to account for data, even if not falsifiable."

what would hilary putnam say... about the fact/value dichotomy? perhaps liquid, eigendemocracy with quadratic voting to get us to elect a doge or a futurological congress of contingent consensys reality :P

what we're talking about when we're talking about humans and technologies is less a matter of independent agents making independent choices, and more a mutually determining dialectic

simultaneously determined even... i was just thinking about this comment on alphago about how we and, by extension 'our' tools and machines, are the products of millions if not billions of years of evolution,* so from a 'timeslice' perspective -- letting go of individual temporal identity, or at least loosening its grip, for a moment -- i think it's easier to remember we exist on a continuum if we think of ourselves more as a 'superorganism' (much less a 'superintelligent' one ;)

And the move toward 'Big Data' just reminds me of the book that first fostered my healthy skepticism, a slender volume full of cynical humor titled "How to Lie With Statistics", which essentially stated SIXTY YEARS AGO, that, with enough Raw Data, you can essentially 'prove' anything you want.

look out for cathy o'neil's 'Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy' this fall!
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this shocking book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his race or neighborhood), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

Tracing the arc of a person’s life, from college to retirement, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. Models that score teachers and students, sort resumes, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health—all have pernicious feedback loops. They don’t simply describe reality, as proponents claim, they change reality, by expanding or limiting the opportunities people have. O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for how their algorithms are being used. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
---
*like even tho our individual brains are relatively more 'data efficient' than computers, we've collectively had much more time and selection/survivorship bias to have honed our particular cognitive abilities -- to whatever their current 'level' is -- which of course we have yet to understand!
posted by kliuless at 1:23 AM on March 18, 2016 [16 favorites]


I remember being at that awkward age when I started to apply critical thinking to things I was told, and asking a English teacher at school why we weren't being taught how to parse, say, advertising - something that seemed to me then more interesting and useful than dissecting the Porter scene in Macbeth. Don't worry, he said, it'll all make sense.

I now know what he meant. A school that taught critical thinking to young people would not survive for long; if the teachers didn't quit because their chargers were questioning everything they were taught, then the place would be burned down by angry parents or shut down by very unamused politicians. You teach, you parent and you govern through story, which is to say metaphor, and there is no story or metaphor that cannot be poisoned through too much questioning.

Shakespeare knew this, and how to protect against it. The Protestant reformers did not know this, and could not protect against it - they thought that there was one Truth, and that every individual was equipped and motivated to find it, and that all you had to do was present the evidence and everything would naturally crystallise into one beautiful society in peace and harmony united in a love of God as revealed through the Bible.

Guess which is still taught in schools.

The answer, if you worry about bad or misinformed people taking harmful action because they can not or will not 'face up to facts', is to tell better stories then they do. I happen to believe, and that quite fervently, that science and critical thinking and skepticism tells some of the very best stories, for all sorts of reasons, but they don't do that by themselves - that's our job.

We think in story, we exist in story, we are story. That IS our reality. Tell good ones, battle bad ones, always remember the reader - do that, and you'll send spacecraft to Pluto, feed the hungry and make humanity a better place to be.
posted by Devonian at 2:59 AM on March 18, 2016 [42 favorites]


Marx called it ideology. Much simpler than truthiness. In every age the ruling ideas are those of the ruling classes.

Here's the thing: reality believes in US. Denying factual reality is maladaptive behavior. Eventually the climate change deniers will be inundated too.

Fuck our species, though. Big brains turn out to have a downside. Time to give the roaches a chance.
posted by spitbull at 3:07 AM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also meant to say: white privilege is the ultimate black box.
posted by spitbull at 3:10 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


After all, this trend isn't replicating itself perfectly across all societies with the same (nominal) freedoms and access to the same technologies.

Unless you count Nigel Farage and David Cameron in the UK, Marine Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry in Germany, Golden Dawn in Greece, the PVV in the Netherlands, and so on. Anti-vaxx started in the UK; Euroscepticism relies on many of the same canards (as does pro-bankster Eurouninionism).

I now know what he meant. A school that taught critical thinking to young people would not survive for long; if the teachers didn't quit because their chargers were questioning everything they were taught, then the place would be burned down by angry parents or shut down by very unamused politicians. You teach, you parent and you govern through story, which is to say metaphor, and there is no story or metaphor that cannot be poisoned through too much questioning.

And this is why involvement in local school board elections is important.

But as your commentindicates, Macbeth might fit very well with an analysis of more modern kinds of political propaganda: "Look at how entertainment can be used to revise history," a good instructor might point out. "Can you think of any present-day examples? How does the Porter scene resemble the way cheap laughs are used to hide these other purposes? Why is the Porter the clown, and not the aristos? Are any truths escaping the propaganda element in the form of subversive comedy? Can you think of any present-day examples like this?"
posted by kewb at 4:31 AM on March 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Truth, poor girl, was nobody's daughter.
She took off her clothes and jumped into the water.

I don't know if it was written by or just used by Dorothy L. Sayers in "The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will", but I find myself muttering it to myself all the time.
posted by dannyboybell at 4:41 AM on March 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


We've gotten very smart as a species, but we haven't gotten very wise...
posted by blue_beetle at 4:43 AM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not done yet but I just got to the part where the author talks about the idea of a fact being an invention that was required when Trial by Ordeal was outlawed.

I just wanted to mention that the roman empire had more lawyers per capita than we do (according to my "facts")
posted by rebent at 4:43 AM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes; we are all actors in a network.

This would explain why I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:22 AM on March 18, 2016 [12 favorites]


the movement of judgment from God to man wreaked epistemological havoc.

This is slowly changing, it's unlikely that any legislative body would consider forcing the value of pi to be exactly 3.14. And the fight for president is for the ability to tweak the scraps of a budget, somewhere around 95% of the federal monies are allocated, but that few tenths of a percent of a trillion make you friends!

The folks that skipped studying what epistemology means (see what I did there :-) are building robots and spaceships. The first "Trillionare" is right now this minute as you read this thinking about mining asteroids not if the silly bloviating about polish workers has an element of truth.

The story that folks tell themselves and others rolls with pragmatism, the Czar would have given all his expensive eggs for one trip to the catscaner. There are a metricboatload of poverty stricken with 64in high def tv's that would have left that same Czar in awe. Do the stories matter? Do the trillionaires with estates on two different planets and a private asteroid care about the marine park once known as Florida?

I'm sure there are evangelicals and other wack jobs that are pro-Trump for ideological reasons but I bet the majority are vastly more pragmatic along the lines of "Oh hell let's just roll a different set of dice".
posted by sammyo at 5:41 AM on March 18, 2016


it's unlikely that any legislative body would consider forcing the value of pi to be exactly 3.14

Sorry to say...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill
posted by Billiken at 6:33 AM on March 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


Shakespeare knew this, and how to protect against it. The Protestant reformers did not know this, and could not protect against it - they thought that there was one Truth, and that every individual was equipped and motivated to find it, and that all you had to do was present the evidence and everything would naturally crystallise into one beautiful society in peace and harmony united in a love of God as revealed through the Bible.

Guess which is still taught in schools.


I do not follow your logic. The inference seems American public schools teach Protestant Christian epistimology and do not teach Shakespeare. My experience was the opposite. Did you write what you intended?

Reality Based Community was an unnamed source taking the piss at an opposition reporter. Fair and Balanced is an actual erroneous ideology advertising jingle. Does anybody claim to promote a fantasy based community?
posted by bukvich at 6:47 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Weird synchronicity: immediately after reading TFA and the comments here, a coworker sent me a message saying "I see that [another coworker] did X. I suspect she meant to do Y. Do you think that she intended to do X?"

I immediately asked myself: Does the coworker who's asking think that maybe I have actual knowledge about the other coworker's intentions, or is the asking coworker just seeking backup for what she wants to believe was the other coworker's intentions?

This stuff can mess with your brain.
posted by tippiedog at 7:22 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


What a fantastic article. Such a nice counterexample to send to the jerk scientists (most recently Bill Nye) who say philosophical thought doesn't have practical applications. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by town of cats at 7:33 AM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


You teach, you parent and you govern through story, which is to say metaphor, and there is no story or metaphor that cannot be poisoned through too much questioning.

Exactly this. The challenge now is sorting out which stories and metaphors to preserve and which to challenge, because even the helpful stories that if accepted might lead us to better outcomes and less oppression can be undermined using the same tools and rhetorical techniques that can be used to undermine harmful stories, and not everybody has honest good intentions and even good intentions aren't enough to know which stories to choose...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:52 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was lucky enough to learn the basic rhetorical principles, in a class to help is see throuh advertizing, in my Catholic gradeschool. Teaching us to question, "Who profits" from a statement did, as a side effect, create some real problems for my religious studies teachers down the road. Worked well for me though, been free for three decades.

Classes on basic rhetoric and how to parse an argument should be mandatory in demoratic societies.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:02 AM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Having finished the article, I do have some thoughts.

The author says the american experiment in running a country based on rational, empericist ideals is coming to a close, with rationality being the big loser.

She says everyone is obsessed with the "truth" but we no longer access what truth is by being rational; instead, it comes from either Googling for facts, or being a bully and making your own truth.

That's the author's logic, anyway. But I disagree.

I don't believe there ever was a golden age of rational citizenship. We lucked out with the founding fathers having been trained in enlightened philosophy instead of being raging despots. But, they didn't give the citizens as much power as the story we tell about our selves claims.

And today, with the internet, I think there is MORE room for thinking and philosophical conversation than ever before. In the 1950s, how many people discussed philosophy outside of a university setting? My guess is: Less than Metafilter does. And have you seen tumblr? the Social Justice movement is philosophy applied. Just because every decision is not come to via rationality does not mean it is decreasing.
posted by rebent at 8:13 AM on March 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


Over-emphasis on empiricism is part of the problem. Our observations can be deceptive. We have to apply reasoning to our observations to make sense of them.
posted by No Robots at 8:39 AM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K Dick)

We need to be teaching his stuff in high school. Nobody gets through English 11 without having a grasp on what it might mean to be a replicant without realizing it.

sewing the seeds the doubt ... the important kind
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nobody gets through English 11 without having a grasp on what it might mean to be a replicant without realizing it.

What would it mean?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2016


For before Reason, we had God. And then God died, and we're suddenly on our own. But since Reason is faithless--it cannot defend itself, in the author's words--so people would rather worship money and its promise of power. Therefore, God didn't die; He merely renegotiated social relations through commodity fetishism and capitalist ideology.

The historical picture is really far more complicated than this. The historiography of epistemology generally overemphasizes the efforts of Early Modern and Enlightenment figures like Galileo who had to overcome the resistance of religion to the New Philosophy of Nature, making it seem like the birth of science was an epic struggle of secular, godless rationality against irrational, foolish theists who looked only to the Bible and never to their senses. What really happened is far more complicated, and so makes for a less moving tale. It's important to note that the greatest advances in scientific thought in the period of the Enlightenment came from two deeply religious figures, Newton and Leibniz, both of whom regarded their mathematical descriptions of the universe as contingent upon its being regularly ordered by a wise God (Galileo, no Atheist, thought this as well). Scientific advance then, as now, is grounded in a certain faith: namely that the order of the universe and the order of the mind are in harmony. That is, that the world can be accurately known through mathematics, which is something that humans come up with, in our heads. We suppose that experimental confirmation is what gives us this confidence, but really it is faith. All induction is based on two basic faiths: first that the experimental scenario is reflective of the rest of the universe, secondly that the universe will continue to behave in the way that it behaves now, and that it has always behaved in that way. In fact there is no evidence that either of these things are true. For example, the historiographical picture of the movement from Newton to Einstein is generally that Newton got it mostly right but certain empirical observations (the orbit of Mercury, the bending of light from distant stars) revealed corner cases that entailed a revision of the theory. But what if Newton's theory was right, and the laws of the universe undergo a slow but gradual drift. This drift could itself be dictated by more governing laws, or it could be fundamentally random and discontinuous. Perhaps things that we do to the world change the laws of the universe in subtle ways, etc. I could go on and on with examples, inspired by Pyrrhonian skepticism. The point is that the essence of objectivity is that there is something outside of human rationality which has the last say. In principle, this truth of this outside is unknowable, but must be supposed. Judgment only functions if we move first from the assumption of objectivity; if this assumption is confirmed post-facto, that doesn't do anything to genuinely ground it, because it quickly becomes impossible to determine whether the objectivity came from ourselves, or from the world. If judgment truly moved from "God to man", then it would cease to be judgment at all.

The second problem with this observation is that epistemological havoc was pretty much de rigeur even during the allegedly stable period of the middle ages when the Church had pretty solid rule over all of Europe. Doctrinal disputes over the nature of the world were heated, violent and often decided by pure force, not by rationality. And not because the arguments of medieval philosophy were fundamentally irrational. Actually they were hyper-rational. Ockham, Scotus, Aquinas, and so on, had fantastically logical minds. But this doesn't prevent disagreement on first principles.

But for the moment we're only referring to the natural world. The world of human affairs is a different story. We can divide this perhaps into history, law, philosophy, anthropology/interpretive sociology, statistical sociology, psychology and biology. Biology and statistical sociology, and a psychology which regards itself as a branch of biology, constantly threaten to transform the study of human affairs into a natural science. And perhaps they will, although I doubt it, for philosophical reasons. For one thing, Neodarwinism involves itself in a fantastic conundrum, because it necessitates that we suppose our rational faculty has evolved from a process of natural selection. This opens up the possibility that the dictates of survival are what govern rationality, not the dictates of truth. It could be that the two are the same, or that rationality is zero sum in natural selection and just sticks around, a spandrel, but if survival does trump truth, it calls into question the truthiness of truth, because that truthiness might change if a different truth is better for our survival.

But the important kind of knowledge we need in the political realm comes not from biology and the disciplines it seeks to absorb, but from history, law, and philosophy. And the former two are most important when it comes to questions of whether someone is a liar or not, whether something happened the way we say it happened or not. And these methods, those of history and law, are deeply and fundamentally rooted in a religious tradition. Interpretation originated in the interpretation of the Bible and so thus so did the kind of rationality we ascribe to history and law. These methods of interpretation work from the TEXT as foundation. There are a lot of interesting questions here, like how we know the text is genuine and not a forgery, etc. But methods of textual interpretation in the present can trace a direct line to methods of biblical interpretation. Even Derrideanism.

The interesting question here is: how does the digital era transform the notion of the text. It multiplies texts, and textual conflicts. It purports to be the authority on texts but is really at the mercy of other, contingent interests. And so on.

I have a lot more to say, but I'm one Atheist who gets super annoyed about the idea that Faith and Reason are in conflict. There is no reason without faith.

There is, however, faith without reason. But that has always existed, and is another topic.
posted by dis_integration at 9:29 AM on March 18, 2016 [10 favorites]


We think in story, we exist in story, we are story. That IS our reality. Tell good ones, battle bad ones, always remember the reader - do that, and you'll send spacecraft to Pluto, feed the hungry and make humanity a better place to be.

stories are evolving (in a lamarckian memetic/epigenetic fashion?)
  • Database as a Symbolic Form - "After the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate — database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don't have beginning or end; in fact, they don't have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other."
  • History of Thinking - "There's one other form of thinking out there that represents the next step in sequential thinking: subjunctive thinking. This might be called 'virtual thinking'; where sequential thinking imagines a line of nodes, subjunctive thinking sees each node as a branchpoint from which a thousand possibilities emerge. The workload of keeping track of all those possibilities is too much for the human brain to handle, but now we have a medium that is ideally suited for subjunctive thinking: the computer. Thus, the computer will permit the full exploitation of subjunctive thinking in the same way that writing permitted the full exploitation of sequential thinking. We are about to enter a new period in the human story every bit as brilliant as that of classical Greece."
Marx called it ideology. Much simpler than truthiness. In every age the ruling ideas are those of the ruling classes.

pierre bourdieu called it 'habitus'
Since this elite has an interest in preserving the status quo, it also has every incentive to reinforce cultural maps, rules, and taxonomies. Or, to put it another way, an elite stays in power over time not just by controlling resources, or what Bourdieu described as 'economic capital' (money), but also by amassing 'cultural capital' (symbols associated with power). When they amass this cultural capital, this helps to make the status of the elite seem natural and inevitable."
oh and also worth keeping in mind: "He did not think that people are robots, programmed to obey cultural rules automatically. Indeed, he did not like the word "rules" at all, preferring to talk about cultural 'habits'. But he also believed these habits and the habitus shaped how people behave and think. Social maps are powerful. But they are not all-powerful. We are creatures of our physical and social environment. However, we need not be blind creatures. Occasionally, individuals can imagine a different way of organizing our world, particularly if they—like Bourdieu—have become an insider-outsider by jumping across boundaries."

And today, with the internet, I think there is MORE room for thinking and philosophical conversation than ever before.

one of the interesting things i think about the internet is how it can erode traditional sources of 'epistemic authority' or whatever -- particularly nationalism -- like i think the apple-fbi debate and corollary payment system battles are just the visible manifestations of a larger 'war of realignment' or 'plates shifting' -- pick your metaphor -- going on between, in crude shorthand, 'wall street', 'washington DC' and 'silicon valley', for where their geographic 'power centers' are located.

so will nation-states fracture or devolve -- like say maybe with scotland or catalonia -- or form some kind of (corporate) 'superstructure' of which the TPP, for example, is one manifestation; the 'EU' another: "What's the EU's secret for transcending nationalism? Infrastructure. April's 4,900-page Treaty of Accession is all about railroads, smokestacks, trademarks, livestock, fertilizer, cosmetics, glassware, footwear – everything it will take to level the playing field across a consumer population of 450 million people."

both/neither?

but then also, as the EU is finding, global migration -- from failed/illiberal states -- is accelerating the whole 'sorting' process from an exit, voice and loyalty perspective, and while political accommodations will be reached, how brittle or durable they are remains to be seen... i guess one consolation is we're all in the 'experiment' and finding out and contributing to -- remember bourdieu -- how it works (or doesn't!) together :P
posted by kliuless at 10:42 AM on March 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


I generally agree with rebent.

We know more today than we ever have in the past. The nature and extent of communication is expanding. More data means more noise, but it also means more signal.

The means of justification and the grounds for belief vary with the facets of life. Consider the way language is employed in mass media, politics, science, academia, business, and the arts. It serves particular purposes. Mass communication and access to information has perhaps resulted in a degree of equalization (or, more pessimistically, perhaps hegemonization or equivocation) of language. This may explain some of the author's frustrations with the uncertain meanings of "facts" and the "truth" in public discourse. Climate change is a demonstrated phenomena in the scientific community, but it is an inconvenient truth for many in the political and business community.

However, knowledge still means justified true belief regardless, and I think we are closer to the "fact" than ever before.
posted by ageispolis at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nobody gets through English 11 without having a grasp on what it might mean to be a replicant without realizing it.

What would it mean?


that everything you've come to accept about the reality of your existence is wrong. your parents aren't your parents. you're memories were implanted. you're a construct, made in a lab.

the key here is the imposition of doubt.

Reading what I have of this thread and the article it links to and reflecting on so much of the weirdness that's been going down of late in the name of current events -- the thing that scares me most isn't all the chaos-confusion-whatever, it's that some people are negotiating it all with little or no doubt. Whatever model they've settled on as to "what's really going on" -- they're committed to it.
posted by philip-random at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


Truth is the shortest distance between two points. But it doesn't always feel like it is.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:28 PM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Technology controls us (just as it always has), not the other way around, and that's gonna be our history.

Lately I've been thinking (with Agent Smith in mind) that it doesn't matter who's in control; it's more like technology infests us without our knowledge. What we see is shiny technology and automated bank transfers, what's behind that is a whole set of digital relationships that we can't really understand until after the fact.

Because:

I don't believe there ever was a golden age of rational citizenship.

And yet the idea that we can rationalize our way out of any problem seems to be ingrained in society. Partly that's because we're lazy, and technology puts all this delightful stuff at our fingertips. Before long we're committed to it and can't remember why we'd bother to get up and do that thing for ourselves. This article about Extropians from the Kim Suozzi cryonics thread a couple of days ago is a great example of how invested people can get in technology that doesn't even exist.
posted by sneebler at 3:56 PM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


The interesting question here is: how does the digital era transform the notion of the text. It multiplies texts, and textual conflicts. It purports to be the authority on texts but is really at the mercy of other, contingent interests. And so on.

But isn't that precisely this topic? The world is increasingly secular, and yet people are asked to place their faith in actual capitalism: God is merely unconscious. Worse, science and technology are accomplices, not the antidote. "Enlightenment values" was supposed to be an antidote, but as far as I know, its bearers continue to dwindle in face of this assault of anti-intellectualism—as described by the author. I think these are some of the "contingent interests", in abstract form, that you speak of. Thus, that was my deep and personal concern, as expressed in my original comment, as lightheartedly as I could put it. Based on the article, I don't see only the interesting questions here; I saw also terrible/important/looming problems, everywhere!

I have a lot more to say, but I'm one Atheist who gets super annoyed about the idea that Faith and Reason are in conflict. There is no reason without faith.

May I politely point out that perhaps these two sentences perform the very conflict you seek to deny…
posted by polymodus at 3:25 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Go too far down that path, like Republicans have, and you can end up with a straight up conman (not as in he lies about his politics, though he does, but in that he literally sells his name to various scams and schemes to make money) receiving mass support. Grifters thrive when they get to control the information their marks receive.

How the Media Enabled Donald Trump by Destroying Politics First
Nearly 60 years ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin in his seminal book The Image described a society in which things were increasingly staged expressly for the media without any intrinsic merit of their own – things like photo ops, press conferences, award ceremonies. He labeled these “pseudo-events” because they only looked like real events, while being hollow inside. And Boorstin defined pseudo-people too – people whose activities, as he put it, had no intrinsic value either. He called them “celebrities,” and he defined them as people who were known for being well-known.

...

Donald Trump was born for this. If he is the heir to our first pseudo-campaign, he is also our first pseudo-candidate because he is, in Boorstin’s terms, a celebrity who stands for little besides his celebrity, which doesn’t mean that he isn’t potent. He is. It just means that he is not held to the standards to which politicians have been traditionally held, not because, as Rubio would have it, the media benefit financially from the drama that surrounds him, though clearly they do, but because they treat him like a celebrity and not a real political candidate. Celebrities aren’t expected to be substantive.
posted by homunculus at 6:01 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]






Žižek: Don't Act. Just Think.

"Capitalism is more an ethical/religious category for me."
posted by sneebler at 4:51 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


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