Our New Post-Fact World

Again, I’m having trouble getting back up to speed on this blog, partly a matter of resuming a routine that was interrupted by our big European trip in October, but mostly a matter of the election results and the bizarre, post-factual world we now seem to be living in. It is hard to know where to start. I’ve been collecting links, and I’ll start going through them with comments.

For the moment, though, I have a thought about the “post-fact” existence that Trump and has team seem to be enforcing on the country — that whatever they say might be so, that claims from scientists and other experts can be dismissed, that anything anyone think *might* be true has equal claim to serious consideration. Pizzagate, and so on — a sizeable percentage of Trump supporters apparently really do believe that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring out of pizza parlor, a claim the evidence shows was entirely *made up* by some immoral provocateur. That’s a trivial example. More serious are those who dismiss climate change — the best current example of motivated thinking, since those who dismiss it are invariably either supporters of the current energy industry relying on fossil fuels, or people relying on ‘common sense’ anti-intellectual rejection of authority and expertise.

It’s worth wondering, which I haven’t seen anyone do exactly, to what extent any of it *matters*. Immediately the pizzagate example shows how a person alarmed by that fake story might take the law into his own hands and come close to committing violence on others. Worse, imaginary, examples, might be the mobs shouting “lock her up” based on Trump’s repeated innuendo about a case that repeated (Republican) congressional investigations showed did not implicate Hillary — mobs don’t care, and Trump won through appeal to mobs.

And of course the existential threat example is Trump’s, and his selected cabinet’s, rejection of climate science, and presumably the subsequent inaction on the part of the US for some years to ameliorate that problem. As I’ve said before in this blog, I predict the climate change will in fact have devastating consequences, likely by the end of the 21st century, and it will take those consequences to appear before any of the deniers admit they might have been wrong, 50 years after they might have done something about it. (More likely, they will rationalize events and excuse themselves.)

So there are circumstances where denial of reality has grave consequences.

But my thought on this general topic is that most of humanity forever lives in a fact-denial reality — and it doesn’t matter. Most people claim supernatural religious beliefs, many many mutually inconsistent ones around the world over time, and nevertheless carry on their lives and live within societies that function, more or less, with a variety of such beliefs. Many people reject evolution, or cosmology, and nevertheless live out functional, even useful, lives. Human perception of reality is not accurate; humans live according to the parameters of what it takes to survive and reproduce as a human, which is quite different from understanding the real world.

This is one of my main themes, of course, and I will also note how concepts such as confirmation bias and motivated reasoning are increasingly becoming part of the common parlance of national conversation.

The difference now, now that humanity is filling up the planet and affecting its climate and bringing about the extinction of a large number of species — c.f. Elizabeth Kolbert’s THE SIXTH EXTINCTION — is that denial of reality may have real consequences within a human generation or two, that would in fact threaten our own species. (Not the planet. “The planet cleanses itself.”)

Links and comments soon.

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