Links from recent weeks, on political themes. The point, as always, isn’t to rag on Republicans or conservatives, it’s to collect case studies on epistemology: how and why people believe what they do. More and more, Republicans and conservatives have jumped the shark, and it’s obvious to everyone but themselves (see Thomas Clay Jr. post next).
Salon, 21 June: Why Tucker Carlson loves UFOs: Jason Colavito on the hidden links between conspiracy theories. Subtitled, There’s immense overlap, Colavito says, between QAnon believers, UFO enthusiasts and Donald Trump’s superfans
The American people live in the same country. That does not mean they share a common reality. This inability to agree upon basic empirical facts and the nature of the truth is undermining the country’s democracy.
Moreover, a type of collective malignant narcissism, in which entire communities of people believe that their opinions supersede empirical reality and scientific fact, is undermining America’s present and future prosperity, stability and freedom, not to mention the basic health of our society.
Washington Post, 24 June: Opinion: Red states are dangerous to Americans’ health, by Jennifer Rubin.
The Southern states that are most resistant to vaccines are breeding grounds for variants/mutations of Covid-19. The virus can’t mutate unless it has hosts to propagate it.
In other words, a significant segment of Americans lives in a make-believe world. They are convinced that the election was stolen and that their cult leader is the legitimate president. That mind-set is a clear threat to our democracy, but it also appears to be dangerous to its adherents’ health and survival. Their delusions hurt all Americans, but no group more than the MAGA cult in the South.
NY Times, 26 June: The Cruel Logic of the Republican Party, Before and After Trump, by Adam Sewer (author of The Cruelty Is the Point).
Donald Trump has claimed credit for any number of things he benefited from but did not create, and the Republican Party’s reigning ideology is one of them: a politics of cruelty and exclusion that strategically exploits vulnerable Americans by portraying them as an existential threat, against whom acts of barbarism and disenfranchisement become not only justified but worthy of celebration. This approach has a long history in American politics. The most consistent threat to our democracy has always been the drive of some leaders to restrict its blessings to a select few.
NY Times, 1 July, David Brooks: How to Destroy Truth.
Great nations thrive by constantly refreshing two great reservoirs of knowledge. The first contains the knowledge from the stories we tell about ourselves.
This goes to my PC about how people live by stories.
The second reservoir of knowledge is propositional knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge we acquire through reason, logical proof and tight analysis. Some of this knowledge is empirical knowledge that can be established by carefully using evidence. No, the 2020 election was not stolen. Some of this knowledge is contained in powerful ideas that can be debated: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
With discussion of the new Jonathan Rauch book. Then,
These are the same principles as those of the scientific method. An individual may be dumb, Rauch notes, but the whole network is brilliant, so long as everybody in it adheres to certain rules: No one gets the final say (every proposition might be wrong). No claim to personal authority (who you are doesn’t determine the truth of what you say, the evidence does). No retreat to safety (you can’t ban an idea just because it makes you feel unsafe).
And again about living lives based on stories:
Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by a moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.
Salon, 7 July, Amanda Marcotte: Tell them sweet little lies: Entitlement and delusion are the driving force behind GOP tantrums. Subtitled, From silencing American history to embracing Trump’s Big Lie, the right is waging all-out war on reality itself.
The title is sufficient.