Category Archives: Post-Factual Reality

Intelligence Is A Constant, However Population Keeps Increasing…

I’ve noticed over the years that a good snapshot of my mental health at any given time can be found in my reading habits. Since I am always reading something, usually more than one thing, a casual observer would just see some goober staring at a tablet and assume I am watching cat videos or porn. But it is books that have always been my sanctuary. A relative measure of my overall happiness lies not in the quantity of reading material I consume, but the quality.

I’ve usually got some works of fiction or literature going, and when my life is relatively stress-free and relaxed, I like to read about science and history, philosophy and sociology, even politics and economics. But when my mind is troubled, I gravitate towards science fiction, so it is with some concern that lately I find myself diving into John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. It’s good stuff, but I’ve already read it, so these are indeed perilous times.

I’ve come to the conclusion that our democracy is broken. Sure, it was damaged before, and for a long time our government has been mostly millionaires busily making the world a better place for millionaires, while the rest of us race to the bottom in our trickle-down economy. But our new reality teevee preznit has destroyed any sense of normalcy. His know-nothing theory of governance seems to be to just do or say whatever pops into his head at any given time and then brazen it out when someone points out that he once said or did just the opposite. It is like watching a clumsy ten-year old boy fall down and then, when his friends laugh at him, lamely pretend that he did it on purpose.

Yesterday the Pulitzer prizes for 2017 were announced. David A. Farenthold of The Washington Post won the National Reporting prize for a series of articles detailing how our new preznit boasted for years about giving millions of dollars to charity, when in reality he gave away almost none of his own money, and routinely diverted funds from his charitable foundation for personal use.

…the Trump Foundation’s largest-ever gift — $264,631 — was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel.

Way to give back, Donnie. That’s just the kind of person he is, though. David Farenthold won a Pulitzer for chronicling what anyone who has been paying attention has known for decades. Long before there was an internet for him to scam people with his phony university or his phony vitamins or his phony charitable foundation, Donald Trump was the jackass who routinely stiffed the contractors who worked on his development projects and the banks that financed those projects.

Before he set out to destroy our government by running it like a business, he was the guy who filed for bankruptcy protection six times. Before he wasted 90 million dollars worth of missiles on an empty airfield in Syria in a show of leadership, he was the cretin who brought his wife and his mistress on the same skiing vacation, and bragged about it.

The only people who believe his constant stream of bullshit are the ones who long ago turned their right to think for themselves over to the Fox News Outrage Channel and the rest of the right-wing noise machine. The problem is, that still amounts to millions of people. Here is a brief, pretty much verbatim conversation I had with a co-worker a couple of weeks ago.

Him: [reading a story in the newspaper about our reality teevee preznit taking credit for a company deciding to expand and create a few hundred new jobs] “You know, a couple of hundred jobs here and a couple of hundred jobs there. Pretty soon that starts to add up. He’s putting some people back to work.”

Me: [pointing out a paragraph in the story that states in plain English that the expansion and new jobs were first announced two years ago] “It looks like this decision was made before he even started his campaign.”

Him: [nodding] “Yeah, he’s really starting to make a difference.”

This militant ignorance is what passes for modern conservatism. Half of our citizenry isn’t even paying attention, and half of the remaining half is willfully blind because their team of incompetent, racist greed heads is winning.

I think about a Voltaire quote from way back before the United States existed as a country: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And I worry about what will happen when this administration inevitably goes off the rails. Who will they scapegoat?

Like I said, we are broken. We are an empire on the downward slope, perhaps irrevocably, and it feels like the only thing I can do about it is stock up on ammunition and sci-fi novels.

Fuck The Experts

One day during my recent trip to New Mexico, I was driving along in my rental car with a co-worker, who I will call Curtis. We were admiring the landscape when I said something about how what is desert now was once a river flood plain and the city of Albuquerque sits atop millions of years worth of sediment from the Rio Grande. I already knew Curtis was religious, I just didn’t realize he was young earth religious until he went on a bit of a rant:

I don’t think they have the foggiest idea how old the earth is. They claim they do, and they are just as arrogant about that as they are about climate change. How can they tell me what the climate was 10,000 years ago, and predict what it will be 10,000 years from now, when they can’t accurately tell me what the weather will be next week?

There was more, but this is the part I remember well enough to give a near-verbatim quote. The word “they” is doing a lot of work in those few sentences. It starts out referring to geologists in general, then flips to climatologists in general, before landing specifically on Curtis’ local meteorologist. The written quote of this mini-Gish Gallop doesn’t really convey the disdain in Curtis’ voice for all of them.

I am far from a scientist, but I could have provided Curtis some good information about the methodology behind scientific estimates of the earth’s age. Or I could have pointed out how his tired, old argument against climate change conflates climate and weather, but honestly, the older I get the more I feel that life is too short to waste time arguing with Creationists and other magical thinkers. I changed the subject of conversation.

Curtis is an intelligent man. He did not come to his conclusions through ignorance. As with all ideologues, he chose to believe what he believes, therefore questioning his beliefs is tantamount to questioning his judgement, and will only be met with anger and a tighter clinging to those beliefs. Eventually ideology becomes more than an obstacle to the exchange of ideas, it becomes a barrier to objective reality.

Only slightly apropos of that, I purchased an e-copy of a new book by Thomas M. Nichols entitled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Here is Amazon’s blurb about it:

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

As Tom Nichols shows in The Death of Expertise, this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement.

Nichols has deeper concerns than the current rejection of expertise and learning, noting that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both. The Death of Expertise is not only an exploration of a dangerous phenomenon but also a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.

That last paragraph sounds remarkably prescient, doesn’t it? If no one respects knowledge and intellectualism any more, we could end up with our government run by a dangerously ignorant, astonishingly arrogant, loudmouth blowhard reality teevee con man. Sounds pretty scary.

I haven’t started the book yet. I’m going to dive into it as soon as I finish the trashy sci-fi paperback I’m currently working on. I’m not feeling optimistic that Nichols will offer any realistic solutions, though. We are way, way down the rabbit hole.

 

Winter Of My Discouragement

It’s February bitchez. That means there’s a fresh …uh… face on my Bob’s Transmission Playmate calendar, and baseball Spring Training is just a couple of weeks away. The last two winters here in Misery have been pretty rough, with extended periods of bitter cold and plenty of precipitation, but so far this year, I’ve only had a snow shovel in my hand once, and for the most part, temperatures have been mild. I’ve even been riding the scoot to work some days. I’d be feeling pretty optimistic but for one thing.

A couple of hours north of here, the crazy caucasians are caucusing today. I should know better, but yesterday in the car I listened to some interviews with Iowa Trump supporters, and, as usual, I came away with that weird feeling that someone was playing a trick on me. Either I am being punked or I am on the precipice of some sort of psychotic episode. How can so many people speak so reverently about a carnival-barking, reality teevee asshole?

I’m fully aware that Republican politics have been post-factual for a while, and I’ve been arguing with religious folks most of my life, so I know people are capable of believing some truly outlandish things. But wow! The Donald has somehow tapped right into the lizard brain of our society.

At least three of the interviewees stated that the Donald was going to “take our country back.” As much as I yelled at the radio, the interviewer did not ask from whom.

One guy lamented the fact that, because of political correctness, he couldn’t talk about his white pride without being called a racist. I listened hard and I heard no laughter; I’m pretty sure he was dead serious.

One woman sounded positively giddy as she talked about how foreigners are pouring into this country to kill us, and the Donald is going to put a stop to all that. They really do believe Trump is going to build a wall tall enough to shade the desert southwest, and then send Mexico the bill for it. And apparently they believe Trump can make Mexico pay that bill through sheer force of will. (How do you say “Fuck off, Donald” in Español?)

These are the true believers, the face of the modern GOP base — undereducated, underpaid and angry, looking for some group to blame for their woes, whether it be the niggers, the Muslims, or big gummint. They are in thrall to a tough talking bully who thinks just as simply as they do, a man whose foreign policy can be boiled down to the aphorism: “If you’re not attacking, you’re losing.” These are the people who, if it weren’t for the liberal government they despise, would still be living without electricity and indoor plumbing. You know, morons.