Archive for Philosophy and Logic
Trump lies the way other people breathe. We’re used to politicians who stretch the truth, who waffle or dissemble, who emphasize some facts while omitting others. But I can’t think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track. Perhaps he hopes the media and the nation will become numb to his constant lying. We must not.
Trouble is, it’s not just Trump. Like Billy Pilgrim, American readers have come unstuck from the truth. Human attention span now is less than that of a goldfish. Our capacity to discern truth from lies is about as keen. The Internet and social media are awash in newsy-looking websites featuring thin, unsourced “reportage” of questionable provenance — newsiness. But it’s easily digestible. As Jeff Goldblum said of his character’s job at People Magazine in The Big Chill, “I don’t write anything longer than what the average person can read during the average dump.” That makes web surfers easy prey for Donald Trumps and disinformation traffickers. When a friend shares a “well-researched” article, prepare for a fusillade of “facts” unsupported by a single link or original source reporting. Goldfish don’t check sources.
Reports out of Greece this week not about refugees and economic chaos say archaeologists may have found in his home town of Stageira the tomb of the philosopher Aristotle. You know, the “golden mean” guy. Wonder what Aristotle would think of our orange mean guy? Or the rest of us, for that matter.
Keeping one’s head has not been in fashion in America, oh, since September 11, 2001. Of late, those who do are – to both the right and left – clearly part of the comfortable establishment that has to go. Sorry, Ari.
Dahlia Lithwick covers the Supreme Court of the United States for Slate. A more establishment institution you will not find. (SCOTUS, I mean.) Maybe it is because she is Canadian, but Lithwick is a tad uncomfortable with the rhetoric of the presidential race. And because she leans left, she is more than a tad uncomfortable with the tone of from fellow lefties. “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!” Linus van Pelt once said. No one can disappoint you like your friends.
Regarding those litigating Hillary v. Bernie, Lithwick writes:
I have been taken up short by the number of comments and scoldings I have faced, from close friends and casual acquaintances alike, for voicing even a hint of support for one or the other in recent months. The tone hasn’t merely been dismissive and furious; the message beneath has almost universally been that I am a moron.
Social media has largely taken over the family-and-friends propaganda market from email. I’ve mentioned my collection of over 200 specimens of right-wing “pass-it-on” emails. You know the ones: the lies, smears and disinformation we all have received from fathers and T-party uncles, the kind with large, colored type and maybe a gif of praying hands above the exhortation to “pass it on.” But in-box Izvestia pretty much tailed off as Facebook, Reddit, etc. gained market share. Sadly, what with email was overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the right has shifted left with social media. Not a good thing. We should be better than this.
In the misty past before the dawn of the internet (1980?), I was visiting the home of a friend who told me with some alarm that I should never buy any more products from the Procter & Gamble company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Its president, she said, was on the Phil Donahue Show and said the company gave money to the Church of Satan. As proof she told me, you could look on their packaging and see a small crescent moon and stars symbol, a “satanic symbol.”
“When did you see this?” I asked.
Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.
That is how people who study psychological resilience see the difference between people who rise above adversity and those who succumb to it. Maria Konnikova wrote about those studies in a February New Yorker article. Coping skills come naturally to some people, but they can also change over time. “The stressors can become so intense that resilience is overwhelmed,” Konnikova writes. “Most people, in short, have a breaking point.”
Something Gaius wrote on Monday grabbed me:
In the FDR-liberal world, the function of government is to provide services to citizens and protection from predators in the private sector. In the neo-liberal world, the function of government is to manage government services so the private sector is given the most profit opportunities possible.
Going back over some notes from the weekend, I recognized the echo of George Monbiot’s critique of neoliberalism in the Guardian. His How Did We Get into This Mess? was released yesterday. Neoliberalism, like many political enthusiasms, morphed from philosophy to religion with its practitioners hardly noticing. Not so for working people paying for neoliberal hubris. They noticed:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
New Yorker tells the sad tale of the latest failed experiment in AI. Apparently (I missed it), Microsoft last week rolled out a twitter bot named Tay:
Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.
Tay is targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.
Uh-oh. You don’t have to be Mary Shelley to see where this is going. After barely a day of “consciousness,” Microsoft pulled Tay’s plug.
Anthony Lydgate explains:
Dylan Ratigan’s August 2011 on-camera meltdown is as close as reality has ever come to Howard Beale’s Network rant remembered in Digby’s sidebar.
What made it a powerful moment was he was right:
Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, republicans aren’t doing it, an entire integrated system, banking, trade and taxation, created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now.
Elias Isquith at Salon this morning interviews Les Leopold, Labor Institute executive director and president, about his new book “Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.” Ratigan called what is happening “being extracted.” Leopold calls it “financial strip mining,” and a far cry from what free marketeers and neoliberals taught would happen from lower taxes and fewer regulations:
Nick Naylor (lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies): My job requires a certain… moral flexibility.
– Thank You for Smoking (2005)
Martin Blank (contract killer): When I left, I joined the Army, and when I took the service exam, my psych profile fit a certain… “moral flexibility” would be the best way to describe it. I was loaned out to a CIA-sponsored program – it’s called “mechanical operations” – and we sort of found each other.
– Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Perhaps it is a class thing. We already know the rich live by a different set of rules from the hoi polloi. One fascinating thing about moralizing by many conservatives is their flexibility about accepting people (among their tribe) who bend the rules and get away with it. If an opponent does it, that’s wrong. If they do it – say, waterboarding or carpet bombing – well, you can’t make an omelet, etc., etc. Beating the system or rigging the game in one’s favor is a sign of strength. Cleverness and guile are the marks of a leader.
So the latest from BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith should have no impact whatsoever on Donald Trump:
“That’s just not done,” people used to say of behaviors that violated genteel rules of polite society. It is not an expression you hear much anymore. “Polite society” is now as quaint as the notion that the United States abides by the international rule barring torture. Like the rule against Ghostbusters getting involved with possessed people, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.
“It’s okay if you’re a Republican” (IOKIYAR) is musty Internet shorthand for how one major party believes rules and norms apply only to certain people and not others. We are beyond that now. Far beyond it. It is a wonder anyone still uses the expression from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Nobody believes it anymore, even at the highest levels.
Writing for Salon, Harvard professor Bruce Hay gives his understanding of how the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia approached science. As a former Scalia clerk, Hay speaks from experience:
New York magazine surveyed 100 Republican primary voters. They were all over the ideological map. The one phrase that seemed to encapsulate the voters’ mood in choosing a candidate is “testicular fortitude”:
The phrase seemed telling. If there was anything almost all of the respondents sought in a candidate, it was that testicular fortitude — or, in less colorful terms, strength. It’s why Trump has steamrolled his rivals despite his ideological inconsistencies as a Republican. And it’s why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have failed to connect: Being labeled a nerd in this GOP primary is the kiss of death; being cast as a sissy is even worse. Machismo even seems to be Carly Fiorina’s best selling point.
This attraction to strength seems to be connected to an inchoate sense that the world is falling apart. The voters we spoke to were concerned about a lot of potential threats — terrorist, economic, and cultural — and hoped that a strong president would protect them from dangers within as well as from abroad. Voters said they no longer felt free to be themselves in their own country — policed in their speech, unable to pray publicly or even say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. “Everything’s so p.c.,” said Priscilla Mills, a 33-year-old hospital coordinator from Manchester. “And then the second you do say something, you’re a racist.” Trump, who had 21 percent of the vote in our small sample, has capitalized the most on the political-correctness grievance, which is likely to surface in the general election no matter who becomes the nominee.