Vox: America is facing an epistemic crisis

If I wanted to sound trite, I could say there are two types of people in the world: those who understand epistemology, and those who don’t care.

Growing up, I was always taught not to argue with stupid people. But what no one ever taught me was what I’m supposed to do instead, if you have to live with them, work with them, be governed by them, as we all invariably do.

It’s like back in school when the class bully calls you a stupid, nasty name, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Ignore them, get angry, even defend yourself with fisticuffs, the damage is still done. Now the bully is in the Oval Office and the Boardroom, and they’re your neighbours and your family, and the schoolyard is everywhere.

Have you ever had an argument with a friend where one person says what is true, and the other person says what they want, and you both carry on and on and talk at cross-purposes until you’re both blue in the face and neither of you are any closer to understanding?

This article is a brilliantly depressing analysis of all these things in the context of America’s current political climate, which can only be described, meteorologically, as a shitstorm, and specifically the question: What if Special Counsel Mueller proves Trump’s wrongdoing, and we just can’t do anything about it?

Some highlights:

“It is quite simply impossible for most people to imagine believing all the things that would be required to also believe that DC Democrats are into organized child trafficking. … And yet millions of Americans fervently believe these things.”

“Mainstream scientists and journalists see themselves as … neutral arbiters, even if they do not always uphold that ideal in practice. … But the right did not want better neutral arbiters. The institutions it built scarcely made any pretense of transcending faction; they are of and for the right. … They are prosecuting its interests; that is the ur-goal. … That mindset leads to what I call “tribal epistemology” — the systematic conflation of what is true with what is good for the tribe.”

“[The reason] why Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are leaving the Senate [is that t]hey no longer have any control over what their constituents believe or want, and their constituents believe and want increasingly ugly things.”

“There is no longer any settling such arguments. The only way to settle any argument is for both sides to be committed, at least to some degree, to shared standards of evidence and accuracy … If one side rejects the epistemic authority of society’s core institutions and practices, there’s just nothing left to be done. Truth cannot speak for itself, like the voice of God from above.”

I highly recommend you read the article in full, here. And the best thing is, this commentator doesn’t seem inordinately beholden to that soporific, all-too-human need for ‘hope’–he’s not afraid of turning over the bodies.



Atlantic: He was a crook

I was wondering what Hunter S Thompson would have written about Trump if he had still been alive today, and the closest I could find were the words he reserved for the reigning champion of scum, Richard Nixon.

“Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place.”

“I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.”

Thanks you Hunter, we miss you.


Business Insider: Turning conservatives more liberal

Imagine that you’ve been granted superpowers and were suddenly as invincible as Superman — bullets bounce off you, fire couldn’t scorch your skin, and a fall from a cliff wouldn’t hurt at all. Now, let’s talk about how social issues.

Bringing superheroes to science!


Guardian: How the left must respond to this age of anger

Hope, some ideas, highlighting issues, bringing discussion, a step forward. Good piece from Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan.


Guardian: The first social media suicide

In May of last year, a teenager in a dreary suburb of Paris live-streamed her own suicide – and acquired a morbid kind of digital celebrity, writes Rana Dasgupta.


If You’re Not Part of the Problem

It used to be said: “If you’re not part of the SOLUTION, you’re part of the PROBLEM.”

But the tide of recent history, culminating with (but by no means limited to) the election of Trump to the US presidency,[1] has changed all that. Don’t think this was a sudden change; all manner of groups have been trying this for decades. Voltaire wrote in the eighteenth century that it is dangerous to be right when those in power are wrong. Now in countries all across the world, in Russia, in China, in America, in America(!), those in power have finally succeeded in making the human rights activists, the environmentalists, and all those who fight for real freedom and fairness, into the enemy.

So, it used to be said: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Now we say: “If you’re not part of the PROBLEM, you’re part of the SYSTEM.”


[1] Which until the moment Trump entered the Oval Office, despite not innumerable attacks from within and an almost congenital degeneracy, still stood as the pinnacle of our modern, western democracy. Thinking of Trump and the symbolism of the presidency reminds me of Groucho Marx’s comment that “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” I can’t help feel a little sorry for Trump that he is the only person who can never get the irony.

Guardian: China’s threat to freedom in HK

I would wager the argument goes something like this: “There are too many people. Freedom is unstable. And without stability, we will all perish.” Is it ever justified to choose lack of freedom over freedom? What if the only way to survive is to give up your freedom? But, if by choosing not to be free you at least get to live, what is this ‘life’ and is it worth living at all?




They–the pop psychologists and others–say that we hate in others only what we don’t suffer ourselves.[1] A classic example: the fitness instructor who hates laziness. But I have another theory. What if they’re the only ones who can see it? As I’m constantly declaring to anyone who’ll listen and others who won’t, no one can see their own limits–in this case, their faults. It’s simple, biological self-protection. No one wants to live with constant reminders of their failings. Moreover, no one can. Someone who repeatedly makes the same mistake, reminded of it enough times, will despise the complainant and deny the mistake. So maybe it’s not that the fitness instructor hates laziness because she is in no danger of suffering it. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t suffer from it that her eyes are open and she can see it in others.


[1] I write here not of the people who attack in others specifically what they suffer from themselves.[2] I can only they get what they deserve one day, publicly and without mercy.
[2] Though the basis is the same: they also do not see their own faults.

What kind of parrot am I?

What kind of parrot am I? … Better then to acknowledge that what we are is what we have been taught, that done, at least it will be possible to choose our own teacher. I know I am made up of other people’s say so, veins of tradition, a particular kind of education, borrowed methods that have disguised themselves as personal habits. I know that what I am is quite the opposite of an individual. But if the parrot is to speak, let him be taught by a singing master. Parrot may not learn to sing but he will know what singing is. That is why I have tried to hide myself among the best; music, pictures, books, philosophy, theology, like Dante, my great teacher is dead. My alive friends privately consider me to be rather highbrow and stuffy, but we are all stuffed, stuffed with other people’s ideas parading as our own.

-Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies

[more quotes at irepeatinmysleep.wordpress.com]

The Onion: ‘No way to prevent this’

The tragic irony of humour being the only means remaining of tackling an issue that is not funny, not even a little.