Post-Truth and The End of a Political Era

Journalism’s end?

It would appear that with an increase in disillusion of public opinion toward governments and media outlets, brought in by the cynicism of progressives and left-wingers as well as right-wingers toward their respective political representatives, we’re soon going to stop seeing such widespread respect for journalism. Rather, we will probably give more respect to independent journalism and if need be, individual reporting of events.

It might be that by ushering in a new era of anti-democratic institutions, the new establishment brought in by Trump might actually unwittingly beget a new era of information proliferation. I’m thinking of the democratization of journalism, as being the affair of every citizen in the civilized world. This would be in tune with democratic principles of the ancient city-states of Greece. It may not be branded as such when it will start to occur, but as corporate journalism is finally being pointed at for its incongruities and its bias toward specific political playgrounds, we are likely to see that happen more and more.

Take with that the diminished interest in mass-media, such as televised talk-shows and the rise of platforms like Netflix, which encourage the personalization and customization of what we, as individuals wish to see, without the constant advertisements permeating our screens. I can see the arrival of a device like HoloLens as being part of this democratization, where we will be capable of seeing things other people are doing live, in front of us. It won’t be the same as demanding expert opinion: You’ll literally have other people weighing in WITH you on the legitimacy of this or that subject.

Something a website like Wikipedia is already doing, by pitting various different points of view to give a bit more pep to its objectivity angle. As I said above, with the end of mass-media, and the reliance on social media by most people, the World Wide Web will have to become this new platform for democracy, managed by the people, for the people. A forum not unlike that of the Athenian assemblies. Those with the most information and the best arguments will orient the people, not individual experts being put on air on CNN.

A sentiment of true equality among citizens may actually emerge out of such an ideal.

Left vs Right?

If my estimation is correct, there is going to be a dissolution of political identifications as “left” and “right”. Simply because the many ideas that will be discussed will have to reach across both ends of the aisle, to be given creedence. In these times of great unrest, bridges simply must be built across the spectrum. We no longer can afford to sit on our positions and be closed to one another. While the left is concentrating on the facts, which is rationally the best thing to do in order to make decisions, the politicians on the right know this and let the left bother with facts, while they bother with values.

What value do facts have when you can shove moral statements down people’s throats? While Hillary Clinton was making a poorly-worded statement about switching to clean energies, Trump capitalized on the part of her speech which held the words: “I’m going to put the Coal Business and Coal miners out of a job.” When all that was really meant was that she’d move those businesses and miners to green energy jobs. Yet, that is all that the right need to get votes, because they go on moral values, not ethics or indeed facts (not strictly, anyway).

It’s self-evident that the left can resort to similar thought-processes, it works much better with the right than it does the left, and the left tends to look at things on an intellectual basis, something the right does not. In America, left vs right tends to be “intellectual vs anti-intellectual”, and when you look at the economic circumstances between both, you find yourself unsurprised to see who has the most anti-intellectual stances.

The coal workers have steadily been put out of a job over the last years, as green energy rolled through, but they were never given a switch by any of the governments that came through. So, when Trump went with the “nearest” solution, which was to bring their coal jobs back, of course these people voted for him. The moral thing is to get these people out of poverty, not let them stay in it. That’s why the left’s facts pale in comparison to the galvanizing and perfectly articulated right-wingers’ speeches.

We can give figures, we can tell the right that so and so is as it is because of specific phenomena… But in the end, what they really want to hear is that their problems are genuine and need to be addressed. It’s not the facts that will sway, not the facts that disagree with right-wing ideology. Similarly, the right cannot make the left sway toward its own end, because the left views things in collectivist worldviews, while the right focuses on the individual.

Whatever short-sightedness the left has, the right compensates through traditional morality. In this article from the group Salon, George Lakoff, one of the founding fathers of cognitive linguistics, outlines why left-leaning talking points don’t appeal to right-leaning listeners. He opposes two moral dialectics.

Strict or Nurturing Parent?

What we are missing, Lakoff says, on the left, is the idea of “values” – rather, traditional moral values. Quoting from the article:

They’re missing the idea that many Americans who depend on health care, affordable health care, for example, have strict-father positions and voted for Trump against their interests. And this is something has been known for ages, that a lot of poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are. 

src: http://www.salon.com/2017/01/15/dont-think-of-a-rampaging-elephant-linguist-george-lakoff-explains-how-the-democrats-helped-elect-trump/

Taking this simple quote, what can this say about the strict-parent position? Values shape political opinions of those who voted for Trump. It is not about the facts, it is about someone who votes according to their values. Facts cannot change this lean in opinion, it must be done via demonstration that Trump’s values do not in fact align with theirs. They want someone who acts strongly against injustice, not a sooth-sayer. So, when you have a man like Trump facing off against a known sooth-sayer like Clinton, the result is that those who are unfortunately looked down upon by the left will vote for the man they identify with.

It’s quite hard to identify with someone who speaks from a position of academia for them, as because they haven’t got the same luck Clinton has had, they feel she is in a better position to obscure the landscape and stab them in the back. Trump, on the other hand, promises clear-cut things that cannot be interpreted. They are what they are, he speaks the truth they want to hear. It does not matter whether this truth is true or not, at this point. It resonates with them. Politics, in general is a matter of opinion, in America and much of the Western world.

What about the nurturant parent?

When applied to politics it goes like this: Citizens care about other citizens, they have empathy for other citizens, and the work of the government is to provide public resources for everybody.

If you see here, there is a detachment of self-identity, which the right capitalizes upon to criticize the left. It claims that the left is there to destroy cultural values through opening borders to foreign cultures and letting potentially dangerous illegals inside the country, which would weaken the sense of cultural pride. Of course, sociologically speaking, mutual cooperation is better, but in the political sense, arriving at the dinner table with such a hefty meal is going to make any right-winger skeptic. Questions may go around how is this funded; will my taxes go up; what if other citizens DON’T have empathy for me; what if they don’t want to share?

The thing is, this worldview is a given to the left, but not to the right. “Public” infrastructures have existed since the inception of the U.S., but rarely are they named by progressives when defending public funding programs like the ACA, for example. This lack of explanation of what public services currently DO for the right-wing voter and have done since the beginning of the U.S. apparently goes unmentioned in most cases, says Lakoff.

People don’t see the role of public resources, which are there to run the world economy, to help you in your everyday life, to give you communications, like this interview right now. This is just something that’s never said. When I say this to progressives, they say, “Well, of course that’s true, isn’t that obvious?” The answer is no. It is not obvious, because the next question I ask is, “Have you ever said it?” And the answer is no. The question after that is, “Will you go out from now on and say it?” And I don’t get enthusiastic “Yes!” answers.

Clearly, the difference between the nurturant parent and the strict father approach to morality shape political opinion. It is not enough to provide evidence, actually it may be counter-productive, because you then have to defend why that evidence supports your claim, and then the debate devolves into defending THAT claim henceforth. No, what needs to be said has to be said on philosophical grounds.

My answer to this issue that George Lakoff presents to progressives is to learn once again the art of debating like the sophists of Greece. It is best to question another’s belief than to challenge them with evidence, when it comes to politics, because America has been repeatedly indoctrinated by various presidents to hate specific ideologies that worked contrary to its own institutions. (see: Wilson’s Creel Commission and McCarthyism’s Red Scare propaganda)

They were not facts, they were simply ideas that were being fed to the people, with the threat of a good smacking if they stepped out of line. That sort of reliance on authority is what has shaped Republican politics and it is what has helped Trump get in office, despite the left’s sharpened appeals to evidence. Even now, while Trump is making decreet after decreet, those who elected him are still asking that we wait and see. Why? Because they have faith in him. He represents the strict father avatar they seek. Things will be alright, we all just need a good old kick in the butt and a slap upside the head.

The Socratic Method

It appears to me that the Socratic Method is an ideal tool to bring this to light. Not to convert people to the left, as I believe Lakoff has clearly demonstrated here that resorting to “leftist” argumentation to convince “right-wingers” that they are wrong will only perpetuate the issue further. As America gets poorer and less educated, it is obvious that more and more populations will go the “strict father” route and stop listening to facts and evidence.

Socrates’ method implies to sit down and converse with the person, while hiding your end-goal from them. Ask them questions while aiming them toward that goal. Never reveal your intentions and if they say something utterly false, do not fact-check them on it. Instead, appeal to their cultural identity, appeal to their problems and then question them on that philosophy.

Ex.:

A: “I think Trump is the best candidate because he’ll bring back jobs.”

B: “What jobs are those, exactly?”

A: “They’re coal-mining jobs. I’m out of work and him bringing that back would put me back on the rails. I’ve been cashing in cheques for the last three years.”

B: “Do you think that if green energy contractors came and built a factory in your town, you would still go work there?”

If you see above, B is not trying to alter A’s world-view. He’s just using his own philosophy to make him realize that there are other ways to get A their job back. Now, this is obviously an incomplete fly-over the Method, but if it can help you come up with examples of your own, I’d advise you to practice them next time you come into an argument with someone.

I’ll not hide that I absolutely do not endorse Trump, but I believe this Salon article was an eye-opener for me, as I found most of the time that speaking numbers, figures and evidence hardly ever convinced anyone. It actually made the debate grind to a halt. I’ve had some successes using this sort of mirroring technique, more than I’ve had using fact-checking.

In a way, think of fact-checking as preaching to the choir. What you need to do instead is interrogate and push the boundaries of another person’s beliefs or instead make them realize what they believe to be true is actually uncertain, to the point where they’ll have to think of new possibilities, which are those you may give to them, but never – ever reveal your true intentions.

The Art of Controversy, by Arthur Schopenhauer : Stratagems.

If you want to draw a conclusion, you must not let it be foreseen, but you must get the premisses admitted one by one, unobserved, mingling them here and there in your talk; otherwise, your opponent will attempt all sorts of chicanery. Or, if it is doubtful whether your opponent will admit them, you must advance the premisses of these premisses; that is to say, you must draw up pro-syllogisms, and get the premisses of several of them admitted in no definite order. In this way you conceal your game until you have obtained all the admissions that are necessary, and so reach your goal by making a circuit.

My personal advice is to first get your “opponent” into a position of civil dialogue, so that mutual trust can be created. It is important for me to stress that you should never sound as if you are teaching them something, because they will be able to tell that you are doing what you are doing (see above).

In Conclusion

Philosophy is an art, an art Russell said of “rational conjecture”. As most of moral philosophy is conjecture, I find no method more appropriate than philosophical questioning in order to resolve the left and the right’s false dichotomy. There needs not be a left and a right anymore. I would encourage my readership to try to recognize only humanitarianism vs anti-humanitarianism, as these are the only two positions worth holding in a multicultural world.

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