Monthly Archives: June 2021
Working on My Better Angel
My own better angel has been working overtime trying to disentangle the actual blame for the partisan divides and nationalistic differences that characterize this country at the moment. From the time representative Joe Wilson, shockingly and disrespectfully, shouted “you lie” at President Obama to the present, the big lie of election fraud has been circulating in the Republican Party. Even the simplistic rhetorical move, which involves labeling something with the goal in mind of socially constructing a new reality, and the truth of the label be damned, has become a powerful force in a fertile rhetorical environment ripe for growth and exposure.
Timothy Egan writing in the New York Times describes America as getting meaner. Tribalism, contempt for the press, intolerance, disinformation, and blatant lies are the currency of the day. Like me (https://peaceandconflictpolitics.com/?s=limbaugh),
Egan traces contempt for the press to Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh was one of the worst and most damaging public figures ever to disgrace modern media. You can note the decline in American culture and the thorough degradation of public political discourse by drawing a line from Rush Limbaugh through modern social media, to the main demographic pockets in the United States.
Rush Limbaugh created the subculture of talk radio. A subculture characterized mostly by anger, name calling, and the belief that anything someone believes strongly enough must be true. The Limbaugh subculture has devolved into narcissism and cults of personality fueled by the talk radio subculture’s big brother – Fox News. Any sensible concept of truth has evacuated. Just as Limbaugh initially twisted the perceptions of journalism and media to the notion that news is “fake,” the Republicans have stepped up their rhetorical domestic terror by turning little lies into big lies (election fraud), erecting structural barriers to political participation (voter suppression), eroding democracy (civil rights violations), and continuing to find new audiences and platforms for communication with new social media.
We have learned more in recent years about the kind of disinformation favored by those like Limbaugh. An organization called the Global Disinformation Index keeps track of disinformation statements by various politicians and ferrets out the data on who transmits the statement online to another blog or website (see New York Times, June 10, 2021 Business). This organization classified different accounts as either “left-leaning” or “right-leaning” in order to track which group ideology was being most stimulated. It became immediately apparent that Trump’s messages were forwarded to others by his followers thus continuing to spread his message. It didn’t matter very much that he was denied access to Facebook because his messages were shared anyway. In these situations Trump’s messages were passed on mostly by conservatives to conservatives. But when Trump criticized the Republican Party rather than just the Democrats his remarks were shared by both the left and the right.
These issues pertaining to how the blogosphere acquires and processes information are now receiving the research attention they deserve.
Fake News and The Semantics of Post Truth
Since the ideas surrounding truth and post truth are circulating again given the polarization of American society, I thought I would republish this from Jan 4, 2021. More on related issues to come.
This enigmatic term – “post truth” – has been around for some time now and it is confusing for most people. Since the Oxford English Dictionary concluded that the concept of post truth was significant enough that it was identified as word of the year in 2016, we are certainly justified in trying to make more sense of it. What does it mean and how did the concept of post truth get so central to the interpretation of some important ideas in contemporary culture? It is no accident that the concept of post truth exists at the same time as ideas such as fake news. What follows is an explanation of post truth and how it informs the notion of fake news.
Briefly, post truth is the idea that objective facts are not so important in shaping opinion as opposed to emotional appeal and personal beliefs. The “anti-maskers who refused to wear a mask or quarantine during the Covid crisis because they didn’t recognize the validity of the science behind immunology or network theory are one example of a group of people who represent a post truth mentality. Some theorists have argued that political policies are no longer developed on the basis of facts and the distinction between fake and real is unimportant. Consequently, democracies become emotional political processes.
If facts become unimportant or nonexistent then they become victims of a strong social construction; that is, it becomes possible to have everyday citizens be the determinants of what gets defined as a “fact.” There is something terribly paradoxical about this. Facts are supposed to be the sine qua non of stable truth. If anything should not be subject to the whims of human emotion and variability, it is facts. How can you argue that facts are pushed to the background and unimportant? Are not facts supposed to be stubborn and true? The answer, within the post truth theoretical tradition, is “no” facts are subject to the same social influences as any other construct and hold no privileged position in political discourse. Facts can be redefined, manipulated, and reinterpreted to mean anything and the key issue is how many converts can I create.
Trump set about the business of delegitimizing the press. Of course, the press is the one institution that holds Trump’s feet to the fire. The single institution that fact checks him, exposes his lies and manipulations, and records his indiscretions. So, it makes sense that he would go after the press and he did so by making the distinction between fake news and real news. Of course, real news was only stories supportive of Trump. Anything critical was labeled fake news.
Facts are under siege. They are becoming highly politicized where people express their own facts – what they believe to be facts or want to be facts – in order to turn the concept into a rhetorical weapon. The term fake news is a good example. It is appropriated by political actors in order to attack opponents. The concept of “fake” is no longer a measurable or precise definitional question but one of political authority because the issue is who gets to control the definition in order to use it for his or her own purposes and is therefore in a position to dismiss others.
Trump’s appropriation of the term fake news is so extreme as to be laughable. A skilled manipulator of meaning will exploit certain commonalities of meaning in order to lend them some credibility. Those who accuse liberals on the left as being socialist have been effective because certain concepts and ideas that emerge from the political position termed “liberalism” do in fact have at least some similarity to positions emerging from theories of socialism. That is why those who attack liberals by deploying the word socialist have been successful. They conflate the two terms (liberal and socialist) sufficiently such that the relationship between the two terms is plausible and the narrower more aggressive and distasteful ideas associated with “socialism” are more easily transferred to “liberalism.” But Trump declared even before the election that if he did not win the process was rigged. He baldly asserted the “fact” that there were election improprieties even though no charge was ever accepted and not a single claim supported.
It is clearly possible to cite more precise meaning and fact-based issues that distinguish liberalism from socialism, but this is not my concern at the moment. Because the role of communication is so central to democracies, these democracies are saturated with disagreement over what is “real” and what is “false.”
of this essay will examine the nature of democracy and how one discourse follows another in terms of how much accepted disagreement it can tolerate. I will clarify how post truth rejects a rational political discourse that results in consensus; thus, post truth contends that maintaining a multitude of political voices, all contained in their subjective reality, is a more accurate reflection of the work of democracies and must grapple with the idea that logical and rational problem-solving is the definitive approach to managing differences, which is the goal of democratic processing.
[D1] No group drags hate around in its wake like the Jews and their burdensome anti-Semitism. Throughout history anti-Semitism has found its way into every stratum of society. From the rich theoretical and intellectual tradition of Marxist ideology, to the ignorant and hate filled skinheads who are the distorted prodigy of the Nazis, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.
Even though there is strong global support for Israel, along with the Iron Dome defensive rocket system, Hamas has been gaining ground in terms of public and international support. Curiously, this radical group–committed to terrorism and illiberal governments–is meeting with success. One indicator of this success is the extent to which that spectrum of the political left, which never met a minority group that it did not consider oppressed, has gathered its forces to criticize Israel and, shockingly in my opinion, defend Hamas.
The response from various faculties around the country is troubling as more universities are unsettled by the Faculty Senate, graduate students, and campus groups of various sorts who want to advance a political agenda. Bari Weiss in her book How to Fight anti-Semitism takes comfort in one thing with respect to right wing anti-Semites, they don’t hide their face. Their goals are blunt and clear. That makes it easy to recognize anti-Semitism where it stands. Now we only have to do something about it.
The quality of the discourse finding its way out of campus meetings in particular is most disappointing and even shocking with respect to its rhetorical stance and subject matter. These documents are full of exaggerated statements of fact, a surprising confusion about Jewish history and culture, a failure to understand Israel, simplistic conclusions about Palestinians as doe-eyed innocents, state-sponsored terror, and disingenuous arguments pertaining to solutions to the conflict.
These failures also come wrapped in some statements that refer to “Jewish supremacy” or the fact that Israelis and Jews consider themselves to be superior to others, a statement that comes perilously close to being anti-Semitic. The world seems to have forgotten that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 removing every Jewish Gazan and leaving Hamas and residents of Gaza to manage themselves. Right wing Israelis warned their more liberal brothers and sisters that this would be a mistake. That Israel would lose security. Gaza has turned into a launching pad for rockets into Israel. And then, when Israel is required to defend itself (a right anyone recognizes), Hamas and those sympathetic to Hamas claim to be exempt from blame or responsibility.
We have here the classic attribution error: Supporters of Hamas conclude that when Hamas is behaving aggressively it is because they are forced to by Israel’s oppressive behavior. Consequently, their violence is moral and just. And when Hamas is being conciliatory it is because they are protecting their citizens.
And then there is Zionism – supposedly a settler colonialist ideology rooted in Jewish superiority that is predatory. The truth of the matter is that Zionism says nothing about superiority and is little more than a statement about the belief in supporting Israel and developing Jewish culture, history, arts, and humanities. There is no long-term plan or core document that lays out the conditions and the principles of Zionism.
The statements about Israel are a form of disinformation; that is, information that is intentionally meant to deceive. The implications of this disinformation are not minor because the spread of disinformation and its introduction into undeveloped countries and audiences that have no alternative discursive possibilities can have serious effects. This is especially true in an era of social media where information travels fast and furious.