Category Archives: Communication and Conflict Resolution

Working on My Better Angel

The Blogosphere

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.

Understanding Israel

[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.


 [D1]

Rush Limbaugh is gone and The Presidential Medal of Freedom is Officially a Joke

{With the slightest of modifications, the below was posted in February of 2020}

Rush Limbaugh died this week. One of the worst and most damaging public figures ever to disgrace modern media is gone.  The Presidential Medal of Freedom is now officially a joke. You can note the decline in American culture and the thorough degradation of public political discourse by drawing a line punctuated by those who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom– Edward R Morrow, Jonas Salk, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks– to the current recipient Rush Limbaugh.

Perhaps no person is more responsible for larding American political discourse with hate, factual distortions, and the death of civility than Rush Limbaugh. He is Donald Trump lite. Limbaugh came first; he set the stage and established the context for Trump.

Limbaugh is a rank racist who wanted to make sure that the core of the Republican Party identity was white. Trump’s preoccupation with Obama’s birth certificate was an attempt to de-legitimize Obama, rooted in the fundamental racism of Rush Limbaugh. Trump went after those young black men (the Central Park Five) brutalized by the police with a fury and a determination that thoroughly exceeded what was justified. But these young men were black and that made them an immediate threat to Trump. Rush Limbaugh was blatant about portraying the other side (Democrats) as not a respected adversary but a dangerous enemy that must be eradicated. The other side was, as far as Limbaugh was concerned, irredeemable and must be eliminated. The only appropriate response is to burn with hatred.

Limbaugh continued his racism by labeling any piece of legislation from Obama as left-wing extremism designed to get what they deserved. This played on the fears of the populace by suggesting that an angry minority group was trying to overtake the political process. Notice how frequently Trump compares a legislative item of his own to Obama or the “previous administration.” Trump is more interested in delegitimizing Obama than he is in his own agenda. Again, this betrays his fundamental racism that he can’t avoid.

Limbaugh taught Trump that you can call people names and then laugh about it as if these things were harmless. Limbaugh cruelly told a joke about Chelsea Clinton who was 13 years old at the time. Trump is nothing if he isn’t callous, crude, and feeling deserving of the right to label somebody. He learned well from Limbaugh.

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 successfully twisted the perceptions of journalism and media, Trump has convinced large portions of the population but most of the news is “fake.”

Just when you think Trump can’t do anything more offensive or crude, he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh.

Trump will fade away

There seems to be a lot of gnashing of teeth about Trump returning to politics, building his own party, or running again for office. But Brookings got it right when they identified nine possibilities for Trump’s future: fail in a leadership grab of the Republican Party, unite his MAGA supporters into a political operation (good luck with that), continue calls for insurrection, start his own communication company devoted to misinformation, become the next Sarah Palin, get convicted by the GOP, disappear in a swamp of criminal charges, go to jail, seek refuge someplace else.

I would not worry about Trump’s future influence. He is finished and will not be a significant player in the future. Granted, he did get 73 million votes and that sounds like an indicator of a popular person who could generate a following. But it won’t happen and here’s why:

Trump’s base is small and extreme. They do not represent anyone except for a collection skin heads, racists, and angry macho guys who are full of misinformation and confusion about what it means to live in an American democracy.

Donald Trump is actually quite disliked by most Americans and he leaves office with a 39% approval rating along with polls showing that the majority of Americans thought the Senate should convict him and disqualify him from holding future office. Even though he was not convicted the final vote count was the most bipartisan in history. Trump will be remembered as the instigator of a coup that came close to assassinating the country’s leaders and seriously disrupting the government. He has the lowest approval ratings of any president since 1945.

Most Americans now see Trump as a vulgar talk show host who was completely ineffectual and unprepared to be president. The stories coming out of the White House by former staff members are striking in their embarrassment of Trump. He never demonstrated respect for those around him by actually learning something. And it has always been clear from the beginning of Trump’s campaign that he had a distorted sense of reality and little experience in any sort of institution building. This included the debates in which he just tried to disrupt his opponent or use a tactic that substituted bluster and aggression for deliberation.

Talk of building another party, a Trump party, is a pipe dream. Constructing such political movements requires coordination, effort, and management skills that Trump certainly doesn’t have and is not interested in acquiring.

Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud have further detracted from his credibility. His inflammatory rhetoric has been cited as a contributory factor to the armed insurrection at the US Capitol. His childish hold on the claim that the election was stolen is additional evidence that Trump lives in an alternative reality. He believes he can construct the truth just because he says it.

Trump’s victory in 2016 was an aberration and he even made it to the primary ballot by a lucky confluence of circumstances which included an overcrowded primary that split votes and made it easier for him to stand out. He is a defeated one-term president who won in 2016 by a razor thin margin. In 2016 he had a very unpopular opponent and help from Russia and the FBI director. He lost the popular vote and won three key swing states by a hair. They were easy to turn in 2020.

Trump may parade around for a while as the charismatic deposed leader but soon no one will pay attention and he will fade away – as it should be.

Trump and Fake News

 

Mind you, I give Trump no credit for knowledgeable and skilled use of  social media. And even though I will examine his use of fake news this does not imply that Trump has conscious strategic understanding of what he is doing. This analysis concerns new media. The perpetrators of fake news or propaganda can easily find like-minded supporters who confirm each other’s perceptions and pre-existing prejudices. So fake news can become “reality” very quickly and easily. Trump benefited tremendously from this phenomenon. He would take the crowd size estimate at a political rally and deny it immediately claiming the crowd was bigger than the newspaper reported. They, according to Trump, reported lower numbers because they were prejudiced against him and not because it was an accurate calculation. Trump accused the media (e.g., the New York Times) of publishing fake news (crowds were smaller than they actually were)

Fake news is directly responsible for intervening in the civic sensibilities of the state. When Trump tweets that the news is fake, he is redirecting attention away from social goods such as public health, immigration policy, health insurance, or some other social value. This results in purposeful and systematic renegotiation of attention. Often, ignoring certain issues is just the policy position a political leader takes and this is exactly what the Trump administration did with respect to detention of immigrant children, government health insurance programs, Russian spying, and was even part of government’s approach to the Covid crisis.

 

Fake news causes information disorder. It contaminates the news streams. Figure 1 represents three types of information disorder discussed by Wardle (2020). Fake news can be simply misinformation where the information problems are unintentional and characterized by mistakes and inaccuracies that were hard to avoid. Or, it can be somewhat more extreme and be disinformation which is increasingly nefarious because it is fabricated deliberately. Disinformation causes

confusion and pollutes the social media with the intent of deliberately harming others. And the third is malinformation which is intentionally designed to cause harm such as deliberately revealing personal information. The key point here is that fake news, which influences the information environment in some way, is more complex and pernicious in the modern technological world. That some news is user-generated means that the collection and interpretation of such information is already predisposed toward certain presuppositions and power relations.

Fake news takes on a serious philosophical bent because it concerns the distinction between truth and post truth and the destabilization of objective facts. And fake news is particularly insidious with respect to open democratic societies. It has become increasingly important to all forms of social media that, as a whole, constitute the political talk of the culture. Fake news is similar to propaganda and propaganda is distorted political speech. Fake news is thus political speech and the quality of such political speech is dependent on the quality of a democracy.

Consequently, fake news is instrumental in determining who talks to whom and becomes a significant force in the determination of democracies and their trajectory.

Wardle, C. (2020). Journalism and the new information echo system: Responsibilities and challenges. In fake news (Ed.) Zimdars, M. & McLeod, K. (pp) 71-85. MIT press.

How Did We Allow Trump to Happen?

Yes, Trump lost the election. But he got 74 million votes: That means there is still work to do. There has been much analysis of Trump –his style, inelegance, crudity, and manipulation. But there has been considerably less analysis of the audience side of the relationship. What is it about our culture that allowed Trump to thrive and be elected in the first place?

I’m concerned about and threatened by the general intellectual (rather anti-intellectual) nature of our citizenry. Trump was a historical mistake, an anomaly, a monster from another planet, the trickster capable of fooling the creatures that grow in democracies.

Our democracy, and the Constitution that warrants it, is designed to manage and control differences. That’s what systems of control do. Political cultures are composed of differences and those differences can be exaggerated and out-of-control with asymmetrical power relations, or they can mollify differences. And the history of our democracy is one of expanding inclusion; that is, demagogues like Trump are held in check while the legitimate political class tries to understand the makeup of the electorate.

The citizenry of a democracy is supposed to hold primary agency and need to be prepared given effective educational and socializing systems. In a word, too many Americans (shall we say 74 million of them) were easily duped or at a minimum failing the cognitive requirements of sound political decision-making. I typically ask someone who voted for Trump what it was they were imagining. Given his history of corruption, fabrications, narcissism, and moral turpitude what justified a vote for Trump. Usually, and this is the case with the Christian right also, they recognize Trump’s character but do not care. How did we develop into a political culture that does not care about respect for others and generally moral behavior? There are three areas that must change in order to avoid future “Trumps.”

First, our polarization stretches us to opposite poles of opinion. The guardrails protecting us from extreme language and exaggerated points along with poor evidence-based reasoning have come tumbling down. People express themselves more extremely and make it impossible to find common intersections of agreement. Polarization is not the same as disagreement. The participants in our political culture must learn to disagree and maintain respect for an opponent that is an adversary and not an enemy.

Secondly, we have damaged one of our founding creeds which is pluralism. Our anxieties over cultural differences continue to deepen even in the face of calls for diversity in a society replete with messages about respect for differences. Structural discrimination is a continuing problem and will be dependent on civic practices of persuasion over coercion and toleration rather than resistance.

Finally, I have a gut feeling that our educational system is failing many students in the basic practices of democracy especially argumentation and decision-making. There should be a redoubled effort to return to teaching strategies of rhetorical practices and the benefits of evidence-based reasoning.

Teaching public life and the opportunities for an increased unity of public goals is a direct response to the threats of Donald Trump and will guarantee a citizenry prepared to resist the demagogic aspirations of some future Trump.

The left and social justice overreach

 

I have been interested in, and somewhat put off by, that spectrum of the left that considers their moral status to be so fundamental to the principles of the democratic state that they become almost fascistic in their expression and implementation of these principles. The belief that society is saturated with illiberal forces and it is the responsibility of the left to constantly surveil and adjust these forces such that the political system moves more toward equality and ethical pluralism.

In the truly moral political society asymmetries in power and access to resources (both symbolic and material) are to be subject to equalizing forces. In other words, if an ethnic, religious, political, or social class group holds particular power, then that power is to be attenuated.

There are two classes of power, one economic and the other symbolic. Economic inequality is difficult to manage unless the state is described as highly centralized or socialist and the economy is centrally managed. The issue of how centrally managed an economic system should be is the subject of persistent political debate. The political parties typically organize around these issues with liberal parties favoring more central management in pursuit of social goods and weakening of debilitating group differences, and conservative parties relying less on managed government.

 But other inequalities are symbolic and refer to differences between group status and the perceptions of group rank and significance. This is where ethnic, religious, or social class differences develop into stereotypes and distorted perceptions of others and result in unequal groups and the resultant group tensions. So, racist speech on campus is considered harmful because it attacks the goals of education, inclusion, and it interferes with rational discourse. The key issue here is how much difference do we tolerate. And the attempt to manage these groups – typically by changing language – is what is referred to as political correctness or PC. Tactics and strategies are controversial such as speech codes, language policies, and restrictions on how one speaks in the workplace etc.

This is where the left slips into repression operating under the guise of group sensitivity. This is the area of social justice overreach. Pre-scripting in the form of a speech code is nothing less than prior restraint where language and communication are censored first and examined later.

The logical extension of speech codes, prior restraint, and group identity rights is state-promoted conformity. This results in support for the liberal state to counteract oppression and inequalities in the name of justice. The state becomes 1984-ish and coupled with restricting individual liberties rather than increasing them, which was the original liberal goal. Consequently, the left’s attempt to smooth out inequalities and enhance social justice, ends up doing just the opposite.

But it gets worse. In the leftist postmodern conception of social justice anything that claims to move us toward truth or a more accurate reflection of reality (such as science, or reason) becomes disreputable because it is a hegemonic system that is destined to reproduce its own power. Thus, the left has again overreached.

The liberal agenda is noteworthy in its attempt to moderate differences and more equally distribute justice and fairness. And even some sort of soft censorship might be acceptable. But when the liberal left institutes policies and infrastructure designed to forcibly oversee the use of language, that is engaging in illiberal behavior on the basis of the misguided notion that such oppressive behavior is justified.

New Ways to Argue in America

America has always benefited from the tradition of rational discourse. It is part of our political DNA. And more than many other political cultures, we have at least approached the Habermasian ideal of moral communication conditions and the value of the best argument. The bases of American political history – that is, the foundational ideas upon which the nation is based did not fundamentally begin with religious precepts, the divine right of kings, or an oligarch’s economic theories. This is not to say, however, that we are not a religious country. We are. But a country in which Jeffersonian pragmatics and democracy were more important to our founding ideals then kings or religions.

There is no arguing with kings and religions. They have an immovable set of principles and everything is measured against those principles. The epistemology of ignorance begins with moral absolutes and the desire to consistently reproduce their truth value. It is what Jacob Siegel writing in Tablet calls the arguer-commander or that person who believes himself to be the deliverer of justice. It used to be the case that the American tradition of rational empiricism in the political realm sought truth and logically justified inferential conclusions. In the true scientific sense, it was possible to change your mind, be wrong, or accumulate new information that intellectually forced one to change or consider new options.

But the argument-commander, who rejects science for example, emerges more from a tradition of religiosity than deliberation. This new form of argument is populated by people who do not represent the tradition of reasoning from empirical premise to conclusion but consider themselves rhetorically untouchable. For example, a racist who holds a set of distorted beliefs about racial characteristics that he or she considers inviolate, thereby concludes that certain issues are beyond dispute. The person will consider a right to be beyond argumentation.

And holding these moral commandments that are so true they are beyond justification is not the sole province only of the left or the right – although it is more characteristic of the right – because both positions can hold commanding precepts that the arguers are more interested in perpetrating than in some type of genuine deliberation.

Holding a moral-political position that one considers so fundamentally true that it releases him or her from the normal requirements of reason and reflection is related to the polarization in American society.

The basic component of the epistemology of ignorance is that ignorance underscores distortions in thinking such as racism, sexism, or ethnic stereotypes and establishes arguments based on different assumptions; it has the potential to reveal the role of power in the construction of what is known and provide a lens for the political values at work in knowledge practices. Rather, they play a role in promoting racism and white privilege. But ignorance is not simply a tool of oppression wielded by the powerful. It can also be a strategy for survival, an important tool to wield against white privilege and white supremacy.

There are distinct and deep-rooted traditions of rational empiricism and religious sermonizing in American history. But these two modes seem to have become fused together in a new American mode of argumentation that is validated by elite institutions like the universities, The New York Times,  and especially on the new technology platforms where battles over discourse are now waged. Intermingling the technical vocabulary of reasoning with endless moral generalities about rights and truths, held passionately by individuals, results in the corruption of defensible discourse. The arguer-commander is animated by rhetorical purgatory—unremitting racial oppression that never improves despite myths about progress and society as a ceaseless subjection to identity assault. “In possession of justice, the arguer-commander is free at any moment to throw off the cloak of reason and proclaim you a bigot—racist, sexist, transphobe—who must be fired from your job and socially shunned.”(See Siegel reference above)

Practitioners of the new argument bolster their rationalist veneer with constant appeals to forms of authority that come in equal parts from biology and elite credentialing. Again, as Siegel points out “Have you noticed how many people, especially online, start their statements by telling you their profession or their identity group: As a privileged white woman; as a doctoral student in applied linguistics; as a progressive Jewish BIPOC paleontologist —and so on?”

 In the end, the execution of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Treyvon Martin and others is a white supremacy lethal public health issue that should be treated as such. I will continue to make the case but increasingly “I don’t know how to argue in America anymore.”

New Ways to Argue in America

America has always benefited from the tradition of rational discourse. It is part of our political DNA. And more than many other political cultures, we have at least approached the Habermasian ideal of moral communication conditions and the value of the best argument. The bases of American political history – that is, the foundational ideas upon which the nation is based did not fundamentally begin with religious precepts, the divine right of kings, or an oligarch’s economic theories. This is not to say, however, that we are not a religious country. We are. But a country in which Jeffersonian pragmatics and democracy were more important to our founding ideals then kings or religions.

There is no arguing with kings and religions. They have an immovable set of principles and everything is measured against those principles. The epistemology of ignorance begins with moral absolutes and the desire to consistently reproduce their truth value. It is what Jacob Siegel writing in Tablet calls the arguer-commander or that person who believes himself to be the deliverer of justice. It used to be the case that the American tradition of rational empiricism in the political realm sought truth and logically justified inferential conclusions. In the true scientific sense, it was possible to change your mind, be wrong, or accumulate new information that intellectually forced one to change or consider new options.

But the argument-commander, who rejects science for example, emerges more from a tradition of religiosity than deliberation. This new form of argument is populated by people who do not represent the tradition of reasoning from empirical premise to conclusion but consider themselves rhetorically untouchable. For example, a racist who holds a set of distorted beliefs about racial characteristics that he or she considers inviolate, thereby concludes that certain issues are beyond dispute. The person will consider a right to be beyond argumentation.

And holding these moral commandments that are so true they are beyond justification is not the sole province only of the left or the right – although it is more characteristic of the right – because both positions can hold commanding precepts that the arguers are more interested in perpetrating than in some type of genuine deliberation.

Holding a moral-political position that one considers so fundamentally true that it releases him or her from the normal requirements of reason and reflection is related to the polarization in American society.

The basic component of the epistemology of ignorance is that ignorance underscores distortions in thinking such as racism, sexism, or ethnic stereotypes and establishes arguments based on different assumptions; it has the potential to reveal the role of power in the construction of what is known and provide a lens for the political values at work in knowledge practices. Rather, they play a role in promoting racism and white privilege. But ignorance is not simply a tool of oppression wielded by the powerful. It can also be a strategy for survival, an important tool to wield against white privilege and white supremacy.

There are distinct and deep-rooted traditions of rational empiricism and religious sermonizing in American history. But these two modes seem to have become fused together in a new American mode of argumentation that is validated by elite institutions like the universities, The New York Times,  and especially on the new technology platforms where battles over discourse are now waged. Intermingling the technical vocabulary of reasoning with endless moral generalities about rights and truths, held passionately by individuals, results in the corruption of defensible discourse. The arguer-commander is animated by rhetorical purgatory—unremitting racial oppression that never improves despite myths about progress and society as a ceaseless subjection to identity assault. “In possession of justice, the arguer-commander is free at any moment to throw off the cloak of reason and proclaim you a bigot—racist, sexist, transphobe—who must be fired from your job and socially shunned.”(See Siegel reference above)

Practitioners of the new argument bolster their rationalist veneer with constant appeals to forms of authority that come in equal parts from biology and elite credentialing. Again, as Siegel points out “Have you noticed how many people, especially online, start their statements by telling you their profession or their identity group: As a privileged white woman; as a doctoral student in applied linguistics; as a progressive Jewish BIPOC paleontologist —and so on?”

 In the end, the execution of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Treyvon Martin and others is a white supremacy lethal public health issue that should be treated as such. I will continue to make the case but increasingly “I don’t know how to argue in America anymore.”

Farrakhan and the Jews

Louis Farrakhan just turned 87 and his Nation of Islam still represents the best of old-fashioned racism and anti-Semitism. He has more in common with the white racist right then he does mainstream African Americans. Farrakhan takes his battered wrecking-ball beliefs to the sweet spot of anti-Semitism; that is, he blames the Jews  for everything. The Jews, as Farrakhan tells it, have an elderly cabal of leaders who have made the destruction of black children their goal in life. Black economic progress, damage to black communities by Jews, and Jewish secret relationships are all a result of this conniving cabal that meets and plots on a regular basis.

Farrakhan is a magnetic trickster. He has been successful at exploiting individuals and bringing them under his spell so he can manipulatively interpret the history of slavery (that the Jews were the biggest participants in the slave trade) and other historical and sociological distortions.

These tropes about Jewish dominance and secretiveness have been around a long time and they resonate for certain groups of people. Such anti-Semitic conspiracy claims land on receptive ears. In Muslim and some Christian communities such claims serve important psychological purposes.

Farrakhan’s publication The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, which contains his charges against the Jews, serves as a comforting reassurance for some. And while he says that the white race is culpable it is the Jews who are to blame. He consistently tells groups that the Jews were at the rotten core of the slave trade. He goes on to hold the Jews responsible for the Ku Klux Klan (a truly creative point given the relationship between the Jews and the Klan).

Blaming United States for slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws, and the educational and employment structural variables that have discriminated against African Americans for generations, is understandable and defensible. But blaming the Jews! Farrakhan seems to have little use for something as trivial and apparently as malleable as reality. But all this appears to serve Mr. Farrakhan well because once reality is ignored or irrelevant then there is room for new conclusions even facts that better serve private purposes. Mr. Farrakhan, I ‘am sure to his horror, sounds like someone else is currently leading a great nation.

Fortunately, Farrakhan is not a builder. And something like the Million Man March doesn’t count because although he managed to rally enough people to gain some attention he used his speaking time to ramble on about a mystical number when there are so many more important things to talk about.. The march had no follow-up organization and resulted in little more than a momentary pleasure.

It actually is astonishing Farrakhan has the following that he does. But his natural charisma follows him as he is able to attract followers to his doctrine – wait a minute, what doctrine?

 

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