Category Archives: Boston Globe

Conservatism in need of life support and David Brooks is not enough

The Conservative Intellectual Crisis

David Brooks NYT, OCT. 28, 2016

I feel very lucky to have entered the conservative movement when I did, back in the 1980s and 1990s. I was working at National Review, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. The role models in front of us were people like Bill Buckley, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Russell Kirk and Midge Decter.

These people wrote about politics, but they also wrote about a lot of other things: history, literature, sociology, theology and life in general. There was a sharp distinction then between being conservative, which was admired, and being a Republican, which was considered sort of cheesy.

These writers often lived in cities among liberals while being suspicious of liberal thought and liberal parochialism. People like Buckley had friends of every ideological stripe and were sharper for being in hostile waters. They were sort of inside and outside the establishment and could speak both languages.

Many grew up poor, which cured them of the anti-elitist pose that many of today’s conservative figures adopt, especially if they come from Princeton (Ted Cruz), Cornell (Ann Coulter) or Dartmouth (Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza). The older writers knew that being cultured and urbane wasn’t a sign of elitism. Culture was the tool they used for social mobility. T.S. Eliot was cheap and sophisticated argument was free.

The Buckley-era establishment self-confidently enforced intellectual and moral standards. It rebuffed the nativists like the John Birch Society, the apocalyptic polemicists who popped up with the New Right, and they exiled conspiracy-mongers and anti-Semites, like Joe Sobran, an engaging man who was rightly fired from National Review.

Students signing up with the College Republicans during freshman orientation last month at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Credit T. J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since then, paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush, O’Reilly and Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment. In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex — from Beck to Palin to Trump. Hillary Clinton is therefore now winning among white college graduates by 52 to 36 percent.

Second, conservative opinion-meisters began to value politics over everything else. The very essence of conservatism is the belief that politics is a limited activity, and that the most important realms are pre-political: conscience, faith, culture, family and community. But recently conservatism has become more the talking arm of the Republican Party.
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Among social conservatives, for example, faith sometimes seems to come in second behind politics, Scripture behind voting guides. Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 72 percent of white evangelicals believe that a person who is immoral in private life can be an effective national leader, a belief that is more Machiavelli than Matthew.

As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective.

That leads to the third big change. Blinkered by the Republican Party’s rigid anti-government rhetoric, conservatives were slow to acknowledge and even slower to address the central social problems of our time.

For years, middle- and working-class Americans have been suffering from stagnant wages, meager opportunity, social isolation and household fragmentation. Shrouded in obsolete ideas from the Reagan years, conservatism had nothing to offer these people because it didn’t believe in using government as a tool for social good. Trump demagogy filled the void.

This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex. Conservatism’s best ideas are coming from youngish reformicons who have crafted an ambitious governing agenda (completely ignored by Trump).

A Trump defeat could cleanse a lot of bad structures and open ground for new growth. It was good to be a young conservative back in my day. It’s great to be one right now.

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William F. Buckley in his office in New York City, in 1980. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The Comments

Following the David Brooks op ed piece there were comments, and at this very  moment, only a few hours after publication, there have been hundreds of them. And for the op ed writers of the Times this is not unusual, that hundreds read and respond with a comment to what they have read.

I haven’t read them, the hundreds of comments (nobody does, I suppose, except the Times editors themselves) but as usual, whenever I do take the time to read a few or more of them I’m impressed.

The Times Comment writers, at least the ones that I have read, are an extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent bunch of people. Would that they could somehow replace the present members of the House and Senate where pettiness, unreason, obstruction, along with a legion of other failings and shortcomings are the rule.

And the readers pounce, almost to the “man,” on David Brooks’ final statement, about how great it is to be a conservative right now. And this after he has persuaded his readers, and me too, that the barbarians out there who now go by the name of conservative, such as Rush, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Alex Jones, Ted Cruz, Laura Ingraham, to name just the first few that come go mind, now dominate the social media. Young conservatives, in the manner of Bill Buckley, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Russell Kirk and Midge Decter, who knows any?


Now a selection of the comments:

It’s true and maybe a kind of silver lining that the Limbaugh-Breitbart-Trump effect is making the kind of “old-fashioned” conservativism Brooks eulogizes here, à la Buckley, Kirk, et al, seem noble–a worthy and welcome counter to liberal ideals…. jbtodsttoe wynnewood

I am in my 50s and never identified with Buckley. I remember his show, however, and he wasn’t afraid to have discussions with people he disagreed with. There was give and take,… but the definitions of conservatism and liberalism have been lost…Tedsams Fort Lauderdale

Nostalgia about the past, wishful thinking about the future, and failure to connect the two with attention to substance, do not an argument make… GEM Dover

I was with you until the end. The future of Conservatism is bright? Point to a young Republican leader who will be the party’s standard bearer. All the young Republicans in Congress are know-nothing nihilistic Tea Partiers. Conservative intellectualism is dead…Carlin Rosengarten Singapore

A well considered article. Your basic problem …is that extreme gerrymandering and its concept of ‘safe seats’ which has allowed the crazies to take over your party. Because of Safe Seats, thoughtful Republicans cannot get through the primaries. The country is left with the detritus of your Alt-Right in the halls of Congress…. JR Montgomery County, PA

Yes, completely agree Brooks is insane for being optimistic, because he failed to name a single conservative politician who could lead the faithful out of their rabbit hole of moldy cheesy ideas. Let’s face facts, the once Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower has morphed into Trump, Cruz, and Palin. It’s over….Cowboy Wichita

Conservatism has lost its intellectual vibrancy–it’s led by noisy windbags who market a lifestyle where you can have your preferences and your prejudices confirmed 24 hours a day…. There are plenty of thoughtful conservatives out there–but few are in positions of real influence, either in government or outside….Michael Liss New York

It seems to me that our biggest political problem is that over the past 30-40 years, the conservative movement/Republican Party moved to a place where seeking compromise is an anathema because of a distrust in government. Thus, obstructionism is better than activism….I see more gridlock and inaction as the world continues to move past us…. America is a land of incredible resources (physical and intellectual) that are being wasted due to the fecklessness of our politicians and the unwillingness of Americans to do what needs to be done–remove these people from office. Dave Walker Valley Forge

….Where in that mess are the poetry quoting bon vivants of Brooks imagination? What we have instead are the humorless ideologues like Labrador, Lee, Cruz, and Ryan who do not either live or see the actual world….that is what Brooks should be worrying about. bboot Vermont

I think Mr Brooks is largely on the mark, though, as we all do when recalling our lost youth, he soft-focuses and romanticizes…. But he’s right that they comprise a Pantheon compared to what passes for a ‘conservative intellectual’ today….the Limbaughs and Coulters et al. who with Trump have hijacked the GOP, or rather, the GOP let itself be hijacked. ACW New Jersey

Brooks says that the keystones of conservative thought are “conscience, faith, culture, family and community.” I find that a peculiar assertion.
The root problem with “conservatism” is that it is not a coherent philosophy or worldview. It’s a Rube Goldberg political coalition. The grouping includes libertarians and authoritarians; backers of megacorporate oligopolies and believers in competition and free enterprise; those who want to cut taxes while increasing defense spending — and who have no credible answer as to how the shortfall will be covered…. tbrucia Houston, TX

I can’t help but feel a genuine pang of pity for Mr. Brooks here….
Look at 20th century as a whole, as objectively as you can…. [During] the Great Depression and the New Deal. Conservatives opposed the social welfare programs enacted to ensure the poor didn’t starve to death,… They also opposed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a national minimum wage and put enormous restrictions on child labor…. [and since then] very little has changed.
It’s not just the racism, or the misogyny, or the Jesus of it all. Underneath all that, there’s still the same old contempt for the less fortunate, and willingness to believe that the miserable burdens of poverty are a choice…
I think the larger problem is perhaps that conservatism is incompatible with a rapidly-changing world.
And the problem with simply waiting for the crazy old conservatives to die off is that crazy conservatives like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan and the others aren’t old…. reader CT


VOICES

1. People led by fear

might curtail the freedom and the openness that progress depends on. When Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, is asked what he is worried about, he usually responds, “superstition and bureaucracy,” because superstition can obstruct the accumulation of knowledge, and bureaucracy can stop us from applying that knowledge in new technologies and businesses.
from  Johan Norberg in FEE,  The World Is Getting Better and Nobody Knows It,  Friday, October 14, 2016

2. À l’aube des sociétés,

les hommes, sachant que la perfection n’appartenait qu’à leurs dieux, ne voyaient leur passage sur Terre que comme un labyrinthe de douleur au bout duquel se trouvait une porte ouvrant, via la mort, sur la compagnie des dieux et sur l’Éternité. De leur vivant, ils ne se proposaient rien de plus que de souffrir en silence, gérer au mieux les catastrophes, contenir la violence et organiser le plus précisément possible leur passage ou leur migration vers ce lieu utopique. Avec les Hébreux puis avec les Grecs, des hommes osèrent se libérer des exigences théologiques et rêver d’une Cité idéale où s’épanouirait que sur les ruines des Libertés. De toute façon, aucune de ces utopies n’a réussi à atteindre l’objectif qu’elle se fixait.
Demain, certains prophétiseront un retour du religieux; d’autres chercheront des voies nouvelles vers l’Égalité ou vers la Liberté. D’autres, enfin, oseront transcender les unes et les autres pour imaginer un monde où l’utopie ne serait plus fondée sur la peur, l’égoïsme ou la jalousie, comme dans les trois premières, mais où chacun trouverait son bonheur à faire celui des autres; cela aura nom Fraternité.
from Jacques Attali, Fraternités: Une nouvelle utopie, 1999

And if you don’t read the French, here’s a summary translation of the above from an article, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, by Bill Joy in Wired Magazine, 2000:

At the dawn of societies, men saw their passage on Earth as nothing more than a labyrinth of pain, at the end of which stood a door leading, via their death, to the company of gods and to Eternity. With the Hebrews and then the Greeks, some men dared free themselves from theological demands and dream of an ideal City where Liberty would flourish. Others, noting the evolution of the market society, understood that the liberty of some would entail the alienation of others, and they sought Equality.


Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

Jeffrey Tucker, FEE
Friday, October 14, 2016

You know what we need right now? A trip to the mall, not even to buy, but to observe and learn. See how people engage with each other. Observe how they coordinate their movements in the public spaces without direction. Appreciate the kindness that salespeople show for customers whom they do not know, and how this ethos of mannerly sociability extends out to the hallways and the entire space. Consider the complexities of production that make all of this available to you without mandates or impositions.

Or perhaps we need a walk in the park while playing Pokemon GO, meeting new people and laughing with them. It’s fascinating how the mobile app creates a digital reality that sits atop the real one, and how we can all experience this technological marvel together. Strangers are given an excuse to speak and get to know each other.

Really, just any visit to an awesome commercial center, teeming with life and full of human diversity, would be palliative. Or maybe it is a visit to a superstore to observe the products, the service, energy, the benevolence, of the commercial space. We can meet people, encounter their humanity, revel in the beauty and bounty of human life. Or it could be your local watering hole with its diverse cast of characters and complicated lives that elude political characterization.

Also thrilling is to attend a concert and see how the arts and music can serve as a soundtrack to the building of community feeling. With public performance, there are no immigration restrictions to the category of “fan.” We can sing, clap, and dance to shared experience, and everyone is invited in.

And while in these places, we need to reflect on the meaning of the existence of these spaces and what they reveal about ourselves and our communities. Here you will see something wonderful, invigorating, thrilling, magical: human beings, with all our imperfections and foibles, can get along. We can provide value to each other and find value in each other. We can cooperate to our mutual betterment.

These spaces are all around us. And here politics don’t exist, mercifully. No one will scream at you or threaten you for failing to back the right candidate or for holding the wrong ideology or being part of the wrong demographic or religion. Here we can rediscover the humanity in us all and the universal longing for free and flourishing lives.

In this extremely strange election year, escaping the roiling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life.

Politics Makes a Mess of Our Minds

Some startling new evidence has emerged about the effect of this year’s election on the psychological well being of the US population. The American Psychological Association has released an early report on its annual survey and found that more than half the population reports being seriously stressed, anxious, alarmed, depressed, and even frightened by the election. Essentially, the constant coverage, dominating the news every minute of every day, is freaking people out.

I totally get this. I’ve felt it – some nagging sense that things are not quite right, that the lights in the room are dimming, that life is not quite as hopeful and wonderful as it usually is.

I’ve regarded this as my own fault; for the first time I’ve followed this election very closely. I made this awful bed and now I’m lying in it. The message that politics beats into our heads hourly is that your neighbor might be your enemy, and that the realization of your values requires the crushing of someone else’s.

That’s a terrible model of human engagement to accept as the only reality. It is demoralizing, and I’ve felt it this year more than ever. But everyone I know says the same thing, even those who are trying their best to tune it out. Now we have evidence that vast numbers are affected. It’s one thing for politics to mess up the world around us, but it’s a real tragedy if we let politics mess up our minds, spirits, and lives.

Continue reading Politics Is Poison to the Human Spirit

The History of Man is the History of Ideas, Ludwig von Mises

The history of mankind is the history of ideas. For it is ideas, theories, and doctrines that guide human action, determine the ultimate ends men aim at, and the choice of the means employed for the attainment of these ends.


In as much as I have a history myself, it has to be one of ideas

(because I’m not an artist, writer, or musician). If I were to write my autobiography where would I begin? Because I only remember the things I did —schools, summer camps, friends, playing ball, my mother boiling an egg for me for breakfast, my dad coming home at night smelling like the inner city Boston and with surprises in his pockets, my grandmother making peanut butter cookies during my visits to her home only a bike ride away…

But ideas? Were there any of these prominent in my own life before going away to college? Not at Phillips Andover where there ought to have been. Probably my introduction to a life of ideas only came during the summer of my freshman and sophomore years at Harvard College while biking in Europe and finding myself reading (why then? was it my age?) for the first time the sort of magazine and newspaper articles that I’ve been reading almost without stopping ever since.

Now I wonder sometimes what will survive my death? Probably my Ideas alone, to the extent they have a life after me (not a sure thing) somehow remaining, although not forever, say in my own blog posts, or captured by my wife and placed somewhere within the 40 or 50 volumes of her family archives. Anything else, such as a few pictures, will perish, if not right away, within a few years at most of my own disappearance.

Ideas, maybe even a few of my own, will survive. For Ideas do survive as we have seen from the histories we possess of the oldest civilizations going back thousands if not tens of thousands of years, in China and the Middle East, and also in Africa, the ancestral home of us all.

What for example is our country the United States of America? Is it the people, now some 350 million of them, as well as the other millions who lived here before us, including those millions who had been here for some thousands of years before the onslaught of the Europeans bringing with them disease and destruction? Or is it the few ideas of a few people that have made and continue to make the country what it is, or not infrequently what it would be at its best?

There was Thomas Jefferson’s idea that all white men were equal, Susan Anthony’s idea that men and women were equal, Martin Luther King’s idea that all men and women were equal.

seat4

And well before the three of them there were the ideas of the original Americans. Chief Seattle’s idea, for example, that which ought to have been, or even now should be, the country’s founding idea, or ideal, one alas not yet realized.

Seattle’s idea was that we humans have not woven the web of life, but rather are merely threads within it, and that whatever we do to ourselves we are also doing to the web. For all things in the web of life are bound together, all things connect, this idea being much like the Gaia idea picked up in our own time by many others since Chief Seattle.

Now given the importance of ideas in our history and for our lives shouldn’t the words being exchanged between the candidates during the debates reflect this importance, even contain the debaters’ ideas? Yet a close listening to or reading of the debate transcript finds few if any ideas therein. So what was going on, what was being talked about, first at Hempstead, NY, then at St Louis,  MO, and then next week, October 19th. at Las Vegas, NV?

Thoughts, ideas etc.  will be continued in a future Blog. But right now ideas are not in favor. Instead the principal subject matters addressed by the two candidates during the debate are much more this sort of thing. For example this notice I take from the Washington Post of 10/15/2016:

Woman says Trump reached under her skirt and groped her in 1990s.

The Post-Truth World

The most interesting and for me the most appropriate response to the candidacy of Donald Trump that I’ve read up until now just has to be this briefing, The Post-Truth World, from the Economist Magazine of September 10, parts of which I’ve taken without permission and posted here below.

It’s probably significant that my very first memorable contact with the Donald was not the Trump Tower, the Casinos, Trump University, those and/or other items bearing his name, but it was what happened during the election of 2012 when Trump suddenly appeared as the lead spokesman for the so-called birther movement, speaking out for those who questioned the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate. Why did he do this? Why does he continue to give us un-truths in our “post-truth” world? Well that’s the answer. This is the un-truth world and it’s par excellence his world, certainly where he’s most comfortable uttering his un-truths. Why, as the poet says, truth’s a dog and must to kennel.

At that time during the Romney campaign (Trump supported Romney for President, and now probably the best thing I can say about Romney is that Romney is not supporting Trump) anyway, during the Trump-led birther movement I put Trump aside as an idiot, a “bloviating ignoramus” as in the always well chosen words of George Will.

Yet now, some four years later, in our “post-truth” world Donald Trump couldn’t be more at home. He’s relaxed, and will say just anything that comes to mind to arouse his dear followers. He clearly doesn’t at all care about what his words mean, even less does he care about what they may have meant at an earlier time, let alone whether there be any connection between his words and the truth.

During Trump’s birther period there was some crazy stuff. For example there occurred this exchange between Trump and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer

Wolf Blitzer presented Trump with newspaper announcements of Obama’s birth.

Trump interrupted, “Can you stop defending Obama?”

“Donald, you’re beginning to sound a little ridiculous, I have to tell you,” Blitzer replied.

“You are, Wolf,” Trump fired back. “Let me tell you something, I think you sound ridiculous.”

Trump then alleged that the practice of filing US birth announcements for an overseas birth was commonplace, though he offered no evidence.

Doesn’t this kind of ring like  a “post truth,” or un-truth time? Also, isn’t it clear, alas! that we still have at the present time the same Donald Trump as then, no longer a Romney supporter, but a candidate himself. Now as he tells us there’s “lying Hillary,” but there’s also a lying Donald (not to mention “lying Ted”). And given that the two realistic candidates for President are lying Hillary and lying Donald, we will be electing a liar as President of the United States, making us the land par excellence of post- or un-truth.

So here’s the Economist briefing I mention above, considerably abridged. While the lack of truth telling is a great problem among our leaders the author doesn’t say we should despair, even when the lying mosquito is infecting millions of us, and thereby eventually perhaps bringing it about that the truth- tellers in the land of un-truth are no more.

 The Post-Truth World, from the Economist Magazine of September 10

Yes, I’d lie to you. Dishonesty in politics is nothing new; but the manner in which some politicians now lie, and the havoc they may wreak by doing so, are worrying.

WHEN Donald Trump, the Republican presidential hopeful, claimed recently that President Barack Obama “is the founder” of Islamic State and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the “co-founder”, even some of his supporters were perplexed. Surely he did not mean that literally? Perhaps, suggested Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, he meant that the Obama administration’s rapid pull-out from Iraq “created the vacuum” that the terrorists then filled?

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” replied Mr Trump. “He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

Mr Hewitt, who detests Mr Obama and has written a book denouncing Mrs Clinton’s “epic ambition”, was not convinced. “But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them,” he pushed back.

Again, Mr Trump did not give an inch: “I don’t care. He was the founder. The way he got out of Iraq was, that, that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”

For many observers, the exchange was yet more proof that the world has entered an era of “post-truth politics”. Mr Trump appears not to care whether his words bear any relation to reality, so long as they fire up voters. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, has rated more of his statements “pants-on-fire” lies than of any other candidate—for instance his assertion that “inner city crime is reaching record levels”, which plays on unfounded fears that crime rates are rising….

Paul Krugman — Donald Trump’s ‘Big Liar’ Technique
Charles Blow — Donald Trump is Lying in Plain Sight
Michael Tomasky — …Call Out Donald Trump’s Many Lies
Lee Siegel — The Selling of Donald Trump

lying-trump

Post-truth politics is advancing in many parts of the world. In Europe the best example is Poland’s ultranationalist ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS). Among other strange stories, it peddles lurid tales about Poland’s post-communist leaders plotting with the communist regime to rule the country together. In Turkey the protests at Gezi Park in 2013 and a recent attempted coup have given rise to all kinds of conspiracy theories, some touted by government officials: the first was financed by Lufthansa, a German airline (to stop Turkey from building a new airport which would divert flights from Germany), the second was orchestrated by the CIA.

Then there is Russia, [Perhaps this is what accounts for Trump’s being attracted to his “friend” Putin]  Arguably Russia is the country (apart from North Korea) that has moved furthest past truth, both in its foreign policy and internal politics. The Ukraine crisis offers examples aplenty: state-controlled Russian media faked interviews with “witnesses” of alleged atrocities, such as a child being crucified by Ukrainian forces; Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, did not hesitate to say on television that there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, despite abundant proof to the contrary.

Such dezinformatsiya may seem like a mere reversion to Soviet form. But at least the Soviets’ lies were meant to be coherent, argues Peter Pomerantsev, a journalist whose memoir of Mr Putin’s Russia is titled “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible”. In a study in 2014 for the Institute of Modern Russia, a think-tank, he quotes a political consultant for the president saying that in Soviet times, “if they were lying they took care to prove what they were doing was ‘the truth’. Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.”

In such creation it helps to keep in mind—as Mr Putin surely does—that humans do not naturally seek truth. In fact, as plenty of research shows, they tend to avoid it. People instinctively accept information to which they are exposed and must work actively to resist believing falsehoods; they tend to think that familiar information is true; and they cherry-pick data to support their existing views. At the root of all these biases seems to be what Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prizewinning psychologist and author of a bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, calls “cognitive ease”: humans have a tendency to steer clear of facts that would force their brains to work harder….

Given the biases of most peoples, it is somewhat surprising that people can ever agree on facts, particularly in politics. But many societies have developed institutions which allow some level of consensus over what is true: schools, science, the legal system, the media. This truth-producing infrastructure, though, is never close to perfect: it can establish as truth things for which there is little or no evidence; it is constantly prey to abuse by those to whom it grants privileges; and, crucially, it is slow to build but may be quick to break.

Post-truth politics is made possible by two threats to this public sphere: a loss of trust in institutions that support its infrastructure and deep changes in the way knowledge of the world reaches the public. Take trust first. Across the Western world it is at an all-time low, which helps explain why many prefer so-called “authentic” politicians, who “tell it how it is” (ie, say what people feel), to the wonkish type. Britons think that hairdressers and the “man in the street” are twice as trustworthy as business leaders, journalists and government ministers, according to a recent poll by Ipsos MORI. When Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer, said before the referendum that “people in this country have had enough of experts” he may have had a point.

This loss of trust has many roots. In some areas—dietary advice, for example—experts seem to contradict each other more than they used to; governments get things spectacularly wrong, as with their assurances about the wisdom of invading Iraq, trusting in the world financial system and setting up the euro. But it would be a mistake to see the erosion of trust simply as a response to the travails of the world. In some places trust in institutions has been systematically undermined.

Mr Roberts first used the term “post-truth politics” in the context of American climate-change policy. In the 1990s many conservatives became alarmed by the likely economic cost of a serious effort to reduce carbon emissions. Some of the less scrupulous decided to cast doubt on the need for a climate policy by stressing to the point of distortion uncertainties in the underlying science. In a memo Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, argued: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” Challenging—and denigrating—scientists in order to make the truth seem distant and unknowable worked pretty well. One poll found that 43% of Republicans believe climate change is not happening at all, compared to 10% of Democrats.

Continue reading The Post-Truth World

No Man Is An Island

I’ve often written that man is ultimately alone, that being alone is our nature. And then I happened to read Michel Serres’piece, Qu’est-ce que l’humain? He says that no less than a troop of chimps, who never stop grooming one another, men and women are always together, not grchimpsooming but probably talking with one another,and that this is our nature, to be with others and to talk. It’s not to be alone. MENTALK

I guess I would agree, Chimps like to be together and groom, we like no less to be together and talk.


Below, the words of Serre and his two co-authors, Pascal Picq and Jean-Didier Vincent, (with my English translation in the right hand column):


Selon la phrase célèbre de John Donne: “No man is an island.” L’homme n'”existe” pas s’il n’est pas avec d’autres. Mais ce qui est paradoxal, c’est que l’homme est aussi totalement singulier – ce qu’on appelle l’individuation, aussi bien du point de vue de son évolution génétique (génotype) que dans ce qu’il apparaît être (phénotype). L’homme est absolument et totalement un individu: le plus individualiste de tous les animaux, “un individu social extrême”. Aucun homme ne ressemble à un autre homme. Chez les invertébrés, il n’y a pas de différence entre les sujets. Ils sont pratiquement des clones des uns et des autres. Mais l’homme est véritablement – plus que les autres animaux – le produit de sa propre histoire. Donc, cet animal est un individu singulier, un individu singulier qui vit avec les autres.
According to the famous words of John Donne: “No man is an island.” Man does not “exist” if he is not with others. But what is paradoxical is that man is also totally unique – that which is called individuation, both from the standpoint of his genetic evolution (genotype) and from his outward appearance (phenotype). Man is absolutely and totally an individual: the most individualistic of all animals, “an extreme social individual.” No man is like any other man. Among invertebrates, there is no difference between them. They are practically clones of one another. But man is truly – more than the other animals – the product of his own history. Yes, this animal is a unique individual, but a unique individual who lives with others.

 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a story

The following Marques story in Spanish and English translation I dedicate to Jim Watras, writing teacher for many years.   pbw


“EL ÚLTIMO VIAJE DEL BUQUE FANTASMA”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ahora van a ver quién soy yo, se dijo, con su nuevo vozarrón de hombre, muchos años después de que viera por primera vez el trasatlántico inmenso, sin luces v sin ruidos, que una noche pasó frente al pueblo como un gran palacio deshabitado, más largo que todo el pueblo y mucho más alto que la torre de su iglesia, y siguió navegando en tinieblas hacia la ciudad colonial fortificada contra los bucaneros al otro lado de la bahía, con su antiguo puerto negrero y el faro giratorio cuyas lúgubres aspas de luz, cada quince segundos, transfiguraban el pueblo en un campamento lunar de casas fosforescentes y calles de desiertos volcánicos, y aunque él era entonces un niño sin vozarrón de hombre pero con permiso de su madre para escuchar hasta muy tarde en la playa las arpas nocturnas del viento, aún podía recordar como si lo estuviera viendo que el transatlántico desaparecía cuando la luz del faro le daba en el flanco y volvía a aparecer cuando la luz acababa de pasar, de modo que era un buque intermitente que iba apareciendo y desapareciendo hacia la entrada de la bahía, buscando con tanteos de sonámbulo las boyas que señalaban el canal del puerto, hasta que algo debió fallar en sus agujas de orientación, porque derivó hacia los escollos, tropezó, saltó en pedazos y se hundió sin un solo ruido, aunque semejante encontronazo con los arrecifes era para producir un fragor de hierros y una explosión de máquinas que helaran de pavor a los dragones más dormidos en la selva prehistórica que empezaba en las últimas calles de la ciudad y terminaba en el otro lado del mundo, así que él mismo creyó que era un sueño, sobre todo al día siguiente, cuando vio el acuario radiante de la bahía, el desorden de colores de las barracas de los negros en las colinas del puerto, las goletas de los contrabandistas de las Guayanas recibiendo su cargamento de loros inocentes con el buche lleno de diamantes, pensó, me dormí contando las estrellas y soñé con ese barco enorme, claro, quedó tan convencido que no se lo contó a nadie ni volvió a acordarse de la visión hasta la misma noche del marzo siguiente, cuando andaba buscando celajes de delfines en el mar y lo que encontró fue el trasatlántico ilusorio, sombrío, intermitente, con el mismo destino equivocado de la primera vez, sólo que él estaba entonces tan seguro de estar despierto que corrió a contárselo a su madre, y ella pasó tres semanas gimiendo de desilusión, porque se te está pudriendo el seso de tanto andar al revés, durmiendo de día y aventurando de noche como la gente de mala vida, y como tuvo que ir a la ciudad por esos días en busca de algo cómodo en que sentarse a pensar en el marido muerto, pues a su mecedor se le habían gastado las balanzas en once años de viudez, aprovechó la ocasión para pedirle al hombre del bote que se fuera por los arrecifes de modo que el hijo pudiera ver lo que en efecto vio en la vidriera del mar, los amores de las mantarayas en primaveras de esponjas, los pargos rosados y las corvinas azules zambulléndose en los pozos de aguas más tiernas que había dentro de las aguas, y hasta las cabelleras errantes de los ahogados de algún naufragio colonial, pero ni rastros de trasatlánticos hundidos ni qué niño muerto, y sin embargo, él siguió tan emperrado que su madre prometió acompañarlo en la vigilia del marzo próximo, seguro, sin saber que ya lo único seguro que había en su porvenir era una poltrona de los tiempos de Francis Drake que compró en un remate de turcos, en la cual se sentó a descansar aquella misma noche, suspirando, mi pobre Holofernes, si vieras lo bien que se piensa en ti sobre estos forros de terciopelo y con estos brocados de catafalco de reina, pero mientras más evocaba al marido muerto más le borboritaba y se le volvía de chocolate la sangre en el corazón, como si en vez de estar sentada estuviera corriendo, empapada de escalofríos y con la respiración llena de tierra, hasta que él volvió en la madrugada y la encontró muerta en la poltrona, todavía caliente pero ya medio podrida como los picados de culebra, lo mismo que les ocurrió después a otras cuatro señoras, antes de que tiraran en el mar la poltrona asesina, muy lejos, donde no le hicieran mal a nadie, pues la habían usado tanto a través de los siglos que se le había gastado la facultad de producir descanso, de modo que él tuvo que acostumbrarse a su miserable rutina de huérfano, señalado por todos como el hijo de la viuda que llevó al pueblo el trono de la desgracia, viviendo no tanto de la caridad pública como del pescado que se robaba en los botes, mientras la voz se le iba volviendo de bramante y sin acordarse más de sus visiones de antaño hasta otra noche de marzo en que miró por casualidad hacia el mar, y de pronto, madre mía, ahí está, la descomunal ballena de amianto, la bestia berraca, vengan a verlo, gritaba enloquecido, vengan a verlo, promoviendo tal alboroto de ladridos de perros y pánicos de mujer, que hasta los hombres más viejos se acordaron de los espantos de sus bisabuelos y se metieron debajo de la cama creyendo que había vuelto William Dampier, pero los que se echaron a la calle no se tomaron el trabajo de ver el aparato inverosímil que en aquel instante volvía a perder el oriente y se desbarataba en el desastre anual, sino que lo contramataron a golpes y lo dejaron tan mal torcido que entonces fue cuando él se dijo, babeando de rabia, ahora van a ver quién soy yo, pero se cuidó de no compartir con nadie su determinación sino que pasó el año entero con la idea fija, ahora van a ver quién soy yo, esperando que fuera otra vez la víspera de las apariciones para hacer lo que hizo, ya está, se robó un bote, atravesó la bahía y pasó la tarde esperando su hora grande en los vericuetos del puerto negrero, entre la salsamuera humana del Caribe, pero tan absorto en su aventura que no se detuvo como siempre frente a las tiendas de los hindúes a ver los mandarines de marfil tallados en el colmillo entero del elefante, ni se burló de los negros holandeses en sus velocípedos ortopédicos, ni se asustó como otras veces con los malayos de piel de cobra que le habían dado la vuelta al mundo cautivados por la quimera de una fonda secreta donde vendían filetes de brasileras al carbón, porque no se dio cuenta de nada mientras la noche no se le vino encima con todo el peso de las estrellas y la selva exhaló una fragancia dulce de gardenias y salamandras podridas, y ya estaba él remando en el bote robado hacia la entrada de la bahía, con la lámpara apagada para no alborotar a los policías del resguardo, idealizado cada quince segundos por el aletazo verde del faro y otra vez vuelto humano por la oscuridad, sabiendo que andaba cerca de las boyas que señalaban el canal del puerto no sólo porque viera cada vez más intenso su fulgor opresivo sino porque la respiración del agua se iba volviendo triste, y así remaba tan ensimismado que no supo de dónde le llegó de pronto un pavoroso aliento de tiburón ni por qué la noche se hizo densa como si las estrellas se hubieran muerto de repente, y era que el trasatlántico estaba allí con todo su tamaño inconcebible, madre, más grande que cualquier otra cosa grande en el mundo y más oscuro que cualquier otra cosa oscura de la tierra o del agua, trescientas mil toneladas de olor de tiburón pasando tan cerca del bote que él podía ver las costuras del precipicio de acero, sin una sola luz en los infinitos Ojos de buey, sin un suspiro en las máquinas, sin un alma, y llevando consigo su propio ámbito de silencio, su propio cielo vacío, su propio aire muerto, su tiempo parado, su mar errante en el que flotaba un mundo entero de animales ahogados, y de pronto todo aquello desapareció con el lamparazo del faro y por un instante volvió a ser el Caribe diáfano, la noche de marzo, el aire cotidiano de los pelícanos, de modo que él se quedó solo entre las boyas, sin saber qué hacer, preguntándose asombrado si de veras no estaría soñando despierto, no sólo ahora sino también las otras veces, pero apenas acababa de preguntárselo cuando un soplo de misterio fue apagando las boyas desde la primera hasta la última, así que cuando pasó la claridad del faro el trasatlántico volvió a aparecer v ya tenía las brújulas extraviadas, acaso sin saber siquiera en qué lugar de la mar océana se encontraba, buscando a tientas el canal invisible pero en realidad derivando hacia los escollos, hasta que él tuvo la revelación abrumadora de que aquel percance de las boyas era la última clave del encantamiento, v encendió la lámpara del bote, una mínima lucecita roja que no tenía por qué alarmar a nadie en los minaretes del resguardo, pero que debió ser para el piloto como un sol oriental, porque gracias a ella el trasatlántico corrigió su horizonte y entró por la puerta grande del canal en una maniobra de resurrección feliz, y entonces todas sus luces se encendieron al mismo tiempo, las calderas volvieron a resollar, se prendieron las estrellas en su cielo y los cadáveres de los animales se fueron al fondo, y había un estrépito de platos y una fragancia de salsa de laurel en las cocinas, y se oía el bombardino de la orquesta en las cubiertas de luna y el tumtum de las arterias de los enamorados de altamar en la penumbra de los camarotes, pero él llevaba todavía tanta rabia atrasada que no se dejó aturdir por la emoción ni amedrentar por el prodigio, sino que se dijo con más decisión que nunca que ahora van a ver quién soy yo, carajo, ahora lo van a ver, y en vez de hacerse a un lado para que no lo embistiera aquella máquina colosal empezó a remar delante de ella, porque ahora sí van a saber quién soy yo, v siguió orientando el buque con la lámpara hasta que estuvo tan seguro de su obediencia que lo obligó a descorregir de nuevo el rumbo de los muelles, lo sacó del canal invisible y se lo llevó de cabestro como si fuera un cordero de mar hacia las luces del pueblo dormido, un barco vivo e invulnerable a los haces del faro que ahora no lo invisibilizaban sino que lo volvían de aluminio cada quince segundos, y allá empezaban a definirse las cruces de la iglesia, la miseria de las casas, la Ilusión, y todavía el trasatlántico iba detrás de él, siguiéndolo con todo lo que llevaba dentro su capitán dormido del lado del corazón, los toros de lidia en la nieve de sus despensas, el enfermo solitario en su hospital, el agua huérfana de sus cisternas, el piloto irredento que debió confundir los farallones con los muelles porque en aquel instante reventó el bramido descomunal de la sirena, una vez, y él quedó ensopado por el aguacero de vapor que le cayó encima, otra vez, y el bote ajeno estuvo a punto de zozobrar, y otra vez, pero ya era demasiado tarde, porque ahí estaban los caracoles de la orilla, las piedras de la calle, las puertas de los incrédulos, el pueblo entero iluminado por las mismas luces del trasatlántico despavorido, v él apenas tuvo tiempo de apartarse para darle paso al cataclismo, gritando en medio de la conmoción, ahí lo tienen, cabrones, un segundo antes de que el tremendo casco de acero descuartizara la tierra y se oyera el estropicio nítido de las noventa mil quinientas copas de champaña que se rompieron una tras otra desde la proa hasta la popa, v entonces se hizo la luz, y ya no fue más la madrugada d e marzo sino el medio día de un miércoles radiante, y él pudo darse el gusto de ver a los incrédulos contemplando con la boca abierta el trasatlántico más grande de este mundo y del otro encallado frente a la iglesia, más blanco que todo, veinte veces más alto que la torre y como noventa y siete veces más largo que el pueblo, con el nombre grabado en letras de hierro, Balalcsillag, y todavía chorreando por sus flancos las aguas antiguas y lánguidas de los mares de la muerte.


“THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE GHOST SHIP”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Now they’re going to see who I am, he said to himself in his strong new man’s voice, many years after he had first seen the huge ocean liner without lights and without any sound which passed by the village one night like a great uninhabited place, longer than the whole village and much taller than the steeple of the church, and it sailed by in the darkness toward the colonial city on the other side of the bay that had been fortified against buccaneers, with its old slave port and the rotating light, whose gloomy beams transfigured the village into a lunar encampment of glowing houses and streets of volcanic deserts every fifteen seconds, and even though at that time he’d been a boy without a man’s strong voice but with his mother’s permission to stay very late on the beach to listen to the wind’s night harps, he could still remember, as if still seeing it, how the liner would disappear when the light of the beacon struck its side and. how it would reappear when the light had passed, so that it was an intermittent ship sailing along, appearing and disappearing, toward the mouth of the bay, groping its way like a sleep ‐ walker for the buoys that marked the harbor channel, until something must have gone wrong with the compass needle, because it headed toward the shoals, ran aground, broke up, and sank without a single sound, even though a collision against the reefs like that should have produced a crash of metal and the explosion of engines that would have frozen, with fright the soundest ‐ sleeping dragons in the prehistoric jungle that began with the last streets of the village and ended on the other side of the world, so that he himself thought it was a dream, especially the next day, when he saw the radiant fishbowl of the bay, the disorder of colors of the Negro shacks on the hills above the harbor, the schooners of the smugglers from the Guianas loading their cargoes ‐ of innocent parrots whose craws were full of diamonds, he thought, I fell asleep counting the stars and I dreamed about that huge ship, of course, he was so convinced that he didn’t tell anyone nor did he remember the vision again until the same night on the following March when he was looking for the flash of dolphins in the sea and what he found was the illusory line, gloomy, intermittent, with the same mistaken direction as the first time, except that then he was so sure he was awake that he ran to tell his mother and she spent three weeks moaning with disappointment, because your brain’s rotting away from doing so many things backward, sleeping during the day and going out at night like a criminal, and since she had to go to the city around that time to get something comfortable where she could sit and think about her dead husband, because the rockers on her chair had worn out after eleven years of widowhood, she took advantage of the occasion and had the boatman go near the shoals so that her son could see what he really saw in the glass of; the sea, the lovemaking of manta rays in a springtime of sponges, pink snappers and blue corvinas diving into the other wells of softer waters that were there among the waters, and even the wandering hairs of victims of drowning in some colonial shipwreck, no trace of sunken liners of anything like it, and yet he was so pigheaded that his mother promised to watch with him the next March, absolutely, not knowing that the only thing absolute in her future now was an easy chair from the days of Sir Francis Drake which she had bought at an auction in a Turk’s store, in which she sat down to rest that same night sighing, oh, my poor Olofernos, if you could only see how nice it is to think about you on this velvet lining and this brocade from the casket of a queen, but the more she brought back the memory of her dead husband, the more the blood in her heart bubbled up and turned to chocolate, as if instead of sitting down she were running, soaked from chills and fevers and her breathing full of earth, until he returned at dawn and found her dead in the easy chair, still warm, but half rotted away as after a snakebite, the same as happened afterward to four other women before the murderous chair was thrown into the sea, far away where it wouldn’t bring evil to anyone, because it had been used so much over the centuries that its faculty for giving rest had been used up, and so he had to grow accustomed to his miserable routine of an orphan who was pointed out by everyone as the son of the widow who had brought the throne of misfortune into the village, living not so much from public charity as from fish he stole out of the boats, while his voice was becoming a roar, and not remembering his visions of past times anymore until another night in March when he chanced to look seaward and suddenly, good Lord, there, it is, the huge asbestos whale, the behemoth beast, come see it, he shouted madly, come see it, raising such an uproar of dogs’ barking and women’s panic that even the oldest men remembered the frights of their great ‐ grandfathers and crawled under their beds, thinking that William Dampier had come back, but those who ran into the street didn’t make the effort to see the unlikely apparatus which at that instant was lost again in the east and raised up in its annual disaster, but they covered him with blows and left him so twisted that it was then he said to himself, drooling with rage, now they’re going to see who I am, but he took care not to share his determination with anyone, but spent the whole year with the fixed idea, now they’re going to see who I am, waiting for it to be the eve of the apparition once more in order to do what he did, which was steal a boat, cross the bay, and spend the evening waiting for his great moment in the inlets of the slave port, in the human brine of the Caribbean, but so absorbed in his adventure that he didn’t stop as he always did in front of the Hindu shops to look at the ivory mandarins carved from the whole tusk of an elephant, nor did he make fun of the Dutch Negroes in their orthopedic velocipedes, nor was he frightened as at other times of the copper ‐ skinned Malayans, who had gone around the world, enthralled by the chimera of a secret tavern where they sold roast filets of Brazilian women, because he wasn’t aware of anything until night came over him with all the weight of the stars and the jungle exhaled a sweet fragrance of gardenias and rotted salamanders, and there he was, rowing in the stolen boat, toward the mouth of the bay, with the lantern out so as not to alert the customs police, idealized every fifteen seconds by the green wing flap of the beacon and turned human once more by the darkness, knowing that he was getting close to the buoys that marked the harbor, channel, not only because its oppressive glow was getting more intense, but because the breathing of the water was becoming sad, and he rowed like that, so wrapped up in himself, that he didn’t know where the fearful shark’s breath that suddenly reached him came from or why the night became dense, as if the stars had suddenly died, and it was because the liner was there, with all of its inconceivable size, Lord, bigger than any other big thing in the world and darker than any other dark thing on land or sea, three hundred thousand tons of shark smell passing so close to the boat that he could see the seams of the steel precipice without a single light in the infinite portholes, without a sigh from the engines, without a soul, and carrying its own circle of silence with it, its own dead air, its halted time, its errant sea in which a whole world of drowned animals floated, and suddenly it all disappeared with the flash of the beacon and for an instant it was the diaphanous Caribbean once more, the March night, the everyday air of the pelicans, so he stayed alone among the buoys, not knowing what to do, asking himself, startled, if perhaps he wasn’t dreaming while he was awake, not just now but the other times too, but no sooner had. he asked himself than a breath of mystery snuffled out the buoys, from the first to the last, so that when the light of the beacon passed by the liner appeared again and now its compasses were out of order, perhaps not even knowing what part of the ocean sea it was in, groping for the invisible channel but actually heading for the shoals, until he got the overwhelming revelation that that misfortune of the buoys was the last key to the enchantment and he lighted the lantern in the boat, a tiny red light that had no reason to alarm anyone in the watch towers but which would be like a guiding sun for the pilot, because, thanks to it, the liner corrected its course and passed into the main gate of the channel in a maneuver of lucky resurrection, and then all the lights went on at the same time so that the boilers wheezed again, the stars were fixed in their places, and the animal corpses went to the bottom, and there was a clatter of plates and a fragrance of laurel sauce in the kitchens, and one could hear the pulsing of the orchestra on the moon decks and the throbbing of the arteries of high ‐ sea lovers in the shadows of the staterooms, but he still carried so much leftover rage in him that he would not let himself be confused by emotion or be frightened by the miracle, but said to himself with more decision than ever, now they’re going to see who I am, the cowards, now they’re going to see, and instead of turning aside so that the colossal machine would not charge into him he began to row in front of it, because now they really are going to see who I am, and he continued guiding the ship with the lantern until he was so sure of its obedience that he made it change course from the direction of the docks once more, took it out of the invisible channel, and led it by the halter as if it were a sea lamb toward the lights of the sleeping village, a living ship, invulnerable to the torches of the beacon, that no longer made invisible but made it aluminum every fifteen seconds, and the crosses of the church, the misery of the houses, the illusion began to stand out and still the ocean liner followed behind him, following his will inside of it, the captain asleep on his heart side, the fighting bulls in the snow of their pantries, the solitary patient in the infirmary, the orphan water of its cisterns, the unredeemed pilot who must have mistaken the cliffs for the docks, because at that instant the great roar of the whistle burst forth, once, and he with downpour of steam that fell on him, again, and the boat belonging to someone else was on the point of capsizing, and again, but it was too late, because there were the shells of the shoreline, the stones of the street, the doors of the disbelievers, the whole village illuminated by the lights of the fearsome liner itself, and he barely had time to get out of the way to make room for the cataclysm, shouting in the midst of the confusion, there it is, you cowards, a second before the huge steel cask shattered the ground and one could hear the neat destruction of ninety thousand five hundred champagne glasses breaking, one after the other, from stem to stern, and then the light came out and it was no longer a March dawn but the noon of a radiant Wednesday, and he was able to give himself the pleasure of watching the disbelievers as with open mouths they contemplated the largest ocean liner in this world and the other aground in front of the church, whiter than anything, twenty times taller than the steeple and some ninety ‐ seven times longer than the village, with its name engraved in iron letters, Halalcsillag , and the ancient and languid waters of the sea of death dripping down its side.
(translated by Gregory Rabassa)


Finally, about all this Ray Kurzweil in his book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, has this to say:

“For an entertaining example of the complexity of human-generated language, just read one of the spectacular multipage-length sentences in a Gabriel García Márquez story or novel—his six-page story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost” is a single sentence and works quite well in both Spanish and the English translation.”