Category Archives: Wash Post

Libertarians hope to see the world’s borders and barricades thrown open to the free movement of people and their wares.

What Trump and Pence, and Putin and le Pen, and many others, alas, don’t understand is that liberty and nationalism don’t mix, and that the free movement if goods and people is, and always has been, a big part, if not the biggest part of what it means to be free.

Liberty and Nationalism Don’t Mix,

(From FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education, 10/28/2016)

Inasmuch as one believes in liberty, he is to just the same extent an internationalist. Libertarianism without internationalism—without the idea that we are much better off sharing, cooperating, and transacting business with no thought to national boundaries—is simply incoherent, lacking a necessary component.

Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in the summer of 2015, his chauvinistic bluster has galvanized the old foes bigotry, racism, and white nationalism in a way not seen for many years. Support for Trump’s bankrupt isolationist ideas grew out of timeworn frustrations (many quite legitimate) in search of a scapegoat. Immigrants and outsiders of all kinds have been singled out for abuse, along, of course, with their supposed leftist and “cuckservative” apologists, regarded as tools of a globalist Jewish conspiracy. This noxious cadre of xenophobes, anti-Semites, and neo-Nazis made Trump’s “Make America Great Again” their rallying cry, the banner under which to voice their opposition to political correctness, multiculturalism, and internationalism.

cobdenRichard Cobden Had a Dream

Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was an English manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman, member of the Liberal Party, associated with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty.
In his own words: “A newspaper should be the maximum of information, and the minimum of comment.””I believe it has been said that one copy of The Times contains more useful information than the whole of the historical works of Thucydides.”

Libertarians thus have occasion to defend the internationalism that is so central to our philosophy of liberty. An international brotherhood, classless, bound by mutual respect and committed to cooperation, was the dream of early socialism. Perhaps surprisingly, the practical ideal of nineteenth century free-trade liberalism was quite the same, at least in the abstract. Both socialists and free traders envisioned an end to the old world they had inherited, a world held in the shackles of power and privilege, in which commerce was the realm of royal favorites and special charters and one’s prospects were limited by his birth. Both foresaw a final end to history’s endless cycle of wars, a recognition of their futility and waste. The anti-protectionist liberal Richard Cobden dedicated much of his life and resources to this message of international harmony and peace.

Cobden looked beyond even the obvious material benefits of free trade, confident that its greatest impact would be felt in “the moral world.” With boundless optimism he compared international free trade to “the principle of gravitation” and saw it “drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.

Cobden’s sanguine predictions for a world transformed by the power of mutually-beneficial exchange recall Montesquieu’s similarly effusive praises of commerce almost exactly a century earlier. Montesquieu’s Enlightenment thought emphasized that “Commerce is a profession of people who are upon an equality”—that is, people who deal with one another as co-equals, without resort to subjection or domination. This he contrasts with both robbery and the systems of “exclusive privileges” that unjustly “restrain the liberty of commerce.”

Worldly and open-minded, these trade-loving liberals were ahead of their time—ahead even of our time—embracing a cosmopolitan worldview in which the prejudices of old had no place. Increased interaction with foreigners through trade, they believed, would help us see the errors in those prejudices, inherited from and representing less enlightened, more tribalistic eras. We would learn, through these dealings, that the ties that bind the human race, our similarities across national borders, are far more important than our superficial differences.

Following our classical liberal forebears—great champions of international comity and commerce—today’s libertarians hope to see the world’s borders and barricades thrown open to the free movement of people and their wares. We celebrate difference and diversity, delighting in the peaceful interaction between cultures, tastes, and languages, ever conscious of the moral and intellectual edification that results from such exchanges.

Economic Isolationism Leads to War

The arguments of Ludwig von Mises offer a compelling response to those in conservative and “alt-right” circles who believe that it is possible to promote limited government and nationalism simultaneously, without any contradiction. A free country in which the government apparatus is carefully confined to the protection of life, liberty, and private property is impossible in an environment that fosters jingoism and nativism, that closes itself off from trade and immigration. “A nation’s policy,” taught Mises, “forms an integral whole.”

For some, the greatness of America is tied to its ability to effectively exclude others and isolate itself.

As Mises shows in Omnipotent Government, nationalism is the inevitable “outcome of government interference with business,” which in turn dictates a foreign policy of antagonism toward other countries, looked upon for their resources as potential conquests. Mises understood that these phenomena—nationalism, protectionism, and war—are causally related. Once the government embarked on a policy of domestic economic intervention, intended to aid domestic industry, it must necessarily limit or prohibit, through coercive legal means, competition from abroad. Thus are nations locked in needless internecine conflict, old mercantilism revived as they misguidedly set their sights on a favorable balance of trade. Against the lessons of history, this is the retrograde insularity counseled by Trump, his supporters, and regrettably so many other voices in American politics, for whom the greatness of America is tied to its ability to effectively exclude others and isolate itself.

Political internationalism, though, is not the same as the social and economic kind. Neither is the desire for self-determination and self-government on its own an expression of wrongheaded nationalism. The old imperialist powers were examples of the baneful political variant of internationalism, as was the Soviet Union, and as is today the European Union. Such institutions are obstructive of genuine international friendship, for their foundations are the compacts of corrupt ruling classes. Setting this kind of multinational political super-state in opposition to toxic nationalism is to indulge a false dichotomy. Love of one’s country decidedly does not mean or imply a stance of distrust or bellicosity toward the people of other countries, nor does it call for restriction on trade. On the contrary, all nations the world over are best served by the maximization of the area over which specialization and trade are permitted to spread.

We have much yet to learn from great classical liberals like Cobden and Mises. Theirs was a hopeful message of a world bound not by coercive political chains but by the beneficial interdependence of billions of voluntary exchanges in a worldwide marketplace. To celebrate multiculturalism and internationalism is not to sell out our country. It is rather to herald a free and prosperous world in which authoritarian nationalism and its parochial ideas are just a memory.

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.

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

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.


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.

“What is the feeling” between the two magnets?

Richard Feynman explains “why” questions in general are asking for an explanation in terms of the familiar.



Nic Astaire

In case you missed the layman’s answer:

When you push your hand against a chair, contrary to how it seems to you, the atoms of your hand DO NOT come in contact with the atoms of the chair. The electrical forces repel the atoms WITHOUT ANY CONTACT (although the distance is so small you’d need a microscope to see the spaces between the atoms).

With magnets its the same, except that the distance is large enough to be seen without a microscope due to alignments of the contributing forces.

form Quora


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


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