inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #26 of 82: Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 26 Jun 08 07:30
    
Way up there murffy mentioned that the "moon orbits the earth" and this is
true. We have pictures.  We have science that can prove it.  But so did
Galileo, and he was villified.  Al Gore has been touting the science of
Global Warming for over a decade, but people still undercut his science.  So
whose science do we believe? I believe Gore because I am a believer in his
science.  But what about my neighbor, Tina, who doesn't believe that science
and math have anything to do with nature - nature is G-d's domain, according
to her, and if there is global warming it's because G-d planned it that way.
 And she thinks I'm crazy for believing in science.

So who's truth is real?  And how can we come to any concensus about truth
when we hold such different beliefs on where truth can be found?

I don't think this is new with our new technologies.  It's as old or older
than Galileo.  And Abraham.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #27 of 82: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 26 Jun 08 09:13
    
<< the loss of faith of the Boomers as opposed to the post-modern
ennui of the D and X generations >>


Yes, and I think you point out the key generational difference.  The
portion of our Boomer generation that was disaffected with the
mainstream of old, also believed that "We Can Change the World."  The
subsequent generations are adapting to a system/establishment/
reconfigured mainstream that they have no hope of changing.  While
there is often a rite-of-passage neo-bohemian phase that many young
will go through that seems similar to the hippie counterculture of old,
I think you are absolutely correct that their ennui is related to
knowing that they are playing on the fringes of the "machine" that they
must adapt to in the end.  Those in the boomer counterculture, are
called utopian idealists in retrospect, but there was a sense that a
new order could be fashioned.  The most commoditized aspects of the
alternative initiatives did change the establishment, but not in the
manner envisioned.   
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #28 of 82: pardon my amygdala (murffy) Thu 26 Jun 08 09:17
    
Just to clarify, I selected the example of "the moon orbits the earth"
because it doesn't take a lot of convincing to get people to accept
it. We can see it arcing across the sky. But the sun also arcs across
the sky so it takes some convincing to get people to accept the idea
that the earth orbits the sun. Unless you're prepared to make the
observations and do the calculations yourself, you have to accept the
authority of Galileo and the astronomical community.

As (lrph) alludes to, how do you sift through the various, often
conflicting, authorities? Or, as in the case of my born-again Christian
brother, how do you convince him that these beliefs he's so heavily
invested in are largely untrue?
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #29 of 82: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 26 Jun 08 09:42
    
That's one of the things I wish would be more widely acknowledged:
since we can't do most experiments ourselves, science usually does, in
practice, depend on trust in others and respect for authority, even if
at a fundamental level it doesn't, if you're willing to get your hands
dirty.

And if that's the case, respect for scientific work seems like a good
thing to encourage.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #30 of 82: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 26 Jun 08 10:15
    

I have an off-topic question.  With this good a book, and this close a topic
to discuss, why havn't you been on the Colbert Report yet, Farhad, and what
can any of us do to get you there?  Or would that descend into a fractal
hell of meta-truthiness?
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #31 of 82: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 26 Jun 08 10:17
    

> descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness

TFTP as we say  (thanks for the pseudonym).
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #32 of 82: Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Thu 26 Jun 08 12:51
    
One approach to dealing with those who point out the shortcomings of
ones scientific theories is to write them off as religious nuts or oil
company shills or members of the rival party.  

Science is wonderful because its knowledge is provisional.  As such,
it presents room to explore, re-examine, enlarge, doubt, etc.  Science
is terrible for the same reasons, particularly for those responsible to
supply certitude to the masses such as politics and religion.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #33 of 82: Bob Rossney (rbr) Thu 26 Jun 08 15:44
    
> If it wasn't new technology that broke up the mainstream, what was it? 
> What do you finger as the primary cause of the end of "the idea that 
> *there was such a thing* as authority"?

Authority as an idea got rolled up because the people who had it misused 
it.  The three major American conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s - the civil 
rights movement, the generational movement, and the feminist movement - 
were challenges to authority, and across the board authority responded by
overreaching.  Whatever the Ohio National Guard and Hoover's FBI thought 
they were doing by murdering people, what they actually accomplished was
delegitimizing the power structure they were supposed to protect.

I think that the discovery that authority was simply flat-out *wrong* was
thrilling.  It meant that anything was possible.  This was a very 
seductive idea.  You can read _The Whole Earth Catalog_, for instance, 
entirely as a manifesto of optimists surveying the wreckage of authority,
declaring that they can make their own tools and grow their own vegetables
and do pretty much anything they set their minds to, because they don't 
have to do what they're told anymore, and what they've been told about the 
way the world works isn't true.  For a somewhat sadder and darker version 
of the same intellectual journey, consider the women that Joan Didion 
describes in "The Feminist Movement" (in _The White Album_):  women whose 
lives had been canalized by authority to the point of infantilization, and 
who, freed from authority, constructed ideas about what they were going to 
do next that Didion found disturbing in their lack of contact with the 
real world of adult concerns.

You can still see a reflexive and active distrust of authority in people 
of that generation.  The next generation doesn't have that:  they came of 
age in a world where authority was already broken, and they tend to view 
authority with a certain detachment.  The emperor has been naked for their 
entire lives, and so they don't find the fact of his nudity quite so 
compelling.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #34 of 82: phil (philg25) Thu 26 Jun 08 16:38
    

Both <lrph> and <murffy> make a very clear point and perfect sense,
but where does this leave us?  "Truth", whether it be scientific,
historic or whatever, becomes just another item of Faith.  Unless each
of us is able to prove something empirically, we are resigned to
ultimately believe an outside source.  Regardless of our level of Trust
(another of the capitalized aspirations), we are relying upon belief.

PC or Mac, Coke or Pepsi, Linux vs. Windows, Democrat vs. Republican. 
It seems that nearly everything becomes belief-based or a religion, if
you will.  Subjectivity has always been the rule of the day.  I wonder
if we haven't been fooling ourselves all along with our assertions of
Truth.

Mr. Manjoo brings us back to the crux - our reliance on belief systems
separates us into "us versus them" societal structures.  This makes it
very easy to trust those that believe as we do and distrust those that
don't.  After all, if they can't see what we see as so clearly True,
there must be something wrong with them.  The more we hear that
confirms what we believe, the more "right" we are.  If we are "right",
they must be wrong.

I do my utmost to violate my basic humanity and not judge others. 
Unfortunately, I do find myself to one of the contemporary Americans
Mr. Manjoo refers to in his epilogue.  I once trusted as my first
response and now I am much less likely to do so.  I believe it is now
appropriate to take a defensive posture.  As much as I have always
believed in Peace, Love and nonviolence, I no longer feel we are
evolved enough yet to make it become our reality.  I am now as likely
to prepare to protect myself.  I admit it saddens me a great deal, but
Reality has a way of doing that.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #35 of 82: phil (philg25) Thu 26 Jun 08 16:42
    
<rbr>, well said.  Despite my personal misgivings with human frailties
and failure, I am happy to see so many of our immediate community get
a firm grasp of the topic and the issues related.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #36 of 82: Andrew Alden (alden) Thu 26 Jun 08 21:58
    
I have to speak up for technology here, which has given all of us so many
more outlets of expression and sources of opinion that everyone can find a
reinforcing voice out there, no matter how nuts they are. To me it's like
the old science fiction story in which everyone becomes telepathic and is
horrified by the thoughts they begin to hear in their fellow humans. I think
that today it's not just the emperor who's naked; we all are.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #37 of 82: Bob Rossney (rbr) Fri 27 Jun 08 00:14
    
I think another reason to not get so enamored by technology is that
technological determinism usually misses every boat that's sailing.
Was it the technology of aviation that brought us 9/11, or was it the
technology of the box-cutter?  Well, neither; what brought us 9/11 was a 
group of dedicated fanatics willing to use every tool at their disposal to 
wreak their vengeance irrespective of any other consideration.

Am I comparing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with Mohammed Atta and
his crew?  Sure.  What the Swift folks did was like what Kurtz admires so
about the Montagnards in _Apocalypse Now_:  they were willing to abandon
sentimental attachments. The difference between lying and mass murder (or
hacking off the arms of schoolgirls) is nontrivial, so don't take the
comparison too far.  But still:  the foremost obstacle that the Swifties 
overcame was not being able to get their word out, it was being able to 
persuade themselves that their lies were serving a greater truth.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #38 of 82: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Fri 27 Jun 08 10:26
    
"it was being able to persuade themselves that their lies were serving
a greater truth"

The basis of most of the great lies of history.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #39 of 82: Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 27 Jun 08 11:04
    
Farhad, is there a reliable source of news out there?  I mean, I'm partial
to NPR, and I'm pretty damn sure they're reliable, but should I question
their reliability? If I did question it, where instead should I look for
more truthy truth?
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #40 of 82: Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Fri 27 Jun 08 12:04
    
This is a fascinating discussion. When you spend years writing a book
-- intermittently watching a lot of TV and YouTube -- you often wonder
the point of it: Are people going to read this thing? Will anyone
engage with my ideas? Should I buy the 50" plasma or the 42" LCD? And
so I feel enormously grateful that you're all taking on my ideas with
such gusto.

A couple people have touched on one of the ideas I spend much time on,
the difficulty of determining which of the many "experts" we encounter
in the news is the real deal. As some people note, it's become harder
than ever to distinguish true authorities from phonies. 

The news media is enormously invested in expertise: Turn on the TV at
any time of day and you'll see scientists, economists, home designers,
cooks, firemen, architects, doctors or any number of other specialists
commenting on the big stories of the day. Indeed, in some ways
presenting expertise is the primary function of journalism. Reporters,
the ultimate generalists, aim to dig in to any relevant specialty,
unearth its essence, and disseminate it over the genpop.

Two trends make this process more difficult. First, specialization is
constantly getting more special. As I write in the book, in the modern
economy there is no butcher, baker, candlestick maker. Now it's the
organic butcher, the gluten-free baker, the beeswax candlestick maker,
each of us familiar with just a vanishingly small section of society. 

The problem's especially acute in academia. Naomi Orsekes, a historian
of science, pointed out to me that there's no such thing as "climate
change expert," a label we often see in the news. "We might expect that
scientific experts are able to speak on all aspects of global warming,
but the reality is that the person who studies the ice-albedo effect
might know relatively little about, say, paleoclimate research," she
explained.

There's another problem with experts: There are now too many of them.
The explosion in the number and kind of media sources -- online, on TV,
on the radio -- has demanded an equal number of new experts. But
because many of the new sources are deliberately partisan, the experts
they choose are also partisan. So you turn on Fox News, these days, and
you see the "climatologist" who argues that global warming is a bluff.
He can prove it, he says, because, after all, *he's an expert.*
Meanwhile just one or two channels away, the climatologist on CNN is
saying exactly the opposite. So whom should you believe?

In the book I go over a lot of research showing that mere vestments of
authority -- a white lab coat, credentials from a prestigious
university, simply speaking in a tone that suggests you are smart --
can fool people into thinking you really are an expert. We like to
think of ourselves as sophisticated spotters of intellect, as folks who
can readily tell a B.S. artist when we're presented with one, but
that's not often the case. In most situations, especially on subjects
we don't know much about -- in other words, the areas in which we most
need the help of experts -- we're very bad at separating true experts
from poseurs.

So what we do often is go with a gut feeling. You tend to trust the
experts who appeal to your pre-conceived beliefs. If you see a pair of
climate change experts dueling on TV, you're unlikely to really listen
to what each is saying, because, face it, you've got no idea whether
the planet really is warming due to human activity. Every single thing
you know about climate change comes from experts you've chosen to
trust. And you've chosen to trust them for a number of factors
unrelated to the subject (whether other experts say the same thing,
whether other people whom you trust -- Al Gore, or Michael Crichton,
whomever -- says the same thing, etc.)

Which brings us to Murffy's question: "Or, as in the case of my
born-again Christian brother, how do you convince him that these
beliefs he's so heavily invested in are largely untrue?" 

I don't know your brother, but I bet it'll be a hard case.
Non-religious people often think that religious people have abandoned
empiricism for faith, that religious people are shunning evidence in
favor of blind belief. 

What I'm arguing is that we empiricists are often just going on
another kind of faith -- faith in the authority of science, in the
scientific method. It's a faith I happen to share, but I won't pretend
that it isn't often blind belief. In other words, I'm not prepared to
do the calculations, and so I "accept the authority of Galileo and the
astronomical community," as Murffy puts it.

But if we're all going on faith, obviously convincing people takes
much more effort. Evidence isn't going to help your brother: he's
beyond that. But in many areas, now, we're all in the same boat.

On Gail's question regarding Colbert: I agree! I did speak with a
booker there a couple months ago. She said they'd keep me in mind, but
that, obviously, these are themes that have come up often on the show,
so she isn't sure they'd be able to get to them again. Here's hoping.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #41 of 82: Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Fri 27 Jun 08 12:07
    
Lisa: I'm an unabashed NPR addict, but I'd say, sure, you should seek
out other media. It helps, these days, to investigate everything that's
important to you. Question everything. Fortunately that's easier to do
than ever before -- the Web is a vast resource!
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #42 of 82: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 27 Jun 08 13:09
    

> another kind of faith

That is a critical point. The root of much of this discussion if faith:
who do you have faith in? When reading a new story, do you have faith that
the story is being reported accurately? When the latest medical study
comes out contradicting an earlier one, which do you have enough faith in
to guide your behavior. I've read many stories about physicists
speculating that some things I thought had been proven might indeed be not
proven, at least under some conditions.

And when we get to other realms such as politics, the problem gets much,
much worse. How much faith should we put in what a candidate says before
he or she gets elected: zero or almost zero? And given the axe-grinding
and lack of balance in the media, how does one determine what is really
going on? Who do you believe is reporting the truth?

>  we empiricists 

The distinction between conventional religion and the spiritual path can
be said to be the difference between blind belief and empiricism.
Spiritual empiricists say that to follow a specific path leads to a
specific result and this can be tested (and falsified) by all who are
interested.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #43 of 82: Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Fri 27 Jun 08 13:20
    
>What I'm arguing is that we empiricists are often just going on
another kind of faith -- faith in the authority of science, in the
scientific method.<

Very good point except modern science tends to see knowledge as
provisional.  Thus, "scientific authority" is a bit of an oxymoron.

I like the scientific method and provisional knowledge simply because
it is open-ended and fruitful.  Traditional authority and dogma is
attempting to end inquiry at least in certain directions.  Politics
likes action or the appearance of action and consequently dislikes
inquiry (e.g "where is the sky falling?" "what size are the pieces?",
"Is most of the sky still up there?"  "Is someone selling sky falling
insurance"  "Is someone selling underground housing", etc. )
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #44 of 82: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 27 Jun 08 13:56
    
This expert expertise on the challenges of expert expertise in the
information age is also part of the new postmodern mainstream where the
claim of authority is fragmented, but very specific interests are,
nonetheless, being served.  I always wonder about motive as I read or
watch anything purporting to be "news" or "analysis" or "documentary." 
Why is this person or show being presented in this way?  What angle is
being sold?  Whose interests are being served?  Who is controlling
this medium of access to me? 

Things have the appearance of being fragmented.  Pseudo-truths are
being promulgated, but, too often, I can suss who or what interests are
behind the message and approach.  Despite the fragmentation, there is
still a mainstream plutocracy pulling most of the significant strings
in this postmodern society of ours. Globalized capitalism is fueled by
multinational and state capitalists with very specific interests.  I
was a little disappointed that you haven't addressed this different
approach you take to the idea of a "mainstream", Farhad. It seems to be
an important contextual factor as we adapt to info-overload and a
multiplicity of "truths."
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #45 of 82: Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Fri 27 Jun 08 14:05
    
Scott: I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say "I
was a little disappointed that you haven't addressed this different
approach you take to the idea of a 'mainstream,' Farhad." Are you
saying you're disappointed I'm not talking about the corporate role in
this system? Much of the last chapter of my book is about this -- or
are you saying something else?
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #46 of 82: "The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Fri 27 Jun 08 14:09
    
"What I'm arguing is that we empiricists are often just going on
 another kind of faith -- faith in the authority of science, in the
 scientific method. It's a faith I happen to share, but I won't pretend
 that it isn't often blind belief."

I couldn't agree more.   I share the same faith, but a lot of the other
believers on this system get very angry when you try and make that point.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #47 of 82: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 27 Jun 08 14:18
    
Farhad, see post #16.  I spelled out a different perspective on Bob's
point and your response:  

<<Bob, I see your argument about how "disappearance of the mainstream
from American life" is the big story; I think I make much the same
argument in the book. But as I see it, it's technology that's
responsible for the disappearance of the mainstream.>>

I have been very impressed with how you deal with "truthiness" in
these discussions, and I plan to buy your book, but after taking the
time and effort to question the idea that there is no "mainstream", I
was a bit disappointed that you never addressed that alternative
perspective in subsequent posts.  I sincerely wanted to hear your
thoughts on the idea of a postmodern mainstream as opposed to the
notion that there is no mainstream. 
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #48 of 82: Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Fri 27 Jun 08 15:40
    
The information stream is also really polluted by "experts" who are
bought and paid for, who will tell you stories they don't necessarily
believe or even know are completely false, because their livelihood
depends on it. This tendency is a problem we all face, the urge to
believe in what profits us (financially or emotionally or whatever),
but it's much worse when, as with this Administration, there is a
systematic campaign to lie, distract, and mislead even people who are
honestly looking for good information.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #49 of 82: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 27 Jun 08 16:32
    
In 2004, George Lakoff wrote a fascinating little book, "Don't Think
of An Elephant,"  that talks about how, starting with the Reagan
Administration, the Republican party became quite adept at "framing." 
One of the best examples was the use of the phrase "tax relief" to
frame the issue of tax cuts for the ultra rich to the voting public.  

Lakoff is also behind the use of the word "progressive" to replace the
discredited term "liberal."  Bottom line, the oversimplification and
packaging of public policy is part of the "truthiness" of contemporary
society, and, after seeing the oxymoronic "Conservative Revolution"
succeed so well at this, the "Progressives" are trying their best to
follow suit.  Lost in all of this is the substance of those public
policies.
  
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #50 of 82: Bob Rossney (rbr) Fri 27 Jun 08 16:32
    
I once saw, on CNN, an interview with "Defense Analyst James Dunagain."
I knew who he was - for "defense analyst", read "wargame designer" - and
watched him with some interest as he answered question after question.

At one point, the interviewer asked him, "Mr. Dunnagain, what makes you
an expert?"  He looked straight in the camera and said, "You do."
  

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