An epistemic crisis

America is facing an epistemic crisis says David Roberts at Vox. I'm used to disagreeing with DR, though everyone else seems to lurve him, so it's no surprise that I disagree this time, too.

The first thing wrong with it is that it's yet more stuff about Trump and Mueller, and the world already has far too much of that. In a sense it isn't really about Trump though - he's just the peg to hang off "thoughts" about the Evil Right Wing (DR's Left Wing is much nicer) and then a tiny bit of climate at the end.

I imagine that you (well, except for RS) like me can never remember what all the wanky Philosophy words like Ontological and Epistemology actually mean. DR thoughtfully explains that Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with how we know things and what it means for something to be true or false, accurate or inaccurate. And further notes that The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening. And that I think is reasonably fair, though I think if you probed it more deeply you'd find extensive areas of shared agreement. I'm pretty dubious about The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge though. DR's free pass for the left wing doesn't seem terribly plausible to me.

But anyway, what this all ends up meaning is that you can't win arguments on the internet. Which those of us who've been arguing on the internet for a while have already noticed. It isn't particularly new; that there are partisans for causes who cannot meaningfully be reasoned with is familiar to anyone who has commented at WUWT and elsewhere. There are many many problems but one of them is that any given issue can (and must be, if you want to nail down anything) be hair split into so many parts and chased down into so much detail that if you've wasted vast time finally nailing down the most carefully hair-split detail, then (a) all the audience has got bored and left, and (b) you've only settled the tiniest fingernail of uninteresting detail. And of course "winning" on that one point of detail does you no good, because no-one has any honour; "losing" a point means nothing; it establishes no precedent for trustworthiness or otherwise.

Mind you, I also think he is wrong about his case: US institutions are stronger than he gives them credit for. But I'm not at all sure this kind of hand-wringing is useful; helping strengthen those institutions would be better. Perhaps that's what he thinks he is doing?

Of course, if you don't like disliking DR, you can always dislike the American Enterprise Institute instead; the post and comments there provide a nice example of the problem. You'll wonder (I hope) how I got there; the answer is via Cafe Hayek who, whilst a nice economist, is rather naive about GW and the truthiness of Patrick Michaels.


Mark Jacobson Abandons Science, Takes Up Barratry - mt
A  Mind Böggling Development In Energy Storage & Zeppelin Parking - RS
* ATTP joins the epistemic bandwagon: Jordan Peterson speaks the truth.


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

As usual, I find myself frustrated by your "there are good/bad people on both sides" attitude. Epistemic crisis or no, Roberts adduces several examples of the US right's propaganda style, while you just offer up snide intimations of an equally powerful "evil US left." That's a safer approach than actually trying to present evidence, since I don't think there is anything on the US left remotely comparable to the vast disinformation apparatus of right wing "think tanks," radio, television and some print media.

As often, I find myself wondering what the heck it is that Dr. Stoat is trying to say.

Tom said...

Despite being one of the hated lukewarmers, politically I am to the left of most arguing the consensus side. Really, really am. Obama was too centrist, too delightfully pragmatic for my taste.

Our host is correct. Institutionally, the Left (in my country) is correct in its aims and laughably poor in its performance. We are more interested in cutting each others' throats than defeating the enemy--witness the bizarre kerfuffle about H. Clinton's bailing out the Democratic National Committee.

Our host is also incorrect. US institutions are only as strong as those who inhabit them. There has been considerable amount of de-skilling going on over the past two decades. Now there is also de-ethicizing within the same institutions. Not a good omen.

William Connolley said...

I only observe from a distance.

> US institutions are only as strong as those who inhabit them

Yes and no. Obviously even the strongest institutions are worthless if people don't stand up for them, a-la Venezuela and many other regrettable examples. But you can also have the virtue of strong institutions that are easier to support. Which is to say, the constitution and so on. Here I perceive the Left as being too ready to weasel around constitutional restrictions, and (as I've said before) too ready to dismiss principled objections on constitutional grounds as mere politicking by their opponents (which is not to say that the latter doesn't occur; just that the Left doesn't even seem to understand the idea).

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

CIP. both Madison Avenue and K Street have two sides , and left and right alike avail themselves of best efforts of PR firm and ad agency Creative Departments

Few postmodern developments have proven as dismal as scientists following in the footsteps of doctors and lawyers who have abandoned persuasion in favor of advertising and lobbying

Hank Roberts said...


Hank Roberts said...

More on that,
hat tip to Metafilter

"This year is the 800th anniversary of a founding document of the British constitution, and of other constitutions as well. Issued in the name of a ten-year-old King Henry III alongside the modified Charter of Liberties that had been sealed by King John and the barons at Runnymede on June 15, 2015 that became Magna Carta on November 6, 1217, the Charter of the Forest is among the first ecological charters in history and among the first to assert the rights of the common man and woman."