[W]hat’s going on in the discussion of economic affairs (and other matters, like justifications for war) isn’t just a case where different people look at the same facts but reach different conclusions. Instead, we’re looking at a situation in which one side of the debate just isn’t interested in the truth, in which alleged scholarship is actually just propaganda. Saying this, of course, gets you declared “shrill”, denounced as partisan; you’re supposed to pretend that we’re having a civilized discussion between people with good intentions. And you’re supposed to match each attack on Republicans with an attack on Democrats, as if the mendacity were equal on both sides. Sorry, but it isn’t. Democrats aren’t angels; they’re human and sometimes corrupt -- but they don’t operate a lie machine 24/7 the way modern Republicans do.Okay, I agree with this and I really do think it is enormously important and that this institutional capture and failure of so-called Established Elites (not just media but regulatory offices more generally) to defend actually warranted beliefs and standards from their contraries is quite disastrous, indeed possibly it is the deepest disaster of our historical moment, given the catastrophic failure of elites to police ongoing financial fraud, address wealth inequality, or act in the face of climate change all amply attest.
I mean, obviously I think this, as the pile-on post I wrote the day before yesterday deriding PolitiFact's all-too-predictable aggressive-defensive pretense that a true statement (Republican Medicare privatization and voucherization schemes would end Medicare as we know it even if they still called the result "Medicare") was a lie, indeed their Lie of the Year, and the way they then proceeded on the basis of that deception to decry the usual irresponsible "Both Sides are Equally Wrong" narrative should have made more than clear enough.
But even if you missed that rather pedestrian rant it should also be obvious that I agree with Krugman on this theme since here on Amor Mundi I so regularly deride the frank illiteracy of macroeconomic austerity recommendations, regressive taxes, climate change denialism, abstinence only sex miseducation, quack medical explanations for sexual desire, reductive biological justifications for racial or gender inequities, either triumphalist or clash of civilization themed meta-historical doctrines, futurological wish fulfillment fantasies and so on and on and on.
But here's the thing. I think that because it is also true that I am a pinko commie faggot humanities professor teaching cultural studies and critical theory at a San Francisco art school after getting a PhD in Rhetoric of all things at UC Berkeley, presumably ground zero for "fashionably nonsensical" effete elite aesthete nihilist relativist postmodernist hoo hah, it is sometimes imagined that either I will defend the state of affairs Krugman is decrying (as when, more often than you would expect, right wing lying for money is smugly described by some dependable people on the Left as "a triumph of postmodern doctrines" somehow, as if Derrida and Foucault and Rorty and Butler actually agreed on much of anything at all let alone how awesome lying for money is) or I am getting my comeuppance as the chickens come home to roost for all my historicizing anti-foundationism now that rich powerful assholes are lying to augment their fortunes as if rich powerful assholes ever behaved otherwise or gave two shits about the complex doctrines that get lazily corralled together under the heading of "postmodernism" by people who don't really read of them with any care if they read them at all.
As people who come here to not only to read my more predictably anti-Movement Republican ranting or not only to read my less predictably anti-futurological ranting, but instead to read my occasional posts on pragmatist philosophy or on queer theory already know very well about me, I really am one of those silly or menacingly pluralist historicist secularist socialist constructivist anti-foundationist theoryheads you may have heard about. Also, for those of you who think the definition of the word "rhetoric" is "bullshit" -- hello, pleased to meet you! As I said, my actual PhD is in… Rhetoric. I'm a rhetorician not only by temperament but by trade.
And, yes, I do happen forcefully to believe that the Universe has no preferences in the matter of how humans describe it in language either as to matters of fact or of value. And in my view this means that even those beliefs which I hold for good reasons may eventually be superseded by better ones, and this means in turn that I can be quite confident but never certain in my beliefs. And this means others can be quite as confident and differ from me in ways that are deeply threatening in ways I cannot really overcome and which I might perhaps learn instead to embrace.
And all this is exacerbated in my view by the related realizations that I am a finite and limited historically situated socially interdependent being prone to error, misunderstanding, rationalization, denial, humiliation, illness and aging and that chance is not something I can ever quite overcome even as it plays out in matters of chief concern to me.
I also believe that the standards and criteria on the basis of which beliefs are warranted as reasonable ones actually differ depending on the nature of belief, that scientific beliefs that yield prediction and control are warranted as reasonable very differently from the ways that moral beliefs that yield belonging and identity or ethical beliefs that aspire to an assent more general and sometimes against the grain of moral belonging or political beliefs that seek to reconcile the aspirations of a diversity of stakeholders who share the moment and the world are so warranted. And this means that "Reason" is real but plural, not properly reducible to or hierarchized in respect to the standards that prevail in any one of a constellation of domains of truth-telling (where truth, in William James terms, is that which is "good in the way of belief -- and good for definite, assignable reasons").
As it happens, believing none of these things makes me the least bit inclined to say that nothing is anything or nothing means anything or everything is as good as everything else or any of that nonsense.
I assume that those who cannot imagine defending science, defending facts, defending fairness, defending nonviolence, defending democracy, defending rights, defending standards while at once holding on to beliefs like these are either honestly a little ignorant for now or just rather stupid, by which I mean to say that they are being terribly lazy, inattentive, uncritical, and even rather bratty about the whole thing.
But worse than their stupidity is the way I believe such people violate and profoundly undermine the substance and the usefulness and even the beauty of the warranted beliefs and standards and fragile accomplishments and values they imagine they are championing in decrying versions of these standards and values that accommodate the uncertainty and contingency and plurality I hold to be just as obviously true as the beliefs warranted by consensus science (including climate science) or Keynesian macroeconomic insights (with some decent revisions most of which are also a half century old by now) or fact-based social science recommending an end to capital punishment, the legalization, consensualization, regulation, taxation, and readily available therapization of drug use, the strict regulation of dangerous technologies like assault weapons, steeply progressive taxes subsidizing generous welfare entitlements and not for profit enterprise and expressivity, public education, equitable recourse to accountable law enforcement, regulation of commerce in the public interest, the shift from extractive-industrial-petrochemical to renewable energy and sustainable consumption, and ongoing investment in public goods and stewardship over common goods in the service of all.
I happen to think that the Academy, properly so called, was and should be a non-commercial non-profit non-reductive archipelago of institutions and spaces and practices devoted to the education, research, and development of warrantable truths and meanings and beauties for all, which makes me abhor the present looting and reduction and commercialization of the Academy as well as the development of the mostly right-wing archipelago of corporate-military think tanks and media outlets that function as a counter-Academy pushing deception, fraud, hyperbole, and self-promotion in the service of elite-incumbent interests.
Even though I agree with those critiques of the Academy and other comparable Elite/Establishment institutional locations (courts, media, museums) that point out their parochialism, inequities, rationalizations for the status quo, and so I agitate for their democratization in the face of those critiques, I am still easily and eagerly able to defend the indispensability of scientific and academic and legal and journalistic and art institutions and practices to the determination, articulation, education, application of warranted beliefs and the triumph of reasonableness more generally (part of which is a proliferation of meaningful expressivities and unpredictable reconciliations of differences in my view), both their tattered and vulnerable and imperfect vestiges in the world and the forms they should and could take given sufficient work, reform, struggle.
I do not understand those who pretend my pluralism undermines warrantable standards any more than I understand why so many let their parochial perfectionisms become the enemy of the realization of the better in the world. I find myself making arguments against people holding these sorts of positions all the time, here and elsewhere, and while it is usually rather different people who argue with me from these vantages or tendencies it does seems to me that they are actually related or even strictly complementary errors, that is to say, complementary idealisms defended at the expense of pragmatic standards, expressivities, equities and, funnily enough, both usually propounded with a measure of scorn at my own supposed irrationality or impracticality in refusing their own self-defeating rationalizations.
To say that reality has a liberal bias -- as so many of us do find ourselves saying in the ever multiplying sorts of situations to which Krugman is responding above -- is actually to suggest some rather profound things about how reality seems to us and how we should act in respect to it. I like the glib throwaway line plenty, I like how elegantly and forcefully it holds together so much sense, but I do think at least occasionally we should ponder at greater length what it is we are committing to in saying this about reality, especially if we say it (as I do) as people who do not really believe reality has preferences in the matter of how human beings portray it in language (as I do not).