Tagged: post-truth Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 12:11 pm on August 16, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , new realism, post-truth, ,   

    The political significance of realism 

    This useful essay in the Hedgehog review links the contemporary flourishing of realism to the politics of ‘post-truth’, making a change from crass accusations that trump is the fault of postmodernism. While his focus is on speculative, critical and new realism, the point could be generalised to include new materialism, agential realism, ANT and assemblage theory as other forms of realism. It’s not so much that the rise of post-truth politics is encouraging the spread of realism but there’s an important idea to be explored here about the changing political context in which seemingly obscure debates about ontology and epistemology take place:

    While postmodern thought can bear only so much blame for a style of politics that destabilizes notions of reality and truth, Vladimir Putin, Silvio Berlusconi, and Donald J. Trump have all profited from the collapse of a broad cultural consensus about what is plausibly true and what is “fake news,” a collapse to which popularized postmodernist suspiciousness has contributed. Having observed Berlusconi’s roughshod abuse of reality during the media mogul’s off-again on-again career as Italian prime minister, Ferraris argues that without the idea that some things are the way they are, no matter what anyone thinks about them, it is unclear how one might resist the claims of the powerful. “Contrary to what many postmodern thinkers believe,” he concludes, “there are reasonable grounds to think, first of all on the basis of the teachings of history, that reality and truth have always constituted the protection of the weak against the oppression of the strong.

    From Nedelisky, P. (2019). Reality: A Shopper’s Guide. The Hedgehog Review, 21(2), 57-71.

     
  • Mark 10:47 am on April 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: fact checking, factfulness, , , , , , , post-truth,   

    You can’t have your ‘facts’ back 

    My notes on Marres, N. (2018). Why We Can’t Have Our Facts Back. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 4, 423-443.

    “We want our facts back” is a semi-joking remarking Noortje Marres overheard an academic say which captures a wider response to what has been called ‘post-truth’. Many feel increasingly inclined to take a normative stance in support of ‘facts’ and feel nostalgic for “a time when experts still seemed to have unquestionable authority and felt secure in this authority, when government ministers didn’t say things like ‘people have had enough of experts,’ and the notion that evidence should play a central role in public debate and politics had widespread, even taken-for- granted, institutional support” (423-424). Appealing though it might be, Marres points out that this position ignores the fact that not only were partisans of evidence were a minority in public life in the 90s and 00s, it was also widely recognised that evidence-based debate was not in itself as solution to political problems and could even be problematic by putting politics at risk through an over reliance on experts. While recognising the growing indifference of public speech to factfulness and the lack of consequences attached to outright lies, Marres argues we need to look more deeply to the “changing architectures of the public sphere” (424). The many initiatives which seek to restore the place of factfulness within public life (disinformation awareness campaigns, knowledge literacy programme, fact-checking services) risk reinstating an outdated strategy for securing facts in public debate which is based on authority. It entails a divide between knowing and unknowing subjects, those with facts and those without, which runs contrary to any aspiration for a knowledge democracy. Achieving this will require institutional, media and technological arrangements which are very different to those from the much claimed golden age of factfulness.

    Social media has become a battleground for these debates, with fact checking initiatives using techniques ranging from ‘human moderation’ through to automated fact verification in order to apply journalistic procedures to online content. The platforms themselves have invested increasingly in moderation teams, as well as using automated tools to seek to demarcate problematic and unproblematic material. This has led inter alia to ‘dispute contented’ banners which can now be attached to certain pieces of content on Facebook, highlighting that a third party fact checking operation has cast doubt upon it. There have been questioned range about the working conditions of those undertaking this epistemic labour in click farms, but less scrutiny of the epistemology and methodologies underpinning them. The rely for their legitimacy on ideals of public knowledge and scientific citizenship but operate on a basis which is in tension with these, assuming that “quality is an attribute of information itself” (426). This runs contrary to what had become an increasingly dominant sense of information as *social*, defined by its circulation and connections. In contrast now what is at stake is seen to be the properties of content itself: “What is said to be in need of attention and intervention is the “veracity” of online statements and the potential duplicity of online sources” (427). For instance Factmata seeks to “cross-reference any claim circulating online onto a database of so-called verified statements, in order to validate or invalidate it” (427). So for instance a claim about immigration would immediately be linked to public data about the issue, allowing users to ‘become their own fact checkers’. In this it embodied logical positivism, seeking to decompose statements into units which could be matched against experience or other verifiable statements. Marres makes a particularly interesting point here about how logical positive and computer science shared a common inspiration in Frege’s logic and similar work, going some way to explaining the tendency for positivism to be reinstated by the turn to AI in systems like Factmata.

    Fact checking systems implement a methodology and perform a service, but they also carry a distinction: “that between legitimate and illegitimate claims to knowledge” (428). These putatively technical procedures in fact draw normative boundaries, ones which its important we understand. She references Rorty’s account of demarcationism: defining validity or its absence as a binary attribute of atomistic statements i.e. can be they be traced back to observational statements or not? The normative dimension comes from the question of how to police this boundary between different types of statements. It also entails a sense of actors as being responsible for the epistemic quality of debate, by drawing attention to the character of their statements. In this world view, ‘good’ sources reliably produce valid statements, with ‘good’ users capable of discerning their presence. This is what Marres calls the politics of demarcation. This seeks ‘fake news’ as something which emerges from outside the technology: “it is the type of information sources that the Internet makes available, on one hand, and the users’ lack of skills capable of discerning the difference between valid and invalid statements, one the other, that are said to be responsible for the prevalence of dodgy content in this media environment” (428). Fact vs fiction pages were part of internet culture in the 1990s and demarcationist technologies predate the rise of ‘fake news’. But whereas the blame was once attributed to deviant online subcultures such as vaxers or flat-earthers, it’s now increasingly marked in social terms such as education levels. This dichotomy of responsible and irresponsible users roughly maps onto a broader “opposition between educated progressives and, on balance, less educated supporters of populist and nationalist causes” which is at the heart of contemporary debates about ‘fake news’ i.e. it has the potential in practice to position nascent ‘populists’ as the epistemic crisis, who need to beaten back by and suppressed through technological means in order to ensure the health of the public sphere. They might even reinforce the distinction in a way that furthers the political project of the latter, as can be seen in the far-right backlash against social media firms ‘deplatforming’ leading figures.

    Demarcationism can’t account for the role that digital media has played in undermining respect for knowledge in the first place, instead externalising it into the figure of deviant users and deviant content producers. The mechanism undermining this is simple, as algorithms for content selection are designed to ensure maximum circulation in order to build the widest possible audience. This account of this on 431 was excellent:

    “Online platforms, then, reward messages that spread instantly and widely with even more visibility, and, as tabloid newspapers invested in maximizing advertising revenue also found out in previous decades, sensational rather than factual content turns out to satisfy this criterion of maximal “share-ability” best. A commercial logic here gives rise to a circular content economy, one without referent: content that gets shared a lot is rewarded with more visibility, thereby increasing its share-ability.”

    Fact checking services address the bias of sources while veiling the role of this content economy in conditioning the behaviour of those sources. They render opaque the role played by “technologies of source selection that regulate content circulation online” (431). The network structure of online communities is another source of limitation, as groups spreading ‘fake news’ barely overlap with groups interested in debunking it. How do we make sense of these differences between knowledge communities without invoking the facile distinction of literate and illiterate? Fact checking and demarcation do not help us understand the problem with knowledge we face in digitalised societies, instead actually actively keeping us from this. This concern doesn’t mean we deny there is a “crisis of public evidence in today’s digital societies” but rather that we recognise it “goes well beyond da disregard for facts in digital media environments” (433). It’s crucial that we recognise how “the insertion of computational technologies into public infrastructures have resulted in deception and manipulation of the empirical record” (434) by undermining institutional architectures which ensured accountability across social life. The correspondence model of truth embedded in fact checking is inadequate to address the broader social challenges which these developments are posing for us. Its reliance on looking back, checking claims against a corpus of established facts, fails to grasp today’s “dynamic information environments, in which readings and behaviors are constantly adjusted as conditions change” (434). Marres argues for a dynamic conception of truth in debate to replace this retrospective one.

    The behaviourism around which platforms have been designed uses a concept of users as “influenceable subjects, not knowledge agents”. It has facilitated a social science which does without interpretation, but this does not mean it is a knowledge free environment. It is, as Marres puts it, “a research-centric apparatus, in that their design directly reflects the epistemic needs of the data scientists whose analytic operations are key to their commercial model: to target information to groups of friends, to track shares and likes in the aggregate” (435). It is built around the influencibility of users, with an empirical register which is predicated upon this. This is the final problem which Marres raises with demarcationist fact checking: “the normative opposition between knowledge (good) and non-knowledge (bad) that it imposes makes it difficult to see that epistemic ideals––like behaviorism––themselves have played a role in encouraging a disregard for knowledge on the Internet” (437). Not least of all in the fundamental assymetry at its heart. From 437:

    “social media present an environment in two halves, where, on the one side, we find users with “influence-able” and “target-able” opinions, tastes, and preferences, while, on the other side, we have authoritative data analysts who “know” the population’s fine- grained and ever-changeable preferences and tastes. Scientists––the proponents of knowledge–– haven’t been by-standers but active participants in the crafting of a media architecture designed to enable the influencing of users’ actions.”

    Demarcationism reflects this bifurcation, with the knowing subjects seeking to redesign the information environment to correct the unknowing subjects. The “veritable army of social data scientists who monitor, measure, and seek to intervene in this behavioral theatre” do so on the basis of facts, but outside of the public sphere and in a way which precludes engagement between experts and citizens.

    Fake news might be problematic in itself but it attaches itself to issues which matter to people, tracking controversies which define political life. Fact checking fails to address this connection for the reasons cited above, but Marres argues that ‘experimental facts’ might be better served for this purpose. This doesn’t entail a rejection of stable facts, well establish ed and stable conditions which play an important role in public debate. If I understand correctly, these “statements whose veracity is unstable and whose epistemic status changes over time” (438) because they reference a changing reality, can be interrogated in real time in order to facilitate debate about their character and implications, as opposed to being demarcated in relation to an established body of fact. But I found the example of the £350 million on the NHS claim slightly confusing. There’s so much in this paper to think about, I’m going to come back to it at a lot. I think the point is that ‘experimental facts’ in this sense are more common given the epistemic dynamism which characterised digitalised society. So in essence the argument is to find ways to stay with the difficulties these cause, rather than trying to shut them down in ways likely to be be epistemically short-sighted and politically counter-productive. This is a move from a politics of demarcation to a politics of selection: “while demarcation concentrates on the retrospective establishment of correspondence of public statements with presumably stable, pre-given atomistic statements, a politics of selection progressively establishes a referent for claims through an iterative process of locating and evaluating statement-networks in formation.” (441).

     
  • Mark 6:07 pm on February 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: post-truth   

    Experts, knowledge and criticality in the age of ‘alternative facts’: re-examining the contribution of higher education 

    This event looks fantastic. More details and registration here.

    Chair: Dr Neil Harrison, University of Oxford

    In their seminal works of the early 1990s, both Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens predicted that one manifestation of late modernity would be a popular suspicion of experts and scepticism about expertise.  Since then, the rise of the individual’s ability to have their voice heard through mass social media has eroded traditional patterns of cognitive authority – including in academia.

    On the one hand, this democratisation of knowledge is to be welcomed, as it has enabled new critical voices to emerge and new discourses to develop, especially among groups that have historically been voiceless. However, it has also created an environment of confusion – a crowded forum of competing voices where volume, integrity and quality are often out of balance.  This confusion has allowed those with power to obfuscate, especially when the weight of evidence is against them.  In recent times, we have seen former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove claim that the public are ‘tired of experts’, while US President Donald Trump’s infamous refrain of ‘fake news’ is used to sideline inconvenient facts and opinions.

    Universities have traditionally been seen as authoritative sites for both the creation and transmission of knowledge.  Academics are positioned as experts whose work enriches public life through scientific, social and cultural advances, with expertise that is passed to students through a variety of teaching practices as part of a consensual corpus of knowledge. More recently, universities have increasingly promoted the idea of their graduates as globally-aware and values-led problem-solvers, with the knowledge to tackle ‘wicked issues’ like climate change, public health crises and economic instability.

    This event will showcase a diverse collection of papers from a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education journal. They are bound together by a focus on how universities can and should respond to the ‘post-truth’ world where experts and expertise are under attack, but where knowledge and theory-based practice continue to offer the hope of a fairer, safer and more rewarding world.  Specifically, the papers touch on the contributions that can be made by information literacies, public intellectualism, curriculum reform, interdisciplinarity and alternative pedagogies.

     

    Presenters:

    Elizabeth Hauke (Imperial College, London): “Understanding the world today: the roles of knowledge and knowing in higher education”

    Gwyneth Hughes (University College London): “Developing student research capability for a ‘post-truth’ world: three challenges for integrating research across taught programmes”

    Rita Hordósy (University of Manchester) and Tom Clark (University of Sheffield): “Undergraduate experiences of the research/teaching nexus across the whole student lifecycle”

    Mark Brooke (National University of Singapore): “The analytical lens: developing undergraduate students’ critical dispositions in English for Academic Purposes writing courses”

    Alison MacKenzie (Queen’s University, Belfast): “Just Google it: digital literacy and the epistemology of ignorance”

     
  • Mark 7:11 am on January 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: post-truth   

    Call for Papers: Lies, Bullshit and Fake News Online: Should We Be Worried? 

    Thanks to Filip Vostal for pointing me towards this superb cfP:

    Special Issue of Postdigital Science and Education

    Call for Papers: Lies, Bullshit and Fake News Online: Should We Be Worried?

    Link to Call for Papers

    Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the alleged interference of Russia in that election, there have been increasing concerns that fake news in online platforms is undermining the legitimacy of the press, the democratic process, and the authority of sources such as science, the social sciences and qualified experts. The global reach of Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms has shown that they can be used to spread fake and misleading news quickly and seemingly without control. In addition to their power and reach, these platforms operate, and indeed thrive, in what seems to be an increasingly balkanised media eco-system where networks of users will predominantly access and consume information that conforms to their existing worldviews. Conflicting positions, even if relevant and authoritative, are suppressed, discredited or overlooked.

    Should we be concerned? It is tempting to think that with the intense reporting on lies, bullshit and fake news, publics everywhere are facing a crisis of honesty and trust through calculated onslaughts on these values. However, the dissemination of false or misleading news, negative campaigns about disfavoured people or groups, and lies, scams and bullshit, is hardly new. Propaganda is an ancient art that has been disseminated through state-controlled media in modern times, through the theatre, games and festivals in ancient times, and through pamphlets and handwritten books before we used modern machinery to communicate on a mass scale. Propaganda was as much used in the French Revolution as it was in the Second World War and the Vietnam War, and both communism and fascism used revolutionary propaganda with some ferocity in the 20th century.

    But perhaps there is something that marks out our times as having surpassed practices of deliberate misinformation in other periods. With most people now using online platforms, including social media feeds, as their main source of news, views, and evidence, we are led to ask: what is the difference between a lie, bullshit and a fake news story? Is it defensible to lie, bullshit or spread fake stories? Whom can we trust? How do online users distinguish the fake from the real, the truthful from the dishonest, and an authority from a propagandist?

    For this special issue we are looking for papers from across a range of disciplines that focus on questions and conceptions of:

    • Lies, fakery and bullshit in modern social media
    • Epistemic trust and authority online
    • Epistemologies of ignorance – how these are created, produced and sustained
    • The role of digital and information literacies, and linguistic framing
    • The role of platforms in the dissemination of fake news, hoaxes and misinformation
    • The role of education and online platforms in addressing these issues and improving the health of public conversations.

    More information in Guest Editors’ article Lies, Bullshit and Fake News: Some Epistemological Concerns.

    Submissions

    For further information and authors’ guidelines see Postdigital Science and Education.

    Guest Editors

    Alison MacKenzie, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK, A.MacKenzie@qub.ac.uk

    Ibrar Bhatt, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK, I.Bhatt@qub.ac.uk

    Important Dates

    1 March 2019 – Deadline for extended abstracts (700-800 words) (submitted by e-mail to Guest Editors)

    15 May 2019 – Deadline for full papers (submitted through online submission system)

    1 July 2019 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

    1 October 2019 – Final deadline for revised papers

    Accepted articles are immediately published as Online First.

    The Special Issue will be published in December 2019.

     
  • Mark 7:58 pm on October 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: All the President's Men, , , post-truth, The Waldheim Waltz, Watergate   

    The weaponisation of epistemology: strategy and tactics 

    I spent this afternoon at the Cambridge film festival, watching two films which couldn’t seem more different yet spoke to our current moment in oddly similar ways. All the President’s Men was released in 1976, telling the story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation of the Watergate scandal. The Waldheim Waltz was released this year yet deals with events from not long after the other film was made, specifically former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s run for Austrian President in 1986 and the scandal which erupted when his service as an intelligence officer for the Nazi SA was made public.

    Both films featured elements familiar from our current political scene. Accusations of fake news, manufactured scandals and disingenuous accusations figured heavily. Consensual politics had broken down, replaced with claim and counter-claim as previously trusted adjudicators found their motivations questioned. Dark forces bubble to the surface and discursive order is revealed to be a precarious achievement. Seen in this light, both films embody continuities with our present moment and provide an engaging riposte to shrill invocations of the ‘post-truth’ crisis. The weaponisation of epistemology long predates Donald Trump and his ilk.

    However there was a difference which I’ve found myself dwelling upon. In both films, the powerful weaponised epistemology in a reactive way. They sought to dig themselves out of holes, shore up their defences and turn the tide of public opinion in their favour. It was all tactics and no strategy. This might be a function of the format, as the strategising I’m talking about would not translate easily into either narrative, even assuming there is a historical record which confirms its existence. It’s nonetheless intriguing to consider the prospect that the strategic weaponisation of epistemology has expanded recently, even if its tactical weaponisation is long standing.

    What I found particularly striking was the lack of preparation. Kurt Waldheim had engaged in impression management through his autobiography yet his war record sat in national archives, waiting for someone to bother to look. The Watergate conspirators left a trail which they only began to obfuscate once investigative reporters from a national newspaper were on the case. If this is the whole story, something which I’m not sure is true, it raises the interesting question of when preemptive spin and crisis communications began to transform the political landscape of epistemology. I suspect that once the expectation of weaponisation takes hold, in the sense of it being prudent to assume something will be used against you, it becomes a self-fulling prophecy as strategic thought becomes synonyms with prudent planning.

     
  • Mark 9:01 am on October 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: abbreviation, , , , , , eviscaration, post-truth, ,   

    The vulnerability of human experience to abbreviation 

    This expression used by Alain de Botton in his How Proust Can Change Your Life (pg 42) stood out to me. He uses it in relation to the morning news, reflecting on how reporting inevitably strips away from the reality of what is reported on. This is an example of a broader tendency for human experience to “be stripped of the more obvious signposts by which we guide ourselves when ascribing importance”. To use the language of Andrew Sayer, factual reporting strips away what matters to people about what is being reported on. The distillation involved in reporting on the facts of a case unavoidably subtract how those state of affairs move people and motivate them, leaving us with an arid picture susceptible to wide circulation when so many other accounts compete for our attention. The abbreviation of human experience is a practical necessity which detracts from our understanding of others and the world around us, even as it contributes to our knowledge of those conditions.

    It might be argued that social media highlights human experience in a new way, though I would suggest it is demotic in the sense of reality television rather than democratic in the sense of participatory. It foregrounds human experience through templates and incentivised interaction, increasing the flow of human experience in public consciousness but at the cost of its integrity. Abbreviation is intensified rather than attenuated, with so many shards of experience flying around that radically truncating our attention is the only way to cope. What gets through is what is spectacular, jarring or enraging. It is not a return to human experience but its last gasp, with meaning and mattering mangled by the machinery of abbreviation. Under these conditions, what de Botton calls the finger placing ability becomes important:

    The value of a novel is not limited to its depiction of emotions and people akin to those in our own life, it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognise as our own, yet could not have formulated on our own.  (pg 28)

    I’ve always been fascinated by these depths. The struggle within us to articulate something and the relief that comes when we find a way to say it. Often though we change in the process of saying it, as we suddenly recognise a state of affairs within us by virtue of being able to express it. The opposite of what de Botton calls abbreviation is what Charles Taylor calls articulation. Resources we can draw on in articulation are invaluable in an age of radical abbreviation, helping us become “newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness” such that we are “drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend or to a submerged sadness about a situation which we had previously not even known we could feel sad about” (pg 29). Articulacy we develop expands outwards, sensitising us to the abbreviation we encounter around us and leaving us more adept at recovering the reality subsumed by its thin expression. This is not a call for slowness, as much as for elaboration. There’s a value in being long winded, even if it’s unlikely to get you read.

     
    • Patrick Ainley 5:34 pm on October 17, 2018 Permalink

      ‘DIMINISHED DIGITS PROVE TOO TITILLATING FOR FRISKY FRUMPS.’ James Joyce ‘Ulysses’ – in fact this whole book exemplifies your last point! (Nice view from Greenwich to Isle of Dogs! A fine beard too, if I may say so!

    • Patrick Ainley 5:35 pm on October 17, 2018 Permalink

      Close bracket at end of comment above!

    • Mark 10:21 am on October 18, 2018 Permalink

      thanks! one of my favourite spots in London!

      I’ve always meant to read it but have been a bit put off by the size of the undertaking….

  • Mark 8:58 am on August 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , post-truth, , , , , , ,   

    Social ontology amidst the wreckage of techno-progressive orthodoxy 

    I found this review of Trump and the Media by Nicholas Carr in the LA Review of Books immensely thought-provoking. His focus is on the book’s historical contribution, contextualising the enthusiasm with which social media was greeted in terms of long term concerns about the centralisation of mass media. We can’t understand the ideal of a radically decentralised media without understanding the anxieties provoked by its initial centralisation:

    Trump’s twitter stream may be without precedent, but the controversy surrounding social media’s political impact has a history stretching back nearly a century. During the 1930s, the spread of mass media was accompanied by the rise of fascism. To many observers at the time, the former helped explain the latter. By consolidating control over news and other information, radio networks, movie studios, and publishing houses enabled a single voice to address and even command the multitudes. The very structure of mass media seemed to reflect and reinforce the political structure of the authoritarian state.

    It is against this backdrop that social scientists began to “imagine a decentralized, multimedia communication network that would encourage the development of a ‘democratic personality,’ providing a bulwark against fascist movements and their charismatic leaders”. Fred Turner traces these initial speculations from their originators, through the 1960s counterculture and the incipient computer industry, before it became an article of faith within present day Silicon Valley:

    In the early years of this century, as the internet subsumed traditional media, the ideal became a pillar of Silicon Valley ideology. The founders of companies like Google and Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, promoted their networks as tools for overthrowing mass-media “gatekeepers” and giving individuals control over the exchange of information. They promised, as Turner writes, that social media would “allow us to present our authentic selves to one another” and connect those diverse selves into a more harmonious, pluralistic, and democratic society.

    Carr frames Trump and the Media as “orbiting” around “the wreckage of techno-progressive orthodoxy”. These are the terms in which I’ve recently tried to analyse ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, as solutionist framings by technological, media and political elites which circumscribe a much broader set of transformations and shape likely responses to them. It’s often struck me that these represent a peculiarly populist form of reasoning in their own right: isolating an incoming element which is seen to undermine a previously stable system, whether this is ‘populism’ or ‘social media’ itself. In the process, the claims of populists and social media firms are taken at face value, vastly inflating the power they have:

    One contentious question is whether social media in general and Twitter in particular actually changed the outcome of the vote. Keith N. Hampton, of Michigan State University, finds “no evidence” that any of the widely acknowledged malignancies of social media, from fake news to filter bubbles, “worked in favor of a particular presidential candidate.” Drawing on exit polls, he shows that most demographic groups voted pretty much the same in 2016 as they had in the Obama-Romney race of 2012. The one group that exhibited a large and possibly decisive shift from the Democratic to the Republican candidate were white voters without college degrees. Yet these voters, surveys reveal, are also the least likely to spend a lot of time online or to be active on social media. It’s unfair to blame Twitter or Facebook for Trump’s victory, Hampton suggests, if the swing voters weren’t on Twitter or Facebook.

    This is not to say that social media doesn’t exercise influence, only to dispute the assumption that it works through one-to-many communication. The media elites bemoaning the rise of fake news and filter bubbles in the dawning post-truth age are themselves complicit in the dynamic they see as being ‘out there’:

    What Hampton overlooks are the indirect effects of social media, particularly its influence on press coverage and public attention. As the University of Oxford’s Josh Cowls and Ralph Schroeder write, Trump’s Twitter account may have been monitored by only a small portion of the public, but it was followed, religiously, by journalists, pundits, and policymakers. The novelty and frequent abrasiveness of the tweets — they broke all the rules of decorum for presidential campaigns — mesmerized the chattering class throughout the primaries and the general election campaign, fueling a frenzy of retweets, replies, and hashtags. Social media’s biggest echo chamber turned out to be the traditional media elite.

    What this short review suggested to me is the necessity of revisiting basic concepts (such as centralisation, gatekeepers, publics and influence) in response to the wreckage of techno-progressive orthodoxy. We need a bleak social theory for bleak times and if it doesn’t begin by examining the assumptions inherited in core concepts, as well as their implications for making sense of the present conjuncture, it is unlikely to get very far.

     
  • Mark 8:50 am on June 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , post-truth, , , , ,   

    Social media as asshole amplification technology, or, the moral psychology of platform architecture 

    This is Jaron Lanier’s memorable description of social media in his new book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Social media is a technology for asshole amplification. To be clearly seen in the fact that “since social media took off, assholes are having more of a say in the world” (pg 43). His point is not that social media is a haven for trolls because it’s “not helpful to think of the world as being divided into assholes and non-assholes or if you prefer trolls and victims”. On pg 44 he cautions that each of us has our own inner troll:

    It’s like an ugly alien living inside you that you long ago forgot about. Don’t let your inner troll take control! If it happens when you’re in a particular situation, avoid that situation! It doesn’t matter if it’s an online platform, a relationship, or a job. Your character is like your health, more valuable than anything you can buy. Don’t throw it away. But why, why is the inner troll there at all? It’s such a common problem that it must be a deep, primal business, a tragedy of our inheritance, a stupid flaw at the heart of the human condition. But saying that doesn’t get us anywhere. What exactly is the inner troll? Sometimes the inner troll takes charge, sometimes it doesn’t. My working hypothesis has long been that there’s a switch deep in every human personality that can be set in one of two modes. We’re like wolves. We can either be solitary or members of a pack of wolves. I call this switch the Solitary/ Pack switch. When we’re solitary wolves, we’re more free. We’re cautious, but also capable of more joy. We think for ourselves, improvise, create. We scavenge, hunt, hide. We howl once in a while out of pure exuberance. When we’re in a pack, interactions with others become the most important thing in the world. I don’t know how far that goes with wolves, but it’s dramatic in people. When people are locked in a competitive, hierarchical power structure, as in a corporation, they can lose sight of the reality of what they’re doing because the immediate power struggle looms larger than reality itself.

    The evolutionary language here can seem off-putting to a sociologist. But it can be recast in terms of internal and external goods. Sometimes we are driven by the rewards internal to what we are doing while at other times we are driven by rewards external to what we are doing. What makes social media platforms so insidious is their tendency to, as Lanier puts it, make “social status and intrigues become more than immediate than the larger reality” (pg 49). I don’t agree with his account of why this is so but I think the underlying direction of his argument is correct. Social media is asshole amplification technology because it lends such force and vivacity to external goods, particularly recognition and reputation, leaving internal goods hard to sustain.

    We often do sustain our relationship with these goods, as can be seen in the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent exchange online. But we do so in spite of rather than because of the asshole amplification architecture of social media. It’s grasping the bivalent nature of this relationship, as internal and external goods co-mingle within platform architectures which are continually modulating in response to our (ambivalent) actions, which is crucial if we want to understand and perhaps even overcome the asshole amplification propensities of social media.

     
  • Mark 7:32 am on May 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , post-truth,   

    Call for abstracts: DQComm2018 The Deliberative Quality of Communication Conference 

    #DQComm2018 The Deliberative Quality of Communication Conference 2018
    Citizens, Media and Politics in Challenging Times: Perspectives on the
    Deliberative Quality of Communication

    November 8 – 9, 2018
    Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), Mannheim, Germany

    Keynote Speaker: Kaisa Herne (University of Tampere)

    Roundtable on the Future of Deliberation Research with:
    André Bächtiger (University of Stuttgart)
    Céline Colombo (University of Zürich)
    Christiane Eilders (University of Düsseldorf)
    Hartmut Wessler (University of Mannheim)

    Call for abstracts

    Western democracies nowadays face a number of challenges induced by
    political developments. These challenges have been affecting the way in
    which citizens, the media and political elites communicate about politics.
    Critical observers witness a deteriorating quality of political
    conversations between ordinary citizens. It appears no longer possible to
    discuss politics normally. A high-choice media environment facilitated by
    online and in particular social media enables citizens to refrain from
    exposing themselves to counter-attitudinal information and engaging in
    cross-cutting political talk. The polarization of opinions within society
    is promoted by increasingly fragmented media systems and a reporting style
    that favors sensational and scandalous over a balanced and multifaceted
    reporting. Rapid media cycles shorten time for balanced and thorough
    argumentation and media outlets are steadily confronted with the accusation
    of producing fake news. Political actors adapt to the media logic by
    employing ever more simplified and emotionally arousing communication.
    Instead of deliberating publicly on complex problems and finding
    compromises or solutions, political elites rather prefer to communicate
    through short soundbites and populist messages to promote their positions
    and eventually attract voters at election time. Overall, these dynamics
    indicate a deteriorating deliberative quality of political communication
    among and between citizens, the media and political elites. While this
    phenomenon has caused concern among scholars from both political and
    communication science, it still needs further empirical substantiation and
    demand a reflection on extant theories.

    This conference aims at addressing the deliberative quality of
    communication among and between citizens, media and political elites.
    Within this research context, we welcome both theoretical, empirical and
    methodological contributions focusing on the deliberative quality of
    communication. The proposals can address – but are not limited – to the
    following questions:

    • To which extent does ordinary citizens’ talk about politics come close to

    the genuine type of deliberation? Who participates in political talk, who
    does not and why? Do citizens talk to those with viewpoints that conflict
    with their own? What are the underlying motives and condition that give
    rise to homogenous or heterogeneous talk about politics? Which variables
    affect the quality of informal civic discussions? Do citizens’ daily
    exchanges resemble reasoned and well-argued debates or harsh fights at the
    expense of proper justification?

    • To which extent does the online sphere of political communication promote

    respectively impede deliberation? Are platform interventions (e.g.,
    Facebook’s proposed policy of removing hate speech and fake news) a panacea
    to improve the quality of online deliberation and to save deliberative
    democracy?

    • To which extent do different features of the media systems influence

    mediated deliberation? How does the increased polarization and
    fragmentation of media environments translate into the deliberative quality
    of the media? How deliberative is the media system as a whole? How
    deliberative are individual media types, formats, or programs?

    • How do political, national and cultural climates shape deliberation? To

    which extent do different types of the political system affect the
    deliberative quality within the public sphere? How does the increased
    polarization of the political environments affect formal deliberation? How
    do political elites engage with populist actors who decline to engage in
    reasoned and constructive dialogue?

    • Which opportunities and challenges do big data offer for the analysis of

    deliberation? What are the methodological challenges and pitfalls when
    measuring deliberation? To which extent, and if so how, may computational
    methods help in identifying the criteria for deliberation?

    Submissions are due by June 15, 2018 (23:59 CET) and must be submitted via
    this Google Form.

    https://goo.gl/forms/xazX7B2E9C64drhB3

    Abstracts must not be longer than 500 words (excluding title and
    references). A committee composed of communication and political science
    experts in deliberation will review each abstract. Only one proposal per
    first author can be accepted. Notifications of acceptance will be issued in
    July 2018. Limited funds are available to cover accommodation and travel
    expenses of conference presenters. In order to host a family-friendly
    conference, the parent and child room of the University of Mannheim can be
    used for self-provided childcare.

    Further questions, please visit the website
    http://mzes.uni-mannheim.de/DQComm2018/

    or contact the organizers directly: dqcomm2018@mzes.uni-mannheim.de

    Christiane Grill, Anne Schäfer, Charlotte Löb and Chung-hong Chan
    Organizing Committee of The Deliberative Quality of Communication
    Conference 2018

     
  • Mark 5:09 pm on January 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , post-truth, , ,   

    Post-Truth as Personal Incapacity 

    The evidence would suggest I’m not alone in being somewhat gripped by Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury. One of the central themes of the book is how no one, including the candidate himself, expected Trump would win and what we have seen since then has been a rapid adaptation, self-serving and bewildered in equal measured, as the apparatus around him tried to make sense of a situation in which they never expected to find themselves. From this standpoint, the ‘post-truth’ character of Trump’s administration with their ‘alternative facts’, comes to look like a pragmatic adaption to a chronically incapable candidate rather than anything more sinister. From loc 873:

    The media, adopting a “shocked, shocked” morality, could not fathom how being factually wrong was not an absolute ending in itself. How could this not utterly shame him? How could his staff defend him? The facts were the facts! Defying them, or ignoring them, or subverting them, made you a liar—intending to deceive, bearing false witness. (A minor journalism controversy broke out about whether these untruths should be called inaccuracies or lies.) In Bannon’s view: (1) Trump was never going to change; (2) trying to get him to change would surely cramp his style; (3) it didn’t matter to Trump supporters; (4) the media wasn’t going to like him anyway; (5) it was better to play against the media than to the media; (6) the media’s claim to be the protector of factual probity and accuracy was itself a sham; (7) the Trump revolution was an attack on conventional assumptions and expertise, so better to embrace Trump’s behavior than try to curb it or cure it. The problem was that, for all he was never going to stick to a script (“ his mind just doesn’t work that way” was one of the internal rationalizations), Trump craved media approval. But, as Bannon emphasized, he was never going to get the facts right, nor was he ever going to acknowledge that he got them wrong, so therefore he was not going to get that approval. This meant, next best thing, that he had to be aggressively defended against the media’s disapproval.

    This isn’t just a matter of gossip about political leaders or a corrective to the excessive abstraction pouring forth from an intellectual class on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It allows us to recast politics in micro-social terms involving absence, failure and incapacity rather than simply telling stories of the powerful exercising that power in pursuit of their established projects. Fire and Fury tells a vivid story of how the Whitehouse revolves around managing the incapacities of Trump, as the staff struggle to come to terms with their willingness to play this role (in a manner which can just as readily be cast in terms of incapacity). From loc 1989:

    Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense—or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. (There was some argument about this, because he could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post’s Page Six.) Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he just didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television. But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention. The organization therefore needed a set of internal rationalizations that would allow it to trust a man who, while he knew little, was entirely confident of his own gut instincts and reflexive opinions, however frequently they might change.

    However the incapacities of others provide a valuable object for one’s own strategic capacities. The point is not to counterpoise a strategic and agentive analysis to a non-strategic and non-agentive one. This misses the obvious ways in which absence, failure and incapacity structure the field of opportunities to which agents strategically respond. As Wolff recounts on loc 2009:

    It was during Trump’s early intelligence briefings, held soon after he captured the nomination, that alarm signals first went off among his new campaign staff: he seemed to lack the ability to take in third-party information. Or maybe he lacked the interest; whichever, he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention. He stonewalled every written page and balked at every explanation. “He’s a guy who really hated school,” said Bannon. “And he’s not going to start liking it now.” However alarming, Trump’s way of operating also presented an opportunity to the people in closest proximity to him: by understanding him, by observing the kind of habits and reflexive responses that his business opponents had long learned to use to their advantage, they might be able to game him, to move him. Still, while he might be moved today, nobody underestimated the complexities of continuing to move him in the same direction tomorrow.

    As he writes on loc 2046, “If Trump cared about something, he usually already had a fixed view based on limited information. If he didn’t care, he had no view and no information”. This created openings for all the senior figures in their pursuit of power and influence. Bannon styled himself as the high priest of Trumpism, exercising power over the President and others through becoming deeply conversant with his writing and speeches, able to quote back Trump’s intentions in a way which cast him in the role of a consistent and strategic actor. Wolff’s description of this is particularly resonant:

    Bannon’s unique ability—partly through becoming more familiar with the president’s own words than the president was himself, and partly through a cunning self-effacement (upended by his bursts of self-promotion)—was to egg the president on by convincing him that Bannon’s own views were entirely derived from the president’s views. Bannon didn’t promote internal debate, provide policy rationale, or deliver Power-Point presentations; instead, he was the equivalent of Trump’s personal talk radio. Trump could turn him on at any moment, and it pleased him that Bannon’s pronouncements and views would consistently be fully formed and ever available, a bracing, unified-field narrative. As well, he could turn him off, and Bannon would be tactically quiet until turned on again.

    Meanwhile Priebus was able to offer endorsement from the political establishment which has previously loathed him, while Kushner brought the prestige of the business elite who had never taken Trump seriously. The president seemingly wanted all of these, representing an important vector through which chaos ensued within the Whitehouse, alongside many others at all levels of the organisation. Reading these accounts, it’s hard not to be sceptical of accounts of ‘post-truth’ et al as overly abstract and epochal accounts which obscure a messy all-too-human reality, albeit one that could ultimately produce outcomes of epochal significance.

     
  • Mark 7:46 pm on November 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , david cay johnston, post-truth, ,   

    Trump as a tactician of post-truth 

    This observation by the journalist David Cay Johnston in the recent channel 4 documentary Trump: An American Dream stood out to me:

    Donald understands that most reporters accurately quote what they’re told but they really don’t know what they’re writing about. Once his story is out there then anything else is just a counter story.

    It’s far from a new analysis but I’ve rarely heard this stated so succinctly. This is a tactic Trump has been using for decades, though it’s been super-charged in recent years by the multiplication of communication channels creating more possibilities for the original claim to spread and fewer possibilities for counter stories to authoritatively take hold.

     
  • Mark 7:27 pm on October 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , post-truth   

    Call for Papers: Journalism in the Age of Partisan Politics, Political Protests, and President Trump 

    Special Issue: Electronic Journal of Communication
    Journalism in The Age of Partisan Politics, Political Protests, and President Trump

    The current news environment is saturated with political tension and divisive issues.   Legacy news media and contemporary news outlets race to publish compelling content as they struggle to maintain their audiences.   Political leaks have become a staple of modern news. Journalists have found themselves covering ideologically charged protests involving immigration reform, Black Lives Matter, the KKK, environmental issues, and Civil War statues, while at the same time finding their authority and credibility challenged by persistent accusations of ethical violations, bias, and corruption.
    Meanwhile, social media sites provide an avenue for the public to present their own coverage and commentary related to all of these issues. Indeed, President Trump has turned toward social media as a way of presenting his own perspective on daily events.  Further, online media and traditional news providers  compete with the rumors, conspiracies, and “fake” news that permeates information space.  Increasingly, social media readers fail to distinguish fabricated news from authentic news.
    This special issue will focus on journalism during this time of social upheaval and political partisanship. All theoretical and methodological perspectives are welcome.

    Possible topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:

    *   ethical coverage of politics
    *   journalistic credibility/ audience trust in the current political climate
    *   political cartoonists’ response to political protests
    *   The challenges of “fake news” to legacy and online news sources
    *   The relationship between journalists and politicians
    *   The role of political leaks in news coverage
    *   Journalistic safety while covering political protests
    *   Citizen journalists’ use of social media to share political content
    *   The use of social media as a newsgathering tool
    *   Audience perception of news coverage
    *   The role of objectivity/fairness in political coverage
    *   The significance of political experts as news sources
    *   The role of the news pundit in political coverage
    *   The value of political news and information

    Deadline: Submit manuscripts through EJC’s online submission system at http://ejcojs.cios.org<http://ejcojs.cios.org/> by January 15, 2018 for consideration. Please be sure to submit to the journal section entitled:   Special Issue: Journalism in The Age of Partisan Politics, Political Protests, and President Trump.

    Format: Papers should be prepared in APA 6th Ed. Style. Remove all author-identifying information from the main manuscript for blind review. Manuscripts should be single spaced with tables/figures inserted where they belong; double-space between headings, subheadings, and adjacent sections; avoid breaking tables across pages. Please send manuscripts in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats (not html).

    Questions: Please address any questions to the Special Issue Editor,  Jenn Burleson Mackay, Va Tech,  email: jemackay@vt.edu.  The call can also be found at:  http://www.cios.org/www/ejc/calls/mackay.htm

     
  • Mark 11:58 am on June 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , post-truth, scepticism   

    CfP: ‘Social Research in a Sceptical Age’ 

    The current climate of scepticism towards ‘experts’ has put many research practitioners and users on the defensive.  Is it enough simply to assert the value of rigorous methods, or should we be checking, sharpening and improving our tools?  If ‘post-truth’ carries real meaning then the pressure is on researchers to find a positive response – such as clearly communicating our findings and why they matter; and demonstrating how high standards in design, conduct and analysis are built in to our research.

    At this stage we are looking for up to 500 words to describe and explain what you’d like to present – with a focus on one or more of these topic areas:

    • Getting the message across
    • The value of narratives
    • Policy evaluation
    • Embedding quality assurance
    • The value of quality in evidence
    • Qualitative innovation
    • Quantitative innovation
    • Involving research participants
    • Dealing with the unexpected

    The deadline for submissions is Monday 7 August.  The SRA Events Group will assess all entries and aim to let you know the outcome in September/October.

    Presentations will be in parallel workshop sessions of 20 minutes (followed by a 10 minute Q&A).  One presenter per submission will pay a reduced delegate rate of £55.

    Abstracts and other details must be submitted using the template Word doc that can be downloaded on our website here:  http://www.the-sra.org.uk/events

    We hope you will consider making a submission for the conference.  And of course please feel free to share this call with colleagues and networks.

     
  • Mark 7:37 pm on March 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , post-truth   

    Miniconference on post-truth and digital media in Reading UK coming up 

    Call for Proposals

    BAAL Language and New Media Sig Annual Meeting

    MINI-CONFERENCE

    Language, New Media and Alt.Realities

    April 21, 2017

    University of Reading

    Proposals are invited for 20 minute paper presentations as well as posters/web-based presentations addressing the theme of ‘language, new media and alt.realties’.

    Possible areas of interest include:

    ·       New media epistemologies and ontologies

    ·       New media discourse and political polarisation

    ·       Algorithmic pragmatics and political debate

    ·       Authoritarian and populist discourses online

    ·       ‘Trolling’ as a form of political discourse

    ·       Agnotology (the cultural construction of ignorance)

    ·       The crisis of ‘expertise’

    ·       ‘Fake news’ and ‘clickbait’

    ·       Hacking and disinformation

    ·       Infotainment and spectacle

    ·       Conspiracy theories and memes

    ·       Journalism in the age of social media

    Please send your proposals in the form of a 250-word abstract to Prof Rodney Jones, University of Reading r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk <mailto:r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk>.

    Deadline for Submitting Proposals: April 5, 2017

     
  • Mark 6:05 pm on March 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chantelle Mouffe, , , post-truth, , , ,   

    The Ontology of Fake News 

    What we are seeing with the growth of ‘fake news’ is perhaps the weaponisation of epistemology. In other words, ‘fake news’ as a construct is becoming a discursive component of our repertoire of contention. Far from entering a post-truth era, we are seeing truth becoming a mobilising device in a new way, encouraging ‘us’ to defend ourselves from ‘them’ predicated on the absolute falsity of their worldview. It’s the playing out in an epistemic register of what Chantal Mouffe, drawing on Carl Schmitt, describes as a friend/enemy distinction. Rather than the political other being an adversary to be struggled against, nonetheless regarded as legitimate, they are cast as an enemy to be destroyed. Rush Limbaugh offered a pure expression of the epistemological logic of the friend/enemy distinction in this 2009 rant:

    What this fraud, what the uncovering of this hoax, exposes,” he said, “is the corruption that exists between government and academia and science and the media. Science has been corrupted. We know the media has been corrupted for a long time. Academia has been corrupted. None of what they do is real. It’s all lies!

    We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology

    The origins of this can be understood agnotologically: neo-sophists, with corporate funding, seeking to manufacture doubt where none previously existed. What’s being described as post-truth emerges at the intersection between corporate agnotology, political polarisation and post-democracy. The possibility to weaponise epistemology emerges coterminously with the breakdown of social solidarity. Agnotology contributes to the erosion of shared certainties in cumulative ways. It creates the conditions for what David Roberts calls tribal epistemology:

    Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

    Now tribal epistemology has found its way to the White House.

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology

    What I’m suggesting is that at this point we see epistemology move from being an elite weapon of war to part of the repertoire of contention. Once Trump begins to seriously struggle, how easy is it to imagine Whitehouse statements being dismissed as ‘fake news’ by the grassroots they used this notion to mobilise? How effectively could a nascent leader use this epistemic playbook against those who have brought it into the mainstream? As Roberts points out, this is a cultural tendency which has been present in American politics for quite some time:

    That is the classic, some might say naive, view. But there has always been a powerful strain in conservatism (think the John Birch Society) that resists seeing itself as a participant in the game at all. It sees the game itself, its rules and referees, as captured by the other side, operating for the other side’s benefit. Any claim of transpartisan authority is viewed with skepticism, as a kind of ruse or tool through which one tribe seeks to dominate another.

    That’s the view Limbaugh and others in right-wing media have consistently articulated. And it has found an increasingly receptive audience. Over time, the right’s base — unlike the left’s fractious and heterogeneous coalition of interest groups — has become increasingly homogeneous (mostly white, non-urban, and Christian) and like-minded (traditionalist, zero-sum values).

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology

    The friend/enemy distinction is, for lack of a better term, viral. At least under current conditions. Once people begin to think in these terms, it’s hard to counter it. Not least of all because reluctantly accepting the ‘rules of the game’ inevitably comes to be coded as either giving up or buying in. The reason for this is in part epistemological because tribal epistemology destroys the possibility for syncretism: people can no longer see A and B as elements that can be combined, even if unstable and contested ways. Instead and become an absolute disjunction. One sees the social world in terms that allow for no choice other than to choose between positions. The playing out of this, in the digital capitalism of 2017, rather terrifies me.

     
    • Dave Ashelman 3:44 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink

      Mark Carrigan reply

      The issue scares me as well – to my very core, but perhaps through a different means. The dynamic that you describe was a process, and not an event; and a very long, 40-year process at that. We (in the academy) have to shoulder a large proportion of the blame. This is the basis of my insistence that Sociology is in need of an identity crisis.

      For 40 years, post-modernism (mainly à-la Nietzsche and Foucault) have told us, and we have thus told the world, that reality is relative; that what is morally good doesn’t matter; that man has no essence of substance; that the only knowledge there is, is the knowledge of power; that truth is unknowable.

      In essence, the death of metaphysics at the hands of Nietzsche & Foucault told people that their lives didn’t matter. It literally took away the essence and substance of what it means to be human. We no longer needed to inquire, we only needed the axiom of the invisible “apparatus of power” which is all-hegemonic, and will alway prevail. We assumed that truth lay in truthlessness; that morality lay in anomie; that there were meaningless social structures and stratifications in creating chaos.

      I wasn’t just enough to consider this aspect of philosophy, but we had to put it into practice in the Social Sciences as a whole. We started telling people what their social, economic, and psychological condition were instead of inquiring. Suffering from exploited labour? Here’s a pill for anxiety. Jobless? Well, that’s the fault of [fill in the blank]. Reality is relative in post-modernism. Truth does’t exist as an object of inquiry anymore.

      And now we complain that the world has heeded our teachings. In addition, those “elites” that the populous is complaining about are us – us academics. While we sit scratching our heads on the ontology of relative truth, it turns out that reality really is real. People really do suffer and die en mass. It turns out that suddenly truth matters. It turns out there is such as a thing as knowledge beyond power. It turns out that the lived realities of everyday people in everyday life really does have essence and substance.

      This British philosopher seems to agree with me, though I don’t think he goes far enough.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/education-38557838

      For 40 years we have largely supported the idea that there was no philosophy before Bentham. Aristotle may have come up for discussion during a graduate seminar on Marx, but no one is really required to dig that deep. I am moving into my 50s, and I may have been the last generation required to take well-grounded philosophy courses as a young undergraduate. Many of my younger Sociology Ph.D. cohorts have never read Kant, Locke, Aquinas, Descartes, or even know that Adam Smith wrote that “other book.” Today, people can hold a “Doctor of Philosophy” degree without ever having picked up a philosophy book.

      When I was working on my first undergraduate degree, all majors were required to take not only an Intro to Philosophy course, but also an entire year of Philosophy of Ethics, Philosophy of Logic, and something along the lines of a Philosophy of Religion (I took comparative religions).

      Yet we wonder why post-truth has become a culture; an essence and substance unto itself in a world that no longer believes in essence or substance because we told them that they don’t exist.

      My apologies for the long response, but the ontology is us (the academy). We are guilty. What scares me deeply, is wondering if we will ever have the humility to look in the mirror – before the masses with torches and pitchforks rushes the Ivory Tower.

    • Mark 10:23 am on March 30, 2017 Permalink

      I think the backlash will be organised rather than aggregative. Do most people really care that much? But a crisis in another institution, particularly one filled with liberal elitists, could be very useful.

  • Mark 8:31 am on February 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , post-truth,   

    CFP: Alternative Facts: Constructing Truth in Civil Societies 

    As the workings of civil society are being disrupted by the challenges of ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’ and notions of post-truth, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal has decided to devote a special issue to this topic. Our approach is broad; the flow of information is fundamental to civil society and that flow and its interactions with the structures of society and the individuals in society takes many forms. The following list is by no means exhaustive: Journalism (and fact checking); Cultural Studies and the World of Make-Believe; the scientific record and predatory publishing; climate change and climate deniers; Civic literacy and democracy; Public Relations and Spin; social media, experience and opinion; state strategy and astro-turfing; the new right and post-facts; dramaturgy of post-factoids …
    We are calling for papers between 4,000 and 8,000 words which reflect in some way on the concepts of alternative facts/fake news/post truth either on our understandings of civil society or on professional practices within civil society.

    Our deadline for submission is Friday 31 March. Decisions on acceptance will be communicated by 28 April. The issue will be published in July 2017.

    See the journal at:

    http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/mcs

    For more information please contact Hilary Yerby at: Hilary.yerby@uts.edu.au

     
  • Mark 9:21 pm on February 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , post-truth, , , ,   

    Donald Trump: Everyday Tactics of Post-Truth 

    In The Making of Donald Trump, David Johnston identifies the tactics used by Trump to deflect inquiries into his many shady dealings and questionable decisions. Sometimes this is a matter of outright threats, with an enthusiasm for litigation (1,900 suits as plaintiffs coupled with an explicitly articulated philosophy of vengeance proving a dangerous combination for any who dare to cross him. But somewhat contrary to his public image as a blundering fool, he is often much more subtle than this, engaging in strategies of deflection and misdirection with all the deftness of the most accomplished public relations manager. In other cases, it just becomes weird, with Trump willing to publicly deny that a recording he had previously admitted to be of his own voice was anything other than a hoax:

    This combination of viciousness, skilfulness and brazenness has left him insulated from meaningful scrutiny. But what has he averted in this way? What might have happened but hasn’t? On page 154 Johnston offers a description which has caught my imagination:

    Together, these strategies – muddying the facts and deflecting inquiries into past conduct – help ensure that Trump’s carefully crafted public persona will not be unmade. He will not suffer the curtain to be pulled back to reveal a man who tricked society into thinking he was all wise and all powerful.

    This public persona which has been crafted, sometimes deliberately while at other times impulsively, remains intact. I’m interested in what such a ‘pulling back of the curtain’ requires to be effective: the sustained attention of an audience, a sufficient familiarity with the person(a) in question, a prolonged campaign to sort fact from fiction and a lack of contestation concerning this process of sorting.

    What is being framed somewhat unhelpfully as a ‘post-truth era’ are the conditions under which this ceases to be possible. There’s lots of ways in which we could try and explain them, not all of which are necessarily mutually exclusive. The collapse of authority in late modernity. The acceleration of communication. The weakening of journalism and the dominance of public relations. Theories of social change should be able to account for the specifics of such cases, rather than simply allowing them to be rendered thematically.

    In his InfoGlut, Mark Andrejevic takes issue with the assumption that fostering ‘disbelief’ or ‘challenge’ is necessarily subversive.  As he puts it, “strategies of debunkery and information proliferation can work to reinforce, rather than threaten, relations of power and control” (loc 293). Recognising this in the abstract is important but I intend to read more about the specific cases in which these tactics are used regressively, as I’m increasingly fascinated by the extent to which these tactics are informed (or not) by epistemological and ontological understandings (even if these words are not used).

    Under these conditions, what  Andrejevic describes as the ‘big data divide’ seems ever more prescient by the day. From loc 464:

    The dystopian version of information glut anticipates a world in which control over the tremendous amount of information generated by interactive devices is concentrated in the hands of the few who use it to sort, manage, and manipulate. Those without access to the database are left with the “poor person’s” strategies for cutting through the clutter: gut instinct, affective response, and “thin- slicing” (making a snap decision based on a tiny fraction of the evidence). The asymmetric strategies for using data highlight an all- too- often overlooked truth of the digital era: infrastructure matters. Behind the airy rhetoric of “the cloud,” the factories of the big data era are sprouting up across the landscape: huge server farms that consume as much energy as a small city. Here is where data is put to work – generating correlations and patterns, shaping decisions and sorting people into categories for marketers, employers, intelligence agencies, healthcare providers, financial institutions, the police, and so on. Herein resides an important dimension of the knowledge asymmetry of the big data era – the divide between those who generate the data and those who put it to use by turning it back upon the population. This divide is, at least in part, an infrastructural one shaped by ownership and control of the material resources for data storage and mining. But it is also an epistemological one –a difference in the forms of practical knowledge available to those with access to the database, in the way they think about and use information.

     

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel