Friday, February 17, 2017

The Truth Lament Strolls On

I've been observing for a very long time that the concept of "truth" in the West has fallen on hard times. Knowledge of Philosophy and Theology are at all time lows. Very few can tell much about the relation between fact, dialectic and rhetoric, understanding of which would help the author of this column a good deal.
During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be.
So in a nation where many states have no voter id, what would qualify as "evidence". Here is some from a 2012 Pew Study:
  • About 24 million voter registrations are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
  • More than 1.8 million dead people are listed as voters.
  • Approximately 2.75 million people are registered in more than one state.
So that is an OPPORTUNITY of 27 million. If 10% of the opportunity voted, that would be 2.7 million. Up to now, nobody has really looked for voter fraud, nor do we still have a good mechanism. My son voted in Colorado, when I voted in MN, there was his name right above mine. MN requires no voter ID ... anyone that knows his name and the fact that he is registered could have walked in, voted as him, and be completely secure against prosecution and likely detection (they would have to do a cross-check between MN and CO). 

Of course, if one knows about fact, dialectic and rhetoric, they realize that is NOT the point. What Trump engages in, what the linked column engages in is rhetoric -- unidirectional convincing speech. If the author of the column and I engaged in a debate, that would be dialectic, and in both, we may or may not attempt to use "facts". I used a few (assuming you accept Pew as a source) in my response to his rhetorical response to Trump's rhetoric in which BOTH of them conclude that "the number will we what **I** say it is!" ... NY Times columnist asserts zero, Trump and minions assert "millions". 

NY Times columnist asserts that he is believable and Trump is not based on -- er, well, "bluster". A very common tool of rhetoricians.  

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Exactly, always has been, always will be. What difference did it make if W Bush was a great national guard fighter pilot or a mediocre one? None, but the idea of it was enough to take down Dan Rather. What difference did it make if someone "leaked" that Valeria Plame, who drove into CIA HQ everyday actually worked there? None ... but it occupied a lot of media pages for over a year anyway.

The point of rhetoric since Plato and Aristotle has been to convince humans at a level "beyond factual" ... because humans actually never do anything for purely rational and factual reasons, and they never have. As long as "your side" is winning, the standard human tendency is to never even observe the difference between factual basis and rhetoric.

When "your tribe" loses and you understand nothing about truth, philosophy, dialectics or rhetoric, you are suddenly adrift. Your "moorings" are slipped, and it is obvious to you that "the others" have somehow changed.

This may explain one of the more revealing moments from after the election, when one of Mr. Trump’s campaign surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, was asked to defend the clearly false statement by Mr. Trump that millions of votes had been cast illegally. She answered by explaining that everybody now had their own way of interpreting whether a fact was true or not.

It turns out that everybody has always had their own way of interpreting wether a "fact" was true or not -- it's just that the column author recently notices that less people than he thought were navigating the shoals of truth and falsehood based on the rhetoric of the NY Times.

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