"Cheating Truth" (MALA Fall '17/Spring '18)... "On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt (the corrected link)
Subsequently in Fantasyland... (see below)*
Summer 2018 MALA course:
What Trump and Putin Have in Common https://nyti.ms/2GMaQVd
The president’s revealing that he invented a fact during a meeting with Canada’s leader renewed the question: When does he know the things he says are false and when is he simply misinformed? Read More...
We’re witnessing a war on public life. This is the cost. http://wapo.st/2oOcInW
President Trump’s Contradictory, and Sometimes False, Comments About Gun Policy to Lawmakers - The President mixed facts and falsehoods while discussing gun policy and potential solutions with legislators.
Trump thought the British were protesting their health service. They weren’t. http://wapo.st/2E59CSP
Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built https://nyti.ms/2GJoKHg Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger,” he said. “And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment.”
How an Alt-Right Leader Used a Lie to Climb the Ranks https://nyti.ms/2FLsGpE
It’s Getting Harder to Sort the ‘Credible’ from the Incredible https://nyti.ms/2GsaGBQ
Michael Wolff’s instant best-seller is part old news, part bad reporting. Its success is symptomatic of our degraded sense of reality under Trump. https://www.newyorker.com/
The School of Life, btw, is out with a new video saying bias isn't always a bad thing. But maybe they just want to believe that. "Loathing of bias is the flipside of faith in facts." Faith in? Or fidelity to? Semper fi, reality-based community.
Andersen says our founding mythology underrates the "run-of-the-mill" puritans who were in it for the money and not so much the theology, the first nonnative new Americans who landed at Plymouth Rock rather than Jamestown. "The Puritans are conventionally considered more 'moderate' than the Pilgrims. This is like calling al-Qaeda more moderate than ISIS."
Freedom of thought in early America leaned in to supernaturalism and self-made-reality just as Europe's enlightenment - in the persons of Shakespeare, Galileo, Bacon, Newton, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and the like - was going in the opposite direction, towards the Age of Reason. Here it was "freedom to believe whatever supernaturalism you wished."
And so we got witches in Salem. "In 1692 virtually no one in New England disbelieved in witches." That's the legacy of Protestantism, says Andersen, no less than its contributions to its eponymous "work ethic."
And, "America's spiritual founding father," George (wait for it) Whitefield, who taught us to seek salvation in re-birth. These were not our Methodists, whose outer shows of charisma and enthusiasm (and miraculous healings, speaking in tongues, etc.) got dialed down quite some time back. But "the most distinctive characteristic of early American Methodism was this quest for the supernatural in everyday life." And that's the ticket to the American Way: "If I think it's true, no mattter why or how it's true, then it's true..."
That wasn't the way intended by the nation's political founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson urged his nephew to "question with boldness the existence of a god," and took scissors (or a penknife) to his Bible.
Why wasn't God mentioned in the Constitution? "We forgot," deadpanned Lin-Manuel's hero. They had the right to remain silent.
Sapere aude! said the Sage of Konigsberg in his renowned Enlightenment encomium. But thinking for yourself is not the same as thinking by yourself, to suit yourself, just because you're feeling it.
Woodstock is the our great legendary sixties mise en scene, but Christianity had its Woodstock much earlier in 1801, as the wilds of Kentucky briefly became "among the most populous places in America." Cane Ridge (not to be confused with the mid-Tennessee softballers my daughter's team used to play) sounds like a bacchanal to rival the free love excesses of the flower power generation, celebrating "orgiastic individualism" with an evangelic twist. It heralded apocalyptic successor movements like Charles Finney's (his era's Billy Graham) and William Miller's.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831, gathering the observations that would inform Democracy in America's judgment that no country in the world is as fanatically Christian as America.
Joseph Smith wouldn't have believed his own story, if it weren't his own story. Hard to believe he was less credulous than the 15 million Mormons in the world today - not to mention all the deceased Mormons who've moved on to occupy their own planets-or have they?
Homeopathy is magical thinking, in Andersen's book. And phrenology, and mesmerism, and Ben Carson's Seventh Day Adventism, and so-called Christian Science, and countless other varieties of pseudo-scientific snake-oil miracle-whipped charlatanry.
"Matter cannot suffer," said Mrs. Eddy. It quite evidently can, as it can do all the things we witness. That was William James's brilliant answer to those who would denigrate materialism as a philosophy incapable of accounting for the wonder of life. "To anyone who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent, the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious form, ought to make matter sacred for ever after. It makes no difference what the principle of life may be, material or immaterial, matter at any rate co-operates, lends itself to all life's purposes. That beloved incarnation was among matter's possibilities."
The California Gold Rush reoriented a lot of Americans' gaze back to the literal ground of our real material world. Heaven can wait. But can we? We're like patient, diligent, long-term-planning ants some of the time, but then impatient, party-hardy grasshoppers the rest. Our "wilder, faster, and looser" side may not be in it for the long haul after all.
Nor did Jane Roberts, who made "Seth" (an "unseen entity") speak through her "channel" and say things like "you create your own reality"
Our culture's "sudden and enthusiastic embrace of psychotropics" helped make Seth seem a lot more plausible, for some, "fog(ging) up the boundaries betweeen reality and fantasy."
Kurt Andersen's mom was one of the inexplicably-countless potted devotees of The Secret Life of Plants. Reading generally makes people smarter, but dumb reading is another story.
Maybe an out-of-body perspective, UCLA psychologist Charles Tart might have responded. He got tenure after reporting that a young woman in his lab went for regular o-o-b nightflights to retrieve remote numbers. Can't believe that flew.
Tom (Electric Kool-aid) Wolfe said the Jesus People of the '60s were "young acid heads who had sworn off drugs... but still wanted the ecstatic spiritualism" and found in "Fundamentalist evangelical holy-rolling Christianity."
It was hardly "nonfiction," but Hal Lindsey's Late, Great Planet Earth was wildly successful with its even wilder Satanic/apocalyptic conspiracy-mongering. No wonder Billy Graham seemed relatively moderate compared to such stuff, and to his not-so-different compadres Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. If you want to earn a reuptation for reasonableness in America, just stake out a position slightly less hysterical in tone to that of your peers.
And then came the Sexual Revolution, with the Pill "available everywhere by 1965. "When sex became far less consequential, it could become less 'real' and more like exciting fiction." See Erica Jong and Philip Roth...
This is real: Did you see all the kids who walked out for 17 minutes yesterday, in honor of the 17 latest school-shooting victims? This caps (for now) a history beginning with the first gun rights absolutists who surfaced on both the left and the right in the '60s. By the late '70s "hysterics [had] managed to take over the NRA, replacing its motto 'Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation' with the second half of the Second Amendment."
Kurt Andersen realized fantasy would now rule pop culture, he says, when he saw Star Wars. "I remember walking out of the theater thinking the Force was the first faith with which I felt simpatico."
Burning Man is another fantasy stage for adults of all ages, who go to the desert and dress up as unicorns, birds, mermaids, geishas etc., and "step through the looking glass - that is, through the LED screen - to inhabit Azeroth or Tatooine" or wherever. Kids 'R' Us for sure, innocently and harmlessly enough for most perhaps, but Michael Jackson was another story.
We also try to recall the vanishing time before the '90s when "cockamamie ideas and outright falsehoods" didn't spread quite so fast and wide as they do now, thanks to the web that was supposed to bring us all closer to knowledge, truth, facts, and reality. "Reality: what a concept"-said what late comic whose tv costar now says he was grabby, flashy, and inappropriate on set?
80% of Americans say they never doubt the existence of God. What would Descartes say? Possibly, what Bacon said: begin with certainties & you'll end in doubts, but begin with doubts and you may end in certainties. In my experience, the best thinkers begin and end in doubts. They do not quest for certainty. Stay tuned for the anti-Descartes, Montaigne.
Augustine's instruction 1,600 years ago is still pretty valid, no doubt: Don't be stupid, don't interpret holy writ literally.
Her hat's not formally in the ring yet, but Andersen's probably not going to support a presidential bid from Oprah. He says she, "more than any other single American by far, outside conventional religion and politics, is responsible for giving a platform and credibility to magical thinking... an inclusive promoter of fantasies--extraterrestrial, satanic, medical, paranormal..." She propelled The Secret to its iconic status (but don't call her New Age). She elevated Drs. Phil & Oz to celebrity status. She does seem, ironically enough, to be a force of nature.
The not-so-secret "law of attraction" says you just need to think the right thoughts-and if things aren't working out for you, you're just not thinking and believing hard enough to harness "placebo power." Believe and receive. This magical doctrine becomes truly pernicious when it's invoked to excuse dishonesty, as in the case of our benighted Tweeter/Grabber in Chief: "...it doesn't matter if he lies as long as what he says feels true." It does. It doesn't.
It's not just Higher Ed that's the problem. The largest charter school operator in Texas, a company called Responsive Ed, issues textbooks presenting Genesis as a scientific theory and dismissing evolutionary biology as "dogma" and "unproved theory." And that was before Betsy DeVoss.
Wonder what Thomas Jefferson would say about that. "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Sure, neighbor, say what you want. But don't compel young students to hear it in their science classrooms unless you want to turn out generations of blathering scientific illiterates. Oh. You do.
But still, isn't there something unseemly about the Peter-Panification of America that's reflected in so many childless adults crowding the theme parks? It'd be nice if they'd at least find somebody else's 9-year old to bring along, there are too many real children whose parents can't afford the admission.
Adults are getting mentally younger and more childlike and children are inheriting wealth and power. Mark Zuckerberg, like so many Internet entrepreneurs, became a billionaire at just 23. Is it any surprise that he, and they, haven't always thought carefully through all the troublesome implications of their moneymakers for people's privacy and security? Of course they wished it wouldn't be so. But "the tendency to believe that wish makes it so" is magical thinking. Hey, let's go to Disneyland!
Philosopher Michael Lynch says repeated self-contradiction by politicians like Trump can dull our sensitivity to the value of truth itself." That's what James Comey told George Stephanopoulos.