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Nederlog

Aug 13, 2016

Crisis: Arab World, Sanders & TPP, Climate Science, Postmodernism
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Introduction

1.
"Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart":
     NYT Mag Examines Region Since 2003 U.S. Invasion

2. 'Disappointed' in Obama, Sanders Calls on Top Dems to
     Drop Lame Duck TPP Push
 
3. Climate Science: Revolution is Here
4. Why we're post-fact
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, August 13, 2016.

There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about a long article that appeared in the New York Times: I saw it, but did not read all of, for reasons I explain; item 2 is about a Bernie Sanders idea that I like; item 3 is about an article that finds some hope for the climate in windmills and batteries: I explain why I find it difficult to share the hope; and item 4 is about "post-facts", "post-truths" and postmodernisms, and while I like it that this gets discussed, I found the article so-so (and give some of my reasons, that in my case started in 1977, for then I first met postmodernists).

1.
"Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart": NYT Mag Examines Region Since 2003 U.S. Invasion

The first item today is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows:
As conflicts from Iraq to Syria have forced a record 60 million people around the world to flee their homes and become refugees, we speak with Scott Anderson about his in-depth new report, "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart." Occupying the entire print edition of this week’s New York Times Magazine, it examines what has happened in the region in the past 13 years since the the U.S. invaded Iraq through the eyes of six characters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Anderson is also author of the book, "Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East."
I did see "Fractured Lands" and opened it and started reading it, but I was rather disappointed by it. I'll explain.

The download is slightly over 580 Kb, which is about 15 average Nederlogs (which I write in 15 days), but it took (I quote Jake Silverstein, Editor-in- chief) "some 18 months in reporting" and is "unprecedented" in the New York Times, both for length and for energy, all according to Silverstein.

I don't doubt Silverstein, but three of the major difficulties I have with much journalistic reporting, and especially American journalistic reporting, which also are related, are that (i) much reporting is from an artificial human point of view: you get a journalist's report of what named individuals are supposed to have experienced,
in a few paragraphs of text usually, while (ii) it is suggested that the - schematic, sketchy - reports of these individuals are (somehow, in a way never clearly explained) "representative" of millions of others, but also (iii) without giving anything like social statistics, wider political facts, numbers of people alive or hit by violence, or social, cultural, and other backgrounds that would give information about how these people live and think.

And these 580 Kb
all are a journalist's report of what named individuals (in this case: six) are supposed to have experienced. There are more details in the story, which indeed also is considerably longer than most other stories, but I did not find any information about how many people live in the various countries; how much they earn and how incomes are distributed; what they think religiously and politically, in general terms, based on some given statistical facts; and very many more things that could have been unearthed and stated.

Instead, I must do with the journalist's carefully cooked in statements about the experiences and feelings of those he interviewed - and that's it. Well...
I tried, repeatedly also, but I
know now for some 50 years that I don't like this whole style of reporting, which might be summarized as "fake personal", and I have not succeeded in finishing it, mostly because indeed I dislike the style.

Also, this is less a criticism of Scott Anderson than a criticism of a widespread style of - especially: American - reporting that I just don't like and indeed never liked, for I have been meeting it for fifty years now: Everything gets reduced to a few opinions of a few persons that some journalist interviewed.

I will try again, but I give no guarantee that I will read everything. Then again, it was a good idea of Amy Goodman to interview Scott Anderson, and I did get two useful quotes from the interview Goodman and González had with him.

Here is the first bit, about the influence of the Islamic religion:
SCOTT ANDERSON: There was an amazing pattern. As you say, I interviewed probably just around 20 ISIS fighters, all in prison either in Iraq or in Kurdistan now. The one pattern I found over and over again was that these were—they were all young men, kind of with very bleak futures, either unemployed or underemployed, from working-class families, and not religious at all. None of these—according to them, they were not from religious families. They did not know the Qur’an very well. In a couple of cases, I knew the Qur’an better than they did. They were not recruited in mosques. They joined because their buddies joined, I mean, you know, because they saw stuff on social media. They’ve all—you know, everybody has mobile phones in that part of the world. And they’ve all—they had all seen the ISIS videos. And I think it was this kind of decision that young men make, that better to live large for a couple of years, and, you know, the power and the so-called glamour of—but the power that comes of carrying a gun, and then, you know, worry about what happens in the future two or three years down the road. So, I felt it was—certainly, in my experience, of these kind of foot soldiers, the grunts—they were primarily the ISIS members I’ve talked with—they had more akin to why somebody might join like an inner-city gang or why in Mexico they might join a narco gang. It’s this kind of despair at seeing any sort of future.
First, a qualification: Anderson says himself that he "interviewed probably just around 20 ISIS fighters", which are not many. But second, I do more or less accept his contention about "the fighters of Isis", though mostly from general
psychological considerations:

They are young males; most of them are not highly educated; most of them have little chance of getting a well-paid job and a decent future; they are Islamic; they know that their countries are torn apart by violence from various quarters; they blame especially the Americans and the West - and what should they do in these circumstances? Many follow Islamic leaders who fight against the Americans, even though most of the many also do not have a strong Islamic faith: they are mostly moved by the violence they have seen rather than by the religion they have.

I think that is at least plausible, at least for most. And here is Anderson on what he thinks is the future of Isis:
SCOTT ANDERSON: (...) I think the problem—and I personally feel that, militarily, ISIS is going to be pretty much destroyed in the near future. But ISIS is not just a military—it’s not a guerrilla group anymore. It’s an idea. And as I was talking about these young men, you know, you have millions and millions of young men throughout the Middle East with no economic futures, who are not necessarily religious or even political in any way, but also what you have throughout the region is a kind of a built-in resentment against the West. So, that whole breeding ground is just going to continue on, and I don’t see how you deactivate that.
And I think that is plausible as well. Here is the end of the article:
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Scott Anderson, who has written this remarkable total issue of The New York Times Magazine called "Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart." In print, it occupies the whole issue.
This is here so that you can check whether you agree with my feelings.

2. 'Disappointed' in Obama, Sanders Calls on Top Dems to Drop Lame Duck TPP Push

The second item is by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
Hillary Clinton may not have heeded progressives' call to clearly say she'll urge the White House and her fellow party members to oppose a "lame-duck" vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has done just that, calling on Democratic Congressional leadership to publicly oppose a post-Election Day vote on the "job-killing trade deal."

Sanders' statement, issued Friday, comes as the Obama administration continues its push to get the TPP passed this year.

On Friday, as Politico reports, the White House sent lawmakers a draft, as required by "fast track" or trade promotion authority, that "describes the major steps the administration will take to implement any changes to U.S. law required by the deal." That notification comes a week after Obama said he expected Congress to pass the deal in the lame duck session.

Sanders said in his statement that he was "disappointed by the president's decision to continue pushing forward on the disastrous Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that will cost American jobs, harm the environment, increase the cost of prescription drugs, and threaten our ability to protect public health."

Bernie Sanders is quite right about the TPP, which also is the reason this article is reviewed. And here is some more about Hillary Clinton on the TPP:

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that has campaigned against the deal, said the president's "continued insistence on holding a lame-duck vote on the TPP is hurting Democratic chances of success this November—and helping Donald Trump's chances with blue collar voters."

Regarding the Democratic presidential nominee's stance, however, not all progressives are convinced that's she's come out forcefully enough against the TPP, specifically on the charge to take a leadership position to help stop the deal.

In an economic policy speech on Thursday, Clinton said, "I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages — including the Trans Pacific Partnership. I oppose it now, I'll oppose it after the election, and I'll oppose it as President."

I am sorry, but I don't believe Hillary Clinton, although I am willing to agree it is good she said the last quoted bit. And the reason I don't believe Hillary Clinton is that she will say almost anything that increases her chances of being elected president, after which she will reconsider her promises, and change her
policies.

Obama gained the presidency in the same way, and indeed reconsidered most of his promises. I see no reason whatsoever to believe Clinton is different - although I also insist that she is much less bad than Trump (though no good herself).

3. Climate Science: Revolution is Here

The third item is by Paul Rogers on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Heatwaves of more than 50⁰C in Iraq and India in recent weeks are yet further indications that climate disruption is a present-day reality, not something for the future that the world can respond to at leisure. They come in the wake of many months of increasing global temperatures and successively escalating years: 2014 the warmest on record, 2015 exceeding that, and 2016 confidently expected to be even higher (see "The climate pioneers: look south", 22 June 2016)

None of this should come as any surprise, since climate scientists have been warning repeatedly that the global climate is starting to become unstable. That judgment was reflected in the decision at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 to revise its aim for global-temperature increases: a limit of 1.5⁰C instead of the previous target of 2.0⁰C. 

Many states agreed to the new objective, which was seen as the major achievement of the Paris meeting. But it has now become clear that on present trends, there is very little chance of it being achieved (see "Scientists warn mankind will miss crucial climate change target – eight months after agreeing it", Independent, 7 August 2016). Indeed, figures for February- March 2016 showed an increase of 1.38⁰C, already very near to the long-term target, even as all the indications suggest there will be major additional rises in the next few years.

I say - and to me it is surprising that so many of the recent years are considerably warmer than it has been the last 60 yeras, even though I am familiar with "the ecological argument", as I shall call it, ever since I read, in 1972, "The limits to growth" (<- Wikipedia).

Also - while there is a considerable amount that is questionable in "The limits to growth" - its general theses and predictions still stand, as does the argument that the main reason the earth is rapidly warming up is the fact that there were less than 4 billion people in 1972, while now there are over 7 billion people, and in 2025 there will be 8 billion (and nearly all will want to live as they see people live in American TV-series) - which means the human population doubled in less than fifty years.

I was pessimistic in 1972 and I am considerably more pessimistic now, for I believed then and now that the most important fact is human population, and
there were too many people in 1972, while there are far too many people now.

But this article is a bit optimistic, and is so mostly about solar energy and batteries:

A few prescient analysts, Jeremy Leggett for one, have long argued that this element of human futures is much brighter than appreciated. It is a view backed up by a series of technological developments. Many of these are covered in Chris Goodall’s new book The Switch (Profile Books, 2016), which examines the potential for solar power and the beginnings of a revolution in energy storage. The Switch – worth a few hours of anyone’s time – focuses especially on recent and current improvements in efficiency, and consequent substantial decreases in costs.

I am sorry, but I am afraid this falls under the "too little, too late" sort of schema. Here is one example of why I think so:

A further area of particularly rapid progress, also one dealt with at length by Chris Goodall, is energy storage. Most projects here focus on improvements in batteries and also the scaling up of battery factories, giving economies of scale unheard of even a decade ago. Some of the new approaches that are currently in an early state of development have huge potential in the longer term – and with luck that might translate to within a decade.

For these new developments (improvements in batteries) may "with luck (..) translate to within a decade" - in which there will be born around another 1 billion humans.

So no, I can't really believe this will make a major difference: I have been looking at
"the ecological argument" about the environment and the climate since the early seventies - over 45 years - and by and large - and in spite of  "the green revolution" (<-Wikipedia) and in spite of all the windmills (<- Wikipedia) - I have seen not seen much that limited the continuing growth of the human population, which indeed goes on and on.

4. Why we're post-fact

The fourth and last item today is by Peter Pomerantsev on Granta:

This starts as follows:

As his army blatantly annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin went on TV and, with a smirk, told the world there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He wasn’t lying so much as saying the truth doesn’t matter. And when Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully sends ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate – then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free. When the Brexit campaign announces ‘Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’ and, on winning the referendum, the claim is shrugged off as a ‘mistake’ by one Brexit leader while another explains it as ‘an aspiration’, then it’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not.

How did we get here? Is it due to technology? Economic globalisation? The culmination of the history of philosophy?
Well... yes and no, to start with. I start with the yes:

I think it is by now mostly correct that, at least for many ordinary people, "
we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world" that is also marked by the fact (!!) that we do "[n]ot merely [live in] a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not".

And in fact I have been dealing with the growth of this "
‘post-fact’ or ‘post- truth’ world"" ever since 1977, and the first twelve years that followed it, mostly in the context of the University of Amsterdam, where it got popular before spreading like wildfire in the 2000s. More of this below. [1]

Second, I certainly object to the thesis that leading political men - Putin, Trump, Brexit people - do not lie consciously anymore (possibly with a quali- fication for Trump, because I think he is mad): Of course they lie, as they indeed "
always lied", at least when lying was in their interests.

Next, there is this, with which I also disagree:

Paradoxically, people who don’t trust ‘the mainstream’ media are, a study from Northeastern University showed, more likely to swallow disinformation. ‘Surprisingly, consumers of alternative news, which are the users trying to avoid the mainstream media “mass-manipulation”, are the most responsive to the injection of false claims.’
Really now? That indeed is too paradoxical for me to accept: If I reject the mainstream media (which I do: Far too much infotainment; far too little real science or real fact) then I must expect I am more likely "to swallow disinformation"?! C'mon!

I am sorry: I did give myself a very good education in logic and philosophy of science, and while I don't think this makes me immune to mistakes, I certainly don't accept things like many others seem to do, and especially the virtually mindless followers of and believers in the mainstream media, without much relevant knowledge, and without a trained or a high intelligence.

Besides, I not only reject this for myself: I reject it for most others who reject the mainstream media as well. None is perfect, but at least they don't accept the many lies and the enormous amounts of infotainment than the mainstream
media offer, and they look for less slanted information elsewhere.

The following bit is somewhat more to the point - but it neglects to ask an important question:

This equaling out of truth and falsehood is both informed by and takes advantage of an all-permeating late post-modernism and relativism, which has trickled down over the past thirty years from academia to the media and then everywhere else. This school of thought has taken Nietzsche’s maxim, there are no facts, only interpretations, to mean that every version of events is just another narrative, where lies can be excused as ‘an alternative point of view’ or ‘an opinion’, because ‘it’s all relative’ and ‘everyone has their own truth’ (and on the internet they really do).
Yes, I quite agree that it are especially post-modernism and relativism that spread the idea - as it was phrased to me in 1978, in the University of Amsterdam, where the notion took strong hold in the next twenty years - that "everybody knows that truth does not exist".

I also agree that - at least for many infected with postmodernism - this got translated and understood as "
‘it’s all relative’ and ‘everyone has their own truth’".

But then this is not true "on the internet", nor indeed elsewhere, for it is simply false that "
‘everyone has their own truth’", and this also has always been the case:

There are very many contradictory opinions about very many purported facts, but the reason is not that all these people "have their own truth" (in spite of often hardly knowing anything about what they are judging), the reason is that many are prejudiced, many are ignorant, many are stupid, many love their own ideologies, many love their own groups and group-thinking, and many love to maintain their own strong prejudices - which they can do by insisting there are no facts, for then there also are no falsifications of their prejudices.

And this also answered the question which seems avoided in the article:

How come so very many accepted the postmodern bullshit - as if it were the last revelation from their own God?

The reason is that they understood one thing about logic and reality: If you insist that no one knows any truth because there is no truth, you know that it follows (logically!) that no one will ever be capable of falsifying your personal prejudices, indeed also irrespective of whatever their wild, fantastical, arbitary, personal nature may be.

That is: postmodernistic relativism was very widely accepted because it allowed anyone - however stupid, however ignorant, however lazy, however prejudiced - to maintain that his or her personal prejudices could not possibly be falsified (in which they also were correct, if there is no truth).

It served the many prejudices of the many stupid and ignorant folks, and for this reason it was very widely accepted, including attendant falsehoods, such as that an academic education is worthless, that everybody is just as intelligent as everybody else, because intelligence also is a matter of personal choice, indeed like any characteristic one has (!!!) [2], etcetera etcetera.

It was the triumph of baloney and bullshit over rationality and reason, mostly because the very many who at long last also got access to internet found that
they could save their prejudices by denying there was anything to be said for
rationality and reason.

Next, there is this:
But if the only thing you can know is your mind, then, as Schopenhauer put it, ‘the world is my representation’. In the late twentieth century postmodernists went further, claiming that there is ‘nothing outside the text’, and that all our ideas about the world are inferred from the power models enforced upon us. This has led to a syllogism which Ferraris sums up as: ‘all reality is constructed by knowledge, knowledge is constructed by power, and ergo all reality is constructed by power. Thus . . . reality turns out to be a construction of power, which makes it both detestable (if by “power” we mean the Power that dominates us) and malleable (if by “power” we mean “in our power”).’
I have given my answer to the question the title of the article asks: I think that there are so many "post-facts" simply because very many understood one thing about logic and reality: As long as they insisted there are no truths, nobody could possibly falsify their prejudices (if there are no truths, of course, which is false [3]).

Besides, I don't quite see the need to philosophize in a journalistic article, and indeed I reject "the syllogism" that "
Ferraris sums up" [4].

Here is the final bit that I'll quote:
To make matters worse, by saying that all knowledge is (oppressive) power, postmodernism took away the ground on which one could argue against power. Instead it posited that ‘because reason and intellect are forms of domination . . . liberation must be looked for through feelings and the body, which are revolutionary per se.’ Rejecting fact-based arguments in favour of emotions becomes a good in itself.
I have argued already that not "all knowledge is (oppressive) power" (see [4]). Also, while I agree that nearly all postmodern argumentation I have read was simply false, the reason is not so much their arguments against knowledge or domination, but simply their denial that there is any truth (see [3].)

Then again, while I agree that many postmodernists are strongly in favor of emotions, I think it should have been pointed out that (i) many statements about emotions simply are difficult to verify (did he or she lie? deceive her/him-self? exaggerate? etc. - for how do you test what someone feels?) also for non-postmodernists, while (ii) each and any statement about the emotions again gets undermined by the statement that there just are no truths.

Anyway... while I did not agree with rather a lot, at least this is an article that
argues against postmodernism, "post-truth" and utter relativism. I have given my own arguments, but then I have argued against postmodernists since 1977.
---------------
Notes
[1] Yes, I have and indeed I give some of my important arguments below. In fact, there is a whole lot more, but - in case you are interested - I refer you to Nederlog (that exists this year 12 years) for more.

[2] How do I know that intelligence is merely a matter of personal choice? Because I have argued a lot with postmodernists between 1978 and 1988, and I recall from 1988 a discussion with a psychology student who insisted that she was not a genius merely because she personally chose not to be one: According to her all talents were a matter of personal choice, and she might just as well have been an Einstein or Newton rather than herself, simply because - she thought - she chose not to be. (Authentically true. My own guess is that she was very unlikely to have an IQ over 115, but then that was the average IQ in the UvA at that time. And I forgot to ask whether her facial exterior was also personally chosen, and whether she just did not look like Sophia Loren because she chose otherwise...)

[3] For those who care for logic, here is an argument. Suppose that there is no truth. If that is true (as the supposal asserts), then it is not true, for that is what it says. So it is false that there is no truth, whence there is truth. Qed.

[4] Again, for those who care for logic: First, it is not true that "all reality is constructed by knowledge", or at least not if you assume that your sensations are not always false. Second, it is not true that "knowledge is constructed by power": At least a considerable part of what I think I know was concluded by myself, and not because of any power. Third, the conclusion is also not true: Not "all reality is constructed by power" in part because most of reality that most men know is based on personal sensations, and in part because it has not been proved that "constructs" is transitive (i.e. that if x constructs y, and y constructs z, then x constructs z - e.g. with x=my parents, y=myself and z=the bread I baked).

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