"Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart":
NYT Mag Examines Region Since
2003 U.S. Invasion
'Disappointed' in Obama, Sanders Calls on Top Dems to
Drop Lame Duck TPP Push
Science: Revolution is Here
4. Why we're post-fact
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
"Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart": NYT Mag Examines
Region Since 2003 U.S. Invasion
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
I tried, repeatedly also, but I know
now for some 50 years that I don't like this whole
of reporting, which might be summarized as "fake personal", and I have
not succeeded in finishing it, mostly because indeed I dislike the
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
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:
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:
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
This is here so that you can check whether
you agree with my feelings.
'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."
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
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:
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
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
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."
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
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
there were too many people in 1972, while there are far too many people
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.
Why we're post-fact
The fourth and last item today is by Peter Pomerantsev on Granta:
This starts as follows:
Well... yes and no, to start with. I start
with the yes:
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
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. 
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
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
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
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
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
many are ignorant,
many are stupid,
many love their own ideologies, many
love their own groups
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
was very widely accepted because it allowed anyone
- however stupid,
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
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,
also is a matter of personal choice, indeed like any
characteristic one has (!!!) , 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
they could save their prejudices by denying
there was anything to be said for rationality
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 ).
Besides, I don't quite see the need to philosophize in a journalistic
article, and indeed I reject "the syllogism" that "Ferraris sums up" .
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 ). 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 .)
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
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
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.
 How do I know
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...)
 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.
 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).