Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How we got here and how we get out

A sobering article in the new Atlantic, How America Lost its Mind, traces the journey from optimistic intellectual freedom to rank ignorance and fantasy.  Where will we go from here?
The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end. I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland. I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel. Why should modern civilization’s great principles—democracy, freedom, tolerance—guarantee great outcomes?
So, what's the solution?
If we’re splitting into two different cultures, we in reality-based America—whether the blue part or the smaller red part—must try to keep our zone as large and robust and attractive as possible for ourselves and for future generations. We need to firmly commit to Moynihan’s aphorism about opinions versus facts. We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. ...

It will require a struggle to make America reality-based again. Fight the good fight in your private life. You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger at Chipotle who claims that George Soros and Uber are plotting to make his muscle car illegal—but do not give acquaintances and friends and family members free passes. If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to distinguish between true and untrue as fiercely as you do between right and wrong and between wise and foolish.


wdg_pgh said...

You might be interested in Ken Wilber's take on "how we arrived where we are and why there is cause for hope. He lays much of the blame on a failure at the progressive, leading edge of society." (From the Amazon blurb).

Trump and a Post-Truth World

He particularly places much of the blame on post-modernism gone off track in academia.

Bill Ghrist

IT said...

I wouldn't necessarily say "no", although I think it's more complicated than that. My own corner of academe is science, so we have a strong grip on reality and look with bemusement on some of things that happen elsewhere on campus. But it's a perfect storm, isn't it? Because academe is really not all that influential across the culture at large. I think substantial blame must be placed on the dumbing down of talk radio and fox news too.