Saturday, July 29, 2017

Philosopher Daniel Dennett Discusses American Politics & the Strange State of Our World Today

Recently, American philosopher Daniel Dennett shared his thoughts on the world right now, a world where Donald Trump is president, where facts hardly seem to matter at all, and where rapid changes threaten to alter everything that we know and take for granted about ourselves and about our world.

The article is an interesting read, and you can find the link down below. Dennett delves into his thoughts and impressions on which way the world is going, and his insights might surprise and/or enlighten you, or at least get you to think about some things from a very different angle than you might have otherwise done.

Frankly, with times as crazy and just plain weird as the ones in which we currently live, sometimes it is necessary to step back and try and examine it from a different perspective, and in this case, we get a glimpse of what a philosopher thinks of what is going on in the world now.

The paradox of these times that we live in, this era of the Trump presidency, is quite striking, when you think about it.

On the one hand, things have gotten so ridiculous, with new scandals every single day, with a classless and intellectually and morally bankrupt man at the helm (although he sure s rich, and seemingly getting richer from the office that he is currently holding, is he not?) pushing the envelope literally on a daily basis, so that most of us are kind of suffering from an exhaustion of outrage. Frankly, he could not have designed it any better. We who stand opposed to him already feel exhausted in trying to keep up with all of his many trespasses, that it winds up that we have to pick the most important battles to us. 

All of this has felt like the ridiculous to the utterly absurd, with high school level drama exceeding that of most soap operas, and it is all coming from the White House. We have had bad presidents in office before, but never such presidencies where there seems to be ridiculous major headlines coming out on a daily basis. President Trump bragging to anyone and everyone who will not or cannot run away, from the Australian Prime Minister to the Boy Scouts, about the size of his election victory (although he lost the popular vote by nearly three million). He tweets ridiculous and petty things at all hours, and even tweets undignified video clips from his brief flirtation with wrestling, something that most people, even many of his allies, feel is far, far beneath the dignity of the office that he holds and represents. Right from the start, the presidency seems to have been mired in controversy and staggering contradictions. Trump gives an address that sounds petty and insular, then he gives his address before Congress, and people are praising him for finally looking and sounding presidential. Then, he destroys that with some fresh new idiocies inside of 24 hours. He always said that he would make America stronger, yet the alliances that other countries are forming because they do not feel that they can trust the United States in the Trump era has only weakened the nation, and it's credibility is seriously compromised after his disastrous announcement of withdrawal from the Paris Accord and his participation in the G-20 summit. There are internal conflicts within this White House, as well, with Trump seeming to push Attorney General Sessions into resigning, and then a major shake up within the White House in seeing Anthony Scaramucci coming in. It is Scarmucci's job the clean the image of this White House up, yet he started with a profanity laced interview and immediately started pointing fingers, claiming he knew where all of the leaks (and there have indeed been many of them) within the White House were coming from. Like his boss, Scaramucci does not hesitate to air dirty laundry publicly, and he specifically aims at Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who then resigns. Whether or not he was guilty of the leaks, it seems too early to say. 

Indeed, all of this has felt like the circus has come to town, except we keep having to listen to it and watch this on the evening news, or in screaming news headlines. Sometimes, it feels surreal. Other times, it feels like a mind-numbingly stupid and vain reality television show, which perhaps makes sense, since we have a mind-numbingly stupid and vain reality television star serving as president.

Yet, on the other hand, it has never felt more important to pay attention, and disgusting and depressing as the news coming out of Washington has been, particularly in the last six months and change now. Because behind all of this absurd, reality television style drama, there is a very real threat to democracy. If there is one thing that we can all agree Trump wants and is good at, it is grabbing more power. This conflicts in an obvious way with the constitutional limitations on his power. For example, the most recent questions about whether or not he can pardon himself and his family for any and all wrong doings is a very serious thing, even though on the surface, it sounds so ridiculous and absurd as to be a farce. These are now serious questions about just how much a president can get away with, because let's face it, if there ever has been a president who would outright be willing to pardon himself, it is Trump. What happens if he succeeds? What happens when he takes that as a green light for plenty of other trespasses, as history has shown he will? He has already disgraced the office of the presidency like no one else in history, but let us remember that he is only six months into a four year term. That means there is still plenty of time left for him to do still more damage. 

Trump and his team have also hinted at various different times, and in a myriad different ways and with varying degrees of subtlety, that a conflict in trying to grab more power might indeed be coming (and might seems such a weak word here, since it seems almost a certainty that they will indeed continue to push the envelope. After all, this is a man who just last week, declared that he was all in favor of allowing Obamacare to fail, which is a frightening thought, since that would mean millions of Americans suffering. Yet, he seemed all for that, in order to score a few more political points. We could sense that this would happen, since the healthcare failures have so far been the most notable of this White House's efforts to establish a legacy, and they clearly do not want to be defined by failures, since Trump promised that the country would just win, win, and win some more with him as president, to the point that we would grow sick and tired of winning. For someone who promised so much winning, he sure has been losing a lot since coming into office, hasn't he?

Yet, not everybody sees it this way, of course. In this day and age, where facts seem to really not matter so long as people seem to willing to question or simply ignore them, plenty of Trump supporters still believe that their man can do no wrong. Regardless of what he does or how he flounders, so long as he comes up with a remotely plausible excuse to his crowd (and his fallback has clearly been that any negatives or criticisms of him or his administration are automatically "fake news"), then they will continue to believe what they want to believe. And trust me, they want to believe him, and since he has risen from a famous billionaire to a reality television and fake wrestling star and all the way to the White House (what impressive credentials, eh?), his credibility in their eyes just keeps growing and growing.

Frankly, everything that Trump does gets a ton of media press. That might be normal now that he is president, but this was the case well before he was even close to the presidency. Also, it seems that every little peep and fart from the White House gets staggering levels of coverage, as well. It has reached a point where he is clearly the center of some sort of cult of personality, with some people who clearly love him no matter what, unconditionally, and with others who just as clearly cannot stand him, and where his every action and every word confirms their low opinion of him. But one way or the other, there is just no denying the unbelievable levels of essentially free press coverage this guy gets. And for all of his talk about how unfair and biased the media is, and how much "fake news" is out there, you get the impression that secretly, Trump loves the media, and would not be anywhere near as prominent a position without them, and that nobody knows this better than Trump himself.

Dennett suggests that Trump has essentially gotten a ton of what amounts of free press for quite some time now, and it is simply because he generates a ton of press coverage every time that he sneezes. Frankly, it might make you wonder a little bit, since he has such a mediocre and pedestrian mind, and hardly has thoughts that warrant serious exploring. Yet, millions of people love him and look up to him, and that has clearly serves to benefit the man. Dennett explains:

"I’ll give you an example: why do advertisements cost so much at the Super Bowl? Answer: it’s not just that millions of people are watching but that millions of people, hundreds of millions of people, know that hundreds of millions of people are watching. And that gives it additional credibility. And the web isn’t like that. But when you’ve got Trump tweeting to millions of people at a time, they know that he’s tweeting to millions at a time. He’s getting one of the advantages of this credibility effect without the disadvantages."

Dennett explains that the major problem with where we are politically is that somehow, facts have largely become irrelevant:

"The real danger that’s facing us is we’ve lost respect for truth and facts. People have discovered that it’s much easier to destroy reputations for credibility than it is to maintain them. It doesn’t matter how good your facts are, somebody else can spread the rumour that you’re fake news. We’re entering a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since the middle ages.

"Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts. You’d have people going around saying: “Well, you’re part of that crowd who still believe in facts.”

But Dennett does not merely talk about American politics today. He explores other things entirely separate from politics, and suggests that people have become a little too comfortable with not thinking about how things work, and just essentially taking it for granted that they always have worked before, and so it stands to reason (to them, or to us) that it always will work:

Serious comprehension of anything is very recent, only millennia old, not even a million years old. But we’re now on the verge of moving into the age of post-intelligent design and we don’t bother comprehending any more. That’s one of the most threatening thoughts to me. Because for better or for worse, I put comprehension as one of my highest ideals. I want to understand everything. I want people to understand things. I love understanding things. I love explaining things to myself and to others. We’ve always had plenty of people who, for good reason, said, “Oh, don’t bother explaining to me how the car engine works, I don’t care. I just push the ignition and off I go.” What happens when we take that attitude towards everything?  

Dennett also speaks about our overly easy and convenient reliance on things that we never bother even trying to understand, such as the internet:

"If the internet went down, and a lot of people say it’s just a matter of time, it will probably take the power grid down, cellphones, radio, television – we’ll be plunged into electronic darkness. We’re not used to that. If you thought 9/11 was scary, this is going to be a tremendous panic-inducer. We should be planning what to do about that."

It is a fascinating article that just might get you thinking about things that you might not have thought about before. To see the article in it's entirety for yourself, click on the link below:

Daniel Dennett: ‘I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics’Carole Cadwalladr @carolecadwalla Sunday 12 February 2017 04.00 EST

No comments:

Post a Comment