I’ve been posting (for free!) chapters of Polemical Judo, in hope that at least a few of the ideas may percolate through some of you to where they’ll do some good.
Last time we offered: Chapter 4: End the Cheating First! with detailed inquiry into voting machines, gerrymandering and all the things that all sides of the blue coalition, including honest Republicans, should care deeply about fixing. Here, below, we’ll offer the first half of Chapter Five which deals with The All-out War on All Fact People. Chapter 5 is so long that I must split it in two, saving for next time a set of specifics including “counter-incantations” that neutralize the common attacks by fact-haters. (Or start fresh with Chapter 1.)
But First… just a few paragraphs updating one of these tactics from the perspective of early September 2020.
== The Core Vulnerability — his claim that he ‘knows people’ ==
The inability of any Democrat leader… even alphas like AOC … to grasp the obvious is beyond all reckoning. Take how they react to almost weekly defections from Trump’s orbit, when he is denounced by yet another former trusted aide or relative (“a weakling and a loser!”) or else someone in his orbit is arrested (“I barely met him or her!”) Democrats pounce each time: “Surely THIS outrageous case will break his hypnotic hold on some of the cult!” But every time, the mad confederate right only loses a thousand here, a fed-up thousand there. And smartypants pundits scratch their heads, never realizing this failure is their fault!
Surely you can see by now how each case – taken separately – gets waved away by MAGAs and by RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans). They do it by cauterizing and encapsulating each case and nodding as Tucker &co. attack the latest defector individually.
A far better judo-move is to go to the heart and gut of the Generality! All right, so maybe General Kelly was a wimpy coward who couldn’t take the heat, and Gen. Mattis is a treacherous dog, and Gen. McMaster was unreliable, and (take a deep breath) Michael Cohen is a betraying weasel and Reince Priebus an establishment sellout and Rex Tillerson a Davos conniver and John Bolton an opportunistic war-mongerer and Paul Manafort a Kremlin agent and Jeff Sessions a slimy betrayer and Roger Stone an incompetent plotter and Steve Bannon a crooked sneak and Tony Scaramucci a no-talent loser and Dan Coats and the Vindman colonel-brothers chose country over president (how dare they!) and Rob Porter and David Sorenson abused their wives and Rick Scott and RudyG went crazy and John Dowd and Sally Yates were too-nerdy and Tom Price and a dozen others used their departments as private piggy banks and Gordon Sondland and David Shulkin proved disloyal and Michael Flynn and Corey Lewandowski were fine fellows who stupidly let themselves get caught red-handed…
…and all right, it goes on and on and on. In fact the list of just those fired is immense and I only included famous cases where Trump had chosen them in the first place. Never mind all the mid-rankers and the separate all-out assaults on auditors and neutral Inspectors General and civil servants. That’s not the issue here.
No, the issue is that, alas, not even those clever folks at the LINCOLN PROJECT seem to GET how to hammer home one paramount lesson from all this! A lesson that is completely aside from any matter of policy or politics, or even defending those defectors! It’s an aspect of it all that’s immune even to the paranoid “deep state” incantations of the MAGA-incel-QAnon mob. Here’s the ultimate and utterly inarguable crux:
”Let’s suppose every excuse offered by Trump in each case was valid.
Even if Donald Trump is on the side of God and every single person who ‘betrayed’ him truly was a bad egg…
…What does that say about Trump as a JUDGE OF HUMAN CHARACTER?”
He bragged ‘I have the best people! No one is a better judge of people than I am!’
But in fact, no TWENTY other presidents – combined – were ever as ‘betrayed’ by personally hand-picked aides – as Donald Trump has been. And isn’t appointing good people – smart and competent – job#1? Even by his own standards, demanding only loyalty, what a history.
Indeed, if there’s one towering fact that’s absolutely proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is Trump’s stunningly bad record at judging human beings.
Maybe because it takes one to know one.
== And now Chapter 5 of Polemical Judo ==
Here I risk ire by asserting that the innocents and minorities we all see suffering aren’t the mad-right’s main or only targets for destruction. Some of society’s “elites” stand in the way, blocking a feudalist coup. These are oligarchy’s enemy-who-must-be-destroyed.
I may be ostracized for saying it, but the core values of the Fox/Putin-led oligarchic putsch aren’t racism or sexism or nativism.
Oh, the foremost victims – those most deeply hurt – are minorities, women, immigrants, non-binaries, the disempowered, millions of children and vulnerable others! To varying degrees, they are the ones suffering pain and gross injustice. And sure, bigotry’s dog-whistles have incited America’s worst elements into violent rage. In The New York Times, Charles Blow summarizes: they support Trump because he is mean to the people they like to be mean to.
“Trump’s own punitive spirit aligns with and gives voice and muscle to American conservatives’ long simmering punitive lust. And this insatiable desire to inflict pain has particular targets: women (specifically feminists), racial minorities, people who are L.G.B.T.Q. and religious minorities in this country. In short, the punishments are directed at anyone who isn’t part of, or supportive of, the white supremacist patriarchy.”
Still, turn your gaze upward from pathetic Nazis and jibbering supremacists, to their masters and hypnotizing controllers. Ponder what those masters need. To them, bigotry is incidental – a leverage tool. Their bid for total power is not blocked by the powerless. But it might truly be thwarted by other, competing “elites.”
Consider the bleak prospects for enlightened civilization across this current battlefield. With our elections cheat-stolen, our courts stuff-stacked with shills, millions incited into populist madness, and wealth disparities skyrocketing, just one force stands in feudalism’s way. The new lords must neutralize the counter-effectiveness of our fact-professions.
…and yes… the U.S. military officer corps, the third best-educated and most soberly responsible clade in modern American life.
Oh, pity the poor plutocrats! Across 6000 years and almost all continents, lords had simply to snap their fingers, foreclose on poor families, and wave around swords (or wands or catechisms or writs). Nowadays, they keep getting hemmed in by nitpickers, law-followers, investigators and their ilk, armed with procedures, evidences and attention to ‘rights.’ No wonder a top Republican objective – voiced early in his administration by Donald Trump – is to eviscerate 140 year old civil service protections and put all public servants under the political thumb.
You know that all of the professions listed above – and more – have been assailed for years, from daily assaults on “fake news” or “lame-stream” media to climate science denialism, all the way to accusations of “deep state” conspiracy by our defenders who best understand this dangerous world, including many of our most accomplished men and women in and out of uniform. A professor at the Naval War College, Tom Nichols, wrote a book about this: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge summarized in Foreign Affairs as: “How America Lost Faith in Expertise And Why That’s a Giant Problem.”
It’s an all-out assault – not just on this specialty, or that one, but against every variety of folks who know stuff. Why haven’t opposition politicians made this a core issue? One just as pressing as alt-right bigotry?
This isn’t zero sum! Nor does this point downplay the racist poison spewing across our sullied nation. You know that nothing is more useful in combatting intolerance than the flood of facts that disproved almost every prejudiced stereotype. Moreover, if things go badly, all the fact folks will go up against the wall, just as quickly as the antifa or trans activists, if not sooner.
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
– Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov
- 0.1 OTHERS HAVE NOTICED: FACTS ARE THE ENEMY
- 0.2 ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #1:
- 0.3 ABSURD NUMBERS
- 0.4 ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #2:
- 0.5 EVERYONE KNOWS THAT…
- 0.6 ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #3:
- 0.7 CONFRONT THEM OVER FACT CHECKING
- 0.8 ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #4:
- 0.9 APPEALING TO ANTI-AUTHORITY
- 1 Late note: “In a time of climate change denial and vaccine resistance, scientists worry they are losing public trust. But it’s just the opposite, a survey released Friday finds. Public trust of scientists is growing. It’s on a par with our trust of the military and far above trust of clergy, politicians and journalists . . . ” The survey by the Pew Research Center finds 86% of those surveyed say they have a fair amount or a great deal of faith that scientists act in our best interests. And that’s been trending higher.”
OTHERS HAVE NOTICED: FACTS ARE THE ENEMY
A good start would be to emphasize that it is all fact professions who are targeted, and hence the very notion of fact itself. Earlier I quoted commentator Thom Hartmann, who said: “When liberals talk about “elites,” they mean rich people. When conservatives talk about “elites”, they mean smart people.”
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times denounced the new Know Nothing Movement, finishing wisely: “Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.”
Alas, the advice was bereft of useful proposals, or anything like polemical judo.
Meanwhile, I challenge you to find a day when Donald Trump or his surrogates weren’tattacking journalism – kettles attacking pots as “fake news.” Just in August 2019 it was revealed that an operation run by conservative operatives reportedly scoured more than a decade of social media history from reporters who are seen as hostile towards Trump, in order to find potentially damaging posts that can be used against them. And yes, I meant “I challenge you,” because that phrase is key to a weapon too little used against the madness. I talk about wagers, especially, in this volume.
More recently, an editorial in the Washington Post spoke out about: “For Trump and his cronies, draining the swamp means ousting experts.” And all through the federal government, especially the State Department, large numbers of highly skilled pros have been leaking, then hemorrhaging away. But all of that is old news… and an ongoing – ultimately lethal – treason against the nation that (alas) we are getting used to.
My own contribution is to dig. Down to where the sickness has its deepest polemical roots. And as usual, it starts with something healthy… the most fundamental American reflex, taught to us in every film and story: Suspicion of Authority, or SoA.
Again – every citizen is convinced that some elite group is conspiring to be Big Brother! Liberals perceive plots by aristocrats, Mafiosi and faceless corporations.Conservatives denounce schemes by snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats. What few of us admit is that any power center could be a gathering place for connivers – including elites you happen to like.
By itself, healthy skepticism toward officious castes is irksomely healthy. But if manipulated just right, SoA can be used as a tool by conspiring elites, as we saw when Hitler diverted German populism with baseless charges of a vast Jewish conspiracy. What our more recent New Lords needed was to rouse red-populist ire toward all smartypants elites, diverting onto those natural foes all the attention that might otherwise notice their oligarchic putsch.
It called for spreading a series of clever memes that are never stated explicitly. Because if stated overtly, they are obviously insane.
‘The rest of the world is warily watching the
continuing assault on what the president
calls the “dishonest media,” a smear chillingly close
to the Nazi-era term “Lügenpresse”, or “lying press.”’
– Gary Kasparov
ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #1:
You start with the most “SoA” of the MAGA nostrums… “Those snooty (academics/scientists/journalists/teachers/deepstaters/etc.) are in a grand conspiracy against truth!” Or else: “They’re all conformist lemmings, charging in the same direction, in blind obedience to habit!”
The common thread connecting those two magic spells? Every knowledge caste shares the same un-American traits that undermine their credibility: uniformity, obstinacy andbullying officiousness.
Right. Okay then, let’s see. According to Google in North America there are roughly :
~ a quarter of a million professional journalists…
~ half a million scientists…
~ a million medical doctors…
~ a million university professors…
~ a quarter of a million military officers…
~ 150,000 economists…
~ 2.8 million civil servants at all levels…
~ 3.7 million teachers…
… almost three million nurses…
…and that just begins a long list of professions who are almost daily disparaged, as Fox and other right wing media imply – without ever saying so explicitly – that all of them are engaged together in a deliberate conspiracy.
What… all roughly ten million of them? A vast conspiracy without any leaks? Wow, that’s some competence and focused determination!
Faced with that absurdity, the backpedaling begins, either by splitting off the professions, one at a time, or else claiming the real cabal is only at the top, with all the middle and lower ranks in ignorant, lockstep compliance to dogma. (Of course the journalists and pundit “scientists” employed by Fox are the rare free spirits.)
Well, well. Having been both a journalist and a scientist, I’ll attest that there are no more competitive humans. Anyone who knows these professions also knows that each member lives on individualist ambition to be the next one to break a big story, to topple a giant, to smash a standard assumption, or to make a scoop. When a vast majority of scientists do believe the same thing, it’s not by obeisance to credentialed authorities, or some imaginary consensus. It’s because the current model of the world in that particular field has survived repeated and relentless challenges! So far, that is. And not only challenges from eager young postdocs, but from a flourishing and rapidly growing community of amateur scientists.
(Today’s experts have largely welcomed the amateur trend. Scientists compete with each other to get PBS shows explaining the latest discoveries! And there are now countless opportunities for citizen science – ways for aficionados to get involved in projects in astronomy, biology, ecology and so on.)
Above all, theories shift and change as evidence accumulates, and those models with bad predictive records are abandoned. (Hear that, “supply side economics”?)
But sure, it’s healthy for some citizens to express wariness toward that “elite.” Even (ungratefully) toward all of the smartypants castes whose inventiveness and curiosity engendered way more than half our wealth. In theory, one can imagine a technocratic dictatorship of nerdy know-it-alls – pushy, conformist, patronizing perfessors. It’s not wholly unreasonable to fret that scientists will act like old-time priests and lords and guild-masters, erecting barriers, preventing interested outsiders from joining the fun. And yes, at times we do see glimmers of old fashioned guild-protection. Still…
Which seems more likely? A grand ‘conspiracy’ of ten million scientists, journalists, teachers, FBI agents, professors, doctors, and intel/military officers? All those smart-but-unwise eggheads are plotting against the salt-of-the-Earth everyman?
Or that 5,000 golf buddies in an incestuous CEO caste connive secretly with parasitic Wall Streeters, casino moguls, Mafiosi, “ex”-KGB agents and inheritance brats? Oh, you never heard it put that way before?
Let’s concede that it’s not unreasonable to subject any intelligentsia to SoA scrutiny. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville expressed surprised admiration that villagers and townsfolk were arguing and managing their affairs quite fine without overseers appointed from above. In his “Funeral Oration” the great Athenian champion of democracy, Pericles, said that “lack of learning combined with sound common sense is more helpful than the type of cleverness that gets out of hand, and that as a general rule states are better governed by the man in the street than by intellectuals.” Though both of these sages commended two necessary ingredients: widely open education and calm. Especially the calm that it takes to argue productively with your neighbors.
Fortunately, ‘technocracy’ – or ‘rule by the smartest’ – is unlikely and impractical, for dozens of reasons. (Have you ever tried to herd cats? Now try getting ten million highly competitive, confidently curious and irksomely well-informed scientific “cats” to agree on an Orwellian agenda.)
As for journalism, these are the men and women who trained to ask eager questions, to probe and get exposed to diverse, opposing points of view. Sure, as individuals they can be biased! Sometimes outrageously so. There is every reason to be glad we live in a society with many, diverse media – some of them amateur – all sniffing for errors. That is the essential ethos I convey in my book The Transparent Society. And did I mention that Suspicion of Authority is a good habit, overall?
But when it means hating experts in principle and in general, then SoA has metastasized. Gone cancerous. A good reflex, it’s been turned against us.
“If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts.
If you have the law on your side, pound the law.
If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”
– Traditional advice to new lawyers.
ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #2:
EVERYONE KNOWS THAT…
The War on Expertise is insidious. It depends on some magic spells that draw their power from being implicit and never spoken overtly or aloud. The core meme starts with something everyone knows to be true. We all know that:
Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, they aren’t automatically wise.
It’s true! We all know examples of intelligent, knowledgeable boneheads. In fact, that nostrum is so true that it thrums as a deep assumption, at the back of all our minds.
Alas, in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome – till it goes toxic – this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:
All people who are smart and know a lot are therefore automatically unwise!
The first statement is true and we all know it. The second is so insanely wrong that anyone declaring it is instantly revealed as jibbering loony. And yet, the latter is now a core catechism of the Confederacy! Because they’ve been allowed to leave it implicit.
Don’t let them! Make it clear that’s what they mean. Or else make them deny it. Either way, you’ll do major judo moves.
If “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,”
then we should add that “Those who have learned from history
will almost certainly repeat it anyway, because bias rules over truth.”
– Thad McIlroy
ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #3:
CONFRONT THEM OVER FACT CHECKING
We’re all frustrated by the effectiveness of the “fake news!” incantation, which should be refutable by simple tabulations of competitively verified facts. Fact-checking services are supposed to do this, yet all have failed to make a dent in the impervious wall of Confederate falsehoods and denialism, not only regarding climate change but the more than ten thousand tabulated Donald Trump lies.
That’s because every fact-checking service is dismissed – on Fox and rightist media – as ‘biased,’ for the basic reason that most of the falsehoods found by these services are Republican sourced. In the realm of “Sez you!” relativism, this is clear evidence of bias.
Alas, nearly all frustrated fact people keep playing sumo over this! They seem to believe if they just pile the mountain of evidence higher, that will finally give fact checkers more credibility. But instead, the reds only dig in. You cannot win this fight with sumo.
A far better approach? Directly challenge every high level person who repeats that accusation:
Okay, you claim every existing fact-check service is inherently biased. In that case, will you now join a bipartisan effort to design a new fact-verifying service? One you’d trust?
Challenge every Fox pundit and GOP Congressperson or factotum:
Always complaining about biased fact-checkers, why have you never offered to help set up something neutral and trustworthy? Not a policy or political body, but one (or several!) charged with a single task: helping us tell true from fake?
Will you come to a conference, next week, ready to nominate august, reputable conservative men and women to serve as co-supervisors? How about retired, Republican Supreme and Appellate Court judges? Sandra Day O’Conner? Former President Bush? Warren Buffett? Retired admirals and generals? Eminent conservative statisticians and related experts, respected by their peers and known more for quality than dogma? Do you have no such sages to propose? How can that be?
Why won’t you join a non-partisan effort to help us sift truth from lies?
Yes, you’ve seen this recommendation earlier and will confront it repeatedly, throughout the book, because it works, and because no one tries it on the national stage.
No, the Foxites won’t cooperate, for obvious reasons – above all because almost any reputable conservatives they name, even experts who are partisan, will wind up shredding the “fake news” nostrum.
Instead, Hannity & co. will rail that you’re trying to set up an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” Yes, even when you offer to help set up many competing fact-checking services. (See The Fact Act below.)
They’ll squirm away. But their repeated whinnying, waffling evasion will look terrible. And that is judo.
“Our countrymen have recovered from the alarm into which art and industry had thrown them; science and honesty are replaced on their high ground.”
– Thomas Jefferson, upon entering office
ANTI-FACT INCANTATION #4:
APPEALING TO ANTI-AUTHORITY
Sayeth the indignant defender of individualism:
Anyone who suggests that experts in a field merit respect is declaring that everyone should bow down to experts and obey them. I won’t!
Bullshit. Scientists invented “Question Authority”! Did I mention they tend to be the most competitive of all humans, forever going after each other like gunslingers at high noon?
Hell yeah, you should start any topic by checking with experts! Begin with a tentative assumption that they know what they are talking about. (They do, at least 90% of the time.) Then look for others who knowledgeably disagree! Sometimes (rarely) the dissidents prove right and experts wrong! “Consensus” in science is very real when it comes to crafting useful predictive models of the world. But go ahead and show us (with burden of proof on you) that the consensus is wrong here! Or over there! It’s how science advances.
Just this, though. When most of the people who know the most about a subject are seen to agree, despite their competitiveness, then it’s generally wise for policy to begin by paying heed to expert advice. Especially when our children’s future is at stake, it makes sense to enact policies that follow expert advice, while funding research to see if they are wrong! You can – and should – do both, in parallel.
(And note that this syndrome, while less rampant than on the right, certainly festers on what we might call the far-left, among “post-modernist scholars,” or else those aura-reading types who proclaim that objective reality will bend to their triumphant will.)
I’ll go to specifics in a later section, dialing into environmental denialism. But it’s pertinent here. When 99% of people who understand climate and weather say we’re all in danger, shall we do nothing, only obstruct, at the behest of coal barons, oil commissars and petro sheiks? Shall we both ignore expert advice and defund research – the satellites and instruments and avidly competing groups – that might prove the experts wrong? Or prove them right? Because that has been the upshot of climate denialism.
Late note: “In a time of climate change denial and vaccine resistance, scientists worry they are losing public trust. But it’s just the opposite, a survey released Friday finds. Public trust of scientists is growing. It’s on a par with our trust of the military and far above trust of clergy, politicians and journalists . . . ” The survey by the Pew Research Center finds 86% of those surveyed say they have a fair amount or a great deal of faith that scientists act in our best interests. And that’s been trending higher.”
ext time – part two of Chapter Five… a set of specifics including “counter-incantations” that neutralize the common attacks by fact-haters.
I expect some to torch me as a bigot and Nazi-enabler for saying that. Others will hang around, knowing that I yearn (from the bottom of my heart) to destroy racism and intolerance! If I could reverse the male-female ratio in positions of power around the globe I’d race to press the button! Still, it’s my job to notice traps and debilitating clichés. And so, I must reiterate, their paramount goal is power. Hence, it is not the powerless who the Kochs, Mercers and Putin fear most. It is those with some power to keep enlightenment values and accountability alive.
The war on expertise. http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/waronexpertise.html
 October 12, 2019, White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller ranted on Fox News that there’s a “Fourth Branch of Government,” consisting of the civil servants. A point where I agree, only I hold that civil servants have saved and protected us for 3 years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z2-r0oh5tI&fbclid=IwAR2_LdYbRy8PEXIhgHDq39fSh10J1pk_ZBpJSL0lhNRgrt2f9CAMQIGm6Vg
 The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge, by Tom Nichols. http://amzn.to/2pr4k0s
How America Lost Faith in Expertise Foreign Affairs, March/April 2017 https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-02-13/how-america-lost-faith-expertise
“Why Trump Lies.” LA Times, April 3, 2017. https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-why-trump-lies/?fbclid=IwAR2w7sK8fjjd4wkpogdvUk7bcLqFkhtSGzDFc1iqYz4jU1HIAcB93e3GE0w
“Operation Targeting Journalists Seen Unfavorable to Trump Is Allied With the White House: NYT.”
Ousting experts. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-draining-the-swamp–of-needed-experts/2019/08/08/7ec457e4-ba12-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html
Nearly all top scientists are eclectic – also artists or authors or musicians. Fiercely competitive “young guns” – recently tenured professors with secure funding – are most ferocious of all, seeking some paradigm to topple. Contrast this to Fox myths that scientists are wimpy lemmings, yelping around the most “consensus-accepted” theory and hugging boondoggle “grants.” This includes the rich folks in weather analysis who (using the same equations and data as climate researchers) can now predict hurricane paths and transformed the old, joke of a 4-hour “weather report” into a ten day miracle of prophecy you and your red uncle rely upon. Once, the U.S. right admired science. Now it’s at full tilt war. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 3% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced.
 As I explain in this video, the 20th century’s professionalization of everything served humanity well, but could not continue. That vast trend is fast being replaced by an era when hundreds of millions will have side avocations, wherein they are almost as capable as their day-work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw9_Q9FzljI
 Amateur science: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_for_Amateur_Scientists
 “Thoughts, Prayers And Rejecting Political Hobbyists,” https://www.bobcesca.com/thoughts-and-prayers-2/
 Trust in science is rising. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/08/02/747561031/poll-finds-trust-in-science-is-rising