Living in a post-fact world

by Grania

I was watching John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. It is all very well to snigger at wilful ignorance, but when it is fervently subscribed to by political leaders it can’t bode well for the country, or the world.

Watch this clip (starting at 5.50) in which the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives discusses violent crime rates in the United States. Newt Gingrich just flatly denies the evidence, dismissing it as “liberal statistics” (the data comes from the FBI) and then says while it may be “theoretically right, it’s not where human beings are”.

Leaving aside the special code word  “liberal” which his target audience can be relied on to understand to mean lies and/or stupidity; he is basically claiming that misconceptions are more valid than facts, and that correcting misconceptions is not something he is interested in doing.

I’m always left wondering whether such people are just cynical manipulators of those who believe in them; or whether they actually believe in their own stories.


Even if you are fed up with establishment politics, and I think that this is something that many Europeans share with their American counterparts; it ought to be a worry that a political party seems to be making up their own version of reality as they go along. It is even more worrying that many voters don’t seem to mind – and this isn’t only an American phenomenon: you can see this in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote*. In an era where it has never been easier to find out the facts, it is peculiar that high numbers of potential voters have decided that the facts are whatever appeals most to their narrative. Are people disillusioned? Cynical? Nihilistic?


*I’m not trying to argue that there weren’t legitimate reasons for having serious reservations about the EU, merely that much of the rhetoric surrounding the referendum had little to do with facts.


  1. Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Watching Gingrinch in that clip irritated me sufficiently to blog about it. (Shameless plug:

    When politicians can evade rational accountability for their policies, particularly policies that implicitly or explicitly deny well-established scientific facts, then we face a potentially dangerous situation.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Not so much potential as real danger. Think of how much progress would have been made by now if the human race made decisions based on facts instead of feelings.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Steven Colbert called this out several years ago in his persona as “truthiness”.

  3. GBJames
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink


  4. Jeff Cotner
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Murder rates are down dramatically vs 20 years ago (as Steven Pinker would be quick to demonstrate). In fairness, though, what Trump said in his speech was something specific:
    “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”
    Fact-checkers acknowledge that these (narrow) facts are true. You can call this cherry-picking and even suggest that it’s misleading to focus on these facts, but it is true that murder rates in major cities — largely in black communities — has seen an uptick. Even FBI director Comey has discussed this fact and its potential causes (“the viral video effect”).
    If cherry-picking some facts and glossing over others is disqualifying, both sides are equally guilty — as is our entire media established. In the same vein, consider this May 2016 headline from the New York Times: (“Homicide Rates Jump in Many Major U.S. Cities, New Data Shows”)

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      That’s not what Gingrich is, or has been saying. He never said “Homicides were up in 2015” He and his Republican ilk have been screaming that crime is up, including violent crime, for the past two decades.
      As it has been their constant slogan for two decades, sooner or later they were bound to get at least one aspect right.
      One year is hardly a trend. While 2016 appears to be headed towards the same, homicides are up, I don’t believe that Gingrich is a prophet or was talking about the future when he and his fellow Republicans were shouting ‘violent crime is up’ for the last twenty years.

      • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        Precisely. Right-wingers need to sell fear of minorities. So big city crime is always up. Those nasty non-whites that live at the edges of big cities are getting more violent every minute.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Trump is applying that narrow set of data to the entire country, so he is lying. And the republicans are significantly more guilty of this sort of thing than the democrats. Fox News regularly misrepresents facts to promote their political views. I don’t see nearly as much skewing in the NY Times, which will actually publish corrections if it gets something wrong.

  5. kieran
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    So when are we putting Newt in Dara O Briain’s sack?

    • darrelle
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Way over due on that. I’m guessing the fooking sack is long since full.

  6. Dominic
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Well said – & yes, depressing…

  7. Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    in the UK Brexit campaign, mass circulation newspapers such as the Daily Express and the Daily Mail printed that outlines as front-page news. Allegations that Turkey was about to become a member of the EU and that plans existed to absorb 1,000,000 Turkish immigrants into the UK; that there were 600,000 benefit tourists from the EU in the UK; that an intercepted lorry load of smuggled Afghans were demanding entry because they were “from Europe”; those are just the ones that caught my eye. And of course equating gross UK contributions to the EU budget with net contributions, and pretending that Brexit would free up that money for our National Health Service.

    We have a symbiosis between a sophisticated group of opinion manipulators, who have learnt from Orwell and Lakoff (time the defenders of sense in reality did the same),the 0.01% who own the means of communication, and polticians who play the fears and anxieties of people who have not done well out of the changes of the last few decades.

    • Christine Janis
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Yeah — that 350 million quid a week for the NHS disappeared even before the ink was dry on the polling slips.

      • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

        The biggest feat was convincing voters that conservatives and Farage would care about the NHS. And people believed this. 😂

    • Filippo
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Have you by chance listened to the couple of videos Pat Condell has posted regarding Brexit? If you have, I’m glad to hear of any chinks in the armor of his reasoning, if I have missed them from several times carefully listening to him.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    In another sarcastic reference to Trump, Hilary said, in her speech last night that she believed in science. But then in this country you have to say that out loud. It’s almost like establishing what party you are in.

    To present an idea of what kind of education we get here in America, Gingrich was once a teacher.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink


  9. sensorrhea
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    The terrifying thing is how shameless they are about this enterprise. Remember the whole “reality based community” used as a insult scandal?

    From RaionalWiki:

    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of Searle’s distinction, for colloquial purposes, between physical reality and cultural reality. The problem is when cultural “realities” have no basis or grounding in physical reality. Even worse, when they refuse to acknowledge the *is* in favor of a selfish and unsustainable ought.

      • sensorrhea
        Posted July 30, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

        That’s a great summation of political correctness. I usually say political correctness is like it’s own verb tense, the “as if” tense. Meaning we must act “as if” certain things are true because it’s not nice if they aren’t.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      In todays hard-copy NY Times, there’s an article to the effect that the U.S. has discarded “logic” in favor of “emotion” in its latest approach to dissuading young male human primates from succumbing to the blandishments of ISIS. (There’s a photo of a male hand covering a woman’s mouth.)

      Another article in the same edition compares the appeal of the “shows” the two conventions put on. The verdict was that the higher quality of celebrities, singers, entertainers, etc. was at the Demo convention. Talked about Corey Booker “energizing” “the base.” I turned it on for less than a minute and consider it nothing but yelling, ululating. The bloody loud, “edgy,” irritating music to introduce the next speaker. Does all that matter when it comes to contemplating and acting on serious issues?

      The Herd apparently must be entertained, eh? It’s not enough to be informed/enlightened.

      Will Katy Perry or Lena Dunham (sp.?) be featured at the next AAAS national meeting as part of the proceedings? Will presenters walk to the podium dancing a jig to the latest fatuous rock/pop?

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Though the RegressiveWiki is a great example where you find Feelz-over-Facts in the opposite direction, too. Read their “social justice” articles for pseudoscience rubbish, their FGM-Islam-apologia, or their smear-jobs of New Atheists, for instance. You can argue and source until your index finger fouls off, they have a bunch of zealous agenda-pusher editors who just don’t care (and who bully anyone off who tries).

      • sensorrhea
        Posted July 30, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Oh no! I had no idea RationalWiki was the liberal Conservapedia. Gross. Thanks for telling me.

  10. Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Perhaps folks should read the book Idiot America.

    The three great premises of Idiot America, according to Charles M. Pierce:

    Premise 1: Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.

    Premise 2: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.

    Premise 3: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

    • colnago80
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Premise 2 according to Josef Goebbels: If one is going to tell a lie, make it a big lie, tell it loudly, tell it often and eventually people will come to believe it.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      That’s an accurate description of how Trump operates.

      As for Gingrich, he’s smart enough to know he’s talking rubbish but he knows that won’t get him a high profile job with Trump. The gamble will cost him when Trump loses, but because of those premises the loss won’t be financial.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Also recommend it.

  11. bluemaas
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This of Ms Grania’s explanation — a passel of people, in almost all aspects of their lives including their voting matters, do not care one whit about reason, reality and FACT.

    Only about what they perceive as or desperately want to be true (just like them with their religious beliefs in the face of overfreakin’whelming scientific evidence to the contrary ! — is my second* reason for placing my wager with Dr Coyne that:

    We .will., come the morning of Wednesday, 09 November 2016, all be forced to hear and to register up in to our brains the FACT of these two words: President Trump.


    *my first one: see Mr Michael Moore’s Reason #2 of Why the Bigoted Beast .will. win:

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      It is always possible that Moore is correct but I think, highly unlikely. It most certainly depends on getting many of the people who do not vote, minorities, young and even some who do not care, out there voting come November. That will be the key and what Hilary and her army must overcome. They have to make people give a damn or else, all will be lost.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      If Trump wins we may find that we wish that the U.S. were part of the E.U. (and subject to the masters in Brussels?) and that we could be part of the free movement of people in and out and around and about the E.U.

      To paraphrase the rabbi’s answer, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” to the rabbinical students’ question, “Is there a proper blessing for the Czar?”: “May God bless and keep Trump – far away from us!”

  12. Sastra
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    then says while it may be “theoretically right, it’s not where human beings are”.

    Physics professor Taner Edis once made an interesting observation about the way his non-physics students approached physics. Throughout the history of our species, the average person has always used “folk” theories to explain the world — deceptively simple “common sense” intuitions which are clear, easy to understand, and sometimes wrong. The field of physics is rife with “folk physic knowledge” — such as a heavy object falling faster than a light object. Part of the purpose of the introductory courses aimed at non-majors was to break these instincts, thus allowing the students to realize the power of science.

    General ed students usually were able to overcome their original folk physics assumptions. But only when they were in science class, dealing with what they had learned. As soon as they returned to the “real world” they seemed to slip right back where they started from. He tested this: they didn’t extrapolate. It was as if, Edis wrote, these otherwise bright people mentally divided reality into two parts: what happens in science … and what happens in personal experience. The rules vary for the situation. There’s book larnin’ for the book questions — and then there’s ordinary common sense for determining where human beings really are.

    And yeah, that sounds a lot like what goes on in religion.

    Gingrich’s reasoning is scary, but it’s not as if he and the other Republicans are introducing a new kind of stupid. They’re appealing to the old kind of stupid — old fashioned folk wisdom. If it seems to you that violence has gone up, then trust your instincts.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      But in ‘real life’ a stone does fall more quickly than a feather…

      Folk physics doesn’t have to be True, it merely has (on average) to increase fitness. You’d leap out of the way of falling stones but you wouldn’t be half as concerned by falling feathers.

      …and so on to politics. Ordinary people are not so concerned about ‘facts’. They know these are spun, picked over, and manipulated by all concerned on both sides of any political debate. The Leave side of the Referendum didn’t win by lying – the Remain side lost because of poor presentation and the choice (or inability) not to present a positive case for Remain (and its own lies in Project Fear).You could even argue that Leave was seen as promoting ‘fitness’ better than Remain. An uncomfortable truth for some.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        “You’d leap out of the way of falling stones but you wouldn’t be half as concerned by falling feathers.”

        This doesn’t support the first part of your example, but it does support the point that it is better to have a better understanding of reality than merely what evolution endowed us with sans science.

        Even if you were in free-fall and vacuum you would be well advised to be more concerned by rocks approaching your position at velocity X than feathers. Results are the same unlike the rate of fall in atmosphere vs vacuum example.

        Is it not worthwhile to strive for improving the odds of increasing fitness by accepting reality and learning how to reason better?

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          Is it not worthwhile to strive for improving the odds of increasing fitness by accepting reality and learning how to reason better?

          Maybe yes, maybe no. You would have to demonstrate that accepting reality and learning to reason better would, *on average*, improve fitness. Reasoning better may improve your individual fitness or it may distract you at a key moment when a rapid response is required.

          I think that there is an unspoken axiom in many of the debates about rationality, that more rationality is ‘better’. I’ll mention the famous conundrum – wealthy well educated people tend to have fewer children.

          • darrelle
            Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

            There is overwhelming evidence that on average accepting reality and learning to reason better do in fact improve fitness. Both if you are using fitness in a biological evolution sense (which I think is fairly silly to do in this context) or in the sense of improving those indicators typically used to gauge quality of life.

            Does it make sense that without science the improvement in average human quality of life that has occurred, particularly over the last 500 years, and especially the last 100 would have happened anyway? Or does increased physical and economic security, longer life, less time and resources necessary to achieve the basics to stay alive, less risk of injury or death from violence not count as improvements?

            I am not even sure what the aim of your comments is so I might be way off target. But you seem to be arguing either that it may be evolutionarily advantageous to not be too smart, or perhaps that it might be best if the masses aren’t too smart or perhaps both?

            Regarding your last, wouldn’t it be great if most everyone were smart and rational and had less children? How could that be a bad thing? Seems just as plausible as the implied assumption that better educated people are going to become extinct because stupid people are going to out breed them.

            • DiscoveredJoys
              Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              Do you have that overwhelming evidence to hand?

              I don’t doubt that learning to reason better is a good thing within our developed world society, but my point is that until the last couple of thousand years or so our grasp of reality has been driven by what promotes fitness, not Truth or accuracy.

              Lots of people conflate rationality with evolutionary success but I am not sure if that is not just the Great Chain of Being assumption updated for modern times.

              Do I think rationality is better than brute ignorance? Yes. But it seems to me that people often use rationality to justify the choices and decisions they have already made through other means.

              • DiscoveredJoys
                Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                P.S. You might find this article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian interesting:
                It speaks of matters raised in these comments.

              • reasonshark
                Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

                Lots of people conflate rationality with evolutionary success but I am not sure if that is not just the Great Chain of Being assumption updated for modern times.

                The Great Chain of Being? I don’t think we need to go that far to look for a reason for such conflated thinking. The naturalistic fallacy both fits the description better and is more ubiquitous. After all, it would be nice to think evolution always prefers rationality…

                I agree with you: “evolutionarily selected” and “rational” are not synonyms, any more than “natural” and “moral” are. It’s true that in many cases evolutionary forces would produce excellent fact-finding organs, but anyone who’s looked at species camouflage or blind moles should know it’s also capable of producing liars and creatures with selective perception.

                Admitting that our physics intuitions are useful and true in day-to-day interactions doesn’t pit us against the expansion pack that is modern physics. If anything, it reminds us to be proportional, i.e. rational, depending on what the situation demands.

          • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

            Ah, but right now, fewer children might very well be the more “fit” way to go. Overpopulation will ultimately decimate humanity. Those who prodigiously produce offspring are not advancing the more general fitness of humanity. Those with better forecasting abilities may see that since modern medicine can virtually guarantee that your child makes it, fewer children makes for a better reproducing environment for one’s grand- and great-grand children etc.

        • Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Since extremely small particles in space can cause damage when colliding with another object, such as a space ship,it may be that a
          “falling” feather could cause damage as well as a rock. Humans tend to frame all issues based on their local cultural perspective (which may not even be true planet-wide, let alone universally). And,”science” is what we have ascertained by the scientific method which is good for now, but may change in the future. Nonetheless, decisions have to be made and actions taken regardless of whether there is a relative consensus on the “truth”. For this, we need leaders (and voters) that consider the well-being of all, not only the powerful and manipulative 1% aided by the “know-nothings”).

      • Filippo
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        There’s a nice demonstration (on Youtube) by Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott, dropping a hammer and a falcon feather (re: command module “Falcon”) on the surface of the moon.

  13. Billy Bl.
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    In a world where the majority of people believe in supernatural things, you wonder why people disregard facts? Didn’t you just write a book about this sort of thing?

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      This post is by frequent guest-author Grania Spingies and I don’t think she is wondering why people have a hard time with facts. The only thing she wonders is whether the leaders like Gingrich are sincere or manipulative.

      • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        I guess Billy missed that fact.


        • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          “Sincere or manipulative” is not an accurate dichotomy. Gingrich said, “As a politician, I don’t care about validity but about people’s [i.e., voters’] feelings.” If you wanted to be generous to his thinking, you cld say he’s a pragmatist.

          • Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

            Why wouldn’t you categorize playing to peoples’ subjective feelings (as opposed to acknowledging objective truth) as manipulation?

            • Filippo
              Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              Right. Politics/Political Science is human primate herd management science (if “science” it truly be).

  14. Kevin Meredith
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    This is what we’re up against: For a significant number of Americans, the rejection of science, dismissal of facts and refusal to accept logic are acts of faith that bring blessings now and in the hereafter.

  15. Christine Janis
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    And then, of course, there’s Douglas Axe’s new book, which appeals to the “design intuition” of the common folk, and how it’s much better than that complicated sciency stuff promoted by pointy headed know-it-alls.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I trust that Mr. Axe’s book is not a hatchet job.

  16. Rhetoric
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Could we stop pretending that only one side of the political spectrum engages in this? Maybe this is why the most popular liberal “politicians” are actually comedians.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      A bullshit claim. You’ll find virtually no one who thinks that. Meanwhile there are plenty of people who opine that both R & D parties are “just as bad” as each other. That is delusional. In real life degrees do matter, in fact that is all there is. And the R party is, and has been for some time, much more venal, unethical, untruthful, selfish, corrupt and incompetent than the D party. Note that this claim does not entail that the D party is none of those things.

      • ploubere
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink


  17. Christine Janis
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Re Axe’s book (above): here is Behe’s blurb on the cover

    “From childhood everyone directly grasps that life is designed – until they’re talked out of it by a culture saturated with materialism. Using the latest science, molecular biologist Douglas Axe shows why you don’t have to be an expert to trust your firm knowledge of the wonderful design of life.”

    • darrelle
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Huh, that’s funny. I don’t recall grasping that as a child. I don’t recall my children ever grasping that either, at any age. But then again my parents didn’t take me to church or send me to Sunday school, and the same is true for my children.

      I do recall my kindergarten aged daughter telling me how her friend next door told her in all earnestness that god made humans by picking up a handful of dirt and blowing on it. She asked if it was true. I asked her to tell me what she thought about it. She thought her friend was crazy but she didn’t want to say anything and risk making her friend feel bad.

  18. Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    People are obviously as tired of facts as the are of experts.


    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      *they are

    • peepuk
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Facts show that people are wrong about most things, no wonder they are not well-liked.

      • reasonshark
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps most people just have a very poor sense of humour? Surely much great comedy comes from realizing what an absurd joke the universe really is? 🙂

  19. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    “Trashing others, undermining their very legitimacy, and lying openly and repeatedly about individuals or institutions now bring no visible penalty or public obloquy. In fact, it can mean fame and fortune. Changing the country’s poisonous culture, which has metastasized beyond the political area, requires first an effort to restore some semblance of public shame.”

    “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” by Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein
    Published Jan 1st, 2012

    “In recounting the history of how we got here, Mann and Ornstein reserve a special place of dishonor for their one-time admirer, [Newt] Gingrich…”

    Washington Post review of “It’s Even Worse Than it Looks”

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    And Newt is supposed to be their smart one, for chrissake.

    Another manifestation of rightwing magical thinking.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Magical, motivated; potayto, potahto.

    • Posted July 30, 2016 at 3:22 am | Permalink

      The Right does not have a monopoly on this type nonsense; how many on the Left buy the notion that 20% of female students are being raped on US college campuses?

      • Anshul
        Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Not really. Only 32% of Democrats call themselves feminists, while the rest calls themselves egalitarians.

  21. Jo
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I want to apologize to the world for America inflicting Gingrich on the good and educated people of the world.

    If you see him, throw a custard pie at him. But not a cherry pie.

    • Zetopan
      Posted August 3, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      “If you see him, throw a custard pie at him. But not a cherry pie.”

      A cow pie would be far better.

  22. Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    The voters for Trump, the ‘Poorly Educated’ (who he says he loves) are also often called ‘Low Information Voters’. Their choices are often dictated by far more by the ‘feelings’ that Gingrich talks about.

    I wonder if the American political system is basically broken because it was first designed based on the idea of an educated electorate (which was, unfortunately at that time, only land-owning men), who had the information needed in order to make decisions.

    In the world that we now live in, a vast swath of the American electorate is almost entirely emotionally driven. That’s never going to produce a good result, unless you are Gingrich and counting on it.

    • Posted July 30, 2016 at 3:19 am | Permalink

      Voters have always been driven by emotions; nothing has changed.

  23. reasonshark
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I think the biggest problem is the age-old one of power. It is the work of over-resourced puppeteers who subvert democratic processes at various levels, under the guise of benefitting everybody, for the purpose of helping themselves.

    It’s an authoritarian, anti-democratic mass of power structures, set up at various scales such as local, national, and international ones, the main unstated (occasionally stated) purpose of which is to elevate the few above the many. It’s complex and multifaceted, powerful in political, rhetorical, and financial terms. It’ll say and do almost anything to prevent democratic and equalitarian measures from exposing its worst practices to the world.

    It succeeds by divide-and-conquer tactics applied to everyone else, by spreading misinformation, various types of untruth (including, admittedly, half-truths), and prejudice about the workforce, foreigners, minorities, scientists, experts, educated intellectuals, and skeptics, just to mention the most obvious ones.

    They include the wealthy upper classes and their bought politicians, bought experts, and fake grassroots organizations – whether subtle and obvious – the multinational corporations, the one-sided international organizations regulating trade, labour, and finances, and the media and politicians captured by such forces, all have the biggest influence in the West. Their interests are largely good PR, amoral profiteering, and control over both the workforce and consumers. And in the wake of their misinformation campaigns come many innocently genuine believers who don’t realize they’re being used, and many unhappy tagalongs who don’t know what to do about it.

    It’s the same reason climate change is met with such a string of denial campaigns, sound-good speeches that lead to little meaningful change, and us consumers being either uninterested or self-interested in favour of more immediate concerns.

    It’s why smoking is still a major health issue despite decades of evidence that it’s carcinogenic with few redeeming features.

    It’s why religion is powerful enough to fight evolution in schools. It’s why police forces can be used to spy on activists and criminalize “the masses” at protests, rallies, and sit-ins. It’s why public services are slowly assimilated into private versions dictated by companies who hide their operations from public scrutiny under “competitive confidentiality” excuses.

    And these are just some of the results: politicians who exploit general ignorance and anti-intellectualism; an angry and impoverished public willing to listen to them; practices that impoverished and thus created that angry public to begin with; businesses that “negotiate” with politicians to arrange said practices, sometimes openly, often in secret and without public consent. It’s an almost ingenious cycle of self-perpetuation.

    Gingrich and his enthusiastic supporters are simply symptoms of a deeper and older problem. That problem is a power base and its resultant domination and corruption.

  24. peepuk
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “Are people disillusioned? Cynical? Nihilistic?”

    People are an illusioned kind of animal (not disillusioned).

    Maybe you mean post-modern, we nihilists love facts and hate rhetoric 🙂

  25. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    You just brought a feeling to a fact fight! – Best line.

  26. Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    This echoes the sentiment of what I posted on the previous thread about the conventions:

    The problem I see with the Trump side is that they have no problem spreading objectively false information. Among friends and family who are staunchly anti-Hillary, I’ve repeatedly pointed out information that is simply not based in fact. Rather than reassess whether they’re evaluating the candidates on the actual merits of their accomplishments and policy views, the best I’ve gotten is a, “Yeah but they still blah blah blah…” response. Most of the time, the response is to ignore the fact that they’re spreading lies and jump to another tu quoque response about Hillary or present some other stream of rumors Gish Gallop style.

    Every election cycle has its share of hyperbole and equivocation and the occasional outright falsehood used to smear candidates, but I’ve never witnessed anything like what the Trump campaign is doing and I’ve never seen the level of pure disregard for facts among supporters. They’re not even interested in debate. That’s a far cry from even the 2012 cycle.

  27. Wunold
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, potholer54 published a video about the “6 dumbest ideas politicians have about science”.

    Watch Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann suggesting a connection between vaccination and autism at 9:22, followed by other politicians doubting global warming, one even argues at 18:22 that the biblical flood proves CO² can’t cause atmospheric temperatures to rise.

    The matter of “liberal” as an argument against unwelcome facts comes up at 21:11.

  28. keith cook + / -
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Gingrich is not doing anything wrong by excepting “feelings” as a signal, it is his blatant rejection of statistics is where he fails.
    Recognising that people are hurting is valid but if he was anything of a politician of merit he would use both to find a solution or, simply put, that would mean some sort of policy direction to maintain the slide of violent crime. But this is America, full on tribalism and that turns him into eh.. a twat?
    This is a complex world and feelings are all some have to go on, why you have to ask and as we know, a hunch can mean survival or death on the savannah’s of Africa but not in the streets of a modern city sprawl. Some are still on the savannah’s. They need help not Newt Gingrich.
    Being smart it seems is also not a guarantee of anything that’s good for well being, take those with savant syndrome, exceptional at some tasks in mind boggling proportion but would not survive one day on the streets let alone on the plains without help, point is, being just smart clearly is not the only criteria for good politicians, it helps of course and here Gingrich is being rational, for his political life, status in his group etc and that is all and if he keeps this up there will be no light at the end of his tunnel.

  29. Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    A few remarks. First, the Right does not have a monopoly on failing to acknowledge evidence; the Left is just as guilty of this, when the data does not suit them. Second, it’s important to realise that, when it comes to social and economic planning, we seldom have unambiguous or totally reliable data; our best data is quite often influenced by a variety of biases, and inference is tricky. Third, the argument for relying on expert opinion is fallacious, when applied generally; I’m happy to act on the advice of my doctor, but I’m skeptical about the prescriptions of any economist, because the human body is a lot easier to understand than the economy. Fourth, when it comes to social and political planning, robustness is much more important than evidence; the best decisions are generally the ones that do the least damage if their underlying assumptions are wrong, rather than the decisions that appear to resonate with the evidence. In summary, I’m really not concerned about Gingrich’s remarks. It’s actually valuable to have people like him and Trump saying things are going badly, even if the data suggests they’re wrong…. because they may be right!

  30. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    If there is any truth to what Gingrich is saying, it would be because either sensationalistic crime (like Scott Peterson or school shooting massacres) is rising or because the media is just doing more reporting on sensationalistic crime.

    Either way Gingrich has to give an explanation as to why exactly the public feels less safe, rather than just talking about feelings.

  31. Jeff Cotner
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This goes both ways. If the left is confronted with data showing that poverty has been virtually eliminated or that opportunities for women are substantially equal to men, the response is to dismiss the data and insist that “that’s not what people are ‘experiencing’ in the real world.” It’s considered highly relevant that blacks or women FEEL they’re being discriminated against — whether or not there’s data to support that feeling or not. I guess we all live in a post-fact world, though admittedly John Oliver has a better platform and gift for mockery than anyone on the right.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 30, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      If the left is confronted with data showing that poverty has been virtually eliminated

      At least one billion people on the planet live on less than or the equivalent of $1 a day; that’s roughly a seventh of the global population, and I think I’m underestimating the true number. This is also excluding other cases of people earning below a living wage, which would I think double those numbers. In what sense is poverty eliminated, “virtually” or not?

      • Wunold
        Posted July 30, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        It isn’t even anywhere near true for the USA alone:

        • Posted July 31, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          I think this discussion precisely highlights the reasons for the Trump phenomenon. Yes, feelings matter, especially in elections. When people make statements like poverty is virtually eliminated and other regressives tell white people to “check their privilege” at every turn, it’s no wonder that poor and working class whites feel like they’ve been left in the dust. Poverty is eliminated and the economy is great? Tell that to the masses with no formal education or relevant job skills who can’t afford to obtain the education to even get a foot in the door of corporate America, still can’t afford Healthcare even if they do get some insurance coverage that still leaves them struggling with co-pays and deductibles, and see no way out of the position they find themselves in, which is often less well off than their parents were. Sure many of them are not below poverty level, but they certainly didn’t see themselves being less well off than the generation before. Then, many of them are below poverty level and while they aren’t starving to death, they’re not exactly prospering.

          Now, voting for Trump to fix these issues is extraordinarily misguided, but the fact that so many still can’t even understand the mentality behind what’s driving a large portion of his supporters is equally disconcerting. How do we defeat an enemy who we willfully refuse to understand?

          • Filippo
            Posted July 31, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

            “Tell that to the masses with no formal education or relevant job skills who can’t afford to obtain the education to even get a foot in the door of corporate America . . . .”

            The jobs of a significant fraction of these people were offshored to other countries. Obama has said words to the effect that these jobs aren’t coming back. As much as I admire Obama, this statement strikes me as significantly, perfunctorily dismissive.

            Is this freedom of U.S. Business to offshore to other countries the jobs of U.S. citizens one of those highly-touted “American Values” we cannot avoid hearing bloviated about so much?

            Does U.S. Business consider its continued existence and thriving an American Value, which the flower of American (working class) youth ought to feel obligated to preserve, protect and defend by entering the military and going in harm’s way to be possibly killed or maimed for life?

            It’s too bad that a U.S. corporation cannot be drafted into the military like a flesh-and-blood human “resource” or “capital.”

            • Posted August 1, 2016 at 12:13 am | Permalink

              Yes, many jobs were lost to foreign competition but as many and more have been lost to automation. Robots have taken a lot of jobs. Seen a lot of elevator operators lately?

              • Wunold
                Posted August 1, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

                And yet most people still cherish the modern myth of full employment.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 1, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink

                “more have been lost to automation”

                Just wait a few years. The trucking industry is the next huge source of lost jobs as self-driving vehicles become more available. There are an awful lot of truck drivers.

              • Posted August 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                Yes, that’s been in the news within the last few weeks. And it’s not just the truckers themselves that will suffer, but all the support industries – including roadside diners for example.

                In Australia, Rio Tinto mining has robotised all its earthmoving trucks, saving the drivers from a frankly dangerous job. It claims to have created as many jobs in support roles, but it’s not clear that the support jobs can be fulfilled by the same people.


            • Wunold
              Posted August 1, 2016 at 6:49 am | Permalink

              Many people complaining about offshore jobs don’t bother buying offshore products, not realizing they are sawing off the very branch they are sitting on.

              On the other hand, companies don’t seem to realize they are reducing the spending power of their local customer base.

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