Trust, Verification, Fact Checking & Beyond
The political scientist argues that the desire of identity groups for recognition is a key threat to liberalism.
I’m also reminded here of Mark Granovetter’s ideas that getting a job is more closely tied to who you know. One’s job is often very closely tied to their identity, and even more so when the link that got them their job was through a friend or acquaintance.
I suspect that Fukuyama has a relatively useful thesis, but perhaps it’s not tied together as logically and historically as Menand would prefer. The difficult thing here is that levels of personal identity on large scales is relatively unknown for most of human history. Tribalism and individuality are certainly pulling at the threads of liberal democracy lately. Perhaps it’s because of unfulfilled promises (in America at least) of the two party system? Now that we’ve reached a summit of economic plenty much quicker than the rest of the world (and they’re usurping some of our stability as the rest of the world tries to equilibrate), we need to add some additional security nets for the lesser advantaged. It really doesn’t cost very much and in turn does so much more for the greater good of the broader society.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
Fukuyama’s argument was that, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the last ideological alternative to liberalism had been eliminated. ❧
“Last” in the sense of a big, modern threat. We’re still facing the threats of tribalism, which apparently have a strong pull.
August 27, 2018 at 10:26AM
There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis. ❧
Famous last words, right?!
These are the types of statements one must try very hard not to make unless there is 100% certainty.
I find myself wondering how can liberal democracy and capitalism manage to fight and make the case the the small tribes (everywhere, including within the US) that it can, could and should be doing more for them.
August 27, 2018 at 10:29AM
But events in Europe unfolded more or less according to Fukuyama’s prediction, and, on December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union voted itself out of existence. The Cold War really was over. ❧
Or ostensibly, until a strong man came to power in Russia and began its downturn into something else. It definitely doesn’t seem to be a liberal democracy, so we’re still fighting against it.
August 27, 2018 at 10:32AM
This speculative flourish recalled the famous question that John Stuart Mill said he asked himself as a young man: If all the political and social reforms you believe in came to pass, would it make you a happier human being? That is always an interesting question. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:33AM
George Kennan, who was its first chief. In July of that year, Kennan published the so-called X article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs. It appeared anonymously—signed with an “X”—but once the press learned his identity the article was received as an official statement of American Cold War policy. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:33AM
Fukuyama’s article could thus be seen as a bookend to Kennan’s. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:36AM
The National Interest, as the name proclaims, is a realist foreign-policy journal. But Fukuyama’s premise was that nations do share a harmony of interests, and that their convergence on liberal political and economic models was mutually beneficial. Realism imagines nations to be in perpetual competition with one another; Fukuyama was saying that this was no longer going to be the case. ❧
And here is a bit of the flaw. Countries are still at least in competition with each other economically, at least until they’re all on equal footing from a modernity perspective.
We are definitely still in completion with China and large parts of Europe.
August 27, 2018 at 10:38AM
Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). ❧
Get a copy of this to read.
August 27, 2018 at 10:39AM
The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:40AM
Fukuyama covers all of this in less than two hundred pages. How does he do it? Not well. ❧
Now I have to read it.
August 27, 2018 at 10:41AM
Fukuyama gives this desire for recognition a Greek name, taken from Plato’s Republic: thymos. He says that thymos is “a universal aspect of human nature that has always existed.” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:43AM
To say, as Fukuyama does, that “the desire for status—megalothymia—is rooted in human biology” is the academic equivalent of palmistry. You’re just making it up. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:45AM
Rationality and transparency are the values of classical liberalism. Rationality and transparency are supposed to be what make free markets and democratic elections work. People understand how the system functions, and that allows them to make rational choices. ❧
But economically, we know there isn’t perfect knowledge or perfect rationality (see Tversky and Khaneman). There is rarely even perfect transparency either which makes things much harder, especially in a post-truth society apparenlty.
August 27, 2018 at 10:48AM
Liberalism remains the ideal political and economic system, but it needs to find ways to accommodate and neutralize this pesky desire for recognition. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:50AM
Enrollment was small, around twenty, but a number of future intellectual luminaries, like Hannah Arendt and Jacques Lacan, either took the class or sat in on it. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:52AM
For Kojève, the key concept in Hegel’s “Phenomenology” was recognition. Human beings want the recognition of other human beings in order to become self-conscious—to know themselves as autonomous individuals. ❧
This is very reminiscent of Valerie Alexander’s talk last week about recognizing employees at work. How can liberal democracy take advantage of this?
August 27, 2018 at 10:53AM
Kojève thought that the other way was through labor. The slave achieves his sense of self by work that transforms the natural world into a human world. But the slave is driven to labor in the first place because of the master’s refusal to recognize him. This “master-slave dialectic” is the motor of human history, and human history comes to an end when there are no more masters or slaves, and all are recognized equally. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:55AM
Kojève’s lectures were published as “Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,” a book that went through many printings in France. ❧
Maybe it was Kojève and not Covfefe that Trump was referencing?! 😛
August 27, 2018 at 10:56AM
Encouraged by his friend Saul Bellow, he decided to turn the article into a book. “The Closing of the American Mind,” which Simon & Schuster brought out in February, 1987, launched a campaign of criticism of American higher education that has taken little time off since. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 11:00AM
In 1992, in the essay “The Politics of Recognition,” Taylor analyzed the advent of multiculturalism in terms similar to the ones Fukuyama uses in “Identity.” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 11:03AM
Fukuyama acknowledges that identity politics has done some good, and he says that people on the right exaggerate the prevalence of political correctness and the effects of affirmative action. ❧
There’s a reference to voting theory about people not voting their particular views, but that they’re asking themselves, “Who would someone like me vote for?” Perhaps it’s George Lakoff? I should look this up and tie it in here somewhere.
August 27, 2018 at 11:05AM
He has no interest in the solution that liberals typically adopt to accommodate diversity: pluralism and multiculturalism. ❧
Interesting to see an IndieWeb principle pop up here! How do other parts dovetail perhaps? What about other movements?
August 27, 2018 at 11:06AM
Fukuyama concedes that people need a sense of national identity, whether ethnic or creedal, but otherwise he remains an assimilationist and a universalist. ❧
Is it a “national” identity they need? Why not a cultural one, or a personal one? Why not all the identities? What about the broader idea of many publics? Recognition and identity touch on many of these publics for a variety of reasons.
August 27, 2018 at 11:08AM
He wants to iron out differences, not protect them. He suggests measures like a mandatory national-service requirement and a more meaningful path to citizenship for immigrants. ❧
What if we look at the shrinking number of languages as a microcosm of identity. Are people forced to lose language? Do they not care? What are the other similarities and differences.
Cross reference: https://boffosocko.com/2015/06/08/a-world-of-languages-and-how-many-speak-them-infographic/
August 27, 2018 at 11:10AM
Wouldn’t it be important to distinguish people who ultimately don’t want differences to matter, like the people involved in #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, from people who ultimately do want them to matter, like ISIS militants, Brexit voters, or separatist nationalists? And what about people who are neither Mexican nor immigrants and who feel indignation at the treatment of Mexican immigrants? Black Americans risked their lives for civil rights, but so did white Americans. How would Socrates classify that behavior? Borrowed thymos? ❧
Some importatnt questions here. They give me some ideas…
August 27, 2018 at 11:12AM
History is somersaults all the way to the end. That’s why it’s so hard to write, and so hard to predict. Unless you’re lucky. ♦ ❧
This is definitely more of a Big History approach…
August 27, 2018 at 11:12AM
In his bestselling The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War would also mean the beginning of a struggle for position in the rapidly emerging order of 21st-century capitalism. In Trust, a penetrating assessment of the emerging global economic order "after History," he explains the social principles of economic life and tells us what we need to know to win the coming struggle for world dominance. Challenging orthodoxies of both the left and right, Fukuyama examines a wide range of national cultures in order to divine the underlying principles that foster social and economic prosperity. Insisting that we cannot divorce economic life from cultural life, he contends that in an era when social capital may be as important as physical capital, only those societies with a high degree of social trust will be able to create the flexible, large-scale business organizations that are needed to compete in the new global economy. A brilliant study of the interconnectedness of economic life with cultural life, Trust is also an essential antidote to the increasing drift of American culture into extreme forms of individualism, which, if unchecked, will have dire consequences for the nation's economic health.
h/t Disconnected, fragmented, or united? a trans-disciplinary review of network science by César A. Hidalgo (Applied Network Science | SpringerLink)
Given the large number of “Trust” and “Truth” related books being released this year, most in reference to Donald J. Trump’s administration, this might be an interesting read which takes him out of the equation and potentially better underlines the bigger problem we’re seeing in a growing anti-scientific leaning America?
The photo above was taken by my Wellesley College Freedom Project host, Mustafa Akyol, just after we came out of my lecture last Tuesday night. I’m the person second from the right. Everyone else was apparently there to protest my speaking.
Seeing this remarkable scene, I asked Mustafa if he would take that photo for me, and if we could please stay and talk with these folks rather than just leaving, and he said of course. When I then asked these students what they wanted to talk about, the apparent leader said they all didn’t want to talk to me. I asked why they’d be there if they didn’t have something to say. The leader responded with something like, “We don’t owe you anything!”
I stayed anyway, and students started to talk, to question, to challenge. We ended up staying and talking with them for about 45 minutes.
An interesting take on popular culture on college campuses in addition to a variety of other things.
Most presidents try to be sure their speeches to Congress adhere closely to the facts. Not Donald Trump.
In the conservative media, we conditioned people not to trust facts or mainstream news outlets.
I just finished reading Jay Rosen’s fantastic piece on his reactions to the 2016 Presidential election which he wrote just before the election itself. It has a stunning take on what was going on before the election and indicates to a great extent why things have gone so drastically wrong. For those who are heavily concerned with what has happened, it also directly indicates a large part of what was missed and therefore provides the base problem so that we might all do a better job of protecting against it in the near future.
In part, he discusses the concept of fact checking and why Trump didn’t appear to care if anyone was fact checking his statements. Personally, the blatant lies that he was telling on a regular basis were even more disconcerting to me than some of this less than civil behavior. Rosen goes into some reasonable depth on this particular issue and its recent history which is very illuminating. Sadly it doesn’t make me any more happy about our present situation.
Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.
“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.
I find large portions of the Trump narrative similar to the story of “The emperor with no clothes.” Reality may be what you can manage to get others to believe, but in a reasonable democracy truth must manage to win out. While I think that it’s almost certainly the case that a small minority of the populace really wanted to vote for Trump, how did he manage to capture the remainder? The “I won’t vote for Hilary segment” certainly gave him an additional fraction of the vote. Then people who were traditional Republicans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Democrat added another piece of the pie. (Sadly, some of those who repudiated him during the end of the campaign seem to be falling right back in line for their piece of patronage.) Many are simply hurting and want to believe anyone who will give them someone to blame for it and a possible glimmer of a solution. Sadly, I expect these last people to be hurt the most at the end of the day when they realize too late that the emperor is naked.
But other than outright lying, how did Trump connect with some of the electorate? I’ve written before on Trump’s use of doubletalk, which I still feel is a significant factor in his capturing a large part of the populace. See also: Complexity isn’t a Vice: 10 Word Answers and Doubletalk in Election 2016 for this argument. Rosen’s discussion of facts is, to me, the other major missing piece.
I also wonder if it’s possibly the case that in an ever sub-specializing world that people have somehow lost the time, effort, or even inclination to attempt to put all of the facts together themselves to create a cohesive whole? Instead they rely on others to manufacture these stories on their behalf and thereby make it easier for such totalitarian propaganda to insert itself.
Perhaps the working men and women of the country aren’t spending time reading the paper anymore? It’s certainly easier to read third and fourth party stories on Twitter, Facebook, or listen to infotainment in the later hours on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN. Why try to follow more direct sources when we can read Facebook and worry about who’s going to win this season of The Voice or The Bachelor?
As the workforce of the world continues to subspecialize, we’re going to need to be able to trust our political leaders more and more, not less and less.
[Totalitarian propaganda]’s open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.
The question is: how can we exploit the weaknesses to make the problem apparent to those who are too easily willing to believe?
What’s unusual about Trump is he’s a leading candidate and he seems to have no interest in getting important things factually correct.
It’s one thing to lie for political advantage. It’s another to keep lying to prove you have the power.
I’m hoping that some of the electorate realizes that things aren’t improving for them any time soon before too much significant damage has been done. Just because you believe a thing doesn’t make it true or even a fact.
I’d highlighted the concept before, but perhaps it’s a good time to remind people again:
Syndicated copies to:Before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself two questions: 1. Is this actually an opinion? 2. If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?