Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Speaking of Epistemology

Masha Gessen makes a distinction between how Putin and Trump lied in Helsinki (New Yorker 7/17/18). Trump, he ranted and raved, per usual — fake news, FBI witch hunt, and all the rest. Putin however, as per Gessen, was more circumspect and more, shall we say, strictly epistemological — about it.

“As to the question of who can or can’t be believed and whether anyone can be believed: no one can be believed. Where did you get the idea that President Trump trusts me or that I trust him fully? He protects the interests of the United States of America. I protect the interests of the Russian Federation.” . . . In other words, Putin was saying, both of us will lie strategically. There is no such thing as the truth. Knowability is a delusion."

Thing of it is, Trump has to confront democratic norms, frayed and in serious retreat as they may be, back in the United States.

Putin confronts no such obstacles. A history that devolves around Nicholas II, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev et al is clear sailing for a twenty-first century tyrant. Putin exults and basks in pure will to power.

Of course Trump has Putin envy.

But will Putin's dictum: "There is no such thing as the truth. Knowability is a delusion" really prevail in the land of Jefferson and Washington, an essentially, foundationally empirical land? Will it really demolish what was, in politics, an Enlightenment experiment and an unquestioned Enlightenment victory?

It occurs to me to ask: What does Steven Pinker say?

Last I heard, he'd written a great and laudatory book about Enlightenment — The Power Of Reason, Science, Empirical Truth. He thinks only the bad mood of the press, and too great an interest in the sour thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche has kept the true appreciation of the Enlightenment from coming to the fore.

But where has Steven Pinker gone.

Seems he's left and gone away.

Hey hey hey

If I were you the big book I'd read about this stunning and dangerous reversal of Enlightenment values we're seeing at the moment is not Pinker's "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science"

It would, sad to say, be Timothy Snyder's "The road to Unfreedom : Russia, Europe, America"


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