DANIEL GREENFIELD: THE UNVERIFIABLE WORD
A picture used to be worth a thousand words in that fanciful interval between the court painting and the photoshop when a photograph was thought to have an unfalsifiable quality. That too was an illusion and the Communists were doing their own crude photoshops, removing purged leaders from photos around the same time as the invention of the ballpoint pen. But now the photo is a thing that is hard to take seriously. They are too easy to fake and the proof of authenticity involves a debate so technical that it becomes easier to tune in to an argument about quantum mechanics.
The photograph and the video have become collections of pixels that can be tampered with to make the unreal, real. Like all realities now, photographic reality is entirely subjective. There is no reason to believe in a photo. Not when even major news organizations routinely run photoshopped news photos from their stringers.
The linguistic side has more than kept up with the technological side. Bad arguments are now a science. There are research studies on the best ways to produce talking points in response to a scandal. Every topic can be infinitely argued without any hope of resolution because the technology of bad faith debate is now widely accessible.
The fields of facts are just as bad. Don’t like a study, produce another one. Don’t like these numbers, find some other ones. Everything from polls to credit ratings can be juggled as many times as necessary and while that may not change reality, the only time reality is encountered is when it punches through the paper mache display. And when that happens, everyone just patches it up again.
Global Warming has become a creed without the science, whose enthusiasts keep cooking up numbers to prove what they know is true. Such behavior is hardly unprecedented in science, no matter what the PBS documentaries you watched as a kid may have told you, but it’s the default mode in all fields now. Science has become a religion with ten thousand quarreling prophets threatening to burn each other at the climate change stake.
The proliferation of bad faith experts, experts for hire and amateur experts means that there is more bad science than there is good science, more wrong ideas than right ideas, and no interest in turning the leaky boat around and finding some safe harbor on the shore.
The advancement of civilization depended on developing methods of sorting ideas based on objective standards while the program of the left has been the politicization of objectivity. Without standards there is no way to agree on anything without resorting to force. This force does not necessarily have to be physical, it can simply mean seizing control of enough institutions to distribute a manufactured consensus to everyone under the control of those institutions.
That is how the left works for now, but that’s just a sophisticated version of Lenin’s plan to take control of Russia by seizing all the banks and telegraphs. And no legitimate consensus can be achieved through this method, only the perpetuation of a cultural war fought between those who control the institutions and those who do not. This war is not really about the truth, because no argument can ever be settled when the tools to settle an argument are no longer a part of our politicized institutions; it’s always about control.
Our civilization is sophisticated enough to deconstruct everything but incapable of constructing anything. We’re still capable of a certain amount of technological innovation in the consumer realm, but outside of it we have slowed down to a crawl. Anything that can make life more convenient and entertaining for the individual in the urban and suburban cradle is shooting forward, but anything larger than the individual has ground to a halt.
The Federal budget is bigger than ever, but the space program is dead, military innovation is limited and the infrastructure is crumbling. Between 1900 and 1960, the state of the country was transformed with big projects and big ideas. In the next 60 years, the home was transformed by consumer electronics and the family fell apart. The city decayed and was replaced by the suburb. The great national projects were no longer dedicated to building the country, but to massive social welfare.
Intellectually the implosion was far worse. Everything was deconstructed and nothing was constructed. The objective was replaced by the subjective. Reason was replaced by emotion. Canon made way for trend. Dada’s aggressive need to destroy everything for the sake of destruction became the motivating principle in literature, architecture and art. Each new revolution in senseless existed only to make what had come before irrelevant, only to then be destroyed in a new revolution. Each new revolution was more subjective and less structured, a secret language into an individual psyche that could only be decoded by the artist, rather than a meaningful communication of values to a society.
Even as communication methods were undergoing tremendous technological leaps, there was no longer anything to communicate. What began with the primitive printed volume has dead-ended in a billion people arguing endlessly with no ability to convince each other of anything because they no longer share any common values or standards. Their only mutual reference points are to popular culture which they break down down into sub-languages and memes, reverting back to the pre-civilized methods of communicating by referencing common narratives, instead of common ideas.
Savages can kill each other, but they can’t communicate with each other. You can’t prove anything to a savage, because a savage does not believe in objective standards of proof. The savage is a subjective creature. All he knows is what he feels and he is unaware and unwilling to discuss the process through which the ideas that shape his feelings have been communicated. This is his ultimate taboo. For the savage, communication is a means of asserting his own strength and power. That is a phenomenon you can study in the Amazon or in YouTube comments. It is not a means of achieving an understanding because for the savage there is nothing to understand. Understanding requires thought and the savage feels, rather than thinks. Only those ideas which come to him as emotions and embody his sense of self are integrated into his worldview.
In the age of the savage, communications can be sophisticated in scope and technique, but empty in content. The savage can develop sophisticated languages and means of transmitting words, but he cannot make the words mean anything. He can deconstruct language, but all he can do is toy with its meanings. The savage does not use language to communicate by transcending his subjective self with an objective understanding, rather he degrades language by distorting it so that it only reflects his subjective feelings, rather than objective truths. Everything the savage says is a lie, because all his ideas are expressions of his feelings. A truth that transcends his feelings is foreign to him.
For the savage, truth is not found in an authenticity conveyed by logic or evidence, but in emotional authenticity. He cannot be communicated with, only related to.
The savage engages in emotional displays reverting to the most primitive form of communication that depends not on ideas, but on intent. For the savage, intent matters more than ideas and his ability to discuss an issue is limited to the bad faith or good faith of the other party. The savage is not interested in numbers or facts. These things are, like everything in his world, subjective.
A set of numbers that is communicated to him with a believable emotional display is more convincing to him than one that is conveyed without the same display. The numbers mean nothing to him, even if he is educated, it is only the emotional display that he processes and reacts to. One plus one does not mean two unless he feels emotionally that is means two. If he does not feel it, then he can engage in complicated arguments for why it does not. Or he can bare his teeth and shake a stick.
A savage world is a mysterious and frightening place where nothing can be proven except by a show of force or emotion. There is no cause and effect and nothing happens by necessity. A rule may mean one thing one day and another the next. The inconsistency cannot be conveyed to the savage because his mind lacks any notion of consistency. The world of the savage is a changeable place that follows only those rules that he accepts at any given moment.
The savage is creative, but not stable. He can move by leaps and bounds, but he cannot progress by steady effort. He often hits on shortcuts to achieve his short term goals, but his moves depend on intuition rather than logic. He does not solve problems by reasoning them out, but by tinkering with them until inspiration strikes.
The left’s politicization of objective ideas and standards degrades them into subjective savagery. Every issue becomes tribal, sometimes literally in the accusations of racism and representation, but mostly in the sense that every position depends on affiliation. Every idea becomes a game between two sides whose outcome is to achieve a victory in a larger cultural war. Objective standards die and each issue becomes purely tribal conflict between different cultures.
Economics, atmospheric research, military options and even the most practical elements of government boil down into tribal wars between genders, races and places. Urban and rural. Black and white. Male and female. Native and immigrant. Religious and irreligious. The labels are infinite and so are the wars. Demands for proof are insincere delaying tactics because nothing can ever be proven to the satisfaction of the other side. All that matters is the power of the tribe and their control over one area of life or another.
This is what the United States of America has been degraded into. A nation and a civilization that once made the world run has been reduced to a culture where politics is at the center of everything. Political affiliation, once an issue of limited application, has become a metaphor for the entire intellectual landscape. There is no more science, no more literature, no more economics, no more art and no more entertainment. There is only politics.
Politics is innately tribal. The politicization of everything is also the tribalization of everything. It is the beginning of savagery and the end of civilization.
Comments are closed.