Bush-Era Assault on Reason

I feel like I’ve seen this show once before.

Twitter was breathless with astonished outrage that Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes could say something as audacious as “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” (You can read her clarification here.)

I think it’s pretty easy to see that as an inarticulate moment, but we saw something more substantive in 2004 when Karl Rove told Ron Suskind:

“The aide [Rove] 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.'”

Al Gore was so distraught after the 2000 election that one of the first things he did was teach a journalism class (Covering National Affairs in the Information Age.)

Then he launched Current TV (a progressive news network and TV channel).

Then he wrote The Assault on Reason.

“Our systematic exposure to fear and other arousal stimuli on television can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician. Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, argues that there are three techniques that together make up “fearmongering”: repetition, making the irregular seem regular, and misdirection. By using these narrative tools, anyone with a loud platform can ratchet up public anxieties and fears, distorting public discourse and reason.”

Gore argues that TV is the problem and the Internet is the solution, but much of what he did after the 2000 election was a Cassandra-like prophecy for the events of early November 2016.

It feels weird to see so many of the same concerns, critiques, and anxieties weave their way through the post-election conversations, seemingly without recognition that we’ve had these conversations before. I suppose we’ve been able to spot the problems for years, but have yet to find the solutions.

It’s probably time to visit my local library and check out the following titles:

The Reunited States of America : how we can bridge the partisan divide by Mark Gerzon

Polarized : making sense of a divided America by James E Campbell

Social psychology of political polarization by Piercarlo Valdesolo & Jesse Graham

and

The phantom of a polarized America : myths and truths of an ideological divide by Manabu Saeki

They may not be full of solutions, but it’s a place to start.

Of Blogs Past Part Five: Abderitic Review

For me, blogging is an extension of zine culture. Throughout the 1990s I wrote for, and published, lots of zines. These were mostly photocopied works created by my friends and I, and we rarely produced more than 100 copies at a time.

The Internet killed zine culture, so after a few years without any outlets for my hobbyist writing I took to blogging.

I was in school between 2001 and 2010, and that took up nearly all of my writing energy. Short stories and novels took a back seat to research papers, with the occasional short burst of energy directed to blog posts.

By the end of 2010 I was ready to turn my hand to more substantial fiction writing so I took up the NaNoWriMo challenge. I successfully met the challenge in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2015 I decided to devote my attentions to improving my knowledge about the craft of writing. I knew I could produce at great length, I knew I could have fun writing and I found it satisfying, but the quality wasn’t where it needed to be if I were ever to get paid for a piece of fiction. And so, I created Abderitic Review to publicly keep track of my writing goals. Over the course of 2015 I produced a score of stories. The goal in 2016 was to polish these stories and send them out to short-fiction markets. 2016 was to be “The Year of Rejection.”

It turns out I had a hard time figuring out where to send the stories I’d written. The paying market for SF/F and weird fiction is small. I’ve collected a couple of rejections this year, but not nearly as many as I wanted. If 2015 was a successful writing year, 2016 has been less so. That doesn’t mean I haven’t written anything. I’m currently working on a novel that I’m striving to write to the best of my ability. I expect to complete it in the summer of 2017.

So, Abderitic Review was active during 2015, but mostly moribund through the first part of 2016.

Abderitic, by the way, is a reference to an essay by Immanuel Kant where he attempts to answer the question “Is the human race constantly progressing?

He argues there are three potential futures for humanity.

“The human race exists either in continual retrogression toward wickedness, or in perpetual progression toward improvement in its moral destination, or in eternal stagnation in its present stage of moral worth among creatures.”

“The first we can call moral terrorism, and the second eudaemonism …, but the third we can term abderitism because, since a true stagnation in matters of morality is not possible, a perpetually changing upward tendency and an equally frequent and profound relapse (an eternal oscillation, as it were) amounts to nothing more than if the subject had remained in the same place, standing still.”

About abderitism he writes:

“This opinion may well have the majority of voices on its side. Bustling folly is the character of our species: people hastily set off on the path of the good, but do not persevere steadfastly upon it; indeed, in order to avoid being bound to a single goal, even if only for the sake of variety they reverse the plan of progress, build in order to demolish, and impose upon themselves the hopeless effort of rolling the stone of Sisyphus uphill in order to let it roll back down again.

“The principle of evil in the natural predisposition of the human race, therefore, does not seem to be amalgamated (blended) here with that of the good, but each principle appears rather to be neutralized by the other.

“Inertia (which is called here stagnation) would be the result of this. It is a vain affair to have good so alternate with evil that the whole traffic of our species with itself on this globe would have to be considered as a mere farcical comedy, for this can endow our species with no greater value in the eyes of reason than that which other animal species possess, species which carry on this game with fewer costs and without expenditure of thought.”

I was once quite the fan of progress and optimism, but as I move closer to the sweet embrace of the tomb I find myself planted firmly in abderitism.

The term abderitic never caught on, but during Kant’s lifetime there was a popular work titled History of the Abderites by Cristoph Martin Wieland. Abderites were the foolish rural counterparts to the cosmopolitan urban Athenians. Notably, Democritus, the laughing philosopher, was from Abdera. Cicero described Abdera as a republic of fools, and it became short-hand for the classical Greeks for the folly of the self-satisfied and petty-minded. These are indeed abderitic times.

Of Blogs Past Part Four: Re/Creating Tampa

I wanted to stick with the gerund/Tampa title structure, but everything I considered was too narrow. Reading Tampa? But, what if I want to write about movies or television? Screening Tampa? But, what if I do some interviews? Meeting Tampa? But, what if…?

I finally settled on Recreating Tampa. At the time I was immersed in speculative urban design and wanted to write about ways Tampa could be improved. The term also lent itself to writing about fun stuff, i.e. recreation. And so, the slash was introduced – Re/Creating Tampa. It also gave the title a unique element I could use for brand distinction.

Writing Re/Creating Tampa was awesome fun. I met lots of great people in the community, I had a city council member comment once, I was interviewed at WMNF, and I even got a book out of it.

I launched Re/Creating Tampa in 2008 and shuttered it in 2012. In 2008 I was still a grad student (and then an under-employed graduate), but by 2012 I was working as a full-time professional and didn’t have the time to keep up a blog. Especially not one as far-reaching as R/CT.

Plus, it was clear it wasn’t going to generate any income. I promoted the book for months and ended up selling a single electronic copy. Ouch. (Here’s what it looked like circa November 2011.)

The original iteration was conceived as a free, urban weekly, but online. It had sections (Greening Tampa, Screening Tampa, Reading Tampa, Eating Tampa), it linked out to as many Tampa blogs I could find, all of them neatly categorized. And, it had ads (which never generated any income).

I was sad to see it go, and tried to narrow the focus to just being a blog about books (Reading Tampa), but I didn’t have time to keep it up. It was time to move on. By 2012 my blogging days were effectively over.

NEXT: Abderitic Review

Of Blogs Past Part Three: Eating Tampa

After moving to Tampa I realized my conversations with my new-found friends always turned to recent dining experiences. We were hungry (ha!) for new places to eat.

After this went on for a few months I suggested we all sign up to do a shared blog. That way we wouldn’t have to wait until we saw each other to talk about what was good and bad in regional restaurants. Everyone agreed this was a good idea. I set up the blog and people signed up, but the reality was there were few posts from anyone but me. Blogging wasn’t part of their recreational flow like it was mine.

And so, Eating Tampa was launched. Eventually I expanded the co-blogger list, and maybe a dozen people ended up contributing, but over its run I wrote 90+ percent of the posts. I’m going to resist the urge to name-drop and just say it was a most gratifying experience. I met local food writers, local restaurateurs, and local food bloggers. I was invited out to participate in various events which I then covered on the blog. Most of my growing social circle read it and commented on restaurants I’d visited. Despite being shuttered for nearly a decade and only having a relatively short life-span, I’m occasionally asked about it even today.

Ultimately, the burden of constantly finding new places to eat caught up with me. Not only was it expensive, but there were times when I wanted to eat at familiar places already covered in the blog. How many times could I reasonably review the Taco Bus? I was also eager to expand the scope of my writing. I decided to morph Eating Tampa to reflect my broader interests.

NEXT: Re/Creating Tampa

Of Blogs Past Part Two: Patahistory

I started as a student in a history graduate program in 2006. As I contemplated whether graduate school was the right path, my undergraduate adviser cautioned me that graduate school would change me. He didn’t elaborate, but in retrospect I think I understand what he meant. It DID change me. It changed the way I thought about the world. I think it changed me for the better.

One of the crucial lessons I learned during that experience is that real learning takes real humility. Learning changes your brain, which changes your identity. It changes the way you understand the world and the people in it, and it changes the way you interact with everything and everyone around you. If you aren’t changing, you aren’t learning.

The study of history kindled a fire in my mind and I started a blog to share and think through what I was learning as a history graduate student. Casting about for a title I picked up an Alfred Jarry book lying on my desk and decided to title my blog Patahistory (tagline: The History of Imaginary Solutions). The term is taken from Jarry’s neologism ‘pataphysics. I’ll let Wikipedia define ‘pataphysics for me.

“‘Pataphysics (French: ‘pataphysique) is an absurdist, pseudo-scientific literary trope invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), that enigmatically resists being pinned down by a simple definition. One attempt at a definition might be to say that ‘pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions. It is a concept expressed by Jarry in a mock-scientific manner with undertones of spoofing and quackery, in his fictional book Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician, in which Jarry riddles and toys with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality.”

‘Pataphysics always has the apostrophe in front of it, and if you’re a Beatles fan you’ve heard the term before.

From ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’:

Joan was quizzical; studied pataphysical
Science in the home.

I eventually ended up writing a ‘Patahistory Manifesto’ which garnered some validating positive attention from fellow history grad students from around the world. (It’s also when I started my gmail account and why my handle is Patadave.)

Writing that blog lead to being invited to participate in a graduate student group blog titled ‘Revise and Dissent‘ at the History News Network. That was a flattering and exciting moment, but I shortly realized I was out of my league. My co-bloggers were all much better writers and far more sophisticated thinkers. All of them are now, I believe, working as professional historians in universities around the globe.

Real life intervened and I chose to move half-way across the nation. My wife was miserable in her job and found a position in Florida. We could either maintain a long-term relationship or I could follow her to a region that had no Ph. D. history program. Without hesitation I opted to follow her to Florida.

While here I finished my master’s in history and turned my attention to becoming a librarian.

NEXT: Eating Tampa & Re/Creating Tampa

Of Blogs Past Part One: Alien Intelligencer

After a week or so of media blackout, staying shit-faced drunk and listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ on continuous loop I finally came down off the ledge. When I did I started reading as much as I could, trying to figure out what the hell happened. Is the US really that profoundly bigoted?

As I read and contemplated, read and pondered, read and thought I realized I haven’t been this turned upside down since just after 9/11. In the months after that I also felt blindsided, like I didn’t understand the world I lived in, or how we had arrived at such a perilous state.

At the time I ran a blog titled ‘Alien Intelligencer’. Originally intended to be a grab-bag of cool things I found on the Internet, it morphed into a space I could process what I learned in the run up to our permanent war.

I kept that blog up until 2008. It was terrific fun and I learned a lot. (The tagline was “There is no other,” which I still think is a pretty good tagline.) I finally shut it down because my interests had shifted. I was in grad school and working on some non-anonymous blogs more in line with my studies.

In the left-hand column of Alien Intelligencer I maintained a list of quotes I found meaningful. Looking back at it, this one seems most prescient:

“The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.” –JG Ballard

NEXT: Revise and Dissent & Patahistory

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows