I believe there are four important components of the current malaise in the United States. I’ve already addressed two of them, namely, the celebration of incivility (mind speak) and the polarization of middle-class insecurities into ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ expressions (although this has been in development for a long time). The other two are distinct but related, and they are (1) the legitimizing of personal values over evidence and (2) the breakdown of epistemology. We see these manifest in the president’s belief-motivated actions such as his executive orders to investigate voter fraud and to ban Muslim terrorists. Each of these actions spring from the president’s beliefs, but not from any empirical evidence. Note that this does not mean that the actions are wrong (or right), just that they are belief-motivated. Further, they play to others who share the president’s beliefs. In a sense, they have value simply because they respond to values, and because they feel like they solve problems (just as a placebo pill works). While all policy is motivated by feelings and values, the problem with policy that eschews evidence is that it takes the place of policy that is informed by it. Also, it cannot be falsified–one can never prove that it didn’t work (no doubt, the administration will claim that it worked) because it was never based upon anything but intuition (and thus can only be evaluated on this basis). It’s just feel-good policy and it’s only criteria for success is whether it made you feel good.
The final item relates to epistemology (which I always have to look up to find exactly what it means), the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. It is rooted in the idea that there is such a thing as truth and, by trying, we can understand which knowledge is valid, useful, and universal, and which is just how you happen to feel that day. The breakdown that concerns me is the attack on the value of truth. The president, his press secretary, and his administration in general, are so vehemently in opposition to the concept of universal truth, it seems that we are entering an era in which one may simply believe whatever one wants. Want to believe that all of the mainstream media reports are fake news? Go ahead–believe that. Want to believe that the administration is evil and incompetent? Go ahead–believe that. What does it matter? Just believe what appeals to you. What can you do about it anyway? And, that’s the real point, I think. The absence of truth means the absence of responsibility. Pick a side that feels comfortable, believe what you want, say what you want, do what you want. All truth becomes relative and the only value of ‘news’ is the extent to which it reaffirms the beliefs in which we’ve previously invested.
This, I think, is the most pernicious effect of our national polarization. We’ve all become invested in our mindsets. Our greatest comfort against the degradation of our collective prosperity is the conceit that some opposing group is wrong and to blame. We’ve been divided and conquered by the entities that stand to lose by our unity and we’ve submitted to this division because the cost of unity is the acknowledgement that our conceptual nemeses are just as well-meaning as we are and that we are just as addle-minded as they are. We’ve become the Bloods and the Crips on a national scale.
In any event, remember that Trump dossier that came out about a month ago that the president-elect said had no basis in fact? It seems it has some basis in fact. How much, remains (hopefully) to be seen. In case you’re wondering what to do about it, these folks have some suggestions.