The Real Danger Might Be Us: The Politics of Disreason

Shares

I’ve been thinking today about the danger of disreason in American politics. Dis, meaning “ to treat with disrespect or contempt” and reason, meaning “to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” It seems we’re awash in it.

Two Montana posts, one from the right and one from the left, perfectly illustrate the politics of disreason. One, from the dark money Watchdog organization, darkly hints that the implementation of Common Core education standards will lead to dangerous data mining of children. The other, from 4and20 blackbirds, uses a source who retracted his own claims and apologized for them to suggest that the Obama campaign used  “ National Stasi Intelligence style” tactics to win the 2012 election.

What both share in common is an almost pathological willingness to simultaneously ignore objective evidence and the [pullquote] we’re in a Wal-Mart of terrible, clearance-rack ideas and everyone owns a free megaphone. [/pullquote]conventions of logical reasoning to make wild, unsupported claims that fit anti-government and/or anti-establishment narratives.

Of course, it’s not just these sites. You can hardly search the Internet without finding someone who claims that President Obama was born in Kenya, that 9/11 was masterminded by FDR to cover up his involvement in Pearl Harbor, or that autism is caused by vaccines.

We’re swimming in a sea of not only wrong information, but information so easily discredited by logic and evidence that it distracts us from substantive discussions and engages a growing segment of the population in politics in a way that is more destructive than democratic. Even those who should be models spew this nonsense on the national stage.

None of this is new, of course. We had John Birchers in the 1950s (and still do) claiming the UN and fluoride were conspiracies, Arkansas troopers claiming that Vince Foster was murdered, and those who claimed that HIV/AIDS was a western conspiracy to depopulate Africa.

But the Internet has magnified this nonsense and given it a cancerous growth pattern.  It’s just not one farmer with an amusingly paranoid sign on his land about the UN; it’s a whole sub culture of mutually reinforcing bile and delusion. Look no farther than the comment field on any news story and you’ll see demonstrably false, easily fact-checked falsehoods pollute productive conversation. What could contribute to the marketplace of ideas devolves into a scrum of name calling and half-truths.

What’s worse is that most of these ideas are cloaked in a pseudo-certainty that would make a 14th century alchemist blush.

The premise of the marketplace of idea is that, in competition, the best ideas will emerge, bettering and educating society as a whole, but I’m not sure that premise holds any longer, when we’re in a Wal-Mart of terrible, clearance-rack ideas and everyone owns a free megaphone.

I’m not calling for censorship. I’m not calling for government regulation of speech. I am, however, asking if perhaps we can’t show a little restraint.

I admire radicals. I admire those who challenge the norms of their society and uncover unpleasant truths or force to see the world in a new way. But my admiration is limited to those radicals who can prove their claims, support them against often fierce scrutiny. Retreating into sophistic dodges or convenient conspiracy theories might offer comfort, but little credibility.

I was talking the other day with a friend about the WTO protests that rocked the U.S. in the 1990s.  Sure, they used radical tactics and challenged authority, but they also marshaled an impressive array of statistics, anecdotes, and economic evidence to make their case. It wasn’t enough to just be loud or just be radical. They made a case using reason as well as political theater.

It is possible for activists to change the world, but they should probably be willing to do the research first.

I’m not sure that I have any solution to offer beyond the trite. Before we post a link or share a juicy story online, maybe we can all ask ourselves to do a little verification and research our claims. Instead of couching every perceived slight in the language of totalitarianism or the death of the Constitution, perhaps we can focus on policy and solutions.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s worth remembering that every discredited conspiracy theory one posts undermines that person’s ability to be a productive critic of corporate and government abuse. Want to show the abuses of the NSA and be taken seriously? Don’t post specious claims about some crackpot conspiracy theory. It will only undermine your ability to be a critic when critics are needed.

The politics of disreason, whether left or right, drive the kind of cynicism and disinterest that is the root of the real problem of American politics today. If I permit myself a bit of hyperbole, it’s those elements that truly pose the risk of losing democratic governance.

I don’t know. But it has to get better. The energy that’s being expended in these discussions certainly isn’t helping.

If you appreciate our efforts to hold Montana Republicans accountable and the independent journalism here at The Montana Post, please consider supporting our work with a small pledge.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

108
Leave a Reply

avatar
14 Comment threads
92 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
16 Comment authors
lizard19The Polish Wolfjack rubyMatthew KoehlerTokarsk Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

The whole of your argument here, Don, can be summarized in one logical fallacy, as my handy 101 pamphlet summarizes: Poisoning the well, a form of ad hominem. You never address evidence directly, in fact, go to great lengths to disparage the source of evidence rather than confront it. I’ve encountered this attitude often, and it is off-putting, as you will never be reduced to a disputation of factual evidence, but rather seek cover and position yourself so that (in your mind) you are above the fray, and not a mere mortal. Example: this post. Not one shred of evidence… Read more »

James Conner
Guest

I think most bloggers agree, at least in the abstract, that citing dubious and discredited sources does not strengthen a blogger’s arguments. In the real world, however, anger and outrage, powerful motivators that can impair one’s critical faculties, drive a lot of bloggers, most of whom are advocates, not investigators. Advocates marshal facts and sources to support their positions and arguments — and the angrier and more outraged the advocate, the greater the probability that the facts and sources he selects will fail to receive sufficiently critical scrutiny. That’s human nature. At a reputable news gathering organization, that critical scrutiny… Read more »

lizard19
Guest
lizard19

Don had nothing to do with what I assumed was an intentional attempt violate my anonymity.

Matthew Koehler
Guest
Matthew Koehler

Don wrote: “I was talking the other day with a friend about the WTO protests that rocked the U.S. in the 1990s.” I’d just like to point out that the Seattle WTO protests (likely the first time many people in the US even heard of the WTO) took place in late November and early December 1999. Subsequent large protest/rallies against the IMF, WTO, World Bank, FTAA took place in places like DC in April 2000, Quebec City in April 2001, Miami in November 2003 and elsewhere around the US and world. So much of the protest energy against the WTO,… Read more »

Big Johansson
Guest
Big Johansson

Breaking News.

Denise Juneau just bailed on the senate race.

Just read it online at the gazette.

Norma Duffy
Guest

She said if on facebook More than two weeks ago BJ. Where you and the GOP been??? People were trying to draft Juneau, and she graciously bowed out. Smart lady she knew the bigger fight to take down education will be in the statehouse next year.

Your local Republican Taliban has been signaling this renewed education fight for about a month. Hence Pogies earlier story about home schooling and charter schools…

Catch up big guy

Big Johansson
Guest
Big Johansson

Me and the Gazette.

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Here’s what the fight is going to be about. http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2012/16src.h31.html

Norma Duffy
Guest

So whats that mean you want to be just like Wyoming, or north and south Dakota? How about Idaho? Did you know that before charter schools in California it was on the B list too?

Do you see why we need to be more like New York, Vermont, for the formable years, cuz they dont teach creationism in school????

Norma Duffy
Guest

And we spend 20% less than the good B states, and the State GOP wants us to spend even less. You People are talking out your ass,

Using just your little graphic Craig to try and prove a point? You really need to read it a little closer because that graphics says:

The Majority of States that voted for Obama, and democrats spent more on their children’s education than the ones who voted for Republicans had better Grades…. and they had a better score for college and life readiness.

Oopsie!

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Look across our northern border to find a model for success. http://www.education.alberta.ca/parents/choice.aspx

larry kurtz
Guest

Good to see ID reaching so many readers, Don: good job!

Steve W
Guest
Steve W

All in all a very convoluted and contrived column designed to reinforce Pogie’s pathological need to be right. Is there logic in attempting to tie in a sentence from a piece about Jim Messina at the Montana blog 4 &20 Blackbirds to a fight among right-wingers over education standards or lackthereof and then tie that to belief in the illuminati? No. There isn’t much logic in it, in my opinion. It’s a stretch and then some. So i’m guessing the motivation is fear. Pogie, have you read about Conspiracy-Panics? http://www.sunypress.edu/p-4560-conspiracy-panics.aspx James, i look forward to your new more user friendly… Read more »

Rob Kailey
Guest

Don, I suggest this to you. The only two things in our known universe that are ‘verifiable’ are mathematics and logic. ‘Tokarsk’ goes out of his way to demean both of those. He wishes no examination that might differ from his boldly stated and poorly supported opinions. Ironically, he accuses you of “poisoning the well”. Please do consider that as you allow him to spew.

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

“Logic,” as you use it, is an attempt to apply mathematics to subjective data. Math is not your strength. If you think that you can “prove” (your word) things in daily discussions with logic in the presence of confirmation bias and shortage of data, you’re nothing more than a novice. Politics is complicated, just like our world. If you think you have a magic key, you’re looney.

Norma Duffy
Guest

An Idiot looking for a village to feed him…… Just saying!

NamelessRange
Guest
NamelessRange

Tokarskian philosophy on Politics on Aug 6, at 5:40 p.m. On his blog: “See if she has money behind her. If so, she’s got a chance, and she’s no good. If not, she’s good, and has no chance. Forget party politics. ” Tokarskian philosophy on Politics on Aug 6, at 6:22 p.m. On this site: “Politics is complicated, just like our world. If you think you have a magic key, you’re looney.” It really is quite a thing that someone so full of B.S. can contradict themself, imply that they themself are “looney” or wrong, and still hold the belief… Read more »

lizard19
Guest
lizard19

you should watch the opening segment on Rachel Maddow tonight. conspiracy theorists and terrorists will become increasingly synonymous.

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

Oh hi nameless! Long time! Politics is complicated. Hate to be the one to inform you. Money is behind it all, and it’s waaaaay easy to fool people who don’t pay enough attention. The only way I know to make some sense of it is to follow the money. Had I done so in 2008, I would not have wasted time and energy on Obama, who was Wall Street’s man. In 2006 I did the same mistake with Tester, who immediately did an about-face and backed a timber industry bill once promoted by Burns, now with Tester’s name on it.… Read more »

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

That’s it? “Laughable.” Gary Hart , Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Peter Torricelli, laughable . Thus spaketh the Pogieman.

Just a 2+2 I realized alut you today, Don. As you are married to conventional journalism, you know only what you are supposed to know, and more importantly, don’t know anything you should not know? So if it isn’t handed to you n a platter, you don’t know it.

Any damned fool can do that!

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Mark, you have been going all Adolph on us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QixI6uziV4

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

If I was king for one day, I would put everyone under hypnosis and erase the word “Hitler” from their minds. Many worse than him came before and after, but escape notice, usually because they enjoy American support. Or are Americans. Hitler, Hitler, Hitler …

Rob Kailey
Guest

An authoritarian fantasy if ever there was one …

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

Please review the commenting policy.

Tokarsk
Guest
Tokarsk

Good grief. Can you ever, ever look in the mirror?

Norma Duffy
Guest

Imagine, a blog without Mark commenting. Its easy if you try,
no false opinions, no outright lies…..

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

“false opinions”

Never heard of such a thing. Who are you to judge another’s opinion as “true” or “false?” Thought we all were afforded our own opinions. Guess not in the new authoritarian blogging era.

Rob Kailey
Guest

One’s opinion can indeed be true or false, depending on the facts they defend it with, regardless of whether the person is entitled to have it. The problem is with the oh-too-many people who mistake their opinions for facts. As has been famously said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

For the record, being entitled to an opinion does not obligate, in anyway, another to agree with it. In fact, that entitlement fully empowers others to point and laugh where they feel appropriate.

Norma Duffy
Guest

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

And for the record Anonymous, I’m not afraid of using my name, when I point fingers… just saying!

Matthew Koehler
Guest
Matthew Koehler

Hello: The following comment might be slightly off-topic, but then again, it certainly fits into the “Real danger might be us: Politics of disreason” theme here. Anyone notice that Rep Steve Daines has introduced his very own version of a mandated national forest logging bill? The news has certainly been in all the state-wide papers over the past week, and Daines has his own oped supporting his mandated logging bill. Here are the specifics: Rep Daines “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county… Read more »

jack ruby
Guest
jack ruby

I agree Matthew, its crazy when you see how much worse Daines’ bill is to think that the national forests would somehow be better off if we replaced Tester with a republican. Im glad you have come here to show some light on this.

Rob Kailey
Guest

This reminds me of those who are willing to bet on the Super Bowl in pre-season. So, I’m just asking, Matthew, given that you don’t have a farm, how much are you ‘willing to bet’? If the MWA and like minded orgs are as evilly collaborative as you say, I imagine they’re popping the corks on champagne right now. You’re right, they get what they want (reap what they’ve sown). But that phrase is meant to be an accusation. So one has to wonder, exactly who’s reaping and who’s sowing and why are you posting such an accusation here? If… Read more »

Norma Duffy
Guest

No Chance he does nothing to protect watersheds, he favors clearcutting and again intends to give our headwaters to large corporations. He is selling out Montana from under farmers Ranchers, Hunters, Fishermen, and people who like to drink clean water and breathenon polluted Air….. This guy is turning out to be a bigger danger to the state, then Rehberg was, and thats an accomplishment. considering Rehberg had 12 years of do nothing, plus being a uncaring dolt to even our veterans…..Daines has already written bills to take away land, steal water, endorsed bills that dump EPA, CWA, Make people poorer,… Read more »

lizard19
Guest
lizard19

energizer bunny…

Support Our Work!

Poll

What would be the most appropriate nickname for Matt Rosendale?

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe Via E-mail

0 /* ]]> */