[caption id="attachment_19448" align="alignright" width="300"] Source: Bright Line Watch[/caption] The folks over at “Bright Line Watch” ask leading political scientists what “bright lines” would need to be crossed to endanger American Democracy.
“In our expert surveys, including the most recent one, political scientists have drawn sharp distinctions between dimensions that are crucial to democracy such as clean and inclusive elections and others that they see as less crucial such as a common understanding of facts. The good news is that on these most important dimensions, the experts see American democracy as performing well. Elections are basically fraud free, in their view, and rights of association are respected. On some other dimensions, the performance of U.S. democracy is weaker, but these are often aspects of democracy that experts view as less important. Politicians frequently impugn their opponents’ patriotism, for instance, but American democracy is not directly threatened by this lack of rhetorical restraint.”Bernard Avishai is struck that the experts don’t see a “common understanding of facts” to be a key indicator of democratic health.
“One disparity, however, is a little baffling. Ninety-five per cent of the scholars considered various protections for the freedom of speech as essential, yet just sixty-seven per cent thought that, in principle, it was necessary for political leaders across the parties “to generally share a common understanding of relevant facts.” This response is several percentage points lower than that of Trump supporters. It is considerably lower than that of Trump opponents, more than eighty per cent of whom affirmed the principle. A little arithmetic, and one is left wondering: if a third of the experts don’t think that a general agreement on the facts is crucial to liberal democracy, what do they suppose that freedom of speech is for? Strictly speaking, free speech doesn’t always require a general agreement on facts—as in, say, the freedom of religious practice. (And non-democratic societies have protected religious license to a considerable extent without enforcing freedom of speech.) But the principle is meant to enable citizens to decide, through reasoned debate, on both the kind of society they want and on how to fix its shortcomings and failures. (In Bright Line’s first wave of questionnaires, the principle was stated as “government leaders recognize the validity of bureaucratic or scientific consensus about matters of public policy.”) Leaders may interpret differently the reasons that the top one per cent of Americans now control about two-fifths of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom ninety per cent control about a fifth—down a third from 1989; they may disagree about how, or whether it is wise, to mitigate the trend toward inequality. But democracies in which leaders would simply deny the trend are mocking what freedom of speech was intended to achieve. So why do so many experts seem relatively unconcerned? That’s not an academic question, though one can imagine any number of reasons that political scientists, especially, might overthink the principle: doubt about the worth of a majority’s opinion, respect for clashing frames of reference or “paradigms,” resistance to fatuous calls for “bipartisanship,” lament over politicians and the media debasing public rhetoric. According to Siva Vaidhyanathan, of the University of Virginia, who is the author of the upcoming book “Anti-Social Media,” Facebook is coming to dominate the dissemination of news and keep people stewing in information filtered for self-reinforcing prejudices. There are also academic schools of thought that may produce qualifications that the study couldn’t detect: a postmodern insistence (or a dogmatic simplification of it) that truth might be taken ironically, skeptically, or as an act of interpretation; or residual ideas from behaviorist psychology, which held that people reflected the facts of their lives but could not much reflect on the facts of their lives. More troubling, though, is the thought that the lack of concern derives from a growing complacency regarding democracy’s origins—and its staying power. The implicit social contract that underpins democracy didn’t come about spontaneously. It grew steadily, first in England, as a counterpart to the advances made by the scientists and the entrepreneurs of the Enlightenment, which, in turn, coaxed citizens to reject both the dogma of priests and the authority of princes. It was defended by such practical innovators as the tableware manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, who was not only a champion of abolitionism but Charles Darwin’s grandfather; and, in the American colonies, by such people as the inventor and small businessman Benjamin Franklin. Citizens didn’t always agree—the principle of tolerance was a tribute to inevitable differences in perspective—but that didn’t discredit the ideal of democracy’s reliance on facts. Indeed, self-government was only possible because citizens could argue themselves into founding the institutions that facilitated the changes that the facts warranted: an executive branch limited by a legislature and an independent judiciary, justified by a study of historical abuses by monarchs, for example. Principles of action derived from facts were, in short, what the commonwealth had, well, in common. This process couldn’t have worked if facts were treated as things that people just cherry-picked to justify their prejudices. (That’s why Kellyanne Conway’s phrase “alternative facts” seems so cautionary.)”Form more information visit: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/democracy-and-facts-in-the-age-of-trump
Revenge of the Editor
Mitchell Ivers is the Editorial Director for Threshold Editions, part of Simon & Schuster, the publishing house being sued by Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos accuses Simon & Schuster of breaching their contract by canceling his book Dangerous, in the wake of a scandal. The press argues that the book was a disaster, and to make its point it provides the copyedited version as Exhibit B to the NY State Court, where it is public. Ivers’ comments have gone viral because they repeatedly point out the lack of proof and argument in Yiannopoulos’ book.
“Careful that the egotistical boasting that your young audience finds humorous doesn’t make you seem juvenile to other readers--especially here…. Avoid parenthetical insults--they just diminish your authority. Throughout the book you’re best points seem to be lost in a sea of self-aggrandizement and scattershot thinking….These points are stronger without gratuitous insult and teat reference…. Let’s not call South Africa White…. Since this is inflammatory, don’t toss it off casually Use it only when you’re able to discuss it…. MAJOR POINT: Having sex with black people does not prove someone is [not] racist. You will have to address the charge of racism clearly and with greater depth, preferably early in the book when you discuss Leslie Jones more fully…. This section needs to be cut or drastically altered. To deny the existence of fake news entirely is preposterous. Too many people have seen—and fallen for–fake news stories for this section to have even a shred of credibility. DELETE.... This whole section is filled with assertions that don’t have the weight of fact. Understand the difference and back up every claim here, because this section will be hotly scrutinized.”Form more information visit: https://iappscontent.courts.state.ny.us/NYSCEF/live/EXHIBIT_B.pdf
The Trolls Win
George Ciccariello-Maher has resigned his tenured position at Drexel University, yet another example of a university not supporting its faculty who express unpopular views. Ciccariello-Maher argues his comments on Twitter were taken out of context. Surely, which is one reason not to have conversations on Twitter. But such mistakes are not reason for Ciccariello-Maher to have been forced to resign his position, and Drexel has clearly refused to support him for economic and public relations reasons.
“Ciccariello-Maher went on to say that his situation illustrated the limits of tenure protections (he has tenure). "[T]enure is a crucial buffer against those who would use money to dictate the content of higher education. But in a neoliberal academy, such protections are far from absolute," he wrote. "We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all, as my case and many others make clear. The difference between tenure-track and the untenured adjunct majority -- which has far more to do with luck than merit -- is a difference in degree not in kind." He added: "In the past year, the forces of resurgent white supremacy have tasted blood and are howling for more. Given the pressure they will continue to apply, university communities must form a common front against the most reprehensible forces in society and refuse to bow to their pressure, intimidation, and threats. Only then will universities stand any chance of survival."... In an essay in The Washington Post, Ciccariello-Maher acknowledged that he was receiving death threats, but said that Drexel was wrong to suspend him as a result of those threats. "By bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls, Drexel has sent the wrong signal: That you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence," he wrote.”Form more information visit: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/12/28/controversial-drexel-professor-resigns