First reflection on the 2016 American election

The more I have thought and researched for this post the more sombre and hesitant I have become. I initially intended to explore similarities and differences between the American election, Brexit, and the election of Justin Trudeau. One perspective that has been replicating itself in my my news-feed that I found initially appealing was the idea that liberal arrogance strongly contributed to Trumps triumph, along with a failure to empathize with Trump supporters. These are ideas that I still wish to explore at
some point, but not yet.

The reason I will refrain from such analysis is because, over the course of my research, I was exposed to the levels of fear many are experiencing post-election, fear which is entirely justified. Trump has said some very scary things. Though we can all hope he will be moderate in office than he was on the campaign trail, the next four years are, at the moment, a black box.

There is a great deal more that will be said, a great deal more that must be said. But I want to start by acknowledging those who are afraid. To those who are safe, do not mock the fearful, do not belittle them, and do not trivialize them, for they are rightfully afraid. Stand with them.

That being said, I believe that it is also important to refrain from becoming angry at those who did vote for Trump. I aim to make no judgement as to the character and conduct of his supporters. I instead cannot help but indulge in one piece of analysis: I believe that a crucial factor in this election, a factor that seems to be becoming more and more prominent in western democracies, was tribal isolation. Anger, however righteous, does not facilitate dialogue, and dialogue, as ever, is the non-violent way forward. This also means we must listen, and truly seek to understand: to insincerely seek dialogue is to fail.

Thank you for reading,
Ryan Workman

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The meaning of political posts

This is not the epistemology post I promised, but we’ll get there.

Public discourse is a matter of significant importance to democracy, and I believe that there is a general sentiment that it is going down hill (this observation may be rendered less astute by the fact that we as a species seem to have a general propensity to think things usually are going down hill). In this post I want to talk about the political meaning of Facebook posts.

When I trawl through my news-feed at the moment, I am inundated by posts and shares on the US election. Primarily the posts are either bashing Trump or praising Obama (and occasionally someone says something nice about Hillary). Even outside of elections people regularly post political content. One post that stood out to me was a friend who posted something like ‘I notice people have been unfriending me. I must be too political, hehe’. I think that there is something revealing in this post not just about the meaning of the posts of this particular friend, but about political dialogue on social media in general. The important thing to note is the pride my friend was demonstrating in his political stripes. If the purpose of his posts was to communicate with those he disagreed with, he was evidently failing. Rather, he seemed to be taking satisfaction in his ability to cause others to self-select their agreement with him. In other words, through political posting he was sorting out who agreed with him and who did not. In support of this notion, it was interesting how people responded to this post. Many people posted stating how they liked his political posts or were happy that he was saying things that needed to be said, with a few belittling those who unfriended my friend. What I am driving at is that political posts on Facebook and the like often seem to be directed towards those who agree with the post, not those that disagree. When we post political content on social media, we often do not seek to engage with those with whom we disagree, but to demonstrate to our friends our political allegiances. We aim to display our colours to our enemies and our friends, not to actually communicate information.

Let me know what you think,

Thank you for reading,

CreativePhilo

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The Problem of Consensus

I’ve recently been reading a lot about wicked problems. The word ‘wicked’ here does not designate immorality but rather complexity, malignancy, and general intractability. I will almost certainly be exploring the topic further in a future post. You can read more about wicked problems here). What I want to talk about today is a feature or aspect or type of wicked problems: the challenge of collaboration. Basically the idea that I have been reading is that for people to work together efficiently they need to have a common understanding of the problem they’re working on and on the goals of the project. Otherwise the different perspectives will clash and struggle against each other, vastly detracting from the efficiency of the project.

It is interesting, I do not recall reading any major philosophical work that has discussed the problem of building consensus or agreement. It makes sense, in a way. First, consensus usually pertains to concrete action, while philosophy usually does not. To philosophers, the conversation itself is usually the end, or an individual is trying to articulate their own particular set of beliefs. Further, the western philosophical tradition usually emphasizes a combative and confrontational approach.

I have been reading a book recently called The Righteous Mind. The premise of the book is basically that our rationality serves our intuitions, not vice versa. That is to say, we tend to believe things intuitively first, and then we create reasons for our beliefs. One idea that the book emphasizes is that we cannot rationally engage with others when angry or upset. When our walls are up, we focus on rationalizing objections and defenses, rather than on actually engaging with the other person.

I wonder whether philosophy is harmed by this. On the one hand, it seems that the psychological state that generates an argument does not define the quality of the argument. Nietzsche is probably right that we can explain philosophies by pointing to environmental and social features in the lives of philosophers, but I think most of us resist the idea that this undermines the ideas themselves. On the other hand, conversation and dialogue is indispensable to philosophy, and I have to say based on my experience that I am defensive in a a great many of my philosophical conversations. Philosophy is an immensely fractured discipline, which is in many ways divided by culture and language as opposed to coherent philosophical disagreement.

I think its interesting to try to push the issue further, though. Should philosophy be aiming for consensus? Consensus, I think it should be noted, is different from compromise. Compromise means meeting in the middle, consensus means coming to a shared understanding. I think there is at least plausibility to the claim that philosophy should spend less time debating and more time consensus building: at the very least we might begin to dissolve some of the barriers that inhibit our current philosophical traditions.

Let me know what you think,

CreativePhilo

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