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Discussing Politics

Brad Sallows

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I don't mean particular agencies; I mean media as a whole.  How much does weak trust of messengers degrade trust of messages?

Measuring public opinion would be the easy part.

Measuring the rate and prominence of "fake" stories would be the hard part.

Possibly distrust of media doesn't colour trust of experts; that's unlikely, so I assume otherwise.  Given that, the problem can't be solved only by the two-piece solution of experts rigorously policing themselves and of whipping the audience into an approved intellectual and rational state.  The piece in the middle has to be fixed.
 

Journeyman

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As a follow on, RAND has been doing an ongoing research project on "Truth Decay -- the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life";  again, not limited to Americans, but their political and social divisiveness makes it all the more glaring there. 

Their most recent publication, "Exploring Media Literacy Education as a Tool for Mitigating Truth Decay" was just released.  While this publication is focused upon teaching media literacy (ML), it does have some useful take-aways.  A key one, in encouraging such literacy, is in being sensitive to the audience's background experiences, particularly the importance of political context.  Even ML that is provided in a nonpartisan and objective manner might be interpreted differently by audiences, depending on their political perspectives.
It's therefore important to focus on teaching participants how  to think without dictating what  to think.  ML should not provide an answer, for example, as to whether an individual should agree with a political advertisement; it should instead teach individuals to be thoughtful about the purpose and construction of that advertisement, the defensibility of the arguments it makes, and whether and how they want to share that advertisement further.  Some experts who study ML in civic and democratic engagement also might argue that ML should teach individuals how to make further decisions based on that information; for instance, how to critique an advertisement publicly or engage politically based on its information.

Since our pre-electioneering has begun, we can expect divisive and dubious advertisements and statements, and political commentary of various quality, to ramp up.  I fully expect rational thinking... and postings here... to be at a premium, in the face of partisan mud-slinging.

 

Brad Sallows

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"teach individuals to be thoughtful about the purpose and construction of that advertisement, everything..."
 

Kirkhill

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Brad Sallows said:
It is not a uniquely American problem.

Arnold Kling comments on some observations about trust of elites (who are generally also experts of some kind).

Experts - not laypersons - are responsible for establishing and maintaining trust.  Experts contribute to mistrust (burn their credibility) with poorly mitigated mistakes, straying outside their "lanes" into politics, inappropriate personal conduct, and failure to be sufficiently prompt to eject those of their peers who are found wanting.

First indicator of a non-expert expert is the expert who describes themselves as such.  They obviously have not actually practiced their theories enough to discover their limitations.

The same is true, in spades, of the self-described intellectual and the elite.
 

Kirkhill

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And outside the Anglosphere there are difficulties with cultural references:

An article in the Telegraph by a Anglo-French writer who is making money continuing the millenial trade of explaining the English and the French to each other.

“But why does he joke? Ce n’est pas sérieux.” Humour in France is as regulated as the Common Agricultural Policy: off the cuff will get you fired more often than elicit chuckles. It’s impossible to get the French to even conceive that not being “sérieux” can be a politician’s raison d’être (and a vote-winner). The great post-war editor of Le Monde used to tell his journalists to write “boringly”, as any hint of fantasy would destroy the paper’s credibility. Self-deprecation here amounts to self-sabotage: any hint that you’ve “dabbled” rather than sweated blood and tears over your 600-page history of the late Middle-Ages is taken literally, with your interlocutor’s eyes looking frantically for some less weird person to talk to.

Are Boris’s jokes funny?” I get asked. (Yes, I say. Then I’m asked to translate things like “an inverted pyramid of piffle” to uncomprehending glares.) Or: “Why is he so untidy?” You need more than a soundbite to develop the Lord Emsworth theory of dressing down, so I explain that dapper men are more suspicious to the English than someone whose shirt-tails seem to escape from his trousers of their own volition. It goes down like un ballon en plomb.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/08/20/take-frances-boris-whisperer-humourless-french-will-never-get/

Having worked with Europeans and Quebecois as an Anglo-Scots Canadian I can attest that the divide described above exists along the Ottawa River.  "That'll happen!" should be used with care. 

Kipling's lines

The men of my own stock,
  They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wanted to,
  They are used to the lies I tell;
And we do not need interpreters
  When we go to buy or sell.

Are as valid today as they were over a hundred years ago.  Their reference to cultural short-hand is true for all societies, regardless of race, creed or sexual-orientation.

In Canada we have two traditions - one that aspires to self-deprecation and another that aspires unself-consciously to being defined as the elite.
In the US preachers and other graduates of seminaries like Harvard were tolerated beyond the Cumberland Gap, certainly not given deference.
In the UK the aristocracy learned to rub along with the generality and keep their heads down.
In Quebec, as in France and the Continent, there is a tradition of selecting, designating and nurturing people who are encouraged to see themselves as the leadership elite destined to lead the nation.

So when we talk about attitudes to elites we are talking about cultural traits that are not new and are not caused by any political whims or vagaries of the last century or two.
 

Kirkhill

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Infanteer said:
Expert communities are grappling with the fact that the internet has, for the first time in recorded history, generally put all recorded knowledge at a person's fingertips.  Never mind the fact that many people don't know how to use that tool properly (but think they do...see Dunning-Kruger).  Prior to the internet, one of the reasons experts were experts is that they had spent copious amounts of time reading and writing on something that was generally inaccessible to the public.  Now that subject matter mostly is, and experts have lost the monopoly on "access," and need to think how they balance the fact that others have the access, but likely not the familiarity and the experience, with a specific subject matter.  While many folks may not have the "talent" to use material they've accessed on the internet to actually challenge expertise, I have no doubt that some folks do.

The classic example is the patient in the doctor's office who has done some reading on potential treatment options for his or her condition.  Now, without familiarity and experience, they are not likely to understand why the doctor will prescribe treatment X, but at the same time, the Doctor is likely going to have to understand that he or she will have to answer questions of a patient who has access (but not familiarity and experience) to information on health issues.  This is a different relationship between expert and the average layperson.

A failure to properly police the profession will also legitimately hurt the perception of experts.  Take dentists for example; traditionally, not as well governed as medicine, and prone to advice/treatments with no basis in science (see - I have access!).  My wife has went through an experience with a bad dentist, and now has a suspicion of the profession as a whole.  If a profession can't sort its house out, then how can it expect everyone to listen to what it has to say?

Finally, the proliferation of experts can't help either (the article mentions this).  Now that universities have become degree-factories, vice houses of a liberal arts education, we are bombarded with folks that claim to be experts because they have a PhD in something banal.  Expertise should be (1) challenging to achieve and (2) offer some value to society.  I'm not sure all of our experts fit those categories.

Expert communities are grappling with the fact that the internet has, for the first time in recorded history, generally put all recorded knowledge at a person's fingertips.

I hear echoes of priests and lawyers bewailing those infernal meddlers Gutenberg, Caxton and Knox.  Now everybody can read the texts and draw their own conclusions.  Like as not similar objections were raised when people started writing vernacular bibles (Jerome's latin being among the first back in 300 AD).  Control and dissemination of knowledge and opinion is not a new debate.

The classic example is the patient in the doctor's office who has done some reading

Plus side, for the doctor, the patient may have a basis in vocabulary to understand what the doctor is saying.
Minus side, for the doctor, the patient may have a basis in vocabulary to understand what the doctor is saying.

A failure to properly police the profession will also legitimately hurt the perception of experts

Of what profession was James Watt?  He was a watchmakers apprentice that took some night classes at university in Glasgow.  He and Matthew Bolton industrialized the world.  Could say something the same about Bill Gates.

Finally, the proliferation of experts can't help either

The proliferation of knowledge, and of people, will necessarily generate more experts.  The question is not one of proliferation, the question is one of identification.

Now that universities have become degree-factories, vice houses of a liberal arts education, we are bombarded with folks that claim to be experts because they have a PhD

The vast majority of universities have always been degree-factories.  Their primary function was to instruct clerics in catechism and generate authorized practitioners.  The liberal arts university was a function of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Again, what university determined the expertise of Watt, or of Gates?

Most people find experts by word of mouth from people they trust having successfully engaged someone who solved their problems.  Those people may, or may not, be accredited.





 

Journeyman

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I just read an excellent article (courtesy of Col (ret'd) Howard Coombs :salute:), posted by West Point's Modern War Institute.  Although not specifically about politics, it does provide insight on reading and thinking.

Jacob Olidort, "War Books: It’s Not Just What You Read, But How You Read."  LINK
[Caveat:  he does refer to himself as an "expert"  ;) ]
“How” to read seems a strange and perhaps even condescending way to propose a book list. However, given that reading takes time, and that those who might have the most use for good reads often have little time and long lists to go through, as well as many outlets to consult (including blogs, tweets, recommendations), it might be more useful to reflect on how I go about choosing what books I read and how I consume information.
Being an avid reader, I found his breakdown of books intriguing: 1.  Books on how to think -- with a subset on thinking about strategy;  2.  Books on how to write -- which, even without ambitions to be an author, is about communicating;  and 3.  Books on how to live -- which aren't self-help books, but concern "individuals who have lived big (not necessarily long) lives and who have lessons to impart."  All three sections had readily recognizable titles.

His 'daily reading' and 'homework reading' habits are also very familiar, (naturally I have to add to his lists my recurring favourite, The Economist  :) ), although I find I have little time for non-fiction, and I haven't gotten into audio books.  Altogether, an interesting article.
 
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