The floodgates are open. The tears are flowing out. Reality floods back in. For the regressive elements who have captured many of the institutions across the West, including academia and the media, their walled garden has been breached. The depth charge of the Brexit vote shook and cracked the foundations. An all-out assault followed. The Trump win, in a daring dawn raid, smashed it to pieces. The safe-space is gone and now, as many of them claim, the planet’s climate will follow it into the abyss as they lose their wretched grip of fear on the hearts and minds of the populace.
Hysteria abounds. From the very people who claim to be the guardians of science and the paragons of reason. Yet these people are not reasonable. They cannot be. They have forgotten how to be rational because they think they own reason. For them it is a state of being. They – the Chosen – speak. We – the Mob – listen. If that natural order is broken, they must find ways to shut our mouths. And quickly. Let me explain….
Challenging the ‘experts’
Shares in laughing stock have steadily risen as increasing numbers of us, in the Mob witnessed the trials and tribulations of the silly experts as they wildly missed the mark again. And again. And again. Each time we are also informed that we must listen, that their position as experts and oracles are secure. The very notion of ‘expertise’ now seems to be a function of a place in the pecking order of the Chosen. If you are appointed a position in one of the great approved citadels of academia, media or politics, it is the divine order. All that flows from your pen and your lips is holy writ. You cannot be wrong.
They called the 2015 UK General Election for the Labour Party. They were wrong.
They called the EU Referendum vote for the ‘Remain’ camp. They were wrong.
They called the 2016 US Election for Hillary. They were wrong.
They weren’t just wrong in each case. They were astronomically wrong. The “consensus” was not which outcome was more likely as a balance of probabilities but by how much their chosen pre-determined outcome would rout the other side. As the famous quote from Ian Fleming goes, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”. And who is this enemy? Why us of course. The mob.
These three reality breaching charges have all but permanently broken the favoured tool of political scientists and pundits – opinion polling. I have often opined that “political science” should be named instead “expediency studies”. And I say this as a reluctant holder of a Master’s degree in politics and international relations. The best thing I acquired from that degree was reading dozens of books I may have otherwise never encountered. Any useful “science” in the subject area is sketchy at best and far too reliant on the, frankly lunatic, assumption that passing a statistical significance test somehow confers truth or validity on your favoured model.
In terms of data availability and replicability however, opinion polling confers a level of sampling and reproducibility that the vast majority of disciplines and sciences can only dream of. And yet, in the last few years, it has suddenly become incredibly unreliable as a tool for predicting voting behaviours in the U.S. and Britain. Why? It is us – the Mob. The Chosen closed our mouths in public so we all retreated the only safe space we had left. The ballot box.
A sample of a mere one thousand respondents can be used to predict the views of five million and be well within the bounds of statistical significance. All sorts of social and economic factors can easily be controlled for. The same polling instruments can provide useful moving averages over time and reflect almost immediate reactions to real-world events. Almost anyone, with a little manpower, can replicate the findings with their own polls. Despite all of this in their favour, the pollsters were deceived.
And if such robust methodologies can be so quickly de-railed, what of the infinitely more complex climate models? With their sparse data, their endless list of caveats and uncertainties. Their embedded political activism masquerading as science and hundreds of livelihoods attached to very particular model predictions? Well?
If we can’t trust the experts on opinion polls, why should we trust them anywhere else – including and especially on “a coupled non-linear chaotic system” like the planet’s climate? If polling methodologies occupy the most reliable end of data gathering and reproducibility, then climate science surely occupies the opposite end. In fact, when it comes to data in the latter domain, the ancient greek philosopher Heraclitus sums it up perfectly – for with climate data one really cannot “step into the same river twice”. Metaphorically, figuratively and literally.
Whilst we are inundated with climate modelling experts in the climate domain, for the closely linked (politically) issues of energy and economy we are similarly inundated with economists. There have been so many U-turns from people preaching economic doom prior to the Brexit vote, now severely moderating their opinions in surprised tones, that I risk breaking my neck watching them. The fact is that if economists in general were any good at their profession, two things would happen:
- They would not be economists. They would in fact be spending most of their time in financially free bliss on their expensive yachts.
- Planned economies would consistently work much better than free market ones.
Now in a desperate rearguard action, the members of The Chosen in the media, academic and political classes are blathering in all directions about something called “post-fact” or “post-truth” reality. The irony meter explodes here as the majority of these self-same people are steeped in lifelong Postmodernism.
The “post-factual” charge of course is nonsense. The bait and switch The Chosen are attempting here is promulgating the idea that we dismiss expertise per se and reject facts in favour of prejudice. If it is sincerely meant, the criticism arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of what is going on.
I sometimes feel like I’m terribly old fashioned in my approach to scientific research and its assessment. I lean very heavily towards the classic Popperian approach of beginning with a hypothesis and then looking for evidence to disprove it.
One of the primary reasons why many people no longer respect so-called expert opinion in many areas – is the very visible active suppression, by censorship and intimidation, of politically incorrect (or inconvenient) opinions, and the clear bias of the resulting elite discourses and narratives.
Mill argued that once censorship is used to suppress dissent we can no longer have confidence in the opinions protected by that very same censorship. And as a result of this whilst most of us, in The Mob, become ever more sceptical and cynical towards our supposed betters, The Chosen and their regressive footsoldiers across academic campuses become ever more credulous. The Tories winning the last election, Trump winning and Brexit winning are only the beginning of the many clue bats they will be hit around the head with over the coming years.
Silencing The Mob
In 1999 French anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour wrote Pandora’s Hope – a massively underrated piece of work in my opinion concerning empirically focused philosophy of science. He presented an argument I initially found shocking and then over several years observed the process he described in action again and again. We are witnessing it in action, writ large, right now. It takes a while to untangle, so bear with me – it is worth it.
Latour contended there was a specific way self-appointed intellectuals could and would attempt to silence the mob. A method that has become embedded in all of the institutions taken over by the regressives’ Chosen ones.
Latour traces it all the way back to ancient Greece and in so doing upsets a fundamental part of the Western philosophical canon. If Western philosophy can be said to have a messiah figure it has to be Socrates. He was, as the mainstream account goes, sentenced to death by ingesting Hemlock for “corrupting the youth”. At least that is what Plato, his student, tells us. Socrates never wrote anything down himself. We only have Plato’s word for it that anything resembling the Socratic dialogues he wrote about actually occurred.
Why is this important? It is the cornerstone of both Plato’s philosophy and today’s expected obedience to the notion that reason conquers all. To oppose the latter is to be, by definition irrational and therefore not worthy of respect or attention. Both the life and death of Socrates form a founding myth for both Plato and the path of Western philosophy through the ages to today. Socrates went to his death so that reason as we know it today might be saved.
This groundwork paved the way for Plato to write what some consider to be his magnum opus – The Republic. It is here he lays out plainly the tyrannical society he envisioned as a utopia, with the Philosopher Kings at its head. For there could be to Plato’s mind no other kind of beneficent ruler. He instituted a divine right of ruling and speaking that only a select few would be permitted. The hoi polloi did not know any better, so required the guiding hand of Plato’s almost god-like rulers who he anointed ‘The Guardians’.
If this is starting to sound a little familiar, it should. And I’m sure the name (albeit translated from ancient Greek) ‘The Guardians’ may give British readers pause given the name of the flagship publication that British (and indeed many Anglosphere) regressives tie their colours and intellectual fortunes to.
It is no accident that the Guardian pronounces on high on everything from Trump to Brexit to Climate Change in the most sneering terms towards any who may dissent from its Orthodoxy or who refuse to genuflect before it. The Guardian’s authors and judging by the comments on its ironically named ‘Comment is Free’ section, many of its dedicated readers too, consider themselves beyond reproach. Untouchable. All they ever needed to maintain this conceit was the ability to close the mouths of The Mob. And Socrates showed them how.
The much vaunted ‘reason’ of Socrates was not, as is commonly supposed, a sincere attempt to seek the truth in all things. No. Socrates was master of the art of rhetoric. Plato presents Socrates as a benighted rationalist in direct opposition to the sophists of his time. Latour contends that, on the contrary, Socrates was in league with them.
This league resulted in a philosophical settlement that was reached between all those who feared the mob and wished to silence it. It divided the world into very specific categories in such a way as to render objection to it near impossible. This settlement that continues today and any who question it are mercilessly attacked. As Latour recounts it in the opening of Pandora’s Hope, if it is questioned one risks the accusation of “not believing in reality”.
What is this settlement, more precisely? Many of the dialogues in Plato’s work focus on pitting ‘Might’ versus ‘Right’, with assorted characters defending the former position and Socrates defending the latter. What isn’t made explicitly clear, argues Latour, is that Socrates and his interlocutors are actually on the same side. They – to use the example of Callicles and Socrates in the Gorgias, “…agree on everything and differ only about the fastest way to silence the crowd.” That is to say – the two opposing forces are actually Socrates and most of the dissenting puppet characters in Platos’s dialogues on the one side, and the unruly mob on the other – “..each of them [Socrates and Callicles] wants to dominate the mob and obtain a disproportionate share of either this world’s or the other world’s laurels” (Pandora’s Hope, 1999, p. 234).
Why? Because the fear of the mob is, for Latour, fundamentally a fear of inhumanity. Recall how the regressives claim to carry the weight of the world, like Atlas, on everyone’s behalf. They like to style themselves as selfless beings, wise and benevolent, who save us from ourselves. They will, in spite of ourselves, save us from Trump, from Brexit, from Climate Change. Following Latour’s argument they do this, whether they realise it or not, through a philosophical sleight of hand:
“To protect subjects from falling into inhumanity—subjectivity, passions, illusions, civil strife, delusions, beliefs—we needed the firm anchor of objects. But then objects also began generating inhumanity, so that in order to protect objects from falling into inhumanity – coldness, soullessness, meaninglessness, materialism, despotism – we had to invoke the rights of subjects and ‘the milk of human kindness.’ Inhumanity was thus always the inaccessible joker in the other stack of cards.” (Pandora’s Hope, p.291, original emphasis).
This is the part of Latour’s position that might seem astonishing – the ‘modernist settlement’ and with it our basic notions of epistemology, are rooted in a political goal; one that does not aim at truth contra the oft stated primary mission of philosophy and science but at eliminating inhumanity. And in the (post)modernist version of this objective, the primary weapon is the subject/object division. Actors are born freely associating and everywhere they are in chains of subject OR object. Human OR non-human. Science OR nature.
For Latour, to a large degree the ‘unruly mob’ can be seen as a synonym for the messy and interpenetrated nature of reality and existence, which philosophy and science in their various subdisciplines attempt to capture and manipulate in multifarious ways, including through acts of ‘purification’ – linguistic acts in reality, if treated as genuine effects by the speakers. Something the regressive Chosen do continually and forget they do it. Foremost amongst such tools for purifying our messy reality is the subject/object distinction, deployed in epistemology, metaphysics (ontology) and the philosophy of mind ostensibly as just such a means of capture and manipulation.
For Latour, however, this has led us, collectively, badly astray. The world, including ‘us’ as individuals, supposedly fundamentally separated from the world (pace object/subject or subject/object) is incredibly messy and interconnected – “the object that sits before the subject and the subject that faces the object are polemical entities, not innocent metaphysical inhabitants of the world” (Latour, 1999:294) – we have, to use another of Latour’s metaphors, become like prison guards, sealing ourselves in a metaphysical shackle of our own making that does not actually obtain in reality. A fundamental ontological pair of facets in the universe is not being described in this duality, it is being imposed.
How does Latour know this, without descending into some kind of epistemological infinite regress? – By studying practice:
“By shifting attention from the theory of science to its practice, it has simply happened, by chance, upon the frame that held together the modernist settlement. What, at the level of theory, looked like so many different and unconnected questions to be taken seriously but independently, revealed themselves, when daily practice was scrutinized, as being tightly intertwined.” (Pandora’s Hope, p. 294).
I think we can safely say, looking at recent events – the UK’s last General Election, the U.S. Election, the EU Referendum, that the voting majority live, breathe and think in the world of practice. The regressives on the other hand live in the duality that has existed since Plato, and amplified by Kant, in Western thinking and use it incessantly to attempt to shut the rest of us up.
The ‘absolute certainty’ so sought after is, for Latour, a direct artefact of the conceptual separation of the “surgically removed mind” from the world. It is looking for a “life supporting kit” that it simply does not need because it is, in fact, endlessly entangled and enmeshed in the world around it regardless of the vicissitudes of philosophers.
The continuation along this path reached its apogee in Kant. The quest for absolute certainty was abandoned, pursuing instead “a makeshift solution that preserved at least some access to an outside reality”. A guarantor of absolute certainty was therefore swapped for some kind of guarantee of access. Kant’s appeal to a priori knowledge, argues Latour, “…started [an] extravagant form of constructivism” (Pandora’s Hope, p.5). And from this we can trace the route directly to post-modernism. Kant’s aim, Latour contends, was to swap absolute certainty for universality – brought at the cost of remaining within this “restricted sphere…to which the world outside contributes decisively but minimally.” (Pandora’s Hope, p.5).
An aim that the post-modernists – and their inheritors, the post-structuralists and post-normalists – have pursued with zeal and alacrity. A particularly egregious application of this occurred when the idea of “society” was enrolled to continue the project of silencing the Mob.
In its more modern iterations from the twentieth century onwards, it was a concept used to justify the (often spurious and arbitrarily decided) “collective good” as a baton to both crush individuals and discipline the mob by reminding it (again) of its inherent inhumanity. The idea of “society” was ruthlessly cut from The Mob’s day to day lived experience of it. This move is observable, being closely linked with the motivations for creating what is now the EU in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.
Ripped from direct context, ‘Society’ became something that did not “refer to an entity that exists in itself and is ruled by its own laws by opposition to other entities” nor did it refer to the sum total of interactions of humans between one another and with the natural world. Instead it became the ultimate expression of the original philosophical settlement, purposefully and artificially dividing the natural and the social, and thereby dividing The Mob against itself. The Mob could not find expressions of its lived experience in the post-modern amputated limb of ‘society’ because there were no such expressions. They were no longer possible. To touch the life of The Mob means to engage in the details, the dirty, the nitty-gritty, the – inhumane. The post-modernists could not direct The Mob’s existence in the latter realm of real life so they trapped all of us in a never-ending Sisyphean conflict against ourselves.
This displacement went even further than that of Kant’s, centred originally on the despotic Ego – between the individual and the ‘outside world’,
“..society interposed its filters; its paraphernalia of biases, theories, cultures, traditions, and standpoints became an opaque window. Nothing of the outside world could pass through so many intermediaries and reach the individual mind. People were locked not only into the prison of their own categories but into that of their own social groups as well.” (Pandora’s Hope, p. 7).
This “improvement” for Latour, was to move from a singular isolated Ego to multiply isolated egos. Worse, the move dispensed with the only piece of relative certainty offered by Kant’s philosophy in the form of the individually apprehended a priori. This was the beginning of the postmodern turn as a singularly achievable point of view informed by universalised a priori truths was swapped for multiple – and often mutually exclusive – viewpoints. It was, “…progress in a philosophy dreamed up, it seems, by prison wardens.”
This was a double catastrophe for it re-invokes also the fear of the mob that, Latour argues, was at the root of the original modernist settlement reflected in the work of Plato – “It is the resonance of these two fears, the loss of any certain access to reality and the invasion by the mob,” thus fuelling the deeply held fear of Latour’s questioner who begins Pandora’s Hope – asking him “Do you believe in reality?” and expecting with trepidation that the answer will be ‘reality is whatever the mob says it is’.
Every single day, the regressives who seek to dominate and bully the rest of us fear both the question and that answer.
For Latour, the similarity between Callicles and Socrates is profound because both seek the same end goal – both wish to dominate and silence the mouths of the ‘ten thousand fools’; Callicles frankly argues that “Might equals right”; Socrates’ position however is no less an attempt to acquire “geometrical power” through the use of Reason. The “inhuman” mob must be met by equally inhuman force (Callicles) or similarly inhuman Reason (Socrates).
This is not to reject rationality but rather to reject the source that post-modernists (and their inheritors – post-normalists and regressives) assert as its strength:
“This is the place where the two threads connect: it is in order to avoid the inhuman crowd that we need to rely on another inhuman resource, the objective object untouched by human hands.” (Latour, 1999:12-13).
Read that again. ‘Untouched by human hands’. They hate us like they hate themselves. And these philosophical gambits reaching back from ancient times to today from Socrates through to Kant through to Ravetz and the Postnormalists give them the tools to make good on this hate and punish the rest of us. Whether it is the “wrong” political candidate chosen or the “wrong” attitude to Climate Change, The Mob is always at fault.
And for such an objective entity, or collection of entities to exist so untouched and unblemished by us inhuman humans, it must be outside, “…epistemology, morality, politics, and psychology go hand in hand and are aiming at the same settlement.” (Pandora’s Hope, p.13, my emphasis)
And in response to this, the fundamental insight is, for Latour:
“..that neither the object nor the social has the inhuman character…. that Socrates and Callicles were so quick to invoke in order to justify searching for a force strong enough to reverse the power of ‘ten thousand fools.’” (Pandora’s Hope, p. 15)
When following practice, reality rushes back in. The regressives can wail and gnash their teeth all they like. Their make-believe world is coming crashing down as we, The Mob refuse to be silenced and speak once more with earth-shattering power to change the world, for we speak of and to the world. And may The Chosen shudder and fret in their Citadels of ivory.