Sandlot versus Grown-up Epistemologies

          The word “epistemology” appeared in a recent New York Times op-ed column, written by Michelle Goldberg. She cited an article written by journalist David Roberts, that appeared on  The word occurred again in a Sunday Times book review of David Frum’s Trumpocracy. It occurred last year in a Time magazine cover story entitled “Is Truth Dead?” Each of these stories was in response to what has become almost a daily barrage of lies, lies about lies, fake news, and alternative facts, a whole new menagerie of that familiar American tradition of con artists.

          Why drag out such an obscure word from the black hole recesses of the academic closet in response to what is already a deeply disturbing, dizzying experience? Doesn’t seeing a word like “epistemology” just make us feel irritated, as if it is just making things worse? Aren’t we already being sucked down into the whirlpool of Washington without adding to the darkness.

          I happen to like the word “epistemology” though some friends keep asking, “Can’t you use another word?” I like the word because it refers specifically to knowledge about knowledge. It seems made to order to help us step back from the toxic deceit storm. An expansive use of the word seems to me essential in order to think our way out of the uncritical cheerleading for a “knowledge society,” an “information age;” Tsunamis of “Big Data” and “Artificial Intelligence” wonders are sweeping over us, promising to save us, or threatening to drown us. We need some word that will be big enough to respond to these storms, as well as the extreme political weather fronts swirling down from Washington.

          Our heady confidence in scientific knowledge, information, facts, and True truths about the universe has fed our belief that we are conquering nature. Now that belief is being shaken violently not only by the “Merchants of Doubt” but also by the spectacle of our two political parties accusing each other’s institutions of science, intelligence, media and journalism of trading in lies, lies, lies.

          Now we are forced to watch the playground spectacle of our Congressional House Intelligence Committee Chairman announcing his intention of building a literal wall to divide the seats of the two parties in the chamber where the members meet to hammer out decisions on behalf of the whole nation! It is not only the person occupying the office of President who is giving a bad name to “infants,” it is also the supposedly adult members occupying the second branch of government who are playing in the sandlot while the country is racing into the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

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Socialism from the Right

The Right’s celebration of the god of the Market and its Masters of the Universe promotes its own version of anti-democratic socialism

The “free market” label today is being used to promote a form of monopolistic anti-democratic socialism. It is anti-democratic because it is politically authoritarian in its use of the government to place more and more power into fewer and fewer hands. It is anti-democratic economically because the resulting extreme concentrations of power in market after market is limiting or even choking off competition in each of these sectors of the economy.

Luigi Zingales describes private firms “untrammeled by the need to compete” as “socialist islands in a free-market ocean.”[1] Zingales is a Professor at the Chicago Booth School of Business and Director of the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which “aims to promote and disseminate research on regulatory capture, crony capitalism, and the various distortions that special interest groups impose on capitalism,” according to its webpage.

Barry Lynn[2] is one of the most forthright in labeling the result of extreme concentrations of power “socialism.” He is also the clearest in spelling out how the resulting economies warrant the label. In each case the result comes closer to realizing planned economies in which the planners are those at the top of the pyramids of power. If there is “competition” between those pyramids of power it is the competition between so-called private but in fact political oligopolists, autocrats, capitalist empires. It is competition over who gets the spoils. In its most extreme form it is a competition of gangsters, what Matt Taibbi calls a “griftopia.”[3] It is decidedly not democratic market competition.

[1] Luigi Zingales, A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity, 2012, p. 43.

[2] Barry Lynn, Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, 2010.

[3] Matt Taibbi, Griftpoia: A Story of Bankers, Politicans, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, 2011.

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Despise not the day of small things

Naomi Klein has rightly said that confronting the climate crisis “not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.” (“The Change Within”). Bruno Latour’s latest book, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (2017), is a magnificent, path-breaking reconnaissance into the wilderness of that new way. It is no inspiration-of-the-moment magic bullet. Rather, it is the work of a scout who has been making forays into unknown terrain for over thirty years of single-minded, relentless labor at the grassroots-level as well as the highest levels of theory. The provisional, partial map of the wilderness drawn in Facing Gaia, based on the surveyor-detail sketches accumulating over the past decades, makes one of the most compelling cases I know for the kind of grassroots, experimental egalitarian organizing going on today. Latour’s work from the beginning has been a collaborative project on a heroic scale committed to reimagining democratic politics.

Posted by admin in Imagining, Reimagining Earth, 0 comments