Popular Thinking in Political Life

The American Dream After COVID-19

This piece is featured in the August 2020 edition of ORIGINS: Current Events in Historical Perspective, and can be read in its original format here.

The COVID crisis is prodding a rethink of the American Dream—but actually, it has always been about more than acquisition of more material goods. The dream for ever-more goods has been a driver of so many ills, including class and racial inequalities, eroding nature’s health, and temptations to use military force. It’s not time to say goodbye to the American Dream: Keep the dream of opportunity, but now with less extra baggage.

Continue reading
Standard
Popular Thinking in Political Life

Waking From the Dream of Total Victory in the Contests for Public Truth

This essay first appeared in Civil American, Volume 3, Article 1 (January 19, 2018), https://www.philosophersinamerica.com/2018/01/19/waking-from-the-dream-of-total-victory/

Can academics support the democratic struggle not just to critique fake news, but also to engage the public in the stories that make those false facts appealing?

The Oxford English Dictionary named “Post-Truth” its Word of the Year for 2016.  The dictionary cites “appeals to emotion or personal belief,” which have gained more influence than “objective facts … in shaping public opinion.”  The sober scholars of the OED spotlighted this word not to glorify this way of thinking, but to call attention to a disturbing trend.  In 2005, Stephen Colbert had already identified “truthiness” as the posture of public figures who “feel the truth” even in the face of contrasting facts and reasons.  The particular items of recent history are new, such as the claim that Democrats have been managing a ring of pedophiles out of the Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria in Washington, DC, but fabricated news has always been the exaggerating cousin of political spin.  The multiplication of media outlets appealing to diverse clusters of people has made it particularly difficult to sort out corrupted truths from authentic stories.

Continue reading

Standard
Popular Thinking in Political Life

What We Can Learn from Fake News

An earlier version of this article appeared in History News Network, July 23, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166400 , and in The Huffington Post, July 25, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-we-can-learn-from-fake-news_us_597764e7e4b0940189700cd0

FakeNews

Fake news has both producers and consumers. While it is important to make corrections, the political problem is not the untruths themselves, but the capacity for the fakery to seem likely. For that, it is important to check in on the consumers of fake news to figure out how the untruths appeal. What made them likely stories? Mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories and the reasons people believe them.

False facts provide clues about the stories that make the fakery seem true.

Continue reading
Standard
Popular Thinking in Political Life

Mining for professional experience and for various political answers

April 2005

I testified at Stetson’s Model Senate in favor of defusing land mines before a panel of role-playing student “Senators.” They grilled me with questions about ways to reduce innocent destruction and about ways to assert power. At Model Senate, students get the feel of wrestling with real political choices. And the experience was a reminder that, with the current fear of terrorism, there have been no recent bills to support dismantling these deadly instruments of past wars.

On Saturday, March 19, I took a day trip to the nation’s Capital—actually I was only there an hour, and I never really left town. I testified at a Model Senate hearing, and for a few moments, it felt a little like being in Washington.

Stetson’s Model Senate was initially formed in 1970, and is still going strong today as the oldest collegiate-level model senate in the country. For more on Paul Croce’s experience there, click here!

Standard
Popular Thinking in Political Life

Why do we bother voting at all?

October 2003

Citizens receive mixed message about voting. The civic message is about the special right to have a voice about public decisions. The more subtle message whispers, Why bother? The most powerful seem to have their way. The sway of power and money in elections only works if we let them. Each individual vote may not count for much, but if voters make their own choices, rather than letting political handlers trip wire them into serving the interests of the powerful. Add those choices up, and then your vote counts.

What is so important about our civic duty? Read on here.  

Standard