I’m an alpha tester at Proofmedia.io, which is using market-based social epistemology to ferret out false news. I can’t say whether or not it works or not. The jury is still out as to whether the service is a success in helping correct the public record.
But what I find interesting and refreshing about the experience is that it has exposed me to the diverse lunacy of the human condition. So, e.g., a plausible post about Kanye having his Twitter account taken away from him turned out to be mere satire (contrary to my first-blush expectations). And a post that seemed implausible to me — of an overenthusiastic secularist Principal who mistakenly thought that schools were obliged to ban candy canes because their J-shape stands for Jesus — was verifiably true. (That is, it’s true that the Principal existed and banned candy canes because of an odd belief about their shape, and probably not true that candy canes really are shaped for that reason.)
Which is just to say that I’m skeptical of memes that tell me what to believe about what real people believe. Real token human beings believe all kinds of nonsense, and our meta-beliefs about what people believe turns out to be, sometimes, way off base.
The BBC reports here on research conducted on genocide. “Two research projects are attempting to predict the early rumblings of genocide and spread the information more widely so that world leaders and others might be able to stop it.” The contention is that there is a kind of etiology to genocide, a definite step-wise process, that can be monitored and noted. Especially interesting is that the precursors to genocide mostly involve the spread of information, leading to group polarization.
Considered as a method, philosophy involves the use of rational arguments in order to persuade people working in good faith of the reasonableness of certain passages of thought. Hence, medieval scholars used the term of ‘dialectics’ to refer to the art of logical disputation — contrasted with overly credulous appeals to textual sources (e.g., the scholasticism of the Church) or the use of rhetoric for the sake of persuasion without regard for its rational character (e.g., the sophistry of Gorgias). The medieval sense of dialectics makes pretty good sense of the argumentative practices of philosophy, be it Socratic dialogues and Aristotelian screeds, and is frequently articulated as the core deliverable in an education in critical thinking.
This article reminds us of the role of such critical dialogue in resolving disputes peacefully. It takes a lot of patience and searching in order to work, along with many of the agonizing costs of disputation. But history tells us that, in the long-term, the agonies of polarization are worse.
I hesitate to write about the academic job market. At the moment, I am in an especially precarious position; and, perhaps worse, I would be very embarrassed to write something that I later find is doused in sour grapes. I will say that it is a topic that requires a lot of patience, careful thought, and consideration of the changing “neo-liberalized” economy. It is easy to get wrong. But I thought this piece struck the right balance.