The Post-Fact Era

“Oh, tell me who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else?” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.” -Brendan Francis

I feel a need to write something on the era of irrationalism that we now face. As a public educator, I knew that there were a lot of people that were generally not rational- countless religious rebuttals against my scientific explanation of the universe and constant questions about rumors circulating on the internet like that of an asteroid about to hit earth were common when I educated the public. But I liked to think that most people were not irrational and that with an increasingly technological and google-able world of infinite knowledge at our fingertips, that I didn’t have to worry about the rationalism of the world. But it seems that optimism had wronged me.

I thought that teaching science was teaching individuals how to be rational-thinking citizens. Now I know that you can’t truly teach an individual anything- especially not rationalism. I cannot teach a student not to believe the rumors on the internet or to not blindly accept their parent’s religious beliefs or any belief or claim for that matter. And that is why there are still fundamentalist Christian astrophysicists. Rationalism can only come from within. How we can foster that I truly do not know.

In my limited political understanding, the electoral college system was put in place to prevent Americans from electing 50 Cent as president (actually 50 Cent as president would be way better), in other words, to save us from a fundamentally irrationally governed society. Likewise, government exists because the mass populace “mob” cannot be trusted to know what is the right thing to do, so we need educated, wise, informed, elected officials to make decisions for us. Now the people governing the nation are less educated and less informed and less wise than a large percentage of it’s citizens. It’s like a reversal of government! We now live in an era where democracy and politics do not exist, and instead, chaos, confusion, and non-fact, irrational discussion abound. Horrifyingly, we have a large chunk of the populace that is ok with being racist, anti-environment, and anti-woman. We see now that America is fundamentally irrational- middle class people, fighting against elitism, thought that a billionaire elitist (with no experience in government or in helping people) would help them. And so now, the unhinged leader of the western world can say or tweet anything and call it a fact. Welcome to the Post-Fact Era.

The problem for me is that it was already so hard interviewing for all-male companies and being the only female in the room and constantly facing being ignored, discredited, humiliated, and treated with inferiority. And now it is harder and will continue to be harder. It is clear that the “white walkers” voted so that they would have permission to treat people with the cruelty of racism and sexism. Now people have permission to treat women with as much sexism as they want because the president, the role-model of the country, proudly classifies women as mere objects.

A great discussion of this election with mostly non-bias is on The Partially Examined Life:

Many people voted for Trump because they think doing so supports the idea that anyone can be anything in America. Anyone can rise to the top. Anyone can be president. You don’t have to work hard in a particular field or go to Harvard. But it’s not true. Anyone cannot be anything. Rising to the top of anything has a lot to do with timing, with luck, with connections, and of course with money. And thus, while many individuals are skilled and talented and hard working, luck, timing, connections, and money aren’t going to align for all of those individuals. However, it seems clear now that money is all that’s needed to rise to the top because the president of the United States simply bought his presidency. “The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realise in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalised capitalism” (Pankaj Mishra). We don’t just live in a capitalist society, we live in a market society- everything is for sale. (And if you don’t think so, well, if you spend your free time on social media, social media sold your free time for billions of dollars and you didn’t even get paid). And if everything is for sale, then there will never be equality. There are too many people and too few opportunities and too much of society driven by dollar and only dollar for equality to exist. We want liberty, equality, and prosperity, but we cannot because we are imprisoned by money and leaders and political motives. Capitalism can only give a delusion of an equality just out of grasp. And so now the ideals of modern democracy are shattered because democracy is shattered- millions of votes truly didn’t count. But what is truly disheartening is that a woman who spent 70 years working towards her dream, who not only had the experience and skill but also had the connections, luck, timing, and money, somehow fell short of realizing her dream. In the wake of that, how can any of us possibly believe in working hard to achieve our own dreams? And so, the “American dream” -work hard and you can achieve anything (if it ever truly existed)- is gone.

Moreover, Americans voted for Trump because they see him as an ideal version of the successful American- go to school for as short as possible and get a job making as much money as possible. Or else cheat “the system” as much as possible so you can make as much money as possible. Trump cheated the system by saying the most obnoxious, inconsiderate, and stupid things you could possibly say so that he could get as much attention as possible. Now all of us know how to “get ahead” – say or do the dumbest thing you can possibly think of and everyone will talk about you and suddenly you’re the ruler of the world. And that is indeed how many people get ahead, by doing stupid things and getting attention and consequently a lot of money for doing said stupidities. And thus, a market society half built on sheer stupidity. American values revolve solely around dollar signs and Trump epitomizes those values. We can only hope that maybe, maybe, this state of the nation and this leader will make people re-consider their values and see that someone who has lived solely for materialism is not an ideal person. If so, maybe it could be a turning point for America and we will realize that we need to change our values.

Alas, the “search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed” and “we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces.” And of course,  “enlightenment humanism and rationalism can no longer adequately explain the world we’re living in.” The world is far too complex and too bureaucratic for the average, half-educated person to know what he wants or what is good for him or his world. The individual, especially a wild card like Trump, “is a deeply unstable entity, constantly shaped and reshaped in its interplay with shifting social and cultural conditions.” As is discussed in the following article:

The nation has failed because we have not sought enlightenment as Fyodor Dostoevsky said. If we haven’t sought wisdom, then we cannot possibly begin to understand what is good for us or our world. America, a nation symbolized by fast-food, Hollywood, and consumerism, certainly has not sought wisdom. And that is why I believe we are now here in the Post-Fact Era. We are so confused by the world -and by what choices we need to make and what presidents we should elect- because we haven’t ever attempted to understand it. If we could somehow create a society based more on wisdom than capitalism, then I think that would be a movement towards true equality and prosperity.