Saturday, March 2, 2019

William Davies

William Davies is the author of Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason. From his interview with The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner:

About that conflicted public realm: you start one chapter of the book talking about President Trump and the crowd size at his inauguration, and you use this as an example of our contested reality. But is this a contested reality? Or is it a reality that everyone agrees on but one group of people is lying about? I would assume that if you gave everyone in the Trump Administration truth serum, they would all acknowledge that Trump’s crowd size was smaller than Obama’s. I think that a lot of Trump supporters enjoy the fact that Trump says his crowd size was bigger than Obama’s, but if you gave them truth serum, they would also acknowledge that it wasn’t. Let’s say I’m right about this. It seems to me that we’re not, then, arguing over reality.

In that sort of thought experiment, I probably don’t disagree. What I found very fascinating about the whole issue was that the park service no longer offered official estimates of the crowd size. There was no official data on this, and this is because they didn’t want to become embroiled in the controversy over the Million Man March. But crowds, in general, are things that lack very simple measurement devices. So, our ability to resolve these arguments doesn’t work in quite the same way. I’m not disputing that Trump’s crowd wasn’t much smaller than Obama’s.

I know you’re not. But is there actually a dispute about the crowd size? Or is everyone actually in agreement, but one side is just lying and doesn’t care and is doing it for their own end?

That may be true. But then the question is: Why are they doing that? What they’re doing is attacking the very idea that there might be a neutral basis for resolving political disputes. That’s more my point: they’re trying to undermine the possibility of that kind of political argument proceeding in a rational way. I think to understand the mentality of the nationalists, or the populists, there has to be some appreciation of the fact that there is hostility toward the very institutions that might potentially resolve disputes in some sort of consensual way.

I think what they want to do is to damage the very instrument through which we settle disputes at all. I mean, obviously, in online spaces, that is troll culture. It’s a way of seeing what are otherwise civil, perhaps quite heated, but ultimately quite neutrally comprehensible disputes and making it impossible for those arguments to even take place in any kind of reasonable way by saying that black is white, which is a bit like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue