–Peter Pomerantsev, Soviet born journalist and author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia,” and more recently, “This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality,” joins David to discuss state propaganda, Russia, and much more. Get the book: https://amzn.to/2Cgr7As
Live by the shrill, die by the shrill, Jonah. I like Sullivan, and his writing has many virtues, but as I’m scarcely the first to note, the sense of doubt and fallibilism he’s now advocating as central to conservatism has not always been one of them. When he was a booster for this administration and the Iraq war, Andrew was (in print, if not in person) at least as willing to suppose that people who disagreed were moral dunces at best, a threat to civilization itself at worst. He hasn’t changed styles; he’s changed sides.
As for the main argument of the book, Goldberg has two main beefs. The first is that “evil is rarely defeated by people who are unsure they are right,” which Goldberg takes to mean that a “conservatism of doubt” will be too anemic to combat the enemies of liberal modernity: He mocks the idea of a “serious political movement” founded on the slogan “We’re not sure!” But I think this misapprehends one paradoxical aspect of the relationship between doubt and confidence. I know, for example, that science proceeds haltingly, that its conclusions are always open to revision, and indeed, that many of the scientific beliefs of the past have been either rejected or developed to accommodate new facts. And this is precisely why I can be so confident in the scientific enterprise in the aggregate: Because I know there are scores of intelligent and skeptical researchers constantly testing and refining its conclusions. I can be fanatical in my defense of liberal societies, not because (like Islamists) I’m sure they have discovered the One Best Way of Life, but because they embody a process that allows fallible people to seek continual improvement.
.. Moreover, recall that Hayek’s argument is meant to show why tradition’s evolved rules are likely to produce better results than a wholesale constructivist rationalism. But this argument actually depends on people making use of critical reason, which is quite different. In effect, Jonah wants to say: Look what cultural evolution has produced—great, freeze it! But evolution works because of mutation, variation, and selection, and it’s still going on. A tradition that can’t accommodate that kind of variation is unlikely to stay adaptive for long.
Every time someone talks about the stupidity of creationists, moon-hoaxers, and homeopaths, I cringe.
It’s not that moon-hoaxers, homeopaths et al aren’t dumb. They are. It’s not even that these people don’t do real harm. They do.
.. What annoys me about the people who harp on moon-hoaxing and homeopathy – without any interest in the rest of medicine or space history – is that it seems like an attempt to Other irrationality.
.. It is about realizing that you, yes you, might be wrong about the things that you’re most certain of, and nothing can save you except maybe extreme epistemic paranoia.
.. And someone who demands that you be open-minded about homeopathy would not be your friend. They would probably be a shill for homeopathy and best ignored.
But this is exactly the problem!
.. Inoculation is when you use a weak pathogen like cowpox to build immunity against a stronger pathogen like smallpox. The inoculation effect in psychology is when a person, upon being presented with several weak arguments against a proposition, becomes immune to stronger arguments against the same position.
The most consequential could involve the President’s understanding of the rule of law.
.. His most consequential questions for Trump might not be about Russian influence over American voters but about the power that the President of the United States believes he has to control, or to abrogate, the rule of law.
To that end, Mueller might ask Trump why he has, or has not, fired various people. He might start with James Comey,
.. Mueller also will likely ask Trump why he fired Michael Flynn, his first national-security adviser, and what assurances he might have given him at the time.
.. Flynn was already in legal jeopardy, because he had hidden his contacts with Russians and because his lobbying firm had taken money from Turkish interests without reporting it. Comey testified that Trump nonetheless asked him to go easy on Flynn
.. Does the President imagine that the job of the Attorney General is to protect the law, or to protect him?
.. They also reportedly spoke to Mike Pompeo, the head of the C.I.A., and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. All were apparently asked whether Trump pressured them in regard to the investigation. If Mueller has these men’s statements in hand, he can see if Trump’s answers match theirs.
.. The President might not care. He has said that he has an “absolute right” to control the Justice Department and “complete” pardon power. Speaking to reporters last week, he mocked his critics: “Did he fight back? . . . Ohhhh, it’s obstruction.” Often, for Trump, fighting back has meant just saying that everything is Hillary Clinton’s fault. Indeed, if Mueller gets Trump talking about Clinton, it will be hard to get him to stop
.. The memo was shared only with House members, and reportedly alleges that the Russia investigation is tainted at its core, because, in an application to surveil Carter Page, a Trump-campaign associate, the F.B.I. made use of a dossier that had been partly paid for by the Clinton campaign.
.. Sessions had tried to get Christopher Wray, the new F.B.I. director, to fire McCabe; Wray refused.
.. Trump’s strategy seems obvious: to create confusion, suspicion, deflection, doubt, and, above all, noise.
.. if he does sit down with Mueller’s team, once the first question is asked there will be an interval of silence that only the President can choose how to fill. Will he try to turn the interview against Mueller? If Trump thinks that Mueller can be scared off by the prospect of being fired