Krista Tippet: The Moral World in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now

she says, if you can’t have that inner dialogue, then you can’t speak and act with others either because it’s part of — if you’re already divided in yourself because you’re having this conversation with yourself, and that’s the passion of your being, people who can do that can actually then move on to having conversations with other people and then judging with other people. And what she called “the banality of evil” was the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.

.. And one of the first things she pointed out is that what was exposed by the refugee crisis of the last century was how so-called human rights were actually political and national rights. So you were only — you only had as many rights as were guarded by the country in which you happened to be born.

Once that country decided to decitizenize you, once it decided that you were no longer a citizen, once it decided that it had no more responsibilities towards you, you were rightless. She said very famously, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.”

MS. TIPPETT: And that is where we are, and it’s interesting — interesting in a terrible way — I think that with globalization, which is not necessarily a word she would have used or predicted — but with globalization, there was this assumption, which actually didn’t rest on a very sophisticated examination of the human condition — but there was this assumption that we would just grow out of that, right?


MS. TIPPETT: But what she understood, because she was looking at the human condition, and taking that seriously, is that, as you say, that “dark background,” that this would become a crisis again.

.. But she says globalization is about the accumulation of capital. It’s expansion for expansion’s sake. It will not produce more equality. It will produce more inequality, hence the background of difference. So trying to work for a worldliness that’s genuinely worldly, as against a worldliness, which is actually about accumulation and expansion for expansion’s sake, which will increase the divides between people.


.. here’s her essay “Lying in Politics.” She says that “factual truths,” here’s that. “Factual truths are never compellingly true. The historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life. It is always in danger of being perforated by single lies, or torn to shreds. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy domain of human affairs. From this it follows that no factual statement can ever be beyond doubt.” Take us inside that and what that means for us now.

MS. STONEBRIDGE: For Arendt, I think why the idea of thinking and speaking as a form of action are important to her is that what she’s saying there is, you can throw enough facts, you can throw all the facts you like at people, and they will not stick. We had this, in the U.K., and I know you have, too, that it’s — “OK, against the false news we’ll have fact-finding, and we’ll tell you.

And we’ll have a team of researchers, and you just have to look on our website, and we’ll tell you which of those are lies.” And you can scream facts at people until you’re blue in the face, and a lot of colleagues and universities and journalists have been doing exactly that very hard, working tirelessly. And it’s not making any difference. And I think what she’s talking about there is the ability through thinking and communal discourse, to make truth meaningful in the world, it has to happen between people. Which is not saying we just make up our own reality. She’s not saying that. It means that this is why…

MS. TIPPETT: When she says testimony, it needs…


MS. TIPPETT: It needs experience. It needs human experience around it.

MS. STONEBRIDGE: Yeah. And so I think she — that was why testimony was important to her. It’s why history and the sense of a myth were all important to her because it’s what makes truth meaningful to people together in a community. If you want a culture that’s going to take on fake news, and the political lie, I say as someone who teaches literature and history, what you need is a culture of the arts and humanity. What you need is more storytelling. What you need is more discourse. What you need is more imagination. What you need is more creation in that way, and more of a sense of what it is that ties us to those words and ties us to those stories.

Liberals are terrible at arguing with conservatives. Here’s how they can get better.

Josh Barro wrote at Business Insiderback in October; likewise, Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum more recently wondered: “Why do Republicans tell such obvious lies?”

A common, though apparently ineffective, response to this frustration is to double down by discussing more facts.

.. When arguing about politics, it is often helpful to construct the best possible version of your opponent’s reasoning

  • .. Much normative (or value-based) reasoning by liberals (and mainstream economists) is about the consequences of political actions for the welfare of individuals. Statements about the desirability of policies are based on trading off the consequences for different individuals.
  • .. Meanwhile, much conservative normative reasoning is about procedures rather than consequences. For example, as long as property rights and free exchange are guaranteed, the outcome is deemed just by definition, regardless of the consequences.
    • .. People are “deserving” of whatever the market provides them with.

.. As an example of how these value differences might matter more than facts, consider the example of bequest taxes, labeled “estate taxes” by liberals and “death taxes” by conservatives.

.. Our conservative likely believes that everyone has the right to keep the fruits of her labor, and free contracts of exchange between any two parties are nobody else’s business. She will consider someone who has worked hard their whole life, has been frugal and saved their income rather than indulging in consumption

.. Exasperated, the liberal empiricist then bemoans the post-factual state of contemporary political discourse.

  1. .. A first option is to accept the conservative value framework, but focus on children instead of parents. Consider a child born to rich parents who has never worked hard but indulged in gratuitous consumption in the expectation of receiving a rich inheritance. Such a person is not “deserving” in terms of the ethics of rewarding work; to not reward such immoral behavior, we need to tax bequests.
  2. .. A second option is to explicitly argue for a liberal value framework.
  3. .. A third option is to challenge the conservative value framework. In a modern society based on a complex division of labor, nobody can be said to consume only the products of their own labor. We rely on social institutions including markets and governments to provide us with all the goods we consume, and absent a theory of just prices (which present day conservatives don’t have) there is no sense in which we are entitled to specific terms of exchange.

Wanna Know What Donald Trump Is Really Thinking? Read Maggie Haberman

The New York Times reporter may be the greatest political reporter working today.

 .. Trump wants what she can give him access to—a kind of status he’s always craved in a newspaper that, she says, “holds an enormously large place in his imagination.” Haberman, for her part, has become a front-page fixture and a Fourth Estate folk hero. “This is a symbiotic relationship,” says an administration official. “Part of the reason” Haberman is so read in the Times “is because she is writing about Donald Trump.”
.. Haberman’s father, Clyde, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, and her mother, Nancy, is a publicity powerhouse at Rubenstein—a communications firm founded by Howard Rubenstein, whose famous spinning prowess Trump availed himself of during various of his divorce and business contretemps. (Nancy worked on projects for Trump’s business but says she never met him.)
.. Haberman had her first byline in 1980, when she was seven years old, writing for the Daily News kids’ page about a meeting she had with then-mayor Ed Koch.
.. In those days, the future president was a fixture in Page Six, the Post‘s gossip column. In the midst of his second divorce, from Marla Maples, Trump was a maestro of controlling his tabloid image, calling in tidbits about himself.
.. The quick-hit rhythm that Trump and Haberman were both fine-tuning teed them up perfectly for today’s Twitter-paced news environment. “Maggie’s whole career has been about grabbing people by the lapels,” Burns says. She believes in the power of breaking incremental news—not holding every-thing back for a long read. She’s “wickedly competitive,
.. At first Thrush didn’t like her, mistaking her voraciousness for shtick. “My enduring image of her is, she’s standing outside the [press] van, she has a cigarette already lit in one hand, she’s lighting a second one because she’s forgotten that she has the first one lit, right? And she’s got a BlackBerry and a flip phone going at the same time. And I’m like, This is total bullshit, this is not a real person, nobody is this way,” Thrush recalls. Over time, however, as Haberman did not get beat, did not get beat, he realized she was for real.
.. In hindsight, Haberman was building a reservoir of knowledge and contacts that would make her probably the best-sourced reporter of the 2016 campaign. Significantly, she was accumulating sources who were close to Trump, who knew when he was angry and what he watched on TV and how he could only sleep well in his own bed. Her expertise wasn’t just Trump—it was the Trump psyche.

.. Haberman jumped to Politico in 2010, where she covered him full-bore for the first time; he was then flirting with the idea of joining the 2012 Republican primary and beginning to spread the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Three years later, she moved to the Times as it beefed up its political staff in advance of the 2016 campaign. By the time Trump formally announced his candidacy in June 2015 and Haberman was assigned to his campaign, she’d been reporting on him for a decade.

.. Whereas most of the country knows Trump foremost as a reality-TV star from his time on The Apprentice, Haberman remembers that he was a New York institution before he became a national figure. “The Triborough and Empire State view of Trump is very different from the national view of Trump,” she points out. “His whole thing has always been to be accepted among the New York elites, whom he sort of preemptively sneers at—that thing that people do when they are not really sure if they will be completely validated, where they push away people whose approval they are seeking.

.. “You’re going to bring this up every time, aren’t you?” she says she told him. He “kind of chuckled” and replied, “It’s like therapy.”

.. Haberman is growing weary of the DC establishment’s seeming inability to metabolize the president’s personality. “There has been a very protracted shocked stage in Washington, and I think people have to move past that. Because otherwise you’re just never going to be able to cover him,” she says. “Every moment cannot be, ‘Wow! Can you believe what he just did?’ Yes, I can! Because he is the same person he was during the campaign.”

Her measured stance infuriates Trump’s detractors, who harangue her on Twitter for “normalizing” the president. But it gives her added credibility when she argues, as she did when Trump fired Comey, that one of Trump’s aberrant moves is a big deal.

.. “What is amazing is capacity of people who watched the campaign to be surprised by what they are seeing. Trump is 70. Ppl don’t change.”

.. Just as he didn’t back down after being accused of sexual assault, she says he is unlikely to walk away from this fight or resign. “I do not think he is enjoying the job particularly, and that is based on reporting,” she says. “But I also know he can’t allow himself to ever quit.”

.. they see Trump’s presidency more as a “national mayoralty…it’s got that scale, it has that informality,” Thrush says. “And it’s not just any mayoralty; it’s a late-’80s, early ’90s New York mayoralty.” Adds Haberman, “Some Ed Koch. A lot of Rudy Giuliani.”

.. One communications staffer after another told me that they appreciate the fact that she never blindsides them. “Maggie doesn’t camouflage. She’s perfectly willing to walk like a redcoat into the middle of the field and let everyone know she’s there because she’s going to get [her story],”

.. She never hedges her angle to try to protect her access, only to give politicians an unwelcome surprise when they read the story in the morning—a practice some journalists follow that Haberman calls “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. They’re going to lose [their access] anyway,” she says. “What do they think—that it’s going in a secret newspaper?”

.. she doesn’t keep an actual calendar, not on paper, not on her phone; it’s all in her head.

.. Friends and colleagues say this is her standard operating procedure. “She is literally always doing four things,” says her friend and former New York Post colleague Annie Karni. Haberman once said in an interview that she talked to 50 people a day. Not true, says Risa Heller, a spokesperson for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner: “She speaks to 100 people a day.” One colleague says she didn’t realize there was a limit to how many Gchats you could have going at one time until she saw Haberman hit the maximum.

.. ‘Oh, did Maggie just tell you that?’ Because she was literally talking to 16 people within our campaign at the same time.”

.. She almost never turns her phone off. “She’s got it with her at all times,” says her husband, Dareh Gregorian. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, pick up her phone and start working.

.. “Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington. She was the dominant Trump reporter on the campaign, and she didn’t travel with him. She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,”

.. Greenfield introduced Haberman by saying that he couldn’t remember a reporter having established a relationship with a president quite like hers with Trump

.. Lyndon Johnson gave preference to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Walter Lippmann, and Lippmann had once gone so far as to secretly write part of a speech for Johnson—and then write a story praising the speech.

.. Kellyanne Conway defended Haberman last April in an interview, calling her “a very hard-working, honest journalist who happens to be a very good person.” Hicks echoed Conway, e-mailing me a few days later that Haberman was “a true professional.”

.. Haberman has reached the point in her career where sources are now chasing her, instead of the other way around—lying to her risks banishment and access to her news-promulgating prowess. “If you’re going to come at her,” says a Democratic operative, “you’ve got to come correct.”

.. “This is a president who is always selling. When I speak to him, it’s because he’s trying to sell me,” Haberman tells the audience at the 92nd Street Y.

.. “When we as a culture can’t agree on a simple, basic fact set—that is very scary. That [Trump] is unconcerned by that, I think, is the big issue,”

.. But effective salesmanship must be based in credibility—an area in which his administration has suffered significant set-backs in recent days.

The Problem With Facts

Just before Christmas 1953, the bosses of America’s leading tobacco companies met John Hill, the founder and chief executive of one of America’s leading public relations firms, Hill & Knowlton. Despite the impressive surroundings — the Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park in New York — the mood was one of crisis.

Scientists were publishing solid evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. From the viewpoint of Big Tobacco, more worrying was that the world’s most read publication, The Reader’s Digest, had already reported on this evidence in a 1952 article, “Cancer by the Carton”. The journalist Alistair Cooke, writing in 1954, predicted that the publication of the next big scientific study into smoking and cancer might finish off the industry.

.. So successful was Big Tobacco in postponing that day of reckoning that their tactics have been widely imitated ever since. They have also inspired a thriving corner of academia exploring how the trick was achieved.

.. In 1995, Robert Proctor, a historian at Stanford University who has studied the tobacco case closely, coined the word “agnotology”. This is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced ..

.. In the UK’s EU referendum, the Leave side pushed the false claim that the UK sent £350m a week to the EU. It is hard to think of a previous example in modern western politics of a campaign leading with a transparent untruth, maintaining it when refuted by independent experts, and going on to triumph anyway.

.. The instinctive reaction from those of us who still care about the truth — journalists, academics and many ordinary citizens — has been to double down on the facts.

.. The link between cigarettes and cancer was supported by the world’s leading medical scientists and, in 1964, the US surgeon general himself. The story was covered by well-trained journalists committed to the values of objectivity. Yet the tobacco lobbyists ran rings round them.

  1. First, the industry appeared to engage, promising high-quality research into the issue. The public were assured that the best people were on the case.
  2. .. The second stage was to complicate the question and sow doubt: lung cancer might have any number of causes, after all.  And wasn’t lung cancer, not cigarettes, what really mattered?
  3. .. Stage three was to undermine serious research and expertise. Autopsy reports would be dismissed as anecdotal, epidemiological work as merely statistical, and animal studies as irrelevant.
  4. Finally came normalisation: the industry would point out that the tobacco-cancer story was stale news. Couldn’t journalists find something new and interesting to say?

.. “It’s as if the president’s team were using the tobacco industry’s playbook,” says Jon Christensen

.. One infamous internal memo from the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, typed up in the summer of 1969, sets out the thinking very clearly: “Doubt is our product.” Why? Because doubt “is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” Big Tobacco’s mantra: keep the controversy alive.

Doubt is usually not hard to produce, and facts alone aren’t enough to dispel it.

.. a simple untruth can beat off a complicated set of facts simply by being easier to understand and remember.

.. When doubt prevails, people will often end up believing whatever sticks in the mind

.. The account mentioned petrol cans and paint but later explained that petrol and paint hadn’t been present at the scene after all. The experimental subjects, tested on their comprehension, recalled that paint wasn’t actually there. But when asked to explain facts about the fire (“why so much smoke?”), they would mention the paint. Lacking an alternative explanation, they fell back on a claim they had already acknowledged was wrong

.. This should warn us not to let lie-and-rebuttal take over the news cycle. Several studies have shown that repeating a false claim, even in the context of debunking that claim, can make it stick.

.. The myth, after all, was the thing that kept being repeated. In trying to dispel the falsehood, the endless rebuttals simply make the enchantment stronger.

.. This sort of fact-checking article is invaluable to a fellow journalist who needs the issues set out and hyperlinked. But for an ordinary voter, the likely message would be: “You can’t trust politicians but we do seem to send a lot of money to the EU.”

.. he wished the bus had displayed a more defensible figure, such as £240m. But Lilico now acknowledges that the false claim was the more effective one. “In cynical campaigning terms, the use of the £350m figure was perfect,” he says. “It created a trap that Remain campaigners kept insisting on jumping into again and again and again.”

.. The false claim was vastly more powerful than a true one would have been, not because it was bigger, but because everybody kept talking about it.

.. The researchers began with data from 1.2 million internet users but ended up examining only 50,000. Why? Because only 4 per cent of the sample read enough serious news to be worth including in such a study. (The hurdle was 10 articles and two opinion pieces over three months.)

.. known as the “50 cent army”, after the amount contributors were alleged to be paid per post

.. “Almost none of the Chinese government’s 50c party posts engage in debate or argument of any kind . . . they seem to avoid controversial issues entirely . . . the strategic objective of the regime is to distract and redirect public attention.”

.. simply pick a fight with Megyn Kelly, The New York Times or even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Isn’t that more eye-catching than a discussion of healthcare reform?

.. “The tobacco industry was the leading funder of research into genetics, viruses, immunology, air pollution,” says Proctor. Almost anything, in short, except tobacco.

.. Proctor considers its main purpose was to produce interesting new speculative science.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease may be rare, but it was exciting news. Smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease aren’t news at all.

.. Proctor describes it as “the opposite of terrorism: trivialism”. Terrorism provokes a huge media reaction; smoking does not. Yet, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, smoking kills 480,000 Americans a year. This is more than 50 deaths an hour. Terrorists have rarely managed to kill that many Americans in an entire year. But the terrorists succeed in grabbing the headlines; the trivialists succeed in avoiding them.

.. the truth can feel threatening, and threatening people tends to backfire.

.. But parents who were already wary of vaccines were actually less likely to say they’d vaccinate their children after being exposed to the facts — despite apparently believing those facts.

.. “People accept the corrective information but then resist in other ways,” says Reifler. A person who feels anxious about vaccination will subconsciously push back by summoning to mind all the other reasons why they feel vaccination is a bad idea. The fear of autism might recede, but all the other fears are stronger than before.

.. Reifler’s research suggests that you’ll accept the narrow fact that Turkey is not about to join the EU. But you’ll also summon to mind all sorts of other anxieties: immigration, loss of control, the proximity of Turkey to Syria’s war and to Isis, terrorism and so on. The original lie has been disproved, yet its seductive magic lingers.

.. Practical reasoning is often less about figuring out what’s true, and more about staying in the right tribe.

.. The Dartmouth students tended to overlook Dartmouth fouls but were quick to pick up on the sins of the Princeton players. The Princeton students had the opposite inclination. They concluded that, despite being shown the same footage, the Dartmouth and Princeton students didn’t really see the same events. Each student had his own perception, closely shaped by his tribal loyalties. The title of the research paper was “They Saw a Game”.

.. Some students were told it was a protest by gay-rights protesters outside an army recruitment office against the military’s (then) policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Others were told that it was an anti-abortion protest in front of an abortion clinic.

.. Liberal students were relaxed about the behaviour of people they thought were gay-rights protesters but worried about what the pro-life protesters were doing; conservative students took the opposite view.

.. When we reach the conclusion that we want to reach, we’re engaging in “motivated reasoning”. Motivated reasoning was a powerful ally of the tobacco industry.

.. If you’re addicted to a product, and many scientists tell you it’s deadly, but the tobacco lobby tells you that more research is needed, what would you like to believe?

.. the industry often got a sympathetic hearing in the press because many journalists were smokers. These journalists desperately wanted to believe their habit was benign, making them ideal messengers for the industry.

.. “Groups with opposing values often become more polarised, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information.”

.. scientific literacy can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science

.. the role not of scientific literacy but of scientific curiosity.

.. “politically motivated reasoning . . . appears to be negated by science curiosity”. Scientifically literate people, remember, were more likely to be polarised in their answers to politically charged scientific questions. But scientifically curious people were not.

.. Curiosity brought people together in a way that mere facts did not. The researchers muse that curious people have an extra reason to seek out the facts: “To experience the pleasure of contemplating surprising insights into how the world works.”

.. Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.

.. What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science

.. One candidate would have been Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling, who died in February