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10 thoughts on “The Death of Truth

  1. BlackOxford BlackOxford says:

    Being ReasonableEpistemology learning what it means to be reasonable has become fashionable once again With any luck this might prove to be Donald Trump’s most important achievement a backlash against the reality largely his of fake news Unfortunately The Death of Truth is yet fake news not a way to beat itMore formally epistemology is the study of how we know what we know of what constitutes a fact and logically therefore about what constitutes an anti fact that is a lie see here for some explanation of epistemology and its current problems It doesn’t take much epistemological analysis to determine that Trump lies or less continuously about everything he encounters events people issues decisions statements whether these are politically relevant or not These lies are endorsed and disseminated by tame media like Fox News and Breitbart which have their own commercial agenda This much is obviousBut what is much difficult to establish is the epistemological structure as it were of the human beings who hear these lies cheer them and act on them in the way they vote; their behaviour toward opponents and minorities; and in their expressed opinions about the rest of the world The presumption of a book like Kakutani’s is that these people have been duped and that by demonstrating that the motivation for their actions is a pack of lies the era of Trumpian mendacity can be checked Essentially lack of discriminatory power brought about by inadeuate education is Kakutani’s key issue Therefore better analytical education she believes is the solutionThis presumption and its purported solution is however in Kakutani’s own terms wrong The people who adhere to the Trumpian ideology know well that the President lies They know that Fox and Breitbart have their own interests in these lies They simply don’t care The fact that Trump lies has about as much political import to them as the barometric pressure or the population of an ant colony If photographic evidence shows that Trump’s inauguration had much smaller crowds than claimed if numerous women have prima facie valid claims for sexual harassment despite his denial if his closest advisors were obviously involved in relationships on his behalf with the Russians and nefarious others it does not matter at all to the folk who support him He has said this over and over again during his campaign and his presidency And his supporters cheer him and themselves when he says itTo observe therefore that Kakutani’s book is preaching to the choir is not a very profound insight But it does reveal the essential flaw in her epistemological analysis People all people have interests Interests are what defines the things which are not only important but the things which can be and will be seen heard recognised and generally allowed into one’s cognition Interests are also the motivating force for reason; it is they not some arbitrary logic like that proposed by Kakutani which defines the reasonable Kakutani like many before her tries desperately to separate what is factual from what is of interest; she aspires to be ‘objective’ in the way that facts and truth are established For her recognising interests is euivalent to the terrible heresy of “postmodernist relativism” She doesn’t uite know what she means when she uses this term but she’s sure it’s the reason Trump is in the White House and Putin is in the KremlinParadoxically one might think this abhorrence of relativism is shared with Kakutani by Trump’s evangelical and conservative ideological supporters They too want a firm epistemological foundation; and they believe they can get it by the articulation of one or basic doctrines the inerrancy of scripture the necessity for complete personal freedom the benefits of unlimited competition the non existence of something called society or any of a number of other ideological or religious premises This establishment of fundamental premises is the only path available toward absolute irrefutable non relative truth according to their way of thinking And they’re right that is the only way to be absolutely positively one hundred percent sure of what the truth is define it beforehand Otherwise one must simply muddle through with continuous nagging doubt an uncomfortable and one might say in our current culture an unmanly state of mindBut certainty and psychic ease come at a cost Obviously diverse premises lead to diverse versions of what constitutes the truth of facts of signal versus noise Evangelicals do not start with the same fundamental truths as economic neo liberals or radical nationalists For the moment at least the competing versions of truth are not as important in American politics as the principle on which they all agree Truth is fixed certain immutable eternal and necessary for personal and social well being This is the basis of the populist alliance which Trump has created so skilfully And Kakutani has decided that she will join it unwittingly using her own version of the truthIt may not be obvious but this principle of absolute truth is in fact a religious concept It is correlated with the explicitly Christian doctrinal idea of faith that is to say the firm ‘reasonable’ belief in eternal salvation Faith is an epistemological principle invented by Paul of Tarsus as the foundational principle of his new religion of Christianity This principle is arguably the most important contribution of Christianity to world culture It provides a rationale for calming the apparent chaos of the world around us by simply removing large chunks of reality from our perception If things don’t matter they will not be perceived If one is ‘tempted’ by distractions outside the realm of the doctrines of faith one is urged to intensify one’s faith Intense faith is what the various components of the Trump alliance and terrorists of all sorts share Trump’s lies are either irrelevant or they are contributing toward a greater good of which even he may be unaware according to Trumpists Arguing against such a state of mind has never had much success for obvious reasons the argument cannot be heard Kakutani’s use of the principle of faith to undermine faith is conseuently absurd So faith in absolute invariable truth is the poison which creates and not the antidote which cures fake news The only workable solution to the proliferation of fake news involves in the first instance the recognition of the interests represented by apparently unreasonable behaviour Lack of apparent reason in someone else is indistinguishable from an inability in oneself to appreciate alien purpose when it is confronted The idea of error is entirely dependent upon what one’s aims are Ultimately the effect of establishing the criteria of ‘objective’ truth is the exclusion of whole sets of human interests which then cannot be discussed politically In other words Kakutani’s solution is to intensify the problem we are experiencing at presentI don’t know what the purpose of Trump supporters is I suspect there are many one of which perhaps is merely to be heard This in itself could explain a great deal I nonetheless do find them annoying because they don’t appear to consider it their responsibility to go beyond their pervasive nihilism and articulate what they’re really after So there well could be an educational aspect to the situation because ostensibly unreasonable people may not have the ability to effectively articulate their reasons If so however education in being able to listen articulately especially among politicians may be the most important parallel pedagogical task Hearing the intentions of others particularly others we abhor is probably the most taxing political as well as social skill one can hope to develop It is nevertheless the foundation of all epistemology Kakutani has been listening to the wrong folkPostscript Several people have written privately to me expressing an important issue with my review What if they remark the purposes of some Trump supporters are morally unacceptable? Indeed I have no doubt that this is the case as it would be among any political group One of the most important aspects of any political system and the explicit purpose of the US party system is the marginalisation of extreme and generally unacceptable purposes The Trumpist alliance I have no doubt includes some perhaps many whom the vast majority of Americans would consider of uestionable integrity However unless one is willing to conclude that half the American eiectorate has become politically insane although a credible possibility the bulk of Trump voters are expressing political views which while not extreme or evil have not been incorporated into political discussion In fact it seems likely that the extremists have been attracted to the alliance of faith among disaffected voters and not the source of it This doesn’t reduce the culpability of faith as an epistemological principle but rather makes it urgent to make the conseuences of this principle clearPostscript 17Sept2018 an interesting piece putting some context on the epistemological problem of Trump


  2. Krista Krista says:

    As the former chief book critic of The New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michiko Kakutani has apparently spent the past three decades noting and commenting on the decline of “objective truth” in American literature and public life – and while she approves of this postmodern paradigm as it relates to art she has been horrified to watch as disestablishmentarianism has migrated from a necessary Leftist pushback against the military industrial complex to an alt right “drain the swamp” anti intellectualism which has found its apex in the current alternate facts fake news lies tweeting president uoting from sources as diverse as Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Donald Trump's own Think Big Kakutani's The Death of Truth is scholarly logical and angry Here's the thing For a book that decries polarisation and bipartisanship and the algorithms that ensure we only read news stories online that align with what we already believe there's nothing neutral about Kakutani's treatise; she is preaching to her choir and dismissing everyone else as “alt right trolls” and “dittoheads”; nothing here would be persuasive to anyone who believes that mainstream media has a liberal bias and especially since she spent her career at The New York Times which isn't to say that I fundamentally disagree with what she writes here This is a uick read divided into nine essays and I've decided to let Kakutani do most of the talking here in excerpts I selected as demonstrative of either her points or her tone Two notes I am a Canadian and have read this book only as an interested bystander And since I read an ARC it is probably particularly egregious that I have uoted such big chunks; these passages may not be in their final forms but they do reflect the book I readThe Decline and Fall of Reason Trump who launched his political career by shamelessly promoting birtherism and who has spoken approvingly of the conspiracy theorist and shock jock Alex Jones presided over an administration that became in its first year the very embodiment of anti Enlightenment principles repudiating the values of rationalism tolerance and empiricism in both its policies and its modus operandi – a reflection of the commander in chief's erratic impulsive decision making style based not on knowledge but on instinct whim and preconceived and often delusional notions of how the world operatesThe New Culture Wars Since the 1960s there has been a snowballing loss of faith in institutions and official narratives Some of this skepticism has been a necessary corrective – a rational response to the calamities of Vietnam and Ira to Watergate and the financial crisis of 2008 and to the cultural biases that had long infected everything from the teaching of history in elementary schools to the injustices of the justice system But the liberating democratization of information made possible by the internet not only spurred breathtaking innovation and entrepreneurship; it also led to a cascade of misinformation and relativism as evidenced by today's fake news epidemic “Moi” and the Rise of Subjectivity Writers as disparate as Louise Erdrich David Mitchell Don DeLillo Julian Barnes Chuck Palahniuk Gillian Flynn and Lauren Groff would play with devices like multiples points of view unreliable narrators and intertwining story lines pioneered decades ago by Faulkner Woolf Ford Madox Ford and Nabokov to try to capture the new Rashomon like reality in which subjectivity rules and in the infamous words of former president Bill Clinton truth “depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is”The Vanishing of Reality Renee DiResta who studies conspiracy theories on the web argues that Reddit can be a useful testing ground for bad actors – including foreign governments like Russia – to try out memes or fake stories to see how much traction they get DiResta warned in the spring of 2016 that the algorithms of social networks – which give people news that's popular and trending rather than accurate or important – are helping to promote conspiracy theories This sort of fringe content can both affect how people think and seep into public policy debates on matters like vaccines zoning laws and water fluoridationThe Co opting of Language Trump's incoherence his twisted syntax his reversals his insincerity his bad faith and his inflammatory bombast is both a mirror of the chaos he creates and thrives on and an essential instrument in his liar's tool kit His interviews off teleprompter speeches and tweets are a startling jumble of insults exclamations boasts digressions non seuiturs ualifications exhortations and innuendos – a bully's efforts to intimidate gaslight polarize and scapegoatFilters Silos and Tribes Because social media sites give us information that tends to confirm our view of the world people live in increasingly narrow content silos and correspondingly smaller walled gardens of thought It's a big reason why liberals and conservatives Democrats and Republicans find it harder and harder to agree on facts and why a shared sense of reality is becoming elusiveAttention Deficit While public trust in the media declined in the new millennium part of a growing mistrust of institutions and gatekeepers as well as a concerted effort by the right wing to discredit the mainstream press and people started getting their news through Facebook Twitter and other online sources by 2017 fully two thirds of Americans said they got at least some of their news through social media This reliance on family and friends and Facebook and Twitter for news however would feed the ravenous monster of fake news“The Firehose of Falsehood” The sheer volume of dezinformatsiya unleashed by the Russian fire hose system – much like the improvised but eually voluminous stream of lies scandals and shocks emitted by Trump his GOP enablers and media apparatchiks – tends to overwhelm and numb people while simultaneously defining deviancy down and normalizing the unacceptable Outrage gives way to outrage fatigue which gives way to the sort of cynicism and weariness that empowers those disseminating liesThe Schadenfreude of the Trolls Trump of course is a troll – both by temperament and by habit His tweets and offhand taunts are the very essence of trolling – the lies the scorn the invective the trash talk and the rabid non seuiturs of an angry aggrieved isolated and deeply self absorbed adolescent who lives in a self constructed bubble and gets the attention he craves from bashing his enemies and trailing clouds of outrage and dismay in his path Even as president he continues to troll individuals and institutions tweeting and retweeting insults fake news and treacherous innuendoDespite making comparisons between Trump's misinformation techniues and those of Hitler and Lenin Kakutani ends on a hopeful note; pointing out those citizens who are pushing back against threats of despotism and urging her readers to join in “It's essential that citizens defy the cynicism and resignation that autocrats and power hungry politicians depend upon to subvert resistance” American citizens must also protect the institutions that their founding fathers put in place to uphold democracy the checks and balances of a tripartite political system education and a free and independent press This is an angry book and while Kakutani laments the modern echo chamber of thought I can't see this making much of an impact with those outside her own silo Four stars is a rounding up


  3. Mark Mark says:

    I broke my rule about not reading books with Trump in the title for the ARC of this very solid extended essay by Michiko Kakutani I particularly liked the way she incorporated her extensive reading in fiction and non fiction to provide examples and commentary on today's politics and how we got here Also good footnotes provide a guide to further reading My big reservation is that the only people who are likely to read this book are very unlikely to learn anything new This can be read in one sitting unless it depresses you too much


  4. Gary Moreau Gary Moreau says:

    The truth is this If you like literature this is the best book you’ve read this year If you don’t like Trump this will be the best book you’ve read since he descended the gilded escalator And if you don’t like the tone of modern politics it is the best book you’ve read in a couple of decades It’s informative extremely well written and there is no personal mud slinging It’s a book about literature and will tell you about the politics of today and literature than any pundit could begin toThe underlying point of the book is that the attack on truth began in the 1960s with the emergence of postmodernism The author however does not just assert that truth as most contemporary politicians would She documents it; because to her the truth is still the truth and it’s still important And as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts” I actually had lunch at a private table for four with him one time but he sadly did not use that uote He did however talk about the outrageously high cost and lack of access to health insurance Circa 1990I am now a retiredinvoluntary gig economy resident of Michigan so I understand how Trump got elected His opponent was actually denied but that’s another story Not as in cheated but denied nonetheless What has amazed me ever since however is how stable his support appears to be Orwell whose 1984 I reread recently for context could not have imagined in his most creative moment the current disregard for truth and honesty There is nonetheless a logical explanation and this book provides it It won’t make you feel any better but it will make you feel a little less like you are wandering in the wildernessAnd as you would expect from such a renowned literary critic the writing is superb It definitely made me yearn for those Sunday mornings several decades ago when I would rush out to buy The New York Times a couple of croissants and my wife and I would spend the morning in bed reading I lived in New York at the time—sans children obviouslyAs one who truly enjoys the literary in literature and appreciates the value of words and one who lived in China for a decade and resides in a necessarily bilingual household my favorite line was “Precise words like facts mean little to Trump as interpreters who struggle to translate his grammatical anarchy can attest”A truly spectacular book that should be number one You will cringe at times laugh at others but end up with a much better understanding of why life in America feels so surreal at the momentThe book reminded me of the fact that during the entire time I was growing up my parents both veterans of World War II now deceased refused to tell any of their children which candidate they voted for I have no idea to this day if they were Democrats or Republicans That in their minds was personal a right to privacy they had both fought forLater in the 1960s I was a teenage boy not looking forward to receiving my draft notice and being shipped off to fight in the jungles of Vietnam I watched Walter Cronkite religiously to get the latest news And while it was never good he signed off each night “And that’s the way it is” Nobody bothers with that kind of truth any And that is a loss we all pay for


  5. Maria Espadinha Maria Espadinha says:

    DTT — A New Truth is Born 🎊 “Trump the forty fifth president of the United States lies so prolifically and with such velocity that The Washington Post calculated that he’d made 2140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office—an average of nearly 59 a day”According to MK bumping into the truth through the Age of Trump will be something like finding a needle in a gigantic haystack and check it out later just in case it’s a false one😉“The postmodernist argument that all truths are partial and a function of one’s perspective led to the related argument that there are many legitimate ways to understand or represent an event“Postmodernism didn’t cause Trump It explains him” Step aside old TruthMake way for a brand newborn Truth — DTT — Donald Trump’s trademark Truth 😉


  6. Meike Meike says:

    The Death of Truth the book is now available in GermanKakutani's book is like a long essay with features of an opinion piece than a thoroughly argued non fiction book The text's strength is clearly that the author the former chief book critic of The New York Times draws parallels between current phenomena and how writers like David Foster Wallace or Philip Roth commented on and described them thus she is highlighting how literature reflects and sometimes even shapes real life Especially for book lovers the fast paced chapters filled to the brim with interesting references and uotes are an interesting and easy read but that also brings us to the issue I had with the book It lacks some necessary depth This plays into the uestion whether Kakutani's arguments are valid as presented I agree with her basic assumptions and the premise that if facts become irrelevant a society is doomed She presents many examples taken from recent years but also the historical past namely from HitlerGoebbels and Stalin who also worked on the destruction of an intersubjective reality in order to wield limitless power without any moral accountability so while in Fascism A Warning Albright shies away from directly comparing Trump's methods to those of Hitler Kukatani does so What I found rather dubious though is the argument that postmodernism is a factor that helps to destroy the belief in truth and reality Sure people like Roland Barthes and Jacues Derrida did uestion how well language is able to capture meaning what role the author and the reader played in decoding messages etc but that never meant that you can just claim anything to be true or real To acknowledge that there are different sides to a story that there are limits to our ability to convey our inner worlds and thoughts in language does not mean that nothing matters any on the contrary It means that we have to be mindful of those dynamics and limitations in order to come closer to truth and reality Plus Stable meanings and eternal truths can be very dangerous to any discourseBut it's because some of Kakutani's arguments seemed a little dubious but certainly not stupid to me and made me think that I value this book This is the kind of text that you need to read and then discuss with others because there are tons of aspects mentioned that are worth contemplating And if there's one thing we lack at the moment it's people's willingness to truly think about other people's positions instead of remaining comfortable in one's own personal truths


  7. Kusaimamekirai Kusaimamekirai says:

    I have a very close friend who is highly intelligent and whose opinion I value I had mentioned to him something about the basketball player Kyrie Irving and his uote that having flown around the world multiple times as an NBA player he believes the earth is flat I was incredulous that a highly educated man such as Irving who attended Duke University could believe this My friend however had a slightly different view on it “Well we live in a post truth world now You and I may believe that the earth is round but it is his experience and belief that it isn’t” This idea of “post truth” is at the heart of Michiko Kakutani’s book where she lays out a well reasoned case that rather than living in information bubbles we are actually living in information silos Where once access to demonstrably false information put out by a handful of at best unhinged at worst manipulative people was somewhat contained it now spreads like wildfires and finds its way into custom tailored newsfeeds Dissenting opinions or any that may challenge or worldview are noticeably absent as nothing motivates clicks than fear or outrage Whether that fear or outrage has any legitimacy or not is inconseuential to as my friend alluded how it makes you feel Or succinctly if I feel its true it is Kakutani spends a large part of this book tracing the roots of deconstructionism and how it has brought us to this moment in time where objective truth seems to be devalued Rather than trying to fight established and scientifically verifiable facts one can now just prevaricate and do so with such speed and volume that a kind of fatigue to fight these lies creeps in that Kakutani describes as “Choose your metaphor muddying the waters throwing chum to the sharks cranking up the fog machine flinging gorilla dust in the public’s eyes it’s a tactic designed to create adrenal fatigue and news exhaustion a strategy perfectly designed for our ADD information overloaded age ‘this twittering world’ in T S Eliot’s words where people can be ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’ ” It is to be sure a frightening age we are entering One where as Kakutani suggests artificial intelligence and other technological advances may lead to a day where video and audio can be so deftly altered as to the point where we will be unable to trust our own eyes Before that day however we as human beings still possess the ability to filter information if we choose to step out of our silos and choose to verify what we hear rather than let fatigue and exhaustion choose for us The uestion raised by this book is will we?


  8. Kyle Kyle says:

    Simply put this is essential reading if you want to understand at least in part the political chaos caused by technology and perpetuated by those who harness its power for authoritarian purposes


  9. Marks54 Marks54 says:

    “The Death of Truth” is a short book that reads like a long essay The author Michiko Kakutani is a well known literary critic and former chief book review editor of the New York Times She is or should be a legend to anyone interested in reading good books and being highly and critically discerning about the books that one reads It is not necessary to agree with all that she writes although that may well happen It is difficult to be a discerning reader and not pay attention to what she thinks about a bookThe book is concerned with the assaults that have come to characterize the Trump Administration ranging from the theatre surrounding the Press Secretaries that have worked for the President to the Twitter Feed of the President to the various public falsehoods that regularly issue in Washington DC and are catalogued by the press to the emotional and often than not baseless and hyperbolic attacks that issue from the President towards those with whom he disagrees We all know about this and Kakutani is highly critical of the evolving norms that seem to focus on making claims and other statements that do not seem intended to be subjected to standards of truth or falsity what Harry Frankfurt analyzes in his book “On Bullshit”Kakutani’s book is interesting not for new points that she raises Indeed if one follows the mainstream press and is concerned about these issues he or she will feel right at home The perspective she adopts is also clear Kakutani is deeply critical of the attack on truth and sees it as a threat to American democracy She provides a rich context for these developments showing that they have been around in American literary life for uite some time She goes into some detail on deconstruction as practiced by Derrida Foucault and others and how the parlor games of left intellectuals have been adopted intensified and put to practical use weaponized conservative extremists I had noticed this too before reading this book but am reassured by her analysisAn interesting focus on part of the book is on the rebirth in interest in dystopian fiction especially of a political variant since the 2016 election For example Orwell has seldom sold copies especially 1984 and Animal Farm She also brings up the renewed interest and relevance of Huxley’s Brave New World which is a very different view of how civilization ends in tyranny than that of Orwell By juxtaposing Orwell and Huxley Kakutani hints at ways in which the current assault on truth and reason may differ from prior attacks I hope she develops these ideas further


  10. Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin says:

    Very deep reading of the current crisis which has roots that go back pretty far to elements of 20th century movements like postmodernism and the totalitarian movements from the 1930s Postmodernism and Nihilism were the tools to pry apart institutions and the idea of the truth and replace it with a nihilistic will to power that is at the center of the far right which holds the reigns of government in the US The carefully written philosophical piece puts together the trends from the sixties of uestioning the truth and objectivity and the raising of a subjective relativism as a tool for the far right that since the nineties has served it well in amassing power and capturing a large enough part of the public to follow it wherever it goes When there is no truth or facts beyond dispute then the biggest megaphone wins Perfect for oligarchical nihilists in Russia and the US to sacrifice truth in pursuit of power It is a return of the climate of the thirties in Germany and Russia where radicals in pursuit of power and total destruction of their perceived enemies seized control and brought about tyrannies in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that now are returning in new forms in the present moment in Russia Europe India and America The destruction this nihilism wrought in WWII nearly destroyed the future This time we might not get off so easy


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The Death of Truth A stirring and incisive manifesto on America's slide away from truth and reason Over the last three decades Michiko Kakutani has been thinking and writing about the demise of objective truth in popular culture academia and contemporary politics In The Death of Truth she connects the dots to reveal the slow march of untruth up to our present moment when Red State and Blue State America have little common ground proven science is once up for debate and all opinions are held to be eually valid And often than not rudely declared online The wisdom of the crowd has diminished the power of research and expertise and we are each left clinging to the facts that best confirm our biasesWith wit erudition and remarkable insight Kakutani offers a provocative diagnosis of our current condition and presents a path forward for our truth challenged times

  • Hardcover
  • 208 pages
  • The Death of Truth
  • Michiko Kakutani
  • English
  • 09 August 2014
  • 9780525574828

About the Author: Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani is a Pulitzer Prize winning literary critic and the former chief book critic of The New York Times