In the previous full-length episode, we read Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch. We liked that book so much that we decided to read his latest that covers much the same topics but updated to apply to today's issues. But could Rauch exceed the high bar set by Kindly Inquisitors? Listen and find out.
Get the book on Amazon here.
Note: These transcripts are provided as-is for convenience. They're quite low-fidelity. We'll be working to bring you better transcripts in the future.
All right. We are back with another episode of fresh lens podcast. How's it going, Trish? It's
**Trish**: going well. How are you?
**Hirad**: I am very well. We're just getting back into the swing of things and excited to do another full episode on a book we've been reading for some time. It's kind of took a little bit longer than we expected.
**Trish**: It's funny. I was reading some of the, sorry, I guess I'm actually getting ahead of myself cause we haven't even introduced the book yet.
**Hirad**: I think the listeners will have gotten a little bit of a sneak peek from the last episode.
**Trish**: They may have also just noticed the title, the constitution of knowledge by Jonathan.
No, I was just, my joke was going to be, I read one book review and the author of that said, “I feel like I deserve some college credits after finishing this book”. And I have to say that that's pretty apt.
**Hirad**: Yeah. Yeah. That's definitely true. I think there's a lot of value here. So we read Kindly Inquisitors last and we liked it so much that we were like, okay, the same author has another book coming out.
This kind of, it's newer more about our modern context. Can't wait to get into that and see what it's all about. So that's why we were initially before we did Kindly Inquisitors, we weren't planning on reading constitution of knowledge, but we just like that one so much that we had to jump into this.
**Trish**: Yes. And so here we are two months later.
**Hirad**: It kind of turns out that they're very similar for us.
**Trish**: Yes. To me, he basically rewrote, Kindly Inquisitors, which I don't blame him for, because it's very relevant. But having just come off the heels of Kindly Inquisitors it was repetitive.
**Hirad**: Yeah. Yeah. So there are some key distinctions. I think he kind of changed some of the wording around, but for anyone who hasn't listened to the previous episode that we did on Kindly Inquisitors, I think that would be helpful to kind of set the stage for this one.
Usually I guess each time we do an episode, it's kind of a standalone book, but in this case, because these two books are so similar, I guess we are going to kind of give a brief overview of this one, but just focus on the things that make this one different from Kindly Inquisitors.
So Kindly Inquisitors laid the groundwork for understanding the rules that govern the liberal epistemic order. And if you remember from the previous episode, those two rules were no personal authority and no final say. And in that book, you use the term liberal science to differentiate it from the hard sciences and include fields like journalism intelligence, and some parts of jurisprudence.
But as he says in the book and by the way, the author is Jonathan Rauch, for anyone who doesn't remember. As he says in that book and in this new book, he felt that there was another element that needs to be emphasized. And that's one thing that is the focus of the Constitution of Knowledge is that this liberal science only comes about as a function of a network and a community.
It has to have this social element. It's not an individual effort and it's a social element that is mediated and regulated with institutions that regulate interactions and enforce norms. So in this book, he's kind of changed the term “liberal science” with “the reality-based community”, bit of a mouthful. I think “liberal science” was probably better, more straightforward.
But he really wants to emphasize that community aspect. And I guess let's talk about the title a little bit. So the reason why the book is called The Constitution of Knowledge is because, because of this emphasis on institutions he's kind of been thinking, okay, those institutions are somewhat hard to see.
And he's thinking, how else can we understand these, how these institutions work by analogy and the analogy that this book uses is the United States constitution. And so it kind of relies on that metaphor a lot. He does admit in the book, he's probably stretched a little too far.
But that's kind of where the title comes from. It's meant to say this is kind of the rules by which we regulate knowledge
**Trish**: making the rules and the values that sort of underpin that system.
**Hirad**: Yep. So to give the briefest overview cause I think much of this was well covered and and Kindly Inquisitors the gist of it is that.
You know truth is tribal. We don't just believe things that are factually true. We believe things that bind us to our society and our community and that's where a lot of our cognitive biases come from. We are very good at lying to ourselves. There's all kinds of psychological experiments that show this.
And we do all of this out of a sense of self-interest. So he starts off talking about Hobbes and and how, and the way he saw the human nature is that we're constantly in conflict with each other over various interests that we have between individuals and between tribes. And so there's always this risk of us kind of descending into chaos and getting into creed wars.
And so the constitution of knowledge provides a way out of that Hobbesian nightmare. So that the way that the history of this has panned out is the last time we had some kind of a major disruption in our information technology was the printing press. And that event ended up leading to major religious wars that raged across Europe for many decades led to many deaths.
And they basically were inconclusive at the end of that. Nothing happened. Everyone was still having their disagreements, but there were all these body bags. I guess they didn't have bags back. Then there are all these graves that had gotten filled and no one was any closer to settling these religious disputes.
And so what if a lot of philosophers starting with one of the biggest ones being John Stuart Mill. What'd they started doing, was coming up with a framework where we can push aside the things that we cannot collectively agree on and only focus on things that we can collectively agree on.
So there are certain metrics that define what those things are. So we settled disagreement by focusing on propositions that are checkable and adjudicable. And we believe in fallibilism. So this idea that we can always be wrong, the conversation's never settled and it just kind of keeps going.
And if you have things that you think that kind of fall outside of this framework, that's fine. But this framework kind of dictates what you can call knowledge versus belief like inside of this framework we can all kind of collectively work together outside of this framework. Everything is kind of individual.
You have your views. I have mine and we don't have a framework with which we can disagree. So if the disagreement really boils over outside of beating each other over the heads with clubs which is kind of historically the way we've settled conflict we don't really have a good way of doing that.
And The Constitution of Knowledge gives us an alternative, within the boundaries that it sets.
**Trish**: yes. So basically, just to summarize kind of what you said is: throughout human history. We didn't really have a good framework for peacefully dealing with conflicts of belief or knowledge-making. And so Rauch, he's showing us like the imperative of this peaceful system where we can have kind of a marketplace of ideas and try and ascertain what is truth and what is knowledge in a peaceful way.
**Hirad**: Yeah. And so far, all of this is kind of along the same lines of what we talked about in Kindly Inquisitors, right? So we have these claims that anybody can check because there's no personal authority. Nobody is, kind of anointed the Pope and the only person who can opine on what is a fact on a particular topic.
And we can kind of verify… and there's no, there's no final say. So any, any particular claim, so anything that we take to be true is true only insofar as it has withstood attempts to refute it. Right. And so think it's, this is one of the things I think people it's very unintuitive for people.
When we say something is for example, scientifically true, it only means that our attempts to show that as false have all failed so far. That's all we can say. We can't say anything more conclusive than that. And that's kind of also why there's no final say because it's, it's an ongoing process that the same things that we take to be true today, may be refuted tomorrow.
And this does happen in science all the time where like Newton's laws are a famous example. Like we took Newton’s laws to be true until we found that they were actually false under, under certain circumstances. Right. And we still use them under the circumstances. We know they're true. Right. But now their truth is like more conditional, I guess.
So the element that is really different here is the fact that all of this stuff is not… this is not an individual pursuit, right. You and I can't individually go out and Produce knowledge, because by definition, we need a community of people who can kind of keep each other in check and the conflict among those people that are kind of participating in the reality based communities, the way that knowledge gets produced.
So then to talk about the parallels with the us constitution as well. The US constitution similarly has these different parties that it has established. So you've got political parties and you've got these institutions of the legislature to executive and the judicial branches, and they're kind of keeping each other in check, right?
There's that tension going on between these, and there is a constitution that's been written on paper, but critically that's not the only constitution that counts. And in numerous places, Rausch talks about the Federalist papers that the founding fathers wrote.
And in that they kind of repeat that if this Republic is to fail, it will fail because its citizenry, don't have the virtues of essentially being republican citizens. And what that means is the constitution isn't worth the paper it's written on, unless its values are essentially imprinted on hearts and minds of the people who are participating in this society.
And what Rauch is trying to get at is this is exactly the parallel in to the system that we use for producing knowledge. So we have all these participants in a field such as journalism, science, jurisprudence, some branches of government like intelligence, and they are kind of always in tension with each other.
They're kind of checking each other. And so on top of that, there's a system that regulates all of their interactions, and what's also important is in all of these fields, the individual actors must submit themselves to these systems that are regulating the interactions.
We can't have rogue actors around. And if the vast majority of them stopped playing by the rules, then The Constitution of Knowledge isn't worth the paper it’s written on.
**Trish**: Right. So it's basically just the rules that we all agreed to play by.
**Hirad**: Yeah. And some of those rules are fallibilism – this belief that you can at all points be wrong, objectivity, disconfirmation – so looking for things that may disprove the thing that you want to prove because that is also kind of keeping yourself in check is part of it, civility, pluralism, and institutionalism. These are all kinds of some of the values that in all these branches.
So he names these four areas, which is hard sciences, journalism, jurisprudence, and some elements of government. They all kind of have these in common and that's the system they all need to stick to. And so the, the kind of shared commitments that they all need to have is a general acceptance of the reality-based epistemic rules and the institutions that uphold them, general consent to public decision making systems, which are reality-based, enough public trust in reality-based community to legitimize privileging its epistemic standing, and enough public respect for the constitution of knowledges underlying values to support norms, like freedom of expression, intellectual pluralism, commitment to learning and respect for factuality and truthfulness.
**Trish**: May I interject and add, ask a question and point of clarification? So he uses the term “reality” a lot, and I just do feel like something this is worth sort of making sure that we're clear on what he means and how… And how he uses that because you get that like reality-based community a lot too. And I actually think that he was a little vague on this point.
He seems to think that, so the background here, then this gets like a little bit philosophical and I'm no philosopher, so you can just bear with me. But this was one of the things that I believe we talked about this in the Kindly Inquisitors episode, that for a long time, philosophers struggled with how do you know what is objective reality? Can we know, because our senses are very limited and science just continues to confirm this by, you know, like there's a lot of psychology even in like what you see and what your brain focuses on and what you notice and what you don't. So there's always been there's, there's always been a disconnect between what our senses perceive and what is actually out there.
And the question is, how do we know what actually objective reality is? Yeah, I guess it's like, we can't necessarily trust our senses and we can't, we have a hard time knowing what objective reality is. So the closest you can get is by checking with other people. And if that's also what they think, so it's inherently social, you have to have other people sort of making the same observations and claims and that's kind of how you get closer to reality.
**Hirad**: Yeah. Yeah. I think so he kind of, this is, my takeaway from, it was what he calls knowledge basically, or like kind of what our map of reality is a set of propositions that have been validated in some way. And that way is liberal science, which is open-ended, depersonalized, checking by an error-seeking social network.
And yeah, I think that's kind of like outside of the philosophical thing, that's kind of like how he defined it.
**Trish**: Yeah. And I think that part of my problem that I have with this is with him calling sort of knowledge and stuff reality-based community was because in Kindly Inquisitors, knowledge and truth was something that we were always homing in on, but could never arrive at.
We were just slowly learning more things that were untrue. And that kind of brings us closer where he kind of makes reality-based community seem like they found it. And that to me feels like it's not the right. It's not the right tone. It's not the right sort of philosophical stance to be having, if you want to always claim to be fallible.
**Hirad**: Yeah. I think you're hinting at something very important, which I'm sure we'll come back to when we reflect on the book. Yeah. Well, I'll just keep going with the summary. I mean, this is, I think that's a key we just want to keep that in mind. I think, yeah, you're right.
The, the Kindly Inquisitors was very much focused on this idea of we never arrive. And in this book it seemed like the tone was much more in the sense of if it comes out of this community. It's real.
**Trish**: Yeah. And I did get ahead of ourselves a little bit, so we'll just, we'll, we'll finish up the book and then summarizing the book and then get to our…
So then, then there are, so then he took on, it talks about the fact that our current digital technologies have, or digital media, have effectively disrupted this the constitution of knowledge, they have disrupted the mechanism by which we produce knowledge. And interestingly, he paints this picture in the book of knowledge being kind of like a machine where data essentially comes into it from all sorts of places, all kinds of individuals.
And then those institutions that act as the regulators, they call them like the filters and pumps. They kind of start discarding the garbage and they start kind of by checking and double-checking and verifying, they kind of started like things kind of all the raw data that comes in, essentially drips down to like this stilt knowledge.
Right. That's those are the things that we can know, a set of true propositions. And he's saying that, he calls digital media disinformation technologies. And he's saying that they have disrupted the way that this machine works and interesting that, we alluded to this earlier, the historical precedence of this is the printing press.
So before the printing press more or less, at least in Europe you had the Catholic church, they kind of had as far as like religious and moral truth went they kind of had the monopoly on that everywhere. Most people, at least in the west yet most people didn't know how to even read the Bible. So they couldn't even interpret the the Bible for themselves.
**Trish**: Oh even if you could read, it was only allowed to be in Latin. So.
**Hirad**: Right. And so the printing press when it came out, it led to a whole bunch of things like the protestant reformation. And and also one of the one really interesting anecdote that he talks about here is, I wouldn't be able to pronounce this properly, but in, in 1480 there was a document published called Malleus Maleficarum, and this was a treatise on witchcraft.
And I, from my understanding kind of reading the Wikipedia page on this, is this kind of established all of the modern notions that we have about witches. And like what they do, how they're evil, why they're mostly women like this was all kind of, this was the thing that made it popular. And this thing spread because of the printing press, and it was actually contrary to establish Catholic doctrine at the time.
But they couldn't put the genie back in the bottle. And the, the influence of this book over a long period of time was that tens of thousands of people were burned at the stake, because that was one of the things that it was it was promoting was was for every prosecutor to kind of take things into his own hand and essentially find and prosecute, which is, and I had a whole protocol for how to torture them enough to get a confession out of them, but then also make sure that the confession wasn't just because of the torture, it was quite elaborate.
So that I thought that was interesting. So that was an example of misinformation being kind of spread by the last disruption in communication technology, which is a printing press. And it's kind of interesting to call that disinformation, right? Cause it's only this information relative to what was information back then and information would have been the Catholic doctrine of no, that's not how witchcraft works.
**Trish**: I mean, Hirad, they could have all been witches!
**Hirad**: They might have! A lot of people say they really could have been witches. And okay, so then we've got to kind of proceed through history. He kind of points out that for a long time, journalism was actually a bit of a cesspool and journalists in the United States were mostly just obsessed with catching eyeballs, and getting more eyeballs than their competitors at some other newspaper. And at some point they started getting professionalized and things like the Pulitzer prize came in, the standards for journalism were set, and that kind of led to a kind of news journalism and professional journalism, the way we know it today, or we used to know it (hint, hint), to be what it is.
And he's saying that digital media is reversing that system, this system, that these institutions are built around instead of slowing down to only produce a valid information, it's spreading up a spread with no checks. And it's also feeding us things like outrage addiction. So do you remember the Justine Sacco story?
Okay. So for listeners this was one of the early canaries in the coal mine of what the internet was about to do to us. I believe that year was either 2012 or 2013. And there, it was this white woman who was about to take a trip to Africa and she posted a joke on Twitter, reading the, reading the quote straight from a 2013 screenshots. This is from December 20th, 2013: “going to Africa. Hope I don't get aids. Just kidding. I’m white.” So she tweets this. And initially I think at this point she had like, what couple of tens, or maybe in the low hundreds followers.
But somebody, I think it was a journalist decided to amplify this and kind of talk about this, this tasteful joke. And this joke started going viral on Twitter and this hashtag started this, this, the joke was going viral on Twitter while she was on her way to Africa.
**Trish**: And it wasn't the joke going viral.
The outrage at the joke, the joke was going viral.
**Hirad**: right. And. W as, so obviously she's not responding to this because she's on a plane.
**Trish**: turned it on airplane mode, boarded her plane and that’s that.
**Hirad**: Yeah. And we had a hashtag trending on Twitter saying, #hasjustinelandedyet.
**Trish**: And the hashtag was because while this had all happened in the space of a few hours, she'd been fired from her job.
And her company had tweeted that. So that's why it was all just like gleeful anticipation of like, has Justine landed and seen that her entire life has fallen apart.
**Hirad**: Yep. And so the, the point of this was the way that the, the discourse on digital media happens, it's outrage is addictive and it's also socially binding.
So nobody was really concerned about. It doesn't really make sense for anyone to be concerned about this flipping joke. Right. But the people who are kind of amplifying this, they're doing two things. They're a kind of bonding with each other over essentially objectifying and trashing another person.
And they're also kind of moral grandstanding. So they're kind of showing how virtuous they are without actually taking any concrete steps to show it. But there's just kind of paying lip service. Right?
**Trish**: What did you think of the joke?
**Hirad**: It was a joke. I don't really find it funny. I don't think there's any, I can see the there's a talented comedian could make a joke like that and it could land. I just find this joke. I don't know. It's not, it's not the greatest joke.
**Trish**: That's not a great joke, but I gotta, like, I like, cause it's like it's hitting on something true, which is right. It's like kind of how a lot of, you know, North America like treats the developing world. And to me, it's like, I actually like to think that there is like edit other is something there, there is like a funny, like pointed comment that is maybe not like the best delivery, but I actually think it's something like kind of subversive and funny about it.
So if anyone had, have stopped to think for eight seconds, they would have picked up on that.
**Hirad**: Yeah. And that's a thing that a point that Rauch is making is that stopping to think about the point wasn't actually the point, the point was kind of bonding over shitting on her. Right. And so as these, as this digital media kind of feeds us, this outrage addiction, this is also kind of a habit forming emotion.
So the more we kind of do it, the more we want to do it And the other thing is it kind of fractures are reality. So instead of forcing us into one place to come up with one reality where we're kind of, I'm looking at what you're seeing and you're looking at what I'm seeing, and we're kind of checking each other and coming to a consensus, digital media, essentially fractures us into a billion, private realities, and we get individual views and it's hard to make sense of what we collectively see.
So it kind of breaks that social element of the constitution of knowledge. So he kind of summarizes this new media that we're using and rewards emotion over dispassionate, promotes ad hominems, replaces reputational accountability with anonymity, elevates amateurism and celebrity over professionalism. And so rash starts arguing that we need to have better designs for the systems so that they promote truth more.
So he kind of points to Wikipedia as a glimpse of the alternative. And they've kind of, they have a little bit of a constitutional knowledge within themselves. There's this whole process of how articles get edited. And there's this whole army of people, editors that are kind of constantly updating things and changing things and making sure that everything adheres to Wikipedia codes, right.
So what are some of the ways in which he's proposing that we tweak these digital medias? There may be boundaries for user uploaded content.
There may be when maybe tweaking degrees of anonymity. We may draw clear lines between outspokenness and harassment. And we may want to rethink our the value of section 230, which is this a subsection of a law and communications law in the us, that basically shield s media company from content that their users have uploaded.
And in this section, and he kind of says that Facebook is more than just a platform. It's a community, it's a business, it's a publisher. And it has responsibilities as such and as a publisher, they package content for the audience that it sells ads to. And so these three functions kind of require regulation, ?
And so he also points out that in Europe, a lot of countries have introduced legislation forcing social media companies to regulate content.
But admittedly, this is a very tricky thing to do. So for example, the German minister who introduced such legislation in that country had his own tweets removed by Twitter as a consequence of his own laws. So we don't exactly know how this is going to go because it's just, it's, it's a hard problem.
And then he says we're kind of we're going in that direction. Web 3.0 is basically taking the websites of web 2.0 and tilting them towards truth. And
one of the ways that this he kind of talks about the history of these fact-checking institutions and there are kind of more getting involved in social media. You, you, you may have seen over the last year that more and more posts on Facebook and Twitter will get flagged for like failing some fact checking or ...yeah.
If it's on a topic that the fact checkers have said something about, and you may get those alerts I'll have to inject one little critique of this is that he actually misdefines the meaning of web 3.0, I dunno if he doesn't know, like the web 3.0, has a different meaning in some other context, but if you're in tech web 3.0, does not mean taking web 2.0 websites and tilting it towards truth, that's actually a different thing, but not the most important thing.
So he's kind of saying that we are going in the direction of adapting our digital media for being more truth oriented and last thing I'll say on this is that he, I mean, we kind of know this by, you know, just having, having lived in society for the last year and a half or two years, especially if you pay attention to tech. It used to be that up until about, I think it would be 2020 the common stance by the tech industry on this question was that we're not responsible for this.
And. You know, Mark Zuckerberg, I think did everything he could to not be kind of the not end up being the arbiter of truth. And, and what Rauch is kind of saying, and celebrating in the book is that they're no longer eschewing this responsibility for the content and their tone is changing. And they're kind of taking on more and more of this like verification responsibility.
So that's kind of like the summary of where we were in terms of our capacity to produce knowledge and how digital media has been breaking down our institutions. And then the next two big topics in the book are talking about troll epistemology. So this This attitude of essentially not caring for truth at all, being a little bit nihilistic and just posting crap for the lulz more or less to use internet lingo.
**Trish:** It annoys me that he uses the phrase epistemic nihilism. Cause I don't really feel like it's about not caring what's true. It's about like aggravating your opponent.
**Hirad:** I think, I think probably there is an element of both both to it. I think one thing is like, if you just really don't trust anything then you kind of have an epistemic nihilism
**Trish:** that like that to me, like trolls, I think that a lot of people have this feeling of not knowing who to trust or what to trust that would maybe be a little bit of epistemic nihilism, but it feels to me like trolling would be like, literally trying to trigger.
Yeah. Or aggravate or enrage or provoke something.
So on troll epistemology. So Rauch says that we live in a state of epistemic nihilism and that breeds trolling, and he cites a 2020 study that found almost a fourth of Americans either agreed with or were neutral about the statement "I think society should be burned to the ground" and 40%, likewise, did not reject the statement "when I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking, 'just let them all burn'". So in this kind of nihilistic environment people kind of delight in triggering their opponents rather than have intelligent discussions and to kind of back this up, he quotes some people like Dinesh D'Souza Talk about how much they enjoy just triggering liberals.
We've all heard this phrase "own the libs" as something that has kind of caught on and the right wing online communities. So it's definitely something that's there. And it's a tendency where you don't really care about if what you're saying is true or not, you're not really engaged in a good faith discussion anymore.
All it is is like, can you get some kind of an emotional reaction from your opponents? And at the same time there are these there's all this disinformation campaigns going on, where Russia is involved. So this is basically, if you imagine trolling is kind of what some individuals who self-organized do this information campaigns are more organized.
They might look like trolling, but they're kind of more organized by a central figure. He cites one campaign that convinced the Texas governor, that a military exercise might be Obama's plan to round up political dissidents. And these campaigns kind of erode the liberal epistemic order. The authority of evidence erodes and emotion kind of fills the vacuum and he coats Hannah, Aaron saying ideal subject of totalitarianism is someone for whom distinction between fact and fiction no longer exists.
And this is kind of a tactic that Putin has mastered even within Russia. It used to be that many past totalitarian governments, they would kind of have these propaganda campaigns to kind of rara the population, rally them behind behind the government. They don't really try to rally them behind the government anymore.
What they try to do, is they put out so much garbage out there and so many conspiracy theories and layers and layers of them that people don't actually know what to believe anymore. And it just neutralizes them and just don't do anything. They become inert. And that's really all the government needs because they already have the upper hand and kind of having power anyway.
**Trish:** Demoralized and disillusioned.
**Hirad:** Exactly. So he kind of calls Trump the most superior troll and that he had a very questionable relationship with the truth. His lies were kind of a pretty obviously out there, but they were not intended to persuade. But to show that he had such Supreme authority, that the truth absolute just did not matter at all.
And what I just said about kind of this tactic that Putin uses at home is also something that Steve Bannon talks about. He kind of said "flood the zone with shit," and that was his response to disrupting the narrative of like the liberal media. So people essentially just can't really believe anything anymore.
Rauch blames conservative media for much of this troll epistemology.
Rush Limbaugh was famously the first conservative commentator to attack the reality-based community by calling the four corners of deceit, which were government, academia, science, and media. He calls him an information warlord who attacked the constitution of knowledge by saying only our side counts.
He names other conservative media figures like Matt Walsh who attacked journalism saying things like "screw journalism, the whole thing's a fraud anyway". Or Matthew Boyle who says journalistic integrity is dead. There's no such thing anymore. So everything is about weaponizing information.
So he makes this distinction between conservative media and mainstream media where conservative media is bias-confirming mainstream media is bias disconfirming. Now to be totally fair to Rausch, he does say that this is not a perfect black and white picture, that there is bias confirmation on the mainstream media side and bias disconfirmation on the conservative media side.
But he's kind of saying that liberals tend to consume far more varied sources, things like MSNBC, CNN, NPR, New York times, whereas conservatives kind of cluster around Fox and kind of, they're more monolithic, I guess, in their information consumption and They both these two groups, they both gonna read misinformation, but the proportion is much higher among conservatives.
And they're far more likely to believe conspiracy theories such as this, again, this book came out in early 20 21. One of the examples of this conspiracy theories that people tend to believe is that the coronavirus was deliberately created in a lab according to Rauch. And Trump didn't really help the situation here.
He kind of accelerated it. He had this rhetoric that showed that essentially what Rauch called an epistemic succession. So we don't have to be part of the same reality community anymore. We're just kinda going our own way. And as long as people agree with us, that's all that matters. And it's a bit cult-like when nothing can dissuade them.
And. To kind of something to sum all of this up, Rauch kind of acknowledges that a lot of this behavior and this epistemic nihilism that we see on the right is kind of stemming from being left behind by society.
And the next big threat is...
**Trish:** cancel culture! Canceling despotism of the few. So he kind of starts up this chapter by talking a little bit about good old favorite friend of the podcast, John Stuart Mill on his work his very important work, On Liberty. And in one of these chapters in On Liberty, he had three important arguments that kind of fit together nicely. And the first is that again, I kind of feel like we're sounding like a broken record here, but it's important that we must always hold in our mind the possibility that we could be wrong. Is the first thing. The second is that it is rarely true that in a debate between two sides, that one side is totally right, and the other side is totally wrong. Usually the truth is going to be some mix of the two, or you at least need both sides to get a clearer picture of what the whole story is.
And the third argument is that the process of debate is important in and of itself if only to avoid dogmatism and intellectual laziness. So we really need all three of these things to be happening at once. But cancel culture, basically eradicates all these. And is designed to be actively hostile to diversity of opinions.
And I'm going to quote Rauch here because he puts it really well. , "objectivity improves then as a function of viewpoint, multiplicity and diversity and diminishes as a function of viewpoint, monopoly and homogeneity". So it's basically censorship replacing the attitude of "what can I learn from this" to, "how do I get rid of this?" And so people will sort of argue though that they have a right to feel safe and that a lot of these ideas are really threatening to them and make them very uncomfortable. But this is a really murky problem because what does it even mean? Like what is a reasonable amount of discomfort that we should think is acceptable? Is feeling unsafe the same as actually being unsafe?
Is there a reasonable response to this? Even the word traumatic has seemingly shifted to all sorts of things are trauma inducing now, and Rauch gives one really good example of some students at Harvard being traumatized by a law professor who had represented Harvey Weinstein. So the students demanded that he be removed from his position of Dean at a residential house, just by, I guess, virtue of having defended this horrible person.
So Rauch lists a bunch of problems with cancel culture. They're all really, really good guys. Just read the book. I'm only going to get into a couple of them that I thought were worth highlighting, which is so they all kind of are, you know, revolving around this idea of emotional safetyism and why it's problematic.
And one problem is that emotional safetyism rewards overreacting. So it, you almost get more social cachet and more attention, the more upset something makes you. It trivializes physical violence. When it says that words are the same as violence.
I think that anyone who's suffered actual physical violence would feel like that is sort of denigrating that experience. It's very politicized. So, and it patronizes minorities, it undermines pluralism. So there's a lot of problems here.
**Hirad:** So I'm really tempted. Anytime someone says "words are violence", I invite them to come and meet me and I will give them words that hurt and a punch in the face.
And then they can kind of verify very empirically whether that statement is true or not,
**Trish:** I know.It's Almost incredible that we have to like, debate this still, but...
**Hirad:** well, actually, so one of the things that has happened more recently is not just that words are violence. It's actually silence is also violence.
So, but we can, we can move on. Actually, I'll, I'll also interject there's I think a really interesting kind of sequence of. I would call it logical steps here, if you so th this whole idea that words can be violent is, he lays out the background of how this started, this, this called the words that wound doctrine.
Right. And he kind of gives a background of where they came from. It was more around equal employment opportunity trying to like not creating a hostile environment for people so that they can be, you know, equal employed. That was the initial aim. But it has completely backfired and it has had these unforeseen consequences.
So the logic seems to go, there are some words- that there's legislation that acknowledges that words can be hurtful. And what's
the next step.
**Trish:** Like everyone knows words are hurtful.
**Hirad:** Yeah. I mean, yeah, but we just don't acknowledge it in that a legislative kind of way, because we kind of have a free speech society, but but so words can be hurtful.
Therefore words can cause injury. Therefore, upsetting speech is assault, therefore assault against minorities is a hate crime. And we're, if we're entitled to safety from physical violence, we're entitled to safety from verbal violence. So this is kind of the the steps that it has taken to kind of get us from a bad assumption to essentially an absurd end point.
**Trish:** Right? Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
And it's well, I mean, like we talked about and kindly inquisitors it's that humanitarian thing is like, you don't want people to say hurtful things to people. And so you start to go along with it, not realizing that it's just going to spiral.
**Trish:** So the expression of emotional safety ism through canceling is not fundamentally about the ideas of the people they're targeting.
It's about virtue signaling and bonding with your group. So making a big public show of defending some sacred value, against some perceived threats or impurity. That was a quote. So it's performative. It's about putting on a show for one's social group. It's not about making an argument. It's not interested in dialogue.
It's not interested in exploring the merits of idea at all. It's also fundamentally dehumanizing because it reduces people's entire lives and careers to a single tweet. Sometimes, sometimes a really, really old tweet. Or a very out of context quote. Canceling is about shutting down debate, which is the exact opposite of the constitution of knowledge.
It's basically propaganda warfare in that it seeks to organize and manipulate social or media environment to demoralize the platform isolate, intimidate an adversary. So that's the thing it's not like sometimes they, so Rauch used a really interesting example of when the hordes went after Steven Pinker one time and, you know, Pinker.
I mean, I love his stuff, but I guess some of it is controversial, well, he's huge, right? He's like a tenured Harvard professor, he's like a bunch of best-selling books. He's like, so I, so Rauch is saying that the idea was like, they knew they weren't going to take down Pinker, but if you weren't Pinker and maybe you weren't, you didn't have a tenured position or maybe... You know, you're, you're not too big to take down that you will be quiet because if they're going after Pinker then, you know, you, you could have problems if you didn't have sort of the, the social and all of the
**Trish:** Thank you. Yes.
**Hirad:** What would be interesting to me is kind of tracing who the people who are actually pushing for this are.
**Hirad:** Well, they're definitely losers, but I want it like specifically the individuals, like how many of them are, how long are each of them last thing through the system? Cause I suspect there's, this is a pretty untenable essentially it's purity culture, right? And purity culture is always end up purging themselves because you can really like no human being can really be that pure for that long.
Right. Or hasn't been net pure forever in the past. Usually that a lot of dirt ends up surfacing on a lot of these people who want to go after others. So I'm kind of, I would be curious to kind of know. How long a given individual lasts through the system or is it just like a self-fulfilling thing that we're kind of like, people kind of go through the machine, they kind of act out their role in the cancellation of one actor before they just can't operate in that environment anymore.
And they kind of burn out and they go after another one. I don't know.
**Trish:** I wonder if you can move from different like communities.
**Hirad:** Yeah. I'm sure that is happening,
**Trish:** Different, a different, so you kind of, you're always just outraged about something else. Yeah. So then we get to the denouement of the book. The last chapter, "unmute yourself" , and this is Rauch's pep talk of what we can do, do all of these problems.
He's told us the problems he's shown us the stakes. And he's basically now just telling us you got to speak up. You gotta be brave. You can't let yourself be bullied. We need to meet attempts of cancellation. Or when people are spreading falsehood or disinformation with calm, rational arguments, you shouldn't just sit back and hope it doesn't happen to you or keep your head down.
Rauch says, it's likely you're not the only one out there with whatever you're thinking privately or your sort of beliefs. So by speaking up, you'll probably hearten other people around you to do the same. And he thinks that it is a very vocal minority that is kind of pushing through a lot of this nonsense and that all we need is for more rational people to sort of speak up.
He calls for a lot more diversity in academia. He calls for a lot more in terms of . Free speech protections and allowing free discourse and debate. He thinks that moral change will happen on an individual level by talking to people and discussing matters and having civilized debate. And that's where we're going to really find the change is on an individual level.
So the last chapter, it is nice to have some action points and I enjoyed it, but I think thus concludes unless you have anything to add about.
**Hirad:** No. I think that the last chapter was exactly a pep-talk. I do quite like it. And I think one of the things that I really liked about this book is essentially he kind of paints this picture that, Hey, this liberal society that we live in it has been around for almost 300 years and it hasn't been a walk in the park this whole time.
It has withstood, you know, a lot of tests. But one of the things that it requires is that the job is never done because the system is such an unintuitive system. It's so easy when faced with some kind of uncertainty to want, to have a personal authority on something, or have a final authority, something that gives you some certainty that you can hang your hat on.
Right? And so people constantly reach for these tools. They do reach for tools like canceling others and trying to bully them and kind of operating outside of the constitution of knowledge. But for one of the things that having this system requires is that there also be people that every day when they wake up, they roll up their sleeves and they go to work in defending the constitution of knowledge and marginalizing those voices that want to operate outside of it.
So in a way it's both a very optimistic message and it's also. A bit of a call to action that it is on us. He does list a number of different institutions that have taken up this charge. And so, yeah, I think that was both was very inspiring and very optimistic. And I hope, I hope he's right.
**Trish:** The war is not lost.
**Hirad:** The war is not lost, but you've got to fight it.
**Trish:** Mmmhmm. Indeed.
**Hirad:** So what'd you think of the book?
**Trish:** Well, it's interesting because as I was reading it some times I disliked it and sometimes I really, really enjoyed it. And I think part of the problem for me. So I think that I can't help, but compare it to kindly inquisitors because it is so much a repackaging of that.
And Kindly Inquisitors really impressed me because it really didn't get partisan at all. It really. Celebrated diversity in a way that I thought was really refreshing and encouraging. And I think that while he did really try to do that here, I think that he came out as quite partisan. Was that your impression as well?
**Hirad:** A hundred percent. So yeah. you're right. Like kindly inquisitors was just pure. It was concise. It was short. It was to the point philosophical. It was philosophical and it was timeless. So, and I get it, I guess, like, it is important to kind of frame our current context around that kind of philosophy and see like where, how are things working out right now and what are the things we need to think about in that context right now?
My problem with it is partly that it was partisan. And partly that it was just, it seemed like the depth of his understanding of certain topics was extremely limited, especially when it comes to kind of grappling with the kinds of challenges that we're dealing with today, such as digital media. So a lot of the things that he kind of promotes for like what, the kinds of future that he wants to see and what he missed defines his web 3.0, where we are taking the current internet and we're tilting it towards truth.
There's a lot of things wrong with that picture. So, first of all, he's kind of clamoring for kind of going back to these old institutions. That we used to be able to rely on the good old days, the good old days. That's kind of the, the, the tone that comes out of this book, right. It's kind of going back.
There's a new technology that has disrupted the good old system that used to work. And we need to kind of be able to go back to it.
**Trish:** He wants the gatekeepers back.
**Hirad:** He wants the gatekeepers back, which is exactly. So he kind of uses this example of the printing press, and he gives that example of that witchcraft document that was spread as kind of misinformation throughout Europe.
What do you want to give the gatekeepers back their their jobs because that booklet pamphlet got to spread? No, you wouldn't just say the only person that allowed to have the, or the only organization allowed to have a printing press is the Catholic Church. That's kind of, if, if you made that argument about the printing press, so you can make Rauch's argument about Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of the things that he says about Facebook and Twitter and social media in general just comes from really not understanding the, the fundamental drivers.
I would actually say even about the mainstream media, I will say he doesn't understand the fundamental drivers. He thinks that we, he hangs his hat on this, like mainstream journalism being something that we can really, we could really rely on in the past. But the only reason we had this coherent, when we talked about this in the, in the mini-sode, the only reason we had this coherent picture was because we only had like two or three places that we could get our information from.
And the reason why we only had those wasn't because nobody wanted anything else or because they got it so right that it removed the need for any other voices being out there. It was because the business model was that you had to have these large printing operations. If you were to New York times and you were serving the entire country, it's a very intricate operation to run, right?
You got to get your information every day to all of the places that are going to print it. Then you have to have these paper routes and these distribution centers. This is a very expensive operation. And the reason why the New York times is in the New York times is not because of the quality of their journalism is because they had that scale and operational capacity.
And that nobody else did. Only a few other organizations had that. Right. So we had a much more monolithic view of the world. But like we talked about in the, in the last mini-sode. That doesn't mean they reported the truth. In fact, a lot of times they just reported exactly the wrong information. And so I think that's been one of the things that I found very interesting about this book is in places, especially where he's talking about this conservative media as being the problem with like troll epistemology and whatnot, he seems to pick exactly the wrong examples to disprove his point.
So this book was kind of dead on arrival as far as I'm concerned with like some of these examples. So one, one example he gives is conservatives are much more likely to believe conspiracy theories. And the example he gives is that SARS-CoV-2 was made in a lab. Well, it turns out if your book was published just a few months later, you would know that this is not such a such a far-fetched idea. Right?
**Trish:** This is not on the lunatic fringe anymore.
**Hirad:** Exactly. So a lot of the examples he gives as the lunatic fringe have ended up being true and a lot of the examples he gives of how. So there's one section where he's talking about how journalism is learning to handle misinformation. And one example is like, they, they put all these disclaimers that like Trump falsely claimed X.
So they kind of tried to like put that right up front, that this is a false claim. And we've got all these fact-checking organizations. These are his examples of how things are kind of changing for the better. Well, like we talked about in the many, so it turns out these fact checking organizations have been completely wrong on so many things.
One of the examples is when COVID first hit: is there a human to human transmission? A lot of the organizations that fact checkers would be relying on said no. And the reason why they said no was because they were relying on the WHO, and there is, and WHO was relying on the Chinese communist party.
**Trish:** Not even relying on them, like who is the biggest funder of the WHO?
**Hirad:** Yeah. So, yeah, and, and, but there are like this our federal CDC and the U S federal CDC, they're, they're all kind of getting their information from that, from the who. Right. And I think if you've been paying attention over the last few years, there are these iconic moments where the media have completely shat the bed on.
And then, and literally every day that we delayed recording this podcast and the new one came out and it was an example of something that was in the book. So it, as of a few days ago there has been an indictment of a DC attorney named Michael Sussman who has been indicted for lying to the FBI. And what he lied about was the connection of the Trump 2016 Trump campaign to Russia. Now, unless you are living under a cave for about the first three years of Trump being in office, they, they were producing articles and this Trump Russia connection like a bodily function. And all of it was based on a fabricated lie and knowingly fabricated lie by by an attorney who had brought this information to the FBI and did not tell them that he's actually working on delivering this on behalf of his client.
He said he's doing this as a, as a well-intentioned citizen and journalists failed to do their most basic checks on this. So I had the, I highlighted this passage from. This last chapter of the book and he said, w is the "reverence for facts is the true north of the reality based community. Sometimes we get facts wrong, of course, but we do not cheat. We do not cut corners. We hold ourselves accountable to others, to our community for rejecting convenient fictions and half-truths". Convenient fictions. And half-truths have been exactly the business that mainstream media has been on. And I wouldn't say this has been like the exclusive business they've been on, but you can name, you know, the Trump's Russia connections.
The story of Amy Cooper, the central park dog-walker who was kind of the the icon of American racism. It turns out that that story was kind of more complicated than it was painted because the same person who went after her had previously gone after a number of other people's. Who had spoken to the media about this, but the media just chose to not pursue that narrative.
We had the recently, the Hunter Biden laptop story, which came out, it turns out that the story that came out and was written off as disinformation about Hunter Biden's emails that were recovered from his laptop. This was just before the 20 20 election on this particular topic, the New York post published an article and not only did Facebook and Twitter essentially not promot it in their algorithm, which is kind of something that Rauch really would be happy about.
Cause this is disinformation; it hasn't been fact-checked. They actually didn't even allow you to link to it. So if you try to tweet about this, you would get an error message from Twitter saying this link has been shown to cause harm. And therefore we're not allowing you to, to publish it right.
**Hirad:** Censored!. This was exactly censored..
And, and the reason why it was censored is because all these mainstream organizations would tell you that this has not been, this is a fiction, or it hasn't been verified. Actually it had been verified, those conservative media that he's talking about, they had done their journalistic duties far better than the mainstream media that he's talking about.
Right. So, yeah, I think there's so many examples. Like these are just things like he referenced these incidents in the book the Amy Cooper one, he didn't reference, but the other things that Trump Russia connection the hunter Biden laptop, the lab leak hypothesis, he referenced all of these in the book as examples of either misinformation or exemplary ways of handling misinformation and this book, it hasn't been out for a year and it's already obsolete.
**Trish:** Yeah. Yeah. It feels, it feels more tainted in that way. For sure. For sure. And I also, I kind of felt a little bit of the same way before I make this comment, I just want to preface it that this is often a problem Hirad and I talk about this sometimes, is that because so much ends up being anti conservatism, it feels like even though neither of us are conservatives, we end up defending conservatives a lot.
**Hirad:** Yeah. To be honest, I'm kind of getting more comfortable with that. I think, yeah, I always call myself a liberal kind of lower case, lower case L liberal. Just because these values are so important, but I actually think the only people that are sticking up for these values today would be labeled conservative. So I'm totally fine with that, but I never thought it would be sitting here defending Rush limbaugh.
**Trish:** It was exactly what we're going to do right now. So I wanted to say is, I don't, I don't feel like I want to defend rush Limbaugh, but I actually think that he was onto something with his like sort of four horse.
What would it, what did he call it? The four...
**Hirad:** the four corners of deceit.
**Trish:** The four corners of deceit. Thank you. Yeah. The four were government academia science and the media. So we kind of covered the media a little bit about the problems there, government.
I mean, like, do I even have to, so I'm just going to like gloss over that one, but like, I think that also academia, like there are big problems there and I don't think that you would be crazy to feel distrust for it.
One of my favorite examples is the spoof articles by Peter Boghossian. So he submitted these fake articles to real journals and did not only did they get peer reviewed, reviewed, and published, but also widely cited. And my favorite is "the conceptual penis as a social construct".
And the abstract for this is "anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-a-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood, not as an anatomical organ, but as a social construct, isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity.
Through detailed post-structuralist discursive criticism. And the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sex organ and reassign it a more filling role as a type of masculine performance."
But like this is a state of academia.
**Hirad:** Yeah. So, there was Twitter account, which got banned called new peer review. And it was around for like a good six or seven years, I think. And it basically just highlights real academic papers that are getting published in journals all the time. And listeners, I would say if you ever read an academic paper and it uses big words, especially if it's in the humanities, it's not because it's profound it's because it's bullshit.
And the the reason why you don't understand it is because it doesn't make sense. Funny enough, Peter actually just put these things together. But you would not know if it was...
**Trish:** no. And that's why it was like one of the most cited articles in gender studies. It's like, you know what I mean? Like it was cited all over the place.
**Hirad:** So one of the things that I was interesting is in academia, you have some fields on which there is some external checks. So in science, if you study civil engineering and you can't build a bridge that stands up that's a pretty obvious failure, right?
**Trish:** No, I'm going to get to the problems there too, Hirad.
**Hirad:** But there are these fields in which there is no external check. There is nothing actually tied to reality. These are not reality based communities. In a lot of these humanities fields particularly things like gender studies and whatnot. They just make things up and then they, it, I'm sorry to use this word.
It's a circle jerk. They all cite each other
**Trish:** Are we gonna have to get the explicit tag on our podcast?
**Hirad:** But they all cite each other and it's all things that they just sat down at a keyboard and spewed some garbage and it kind of like, it sounded fancy and they all pass it and get grants for it, somehow.
**Trish:** I know. And I just love it too, because obviously like, Peter knew in this, he's like, I'm going to hit all the beats that they love.
Right. I'm going to get climate change in there. I'm going to get toxic masculinity. I'm going to get like post-structuralist discursive criticism. Like, it's just so funny as if you just like picked all the buzzwords out of the cloud and then somehow vomited it on a page. Yeah. But like I mentioned before, so I read, I would highly recommend this book, readers listeners called science fictions by Stewart Richie.
And I'm actually hoping we do this on the episode because I basically don't shut up about it now. So it's a fabulous book, but it's kind of highlighting a lot of problems that we have with the scientific method and with academia and a lot of solutions and how we could improve it. And I think that it's a book.
That's not trying to say that you shouldn't trust science. On the other hand, it was kind of. Written from the same point of view of Rauch is that like, this is literally the best idea we came up with and there are problems that we need to improve. So we don't need to just like throw away it all, but he highlighted some real problems.
And so some of these are obvious, everyone kind of heard about it, you know, like the replication crisis in science.
**Hirad:** Some people haven't heard about it. Tell us what it is.
**Trish:** So, I mean if basically, probably if you've heard some like headline grabbing book selling idea that was supposedly backed by psychology research. It was probably bunk because it failed to replicate, which means that someone else went out and tried to do the same sort of study and didn't get the same results.
So all of those studies you would have heard about priming. So that would mean that if you told, so if a subject would be primed to think about something like money and then study the way they behaved or reacted to various things that was supposed to change people's behavior and all those were shown to not replicate. Power posing is all bunk.
**Hirad:** It was something like the vast majority. I think it was over 50% of paper, psychology papers for decades, right?
**Trish:** So you might just be like, well, it's a problem in psychology. And I would be like, well, I hate to tell you, but it gets worse. It's problems in economics, especially behavioral. There were neuroscience studies where there were taking MRI scans of people while they were doing things or even just in the tube and they couldn't get those to replicate.
But even worse than failing to replicate is like many studies fail to like be reproducible. So replication would be like, I'm going to try and do the same sort of study. Reproducing it means you take the exact same dataset that those scientists use and just try and get the same results.
**Hirad:** Like data set, like you take that data set and try to analyze the data. And even the analysis is wrong!?
**Trish:** And they can't get the same results. So that means that , for some reason there was an error that the authors made or they were missing. They didn't include steps that they took in the data analysis, but it was bad.
So like in one survey of macro economics studies 45 of 67 analyzed datasets. I couldn't be reproduced.
**Hirad:** Ok, but I would also say like, macroeconomics is well into like it's right next to gender studies . Nobody knows how macroeconomics works.
**Trish:** No, but we're just trying to run the same statistic on the same dataset.
Right. And then geoscience researchers looked at encountered problems getting to the same, like data conclusions in 37 out of 39 papers reviewed. So like the, the, like, there are like big problems out there. And , sometimes, it's not always malicious, sometimes accidents sometimes, you know, data, but sometimes it can be.
So anyway, if you guys want to dive into this, it's a fabulous book called science fictions.
**Hirad:** Be certain have we're going to cover science fictions in a future episode, right? So listeners, if you want to listen or read it along with us, you can start reading science fictions by Stewart Ritchie. And you'll be well prepared for a future episode of the podcast.
**Trish:** Yeah. So I just think that like what Limbaugh is saying, he's not just making up stuff, like, okay. He might be making up stuff, but I think that like, he is cluing into something that people have a sense of or are real problems out there. And I don't think it's right to be like, he's just sowing mistrust because there are like problems here and , acting this institution is completely infallible and right.
All the time is,
**Hirad:** well, this was exactly the thing that's so frustrating about this book, because first, the first bit of the book is kind of repeating the same philosophical grounding. That Kindly Inquisitors had. But then as you kind of flip through the chapters, it's like each chapter of somewhat contradicts that a little bit.
Like you mentioned that he talks about fallibilism, but then he kind of talks about the reality-based community. Like these guys finally got it. And if you rush Limbaugh, I think that they've got something wrong. You are just a defector and you were like ruining the reality-based community and you're violating the constitution of knowledge.
No, it was actually, this is the philosophy is people will point out things that they think is wrong. And this is why we have the liberal order. And I actually think this, if you kind of talked to me like six or seven years, No chance in hell. I would be sitting here and defending something that rush Limbaugh said, this is something that I've changed my mind on.
And it turns out Rush Limbaugh was pointing at something true. I'm sure. Rush Limbaugh has spewed a lot of things. I'm only talking about this particular quote that Jonathan Rauch has put in the book.
**Trish:** Yeah, let's be clear about that.
**Hirad:** Like, we're not just defending Rush Limbaugh, but but, but it is important to kind of keep an open mind even to that extreme example.
Right. I might kind of draw a line at Alex Jones, but but just even, even I would say like, just because someone is a crackpot, it doesn't mean that they're wrong. It's still a broken clock can still be right. Twice a day and you may be right in in kind of dismissing the way that they think. And I would definitely think there are a lot of people in the right for whom as Rauch says, there is nothing that can change their mind. And th that, that is kind of like goes back to the fundamentalist threat that he talks about and kindly inquisitors, which is like, you can have fact after fact, but they will never entertain the notion that they might be wrong. So but their mental system has been way too has calcified a little too much.
Right. But I would say like, they have clearly pointed out real things that, for example, for me, like seven from seven years ago to today I have completely changed my mind on this. Like I would, seven years ago, I would have been far more in the camp of like rara science, rararara, academia. But I just think you can't, if you've been paying attention to what's been going on is just untenable.
You can't defend that idea. And, and one of the reasons I would say is like, when people hear academics go on TV, I mean, we've had this Like everywhere in the west. And say things like gender is a social construct, right. And everything is a social construct and biology. Doesn't, there's no biological basis for gender.
Like these things that you can, you don't need science for this come on, like, you actually don't need science for this. You just need your own eyes. Right. And they kind of take things that are your own everyday experience and they want to convince you that this is incorrect. Right. Because they've come up with some kind of internal logic into their, in their own ivory towers and they think that's actually true.
**Trish:** Yeah. You're hitting on like a really important point here that I think that Rauch really glosses over because he really. Kind of beats on the same drum, which is a lot of like Trump lying, which is bad. Like, I don't think anybody should lie and this is a big problem.
But to me, Trump's lying is transparent. He lies to forward an agenda of something that he's trying to achieve politically or whatever, or for his own power. But like, what I think is more insidious is this like, idea that objective reality doesn't matter and everything is socially constructed. So there is no truth to arrive at.
And , to me, this is rotting our system from the bottom.
**Hirad:** Yes. A hundred percent. Yeah.
**Trish:** Yeah. So I was just this like postmodern subjectivist sort of ideology. Like I just, I can't believe that he doesn't address that at all.
**Hirad:** To his defence, he does a little bit, I feel like in the last chapter where he's imploring people to take action and take a stand, I feel like he kind of closed the chapter on the conservative bashing with the troll epistemology chapter. And he kinda after that he didn't mentioned it again, even in the last chapter, which is like, Hey guys, let's take a stand and fix the system together. I think correctly, the only thing he was talking about was cancel culture.
And and at one of the distinctions that I actually really appreciate him making and I wish he had thought it through more deeply. I constantly see there's a, there's a group of people that do acknowledge the issues that we have on the far left. But they just, the fact that Donald Trump has entered the scene and it was, and he was the president, this, this, they just cannot this has disturbed them to an unfathomable degree and they can't move past it.
Right. So. They'll always caveat this. I mean, bill Maher has actually said this, that like, sure. Like the, the cancel culture is bad, but Trump is worse. Right. I disagree with that completely. Why I disagree with it is for a point that Rauch made in the book is when he's talking about troll epistemology he is acknowledging that the reason why this epidemic nihilism existed is because people have been left behind by society.
And actually think you can fix that. That's something that you can that's tangible. And I think there, there have been multiple instances that kind of verifying this. Like if you, when the wall street bets thing happened, if you read the stories, actually, Matt Taibbi, you kind of covered this in his sub stack as well.
He reached out to some of these people who were making these bets against the wall street, hedge funds with kind of their entire personal savings that they knew they were probably going to lose. And. He kind of, so he kind of connected them beyond the level of anonymity and he kind of talked to them in person, even though he didn't publish their names.
And the consistent story that came out is these are people who watched their family be ruined in 2008. And they watched the people who were culprits of that. Catastrophe just not only walk away unscathed, but walk away with millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Right. And so, yeah, like Trump is bad. I think the reason why Trump happens is because we have this dysfunctional society that we're going to need to fix one way or another.
And I think once we fix that if we can't fix it, this I'm not saying this is a light problem. This sense of nihilism will go away when the sense of prosperity or hope for prosperity fills the gap. Right? To me that is much different from a group that is positively pursuing a certain ideology.
And that ideology is what the social justice movement is about. This cancel culture. It's about right. So even though I think it's interesting that these two groups, the trolls and the social justice warriors for lack of a better term are critical social justice movement. They kind of exhibit a lot of similar behavior.
They both believe in weaponization of information. They're both nihilistic and then they don't believe in an objective reality. They don't believe in truth. They only believe in this rhetoric and, and using it to beat the other side over the head. I think it's still comes from a very different place.
I think for one of them, it comes from completely lack of prosperity for another one. I think it might even come from too much prosperity, to be honest. I think it's a sign of privilege when you know people. Who live in one of the freest countries in the world can constantly go on about people who are quite privileged to say, they're not poor, poor in poor Americans.
They are kind of upper middle class, very well off Westerners who tell you about how they live in inside of a patriarchy, but when they watch what's going on in Afghanistan, it just does not compute it just completely gloss over it and kind of move on. Right. So I actually think that that one is a sign of privilege and the, the trolling and the epistemic nihilism, that's a sign of underprivilege.
And I think we, whatever we do, whatever our future entails, if there has to be something good, we need to fix that nihilism, right? We need to kind of provide more prosperity for everyone. So I think that problem either we're completely screwed or that problem will take care of by itself. The other problem. I'm not so convinced that it'll take care of by itself because that cancel culture is in all of our institutions now.
And the, the, these narratives, I think he kind of talked about cancel culture specifically, but I think there's something more insidious. Sometimes people don't get canceled. Sometimes people just make decisions on the basis of this critical social justice ideology. And to me, the one issue that I will not stop harping about.
Cause I think once this happened, I think we shouldn't, our collective conversations should not have been anything else for next 10 years. This should have been like a turning point of our culture. Right. But we've just, everyone's forgotten it. When we were rolling out the vaccine, when the United States was rolling out the vaccines, the CDC explicitly made a plan that led to more people that.
Then an alternative plan that they could have made because the way you would sanely roll out the vaccine is towards the populations that are most at risk at dying from this disease. Right? They did not do that. The initial plan that they came out with was geared towards racial equity. And it turns out that among the population that are most susceptible to COVID, they're mostly white.
So the CDC plan was knowingly. Again, this was in, in an internal presentation that they discussed. Their plan was to let more people die in the name of having more black people get the vaccine earlier. We've completely lost the plot here. And I mean, they rolled this back. Eventually they did go with the more sane version, but this is, it doesn't matter if Trump is president or someone else's president, these institutions are captured by this ideology.
And this threat to me is far more grave than anything else that we're facing today. And yeah, I think, I think he kind of got this calculus completely wrong in this book, but if you do really hate conservatives, I think you'll enjoy the book and you'll learn something from it.
**Trish:** Do you think that trolling gets often more associated with the right than left or do you think it is more of a phenomenon that happens on the right?
**Hirad:** That's a good question.
**Trish:** Because part of me feels like if it's someone on the right, doing something it's trolling, but then that sometimes, like, let's say, would you consider when Trump was having the rallies and then all the teenagers and everything went on the internet and bought all the tickets for like plan not to attend?
Like, would that be considered trolling?
**Hirad:** That's a very good question. I haven't thought about that.
**Trish:** And sometimes I feel like things kind of just get painted in a certain way where like trolling is like a feature of the right.
**Trish:** Maybe it is. I'm just kinda.
**Hirad:** Even in my own experience, I feel like I have seen it be more intense on the right. I do. I kind of feel like that's true, but that doesn't mean that like kind of brainless spewing of nonsense that just paints your opponents badly isn't is absent on the left.
I think that's far, far from it. I think the deliberately spreading something false. I think that might be more of a right-wing feature, but you make a good point. I think I'll have to think about that.
**Trish:** Hmm. Yeah.
So something that I was kind of thinking about too, is sometimes I think the problem with cancel culture is that. They kind of think that by de platforming something they're going to erase that from culture. And so I don't know about you. I kind of feel like presidents are a product of a culture and they don't really lead culture.
So I think that there's this interesting thing now that they've like kicked Trump off everything as if like that's going to solve some things. I kind of feel like it's like, they're playing whack-a-mole and they whacked one mole down and they're like, ha ha did it like made a difference. But I was like, you didn't do anything about the underlying thing.
Like this is going to pop up somewhere else. And so it just , to me also seems wildly ineffective.
**Hirad:** Well, and the thing is the more, the longer that the underlying issues are not resolved, the worst the whiplash is going to be. So I think you're a hundred percent right on. I think we haven't seen, we may have seen the end of Trump, the person.
I definitely don't think we've seen the end of Trumpism. And I think we're going to be in for some really nasty surprises. Maybe not in 20, 24, if it's not in 2024 and then 20, 28, but it's coming. I don't think we're gonna not deal with this one way or another. Like, we're going to need some kind of reckoning to reset.
**Trish:** Yeah, and I think that This is an interesting thing where people talk about how much Trump lies, which it is like a problem don't get me wrong, but like he knows he can lie because the partisanship is such that people aren't going to change sides over lies or at least the lies that Trump is telling. And he knows that.
So I feel like it's not that he. Invented this new, like epistemic thing. It just, he kind of saw the reality that it's so partisan that people don't really care. They've got their tribe and their side. And I'm kind of like, would anyone on the left really decide that they were going to vote for a Republican president?
If like Biden like lied too much? Like I guarantee they would not.
**Hirad:** I would say it's not people on the left. I think it's people who are kind of more sane and middle ground. I think there is, I think the whole reason why we went from Obama to Trump, I think it was people, there were people who voted for Obama and then voted for Trump.
So I don't, I think there, and that actually makes me very happy because that means, and then they voted for Biden again, because that means it's not actually as monolithic as one might think. And there is actually at least a group of people that are critical enough in the middle that are changing their minds.
And that's fantastic. We need more of those people. But I kind of grappled with this as well because. Of course, everybody knows that politicians lie. Right. And it was always a question to me, like, why is everyone having such a hard time with Trump lying like everyone else was lying, but they were pretending like they weren't like, and I think after having read this book, I think one thing that I can kind of give credit to that view on is the reason why the other, the previous presidents, when Obama was lying, he would essentially have to cover it up somehow.
Right. The reason why that mattered is because he was operating in a world where truth mattered and you had to at least pay lip service to it. Right. Trump has kind of created the situation where like, truth. Absolutely does not matter. And we're not even going to pretend like it matters. I think that matters.
I don't think I'm not so convinced. I get so concerned about like, whether he's claiming. It rained or it did not rain on his inauguration, but when it country does not think truth matters, I think we have a problem. So I think Rauch is correct on that point to kind of have a special problem with that.
A couple of other points that I wanted to. Talk about so as we kind of talk about these like enlightenment values, the, one of the central things central rights that kind of enables the constitution of knowledge and enables kind of the modern liberal society that we have is free speech.
And recently free speech has been under attack Rauch, kind of recounts, a lot of the reasons why, so words that wound doctrine and people think that speech does harm and therefore they have a problem with this sense of everybody being able to speak. Of course, when people think that They always think that whoever gets to limit speech is always going to be their side.
So that's a, that's always an an unaddressed question. And recently even NPR had a long segment talking about how antiquated John Stuart mill was and this idea of free speech was.
**Trish:** They went after my man.
**Hirad:** They went after your man and even had a harpsichord music playing in the background to kind of show how how old school it, and like out of fashion it is.
**Trish:** Listeners, I have my head in my hand.
**Hirad:** So it's free speech is not really sexy these days. And there are a couple of things that I thought are worth talking about from the book on this subject. So Rauch in the last chapter kind of talks about how crucial free speech is to protecting the rights of minorities.
I actually think this, the critical social justice that kind of has led to all this cancel culture that we're talking about in this book does not actually care about rights of minorities, but free speech. If you actually did care about it, free speech is the thing that you would have to use. So Rausch rush himself is gay and he was a journalist who was for years fighting for equal rights in marriage.
And so, yeah, he recounts Rauch recounts his experience in fighting for gay rights by saying that yes, it was actually tiring. It was emotionally draining, but it was actually something that gave him a sense of purpose and a point of a voice a mission and a chance to make a difference.
And the example he gives of when he knew he was succeeding was when ... I quote from the book "maybe the most memorable moment in my almost two decades of advocacy for same-sex marriage happened in 2004. It was a year of setbacks. When anti-marriage ballot initiatives swept states across the country.
I was arguing my case in a radio interview. When a caller phoned in to tell the host, I think your guest today is the most dangerous man in America". And why would that be? "'Because he makes it sound so damn reasonable'. At that moment. I knew we would win. And I saw that my own oppression had given me gifts I would never trade away: a voice, a mission, and a chance to make a difference". So, yeah, I think this is such a, such a good point. He also quotes Frederick Douglas who was one of the early anti slavery kind of black antislavery. Abolitionist, ? And the quote is "slavery cannot stand free speech. Five years of its exercise would banish the auction block and break every chain in the south." And one of the things that I, so he kind of says this in the book, but I thought it was Key to kind of double click into why this quote from Frederick Douglas is So we kind of like the what's kind of in vogue, especially among the left today saying like we live in this oppressive patriarchy, the New York times said this whole 16, 19 project saying the entire foundation of the United States was about slavery.
And and so it's very much in fashion to to say that this is just an evil country, with an evil population more or less if, if, if you're white, but the reason why this Frederick Douglas quote is so true because it's not purely just a matter of speech. It's not just that him as an abolitionist could just speak freely and essentially make moral progress.
It's that the speech was interacting with the values of the hearer. It is the people that would hear them. Hear his speech. They would have to judge what he said against the values that they hold and the values on which the United States is founded are, I would say the best that we have had in the history of humanity.
**Trish:** Ok, it is not a perfect place.
**Hirad:** It's not a perfect place, but the values are because the values give you certain direction. So I was actually just talking to someone over lunch and and we were kind of talking about a future where realistically, if United States is not being the world's police, China is, and he was asking if is one of them really better than the other?
And I'd say, well, the reason why I would say yes is precisely that even just paying lip service to this to the constitution makes a difference. Also the same reason why Trump not paying lip service to truth makes a difference, right? And in this context also, there's this famous quote from Martin Luther king just before he died, where he was basically in his speech saying if I lived in China or if I lived in the Soviet union I might understand the treatment of the black man.
More than I understand it now because they don't really promise anything. But somewhere I read about freedom of speech and somewhere I read about these inalienable rights and he goes on to say, let somewhere, I read that these are promised to me and you as an activist in the constitution, and in these rights, using your free speech, you have something to hang your hat on and say, you made a promise on which you did not deliver. And you were to deliver those promises to me because they were made by the founders. Yeah. I think it was just so important to remember that. Yeah. And we are not remembering it.
**Trish:** And I liked the point to have him of just to go back to the original quote that you read from Roush of how personal it is.
Right. Like I remember I was listening to the BBC recently and they were interviewing a black man who lived in the American. south Who spent most of his life befriending members of the Klu Klux Klan. And actually like some of them have now abandoned to their racist beliefs. And I think it was like a really inspirational story of somebody who , obviously just showed love for his fellow mankind and was doing something very positive in the world.
But so many people like were actually criticizing this guy because they were like, these people are evil and you shouldn't have anything to do with them. Because I think sometimes like if one of them died, like he would go to a funeral or something. But I think that like, it's so counterproductive to moving towards moral, good to write people off to cut them out of your life.
Cause they're too bad to , just like pigeonhole them into some whole , you know, like deplorable person . To me, doesn't. Bring any change, right? It comes from like dialogue and discussion and like meeting people, sort of on the grassroots ground level. So I think that that's the other kind of problem with cancel culture and stuff.
Is it just like, you don't even then have any hope to change someone's mind because all you do is like throw them out.
**Hirad:** Yeah. And, and like Roche says, you end up with creed wars because that's ended up that will end up being the only way for you to settle a difference. Yeah. I hope we can back away from that brink.
So how would you rate this book?
**Trish:** Oh, we have a new rating system that we discussed. So this is based on a beer app that I kind of used to use called untapped and the beer app had four stars for how much you'd like to beer. One was you pour it down the drain. You hate it. Don't want to drink it. Not worth the calories to you drink it.
If it's free. Three. You like it, but spend money on it. Four you really liked it. It was one of your favorites. We are blatantly ripping off the system.
Yeah, so one is don't bother. Two is if it's in the
library or something, if it sounds particularly good to you,
maybe what are three and four, three.
We like it. Read it. Yeah. Buy a hard copy. Display
it on your bookshelf, right? Exactly.
**Hirad:** What do you think ? Constitution of Knowledge!.
**Trish:** Oh, do I have to go first? I'm so conflicted about this book. Maybe a two. I actually there's a lot. I'd like to kindly inquisitors. Definitely solid three, maybe a four.
**Hirad:** I would give Kindly Inquisitors a solid 4. 100%..
**Hirad:** That, yeah. I mean, the, the what'd you said about kind of reading this book is kind of like getting an education. I think it's right. I, I kinda kind of inquisitors was like more of that. I would say w much more pure version. Is this a good book? I think there is a lot of thought-provoking content in here.
It's just not very tight and it's so frustrating, especially I think the reason why you don't want to give the high rating is because you read Kindly Inquisitors right before. And if you hadn't done that, I think this would be a great book. But if after reading Kindly inquisitors,
**Trish:** It's the sequel that let's you down.
**Hirad:** Exactly. I can't. I can give this more than a two. I'm sorry. If you want to read something on this subject, I would say we've kindly inquisitors are good passages here. Are they worth it? Yeah, I don't know. He. Frequently, it kind of goes back and forth on his own message. It's it's a bit of a confused book.
I think there are a lot of things that could have been tighter. . I said there's a lot of things in which, especially when it comes to tech and digital media, which he had taken at, like talk to more people that are like in the field and kind of try to understand it a little bit better, I think,
**Trish:** but it comes from a good place.
And at the end of the day, I actually really do agree with the crusade that he's on. And I think that, you know, it is such an important message. Open and honest dialogue. Yeah. Diversity in opinions and beliefs and backgrounds and you know, all of it.
Well I think perhaps that's all we have to say about that then.
**Hirad:** Yeah. And I think this is on track to be, or maybe may, might even be a longer episode than a than kindly inquisitors maybe because we didn't agree with it nearly as much. Yeah. Until next time. Thanks for joining us listeners.