Podcasts/Sacred Tension-STThe Constitution of Knowledge9tcry
STThe_Constitution_of_Knowledge9tcry SUMMARY KEYWORDS people, free speech, constitution, knowledge, culture, true, rules, book, long, left, called, liberal, views, manipulated, canceled, ideas, problem, conversation, years, form SPEAKERS Jonathan Rauch, Stephen Bradford Long
Stephen Bradford Long 00:00 You're listening to a rock candy podcast this is sacred tension, the podcast about the discipline of asking questions. My name is Steven Bradford long, and we are here on the rock candy Podcast Network. For more shows like this one, go to rock candy recordings.com. All right. Well for this week, I have to first thank my patrons. My patrons are my personal lords and saviors, and I really could not do the show without them. So for this week, I have to thank Michael Sam al NAT toward f v. Elizabeth Washburn and Nixie Lionheart, thank you so much. You are keeping this show going. I believe in bringing long form interesting conversations with smart people to the public every week for free. But in order to do that, I need your help. This is a one man show, I do all of the editing, all of the booking, all of the recording, all of the writing, it is a part time job, in addition to all the other work I do. So every little bit helps. And you can go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long for just $1 a month. You get extra content every single week, including my house of heretics podcast with Timothy McPherson, former Salvation Army officer turned Christian heretic and we talk about whatever's going on in the world. All right. Well, with all of that out of the way, Jonathan Rauch, thank you so much for joining me. Happy to be here. All right, well, so we we've spent about the past 30 minutes battling with our digital overlords trying to get the Internet to work and software to work, the construction down the road, knocked out my internet and power literally minutes before we were supposed to record and then and it's just been a mess. So thank you so much for being so long suffering.
Jonathan Rauch 02:13 But to make it work, yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 02:15 thank you. Thank you so much for your time, I so appreciate you being here. So you wrote a book called The Constitution of knowledge. And I listened to it on Audible, after listening to some interviews that you did with people like Andrew Sullivan. And it's a it's an extraordinary book. And it was really, really illuminating. For me, it was incredibly helpful for me and understanding our current time. So before we get into the book, tell us some about who you are and what you do. Well,
Jonathan Rauch 02:51 my name is Jonathan, friends and family call me, John. So you're welcome to do that. I'm originally from Phoenix, Arizona, and went to public high school, private college at Yale. Somewhere in there, I realized I didn't have the talent to become a musician. But I wanted to communicate. And so I became a journalist. But I also did work, starting in my undergraduate years, and then continuing in history and philosophy of science. From my teenage years, I was fascinated with what's the difference between truth and falsehood? And how do we know and how do we decide that became the subject of a book I wrote in 1993, called kindly Inquisitors, the new attacks on free thought. I went away, did other things for a while worked on gay marriage. I'm gay, then realized starting five or six years ago, that we were seeing a new epistemic crisis. That's a crisis about knowing the difference between truth and falsehood and facts and fiction, getting confused, being undermined. And went back to the drawing board and produced a second book called The constitutional knowledge, a defensive truth, which I think is why I'm here today.
Stephen Bradford Long 04:06 It is, indeed. And it's a remarkable book. But before we talk about that, could you so you've, you've been studying this and you've been thinking about? How do we as the body politic, come to understand the world around us? And how do we find a consensus in a diverse pluralistic liberal society? You've been thinking about this for a long time. So before we talk about the constitution of knowledge, let's talk about kindly Inquisitors, which I feel like lays the groundwork for the constitution of knowledge. What was the problem that you were addressing and kindly Inquisitors
Jonathan Rauch 04:47 will kindly Inquisitors started work on it and I think 1989 1990 was finally published in 1993. And the big problem back then, was starting to be of what was then known as political correctness. Now this is a generation or more ago, but it's still pretty relevant and identified. Here, the first thing I did is say we have a system for making knowledge in a prosperous, peaceful, free and knowledgeable society. I called it liberal science. And I said, it's like liberal democracy or market economies, because it's rules based. It's not based on Fiat by rulers. And it's decentralized, and it's impersonal. So people are interchangeable. You know, anyone can vote, anyone can trade and anyone can bring empirical evidence. And I said, That's liberal science. And it's our greatest and most successful social system. And then I said, it's under attack. And I identified some major attacks, but but probably the two most important were, what I call egalitarian. And what I call humanitarian, and egalitarianism were people who said, basically, all ideas are created equal, and it's all a power struggle. And so the most marginalized should have special privileges in telling the rest of the world what's true, and what's false. And that's, that undermines the whole premise of liberal science, which is that people are interchangeable and who you are shouldn't matter, apart from credentials, which are earned. And the second big attack, I thought, was humanitarian attack. And this was often though not always well intentioned, but the idea was, words can hurt, bad ideas can wound they can cause harm in society, they can cause harm in individuals, so they should be punished. And I pointed out that once you start punishing words, that wound criticism is often hurtful. And that's how we get knowledge. So what these people were really out to do was substitute their own authoritarian rule for, for liberal science for knowledge as we know it. So that was kindly Inquisitors and that framework, and that structure, that architecture is now folded into the new book, constitution and knowledge. But but the new book tries to take it a long step further.
Stephen Bradford Long 07:09 Yeah. Now, so those two attacks on liberal science and liberal science being kind of our, our decentralized, collective way of coming to understand the fact of the matter, you you mentioned, humanitarian, anti egalitarian, is there an element of truth to to either of those like it? Are they getting at something that is true in your mind, or something that might be worth examining or listening to, but maybe getting at it in the wrong way, or going about it in the wrong way?
Jonathan Rauch 07:51 Well, there are versions of both of them that fit very well within liberal science and liberal science practices every day. The version of the egalitarian one is, of course, liberal sciences itself he egalitarian because the color of your skin, your gender, where you live, what language you speak, shouldn't matter if you've got the evidence, if you've got the arguments, you should be able to contribute in peer review, for example, is blind. So if the system is followed, it's very egalitarian. So that part of that critique is true. But these folks were radical egalitarians. They were trying to pursue social justice by actively privileging the points of view of people or groups that they believe were marginalized. And that turns really egalitarian ism upside down because it says, you know, what, people have a certain skin color, certain gender, sexuality, you name it, could be nationality, could be ideology, these people are privileged, and they're qualified and you're not. I think there's no merit in that. It's it's a dangerous ancient idea. It's basically a form of tribalism. My tribe can talk yours, your tribe can't and guess who's gonna decide I am. humanitarian challenge. Once again, there is a soft version of that, which fits very neatly in Liberal science. And that's the notion that if you care about the pursuit of truth, knowledge, social peace, even justice, you want to try to work non coercively to persuade people to your side. And that's how you want the system to work. You don't want it to be based on on force and violence. And to do those things, normally, for the most part, you want to try to be civil, you want to try to attack or question or challenge not the other person's right to exist or right to participate, but their ideas so things like be civil, avoid ad hominem arguments. That's very much a part of liberal science and in fact, people spend years they go to high School in college and grad school, learning the protocols of how and for example, in a scientific or scholarly article, you don't start with the phrase like you'll remember this from Saturday and I live Jane, you ignorant slut, you start from a position of respect. And all of that is baked in. And in fact, liberal science is by far the most respectful and civil forms of formal discourse that we've got. But that's very different from what I call the humanitarian challenge, which basically says, it doesn't matter, you know, if you're civil or uncivil. If I think that your views are harmful, I can censor them, or I can sign or chill you or punish you. In some way. Your view may be unsafe, for example, they may cause me trauma, or at least I can claim they cause me trauma, I can say that they're socially unjust. But with any of these claims, I should be able to shut down the dialogue, shut down the conversation. And again, that is never permissible. And liberalism sides first rule of liberal science is fallibilism. In other words, anyone could be wrong. So no one gets to end the debate, say it's all over, we know, go away. And the second rule is the Empirical Rule, which says, Everyone needs to be checked by someone else. preferably someone with a different point of view. And preferably, it should not matter who you are.
Stephen Bradford Long 11:27 You know, there's something so counterintuitive about it. And I regularly felt this way reading your book of, of it almost like chafing up against my human nature and my natural impulses to try to silence or try to, or, you know, I am I am queer, I thinking of about how I often want to protect, you know, say trans people from language that's hurtful to them. And I think a lot of people have that natural impulse to want to protect or shelter or not entertain certain arguments that they deem as as profoundly wrong. There is something incredibly counterintuitive and innovative about it, that that seems to chafe very much against human nature.
Jonathan Rauch 12:21 Well, you put your finger on it, Stephen to pronounce to prefer Steven. Steve. Yeah, Stephen, Stephen. You put your figure finger excuse me, on possibly the greatest challenge that that liberal science or what I now call the constitutional knowledge, faces, which is it's profoundly counterintuitive. The idea that ideas and speech and thought that is offensive, blasphemous, radical, obnoxious, wrongheaded, or prejudiced. That speech of this kind should not only be allowed, but should be affirmatively protected, is, I think, without exception, the single most counterintuitive social idea of all time, bar none. And the only thing that saves it is that it's also the single most successful social idea of all time, bar none. But this means that everyday people like me, and maybe you if you're in favor of free speech.
Stephen Bradford Long 13:31 Very so yeah.
Jonathan Rauch 13:32 And our children, and their children and their grandchildren, will have to get up every morning, for the rest of time. And defend this system, liberal science, they'll have to defend it from scratch. And we just have to be cheerful about that, because we got a great case to make. And we're doing actually extraordinarily well, but this will, this will never come naturally. And if you think of it, market economies don't really come naturally, you have to trust prices that are set in faraway places by complete strangers, you have to trust that this little piece of paper is you know, was actually worth something. So all of these systems, these liberal systems that are based on rules and interoperable people in faraway places and dealings with total strangers, they're all very counterintuitive, and for that reason, they are all vulnerable to attack.
Stephen Bradford Long 14:24 Absolutely. And you know, I so I'm part of a minority religion. I am a member of the Satanic Temple. I'm also gay so being a member of a minority religion and being a sexual minority I have a particularly vested interest in protecting free speech. Because free speech is the institution it is the it is the principle that protects people like me. And if we set the precedent for violating free speech, this is why I'm such an obnoxious free speech, bro and probably really annoying. Every one online, this is why I'm such a, you know, a persistent advocate of free speech. Because if we set the precedent for violating free speech for, you know, in the words of the fourth tenet infringing upon the speech of others infringing on the rights of others, then we forego our own. And I feel like that is particularly true of minorities who have a lot to lose if we lose our free speech and I, who will be the first ones to be turned on, it's going to be the weird ones. It's going to it's going to be the weird fringe ones that make society uncomfortable.
Jonathan Rauch 15:44 No, Steven, what breaks my heart today, more than I think anything else is that so many, either members of minority groups or activists who claim to speak from minority groups have turned against free speech, and now denounce it as a tool of oppression or capitalism or, or what have you. They think it's conservative, they think it's oppressive, or at least they claim, they think that and, and that breaks my heart because I am a homosexual American. I was born in 1960. And in the world I grew up in, we were reviled from the pulpit, as a stench in God's nostrils by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, we were the sin that could not even be named in public. That's how shameful we were. We were regarded by the psychiatric profession as mentally ill, who was there in the diagnostic manual? It was illegal for us to have intimate sexual relations in the privacy of our own homes. We could not work for the government, we could not get security clearances, on and on and on. And here I am, I've been married to a man, Michael, for over 10 years now, in one lifetime. And the way we did that the only way we did that was free speech, the ability to make our case, we got that ability in 1958, a Supreme Court decision called one versus Olson, most people never heard of it. But it overturned government censorship of gay speech, gay magazine. And we started making our case that year, and it took a while but we change minds. So dissidents, the world over Soviet Union, Frederick Douglass, in America, Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King's great organizer, John Lewis, another king, Lieutenant, all of them have said again and again, that as Louis put it without free speech, the civil rights movement would have been a bird out was and it It breaks my heart that people who stand for social justice are abandoning that principle. Now,
Stephen Bradford Long 18:03 why do you think that is? What? Why do you think so many of my comrades on the left, what is it about free speech that so many on the left are turning against?
Jonathan Rauch 18:18 Well, I'm not sure it's actually all that complicated. The dynamics are, that when you're a dissenter, when you're a minority, it's pretty clear to you why free speech is so important. When you are a functional majority, when you control the terms of the debate, when you have the cultural commanding heights, then these three speakers, these people saying these obviously untrue things. They're a nuisance. They're just a social problem. And they're getting in the way of doing what you and most other people know to be. Right. Well, there was a time in America when the left was in places like academia, for example, and newsrooms, pretty marginalized and tended to be left leaning groups like the ACLU that supported free speech, ACLU mercifully still does. But there are a lot of communities now, especially in the academic world, but also increasingly in the world of journalism and corporate human relations. And others were left wing ideas, essentially control or dominate the conversation to stuff like anti racism, support for affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, broadly defined, and so forth, and so on. Once you're in a position where the water around where you're the fish in the water and the water around you is predominantly agreeing with you suddenly, it's no longer obvious why you should tolerate these annoying conservatives with these anti social and simply wrongheaded opinions. And this goes back to what you were saying earlier, Stephen, the point you started with which is so important, which is this idea is counterintuitive. And once someone thinks They have the right answer and has the power to impose that answer. Why waste time allowing these allowing nonsense, harmful nonsense to propagate? So I think a lot of the left are well intentioned activists who think, well, you know, these are just bad ideas on the right. And it's just time to stamp them out.
Stephen Bradford Long 20:18 Right. Right.
Jonathan Rauch 20:19 And you think I'm right about that, by the way?
Stephen Bradford Long 20:23 I yeah, I do, I think that I think that the left has made a lot more progress than maybe we often, you know, give ourselves credit for. This is the best time to be alive. As a gay person. It may be world history, like, I wouldn't want to live in any other time now as a gay man than right now. And that's, that's just unprecedented. And so there has been this incredible rights movement that you've seen, you know, you as, as an elder, gay, as a gay activist, who is kind of at the frontlines of this battle. But this is, I don't know, we've seen so much progress. You know, I say this as the Roe v. Wade, as Roe v. Wade was reversed in lots of people are very nervous about maybe gay marriage being next. I don't know what you think about that? Or if that's a possibility, but a lot of people are nervous about that. So maybe that's a threat? I don't, I don't know it could be. So of course, there's, there's always more work to do. But the work that has been done is simply unprecedented. Like, this is the best time to be alive as a gay man, it makes sense that with that progress comes a taking comes, you know, taking speech for granted. So I think your diagnosis might be correct, yeah,
Jonathan Rauch 21:48 it just means that you and I have to work every day, to try to instill the notion among the culturally powerful, whichever side, they may happen to be on that the voice of the dissident is our most cherishable resource. Because that dissident just might be right, we might have something to learn from that person. And if we silenced that person, we make ourselves ignorant.
Stephen Bradford Long 22:14 I feel like this leads into a broader issue that you tackle and the constitution of knowledge. So free speech is, of course, a central piece of what you call the constitution of knowledge. But free speech, and this, I think, was the big revelation for me reading your book, free speech alone is not. How do I say this? How do I want to say this? Yeah, yeah, free? Yeah, if free speech alone is not enough. And so it's like having the right I don't know, I was, as I was listening to your book, I was trying to come up with like a good metaphors for this. So it's like having the right to drive or something, you know, being able to drive? Well, there's immense freedom with that. But free speech without the the institutions and principles that come from the constitution of knowledge. It's like having, having drivers but no traffic lights, or something. And so free speech is not enough. There have to be the additional structures in order for it to work. So what are those additional things that make up the constitution of knowledge?
Jonathan Rauch 23:27 Well, I love the traffic analogy. And I've used it myself, you know, that, that I used to kind of think that that social organization, liberal social organization, meaning rules based societies that are impersonal rules, like the ones we have that they just kind of organize themselves. And then I realized that's like saying, well transportations a great thing. So let's just put a bunch of cars out there, everyone will have a car. And we we've solved the problem, which kind of forgets that you need the roads, and the traffic lights and the rules, and the driver's ed schools and the system to punish people who break all those rules, and on and on and on. If the traffic systems working, we kind of take all that for granted. And we just think of a bunch of people out there in their cars. But if you don't have all of that structure, you don't have traffic, you just have a traffic jam. And the same thing is true. And that's that's the big jump that I made. In the second book that the first book, kindly Inquisitors is it is pretty laissez faire. It said the way knowledge forms is when we criticize each other's views. And out of that criticism arises knowledge and that's certainly true. It was a marketplace of ideas kind of idea. perfectly true but incomplete. Because it turns out, if you just have people randomly saying whatever they want to say, in whatever way they want to say you got to Twitter, you don't have advanced toward knowledge. You don't have advanced toward anything or 4chan. Even we're fortunate you typically you have a race to the bottom as people posture and see social status. at us and try to win attention by insulting other people or appealing to tribal loyalties and saying, you know, trolling, falsehoods, all of that stuff. Those are natural human tendencies. That's not just a function of social media. So this is a very old problem. How do you organize societies socially so that they can turn disagreement into knowledge. And it turns out, the breakthrough way to do that, is the constitution of knowledge. It's about the same age more or less a little older than the US Constitution. It's based on the same basic ideas, which are, the United States Constitution says there's one way and only one way to make national political decisions, basically laws and decisions about who's in office, you're gonna have to compromise with people who are different from yourself. And people will like to do that. It's a pain in the ass to compromise with wrongheaded stupid people. But what the founders understood is that by forcing compromise, you could take diversity and make it a friend of democracy and stability. You could force together a lot of different views, and incentivize people to come out with policies that aren't perfect, but reach a social consensus and do that dynamically through constantly new voices and new positions coming in. It's a system of genius, James Madison, is the great thinker behind it. And it's non coercive, because you can't use force to take power. And it's open ended. Because if you don't like this election, you have another election, and you've got one after that. Well, the Constitution of knowledge works on exactly the same kind of principles, I told people, this is not constitutional Knology it's not a metaphor and analogy, a simile a literal, literary device, it's an actual thing. It is rules and institutions, you can write them down, you can identify the institutions. And they force persuasion as the only way to make knowledge. And that's a breakthrough. Until the constitution of knowledge. If you wanted to make knowledge in a divided society, you typically won power. And then you actually executed or exiled or ostracized people who didn't believe it or didn't agree with you, along comes the Constitution knowledge and says, No, we're going to have a decentralized system, you're going to have to persuade people with views and biases that are very different than your own. And you're going to have to use that with methods like using reason, logic, evidence, experiments that anyone can replicate. And not until you've been through that process, and have made those converts and negotiated with them. And they're saying, well, your hypothesis isn't right. But how about this other hypothesis? Maybe it's a merger of the two? Uh huh. Let's test that one. And go through all the structures that are involved there. Those are academic articles. And in journalism, its its journalistic articles. law and government are also key parts of the system. After you persuaded those people, you have knowledge and you can put it in the textbooks. It's very much like the US Constitution. It sticks Apple for very much the same reasons. It brings not only knowledge, but it also brings freedom. It brings peace, but it requires sorry, this has been such a long response. But there's so much meat here. No, this is perfect. It requires rules and institutions. Freedom is not enough. People need to understand, for example, that we mentioned this earlier in a different context. When I write an article that I want other people to pay attention to, and focus on criticize, replicate, cite, I don't begin it with Steven, you ignorant slut, making personal attacks. I don't make up evidence. I don't cite unfounded conspiracy theories, I have to do things like structure it in a way that I can state a clear hypothesis in an impersonal way, I have to indicate what kind of evidence I'm reducing, and what kind of evidence would prove me wrong, I have to show some understanding of the existing literature and where my ideas fit in. I have to suggest an agenda for future research. And then I'm probably going to have to go to a conference and present it and revise it. And then once it's published, it's going to be reviewed If I'm lucky, and further modified, we'll think about all of that structure and all the years of acculturation and education it takes to do that and you realize all of those structures. That's what turns the disagreement part the Free Speech part into the objective none College part the stuff that goes into the textbooks. And now the critical turn, that stuff, the norms and institutions are what are so greatly and gravely under attack right now. Sorry, that went on and on and on.
Stephen Bradford Long 30:15 No, no, no, no, that was that was perfect. And also, while you were talking, it occurred to me that I think that the erosion of those norms and institutions is, is part of what leads to is one of many things that leads to people's skepticism of free speech, because I don't know if you saw the documentary into the storm queue into the storm on HBO. But basically, it's an it's an investigation into Q anon. And this guy named Fred who developed a chant, he is the programmer for HN. He said, You cannot see in that documentary, he said, You cannot see the consequences of free speech, and still support it, basically. And I've been thinking about that a lot, how people see what is celebrated as free speech on the internet. And there is kind of a inappropriate revulsion towards it. And the reason is, and this is the missing piece, is because there are no traffic lights, and speed limits. The constitution of knowledge is not there it is freedom of speech, it is free speech without the constitution of knowledge without those norms in place that determine, you know, rules of discourse. And I think that people have some people have such an aversion to free speech is, especially people in my generation, because their first exposure to the concept of free speech, we're, you know, was what were the chants or Gamergate, or what have you. And I think that that's another element there.
Jonathan Rauch 32:04 Yeah. And it's not just friendly amendment. You're exactly right. But it's it's not just the particular items of speech, which people read and don't like, which is creating this backlash, this distaste, I mean, you know, we all see stuff that we don't like that said, it's, it's that the environment, the epistemic environment, of HN, for example, or for that matter, much of Twitter is so toxic, it's not the one statement. It's the fact that in those environments, the incentives, the way the rules and norms work hard, you want to get eyeballs, you want to get attention. And the way you do that is by being outrageous, or attacking someone or abusing someone, you know, they say engagement is engagement. Yep. So it's not just that you have a few things people don't like, it's that you've created these toxic environments that there's an analogy, a historical analogy to American journalism newspapers, in the late 19th century, which had become basically toxic waste dumps of hyper partisanship and fake news. To the point where people were basically had lost confidence in what was in the newspapers, and the business model was starting to suffer, it was in the long term decline. And what happened then, is, some people said, We got to get our act together. And we've we've got to formulate some rules of the road in this industry, and they did. So in the early part of the 20th century, I think it was 1915, the American Society of newspaper editors is founded. And the first thing it does is promulgate ethics codes. For journalists, you can look them up, they're online. And there's the things that seem obvious now, like, you know, don't make stuff up, be fair and objective, care about what's true. Run corrections, if you're wrong. Well, that's obvious now, but someone had to think of it. And then you had the opening of journalism schools, which began training people and saying, This is a profession, you know, this is not just a form of entertainment. And there's some values here and some forms of integrity that you need to observe. And then you had prizes set up the Pulitzer is the greatest and, and ironically, was in the name of one of the yellow press, Media Barons, but you had lots of prizes, which said, We're gonna reward you if you do great reporting. That's true. So the quality of the journalism begins to improve the audience start to like it, the advertisers start to like it, you migrate the business model toward a truth based reality based form of journalism. And within 30 or 40 years, you've gone from William Randolph Hearst to a Who's the famous world war two correspondent Edward R. Murrow, and the golden age of fact, based American journalism, so it takes a while. But that was a form of constitution building that was American journalism, getting on board with the Constitution and knowledge. And the question now is, can we do something like that with social media? There's an effort to do that, which is encouraging Facebook's oversight board is a very interesting and important experiment and trying to create some transparent, accountable rules of the road for Facebook initially, but if it works out, maybe maybe more. And there are professional associations springing up, there's a new one, the I think it's the International Association of trust and safety officers, beginning to develop breast best practices around how you can protect trust and safety, including epistemic trust and safety, meaning truthfulness in online communities. We've got the development of the International fact checking network. Now over 350, independent fact checking organizations and they have credentialing and certification and things they have to do and show, be nonpartisan, show who your funders are, show hooks, show your work, all your sources. And those are increasingly hooking up to social media companies so that they can do some checking of what appears online. So we're in very early stages of beginning to build some rules of the roads and traffic laws, will we succeed? I don't know. But at least I think compared to five years ago, we're moving in the right direction.
Stephen Bradford Long 36:35 I hope so. And I just hope that it isn't, you know, the printing press on steroids. You know, everyone wants to point out to me, I'm kind of a Doomer when it comes to social media, and maybe too much. So, you know, I'm open to that possibility. But I generally agree with people like Jonathan Hite that like, we're, we're in a very challenging time. And people always point out to me like, well, you know, the, the printing press was a big shake up in in civilization. And we got through that just fine. No, no, we did. And we can say that now.
Jonathan Rauch 37:14 A third of the population of what's today's Germany possibly was murdered? Yeah, as a result of that. So yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 37:21 exactly. We, I would very much like you'd like maybe the printing press is not the best example of what to shoot for. Because, you know, it basically resulted in 300 years of horrific religious war. Right. So you in your book, you talk about two specific threats to the Constitution of knowledge and our digital age. One of those is troll culture from the right. And then another one of those is canceled culture from the left. And both of these are basically breaking the traffic rules. They're breaking the they're corroding the constitution of knowledge in their own way. So let's start with troll culture. What is troll culture online? And why is it a threat?
Jonathan Rauch 38:09 Well, it's not just online. That long predates online, but basically, it's misinformation, and especially disinformation. So, suppose you're, I don't know Vladimir Putin and you want to dominate the information space, but out and out. Censorship in the age of the internet just is not practical. There's just too many ways to circulate information. Well, there's another tactic you can use and it was very beautifully and succinctly explained by Steven Bannon, an aide to Donald Trump as flood the zone was shipped. You pour out so many falsehoods, half truths, exaggerations, conspiracy theories and the like. That people after a while they they don't know which end is up, they don't know what's true or what's false. They're hearing all kinds of things that things are not even consistent with each other. You create confusion, disorientation, cynicism, ultimately, demoralization people throw up their hands, they say, I don't know what's true anymore. Maybe the election was stolen in 2020. Maybe it wasn't we'll never know. And other people are just out and out to see well. The election was stolen in 2020. I'm seeing it everywhere. There must be something to it, or else I wouldn't be seeing it. We see this exemplified with astounding skill and success in the stop the steel campaign in 2020, the most successful disinformation campaign that's ever been run against the American people and not by foreigners, not by Vladimir Putin, but by Donald Trump and his minions and Associates in conservative media, the Republican Party and the grassroots. They flooded the zone with with every conceivable conspiracy theory they could come up with and when those were shot down, each one was replaced with two or three more, in Arizona, my home state, they claim the election was stolen. They actually solicited their own audit, in addition to four other audits that had been done when at this was in Maricopa County, Arizona, when that audit found that the count was accurate, that in fact, if anything, Trump's vote was slightly overstated. The Donald Trump got on national TV and said, You know what, I was wrong. Arizona was not stolen. Oh, wait, no, no, no, sorry, Steven. That's not what he said. He went to a rally. And instead he said, the result of the audit in Arizona shows that I want an out and out fabrication. And then he said, and by the way, it's not just America, Maricopa County, Pima County was stolen. Yeah, completely out of the blue. So this is how this works, you flood this homeless ship. This is a very sophisticated tactic. It's mastered by the Russians, but now picked up by Americans in a big way. And it's, it's hard to cope with, even if you understand it, but impossible to cope with, if you don't understand it. This is like swamping the traffic laws so that all the all the traffic lights are flashing every color at once, and everyone's driving on every side of the street, and so forth. It's like replacing the US Constitution and systematic structure of institutions and steps you have to go through with make it up anything goes Calvin Ball. And this is something we're not accustomed to dealing with. Because, as you mentioned, we're accustomed to dealing with censorship, you know, free speech. This is in a sense, in a way, it's about a cancerous version of free speech, free speech without any of the structures that you need to help people sort through it all.
Stephen Bradford Long 41:50 Yeah, and I feel like I, I kind of against my better judgment, I was just talking, I've been talking about this quite a bit on the show how I don't know what to do online, except kind of make a retreat from it, which is probably in the end, a good choice. But I'm so cynical now about literally every single thing that I see on Twitter, on social media, even if it might be true. And but it's a kind of cynicism that doesn't feel healthy to me. It's a kind of cynicism that I don't like it doesn't feel
Jonathan Rauch 42:31 it's an induced state.
Stephen Bradford Long 42:33 Yeah, it's a bad one. I hate it.
Jonathan Rauch 42:36 Yeah, exactly, exactly. Like all of this exercise is to make people cynical and demoralized. So they retrieved from the public sphere, which means they're no longer in the way of whoever is the demagogue or dictator, or a con man who wants to run things. Yeah, and that's exactly the state that they're trying to, to induce. And the answer to that is, I don't know, I don't care if you're on social media or not personally. But for you and me, and people like us, to understand the Constitution, knowledge, understand these attacks on it, and begin in whatever sphere where we have some personal influence in our own institutions in our own lives. Even just in our own behavior online, what we retweet, for example, to begin upholding the norms and values of the constitution of knowledge and insisting that other people do so too. And that means like, don't make stuff up. Just for example, don't retweet stuff, that that you don't have on really good authority is actually true. You know, if people stopped and use their brains for a couple of minutes, we'd have less of this nonsense. So some of this can be small. Some of these changes need to be much bigger, much more institutional,
Stephen Bradford Long 43:49 it goes all the way from the individual to the entire institution, talk some about canceled culture. Now I am aware that even using the phrase canceled culture might, you know, get some of my listeners hackles raised. But what's the threat that you see from canceled culture from the left?
Jonathan Rauch 44:09 Well, I'm I'm curious to ask you what would raise hackles about this conversation with your your friends on the left before we turn to cancel culture? Could I just add a footnote? Yes, please, that will help people be optimistic or at least hopeful. We are learning. We as a society and as individuals are learning and getting better at social media and the US government, in the form of the Biden administration just conducted a textbook example of a successful anti disinformation campaign in Ukraine. It will be studied for years to come to experts in the field. They got ahead of Russian disinformation for the first time and they disarmed a lot of it with a tactic called pre bunking telling people what they're likely to see and actually deterring Putin from doing a lot of it. So we are learning and that's the key Those are those big institutional changes we talked about. Okay, so we're about to talk about canceled culture. Why would that get you in trouble with your progressive friends? Like, what's their problem with this?
Stephen Bradford Long 45:09 Yeah. So I mean, it's, it's complicated. And whenever I talk about the concept of canceled culture, use the phrase canceled culture, talk about, you know, or try to allude to it with different language other than canceled culture. It's, it's incredibly radioactive. And one reason I think, is because it's perceived as a right wing talking point, and to or at, or a distraction from the real problems which are happening on the right. And so people will say, you know, yeah, sure, there's dysfunction on the left. But, you know, Trump is corroding democracy. And, you know, the theocratic right is, you know, destroying women's rights and bodily autonomy in Missouri and Louisiana and whatever. So isn't it a mis allocation of resources to care about this? To which, to which my response is, well, a movement that can't be self critical as a movement that's doomed to failure. And we can't, if we are so scared to talk about this, because of the because the right the far right has weaponized canceled culture if we're, if we're so scared to examine our flaws, because the right has, has taken these terms, taken these words, canceled culture, SJ, W's, whatever, and got it and distorted them and made them cancerous, then we're just doomed to failure if we can't self correct, because of that, we are a movement that can't self that can't self reflect as a movement that's doomed to failure. But it's been a battle. I mean, it's been a struggle, and I feel really vindicated actually, about by a piece that came out in the intercept by Ryan Grim, you might have seen it, where it did, yeah, it's great, where, you know, basically, he says that progressive meltdowns have stalled the nonprofit world. And these are nonprofits like the Sierra Club, I mean, really important. nonprofits that have been at the fore at sort of social justice and climate action and all this kind of stuff. We need these organizations to be able to do what they need to do. But they can't because they're being stalled by these internal meltdowns. So that's one thing that I point to, to but there's so much fear in in areas to it, there's so much fear in my circles to talk about this or discuss it, other people will try really hard to downplay it, they will say it doesn't exist, which I just don't have any patience for. I have zero patience for that. Because if that just feels like gaslighting to me that just feels like you know, it's like it's odd, it is fucking obvious that there is something very dysfunctional in certain parts of the left, that really hurts people. If anyone opens their eyes, look around on Twitter, look around at the nonprofit space, they will see it and then to just deny it and say oh, no, it isn't really happening or Oh no, this is just accountability culture that just feels like gaslighting and that's how you push people to the right because people will feel resentful by because of that people will and they will be like well the rights talking about this the right is the Ben Shapiro is you know naming this but my own colleagues on the left can't and that I have seen that push people to further extremes and then I think the other the other thing that's that gets in the way of people discussing it is oh, god dammit I just had that thought I just lost that thought. Um
Jonathan Rauch 49:33 Well there's it'll come back to you there's Oh, there it
Stephen Bradford Long 49:37 is. There it is. Also, you know, there's kind of the the the identity issue where canceling the word canceling cancel culture, the word woke. All of these words originated from communities of color from online communities of color. And so I've I've heard people say, Well, it isn't our language. It isn't our words the these Aren't our words so we shouldn't use them. And I want to read, you know, I, I'm one of those people who, you know, actually cares about shit like that, it maybe not to the degree that other people do. But I do want to respect the origins of certain words, and so on and so forth. You know, that's good to know. However, I struggle with it when it feels like an attempt to remove the very ability for us to talk about it.
Jonathan Rauch 50:27 And I'll respond to some of that very rich comment in just a minute. But let me ask you a follow up question. Do you feel that in the past year or so you are seeing any any change in attitudes on the progressive side toward more recognition that there is a problem with canceling with repression of alternative views with backlash and resentment as a result? Or you is it? Is it just the same?
Stephen Bradford Long 50:53 That's a really good question. I don't I I know that I've had lots of conversations behind the scenes. I know that I've done a lot of back channeling with people about the problem. And so those conversations do happen. And I will I will say this, I'm not as I'm not as afraid as I was in 2020, and 2019. So that's something you know, I'm less afraid that when I hit publish on a post, that my life will just be absolutely fucking ruined. Like I am as a content creator, I live in terror. I really, really do. I live in absolute fear. That anytime I hit publish on a podcast or an article, that it will just absolutely ruin my life for a month, or what have you. Or longer or longer. Yeah, and I. And I don't feel that fear as much, because I don't you feel it as much. I think my audience has proven to me that they can handle that, that they can handle disagreement. I'm still afraid of it. I'm also more confident now that a lot of my colleagues wouldn't completely abandon me. Because we've, we've talked about this. And so I think I have a bit more security, a bit more of a feeling of security than I did. So that if I, you know, interview someone like you or Helen pluck rose or Katie Herzog, or whoever, that my life won't just be completely destroyed.
Jonathan Rauch 52:49 Could you have Charles Murray on your show.
Stephen Bradford Long 52:51 Could I have Charles Murray
Jonathan Rauch 52:53 ...and survive socially?
Stephen Bradford Long 52:56 No, no, I don't think I could.
Jonathan Rauch 52:59 How about Jordan Peterson?
Stephen Bradford Long 53:01 Maybe? I mean, it depends on it depends on how I would conduct the interview. I think I would actually love to have Jordan Peterson on. I would be fascinated to talk to him. I avoid a lot of those conversations because I'm afraid of not conducting the interview. Well, right. So I,
Jonathan Rauch 53:24 but that's a different issue. Yeah, question is would you be? Is it something you would want to do and otherwise would do but you were too frightened to do.
Stephen Bradford Long 53:33 I am definitely too frightened to have Jordan Peterson on. And Charles Murray. I don't I don't. Charles Charles Murray is so radioactive that it like spooks me to even talk about him. Because for anyone who knows about Charles Murray, it spooks me to even bring his name up.
Jonathan Rauch 53:54 Okay, how about I'll stop this soon.
Stephen Bradford Long 53:56 I don't know. No, no, this is this is an interesting exercise.
Jonathan Rauch 53:58 I do want to say some things about canceled culture. But how about Oh man, I'm going to lose your name Helen. She wrote the book on on trans that takes how long?
Stephen Bradford Long 54:09 Helen Joyce? No, I would never Alan Joyce. I would never talk to her. I couldn't I couldn't do that. I want to I would love to these are and actually this is this is one of the things that that has honestly made me consider giving up podcasting. I am getting so sick of having just safe conversations. They're so fucking boring. I've been doing this podcast for Sorry, I'm swearing a lot. I'm so sorry. I've been doing this podcast for five years. I'm getting so tired of having the same type of conversation over and over again. And I want to talk to people like Jordan Peterson and Helen Joyce and Jessie single people who are genuinely interesting and compelling who I probably have some strong disagreements with or not, but I, I live in, in a lot of fear of my fellow LGBTQ people. And that's pretty distressing. And it honestly makes me sometimes just walk away like I would rather just leave then not have, you know, not have those interesting and challenging conversations.
Jonathan Rauch 55:28 And wow, well, you just said that publicly? I did. If you if you publish this podcast, I assume you have not, you will decide whether to publish it. But if you do, you'll have made that statement in public. And I will be very curious to see what if any kind of reaction you get from your audience, students are saying in surveys, including progressive students, that they want to encounter conservative views, more than they do on campus, they're saying they want more debate and open conversation than they're getting on campus. Professors. And universities are saying the same thing and lamenting more and more and more and more publicly, how difficult it is now to get students to be candid in the classroom because they're worried about social marginalization outside the classroom. So you said a few things along the along the way there that that I want to hit. The first is a point that your progressive friends make, which I think is right, in a significant way, which is I think the bigger threat to American democracy and the constitution of knowledge right now is the threat from the right, because it owns an entire political party, the biggest news network in the country, which is more important than social media in terms of spreading, spreading falsehoods, and lies and causing all these things. That's Fox News for people who are Fox News, if you're wondering, and not everyone on Fox News, but you know, when Chris Wallace bails out, because of what Sean Hannity is doing, you got a problem. Yeah. So So yes, the right is the bigger problem right now. But I agree with you that we have to walk and chew gum, the right is a heart attack. But the left Kancil culture is cancer, because it's eating out the core of our institutions that are supposed to be in the business of robust argument and debate to keep ourselves honest, to show the rest of the world that we're honest, to make our ideas better, and to show us when we've gone wrong and or the point on which they're not right, and you are right is canceled culture exists. It is not just accountability. It is not just you know, wealthy white people being criticized and not liking it. We have survey after survey now that show consistently that over 60% of Americans are afraid to say what they think about politics often or some of the time, because of fear of social repercussions, a third of Americans across every ideological category, this is not a right wing thing. It's also a progressive thing. A third of Americans say they're worried about losing their job or career opportunities. If they state their true views about politics. It's hard to compare, but scholars have tried and it looks like in terms of chilling, that is people being unwilling to state their their true views. The level of chilling in the United States now is three to four times the level of 1953 1954. In other words, it's three or four times the height of the McCarthy, McCarthyism, right? Yeah, right. Now, these are not consistent with a culture of healthy criticism in which the problem is that Stephen longer Jonathan Roush feels that someone might say, Hey, you're wrong about that. And here's why you don't know what you're talking about. Here's the evidence. I'm happy to receive that criticism. I think you are too. Absolutely. But what you described is something different. It's a climate of fear. And fear is not incidental here fear is the product. So what I what I try to do in my book, is help people understand the canceled culture is although it differs from in many ways, it's parallel to troll culture, because it is a sophisticated form of cognitive warfare. It's about manipulating the social and media environment to change what we think what we think it's safe to think what we think others think, in order to divide and demoralize us. So how does this work? What are they actually doing that's making you so afraid, getting inside your head and turning you into a version of yourself that you're probably not perfectly happy with? Oh, yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 59:41 I hate this part of myself. I really do. Yeah,
Jonathan Rauch 59:45 people hate being in a toxified manipulated epistemic environment. It's why the Soviet Union ultimately failed. You can only do this for so long and that's one of the advantages is constitutional knowledge has, but what percentage of the American populace Should you guess our true blue progressives? You know, believe in you, I don't know, maybe use Latin X and LGBTQ and anti racist, you know, the progressive, the progressive stuff, what percentage would you say are behind that?
Stephen Bradford Long 1:00:16 I? I don't know. But from it give me just give me a guess sort of 10% No 5%? Small, very low. right ballpark, it's okay.
Jonathan Rauch 1:00:27 8% 2018 hidden tribes study, which is a very good study.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:00:31 And by the way, that's the that's the tribe that I, whenever I take that test I, I score, and that's, that's what my results always are.
Jonathan Rauch 1:00:40 So, so that's good. So you're a true blue, blue progressive. Yeah. But an interesting question is this is only 8% of the public. So why is it they're able to have such outsized influence, for example, on campuses, and HR departments, intellectual culture, media, and so forth? Well, if you're a small group, and you want to greatly amplify your influence, and suppress the other side, what you can do is manipulate the apparent consensus. So it appears that everyone agrees with you, and no one agrees with the other side, humans are consensus speaking, seeking animals. So if we're in a room full of people, this experiments been done. And you give people an obvious visual test. And the answer is obvious. But you put, I don't know seven actors in a room with an experimental subject. The seven actors all give the wrong answer the obviously wrong answer, not even close. A third of the time, that last person in the room, the real experimental subject will go along with the group despite the plain evidence of their own eyes. And in repeated episodes of this repeated trials, 75% of people will go along with the group at least once that means most of us will comport either our views, or what we say or our views to match the perceived consensus around us. The key word there, though, is perceived What if you can falsify that consensus? What if you can use social weapons, like ostracism, for example, pylons, dragging on social media investigations on a college campus, you could lose your job, or you could be under terrible investigation that paralyzes you for six months? What if it's just that people hate you very vocally? Well, then you begin to create what's called in psychology, a spiral of silence. I don't think anyone else thinks what I think so I silence myself other people who think what I think, think that I don't think what they think so they silence themselves. Using these tactics, you see how clever how sophisticated This is, using these tactics, a small group can make itself appear to be the big group, they can make it appear that everyone agrees with them, or at least if you disagree with them, that there must be something wrong with you. And people then internalize that. So dude, what I'm telling you is you're being manipulated. A small group of people, maybe a bigger share of your audience, but I doubt even that, because I think many of your audience agree with you and are in the same boat you are they've been intimidated and isolated. By by canceling. I think you're being manipulated. And a lot of people are being manipulated. The good news is that I think more and more people are realizing that they're being manipulated, that these tactics of social coercion are being used not to foster an environment of open debate and criticism where, you know, you make an error, you lose the argument, and move on there, instead being used to foster a climate of fear of monoculture intellectually and a climate where if you're even accused of being wrong on one occasion, or you know, it can be a lame joke. It can be anything you lose your whole career, is some people never come back from from this. This is the opposite. This is now called canceled culture. Canceled culture is the opposite of the constitution of knowledge. And it's very effective. So there's a lot of ways to fight back. But, you know, I'm going to tell you that I hope that you would have one of those toxic radioactive people on your show. Because that's how we start to fight back. We start to realize we're being manipulated. We're being isolated, we're being demoralized.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:04:25 Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And listening to you talk is I'm just thinking back two times and, you know, over the past two years, you know, especially since 2020, because that's when it got really challenging, where the the, it felt like the pressure to to fall in line was incredibly powerful. And I tried to follow the rule to never lie to be in a position where if someone asks me point blank, what I think about something I will tell them and there have been Situ patients that I've found myself in where to my shame, I just lie, because it's because it's basically like a don't hurt me cover, like, like it and and I hate that about myself and I hate being in that situation and I hate you know that that sense of corrosion of my character where I will you know, be it you know I'll be at dinner I'll I'll be at a party or whatever someone will ask me point blank something and I find that I just lie, I fucking hate that it's a terrible thing to do and a way to live. Yeah.
Jonathan Rauch 1:05:43 It is a terrible way, way to live, you can ask someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, or you can ask a 62 year old American homosexual who lied every day to himself and to all the people around him for 25 years about who he was and who he loved. And who is spiritually and morally. piffle emptied out by that exercise. But but here's the thing to remember, it is very hard for any one individual to stick their head above the parapet and say, I'm going to say what I believe and to hell with you counselors, because you can get your head shot off. Yeah. But it takes a surprisingly small number of people in a group to begin to do that. Because remember, the counselors are a small group of people, they can't get everyone fired. They can do it one at a time. Maybe sometimes, but even that's getting harder. But you and a handful of other people on the left who are willing to say, you know, fuck this, we've been manipulated long enough. I'm gonna have Helen Joyce on my show. Who are I don't know, go get someone who believes that abortion is is a terrible moral sin and put that put them on your show. Get Pete Waner? I don't know he's, yeah, but but the point here is, it doesn't take very many people to change, to break up a spiral of silence. Because once someone realizes, hey, wait, there's someone else in the room who agrees with me, the dynamic of the spiral of silence can stop very quickly. So I mentioned the experiment where you put eight people in a room seven are actors, they all claim to say the wrong answer, see the wrong thing. The eighth person goes along, can do the same experiment, you change one small parameter, still seven actors and one actual subject in this room. But six of the answer of the actors give the obviously wrong answer. The seventh actor gives the right answer. What happens to the experimental subject, knowing one other person in the room sees things the way you do give that person the confidence to that their compliance drops from about 30% to five to 10%. Now remember, these are total strangers in this room, right? They're all just actors, you got there for this experiment. This isn't your friends, your family. All it takes is one stranger saying I might not be crazy. one other person agrees with me, to give us the courage to speak. So you can do that for someone. I can do that for someone I call this being a reality anchor. We can do this. And it doesn't take that many. And I think it's starting to happen. I think kind of peak cancellation was probably about 20 years ago, started not 20 years ago, getting tired probably about 10 years ago. Yeah, yeah, I think their power is diminishing. I think it's getting harder to get people fired, for example than it was two years ago. Got a long way to go. But you know, I think people are starting to wise up that they're being manipulated and used.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:08:41 Yeah, I think that's a great note to end on.
Jonathan Rauch 1:08:44 I want to I want to know how much you have enjoyed the conversation, though.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:08:47 Yeah, yeah. This has been a wonderful conversation, and I so appreciate you taking the time. It really means a lot to me.
Jonathan Rauch 1:08:53 Yeah, well, don't wimp out. It's, it's, it's not going to take everyone to begin breaking through this ossified culture. It just takes someone
Stephen Bradford Long 1:09:04 for people who want to find your work, where can they do that?
Jonathan Rauch 1:09:08 Well, of course, Amazon or any bookstore near you for the Constitution and knowledge. The book is better than the movie. I have a website, Jonathan roush.com. I don't put all my stuff up there. But I put what I think are the more important articles so you can explore my work there. You'll find links to some of my speeches, and books and all of that. I also have a Twitter, I have a Twitter account. It's J O N underscore, R au ch. But I don't tweet all that much. I got bored with Twitter.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:09:38 It's so boring. I would much rather you know, watch birds or watch actual birds. All right. Well, Jonathan Roush. This has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you.