25 Sep 2020

Breeur (2.0) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.2.0, “Introduction”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.2

Alternative Facts and Reduction to Stupidity

 

2.0

“Introduction”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(2.0.1) We noted before that “A lie has the same ambivalence as a fact, a duplicity between the real and the possible.” (31) (A fact has a duplicity between the real and the possible, because insofar as a fact is a given, we cannot change it (it is real); but, insofar as it is something we work toward altering, by means of our imagination and freedom, it is a possible. See section 1.2.) Liars exploit this duplicity (by imagining alternatives to the facts (simulation) and concealing the real facts (dissimulation) (see section 1.3.5).) But in our times, the distinction between what is real and false has broken down (see section 1.6). Facts have lost their normal power of truth in our public discourse. Institutions are no longer able to establish truth from falsehood, resulting in our indifference to what the truth may happen to be. “this deceptive strategy of dissimulation and simulation breaks down in circumstances where the distinction between what is real and what is false is blown up. This is the situation in which, to use the words of Katherine Viner, “the currency of facts ha[s] been badly debased.”31 Facts don’t work, they are often reduced to what someone feels to be the case. When trust in institutions (the “gatekeepers of truth”) crumbles, any criterion hoping to impose any limit between facts and falsehoods is weakened. This weakness creates – whether intentionally or unintentionally – a generalized indifference to truth” (31-32). (2.0.2) Liars and imposters need us to believe that what they are saying is the truth and not something false (which in fact it is). (But in our post-truth era, we noted, that distinction breaks down, and probably-false statements are given equal presence and emphasis as probably-true ones, and we all become indifferent to truth itself. Thus,) “the so-called proliferation of alternative facts in the post-truth era profits from the general anesthesia towards it.” Social media, as gatekeeper of the truth, has instead equalized all claims, true and false. “Facts and opinions, truths and falsehoods, are spread the same way, simultaneously, and as a consequence their synchronized proliferation suffocates any desire for discernment” (34). (So we have established that in such an environment, liars will not succeed. See section 1.6.8.) “This is not the realm or the biotope of liars and imposters, but rather, of stupidity” (34). Breeur calls this sort of Arendtian transformation of truth into opinion the “reduction to stupidity (reductio ad stupiditam)” (34). Breeur will show how this reduction results from certain factors in new media, including social media’s “information cascade” and  “the context in which ‘alternative facts’ diminish not only the status of scientifically validated truths but the difference between such truths and opinions” (34). Of course there are no such things as alternate facts (a term coined by Kellyanne Conway to elevate the truth status to the false figures for Trump’s inauguration attendance). Instead, “this term represents a contraction based on a (malicious or ignorant) conflation of facts and opinions” (34).

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

2.0.1

[The Debasement of Truth]

 

2.0.2

[Stupidity Instead of Deception]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

2.0.1

[The Debasement of Truth]

 

[We noted before that “A lie has the same ambivalence as a fact, a duplicity between the real and the possible.” (31) (A fact has a duplicity between the real and the possible, because insofar as a fact is a given, we cannot change it (it is real); but, insofar as it is something we work toward altering, by means of our imagination and freedom, it is a possible. See section 1.2.) Liars exploit this duplicity (by imagining alternatives to the facts (simulation) and concealing the real facts (dissimulation) (see section 1.3.5).) But in our times, the distinction between what is real and false has broken down (see section 1.6). Facts have lost their normal power of truth in our public discourse. Institutions are no longer able to establish truth from falsehood, resulting in our indifference to what the truth may happen to be. “this deceptive strategy of dissimulation and simulation breaks down in circumstances where the distinction between what is real and what is false is blown up. This is the situation in which, to use the words of Katherine Viner, “the currency of facts ha[s] been badly debased.”31 Facts don’t work, they are often reduced to what someone feels to be the case. When trust in institutions (the “gatekeepers of truth”) crumbles, any criterion hoping to impose any limit between facts and falsehoods is weakened. This weakness creates – whether intentionally or unintentionally – a generalized indifference to truth” (31-32).]

 

[ditto]

Hannah Arendt once complained that, in many regimes, unwelcome factual truths are often, “consciously or unconsciously, transformed into opinions”30 – as if some events (the invasion of Belgium in 1914, the existence of concentration camps, the genocides during the wars, etc.) were not a matter of historical record but of mere conjecture. Factual truths are from the start not more evident than opinions (which is why they can be so easily discredited). In our first chapter, we analyzed the internal or structural link between facts and lies: A lie has the same ambivalence as a fact, a duplicity between the real and the possible. We argued hence how the liar profits from this duplicity and reproduces it on the level of discourse or communication in order to deceive. But this deceptive strategy of dissimulation and simulation breaks down in circumstances where the distinction between what is real and what is false is blown up. This is the situation in which, to use the words of Katherine Viner, “the currency of facts ha[s] been badly debased.”31 Facts don’t work, they are often reduced to what someone feels to be the case. When trust in institutions | (the “gatekeepers of truth”) crumbles, any criterion hoping to impose any limit between facts and falsehoods is weakened. This weakness creates – whether intentionally or unintentionally – a generalized indifference to truth.

(31-32)

30 Arendt, ‘‘Truth and Politics,” p. 236.

31 Viner (2016).

(31)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.0.2

[Stupidity Instead of Deception]

 

[Liars and imposters need us to believe that what they are saying is the truth and not something false (which in fact it is). (But in our post-truth era, we noted, that distinction breaks down, and probably-false statements are given equal presence and emphasis as probably-true ones, and we all become indifferent to truth itself. Thus,) “the so-called proliferation of alternative facts in the post-truth era profits from the general anesthesia towards it.” Social media, as gatekeeper of the truth, has instead equalized all claims, true and false. “Facts and opinions, truths and falsehoods, are spread the same way, simultaneously, and as a consequence their synchronized proliferation suffocates any desire for discernment” (34). (So we have established that in such an environment, liars will not succeed. See section 1.6.8.) “This is not the realm or the biotope of liars and imposters, but rather, of stupidity” (34). Breeur calls this sort of Arendtian transformation of truth into opinion the “reduction to stupidity (reductio ad stupiditam)” (34). Breeur will show how this reduction results from certain factors in new media, including social media’s “information cascade” and  “the context in which ‘alternative facts’ diminish not only the status of scientifically validated truths but the difference between such truths and opinions” (34). Of course there are no such things as alternate facts (a term coined by Kellyanne Conway to elevate the truth status to the false figures for Trump’s inauguration attendance). Instead, “this term represents a contraction based on a (malicious or ignorant) conflation of facts and opinions” (34).]

 

[ditto]

Whereas liars – and, as we will see, impostors – play with our trust in the existence of that difference, the so-called proliferation of alternative facts in the post-truth era profits from the general anesthesia towards it. This is one of the effects of social media on the gatekeepers of truth. Facts and opinions, truths and falsehoods, are spread the same way, simultaneously, and as a consequence their synchronized proliferation suffocates any desire for discernment. This is not the realm or the biotope of liars and imposters, but rather, of stupidity. What Arendt claimed about the transformation of truth into opinion is a good example of what I will call the reduction to stupidity (reductio ad stupiditam). This reduction, as I will try to explain, is rampant due to, for example, the proliferation of social media, its “information cascade” and the context in which “alternative facts” diminish not only the status of scientifically validated truths but the difference between such truths and opinions. The notion of an “alternative fact” is in itself a provocation: A fact has, given its “stubborn’’ nature, per definition no “alternative.” It is what it is: A fact. As we know, the cynical term “alternative fact” was used by the U.S. counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway during an interview in January 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the attendance numbers of Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. In itself, this term represents a contraction based on a (malicious or ignorant) conflation of facts and opinions.

(34)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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