Being Reality-Based Isn’t Elitist

The title of an article by James Traub in the aftermath of Brexit caught my eye: It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses. Here is how he sums up what is going on:

The schism we see opening before us is not just about policies, but about reality. The Brexit forces won because cynical leaders were prepared to cater to voters’ paranoia, lying to them about the dangers of immigration and the costs of membership in the EU…The Republican Party, already rife with science-deniers and economic reality-deniers, has thrown itself into the embrace of a man who fabricates realities that ignorant people like to inhabit.

Here’s his solution:

Did I say “ignorant”? Yes, I did. It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that “elitist”? Maybe it is; maybe we have become so inclined to celebrate the authenticity of all personal conviction that it is now elitist to believe in reason, expertise, and the lessons of history. If so, the party of accepting reality must be prepared to take on the party of denying reality, and its enablers among those who know better. If that is the coming realignment, we should embrace it.

I have to admit that I find myself divided about that. On the one hand, I think his analysis is mostly right. On the other, I reject elitism and have to wonder when it became a synonym for dealing with reality.

In describing how conservatives set things up for Donald Trump’s epic scam, Jeet Heer nailed the problem.

The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

Over ten years ago, Stephen Colbert captured all of this perfectly with his invention of the word “truthiness,” which has been defined as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

 

To the extent that we have allowed Fox News, talk radio and conservative demagogues to put truthiness on par with reality, we have opened the door for the latter to be considered elitist and the former to be embraced as an acceptable part of political dialogue.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.