I no longer agree with this, personally. Politics is not a truth-seeking exercise. It's no science, law or even journalism. It's an allegiance & authority forming exercise. Part of that is forming a supporting narrative but this is more an output than an input. Truth may inform or that narrative, but only somewhat, and so do other things.
You can almost define a "political issue" as one where identity & allegiance shapes opinions more than fact. Imagine most any conflict. Russians & Ukrainians. Israelis and Palestinians, etc. Most people's political position is dictated by their national identity. No facts will convince most Russian nationalists that Ukraine has a moral right to crimea.
When a question is political enough, facts are subservient to opinion. People will engage with facts that support their opinion, not the other way.
In fact, even the terms "facts," "opinion," or "truth" are somewhat misleading. The operative concepts in politics are "identity," "allegiance" and feelings.
(1)identity in this sense: http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html
You could say a politically charged fact like "People of race A commit crime at 2x the rate of people of race B".
One person might then conclude "We need to put more police in predominantly A neighborhoods".
Another might conclude "We should bus kids from A neighborhoods to B neighborhoods to normalize education rates".
While yet another might say "Our public education shouldn't be funded primarily via property taxes, which systemically leads to under-education of lower-class individuals".
Same fact, different conclusions. You can't reduce it down to just "allegiance" or "feelings". I'd argue that understanding your ideology is the only way to make sense of politics. Most folks never really stop to examine their ideology, and just end up wherever they've been left by teachers / parents / talking heads.
Ideology is, in my usage, an identity. *"I am an X." X can be socialist, catholic, christian democrat, moderate, african, working class woman, flat-earther... Some are more fixed than others. But genrally, people make political decisions based on these political identities.
Your example is perfect. More or better facts will not change people's understanding of that politically charged fact. It will usually be a byproduct of their wider political identity... including ideological affiliation. Ideological affiliation is probably the most important form of identity.
Identity is negotiated between the individual and society. Some people argue otherwise, that an individual can arbitrarily decide their identity, but I don't think most people agree with this. The Rachel Dolezal  case is a pretty good illustration of this.
People incorporate anything and everything into their identity. Vegan/Crossfitter/Burner are all core identity components for many many people.
The "negotiation with society" is a function of how the individual externalizes it, and what type of reinforcement they expect to receive back.
To your example, Rachel Dolezal could maintain her self selected racial "identity" in peace and quiet if the society she was sharing it with was Tumblr and not the NAACP.
Politicians benefit when politics works this way. They always have and will continue to do so. And now that we have a news media, they are complicit.
No facts will convince most Russian nationalists that Ukraine has a moral right to crimea
Maybe so, but when powerful interests benefit from such a state of affairs, it's almost illogical to assume that said interests had no hand in crafting it.
-- Toni Morrison, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/05/toni-morrison-w...
> Nowadays, all you do is hear the media's description of what the candidate is saying, and one of the strange things about it is that politics is now presented in terms of politicians and not politics. I don't think the media is interested in politics, they're interested in politicians, which is a wholly different subject... who's doing this, about their private life, about their background, about what they must be thinking, might be thinking when they said something, why did they say it; but what they say is very, very hard to hear. And I think this is, in a sense, indeed quite deliberately, destroying the genuine democratic base on which people are elected.
-- Tony Benn, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqxnmKTmjkQ&t=2h36m47s
Another thing I find really tragic and harmful is how politics is considered as this dirty thing professional politicians do. If we all think that way, it truly is left to mostly crooks, people who meddle with it for gain or other motives, rather than citizens who try to bear the responsibility they have anyway. We need more Stav Shaffir's  in the world, and less cynicism and rationalizations for not doing anything, either.
I don't mean this as some kind of ad for a politician, but having seen a bunch of videos of her debating (often enough in front of empty seats or at people making faces at her, but that doesn't take one iota away from her sobriety and focus, which is something to behold), as well as how she came to get into politics in the first place, I really think she's one of the most inspiring people I've seen so far in the 21st century.
You've articulated well something I've been trying to say for a while.
I've been saying I try to avoid politics because politics is the opposite of math - the more you learn, the more stupid your thinking becomes.
I feel like my explanation just made me sound like a hater and yours nails the problem on the head.
I think the same about politics (in the context of democracies where people are equal when it comes to citizenship), that's no more about authority and allegiance than families are about alcoholism and beatings. Same for journalism and other things, the medical professions and even lawyers, and so on. Even if it was $cynical_thing for most or even all people, we simply are no longer aware of the meaning and what we lost. Even if it was "just" an honest aspiration.. I'm not saying politics or anything was ever perfect or super good, but it used to be much better than giving up on it. And at any rate, our losing it has no bearing on the thing we lost. That's still there, waiting to be rediscovered. Land doesn't disappear just because we drift out into the ocean and no longer see it. We may well perish, but it will not be for lack of land, just for lack of our vicinity and affinity to it. When all directions are the same, and nothing has real value, we might as well swim further out into the ocean.
This is partly true. Politics is - by definition - an allegiance-forming exercise. Whether it informs authority depends on existing power structures. But I don't see how that contradicts the section you quoted. Do you disagree with the prior premise "people lacking facts are susceptible to manipulation" or the latter "independent access is sufficient defense against manipulation"?
Personally, I still agree with the former, and regarding the latter I think that independent access to information is a required but not sufficient defense against manipulation.
The second requirement, as better explained by my sibling nerdponx, is having the skillset to independently evaluate that information. For me, this is where the education system has been systematically failing us (btw I'm European, and I don't believe Europe fares much better in this respect. We're lagging ten years behind maybe, but heading the same direction).
Then there's the third requirement: time. In order to have a healthy democratic society, every citizen needs information, the skills to analyze that information, and the time to analyze and incorporate that information. To me, this is where our attention-stealing economy is failing us: every media interruption, every six-second soundbite, every screaming ad brings us further away from a healthy society.
And it's not as if I have any solution for that, other than pi-holing every aspect of the modern web and disconnecting most consumer media offerings. But my personal solution will not change the world.
When a question is political enough
I'd rephrase that as "when a question is emotional enough". The reduction of politics to emotion is very much a modern phenomenon, and, I fear, one that will ultimately bring down our society. But not all of politics is emotion, and it certainly isn't the politics we should aspire to.
I guess that I think they're not important questions. I don't even think manipulation is at the root of the problem.
I don't think people are seeking truth, when they discuss or think about politics. There is no point where people assess the facts objectively and make independant decisions based on those judegments. What people are doing is assessing their identity and allegiance, then justifying it with a narrative. They may reference facts in their rationalizations, but the opinion came first, then the assessment of facts. IE, the facts did not cause the opinion.
Better facts, access to information, requisite knoweldge and interest... these generally don't inluence people's politics . Political identity does, and facts play a very small role in that.
Think of religion for analogy. Religuous people might be engaged with the philosophy, history or current facts about their religion. If you ask them why they are a methodist, they may reference a theological essays or something that the church does. But, those things rarely impact the decision. More informed people don't make different decisions about their religion.
What does effect a person's religious choice? Identity. Say our methodist marries a catholic or moves to a Farsi village or form a mentorship relationship with a rabbi. This is much more likely to affect their religious choices than any fact could.
Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government https://www.amazon.com/dp/0691178240/
The silver lining is that issue-based efforts have risen to fill the vacuum. I'm as partisan as they come, and I think this is a huge leap forward.
If we (USA) replace FPTP with Approval Voting and Proportional Representation, perhaps the policy-based coalition forming will transition back from 501c3's to campaigns & caucuses.
I don’t think journalism belongs there. Journalism is more similar to politics. It’s not particularly truthseeking and is more inclined toward narrative and painting a story via omissions and not being disinterested.
Even The Economist, which is generally well thought of by all sides, is up front about their agenda (global free trade), even they are prone to being agents of misinformation and taking the wrong side for the sake of their ideology.
Now, they do have their occasional flash in a pan to pad their reputation from time to time, but that’s overwhelmed by their narrative campaigns.
Re: the enquirer. I think most people treat it as distraction/entertainment and are distinct from what were once “serious” newspapers.
"In 2013, Snowden was hired by an NSA contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, after previous employment with Dell and the CIA. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and in early June he revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill. Snowden came to international attention after stories based on the material appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Further disclosures were made by other publications including Der Spiegel and The New York Times. "
It's fairly ironic given the context of the article and GP's comment, but it doesn't sound to me like you're forming your opinion on "the media" on a rational, factual basis.
I also suspect that you (perhaps subconsciously) exclude whichever bloggers/youtube'rs/podcasters from your personal definition of "the media"
It is not just about allegiance seeking but also about beating other groups. And it's not just for fun but for zero-sum resources like budget, "more moral standpoint", natural resources, human resources, votes, views etc.
So altogether probably 3 points to consider (reason to do politics - zero-sum resources, challenges to succeed in - other teams try to get a bigger piece of the cake, and ways to achieve success - building alliances).
I call this "leaving your ego at the door"
I was fortunate enough to attend a ruling class college a long time ago. I graduated from a high school where the required history course was simply propaganda. The teacher never asked for the slightest bit of critical thinking. That's 2019 me reflecting on the experience of 1969 me. 1969 me thought it was over-the-top boring.
That high school class gave history a bad name. I suspect nothing much has changed. So, why should the UW Stevens Point students waste their time and tuition? They aren't. They are behaving rationally.
Knowing how to examine the past--to learn from the dead--is a part of mastering ANY trade. Reading about Alan Turing and John von Neumann makes me a better programmer. Knowing how Jon Postel (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) worked is key to understanding how the Internet became what it is.
Do future nurses need to know how existentially frustrating it was for Dr. Ignatz Semmelweis to persuade his fellow surgeons to wash their hands before touching patients? Yes, they do.
Do would-be social workers need to know how various religions understood human sexuality a century ago? Only if they want to know how people got to be the way they are.
Do marketing people need to know how upstart Pepsi gained market share from Coca-Cola early last century? Yes.
Therefore: here's a CALL TO ACTION for History Departments in colleges. Work with other departments to build and teach good history segments in other courses of study. Build it into the content of various classes, don't just teach a required history class. And, if you educate future K12 teachers, help them know history.
Stop wringing your hands about fewer history majors. Take a page from the way many English departments teach writing, and build it into other courses.
Domain-specific history is full of examples of people who started out being silenced, struggled hard to be heard, and then changed their professions. Why didn't Franklin get the Nobel Prize along with Watson and Crick? The kind of history teaching I propose can lay out those examples. It's called "lived experience" history, not "birth dates of heroes" history.
It hasn't gotten any better. I went to highschool a couple decades ago. My brother went to highschool in an adjacent state. I later found out that I got a version of history where the state where I attended school was portrayed as a utopia from the nanosecond the first European set foot on it. He got something that was more nuanced (to put it charitably). It's quite frankly disgusting how much is left out of history curriculum because it's inconvenient to the ideology of the average person on the committee that determines the curriculum.
This series taught me in a few hours what I didn't learn in school over years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yocja_N5s1I&list=PLBDA2E52FB...
However, studying history at a university is a different beast. My experience was an incredible focus on context-building to understand what the sources are actually saying. This usually means building up a large amount of background knowledge (historical, literary, cultural, etc.) before even beginning to study the target period. It also means more critical thinking when looking at the sources themselves.
I've found that most podcasts and youtube videos, although good entertainment and better quality than a lot of high school courses, deeply lacking in the kind of critical thinking and study it takes to make the generalizations that they're making.
This makes it difficult for me to listen or watch pop history video/audio, since the methodology they use is usually poor (the only exceptions I've found thus far are: /r/AskHistorians (usually, not always) and the Revolutions Podcast (his methodology is good)).
I suppose the point that I'm trying to make is that these popular medias are a good at what they do and function as a great starting point. However, they contain factual errors and conclusions, and they should not be confused with the study of history.
Most Americans now use social networks as their main source of information, with TV on second place, so I doubt this show an appetite for a better quality of information.
I went to a pretty good high school, and I feel like I learned a lot, but I still feel like we could have learned more, and learned it better I went to a pretty good high school, and I feel like I've learned a lot, but I still feel like we could have learned more, and learned it better.
So I stopped paying.
If someone can point me to proper news sites that give me quality paid news, please do so.
Thanks for your suggestion.
One can have a keen appreciation of history without ever having set foot in a history class in university. If this weren't possible, historical thinking would be doomed anyway.
If historians really care about historical thinking as an ability, they should stop complaining about the size of their departments and actually go out and find a way to encourage the general public to take an interest in history, not just the small subset who choose history as a major. Ditto for literature, philosophy, and most of the rest of the humanities. These are things that every educated person should be familiar with.
Disclaimer: I haz a Ph.D. in the humanities. I don't work in academia.
Do you have any suggestions? Many historians write popularly-aimed books, make media appearances, give public lectures, ....
Academics I know prioritize getting their own work done above starting new public outreach projects or the like, and already feel stressed about not getting enough time to do their work in the face of many competing draws on their finite attention including teaching, administrative nonsense, their own families, ...
> One can have a keen appreciation of history without ever having set foot in a history class in university.
One cannot develop the thinking style / methods of inquiry of working historians without actually doing years of relevant work and getting lots of feedback, which is possible but frankly extremely rare and difficult outside of universities. Historians, ethnographers, critics, journalists, philosophers, statisticians, corporate managers, diplomats, intelligence analysts, prosecutors, ... have different approaches to problems and dramatically different perspectives. Just reading a handful of books doesn’t really manage to train a student in a whole system of thinking. Even getting the barest appreciation for what those ways of thinking are about, how they differ, why they are valuable, etc. takes significant engagement from students. At least up through high school students have very little engagement with real scholastic or professional working styles or methods of inquiry. Secondary schools focus almost entirely on “content”, meaning more or less trivia, and most of the general public thinks that e.g. the job of a historian is to discover more precise lists of facts about the past.
Not everyone needs to be trained in a whole system of thinking. Does everyone need to know how to do brain surgery or navigate a difficult diplomatic situation?
There should be history students, and there always will be. What I'm pointing out is that having more history students is not necessarily better than having more people among the general public who appreciate the importance of history at a basic level and stop to think about it when they vote, for example.
> Do you have any suggestions?
Perhaps more historians should write popular books and give public lectures. But even better, I think historians should find a way to make their knowledge useful in different fields like journalism, tourism, art, law, etc.
For every academic who landed a tenure-track position and is too busy to do anything else, there are several Ph.D.s who are chronically un- or under-employed. I hope they stop wasting time trying to feed the exploitative machine that is the academic labor market, and start doing their own thing.
The greatest thing about the humanities is that it can be useful no matter what else you do. The best way to make others appreciate your knowledge of history, literature, or philosophy is to show them through the example of your own life how it helps you be a better person, as well as better at what you do.
Forced STEM is a way to train the next generation of wage slaves. It is votec starting at the earliest possible age while being couched in a faux constructionist _.
Going back a generation or two, most people didn't go to college. Most of those that did tended to be relatively wealthy, with better careers.
Education proponents argues that education made people wealthy/successful. College was an investment, and the education paid for itself in later successes... Human capital theory.
It turned out that lower-middle class kids who gave to college tend to make lower-middle adults. Earning potential increases somewhat, but nothing like human capital theory predicts.
Re-thinking, it seems more that philosophy and history are/were upper class pursuits. They didn't make people wealthy. Wealthy people could afford it.
It just does not make sense for most average people to study history. Its a luxury.
STEM really means focus on employability. I agree that education is not just about jobs. But, the premise of "everyone go to college" policies is jobs. Hence the dissonance.
This could just be a difference in the focus of the humanities that people are learning (e.g. people in the past were educated in a relatively greater understanding of hellenistic culture while modern people are educated in a relatively greater understanding of non-western cultures). However, is it possible that in the past primary and secondary schools gave people a grounding in the humanities even if they never studied them at university?
One that immediately springs to mind as both relevant and a good read is You Can't Win, the autobiography of a jailbird who was primarily active in the American West around the turn of the century. (I read it after seeing it mentioned in a HN thread, as it happens). I can't recall specific examples as it's been a while, but the author received a grounding in history at a religious school as a kid that shows up throughout the work in the form of various allusions to history and mythology.
Now, in a non-slave-based society, we think that all citizens should know something of the liberal arts (which I in fact support, and wish our education system was better at providing). But a degree? Only if you don't need the money.
The high school education is so worthless, that college is mandatory. This is a scam. A high school education should be the equivalent of a 2 year degree from a community college. STEM is a votec scam and an excuse to excise the humanities from all levels of education.
STEM in physical education: Biomechanics, kinesiology, nutrition science, sports psychology, probability and statistics, equipment tech.
STEM in art: physics, perspective, geometry, chemistry, music theory, acoustics, audio engineering, CAD, photoshop, Leonardo Da Vinci would like to have a word with you.
STEM in history: agriculture, Gutenberg, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Alan Turing WWII, industrial revolution, manhattan project, Apollo, telecommunications
Basically the entire tree of "advances in STEM" over the course of human civilization can be directly tied to salient events in art, sports and general history.
STEM advances humanities and humanities advance STEM. If anything the STEM movement is about trying to get STEM back on par with how other fields are taught. It's not a zero sum where if STEM wins, then 'humanities' lose. They complement each other and both win.
As you point out, studying STEM could be complementary to the study of history and other humanities. However, that does not necessarily mean that it always works out that way.
Whether it has to be a zero sum game is another matter, but you seem to have misunderstood the assertion of your parent comment.
And at the same time, it is the only way the West can compete with China
For as long as thinks continue that way, it will be only natural that US will continue losing out on manufacturing front.
I think that many people (not the OP) use this as a device to present their preferred view as the "natural" or "only viable" view and to dismiss any consideration of alternatives as "political."
Regarding the article, I think it is true that, for a couple of decades now, many players have chosen to discredit political discussion and compromise in favour of tribalism. The message crudely is that everybody lies so there is no point trying to figure anything out and you should just stick with your side. This is a political position and it is my (political) view that this is terrible.
I'm not sure that I would directly link this to the number of undergraduates taking history in the US though. Everybody has political stances and a sense of history and developing both is a lifelong process where quality matters more than a particular formalism.
Edit: this was meant as a reply to dalbasal but I messed up.
How do they expect to hire and fire faculty members at whim. This can't be done without compromising the quality which means level of education will be going down further and student attrition will increase as a result.
I do not think these skills are build in a day or retained if one is fired from the job and end up flips burgers. This idea of talent available on standby seems pretty funny to me.
A theme I've noticed in the comments, and in the public at large, is confusing learning history with learning to be an historian (or historical thinking).
During my degree, I obviously learned a great deal of history. However, a large portion of my time was spent on context-building, and attempting to understand sources on their own terms and to contextualize them into the broader world around them. For example, to study the famous historic period foo, you must first learn something of the period before it, bar. It's also important to understand its society and culture, as well as those of a place's neighbours (you can't learn English History without learning some French history).
It felt less like a degree in "history", and closer to a degree in context-building. This, in my mind, was the greatest value of it, as it wormed its way into my brain informs how I view new topics and ideas. It's something I've noticed is absent for many smart people when they talk about history specifically (although they may be excellent at it in other fields).
A high school history course's purpose is to teach a base set of facts, as well as to teach children the state's narrative of its own history (for better and for worse). These cirriculums are usually written by hsitorians to fulfill the state's needs. Youtube videos and podcasts contain many facts, but their interpretation of the sources lead to poor understanding of the topic, and factually incorrect statements (since they're lacking broader context to understand them). Both of these have flaws, and lead to individuals "learning" something that may be incorrect, or that they have misunderstood to the point that they have learned very little.
I suppose that the point I'm trying to make is that learning about history != historical thinking, and a lack of historical thinking can inhibit the learning of history.
As a side note, the Revolutions Podcast (and by extension I suppose the History of Rome, although I haven't personally listened to it) is the only popular history media that has actually impressed me with its methodology. /r/AskHistorians has a tendency to be excellent as well, albeit with some caveats.
Approachable by anyone, readable, and doesn't have an ending until we really screw things up.
The responses here seem to be making Eric Alterman's point in that article, that people who seem to have the resources to better understand ourselves aren't doing it correctly, or keep shifting the discussion with specious arguments.
All political thoughts are based on certain assumptions about human nature, and the best (most prudent) assumptions we have about our human nature start with evolutionary psychologists, and other who study how our brains have evolved.
I have been listening to the Great Courses history lectures on Audible: https://www.audible.com/ep/the-great-courses-history while commuting. I have learned so much. Learning history helps give a new perspective on current events.
The fact that philosophy is not seeing a similar decline (http://dailynous.com/2018/11/30/sharp-decline-philosophy-maj...) should be reason enough to believe that people today, even less privileged ones, desire to know who and where they are. Not that philosophy is unaffected by outdated modes of thought - but its raison d'etre is to lay bare those modes, which allow students to engage with the modes themselves, rather than the misguided content (bad history) generated by misguided modes.
A much simpler explanation is that history doesn't get you a job that pays well, at least not in any obvious way that translates from major to job. And universities have been emphasizing the marketability of majors for a few decades now. So if there's a decline, it must reflect broader trends.
That said ... we should also consider that most subjects don't apply very directly anyhow. I'll bet someone with a History major does just as well in Communications that someone with a Communications major.
A lot of it is just fashion. For example, the Founding Fathers of the US move back and forth between heroes and goats depending on which decade the history book was written.
Currently, the "Hamilton" play has moved them back to being whitewashed heroes. Before that, it was fashionable to sagely intone how "deeply flawed" they were.
For another example, Tesla has been rehabilitated into a heroic figure, while Edison has been downgraded to goat status.
The Wright Bros. also vacillate between goats and heroes.
Oh, you mean the play? Could you expand on your response and show how the play is accurate and inaccurate?
One could say many things about Hamilton's characters. "Whitewashed heroes" is not one of them.