The new mini-series on Netflix named “The Chair” is really quite good. It stars Sandra Oh who portrays a college professor who gets caught up in cancel-culture’s impact on life in a university. Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t just finished reading “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth” by Jonathan Rauch. His book is primarily about truth within democracy and recent attacks on our society from the media, right wing pressure groups, lobbyists and even politicians. I highly recommend it to anyone who values preserving truth and freedom within our democracy.
Jonathan Rauch was able to finally explain clearly to me how it is that some “truths” that are supported by a majority of people can be ignored, run down, and voted out of existence by just a few. Some of these truths cluster around the climate crisis, financial inequality, racism, jobs. I have always blamed lobbyists, conservative media, evangelical religious groups, etc.. I have felt impotent and powerless when things that were obvious to me continuously were defeated. At least now, Rauch has helped me understand the mechanics of these many distortions of truth that are pushing our society towards the brink of autocracy and fascism.
The following is a portion of a paragraph quoted directly from his book.
“A ﬁeld known as “public choice” concerns itself with the ways in which narrow pressure groups can out-organize and dominate much larger majorities. Consider American rice farmers. From 1995 to 2019, U.S. rice subsidies cost almost $17 billion. The beneﬁts were concentrated on a small set of farms; two-thirds of the money went to the biggest 10 percent of the farms, each of which received an average of almost $1.3 million. You could be sure they were organized, resourced, and determined to defend their subsidy, and woe unto the legislator who would try to zero it out. Meanwhile, the cost was spread over the whole U.S. population. Rescinding the entire amount would have saved each of about 140 million taxpayers about $120 over the period, or less than ﬁve dollars a year: too little to notice, much less to organize against. lf a group opposing rice subsidies did manage to organize, the rice lobby would pull out all the stops to defeat it. But usually, as the economist Mancur Olson showed, the asymmetry between concentrated beneﬁts and diffused costs is such that the majority interest does not organize at all. Over time, pressure groups accumulate, capturing resources which might have flowed elsewhere. If the process is not checked, entire economies and societies can calcify and rot.”
This example really affected me. Many years ago, I watched my Uncle cry over losing his farm to big-business farmers and no one seemed to care. Rauch’s book has a chapter with suggestions for us to resist, fight back, and defend the Constitution of Knowledge. I highly recommend that you read his new book. Understanding contains the beginnings of solutions.