Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Trust, But Corroborate

Via Chris Cillizza (LOL), Washington Post, May 2014. I don't really believe in the significance of this but it's hypnotic.

Really irritated yesterday morning by a radio appearance from Andy Slavitt, a valued voice on medical care and coverage today, falling rhetorically into a pit of Brooksian cold oatmeal.

GREENE: But our next guest says the fundamental issue is not testing. It is not face masks or lockdowns or back-to-school guidelines. It is, fundamentally, trust. Andy Slavitt is a former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and he joins me this morning. Thanks for being here.

ANDY SLAVITT: Morning, David.

GREENE: So why do you see this all about trust?

SLAVITT: Well, if we're wondering why, in the U.S., we're not doing as well as other nations are - and to be clear, other nations have really crushed this virus; whether you're talking about Europe or Asia, they really flattened that curve down to almost nothing. And we ask ourselves kind of why is it that we haven't done as well? Those other countries, what are they doing? Mostly, they're using gifts that they were born with - the ability not to spread the virus by not breathing on people, either using a mask or staying home. And the answer is that, in those countries, they are more unified and trusting in what they're saying. And I'll give you a couple of examples of...


SLAVITT: ...Where we're not doing that in the U.S. So, you know, you take the governor of Texas or Arizona and you see the absolute hell that New York goes through, and you don't trust it, and you don't take the actions that the governor of New York and Connecticut are pleading with you to take. You take great institutions, historically great institutions, like the CDC and the FDA, which historically we look to in times like this to tell us whether a drug is safe or whether it's safe to go to school, and we're not sure if we can trust them any longer.

In Europe "they" (the general public) trust "them" (the people who are "saying", i.e. public institutions), while in the US "you" (the listener) look at "you" (Abbott or Ducey) not trusting Cuomo or Lamont and "you" (the listener) look at public institutions and "we" (the general public) don 't trust them. Which I get, actually, in spite of the pronoun slippage; it's that there are members of the general public, including (Republican) governors of some large and important states, who cannot find it in themselves to trust public institutions and their representatives including the (mostly Democratic) governors of some other large and important states, which Slavitt traces back to "we were founded on principles of liberty and freedom and distrust of government, and some of that is—makes us who we are" (as if the people he's talking about weren't following a ruthlessly enforced centralized line of groupthink)

But "we" (a different we?) also feel we can't trust the president when we do trust the FDA, and "we" (a more inclusive one) don't trust each other and some indeterminate quantity of us may not trust the vaccine when it arrives in a way that's connected to our history of not trusting the president

I think we see it everywhere, David. I think we see it in the presidential briefings and the inability to trust what we hear when the president recommends a drug and we're not sure. We're used to hearing that from the FDA. We're seeing it among ourselves when some people say that we should be wearing masks and we won't. And where this will really come to play out in short order is when we have a vaccine. And will enough Americans trust that this vaccine is safe and effective when they've been hearing from various parties, like the president, that a certain drug is safe or a certain drug is not safe?

and I just don't know how useful that is, because I'm certain my own lack of trust in the president (and Slavitt's as well) isn't my deficit but Trump's, in the first place, with his 20,000 lies and conman history—I have tons of trust but I'm fussy about who I extend it to. And by the same token there's an inconceivable excess of trust extended in some directions:

And Slavitt knows this. They trust not widely but too well. And the Brooks line, in which "we" are the public institutions (we all write for The Times now)
If American life is a big open space, it is not a space filled with individuals. It is a space filled with these structures of social life — with institutions. And if we are too often failing to foster belonging, legitimacy and trust, what we are confronting is a failure of institutions.
is just nonsense. It's a war between institutions of the kind Peter Pomerantsev sees in Putin's Russia, in which one side has found an ascendancy by abandoning traditional concepts of meaning and truth in favor of pure absurd emotion, Post Facta—
For the Putin election, the guiding principle was to appeal to “the Left Behind.” [Putin campaigner and founder of the Post Factum news agency Gleb] Pavlovsky identified all the groups who had lost out from the Yeltsin years. These were completely disparate segments of society who in Soviet times would have been on different sides of the barricades: teachers and secret-service types, academics and soldiers. Putin himself was cast as a sort of political extension of Actionism [performance artists who abandoned language, like Oleg Kulik, who showed up as a dog on all fours growling at gallery visitors]. When he arrived on the scene, he offered photo ops of derring-do instead of ideological coherence — the emotional highs of “Make Russia Great Again.” Over time his slogans became sublime in their emptiness: “Putin’s Plan is Russia’s Victory” ran one. To the question of what “Russia’s Victory” was, one could only really answer “Putin’s Plan.”
redirecting public trust from the world of judgment to the apparition of power. 

And it's not in fact that successful—nearly everybody, for instance, knows perfectly well that schools shouldn't be reopening in September without major adjustments to the way they're run:

but for the way our media (which everybody says they don't trust but, as with their congresscreature, invariably making an exception for the one they follow) continue to accept this normal'nost' as a plausible way of thinking among more or less equal alternatives, giving the postfactual party an undeserved leg up among people who have a lot to think about already and don't have time to puzzle these matters out, partisan Republicans who trust that their representatives have always been hardheaded friends to business and prosperity, gregarious young folk who trust that going to a bar never killed anybody, and so on.

I wouldn't say with Reagan "Trust, but verify," because we Popperians don't believe in the possibility of verifying an empirical claim, but rather "Trust, but corroborate." Trust is a lovely emotion, but people need to think as well, and trust is supposed to be earned.

No comments:

Post a Comment