A common baseline of facts and information?

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Crawford since he wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft. His second book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, was solid, too.

Now he has published a terrific longread article at American Affairs Journal: Algorithmic Governance and Political Legitimacy. I got pointed to it from here, and I don’t think I could improve on that as a summary of a dense, dense, but rewarding article.

The “density” isn’t from political theory jargon (Crawford has his doctorate in political theory), but from plain-English descriptions of things that have been so far off my radar that it takes a while to apprehend a few of the implications.

My personal take-away, at least tentatively, is to deeply distrust any politician who proposes to unite us with “a common baseline of facts and information” (Barack Obama’s locution). That seems to cash out as “persuade us to trust whatever Google’s opaque and proprietary algorithms serve up in response to our searches,” and I cannot grant that trust since I know that humans wrote the algorithms, humans have biases, and the biases of the humans at Google are of the sort that gets James Damore branded a monster and rode out of town on a rail.

That personal take-away does not do justice to Crawford’s long discussion, so be warned. Be warned, too, that you may need a few hours of punctuated reading to get through the article, but I think you’ll find it rewarding.

Frankly, the “common baseline of facts and information” conceit will probably be that of liberal or progressive politicians. On the other side, we have a narcissist who thinks anything less than fully flattering is “fake news.” The work of citizens in democracy is harder than ever now that we’ve been disenthralled. Heck, I “see through” so much stuff I’m in danger our not just plain seeing anything.

But I do believe that reality is out there (I think that was a tag-line for something but I’m too out of pop culture to tell you what it was), and the real work of politics, in the traditional sense, is persuasion, not surreptitious curation.

(I’m classifying this as “lifeworks” because it’s about Crawford. I’d class it as deathworks if it were about the curators.)

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