The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump
For those who love philosophy this book is fine at dissecting the First Amendment. Even if you're just into politics and especially if you're into law, it's worth reading Fish's first 4 chapters. You are going to get Fish's elaboration of what you probably assumed (along with constitutional scholars and university deans), that you really dare not assume. You will get a very reasonable presentation. It may be hard to hold onto the conclusions he suggests, but that's not his fault, it's the subject. Take notes or buy the book!
When you get to chapter 5, the last substantive chapter, you may encounter information that I found much easier to hold onto, and more importantly, continually invaluable during my typical internet-bound life. Rising to consciousness in the minds of certain scholars in the last 30 years, concurrent with the dominance of the internet as a sales, entertainment and educational medium, has been the concept of Post-Truth, the replacement of the value system used before which assumed truth, and patiently lauded those seeking, following and expounding upon it.
Fish makes it clear that in any population these days in which individuals try to process data linearly, though the internet-supported data (as well as others' analyses of that data) is growing exponentially, is doomed to discover that arriving at "truth" via the fairly recent invention of scientific inquiry, is just not going to "keep up" with internet postings which: detract attention from facts; may present dozens of alternative facts, may be contrived to deliberately distort facts.
We no longer live in a village with only one witch doctor, or only the Washington Post. Fish makes it clear that when you experience the opposite, the flood of input, you will demand some practical solution. And it's not a Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) solution, to apply artificial intelligence to sift data and consolidate truth, even in the field of politics.
Zuckerberg stands for transparency. That's fine. But Fish points out that "the combination of transparency and the full flow of information leads not to enlightenment and clean government, but to confusion and paralysis." And later he clearly explain how intentional distortions, or at least loose interpretations, are so tempting and easily added to the flow of information. What is one to do in this Post-Truth age?
Fish writes convincingly on his suggested solution. He introduces the values of "perspective", the power of persuasion, and the ability to spread conviction to a following that may control masses from now on. It's a necessary blow to the advocate of Truth vs Lies, the old way. So be it. Get over it. This is now (and always has been, we realize).
Fish will explain the new way, if you are really after approximating truth and not concealing it for clandestine purpose. But he does make clear that in all this muddle of post-truth, it will remain difficult to tell approximations aimed purposefully at truth from the seeming approximations, which are really pure counter-narratives or chicanery aimed to deceive.
Finally, and the reason I give only 4 stars, author Fish slips. After so much of the book being meticulous about sticking to his self-imposed guidelines on how not to be careless, he carelessly assigns a status to President Donald Trump of "a bad post-truther". Not that he doesn't praise Trump's charisma and skill of persuasion, of bringing others to his point of view. But seemingly Fish's criteria for finding Trump "bad" is to instead trust, "nourish and support" he says, institutions such as "the press, universities, professional associations, documentary films,....." as bastions, or at least base stations of truth. With regard to Truth, Fish calls these institutions "dedicated to its pursuit". Proof? Poof. I don't find it.
So, finally Fish steps in the goo. And he wonders why Trump's followers have conviction that it's Trump, and not the institutions cited above that should be believed? How did Fish lose all sensibility suddenly, 3 pages from the end of the book? He doesn't question "the press, universities, professional associations, documentary films" etc.? How do institutions get his Good Housekeeping stamp of approval?
Follow the money. Look at the credibility ratings of these organizations. Advertising and grant money fund these organizations. It's well known. Has he been in academia so long that he doesn't realize the sandy base these organizations rest upon? It's no stretch at all to see why Trump picked up such a loyal following. He easily took on these very weak institutions (yes, weak under post-truth conditions) that have been squandering their once somewhat better credibility, just to get money in the coffers. Trump has far better credibility than the Institutions, even to this day, in spite of many of the same institutions, funded again by big-Pharma, big-Oil, and the Military Industrial Complex, trying their best to make Trump be appear the one using "bad Post-Truth" persuasion.
Fish should reconsider, and rewrite the last 2 chapters of this book so he can reclaim his credibility. Otherwise, I think he does a masterful job of bringing the average Joe up to speed on how to think in this Post-Truth era.