The epistemology of sore losers

Donald Trump

So the election has happened and it’s time to check in with our wacko in Duquesne. It’s really hard to get pictures of this sign (figure 1). I either have to catch a red light or, as this time, shoot across a lane of traffic on a heavily used cobblestone street:

Fig. 1. Photograph by author, November 14, 2020.

I have updated my most recent blog post:

    It occurs to me that when I say “people fervently want to believe” misinformation,[13] I am reaching to motivation: An obvious question is, why do conservatives choose to believe what they do?

    I have only a partial answer and some hypotheses. But I remember an earlier translation of the Tao Te Ching (I could not find this in the the more recent edition now in my possession[14]) speaking eloquently of weeds growing where an army had passed. I think this speaks to the origins of authoritarian populist[15] resentment in wars, famine, and disease in Britain migrating to settle in what Colin Woodard calls Greater Appalachia.[16] In essence, authoritarian populists do not trust authoritative information because they have too often and too long been exploited as means to authoritarian ends.[17] Even if they do not know the truth, and may at some level even doubt what they profess,[18] they have every reason to suspect that they are being misled in furtherance of those ends.

    On the traditionalist side, I repeatedly saw Russell Kirk, George Nash, and Richard Weaver all write of knowledge of the senses—empirical knowledge—as “temporal” rather than permanent.[19] Hence a diminution of what I described as “truth as we’re presently best able to perceive it, truth from our perspective—subjective truth.”[20]

    As well as preferring ideology,[21] or as I put it, “tend[ing] toward a naturalistic fallacy,”[22] Conservatives generally are more authoritarian than others.[23] Broadly speaking, the choice of a way of knowing often seems to be a self-serving way to advance their own power over others. For capitalist libertarians, this is simple capitalist greed: What makes them richer, that is, what increases their economic power, is what works, a “pragmatic” theory of truth, and must therefore be right. We might suspect something similar of functionalist conservatives and neoconservatives with regard to political power, of paleoconservatives with regard to white privilege, and of many conservatives generally with regard to the social power of self-righteous indignation.

    As I said at the beginning of this update, this answer is tentative. But social injustice appears to underlie all of these choices of ways of knowing. As Donald Trump twists and turns, wreaking havoc in his exit from the White House,[24] we are reaping what we have sown.


  1. [13]David Benfell, “Epistemology in the present U.S. political crisis,” Not Housebroken, November 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/12/epistemology-in-the-present-u-s-political-crisis/
  2. [14]Lao Tsu [apocryphal], Tao Te Ching, trans. Gia Fu-Feng and Jane English with Toinette Lippe, 3rd ed. (New York: Vintage, 2011).
  3. [15]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126); David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  4. [16]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).
  5. [17]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  6. [18]David Benfell, “Doubting the ‘Fox News bubble,’” Not Housebroken, October 11, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/07/doubting-the-fox-news-bubble/
  7. [19]Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (Washington, DC: Regnery 1985/2001); George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1976/2006); Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order (Louisiana State University, 1964, Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1995).
  8. [20]David Benfell, “Epistemology in the present U.S. political crisis,” Not Housebroken, November 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/12/epistemology-in-the-present-u-s-political-crisis/
  9. [21]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  10. [22]David Benfell, “Epistemology in the present U.S. political crisis,” Not Housebroken, November 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/12/epistemology-in-the-present-u-s-political-crisis/
  11. [23]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  12. [24]Mike Allen, “Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News,” Axios, November 12, 2020, https://www.axios.com/trump-fox-news-digital-media-competitor-25afddee-144d-4820-8ed4-9eb0ffa42420.html; Aaron Blake, “Trump lawyers suffer embarrassing rebukes from judges over voter fraud claims,” Washington Post, November 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/11/trump-lawyers-suffer-embarrassing-rebukes-judges-over-voter-fraud-claims/; Mark Bray, “Trump’s Baseless Fraud Accusations Are Already Sparking Far Right Violence,” Truthout, November 9, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-baseless-fraud-accusations-are-already-sparking-far-right-violence/; Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, “Trump team eyes legal, political Hail Marys as options for comeback fade,” Politico, November 6, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/06/trump-legal-political-lawsuit-election-434786; Marjorie Cohn, “Trump’s Frivolous Lawsuits Are the Tip of the Iceberg in His Refusal to Concede,” Truthout, November 11, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-frivolous-lawsuits-are-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-his-refusal-to-concede/; Jonathan Freedland, “This is no conventional coup. Trump is paving the way for a ‘virtual Confederacy,'” Guardian, November 13, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/nov/13/trump-coup-virtual-confederacy-race-legal-trumpian; David Nakamura, “Trump’s bid to discredit election raises fear that he will undermine a smooth transfer of power,” Washington Post, November 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-concession-transition-power/2020/11/07/2b4cf640-20e4-11eb-b532-05c751cd5dc2_story.html

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