Tangent: NPR: journalist Tom Ricks and how Western society operates best when it assumes an objective reality, and values facts over opinions


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Hi Blog. Tangent today on something that made me think.  I was listening to NPR the other day when I heard the following segment from NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross: “Churchill, Orwell And The Fight Against Totalitarianism”, dated May 22, 2017.  Gross interviewed Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Tom Ricks, who said the writings of Winston Churchill and George Orwell still resonate today, and who discussed the caliber of the generals serving in the Trump administration.  Ricks, the author of the new book “Churchill And Orwell: The Fight For Freedom”, and writer of the blog The Best Defense for Foreign Policy magazine, had this to say at the very end of the interview.  Gross sets up the question:


GROSS: I want to quote something that you write in your book “Churchill And Orwell: The Fight For Freedom.” And again, this is a book – it’s a kind of dual biography and looking at how their political views evolved and how it was reflected in their writing and their hatred of both fascism and Stalinism.

So you write (reading aloud) “the fundamental driver of Western civilization is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.”

So I’d like you to talk to how that reflects on Churchill and Orwell and how that reflects today.

RICKS: That’s the last line in the book. And if – I’m glad you read it because if there’s anything I have to say I learned from this experience of reading and re-reading thousands upon thousands of words by Churchill and Orwell over the last three and half years, it’s that. That’s my conclusion – that this is the essence of Western society and, at its best, how Western society operates.

And it’s – you can really reduce it to a formula. First of all, you need to have principles. You need to stand by those principles and remember them. Second, you need to look at reality to observe facts and not just have opinions and to say, what are the facts of the matter? Third, you need to act upon those facts according to your principles.


COMMENT:  The point of this exchange was to conclude with how this fact-based (as opposed to opinion-based) dynamic has broken down over time, especially in current American politics.  And having lived in a society for an extended period where the search for the truth is less important than understanding power, and the existence of an objective reality is constantly doubted if not outright dismissed, I think it’s a good idea to keep this segment in mind on a personal level.  Periodically renew your commitment to fact-based inquiry towards an objective reality, and undertake decision-making with the flexibility to change your mind when presented with the facts.  Dr. Debito Arudou


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15 comments on “Tangent: NPR: journalist Tom Ricks and how Western society operates best when it assumes an objective reality, and values facts over opinions

  • You may be right, but I’m hesitant to embrace the east west contrast, and thus follow D.T. Suzuki – who said that key to Japanese society was its irrationality. That way leads to Nihonjinron and all its silly contrasts and absolutisms.

    Nevertheless, the lack of liberalism in Japan possible does stem from the lack of pleasure-taking in rationality and reasoning, and the astonishing dependence on an unspoken hive mind like collective consciousness that’s frankly terrifying to behold.

    Glad I got out when I did…

  • Tim Sakada says:

    I am really really sick of people upholding Churchill as a hero. He did very little in WW2 except make grandiose speeches, and he was a racist imperialist who helped starved millions of Indians to death. Orwell was a fake leftist who sold out his own comrades to MI5 after writing clumsy heavy handed overrated dystopia novels.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      I most strongly disagree!
      It doesn’t matter if you like him, or agree with his ideas, but what Churchill ACTUALLY did in WWII was CREATE a shared narrative of British identity that the vast majority of Brits could identify with in order to bind the nation to the common task of undertaking WWII.
      Whether you agree with the morality of that undertaking is beside the point; it was a mammoth achievement so successful that the core of Churchill’s mnarrative STILL serves as the underlying basis of British identity to this day.
      Without understanding that it was a fiction created by Churchill, Thatcher bought into this narrative hook, line, and sinker, and whether you also approve of her or not, her propagation of this narrative continues to resonate to this day, and is expressed in the rejection by U.K. voters of the EU.
      It’s a powerful tool. Churchill played it like a violin. The British generally seem to like and accept this identity as a fact requiring no further discussion or reflection. The Brits are (reasonably) secure with their ‘British identity’.
      Compare this to the Japanese who have to constantly talk about their ‘Japanese identity’ ad nausium; ‘ware ware nipponjin’ every time they see an NJ face, constant CM’s saying ‘for nipponjin’, constant need to frame every issue, matter, consideration as ‘we V’s them’.
      Very weak and secure narrative that needs daily (if not hourly) reinforcement to maintain presence in society.

      — I really don’t want this blog entry to devolve into the merits of Churchill or Orwell. I’ll let Tim have the last word on this (i.e., Churchill and/or Orwell in specific), if he wants. Otherwise let’s try to keep on track with the point of this blog entry: renewed efforts to search for an objective truth, and how the presence/absence of this affects society as a whole.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politi-Facts help us to discern the power of post-truth discourse–a.k.a. fake news propaganda and conspiracy theory. Not sure if we will have similar outlets in Japan.

  • Anonymous says:

    The main point Debito is pointing out above is absolutely true (even if Churchill/Orwell/Anybody might be a paid-liar/controlled-opposition/left-gatekeeper.)

    Yes, we truth-seeking-honest-humans must remember that reality exists objectively, regardless of whatever opinions are currently popular in a country, or currently in the world, or even currently in one’s own mind.

    And yes, we must remember that our ultimate goal is perceiving reality as honestly as possible, and then describing reality as honestly as possible.

    So yes, whenever we find a reality-description which describes reality MORE correctly than our previous reality-description did, we must prioritize TRUTH (the relatively truest descriptions of the existing objective REALITY) over the desire-to-appear-never-wrong.

    Thus yes, whenever we observe a truer perception of reality, we must admit that our old reality-description was not as correct as it could be, and begin using the new, better, more-correct-than-before reality-description.

    For example, admitting that when we discuss the actions in Japan which harm humans living in Japan, the descriptive phrase “the MAJORITY ethnicity in Japan” is much closer to reality than the inherently incorrect phrase “the Japanese Ethnicity.” The latter phrase wrongly implies there is one, just one, only one, Ethnicity of Japan.


    And even better is to NOT focus on the ethnicity of the racism perpetrators at all, and instead simply discuss the human-harming-ACTIONS caused by the vote-having CITIZENS-of-Japan in general: who continue to cause “seishin kutsuu” emotional distress and resulting subsequent physical damage by refusing to legally outlaw the action of Race-Based-Entry-Denial in Japan.

    Japan’s citizens: still legally not arresting, not even fining, business owners who harm humans by posting “Blacks/Arabs/Jews/Chinese/Aboriginals/Whites/Naturalized/Halfs/etc. ‘Non-Japanese-Races’ = Gaijins: Not Allowed To Enter” signs on their doors, in 2017.

    Japan’s citizens: still choosing to allow perpetrators to legally REFUSE to sell food to ‘Non-Japanese’, legally REFUSE to allow baths to ‘Non-Japanese’, legally REFUSE to rent apartments to ‘Non-Japanese’, in 2017.

    Citizens of the world who are Journalists who have learned this uncomfortable truth currently remain reluctant to break this story worldwide: that Japan is in violation of the United Nations CERD Treaty signed in 1995, because Japan continues to REFUSE to outlaw business owners from committing acts of racial discrimination in 2017.

    Perhaps the reluctance to report this objective “Japan has no Civil Rights Law” fact stems from the reluctance to admit that one’s previous idyllic image of Japan was slightly incorrect.

    Perhaps Jarl Mohn (the honorable CEO of National Public Radio, who was the respected chair of the Southern California ACLU for 15 years) has the intelligence, courage, and honesty to admit the reality: that Japan refusing to legislate a Civil Rights Law in 2017 is a surprising-but-objective fact and a ratings-earning human-interest story?

  • Baudrillard says:

    To agree with Luke and DT Suzuki, that “Japan” the postwar construct is essentially irrational (it must be so, in denial, to reconcile American encouraged/imposed democracy/individualism with lingering imperialist pride, arguably) , may I re-post a recent post from another thread:
    ” logic? In Japan? its a top down power game in which the “erai hito” decide what is “Japanese” and use that narrative to shame dissenters into doing whatever they want them to do, from dyeing their hair to an ideal black, to putting up with sexual harrassment from the boss (extreme example but not unheard of).

    The idea that you can appeal to logic, or to universally accepted rules of fairness, while maybe making sense with some Japanese, just does not matter in Japan.

    E.g. Japanese person “I want to quite my job but my boss won’t let me. He says maybe he will allow me to next year”.
    Incredulous me “Even Japanese law says you only need to give two weeks notice or common practice is one month.”
    Japanese person : “so desu ne”
    Me “So just give a months written notice”
    Japanese person : “No my boss will not let me”
    Incredulous me “Even Japanese law says you only need to give two weeks notice or common practice is one month.”
    (Conversation continues in circles until the Westerner gets bored and gives up.)

    I still dont know how Japanese bosses can routinely “deny” a request to quit, and why Japanese employees go along with this.

    Logic has little influence without power. Toothless anti racism/hate speech laws are toothless. Questions about whether or not Japan follows its own rule of law also arise, along with worrying similarities to China’s lack of rule of law, but I digress.”

    I do recall a decision making course I taught in Japan, I have hope in many Japanese individuals as most participants debated logically, except one Yamato Nadeshiko type who insisted a “Jury system is not necessary in Japan as the judge, as an “erai hito” will not do a bad thing”.

    She was loudly shot down by the other participants (I love that when it happens, I don’t get blamed) for her naivety, but this was 10 years ago, before Abe, and I wonder if the tides have now changed and perhaps the logical debaters would not prevail over the unthinking, naively trusting in Japanese elites traditionalists.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Try this; “the fundamental driver of Japanese civilization is the agreement that subjective reality that erai hito only can create exists, and that other people will believe what they are told to when presented with whatever ‘facts’ the erai hito can cobble into a sentence.”

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Tim, brief tangent -would you have preferred Chamberlain to Churchill? Churchill was the only real alternative. Even Pro German Lloyd George knew it.

    Ditto, that other beacon of liberalism at the time, Joseph Stalin.The starvation of Indians was simply down to neglect of a far off colony- blame the East India Co., They were there, not one man in London.

    As for Orwell, whatever his shortcomings, he bequeathed us “Animal Farm” and “1984”. the latter in particular I find quite useful comparing “Newspeak” to Happy Day “Tatemae” simplified Japanese although few Japanese seem to have read or even heard of the book.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, yes Japan is just a top down hierarchy with no “right” or “wrong”, or like in 1984, this can all change; its just about who has the power. And as its quite static, I cant even refer to a “power struggle” as its pretty much the same elites that have always been in power, especially political dynasties in Japan.

    Hence the widespread mental illness when the average Taro takes the red pill and realizes that what he was taught does not make sense; cue taking the bluepill and the cognitive dissonance that is the everyday denial and happy shopping of the Dreamy Day Japan.
    Nb. Googling “Dreamy Day Japan” does yield escapist results, but all completely without irony.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, this “erai hito only can create exists”- especially under Abe, its like South American dictatorships where its a winner take all society. The difference is in Japan, the need for “Wa” is in fact the way to stifle dissent. As with most neo fascist or post fascist societies, the average plebs are just given national myths and a sense of belonging or “uniqueness” in return.

    Thus, the right to lord it over the NJs. The right of any Japanese to report an NJ on a snitch site, or to just “know” Japanese customs better than any NJ ever can, even if these “customs” often contradict another Japanese person’s “customs”. E.g. The guy who told us it was a Japanese custom “not to talk on trains”.

    Yeah, right.

    I move this is not Japanese culture but in fact fascist culture. Or at least so called “unique Japanese traits” are extremely similar to fascism.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Ha! I literally just wrote in a comment pending moderation that Japan is like an 80’s South American dictatorship on a different thread!
      But the chilling thing is that we both looked at the same facts and independently came to the same conclusion, making me think that my reasoning is correct, and Japan has significantly changed for the worse.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Jim, “Japan has significantly changed for the worse”- Nah. It was always there, “under the imposed western veneer you will find pre Meiji era Japan” (a psychologist treating expats in Japan, quoted in Powers’ book “Working in Japan” 1990).

    I have always been somewhat suspicious of the underlying totalitarian tendencies in Japanese society, partially balanced only by the competing interests on minor issues between Japanese elites. The masses dont get a look in- when they make the slightest request, they are crushed, even babies being executed…. (hmmm, where have I heard that oen before?
    Oh yes, Rape of Nanjing. Must be a tradition.
    Check out the Jokyo uprising in 1686. The unfairness, arbritary nature of it, the zero tolerance of reasonable requests and even of charitable acts, is arguably all par the course:
    “She was also executed (since women were not supposed to be executed for such a crime in feudal times, her name was changed to a masculine name in the official record, Shimpu-tōki). “(In addition to the November executions, the new-born son of Oana Zembei’s widow, Osato, was sentenced to death. But the baby died of an unexplained illness[15] within a few weeks after birth.[16])”

    Their crime? Wanting lower taxes.

    I am done here.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Yeah, the Abe governments backlash against the UN all seems to me to be too much like the Japanese walking out of the League of Nations. The Japanese love a ‘strong leader’ (dictator) who ‘sticks it to the white man’ (ruins Japan’s international reputation).

      I also agree that this is the time to take off. You can lead a horse to water, y’know?

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, “”change it’s attitude and cease relying on “academic and inapplicable” approaches…to its “regional understanding”- posted on a another thread, it has they put it to the League at the time.

    “time to take off. ” You mean, leave Japan?


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