"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Historians Against Trump" vs. Dart-Throwing Monkeys

“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being of course determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.”--E. H. Carr

You may have heard from our friend John Fea about a group of academics calling themselves "Historians Against Trump." Philosopher Stanley Fish took to The New York Times to question the validity of such an enterprise in an essay called "Professors, Stop Opining About Trump." and I think historian/historiographer E.C. Carr would quite agree.

From the liner notes:
Historiography consists partly of the study of historians and partly of the study of historical method, the study of the study of history. Many eminent historians have turned their hand to it, reflecting on the nature of the work they undertake and its relationship both to the reader and to the past. Carr was a well-known authority on the history of Soviet Russia, with which he was in ideological sympathy. Invited to deliver the 1961 George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures, Carr chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study. At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity.

He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.

In short, historians are entitled to their opinion, but it's not necessarily any better than normal people's. And although some individuals are quite brilliant in forecasting the future, social psychologist Phillip Tetlock's famous study proved that when grouped together [say, as "Historians Against Trump"], experts' predictions were worse than those of dart-throwing monkeys!

In the end, there's really no difference between a consensus and a mob; the wise individual speaks only for himself.

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