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The Source Wars
I am not interested in revisiting the “COVID moment,” but the COVID moment might be interested in revisiting us. I am reading that there is a new wave with a new variant. In response, new mask mandates are being reinstalled in a few places.
I last wrote about the COVID moment using the “principle of charity,”1 finding the most reasonable articulation of an argument, with the main perspectives clashing within the culture war, which I dubbed the “COVID Thesis” and the “COVID Antithesis.” From my October 19, 2021 entry, “Breaking the Polarity Spell of the Covidiots and Covidians”:
The COVID thesis is supportive of the response measures to COVID-19: lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine advocacy, and vaccine passports. It sees people who are against these response measures as being massively misled by disinformation on the internet. The vaccines are safe and they are the best method to individually and collectively address COVID-19, while alternative treatments such as Ivermectin lack evidence, and natural immunity should not be seen as a replacement to vaccination. Vaccine mandates are necessary to persuade those who are resisting the vaccines and must be implemented. The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that the above-mentioned positions are needed and during a pandemic we should trust the science.
The COVID antithesis is not supportive of the above-mentioned response measures. Responses like lockdowns and mask mandates do more harm than they do good. It sees people who are supportive of the response measures falling prey to massive propaganda by the media, big pharma, and supranational organizations that are under undue influence by a power elite. Vaccine safety and efficacy are being oversold, while alternative responses to vaccines like Ivermectin should be explored more and natural immunity should not be dismissed. Vaccine mandates are unethical and will dangerously erode our civil liberties. The perceived consensus of the scientific community is misleading and deferring to “the science” is not scientific.
I repurposed the dismissive phrases Covidians and Covidiots for people who lacked “doxastic openness”2 within the Thesis and Antithesis positions, having the inability to change their minds. I am sure many reading this have dealt with Covidians or Covidiots personally. Luckily for everyone, in early 2022, the COVID moment ended. The moment started on March 11, 2020 (WHO giving COVID-19 pandemic status) and ended on February 24, 2022 (Russia invading Ukraine). Subsequently, legacy media shifted its focus from COVID, coinciding with a worldwide decline in mandates.
Three days after the invasion, I wrote an entry called “The Trust Fault Line,” boiling the Thesis and Antithesis definitions down to where people place their trust:
COVID Thesis: having trust in the government’s assessment of the COVID situation and their response measures.
COVID Antithesis: not having trust in the government’s assessment of the COVID situation and their response measures.
I also extended the Thesis and Antithesis positions beyond the COVID moment onto the entire hyperobject3 of the culture war:
Another move can be made here: a trust fault line can be applied to the hyperobject of the culture war itself. I was talking to Chris Kavanagh at The Stoa about this and referenced Michael Barkun’s term “stigmatized knowledge.” How Barkun defines the term: “knowledge claims that have not been accepted by those institutions we rely upon for truth validation.” This can be contrasted to “institutional knowledge”: institutions we rely upon for truth validation.
The definition is rich, and the “institutions we rely upon for truth validation” part is the crux. My overall sense is this: trust in the institutions that many of us rely upon to help us determine what is true, hence help us define reality, is the real focal point of the culture war. This is the point where memetic tribes, and those who get captured by them, get polarized.
What is the source of truth? Is truth sourced from within our legacy institutions, or is it sourced someplace else? These are the questions that summarize the trust fault line. One genre of meme traveling during the COVID moment amongst the Antithesis side was “source memes.” These memes attempted to point out what they saw as the Thesis side's blind trust in what the media told them was the expert consensus.
On the Thesis side, their source for truth depends on the scientific method, reliably done by experts within academia and research institutions, along with government agencies, and reported accurately by legacy media. In contrast, the Antithesis side deeply distrusts legacy institutions, both those relied on for truth validation and those reporting on it, considering them corrupted beyond the point that deserves large-scale trust.
If truth claims were not considered institutional knowledge and reported by legacy media, then those on the Antithesis side felt any normative claims of governmental overreach were dismissed unthinkingly by those on the Thesis side.
Source memes eventually migrated beyond the COVID moment into other culture war battlesfronts.
They touched on the core of the trust fault line: one’s relationship with their epistemic methodology.
Commonly expressed with conscious self-parody.
The source memes are the most philosophically relevant memes because they point to the source of the “deep disagreement”4 unfolding in the culture war. Philosopher Robert Fogelin considers a disagreement deep when opposing parties clash due to conflicting underlying presuppositions, resulting in significant and profound philosophical misunderstandings instead of mere intensity or semantic differences.
As the memes conveyed above, the Antithesis side is experimenting with different ways of knowing beyond the propositional, relying more on intuition, common sense, deep instincts, and older knowledge systems considered “stigmatized knowledge” as a means to connect to "Source."5 In various spiritual-friendly circles, Source refers to an immanent and ever-present depth accessed through practices that intimately connect one with the body.
As the hyperobject of the culture war unfolds, the more its source will be revealed. To help move this revelation forward, I will pose three philosophical questions for “The Source Wars” we are in:
What is truth?
Who can source truth?
How is truth sourced?
Without us having clarity with each question, the war will continue. Without you having clarity with each question, you will continue to be an unwitting draftee in the war.
Doxastic openness is the willingness to consider and potentially adopt new beliefs or perspectives, demonstrating an open-minded approach. The term is often used in Street Epistemology circles.
Hyperobjects are “objects” that exist beyond our regular understanding of space and time. Coined by object-oriented philosopher Timothy Morton.
“What is a deep disagreement? First let me say what I don't mean by this notion. A disagreement can be intense without being deep. A disagreement can also be unresolvable without being deep. I can argue myself blue in the face trying to convince you of something without succeeding. The explanation might be that one of us is dense or pig-headed. And this is a matter that could be established beyond doubt to, say, an impartial spectator. But we get a very different sort of disagreement when it proceeds from a clash in underlying principles. Under these circumstances, the parties may be unbiased, free of prejudice, consistent, coherent, precise and rigorous, yet still disagree. And disagree profoundly, not just marginally. Now when I speak about underlying principles, I am thinking about what others (Putnam) have called framework propositions or what Wittgenstein was inclined to call rules. We get a deep disagreement when the argument is generated by a clash of framework propositions.” - Robert Fogelin, “The Logic of Deep Disagreements”