The cards on the table

9min

In closing, I think it is time to explain why I put this book together as I did, what I intended with each decision, both with what I showed and what I did not show. It is time to lay my cards on the table in order to share the journey as completely as possible […]

In closing, I think it is time to explain why I put this book together as I did, what I intended with each decision, both with what I showed and what I did not show. It is time to lay my cards on the table in order to share the journey as completely as possible with the readers. 

First, some honest clarifications. Post-truth has received a lot of attention very recently, and there is still not even much consensus about what it is. In this book, I allowed myself to separate post-truth into its unintentional and intentional, careless and malicious versions. This is something I have not seen analyzed in this way elsewhere. I did it to show that we are agents not only in the generation of post-truth, but also in combating and defeating it. This view makes us victimizers as well as victims, but I believe it also empowers us. 

Moreover, I do not consider post-truth to be only dissimulating the truth when it is known, but also pretending something is true when it is not. The former is what is usually considered post-truth. The second is my personal view. I believe that the mechanisms behind both situations are similar, as well as the possible solutions. 

If there is no consensus about what post-truth is, much less do we know how to combat it. Research is just beginning, so we have yet to learn more about the phenomenon itself and how we might combat it. I put together this book based on partial evidence, arranged on my own criteria. I do not know if it works, but nobody knows yet what works and what does not. If, when the time comes, this book proves useless, we will have learned something together, and that is a reason to celebrate. If this book is destroyed by better ones, it will have served its purpose. I am not threatened if my ideas are destroyed. I am honored that they can be improved on. 

But perhaps something in this book does work. Just as a vaccine "trains" our body to develop defenses against a dangerous agent, the discussion in this book might help make the hidden processes behind the claims more evident, and assess them more easily. This could be, at least in part, an exercise in rational design in search of a vaccine against post-truth.

I can imagine some criticisms that might arise from this proposal. So far, post-truth is usually analyzed, fundamentally, as a phenomenon seen in politics (post-truth politics) and journalism (fake news, etc.). Likewise, it is often addressed by professionals in these fields of knowledge. In this context, and given that my background comes from the natural sciences, it may surprise some people that I write about topics that are usually linked more to the social sciences. Others may think that I am giving a privileged place to science, talking about evidence, how we can know, and discussing examples of post-truth in rather scientific topics. In that case, let me just say that I am trying to provide a different view from those already available. I believe that attenuating the apparent boundaries that separate people trained in different areas of knowledge is one of the ways to confront post-truth. I also believe that we have to join forces. 

Having clarified these points, let's consider some of the decisions I made throughout the book. One last introspective loop for a recursive book. 

In a book on post-truth, some may have been disappointed not to find too many local examples of post-truth in politics. I skirted those issues not because they are unimportant, but precisely because they are, and very much so. This allowed me to avoid arousing tribalism, confirmation bias and emotional responses. Had I included political examples, it seems to me that I would have succeeded in bringing those who agree very close, but would have forever alienated those who do not. The latter would perhaps have therefore dismissed the whole proposal and considered me a "false expert," while the former would have considered me a "competent expert" on the grounds that what I say agrees with what they think. Let it be clear that I find equally damaging to the fight against post-truth both attracting people who agree with me and alienating those who do not, because in both cases I would have been judged, through motivated reasoning, by my supposed motives, by who "I am", and not by what I say. Within my means, I always tried to direct attention to the evidence, so that that is taken into account and not "where I’m coming from". I am fighting post-truth within a book to fight post-truth. 

When I talked about politics, I did make a few references to the United States, because a lot of research is done there and there is abundant evidence, so the discussion could transcend the field of hypotheses and become more solid and based on knowledge about the phenomena. 

The central goal of the book was to put a spotlight on the invisible processes behind the claims and to offer some practical suggestions on how to expose and evaluate those processes. In the same way, here I am making the process behind the writing of this book transparent. I am making the implicit explicit. 

The topics discussed in the book were chosen not so much per se, but rather to illustrate certain processes that I meant to highlight. In this way, I wanted us to free ourselves from the particular topics and focus on the structure. The proposal is that, in this way, each of us can take away practical tools to examine processes and apply them to new topics. It was an attempt to “teach a man to fish, rather than give a man a fish”. 

The above is about the content of the book, but there are also decisions about its tone. I tried to use a calm and friendly tone to decrease polarization, de-partisanize the issues and avoid escalating conflict. I do have my own positions on non-factual issues, but I kept it to myself so that the message might reach people with positions different from mine. I showed my own introspection in action, with these inserted texts, and invited readers to join me. I said "I don't know," "I think," "I believe," "I guess," and so on, not only to indicate when I felt there was not enough evidence to make a strong claim, but also to show that I am not threatened by the fact that my ideas are sometimes not entirely solid. I distance myself from my ideas and invite others to do the same. We want our ideas to fail because better ones have emerged. That process benefits us all, and our individual or group identity should not be threatened by that. 

I am aware that some power is lost in disseminating information using a moderate and dispassionate tone, but what I think was lost in that respect I hoped to gain in reaching different people and in terms of credibility. I also tried to explain what I was saying, to support it with evidence. This makes the text more dense, complex and difficult, yes, and that also undermines its impact. I could have tried to make a small manual of memorable viralizable phrases, which can be easily shared and sell many copies. But I refrained from this to show the hidden process and its difficulty, which is what I believe we must do to combat post-truth. 

Of course, in the same line of trying to lead by example, I recognize some of the possible biases I may have and mistakes I may have made. I know I should not identify all of them, but I accept that this proposal may be biased towards science because of my background, because that is my view of the world. Just as a political analyst sees post-truth in what some politicians say, or a journalist tries to address the problem of fake news, I tend to think in terms of what is factual and what is not, what evidence we have and how much we can trust it, and so on. In the same way, if a philosopher were to analyze post-truth, perhaps he would focus on the need for citizens to know more about epistemology or logic, for example. 

It was not easy for me to pursue this project in these terms. When this book was just a vague idea, I discussed the project with some traditional publishers. For various reasons, it did not prosper, but they made two interesting points. First, they made it clear to me that the market revolves around polarization, and that, therefore, a proposal against this divide, such as this one, would not be sellable. The second point was that there were no similar comparable books. The problem with this is that a bookseller would not know where to place it, next to which other books it should be. It seemed that my unshelved book would be orphaned. But it found a home in the team at El Gato y La Caja when we discovered that we were motivated by the same goal and were willing to develop the project together, collaboratively and through a process open to the community. 

My lack of expertise in some of the topics discussed may have caused me to omit relevant aspects or to make flat-out mistakes. The team helped identify several and to improve the proposal on many levels. Also, we were able to incorporate new ideas by developing this book in a radically open way, publishing drafts, reading hundreds of messages with suggestions, listening attentively to recommendations from professionals who had the privilege of sharing their point of view with us. In this way we saw the project grow, disassemble and reassemble thanks to feedback from others. 

This book is the best proposal we achieved as a team and, as a last act of consistency, we acknowledge it as a perfectible draft made by people in a state of permanent learning. Hopefully, some of this will make a difference. We are all facing this problem together, and we shall prevail together.

The first print run of Thinking with Others was completed in October 2018. We made this book, from day one, in an open way: it would not be what it is without the support and conversations we had with the El Gato y la Caja Team and Community, with whom we dialogued after each web delivery, from whom we learned and thanks to whom we redesigned, rethought and reimagined this book. Nor would it be without the effort and creativity of the ABRE team to dream up a different pre-sales campaign, one that could initiate a conversation that would include political, media and scientific actors, with whom we hope to articulate the diverse and complex front necessary to confront the current post-truth epidemic. To all of them we owe a big thank you and a hug.

You can find the original Spanish version in pensarconotros.com.

What do you think?