The Optimism of Public Intellectuals

Optimism can be especially tempting for intellectuals. Their ability to turn a phrase, and experienced ease in reasoning to a feasible reconciliation of constraints and affordances implicit in their experience of the human condition, can make it harder for them to tell the doxastic furniture of their worldviews from the alethic furniture of the world.

It takes an innocence, from epistemology certainly, but perhaps also from unpleasant thoughts,  to prompt one to affirm with Hannah Arendt: “No matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough, to cover the immensity of factuality.”

Perhaps, Arendt didn’t know or much think upon the fact that for even an exceedingly simple equation like “(x + 2.5) = 5”, where x is the only value to be determined, the number of strictly false answers is non-denumerably infinite!  Only a careful cultivation of ignorance could keep someone from the pessimistic deduction that bullshitters and liars will always enjoy an insuperable advantage in discourse. As there are non-denumerably many falsehoods corresponding to any given fact, cooking up falsehoods will always recruit less cognitive effort than combating their influence with appropriate refutations.

There are 360 orientations a hurled spear may fall flat, but only 1 in which it will land upright in the ground. There is more girth to the body of lies and falsehoods than there are threads of truths to cover its shame with a well-intentioned quilt.


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