MONDAY, MAY 16, 2022
Journalism versus illusion: "Time is an illusion," Kant is sometimes rather crudely said to have possibly said.
Did he really say such a thing—and if so, what could he have meant? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers this overview of the matter:
Perhaps the central and most controversial thesis of the Critique of Pure Reason is that human beings experience only appearances, not things in themselves; and that space and time are only subjective forms of human intuition that would not subsist in themselves if one were to abstract from all subjective conditions of human intuition. Kant calls this thesis transcendental idealism.
According to that account, time would not "subsist in itself" (whatever that means) "if one were to abstract from all subjective conditions of human intuition."
Speaking truth to alleged erudition, we don't have the slightest idea what such formulations might mean. (It's always possible that someone else might be able to explain it.)
By the middle of the last century, the later Wittgenstein had piped up with an unpleasant suggestion. He suggested that discussions of that type were illusory in a certain way—were imitations of life, were disguised imitations of discourse.
Such discussions were built on piles of conceptual confusion, Wittgenstein suggested and sometimes said. Down through the annals of time, college freshmen, such as they were, had always suspected as much!
An any rate, how about it? Is time really some sort of "illusion?" Or does illusion enter the scene when philosophers start to discuss it?
We'll set such questions aside for the rest of the week. We'll turn instead to basic questions about our nation's modern journalism at its alleged highest end.
For our text, we'll examine a full-length news report in last Friday's New York Times. The report was written by Lola Fadulu. The news report's headline said this:
Mayor Adams Unveils Program to Address Dyslexia in N.Y.C. Schools
According to Fadulu, the mayor has released "the details of a [major] plan to turn around a literacy crisis in New York City." It almost sounds like that could be an important topic, worthy of careful discussion.
In theory, a million public school students in New York City could be affected by the mayor's proposal. The question we'll be posing all this week is this:
Is there any chance—any chance at all—that the New York Times will be able to produce a coherent discussion of this new mayor's proposal? A million kids are tangled up in this proposal. Is the Times equipped to discuss it?
For today, we'll restrict ourselves to one intriguing point. Fadulu, who's five years out of college, isn't an education specialist or an experienced education reporter.
Nothing we say in the course of this week will be offered as a criticism of Fadulu. Presumably, this very bright young reporter didn't assign herself to the current task.
We do regard it as strange, though perhaps also as revealing, when the New York Times puts a relatively young "general assignment reporter" in charge of this important and technical topic. For the record, this supports observations we've made in the past concerning the depth of concern at the New York Times about struggling public school kids.
That full-length report in Friday's Times appeared to be a standard journalistic account of an important new policy effort. But does that report present a real discussion of the mayor's proposal, or does it merely present the illusion of same?
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but it isn't clear that our flawed blue tribe possesses the ability to create such journalistic discussions. Beyond that, it isn't clear that we have the ability to notice our journalistic failures when it turns out that we've failed.
Is time an illusion in some way? We're not even sure what the question means! But even at its highest end, our journalism has trafficked in illusions for a very long time, and in this, and in so many other cases, our well-intentioned blue tribe is routinely unable to see this.
Tomorrow: As described, the mayor's plan