Wednesday 26 July 2023

The Power Of “Lived Experience”.

Tortured Testimony: What is cold hard evidence in the face of the naked emotional anguish of the victims of crime? What is reasonable doubt in the face of pleading eyes, tear-stained cheeks, and twisted mouths. What chance does forensic science have in the face of the victims’ lived experience?

HAVE YOU NOTICED IT YET? The emerging power of “Lived Experience” testimony? It’s rapidly trumping the hard data produced by traditional science. And if you are one of those people our society once referred to reverentially as “experts” – then watch out!

Nobody wants to know what “experts” think anymore, because, really, what do experts know? It was experts who told the world that toxic bundles of unredeemable debt were worthy of Triple-A credit-ratings. Experts who advised governments to pursue “herd immunity” from Covid-19. Experts who reassured us that there was absolutely no way that Russia was going to invade Ukraine.

Nope, being an expert ain’t what it used to be.

Lived Experience, on the other hand, is riveting, compelling, heart-breaking, and unequivocally “real”.

It’s been on display in the world’s witness-boxes for centuries. The raw grief, the cold fury, that hunger for justice that is quite impossible to fake. Prosecutors can’t get enough of it. Defence lawyers fear it. Juries lap it up like ice-cream.

How are twelve people chosen at random supposed to know that there are people out there who can fake anything? Not all great actors are on the stage or in the movies.

We can’t even trust our own eyes. Find ten eye-witnesses to the same event, and on the witness stand every one of them will recall it differently.

Thank God for forensic science! Thank God for television series like CSI! Thank God for DNA evidence! For a while there, expertise was on a roll. For a while there, men and women who had been immured on the basis of police corruption, judicial incompetence, and perjured testimony were walking free after ten, twenty, thirty years behind bars.

They were the lucky ones, if that description isn’t obscenely ironic, because, in the USA, innocent men and women were sent to their deaths on the strength of relived experiences that never happened.

Which just left the victims – and the public.

When expert witnesses rob the grieving family (and the vicariously grieving public) of their prey, where is the “closure”, the relief, the satisfaction that the guilty ones will be punished? In one corner of the public mind lies the cold, hard evidence which swayed the jury. But what is cold hard evidence in the face of the naked emotional anguish of the victims of crime? What is reasonable doubt in the face of pleading eyes, tear-stained cheeks, and twisted mouths. What chance does forensic science have in the face of the victims’ lived experience?

The lesson was not lost upon those who, for a whole host of reasons, were looking for a way to drive expert knowledge out of the arguments they were advancing. Science, statistics, history, all of these disciplines (and many others) have an irritating way of taking the winds of passion out of the sails of all sorts of political vessels.

This was especially so in the case of those political causes that looked at science and expert opinion and saw only the Praetorian Guards of oppressive systems that employed Reason not as the liberator of the poor and oppressed, but as their jailer. How many experts had preached the holy wisdom of Patriarchy? The clear superiority of Western Culture? The social virtues of Eugenics? At the time, they insisted that these manifest evils were pure and simple truths. At the time, most people believed them.

What better weapon to wield against these regiments of official lies than the self-evident truths drawn from the victims’ personal experiences? The dignified testimony of the Black sharecropper victimised by the Ku Klux Klan. The courageous testimony of the rape victim. The long-suppressed testimonies of the victims of institutional violence. Truth that lived in human eyes. Truth that was carried on the human voices of those who had endured it.

There was truth in what they said. Systems of oppression have always claimed a monopoly on Truth. The powerful have always used knowledge as a weapon. Experts have silenced far too many critics with right – and science – on their side. Such is the lived experience of all those who fight for justice.

But justice is not served by unchallenged individual testimony. Pain and anguish can warp human judgement no less than greed and cruelty. Lived experience conveys part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 July 2023.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Many people don't understand science. Conservatives in particular don't like it because "it keeps changing". How many times have I heard this on the blogosphere – let's just say numerous. Experts can only give you an an opinion based on the evidence – as close to the truth as they can get. Sometimes they get it wrong, but science usually self corrects eventually.

That's not good enough for some people of course who want black and white answers "now!" Not to mention that – and here I blame the mainstream media as much as the lunatic fringe media – science reporting is rubbish. How many papers these days have a dedicated science reporter, with some qualifications in science? Not many I suspect. So essentially what we get from science reporting is click bait.

Lived experience is fine. It certainly tugs at the heartstrings. But lived experience can be even more easily twisted than science. Let's not forget that "lived experience" was one of the excuses Hitler used to invade Czechoslovakia.

I think it was Michael Gove, the British Conservative MP who said that "people are tired of experts." Look at the mess he and his colleagues made of the economy of Britain because they didn't listen to them.

David George said...

“When evil comes disguised as progress, celebrated in ignorance as righteous, when truth triggers vitriol & disgust, as the good are slandered & silenced, and when the sick are hailed as heroes, while the natural state of things is ridiculed, then truly we are in dangerous times”
Maajid Nawaz

John Hurley said...

The documentary No Moari Allowed. The woman went in to the shop: "get out!". She still has the scar on her face. Did he get punished or did they let him off. Was that common?
What happened to Lionel Terry?
On a Vox documentary Tame Iti [was dropped off at a block of council flats. An old "Boer war"/ "WW1" veteran yelled at him to "Get out!"]. He'd "never seen so much racism in a white town".
At that time (mind you) he was a member of the Communist Party.
It is necessary that Christchurch is flawed/ found out because post-ethnic society depends on it.

John Hurley said...

GS as Jon Haidt points out the left and right both deny science (IQ; stereotype accuracy; sex differences; blank state).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

On Nawaz: "The social media scalpel has cut up this careful, evidence-based activist and rebuilt him as a caricature conspiracy theorist, whose ideas are not so far from the ravings of the dogmatists he once exposed." Nick Cohen.

God, it just seems so easy to get conservative stirred up. I suspect they actually need something to be angry about – but surely their lives can't ALL be so lacking in self worth? So what is it that drives them to conspiracy theorists and angry pundits?

Given that they are constantly telling Maori to adapt to the Pakeha world, I find it strange that they don't like adapting to the modern world. Sauce for the goose.

David George said...

Chris: "Systems of oppression have always claimed a monopoly on Truth"
Yes, I recall being told "We will continue to be your single source of truth," and that, "Unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth."

But still, it feels to me like the "systems of oppression" have leapt away from human imagination and control. Perhaps they're no longer even human anymore. Perhaps they never were.

Paul Kingsnorth:

"Whatever is quite happening, it seems obvious to me that something is indeed being ushered in. The ruction that is shaping and reshaping everything now, the earthquake borne through the wires and towers of the web through the electric pulses and the touchscreens and the headsets: these are its birth pangs. The internet is its nervous system. Its body is coalescing in the cobalt and the silicon and in the great glass towers of the creeping yellow cities. Its mind is being built through the steady, 24-hour pouring-forth of your mind and mine and your children’s minds and your countrymen. Nobody has to consent. Nobody has to even know. It happens anyway.

Question Four: How do we live with this?
All of this disturbs me at a deep level. But I am writing these words on the internet, and you are reading them here, and daily it is harder to work, shop, bank, park a car, go to the library, speak to a human in a position of authority, or teach your own children without the Machine’s intervention. This is our new god. But what would a refusal to worship look like? And what would be the price?"

David George said...

Yes John, some things, obvious and provable things, must never be spoken of, denied. But their intended death can never be fully completed, in that sense they're eternal. Hence the Christian insistence that God is Truth and Truth is God?

Tom Hunter said...

Nobody wants to know what “experts” think anymore, because, really, what do experts know?

Well they haven't got a great track record lately. Here's just the latest example:

Four experts consulted by The Washington Post said Biden and Trump were likely to retain the cognitive and physical abilities to perform as president between 2025 and 2029 -- unless they suffer a serious illness or injury.

That's from a puff piece in the WaPo about how ordinary people should ignore what they see and hear when looking at Biden and Trump, although of course they're conflating the two because it's really about trying to address all the concerns about the Vegetable In Chief.

Perhaps it's more the fault of our useless MSM, who constantly tout "experts" without telling us why they're experts or how it's been determined that they're experts. The suicide of expertise:

Experts failed to foresee the fall of the Soviet Union, failed to deal especially well with that fall when it took place, and then failed to deal with the rise of Islamic terrorism that led to the 9/11 attacks. Post 9/11, experts botched the reconstruction of Iraq, then botched it again with a premature pullout.

On Syria, experts in Barack Obama’s administration produced a policy that led to countless deaths, millions of refugees flooding Europe, a new haven for Islamic terrorists, and the upending of established power relations in the mideast. In Libya, the experts urged a war, waged without the approval of Congress, to topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi, only to see — again — countless deaths, huge numbers of refugees and another haven for Islamist terror.

It was experts who brought us the housing bubble and the subprime crisis. It was experts who botched the Obamacare rollout. And, of course, the experts didn’t see Brexit coming, and seem to have responded mostly with injured pride and assaults on the intelligence of the electorate, rather than with constructive solutions.

David George said...

It's difficult to maintain faith in "The Experts" when they keep coming up with stuff like this:
Mathematx (pronounced “math-e-ma-tesh”) is the brain-child of the critical mathematics education activist Rochelle Gutiérrez, who holds no degrees in mathematics.

Critical theory again; batshit crazy but being put in place in governance, education and elsewhere by the credulous ning nongs running the show.

David George said...

More Critical Theory insanity:

A Queer (deconstructive) Critical Theory of Race is starting to emerge. It will eventually cannibalise and consume the existing Critical Theory of Race (Race Marxism, i.e., Critical Race Theory). CRT, which is rooted in grift, is holding on tight for the present but can't win.

"A number of people are attempting to change their race by watching certain videos, hoping to manifest physical change.

“They have convinced themselves it works because there’s other people who have convinced themselves, as well,”

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah, nut picking again I see David. My rule of thumb is that in any large enough number of people, there are bound to be some eejits. Picking on the eejits and implying that everyone in the group believes as they do seems to be a tactic of yours. It's totally dishonest.

David George said...

Another fascinating essay from Kathleen Stock; the individual versus the collective, my truth versus the truth.

Conclusion: Tap into the right tropes and it’s a work of minutes to persuade the guilt-ridden and the gullible that a new identity group is being persecuted horribly, simply because rampant political ambitions are being criticised. The book-burners and censors these days do it in the memory of past victims of totalitarianism, and many onlookers don’t know which side to take. Even worse, the phenomenon of confected-grievance-as-power-grab allows many to dismiss genuine social ills in the same light.

Still, despite the epistemic confusion, we have to keep on trying. As Arendt wrote presciently in 1951: “The self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality… The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (the standards of thought) no longer exist.” In other words: technologies may come and go, but the challenge of staying an individual in the face of the mob is always with us.

David George said...

“Autoethnography” refers to a form of research (if we must) in which one’s own reflections upon life, often written in autobiographical form, are treated as authoritative analyses of broader society. More specifically, these self-reflective observations are utilized to do an ethnographic study of the culture in which one finds oneself. The approach has therefore been, for rather good reasons, referred to by its critics as “me-search.” Autoethnography is now a fairly well-established form of qualitative methods research throughout the theoretical humanities, and it is, perhaps, most commonly utilized in the various fields of studies that can be categorized as the Theory of Critical Social Justice. The approach is often rooted in narrative and storytelling (see also, counterstory).

Anonymous said...

GS is exactly right about science coverage in the legacy media. There is a lack of science journalists, and it is clickbait that gets views. There is a lack of clear explanations for a general audience.

I thought this was shown by the coverage on "Sunday", on TV1, of the technology startup in Wellington seeking to build a nuclear fusion reaction. This would emulate, on Earth, the hydrogen fusion reaction that powers the sun, and indeed all stars.

The founder,and head honcho, is Dr Ratu Mataira. As his name suggests, he is of Maori descent. Cue suggestions he can emulate Maui, and steal fire from the gods to give to humans. (Were they implying Maori can make breakthroughs non-Maori can not?)

The man himself was interviewed by Kim Hill on Saturday Morning on RNZ. He answered a lot of questions dealing with the justified skepticism about the possibility of making a major scientific breakthrough in a Wellinton warehouse.

Hydrogen fusion requires generating very strong magnetic fields. This is best achieved by using superconducting materials. Ratu explained that "high temperature" in the context of superconductors isn't at all what non-phyicists would think of as high temperatures. Superconductivity was first observed at liquid helium temperatures, close to absolute zero. "High temperature" is at liquid nitrogen temperatures. Relatively high, but still very chilly to non-physicists. Also more easily obtained than liquid helium temperatures. VUW is an international centre of excellence in superconductivity research, where Ratu gained his doctorate.

He also explained his approach to fusion reactor design has been starved of funding due to tightening budgets, not because it has been shown not to work. He can see no theoretical reason it can't work, and thinks his expertise in superconductors will help build the superconducting electromagnets needed to make it work.

This was the context in which he talked of "culture". His challenge to his colleagues at the company is for them to try and find reasons why his approach won't work. If there are such reasons, he wants to know what they are, as quickly as possible, and for the least amount of money spent. He wants, and needs, a company culture of inquiring minds, rigorously testing and strongly contesting ideas, and coming up with suggestions of how best to proceed.

That is exactly what science overall needs to progress. It also needs public understanding that this is how it works. On the one hand, science is never fully settled, but on the other hand, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I wish Ratu well, and hope he is successful, and the sooner the better. But if he is, it will be of the company culture he has built, not because of the culture of his Maori ancestors.

Which actually applies to all scientists, everywhere. Whatever their origins and culture, it is moving from traditional stories to the values Ratu is inculcating in his company that helps progress.