Reality Based Communities

Submitted By:
Peter Hatala, Emma Willard School, Troy, NY

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch
Brookings Institution Press, June 21, 2021

In his engaging new book, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, Jonathan Rauch explores the growing challenge of separating facts from fiction and feelings from facts in an age of disinformation, conspiracy theories, "alternative facts," and information bubbles. Rauch provides the reader with chilling examples of our fraying social world, from internet trolls out to turn elections, to reactive, feeling-driven mobs of the zealous "woke" on social media, and college campuses seeking to stamp out "problematic" views in the name of social justice. While these examples are easy to graft onto the extremes of the US political spectrum, Rauch does not naively call for a return to a gentler, moderate centrism. Rauch's solution, instead, is to return to what he calls the "Constitution of Knowledge," which he defines as "liberalism's epistemic operating system: our social rules of turning disagreements into knowledge." To make the case for this return, Rauch brings the reader back to the 18th century Enlightenment origins of this "operating system" to trace out the hard-fought battles to establish institutions, norms, and communities that constituted and can continue to constitute what he calls the "reality based community:" a community that celebrates "objectivity, factuality, rationality…" and is equipped to freely exchange, debate, and refine ideas collectively for the sake of truth and the betterment of humanity. Teachers and administrators would benefit from considering how to ensure that their schools become mini "reality-based communities," so that our students are equipped to understand and work to overcome the power of this dominating epistemic crisis.

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