The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." Remarks later attributed to US Presidential Adviser Karl Rove, North American Summer, 2002.The excerpt is from a New York Times Magazine piece by Ron Suskind, Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush, 17 October 2004. It came to me via a comment from Johnb on a post on my history blog, .Is technology bringing history to life or distorting it? .I found it quite chilling.
The comment was made at a time when many in the US did believe that US power was such that they could control events and thus results. We now know that discernible reality was such and should have been seen to be such to indicate the limits of US power. It is certainly true, however, that the actions of the time taken independent of discernible reality created a new discernible reality, one that we are all trying to manage today.
I think that is true that many of those in power and not just in the US still believe that they can and should be able to control events, to do things, independent of practical limits to their power. I suspect, too, that they believe that they can in fact substitute a new discernible reality along their desired lines.not recognising that their actions will create a new reality that they might not like.
In his interview, Mr Suskind refers to enlightenment principles and empiricism. I fear that both are in sad decline, their value rejected on all sides. I am not blind to the underlying difficulties of the very concept of discernible reality.
By its nature, discernible reality deals with the position at a point as seen at that point. It becomes a constraint as exemplified in the words "the reality is". Many of the best things in history as well as the worst have come about because people have rejected an existing discernible reality and sought to create something different.
Slavery was a discernible reality. Part of that reality was that slavery had been a feature of human societies for a very long time, was indeed seen as part of the natural order of things. That is still the case in some parts of the world even today. Some of the then European colonial powers had benefited greatly from slavery. It was built into the structures of empire. And yet, reformers in the British Parliament were able to begin a process that led to the progressive abolition of slavery in the British Empire that then flowed on. It took time and sometimes violence including a bloody civil war in the United States, but the end result was freedom for many.
Unlike Mr Rove, the anti-slavery movement did not and could not ignore the the existing discernible reality. They did not control the levers of power. They recognised a reality and sought to change it using the constitutional mechanisms open to them. Their success created a new reality, one that the anti-slavery campaigners of today seek to build on. Progress comes from recognising a discernible reality and seeking change, not from denying the presence of the reality in the first place.