Reality-based community

Reality-based community is a derisive term for people who base judgments on facts. It was first attributed to a senior official working for U.S. president George W. Bush by the reporter Ron Suskind in 2004. Many American liberals adopted the label for themselves, using it to portray themselves as adhering to facts in contradiction to conservatives presumed to be disregarding professional and scientific expertise.

Journalist Ron Suskind speaking at a Chatham House event
Ron Suskind, the journalist who attributed the phrase to a White House official

Origin edit

The phrase was attributed by journalist Ron Suskind to an unnamed official in the George W. Bush administration who used it to denigrate a critic of the administration's policies as someone who based their judgments on facts.[1] In a 2004 article appearing in the New York Times Magazine, Suskind wrote:

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.' [...] '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'.[2]

International relations scholar Fred Halliday writes that the phrase reality-based community (in contrast to faith-based community) was used "for those who did not share [the Bush administration's] international goals and aspirations".[1] Suskind has maintained his refusal to name the speaker, but the source of the quotation was widely speculated to be Bush's senior advisor Karl Rove.[3][4]

Reactions edit

Political scientist and former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski characterized the encounter with the senior White House aide, as reported by Suskind, as exemplary of the "arrogance that swept the Bush White House".[5] Journalist Steven Poole compared the phrase to Hannah Arendt's definition of totalitarian thinking, which she described as having "extreme contempt for facts".[6]

Many American liberals adopted the term as a badge of honor.[3] The words "[Proud to be a Member of the] Reality-Based Community" appeared on blogs[7] and T-shirts.[1][8] The term was used to mock the Bush administration's funding of faith-based social programmes, as well as a perceived hostility to professional and scientific expertise among American conservatives.[3]

The quote in its entirety was prominently featured in the song "Walk It Back" from The National's 2017 album Sleep Well Beast, and Newsweek asked Rove and Suskind to comment on its inclusion. Rove denied being the speaker, stating that the quote itself was fictitious, and Suskind maintained both the veracity of the quote and his refusal to identify the source.[9] Commentators have also drawn parallels between the 2004 quote and the rise of post-truth politics in the late 2010s.[10][11]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c Halliday, Fred (2010). Shocked and Awed: How the War on Terror and Jihad Have Changed the English Language. I.B.Tauris. p. 306. ISBN 978-0-85-771875-4.
  2. ^ Suskind, Ron (October 17, 2004). "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0028-7822.
  3. ^ a b c Greenberg, David (2010). "Creating Their Own Reality: The Bush Administration and Expertise in a Polarized Age". In Zelizer, Julian (ed.). The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment. Princeton University Press. pp. 199–200. ISBN 978-1-4008-3630-7.
  4. ^ Engelhardt, Tom (June 19, 2014). "Karl Rove Unintentionally Predicted the Current Chaos in Iraq". Mother Jones.
  5. ^ Brzezinski, Zbigniew (2008). Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. New York: Basic Books. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-4650-02528. reality-based community.
  6. ^ Poole, Steven (2006). Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-1-5558-4872-9. suskind reality based community.
  7. ^ Rosen, Jay (December 20, 2006). "The Retreat from Empiricism and Ron Suskind's Intellectual Scoop". The Huffington Post.
  8. ^ Savan, Leslie (2005). Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Pop Language in Your Life, the Media, and Like ... Whatever. New York: Vintage Books. p. 212. ISBN 0-375-70242-3.
  9. ^ Schonfeld, Zach (September 8, 2017). "The Curious Case of a Supposed Karl Rove Quote Used on The National's New Album 'Sleep Well Beast'". Newsweek.
  10. ^ Linker, Damon (July 26, 2019). "What if Karl Rove was right about the reality-based community?". The Week. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  11. ^ Andersen, Kurt (September 2017). "How America Lost Its Mind". The Atlantic.

Further reading edit