Challenging Postmodernism: Philosophy and the Politics of Truth - David Detmer

Altair

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Quotes from chapter 5 "Truth in ethics and politics. Sartre vs. Rorty".

While Sartre is certainly not one of Rorty's philosophical heroes, it is surprising, given their obvious differences, how often Rorty turns to him in support of his views. The explanation for this surprising fact is quite simple, however: Rorty simply misreads Sartre at every turn.

Here is a striking example. One of Rorty's favorite passages from Sartre...is the following:

"Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to establish fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let them get away with it. At that moment, fascism will be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us. In reality, things will be as much as man has decided they are."

Rorty's comment on this passage is this:

"This hard saying brings out what ties Dewey and Foucault, James and Nietzsche, together-the sense that there is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a practice, no standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conventions."
[...]

Consider, in this regard, Piotr Gutowski's remark, issued immediately after offering an objection to Rorty's argument that we should dispense with the distinction between finding and making:

"As Professor Rorty ponders this objection of mine, I hope he will consider the big green giraffe, just behind him, that is trying to cat the violet leaves growing on his head. Is Professor Rorty able to see this giraffe? If not, can he make the giraffe he there, occupying part of what (probably) seems to he empty space? Rorty might say that he cannot do this as an individual, but that there night he some cultures where it is possible to do so....

Well, I cannot imagine any culture creating the picture I sketched, for the simple reason that nobody can find green giraffes here in this portion of space and time and because there really are no leaves growing on Rorty's head. There has to he a certain composition position of molecules in any portion of space we find that enables us to make anything, and this is also an objective restriction for any nonhuman "making." Obviously, someone might say that there is a giraffe here, but he or she would simply he wrong."

Here is Rorty's reply:

"Now about giraffes: I want to urge that if you have the distinction between the idiosyncratic and the intersubjective, or the relatively idiosyncratic and the relatively intersubjcetive, that is the only distinction you need to take care of real versus imaginary giraffes. You do not need a further distinction between the made and the found or the subjective and the objective. You do not need a distinction between reality and appearance, or between inside and outside, but only one between what you can get a consensus about and what you cannot."
[...]

Thus, objectivity, for Rorty, turns out (though he does not point this out himself) not to be something hard-won, and something which could be lost. No, objectivity means being in agreement and solidarity with "us," where "us" is not some independent pendent group with which I might, despite my best efforts, fail to achieve agreement and solidarity-no, it is simply those with whom I do feel solidarity and with whom I do agree!

...he [Rorty] often says such things as, "for us 'rational' merely means 'persuasive' ... ," and, as we have seen, he repeatedly insists "that anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed."

In a similar vein, Rorty claims that "to see a common social practice as cruel and unjust ... is a matter of redescription rather than discovery. It is a matter of changing vocabularies rather than of stripping away the veil of appearances from an objective reality, an experimentation with new ways of speaking rather than of overcoming coming 'false consciousness'."
[...]

Everything, thing, from Rorty's point of view, turns on whether you happen to like or dislike a given description, and whether you will or not depends upon historical contingencies and rhetoric, not reason.
[...]

Let us consider one final instance of Rorty's repeated insistence that he is not a relativist:

"A sense of moral obligation is a matter of conditioning rather than of insight.... We decent, liberal, humanitarian types (representatives of the moral community to which both my reviewers and I belong) are just luckier, not more insightful, than the bullies with whom we struggle. This view is often referred to dismissively as "cultural relativism." But it is not relativistic, if that means saying that every moral view is as good as every other. Our moral view is, I firmly believe, much better than any competing view."

The quick way to deal with this is to point out, once again, that "relativism" rarely refers to such a crude view as that "every moral view is as good as every other." But let's look deeper. Note that Rorty admits in this passage that his first-order moral views have arisen as a result of his conditioning, rather than his insight. But what about his second-order views-that is to say, his views about his moral views-and in particular his claim that his (and "our") moral views are better than any competing views? Does that claim arise from genuine insight, or is it merely the product of Rorty's conditioning? On the former interpretation Rorty seems either to contradict himself or, at the very least, to be granting an arbitrary and undefended privilege to second-order moral views...

Rorty's difficulties are typical of those plaguing social constructionism generally. To bring this out, let's critically examine... Rorty's most explicitly social constructionist statements.

"Everything, including giraffes and molecules, is socially constructed, for no vocabulary (e.g., that of zoology or physics) cuts reality at the joints. Reality has no joints. It just has descriptions more socially useful than others."

"There is nothing to people except what has been socialized into them."

"It is pointless to ask whether reality is independent of our ways of talking about it. Given that it pays to talk about mountains, as it certainly does, one of the obvious truths about mountains is that they were here before we talked about them. If you do not believe that, you probably do not know how to play the usual language-games which employ the word "mountain. But the utility of those language-games has nothing to do with the question of whether Reality as It Is In itself, apart front the way it is handy for human beings to describe it, has mountains in it."

Here Rorty seems to be defending, indeed, even calling it an "obvious truth," the idea that mountains existed before we talked about them, and thus that they have an independent existence. But notice that this is so, for Rorty, only because it is useful to play a language-game in which mountains are understood that way. Thus, the seemingly human-practice-independent status of mountains turns out, for Rorty, in the final analysis, to depend upon the utility of certain human linguistic practices.
[...]

...I will content myself by recalling just one of Sartre's major points, namely, that the embracing of an anti-truth epistemology serves as a general foundation for a wide range of specific excuses-that is, in a global way, it serves to relieve us of our responsibilities (just as the acceptance of determinism does). Specifically, it relieves us of the responsibility to discover the truth, and to act accordingly. Similarly, it entails that we need never fear having to change our way of life on the grounds that some aspect of it might be inconsistent with what is true.

To see the relevance of this to Rorty, consider the following four passages from his writings. In the first he urges us "simply [to] drop the distinction between rational judgment and cultural bias." In the second he asserts that "we heirs of the Enlightenment think of enemies of liberal democracy like Nietzsche or Loyola as ... `mad.' .. . They are not crazy because they have mistaken the ahistorical nature of human beings. They are crazy because the limits of sanity are set by what we can take seriously. This, in turn, is determined by our upbringing, our historical situation.")

In the third he endorses a position which "makes it impossible to ask the question `Is ours a moral society?" Finally, in a brief discussion of the Vietnam War, Rorty criticizes those who "attempted to rehabilitate Kantian notions in order to say, with Chomsky, that the War not merely betrayed America's hopes and interests and self-image, but was immoral, one which we had no right to engage in in the first place." So the problem with the Vietnam War was not that what we did to the Vietnamese was immoral; rather, the problem was that it betrayed our self image. Can anything more narcissistic be imagined?

In any case, Rorty's position leads either to anything-goes goes relativism (if we grant the same privileges to other people with other cultures and traditions), or else to a crude and thuggish ethnocentrism, in which no outrage visited upon outsiders can be condemned as unjust unless our own traditions and customs happen so to decree it (as Rorty explicitly admits, as we have seen, in connection tion with the Vietnam War).

When one goes the ethnocentric route, defining truth in terms of consensus, basic questions become insulated from critical examination, or even from thought itself. When everyone who counts agrees with your basic principles, you tend not even to be aware of those principles. They become as invisible as the air you breathe. When you encounter people who disagree with them, however, you are forced to defend them, which requires focusing on them and thematizing them. Such a focusing on and debating of fundamental principles, often taken for granted, is a fair characterization of philosophy, and one can readily see its importance to anyone who wants to engage others responsibly. In this connection, it is interesting to note that Rorty's endorsement of ethnocentrism goes hand-in-hand with his rejection of philosophy.
 

Joe

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the sense that there is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a practice, no standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conventions."
In short, putting oneself in the place of 'god'. Of course, according to the Cs, human beings ARE parts of 'the all' or 'god', but the problem here is that people are ascribing to themselves qualities or abilities that they simply do not possess! In doing so, they become possessed by the 'spirit' of a grandiose - and therefore malevolent' ideology that is just ASKING for BIG trouble. If they were creating that trouble only for themselves, then no problem. The problem is that they seem to be unconsciously aware that they are NOT so all powerful and need to incorporate large numbers of other people in order to make their grandiose musings manifest.
 

whitecoast

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Finished this book yesterday. I have to say it was quite enjoyable a read. I feel like some of the criticisms given for numerous postmodern thinkers were repeated a whole bunch, but the author I think did this best to at least vary the language in such a way that it didn't feel as repetitive as it otherwise could have been. I'll summarize the two most common logical fallacies Detmer brings up.

The most common criticism was the postmodern self-referentiality in their the denial of reality. The postmodern speaker makes a statement about reality, and this statement about reality denies that knowledge about reality is possible. This is immediately refutes their own ability to actually make statements about reality, so the speaker contradicts themselves. Often in defense of this statement is some kind of proof evidenced from the study of the structures of our thinking, which arise from our historical nature, our cultural biases, etc. In this there is another problem: we learn about the structures of our thinking by observing how we perceive reality and how others perceive reality, all of which is predicated on certain understandings on how knowledge and reality functions. So in this, if someone uses information about reality obtained scientifically (let's cite for argument's the unreliability of memory in witness testimony in court cases) to deny that the past exists, and we believe whatever we want to believe about it. The thing is, the psychological information obtained about the reliability of memory could not have been assembled had reality been denied by those who sought truth. This logical fallacy is known as obscurum per obscurius, or, attempting to prove an uncertain or obscure concept by use of a concept that is even more uncertain or obscure.

That our own conditioning about how we ingest knowledge of course filters our ability to see reality to a degree, but by networking and taking in multiple perspectives we learn to see our own blindspots. This, oddly enough, seemed to be grasped as some astounding new concept during the early period of the 20th century in the buildup to postmodernism. It wasn't mentioned in Detmer's book, but much of postmodernism originates in theories about semiotics, structuralism, and other theories of linguistics. It was becoming more acutely clear to some (again, I'm not sure what took them so long) that people's perception of reality is filtered by their historical and cultural biases, which impose a structure onto their accumulated knowledge. The problem with such structures is that they can include or exclude certain information about reality. A materialist worldview, for example, will have no place for parapsychological phenomena to be real.

You can take this information in two directions: either you say that you're trapped in your knowledge structure and since you can never be sure what you're observing is real or just a product of your perceptual faculties, you're cut off from knowledge of reality. This is what postmodernists do: say that everything is relative or subjective. The second direction is to admit that because you're not omniscient you can't definitely know if you've let go of all your biases and cultural programming, but that you can be open to the possibility and be prepared to let go of your sacred cows.

This latter feature is what Detmer calls the fallibilist position, which states that objective reality exists, but that does not mean we are accurately perceiving it. Very often postmodernists in the book would use a false dilemma in which the only option is to say either my belief structure perceives reality as it is in its entirety (the absolutist or dogmatic position), or that there is no reality for my belief structure to perceive (relativism or subjectivism), meaning that no way of seeing reality is better than any other. In this absurd way these postmodernists cast themselves as opposed to the dogmatic authoritarians (who believe things without evidence) and attempt to smear scientific inquiry by casting some corrupt elements of science as somehow built into the scientific method of acquiring knowledge of reality. The actual truth, Detmer points out, is that science was historically a REACTION to the very dogmatism the postmodernists purport to criticize. By rejecting reality with no evidence that they should do so (as per the self-referential and obscurum per obscurius fallacies) they actually show their own views to be dogmatic. Detmer says it well here:
Postmodern constructivists always claim great sophistication for their views and see in them a great sensitivity to nuance, difference, and context. Frequently, however, as here, what we actually get is a sledgehammer doctrine which is insensitive to all of these things.
This realization that we do not perceive reality accurately seems to be a crossroad, which can lead us either to the dogmatism of absolutism or relativism (take your pick) or to the process of self-discovery of ourselves, the drive to improve our grasp of reality. The similarities to Collingwood's own ideas about evolution of the historical human mind via grasping and moving beyond the thinking errors we learn about by reviewing the data are obvious. The postmodernists and medieval dogmatists seem to be unable to really move beyond a certain threshold of development.

One sense in which human history is not independent of human understanding is that any accurate description and explanation of human events is unintelligible without the inclusion of some account of the role(s) that human understanding played in those events. For example, to use Berube's Holocaust example, the Holocaust included killing-an idea that makes essential reference to human intentions. Moreover, the killing was done for reasons, the understanding of which is important for understanding the historical event itself, and so on, and so forth. Another sense in which human history is not independent of human understanding emerges when we understand by the word "history" written or spoken accounts of past events (as opposed to understanding the word as referring to the past events themselves). For any account involves interpretation, emphasis, omission, the ordering of details, and so on, all of which would be largely determined by the historian's understanding of the meaning, importance, causes and effects (among other things) of the event in question.
Also liked this gem:
Here I will content myself by recalling just one of Sartre's major points, namely, that the embracing of an anti-truth epistemology serves as a general foundation for a wide range of specific excuses-that is, in a global way, it serves to relieve us of our responsibilities (just as the acceptance of determinism does). Specifically, it relieves us of the responsibility to discover the truth, and to act accordingly. Similarly, it entails that we need never fear having to change our way of life on the grounds that some aspect of it might be inconsistent with what is true.... To see the relevance of this to Rorty, consider the following four passages from his writings. In the first he urges us "simply [to] drop the distinction between rational judgment and cultural bias." In the second he asserts that "we heirs of the Enlightenment think of enemies of liberal democracy like Nietzsche or Loyola as ... `mad.' .. . They are not crazy because they have mistaken the ahistorical nature of human beings. They are crazy because the limits of sanity are set by what we can take seriously. This, in turn, is determined by our upbringing, our historical situation.""') In the third he endorses a position which "makes it impossible to ask the question `Is ours a moral society?"")' Finally, in a brief discussion of the Vietnam War, Rorty criticizes those who "attempted to rehabilitate Kantian notions in order to say, with Chomsky, that the War not merely betrayed America's hopes and interests and self-image, but was immoral, one which we had no right to engage in in the first place." So the problem with the Vietnam War was not that what we did to the Vietnamese was immoral; rather, the problem was that it betrayed our self image. Can anything more narcissistic be imagined?
Towards the end Detmer talked a lot more about Noam Chomsky, probably because he's a prominent intellectual but also a non-postmodernists who believes that reality can be used to argue in favor of left-wing views. He had this to say about political correctness at the time of his writing:

This stuff about the quine-centennial is interesting in this respect (on the revisionism of Columbus taking into account more unsavoury facts about his role in history). There's a big fuss now about the "left fascists," who are dumping on Columbus and denying all the wonderful things Columbus brought. What they're saying is, for 500 years we went along, denying two of the worst acts of genocide in human history, maybe the worst act-the destruction of the Native Americans, which was tens of millions of people-and the destruction of large numbers of Africans through the slave trade, both of which got their start through Columbus. We've been celebrating genocide for 500 years, and that's not a problem. The problem is that the left fascists are now reversing it.... Anyone with a gray cell ought to be saying, "Thank God the left fascists are taking over and trying to get this straight." Virtually no one is saying that, of course. Our more educated circles are as retrograde as they ever were. That the controversy is taking place now is a reelection of a very substantial improvement in the cultural climate."
I say fair enough, but I have to wonder what his views are on the modern political correctness and social justice movement. This was written almost fifteen years ago.
 

luc

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Thanks everyone for the summaries, I'm just at the beginning of the book and already he tears the whole postmodernism thing to pieces. What a carnage!

@whitecoast, not sure you mentioned it, but another fallacy I found useful for discussions with relativists is this: if they say "all our knowledge is subject to historical/social/cultural bias and therefore we can't know the truth", they are using weaker statements (with less evidence) to justify their relativist position against stronger statements (with more evidence).

That means that there may be some evidence that we "can't know the truth" because we're socially conditioned, but there's considerable more evidence, it is considerable more secure knowledge, that "if A is higher than B and C is higher than B, then C is higher than A". So you can't just use a weaker claim to question a stronger claim and get away with it.

Another great point Detmer made is about the arrogance of the postmodernist: while he talks about how we should "respect other cultures" and "their truth" etc., he simply ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of "those cultures" find cultural relativism totally crazy! Yet the postmodernists impose their view on the whole world... talk about imperialism!

It seems to come down to this I think: this whole relativism business is completely illogical and self-contradictory from the get-go. The only way out for the postmodernist is to attack logic itself - so he does away with it consciously and unconsciously. But since other people find it ridiculous to do away with simple logic, the postmodernist needs to impose his will on them using power.

This combination of doing away with logic and using power explains a lot of what we're seeing today: like the double standards when it comes to racism, the mercilessness they show when someone points out the obvious logical errors, the whole "cultural appropriation" thing even though other cultures don't give a hoot about it and so on. I don't think most of the postmodernists realize what's going on, but this illogical "theory" acts like a mind-virus, suspending logic and reasoning and activating "wishful thinking" and "impose your will on reality" circuits.
 

Laura

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Thanks everyone for the summaries, I'm just at the beginning of the book and already he tears the whole postmodernism thing to pieces. What a carnage!
Yes, it's pretty awesome.

It seems to come down to this I think: this whole relativism business is completely illogical and self-contradictory from the get-go. The only way out for the postmodernist is to attack logic itself - so he does away with it consciously and unconsciously. But since other people find it ridiculous to do away with simple logic, the postmodernist needs to impose his will on them using power.

This combination of doing away with logic and using power explains a lot of what we're seeing today: like the double standards when it comes to racism, the mercilessness they show when someone points out the obvious logical errors, the whole "cultural appropriation" thing even though other cultures don't give a hoot about it and so on. I don't think most of the postmodernists realize what's going on, but this illogical "theory" acts like a mind-virus, suspending logic and reasoning and activating "wishful thinking" and "impose your will on reality" circuits.
What is horrifying to realize is that a whole generation of kids were brought up on this nonsense. In fact, maybe two generations: the one that took up the teaching positions of the current masses of children was smaller, and confined to academia; now it has gone global because they are all out there teaching kids from elementary school on up. And I think that the "common core" math business imposed by Bush and his gang emerged out of this.

Meanwhile, we have serious studies recently showing that IQ scores of Americans have been falling since the 70s about 7 points per generation. They attribute it to technology, but Postmodernism is undoubtedly partly to blame. That's one heck of a decline!!!

Average human IQ has been dropping since 1970 -- Sott.net

In the last twenty or thirty years, humans have started getting dumber, researchers in Norway now suggest.
Their data come from compulsory IQ tests given to young men entering military service in Norway between 1970 and 2009.

The 730,000 test results suggest people are dropping around 7 IQ points, on average, each generation (around 25 years).

This is not the first study to find that average IQ is dropping.
 
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fabric

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What is horrifying to realize is that a whole generation of kids were brought up on this nonsense. In fact, maybe two generations: the one that took up the teaching positions of the current masses of children was smaller, and confined to academia; now it has gone global because they are all out there teaching kids from elementary school on up. And I think that the "common core" math business imposed by Bush and his gang emerged out of this.
I came across this video below the other day and what Yuri Bezmenov says about ideological subversion blew me away. It’s been over thirty years since he said this and it looks like we are way past the ‘demoralization’ stage and well underway in what he terms ‘normalization’. What he describes is pretty much what is happening right now.

If we assume that this process really took off in the 80’s (he says it was happening even earlier), we’re talking about at least 2 generations where this process has unfolded and now it has come full blown. Just as he says it takes at least 10-15 years to teach a generation of students to adopt this leftist/marxist ideology, it will take at least that long properly educate people out of it and that’s not likely to start anytime soon. It also fits in with the liberal left agenda/takeover in all our colleges and universities and now has spread to include children for god’s sake (I think of all the gender bending crap they are teaching them as soon as they learn how to read). :scared: Indeed, it sure has gone global. I would add that these same people also occupy positions of power in big business and politics (Google and vermin like Hillary come to mind).

Although he comes at it from view that this subversion was a soviet tactic meant to bring down the US (Marxist/Leninist ideology worked to bring about the fall of the USSR), I don't think they deserve all the credit. I think it is more like that ideology was adopted as a form to usher in a higher level of control. It was very appealing to government in general and so they went with it. I would say it's actually more of natural progression of government that has been ponerized and societies that have been hystericized. There’s no better way to direct policy than to have a demoralized, confused population that’s focusing on all the wrong things and can’t tell apart fact from fiction even if it fell on their head!

What is rather interesting is that the US did at one point have a more conservative Christian society and now we are seeing a reversal of goals where Russia has come full circle and today are the ones that have a strong patriotism backed by Christian moral values while the US decays into a post-modern liberal hellhole. I think we can see with Russia how the time to educate a generation or 2 in a healthy system can bring good results so in sense there hope but things will have to get that much worse before they get better. I find it quite amazing (but also a bit frightening) to be living in a time where both the rise and fall of 2 'superpower' countries can be witnessed happening at the same time in parallel.

 

mrtn

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The argument about all knowledge and cognition being cultural conditioned and thus worthless is also pointless in the sense that culture itself is a result of knowledge/learning as well as deception/ignorance, so it is interaction with objective reality, just as it's the case for an individual. And culture is also shaped by the individuals just as it's other way round.
Culture, like it has been described as a garden or gardening, is interaction with nature, including aspects like shaping and manipulation, but just like in a garden, it's not that plants become animals and stones are apples.
 

DianaRose94

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Yes, it's pretty awesome.



What is horrifying to realize is that a whole generation of kids were brought up on this nonsense. In fact, maybe two generations: the one that took up the teaching positions of the current masses of children was smaller, and confined to academia; now it has gone global because they are all out there teaching kids from elementary school on up. And I think that the "common core" math business imposed by Bush and his gang emerged out of this.

Meanwhile, we have serious studies recently showing that IQ scores of Americans have been falling since the 70s about 7 points per generation. They attribute it to technology, but Postmodernism is undoubtedly partly to blame. That's one heck of a decline!!!

Average human IQ has been dropping since 1970 -- Sott.net

I think the spreading of postmodernism and the lowering of IQ of children are too separate things. Postmodernism is mostly a university affair. However, something I've been noticing for a while is that the government is always trying to decrease "stress" in children brought by homework or a too heavy course load. Basically, they keep on downgrading educational programs. They're trying to make life easier for children and I guess in a way their parents. And as you've rightly noted the rise of technology doesn't help. These days children, some as young as three-year old, spend more time on their ipad rather than doing drawings or reading books. And I suspect that as time goes on more and more children will have trouble writing and just learning how to write.
 

Laura

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I think the spreading of postmodernism and the lowering of IQ of children are too separate things. Postmodernism is mostly a university affair. However, something I've been noticing for a while is that the government is always trying to decrease "stress" in children brought by homework or a too heavy course load. Basically, they keep on downgrading educational programs. They're trying to make life easier for children and I guess in a way their parents. And as you've rightly noted the rise of technology doesn't help. These days children, some as young as three-year old, spend more time on their ipad rather than doing drawings or reading books. And I suspect that as time goes on more and more children will have trouble writing and just learning how to write.
However, notice that the things you mention are a RESULT of the philosophy of Postmodernism.
 

Altair

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Quotes from chapter 6 "What is objectivity? Sartre vs. the Journalists"

One of the main reasons why contemporary postmodernists and social constructionists reject the idea of objectivity is that they often have a defective conception of this idea in mind-the conception promulgated by U.S. mass media journalists.

Certainly, most mass media journalists in the United States accept such a characterization of their responsibility, which they interpret as entailing an obligation on their part to present news "objectively." But what does this mean? As these journalists understand stand the term, to present the news "objectively" is to present it in a "nonpartisan," "unbiased," "balanced," "nonideological," and "neutral" manner. This is to be done, so the story goes, not so much by finding and presenting "the truth"-that would require drawing conclusions clusions and making judgments, often about controversial matters-as by simply reporting "the facts," leaving the job of synthesizing and evaluating these facts to its audience.
[...]

Sartre, in quite radical contrast, consistently advocated an "engaged" journalism, a "committed" journalism-a journalism that would be dedicated to finding and telling the truth, and to doing so explicitly and self-consciously in the service of such fundamental values as freedom, justice, and human rights. This conception of journalism calls for selective attention-one is to focus more on those truths which concern these fundamental values than on those which do not. It calls for interpretation, theorizing, and the testing of interpretations and theories-for only in this way can we determine, mine, insofar as human beings can do so at all, what is true or false. And it calls for partisanship-one is to stand for truth and those who promote it, while opposing falsehood and those who promote it.
[...]

...I will suggest that the major shortcomings of this coverage have to do not primarily with the transmission of outright errors and falsehoods, but much more frequently with problems of omission and emphasis: Information that is vitally important to any adequate understanding of the issue at hand is routinely excluded, while distortions are introduced duced by emphasizing information which, when stripped of its proper background and context, creates a misleading impression.
[...]

...no such questions are ever asked by U.S. mass media journalists. Instead, their performance in connection
with the "war on terrorism" is typified by the anchorman of the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather's, declaration that "George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call."
[...]

My claim, on the other hand, is that the media exhibit a massive and systematic bias in favor of mainstream U.S. political opinion and against all opinion lying outside of it.

[...]Why do the mass media behave so irresponsibly?

While an adequate analysis would have to include many factors and deal with numerous subtleties and complexities, we can go a long way toward understanding the phenomena nomena in question on the basis of six fairly simple and straightforward ward principles of news gathering and presentation. The first two are economic; the other four, having to do with the media's understanding standing of the idea of "objectivity," are ideological.

A. The Economics of News-Gathering

Investigative reporting is expensive. It also takes time, and its results are uncertain-the reporter may or may not succeed in digging up a usable story.... Consequently, the vast majority of news stories involve no significant investigative effort on the part of reporters.
This economic factor alone goes a long way toward explaining why the news is tilted so heavily in one direction. For notice that only two sectors of society have the resources to provide the media with canned news regularly: the government and corporations, with their big public relations budgets.

B. The Economics of Maximizing Audience Size

This necessity entails certain consequences with regard to the content of the news. One of these is that the news should entertain, and above all not bore, the audience. As Calvin F. Exoo puts it, this translates into the imperative: tive: "Avoid the arcana of social issues. Instead, hit [the audience's] pleasure buttons: laughter, sex, violence, and so on."

C. Objectivity: The Mind as Tabula Rasa

Perhaps the most significant ideological factor underlying the mass media's almost uniformly wretched performance is its radically defective concept of objectivity. This issue is also of great significance to the overall concerns of this book, since the postmodern attack on objectivity is directed primarily against the confused understanding of this concept currently prevailing in mainstream journalistic theory. This understanding of objectivity, in turn, is then confused with the more defensible version that one finds in the sciences and in philosophy, leading to the false impression that objectivity as such has been successfully debunked...

I once saw a television panel discussion in which several leading television journalists (including Walter Cronkite and Ted Koppel) discussed the principles underlying their craft. They all agreed that a reporter's mind, when approaching a news story, should be a tabula rasa, or blank slate, because otherwise his or her preconceptions and biases would surely lead to distorted and slanted reporting. These journalists cheerfully conceded that it can be frightfully difficult at first to achieve this blank slate state of mind, but they nonetheless all agreed that, with diligence, one can learn to leave his or her "opinions" at the door, and instead observe and report only "the facts." In this way one can succeed at one's proper journalistic goal: to be an objective reporter.

This understanding of objectivity seems to imply at least three claims:

(1) Observation is, or at least can be, passive, in the sense that observers can observe competently without acting, that is, without doing anything other than opening their eyes and ears and generally being alert.

(2) Not only is it the case that observers need not make any contribution of their own in their observing, since passivity is sufficient for competent observing, but they also should not make any such contribution, since doing so would "bias" the observation by introducing into it the subjectivity of the observer.

(3) Since observers need not and should not make an active contribution of their own in their acts of observing, it follows that they need no special knowledge as a prerequisite to competent observation of any given phenomenon. Anyone can passively take in "what is there to be seen." We have already seen (in our discussion of Sartre's crag-chapter 4, section III A) what is wrong with this idea: observation is active, not passive; it requires of the observer focusing and selective attention.
[...]

All of this suggests, moreover, the need for the observer to be knowledgeable in order to understand what is being seen.

...Thus, the "mind as tabula rasa" theory of objectivity collapses in multiple ways. And yet, reporters attempt to follow this doctrine in their reporting. What is the result of this attempt? Since knowledge supposedly is not needed for accurate observing and reporting, reporters are often asked to cover subjects about which they are massively ignorant.

D. Objectivity: Just the Facts

Most mass media journalists subscribe to a theory of "objectivity," according to which reporters should present only "the facts" (which are said to be objective), while scrupulously omitting from their stories ries their opinions, interpretations, conclusions, theories, and value judgments (all of which are said to be "personal" and "subjective").

Such a conception of objectivity fosters journalistic irresponsibility of the sort described above in at least two ways. First, it discourages courages investigative journalism, since reporters who do their own investigations are pretty much obliged to draw their own conclusions, and this, according to the principle in question, is to inject their own "bias" and "personal opinions" into the news. Moreover, if a journalist were to investigate a foreign leader, favored by U.S. governmental and corporate interests, and find that he is a brutal dictator, such a journalist would be constrained from saying so by "objectivity's" ban on value judgments. Thus, it is infinitely safer to present only those conclusions and value judgments that can be attributed to others-and and we have already seen who these others will be, and why.

Second, since the journalistic theory of objectivity demands the impossible (that judgments and conclusions be rigorously separated from facts, when in fact these things are inextricably connected to one another in all thinking and writing), it encourages journalists to finesse the issue by presenting only those judgments and conclusions that neither they themselves nor the bulk of their audience will recognize as such. For, with regard to facts, typically one has to reason, on the basis of evidence of some kind, to the conclusion that something thing is a fact. Facts are often not self-evident. It requires theorizing, selective (intelligently guided) looking, and (sometimes) special knowledge to discover them. Thus, since concluding, theorizing, and the like are banned as supposedly inconsistent with "objectivity," what we tend to get in mainstream journalism are "obvious" facts- meaning those emerging from the consensus of mainstream political opinion, where no evidence is needed. And as for value judgments, people think they are being neutral and objective when their value commitments, like the air they breathe, are invisible to them-and that only happens when they are of the assumed consensus mainstream variety. Radical, nonestablishment or otherwise nonconsensus values, by contrast, stand out, are noticed as values, and are thus excluded from mainstream journalism as nonobjective.

E. Objectivity: Neutrality or Centrism

It is easy to confuse the following three distinct notions: objectivity, neutrality, and centrism. And many journalists, convinced that they should be objective, misinterpret that as entailing either that they should be neutral or that they should take a centrist, or "middle of the road," position. Let's begin by distinguishing neutrality from taking a "middle of the road" position. To be neutral is to take no position, to be partial to no side. But it is quite another thing to take a middle of the road position, for it is, after all, a position. For if one is in the middle of the road, then one is rejecting the positions of "the extremists," on the left or the right side of the road. But then one is obliged to defend the middle of the road position, to show why it is more reasonable than its competitors.

Jeff Cohen observes: When you've talked to journalists for years in the mainstream, they always tell you,

"We have no biases. We're dead center. We're not left nor right." I think there is a commonly believed myth in the mainstream media that if you are a centrist you have no ideology. YOU issue no propaganda. You just issue straight news. The only people that are propagandists are propagandists for the right wing or the left wing.... But if you're in the center, your ideology is centrism, which is every hit as much an ideology as leftism or rightism. I've talked to journalists and they say, "We ward off propaganda from both left and right." And my question is always, "Well, who's warding oft propaganda from the center? . . . " They don't have a response."

F. Objectivity: "Both Sides"

Journalists claim that, while they do not present their own opinions at all, they do present the opinions of others and achieve "objectivity," "balance," and "evenhandedness" in doing so, simply by being careful to give "both sides" of every issue.

The central fallacy of this doctrine is exposed, of course, when we realize that there is nothing magical about the number two. Some issues are many-sided, so that several perspectives concerning them would have to be considered before one could reasonably expect to be able to form an intelligent, informed judgment about them.
[...]

A further problem with the "both sides" doctrine is that the two sides to be heard from are rarely selected on the basis of their being most worthy of consideration in the light of the relevant evidence. Rather, they are selected on the basis of the economic and ideological principles discussed above, with the result that mass media "debates" in the United States almost always stick well within the narrow range of opinion to be found within the mainstreams of the two major political parties.
[...]

In any case, we are now in a position to see why debates between mainstream political thinkers and their leftist postmodern critics are so impoverished and so frustrating. The former claim that their views are "objective" or "factual," when in fact they rest on a massive distortion of evidence facilitated by a confused and indefensible notion of objectivity; and the latter undermine their own efforts by renouncing objectivity outright, and by insisting that "truth" is nothing but a rhetorical or ideological construct, thus leaving themselves without any ground from which to denounce as such the simple untruths promulgated by politicians, journalists, advertisers, and public relations personnel.
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One way to see this is to look back at the quotations from postmodernists modernists... Consider this one:

"The consensus of most of the dominant theories is that all thought does, indeed, develop from particular standpoints, perspectives, interests.... As the most powerful modern philosophies and theories have been demonstrating, claims of disinterest, objectivity, and universality are not to be trusted and themselves tend to reflect local historical conditions." George Levine et al., Speaking for the Humanities (n.p.: American Council of Learned Societies, 1989), pp. 10, 18.

Now, if "objectivity" here refers to the idea that there is a way things arc, irrespective of our opinion about it, and that our best chance of holding views that are consonant with this way things are rests in our rigorously and critically examining the relevant arguments and evidence concerning cerning them, this passage is absurd, as I have tried to show above. But if it refers to some region of pure, value-free facts, accessible to a passive, empty mind, and/or to the idea that the truth lies in the middle of some mainstream consensus, then the quotation makes considerably more sense. Claims of "objectivity" issued by mainstream politicians and journalists are not to be trusted, and do indeed tend to reflect their own narrow interests... They attack "positivism," and the idea of a mind unaffected by contingencies of race, class, and gender, but in so doing, they seem to think, erroneously, that they are effectively undermining mining the notion of objective truth itself.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I posted an intro to a book here: The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler which is so apropos of this topic, I thought I'd better post a recommendation here that y'all should go read it.

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning is a book by Jonah Goldberg, in which Goldberg argues that fascist movements were and are left-wing. Published in January 2008, it reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list of hardcover non-fiction in its seventh week on the list. Goldberg is a syndicated columnist and the editor-at-large of National Review Online.
 

Altair

Ambassador
Ambassador
FOTCM Member
Some quotes from chapter 7 "The anti-truth squad"

[...]
How can a constructivist make sense of lying, especially if the lies are not discovered, and persuade a large majority? Are they then true? That Anderson's social constructivist view deprives him of the resources to deal with this problem adequately is made evident by these remarks of his:

"We can also see an increasing theatricality of politics, in which events are scripted and stage-managed for mass consumption, and in which individuals and groups struggle for starring roles (or at least hit parts) in the dramas of life. This theatricality is a natural - and inevitable - feature of our time. It is what happens when a lot of people begin to understand that reality is a social construction. The more enterprising among us see that there is much to he gained by constructing-and selling to the public-a certain reality, and so reality making becomes a new art and business. And a very big business, ness, if you consider how much money is spent (and made) in fields such as advertising and public relations and political campaigning." Anderson, Reality Isn't What It Used to Be, pp. 5-6.

Note that Anderson's claim that a lot of people now "understand"-they they do not merely believe-that reality is a social construction, must, on its own terms, be understood as a social construction. Anderson himself calls it a "story." He further lists as "some of the givens of life in the early postmodern era" that "[w]e regard the collective beliefs of individuals (rather than the mind of God or the laws of history) as the ultimate repository of social reality (what is true is defined by what we all believe).... Consequently, all sectors of society are deeply interested in finding out what people believe (public opinion) and modifying those beliefs (advertising, propaganda, ganda, brainwashing, public relations, and so forth)." There you have it. In the postmodern world of social construction, which Anderson so vigorously advocates, if you can successfully brainwash people into believing that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance rance is strength, they thereby become true. We have arrived at Orwell's nightmare.

Many social constructionists maintain either that it makes no sense to speak of "what really happened" in the past, or else, more modestly, that this "real" sequence of events is in any case inaccessible to us now. Such historical skepticism seems to entail the impossibility of retributive and compensatory justice, since these forms of justice, insofar as they are concerned with rectifying wrongs done in the past, cannot even get off the ground if we cannot achieve a reasonably sonably accurate knowledge of what did, in fact, happen in the past. Moreover, such skepticism also threatens to undermine any claim that it is important to learn history and to discern lessons from it, for the obvious reason that we cannot possibly learn of or from that which is in principle utterly closed off to us. But many social constructionists reject these apparent implications of their doctrine and argue that social constructionism, far from undermining historical research, memory, and education, in fact provides a renewed and uniquely strong support for the worthiness of these enterprises. Michael Berube, for example, makes such an argument ment in connection with the Holocaust:

"Because few thinking persons believe that human history exists wholly independently of human understanding, few are willing to maintain that the details of the Holocaust's occurrence and meaning are fixed forever and beyond challenge. Surely, it is precisely because people know that "history" is constructed and maintained by humans that we know we must never forget the Holocaust. To believe that the Holocaust, or any historical occurrence, is immune to challenge by revisionists is to believe that there is no need to remind our fellow men and women that the Holocaust did indeed occur."

It is far from "surely" the case that the reason we must never forget the Holocaust is that "people know that `history' is constructed and maintained by humans." First of all, lots of people do not believe that history is constructed, and therefore do not know it. Second, as just discussed, history is decidedly not constructed if we mean by "history" past events, as opposed to later accounts of them. Third, there is no mystery as to why people would be well advised not to forget the Holocaust even on the assumption that history is not constructed. Millions of people were killed, an event of some significance and interest for its own sake, and one which we would wish not to repeat. Thus, we would want to remember what had happened so that we might learn lessons from this debacle pertaining to how to prevent it from happening again. All of this makes perfect sense on the assumption that the Holocaust, though carried out by humans, and thus a human construct in that sense, and though communicated to present-day people through narrative descriptions, and thus a human construct in that sense, was a real human event, which would remain precisely what it was even if everyone were to forget about it or remember it falsely, and thus is not a human construct in that sense.
[...]

...let us turn to the political implications of Calhoun's views:

"Vulgar relativism" asserts both that normative theories are relative to communities (the limiting case being a society of one) and that it is wrong to judge "outsiders," that is, those who are not members of the relevant community, by the standards of theories which they do not affirm. Under one interpretation, this thesis is self-contradictory, since it assumes an absolute value of tolerance, while simultaneously denying absolutism. A more charitable manner in which to interpret this position is as asserting that it is a linguistic impropriety to apply the standards of one community to outsiders, since it constitutes a sort of category mistake. If normative constructs are relative to a given community, then they can only be applied with linguistic propriety to members of that community. Outsiders are not "persons," in the relevant sense, since they are not located within the insider's sphere of morality. To illustrate the point in a simple case, judging outsiders would be to commit the same sort of mistake which one commits in morally reprimanding a dog for having harmed a person... But outsiders, such as dogs, may be treated in any manner in which one wishes (in the absence of other proscriptive beliefs to the contrary). They may he destroyed if they cause harm to the relevant community, in just the manner in which noxious weeds may he extirpated from a garden."
[...]

Frances FitzGerald refers to "the lingering hope that there is, somewhere out there, an objective truth" and immediately goes on to comment:

"The hope is, of course, foolish. All of us children of the twentieth century know, or should know, that there are no absolutes in human affairs, and thus there can be no such thing as perfect objectivity."
[...]

Mary E. Hawkesworth claims that

"Objectivity ... promises to free us from distortion, bias, and error in intellectual inquiry and from arbitrariness, self-interest, and caprice in ethical, legal, and administrative decisions. Feminist critiques of objectivity have been triggered by breach of promise. Feminist scholars have argued that observations, beliefs, theories, methods of inquiry, and institutional practices routinely labeled `objective" fall short of the norm. A significant proportion of feminist scholarship involves detailed refutations of erroneous claims about women produced in conformity with prevailing disciplinary standards of objectivity. The pervasiveness of the mistakes about the nature of women and their roles in history and society, as well as the imperviousness of mistaken views to refutation, have led some feminist scholars to examine the nature of objectivity per se."
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Ruth Hubbard asserts that:

"...facts aren't just out there. Every fact has a factor, a maker... .

One thing is clear: making facts is a social enterprise. Individuals cannot just go off by themselves and cone up with their own brand of facts. When people do that and the rest of us do not agree to accept or share the facts they offer us as descriptions of the world, they are considered schizophrenic, crazy. If we do agree, either because their facts sufficiently resemble ours or because they have the power to force us to accept their facts as real or true-to make us see the emperor's new clothes - then the new facts become part of our shared reality and their making, part of the fact - making enterprise."

According to Dean Pickard,

"...to speak generally of necessity and contingency, of absolute and relative, is to already have bought into dichotomous thinking that has gone beyond the bounds of its contextual utility. What is the context of such claims and divisions? We cannot achieve an absolute orientation to everything else. We create the orientation. Accepting rules of reason and the notion of universality is an orientation that attempts to step outside itself and proclaim itself "objective." But we can never outrun our orientation, our perspective, and can never achieve the objectivity of a view from everywhere (which is nowhere).... To universalize any rule is to ignore the context of particularity that gives rise to the desire to universalize in the first place. There is in fact always already a context of meaning in which we are operating. That context is inescapable if we are to he discussing anything at all. It is this obvious fact that is overlooked in the rush toward the fixity of universals."
[...]

...let's look at a few of Smith's statements about objectivity. Here is one:

"The idea of objectively good judgments, as distinct from judgments that are good under certain (perhaps quite broad ranges of) conditions and from the perspectives of certain (perhaps highly relevant sets of) people, appears fundamentally untenable. It follows that, no matter what principles we erect or invoke, whether epistemological, ethical, or procedural, "the best judgments" will still always he contingent in their production and operation, and also only contingently and contestibly identifiable as "the best"".
[...]

"There are widespread doubts about the very possibility of making absolute or universal judgments that transcend our always limited points of view. New trends in the social sciences and humanities, some of them with popular names like "postmodernism" or "poststructuralism," make much of the fact that all our views about the world are historically and culturally conditioned. We always see things from a particular point of view (a "conceptual framework," or "language game," or "cultural tradition"). How can we therefore show that our point of view, or any other, is the right one and competing views wrong, when we must assume the basic presuppositions of some particular point of view to support our claims? How can we climb out of our historically and culturally limited perspectives to find an Archimedean point, an absolute standpoint above the particular and competing points of view? This problem haunts the modern intellectual landscape. One sees variations of it everywhere in different fields of study, and everywhere it produces doubts among reflective persons about the possibility of justifying belief in objective intellectual, cultural, and moral standards." (Robert Kane, Through the Moral Maze, New York: Paragon House, 1994, pp. 1-2.)
[...]

"If we are certain of anything, it is that we are certain of nothing. If we have knowledge, it is that there can be none. Ours is a world awash with relativism. It has seeped into our culture, it threatens to become our faith. The tide may have begun with the end of belief in a universal morality and religious code, but it has swelled with a recognition of the limited and particular perspective of our culture, our time and our society. Its full force is now being felt in the name of post-structuralism and post-modernity. (Hilary Lawson, "Stories about Stories," in Dismantling Truth, ed. Hilary Lawson and Lisa Appignanesi (London: Wcidcnfcld and Nicolson, 1989, p. xi.)
[...]

Once upon a time, when students used to respond to a difficult philosophical question in class with statements like "It's all a matter of opinion," or "It's a question of semantics," or "It's all relative," I used to scold them gently. I can no longer do that, for the more knowledgeable among them can now easily cite many of the more prominent practitioners of the craft of philosophy in support of such statements. And they can cite as well no small number of anthropologists, historians, psychologists, sociologists, and literary theorists in the same vein. (Henry Rosemont Jr., "Beyond Post-Modernism," in Chinese Language, Thought, and Culture, ed. Philip J. Ivanhoe (Chicago: Open Court, 1996, p. 155.)
 

Jeffrey of Troy

Padawan Learner
Some quotes from chapter 7 "The anti-truth squad"
Truth limits freedom. Psychopaths can't thrive in a society where trying to be objective is the norm.

I'm not saying all people promoting this "social construct" idea are psychopaths. Most are just indulging themselves in the pleasure they get from caring (for victims, real and imagined) and denouncing (their own group). The psychopaths learn what will get other people to do what's best for the psychopaths.
 
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