Saturday, August 13, 2016

Facts and truthiness

As I have mentioned often here, in graduate school, I had to familiarize myself with many new ideas and concepts that were far removed from electrical engineering.  It was a wild time.  I bet that in those initial couple of terms I might have even come across as an idiot, and perhaps more than one even wondered how I had gotten to graduate school.

One of those concepts was post-modernism.  If only I had known the phrase "WTF!" back then ;)

Post-modernism simultaneously interested me, and made me suspect the whole academic enterprise.  It interested me because it made me think hard about what "truth" meant.  For instance, I hadn't even remotely considered that truth could be negotiated and that truth could be a result of power play.  It was considered the truth a few hundred years ago that earth was the center of the universe and anybody challenging that truth was engaging in systematic misinformation campaign and could be sentenced to death, after years of torture. One could provide an endless list of examples.

So, yes, post-modernism made me think about truth in ways that I hadn't ever imagined.  What is "truth"?

But, the challenge to truth leading to the conclusion that "anything goes" as truth and that any interpretation is as good as another, was way freaky for me. If every interpretation is on equal footing, then what?

Recent political developments have made it abundantly clear that anything goes.  Climate deniers get equal treatment along with climate scientists.  Faux News is considered to be a news channel as the BBC is.  In fact, the very crowd that would normally be suspicious of post-modernist "anything goes"--the far right of the political spectrum--seems to be the ones who are practicing post-modernism even as they denounce the humanities and the social sciences as worthless.  This is one insanely post-modernist condition!
 ‘When we act, we create our own reality’, a senior Bush advisor, thought to be Karl Rove, told the New York Times in a quote Ferraris zeroes in on, ‘and while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities’.
Truth and reality were created out of power and they kept inventing new realities.  Trump has taken it into a level never seen before.
Donald Trump plays a similar game when he invokes wild rumors as reasonable, alternative opinions, couching stories that Obama is a Muslim, or that rival Ted Cruz carries a secret Canadian passport, with the caveat: ‘A lot of people are saying . . .’
Not that Trump or Rove would ever call themselves post-modernists!
When reality caught up – the audience caught on to the illusion in Moscow and the stories about Iraq broke down and the stock market crashed – one reaction has been to double down, to deny that facts matter at all, to make a fetish out of not caring about them. This has many benefits for rulers – and is a relief for voters. Putin doesn’t need to have a more convincing story, he just has to make it clear that everybody lies, undermine the moral superiority of his enemies and convince his people there is no alternative to him. ‘When Putin lies brazenly he wants the West to point out that he lies’ says the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, ‘so he can point back and say, “but you lie too”’. And if everyone is lying then anything goes, whether it’s in your personal life or in invading foreign countries.
This is a (dark) joy. All the madness you feel, you can now let it out and it’s okay. The very point of Trump is to validate the pleasure of spouting shit, the joy of pure emotion, often anger, without any sense. And an audience which has already spent a decade living without facts can now indulge in a full, anarchic liberation from coherence.
It is surreal that we now live a life where facts simply do not matter.  Academic post-modernists, who detest Trump and Putin, find that Trump and Putin are successfully practicing post-modernism where anything goes!

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