Don’t say postmodernism to Trumpian post-truth neosophism…

BCprofHi readers,

I haven’t been very active here in 2016, especially not in the second part of the year. (I did publish 10 episodes of the scifi post-dystionian fiction story “Ghostified City’ though this fall on my fiction blog Oranderra). It might be different in 2017 in that I am going to break the hegemony of FB in my own online presence more, and am going to move discussions from FB more to this blog, and probably thus post more shorter posts here to conserve my thoughts outside of the facebook bubble.

Today’s thought from your resident couch philosopher: Trumpian post-truth epistemology in an age of ‘false news’ isn’t just post-modernism or post-postmodernism. It’s more a popularist form of neo-sophism. (original FB-status here)

I’ve seen people regularly use the straw man of ‘postmodernism’ for there being no truth at all, but can we please stop it now? Denying truth and facts is much older than postmodernism, which is much more sophisticated than ‘absolute relativism’ (a self-defeating parody of a philosophy that not much people hold) or post-truth non-epistemologies. To get something more in line with current situation look for example at the ‘pre-socratic’ sophists with whom Socrates clashed because they sold truth on demand for money. Our current post-truth pragmatism about facts is much closer to Protagoras and the likes, than to the actual European postmodernists.

The sophists, at least in the way represented by Socrates through Plato, were ‘teachers of wisdom’ who were able to use rhetorica to defend everything, including the absurd, especially when paid. (They would be great advocates of the devil…) So the straw man some like to fulminate against isn’t really postmodernism nor something new, but more a not so subtle form of neo-sophism.

Which is -just as it happened in the time of the original sophists- a logical step after real scepticism when foundations of truth erode, but not the supposed modern ‘scepticism’ that leads to a very strong enlightenment foundationalism (for example Dawkinsian ‘New atheism’) that’s in the end only fossilising into its own rigid tradition with its own conservative old farts.

I seems like the neo-sophism is only growing stronger in our era of unprecented (unpresidented?) mass media. So while I have seen American conservatives rage against relativism and postmodernism in the past, American conservatism might have become one of its own strongholds in these Trumpian days. See this interesting Morgan Guyton post too, called How did defenders of absolute truth become post-truth ideologues?

I think it’s a question of how we define absolute truth. Being committed to absolute truth can mean two very different things. On the one hand, absolute truth can signify that the universe has a single reality despite the fact that we perceive it from billions of vantage points. In this sense, absolute truth means the universe around me is not a dream that’s all in my head. The objective facts that surround me in the world matter. I don’t get to make up my own facts. There are universal laws and principles that exist independent of my subjective, culturally conditioned position.

When I was indoctrinated with absolute truth as a young evangelical, this first definition was how I was taught to understand the concept. However, I came to learn that, for evangelicals, absolute truth was not as much about the existence of universal truth as it was about obedience to an infallible authority. For conservative evangelicals, the authority to obey is of course the Bible, or more truthfully, their particular doctrinal superstructure within which they encase their interpretation of the biblical text. When you’ve made the decision to define truth as obedience to doctrine, then you’re not actually committed to the notion of a single, universal reality, because reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.

This is the Christian side of the story, which gives me a lot of cognitive dissonance btw. Nothing of the things described has any overlap with Christianity, the bible, Christ or Truth…

Note also that the sophists were strong rhetorics, who made very complicated thought constructions to persuade people of even the absurd when needed. Todays neo-sophists are not that, eh sophisticated at all, but they still sway whole groups of people over to dangerous nonsense. The power of media doesn’t seem to lessen the need for complicated intelectualism, and we might indeed be headed for an idiocracy… So much for the chronological snobbery of those who think we know everything now and who will not even care for the ideas of people from older ages…  Plain BS is already enough to convince people. No need for reason or logic or whatever… (Oh don’t you love this brave new world?)

I’m probably a very sloppy postmodernist after all, but I’m -unlike original American fundies for example- an even  worse modernist and more a Socratic-Platonist-Aritotelean here.
My postmodern side lies more in my humble epistemology, which falls in line with a lot of older and venerable traditions anyway, from Paul’s ‘we know in part’ (1 Cor 13) to Lao-Tzus ‘The Tao/Way that can be walked isn’t the real way, ‘he name that can be named is not the real name’ (Tao The Ching 1).

I think 2017 might be a good year to read some more about the Sophists though (and about any tradition that puts rhetorica before truth) , the few things I’ve read from them seemed very relevant to describe certain streams of though from this age, and yet no-one seems to speak of neo-sophism in our deceited era of being drowned in information but starved for a grain of sense…

What do you people think?




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