Thursday, 29 December 2016

Post-Modern Heat

Get Out of The Kitchen

Johnathan Freedland has written a provocative piece in The Guardian.  He laments the post-truth world in which he now finds himself living.  He shows himself to be a small-"p" post-modernist yearning after solid foundations for his opinions.  While he is most likely not aware of it, he is really yearning for a Christian world-and-life view.  

Like most of his cadre or cohort he is absolutely sure that the Christian faith is a mere myth.  The necessary implication of that rejection is that everything then becomes uncertain or relative.  Even hard sciences, like quantum mechanics, leave secularists with profound agnosticism.  Does matter act like waves or particles or both at the same time?  We are told "all of the above", and we are also told by those-who-tell that they have no idea how or why, and it is likely they never will.  It just does not make sense--at least to someone who has denies the all-creating, all-governing God.  If you are not a Christian, like it or not, you have Wittgenstein or Foucault or both as your father(s).  So, stop trying to make sense of things.

Consequently, Freedland's lament over the growing dominance of post-truth perspectives is a bit silly really.  It is a "wake up and smell the flowers" moment.  It's like plucking out ones eyes, then lamenting bitterly that one is blind.

When Freedland was in a latently christianised phase in earlier days, he was deeply troubled over being confronted with Holocaust Denial.

Sixteen years ago, I sat in court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London and felt the ground crumble beneath my feet. I was following the libel trial brought by David Irving, the Holocaust denier and “pro-Nazi polemicist” – to quote the judge’s eventual verdict – against Penguin Books, which had dared publish a text which told the truth about him.

I watched as Irving discarded the usual rules of evidence. The eyewitness testimony of survivors was dismissed as lies. Confessions by the guilty were waved away as fake. Inconvenient documents were written off as forgeries. All that was left was what he wanted to believe.

At the time, it struck me that Irving was threatening something greater even than the memory of the Holocaust: he was undermining the very idea of facts, history and truth. If every item of evidence could be rubbished as bogus, then how could anyone ever prove anything? How would we know that Henry VIII had six wives or that Napoleon fought at Waterloo?  Hence the queasy sensation the ground was falling away.  [The Guardian]
But surely this unease was merely the nervous state that usually accompanies one stepping out into the unknown.  Once you get to your destination, things settle down, and calm returns.  Now radical uncertainty is the norm--in everything.  It's a wonderful post-Christian world.

Except that Freedland's unease, rather than abating, seems to be growing more acute.   Now Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has burst its banks, and something is proving to be a universal acid eating everything away.  Some of Freedland's most sacred cows are proving to be the poofiest of poofs in a radically post-truth world.
As Aleppo endured its final agonies, the simple act of circulating any account – a video, a photograph, a news report – would trigger an unnerving response. Someone, somewhere would reply that the photograph was doctored, the source was a stooge, the rescued child was not really a child or not really rescued.

Of course, we’re used to people taking different sides on conflicts far away, arguing bitterly over who is to blame. At its most extreme, it results in a newspaper like the Morning Star sinking so low that it hails the human devastation of Aleppo – where every hospital was bombed and where the slaughter of civilians became routine – not as a crime, but as a “liberation”. 
There are no facts any more.  Only frames and framers.  It's the inevitable outcome of, "Man is the master of all facts, and thus no facts exist."  Everything is socialised.  Everything is politicised.  Everything is reduced to cant, bias, and perspectives.  It's around about this time that Christians politely point out, "We told you so."

But Freedland has a hard time giving up (and Christians have a reasonable explanation for that as well).  Our doughty correspondent jumps the snark.  He goes full bore and says we are no longer dealing with perspectives, but . . . lies.
We’ve been calling this “post-truth politics” but I now worry that the phrase is far too gentle, suggesting society has simply reached some new phase in its development. It lets off the guilty too lightly. What Trump is doing is not “engaging in post-truth politics”. He’s lying.
What a blast from the past.  Truth versus lies.  Guilt versus innocence.  We confess we heard some atmospheric snickering over Freedland's intemperate, regressive accusations.  Doubtless, Foucault and Wittgenstein enjoying a good chuckle at the childishness of the lad.

But our doughty warrior persists nonetheless.  This perspectival, post-modern, lying by those in charge is not to be tolerated.  For some unknown reason, Freedland has no sense of irony at this point.  He would cast about for an explanation as to why guilty lying has become the norm.
But a crucial shift is surely the trend towards deeper and more bitter partisanship. Once people have aligned themselves with a tribe, studies show their first instinct will be to believe what favours their side and disbelieve what favours their opponent. One telling poll this week found Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings have shot up among US Republicans. They once hated him, but now their guy Trump is Putin’s buddy, they’re ready to see the Russian autocrat in a favourable light – and to ignore all evidence to the contrary.

This is making our public sphere a dizzying place. Without a common, agreed set of facts, we can hardly have any kind of public conversation at all. Writer David Roberts, who has a good claim to have coined the phrase “post-truth”, says that these days: “There are no more referees. There are only players.”
The only surprise here is that Freedland is surprised by these developments.  In response, we would counsel him to choose.  If truth is important, it must exist.  If it exists at all it must ultimately be referenced to infinite infallibility.  Otherwise there are only views, opinions, and perspectives.  Agreement about the facts has to be an oxymoron.  As Jean Paul Sartre once put it, if a fact or point of data has no infinite reference point, it has no meaning.  No real meaning.  And if not, then anything and everything is up for grabs.

Our counsel to Johnathan Freedland is either to become a Christian, or stop whining about the post-fact world whose apostle and avatar you have been, whether consciously or unconsciously or both.  If you don't like the cooking, get out of the kitchen.  Promptly, would be good.

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