One of the primary difficulties of living on your own in a cave somewhere is that most people tend to die almost immediately. Therefore, we’ve worked out that living in society is better than living alone. This decision has presented us with a problem or two. The one that presents itself right now is how do we agree on what the truth of all matters are?
As I write this, right-wing, the whole world is talking about pro-Trump protestors in Washington DC. Six months ago, it seemed a combination of BLM and Antifa doing the burning and fighting. Who knows what’s next? Perhaps this is the new norm? But what is the major underlying change that has led us to this point? I think it has to do with the nature of knowledge, amongst other things. We can’t agree on what is knowable, and science is of absolutely no help at all. Here’s why.
A brief history of episteme
Humans have always disagreed. In fact, that we can disagree is proof that we are free. In no way, shape, or form do I believe the world is flat, but flat earthers have every right to have their ridiculous opinions. We’ve heard their arguments, critiqued their supposed evidence, and most of us have made the decision to believe the world is a sphere.
And this is how we in The West have handled things for a very long time. The scientific method began with Aristotle all the way back in around 350BC. Even during the European dark ages, scholastic monasteries practiced the dialectic method of philosophising. Under this method, contradictions can be resolved by proposing a question and letting a strong argument be presented each way to arrive at a conclusion.
Both Aristotle’s and the scholastic’s methods helped provide distinctions between one thing and another. That we might know what one thing is and its properties and know that it is distinct from the other.
Sir Francis Bacon gave us what we now know as the modern scientific method in the 1620s. John Locke argued that there was no such thing as innate knowledge and that we obtained most knowledge by experiencing it in 1689. This was the beginning of British empiricism.
Meanwhile, on the continent of Europe, philosophers advanced what was known as rationalism. Descartes posited that if he was doubting, he existed. And that if he had knowledge of God, rationally, he must have experienced him. And if God exists, and if God is perfect, God must have created reason, and we can trust it.
After that position, other thinkers of the time were free to point out that Descartes had made a circular argument about reason. And so we Europeans accept the Cogito and reject Descartes’s proof of God, and we are free to do so, and everyone now agrees on both positions.
Through all of this, we were pursuing knowledge. You understand what I just said there; we were pursuing truth, discovering it, uncovering it, finding it. The idea is that even if we weren’t in a given room, there would be a truth in that room that maybe the light was on or off or that the room had windows with curtains on them. There was somewhere a true ontology of the world, and we humans are able to use empirical observations and rational thinking to have knowledge of this ontology. To know the room.
Of late, certain far-left intellectuals and academics have decided that the pursuit of truth is unsatisfactory. They have decided to produce it, manufacture it, design it, make it as though knowledge and truth don’t exist until we make it, and that we can make it anything we like.
You’ve been hearing this for some time now. When certain political interests say “men are toxic” or “women are equal” or “America was never great.” Understand they are not saying that they have stated a hypothesis and then tested a subject under differing conditions whilst keeping all other variables constant and measured the result.
They are saying they want men to be toxic and thus are producing that knowledge regardless of the actual state of affairs. Those people that believe men are toxic do so because it is just not factual. But to propagate the supposedly just statement “men are toxic,” it must constitute knowledge, not mere opinion. And so they produce that knowledge.
And this is what we who are left resisting the fall of the west haven’t quite worked out yet. We aren’t dealing with people who are looking for the truth. If we were, facts and evidence might have helped us. We are dealing with people who believe that knowledge can be manufactured.
Facts and evidence are of no use to them. In fact, they will often use and write the word facts in quotation marks. Our task is not to produce more evidence; it is to make the argument that evidence still matters.
I think by now, most people have a rough understanding of what the Postmodernism of the 1960s was. In a nutshell, if there is a room with a bed in it, who says it is a bedroom? One could study or read in the room, and so, it could be called a reading room or a study. If we take this very simple analogy, there are several theories on how to solve the issue of what to call the room.
1. There are hard, set, rigid truths in the world that say that any room with a bed in it is a bedroom. That’s it.
2. Traditionally, rooms with beds in our bedrooms. If you want to call them something else, fine, but it’s weird.
3. We all get to form communities that choose to be together. Within those communities and cultures, we determine overtime what to call everything that exists. Different communities have different languages and different names for things, and that’s why different communities don’t always mix well.
A good member speaks the language of his or her community and accepts the words that the community uses. The words may change over time, but it requires the consensus of a majority to make it happen.
4. What the room is called is the result of powerful people forcing everyone else to use the powerful words they require them to use. So, in our society, elites have created schools and dictionaries and movies and songs and plays that use the word “bedroom” in reference to rooms with beds in them. That is the only reason we use the word bedroom.
Starting from the 1960s, there has been a group of intellectuals that have genuinely believed this fourth option. This is their story.
The 1950s was a bad time for knowledge. Willard Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism undid a lot of hard work that the last 200 years had achieved in the school of thought known as epistemology. Wittgenstein’s last word seemed to reach the same conclusion as his first, namely that we really can’t speak many truths, if any, and it’s from here that the postmodernists of the 1960s get busy.
The foremost postmodernist (although he wouldn’t have referred to himself as such) was Michel Foucault. He was not a philosopher; more of a historian took a fresh look at Europe’s history. This time though, through the lens of someone who believes all words only have meaning because of their relationship to other worlds.
For example, if we define men as strong, we can’t help but define women as not strong. Therefore women are defined by their relationship with men. Foucault was sceptical that Western Society had as many hard truths as we thought we did. Really, we had a lot of contingencies. So, it is not the case that homosexuality is bad, but IF you believe in the bible, THEN homosexuality can be said to be bad.
Furthermore, Foucault wanted to make the point that there are two things, the real object in the real world, perhaps an apple or a brick wall, and then there is also the idea of the object, so an idea in our mind of the apple or the wall.
We, western humans, purport that our idea of the apple is an accurate representation of the actual apple, and thus our idea is true. But Foucault thought we only ever know the idea, never the actual apple, and so we can never really say if our idea of the apple is true as we never know the apple, and thus a comparison between two things we know is impossible.
Therefore 100% of ideas are completely unverifiable, and thus all our ideas might be wrong; therefore, there is no truth. Now, of course, Descartes and Immanuel Kant had said something about this already, But Kant’s objections were fairly limited. Foucault’s went much further.
Foucault also believed that languages were not just a series of labels that represented real objects in the world, or even labels that represented ideas. Rather language functioned as its own autonomous reality. When we speak a word, the reality we are speaking to is just the word’s own meaning.
But most troublesome of all were Foucault’s ideas on the man himself. Our mind is an object we know to exist empirically. We don’t sense it with our eyes or ears like we would a rock or bird. We sense it by thinking with it. I think, therefore, I am where “I” in my mind. But then we go on and say this empirical object; our mind is where ideas come from. So the idea of the mind comes from the thing we are trying to get an idea of. The mind is both where the idea comes from and of what the idea is about.
Depending on how you believe reason works or perhaps depending on your motives for supporting or destroying reason, you can fall either way on this. I personally have no issue with believing that the mind can form an idea of itself and can be self-aware. But Foucault disagreed with me, and it seems to have made all the difference.
At the risk of this getting too complicated, I’ll persist here if you don’t mind. Kant was concerned with how things came to be. There is a state of affairs, and we believe there must have been causal factors which brought that state of affairs into being.
The door is slamming, and the wind caused it. Foucault is not concerned with this. He is concerned with what processed caused Wind, Door, and Slam to be known to be. How is it, or what were the conditions that caused Wind, Door, and Slam to be accepted as known? Importantly, Foucault does not believe in necessary or universal conditions, but rather local, temporary, and contingent conditions under which knowledge exists.
This, of course, opens the door to say that by changing the locality, the time, the narrative, the discourse, or the accepted norms that this knowledge is contingent upon, what can change knowledge and make all knowledge fleeting. You may have noticed that there are activist forces in this world working hard to change the discourse.
Moving away now from Foucault’s epistemology, what did he have to say about the way humans live their lives? Foucault lamented that we were constantly under observation for normal and abnormal behaviour. That we aren’t disciplined by the whip or the stockade anymore, but we are by expectations of what is and isn’t normal. Something somewhere has set some standards, and we are all being examined to see if we have or have not obtained them or not. This is not a punishment as a deterrent or as revenge, as primitive torture methods of punishment might have been.
This is a form of control to make sure we don’t cross the line or step out of bounds. The question is, who “knows” what the correct norms are? You should be able to join the dots here that having now torn up the idea that we can’t know the mind, where ideas come from, or that any knowledge universal, norms can change to make any knowledge you prefer, and I can’t stress that word enough, PREFER, and knowledge you prefer can be known!
Want men to be toxic? This can be arranged. Want the notion that “there are no genders” and “men oppress women” to be knowable at the same time? Okay. Want America to have been founded in 1619? There is a project underway for just such a contingency.
But of course, this is all silly. One can apply Foucault’s own devices against himself and make everything he claimed to be true to be false. All his knowledge of how the world works becomes just fleeting, and the claims of contingency he puts on all other knowledge. His whole world falls in a heap, and we end up a hop skip, and jump from nihilism. At least nihilism for those that accept the postmodernist rationale. Those of us that do not are immune to its debilitating effects.
And this is what happened. The Postmodernism that arose in France in the 1960s was all just a LARP. No one took it too seriously; it was just an interesting theory. But then Postmodernism packed its bags, crossed the Atlantic, and took root in a far more pragmatic place, The United States of America. It is no longer a LARP; it is extremely serious.
From the 1990s onwards, Postmodernism became Applied Postmodernism. Somehow, some academics managed to agree that there is no truth except for the one truth. And that one truth is the relationship between Oppressor and Oppressed. To Applied Postmodernists, the only thing that exists is oppression.
It is too long a discussion to go over Applied Postmodernism here. That will have to wait for a part 2 blog. But you know what it is. We call it Woke. It is the thing that makes you racists because of your skin color and problematic because you aren’t gay.
If wokism succeeds, science will be of no assistance in determining knowledge. It will not be the facts that make something true or false, but the discourses, language, and norms within which science operates that will do so. These factors will most likely be controlled by activism, mainstream media, schools and universities, and celebrities.
Batten down the hatches, boys, and girls. This one is going to get rough.
Charlie Delto is an Australian father, husband, business owner, and philosopher. He has a site at charliedelto.com, on twitter at @charliedelto and on youtube here. He can be found within the walls of the Fraternity of Excellence.
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