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I can take no comfort in that scenario. I take a position more like Sokal's
... I confess that I'm an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. ... (If science were merely a negotiation of social conventions about what is agreed to be ``true'', why would I bother devoting a large fraction of my all-too-short life to it? I don't aspire to be the Emily Post of quantum field theory.3)

But my main concern isn't to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we'll survive just fine, thank you). Rather, my concern is explicitly political: to combat a currently fashionable postmodernist/poststructuralist/social-constructivist discourse -- and more generally a penchant for subjectivism -- which is, I believe, inimical to the values and future of the Left.4 Alan Ryan said it well:

It is, for instance, pretty suicidal for embattled minorities to embrace Michel Foucault, let alone Jacques Derrida. The minority view was always that power could be undermined by truth ... Once you read Foucault as saying that truth is simply an effect of power, you've had it. ... But American departments of literature, history and sociology contain large numbers of self-described leftists who have confused radical doubts about objectivity with political radicalism, and are in a mess.5
Likewise, Eric Hobsbawm has decried
the rise of ``postmodernist'' intellectual fashions in Western universities, particularly in departments of literature and anthropology, which imply that all ``facts'' claiming objective existence are simply intellectual constructions. In short, that there is no clear difference between fact and fiction. But there is, and for historians, even for the most militantly antipositivist ones among us, the ability to distinguish between the two is absolutely fundamental.6
(Hobsbawm goes on to show how rigorous historical work can refute the fictions propounded by reactionary nationalists in India, Israel, the Balkans and elsewhere.) And finally Stanislav Andreski:
So long as authority inspires awe, confusion and absurdity enhance conservative tendencies in society. Firstly, because clear and logical thinking leads to a cumulation of knowledge (of which the progress of the natural sciences provides the best example) and the advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order. Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world.7
(my emphasis)

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 04:21:29 AM EST
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Migeru:
Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world

Unfortunately confused thinking can have a great impact on the world. To the point where the mass world view may be the product of confused thinking, and the physical world may be extensively damaged as a result.

This is why, though I hold to clear and logical thinking and its powerful extension in scientific method, though I think there are ascertainable historical facts and not just shifting versions of history, I don't see how it's possible to avoid thinking and working in terms of narratives, frames, social constructs, and relative views - simply because they are there (a dominant version of history is part of what makes history, and so on).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 04:43:13 AM EST
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afew:
I don't see how it's possible to avoid thinking and working in terms of narratives, frames, social constructs, and relative views
And I agree, but if we start fighting lies with lies to convince people that it's all lies, we've lost. That way lies madness...

I have called this the death of Enlightenment by its own success. The modern understanding of communication, propaganda, advertising, narratives, and the frame of cultural anthropology and cognitive linguistics is all the result of over 200 years of application of the scientific method to psychology and sociology. The triumph of the Enlightment methods leads to the discovery that 1) the Enlightenment itself is but one narrative among many with no special claim to relevance to human life; 2) it is possible to lie and distort your way to social and economic power; 3) the only way to fight the liars is to lie.

How can one not despair at this state of affairs? It makes me want to become a hermit.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 05:28:05 AM EST
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It is dishearteningly the case that the world has (after its magic) lost its freshness and immediacy, that we have left youth for age and have learned that no scheme of ideas is the next step on the road to ultimate truth. It's also true that pre-Enlightenment understanding that the exercise of power was closely linked to dissimulation (Get thee glass eyes, And like a scurvy politician, seem To see the things thou dost not) has now become a methodically studied system. Point 3 is surely an exaggeration?

In the Tappening case above, I don't see the exercise as seriously one of fighting lies with lies - more a facetious way of underlining the lies spread by advertising. My beef with it would be that it's preaching to the choir, not that it's despairingly showing that we have no other choice than to lie.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 06:13:12 AM EST
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My 3) is an exaggeration of ARGeezer's
perhaps turning the debasement of truth that has, to this point, primarily served those with power against the interests of those very powerful may give them reason to consider the nature and value of truth


The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 06:34:04 AM EST
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Please note the "perhaps".  And that the goal was to give them "reason to consider the nature and value of truth".

If, finding one's self operating in an environment of debased coinage and lacking the ability to apprehend and prosecute but not the ability to identify those who are passing the counterfeit, it may be that the best immediate response is to pass counterfeit back to those from whom it came.  Of course in the final phase of debasement it will be only the victims so doing that will be prosecuted.  In the case which afew originally cited, humor can serve both to protect the victim of the lie and to expose the liar.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 10:36:01 AM EST
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Maybe I'm too cynical, but if you use these techniques to convince people that "it's all lies, think for yourself" you may end up with a situation in which people are sceptical of everything except of conspiracy theories... And then you won't be able to convince them with facts as they will think you're either co-opted or deceived by the big conspiracy.

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 11:04:10 AM EST
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You will know when the strategy has backfired when you are being attacked for lying but those who were spreading the lies to which you were attempting to respond are not. Differential power is your enemy here. Parody and satire offer some legal protection, but the temptation to use their techniques back against them is high, if, perhaps, ultimately unwise.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 12:18:16 PM EST
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This is probably worth a diary.

Firstly, Derrida etc aren't wrong. Political truth is an effect of power. Empirically, you can make populations believe almost any old nonsense as long as you have a physical power base and - optionally - a minimum of intellectual air cover.

The issue is how to challenge that. Derrida etc believed that you did it by deconstruction. Sokal believes you do it by speaking 'truth.'

Empirically, neither works. The world is not lacking effective, pithy and accurate critiques of neoliberalism. Obviously being right and scientifically accurate isn't enough.

It's also worth pointing out that historically, 'science' has associated itself more with neoliberalism than with minority support. Professional sceptics like Schermer have a record of boosting free market ideology. And while the scientific community has never had a problem mustering a gas giant-sized cloud of seriousness to attack trivia like spoon bending or astrology, there was nary a squeak heard about the collective insanity of free marketism and its manic depressive cycling, or any serious criticism of the new aristocracy that it supports.

If you go looking for formal scientific support for minority interests, it's not all that easy to find.

Empirical political research would be something else again. The Right has good rules of thumb for how to do PR and propaganda, and there's some psychological basis for all of them. But would a complete model of mind for political action and opinion management really be a good thing in a culture that's effectively being run as an aristocracy?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 04:47:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is definitely worth a diary. Pretty please?

The peak-to-trough part of the business cycle is an outlier. Carnot would have died laughing.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 05:30:20 AM EST
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I echo Migeru, this too is a diary-worth rant (like so many others of your longer comments).

But, I beg to differ on some points. 'Science' is too general to be associated with anything. Some think 'science' associated itself too much with... Soviet-style communism. US scientists certainly viewed creationists, and their political allies, as a threat worth to attack alongside spoon benders and astrologers. In the humanities (whose subject it is), there was certainly a lot of criticism of neoliberalism; the question is, who listens to them? Just as the neoclassical/Austrian school/whatever guys drowned out all other economists in the media, critical sociologists appeared at most as "biased leftist university elite".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Aug 6th, 2009 at 06:10:01 AM EST
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It's also worth pointing out that historically, 'science' has associated itself more with neoliberalism than with minority support. Professional sceptics like  have a record of boosting free market ideology. And while the scientific community has never had a problem mustering a gas giant-sized cloud of seriousness to attack trivia like spoon bending or astrology, there was nary a squeak heard about the collective insanity of free marketism and its manic depressive cycling, or any serious criticism of the new aristocracy that it supports.

Agree on Schermer.  But at least Scientific American is starting to carry a more diverse set of articles by economists, such as Nadeau.  Perhaps the editors are beginning to see that they have been had by the Neo-Classical School.  They are certainly familiar with Thomas Kuhn's work and its implications.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 8th, 2009 at 12:10:51 AM EST
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