• Banno
    Here is a good read: A Robert De Niro Theory of Post-Truth: ‘Are you talking to me?’

    Have a look.

    The notion that facts are always contestable is attributed to Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    Not so fast. Feyerabend, in whom I am well-pleased, was set to have Wittgenstein as his supervisor, just before Ludwig died. Feyerabend changed to Popper, and became the most radical critic of scientific method. But he - and I will find the essay if asked - did not think that Wittgenstein's language games were incommensurable. I think we can say the same for Kuhn's paradigms and Lakatos' research programs.

    And I think this is where Davidson's On the very idea... comes in handy. There's a type of relativistic thing going on, such that folks can express the same view in different ways; one truth writ differently.
  • Cavacava
    I have read Davidson's essay "On the very idea of a Conceptual Scheme" a few times, it seems to me that he reaches a paradoxical conclusion:

    It would be wrong to summarize by saying we have shown how
    communication is possible between people who have different
    schemes, a way that works without need of what there cannot be,
    namely a neutral ground, or a common coordinate system. For
    we have found no intelligible basis on which it can be said that
    schemes are different. It would be equally wrong to announce the
    glorious news that all mankind -all speakers of language, at
    least - share a common scheme and ontology. For if we cannot
    intelligibly say that schemes are different, neither can we intelligibly
    say that they are one.

    This seems (to me) to leave us with an ongoing problem of ambiguous translation.
  • BC
    ... facts are always contestableBanno

    Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault, and Ludwig Wittgenstein are entitled to their own opinions; they are not entitled to their own facts. Per Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
  • fdrake
    When people are enslaved, one of the first control measures is to stop them from reading. When we then have an educated populace with a variety of conflicting opinions, is it then much of a surprise that the manner of laying out the facts becomes indexed, and is indeed marketed, to different subgroups in the population?

    Post-truth discourse can't have the undermining of incommensurable conceptual schemes by the mere possibility of translation of sentences into equivalence classes of truth conditions as its solution, as even if Davidson's account were true, post-truth discourse would still be an ongoing thing. A better analysis would be to attempt to account for the productive (cultural and political) forces which generate and maintain the condition of post truth.

    Adam Curtis terms the mode of engagement between the people and their government which results in 'a radical destabilisation of perception' nonlinear warfare. He gives the example of the way the subprime-mortgage generated, giant speculative clusterfuck 2008 economic crisis had its perception managed in the UK. Quantitative easing was presented as a means of inserting extra money into the economy to make up for what the people lost, what actually happened was one the biggest legalised theft redistribution of wealth in history. The top 5% of earners took almost all of the money. This wasn't reported by the mainstream media, but we still have the term 'banker bailouts' which contains a kernel of the truth.

    People know the truth about it, but the truth isn't something which motivates people to political action. People who still believe in truth and recognize nonlinear-warfare for the bullshit pedaling it is rarely engage, instead we 'observe the downfall of civilisation with a cool detachment' (from here, a documentary on related themes).

    What to do about it?

    Not a clue. Only thought I've had is that people are still aware of the rhetorical power of truth, as apparently it, or the conviction in it, is precisely what separates the (allegedly) incommensurable conceptual schemes which divide us.
  • apokrisis
    There's a type of relativistic thing going on, such that folks can express the same view in different ways; one truth writ differently.Banno

    It's an important topic. As usual, I would argue that the notion of "objective truth" itself is a non-starter. We can't combat post-truth simply by saying there is reality that must be properly described, a world of facts that ultimately holds us speakers to account.

    That absolutism can't work as speech acts are as much about the self as the world. Or semiotically, they are tokens of a self~world relation. They state the truth of that - the relation - rather than the truth of the world (or the self) in any direct sense.

    But still, there is something very important about the Enlightenment project. There is something very dangerous in the relativism that has now slid all the way down to proto-fascist Trumpian alternative fact reality. There is a notion of truth communication to be defended.

    So - in terms of socially engineering that happier outcome - I would argue that what we need to guard against is the stratification of social discourse. The control over discourse by the entrenched elites. Or now in a social media/reality TV world, the development of algorithmic bubbles. And this seems the reverse of that elitist control, in that now it is the over-democratisation of opinion that is the problem.

    Trump does neatly represent this divide. He is a creature of the swamp, yet sells the social media response to the fact of being control by an entrenched elite. He played the Randian ideal of "the boss" in a reality show. He actually seems to love living in a fake world of gold living rooms and arcadian golf courses. He represents the greatest possible disconnect from reality we can imagine. And so he becomes the ideal candidate to lead a mob seeking nothing but comforting simplicities in a world quite deliberately made too complex for any but the elite to be advantaged.

    So truth is currently under assault from two directions. There is the more traditional control over "the message" that is how an elite maintains its position within a stratified social hierarchy. And then there is the mob counter-response. Social media has really become the enabler of that.

    The traditional media was often a tool of the elite. No denying. But the traditional media also did embody some level of Enlightenment commitment to a common notion of truth.

    Again, no absolutism allowed. But the traditional media got that meanings are social. And so "the truth" ought to reflect some "whole of society" point of view. We would find truth in whatever, in the most universal way, cemented a human relation to a humanised world.

    That is why a truth-telling society doesn't ignore its poor, its disadvantaged. That is why a truth-telling society is "realistic" about its relations to the wider ecological and material resources upon which it must depend. The traditional media did try to take this whole of society perspective of what counts as "the truth".

    Now the post-truth assault is coming strongly from both directions. The elite have become increasingly happy to lie. The institutional constraints against the likes of Murdoch have become very eroded. Governments see spin as a necessity - because the population is no longer easily made compliant when moments of "national necessity", like another war or financial correction, arise.

    And the mob mentality now has its own new vehicle. The early internet was very much built on democratic, enlightenment principles. Now it has evolved into a realm of post-truth bubbles.

    So truth-telling relies on tying the widest sense of self to the widest sense of the world in an ongoing habit of interpretance or pragmatic communication. That is what has to translate across all the levels of discourse, all the bubbles of thinking. There must be a unity about the social point of view that functionally preserves the people we want to be - culturally, economically, environmentally.

    Even scientific truth gets criticised from this point of view. It is great to have a really objective cosmic view of "the world". But in the end, it is going to come back to how we need to think in order to continue to flourish. The truth is about this relationship if we are being practical about our habits of truth-telling.

    So the linked essay touches on a vital issue. Society needs to pay attention to the way it institutionalises the collective habit of truth-telling. The elite and the mob are evidence that we are long way from an ideal balance.

    The corrective medicine would involve doing what it takes to bolster the collectivising view. The difficulty is knowing how to best do that.

    For instance, Trump could be here and gone next week. The pendulum could swing. The US might institutionally embrace some kind of informational reform having had such a close brush with disaster.

    Or we could wait for the next GFC to wash everything away in an act of creative destruction. The irreality has to have an end, even if it is amazing the show has been kept on the road up to now.

    Do we need some dramatic intervention, or will the situation naturally take care of itself (the truth of the world being at least that recalcitrant).

    In the meantime, if you look for it, there is plenty of truth-telling happening even on the internet. The new media is exposing plenty. There is a lot of positive to point to as well.

    Anyway, from a philosophical viewpoint, post-truth is not about a lack of truthful objectivity about the world. It is about the social fragmentation of the story-telling. Speech acts are always about the self as much as the world. And it is the health of the collective self, the communal speaker, which is at the heart of these post-truth concerns.
  • Banno
    This seems (to me) to leave us with an ongoing problem of ambiguous translation.Cavacava

    Yep. But that's not a paradox.
  • Banno
    A better analysis would be to attempt to account for the productive (cultural and political) forces which generate and maintain the condition of post truth.fdrake

    What do you think of the suggestion that what has changed recently is not the existence of bullshit and lies, but the way they are received? Post-truth resides in the acceptance of bullshit and lies as just a part of the dialogue.

    That seems to be in line with what you have written - which was very good. Thanks.
  • Banno
    We charitably interpret the utterances of others so as to maximise the truth in what they say. The bullshitter derails this process by not caring about the truth.

    We appear to be obliged to be uncharitable to bullshiters.
  • Banno
    As usual, I would argue that the notion of "objective truth" itself is a non-starter.apokrisis

    I agree - I don't see that the juxtaposition of objective agains subjective can be maintained. There are just true statements and false statements.

    Elsewhere I posited that a post-truth world must fail. Truth is what is still there despite what you believe, and if folk choose to believe falsities, truth will ultimately return to bite them on the bum.

    Social fragmentation, identity politics, xenophobia all play their part.

    There's more to truth than opinion, more to truth than just belief.
  • apokrisis
    There's more to truth than opinion, more to truth than just belief.Banno

    But are you agreeing there is more to truth than a world of real facts?

    That was the important point I wanted to make. Yes, there is a reality out there ready to bite false belief on the bum. But what grounds truth just as much is the self that stands holding the other end of that truth-telling relation.

    The socially constructed nature of truth has to be accepted to then make a distinction between the good and bad in our current habits of truth-telling.

    That is the subtlety which I sense you may be skirting.

    There are just true statements and false statements.Banno

    This is what I mean.

    I can understand what it might mean for statements to be judged truthful. The relationship between some self and some world is being foregrounded. Truth is provisional on the functionality of a relation, not on the claimed brute state of either one or the other.

    But to just call statements true or false feels ambiguous. Are they true because they conform to a state of the world or a state of belief?

    No, they are true because they work in some long-run sense. They are true because a community of minds will arrive at such a judgement given sufficient time to inquire fully. They are true because a community of thinkers no longer doubt them in their heart.

    Sure. The job of logic is to exclude ambiguity. But it can't simply assert that ambiguity doesn't exist.

    And that seems a very central point in any battle against post-truth attitudes. We have to grant social constructionism if we are to insist on truth being properly constructed within society.

    Sure, people can think what they like. But then there is still the social view with the most functional grasp of "the truth of the world".
  • Banno
    There are just true statements and false statements.Banno

    This is just to say that it is statements - sentences that make an assertion - that are true or false.

    But to just call statements true or false feels ambiguous. Are they true because they conform to a state of the world or a state of belief?apokrisis

    That strikes me as a loaded question. Since:
    speech acts are as much about the self as the worldapokrisis
    it would be misguided to juxtapose conforming to a state of the world, to conforming to a state of belief.

    A true statement obviously involves both.
  • Cavacava
    Maybe truth today has to be local, familiar, in the neighborhood. Once you get away from home territory it is easy to get lost, confused by competing claims to truth and falsity.
  • Banno
    So we just give in?
  • creativesoul
    Nice article Banno...
  • Streetlight
    Tried reading it but was too disappointed by the typically awful understanding of Foucault to go on :(
  • Banno
    Since nobody understands Foucault, you should be used to that. O:)
  • creativesoul
    Good stuff in Fdrake's post as well...
  • Banno
    Cheers. Wish I had writ it.
  • creativesoul
    ↪creativesoul Cheers. Wish I had writ it.Banno

    We'd be arguing over a few things had it been you. It's a nice article, because it is exemplary, and not in a good way. There's a bit of irony in it. Part of the problem(perhaps most) has been academia. The article acknowledged that much, but the author doesn't seem to grasp the problem itself.
  • creativesoul
    We teach... that alternative views are to be valued. Nietzschean perspectivism is the default position of most academics, and we are loath to reach definitive conclusions particularly in ethical and political matters.

    May have something to do with how truth is situated in relation to ethical and political matters.

    First we need to recover our intellectual nerve. We need to situate critical approaches to the production of knowledge in context. We need to go beyond simply introducing students to critique and explore with them the validity of arguments. We need to be prepared to say that some perspectives are better than others, and explain why.

    How is better.

    An embracing of multiple perspectives should not lead us to conclude that all perspectives are equally valid. And if they are not all equally valid we need sound epistemological reasons to choose one over the other. In short, we need to re-examine and reinvigorate the Enlightenment impulse.

    Hopefully a bit better than just the Enlightenment impulse this time around. Leave the mistakes, lest the same result...

    Second, we need to recover our commitment to objective truth. George Orwell has been much cited as a prescient figure in understanding post-truth. Orwell believed: “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

    Yet the concept of “objective truth” has not merely faded out of the world; it has been sent into exile. Few academics embrace the concept today.

    This well-founded scepticism towards “objective truth” comes from the confusion between an ontological belief in the existence of objective truth, and an epistemological claim to know it. The two are not synonymous. We can retain our critical stance to epistemological claims about objective truth only by insisting on its status as something that exists but which no one possesses.

    The first claim in the last paragraph above calls skepticism that is grounded upon confusion "well-founded".

    There is no such thing as "objective truth". It does not follow that the post-truth world is the result of discarding that impoverished notion. I would think that a well-founded skepticism of "objective truth" would involve showing the inadequacies of the "objective" part. I would further say that if we are to promote the Enlightenment, we ought not promote it's known shortcomings.

    While a statement is true/false regardless of whether or not one believes it, that does not warrant saying that truth is objective, or that there is such a thing as "objective truth". It warrants concluding that belief's distinct from truth. Belief is not truth.

    As Orwell knew only too well, if the concept of objective truth is moved into the dustbin of history there can be no lies...


    A lie is a deliberate misrepresentation of one's own thoughts and beliefs. One cannot do that unknowingly. Truth has a central role in both sincere and insincere speech acts, but there is no need for "objective" truth. Truth is presupposed within thought and belief. If truth and the role that it plays within all thought and belief is misunderstood, then there are potentially horrendous consequences. However... talking about "objective truth" situates truth beyond and/or outside thought and belief, which itself reflects an impoverished understanding of the origen of truth and the role that it plays in all thought, belief, and statements thereof.
  • Banno
    I wish you would not use that "thought/belief" construct; so ungainly. I find myself distracted by it. It leads to to the detriment of clarity in your writing.
  • creativesoul

    Edited for ease of understanding.

    Banno I would've thought you would also want to discard the notion of "objective truth". I've seen you reject the dichotomy upon much the same grounds that I do.
  • Banno
    Said as much a few posts back. I also want to take care not to discard truth.

    Truth has a central role in both sincere and insincere speech acts,creativesoul
    And in bullshit? Truth does not enter into bullshit.
  • creativesoul
    ↪creativesoul Said as much a few posts back. I also want to take care not to discard truth.Banno

    Of course.

    Truth has a central role in both sincere and insincere speech acts,
    — creativesoul
    And in bullshit? Truth does not enter into bullshit.

    Bullshit is thought in statement form. Bullshit is one manifestation of the ends justifying the means.
  • fdrake


    What do you think of the suggestion that what has changed recently is not the existence of bullshit and lies, but the way they are received? Post-truth resides in the acceptance of bullshit and lies as just a part of the dialogue.

    I think 'the dialogue''s severance from truth has a self reinforcing character. Imagine trying to communicate political-managerial decisions to a populace who will buy anything because they think you're full of shit. That makes it so that you get to say loads of shit. If you don't say loads of shit, you appear unsophisticated and curmudgeonly - not part of the political class of disempowered managers -, I think this is part of what contributed to the perception of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US. Their rhetoric consisted in restoring and acknowledging political practice to change things for (what they thought was) the better - and both relied upon objective appraisals of societal systems. EG, Corbyn made so many criticisms of what privatising the railways in Britain did, and acknowledged the horrors that the British afflicted on the Irish prior to their independence. Sanders spent a lot of time criticizing the inefficiencies and unfairness of the American healthcare system. Both got accused of being 'poor candidates for leaders' and 'radical socialists' for insisting on the truth of their claims about failings in society and both generated cult like followings during the election.

    But what was different about Trump? He also used the widespread discontent and belief that the political system was bullshit as part of his presidential campaign. In essence, he embodied the paradox of introducing 'speaking truth to power' in his campaign (see his insistence on the 'broken system' of American politics) as a means of attaining the criticized power. The widespread approval of a hypocrisy of this magnitude only makes sense on the background of a massive destabilisation of perception. It is only in those circumstances that he could appear more truthful than his competitors just by giving a name to the destabilised political mileau, and thus appeared transcendent of it. All the while being an embodiment of this destabilisation. I think the use of this by the political-managerial class is best summarised through the following:

    Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate. — Sun Tzu

    This blurring of truth and fiction in the narrative structures derived from politics has post-truth discourse as a symptom rather than as a cause. The operation of post-truth requires an intellectual isolation of individuals (suggested in phrases like 'everyone is entitled to their opinion' and 'my truth'), and an internalization of truth to belief. I think it's likely that the rising level of average education in most industrialized nations has contributed to this. Why? I think this is best demonstrated through this quote:

    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it — Aristotle, allegedly

    Instead of being interpreted as a capacity for educated people to suspend reality within their judgements, it takes on a strange inversion in modern ideology. We are obliged to suspend judgement of the veracity of ideas as necessary feature of ratiocination. Note that this is circumscribed to complex topics, we definitely act as if many things are true (eg. 'don't abuse children' as a maxim).

    What was once identified with the ability to situate yourself within complex problems and use your reason to decide what to do and what to think is now a mechanism of intellectual paralysis. Increasing levels of education has lead us to see the complexity in everything, and ironically lead to widespread intellectual paralysis on the things that need the most thought to justify action - instead we have an interminable process of thought. Perhaps this also goes someway to explain the rise of racist-populist narratives in the US and Europe in recent politics - appearing as simple suggests that our intellectual paralysis mechanism need not be applied. Generating decontextualised victim narratives and oppressive scapegoats.
  • unenlightened
    I think 'the dialogue''s severance from truth has a self reinforcing character. Imagine trying to communicate political-managerial decisions to a populace who will buy anything because they think you're full of shit.fdrake

    But, but ... Here's some radical claim: there can be no dialogue severed from truth, because there would be no connection between one speaker and the other. But dialogue is not what happens in academia, politics, in advertising, in the mass media, including the internet for the most part. And that is the root of the problem.

    Rather than Orwell, Freire is the man with an analysis and a solution. It is because academia has fallen in love with the sound of its own voice, and no longer dialogues but pontificates, that its own voice has fragmented and folks only listen to whatever confirms their own pontification. There is, by and large, no dialogue in education, no mutuality, no learning together and from each other cooperatively, but rather a competitive shouting match, in which truth and learning and communication are no longer priorities.

    ...this dialogue cannot be re­duced to the act of one persons "depositing" ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be "consumed" by the discussants. Nor yet is it a hostile, polemical argument between those who are committed neither to the naming of the world, nor to the search for truth, but rather to the imposition of their own truth. Because dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world, it must not be a situation where some name on behalf of others. It is an act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one person by another. The domination implicit in dialogue is that of the world by the dia­logues; it is conquest of the world for the liberation of humankind.
    Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself. It is thus necessarily the task of responsible Subjects and cannot exist in a relation of domination.
  • fdrake

    That's mostly the reason I scarequoted dialogue, the relationship of people with each-other as political actors in a state such as this is either one of indifference, 'oh dear'ism and paralysis or fetishised placebo politics. The relationship of governments benefiting from the mass destabilisation of perception to their peoples is one of fetishised theater (like Trump's charming sexism), undemocratic opaqueness (like EU politicians having to sign a non-disclosure agreement to view the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership papers) and managerial dehumanisation (missed this appointment? no food for a month).

    It is a kind of politics where politicians must be persuaded to act on behalf of their people, be informed on issues important to them,a state in which the problems of corporate power are defined as irrelevant and the social costs are offloaded onto the worst off with a knowing smile from their political representatives.

    Academic engagement with the public is declining at the same time as academic engagement with relevant academics. Exterior to the academy it's a problem of outreach, reluctance to adopt a pedagogical style, and academics situated as experts to be believed rather than as guides for intellectual engagement. The latter mode of operation there can be seen on this forum, but such a change in perspective will not manifest in public discourse and politics solely through we 'enlightened ones'' intellectual assent.
  • unenlightened

    Less of that 'we enlightened' if you please. :D

    The enlightenment is a disease I refuse to catch; as a direction of travel, it is a fine and noble thing, but as a destination reached by the great and the good, to which they are dragging the rest of us, it stinks like an extermination camp, as your links illustrate..
  • Banno
    Cheerful in here, isn't it?
Add a Comment