Monday, January 23, 2017

No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!

Image by REBRN.

I realize that there used to be a thing called postmodernism in which extremely learned French people like Michel Foucault debated whether truth was a relevant concept in the discourse of power or whether the logical rule of modus ponens was an imposition of patriarchy, but for those who weren't hanging around in colleges at the time, in fact you weren't allowed to introduce lies into your term papers and theses. If I were to say, "A hundred thousand people came to my dissertation proposal defense and demanded that I be awarded the degree outright with no further discussion," that would be regarded as untrue, in spite of the efforts of Deleuze and Guattari, and while even Steven Hawking has advocated "model-dependent realism" I believe he would reject the position that you can say it stopped raining the moment you began to speak and started to pour again when you finished if it in fact it kept raining all the way through your speech.

I've long thought of myself more as modernist and structuralist than post-anything (now that I'm a blogger I will post anything, heh-heh), but I want to insist on that. Derrida may have said a lot of things about Plato that I disagree with, but I'd say they were bad interpretations, not false statements. Derrida never said he had a plan to deliver universal health care unless he had one. And all the students of all the postmodern heroes were required to follow the traditional rules of sourcing and attribution regardless of what the theoretical position on truth might be. And then beginning with the work of Jean Baudrillard on simulacra and simulation, postmodern thinking has developed valuable critical approaches to combating the special and dramatic kinds of untruth that are produced by late-capitalist or post-capitalist society, to be entirely fair.

But there is an intellectual tradition of the 20th century in which untruth is regarded as an acceptable and sometimes necessary rhetorical strategy, in the neoconservatism of the Austrian philosopher Leo Strauss, the proponent of "noble lies" and "heroic delusions", and its practical echo in Karl Rove, to whom
guys like [Ron Suskind] were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore." He continued "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
And Donald Trump, the pseudo-author of The Art of the Deal, which Corey Robin has usefully been reading:
More than a quarter-century before he was elected, Trump set out the roadmap to victory:
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.
Or, as Kellyanne Conway put it today on Meet the Press, "alternative facts."
One of Trump's longest-standing lies even relates to the neoconservative program of making war on Iraq, which he falsely claims to have opposed in 2002-03. In his remarks to the CIA (and the claque of his paid supporters who supplied the applause and laughter) yesterday, he reminded us that he opposed it in a pretty peculiar way, and suggests he might support another try sometime soon:

And I always said: “In addition to that, keep the oil”.
Now I said it for economic reasons, but if you think about, Mike, if we kept the oil we would probably wouldn’t have ISIS, because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil.

But okay. [laughter] Maybe we’ll have another chance.
Because there's nothing like spending trillions of dollars and throwing away hundreds of American lives to illegally seize a bunch of oil wells at a time when the market has been in collapse for two years and shows no sign of ever recovering—alongside the development of alternative fuels, OPEC's cheating, and China's huge expansion of fracking, Trump's own policy of lifting sanctions on Russia and expanding fracking and drilling all over North America will make sure of that, even as his ill-informed prejudice against renewable energy may put us on the losing side of that development. Because he's an expert businessman and "like a smart guy". But then who needs alternative fuels when you can have alternative reality?

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