March 27, 2010

From the protein wisdom archives: “Pomo a-go-go”

[Saturdays tend to be good days for discussion, so I thought I’d bring back this post, originally published here in 2002 (many of the links probably won’t work, but that shouldn’t affect your ability to piece together the various staked positions under review). The person I’m answering here has, since this piece, decided (as many others from the earlier days of the blogosphere have) that I am reprehensible and worthy of censure. Which is fine. But the point here is that many of you who have continued to read me — that is, you haven’t been offput by my supposed tendencies toward violence or psychosexual deviance; my misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and racism; my contemptible and dangerous writings on politics and current events; or my disconcerting predilection for enjoying the occasional ribald description, saddling you forever after with indelible “rape” images of ice dongs, prison-fashioned sybians, or Shannon Elizabeth and the Sugar Hill Gang — will recognize in this early piece many of the same questions I continue to explore and debate here to this very day.

Amazing how context can color perception, isn’t it?

So then. A glimpse into how the blogosphere used to be. Here you go. Discuss.]

****

Armed Liberal has been hosting an interesting discussion of postmodernism’s role in shaping political culture — included in which is this latest post, wherein A.L. argues that

[…] in a world where competing narratives are ultimately equally valid — in Stanley Fish’s world — Israeli soldiers might as well have dragged women and children from their homes and shot them. Because that is the Palestinian truth. And no “fact-checking” or “investigation” could materially change that. Does this matter? Of course. It matters to the men and women who, living in that narrative, decide to put on explosive belts and walk onto Israeli busses.

And, ultimately, it is promoted and fed by a corrupt elite who manipulate the narrative — and for whom the malleability of “fact” becomes the fuel for their political power.

Why did the Germans willingly follow Hitler? Because they believed in him. Because no one tested his narrative.

My response was too long for A.L.’s comments section, so I’m posting it here:

“A.L. —

Not being a postmodernist myself, I feel strange defending it, but here’t goes. Fish’s postmodernism is not about relativism. It’s about materialism. All it says is that there are no metaphysical / universal standards by which to judge one certain narrative superior to another. This does not mean there aren’t other (socio-linguistic) mechanisms available for doing just that, because there are many — e.g. consensus, social contracts, codification, power, rhetoric, etc. And in fact it is these other mechanisms that lie at the heart of Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, Solidarity — and provide the basis for much of modern pragmatism (and realpolitik, to introduce some relevant political language).

Here’s how Rorty articulates the position:

We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that the truth is out there. To say the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.

Philosophically speaking, when you believe something, you believe it to be true. Postmodernism doesn’t change that. It simply says that any proof you offer in defense of your beliefs must necessarily appeal to social/linguistic constructs, not to some greater Platonic order of Truth that, should it exist, would be articulated in ways we could never possibly recognize.

This doesn’t mean that all beliefs are equal or equivalent. People who teach postmodernism this way are incorrectly applying its observations (and so aren’t engaged in postmodern thought). What postmodernism observes instead is that, because the truth value of a specific belief can never be ‘independently’ (to use Fish’s term) determined, those truth claims must necessarily appeal to some matrix of human constructs for validation.

What Armed Liberal seems to be suggesting in his various posts is that postmodernism creates the groundwork for a totalitarian-driven misuse of master narratives. But this observation begs the question, because what postmodern philosophy does, simply, is reveals competing narratives already in existence, explains how such narratives came (and come) to be, and seeks to describe conditions under which they can be evaluated.

It is the misapplication of postmodern ideas — the reduction of postmodern philosophy to a kind of simplistic subjectivism — that is what is truly problematic. And Armed Liberal is absolutely correct to worry about such things, because these misunderstandings often inform bad policy or bad decision making.

Ultimately, a preponderance of physical evidence, human observation, and convincing argument derailed the Arab/Palestinian narrative of Israeli atrocities in Jenin. That certain Palestinians still believe it to be the case is a truism, but such a belief in a mistaken narrative doesn’t make it an equally valid ‘truth’ from the perspective of the world community. The competing narrative — the one in which the IDF was cleared of the charges — is ascendent. In Fish’s world, the ‘truth’ of Jenin was decided by those factors (observation, believable testimony, rhetoric, etc.). Of course, for postmodernism, the current ‘truth’ is contingent — and may some day be called into question by any number of new factors or discoveries.

So yes, corrupt elites often manipulate narrative and lie to their followers. And those who believe that the absence of an objective platform from which to judge ‘Truth’ means that all truths are relative, are particularly susceptible to such manipulations. But postmodernism itself is not responsible for the conditions of its misuse. Getting back to Armed Liberal’s example, that few Germans bothered to test Hitler’s narrative is not the fault of the narrative. It’s the fault of the people who failed to challenge it.

Historian and historiographic theorist Hayden White writes, ‘there is an inexpungeable relativity in every representation of historical phenomena. The relativity of the representation is a function of the language used to describe and thereby constitute past events as possible objects of explanation and understanding.’ To ‘constitute past events as possible objects of explanation and understanding’ is to capture these past events in narrative representations of those events; thus, what we both capture and study are not the events themselves, but the subjective linguistic refigurations of those events which we allow to stand in for the events themselves.’ None of this denies that some representations of events as they occurred are more true than others; it simply points out that we as humans must use language to articulate our truths, and that we have nothing larger than our own creations to appeal to for validation.”

[Related: More on Richard Rorty]

[update: Howard Owens, “Going to battle with ideas

update 2: Ian at Fierce Highway asks:

[…] if it is these other mechanisms [man-made socio-linguistic constructs] that provide the foundations for evaluation and pragmatic decision making, what real good did it do to have the postmodern front end on the whole argument?

The short answer is, postmodernism is itself a descriptive narrative, and so it serves no more (or less) “good” than any other philosophical description. What it articulates — that there are no metaphysical / universal standards by which to judge one certain narrative superior to another — can have wide-ranging consequences, depending on how such an observation is put to use.

update 3: A great post by Erin O’Connor on how the cookie-cutter churnout of politicized postmodernists has underwritten the intellectual collapse of the “English” establishment. ]

Posted by Jeff G. @ 11:29am
85 comments | Trackback

Comments (85)

  1. The Erin O’Connor piece seems to be long gone. Any recollection, anyone, of what she argued?

  2. I don’t recall the original post, but was only an intermittent reader back in ’02.

    Thanks for the Hayden White quote. Lest anyone think this principle does not apply to the ‘hard’ sciences consider that instrumentalism is merely a form of pragmatism. Anti realists do exist.

    It appears that Marc is being taken to task by his own commentariat, so much that he is pleading his own case in the comments. Good on them.

  3. Looking at Marc’s post, with it’s bizarre Fr*sch analogy, I’d ask him if the abyss has pretty eyes.

    Shorter new blogosphere: we were lying before.

  4. For a guy who does not want to talk about Jeff or Protein Wisdom, he seems to like to talk about Jeff. Marc Danziger makes this comment on his blog:

    Folks, I kind of believe JG and I are ideologically not crazy far apart. But between threatening to beat people up, explaining that the only way a woman writer would be cool is “if she was f**ked with an ice dildo” and the overall self-pitying tone – which as I see it is everywhere a precursor and justification for asshattery – I think he does his beliefs a disservice. And I can’t bitch out assholes who do Village Voice covers with a vampire Bush if Obama raping Liberty is OK with me.

    Tone matters (Marcus V was right-on and pitch perfect in his comment) and on some level, tone becomes philosophy.

    And regarding the Academy – remember I’m the ‘Bad Philosophy’ guy. Of course the Academy is effed up.

    But that wasn’t the point of Goldstein’s screed. A guy he’d studied writing with dislikes his writing enough that he asked to have his name taken off Goldstein’s biography. I can understand why.

    Marc

    And this response sums it up well:

    I think you missed the point on this one Marc. The issue is a past instructor of Jeff’s wishes to be removed from his bio, in essence erasing history.

    That is absurd. Particularly since the professor teaches English and Creative Writing. http://mysite.du.edu/~bkiteley/

    Don’t you think his request kind of flies in the face of Academic Freedom and all that jazz?

    He should have condemned Goldstein on his own blog, or even requested a disclaimer be placed on Goldstein’s bio page condemning his blog or disassociating himself from it and Goldstein.

    That is the essence of Jeff’s complaint. Not that Kitely “can’t handle the truth” but that he is a hypocrite and really doesn’t believe what he teaches his students.

    I have to say, Darleen’s cartoon has been enlightening.

  5. it’s=its, above

  6. So, here we are. And frakkin’ Rorty went off and died — the prick — leaving us to our own devices.

  7. “But the point here is that many of you who have continued to read me — that is, you haven’t been offput by my supposed tendencies toward violence or psychosexual deviance; my misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and racism; my contemptible and dangerous writings on politics and current events; or my disconcerting predilection for enjoying the occasional ribald description, saddling you forever after with indelible “rape” images of ice dongs, prison-fashioned sybians, or Shannon Elizabeth and the Sugar Hill Gang —”

    Wow. When you list it all out like that, it does make you come off as sort of a douche, no?

  8. Feel free to discuss the post, too.

    Interestingly, when I saw Marc’s post, I immediately thought, “Gee, didn’t that guy friend me of facebook?” Sure enough he did. I haven’t been on facebook long, and he says he’d long ago de-linked me, which makes me wonder why he’d want me as an online “friend.”

    On the plus side, it allowed me to comment on his facebook link to his post where compares me to Fr*sch. On the minus side, Kiteley and he will almost certainly both de-friend me now :(

  9. Wow. When you list it all out like that, it does make you come off as sort of a douche, no?

    Sure. And if that stuff doesn’t convince you, just keep reminding yourself of the alarming ways I agitate for free speech, individual rights, and so on, to boot.

    It’s enough to turn the vinegar in my pre-existing doucheyness into, like, really really really vinegary vinegar.

  10. Chris is a racisty racist, so mockery and scorn are quit appropriate. He holds the stereotype that black people have a propensity to rape inanimate green objects.

    I only vaguely remember that O’Connor article above. I do recall a time when the leftists weren’t insane, or rather, as insane.

  11. I’ve little to contribute beyond my appreciation for having it pointed out once in awhile that the descriptive need not be prescriptive. Which, to me, is almost a meta version of the warning against the naturalistic fallacy.

    Beyond that, perhaps I should read some Rorty (haven’t at all) and just enjoy other’s thoughts on the subject.

  12. “Sure. And if that stuff doesn’t convince you, just keep reminding yourself of the alarming ways I agitate for free speech, individual rights, and so on, to boot.”

    Those are great things to advocate. But when you also advocate nuking the UN, people are understandably not going to give a shit about your less crazy suggestions.

  13. Lively day at the PW ranch, ain’t it? Nuking UN’s is just the start. Next thing you know we’ll be on to showing our interlocutors some respect. CraZy TiMes!

  14. Yes, Chris. I really do want a nuclear device deployed on against the UN.

    That I accidently happened upon a line from Aliens to express my literal desire shouldn’t signal to you anything other than my extreme hyperliteralism.

    Nuance.

    By the way, I really do have an armadillo. And those beets living in my crisper, strung out on heroin? As real as your outrage.

  15. explaining that the only way a woman writer would be cool is “if she was f**ked with an ice dildo”

    ARRRGGHH.

    Didn’t he say the only way she’d “come close to cool” was to ‘pay someone to fuck her with an ice dildo’?

    Isn’t that obviously a lame temperature pun? That ice is cool/cold? Not that she would be popular if she was sodomized, but that she would never be popular unless you played a semantic trick with homonyms (coupled with the lack of popularity necessitating she pay for said fucking)?

    I’ll say this much: This Jeff fellow sure does get them clutching their necklaces.

  16. Lame, Entropy? I rather enjoyed it.

    Guess there’s no accounting for taste ;-)

  17. Sorry Jeff, I totally forgot that eliminationist rhetoric is OK as long as it’s just a joke. My bad!

  18. What, we’re citing the Churchlands now?

  19. I looked back at the original post, and was struck by the remembrance on how discussions used to be here. Many lefties would drop by and share ideas without rancor, and it seemed (compared to now anyway) that nary a troll visited (I don’t remember when PIATOR first showed up), and when they did it was more a source of fodder for group mocking than anything else.

    I remember when this piece was first posted because the title stuck in my head. The only thing about this site that has changed is that liberals have lost their ability to argue rationally and the trolls have gotten much more insistent. The tone of the content has been consistent, provably so by just reading the older stuff.

  20. And those beets living in my crisper, strung out on heroin? As real as your outrage.

    Aww, come on Jeff, my willingly suspended sense of disbelief is not something that can turn on a dime, you know… (beets and heroin, not the faux outrage)

  21. Sorry Jeff, I totally forgot that eliminationist rhetoric is OK as long as it’s just a joke. My bad!

    I don’t think you’re being completely sincere here, Chris.

    But yeah, I’ve never been quite able to admire Ripley once she showed herself as a craven eliminationist. So I guess I take your point.

    Then there’s the whole business of James Cameron’s involvement. Sure, he tried to make amends with Avatar. But I’m not buying it.

  22. I think dummerer people like myself have shown up cranky-d and, as I do, continue to hang around, which doesn’t help raise the bar too well. Seems to me the ratio of whipsmarts to dolts such as myself has fallen, from what I can judge of the archives.

  23. I like the philosophy part when the philosophyist guy gets wacked upside the head with a 2 by 4 and the deep philosolophigal question is asked, “Feel like a butterfly now, asshole?”

  24. The fact that readership has grown can only be a good thing. My point about the commenters was more that even people ideologically opposed in many ways could still have civil discussions back then. I don’t think that having a more diverse group of commenters is what ruined that, but rather a change in attitude among the left (and perhaps the right, I don’t know).

    As far as who is smart goes, who can say? Everyone here possesses some knowledge that the rest of us do not. I think the collective intelligence here is very high, and in fact can probably be a bit intimidating to some. Chances are if one posts something in ignorance, they will get corrected on it.

  25. There was some bad grammar in that last sentence (“one” does not agree with “they”). My apologies.

  26. All true enough. Would that opponents here today were as open to honest discourse as demonstrated in the archive. I aimed only at what I perceive there as a sense of something sharper, crisper, perhaps more lively and consistently interesting by comparison, and not to denigrate the extant community as such.

  27. I haven’t been on Facebook long

    You’re on Facebook?

    Sellout.

  28. .Sorry Jeff, I totally forgot that eliminationist rhetoric is OK as long as it’s just a joke.

    If it’s actually eliminationist, it is by definition not a joke. Or a metaphor or an analogy or any other rhetorical trope.

    To use death and destruction metaphors to describe one’s frustrations is not eliminationist.

    To say that an angry, racist, dangerous mob should be put down like rabid dogs is eliminationist.

    That particular assertion has not yet been made; however, James Cameron would like to engage in a “shootout” with AGW deniers someday.

    Know what? I don’t clutch my pearls with the left says nasty things about us. It’s just trash talk. Doesn’t mean a thing until POTUS or Congress says it.

  29. The only thing about this site that has changed is that liberals have lost their ability to argue rationally and the trolls have gotten much more insistent.

    The political landscape has changed, the stakes are higher, and the chasm widens apace.

    Protein Wisdom hasn’t changed either its tone or its positions, but the surrounding discursive space has. Serves as an interesting marker to measure change, this still point in a turning world.

  30. This phrase just occurred to me, so I’ll post it here for safekeeping.

    “If you say that because you believe it, you’re a fool, and if you say it because it’s useful, you’re a tool.”

    It rhymes!

  31. I think Chris is really Charles. Am I mistaken Jeff?

  32. When life hands you strung-out beets and communism, at lease you can make yourself some really soothing borscht.

  33. Keen eye Lee, no kidding.

  34. Sorry Jeff, I totally forgot that eliminationist rhetoric is OK as long as it’s just a joke

    again with the Weapons of Mass Distraction … Leftists and Mobys desperate to keep the focus of their ideological and political opponents on defending themselves for things they didn’t say or intended.

    Members of Congress are told all the time by Security not to publicize the death/bomb threats they receive but what do the Social Democrats do? Start publicizing the emails they get from loons in a brazen attempt to blame all Congressional Republicans, all conservatives and all TEA Party members for the threats. Even non-existent threats.

    Only to tie up people in spending all their time focused on THAT instead of on the lurch into Euro-statism.

    In what friggin universe is the oft political phrases “targeted districts” or “battleground states” suddenly DANGEROUS INCITING RHETORIC THAT MUST BE DENOUNCED!!!11!!

  35. Lame, Entropy? I rather enjoyed it.

    Sorry, all puns are lame, even if they’re good ones.

  36. Good news! You won’t have to change your private insurance. Your company will drop your plan FOR you!
    http://beta.tiny.cc/cez7s

  37. Jeff, I must beg your opinion on something. I’ve been meaning to ask about this for some time in response to a lot of your writing, but it’s going to be rather long and presumptuous. I’ll be using terms I may or may not properly conceive or at least express, and punching above my weight class with critiques on theories I am probably not qualified to critique with my limited understanding of them.

    And since it’s 2 fricken pages long… I just uploaded it to some dinky free webpage.

    http://entropy0909.tripod.com/

    If you find it at all interesting to read or worth discussion I’d love your input. Do I even have my concepts right or have I butchered the whole thing?

    It’s the only objection I consistently have to most of what you write on the subject.

  38. I’m confused. Your violence and psychosexual deviance; misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and racism; your contemptible and dangerous writings on politics and current events; and your disconcerting predilection for enjoying the occasional ribald description, saddling you forever after with indelible “rape” images of ice dongs, prison-fashioned sybians, or Shannon Elizabeth and the Sugar Hill Gang are the reasons I’ve been reading you all these years. What’s not to like?

  39. Entropy —

    I don’t agree that because pomo is easily misused and tends to be misunderstood that it in some way designed with those contingencies as built in features. Having said that, I do think pomo’s observations are hardly more than the pedestrian elevated to the profound, and that that, largely, is due to how people have tried to use it.

  40. Well, Ed, you just torpedoed YOUR career.

    Associating with Jeff Goldstein. The idea! He snaps people’s ankles, you know.

  41. Though I don’t know or understand the genesis of the pomo thing, I’ve noticed along the way that many a theory of this or that has grown up in opposition to one perceived mistake or misunderstanding or other, in reaction in other words, and as an attempt to correct said mistake or misunderstanding. Since I don’t know the genesis of the pomo thing, I’m left to wonder, was there such a spur, such a motive at play there?

  42. The Six Smartest Bloggers!

    Ace got top billing. Ace is smart. Reynolds got fifth. Glenn is smart. I would have added Jeff to that list, but Jeff is still the Lenny Bruce of the blogoshere (so that is why he is not there).

    But Erza Klein, Nate Silver, and Matt Yglesias? Are you fucking kidding me? No. Not smart. Not entertaining.

  43. I do think pomo’s observations are hardly more than the pedestrian elevated to the profound, and that that, largely, is due to how people have tried to use it.

    So, do you think I am understanding it correctly? And I take it agree with me that it’s not very remarkable or perhaps even original?

    Then the only other thing is… you don’t think that the distinction of the name should signify the profound difference over a pedestrian one? I understand what you are saying… that just because people misuse it does not mean it was designed to be misused. But (and this is more your field than mine) how does a word get attributed it’s meaning? No no… you’ll say by it’s intent (or our interpretation of intent). But by what criteria should we choose which words we’ll use to signify our meaning? If we are trying to be understood and commmunicate, don’t we try to use the word as what it’s commonly understood to signify?

    I am after all, debating semantics I guess. Not arguing ‘what you meant’ but ‘what word you should have used to mean that’.

    As I see it, it is the conventional signification. But also, the more functional one as well, that is useful in the language, denoting a much more substantive (if tardasticly wrong) distinction.

    Apart from that… What about in the case of deconstruction? You certainly know much much more than I, so I’m asking, did Derrida not frankly intend to put those contigencies in his design, and (mis)use it so?

    If so (and it seems so to me) by removing his abuse from the technique in order to remedy it, we seem to be doing him a tremendous favor in still attributing it to him, since our resulting technique was done before him, and his contribution (besides perhaps some parts of the .. uh,.. taxonomy of it) was the disfuction we have removed.

  44. was there such a spur, such a motive at play there?

    Started with Saussurian semiotics, did it? He had posited the signifier/signified pair in sign systems, with the signifier being something “out there” that the signified “pointed to.”

    Derrida came along and said that signs don’t “point to” anything outside the sign system, the way that dictionary definitions of words consist only of more words, which are there in the dictionary. Infinite regress and stuff. He also held that the signifier/signified pairing was “slippery” and shifting, that you couldn’t nail it down.

    There’s more, but I don’t remember it.

  45. with the signifier being something “out there” that the signified “pointed to.”

    Ooops! It’s the reverse. The signifier (word) points to the “signified” (thing).

  46. That piece ripped on all of them, Joe.

  47. It doesn’t solve the problem, but people on all sides seem obsessed with the idea of stripping the context from what Jeff says for the sake of making it something they can object to. Some of it is just “piling on,” because who doesn’t like a dogpile, but some of it seems to be a grudge looking for an excuse.

    I don’t know if Marc, for example, is unaware of the degenerate terror-supporting passive-aggressive self-superior whiney-ass eugenicist nature of Nishit, but that whole rant on the syphilitic crack monkey actually prompted me to make a donation, so far from offended was I.

    As far as civilized discourse, I tried that for a while, but the other side wasn’t interested in anything but manipulating the conversation (and me) to get what they wanted, so, you know, they can go spit.

  48. Entropy — if by usage a word becomes corrupted, I can still point and say where and how, and that what people NOW intend when they use the word wasn’t intended by those who originally coined the term for their purposes.

    As you can see from the intro, I am defending pomo on these grounds, because most people intend to use the actual definition — the real referent — but use the incorrect one instead. That’s a failure to carry out intent, largely because of the GIGO process.

  49. people on all sides seem obsessed with the idea of stripping the context from what Jeff says for the sake of making it something

    Ironic.

  50. Ironic.

    Inevitable.

  51. OK… so Armed Liberal is attacking Fish for something Fish does not espouse, but something that merely goes by the same name as that which Fish does espouse. To wit: He’s attacking the wrong person.

    Good point.

  52. I’m still not very impressed with this Fish fellow and think it’s only fair that if has tenure, I should get one too.

    In Women’s Studies.

    Wherein I shall pioneer the future study of women.

    Anatomically.

  53. I’d bet a large sum that this is the only site on the web where the phrases “Saussurean semiotics” and “ice dong” appear on the same page.

    (checks Google… yup. Although this one doesn’t show up in there yet, there are no others).

  54. Not to be glib about it, SBP, but that was one of the ideas behind this site from the get go.

    Well, not those specific examples. Could have been Gadamarian hermeneutics and Clevland steamer. But you get the idea.

    I’m Pynchon-inspired.

  55. Let the mashed potatoes touch the peas, do you?

    Aieeeya

  56. If I were clever I’d come up with something about the primordial semiotic Eco-system we are all swimming in complete with rhetorical feedback loops and the coevolution of social media and antisocial behavior.

  57. Sorry Jeff, I totally forgot that eliminationist rhetoric is OK as long as it’s just a joke. My bad!

    No, no, no. Dude. It’s only ok if it’s just a joke and the joke is made by the right person. Narrative jokes are funny. Non-narrative jokes are insulting/dangerous/inciting/offensive/racist.

    Come back some time when you have one standard.

  58. Are you fucking kidding me? No. Not smart. Not entertaining.

    Yes. They are kidding you.

  59. I’m still not very impressed with this Fish.

    Fish is kinda slippery, so to speak. Like many in academia, he has no actual convictions, but he sure enjoys the gamesmanship of saying edgy things and getting attention for it.

    And playing with language for the sake of playing with it, as if he were building a virtual world where nothing he does or says has real consequence.

  60. Some of it is just “piling on,” because who doesn’t like a dogpile

    You know who doesn’t like a dogpile? Dogs, that’s who.

    I’ve bred many a hound over the years, and I can assure you, try as you might, they simply don’t stack. Too squirmy. If you’re lucky, you can get a nice solid foundation and then start adding a second layer, but it all falls apart into a pile of furry annoyance soon enough. I’ve never been able to get a third tier started.

    And they really don’t enjoy the process.

  61. You know who doesn’t like a dogpile? Dogs, that’s who.

    Shows what YOU know.

  62. Eliminationist rhetoric:

    First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. –William Shakespeare

  63. Homo ludens….I denounce myself.

  64. You denounce yourself for Homo ludens?

    Why? That seems like a fairly neutral observation.

  65. I’ve been reading this bad boy, er, OUTLAW a long time and for some strange reason I’m still so surprised when people don’t get him or what he’s talking about. Is it just that we’re all that smart or that most everyone else is just that stupid? Also, I’m sort of scared of the answer to that question.

  66. Well, I’m lost. If the inspectable facts aren’t relevant to judging the truth of a statement about reality, how is post-modernism not relativistic? As for Rorty, while some may be claiming that the recognition of reality resides “in” reality, a la Plato…there’s surely a false alternative here. The alternative isn’t being mired in linguistics and narrative. Once you point to certain facts as being determinative (as to whether the Israelis did X or whatever), you’re stepping outside of that infinitely interacting and jostling narrative mesh.

    “All it says is that there are no metaphysical / universal standards by which to judge one certain narrative superior to another. This does not mean there aren’t other (socio-linguistic) mechanisms available for doing just that, because there are many — e.g. consensus, social contracts, codification, power, rhetoric, etc.”

  67. I find the post-modern theory kind of interesting in a way that ties into mathematics. According to Godel’s incompleteness theorem, one cannot prove all axioms in a system while acting withing said system (I hope that’s correct, I’ve been imbibing). That dovetails nicely with post-modernism, or at least my take-away of it, which states that one cannot make linguistic judgements on meaning based on purely linguistic arguments. Now maybe I’ve got that totally frelled up right now, but the argument that words are defined in relation to other words and that a dictionary is essentially an interpretive tautology seems to be correct.

    Of course, the answer is that meaning is tied up in more than just words. Meaning is tied up in thought. We all know that the written word has an element of sterility to it, because it does not communicate the totality of ideas from one person to another. Have you ever noticed that you can figure out half a conversation just by listening to the tone and inflection of the speech from one person to another? I have had the opportunity to hear speech in languages I cannot identify, and yet I could figure out basically what was going on. The written word is but a subset of how humans communicate with each other.

    What does this rambling mean? I don’t know. It does mean that I agree that post-modernism is incomplete in that it ignores a huge chunk of what constitutes communication between humans.

    BTW, in reference to Godel’s incompleteness theorem, in many (if not all) cases it’s possible to prove things by using techniques outside the system in question. However, in the case of written language, we don’t really have an analogue, so we’re kind of in the dark.

  68. The previous post was brought to you by Tullamore Dew, as recommended by a commenter here some time ago, and by a splash of Jameson.

  69. Tone matters (Marcus V was right-on and pitch perfect in his comment) and on some level, tone becomes philosophy.

    Oh, bullshit.

  70. Coulter and Moore give a clue to one more aspect of the current scene — politics as social marker, a brand signal. People “advertise” their politics — where they are on global warming, for example, to signal their moral worth or sensibility.

    Much of what when on in Ottawa this week was posturing of this kind. A lot of the clatter about Coulter and “hate speech” was neither about Coulter, per se, nor about so-called hate speech. It was a form of advertising of where certain factions see themselves on the moral scale. If you hate Coulter, you must be a good person. Certainly, the U of O’s provost’s now-famous letter warning Coulter about Canada’s stringent hate laws was more advertisement, a signal to right-thinking people everywhere that he is very much one of them, than a genuine alarm over potentially improvident speech.

    Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=2732792&p=2#ixzz0jTITRS2g
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  71. I had a good but late comment to put here that cut to the truth of the matter, but then someone I never met changed his mind.

  72. David — to answer you, I’d just wind up repeating the post. Inspectable facts ARE relevant to judging truth claims. They are part of the matrix of proofs we’d use to make a claim for truth. But because “truth” is a manmade construct (differing, per Rorty, from things as they are), it is always contingent, adjudicated ultimately by man and answerable only to man’s various constructs.

  73. Jeff, I’d always meant to respond to this and – like a lot of blog stuff – the opportunity slipped away. So thanks for reposting it.

    You make a great argument that – in my view – has pretty much nothing to do with what I actually said. Yes, both Rorty and Fish (and others who I’d have to go to the bookshelf and look through) believe that intersubjectivity is possible – that group narratives built on something other than empirical experience are not only possible but common. I 100% agree.

    And what I actually said wasn’t that Israelis and Palestinians are wandering around sui generis creating individual narratives, but that there are competing Israeli and Palestinian group narratives (“competing narratives” which I specifically refine into a Palestinian narrative in the cite you pull above) which are created, maintained, and enforced by many of the mechanisms which Fish typically cites (plus the bonus ones of ostracism and murder) and which Rorty explains. But because they lack either any effort to check them against facts (facts are recreated as assertions) and because there’s no Habermasian communicative space that allows either the average Palestinian or anyone outside their group to participate – they become dangerous, instrumental delusions.

    Big lies.

    So yeah, Fish says what you claim – but I’m missing how that has any impact on what I said.

    I apologized on FB for not reaching out to you directly when I starting being troubled by your posts – I’ll repeat that here. And I’ll do something on Winds today or tomorrow explaining why I’m troubled and why my willingness to be friendly with you doesn’t change any of that.

    Short version: I don’t think you can divorce your attitudes from your politics. At some point (as I think the Palestinians have proven) attitudes become politics.

    I’m off to the gym and range and fish store (we, sadly, have a sick fish – not named Stanley) and will try and sit down this afternoon. Let’s have our discussion in public.

    Marc

  74. I look forward to hearing how one gets to define my attitude — or, if you prefer, which isolated aspect of my attitude comes to define me, and so my politics. And what kind of Habermasian communicative space I’ll be afforded to respond to the charge.

    As for the rest, facts are facts, but to humans they are always asserted facts — and so they are always contingent (at one point, it was a legal fact that slaves weren’t considered full men), because a “fact” is itself a man-made notion (it seems absurd, but look around: you’ll see complaints about the “tyranny of facts” or attempts to untie logic from a “vertical axis”). And that’s because the very idea of what comes to constitute a fact is determined by human assertion. Postmodernism is materialism because it doesn’t appeal to a metaphysical / Platonic realm for adjudication. And that’s not because it is necessarily dismissive of the potentiality of such a realm (some proponents are, some aren’t), but rather because we as humans have no capacity to engage such a realm, even if it existed.

    You write:

    there are competing Israeli and Palestinian group narratives (“competing narratives” which I specifically refine into a Palestinian narrative in the cite you pull above) which are created, maintained, and enforced by many of the mechanisms which Fish typically cites (plus the bonus ones of ostracism and murder) and which Rorty explains. But because they lack either any effort to check them against facts (facts are recreated as assertions) and because there’s no Habermasian communicative space that allows either the average Palestinian or anyone outside their group to participate – they become dangerous, instrumental delusions.

    This is all true, and any regular reader of my site will recognize the argument, as it goes to the heart of my critique of identity politics and what comes to constitute “authenticity” within the parameters of the officially sanctioned group narrative — that is, the narrative that then recursively becomes the purity test for determining which of those in a given identity group get to bracket out the apostates as “inauthentic.”

    But that is a critique of the way narratives have been marshaled against the public to shape epistemology. What it isn’t is a critique of postmodernism, which as I point out is value neutral. The lessons of postmodernism enable misuse; but that is not the fault of the observations themselves.

  75. Not only that, there were the Jews, who were the übervictims of WWII, so the survivors fled to Israel and then guess what! They became just like the Nazis relative to their Arab neighbors!

    And so the irony rolls on, as the blogger who holds forth on how narratives can be weaponized is now weaponizing a narrative on his own site!

    It’s got that caramel latte deliciousness that no right-thinking person can possibly resist!

  76. At some point (as I think the Palestinians have proven) attitudes become politics.

    Which attitude is that, and what was the process whereby it became politics.

    Also,

    I apologized on FB for not reaching out to you directly when I starting being troubled by your posts

    I’ve plowed through Jeff’s archives, so I noticed that he really hasn’t changed either his rhetorical stance or his political one over the years.

    So I must conclude that the onset of being troubled by Jeff’s posts has more to do with you and how you wish to relate to the milieu with which you identify than with anything Jeff has “degenerated into.”

  77. Like clockwork, timb is over at Windsofchange.net.

    So sad.

  78. It does not get more predictable than that. Vegas would not take odds on the clown.

  79. timb is over at Windsofchange.net

    of all the trolls that have infested this site, I gotta nominate timb as the creepiest. That guy is very very disturbed.

  80. Timmah! is a very strange boy. A strange, fixated boy. How many years has he been at this?

  81. Ack. Now I feel like a fanboy.

    Keep digging up the nests, Jeff. The bugs don’t like the light.

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