Foucault’s Folly

Unable to participate in national debates in any other way, I have participated in religion and politics discussion forums on the Internet for years. I have noticed that many of the exchanges are based on power. Discussions are frequently full of postmodern machinations designed to subvert any attempts at clear thinking.

It is an axiom of contemporary postmodern posturing to see everything as some Foucaultian power struggle for control of perceptual reality. Such po-mo chic argues that “everything is permitted; nothing is true.” (I for one wish that those who wish to affect such an ironic knowingness would just remain silent because each time they engage in a debate they indict the very foundation of their pose and saw the very branch upon which they sit out from under themselves.)

Instead of trying to discover as much as is possible about some specific, concrete historical event (real historical scholarship), be it Waco or the Holocaust, many would rather play relativistic games with rhetoric in order to manipulate opinion; history is ironically imperialized and treated as strategy. Just look at an old article in “The Atlantic” which describes a lawsuit in Great Britain as “putting the Holocaust on trial and making historical truth the defendant.” There a Holocaust denier was suing for libel because an American historian called him a “dangerous spokesperson for Holocaust denial.”

Truth is becoming a power struggle. Many in the national media, for example, try to discredit a source, or they slant a person’s motivation with endless interpretation and cries of partisanship. Rarely do they attempt to discuss the issues or debate matters of disputed fact.

Others will try to confuse people with assertions of truth’s relativity, but just because human knowledge may be more or less contingent does not mean that something specific, concrete and actual did not take place in a particular moment of history. That our knowledge of those events can only be partially known, and the fact that cries of partisanship are shouted, in no way changes that or precludes our responsibility to the truth.

It is the highest of human conceits to argue that historical reality, or any other reality, is somehow implicated by and entwined with human fallibility and finitude. Simply put: because human knowledge is subjective, to a more or less greater degree, in no way means that truth is relative.

Knowing the limits of reason, the contingency of human knowledge and the self-limiting nature of all conceptual frameworks, some people try to mitigate those limitations through an open, well-informed presentation of issues and points of factual dispute.

Others, however, use the above limitations to obfuscate: manipulating, mischaracterizing, dissembling and deconstructing in order to try and keep the discussion enmeshed in some meta-struggle for conceptual control of the public square. Turning discourse into “Thus Speak I” shouting matches and charges of partisanship, they attempt to manipulate perceptions with rhetoric so that they do not have to actually bring any evidence to bear on their assertions.

All one can do, I suppose, is attempt to rescue cogency from the grip of muddled reasoning one hipster doofus at a time.

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