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What is New in Our Time?: The Truth in ‘Post-Truth’: A Response to Finlayson

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Abstract

Finlayson argues that ‘post-truth’ is nothing new. In this response, I motivate a more modest position: that it is something new, to some extent, albeit neither radically new nor brand new. I motivate this position by examining the case of climate-change-denial, called by some post-truth before 'post-truth'. I examine here the (over-determined) nature of climate-denial. What precisely are its attractions?; How do they manage to outweigh its glaring, potentially-catastrophic downsides? I argue that the most crucial of all attractions of climate-denial is that it involves the denier in a kind of fantasised power over reality itself: namely, over the nature of our planetary system, and thus of life itself. Climate-denial pretends to give the denier a power greater than that of nature, including in nature's 'rebellion' against humanity, what James Lovelock calls Gaia's incipient and coming 'fever'. Climate-denial seems to give the denier freedom from truth itself, in the case of the most consequential truth at present bearing down upon humanity. The most crucial of all the attractions of climate-denial is then that it provides would-be libertarians an ultimate freedom. They reject the reality of human-triggered climate-change, in the end, because they are unwilling to be ‘bound’ by anything, not even truth itself. Climate-denial has been around for a while, but not for more than 30-35 years or so. I thus suggest that Finlayson is right to be sceptical of the claim that post-truth is radically new and extremely recent, but I suggest that it is relativelynew and has been with us for only about a generation or at most two. Keywords: climate-change, climate-denial, libertarianism, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein
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Rupert Read
R.Read@uea.ac.uk
What
Is
New in Our Time: The Truth in ‘Post-
Truth
A Response to Finlayson
Abstract
Finlayson argues that ‘post-truth’ is nothing new. In this response, I
motivate a more modest position: that it is something new, to some extent,
albeit neither radically new nor brand new. I motivate this position by
examining the case of climate-change-denial, called by some post-truth before
‘post-truth’ (see e.g. Runciman 2017; Krebs 2018). Climate-denial is certainly
the most ‘epic’ form of fake-news that our culture has ever known. It is
unprecedented in its extremity and absurdity (at least, in the kind of culture
I am writing from. It might be compared with such previous absurdities in
different settings, such as Lysenkoism in Stalin’s Russia). I examine here
the (over-determined) nature of climate-denial. What precisely are its
attractions? How do they manage to outweigh its glaring, potentially-
catastrophic downsides? I argue that the most crucial of all attractions of
climate-denial is that it involves the denier in a kind of fantasised power
over reality itself: namely, over the nature of our planetary system, and thus
of life itself. Climate-denial pretends to give the denier a power greater
than that of nature, including in nature’s ‘rebellion’ against humanity, what
James Lovelock (2007) calls Gaia’s incipient and coming ‘fever’ (i.e. global
over-heat). Climate-denial seems to give the denier freedom from truth
itself, in the case of the most consequential truth at present bearing down
upon humanity. The most crucial of all the attractions of climate-denial is
then that it provides would-be libertarians an ultimate freedom. They
reject the reality of human-triggered climate-change, in the end, because
they are unwilling to be ‘bound’ by anything, not even truth itself. Climate-denial has
been around for a while, but not for more than 30-35 years or so. I thus
suggest that Finlayson is right to be sceptical of the claim that post-truth
is radically new and extremely recent, but I suggest that it is relatively new
and has been with us for only about a generation or at most two.
Rupert Read CC-BY
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1. Introduction, and an opening example
Lorna Finlayson makes a trenchant critique of the label ‘post-truth’ for
our times. I am sympathetic with much of what she says. In particular,
I think it unwise to suppose that something radical, new and terrible
has suddenly happened in the last few years to our politics and our public
conversations. Something fairly new has happened technologically, to
worsen previous trends: the Cambridge Analytica scandal (see Lewis
and Hilder 2018; Merrick 2018) couldn’t have happened, until very
recently. But the deeper ideological trends themselves have been going
for some time. And it is those that are of the most philosophical interest.
However, I think they are still relatively new, at least from the
perspective of Philosophy! I would trace their beginnings, very roughly,
to the emergence of the constellation called ‘neoliberalism’, over the
last generation or two. I think, in particular, that we have been subject
for a while now to the growth of something that is historically
exceptional, and whose relative newness Lorna ought to give more
credit to: an attitude of individualism or consumerism concerning truth
itself. An attitude that, from a philosophical point of view and indeed
from the point of view of sanity, is very concerning. (I think that this
attitude can be traced ultimately to the political philosophy of
liberalism in its recent form. One sees in particular, I would suggest, in
John Rawls’s influential proposed indifference to others’ conceptions
of the good and in the indifference to others concealed in his
proscription of envy an individualised consumerism of the mind
whose logical consequences are being drawn by the subjectivistic
rhetoric of ‘post-truth’. But I shan’t seek to make that case in any detail
here.
1
)
Let me turn straight to an important example: Lorna claims that
Trump voters aren’t indifferent to the truth-value of the claim that
Trump will make America great again.
As a philosopher, one wants to say: this must surely be roughly
right. One surely can’t be indifferent to truth. This is a conceptual point.
The only question can be of which truths one cares about.
1
I make some of that case here: Buckle 2018.
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And yet… it seems to me that there is a possibility neglected
hereabouts. Lorna suggests that it is unlikely that Trump actually will
make America again. I share the inclination to believe the suggestion;
though I note that “making America great again” is an idea whose
truth-value is decidedly unstraightforward! Perhaps for some it really is
a question of perception? Perhaps if one feels great as a result of
Presidential rhetoric, that could already be halfway to America being
great again, so far as one is concerned, subjectively? If so, then we
already have a potentially significant departure from the supposed
norms of politics as a game of facts and realities.
Or maybe what many Trump supporters really care about is that
Trump will put ‘America first’ (another slogan of decidedly vague
truth-value and determinacy). Maybe it’s not true that Trump
supporters believe that Trump really will make America great again.
But maybe he (really) will/does make (some) people feel great, feel as if
they/their country is being put first, ‘at last’.
Or maybe it’s less even that that. Maybe what Trump supporters
care about is merely that they will get to feel good about someone as
prominent as it is possible to be saying they’ll put America first. But if
it’s only that, then we have managed to come by philosophical
standards quite a surprisingly long way from any standard concern
with truth or facts, as what ‘necessarily’ motivates people.
Obviously, the line of thought offered above does not establish that
that is what has happened! That would require a very difficult
historical/sociological analysis, which may be as yet impossible. But my
line of thought does offer at least some possibility of understanding the
otherwise-peculiar phenomenon of the seeming indifference to reality
to truth - of many of Trump’s supporters. A phenomenon which, I
will suggest, can be seen as only an extreme example of a trend that has
been developing for some time in our societies.
Lorna suggests that it is Trump’s promise to make America great
again that motivates his supporters, and that this is why they don’t care
about him being caught lying. I have queried whether they really
necessarily have a ‘standard’ factual attitude to the ‘promise’ to ‘make
America great again’. And I think it would sit most oddly with that
alleged promise being intended literally, if they didn’t care about him
lying; for why wouldn’t they then worry that he would potentially be
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lying when he made that ‘promise’? But there is another interpretation
available of their not caring about his lying. One that points
disturbingly in the direction of the slippery slope towards fascism that
an emotive subjectivism combined with ‘populism’ have arguably put
us on. It is this: perhaps the reason why Trump supporters are not put
off by him lying or bullshitting is that they like it. Because being able to
do this and not being finished by it (i.e.: getting away with it) are a sign
of strength. If that is the reason why then, as I say, we are quite close to
a neo-fascist situation here. Where there is in public a kind of active
despising of truth
2
of the ‘naïve’ habit of truth-seeking and truth-
telling.
2. The semi-newness of post-truth: The case of
libertarianism
Now; how new is what I am talking about here?
In evidence of my suggestion that it is more distinctive and novel,
at least within living memory in the countries of the ‘West’, than Lorna
allows, but not as radically recent as our short-memoried commentariat
tends to suggest, let me cite what is perhaps the original ‘post-truth’,
the original ‘fake news’: denial of human-caused climate change.
Why does this denial exist and flourish? Let me point to a
philosophically-important reason: We live at a point in history at which
the demand for individual freedom has never been stronger or more
potentially dangerous. For this demand the product of good things,
such as the refusal to submit to arbitrary tyranny characteristic of ‘the
Enlightenment’, and of bad things, such as the rise of consumerism at
the expense of solidarity and sociability threatens to make it
impossible to organise a sane, collective democratic response to the
immense challenges now facing us as peoples and as a species. ”How
dare you interfere with my ‘right’ to burn coal / to drive / to fly; how
dare you interfere with my business’s ‘right’ to pollute?” The form of
such sentiments would have seemed plain bizarre, almost everywhere
in the world, until a few centuries ago; and to uncaptive minds (and un-
neo-liberalised societies) still does. But it is a sentiment that can seem
2
I have in mind here Cora Diamond’s argument in her “Truth: defenders, debunkers,
despisers” (1994).
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close to ‘common sense’ in more and more of the world: even though
it threatens to cut off at the knees action to prevent existential threats
to our collective survival, let alone our flourishing.
Such alleged rights to complete (sic) individual liberty are expressed
most strongly by ‘libertarians’. For, far too often, ‘libertarianism’
involves a fantasy of atomism; and an unhealthy dogmatic
contrarianism. Too often, ironically, it involves precisely the dreary
conformism so wonderfully satirized at the key moment in the Monty
Python film Life of Brian, when the crowd repeats, altogether, like
automata, the refrain “We are all individuals”.
3
Too often, libertarians
to a man (and, tellingly, the vast majority of rank-and-file libertarians
are males; see Heer 2015) think that they are being radical and different:
by all being exactly the same as each other. Dogmatic, boringly-
contrarian hyper-‘individualists’ with a fixed set of beliefs impervious
to rational discussion. Adherents of an ‘ism’, in the worst sense.
Such ‘libertarianism’ is an ideology that seems to have found its
moment, or at least its niche, in a consumerist economistic world that
is fixated on the alleged specialness and uniqueness of the individual
(albeit that, as already made plain, it is hard to square the notion that
this is or could be libertarianism’s ‘moment’ with the most basic
acquaintance with the social and ecological limits to growth as our
societies are starting literally to encounter them). ‘Libertarianism’ is
evergreen in the USA, but, bizarrely, became even more popular in the
wake of the (still-ongoing) financial crisis (a crisis caused, one might
innocently have supposed, by too much license being granted to many
powerless and powerful economic actors: in the latter category, most
notably the big banks and cognate dubious financial institutions…).
4
My case points up a contradiction at the heart of the contemporary
strangely-widespread ‘ism’ that is libertarianism. A contradiction that,
3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHbzSif78qQ
4
In the UK, furthermore, it was a striking element in the rise to popularity of UKIP (which in
turn led to the Brexit vote, a key symptom of the rise of ‘populism’ and of ‘post-truthism’):
for, while UKIP is socially-regressive/reactionary, it is very much a would-be libertarian party,
the rich man’s friend, in terms of its economic ambitions: it is for a flat tax, for ‘free-trade’-
deals the world over, for a bonfire of regulations, for the selling-off of our public services, and
so on. (Incidentally, this makes the apparent rise in working-class (or indeed middle-class)
support for UKIP at the present time an exemplary case of turkeys voting for Christmas.
Someone who isn’t one of the richest 1% who votes UKIP is acting as a brilliant ally of their
own gravediggers.) See also Read 2014.
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once it is understood, essentially destroys whatever apparent
attractions it may have. And, surprisingly, shows libertarianism now to
be a closer ally to cod-Post-Modernism’ or to the most problematic
elements of ‘New Age’ thinking than to that of the Enlightenment…
Libertarianism likes to present itself as a philosophy or ideology
that is rigorously objective. Wedded to the truth, and rationality. Ayn
Rand called her cod-philosophy ‘Objectivism’. Tibor Machan and
other well-known libertarian philosophers today place a central
emphasis on Reason as their guide. Libertarians like to think that they
are honest, where others aren’t, about ‘human nature’ (it’s thoroughly
selfish), and like to claim that there is something self-deceptive or
propagandistically dishonest about socialism, ecologism and other rival
philosophies. Without its central claim to hard-nosed objectivity, truth
and rationality, libertarianism would be nothing.
But this central commitment is in profound tension with the
libertarian commitment, equally absolute, to ‘liberty’. For truth, truths,
truthfulness, rationality, objectivity, impose a ‘constraint’.
5
A massive
utterly implacable constraint, on one’s license to do and believe and
think whatever one wants. One cannot be Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty
in a world of truth and reason. One cannot intelligibly think that
freedom of thought requires complete license, or that moral freedom
requires complete individual license, in such a world.
The dilemma of the libertarian was already laid bare in the progress
of the thinking of a hero of some libertarians, Friedrich Nietzsche, in
the great third and final essay of his masterpiece The Genealogy of Morality
(for my reading of this essay, see Read 2012: Ch. 10). Nietzsche can
appear on a superficial reading of that essay to be endorsing a kind of
artistic disregard for truth; but it turns out, as the essay follows its
remarkable course, that this is far from so; in fact, it is the opposite of
the truth. In the end, taking further a line of thought that he began in
the great fifth book of The Gay Science, Nietzsche lines up as a fanatical
advocate of truth: he speaks of drawing the hard consequences of being
no longer willing to accept the lie of theism, and of “we godless anti-
metaphysicians” as the true heirs of Plato:
5
The scare-quotes are essential, for reasons brought out in Kuusela’s article in this special
issue.
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[E]ven we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians
still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of
years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God
is the truth, that truth is divine. (Nietzsche 1974: § 344)
He contrasts his stance with that of the legendary Assassins, who held
that “Nothing is true, [and therefore] everything is permitted” (1994:
118). He admires their ambition, but absolutely cannot find himself
able to simply agree with what they said.
Contemporary libertarianism is stuck in a completely cleft stick:
stuck wanting to agree with Nietzsche’s considered position and yet
wanting to endorse something like the Assassins’ creed too.
Libertarianism, centred as its name makes plain on the notion of
‘complete’ individual freedom, inevitably runs up, sooner or later,
against ‘shackles’: the limits imposed on one’s thought and action by
adherence to truth. Acknowledging the truth of human-induced
dangerous climate change is only the most obvious and consequential
case of this; there are many many others.
Let’s briefly examine this stark case, climate, specifically.
3. Libertarianism and climate-denial
The above line of thought explains, I suggest, the extraordinary and
pitiful sight of so many libertarians finding themselves attracted to
climate-denial and similarly pathetic evasions of the absolute
‘constraint’ that truth and rationality force upon anyone and everyone
who is prepared to face the truth, at the present time. Such denial is
over-determined. Libertarians have various strong motivations for not
wanting to believe in the ecological limits to growth: such limits often
recommend state-action / undermine the profitability of some out-of-
date businesses (e.g. coal and fracking companies) that fund some
libertarian-leaning thinktank-work. Limits undermine the case for
deregulation. The limits to growth evince a powerful case in point of
the need for a fundamentally precautious outlook: anathema to the
reckless ‘Promethean’ (for explication see Read 2016a) fantasies that
animate much libertarianism. Furthermore: Libertarianism depends for
its credibility on our being able to determine what individuals’ rights
are, and to separate out individuals completely from one another. Our
massive inter-dependence as social animals in a world of ecology (even
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more so, actually, in an internationalised and networked world, of
course) undermines this, by making for example our responsibility
for pollution a profoundly complex matter of inter-dependence that
flies in the face of silly notions of being able to have property-rights in
everything (are we supposed to be able to buy and sell quotas in
cigarette-smoke? … Much easier to deny that passive smoking causes
cancer
6
). Above all though: libertarians can’t stand to be told that they
don’t have as much epistemic right as anyone else on any topic that
they like to think they understand or have some ‘rights’ in relation to:
“Who are you to tell me that I have to defer to some scientist?”
This then reaches the nub of the issue, and explains the truly-tragic
spectacle of someone like Jamie Whyte a philosopher and critical
thinking guru who made his name as a hardline advocate of truth,
objectivity and rationality arguing (quite rightly, and against the current
of our time, insofar as that current is consumeristic, individualistic, and
(therefore) relativistic/subjectivistic) that no-one has an automatic
right to their own opinion (you have to earn that right, through
knowledge or evidence or good reasoning or the like; see Whyte 2004)
becoming a climate-denier. His libertarian love for truth and reason
has careened crashed right into and up against a limit: his libertarian
love for (big business / the unfettered pursuit of Mammon and, more
important still) having the right to the freedom to his own opinion,
no matter what. A lover of truth and reason, driven to deny the most
crucial truth about the world today (that pollution is on the verge of
collapsing our very civilisation); his subjectivising of everything
important turning finally to destroying his love for truth itself… Truly
a tragic spectacle. Or perhaps we should say: farcical.
The remarkable irony here is that libertarianism, allegedly
congenitally against ‘political correctness’ and other post-modern fads,
allegedly a staunch defender of the Enlightenment against the forces
of unreason, has itself become the most ‘Post-Modern’ of doctrines. A
new, extreme form of individualised relativism; an unthinking product
of (the worst element of) its/our time (insofar as this is a time of ‘self-
realization’, and ultimately of license). Libertarianism, including the
6
E.g. Sullum 2013. See Wegrzanowski 2009 for a useful analysis of the striking tendency of
libertarians to deny ‘externalities’ (most strikingly damage from passive smoking and damage
for burning fossil fuels).
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perverse and deadly denial of ecological constraints, is far from being
a crusty enemy of the ‘New Age’ in this sense the ultimate bastard
child of the 1960s.
4. Libertarianism vs Wittgenstein
Libertarianism was founded on the love for truth and reason; but it is
founded also, of course, on the inviolability of the individual. Taken to
its ‘logical’ conclusion, truth itself is (felt as) an ‘imposition’ on the
individual. The sovereign liberty of the self, in libertarianism, is at
ineradicable odds with the willingness to accept ‘others” truths. And it
is the former, sadly, which tends to win out. For, as we have seen, the
denial, by libertarians, of elementary contemporary scientific truths
such as that of the theory of greenhouse-gas-heat-build-up, is over-
determined. When truth clashes with a dogmatic insistence on one’s
own ‘complete’ freedom of mental and physical manoeuvre (not to
mention, with profit); when the truth is that we are going to have to
rein in some of our appetites if we are to bequeath an even habitable
world to our children’s children (see Read 2017) then the truth is:
that truth itself is an obstacle easily overcome, by the will of weak only-
too-human libertarians.
The obsession of libertarians with individual liberty crowds out the
value of truth. In the end, their thinking becomes voluntaristic and
contrarian for the sake of it. They end up believing simply what they
WANT to believe. And, as explained above, they don’t WANT to
accept the truths of ecology, of climate science, etc.. And so they deny
them.
As Wittgenstein famously remarked: the real difficulty in
philosophy is one of the will, more even than of the intellect. What is
hard is to will oneself to accept things that are true that one doesn’t
want to believe, and moreover that perhaps one’s salary or one’s stock-
options or one’s ability to live with oneself depend on one not
believing.
It takes strength, fibre, it takes a truly philosophical sensibility it
takes a willingness to understand that intellectual autonomy in its true
sense essentially requires ‘submission’ to reality to be able to
acknowledge the truth; rather than to deny it.
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5. The original post-truth
Climate-denial has prepared the ground for the growth of the fake-
news and ‘post-truth’ landscape as we now, explicitly, know it.
Many of those who are dominant in that landscape are not only
climate-deniers, but they cut their very political and/or media teeth on
climate-denial.
This is very serious. Donald Trump is the most powerful man in
world; and he is a climate-denier, who has acted accordingly in office.
Dangerous climate change is a white swan: it will destroy us, unless we
intervene to stop it. It is utterly reckless to play politics with it in the
way Trump is doing.
So the reasons why climate-change-denial is absurdly-widely found
so attractive are deeply worthy of investigation. I’ve argued that the
most crucial of all attractions of climate-denial is that it manifests and
indeed is not just the original but also the ultimate possible form of
post-truth, in that it involves the denier in a kind of fantasised power
over reality itself in the form of the ultimate reality: the nature of our
planetary system, and thus of life itself.
Climate-denial seems to give the denier freedom from truth, in the
case of the most consequential truth at present bearing down upon
humanity. The most crucial of all the attractions of climate-denial is
then that it provides the would-be libertarians (more generally,
advocates of and practitioners of a licentious freedom of thought, a
consumerism of the mind) who are simultaneously in practice many
of the ‘post-truthers’ – an ultimate freedom. They reject the reality of
human-triggered climate-change, in the end, because they are unwilling
to be bound by anything, not even by truth itself. In an age of consumer
freedom and individual choice, having to go along with others’ truths
feels to them too much like what Kuusela (in his contribution to this
special issue) calls domination by reason.
We can recall other ‘precedents’ or analogues for this, of course.
Compare the Bush neocons’ insane and terrifying rejection of ‘the-
reality-based community’’ (see Helman 2017). Compare the long effort
through the media to dispute the reality of the smoking-cancer link, a
direct precedent for the denial of human-caused climate-change (see
Hulac 2016). But none of these phenomena share the gravity and
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extremity of climate-denial. Which is why I have focused here on the
latter.
6. How new then is post-truthism?
Why the change in epistemic habits that this essay has concerned?
Lorna argues that, if there is a change, it is because disgust at pseudo-
democracy has spread. I agree. But I’d suggest that the phenomenon –
this dangerous epistemic change is itself over-determined. I’d suggest
that it also has essentially to do with:
Exposure to new forms of propaganda. Personalised propaganda.
The diminution of the public sphere that began with the direct
mail revolution, that was pivotal to the rise of ‘conservatism’ in
the U.S.A. (see especially Viguerie and Franke 2004), has gone
into overdrive with the emergence and hegemony of Facebook
and its use by unscrupulous purveyors of personalised appeals
and ‘fake news’ (see especially Cadwalladr 2017 and 2018). As a
result, we may be in danger of losing the public sphere
altogether; real election campaigns are now increasingly
conducted in internet-mediated direct lines invisible except to
their recipients.
The rise and rise of individualist ideology. As exemplified in the
epochal, disastrous longevity of climate-denial. This is the most
pernicious way in which we are losing the public sphere: we’re
losing the very concept of it, as we lose our shared implicit sense
of the value of truth and as other values triumph over it.
I’ve drawn attention to libertarianism, as an apogee of this deadly trend.
But I would humbly suggest that such libertarianism is simply an
extreme version of liberalism and consumerism. A drawing out of their
logic(s).
In a way, libertarianism is at least honest in its (extreme) dishonesty,
its contempt, ultimately, for truth. Liberalism and consumerism are not
as blatantly dishonest, as untethered; but they are more dishonest about
themselves and about their implications. They pretend in hegemonic
discourses such as that of ‘sustainable development’, ‘green growth’,
etc. that we can have endlessly-growthist consumerist society
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worldwide while dealing with human-triggered climate change.
7
They
do not practice the big lie they don’t pretend that the climate crisis is
plain irreal but their soft denial
8
is subtle, and ultimately therefore
potentially more dangerous. They pretend (as it were) that we can keep
making cake together, even though the ingredients are running out and
the kitchen is filling up with smoke.
People have changed their epistemic habits as they have internalised
the values of liberal individualism and consumerism. ‘Post-truth’ is
consumerism as applied to opinions. I would hazard that it works the same
way, basically, for most actually-existing liberalism as it does for
libertarianism.
So I agree with Lorna that post-truth is not all new, not by a long
shot. But it is a relatively novel constellation, in that it is an accentuation
of previous trends, trends that are tied to the distinctively recent form
of our malady of ‘progress’. Lorna expresses scepticism as to the idea
that people have suddenly become subjectivists en masse. Sure, it’s not
sudden, but it is a trend that people have become more and more
willing to embrace.
A world-picture of multiple worlds, of alternative truths indexed to
individuals, makes sense (sic) in a time of rampant individualistic
ideology.
Nietzsche saw this coming. It is part of what he meant by ‘nihilism’.
Wittgenstein also saw the danger inherent in it. That danger is implicit
for instance in the Philosophical Investigations §§ 240242. Our time is one
such that we can no longer quite take for granted the deeper than deep
agreement in judgements that Wittgenstein references in PI § 241. It’s
absurd that we can’t. But I think we must countenance the sad truth
that we live in absurd, darkening times. It’s absurd that people treat
matters of fact as if they were matters of opinion… and yet, they do,
more than they used to; and I think we all probably know this, from
our experience as teachers of philosophy. It’s absurd that we are calmly
walking into the mass suicide of climate catastrophe (Read 2017)… and
yet, largely, we are. It’s absurd that at this moment in history the
7
That and why we can’t is sketched and evidenced in Green House Think Tank 2017 and
Anderson 2013.
8
For explication of this concept of a very widespread ‘soft’ climate-denial, see the case made
in RogerCO 2017 .
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President of the USA is a climate-denier... and yet, he is. And perhaps
the rest of us are not as profoundly different from him as we like to
think we are; perhaps we are so vituperative against him because that
allows us tacitly to deny that we are living in ‘soft’ denial. We are not
facing reality, not changing our lives as climate-reality demands. (In this
sense, I think that there is something right about Joel Backström’s
audacious claim, elsewhere in this special issue, that ‘pre-truth’ would
be at least as apposite a label for our times as ‘post-truth.)
In sum, I think that the post-truth storm has been brewing and at
times even raging for years, even decades it’s only that it was not until
recently that it became close to ‘perfect’.
Post-truthism is absurd, but, tragically, that doesn’t imply that we
don’t live in semi-would-be post-truth times.
7. Conclusion
I claim, contra Lorna Finlayson, that what has grown over the past
generation or more is a trend toward a lack of interest in the claim of
truth among some/many voters, and toward a rank contempt for truth
among those (some in the academic world,
9
some in thinktanks, some
in business, some in politics) who have deliberately promoted a
‘consumeristic’ attitude toward truth. This lack of interest and this
contempt are absurd: but I submit that we live in absurd times.
Do we therefore literally live in post-truth times? Of course not:
but it is nevertheless as if we do. Much like we used to live in times in
which it was as if there was a God.
It is demonstratively absurd for libertarians to see truth or reason
as substantive and potentially-regrettable constraints upon their
thinking that may be sloughed off in the name of freedom; but, as
Wittgenstein sought to teach us, it takes effort and courage, and not
mere intellectual acuity, to demonstrate this in our actual lives together,
i.e. to will to want to see reality, and to live accordingly.
9
See Read 2016b for support for the view that Post-Modern Relativism is not entirely devoid
of responsibility for the triumph of Trump.
Rupert Read CC-BY
94
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Biographical Note
Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia,
specialist in philosophy of language, philosophy of science, and
environmental philosophy. His published works include Kuhn (co-
authored, 2002), Applying Wittgenstein (2007), Philosophy for Life (2007), There
is No Such Thing as a Social Science (2008), Wittgenstein Among the Sciences
(2012), A Wittgensteinian Way with Paradoxes (2012) and A Film-Philosophy of
Ecology and Enlightenment (2018). His editorial experience includes The New
Hume Debate (co-edited, 2000), Film as Philosophy: Essays on Cinema after
Wittgenstein and Cavell (2005), and The New Wittgenstein (co-edited, 2000).
Article
In Habgood-Coote (2019. “Stop Talking about Fake News!”. Inquiry: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62(9–10): 1033–1065) I argued that we should abandon ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, on the grounds that these terms do not have stable public meanings, are unnecessary, and function as vehicles for propaganda. Jessica Pepp, Eliot Michaelson, and Rachel Sterken (2019. “Why We Should Keep Talking About Fake News”. Inquiry: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy) and Étienne Brown (2019. “Fake News and Conceptual Ethics”. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 16(2): 144–154) have raised worries about my case for abandonment, recommending that we continue using ‘fake news’. In this paper, I respond to these worries. I distinguish more clearly between theoretical and political reasons for abandoning a term, assemble more evidence that ‘fake news’ is a nonsense term, and respond to the worries raised by Pepp, Michaelson and Sterken, and Brown. I close by considering the prospects for anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian conceptual engineering.
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Wittgenstein vs Rawls: A Conversation with Dr. Rupert Read
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Buckle, T., 2018. "Wittgenstein vs Rawls: A Conversation with Dr. Rupert Read". Political Philosophy Podcast, Season 1, May 2018. Available at: https://www.politicalphilosophypodcast.com/wittgenstein-vs-rawls [accessed 11 May 2019].
Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media
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Facebook Suspends Data Firm Hired by Vote Leave Over Alleged Cambridge Analytica Ties
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Cadwalladr, C., 2018. "Facebook Suspends Data Firm Hired by Vote Leave Over Alleged Cambridge Analytica Ties". The Guardian [online], 7 April. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2018/apr/06/facebook-suspends-aggregate-iq-cambridgeanalytica-vote-leave-brexit [accessed 11 May 2019].
Truth: Defenders, Debunkers, Despisers
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Why Are Libertarians Mostly Dudes?
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Tobacco and Oil Industries Used Same Researchers to Sway Public
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