We’ll Run Out of Straw, at This Rate

A little wisdom from Foucault. ‘Truth and Power.’

Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it includes regular effects of power…’Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.

That’s a pretty glaring bit of rhetorical sleight of hand. It’s fairly obvious that he’s talking about truth-claims, not truth itself. There’s a big (and important) difference! Obviously truth-claims can be (and often are) power-moves. The same is not in the least obvious in the case of truth itself; in fact it’s not, not to put too fine a point on it, true. Obviously Foucault, not being a fool, must have been well aware of that…but, who knows, maybe he was more intent on persuasion than on scrupulous argument. In fact maybe he was simply acting out his own point – his own truth-claim. An ‘argument’ or rhetorical claim that relies on a brazen equivocation like that is certainly one form of constraint – and a particularly obnoxious one because not explicit, not obvious, not avowed, not out in the open where it can be resisted or at least noted. It takes one to know one, as the saying goes.

Richard Wolin quotes from ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ on page 42 of his The Seduction of Unreason:

The historical analysis of this rancorous will to knowledge reveals that all knowledge rests upon injustice; that there is no right, not even in the act of knowing, to truth or a foundation for truth; and that the instinct for knowledge is malicious (something murderous, opposed to the happiness of mankind.)

That is, as Wolin points out, an astonishing thing to say.

And then there’s Philip Blond. I’ve transcribed a little of the Night Waves discussion, so I’ll quote you a bit. I’ve also googled Philip Blond (and been slightly staggered to find my own mention of him here as the fourth item – now I suppose this mention will be in there too, which makes me feel dizzy). I found this bizarre-looking book on ‘post-secular’ philosophy, listing the most predictable possible trendy names – you can say them in your sleep: Kierkegaard Nietzsche Heidegger Levinas Marion Wittgenstein Derrida Freud Lacan Kristeva Irigary Baudrillard, along with three wrinkly non-trendies. All those dragooned into Blond’s ridiculous project.

I say ridiculous because the things he says on Night Waves are truly ridiculous – the strawest of straw men. Get this:

Philip Dodd: Maybe it’s time to call science’s bluff…[to Blond] Do you think science is overly revered at present?

Philip Blond: I think almost undoubtedly yes. I mean of course in some limited or partial sense science is true, but it by no means is the exclusive or sole model of what truth is. Indeed I would argue that something other than science has to be true if science itself is to be true. Science is wrong in our culture or has become unhinged it seems to me in two ways. First of all in contemporary culture science has converted its harmonic with truth into an absolutism, into a kind of quasi-fundamentalism. Such that it claims to be the sole exhaustive universal model of truth. Secondly, in doing so, it has drained all other accounts, all broader or richer accounts of truth of any value. The absolutization of science has resulted in the relativisation of morality, ethics, aesthetics, anything else you’d care to name.

See what I mean? As if scientists said they were the exclusive or sole model of what truth is, or the sole exhaustive universal model of truth! Sheer silly strawmanism, that’s all that is. And yet Mr Strawman got to do most of the talking, and got to interrupt everyone all the time (I think because he was the first one asked to speak he got the idea that he was sort of in charge of the discussion, so felt entitled and perhaps even expected to control and dominate it. Or maybe he just has an inflated idea of his own importance).

A peculiar confluence, isn’t it, a theologian and Nietzsche and Foucault. But that’s postmodernism for you. Playful.

18 Responses to “We’ll Run Out of Straw, at This Rate”