An alternative fact of one’s own

Alan Sokal points out (not for the first time) a certain insouciance about the difference between facts and fantasies.

For millennia—since at least ancient Greece—philosophers have debated what constitutes knowledge and how one can legitimately acquire it. But when philosophers returned from their seminars back into the real world, even the most ardent anti-realists generally adopted the common-sense view that there do exist objective facts—situations in the external world that are independent of our beliefs—and that, sometimes at least, we can obtain reasonably reliable knowledge of those objective facts, through evidence and reasoning.

But, starting about 40 years ago, a small coterie of social-constructivist sociologists of science began to break this consensus, with radical claims like:

-The validity of theoretical propositions in the sciences is in no way affected by factual evidence.

-The natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge.

-For the relativist (such as ourselves) there is no sense attached to the idea that some standards or beliefs are really rational as distinct from merely locally accepted as such.

These ideas were in turn picked up by postmodernist scholars—mostly in departments of literature, it must be said, not philosophy—and from there percolated into the rest of society. There, they became part of the mother’s milk—the unexamined conventional wisdom—of some sectors of the “woke” left. “There is no objective, neutral reality,” writes Robin DiAngelo, author of the best-selling White Fragility.

What goes around, comes around. Now everyone—Trumpists included—can have their own “alternative facts.”

Which, he emphasizes, isn’t to say that Trumpists are students of postmodernism or that postmodernists are to blame for Trumpism, but:

When all is said and done, postmodernist academics and their activist followers are not to blame for any of the evils of today’s right wing. What postmodernist relativism has wrought is, rather, something more insidious: by devaluing the concept of objective truth, it has undermined our own ability to combat objective untruths—to develop herd immunity to a pandemic of viral disinformation, as one writer eloquently put it.

Now the genie is out of the bottle, and I honestly don’t know how to put it back in.

He doesn’t mention the ideology of fungible sex/gender, which is why I just did. Same genie, same bottle, same difficulty putting it back.

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