Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There Are No Postmodernists In Electric Chairs

There Are No Postmodernists In Electric Chairs » First Thoughts A First Things Blog

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris on the epistemological equivalent of “There are no atheists in foxholes”:

It has become fashionable nowadays to speak of the subjectivity or the relativity of truth. I find such talk ridiculous at best. Let’s go back to Randall Dale Adams. He found himself within days of being executed in “Old Sparky,” the electric chair in Walls Unit, Huntsville Texas.

There is nothing post-modern about the electric chair. It takes a living human being and turns him into a piece of meat. Imagine you – you the young journalists of tomorrow – being strapped into an electric chair for a crime you didn’t commit. Would you take comfort from a witness telling you that it really doesn’t make any difference whether you are guilty or innocent? That there is no truth? “I think you’re guilty; you think you’re innocent. Can’t we work it all out?”

Well, the answer is: No. We can’t. There are facts. There is a world in which things happen and the journalist’s job is to figure out what those things are. Anything less, is giving up on the most important task around – separating truth from illusion, truth from fantasy, truth from wishful thinking.

And…., a great comment to the post:

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that postmodernism has been more influential outside of the discipline of philosophy than within it–where most academic philosophers in the United States think it sloppy thinking at best. Postmodernism has tended to be more influential in departments of English, history, and the social sciences–all places that placed a low premium on precise thinking or the truth of the matter and high premium on being original and even eccentric. This general observation is particularly true of Richard Rorty who has not been influential with academic philosophers but who has exercised influence outside of the philosophical rank and file. Meanwhile, one hardly thinks the French were wrong to make fun of Rorty. Consider Foucault’s attempt to carry out what might be called a Nietzchean program of analysis. Foucault was certainly aware that Nietzsche didn’t aim to make us think in a new way but rather to subvert the foundations of thought and to replace thought with will to power. What then can Foucault’s project be? It is at best Foucault having fun at the expense of those who take him seriously, when he does not meant to be so taken (he told a former teacher of mine that he was quite deliberately obtuse in all his writing). It is at worst Foucault’s own attempt to exercise will to power over his readers and over those who fall under the spell of his work. Being persuaded by him would then to become enslaved to his mastery rather than to arrive in those elysium fields of the truth of the matter. Postmodern philosophy shoots itself in the foot–and the prescient postmodern philosopher knows this and doesn’t care. Rather, he seeks to use it for his own advantage.

No comments: