Friday, February 12, 2016

The Facebook "Age of 'Like'" & the Escape From Pluralist Hegemony

From the top of Masada, looking down towards the Dead Sea in Israel

Imagine you are in a room and the lights are on. You think: I am in a room and the lights are on. You believe this. Which means you believe this statement is true, because a "belief" is just that; viz., a statement that a certain state of affairs obtains.

The statement I am in a room and the lights are on is true, not just "for you" but for everyone past, present, future, whenever and wherever they are. If someone thinks this statement is false they are simply wrong. That is the nature of truth, logically. Truth marginalizes, necessarily. 

This idea that a "statement" is a sentence that is either true or false, and if true is true for everyone and if false is false for everyone, is arguably the central idea I try to get across in my MCCC logic classes. This is hard and stunning and even revolutionary to students who have been post-modern brainwashed into thinking that "truth" is "subjective" and some things are "true for me but not for you." (Known, in logic, as the subjectivist fallacy" - see here, and here.) 

The subjectivist fallacy has especially blinded the millennial generation in America. Millennialist Zachary Fine eloquently expressed this in a recent nytimes essay "My So-Called Opinions." Pluralism has caused millennials to be "plagued by indecision." Pluralism rules, and Fine is feeling oppressed. He writes:

"Pluralism has come to be an ethical injunction, one that calls for people to peacefully accept and embrace, not simply tolerate, differences among individuals. Distinct from the free-for-all of relativism, pluralism encourages us (in concept) to support our own convictions while also upholding an “energetic engagement with diversity, ” as Harvard’s Pluralism Project suggested in 1991. Today, paeans to pluralism continue to sound throughout the halls of American universities, private institutions, left-leaning households and influential political circles."

The subjectivist fallacy fuels and inspires pluralism. "The art critic Craig Owens once wrote that pluralism is not a “recognition, but a reduction of difference to absolute indifference, equivalence, interchangeability.”" (Ib.) Truth-claims and qualitative judgments are "seemingly interchangeable."  Thus, the idea of the relativity of truth and value. Facts and claims to objectivity have been jettisoned. "In college today, we continue to learn about the byproducts of absolute truths and intractable forms of ideology, which historically seem inextricably linked to bigotry and prejudice." (Ib.)

The American idea (influenced by European Derrida-type thinking) has done harm to critical thinking. Hence my logic students, some of whom cannot believe that statements make objective truth-and/or-value claims. French sociologist of science Bruno LaTour wrote that “Good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on.” Because of this Fine writes that "some of us are finding it increasingly difficult to embrace qualitative judgments." (Ib.)

Welcome to the Facebook Age of "like" where  a "commitment to even seemingly simple aesthetic judgments have become shot through with indecision." 

This "seems especially odd because in our “postcritical” age, as the critic Hal Foster termed it, a diffusion of critical authority has elevated voices across a multitude of Internet platforms. With Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, everyone can be a critic." (Ib.) Everyone is "right" and all things are "true," for somebody. How oppressive to tell someone  they are wrong!

This democratization of truth, this "equal access" approach to value, renders moral judgments irrelevant since sameness prevails. Fine observes:

"Perhaps most crucially, the pluralistic climate has confused stances on moral judgment. Even though “difference” has historically been used, according to the philosopher Cornel West, as a “justification for degradation and a justification for subordination,” we millennials labor to relish those differences and distances separating individuals, exalting difference at all costs.
We anxiously avoid casting moral judgment. Because with absolute truths elusive, what claims do we have to insist that our moral positions are better than those of someone from a different nation or culture?"
Zachary Fine the millennial was born into an illogical world of deconstructionist diffĂ©rance where epistemological sameness prevails. He's seeking refuge from the "pluralist storm," hoping to not remain crippled by indecision and hop[ing] to one day boldly stake out [his] own claims, without trepidation."