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Friday, December 4, 2015

Truth in Politics

So in the postmodern era, what is truth? Since the postmodern mind recognizes that our concepts and our paradigms are fictions that are part of an imaginative order that shapes our worlds, does that mean we have no obligation to truth?

Indeed, if we read those who are fact-checking political candidates, we realize that many candidates are making statements and taking positions that they know are false. And some of the biggest liars are the most popular because they are saying things that fit well with a large section of the electorate who want to hear and believe what they are saying. Are these politicians postmoderns?

According to the postmodern insight, there is no absolute out there in some Big Mind or Supernatural Space or in the Thing-In-Itself. The absolute is an illusion created by the very act of using categories like words and formulas to grasp hold and make sense of stimuli from the environment. All the sound and light waves of the universe, all the atoms and molecules reaching our senses, are gathered by our brains into things and related to other things within a narrative, an imaginative fiction that we humans create together. When these models work, we call them beliefs or laws, but the postmodern mind realizes that they are contingent--belonging to a particular space-time. And therefore they must be doubted, questioned, and readied to be rejected for better ones.

So if there are no absolute truths, does that take liars off the hook? Can postmoderns say anything at all if it is in their interest? Is, as Ivan said, everything permitted when you take away the gods?

As was stated in an article in Scientific Mind: "The brain is not a laptop, but presumably it is an information processor of some kind, taking in inputs from the world and transforming them into models of the world and instructions to the motor systems that control our bodies and our voices." These models (categories, analogies, words, formulas) are true when we verify them: that is, when we connect them to experiments that can be repeated by others, when we put them out there for peer review, not to fool anybody or ourselves, but with honesty, that is, as part of a pure desire to know.

What makes our models true is our verification of them together in a relationship of discovery and community. Everything is not relative, just as nothing is absolute. Yes, of course there are realities in the world, we postmoderns believe. We put them there through our collective imagination and verify them together.

Scientific knowledge requires a certain amount of disinterest on our part, an honesty in our search to understand, and a desire to demonstrate the truth based on the facts as we see them. And so does politics.

The postmodern insight (that may be as old as Socrates and the religious prohibition against idolatry) frees us from our fixed habits of thought and action. It frees us from the fictions we have created by criticizing and refining them and even tossing them away for better concepts in a new imaginative order. It allows us to create new models for understanding, ones that are more inclusive, that work better for all of us.

But such freedom carries the responsibility to be faithful to the data and responsible to each other.

The political candidates that spew positions that either cannot be falsified (such as bigotry and name-calling) or that are falsified by thoughtful investigative reporters, are not postmodern thinkers. They are sociopathic liars. They violate not only the canons of good science, but also that of good religion and good politics.