Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘epistemology

Always Already Monday

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* Isaac Asimov’s “The Relativity of Wrong” uses an “English Lit major” as its punching bag. Damn you Asimov! (via)

* The Savage Critic explains misogyny in the Marvel Universe.

The origin of our vagina monster? It’s a woman wanting sex. Sex makes women crazy and dangerous. The result of female sexual excitability is a “genetic W.M.D.”…

The obvious conclusion to draw from DARK REIGN: THE LIST– X-MEN #1 is that at the close of 2009, a woman with an appetite for sex is apparently the very definition of fear and horror for Marvel comic creators and their audience.

* So weird to see Canada being a less responsible global citizen than the U.S.

* “Tea Party” now more popular than GOP.

* ‘How Joe Lieberman Turned The Public Option Fight On Its Head.’ Ezra Klein has some details on the latest set of compromises brought about through the Democratic Party’s ongoing negotiation with itself.

* Meet your new GRE.

* And MetaFilter has your music videos of the day.

Wikipedia and Epistemology

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Wikipedia and epistemology.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 23, 2008 at 8:57 pm

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The postmodernist epistemological challenge to “the Enlightenment”—its attack on master narratives and its critique of truth—also loses its liberatory aura when transposed outside the elite intellectual strata of Europe and North America. Consider, for example, the mandate of the Truth Commission formed at the end of the civil war in El Salvador, or the similar institutions that have been established in the post-dictatorial and post-authoritarian regimes of Latin America and South Africa. In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of the concept of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance. Establishing and making public the truth of the recent past—attributing responsibility to state officials for specific acts and in some cases exacting retribution—appears here as the ineluctable precondition for any democratic future. The master narratives of the Enlightenment do not seem particularly repressive here, and the concept of truth is not fluid or unstable—on the contrary! The truth is that this general ordered the torture and assassination of that union leader, and this colonel led the massacre of that vilalge. Making public such truths is an exemplary Enlightenment project of modernist politics, and the critique of it in these contexts could serve only to aid the mystifactory and repressive powers of the regime under attack.

In our present imperial word, the liberatory potential of the postmodernist and postcolonial discourses that we have described only resonates with the situation of an elite population that enjoys certain rights, a certain level of wealth, and a certain position in the global hierarchy.

This passage from Hardt and Negri’s Empire really leapt out at me as perhaps the difference between 1999 and 2007: the Bush administration has again taught elite intellectuals the incomparable power of truth, of knowing and of being able to name. The “postmodernist epistemological challenge to the Enlightenment” we saw reach its apex in the 1990s is possible only in a moment in which politics is viewed as essentially inconsequential—now that we know that (surprise) history isn’t actually over and (surprise) it’s still possible for the forces of global capital to make human life much, much worse, those old master narratives don’t seem quite so destructive or misleading anymore. There’s something there worth rehabilitating.

This isn’t to say that we must return to some epistemology of rationalist certainty, or that we already have—quite the opposite, any movement forward will need to synthesize positivism and relativism while moving past both—but merely that a politics of utter truthlessness has no ground on which to stake a claim, much less revolutionize anything. And this ground will never ultimately be anything but ethical-moral—the concept of justice, as in every resolution in every high school debate I ever did, remains our central value, the only rhetorical space worth claiming.

I think this notion of the irreducible supremacy of justice, and the inescapable claims it makes on us, is what Derrida is getting at from the other direction when he talks about fidelity to the spirit of Marx in chapter 3 of Specters of Marx, a book I really need to read again soon:

For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the “end of ideologies” and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated on the earth…

Written by gerrycanavan

August 16, 2007 at 2:11 am