The point of postmodernism is not and was never “there are no facts”, the denial of an objective reality. The point is that facts are unevenly distributed across a metamedium which distributes half-facts and falsehoods with equal facility. The point is that the whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth objective reality is by definition inaccessible to the subjective experience of individuals; there is far too much to know for any one individual to know it all. The point is that he who controls the distribution of stories controls the stories themselves.
Posts tagged post-truth
“STS’s detailed accounts of the construction of knowledge show that it requires infrastructure, effort, ingenuity and validation structures. Our arguments that ‘it could be otherwise’ (e.g. Woolgar and Lezaun, 2013) are very rarely that ‘it could easily be otherwise’; instead, they point to other possible infrastructures, efforts, ingenuity and validation structures.”
Sergio Sismondo, ‘Post-truth?’ (2017)
Since we feel uncomfortable when we’re exposed to media that pushes back on our perspective (like that weird political uncle you see at a family reunion), we usually end up avoiding it. It requires a lot of effort to change opinions, and generally it feels gross to have difficult chats with people that don’t agree with us. So, we politely decline the opportunity to become their friend, buy their product, read their magazine, or watch their show. We insulate ourselves in these ‘information ghettos’ not because we mean to, but because it’s just easier.
Over the course of the next few months, we will be launching a prototype of the research already completed in statistical fact checking and claim detection. So far, our work has been in identifying claims in text by the named entities they contain, what economic statistics those claims are about, and verifying if they are “fact-checkable”. At the moment, we can only check claims that can be validated by known statistical databases — we built our system on Freebase (an fact database that came out of Wikipedia’s knowledge graph), and will be migrating it to new databases such as EUROSTAT and the World Bank Databank.
Postmodernism has shown itself as a tool for art or annoyance in the hands of the Left. In the hands of the Right, these principles are a heavy rock, itching to be hurled at your head. Without any intent to contribute further to the new Red Scare that seems to have started in the US Press, we still need to open our eyes and ask what exactly is going on.
Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies. This is what Orwell meant when he wrote that the goal of totalitarianism is to destroy our “common basis of agreement,” and it seems urgent enough just now that hundreds of Facebook employees have formed a renegade group within the company to try to stop the fake-news crisis. (It isn’t only Facebook’s crisis, of course — for a while this week, Google’s top news link for “election results” pointed to a bogus site that showed Trump winning the popular vote — but Google is a search engine; Facebook is where millions of people live.) Zuckerberg should put on his best listening hoodie and hear them. Instead, they’re guerrillas in Teslas, acting in secret and fearful for their jobs. 2017 is going to be magnificent.