Op-ed on the "surprising" leftist origins of "Post-Truth"

In short, Calcutt blames critial theory for the current state of affairs, via Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition. Whereas I have yet to read that book I have read quotes from it and feel that I can confidently say that it was critical and not prescriptive! The author makes no effort to explain how they conflate observation of this trend in academia with their supposed “enabling” of it in political movements to harness populist sentiment such as can be seen with Brexit and Trump. So I pretty much write if off as another version of “blame the cultural Marxists” - although I give them a little credit for updating their stereotypes of the left by several decades.

One thing that many here even have struggled with is that Truth functions both as a philosophical concept as well as a common-sense one. I think it was largely the split of natural sciences away from the rest of philosophy which popularized the deprecation of truth in favor of evidence. Like the difference between human knowledge and mere data. All throughout the industrial age, technocrats have increasingly hidden behind data to create the illusion of political objectivity, of appearing to react pragmatically to a market-driven non-ideological landscape. But I think that the increased interconnections between people and quickening of communications technologies have simply made this illusion more plain for the average person to see. So as the masses see the lie, this revelation is coopted by the same interests who perpetrated that lie in the first place.

But a crucial difference I think is that post-truth in no way implies post-evidence. The notion that there is too much data, and no socially-cohesive models to expect its framing to the public is incompatible with liberal democracy. So we see a radical push for other forms of more centralized control, and open acceptance of disinformation and misinformation in broadcast media to normalize it in public discourse. The way out of it is probably to use media which are not reliant upon the structures of market capitalism. To avoid “truth” being treated as a commodity which naturally resides with those who possess the most capital - ie government and corporate interests. And to know the difference between claims of truth with being able to produce verifiable evidence.

ETA: my usual just waking up, pre-tea coherency disclaimer


What’s a cultural Maxist?


It’s a conspiracy to make keyboards too mushy to type upon, and my eyes too poor to see my increasing number of typos. Or, alternately, substitute your favorite “Max”, such as Mad Max Headroom Horkheimer.


Alan Sokal has written at length (and, IMO, convincingly) on these topics.

If you can, get yourself a copy of Intellectual Impostures (AKA Fashionable Nonsense) and Beyond the Hoax.

There’s a good catalogue of his writings on his website (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/) which includes some free-to-download stuff, such as http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/socialist_scholars_PUBL.pdf


Seems to me that one can draw a line from cultural Marxism to post truth.

I’m sure it does seem to you.

To the rest of us it appears your average AM talk radio gibberish, and not worth a higher level political discussion.


It’s the agreed term for a certain set of thought. Whether one agrees with those thoughts or not doesn’t change the term. Unless one wishes to engage in cultural Marxism or post truth and move the goalposts by renaming things.

Edit: fixed some auto correct werds

Mass scale post-truth style political ignorance has always been a part of politics. Trying to pin some academics from 30 (or any other number of) years ago for a phenomena that was happening 30, 50, 100, 150 years ago is beyond ignorant. For a long time the US press was almost entirely partisan and the populace believed all kinds of absurd ignorance. If you look at the lunacy of the anti-Masonic party, the mind-boggling rank lies the proto-Confederate southern states propagated, etc, you’ll see the same patterns we’re seeing now. The move to a mass popular press that motivated by profit and not explicitly partisan was relatively recent, and that era’s end started in the 80s and is now effectively dead. Academics never had anything to do with it, though, that premise is just more of the partisan bullshit that’s spread around.


Perhaps you mean to disparage me?

Either way it’s isn’t a great leap to see how Lind etal used the term to how post truth is being used.

Whether one agrees with this way of thinking or not is a separate matter.

I’m of the opinion that understanding the thinking of others is quite useful whether I agree with them or not, in part or in whole.

Try not to jump to conclusions. There is of course the original Frankfurt Scool set of ideas and the way the term was reused by Lind etal in the 90s. From my non engaged point of view they end up not that far apart except for the “blame da jooooos” parts.

I disagree that partisanship is truly post-truth, I think it often claims to be in order to keep the goals and ideology inscrutable. But there is usually an underlying political philosophy of some sort, and its tenets are subjective truth to its adherents. But rigorous sciences weigh evidence without making any grand claims to truth. Although people popularly use them interchangeably - evidence, accuracy, and truth all have distinct meanings. There seems to be a common-sense assumption that if something has (scientific) evidence to back it up, that it is (philosophically) true. But this is the bridge between the objective and the subjective, where we turn data into human knowledge.

In short, politicians can’t stick their neck out and admit to having a philosophy, unless it is simplistic and only reflects fashionable pseudo-facts.

This touches upon something I was just about to make a separate topic about, but I’ll try working it in here since it’s relevant.

Are YOU “The Media”?

I grew up watching the decentralization of broadcast media with some enthusiasm, because it is something of a limited dinosaur. Yet - I still often run into people who take the old top-down broadcast model mass-media very seriously. But what purpose does it serve now? Why give those suspect one-way delivery systems primacy? I am publishing at this very moment, communicating with you lot. I see everybody in the 21st century as being equally the institution of “the media” to the extent that the term has become meaningless to me.

It seems to me that preserving the social and political role of old media depends upon perceiving the capital tied up in it as having more relevance than actual communications content. But again, if so, I fail to see what would be the incentive for the common person. Finance and ownership seem to me to destroy cultural capital.


Not so much? “Cultural Marxism” is generally used as an expression of existing belief versus description of anything that exists to one that is out-group.

It is a self-enclosed statement of how a person sees the world, just not particularly insightful to others who do not ascribe to that set of beliefs.


I don’t think partisanship is inherently post-truth, but partisan bullshit is and has always been pervasive. By and large the people creating the bullshit aren’t into theory, they’re just propagandists lying to attempt to gain power. The most jaw-droopingly stupid part of the arstechnica article was this bit, ‘By the mid-1990s, journalists were following academics in rejecting “objectivity” as nothing more than a professional ritual.’ No, they weren’t following acadamics. Reagan killed the fairness doctrine. Once there was no legal requirement for balance, AM radio was swamped by right-wing propaganda, and eventually Fox was created by the Reaganite Roger Ailes, and eventually other media outlets started following Fox News’ naked partisanship. Neither Rush Limbaugh, the Fox talking heads, nor the MSNBC talking heads suddenly started reading or quoting Horkheimer and Adorno. None of those people could ever give even a half coherent account of Horkheimer or Adorno. They responded to market pressures/opportunities. Academic theory is completely orthogonal to media behavior, and largely orthogonal to political ideology. The only political domain academia’s relevant to is policy, and then only to some Dems., while the GOP long since stopped caring about informed policy, and for the most part doesn’t care about policy at all.


I think that there is always some underlying theory, even if it is a barely-conscious naive sort. For example, the notion of “power over people” suggests a crude sort of political philosophy. What demonstrates power and status? Who wields power over whom? Etc.

That seems to be a popular view. But why would critical theory and cultural criticism be confined to academia? And as I asked above, why would “media” refer to only a specific commercial discipline? There are many more of us chatting on the internet than who are employed in television or print newsrooms.

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Pff, one can draw a much clearer line between right-wing talkback hosts and post-truth, via Fox News.

The bias of reality is liberal, remember.

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I assume here you mean the 90s version rather than the Frankfurt School version?

Of course one can dismiss or be dismissive of the ideas & ideology but they remain nonetheless.

Even some of the 90s versions are directly against my interests, “listen to your enemies for God is speaking” has a long history as a Jewish survival mechanism.

Is that pre or post truth propaganda? :smile_cat:

Yes; media crappyness is its own thing and has very little to do with academia.

But I do think that the postmodern enthusiasm for epistemological relativism had an influence on the tacticians of the political right. Those bastards went to college too.

It wasn’t that they discovered a new tactic; it was that they spotted an area where the left had dropped its guard.


That’s like, for as long as the right has held evidence-based policy in contempt.

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I’ll go with a cultural Max Headroom. That show was pretty subversive in its day