Writing for the New York Times, a Ph.D student at Duke named Casey Williams offers a little shop talk:
For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.
And now Williams has noticed that Donald Trump is good at using this approach:
There’s no question that past presidents have lied. And Trump is nothing if not a cynical manipulator. But Trump’s relationship to the truth seems novel, if only because he doesn’t try to hide his relativism. Mexican immigration, Islamic terrorism, free trade: For Trump, truth is always more about how people feel than what may be empirically verifiable. Trump admits as much in “The Art of the Deal,” where he describes his sales strategy as “truthful hyperbole.” For Trump, facts are fragile, and truth is flexible.
How would Williams know that? Never mind. Read on:
Trump and Stephen K. Bannon probably don’t spend evenings poring over Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” or Michel Foucault’s “The Archaeology of Knowledge” (although Bannon’s adviser, Julia Hahn, did write her undergraduate thesis on the psychoanalytic theorist Leo Bersani). But the parallels between Trump’s attacks on accepted knowledge and critical philosophy’s insistence that we interrogate truth claims suggest that not all assaults on the authority of facts are revolutionary.
It can be a struggle to keep up with all the name dropping. I prefer quote dropping. Here's one:
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
That's C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite dead white European males. Here's a live one:
Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape
That's David Byrne. As long as facts continue to change their shape, they aren't likely to do what you want them to.
You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it. It's blowing pretty good these days.