Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Capacity for Truth


Call me crazy if you will, but I just can't seem to get enough of Carol Iannone this week.

Some years ago, she tells us, a young woman she knows went to France and had a wonderful time. Today, though, things are very different...as evidenced by the fact that a young woman she doesn't know went to Italy, and now stands accused of murdering a British woman in the course of an attempted gang-rape.

Iannone says this about that:

How different was Amanda’s situation from my friend’s.
Yea, verily. All we need to do now is sort out why. First off, you can't deny that if this Amanda woman had been properly chaperoned, the murder of which she's accused never would've happened. Let's face it: her life abroad lacked "accountability and regularity," which is exactly how this sort of thing gets started. Given the permissiveness of continental culture, it's no wonder that the sidewalks of Europe are quite literally awash with the blood of murdered exchange students.

But of course that's only part of the story: technology is also to blame. Just as the easy availability of tape recorders inspired Ian Brady and Myra Hindley to commit the Moors Murders, digital technology has eroded the vital sense of hierarchy that formerly discouraged young people from slaughtering noncompliant sex partners:
The whole thing is reminiscent of Mark Bauerlein’s point in his book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 — that in our culture today, young people are oriented mainly or even only toward each other and have no hierarchy in which to locate and organize themselves.
And consider this: We know that the accused woman was a student, and we also know that students are obliged not just to study but to embrace postmodernism. Could this explain why she allegedly tried to pin the murder on an innocent black man?
Amanda’s odd behavior after the murder; her giving fuzzy, conflicting reports of her actions; and falsely implicated an innocent black man, Patrick Lumumba (her boss at the bar she worked at), give rise to speculation about how much postmodernism has eroded the capacity for truth. But that could be the subject of another post.
Here's hoping, 'cause I really think she's on to something. The only way I could see her being wrong is if there turned out to be evidence that a suspected murderer had acted oddly, or falsely implicated an innocent bystander, prior to the publication, in 1979, of Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. And honestly, what are the odds of that?

I hope my jaunty tone here won't obscure the fact that I find Iannone's "speculations" to be irresponsible, ghoulish, and fantastically stupid. As for her typically cartoonish view of "postmodernism," I hardly need to point out that it's pretty rich coming from someone who treats the "text" of this sad event as an occasion for grotesque interpretive excesses founded on nothing more rigorous than kneejerk intuitions.

Which reminds me of something that's not pointed out often enough: The Sokal Affair is utterly inconsequential compared to the delirious gibberish that kulturkampfers like Iannone spout every fucking day, in perfect seriousness and to general applause from their public and peers.

12 comments:

Rmj said...

Must admit I'd never heard of the Sokal Affair; but your link produced this very interesting quote:

“A curious fact about the recent left-critique of science is the degree to which its instigators have overcome their former timidity, of indifference towards the subject, not by studying it in detail, but rather by creating a repertoire of rationalizations for avoiding such study.”

Something I've said many times about theology, religion, and the so called "neo-atheists." All you have to do in that quote is replace "science" with one of the terms I mentioned. And, oddly enough, the critique of Sokal is that he didn't understand postmodernism or deconstruction (although I'm also quite sure many of the critics of science he was referring to, didn't understand deconstruction either).

Oh, what a merry-go-round it is!

Phila said...

Surprised you hadn't heard of it, RMJ. It was all the rage for a while. But you were probably doing more important things (and I am most assuredly not being facetious).

It was a long time ago that I read Sokal's book, but IIRC he acknowledged that he didn't "get" deconstruction etc. -- or philosophy in general, really -- and was only concentrating on its "misuse" of scientific terms. A lot of the examples were pretty obviously metaphorical, though; Deleuze, who came in for particular abuse, traffics in little else as far as I can tell.

Sokal was particularly concerned that theory amounts to a form of navel-gazing that distracts The Nation's Youth from progressive political engagement. Which is not too far from Chomsky's critique of postmodernism...and similarly overlooks the fact that anything can serve as a distraction from progressive political engagement, including Chomsky's books. Including, for that matter, "progressive political engagement" itself.

In other words, the whole thing was pretty silly. The Smokewriting blog had the best takedown of Sokal (+ neo-atheism) I've seen, which I linked here (scroll down). I think you'll appreciate it.

Rmj said...

Now THAT was remarkably refreshing! I seldom get to read work (aside from yours on this blog) that so clearly states the problems with "thinkers" (I use the term loosely) like Dawkins (i.e., people who tout their wares in the public square, and refuse all scrutiny on the grounds that, if you disagree, you obviously are not of the body!). Why, just to read a statement like this:

To simply shout the word ‘relativism!’ is not enough to sort things out; nor is it enough to debunk relativism. What is demanded from those who claim the badge of Enlightenment is at least a convincing defence of objectivism of some kind, one that will grapple with the difficulty at the heart of the historical Enlightenment itself that is as old as the controversy over the nihilism of ‘objective reason’ provoked by F.H Jacobi in his criticisms of Kant and Spinoza.

Is to feel like Brad Garrett is supposed to feel on those (stupid) 7-Up commercials. (I found that, by the way, by following your link, and using the link at the end of the linked blog post. Aren't the intertubes wonderful?)

The best part about finding such work is realizing it really has been done better and clearer than you have done it (e.g., "me"), and now you can set aside such vain and idle pursuits and get back to matters worthy of intellectual effort.

Or at least go back to wasting time with a clear conscience.

Rmj said...

Alright, one more, from here (a link, this time):

As for Sokal and Bricmont, they really only managed to demonstrate that they were quite happy to rely on philosophy for some things (i.e. for a shortcut vindication of scientific objectivity) but not competent to assess a the variety of methods for doing philosophy on non-scientific criteria.

Sums up my problem with people using philosophy (or theology, for that matter) who don't know what they're doing, and are pretty convinced they don't need to because, hey, they've got science! (The "appeal to authority," as that blog post notes. Gleek!, says I!).

Southern Beale said...

Hmm ... well, having read The Monster of Florence, I have a different view of the Amanda Knox case. That the Italian justice system is horribly corrupt.

But it could be because of some sociological claptrap about the Yute of Today.

In other news, here's an item for you Friday hope blogging.

Cheers!

charley said...

i was going to tell you about my college experience involving aristotle, foucault, and lacan.

but never mind.

just don't forget the pictures on friday.

pictures speak a thousand words.

word verification: factie

Phila said...

Hmm ... well, having read The Monster of Florence, I have a different view of the Amanda Knox case. That the Italian justice system is horribly corrupt.

I know nothing about the case at all. But I did have a sense that there might a bit more to it than unchaperoned youngsters and postmodernism.

Southern Beale said...

outtenOh Phila you must read The Monster of Florence, it's a wonderful read, summertime at the beach stuff. It's actually not about the Amanda Knox case at all, it's about a serial killer in Florence, but the the same prosecutor on the Knox case was involved and he ultimately was found guilty of misconduct for the way he handled the Monster of Florence case. He even went after MoF author Douglas Preston. Crazy stuff.

Here's the Amazon link.

I came away from reading this book just thanking God they don't have the death penalty in Italy.

Phila said...

Thanks for the tip, SoBeale! Looks interesting.

Phila said...

i was going to tell you about my college experience involving aristotle, foucault, and lacan.

Dear Penthouse Forum,

I am a sophomore at a small Southern college. You'll never believe this, but....

Phila said...

RMJ,

Yeah, I thought you'd get a kick out of that. It's a really good piece. And that Tractatus gag makes me laugh every time I see it.

As for the self-effacing stuff...pshaw. One more time, louder and more slowly: Pshaw.

In somewhat related news, I've been helping a dear friend who's taking a philosophy class. From what she tells me, it seems like there are a lot of people who think that having gotten halfway through The God Delusion automatically makes them smarter and more interesting than [insert superstitious dead nitwit's name here].

Eh. Such is life, I suppose.

Rmj said...

In somewhat related news, I've been helping a dear friend who's taking a philosophy class. From what she tells me, it seems like there are a lot of people who think that having gotten halfway through The God Delusion automatically makes them smarter and more interesting than [insert superstitious dead nitwit's name here].

It's written at the level of a Freshman philosophy class.

And Dawkins has "jumped the shark," having now gone the way of Sam Harris and decreed that Pat Robertson's idiotic rambling as the Haitian earthquake are the true sentiments of Xianity that other Xians are simply unwilling to confess to. It's precisely the kind of reductio ad absurdum that appeals to people who don't really want to know anything. And in other news, Dawkins is finding out those aren't the best people to hang out with.

Eh. Such is life, I suppose.

Indeed.