Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Mitt Romney is the Republican Poster Boy for the Conservative Appropriation of Postmodernism

One of the worst things about post-modernism (which appears to be losing much of its hegemony over the academic humanities) is that it has been appropriated with a vengeance by conservatives.  For almost three hundred years, conservatives of all stripes have been attacking the Enlightenment and its emphasis on reason and science over tradition and belief.  Taking on a vulgar post-modernism, those on the Right can simply appeal to emotion and prejudice, facts be damned, and simply say "but this is how I feel" or "in my heart I know I'm right" when confronted by evidence disproving their assertions.

Their messiah, Ronald Reagan, perfected this belief over evidence appeal decades ago.  Back in 1986, when he fessed up to selling arms for hostages, he said that in his heart he felt he had not done such a thing, but that the facts had shown otherwise.  It was almost as if he was saying he was absolved from blame, because only what he felt really mattered in this case.  Who are we to make broad truth claims, anyway?  Isn't everything in this world (including his former disavowals of wrongdoing) a text open to multiple interpretations?

Mitt Romney has picked up this tradition with a vengeance.  I am amazed at the accolades from the press after his debate performance; the story has been him "winning" despite the gushing stream of lies and position reversals that came out of his mouth.  In a more enlightened discourse more concerned with facts and reason rather than bluster and appearances, Romney's staggering mendacity may have been the media's narrative, rather than his "strength."  If it wasn't obvious before, we live in a post-fact political forum where feelings and appearances completely trump reality.  Romney, a consumate conservative, seems to understand this, whereas Barack Obama, a liberal academic very much in the Enlightenment tradition of reasoned inquiry, appears to have treated Romney's debate lies as canards so ridiculous as to not merit a response.  This was a major mistake, since the classical liberal faith in the proposition that the truth shall set us free doesn't work in a world when nobody gives a damn whether anything is true or not, just whether it sounds good.

Don't get me wrong, I am not totally negative on post-modernism in the humanities, and I thought that it brought some necessary questioning of assumptions, which is always a good thing.  However, I always felt that it was paralyzing as a political praxis, since it denied the ability to make truth claims.  And as much as the Enlightenment needed critiquing and revision, its most ardent critics seem to have forgotten the irrational sufferings inflicted by pre-Enlightenment thinking.  We are getting plenty of reminders today from conservatives, in the form of Todd Aiken's pseudo-scientific pronouncements worthy of a medieval "natural philosopher," the quasi-religious belief in what Paul Krugman derisively calls the "confidence fairy,"the attempts to deny evolution and turn Thomas Jefferson into a Christian fundamentalist, and Michele Bachmann's witch hunt of Muslims.  It's time to stop pretending these fanciful ideas are opinions worthy of respect, but merely superstitions akin to the one that drove French peasants to ring church bells during thunderstorms to protect their crops (and inadvertently electrocute bell ringers.)  Liberals need to dump these lies into the dustbin of history, and adopt the slogan of Emile Zola in his quest to clear Alfred Dreyfus from the calumnies of anti-Semites: "truth is on the march!"

1 comment:

chauncey devega said...

I wonder what Bloom or Strauss would say about Romney's post truth ways?