Against Truthiness

I think I have developed such a revulsion to identitarianism, most French feminist theory, almost all of feminist philosophy, the many post-colonialist sub-genres of epistemological masturbation, and the whole panoply of cultural studies, because at bottom I find that, whatever salutary functions they may served, an increasingly wicked and dehumanizing thing festers at the core.

The focus on difference, one is assured, is to enable us to transcend difference. Fair enough, and often true. But focus on difference more and more shades into insistence, and insistence into fetishism, as points of similarity are downplayed or ignored with great routine. Perhaps the acknowledgment of a difference or divide feels so wonderful, after a long period of dehumanizing erasure, that it's tempting to go about acknowledging that difference as much as possible in massive overkill. It becomes easy to lose sight of the goal of transcending difference and making it irrelevant, not reifying it further. Some seem to completely forget that such essences of difference are often maintained as a tool of domination.

We are ever assured that concentrating on difference, rather than similarity (real or potential) is to help transcend boundaries and inequalities, that this is in aid of a more equal and more importantly, a more fair world. But this enchantment with difference should suggest that such assurances, though not usually outright lies, are not necessarily to be taken at face value. For along with the pragmatically sound principle of recognizing, appreciating and being mindful of difference as a way of handling a messy reality, there is the abstract principle of preservation of difference for its own sake, the difference is of course now not just that but a "distinctiveness." Sometimes, of course, such distinctiveness' preservation is entirely sensical, as with a minority language, or culinary traditions. At the most extreme, however, such distinctiveness can include normative illiteracy, not letting women work outside the home, rejection of western medicine, refusing to accept that one's oral tradition contains something other than fact.

The professed desire to demolish hierarchies and inequality starts to stink, and one realizes that this is in fact a love-affair with hierarchy, just of a different sort. These discourses bear the indelible influence of parties who are very interested in creating more inequality, just more on their terms. The equality being striven for shows its true colors as merely a world where groups are "different but equal." This is of course a non-racist power-inversion of the sentiment underlying the "separate but equal" of Plessy v. Ferguson: keeping other groups at arms length, and maintaining difference (of whatever kind) as a good in and of itself. It is dehumanizing in its aim, as it requires a degree of dismissal or neglect of what is common to humanity, in favor of tribal narcissism, usually with a hint of either paranoia or callousness. Taken to its logical conclusion, it allows us to find a practice abhorrent if done to our own children, but normal for the children of Those People Over There because that's "just their Nature, I mean Culture, wait what's the difference again? I always get those two confused."

When respect for difference is used to rationalize letting a child of intransigent parents die of a treatable or preventable disease, "ethical dilemma" seems to me to be very often another name for cowardice for convention's sake. Whether it be white Christian Scientists who insist God will do the rest for their daughter without antibiotics, or an aboriginal family with blinkered ideas about White Men's medicine when their Leukemia-stricken son is begging for it.

Ultimately, the idea of truth can get contorted in ways that can be downright wicked, and especially miserable for a group's less powerful members.  
"I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘Science’. There is only ‘German Science’, ‘Jewish Science’, etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened."
-George Orwell "Looking back on the Spanish War"

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