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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Epistemological relativism redux

by digby

Paul Waldman has written a good piece about the fact that Republicans are now destroying the idea of "neutral judgment"  --- or are basically saying "the facts are biased."
This is straight out of President Trump’s playbook, one that tries to convince everyone that there’s no such thing as a neutral authority on anything. If the CBO might say your bill will have problematic effects, then the answer is not to rebut its particular critique, but to attack the institution itself as fundamentally illegitimate. If the news media report things that don’t reflect well on you, then they’re “the enemy of the American People.” If polls show you with a low approval rating, then “any negative polls are fake news.” If a court issues a ruling you don’t like, then it’s a “so-called judge” who has no right to constrain you. 
To Trump and increasingly to his Republican allies, there are only two kinds of people in the world: the ones who agree with them (who are the best people, fantastic, believe me) and the ones who don’t (who are losers and haters). There is no in-between and no such thing as neutrality.

I will just note that Trump isn't the first to do this. He's the most obvious and the sloppiest about it. And the Republicans have now turned it into their default mode of persuasion. But I've been writing about this since I started blogging. I used to call it "epistemological relativism." Here's one I wrote about five years ago:

Epistemological relativism for dummies

by digby

Senate Science Committee member Marco Rubio said today, "I'm not a scientist, Jim, I'm just an old country GOP hack" and everyone's all atwitter. (Actually, he said "I'm not a scientist, man" in answer to the question of the age of the planet.)

But we should be grateful that in keeping with the new kinder gentler Republican party that he didn't say what he really thinks: teaching science in schools is akin to communist indoctrination. Via LGF:

Rubio said there also could be activity in the legislature by evolution proponents who wish to remove the theory compromise language. “I think there’s still going to be folks out there talking about this – on both sides. … I think this will be a battle that will go on for quite some time,” he said.

The “crux” of the disagreement, according Rubio, is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level. It goes to the fundamental core of who is ultimately, primarily responsible for the upbringing of children. Is it your public education system or is it your parents?”

Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio, a Cuban-American, made a comparison to the strategy employed by the Communist Party in Cuba where schools encouraged children to turn in parents who criticized Fidel Castro.

“Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro,” he quickly added, while noting that undermining the family and the church were key means the Communist Party used to gain control in Cuba.

“In order to impose their totalitarian regime, they destroyed the family; they destroyed the faith links that existed in that society,” he said.

This is a very slick politician and I think he's quite dangerous. That answer is the usual wingnut gibberish, but he is very good at dogwhistling to the rubes. He signals very clearly that he is on board with the whole idea that evolution should not be taught as ... science.

This gets back to one of the most fascinating aspects of right wing ideology over the past couple of decades: their bizarroworld post-modernism. Recall this from Lynne Cheney's jeremiad against "relativism" called Telling the Truth:

"In rejecting an independent reality, an externally verifiable truth, and even reason itself, he [Foucault] was rejecting the foundational principles of the West."

There was a time when the right used to argue that there was such a thing as objective truth and it was the left who said it was arguable. But due to their need to accommodate the primitive superstitions and literal biblical interpretations of so many of their followers conservatives have become extreme epistomological relativists, unable to make a clear statement as to whether or not the sun came up this morning if it means that a fundamentalist somewhere might have a problem with it. Rubio proves it with his slippery endorsement of the idea that schools should teach that science is all a matter of opinion.

But one thing has remained of their arguments through every permutation: it's always about phantom totalitarians infiltrating their families and businesses. I can only speculate about why that might be, but I lean toward this explanation from Corey Robin:

Historically, the conservative has sought to forestall the march of democracy in both the public and the private spheres, on the assumption that advances in the one necessarily spur advances in the other. Still, the more profound and prophetic stance on the right has been to cede the field of the public, if he must, but stand fast in the private. Allow men and women to become democratic citizens of the state; make sure they remain feudal subjects in the family, the factory, and the field.

I guess I just assumed that when Lynne Cheney was talking about the foundational principles of the West she was talking about the Golden Age of Greece and the Enlightenment. It turns out she was taking her inspiration from the Dark Ages.