The invitation of the Estonian Annual Philosophy Conference 2017 with the theme “The Post-Truth Era” began with the following words:
“Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016. According to some authors, post-truth is a useful concept to understand some of the most recent political events. But what does post-truth mean? Is it really such a useful concept as many claim?…
Obviously, those recent political events mentioned were the Brexit referendum and the rise of Donald Trump. Some people regarded it as the beginning of the post-truth era.
Such an eschatology had made me highly sceptical. Therefore, I chose the following theme of my presentation:
“The Post-Lies Era”
Finally, I refused to extend my presentation to include it in the academic collection of presentations. I argued that the theme of the conference was altogether not a philosophical issue.
The following section is the abstract of my presentation, which I made using Skype streaming.
The Post-Lies Era
I am far from going to argue that the post-lies era has arrived. Rather, I believe that mankind has lived in lies at least 2017 years.
More importantly, however, there are no more reasons to assume that the post-truth era has arrived than there are reasons to assume that now, finally, the post-lies era has arrived. Both of them might be self-justifying ideological claims.
One can reason as follows. After the era of colonialism, racism and holocaust, in the second half of the XX century, a new era of new lies began — the post-national and post-racial era. The so-called “political correctness” and “multiculti” ideologies prevailed. On utilitarian grounds, those facts and scientific investigations were suppressed which were assumed to be insulting or provocative. For example, the Nobel Prize winner James Watson was in effect executed in 2007 for his remarks concerning the relationship between the races and the IQ. Simultaneously, traditional forms of double-morality and governmental lies continued to flourish — remember, eg, the propaganda to start the Vietnam War or the Iraq War.
In the 1990-s, however, the era of the internet begun. It is the era of non-mainstream media, hackers and Wikileaks. Assange and Snowden have revealed us new truths — truths about governmental lies.
As a result of this post-lies era, the government monopoly of lies has been broken as well. Also, new politicians with their new truths and lies are emerging. Today, North-America is living in a state of inner information war.
Conservative political forces, dissatisfied with the consequences of new revelations and new lies, have coined the term “post-truth era”.
A really interesting philosophical question is whether Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei’s punishments can be regarded as the examples of “political correctness”.
#monopoly of lies;
On Scientific Racism
In my presentation, I also challenged the widespread view that together with Donald Trump and Brexit, such an era has begun, when scientific investigations are suppressed because of ideological and political reasons. As a counter-example (one of the various possible ones — like the alternative medicine, the climate sceptics, etc), I used the controversies around the so-called “scientific racism”, particularly scientific investigations concerning race and intelligence or the IQ. This part of my presentation was not included in my abstract.
My aim was not to argue about particular scientists or particular cases — whether there was a racism present or not. The sole idea was to remind that there have been well-documented cases when some scientists have complained that scientific investigations of some kind have been suppressed because of ideological and political reasons. And this has been so already long ago — before the so-called “Post-Truth Era” had supposedly begun.
The following examples have been copied (and shortened) from the Wikipedia. However, I have checked their background from various sources, including the newspapers.
1972 Resolution On Scientific Freedom
In 1972, 50 academics, including the psychologists Jensen, Eysenck and Herrnstein as well as five Nobel laureates, signed a statement (Page 1972), usually entitled
Resolution on Scientific Freedom Regarding Human Behavior and Heredity
criticizing the climate of
“suppression, censure, punishment, and defamation… against scientists who emphasize the role of heredity in human behavior”.
1989 Philippe Rushton — police investigation
In 1989 J. Philippe Rushton was placed under police investigation after complaints that he had promoted racism in his publication on race differences.
Rushton (1996) later wrote that there was a
“taboo on race”
in scientific research that had
“no parallel… not the Inquisition, not Stalin, not Hitler.”
2002–2004 Tatu Vanhanen — police investigation
In 2002 Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen published the book
IQ and the Wealth of Nations
A complaint by Finland’s “Ombudsman for Minorities”, Mikko Puumalainen, resulted in Vanhanen being considered to be investigated for incitement of “racial hatred” by the Finnish National Bureau of Investigations. In 2004, the police stated they found no reason to suspect he incited racial hatred and decided not to launch an investigation.
2006 Frank Ellis
Frank Ellis, a university lecturer who claimed that black people were less intelligent than whites was suspended from his post, referring to the
Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
2007 James D. Watson
In 2007 James D. Watson, Nobel laureate in biology, gave a controversial interview to the Sunday Times Magazine during a book tour in the United Kingdom.
This resulted in the cancellation of a Royal Society lecture, other public engagements, and his suspension from his administrative duties at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He subsequently cancelled the tour and resigned from his position at CSHL, where he had served as either director, president or chancellor since 1968.
Utilitarian Justification of the Inquisition?
I do not argue that this or that particular scientist from the list above was or was not a racist. Neither shall I explain here the right and wrong definitions of racism. However, what I do argue is the following.
Some kinds of scientific investigations have been suppressed long ago. One of the reasons is obviously utilitarian: such investigations may insult people, provoke racism or unrest, etc. In sum: such issues in science are suppressed because of political and ideological reasons. And it has been so long ago — before the so-called “Post-Truth Era” supposedly begun.
To those who regard utilitarian justifications of suppressing science as valid, I suggest reconsidering our attitudes concerning science history. For example, perhaps the theories presented by Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei were insulting to religious people, there was a danger of religious unrest, etc. Perhaps the execution of Giordano Bruno was a paradigmatic example of “political correctness”?
Why not to consider a utilitarian justification of the inquisition, if our present practices are correct.
From some information having negative consequences it in no way follows that this information is false or that it has been obtained using non-scientific methods.
- Ceci, S. & Williams, W. N. (2009) “Should Scientists Study Race and IQ? YES: The scientific truth must be pursued.” Nature, v 457, 12 February, pp 788–789.
- Eintalu, J. (2017) “The Post-Lies Era.” Estonian Annual Conference of Philosophy XIII, 11.‒13. May, Tartu University, Kääriku.
- Hill, H. (2001) Blackstone’s Guide to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Oxford & NY: Oxford UP.
- “History of the Race and Intelligence Controversy.” Wikipedia.
- Hunt-Grubbe, Charlotte (2007) “The elementary DNA of Dr Watson.” The Times, October 14, London.
- “‘I Am an Unperson’: ‘Racist’ DNA discoverer forced to sell Nobel Prize medal.” Russia Today, 29 November 2014.
- Lynn, R. & Vanhanen, T. (2002) IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
- Page, E. B. (1972) “Behavior and Heredity.” American Psychologist, vol 27, n 7, July, pp 660–661.
- Rose, S. (2009) “Should Scientists Study Race and IQ? NO: Science and society do not benefit.” Nature, vol 457, 12 February, pp 786–788.
- Rushton, J. P. (1996), “Political Correctness and the Study of Racial Differences.” Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, n 5, pp 213–229.
- The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (2002) Wales: National Assembly.
- Vetta, A. (1973) “Amendment to the ’Resolution on Scientific Freedom Regarding Human Behavior and Heredity’.” American Psychologist, vol 28, n 5, pp 444.