virus: The truth about the truth

David McFadzean (
Wed, 25 Sep 1996 17:11:26 -0600

At 02:15 AM 24/09/96 +0000, Ken Pantheists wrote:

>Post modern thinking (as I understand it, and there are a million
>definitions.) explores the frailty of Truth. It is contingent upon many
>slippery and layered factors such as context, perception and medium--
>not WHAT is true and what is false.
>David?? You left Vancouver with an interesting book "The Truth About the
>Truth", does it have anything to say on this?

It does indeed. I was planning on finishing it last night but instead
I read a book called "Virus list archive Sept. 12-24" (over 200 pp. of
hardcopy for Chuck's sake! :-)

Nevertheless I can already highly recommend The Truth About The Truth
(subtitled De-confusing and Re-constructing the Postmodern World) edited
by Walter Truett Anderson (Putnam Books, 1995). It's an anthology of
essays and excerpts by postmodern luminaries such as Derrida, Eco,
Foucalt, Baudrillard, Feyerabend, Rorty and Gardner to name a few.
There's everything from high level overviews to perspectives from
black feminism and psychotherapy to a humorous tutorial on how to
write postmodern (first published on the internet!) to a fairly
scathing criticism from a theologian.

And it is very applicable to this list. Check out this quote from the
first essay called Themes of Postmodernity:

The focus on language implies a decentralization of the subject. The
self no longer uses language to express itself; rather the language
speaks through the person. The individual self becomes a medium for
the culture and its language. The unique self loses prominence; the
author is today less an original genius than a gifted craftsman and
mediator of the culture through his or her mastery of language.

Hmm, what does that sound like?

As for the Truth, I find myself leaning toward the dark side. I now
see that postmodernism does not imply that there is no objective
reality (I unfairly characterized it as such in previous posts). But it
does say there is no objective truth and the reason is quite simple:
Truth is a property of statements, propositions, assertions, descriptions,
ie. texts made of words. Truth is not property of physical objects.
It makes no sense to say this bicycle or that asteroid is true or false.
The truth of a text depends on its meaning, which in turn depends on
the context and that is what makes truth subjective (and also why
truth is fuzzy). The world is out there, but the truth (sorry X-Files
fans) is not.

In more than one essay Postmodernism is succinctly expressed as "an
incredulity towards metanarratives", a description due to Jean-Francois
Lyotard. A metanarrative is a "story of mythic proportions, a story big
enough and meaningful enough to pull together philosophy and research
and politics and art, relate them to one another and -- above all --
give them a unifying sense of direction." Examples include the Christian
story of God's will being worked on earth, the Marxist political story
of class conflict and resolution, the Enlightenment's intellectual story
of rational progress and, (in case anyone was wondering) the Virus story
of evolution operating at all levels. Given the distinction meme of the
metanarrative, it is easy to see how it is theoretically impossible to
compare metanarratives, to judge one against another. Any possible set
of criteria *presupposes* a metanarrative. I happen to be partial to
accuracy, falsifiability, self-consistency, parsimony, and elegance
and anyone who agrees with me will obviously prefer Science over
Mysticism, Marxism and (dare I say) Feminism. However that in no way
means my criteria are objective, they can't be. They are memes like
any other imaginable criteria. Sure Science is better for getting to
the moon, but "facilitating getting to the moon" is yet another subjective
criterion. There's no escape. Perhaps that is what Derrida was getting
at in is oft-quoted "il n'y a pas de hors-texte". There is nothing outside
the text.

Back from the dead and ready to party,

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Ideosphere Inc.