What follows is the Introduction to the Turkish translation of Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game, originally published in English by Anthem Press in 2018. The Turkish translation will be appearing in early 2023 through FOL Publishing House in Ankara. Fuller would like to thank the Philosophy Editor Bekir Demir for inviting him to write a new Introduction, Emre Bilgiç for translating the book into Turkish, and Prof. Işıl Bayar Bravo for preparing it for publication … [please read below the rest of the article].
Fuller, Steve. 2022. “Introduction to the Turkish Translation of Post-Truth: Knowledge As A Power Game.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (11): 69-71. https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-7nz.
🔹 The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.
❦ Bouzid, Ahmed. 2022. “‘Post-Truth’: The Only Path Forward.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (10): 14-19.
❦ Abbott, Gary and Steve Fuller. 2022. “Can Post-Truth Provide an Adequate Ethics for Social Epistemology? A Dialogue Between Gary Abbott and Steve Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (9): 19-28.
❦ Fuller, Steve. 2020. “We are the Fallen Riding the Tiger of World-History: Christmas in the Post-Truth Condition.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (12): 28-32.
❦ Hewitt, Des. 2020. “A Critical Review of Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game by Steve Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (8): 47-52.
❦ Martin, Brian. 2019. “What’s the Fuss about Post-Truth?” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 8 (10): 155-166.
❦ Sassower, Raphael. “Post-Truths and Inconvenient Facts.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 8 (2018): 47-60.
❦ A slightly abridged version of Steve Fuller’s article “Science has always been a bit ‘post-truth’” that appeared in The Guardian on 15 December 2016.
I began writing Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game at the end of 2016, shortly after the Oxford English Dictionary declared ‘post-truth’ Word of the Year, due to the surprise populist victories for Brexit and Donald Trump. Thanks to Jack Stilgoe, I first published the book’s main thesis in the 15 December 2016 edition of the Guardian newspaper, under the title, ‘Science has always been a bit post-truth’. The title reflected not only the recent political events but also a high-profile conference that had been held the previous month at the Royal Society on ‘New Directions in Evolutionary Theory’. It brought together an impressive array of critics of the Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy—with the conspicuous exception of proponents of scientific creationism, aka ‘intelligent design theory’. My article, which noted this omission as a sign of science’s hypocritical sense of ‘openness’, resulted in more than 400 responses, mostly—and predictably—hostile. The text that emerged from that article, which you are now reading, probably remains the only book that portrays our post-truth condition sympathetically in a deep historical and philosophical context.
Of course, scientists are not alone in their hypocrisy. Philosophers have never agreed on a definition of truth, yet when they publicly express hostility to ‘post-truth’, they speak as if there were such agreement. Indeed, the US philosopher Harry Frankfurt was being hypocritical when in 1986 he first defined ‘bullshit’ as ‘indifference to the truth’. Not surprisingly, his readers were left no wiser about this thing ‘truth’ to which bullshitters are supposedly ‘indifferent’. Of course, Frankfurt was trying to appeal to some ‘common sense’ notion of truth as conformity to the facts as we know them. The problem is that his so-called ‘bullshitters’ do that, too. And here we need to be more precise than analytic philosophers like Frankfurt would like us to be.
What unites non-bullshitters and bullshitters—that is, truth-tellers and post-truth-tellers—is a dual rhetorical strategy: (1) You say what needs to be said in a way that escapes contradiction. Thus, you establish your grasp on the truth. (2) You fill in what isn’t said in a way that also escapes contradiction but reveals something that serves your purposes. Thus, you establish the depth of your grasp on the truth. The most natural way to regard this twofold strategy is as aiming at ‘verisimilitude’, which is to say, the appearance of truth. But is it ‘truth’ or ‘post-truth’? Verisimilitude is a feature common to good histories and historical novels. The US comedian Stephen Colbert calls it ‘truthiness’—and it shows bullshit to be a bullshit concept!
At the same time, the post-truth-tellers who see through the hypocrisy of truth-tellers do not deny ‘facts’ in the ordinary sense. However, facts do not settle debates and contests. Rather, facts are resources to be mobilized in debates and contests, which are about the context in which they should be understood. Thus, we frequently hear charges about one or another party ‘twisting the facts’ or ‘manipulating statistics’ or ‘cherry-picking data’. While these practices are demonized, they are routinely used by both the ’angels’ and the ‘demons’ in any argument. In my most recent book on post-truth, A Player’s Guide to the Post-Truth Condition: The Name of the Game, I assert, ‘To be is to be redeployable’. That sums up the reality of ‘facts’: If you can use them, I can use them too. The post-truth condition is more a battle over context than content—and context is about naming the game that is being played.
If the post-truth condition is ultimately about ‘naming the game’, then the biggest geopolitical challenge in the coming years will be to define a game that both China and the West can play. But perhaps this is not quite the right way to describe the opponents, though it works as a first approximation. It might be better to talk in terms of a ‘territorializing’ versus a ‘de-territorializing’ sense of collective identity. The former is about protecting—and where necessary, recovering—a homeland that is regarded as essential for maintaining this identity. The latter is about projecting one’s identity indefinitely, which is to say, far from its point of origin. These two identity strategies are clearly at odds with each other. Put in practical terms that any individual might face: Do you fight for country or for conscience—land or ideas? In this context, ‘sovereignty’ is the term of art that conveniently blurs the two.
China is obviously on the territorializing side of this divide, given the significance that it attaches to ‘Han’ identity, which at once names a language, a race and a land. Indeed, Han-style appeals are common to the political rhetoric of China’s Dynastic, Republican and Communist phases. The closest Western equivalent is the now largely discredited term ‘Aryan’. In contrast, the de-territorializing mode of identity is associated with the proselytizing tendencies of Christianity and Islam, whereby the endless promotion of the religion is presented as an existential challenge to both believers and unbelievers. In a sense, you don’t know the nature of your own faith unless you confront and overcome the infidel, through conversion or battle. This sensibility was secularized in the modern period as the doctrine of ‘universal human rights’, which has been just as annoying to the Chinese as Christians and Muslims have been in their country’s history—if not more so.
The elephant in the room is imperialism. Two styles of imperialism correspond to the ‘territorializing’ and ‘de-territorializing’ tendency: The older territorializing style is tribute-based. The late Egyptian world-systems theorist Samir Amin originally categorized various ancient empires under this distinct mode of colonization, which is somewhat related to what Karl Wittfogel had earlier called ‘Oriental Despotism’. This imperial mode is distinctive in its refusal to impose ideological conformity on its subjects. All it demands is payment of what amounts to ‘protection money’, which would often be paid literally as taxes, but also more metaphorically as privileged access to local resources. This ‘protection money’ is officially designed to protect the subjects from other potential conquerors by enabling their current masters to remain strong. Arguably, China has adapted the tributary model of imperialism to its extensive trading arrangements with the Global South, which it now wishes to extend to Europe through the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.
In contrast, the more modern and de-territorializing style of imperialism emanating from Christianity and Islam has been at once more ambitious and more principled. (In this respect, what nowadays passes for ‘postcolonial studies’ is like the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, insofar as it fails to account for the extent to which the two largest world-religions were always engaged in the same game.) Certainly, Western imperialists were not content to let their subjects sort out their own internal affairs on native terms. Alongside the roads and railways needed to extract resources and impose administrative domination, these imperialists created political, educational and medical institutions designed to make their subjects fit to decide for themselves in the long term. Unfortunately, this ‘long term’ was never adequately defined. Moreover, the imperial projects themselves were subject to the kinds of vulnerabilities that result from ‘overreach’. They tried to do too much with too little, especially in an environment that was not always receptive to their ideological ambitions.
These contrasting imperial visions—the territorializing and de-territorializing one—can be understood as two different geopolitical games that are happening simultaneously. This is quite unlike the Cold War, when both the USA and the USSR took themselves to be playing the same game for global domination. The nature of their opposition was clearly defined—‘capitalism’ versus ‘socialism’—and it was relatively easy to place all the other nations on a continuum, the poles of which were defined by the two superpowers. And even though it was difficult for the two sides to fully grasp each other’s modus operandi, there were reasonably reliable indicators—such as periodic arms agreements—that signaled the state of play at any given moment. In retrospect, the extent of such ‘meta-level’ agreement between the two superpowers can be attributed to their common cultural origin. After all, like Christianity and Islam before them, capitalist America and socialist Russia were branches that developed from the same family tree. However, the terms of engagement are likely to become different.
A good way to see the sort of moral, legal and political difficulties that may be ahead in a post-truth geopolitical game where China is one of the superpowers in play is to recall one of the most haunting moments in the West’s self-understanding, namely, Pontius Pilate’s washing of his hands of the fate of Jesus. Pilate was governor of Judaea, a tributary state of the Roman empire. His role was to keep the peace, collect taxes and extract any resources that might be required by Rome. The New Testament makes clear that Pilate had no interest in the affairs of the Jews, whose practices he generally regarded as barbaric. So, while he personally bore no hostility to Jesus, he was content in the end to let the Jews decide his fate. While there have been many, often quite creative interpretations of the Jesus-Pilate encounter, nearly all of them find Pilate morally deficient in some way. It would be interesting to have a Chinese interpretation of this episode because it is likely to become an increasing part of the normative universe that we all inhabit, in terms of which the geopolitical game will be named. The Chinese may not have so much of a problem with Pilate.
Steve Fuller, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick.
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