On Transparency

The rise of fake news has been attributed by some to the emergence of postmodern thought. Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote in 2017 that fake news can be ‘traced back to the campus,’ specifically to ‘academic postmodernism,’ which Hanson says, ‘derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations.’ That’s not quite right. The insistence on the primacy of narratives and interpretations does not involve a deriding of facts but an alternative story of their emergence. Postmodernism sets itself against the notion of facts just lying there discrete and independent, and waiting to be described. Instead it argues that fact is the achievement of argument and debate, not a pre-existing entity by whose measure argument can be assessed. Arguments come first; when they are successful, facts follow — at least for a while, until a new round of arguments replaces them with a new set of facts... This wholesale distrust of authoritative mechanisms leads to the bizarre conclusion that an assertion of fact is more credible if it lacks an institutional source. In this way of thinking, a piece of news originating in a blog maintained by a teenager in a basement in Idaho would be more reliable than a piece of news announced by the anchor of a major network. And, again, what has brought us to this sorry pass is not the writings of Derrida or Foucault or any postmodern guru but the twin mantras of more free speech and absolute transparency.

Stanley Fish, "'Transparency' Is the Mother of Fake News," The Stone, NY Times. Interesting summary of technological ideology today. Fish at least makes the case that philosophical emphases upon the deliberative context of information is not tantamount to the relativistic production of "fake news." This distinction is important to keep in mind when considering the relation between facts and opinions, as did Hannah Arendt in the 1960s context of her essay "Lying in Politics." For a recent film dramatization of those events, The Post, went some way to highlighting how a free press's standards of authorship cannot be extricated from political authority tout court. In any case, these issues are particularly important for political deliberations concerning religion, where the diversity of interlocutors can be extreme. While underdeveloped at times, pragmatist approaches to that issue provide much needed support for those interested in the persistence of democracy. Jefffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition is a key primer to that end.