Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
Are there facts that have no alternatives? The molecular composition of the elements, speed of light and sound. And so on. This is the unarguable class, not because we have personally verified but because there is no argument at this level. No one argues with the statement that almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. But we do argue whether carbon is a noxious, global warming causing greenhouse gas that needs to be regulated by the EPA. No one argues with the fact that water is two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen but we do argue whether Nestlé, a Swiss company, should be pumping water out of the Great Lakes and bottling it for a profit. Michigan’s political regime did not think lead in the Flint water was a problem. President Trump does not think dumping mining waste into the waterways is a problem. And so on.
My point is that we do not have to do too far down the road of unarguable facts before we are arguing. Facts then are universally accepted as long as they remain innocent and apolitical. This arguing of the consequences of facts gives rise to alternative valuing of what can be deduced. The facts are not then “alternative” but rather the valuing or impact of those facts. Can we deduce from the way Donald Trump’s says he grabs women’s pussy that a fact has been established, namely, that he sees 51% of the population as sexual prey? Or, do some people value that as an inconsequential game plan for a president? Let us say that if some 50% of the electorate, men and women, join with Trump in placing no negative valuation on a man’s lust for a woman, and recognize his assertions as candid and honest, then we have in this one instance a view of the Trump/Anti-Trump divide.
Our divide becomes more fractured, however, when we consider that personal opinion is different from broad valuations, and now held as superior to them. It is not a fact that lowering taxes on the rich, corporations and heirs will “raise all boats,” that is, “trickle” the increased wealth of the wealthy downward to wage earners. This is an economic valuation with strong political effects and even stronger cultural effects, by which I mean the culture values the success of the wealthy more than they do the plight of the wage earner. The American cultural imaginary values winning and the winners in the competitive, equal playing field but not a class warfare incited by those who have lost on that field. Europeans value differently because they have an historical memory of the ancient regime and the reluctance of the wealthy and powerful to allow anything to “trickle down.” The social democracies of Europe believe that a supposedly free enterprise system must be forced through legislation to let go of the profits of rapaciousness and the practices of monopolistic control. They therefore value Loser/Moochers not as such but as the inevitable discards of a playing field tilted toward the wealthy.
The court of personal opinion is not sociocultural, although each individual’s “personal” take can be traced to various valuations here. There yet remains some authority in ideological divisions, whether political or economic, and this hint of such is repellant in our post-truth millennial clime. The inbred American disposition toward individual autonomy based on a personal will to choose has fairly recently, in historical terms, been confirmed in cyberspace. Before the advent of posting Likes and rants, “crushes,” “destructions,” nasty vitriol, and the worst expressions of the darker side of our human nature, one could rant to one’s mate, to the bathroom mirror, or at the local bar. None was broadcast instantaneously to a gazillion people all armed to crush and destroy your opinion or send you a happy emoji. Every voice has now been democratized without fear of any authority. Trump rides that train, joining with those who want the “administrative State” to be reduced to their own personal opinions. That President Trump’s opinions will establish an authority, which they will need to bend to, seems not to be part of a “personal awareness,” a kind of awareness that begins and ends with a gazing at one’s own navel.
We do not take personally to “global warming” because firstly it is global and not personal, and secondly, warming is not so great a threat when you consider you mostly vacation in warmer weather. The Millennials who will be around to see how things are when they heat up are not personally invested in thinking about what the weather will be in the future when they have so many grand plans for themselves in the future. Millennials are very confident in their will to power, their self empowerment that will lead them to glories their will challenged parents could not imagine. A dystopic future is something like thinking about failure when one is convinced that failure is not a personal choice they will make. The oldsters who are making the decisions right now regarding how we mitigate the effects of our human caused global warming are aware that they will not be around to endure the dark consequences of their actions. Profits now are preferred to restraints that will reduce those profits. There is then no inclination to rouse the Millennials to an awareness of their fate. A fact that we cannot avoid is that the 2016 presidential election should have been a contesting between candidates whose future is now being settled.
We can observe the social/public being shifted to the personal/private but what we are observing is a shifting in attitude and perception, a shifting away from what is actually the case toward illusions. A fracturing of both attentiveness, of focus, and discourse/media/communication does not lead to a greater personal command of what is going on. Individuals have a diminished authority but assume, by virtue of a self-empowerment, to have more than any time in the past. The personal and private are also more invaded by repeated messaging and spins from two levels of transmission: online and offline. Compound all that with a drastic economic and social divide, which is denied by one political party and avoided by the other, an avoidance that Bernie Sanders ignored to the Democratic Party’s displeasure. A state of chaotic confusion overwhelms the individual, who, self-appointed to be in charge, retreats to a personal opinion impervious to that confusion. It is a classic defensive move of the individual psyche that avoids collapse, which avoids recognizing that the individual amid this sort of chaotic confusion is powerless, a victim, and a self-deluded pawn in a game of thrones it cannot fathom.
We have a bold assertion of “alternative facts” coming from this moshpit of personal opinions which itself is an illusion preserving situation triggered by a multi-plexing of reality designed by an ideological divide and the socioeconomic divide that it creates. In short, the realities that different ideologies shape, unrestrained by any mutually accepted judgment, generate alternative facts, also unrestrained. This descends to the personal level because the American mass psyche seems only able to deal with anything on this level and here we have a personal determination of fact because reality itself has been personalized. We call this a “post-truth” state of affairs but in actuality, this is an awareness that goes as far back as Nietzsche, carried forward by poststructural, deconstructive, postmodern thinkers in the late 20th century. What has brought this awareness to a grass roots level is cyberspace, itself an alternative reality wherein personal opinion can be rebuked and ridiculed but never eliminated. We are awash in tweets, a president, his fans and his detractors all flocking to a platform redundantly and, as we now realize, ironically called “social” media.
Because reality does not abide our illusions, offline or online, we face not only the problems of a cultural divide but those emanating from a new Tower of Babel.
Words mirror the confusion.
“Climate change” is a euphemism, one concealing a dark reality and at the same time providing an opening for Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA to say, “The climate is always changing.” Because our American cultural realities now seem to be dividing in a way comparable to the 10 quadrillon cell divisions in the human body over a lifetime, we face uncertainties regarding which facts in which realities maintain. A retreat from certainty is observable in language, in attaching word to world, in speaking in one voice for the things themselves. Both Liberal and Neoliberal realities bend words in their direction. The Affordable Care Act, for example, indicates that the U.S. is prosperous enough to provide health care for the indigent. A translation to “Obamacare” ties it to a man, a black man, who is reversing the Master/Slave relationship by presuming to provide care for whites. “Obamacare” rang the bell of racial bigotry, which was heard and furthered the campaign to destroy the ACA.
The confusion of realities, their alternative facts and a rampage of personal opinions is being played out on the battlefield of language. We associate “political correctness” with Liberals but that remodeling of language is not only a Liberal remodeling, as the example of the ACA indicates. Note this obituary:
John Doe, known throughout his life to be economical with the truth, vertically challenged and differently disabled, departed from this earth after a negative patient outcome was reported. He passed away after spending thirty years in a correctional facility. Mr. Doe had been let go of previous employment after a long period of being in between jobs. He spent his youth on the streets before being upgraded to a correctional facility. He will be buried in a suit off the back of a truck.
Our confounding our own word and world connections is a bi-partisan project, as political parties disingenuously front our journey from reality, fact, and language while nurturing the illusions of personal autonomy and power.