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Sokal's Hoax and the Postmodern

first rendering of the hoax and the arrogance of knowing: setting people up for the kill - jeanne

or A Pox Upon Us All
for the Arrogance of Our Knowingness


California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 9, 2008
Latest Update: June 10, 2008

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Topic of the Week:

So What Do I Really Know?

Notes from jeanne to jeanne: Reason for this essay - to illustrate that dichotomies in thinking get us all in trouble. Sokal disliked the jargon and the postmodern suggestion that there are no metanarratives - that is, simply put, that no one is free completely from the bias of perspective, which includes the bias created by a context in which some facts are considered given because they have been treated that way for so long. Most ordinary folks react the same way to science's jargon that Sokal reacts to postmodernism's jargon. It's a professional hazard that emphasizes our need to return to generalists who can speak and write in plain English. And the reporter falls into the same trap. Want to finish this essay with recent Science Times (from NY Times, I think) article on most recent debates in physics in which Einstein's constant (his fudge factor in relativity) might not be a constant, and there might be multiple universes out there. Now that's got to be as unsettling as no metanarrative.

The Moral:

It's OK to live in a universe in which we can't explain everything. Science gives us a means to sort out the facts and eliminate some ideas when we find them contradicted by new facts. But science has not yet been able to give us an outside view that would let us get beyond our own perspective. In time, science, such as astrophysics, might tell us the universe is flat and ever-expanding. But we can't be sure yet what that means in terms of the human perspective. It is not given to humans to have perfect knowledge of this universe or universes and/or their creator(s). We've only got our own perspective from inside this universe and inside our own imaginary.

Since reason in the form we know since the Enlightenment as science can't give us perfect knowledge it behooves us to remain open to new information and facts, and to maintain humility in applying the knowledge about which we can be relatively sure. Science is considering the possibility that the universe we live in may be flat. Really. But that doesn't mean that the earth is flat in the sense that we could fall off the edge. Common sense still applies within the world we live in. "Flat" just added a new meaning in terms of the perspective that is given to see the whole picture, as we cannot.

The essay below:

To explain the importance of the humility of knowingness, such as I've described it above, I have had to find starting places in plain English to make the ideas clear. I'll break these up into appropriate files as I get it all down. Then I'll break them into separate files. Sorry for the inconvenience of having to put all this up in note form, but I guess this is my famous "lecturing in circles." Meanwhile, I hope you can see where I'm going, especially with the added notes to myself. jeanne

Governance Discourse - Talking About Things That Matter to Us

It's been a long time since our schools gave us a real chance to practice "governance discourse." "Governance discourse" is discussion with ordinary folks about things that matter to us and over which we want and need some control. Like our jobs. Is getting to work on time making us crazy because the traffic is impossible? or because we're spending an ever increasing percentage of our disposable income for gas? Are we worried about how much time it's taking just to get our kids to places where they can play safely? Are we afraid to leave our kids home alone? Of course, we're worried about all these issues. But we've forgotten how much we all share in these concerns, and how much control we do and should have through the effective practice of GOVERNANCE, or just plain doing something about these issues.

Talking to Each Other Is Just a Start, But a Necessary Start

No, we can't make gasoline more affordable, or traffic less inclined to go into grid-lock, but we can TALK about some things we might try individually, locally as a community or neighborhood, and through voting in elections for our representatives in every level of government.

But there's a problem here. How can we TALK to each other about these problems that no one's been able to even come close to solving yet? Everybody has a different idea. How do we know who's making sense and who's just longing to go back to the "good old days" when gas was cheap and shopping didn't involve gridlock?

Good point. What does it mean to TALK to each other? What good will TALKING about gas or traffic or finding safe places for our kids to play do? We need better roads, cheaper gas, or better transportation, and safer communities. Only government can do that. True. Government has to build the roads, regulate the gas, regulate and fund the transportation, and provide safe havens for our kids. But GOVERNMENT is us, COLLECTIVE US, but US, nonetheless.

Government Is What We Do Together: You Can't Build a Railroad by Yourself

Once upon a time, when people lived in tribes, they all knew each other, knew the problems they faced, and all played some role in solving those problems, as a tribe. Today, we're lucky in metropolitan areas if we know our nearest neighbors. Many of us, if not most, have long commutes, exhausting jobs, and little discretionary time left for the healthful benefits of family life. Time to resurrect the habit of thinking and talking together about what we and our neighbors need and want and finding better ways to make our communities "work" for us.

The "Good Old Days," If Memory Serves

BUT WAIT! Something is amiss here. Where I grew up the adults didn't get together and make the neighborhood "work" for us. Most of the adults were too worn out, or depressed, or at the local bar to care that teenagers were having children before they finished high school, and few of the "fathers" bothered to find jobs that let them do more than visit the local bars in their turn. We did have extended families. We weren't scattered all over the whole country yet. Everybody on the block seemed to be related to everybody else. Sometimes whole blocks were inter-related. That meant safe and cheap child care, and lots of big family parties. But very little chance to keep the children in school and guide them to solid and secure jobs that would offer them new opportunities as the world changed.

Maybe some of you lived with adults who had more time and energy, and did make your neighborhood safer and provide you with greater access. Lots of us didn't. But over time we tend to remember the good times, the parties, the local bar, the cheaper food prices, gas prices, more jobs. And then we long to return to those "good times." Today there are iPods and TV. And bars, of course. And drugs. When all else fails, we turn to the fun stuff start to accept the rest as "the best we can do."

Conservatism is an ideology that emphasizes looking backwards to "the way we were," and trying to recapture the good times of old. Progrssiveism or what used to be called "liberalism" (before it was misidentified as an elitist doctrine of "intellectuals") is an ideology that emphasizes that this is only the "best of all possible worlds" for those for whom the system is working, and a world that needs to seek new approaches and ways to make it better for the ones it isn't working for.

love and peace, jeanne


  • Art, Like Discourse, Has a Perspective Why we have to talk about context. Magritte's Ceci n'est pas une pipe as explanation of context. This file was just started. I'll have it up soon. jeanne

  • Context and Foucault's Non-Affirmative Paintingtm Discussion of Foucault's article on Non-Affirmative Painting and context. Magritte's Ceci n'est pas une pipe and Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans as examples.

  • veterans01.htm A War is Fought by People. When those people come home we call them Veterans. Discussion of issues affecting veterans. This one on McCain's voting record.



  • Experience Comes with Mistakes: - And What We've Learned from Them

    A paragon of the business community, Peter Drucker, once said that he wouldn't hire a man who hadn't made a mistake. It is through mistakes that we learn. Peter Doherty, a 1996 Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine, said that "a good researcher failed every time but the last one." Mistakes occur in risk-taking. And risk-taking is an essential component of innovation and change.

    With that in mind, consider the emphasis being placed on "experience" or following long-trodden paths that have led to success in the past. Experience requires "stewards," to keep us on paths that have been shown valid in the past. Innovation and change come from daring to try the "path not taken."

    CHICAGO — James A. Johnson, the consummate Washington insider whom Senator Barack Obama tapped to head his vice-presidential search effort, resigned abruptly on Wednesday to try to silence a growing furor over his business activities.

    Mr. Johnson’s departure deprives Mr. Obama of decades of experience and access to Washington’s power elite. Mr. Johnson has been a fixture in Washington political and legal circles for three decades, and he led the vice-presidential search team for Senator John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004.

    His resignation, at the start of a general election contest in which the candidates have pledged to run issue-based campaigns, came after days of intense scrutiny from the news media and attacks from Senator John McCain and Republican Party officials over mortgages Mr. Johnson, a former chief executive of Fannie Mae, received on favorable terms from the Countrywide Financial Corporation, the mortgage company that was a central player in the subprime lending crisis. Mr. Johnson also faced questions about his role on compensation committees that awarded large payouts to corporate executives.

    His resignation highlights the difficulties for Mr. Obama’s campaign in trying to live up to his promises to remain independent of the Washington establishment and the special interests that populate it.

    Obama Aide Quits Under Fire for His Business Ties By John M. Broder and Leslie Wayne. New York Times. June 12, 2008. P. A1. Consulted June 12, 2008.

    If we want change, we must be willing to risk other paths that have not been taken. But do we want to take them blindly, as though we had learned nothing from the paths that were taken?

    But he did wrong. He doesn't deserve t be involved in leadership now. How do we know that? If we do not trust our leaders to judge the remorse for past wrongs and still learn from those wrongs, perhaps it is the accountability at the time of "wrongdoing" that needs to be addressed. A path that provides no forgiveness locks off much learning we have to be willing to undertake if we want change.

    Perhaps we need to talk about the timing of accountability and new approaches to retribution for failed accountability. Consider that "corporate criminals" have been sent out to use their "skills" for the good of the community. Doesn't that make more sense that refusing to consider what they learned? jeanne

  • Site Map and Archives updates.

    • Have given up briefly on the sitemap because my graphics tablet died, and have to get a new one. Then I'll go back to the site map problem where links aren't live on the web version of the sitemap. I'd like to use this feature to accomodate the different levels of info readers are seeking on different issues.

Visual Sociology

  • Inside the Gates, Outside the Gates. Where Does the Community Grow?

    • Structure, Infrastructure, Access (or NO ACCESS)

      Towers with Electricity and Water - NYTimes photo of India's growing wealth gap, 06/09/2008.
      Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

      Towers with Electricity and Water

      "Hamilton Court is just one of the exclusive gated communities that have blossomed across India in recent years. Many of the communities are pressed up against the slums that serve them."

      Shantytown with NO Electricity and Running Water - NYTimes photo of India's growing wealth gap, 06/09/2008.
      Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

      Shantytown with NO Electricity and Running Water

      "An army of maids and chauffeurs live in Chakkarpur, a vast shantytown across the street from Hamilton Court"

      No Electricity for Pump - No Running Water - NYTimes photo of India's growing wealth gap, 06/09/2008.
      Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

      No Electricity for Pump - No Running Water

      "Shefali Das filled a bucket of water from her supply in a large plastic drum. Regular power failures mean the water pumps cannot be turned on."

      Running Water, Air Conditioning, Access - NYTimes photo of India's growing wealth gap, 06/09/2008.

      Running Water, Air Conditioning, Access

      "Inside the nearby gated community of Hamilton Court, Aditya Chand has modern amenities."


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