Understanding in a post-truth world: Comprehension and co-naissance as empathetic antidotes to post-truth politicsl
journal contributionposted on 2017-01-01, 00:00 authored by Andrew Kirkpatrick
The election of Donald Trump and the accompanying alt-right fervor of fake news and alternative facts has brought into focus the so-called post-truth era. In this paper I argue that the term 'post-truth' amounts to little more than the mainstream articulation of the postmodern condition, or what Frederic Jameson called 'the cultural logic of late capitalism'. It is argued that the thoroughly postmodern 'marketplace of ideas' has seen truth reduced to a thing or object to be packaged and sold in order to meet individual preferences, and that this has enabled the notion of post-truth to emerge. It is argued that though this is often veiled as a democratization of truth, the tendency of supply-side economics to manufacture demand has resulted in the production of competing, surplus truths, which are then 'sold' at the lowest, most efficient price possible. In light of this, it is argued that the post-truth era does not reflect an absence of truth, but rather its inverse; it involves the proliferation of truths. However, despite this pluralization, there remains a steadfast commitment to certainty through the implicit assumption that 'truth' reflects an objective standpoint. What this betrays is an underlying ontological commitment to static being. Accordingly, I contend that missing from post-truth politics are attempts at understanding. Unlike truth, understanding is taken as a dialectical movement that assumes an ontology of becoming. Alfred North Whitehead and Maurice Merleau-Ponty both provide ontological schemes in which the becoming of nature can be explained in terms of comprehension and co-naissance - as literally a 'co-grasping,' 'co-birth' or 'co-knowing'. On this view, understanding is taken to be ontologically prior to truth and the mode through which nature produces itself. From this, I argue that understanding - as comprehension and co-naissance - can provide an empathetic alternative to truth, with such an empathetic alternative required if we are to overcome the post-truth stasis afflicting cultural and political life.