The comic above requires a certain degree of dexterity with philosophical language. But, this quote by the archeologist, William G. Dever might help.
“This is simply extreme skepticism, another example of the pervasive influence of postmodernism, a theory of knowledge according to which there is no knowledge; there are no facts, only interpretations–and one interpretation is as good as any other.
“Such nihilism cannot produce a history of anything. As Michel Foucault, one of postmodernism’s major gurus and a would-be historian, once admitted, ‘I am well aware that I have never written anything but fictions.'”
As an archeologist, Dever writes about his discipline, and about his specialty, which happens to be archeology of various parts of the Middle East, particularly the Syro-Phoenician-Judean areas. In another quote, he says the following very clear warning of what post-modernism has led to in the fields of history and archeology.
“As a consequence, the current fad … is something called ‘cultural memory.’ That is, the question is no longer, ‘What actually happened in history?’ but rather, ‘How was the story transmitted and transformed into “cultural meaning”?’ ‘Cultural memory’ would eclipse history writing as most practicing historians (and come archeologists) have traditionally seen it. It’s a cop-out, in my opinion, a counsel of despair.”
Fake News, or more accurately, the constant charges of fake news–along with extensive conspiracy histories of various events–are the stepchildren of postmodernism. We do not realize the extreme destruction that postmodernism has wrought on the “real” world. Because, for postmodernism there is no “real” world. All is interpretation. At its beginnings, postmodernism appeared to give us a way out of modernism. Modernism had produced a scientism, an emphasis on only what can be checked. Spirituality can be neither proven nor disproven. But, in practice modernism led to a purely secularist worldview in which not only could spirituality not be proven or disproven, spirituality did not exist. An overemphasis on rationality, logic, and “neutral” thinking produced an inappropriate certainty, and made many unable to perceive cultural and other biases.
Postmodernism dealt a serious blow to modernism, in that it showed how much of what we believe is based on interpretative frameworks that are affected by cultural membership, life experiences, etc. It appeared to show a way out of modernism. But now, decades later, postmodernism itself has led to another dead end. Postmodernism has almost made history impossible, or any common conception of history. Science has been affected in that what is scientifically proven is severely under attack. The emphasis of postmodernism that there are no facts, only interpretation, has meant just that. There are no facts. If there are no facts, then there is no history and no science. And, there is no real news, only interpretations about news.
In one sense, there is not even fake news because there is no true news. We talk and accuse each other of fake news, but there is only interpretation. In passing, originally fake news was used to mean only news that could clearly be shown to be made up news. But, within an extremely short time this has come to mean nothing more than news with which I disagree. The bright hope of postmodernism has become just as illusory as the hope of modernism. Modernism hoped to ground reality in the provable. Postmodernism hoped to free reality from an unreasonable expectation of the provable. Instead it simply has semi-destroyed reality. Any comment anyone makes can simply be neutralized by claiming that their statement represents a sexist or a homophobic or a liberal or a leftist viewpoint. It is not even a tactic. There has been a pervasive loss in the belief that we can agree on any type of reality. Part of the increasing split between left and right can be laid directly at the feet of postmodernism in that postmodernism has made it both impossible to agree on a narrative and possible to believe what you wish. What people today miss is not that postmodernism made it possible to believe what you wish, but that postmodernism would claim that what you believe is no more true or false than what your political opposite believes.
But, worse, if all your beliefs are purely interpretative, then there is no way to really convince the other. So, you might as well simply try to overpower the opposite and impose your interpretative belief. What we see more and more in politics is precisely that. There is no real attempt to really convince the other. There is only the use of propaganda to get votes and overpower the other. The loss of modernism made it possible for groups–such as African-Americans–to communicate that their experience of American was vastly different than the white middle-class experience of America. The rise of postmodernism has meant that this reality matters less and less. It’s just your opinion, nothing more. The victory of postmodernism has meant that I can simply say that my interpretation is right because I choose to say that, live with it! In fact, your interpretation is fake news because I say so. If I choose to call you Hitler, it is my narrative, you cannot disprove it. If I choose to say that communists are really fascists, why it is true because I say so. You cannot disprove it. You can even insist that your interpretation is correct because it is so obvious I am wrong, and I have no way to debate you.
Unless the postmodernist philosophy falls, we are in for worse times rather than better. We cannot return to modernism. It also was an extreme. But, after both the modernist and postmodernist waves, we are devolving into a pragmatic secularism in which I simply want to feel comfortable. Worse, there is a loss of anything resembling truth. Modernists wanted to base truth purely on provable facts. Spirituality and the non-provable were neither true nor not-true. They were another category outside of truth. Needless to say, that quickly made them not-true in the mind of many. Postmodernism showed us the lacks of that approach. But, they simply made everything neither true and not-true. If modernism limited truth; postmodernism destroyed truth.
Deever has commented that we must construct a new way of recounting history and putting together theoretical constructs. He is right. In the meantime, we are in for increasing problems. The worst part is that it takes decades for a new philosophical approach to take hold. So, I will probably not get to see the new construct, assuming one is developed.