Monday, February 28, 2011

postmodernists and climate change

In denying the objective validity of science and reducing it to one narrative among a wide fields of unstable narratives, have postmodernists greased the wheels for climate change denialism?

Chris Mooney doesn't think so. He is responding to Judith Warner's New York Times Magazine piece by Judith Warner (who misattributes postmodernism to the left, where it's never, technically been), in arguing that the far right appropriated the anti-foundationalist discourse of postmodernity in their attack on science.

Mooney jokes:
Can you picture James Inhofe citing Derrida or Foucault? The very idea is comical.
But more seriously, he writes that climate deniers do believe in objective truth--just not the objective truth of contemporary science. There's no overriding, systemically consistent reason for their position. It's more pre-modern than postmodern. I don't really have any strong disagreement with Mooney's position here. But it may be possible that intellectuals who have ridden the right's coattails, who author carefully coded "intelligent design" treasises and cite Heidegger and Nietzsche in the service of radical orthodoxy do, in fact, deploy postmodernist thinking in their attack on science. Such intellectuals may contribute to the anti-scientific attitude of rank-and-file Christians who know little to nothing about the foundational poles of the overall debate. It's also important to remember that the scientific method, when properly deployed, is an instantiation of democracy, while a certain strain of religious postmodernism is both deeply anti-scientific and hostile to cosmopolitan democracy.

Finally, I posed the question at the top of this post on my Facebook page earlier, and received some extremely thoughtful responses:

"Yes, amongst other things, in fact I believe that in promoting the Many Truths narrative they have helped the Right define the debate in their favor."

"Um, no. If you don't understand that science is unstable, you don't understand science, IMHO. There's a difference between instability and complete indeterminacy. In that difference, the entire world lies."

"I suspect the vast majority of climate change deniers have never heard of postmodernism or think it's a communist plot."

"Habermas makes that argument. I don't buy it. The problem with science in the U.S. comes from evangelicals, and they are hardly postmodernists. There are many more relativists/postmodernists in Europe and a much higher belief in science."

"For an interesting read on the question see Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry, 30 (2003). Latour is one of the original critique of science people."

"And besides capital "S"cience is a narrative science itself is a method of inquiry while postmodernism(s) can call into question the big Truth claims that people think science makes but science isnt concerned wit...h the Ultimate truths that say religion or philosophy is. Only the best truth that fits the available evidence. In this respect science in its always unfinished-- constantly revisiable-- self reflexive-- process oriented methodology is and has always been the paragon of post modernity."

1 comment:

Joe said...

And here's another article that makes the "postmodernism = climate-denial" argument in a shallow and unreflective manner: