Some thoughts on combatting the fascist approach to truth

November 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a Reader:

On September 13, 2017, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Whatever Kimmel’s thinking was, perhaps that Spicer was now going to apologize for being Donald Trump’s shill, for presenting lies as facts, or perhaps expose some of Trump’s bullshit, none of this happened.

In a perfect example of conciliating, collaborating, accommodating with, and normalizing fascism, Kimmel’s questions and mild challenges were allowed to be deflected by Spicer as he explained that he is not distancing himself from Trump, that Trump “has a good heart” and it was Spicer’s job to “represent the president’s voice.” In other words, like a good Nazi, Spicer was only following orders. As a small-time bootlicker with no moral courage, none of this is surprising.

But the most telling statement Spicer made in response to Kimmel’s questions was the following: When pressed on whether facts are facts, Spicer said that people can “look at a set of facts and come to different conclusions, different opinions.” And “Disagreeing with the facts is what makes our country great.” This BS is completely in line with bourgeois ideology and its definition of “free speech” and is completely in line with a fascist approach to “truth.”

What Spicer is peddling here is the philosophy that everyone’s ideas are their personal property, all ideas are valid in the “marketplace of ideas,” and the ideas that win out must be true. But, an actual search for a deeper understanding of reality and for truth is not a goal of the “marketplace of ideas.” The fact that some ideas will have more weight and importance because they come from persons in authority or with more prestige is not questioned, and the result, ultimately, is not truth but “might makes right.”

Bob Avakian has spent serious time in the development of a scientific approach to epistemology because how people think can either enlighten people or paralyze them. In the recent excerpt from Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy ( #509), he says:

Understanding the importance of the “battle of ideas,” of not suppressing unpopular or unconventional thinking, in order to have the richest process in seeking an understanding of reality, and in order for the people in society to feel that they have air to breathe and room to be “different” and to express different ideas: this is a crucial dimension of the kind of society that we want to live in and that masses of people would really thrive in; and it is also crucial in order to arrive at the truth in fundamental terms. But there is a vast difference, a crucial distinction, between that and the notion that any individual’s ideas are her/his private property and should in effect operate in competition with other people and their ideas—that all this should contest in a “market place of ideas” to see which one can, to put it rather baldly, command the highest exchange value. This is not the same as determining which one actually contributes the most to getting to the truth, and is not simply an appreciation of the way in which the contestation of ideas will help to create the right atmosphere for the kind of society we want, but it gives expression to the notion of ideas as commodities, competing to command a greater remuneration, in one way or another (even if this is not always directly monetary). So, too, the notions and the practice of “intellectual property rights” are an extension of, or are bound up with, the idea of “the free market place of ideas.”

A perfect example of the “free marketplace of ideas” in which “might makes right” is the battle for Berkeley. In order to protect the right of fascists to speak in favor of ideas that have been proven untrue, the campus was locked down with heavy police presence and fascists were offered thousands of dollars to speak. The article by Sunsara Taylor with writing group ( #508 & #509) “Does ‘Free Speech’ TRUMP All Else? A Response to Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ,” breaks down these bourgeois-democratic ideas about free speech and the “marketplace of ideas” and shows the actual harm being done by fascists in the name of “free speech.” This entire article should be studied for the incisive way it slices through these arguments and gets to the heart of the matter:

This is the “free marketplace of ideas” at work in capitalist society, and a good example of why that “marketplace”—like the capitalist market that gives it its metaphor—in actual practice reproduces relations of power and domination, silences the powerless, and contributes to ignorance and/or reactionary thinking on major political and social questions. Arrayed against massive funding, think tanks, control of the media and the academy, those who represent the dispossessed are in most cases effectively rendered voiceless and marginalized unless they shape their ideas to those dominant interests.

Further, it is a myth that the free contestation of ideas—and people’s ability to “compare and contrast” and engage in critical thinking—can ONLY take place through orderly respectful engagement. In cases where, in the face of disproportionate power, influence, and official backing of one side of the contestation (e.g., these fascists, backed by the university administration and ultimately dovetailing with the prevailing ideas of the dominant institutions of society), the other side (in this case the relatively powerless students and others) choosing to resist rather than engage in a “respectful and orderly” way can actually lead to MORE and quite vigorous engagement with the contested ideas in the period following. As stated in “The Middlebury Controversy: Points of Orientation,” “A correct protest can definitely fuel further engagement and contestation, and it is a myth that this just serves to ‘suppress’ ideas!”

These ideological questions: the nature of truth and how to arrive at it vs. the “marketplace of ideas,” the need to engage in critical thinking and to oppose oppressive, in fact fascist, ideology vs. orderly respectful engagement with fascists and their ideas--these are among the ideological questions facing the party and Refuse Fascism as we say NO to fascism in the name of humanity and build a movement that must grow and put an end to the Trump/Pence regime.



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