One of Søren Kierkegaard’s recurrent themes is the importance of subjectivity, which has to do with the way people relate themselves to (objective) truths. What he means by this is that most essentially, truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those matters of fact. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity. Under the postmodern view, the powerful are the most likely to claim objectivity, since they have the most to gain by hiding their use of power and the most power to hide. Thus, the postmodernist would claim that ‘objectivity’ is merely collusion among the powerful to disguise their subjectivity and grant themselves free use of their structural power.
Postmodernism stresses the distinction between objectivity of facts, versus objectivity of knowledge or people. It accepts the possible existence of facts outside human context, but argues that all knowledge is mediated by an individual and that the experiences, biases, beliefs, and identity of that individual necessarily influence how they mediate any knowledge. For Foucault, power and knowledge are not seen as independent entities but are inextricably related – knowledge is always an exercise of power and power always a function of knowledge. “It is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge, it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power.” Power is not something in the hands of the powerful and which the powerless are trying to obtain, rather it is flowing between individuals and institutions. Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it.
At one time the economic elite were content with manipulating the oil market to create spikes in stock value, now they manipulate news stories to influence voters. Since Trump’s become president and even before, David Pecker, Chairman National Enquirer, has been openly willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine, claims one of the people with knowledge of the practice. Trump suggested stories to Pecker on a regular basis, and had access to certain pieces – including one about Hillary Clinton’s health – before publication. The Enquirer’s circulation has plummeted from its nearly 900,000 copies a week 10 years ago to fewer than 300,000 by Dec. 2017. However, the power of the tabloid is not in copies sold but its cover images are displayed in supermarket checkout lines all over the country. Trump had a pipeline into the biggest weekly in America.1
Billionaire Betsy DeVos chairs the American Federation for Children, an organization that promotes “school choice” in the form of education vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and the like. She has also been a force behind the spread of charter schools in Michigan, most of which have recorded student test scores in reading and math below the state average. It was created by an ideological lobby that zealously championed free-market education reform for decades with little regard for the outcome. Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who donated $9.5 million to Trump’s campaign, has never attended a public school or sent her children to one, supports the funding of for-profit Christian schools over public ones. Despite a multitude of recent studies and investigations that show private school voucher schemes are not in the best interest of America’s schoolchildren, Betsy DeVos has listed vouchers as one of her department’s top priorities.
Billionaires do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. Hedge fund billionaire Bob Mercer and his family spent millions in GAI (Government Accountability Institute), Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 campaign to get Trump elected. Hillary Clinton did propose a tax on high-frequency trading of securities, which is reportedly a favorite of Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies. The Mercer Family Foundation gave nearly $3.6 million to Citizens United between 2012 and 2014, which sued for access to Clinton Foundation-related emails and whose president David Bossie also got a senior job on the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica was a data mining and data analysis company supported that obtained the data of 50 million Facebook users, constructed 30 million personality profiles, and sold the data to US politicians seeking election to influence voters, without the users’ consent. Mercer’s investments helped Trump win the 2016 election.
Steve Bannon, executive chairman Breitbart from 2012, stepped down in 2016 and 2017 to help the Trump campaign, then serve in his administration. Under Bannon, Breitbart News Network was never so much a business as it was an ideological vehicle: a “war machine” and a set of “weapons,” its reporters more soldiers than journalists. Bannon co-founded GAI in 2012, which creates so-called, fact-based indictments against major politicians, then shops them to mainstream media outlets to disseminate those findings to the broadest audience. GAI published Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, a fearmongering look at the Clinton finances, was an influential source of talking points for Trump allies during this election cycle, providing fodder for some of Trump’s early salvos against Clinton, and regularly populating the pages of Breitbart.
The Internet market paradigm encourages a subtle and unwitting alignment: These sites sustain themselves by finding like-minded groups and selling information about their behavior; disinformation propagators sustain themselves by manipulating the behavior of like-minded groups. Until this system is restructured, it is unlikely political disinformation operations can be stopped or even slowed. That rebuilding would be enormously difficult, since digital advertising is absolutely central to Internet commerce. The market begins with data analytics. Disinformation campaigns rely heavily on behavioral data tracking – the widespread practice of logging your personal web browsing habits, location data, purchasing patterns and more. This data helps create the community of like-minded people that then grows over time through the messaging and distribution of thousands upon thousands of targeted social media posts, advertisements, promotions and click-throughs. Timely search engine optimization tactics can help push a fake news story to the top of the Google results for an hour, a day or an entire news cycle, in the process misinforming a great many Internet users.
Kierkegaard observes, “Truth always rests with the minority … because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.” Postmodernists believe that the West’s claims of freedom and prosperity continue to be nothing more than empty promises and have not met the needs of humanity. They believe that truth is relative, and truth is up to each individual to determine for himself. With a lack of objectivity, we are not able to objectively discern factual reality from cultural fiction. According to Foucault ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ are created by those in power. What we take to be true is the dominant worldview that we have been provided with: it is received wisdom, not truth. Foucault rejected the idea that society was progressing. The world is not getting better or getting closer to truth, it is just moving through different worldviews.
The community decides what can be regarded as knowledge, therefore power, and what cannot. Power thus circulates throughout society and both creates and is governed by the accepted local practices and discourses within that particular society. One cannot escape power, Foucault argues, power can only be negotiated and resisted from within a local context, and argues that mechanisms of power would be unable to function unless knowledge apparatuses were created, organized and made to circulate – these knowledge apparatuses are not ideological constructs. Power produces what we believe to be our reality through knowledge, however knowledge is also produced by power, as power cannot exist without the discourses produced within a society; but power also governs the creation of these discourses. Foucault observes elites determine, often based on self-interests, the standards of normality. Once one method has been selected over others, alternatives become deviant. This creates tension between the elites and the masses.2
Truth is a necessary condition of ridding the world of post-truth decadence. Note that in this new geography of truth that there are spaces of life that either have little or nothing to do with truth, or where references to truth are simply out of place. Democracy is the best human weapon so far invented for guarding against the ‘illusion of certainty’ and breaking up truth camouflaged monopolies of power, wherever they operate. Democracy reminds us that truths are never self-evident, and what counts as truth is a matter of interpretation. Democracy supposes that no man or woman is good enough to claim they know the truth, and to rule permanently and controlling choices and opportunities of their fellows. We must begin the process to end big money’s grip on politics, then people will be able to create their own form of truth and choose actions and politics to support it.
1 Sarah Ellison (21 June 2018) National Enquirer sent stories about Trump to his attorney Michael Cohen before publication, people familiar with the practice say. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/national-enquirer-sent-stories-about-trump-to-his-attorney-michael-cohen-before-publication-people-familiar-with-the-practice-say/2018/06/21/3978aff4-57a
2 Natasha O’Brien The Written Word. https://natashaob.wordpress.com/philosophy/power-knowledge-right-michel-foucault/