I was eagerly awaiting Steve Fuller’s latest book, POST-TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game. Fuller has already published online numerous extracts, articles, conferences, and teasers, and the book provides a useful synthesis and further working out of many of his recently expressed ideas on this subject.
I will be reading Steve Fuller’s book and discussing its theses and ideas in parallel with Bruno Latour’s abortive (and now-abandoned by him) post-truth AIME project (book and website), as expressed in his post-critical ontological treatise AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. (I call AIME an abandoned project because there is no real philosophical follow up and re-articulation of its ideas. Latour seems to have used it as a long-winded legitimation for his « political » interventions. The book is a conceptual mess, and his AIME site is an even bigger hyper-textual mess).
The deconstruction of academic postures of certainty and authority began well before its purported philosophical origins, as Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault and Feyerabend emphasised when discussing the origins of their work. The democratisation of this anti-institutional « deconstruction in the real » leads to what Steve Fuller calls the « anti-expert turn ».This is a slightly misleading term, as Fuller is describing and commenting on the turn against according immediate and absolute authority to experts.
Paul Feyerabend is an interesting precursor of this anti- cognitive authoritarian turn, as can be seen in his article « Experts in a Free Society« .
Bruno Latour’s AIME project is a reaction against this turn, beginning his book by an appeal to « trust in the institution of science ». From the very beginning I criticised the AIME project as élitist, taking Kuhnian normal science as a model to be generalised to multiple « modes of existence ». I argued that experts reigned supreme in this model and that there was no place for the protest of the lay people. I cited Steve Fuller’s notion of « protscience » and argued that it should be generalised to all of Bruno Latour’s modes. In particular I remarked that the word « protest » was almost entirely absent from the AIME book. We know that Latour gives short shrift to « critique ».
Interestingly Bruno Latour did not respond directly to my criticism of his project as too Kuhnian but proceeded to feature « protest » on his website as if it had always been his second favourite word. However, this use of the word did not refer to the protest of lay people but to the « protestation of experience », an abstraction observed and legitimated by « experts ». A significant sign of this cognitive authoritarian undertone is to be found in Latour’s views on the religious mode of existence, where the « protestation of experience » is to be mediated by priests and pastors, not by the faithful.
This rhetorical (one can hardly call it argumentative) strategy of neutralising potential criticism by turning a deaf ear and then surreptitiously incorporating a watered down version is itself a post-truth manoeuvre, one that tries to remain undetected. Further, by separating truth from reference and multiplying the modes of veridiction Latour gives the impression of side-stepping the « post-truth » condition in Steve Fuller’s sense at the very moment that he both confirms it and tries to contain it.