【by Kantaro Ohashi, June 2022】
Two decades after the Millennium, people in modern society are now facing a new kind of problem regarding what is going on around us. In the traditional context of philosophy, truth and falsehood have to be distinguished clearly to make judgements: Philosophers, sometimes continue infinitely to interrogate their antagonist through dialogue (like Socrates), sometimes seek the groundings of judgements in the name of “critique” (like Kant). However, as is already known, the frontier between true and false becomes more ambiguous: the arrival of the Post-Truth Era. And from the point of view of the history of philosophy, there are some arguments which attribute its philosophical cause to the rise of “New Criticism” or “Post-modern Philosophy” in the 1960s.
According to Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre, it is scientists or philosophers of science who attacked post-modern theory as the denier of objective truth. The famous “Sokal Hoax”, publication of a parody paper full of postmodernism clichés by physician Alan Sokal, shows a typical scientist’s point of view toward postmodern theories: postmodern theories are considered as mere play or pastiche of the terms without any objective reality. (It seems now to be more ironical that the title of Sokal’s false paper is “Transgressing the Boundaries”!)
While Sokal’s affair remains a strong objection to some tendency of modern critical theory which seems to allow any interpretations in a Nietzschean manner, these affairs, called “Science Wars,” produce another heavy consequence around the true-false question. McIntyre designates this trend in the form of a question: “can postmodernism be used by anyone who wants to attack science?” This is certainly one “philosophical” source of the Post-Truth situations but it has to be also emphasized, it is only one of the diverse causes of the disturbance of our days. For, at least in its birth, postmodern theory is counter movement against the authentic academic cultures, and it just aims at liberating the potentiality of intellectual works toward more widespread area of human culture and civilization. The problem is that their weapon to liberate certain intellectual attitude is “smuggled” in other ideological domain to propagate more radical and biased policies.
McIntyre takes up right-wing ideologues who want to object to scientific claims such as evolution, heliocentric theory, climate change, etc. They want to, and can attack “not only science but any sort of evidence-based reasoning”. And post-modern theory, especially its rhetoric, gives them a method which can neutralize general trust in science and its evidence. As an example of influences from postmodern theory toward anti-scientific opinion, McIntyre cites a case of ID theory (Intelligent Design Creationism), a pseudo-scientific theory which claims Christian-based Creation against Darwinian evolutionism. We can recognize a kind of “deconstructionism” in the rhetoric of Phillip E. Johnson, one of the co-founders of ID theory.
The meanings of post-truth posed by McIntyre can be thus summarized as something which suspends the accepted value of scientific knowledge and gives rooms for pseudo- (or non-) scientific assertion to circulate. Postmodern theory, once becoming Post-truth rhetoric, makes it possible to declare whatever can be declared to support undemonstrated “opinion” on the pretext of the plurality of interpretations, regardless of its veracity. And it would be an influential political method which can produce countless “fake news” to justify unjustifiable matters. Moreover, what is worse, recent situations around “post-truth” or “fake news” are more and more accelerated and make things more complicated. Here I try to give brief descriptions on the contemporary trend in three points.
1. One recent development of post-truth can be seen in total confusion between what is called truth and what is called false. The French newspaper Le Monde, in its web article about Ukraine wars in the 18th May 2022, had a sensational heading: “Vers une épidémie de «vrake news», ces vraies infos qualifiées de fausses par ceux que ça arrange? (Toward an epidemic of ‘vrake news’, true information qualified as false by those who like it).” We can find here a neologism “vrake”, which means at once “fake” and “true” (“vrai” in French).
According to Nicolas Santolaria, the author of this article, the word “vrake news” signifies the opposite case of “fake news”: it is true information intentionally considered false whose interpretation is normally led by autocratic power. Santolaria suggests two recent cases: One is that of Egypt where three TikTokers who criticized the rapid inflation in their country are arrested for spreading false information and endangering terrorism, and the other is that of Russia where those who talk in public about “wars” or “invasions” against Ukraine are considered to be propagandists of “false information” and be arrested or imprisoned. In both cases, true information based on reality is denied as false, and we can find here a new aspect around the phenomena of “fake news” or “post-truth”.
2. Another development of post-truth is recognized in the propagation of conspiracy theories. Stéphane François, historian and political scientist in France, wrote a dozen of books about the historical formation of modern and contemporary conspiracy theories. For example, in Le Complot cosmique (The Cosmic Conspiracy) in 2010, Stéphane François and Emmanuel Kreis discuss three modern mythologies, that is to say, occultism, Nazism, and saucerism (in other words, “ufology”) as preparations for contemporary conspiracy theory which never cease to develop from the 1980s. For example, the combination of the Nazism and occultism are seen in the first film of the Indiana Jones series (1982). Or, in the film Iron Sky (2012), we can find the mixture of Nazism and ufology in the plot: the remnants of the Nazis plan to take back at their secret base on the moon. Here the Nazis party can be identified with an invading alien from outer space. As Jean-Bruno Renard points out in the preface of Le Complot cosmique, worldviews of these popular culture products are fabricated through the so-called “bricolage (do-it-yourself)”, a concept attributed to Levi-Strauss. François and Kreis ascribe the birth of contemporary conspiracy theory to the “rejected knowledge” whose meanings don’t consist in scientific or positive method at all, especially in reading authentic texts. Conspiracy theory is thus considered as something like cement that makes it possible to construct improbable hybridity of different discourses, while ufology, enables those who believe in it to challenge the results of official scientific facts. Moreover, as this kind of occultism is associated with New Right politics, its movement finally forms an anti-scientific and conservative political group.
As for the radical ecology against climate change, François indicates the same conspirative structure which can be recognized from a leftist point of view. In this case, he discusses the antimodernist character of today’s radical ecology which consists of esoterism, anti-Christianism, and a kind of “deep ecology”. Apart from the Christian point of view, they find the essence of Nature in pantheistic neo-paganism which has a similar structure of far-right conspiracy theory.
3. The third aspect of post-truth situation can be seen in what we call “identitarian politics”. Identitarian is originally the name of alt-right movements started in the early 2000s in France, which mainly consist in emphasizing the racial superiority of white-male-European and excluding people who believe in a particular religion. This movement continues, for example, as a form of cultural appropriation by white supremacists. Curtis Dozier takes up a case of the recent appropriation of the Greco-Roman antiquity by white supremacist hate groups through online media. Dozier points out the difficulty to weaken these appropriations based on false knowledge, because the effects of the objection from the specialists are forced to be limited: they need to demolish the blind respect for the past through their detailed research, but they have to at the same time undermine the idealization of the historical past, which furnishes the authorized values to their academic works. Of course, as is seen in the ufology case, fictional imagination or cultural products based on them have a great influence to fortify their prejudices
In all cases, the recent development of online media or SNS has a great influence on the propagation of false or uncertified information. Internet discourse space has become, not only cement which could combine any extreme opinions but also one flat field where everyone makes his or her statements without any risk. The “facts” becomes refutable as “opinion”, as if they are all equivalent to other information: all the words and phrases seem to be “equal” once they appear on the web sphere. Though they might have the same informative value as digital data, it doesn’t necessarily assure its veracity at all.
From an Asian point of view, Japanese cyberspace culture was, and is still now, responsible for this situation: the origin of the anonymous bulletin board culture on the web could be attributed to Japanese cyberspace inventions, for example, to 2chan (it has now changed to 5chan in Japan or 4chan in the U.S). It has to be severely questioned if the misogynic and anti-“normie” tendency be implicated in their “philosophy” of technology, because some supremacist thoughts were developed, and are still now developing, through the mainstream of the online culture, that is, as the film Social Network (2010) shows, a very product of nerdy Tech culture. Rumors, conspiracy theories, or any other malicious feelings manifested only to take pride in those who are losing supremacy, are always wiggling underground. Sometimes they form a great wave of racist, misogynist, or other opinions full of prejudices. This can be considered as a today’s upgraded Esoteric system. Then, what kind of views, especially various “opinions” on the web, should be taken seriously? It is an urgent question now that the frontiers between truth and falsehood are becoming more and more obscure.
We can pick up three characteristic factors which perturb our judgements in the Post-Truth era: Online environments suitable for diffusion and concealment, occultism of those who believe their beliefs (often vain or groundless in many cases), and science-fictional or fantastic imagination easily fortified by popular culture products. All of these could blur the scientific or historical facts.
I just try to roughly conclude this article by focusing on one human’s undoubtable matter: the dead body. Even when the precise contexts of the Russian-Ukraine war are still hard to understand especially through the journalism in Japan, we can slightly tell according to various reports that the treatment of a dead soldier’s body seems to be equivalent to both camps. Disregards to the corpse are to be criticized, for whatever reason. Looking at the corpse, or recognizing the existence of the dead body, whether directly or through media, might bring us strong feelings beyond an ordinary conscience restricted in daily life in one nation. It is, of course, ironic that we respect human value after its death, but for now, it seems to me, these incidents give me glimpses of the existence of humanity. I want to think about the aesthetico-ethical bet of the dead body materialism as a transformed version of the Antigone question.
Kantaro Ohashi, Kobe University, Japan
 Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth, MIT Press, 2018, pp. 123-50.
 McIntyre (2018), p. 133.
 McIntyre (2018), p. 134.
 McIntyre (2018), p. 134. See also Pennock’s article McIntyre cites. Cf. Robert Pennock, “The Postmodern Sin of Intelligent Design Creationism,” Scienceand Education 19 (2010), pp. 757–78.
 Stéphane François et Emmanuel Kreis, Le Complot cosmique, Archè Milano, 2010, pp. 20-21.
 Stéphane François, Le retour de Pan, Archè Milano, 2016.
 Curtis Dozier, “Hate Groups and Greco-Roman Antiquity Online”, in Far-Right Revisionism and the End of History, edited by Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia, Routledge, 2020, pp. 251-69.
 For example, Russia and Ukraine “swapped” the bodies of victims in June. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ukraine-russia-body-swap-azovstal/
Barbéris, Isabelle. Panique Identitaire. P.U.F., 2022.
François, Stéphane. Le néo-paganisme: une vision du monde en plein essor. Edition de La Hutte, 2012.
François, Stéphane. Le retour de Pan. Archè., Milano, 2018.
François, Stéphane, et Emmanuel Kreis. Le Complot cosmique. Archè Milano, 2010.
McIntyre, Lee. Post-Truth. MIT Press, 2016.
Nagel, Angela. Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-right. Zero Books, 2017.
Pennock, Robert. “The Postmodern Sin of Intelligent Design Creationism.” Science and Education 19 (2010): 757-78.
Valencia-Garcia, Louie Dean, ed. Far-Right Revisionism and the End of History. Routledge, 2020.