Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 3 (2017)

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Understanding in a Post-Truth World? Com-prehension and Co-naissance as Empathetic Antidotes to Post-Truth Politics

Andrew Trevor Kirkpatrick


The election of Donald Trump and the accompanying alt-right fervor of fake news and alternative facts has brought into focus the so-called post-truth era. This paper argues that the term ‘post-truth’ amounts to little more than the mainstream articulation of the postmodern condition, or what Frederic Jameson calls ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism.’ Accordingly, I contend that the post-truth era does not reflect an absence of truth, but rather its inverse; it involves a proliferation of truths. The thoroughly postmodern ‘marketplace of ideas’ has seen truth reduced to a ‘thing’ that can be packaged and sold in order to meet individual preferences. Though this is often veiled as a ‘democratization of truth’, the tendency of markets to manufacture demand has resulted in the production of competing, surplus truths, which are then sold at the lowest, most efficient price possible. I contend that this oversimplification of reality has paved the way for an individual like Trump to assert himself politically. Importantly, such a simplified approach to truth can only occur when we assume that truth is a static ‘thing’ or ‘object’. What this attitude betrays is an underlying ontological commitment to being. In light of this, it is argued that missing from post-truth politics are attempts at understanding. Unlike truth, understanding is taken as a dialectical movement that assumes an ontology of becoming. Through appeals to Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty, it is argued that understanding is much more than an intellectual process by which we come to know things; it is also the mode through which nature produces itself. This becoming of nature can be explained in terms of com-prehension and co-naissance—as literally a ‘co-grasping’, ‘co-birth’ or ‘co-knowing’. In light of this, understanding will be presented as an empathetic alternative to truth and the mode through which we can overcome the stasis afflicting cultural and political life.

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