In light of Joel's excellent piece on Dawkins et al., and Echidne's smackdown of the latest pseudoscience from professional troll
Sacha Simon Baron-Cohen, I think it's time for me to
rearticulate my problems with Enlightenment-style rationality.
Don't think I'm in any way an enemy of reason. I adore logic, reason, systematics, scientific principles (there's a reason my brother calls me The Spock). Unfortunately, the Enlightenment pursuit of pure reason, though I'm sure thoroughly noble in intent, gave rise to the most pernicious evil to plague modernist thought: the myth of objectivity.
For example, my own interest in debunking bad science is intricately entwined with my feminism, anti-racism, etc. I freely admit that it's agenda-driven, because it stems from my most basic, deeply-held convictions about the world (the personhood, equality, dignity, and rights of every human individual).
Every act of the intellect, whether it's science or a reading of the Bible, has as its foundations certain assumptions about the world. It couldn't exist otherwise. Any claim to a value-free, unbiased, objective study of anything is at worst totally mendacious and at best coming from a place of unexamined privilege. Hell, if there's one incontrovertible sign of unexamined privilege, it's a belief in your own objectivity.
Think about some of the things that have been considered Totally Objective Reason-Based Agenda-Free Science:
- That women's delicate ladybrains were inherently inferior to men's
- That black people were biologically inferior to white people
- That trans people were only really trans if they conformed to very rigid gender roles – otherwise they were just confused
And many, many more, many of which still sadly have a grip on the fevered imaginations of certain privilege-denying populations, and all of which have been thoroughly debunked by rigorous deconstruction of their agendas.
This is the true value of postmodernism: that it debunks the myth of objectivity by acknowledging that the observer is also an actor. Meaning, we say in postmodern lit theory, is constructed at the moment of interaction between reader and text; which means that any interpretation is as much a product of the reader as of the text, and any honest reading has to acknowledge what it is the reader is bringing to the table. There's no such thing as “just what's there” – there's only what you see.
The same is absolutely true of scientific inquiry. I'm not saying the methods of rationality aren't sound – I'm saying that, as commonly applied, they don't go far enough. Even as you turn that laser-like judgment and doubt onto the subject under critical inquiry, turn it also onto yourself.