Sunday, October 10, 2004

Derrida Derided

The death of famous french filosopher and giant haemorroid, Jacques Derrida, was commented on by Laban Tall. Samizdata also noted it, provoking an excellent summation of his work by Al Maviva:

While Derrida wasn't quite as damaging as the likes of Gramsci or Marcuse, but he was the footman that helped provide their bad ideas with philosophical cover in the academy, the media and the law. While the neo-Marxists argued that we needed to privilege the fool over the wise mad, the lunatic over the sane, the criminal over the cop, Derrida laid the philosophical groundwork (now widely accepted in the academy) that all observations are subjective, a mere produce of perspective. Derrida attacked truth at its most fundamental level, not arguing that it didn't exist, but arguing that it couldn't because even if it did, there was no way to express it. Starting with Aristotle's discussion of "strange words" and "familiar words" (the way a word spelled one way can mean different things at different times to different people) Derrida concluded that words had no fixed meaning. Sure, words have some play in them, but according to Derrida, if I say "stop" and to me it means "cease and desist" while to you it invokes the notion of traffic lights, then the concept of "stopping" cannot exist, and even if it did, there would be no way to communicate it. This laid the groundwork for the likes of Edward Said's revisionism of middle eastern anthropology, for queer studies, for an intellectual revolution as shoddy as the would-be student revolution of '68, and ultimately, for the binning of our Western cultural heritage. The ultimate conclusion of the coordinated assault on objective truth is the ipse dixit credo of the student revolutionary - that power is truth, and as long as I (the student revolutionary) am not in power, than what society says is "true" is false.

In Derrida's world, there can be no objective truth. Yes, this ignores the falsifiable fact that in the real physical world, chemical interactions and physics (and even sometimes math) do not work out precisely accurately, and that we accept "close enough" as true. What Derrida's philosophy missed entirely, is that it ain't a perfect world out there, and for all practical purposes, close is good enough. Sure, "stop" means different things to different people, but as long as we all have a notion of what it means, stop signs work well enough to keep the roads in order. Likewise, winners do sort of write the history books, but the only reason we can say that is that the underlying premise is that there is an objective truth out there, and the winners aren't writing that truth into the history books. Without that premise of an objective truth, the whole argument fails. It's that simple - there must be objective truth, or something quite like it, or nothing around us would work. Living in the margins of the meanings and connotations and play in words, Derrida was impossible to refute in argument - the word "is" doesn't even always mean "is", as we've found out in the last few years.

Yep, the only way to defeat Derrida's argument was to walk around the room, stub your toe, and wonder if there's no such thing as objective truth, why you can't wish away the hurt. That's right - reality itself is the refutation to Derrida's arguments.

In the end, his death is the refutation of his life. What say you now, Jacques? Hmmm... nothing... I suppose some of your more fanatical worshipers in the academy may now wonder if you ever existed...

Ultimately, not long after 9/11, Derrida apologized for the horror he had wrought. He stated in a lecture that he hadn't meant for what he said to be taken seriously, he was just playing around. Evidently, the ramifications of having helped to destroy the West's self-confidence were just starting to sink in, as he looked east and saw a rising Islamofascist tide. I won't say that I hope he rots in hell for what he did - I wouldn't wish that on him. But a few hundred millenia spent in purgatory pondering the error of his ways, and how his work served to rock the foundations out of the societal structures we rely on to stave off the bestial chaos of the natural order, would probably be in heaven's best interest. Derrida spent his life tearing down those things that stand between us and disorder - the culture, the state, the church, and the timeless values that we in the west hold dear. Assuming there is an afterlife and it comes with perfect knowledge, as most Christian sects and many non-Christian sects hypothesize, it seems that spending a long time contemplating one's own errors would be a most fitting punishment.

In Derrida's case, merely contemplating the fact that there is such as thing as an error, should be sufficient. And if there is such a thing as justice in the universe, it will be for a precise term of years, not one jot more, nor less. That alone will chafe him mercilessly.

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