In which I am reminded of Latour…

In a recent “interview” on CNN, John McCain speaks of facts.

While watching, I think “Aren’t we tired of facts?” and I am reminded of Latour writing in the introduction of Making Things Public, (pp 9-11) about Powell and the Iraq War:

“Facts and forces, in spite of so many vibrant declarations, always walk in tandem. The problem is that transparent, unmediated, undisputable facts have recently become rarer and rarer. To provide complete undisputable proof has become a rather messy, pesky, risky business…”

“Mr. Powell, given what you have done with facts, we would much prefer you to leave them aside and let us instead compare mere assertions with one another. Don’t worry, even with such an inferior type of proof we might nonetheless come to a conclusion, and this one will not be arbitrarily cut short?” 

For many critically minded scholars and citizens of the world, we would to spend less time on facts and perhaps more on ethics, “matters-of-concern,” and a “new eloquence”.

“This is what we wish to attempt: Where matters-of-fact have failed, let’s try what I have called matters-of-concern. What we are trying to register here in this catalog is a huge sea change in our conceptions of science, our grasps of facts, our understanding of objectivity. For too long, objects have been wrongly portrayed as matters-of-fact. This is unfair to them, unfair to science, unfair to objectivity, unfair to experience. They are much more interesting, variegated, uncertain, complicated, far reaching, heterogeneous, risky, historical, local, material and networky than the pathetic version offered for too long by philosophers. Rocks are not simply there to be kicked at, desks to be thumped at. “Facts are facts are facts”? Yes, but they are also a lot of other things in addition. 

And especially for Mr. McCain:

“For those like Mr. Powell, who have long been accustomed to getting rid of all opposition by claiming the superior power of facts, such a sea change might be met with cries of derision: “relativism,” “subjectivism,” “irrationalism,” “mere rhetoric,” “sophistry”! They might see the new life of facts as so much subtraction. Quite right! It subtracts a lot of their power because it renders their lives more difficult. Think of that: They might have to enter into the new arenas for good and finally make their point to the bitter end. They might actually have to publicly prove their assertions against other assertions and come to a closure without thumping and kicking, without alternating wildly between indisputable facts and indisputable shows of terror. We wish to explore in this catalog many realist gestures other than just thumping and kicking. We want to imagine a new eloquence. Is it asking too much of our public conversation? It’s great to be convinced, but it would be even better to be convinced by some evidence. 

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4 thoughts on “In which I am reminded of Latour…

  1. it is asking too much of our kluged together cognitively-biased brains which when confronted with facts that are contradicted by our faith-commitments (religious and otherwise) just get re-entrenched and even hostile…

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    • heh, yeah that’s the cosmopolitan bias, unfortunately it’s often paired with a tendency to prefer reasoned debate to political organizing (being right to winning if you will) so I would welcome any mind-hacks that people might have to get us back in the political game of governance as we’re getting killed on these fronts in ways which are as you say adding fuel to the fire.

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