File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-03-16.132, message 13

Date: Fri, 14 Mar 1997 13:57:50 -0500
Subject: M-I: Re: M-SCI: A Fear of the Future

At 11:27 AM -0500 3/14/97, Shawn P. Wilbur wrote:

>However, if the Sokal hoax and the horribly (and willfully) confused
>anti-"pomo" reaction are other examples of this defense of the
>Enlightenment, then the battle is probably lost. As much fun as it is to
>poke fun at a certain style of academic tomfoolery, it certainly ought to
>be clear enough to those actively concerned with the legacies of Marx and
>the Enlightenment that Sokal's "parody" neatly circumvents any rational
>response, effectively challenges no positions, allows us all to confirm
>whatever it was we believed before - and lets us puts off the real
>material analysis which ought to be our concern, regarding the actual
>conditions and relations of production of "knowledge" in the realm of
>educational work.

Certainly there is nothing "positive" in Sokal's prank, but it did mighty
work in unmasking the fraudulence of a whole school of self-identified
leftist thought. A gang of theorists pretended to theorize about how
science is done - the construction of Truth by Power and all that other
chic Foucaultian stuff; the racist masculinist nature of scientific process
and "truth"; the treatment of scientific knowledge as fundamentally
conventional, no different in type from "truths" of the social sciences;
etc. etc. Now of course power does shape truth, and science has been
dominated by white guys, and scientific truth is provisional and comes with
lots of social baggage. But many, if not most, of the people doing critical
science studies - who are collected with Sokal in that embarrassing issue
of Social Text - seem not to know much science. My friend Stanley Aronowitz
wrote in his contribution that scientific medicine had done as much harm as
good in the 20th century. This is profoundly demented and wrong. He was, we
remember, an "enthusiastic partisan" of Sokal's piece.

The parody doesn't circumvent rational response. Most of the responses,
though, have been professions of bruised feelings, betrayed solidarity. In
the Nation piece, Hubbard - another contributor to the ST ish, who in her
piece argues that the notion of there being two sexes isn't biological but
a social construction (the .01% of us born intersexed are proof that we're
in the presence of another of those intolerable binaries) - reacts with a
thoughtless No! to cloning. You might as well say No! to fire. The left
these days is big on thoughtless No!s: No! to NAFTA, No! to structural
adjustment. We're terrible on saying just what we're for. Yeah science is
often used to kill and exploit, but scientific thought and practice are one
of humanity's greatest achievements. Most of the people who look at it
critically from the left aren't up to the task. I don't know where to go
>from here, but it's time to get started.

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