On the subjectivist attack of identity politics against science

Andrés Núñez Leites

1. "There is no truth, and everything is relative, that is, it starts from a point of view and therefore from a specific place in a power relationship", the postmodernist mantra of identity movements, is paradoxically confirmed when in order to criticize them we limit ourselves to pointing out their sources of funding, linked almost without exception to transnational corporate capital.

2. With that flank covered, these movements are attacking the hard sciences, that is, the last trace of some provisional but logically sustainable truths in verifiable data in research. What is the strategy of the attack? On the basis of a tribalist discourse, demand the "equity" of genders, races (?!), gender identities (prolong this list ad infinitum) in the scientific staff to achieve a greater plurality of points of view, as if they depended of said identity "belongings", on the one hand. On the other, question the scientific rationality itself, the attachment to the test, to the data, to the precision, to the replicability, to what in terms of disclosure is called "scientific method", accusing it of being a methodological prolongation of the privilege white, heterosexual, patriarchal, Eurocentric. Any opposition to this attack is repelled precisely by accusing the opponent of the tribal membership assigned to him (white, straight, etc., please complete the list, kind reader) or, if he is part of a minority, for being a Uncle Tom submitted to the hegemony of the dominant tribe. If this is not enough, because the solidity of the data presented by the opponent, appeal is made to the accusation of "epistemological violence", which would mean putting hegemonic scientific rationality before personal and subjective experience or the supposed collective experience of the minority in name of which it is attacked, its subjective but equally valid knowledge, etc.

3. Postmodernism is a kind of second secularization. The first brought down the hypothesis of God at the time of producing knowledge, the second brought down Science directly, which in recent centuries had functioned as a rational substitute for the first absolute. The subjectivism and political tribalism of identity politics, appears as a new and radical political articulation that assumes that God does not exist, that scientific truth does not exist, that what is said is purely arbitrary and dependent on point of view and belonging identity or tribal of the one who says it. Hypocritically, the war machines of the identity groups present their statements as true and not as humble points of view, because the masses, they suppose, continue to believe in the truth, and even do not hesitate to appeal to the arbitrary and subjective nonsense that their positions "are scientifically proven", appealing to the distance between academic production and the general population and their ability to "check" if this is really the case.

4. To attack the foundation of the "point of view" that we mentioned in point (1), the following answer is still valid (which the reader will quickly understand that it leads to a logical loop): "To say that everything is relative and depends on a point of view is also relative because it depends on a point of view ". The appeal to the suffering of the real or supposed demographic or sociological minorities, as a basis for their direct link with the truth, can also be attacked in the same logical way, because it would be an appeal that depends on a point of view, therefore relative. The problem with this logical game is that, once again, it legitimizes the statement in quotation marks in point (1). Some defenders of identity politics have seen this point and have tried to overcome it by proposing an ontological position according to which minorities, by virtue of their historical experience (oppression, suffering, submission, victim status), possess a superior point of view, a direct access to the truth: such is the flimsy underpinning of the feminist standpoint, just as it was, in the 20th century, that of Lukáks's Marxism and his proclamation of the superior cognitive capacity of the proletariat to synthesize (through the communist party obviously) the historical truth and overcome the errors (partial points of view) of the other social classes in the history of mankind. Of course, this is not epistemologically sustainable and it is an act of political faith: none of the conditions inherent to the condition of victims or revolutionaries ensures superior access to the truth in rational and scientific terms.

5. Some conservatives have wanted to rescue the value of science with a utilitarian criterion. If the absence of the hypothesis of God does not allow us to have an ultimate foundation to sustain a truth, and if the fact that we always speak from one point of view is undeniable, we are left with a last resource to save rationality and avoid pure subjectivist and tribal warfare: to consider true what is useful, that is, what works. The problem with this solution is that there are things, including ideas that are the product of magical thinking, for example, that can actually be useful and work in reality to solve problems, only for reasons unrelated to those stated. That is to say: useful lies, non-truths that nevertheless work well at the adaptive level of individuals and / or the species.

6. A possible solution may come from the hand of humility and the will to synthesize both the achievements of scientific rationality, as well as the logically legitimate aspects of the criticism of that rationality, hand in hand with the linguistic turns of philosophy that derive in postmodernism. The sciences have among their epistemological and ethical foundations, the acceptance of the provisional and revisable character of the truths it produces. On this basis, let us discuss the sources of funding for research, the governance structure of universities and research centers, the priorities of the research agenda, and aim to improve research methodologies. As human beings we may never have direct access to the truth, that is, as a species, we should recognize that we have cognitive limits to understanding the world and ourselves. However, in this precise historical moment, science and philosophy, rigorous, criticizable and replicable research, the rational analysis of data production, are a great tool to manage ourselves in the world. In any case, that conflicting passions and moral scales make use of these data politically and critically, but do not turn their backs on them. Holding any arbitrary idea due to its tribal or identity ascription is more of a return to pre-modernity than an advance, and leaves us, as individuals and collectives, at the mercy of corporate powers capable of emotionally manipulating the population, no longer the risk of being discovered by contrasting data or philosophical criticism.