by Karen Ives
The movement toward a post-factual world and the rise of the concept of “alternative fact” is, for many educated Americans, frightening and strange. The concept of “alternative facts” found sustenance to flourish through, on the one hand, a need to adapt the ideas burgeoning in post-modern and critical theories to conservative perspectives and, on the other, a desire to incorporate alternate epistemologies in a social landscape dominated by science.
Post-modern and critical theories have become increasingly popular through their connection to social justice movements in both the US and Europe. One of the core concepts in these theories is respect and elevation of subjectivity. Subjectivity, and respect for subjectivity, provides space to introduce alternative experiences of reality that counter dominant narratives: the experience of reality in the United States for a woman of color counters hegemonic narratives and representations of life in the United States as experienced by white men and women.
A cursory study of these theories, or even a tangential exposure to them, gives the impression that these theories justify the idea of alternative facts—that in fact truth is subjective. This, of course, is not the case. A house in one experience of reality is still a house in the other; the difference is, of course, whether or not one is allowed to purchase that house based on the color of their skin.
The concept of “alternative facts” are exceptionally convenient because they provide a way to present non-truths as scientifically true, in essence borrowing the scientific form without being constrained by scientifically true content. As exasperating as many scientists—and liberals—may find this, “alternative facts” are the latest manifestation of the frustration of a population struggling to have their concerns known. Science is not the only way of knowing the world. By elevating scientific forms of knowledge above all others, we have silenced and discriminated against other forms of knowing, and those who adhere to them. By recognizing the validity of epistemologies of experience and religion—and considering them equally with epistemologies of science—we can both deepen our understanding of reality and create an environment in which all perspectives are represented and respected.
Developing America is testing the boundaries of the status quo, and calling into question the way we view our identities as American and Global citizens. This is its blog.