Social Construction of Reality

Three very different ways of appreciating reality, a.k.a. "truth" are outlined as concisely as possible in these food preference examples, mainly to give each of the three ways a name to use in what follows.

Objective: Nature doesn't care what anyone thinks (see Feynman)
Quantitative (aka "Scientific") measurement proves brocolli is good for us.
The same measurements "prove" horses, cats, eagles, insects and worms are better to eat than beef or chicken. (hypothetical case)
Subjective: What I think matters. (See Pirsig)
I don't like brocolli. The others? Ugh!
Intersubjective: What we think matters. (see Lakoff)
Everyone agrees brocolli, beef and chicken is good to eat. Jews and Muslims will not eat pork. Most (not all) agree that horses, cats, insects and eagles are not suitable as food, regardless of what scientific measurements might "prove".
Jeffry Dahlmer was wrong to eat people, but this might be acceptable in very rare circumstances, like the starving soccer team after their plane crashed in the Andes.
It is not ok to kill people. But criminals, enemies in wars, etc?
It was once ok to kill wolves and to own slaves. Now it is not.

These examples illustrate three different tools that we all use everyday for appreciating "truth" for understanding reality. We'd be glad of this richness if these three tools were guaranteed to take us to the same destination, to absolute "truth". But this conflicts with the irrational but real delusion that absolute truth is accessible to us. With only three tools in our kit that yield contradictory answers (four for those who count the bible's "revealed truth"), it is not quite as simple as that.

For a thorough development of this brief sketch of this idea, see the essays on Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by two students, Sara Bartos and Greg Balzer, in the Fall 1998 Taming the Electronic Frontier.

My background and interests were remote from the humanities. In graduate school I specialized in quantum physics (University of Chicago; in the same laboratory where Feynman did much of his work) and later in neurophysiology (Department on Mathematical Biology with Stuart Kauffman, Jack Cowan and others now at the Santa Fe Institute).

The events that led to my discovery of how much I'd been missing were (1) experience in the software industry with the practical consequences of differences in worldview between engineers and managers, for example, (2) Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolution", (3) Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry into Values", and (4) Jerry Weinberg's "Technical Leadership Workshop" (who coincidentally wrote the very IBM Basic Assembly Language (BAL) Manual from which I'd taught myself computing in graduate school, before preceeding me in the discovery that computers aren't all that's important in computing.

I wandered into this topic with a definite technical issue in mind. I'd noticed breakdowns in the way inheritance and strong type-checking are viewed by the object-oriented programming language community. This community's established paradigm is that an object's "class", its "category" acc'd Lakoff, should be determined by the object's producer in pursuit of implementation (how to build it) concerns, without regard to the objects use, its users, or the consumer's notions of what the object is "for".

Lakoff and other authors in the collection that follows show why this approach fails as soon as objects leave the hands of their producer and encounter consumers with other views of the world. Categories (i.e. classes) cannot be invarients determined statically by the producer. They are determined (or better, must be determined once software engineering gets its poop in a group) by the consumer's worldview and culture.

This observation points directly to something the software engineering community has never recognized (sign of its positivistic paradigm), that specification/testing technologies, tools that examine objects from their consumer's perspective instead of their producers', must be added to the software implementation technologies we've relied on exclusively to date.

See this collection of articles regarding Alan Sokal's delicious parody of the leftist academic agenda, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" Also see Witch Hunts, Cultural Studies, Outlaws and Big Brother. Maisin Tapa is also in this collection but its relevance eludes me right now (category problem; nice pictures, though!). Also see these musings by Anatol Holt with whom I worked at ITT in the early 1980's, and who recently resurfaced in my life via the internet.

Women, Fire and Dangerous Things
What Categories Reveal of the Mind (George Lakoff)

On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into

  • those that belong to the Emperor
  • embalmed ones
  • those that are trained
  • suckling pigs
  • mermaids
  • fabulous ones
  • stray dogs
  • those that are included in this classification
  • those that tremble as if they were mad
  • innumerable ones
  • those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush
  • others
  • those that have just broken a flower vase
  • those that resemble flies from a distance

---Borges 1966 p 108

Borges of course, deals with the fantastic. These not only are not natural human categories -- they could not be natural human categories. But part of what makes this passage art, rather than mere fantasy, is that it comes close to the impression a Western reader gets when reading descriptions of nonwestern languages and cultures. The fact is that people around the world categorize things in ways that both boggle the Western mind and stump Western linguists and anthropologists.

An excellent example is the classification of things in the world that occurs in traditional Dyirbal, an aboriginal language of Australia. The classification is built into the language, as is common in the world's languages. Whenever a Dyirbal speaker uses a noun in a sentence, the noun must be preceded by a variant of one of four words: bayi, balan, balam, bala. These words classify all objects in the Dyirbal universe, and to speak Dyirbal correctly one must use the right classifier before each noun. Here is a brief version of the Dyirbal classification of objects in the universe, as described by R.M.W. Dixon (1982):

  • Bayi: men, kangaroos, possums, bats, most snakes, most fishes, some birds, most insects, the moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, some spears, etc.
  • Balan: women, anything connected with water or fire, bandicoots, dogs, platypus, echidnae, some snakes, some fishes, most birds, fireflies, scorpions, crickets, the stars, shields, some spears, some trees, etc.
  • Balam: all edible fruit and the plants that bear them, tubers, ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine, cake.
  • Bala: parts of the body, meat, bees, wind, yam sticks, some spears, most trees, grass, mud, stones, noises, language, etc.

It is a list that any Borges fan would take delight in.

Thus, Putnam concludes, there cannot be such a thing as "exactly one true and complete description of 'the way the world is'" -- that is, there can be no God's eye view of reality. The crucial words here are "description" and "view." They presuppose an external perspective: a symbol system external to reality, related to reality by a reference relation that gives meaning to the symbols. Putnam is not saying that there is no reality. And he is not saying that there is no "way the world is." He is not denying basic realism. He is only denying a certain epistomology. He is not saying that we cannot have correct knowledge. What he is saying is that we cannot have a priviledged correct description from an externalist perspective.


The preface has argued that categories, including the section headings here, have more to do with the worldview and culture of the classifier than absolute reality. Be warned...

Objectivity is Everything Free from profit motive and conflicts of interest, The Aerospace Corporation can concentrate on its vital central mission: to meet our government's need for objective technical advice in national security space systems planning, development and operation. [bjc: Quite a trick, huh: "Free from profit motive and conflicts of interest"? Wonder how they accomplish that? Hire Venusians?]

Cargo Cult Science by Richard Feynman (adapted from a Caltech commencement address given in 1974) (From the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!") I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle by Richard P. Feynman It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"

There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom An Invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics by Richard P. Feynman This transcript of the classic talk that Richard Feynman gave on December 29th 1959 at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) was first published in the February 1960 issue of Caltech's Engineering and Science, which owns the copyright.

How To Deconstruct Almost Anything My Postmodern Adventure by Chip Morningstar Electric Communities "Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right." -- Donald Norman This is the story of one computer professional's explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway, here is my tale.

The End of Science; Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific AgeThe New York Times, Book Review, June 30, 1996, pp. 11, 12. Science has been so successful at describing the universe, John Horgan claims, that further research may not yield much. By John Horgan. 308 pp. Reading, Mass.: Helix Books/Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. $24. By Natalie Angier [[bjc: save your money; utterly bogus from the premise onwards]].


I'm fascinated (and troubled) by how regularly students, particularly those from technical specialties, use "objective" as a synonym for "fair, unbiased and good" and "subjective" with "selfish, biased, and bad". Don't they trust their own tastes and preferences as revealing one aspect of "truth"?
gmu.local A laboratory for studying the "What I think is all that matters" way of understanding as produced and encouraged by technocentric ("hard" science!?) departments such as SITE and UCIS. [bjc: Strange. I've always thought technology was "easy science" compared to the human-centric issues of people and organizations.]

Why the best GMU material is located at UMD by Rob Shvern. "Perhaps you are curious: why is the best GMU material located at a UMD machine? There are several reasons, each more interesting than the next, all lucid, cheerful and bright, giving great indication of the human spirit's ability to rise above the dullards and sloths in a celebration of what is right, what should be."

MetaSelf -- Metaphor Model of the Self. Common spatial metaphors comprise an accessible visual model of the self. Aims: to introduce h.s. students to power of metaphor, and to offer a unifying cultural image.

Nazis on the net by Crawford Kilian. The far right has become very visible lately. New groups and movements have sprung up here, in the US, and in Europe; old groups have revived. They go under many names: neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, racist skinheads, militias, white nationalists. They often seem to disagree with one another as intensely as they disagree with the status quo, and their ideology ranges from the sophisticated to the incoherent.

Social Construction

The foundation belief of the postmodern school is that the two other ways of understanding (objective and subjective) are subordinate to the intersubjective way of understanding; i.e. the belief that reality is determined intersubjectively (socially) instead of objectively (by nature) nor subjectively (by the individual).

Although I agree that this way of understanding has been neglected for too long, I emphatically disagree (even with colleagues in my own department!) that this way of understanding should be thought of as dominant over the others. Rather they're three distinct tools that we're all equipped with at birth with no guarantee of leading to the same destination.

Although nearly all of these articles can be used to bring out the interplay between the three ways of understanding, I particularly recommend the second-hand smoke issue as revealing of how the three ways interrelate in practical every day affairs. Is the objective truth of EPA's claim that 3000 people die per year from second-hand smoke even accessible in the prevailing political (intersubjective) climate? Is objective truth even material in the face of individual subjective opinion?
Questions About EPA's Secondhand Smoke Study The Congressional Research Service Raises Questions. The Environmental Protection Agency's controversial claim that secondhand tobacco smoke causes lung cancer has met a new challenge from an unexpected source: the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the research arm of the U.S. Congress. The CRS's reputation for accuracy and impartiality adds weight to the growing skepticism about the EPA's "Passive Smoking" study, which concludes that 3,000 people die annually from exposure to other people's tobacco smoke.

Destruction of Reason by Jurgen Habermas. The GDR, "workers' and farmers' State" by the grace of its own presumption, has politically and rhetorically misused progressive ideas for its own legitimation; it has mockingly denied these ideas through its inhuman practice and thereby brought them to miscredit.

Virtual Play: Baudrillard Online The Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture 1(7), 1993 by Dr. Alan Aycock Department of Sociology Cardinal Stritch University Although the value of Baudrillard's notion of a radical form of play, the cultural force of images without clear reference to the "real" world, has been debated for many years, few scholars of play have considered its implications for their own study. This neglect is regrettable, if only because the trope of "play" is so central to Baudrillard's own work, as well as that of many modern writers. Play, in some sense, seems central to the modern experience. A case in point is Internet, the developing international network of computing linkages. An empirical instance of computer-mediated discourses which establish cultures online is adduced to show how it instantiates and extends the idea of play beyond virtuality to everyday lived experience. Some conclusions are drawn which point to further research along these lines.

Questioning Cultural Studies: An Interview with Paul Smith [This interview with Paul Smith took place on 20 June 1994 at the MLG Institute for Culture and Society at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, and was conducted by Jeffrey Williams, editor of minnesota review. Special thanks to Jan Forehand for transcribing and preparing the manuscript.

Hakim Bey Article Now that Freud has been defenestrated -- along with the Unconscious. -- modern psychotherapy can offer an all-purpose etiology for all UFO/Satanic "memories": -- child abuse. In a recent statement on the subject the APA (American Psychiatrist Association) cautioned that the falsity of certain "memories" should not be used as an excuse to ignore the underlying trauma -- or deep inner structure of the "memory" -- which is assumed to be "real" abuse.

Biodegradability: Floating on the Surface of Culture A study of the work of Charlotte Salomon as an example of revolutionary feminist poetic practice.

Scientology's War on the Internet Mirrored from a site in Holland as a learning resource for my classes.

WIRED? Bad Subjects Charlie Bertsch BAD SUBJECTS #10 -- DECEMBER 1993 That we're *physically* addicted to electricity is obvious; the extent to which we're *psychologically* addicted is not. Particularly among people who try to conceive of opposition to the dominant powers in our society, psychological dependence on electricity reveals itself in a recurring tendency to imagine that those powers behave like electrical power. To a certain extent, this makes intuitive sense: electrical power plays an undeniably significant role in structuring our everyday lives. However, this isn't the only reason we make sense of power relations with an 'electrical consciousness'. Electrical power appeals to our imagination because it is described by a coherent body of concepts, a 'conceptual apparatus' with indisputable rules to guide our classifications of phenomena. Other forms of power--political, social, economic--often seem much harder to describe. Hence, people 'come to terms' with the powers that dominate them by borrowing terms used in the description of electrical power. In other words, electrical power becomes a *metaphor* for these other forms of power. What I will briefly discuss here are the ways in which this 'habit of mind'--habits are, after all, addictions--has conditioned many people's perception of reality in the last three decades, often with politically debilitating consequences.

Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture By Mark Dery This interdisciplinary collection of essays provides an impressive guide to the many sources from which our assumptions about cyberspace are drawn, and offers some suggestions as to how the internet may be affecting broader cultural issues. For editor Mark Dery, cyberculture is "a loosely knit complex of sub legitimate, alternative, and oppositional subcultures..." (8). But this collection also shows that cyberculture emerged from images and ideas that have been a part of cultural life for a hundred years or more. Several of the writers here warn of the seductiveness of the notion that cyberculture somehow eludes the material relations of the larger society, and an important theme running through most of the articles is the need for more conscious control of technology and culture.

The Return Of The Witch Hunts by Jonathan G. Harris I went to that preschool since I was a baby. I even went there during the first grade after school. I had fun. We painted and colored," Karen (name changed for privacy), now 16, describes some happy times that ended when her preschool closed ten years ago. Her parents have similar memories. The center was open and they could drop in any time. Her father said that today Karen jumped with joy at the prospect of visiting Miss Vi; but visiting the school's seventy year old former owner or her two children, Gerald and Cheryl, is somewhat difficult today. They all remain in Massachusetts prisons. The school was the infamous Massachusetts day care, Fells Acres.

Imagining East Timor by Benedict Anderson. "Why has Indonesia's attempt to absorb East Timor failed? And how does one explain the very rapid development of Timorese nationalism since 1975? Benedict Anderson, author of Imagined Communities, argues that Indonesia cannot imagine the East Timorese as Indonesians. Their relations with them are those of colonizer and colonized, producing East Timorese nationalism as Dutch colonialism once produced Indonesian nationalism."

Making Sense of Software by Ted Friedman "Introduction: The Need for Software Theory, and SimCity as a Place to Start When students today study individuals' relations to texts, they discuss literature, film, maybe television or radio. When they get back from class, however, their primary form of textual interaction is likely to be with a different medium: the computer screen. They do research through computerized databases, write papers with Microsoft Word, and even take breaks by playing Tetris. In the past three years, in fact, I've probably spent as much time in front of computer monitors as I have watching TV or reading print."

A Cold Fusion Primer By Eugene F. Mallove And Jed Rothwell What happened to cold fusion, the "miracle or mistake," announced at the University of Utah by Drs. Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in March 1989? It would not be surprising if you thought that cold fusion were "dead," because, unfortunately, the scientific establishment, the hot fusion community, and many in the news media have ignored or maligned cold fusion research.

Keyboarding Explosive Data For Homemade Bombs byTracy Gordon Fox Hartford Courant Staff Writer; Bomb Recipes Just a Keystroke Away;: Sunday, January 10, 1993. They use names like Wizard and Warrior and they talk via computer networks. They are usually high school kids, but their keyboard conversations are not about girls or homework: They trade recipes for homemade bombs.

Reaction to Dateline Child-proofing cyberspace article by Peter Ludlow I was very disappointed in last night's segment on the availability of bomb recipes on the internet. The segment was dishonest in that it implied that bomb building by minors was a new phenomenon, and that it was made possible in large part by the internet. In fact, this was a problem long before the internet was even imagined. For example, there are numerous documented cases of children being maimed by homemade bombs throughout the 1960's. I would have thought that a careful and honest news organization would note this fact.

The Collapse Of The Ussr And The Destiny Of Socialism By Sam Marcy On March 11, 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev took over as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It is now seven and a half years later. By almost any standards, the developments in the USSR following his election, and most particularly the breakup of the union, constitute a world historic event.

Crisis In The Gulf. By George Bush, Saddam Hussein, Et Alia As Told To the New York Times By Frederick M. Dolan. The crisis in the Gulf, as today's President acknowledges, is in large measure a crisis of self- definition: a matter of identity (as in defining America's role in a post-cold war world, and indeed of writing the rules for such a world), of marking or highlighting the boundary between self and other (as in the ownership and control of "the world's largest oil reserves," or as between the civilized and the uncivil). Following a long Orientalist tradition, the West feels compelled to go _elsewhere_ in search of its defining characteristics, even if this means, to use President Bush's own metaphor, drawing lines in the sand. As his image forces one to reflect, sand--especially the shifting, wind-blown sand of the Arabian Empty Quarter--is a most unstable medium, and a line drawn in it is likely to be erased with the next change in weather. The contours of the boundary lines and identity President Bush hopes to define remain, it is true, somewhat murky. At the same time, for those who have followed literary theory over the past two decades, the battle over what meaning to assign Iraq's invasion of Kuwait possesses an uncanny familiarity. The seemingly anarchic spin-doctoring of American officials charged with formulating war aims that seem at once defensible and feasible, and the way in which their efforts have been judged and interpreted in the press, have to do, in particular, with the much-discussed questions of allegory, symbol, and irony.

How Many Have Communists Murdered? by R. J. Rummel Everyone is aware of how costly in lives and material a war can be, and for good reason many scholars, researchers, intellectuals, and interested citizens therefore focus on how war might be prevented. Few, however, are aware of even a more deadly scourge, that is genocide and mass murder. The recent events in Rwanda have for a moment riveted attention on a genocide that within a few months has cost at least 500,000 lives. But if history is any guide, memory of this genocide will soon disappear and attention will refocus on the horrors of war. Yet in this century, genocide and mass murder has killed about 170,000,000 people, or over four times all those killed from battle in all this century's international and domestic wars. Communism, that is communist nations, have been responsible for most of this killing. Itself, this one ideology, has murdered about three times those battle killed in war.

Imagining East Timor by Benedict Anderson. Why has Indonesia's attempt to absorb East Timor failed? And how does one explain the very rapid development of Timorese nationalism since 1975? Benedict Anderson, author of Imagined Communities, argues that Indonesia cannot imagine the East Timorese as Indonesians. Their relations with them are those of colonizer and colonized, producing East Timorese nationalism as Dutch colonialism once produced Indonesian nationalism.

KahanerBulletTrainTechnology by David K. Kahaner This system is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 1994, carries up to 130 million passengers annually (3 billion in total), runs nearly 300 trains per day on the main line from Tokyo through Osaka, has never had a derailment or collision accident, and maintains a zero mortality rate for passengers and crew.

Making Sense Of Software by Ted Friedman The Need for Software Theory, and SimCity as a Place to Start. When students today study individuals' relations to texts, they discuss literature, film, maybe television or radio. When they get back from class, however, their primary form of textual interaction is likely to be with a different medium: the computer screen. They do research through computerized databases, write papers with Microsoft Word, and even take breaks by playing Tetris. In the past three years, in fact, I've probably spent as much time in front of computer monitors as I have watching TV or reading print.

McLibel Trial London Greenpeace McDonald's is suing for Libel against some people who said McDonald's food is bad for you. A total of approximately 170 UK and international witnesses will give evidence in court about the effects of the company's advertising and the impact of its operating practices and food products on the environment, on millions of farmed animals, on human health, on the Third World, and on McDonald's own staff. They will include environmental and nutritional experts, trade unionists, McDonald's employees, customers and top executives.

Can You Go Home Again? A Budapest Diary 1993 by SUSAN RUBIN SULEIMAN Dept. of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature, Harvard University _Postmodern Culture_ v.3 n.3 (May, 1993)

A Seminar in Cyberspace: Prof. Peter Kollock's Sociology Like I said, I thought I knew what to expect. And that included a lot of reading and a lot of theoretical reading and a lot of theoretical exegesis. Sociology loves formal analysis. I knew this seminar was to be something else again when we gathered for the first meeting. First, half the class was drawn from fields outside sociology, including electrical engineering, English, women's studies and even a young women from biology, I think it was (I'm not too sure what they call themselves down on the south side of campus). And, instead of diving into deep textual waters, Kollock encouraged the class, from the outset, to describe feelings and perceptions, and, as we moved along, to relate experiences in cyberspace, surfing the Internet, following odd pathways through Usenet, or stumbling through the corners of LambdaMOO or MediaMOO which became our unofficial home. As these discussions continued, it was sort of as if Jason called the argonauts together on the deck of the "Golden Fleece" each night for a little palaver. "Hey, we're sailing in uncharted waters, fellow cybernauts. What of interest happened to you today?"

Rethinking Culture Biodegradability: Floating on the Surface of Culture

MaisinTapa/Tapa.html After an hour on the water, we approached the village. As we neared the shore, two men dressed as warriors ran out from between the houses and hurled enormous spears in our direction. From their hiding places, the villagers burst into laughter when they saw our terrified faces. This hurling of spears is, they told us, their traditional form of greeting newcomers to their village. (John Barker, an anthropologist who spent two years living in Uiaku, was horrified when he heard this story. "But they never actually throw the spears," he said, aghast, "they're only supposed to shake them!")

Patriot Games Irate, gun-toting white men are forming militias. Are they dangerous, or just citizens defending their rights? BY CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY In a remote meadow in northern Michigan, inside a large tent heated by a wood stove, 50 white men dressed in combat gear and wielding rifles talk about the insanity of the outside world. The men, civilians all, see threats everywhere. There are reports of foreign soldiers hiding in salt mines under Detroit, some of the men say. Others speak of secret markings on highway signs meant to guide conquering armies. The men's voices subside as "General" Norman Olson, a Baptist minister, gun-shop owner and militia leader, enters the tent. He tells the men they are the shock troops of a movement that's sweeping America, that the "end times" are coming, and civil wars are two years away. "People think we are the ones who bring fear because we have guns," Olson says. "But we are really an expression of fear."

The Evolution Of Criminal Justice By Sandy Judd; In twentieth century America, coerced confessions to criminal acts are not technically admissible as evidence in courts of law. Since the 1980's, however, a movement against the enforcement of such "technicalities" has developed within the federal courts. As more forms of questionable evidence become admissible, we must begin to ask ourselves if justice is being properly served. Although blatant physical torture is not yet regularly used, other techniques for obtaining confessions are common: promises of leniency, threats, isolation, sleep and food deprivation, forced nudity and other practices which serve to demoralize the accused. The validity of these confessions is highly questionable.

Objection sustained! The Animal Legal Defense Fund by Barbara Kohn CALL TO ACTION. Headquartered in San Rafael, California, the ALDF grew out of a small discussion group of lawyers who began to meet on a monthly basis back in 1979 to study animal rights issues. The group got its "call to action" when it learned of a U.S. Navy plan to shoot 5,000 wild burros at its Naval Weapons Testing Center in the Mohave Desert. They went to court and succeeded in halting the killings.

Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity

Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics, New York University, wrote Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" as parody of leftist/feminist/post modernist "critiques" of science, triggering this whole hoohah.

Contrast the truth-claims on both sides of this battle with the simple argument at the top of this web. Namely that we're all equipped with several tools for appreciating "truth" which come with no guarantee of leading even to the same destination, much less to "truth" in any absolute sense.
Hermeneutic Hootchy-Koo from Feed Magazine "Levitt, the most combative (and witty) of the combatants, snorts at what he calls cultural studies' "hermeneutic hootchy-koo" and he has poured gas on this raging fire by saying that if the entire humanities faculty at MIT quit, the science and engineering faculty could make do, while the reverse would not be true. "

Alan Sokal's web provides numerous links to articles on this controversy including:

A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies by Alan Sokal; Lingua Franca, May/June 1996, pp. 62-64 "For some years I've been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities. But I'm a mere physicist: if I find myself unable to make head or tail of _jouissance_ and _differance_, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy. So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies --- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross --- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?"

Social Text Afterward Alas, the editors of Social Text have discovered that my article, ``Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity'', which appeared in Social Text #46/47, is a parody. In view of the important intellectual and political issues raised by this episode, they have generously agreed to publish this (non-parodic) Afterward, in which I explain my motives and my true views. [gif] One of my goals is to make a small contribution toward a dialogue on the Left between humanists and natural scientists -- ``two cultures'' which, contrary to some optimistic pronouncements (mostly by the former group), are probably farther apart in mentality than at any time in the past 50 years.

Sokal's reply to the social text editorial I confess to amusement that one Social Text editor still doesn't believe my piece was a parody. Oh, well. As for Social Text's editorial process, readers can judge for themselves the plausibility of the editors' post facto explanations, which if true may be more damning than the incident itself. Some of their chronology is at variance with the documentary record (e-mail and regular mail between Ross and myself, which I've saved), but let me not beat a dead horse. More interesting than the scandal provoked by the article's acceptance is, I think, the scandal that ought to be provoked by its content. My essay, aside from being (if I may quote Katha Pollitt's flattery) "a hilarious compilation of pomo gibberish," is also an annotated bibliography of charlatanism and nonsense by dozens of prominent French and American intellectuals. This goes well beyond the narrow category of "post modernism," and includes some of the most fashionable thinkers in "science studies," literary criticism, and cultural studies.

Sokal, a New York University physicist, fed up with what he sees as the excesses of the academic left, hoodwinked a well-known journal into publishing a parody thick with gibberish as though it were serious scholarly work. The article, entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," appeared this month in Social Text, a journal that helped invent the trendy, sometimes baffling field of cultural studies.

And now, with one piece of brilliant satire, a young New York University physicist named Alan Sokal may finally have punctured the hyper inflated hot-air balloon of cultural studies. The editors of the journal Social Text must wish they had just shut up. Ever since the humiliating news broke that a long, impenetrably jargon-ridden but impeccably postmodern-sounding article on "the transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity" in the journal's current issue was a hoax, those involved have been scrambling to explain away the joke. This is difficult, because the author, physicist Alan Sokal had just declared in another magazine, Lingua Franca, that he had submitted the essay -- a tissue of cloudy assertions, actual quotes from theorists and random academic buzzwords -- to the journal as a parody, to make a point about the field's empty-headedness.

Philippe and Danielle comment on the Sokal's hoax. We have read both the article in the New York Times (Postmodern Gravity Deconstructed, Slyly; 5.18.96) and in Lingua Franca (A physicists experiments with cultural studies; May/June 1996), and we wanted to share some of our thoughts with you. There are several issues which deserve attention. We would like to address two: 1. What does the hoax really show? 2. What should we do as Cultural Studies faculty.

Science Backlash on Technoskeptics Culture Warst Spill Over Andrew Ross Featured in The Cultural Studies Times In a speech in New Orleans last fall, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson declared that "multiculturalism equals relativism equals no supercollider equals communism." Was this some babbling formula for a conspiracy theory of the end of the millennium, escaping the fevered lips of a mad scientist? Or was it the same old witches brew of cold war paranoia reduced to its basic stock? Wilson has had a go at playing Cassandra before, and many would consider his brand of sociobiology -- which glorifies aggressive competition -- to be a classic product of the mentality of militarist science. But his comment referred to a new arena of conflict that some have dubbed the Science Wars, a second front opened up by conservatives cheered by the successes of their legions in the holy Culture Wars. Seeking explanations for their loss of standing in the public eye and the decline in funding from the public purse, conservatives in science have joined the backlash against the (new) usual suspects -- pinkos, feminists and multiculturalists of all stripes.

Report from Iron Mountain : On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace by Leonard C. Lewin Another famous hoax, but this time the radical right took the brunt.

A Message from the Democratic National Committee Flames various talk show hosts, with transcripts of the Liddy and Linbaugh. The Oklahama bombing triggered the latest and greatest of witch hunts to date. Note the absence of mention of Waco or Weaver in this article.

Oklahoma Bombing

Clinton on Oklahoma Bombing The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it. And I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.

Oklahoma Theory I am concerned that vital evidence will soon be destroyed with the pending demolition of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. From all the evidence I have seen in the published material, I can say with a high level of confidence, that the damage pattern on the reinforced concrete superstructure could not possibly have been attained from the single truck bomb without supplementing demolition charges at some of the reinforced column bases. The total incompatibility with a single truck bomb lies in the fact that either some of the columns collapsed that should not have collapsed or some of the columns are still standing that should have collapsed and did not.

MIT Picturebook

MIT Freshman Picture Book At the last minute, President Charles M. Vest asked the Technology Community Association to stop distribution of its Freshman Picture Book, because he felt its cover drawing of a monkey could be perceived as racist by African Americans.

Picture Book Cover Called Offensive, Will Be Replaced By Hyun Soo Kim News Editor At the last minute, President Charles M. Vest asked the Technology Community Association to stop distribution of its Freshman Picture Book, because he felt its cover drawing of a monkey could be perceived as racist by African Americans. Publishing the books with new covers will delay the delivery of the books until Monday night.

Waco Texas

Judgment Day In San Antonio Jury acquits 11 Branch Davidians of murder but finds five guilty of manslaughter

The Waco Tragedy Magazine: Free Inquiry Issue: Summer 1994 (vol. 14 no. 3) Author: James A. Haught Well, the Waco cult trial is over, a year after the tragedy. But did you know that the story actually began 150 years ago with a famous fiasco?

Waco, Texas: Where A Part Of America's Heart And Soul Died. By Robert McCurry David Koresh and the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, held center stage in America for fifty-one days. A Rambo-style raid on a quiet Sunday morning in February by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) touched off one of the most incredible and tragic events in American history. The ATF stormed the Branch Davidian home to serve a search warrant issued on the suspicion that the group was stockpiling automatic weapons.

Waco Tragedy The Waco saga has entered history, like Jonestown, the witch hunts, and other bizarre episodes. As we go about our daily lives, it's unsettling to realize that some people among us are capable of believing far-out fantasies, enough to die for them.

WHO'S THE WACKO? by L. Neil Smith But when Rush is wrong, nobody can even approach the cosmic magnitude of his wrongness. And Rush is wrong, totally wrong, embarrassingly wrong -- just as he was totally, embarrassingly wrong back when the whole thing happened -- about Waco. It's enough to make you wonder _which_ god his talent is on loan from.

Holocaust at Waco Penthouse Magazine

Holocaust at Waco


General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West by Edward Gibbon

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan Pliny, Letters 10.96-97 Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111-113 AD. We have a whole set of exchanges of his letters with the emperor Trajan on a variety of administrative political matters. These two letters are the most famous, in which P. encounters Christianity for the first time.

Priscus at the court of Attila Translation by J.B. Bury (Priscus, fr. 8 in Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum) We set out with the barbarians, and arrived at Sardica, which is thirteen days for a fast traveller from Constantinople. Halting there we considered it advisable to invite Edecon and the barbarians with him to dinner. The inhabitants of the place sold us sheep and oxen, which we slaughtered, and we prepared a meal. In the course of the feast, as the barbarians lauded Attila and we lauded the Emperor, Bigilas remarked that it was not fair to compare a man and a god, meaning Attila by the man and Theodosius by the god. The Huns grew excited and hot at this remark. But we turned the conversation in another direction, and soothed their wounded feelings; and after dinner, when we separated, Maximin presented Edecon and Orestes with silk garments and Indian gems....

A History Of The Warfare Of Science With Theology In Christendom by Andrew Dickson White . MY book is ready for the printer, and as I begin this preface my eye lights upon the crowd of Russian peasants at work on the Neva under my windows. With pick and shovel they are letting the rays of the April sun into the great ice barrier which binds together the modern quays and the old granite fortress where lie the bones of the Romanoff Czars. This barrier is already weakened; it is widely decayed, in many places thin, and everywhere treacherous; but it is, as a whole, so broad, so crystallized about old boulders, so imbedded in shallows, so wedged into crannies on either shore, that it is a great danger. The waters from thousands of swollen streamlets above are pressing behind it; wreckage and refuse are piling up against it; every one knows that it must yield. But there is danger that it may resist the pressure too long and break suddenly, wrenching even the granite quays from their foundations, bringing desolation to a vast population, and leaving, after the subsidence of the flood, a widespread residue of slime, a fertile breeding-bed for the germs of disease.

Constructing a Logical Argument There is a great deal of argument on Usenet. Unfortunately, most of it is of very poor quality. This document attempts to provide a gentle introduction to logic, in the hope of improving the general level of debate.

Sexuality and the Invasion of America: 1492-1806

Jamestown History

Global Alert; Jesus is Coming The earthquake in Los Angeles, California, the flood in Europe, the seemingly unstoppable war in the former Yugoslavia, the devastating fires in Australia, the flood in the Midwest of the United States of America, the devastating fires near Los Angeles, California, the rapid and appalling increase in violence in cities, towns, villages all over the world, the famines, the diseases, the rapid decline of the family unit, and the destructive earthquake in India (in 1993) are signs that this world's history is coming to a climax. The human race has trampled on God's Constitution, as given in Exodus 20:1-17 (King James Version Bible), and Jesus is coming to set things right. These rapidly accelerating signs are an indication that Jesus is coming soon (Matthew 24).

THE MERITS AND PERILS OF TEACHING ABOUT OTHER CULTURES by Walter A. McDougall. An Address by Walter A. McDougall to a History Institute for Educators on "Multiculturalism in World History" Organized by the History Academy of the Foreign Policy Research Institute May 1-2, 1999

Cultural Studies

Labyrinth: Medieval Cultural Studies











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