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Post-Structuralism and False Authority

A major epistemological foul in Continental Philosophy is that it often treats concepts as if they were tested and validated empirical models, when they are not. People routinely speak as if X’s concept is “built on” Y’s concept — but the only justification for thinking and speaking this way is scientific method, and they don’t use scientific method. As soon as you’re referring to an accumulated intellectual consensus, there are only two possible principles behind that consensus: either selection from experimental and intersubjectively verifiable tests (science) or, essentially, fashion. If X’s concept is seen as the contemporary frontier of some philosophical position, it is not because X discovered and validated something beyond the previous scholarly consensus. It is because social circumstances are such that X commands respect at the moment. The good post-structuralists took this seriously and called bullshit.

It’s a sociological reality that philosophy is a relatively arbitrary, competitive language game, and thinkers such as Deleuze ask: Well, what should we do if this is the case? And the answer is to set sail. Don’t go back to port, the port of whatever you are supposed to respect as the consensus structure, because that consensus is arbitrary. This might sound anti-authoritarian, but it’s not exactly — it’s opposition and flight from fake authority. Deleuze says anyone can form an alliance with the outside, with external reality.

Rebel against false authorities, but become a scientist or an artist or a philosopher — and to the degree one becomes such things, one becomes loyal to true authorities. All forms of loyalty are forms of submission to authority. The point of post-structuralism was to free us from false authorities, and to figure out what to do from there. Turns out, it’s complicated. But there can be found a sincere search for answers and solutions in this movement. How can we produce social cohesion without fascist implications? Deleuze made real discoveries on this puzzle, they deserve to be understood without fashionable obscurity…

In a strange way, post-structuralism was rebelling against precisely what contemporary “anti-postmoderns” such as Jordan Peterson blame post-structuralism for representing. The old structuralists were the real charlatans, but people like Jordan Peterson want to shoot the messenger. Post-structuralism said “These older philosophers and social scientists are claiming structures not really justified by science, we’re going to be honest about this and work from there…” But then they get blamed for the fallout.

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