Date: Fri, 9 Feb 96 11:54:10 -0500
From: Hughie Lawson (email@example.com)
Modern ideology is closely related to unmasking, in that the intellectual practice of unmasking reveals that an idea system _is_ an ideology in the pejorative sense.
When we unmask, we assert that a particular doctrine, though it may appear to be as statement of scientific truth or the laws of God serves to sustain some system of power. Everybody knows about Marxian unmasking and Freudian unmasking.
To me unmasking presents an interesting problem. On the one hand, our present intellectual climate is skeptical about our ability to make true statements about the real world. Terms like truth, the real world, the past often appear enclosed in scare quotes, indicating the author's desire to distance himself from notions that there might be such things as true statements, a real world, and a determinate past. So we see a kind of skepticism pervading the language of historical scholarship, even when the authors turn out not to be very sophisticated in the philosophical issues raised by the scare quotes. I will call this naive skepticism.
But on the other hand, we also see great confidence in unmasking. Entire genres of scholarship, literary criticism and literary history, to some degree American studies and intellectual history, feature unmasking studies that reveal the workings of this or that system of power (patriachalism, capitalism, etc.) underlying intellectual products that present themselves as statements about science, God, or simply as literature for amusement.
The problem is that confidence in unmasking (to me) contradicts naive skepticism. Here's why. Nearly all unmaskings present themselves as statements about a real world. For example, an unmasking might say that there really is a cultural product (say political economy) and there really is an economic system (say capitalism), and there really is a state. And political economy, the unmasking might conclude, really does "rationalize" capitalism by making it seem the result of the workings of natural law. An unmasking would lose its point if the systems (of injustices) did not exist and did not really dominate culture.
How does this contradiction, naive skepticism and unmasking, continue? Some suggested answers.
1. Hughie, you're wrong in theory. Unmasking is consistent with naive
2. Hughie, you're right that both these trends exist, but they do not involve the same persons. Naive skeptics are not unmaskers, unmaskers are not naive skeptics. So there is no contradiction, because nobody holds both doctrines.
3. Hughie, you're right that some persons hold both doctrines, but they hold them in discussions of different issues. Naive skepticism is deployed mainly to undermine other viewpoints, but it is not considered applicable to unmasking when that is one's own method of scholarship.
4. Hughie, nobody cares whether you're right or wrong about this. In the sense of William James in "The Will to Believe" this is not a living question.
Would anybody care to respond?
Hughie Lawson, Murray State (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I have only found unmasking that Hughie Lawton describes useful on my own particular path to (I hope) knowledge when it is directed at particular thinkers (including myself) and treats their ideas in context. The kind of violent unmasking you described in your last missive seems like thrying to beat a given theory or perhaps even a system of thought, to a pulp. There seems to be no purpose to such antics other than to try to prove who might be the toughest kid on the intellectual block.
I also feel compelled to write about one element of the ongoing discussion on idelogy here that bothers me - ideology is not a hard and fast monolithic entity. Ideologies that spring up in different kinds of communities take on different shapes, depending upon the particular persons who decide to actively organize their communities and the ways in which they decide to do this. I would agree that ideologies have become portable commodities, but more like radios than cars. If I travel from Canada to Turkey and I carry my radio, I pick up very different channels with the same machine.
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 96 19:53 PST
From: frank murray (email@example.com)
At 01:18 PM 2/9/96 -0500, hughie lawson wrote:
"3. Hughie, you're right that some persons hold both doctrines, but they hold them in discussions of different issues. Naive skepticism is deployed mainly to undermine other viewpoints, but it is not considered applicable to unmasking when that is one's own method of scholarship."
let's see...suppose i decide to do some unmasking of methods of scholarship from my own belief set that no one ever unmasks anything and finds a face other than the one which he already believed was hidden by the mask...does anyone doubt that i would be successful in finding that all cases of unmasking fit my original belief set??...or more pertinently, does anyone know of a case of unmasking that does not fit my belief set??...please inform me if so...
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 12:29:25 EST5
From: Kenneth D. Pimple (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Frank Murray wrote:
"let's see...suppose i decide to do some unmasking of methods of scholarship from my own belief set that no one ever unmasks anything and finds a face other than the one which he already believed was hidden by the mask...does anyone doubt that i would be successful in finding that all cases of unmasking fit my original belief set?"
This belief could be tested. If you could find someone who is about to set out to unmask a belief set and get him/her to say what s/he expects to find, and if that person then found something different, your belief would be found wanting. You might have to repeat this effort often, however, because if someone did find what s/he expected to find, this would not constitute proof of your belief set -- it would only prove that there is *one more* instance that fits your belief.
Of course, you can always turn to "unconscious beliefs" -- "he only SAID he was looking for X, but he was REALLY looking for Y, which is what he found."
Of course, for some people, a some beliefs might be more important than a belief in empirical testing.
=Kenneth D. Pimple, Ph.D., Project Director
="Teaching Research Ethics"
=Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and
=American Institutions; 410 North Park Avenue;
=Bloomington IN 47408; tel 812/855-0261; fax 812/855-3315