Objectivity, Subjectivity, and Democracy

Objectivity is the notion that unbiased fact can be established through a disciplined method of thinking.  The concept was invented by Enligtenment thinkers who needed a way to subvert the notion of divine right of kings.  It has been used for years as the basis of democracy Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's quote, "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."  It must also be noted the one of Moynihan's facts is a report that ushered in the era of cultural racism in American policy.

What Moynihan's quote revels is the beginning of the destruction of objectivity in American political discourse.  Alternative right wing media has successfully dispensed with any idea of objectivity in American news coverage, which, frankly, considering the checkered at best history of science, is probably a good thing.  Now, media consumers pick their "objective" sources and operate on the basis of those assumptions about what is true.

The future of democracy in the US and throughout the world is a) heavily decentralized, b) based on the negotiation of subjectivities, and c) a combination of the two of these.  Subjectivity in my view is best defined by Pierre Bourdieu in is classic work, Distinction.  For Bourdieu, subjectivity was defined by one's class position and in my own work, I've defined it in terms of racial position as well.  My current working definition is that subjectivity is the sum of one's particularistic history, every experience ever had, and every person ever met.  This definition creates a relational subjectivity in which multiple processes of identity formation and systems of power work to create the subjectivity necessary to produce meaningful actions in the world.  Thus, democracy, instead of being based on a purportedly objective truth, is based on the interplay of multiple, complex subjectivities.

There is a problem with this and it is the problem in the US today.  Without something to agree upon, these subjectivities can become walled in an ideo-cultural box and unable to communicate effectively with other subjectivities.  The solution to this, the agreement is that all people are thinking, feeling, able human beings with good reasons why they have the subjectivities that they do.  We must agree that everyone is human and in today's political discourse that agreement doesn't exist.  If you have a liberal subjectivity and the person across from you is a Trump supporter, that person is less than human.  If you're conservative and the person across from you is anti-Trump, that person is less than human.  If this is not resolved, it will lead to a catastrophic civil war.  People have to start listening to each other again.