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By Roger Anderson
BACK IN THE 1980s, as a student, I was introduced to the work of the French postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault. My lecturer contrasted him with Enlightenment philosopher Charles Fourier, a utopian Socialist thinker who argued that in a perfect world the sea would lose its salinity and become pure lemonade — because everything would be so perfect. A bit crazy you might think, but wait until you meet Michel Foucault!
This atomised and idiosyncratic truth is actually all that matters, and anyone telling you that it’s nonsense is oppressing you by forcing their own version of reality on you.
Foucault, often viewed as the father of the Queer Theory which underpins the issues around gender we now grapple with, didn’t believe in anything as mundane as actual lemonade seas, he didn’t believe in any sort of objective reality at all. No, if you think the sea is made of lemonade — then, for you, the sea is lemonade. This atomised and idiosyncratic truth is actually all that matters, and anyone telling you that it’s nonsense is oppressing you by forcing their own version of reality on you.
…it’s my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.
— Michel Foucault
Foucault, you see, didn’t believe in science. For him objective facts are oppressive and represent the assertion of control and power by other individuals. He wasn’t only anti-science, he was anti-Enlightenment. When he applied his ideas to sexuality, he concluded that all classifications; gay, straight etc., were recent constructs and, like everything else, articulations of power relations.
In short you could be anything if you liberated yourself from the narrow definitions and morals imposed by society. Literally, as Foucault’s extracurricular activities showed, anything was OK if you thought it was — even young boys in Tunisia. Any attempt by others to impose their morals on you was, by definition, oppressive.
Now fast forward to 2021 and the logical end result of all this is: If I decide I’m a woman, then I’m a woman. Anyone questioning this, including a ‘biological female,’ — remember science doesn’t matter, it’s just another oppressive system to be rejected — is, by definition, my oppressor. I can do or be anything I like just because I say so.
So, welcome to Foucault world folks! Amoral narcissism is encouraged, but leave your oppressive inhibitions at the door and don’t impose your reality on anyone else or you are oppressing them. You have become the oppressor and the bigot.
A final thought: Noam Chomsky, following his famous 1971 debated with Foucault, remarked
He struck me as completely amoral. I’d never met anyone who was so totally amoral, I mean, I couldn’t make sense of him. It’s as if he was from a different species, or something.
Noam Chomsky on Moral Relativism and Michel Foucault