Do you find yourself wishing for a politics that was less partisan than ours? Do you yearn for a world free of partisan spin, in which demonstrable and objective facts hold sway?
Well, according to Stanley Fish, you're wasting your time. In his 2007 essay "The All-Spin Zone" (included in his collection THINK AGAIN), he argues:
"Spin—the pronouncing on things from an interested angle—is not a regrettable and avoidable form of suspect thinking and judging. It is the very content of thinking and judging. No spin means no thought, no politics, no debating of what is true and what is false. The dream of improving mankind through a program of [rational] reform—a dream that dies hard and probably never will die—looks forward to a world in which everything is always and already 'unspun'. There is such a world; it is sometimes called heaven and it sometimes called death. It is never called human."
In this same essay, Fish denounces "active open-mindedness," saying that "open-mindedness, far from being a virtue, is a condition which, if it could be achieved, would result in a mind that was spectacularly empty. An open mind is an empty mind."
Stanley Fish's agenda is and has always been the unmasking of claims to disinterested objectivity, whether in philosophy, politics, science, or any other human endeavor. To be human, Fish insists, is to take sides:
"Human beings are situated creatures; they see things not from a God's-eye point of view, but from the point of view of the beliefs, allegiances, aspirations, and fears they bring with them..."
Against the claims of "universal reason" so beloved by Enlightenment thinkers and contemporary liberals, Fish reminds us that both tribal loyalties and ideological affinities are inescapable: there is no "view from nowhere" and there can be no dispassionate, nonpartisan politics. This is not a descent into relativism, he explains, but simply an acknowledgement of reality: "[We cannot justify our positions] in universal terms that would be persuasive to everyone, including our enemies. Invoking the abstract notions of justice and truth to support our cause [won't] be effective anyway because our adversaries lay claim to the same language. No one declares himself to be an apostle of injustice."
Even in the absence of universal claims, however, "we can and should invoke the particular lived values that unite us and inform the institutions we cherish and wish to defend." Fish has no problem with people advancing their views; his complaint is with people who claim the sanction of either universal values or objective truth, and with those who claim to be relying on nothing but "facts" and to be advancing no point of view at all.
It is the current conceit of American liberals that "facts have a liberal bias". They are wrong about that, of course, because facts have no bias at all until they are selected and deployed on behalf of some argument. It has been Stanley Fish's often unappreciated life's work to puncture such conceit, which is precisely what makes him so invaluable.