The Holocaust never happened. The planet isn’t warming. Vaccines cause autism. There is no such thing as AIDS. The Earth is flat.
Denialism comes in many forms, dressed in the garb of research proudly claiming to represent the best traditions of scholarship. Its influence is insidious, its techniques are pernicious. Climate change denialists have built well-funded institutions and lobbying groups to counter action against global warming. Holocaust deniers have harried historians and abused survivors. AIDS denialists have prevented treatment programmes in Africa.
All this is bad enough, but what if, as Keith Kahn-Harris asks, it actually cloaks much darker, unspeakable, desires? If denialists could speak from the heart, what would we hear?
Kahn-Harris sets out not just to unpick denialists’ arguments, but to investigate what lies behind them. The conclusions he reaches are disturbing and uncomfortable: Denialism has paved the way for the recent emergence of what the author terms ‘post-denialism’; a key component of the ‘post-truth’ world. Donald Trump’s lack of concern with truth represents both denialism’s final victory and the final collapse of its claims to scholarly legitimacy.
How should we adapt to the post-denialist era? Keith Kahn-Harris argues that there is now no alternative to enabling denialists and post-denialists to openly express the dark desires that they have sought to hide. This is a horrifying prospect of allowing their darkest desires to be spoken of, but perhaps if we accept the fact of ‘moral diversity’ and air these differences in the open, we might be able to make new and better arguments against the denialists’ hidden agendas.
Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a writer and sociologist. He teaches at Leo Baeck College and Birkbeck College and is a Fellow of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The author of four books, his interests range from the British Jewish community to extreme metal music scenes. He has contributed to publications including The Guardian, New Humanist, Times Literary Supplement and he edited the Jewish Quarterly magazine in 2014-2015.