Postmodern Rhetorics of Technology: The Montreal Fluoridation Controversy

Maurice Charland (Concordia University)

Abstract: Montreal's recent controversy over water fluoridation illustrates the challenge to deliberative rhetoric within postmodernity. The dispute ultimately turns on the claim to knowledge of public health officials. No non-controversial meta-narrative stands to legitimate their character and claims. Rhetorical discourse performs the impossible task of rendering the incommensurable to the court of judgment.

Résumé: La récente controverse sur la fluoration de l'eau à Montréal illustre bien le défi que pose la post-modernité à la rhétorique délibérative. Le différend met en cause le discours scientifique des organismes de santé publique. Aucun grand récit possède suffisamment d'autorité pour légitimer leur caractère et leur propos. La rhétorique effectue l'impossible tâche de traduire l'incommensurable devant la cour du jugement.

Any discussion of postmodernism within the context of rhetorical theory is problematic. This, because postmodernism stands in historical reaction to an epoch or epistemology that rhetorical theory is reluctant to even recognize. Rhetorical and postmodern theory have a certain affinity (Hebdige, 1988, p. 225; Brown, 1990). Rhetoric, at least in the current of thought that began with the Sophists, does not accept the existence of foundations or the autonomy of referents (Guthrie, 1971, pp. 176-225). Furthermore, foundational philosophers, from Plato (Gorgias, Phaedrus) through Kant (1951, pp. 171- 172) and beyond, have either rejected rhetoric outright or reduced its status to that of pedagogical aid. Consequently, both rhetorical and postmodern theory stand in opposition to the presuppositions of modernity and the practices of modernism. However, rhetoric has positioned itself as an historical alternative to philosophy and modernity, not as its successor. Thus, the apocalyptic tone of much postmodern thought seems peculiar. What would rhetorical theorists make of the claim that the postmodern condition is characterized by the loss of the real, by simulation and pastiche, or by the decline of ideology in favour of affect? Their initial reaction is likely to be "of course," followed by "so what?" The postmodern attack on such terms as meaning, action, and judgment, which rhetoricians use without embarrassment, seems quite odd because for them the real has always been inseparable from imagination, a key part of invention is the recombination of commonplaces, and pathos properly stands as a form of proof.

Rhetorical scholars occupy a speaking position quite unlike many Marxists, poststructuralists, and postmodernists, who struggle against the Kantian division of truth, beauty, and right embedded within their own vocabulary and concepts. As Steve Best (1988) has observed with respect to rhetoric's sister discipline, hermeneutics, the postmodern movement rejects the interpretive act because it understands it to be directed towards uncovering the real or the true. This is hardly the assumption that anti-Platonist rhetorical scholars would make and as such their impulse would be to dismiss postmodern theory as a mere rehearsal of the Sophists's arguments against Socrates. Such a dismissal would be too summary, however, for postmodernists do not merely rehearse arguments that already circulate among rhetoricians. On the contrary, postmodern theory has much to say concerning the state of public address, or perhaps more properly, following McKerrow (1989, p. 101), discourses that "address publics." In particular, postmodern theory can lead us to think critically about the status of public discourse, about the goings-on and the givens of what has been termed "the rhetorical situation." More precisely, postmodernism asserts that modernity's set of exigences (Bitzer, 1986), speakers, and public spaces, as well as its presumptions (often shared by rhetorical theorists) about the process of public communication itself, are fundamentally problematic.

In what follows, I will employ postmodern theory to characterize and explicate a relatively minor controversy: the debate in Montreal over water fluoridation. I will develop two converging lines of inquiry: the first is concerned with the postmodern character of the current controversy, the second with the crisis posed by postmodernity to deliberation and judgment. This does not mean, however, that I will grant the full range of postmodern claims. They are hardly consistent with each other and furthermore, as we shall see, there remain significant ways in which modernity, or perhaps a hypermodernity, determine our public life.

A Relatively Minor Controversy

Montreal does not fluoridate its drinking water. Long-time autocratic Mayor Jean Drapeau had always opposed fluoridation projects, maintaining that the city had no business forcing residents to consume a medication (Leduc, 1988). Thus, Montreal did not fluoridate even as it became the norm elsewhere in North America. In 1975, faced with pressure from the public health sector, as well as with substantial expenditures for free publicly funded children's dental care, the Quebec government enacted legislation requiring that municipalities fluoridate their water supplies. This was successfully resisted by Montreal and after a change of provincial government the legislation was suspended. When Drapeau left politics, and his Civic Party suffered defeat at the hands of the "progressive" Montreal Citizen's Movement, fluoridation seemed assured: it was advocated by public health officials, it was on the party platform, it was favoured by the provincial government, and it was presented as a reasonable and rational way of improving Montreal's very poor dental health statistics. However, in the interim, fluoridation encountered new opponents. The Quebec Minister of the Environment's Consultative Committee (CCE) recommended against fluoridation out of a concern with possible unknown hazards, environmental activists echoed and amplified these concerns--claiming there existed a case against fluoride, and some maverick health professionals attacked fluoridation and the health institutions that supported it. Ultimately, the Minister of the Environment, under clear pressure from the Minister of Health, dismissed anti-fluoridation arguments and authorized water fluoridation. However, even though the province announced it would assume fluoridation costs it ducked the controversy by making fluoridation a local option.2 It then became the business of Montreal City Council and its Community Development Standing Committee to determine the practicality (or practical wisdom or prudence) of fluoridating Montreal water. Ultimately, after extensive public hearings, the question ended in a tie vote and so the measure was defeated. While, this vote did not bind City Council, the city's executive committee responded by ordering environmental studies on the effect of fluoridation upon the St. Lawrence river, effectively postponing Council's consideration of the matter until a more propitious moment that is now ever receding (Paré, 1989).

Montreal's fluoridation controversy is an instance where the authority of science and of the public-health complex failed. Despite the fact that fluoridation is strongly advocated by the medical and public health establishment, who --armed with the findings of hundreds of studies-- claim to speak within the "true," the matter became a controversy in which opponents were not marginalized as "kooks" and in which half of the members of a council subcommittee refused to grant fluoridationists' claims. That Montreal did not fluoridate under Drapeau can be explained as a chance occurrence; that Montreal still does not fluoridate after Drapeau requires a more complex account. Indeed, I would suggest that there is something postmodern about this recent controversy.

In The Postmodern Condition: A Report of Knowledge, written for Quebec's Conseil des universités, Lyotard (1984, p. 3) describes postmodernism as "an incredulity toward meta-narratives." More precisely, in that report he identifies the two meta-narratives, or what we might call myths, that have legitimated knowledge and its institutionalization in the university. The first, "knowledge for its own sake," ultimately has favoured philosophy. The second, more democratic, "knowledge to emancipate the people," has favoured research and, ultimately technology. Scientific knowledge has use-value, to be exploited by technicians and administrators in order to further the narrative of progress through enlightenment. Not surprisingly, the briefest examination of pro-fluoridation rhetoric reveals the presence of this latter meta-narrative. As we will see, the mitigated success of pro-fluoridation arguments and the contestation of the meta-narrative of emancipation through science can be understood as a manifestation of the postmodern condition. Furthermore, the progression of this controversy offers us some insight into the complex relationship of the postmodern to modernity, where the former is at times presented as a break with its predecessor, and at other times as an exaggerated extension of it.

Technological Controversy in the Public Sphere

A social-technological controversy, such as the one on water fluoridation, can be seen to proceed through a number of stages at a number of relatively distinct sites. Each stage and site will have its attendant boundaries, discourses, procedures of deliberation, and modalities of judgment. Furthermore, the judgments that occur in some of these sites can claim a certain authority, most notably to authorize Truth or Power. Thus, in the case briefly rendered above, we saw three stages and sites. The first stage is that of scientific validation and the first site is what I will term the "public health complex" (PHC), a set of interconnected institutions that speak publicly in the name of the health sciences and of public health. The second stage is that of the rationalization of competing interests and discourses and the setting of expedient social policy. Its site is the state, particularly its various departments and the cabinet. The third stage is that of implementation. Its site is "the local," including local government, in which recur many of the elements of the state discourse, except that the boundaries, procedures, and modes of judgment will be less rationalized, and the horizon of judgment will have a particular rather than universal character. We will now explore the temporal and logical ordering of these sites.

Science, Modernity, and the State

There is value in returning to Aristotle to understand the stages of the fluoridation debate. Aristotle (Rhetoric, I, iii) offers a hierarchy of topics of enquiry: that of possibility, that of existence, and that of value. In his scheme, the effect of water fluoridation upon health and the environment would be within the domain of scientific enquiry, for it would be a consequence of universal natural laws. Thus, a determination of the effects of fluoridation in the abstract logically precedes enquiring into its appropriateness in a particular context. As such, the settling of the fluoridation question within science precedes the practical and political issue of whether to implement fluoridation. Without wishing fully to grant science the "epistemological excellence" it claims for itself, it remains that the development of the fluoridation debate follows the Aristotelian ordering.

While the rhetorical procedures that operate to establish the truth value of statements within scientific discourse are not of interest to us here, the public rhetoric of science is. Science, or more specifically the public health complex, claims to speak in the public sphere with certain knowledge on matters within its province. This complex, even more fundamentally than the state, claims to know the true and, in health matters, the good. Furthermore, while of course claims regarding public health measures are spoken by individuals, their ethos does not follow directly from the person. Rather, it is conferred upon them by their place within the discursive formation of science. Scientists do not take personal responsibility for their claims, but deflect it onto Science itself, as instantiated in the public health complex. Thus, in a letter to the editor of The Montreal Gazette, John Osterman, M.D., Head of the Community Health Department, Lakeshore General Hospital, ironically names the "crackpots" supporting the case for fluoridation. He lists a series of institutions from the Canadian Dental Association to the United Nations Environmental Program and the American Water Works Association. Osterman (1987) presents as unimpeachable the judgments these organizations have rendered. They have "examined the extensive literature and have concluded that water fluoridation is by far. . . the most efficient and cheapest way . . . to promote dental health." Furthermore, "it is not related to heart disease . . . to Down's syndrome . . . or cause any other known toxic effects." Furthermore, with the authority that comes from speaking within the true, fluoridation advocates can dismiss the claims of opponents, including members of the scientific community who cite contrary evidence, as the result of "scientific fraud," misunderstanding or misrepresenting results, and "lying with statistics" (Paré, 1987).

In the ontological divisions that Kant established, and that subtend modern knowledge, science does not have a moral project. However, under the modern meta-narrative of emancipation through enlightenment, not only does science claim to be within the true, but the application of science through technological intervention becomes productive of good (Grant, 1969). In fact, this meta-narrative constitutes "facts" as practical exigences and seeks to establish the boundaries of the rhetorical situation of technology implementation. Thus Quebec's very poor dental-health record for children, ascribed to poor dental hygiene and a very sweet tooth by North American standards, stands as the exigence that drives the fluoridation project forward. The presence of this meta-narrative accounts for the constant comparison in the press of Quebec's dental health and fluoridation record with that of Ontario and the United States, fully modern societies. A second effect of this meta-narrative is to reduce those who are responsible for Quebec's cavities to objects whose diet will be regulated by science and the state, which become twin heroes and form a meta-subject. The object of fluoridation, the social body of bodies, will have its humours treated in the name of the salvation of children and the poor, those who are unable or unwilling to act according to reason. Thus, when the province decided in December of 1987 to support and promote (although not require) fluoridation, a representative of the Coalition québécoise pour la fluoration de l'eau remarked triumphantly "that this was a victory against fear and doubt [translation mine]" (Lenneville, 1987).

The public health complex, possessor of knowledge and driven by a project, is a relay point between several types of discourse, or what Lyotard would term "language games." It participates both in the descriptive game of health science and in the prescriptive game of public policy. For its statements in the latter game to have authority, the authority of the former game to speak the true must be granted. With each statement, the public health complex makes an implicit claim as to the universal and transcendent character of its utterances: they would be true, and not simply have truth-value within a particular self-validating language game, and they would have normative force against the horizon of public health as a good to be incontestably realized. What one observes, however, is that a variety of postmodern effects render these validity claims problematic.

The Quebec state is fully committed to the modern project, including the management of the social on the basis of instrumental knowledge and the rational administration of competing interests to maintain la paix sociale, the absence of conflict that would disrupt the economy's performance and the smooth functioning of the state apparatus itself. From this perspective, the setting of policy is ultimately a technological question, where knowledge is applied to enhance the performance of the social. This concern with performativity marks Quebec as hypermodern, so committed to modernity's instrumentalism that the modern project's initial telos of emancipation is lost. The meta-narrative of science for the people becomes désuet, an unnecessary rationalization of what is now a technical question. This new cybernetic telos demands a reduction of public dental health expenditures, and this through the optimization of the dental health care delivery system as well as the teeth-producing bodies themselves. In this light we can understand the public health complex's major argument in support of fluoridation. Fluoridation is "cost effective," and will relieve the provincial treasury of a $35 million burden (Boychuk, 1987). Thus, the discourse of the PHC ambiguously has meaning in a number of language games: the scientific one of consensual validation, the modern meta-narrative of emancipation through enlightenment, and the hypermodern one of state economic performativity. The PHC's capacity to mediate these incommensurable discourse accounts for the state's receptivity to its normative claims. Paradoxically, however, it is within this postmodern context of parallel incommensurable discourses that the claims of the public health complex encounter difficulty.3

The state accepts the authority of science when it claims to possess technical knowledge. It is also willing to accept normative claims based in the meta-narrative of popular emancipation if they are consonant with the hypermodern cybernetic principle of performativity. However, the state is active in more than one domain. It not only regulates health care, but also the environment, and finally the social as an ensemble of competing interests with their attendant and often incommensurable or arational claims. Thus, the state's criterion of performativity constitutes exigences and delimits rhetorical situations in a manner different from those of the public health complex. From this perspective, we can expect challenges from fluoridation at the level of the state to command attention in certain instances. The most significant challenges will derive from possible conflicts between the performativity of different domains. In our case, the Quebec government had to weigh the benefits of fluoridation against its potential hazards to the environment and the political liabilities of imposing the measure upon unwilling local jurisdictions. Significantly, the Quebec government did not take into account attacks upon the authority of the PHC. Rather, it indicated it would review its position on fluoridation subsequent to a recommendation against the measure by the Minister of the Environment's Consultative Committee, a body that also has a claim to speak from within the true. This committee of engineers, technicians, and environmental specialists indicated its concern with the prospect of the large-scale addition of fluoride, a toxic substance, to the environment.

Lyotard (1984, pp. 53-60) observes that as a result of the shift of science's legitimation criterion from truth to utility, science is no longer (if it ever was) a unified discourse producing a coherent field of knowledge. Rather scientific discourses are discrete and only offer local (i.e., domain and context specific) knowledge. Thus knowledge itself becomes problematic under postmodernity. This was poignantly revealed when the minister of the environment, Clifford Lincoln, confessed his perplexity to the press. Lincoln acknowledged that "[m]ajor health and environmental bodies have stated that `there is no scientific basis for saying fluoridation is harmful' " even while citing environmentalist objections in principle to adding substances to the water supply. Lincoln also lamented: " `I'm not a scientist. I'm not God. I don't know' " (Scott, 1987). This bears witness to the postmodern dilemma to judgment, at least in social-technical spheres. Concomitant with the postmodern fragmentation of science, a science of the totality of nature, a science of ecology, is impossible. Nature as a totality cannot adequately be represented and the entire range of effects of any intervention into the environment cannot be known in advance. Scientists no longer can, as Lincoln still hoped, aspire to emulate God's knowledge. Techno-scientific knowledge not only cannot in and of itself legitimate prescriptives, for this a narrative of justice or the good is required, but it cannot offer unimpeachable predictives outside of a clearly bounded domain. Thus, environmentalists preach with a recognition of human finitude that most unscientific virtue of "prudence." But contra Aristotle (Nicomachean ethics, VI; Aubenque, 1963; Warnick, 1989), prudence would not be based in a practical knowledge of the human soul, of the probability of human acts and dispositions, but at most in a recognition of the limits to knowledge and an abandonment of instrumentalism in the face of even slight uncertainty. As such, this prudence would not be practical wisdom of the Aristotelian sort, but rather one marked by resignation and paralysis.

Lincoln's dilemma was ultimately resolved, however, within the hypermodern logic of performativity itself. Environmentalists based their demands on the impossibility of knowing fluoride's effects and hence relinquished their claim to speak true positive knowledge. As such, they could not contribute to the enhancement of system performativity through technical reason. And so the cabinet decided, with Lincoln's approbation, to fund municipal fluoridation projects. Lincoln agreed that water fluoridation did not pose a hazard. However, in response to vocal opponents of fluoridation, and in an effort to contain or at least deflect the political fallout, Quebec decided not to impose fluoridation upon unwilling municipalities. It chose what Lincoln (Brunet, 1987) termed this "more democratic" path, knowing of course that the Montreal city administration was strongly committed to the project and indeed had been awaiting a favourable sign from the capital.

Postmodernity and Incommensurability

In the above discussion, I have rendered the fluoridation debate as ultimately the manifestation of postmodern epistemological effects upon techno-scientific discourse in the public domain. In doing so however, my treatment was limited to a consideration of the deliberation of the matter from the state's perspective. This skewed my presentation, for I have reserved much, if not most, of the controversy on fluoridation for consideration as part of what can be theorized as "the local" (Probyn, 1990). This act of location may appear somewhat arbitrary since "the local" could appear so vague as to be meaningless. After all, the entire fluoridation controversy can be considered local in the sense that it takes place in a particular "locale," the province of Quebec. Indeed, the most prominent study that is inconsistent with the body of fluoridation-validating research took place in Trois-Rivières, a Quebec community. Also, state deliberation occurred in the context of Montreal's project and the city waited for Quebec to set its policy. All the while, activists held press conferences and wrote commentaries for newspapers, editorialists took sides, and news stories summarized the latest positions, debates, and developments. Nevertheless, even though Montreal's newspapers are in all probability read by cabinet ministers, I think that there is value in maintaining the local as an analytic category against the state, and this because most of the discourses on fluoride do not conform to the highly disciplined language game that the state demands. In other words, "local" has more significance in terms of epistemology than geography. The discourses that constitute what we might term "public debate" circulate in wild networks with unchartable relay points, confront each other at multiple sites, and constantly shift language games. While communicative networks link local discourses to the discourses of the state, the very range of significations and the criteria of appropriateness are different in these different locations. The state is counterpoised to the local as the former operates under the sign of the universal. The meta-discourse of legitimacy and power itself locates these two differently within the hierarchy of sites and criteria for judgment.

Interventions by social actors and treatment of the matter in the press accelerated after Quebec announced its policy and dates were set for hearings on the matter by the Community Development Standing Committee. Despite some concern that the committee hearings would be a sham, as the Montreal Citizen's Movement held nine of ten committee seats, the resultant debate deserves to be termed lively and vigorous. Even though only Montreal residents were permitted to intervene, the committee heard 106 presentations, including testimony from a number of international "expert" witnesses (Favreau, 1988, March 8). The arguments put forward in these hearings as well as in the press were wide-ranging. Some remained within the logic of performativity. It was pointed out by the Association québécois des techniques de l'eau that over 99% of fluoridated water would not be ingested, and thus that the water supply was an inefficient delivery system for the chemical (Favreau, 1988, March 15). The fluoridation of table salt was proposed as an alternative, as were increased health education and the distribution of fluoride with the schools. Predictably, these were rejected by pro-fluoridationists. Representatives of local community health centres argued that other delivery techniques posed dosage control problems and that public education was costly and limited in its effects. Others contested the authority of the public health complex, while public health spokespersons dismissed the knowledge claims of their opponents by attacking their ethos. Thus Dr. John Osterman likened anti-fluoridationists to members of the Flat Earth Society, while he was treated in a letter to the editor as a "careerist." Elsewhere, fluoridationists were likened to television evangelists, characterized as institutionalized charlatans, and compared with Joseph Mengele, the "Angel of Death," while in the committee hearings a former adviser to the World Health Organization accused that organization of systematically passing over research that undercut its pro-fluoridation position. For all of this sound and fury, however, what is striking though predictable is the high degree to which interveners sought to place themselves within the "true" of science. Attacks upon science as an institution still required the ethos of science as a regulative idea. The coalition against fluoridation included environmental groups (e.g., Society to Overcome Pollution and Société pour vaincre la pollution), the society of naturopaths, opponents of compulsory vaccination, and the cyclist rights lobby. But, at least in the press, the most significant opponents of this project were scientists or medical practitioners. Thus a family physician from California, Dr. John Lee, cited to the committee his own 1972 study that demonstrated significant levels of fluoride in children's diets in the absence of fluoridated water (Boychuk, 1988). A dentist from a rural community spoke against the measure ("Fluoridationist campaign," 1988), as did the author of the Trois-Rivières study, variously identified in the press as an "environmental researcher" ("Adding fluoride," 1987) and as a "biochemist and doctor of experimental medicine [translation mine]" (Favreau, 1988, March 10) who is now a director of a rural local community health centre. Finally, the opposition's star witness Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, an American biochemist, asserted that fluoridation was linked to an increased incidence of cancer death ("Biochemist cites risk . . . ," 1988).

Fluoridation opponents presented strong claims, and yet their authority to make such claims depends upon their status as scientists, which is problematic within the scientific community. Anti-fluoridationists, in a manner shared by great innovators and quacks alike, implicitly assert the impurity or limitation of the present language games of science, as they hold on to their own truth and carry on their struggle in another court. There is an irony here. The authority of pro-fluoridation rhetoric is based in the public health complex's status as a nodal point between the language games of science and of social policy. The language game of social policy, with its own rhetorical procedures, now is cast as judge of the PHC's and the scientific community's claim to be in the true. We thus have a case where one language game is called upon to rule on another in the absence of any epistemological Archimedean point. In a letter to La Presse, two members of the scientific community commented on the unscientific character of the public debate, and asserted that the matter would have been better considered by a panel of impartial scientific experts who could review the research literature fairly (Guay & Guay, 1988). Their argument is, at first glance persuasive. City councillors do not have scientific training and as such are ill-equipped to judge competing scientific claims. However, the crux of the dispute cannot be settled within the language game of science. The dispute is precisely over the authority of that language game. Fluoridation is currently accepted by the institutionally mediated language game of science even if it is rejected by certain scientists and even if "impartial scientists" might someday call the measure into question. The public health complex, to the degree that it is an extension of science as a social institution where "truth" means consensual validation, is in the true by definition. Because that language game proceeds through consensual validation rather than through an approximation of God's understanding, the "truth" of fluoridation was given at the beginning of the debate. What opponents of fluoridation call into question is the authority of the health-science community. They stand as reminders that regardless of consensus on scientific authority, the potential effects of a substance cannot be discursively contained. Not even consensual validation offers certainty. Some risk always exists. While one can hope that councillors deliberate well and possess the virtue of phronesis (prudence or practical wisdom), and one can judge their judgments post hoc, no body of knowledge stands as a foundation or prerequisite to judgment. Indeed, the more one seeks certainty, the less one can act. As André Cardinal, a city councillor who voted against fluoridation put it: "I think we should be prudent about putting things in the water, especially [with] what's happening today. We're discovering all sort [sic] of new things all the time, and all sort[s] of new things that are affecting the environment all the time, and I'm kind of frightened" (Pulse News, 1988). Is this an instance of the "panic" that Kroker, Kroker, & Cook (1989, p. 13) maintain "is the key psychological mood of postmodern culture"? The irreparable becomes a major locus of technological culture (Cox, 1982) for which inaction becomes an appropriate response.

Is judgment still possible under these conditions? Of course; a judgment was rendered. Five councillors, one of whom attended no hearings, voted against. Five voted for. The proposal was rejected. Lyotard would consider the judgment of one language game by another a form of terror, but such judgment is unavoidably required of political life. Practical issues demand judgment. Even while the irreparable deserves consideration, judgement cannot be forever deferred because of epistemological anxiety. It must be guided, as it was for the pre-moderns, by rhetorical forms of deliberation and knowledge that are based in contingency and require both imagination and a leap of faith. But in the postmodern world, which lacks transcendent totalities, faith itself is contingent and must always again face the court of judgment. Postmodern judgment does not end the rhetorical conversation, it only punctuates it. And so, in the fluoridation case, the issue of whether a good judgment was rendered or not cannot be ultimately resolved. The ethos and logos of this judgment remain open to review as contingencies and faiths change.

What then can be said of rhetoric and public address under postmodern conditions? Against Baudrillard (1983, pp. 24-29), who maintains that the "mass" is indifferent if not cynical, and that it refuses to participate in deliberation, the masses are not silent. Voices within "the local" spoke and were heard. But even so, the local can refuse to be "responsible." Two-thirds of those polled who had an opinion favoured fluoridation, but over 40% mistakenly believed their water to be already fluoridated (Favreau, 1988, February 3). Furthermore, while the authority of the ideal of science was left unquestioned in local discourse, its language game and the ethos it conferred upon scientists were not necessarily granted. No totality is graspable or representable; we are left with partial and perspectival fictions that have at best analytic and explanatory utility. Over against the clear boundaries between language games that Lyotard would want, what can be heard in the local is a jumble of discordant voices. The postmodern challenge is to listen for voices, to speak, to accept incommensurability and the impossibility of certainty, and then deliberate so that the best impossible judgments can be formed.


The author thanks William Buxton, Kevin Dowler, and Robert Hariman for their comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Reasearch Council.
Significantly, water fluoridation has usually been a local issue in North America. While provinces (or states) retain the right to regulate water supplies, they are usually managed by municipalities. Fluoridation attempts have often sparked controversy. Resistance to fluoridation was often linked to fear by individuals of authority or large institutions (Both of the state and large corporations)(Paul, Gamson, & Kegeles, 1961). This could be interpreted as the manifestation of residual, "pre-modern" tendencies, distrustful of the modern project's normalization through reason. This did not seem significant to the current Montreal case. While Drapeau had opposed fluoridation on such a principle, few recent opponents to Montreal fluoridation expressed a concern with the extension of state power. For an analyses of resistance to fluoridation in terms of local political dymanics, see Crain, Katz, & Rosenthal (1969). According to this study, because fluoridation carries few political benifits, community political leaders ultimately will soften their support for the measure when opposition from a local minority renders it a political liability. This conclusion accounts in part for why Montreal's administration did not impose fluoridation. It does not account for the political-epistemological issues underlying the dispute.
Above, I have termed "hypermodern" the regulation of teh real by a cybernetic model operating under the principle of performativity. By "postmodern," I refer to the loss of a totalizing principle of meta-narrative capable of ordering and transcending different language games and truth claims.


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