The Seattle Times has published a column by Jon Talton lamenting how our culture today has lost the concept of objective truth. Ironically, it blames conservatives for “our post-truth era.”
What the author is describing is post-modernism. He seems to not realize that this world-view is taught in the nation’s left-leaning universities, that it is the philosophy behind post-Marxist “critical theory” and identity politics.
Still, Republicans can be postmodernists too. The author quotes an anonymous official (also unnamed in the original source) in the administration of George W. Bush. From Jon Talton, In our post-truth era, how we view reality is more important than ever:
The aide dismissed people living “in what we call the reality-based community,” who believe that “solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”
“That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” the aide continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality …. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
That “we create our own reality” is the postmodernist creed. Talton fixates on President Trump for doing this. He quotes the president’s attorney Rudy Giuliani for saying that “Truth isn’t truth” and that objective facts are “in the eye of the beholder.” But President Trump is always battling “fake news,” supposedly objective journalism that turns out to be a construction based on anti-Trump bias.
When both sides have their own realities, neither side can persuade the other and polarization, conflict, and power-struggles are inevitable. Talton offers another good quotation showing where the “post-truth era” can lead:
No wonder in her 1951 book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction. . . and the distinction between true and false. . . no longer exists.”
To his credit, Talton does cite cases of constructing truth among liberals, including his fellow denizens of Seattle, though he says these are not as dangerous as what he sees among conservatives:
The left often thinks of groups, not individuals. “Diversity” means different ethnicities, genders, sexuality, but does it also mean different life paths and viewpoints? Does it include older people, the disabled, conservatives and religious believers?. . . .
The leftward lens is distorted by what historians call the anachronistic fallacy, projecting today’s perspectives and values onto moments in the past. . .
To some on the left, America is a uniquely evil nation — there’s your American exceptionalism. . . .
Liberals are slightly more anti-vaccination than conservatives. No matter that childhood immunization is a great and proven scientific leap that saves lives and protects the general population.
Talton appeals to the Enlightenment ideal of Reason. But to which position does Reason take us? To the authoritarian monarchs like Frederick the Great who patronized the Enlightenment thinkers? Or the French Revolution? Or the American Revolution? To Adam Smith’s Capitalism or Karl Marx’s Communism?
The problem is that the scientific materialism that grew out of the Enlightenment explored the objective world with great effect, but drained it of meaning. Such things as meaning, values, design, morality, faith, beauty, purpose were banished from the external world and consigned to human subjectivity. Meaningless “facts” could serve as the basis of technology–which is a constructivist enterprise, in which we do create new realities–but ideas, philosophies, ideologies, and “truth” are functions of the mind. Which led inexorably to postmodernist constructivism.
What’s needed is a “reality-based community” that has a basis for the whole range of objective truth. That includes physical reality and also moral, philosophical, and theological reality. The church can be such a “reality-based community.”
Illustration by Ron Mader via Flickr, Creative Commons License