Soon after Donald Trump was elected, CNN released a powerful new ‘Facts First’ ad Campaign series featuring an onscreen image of an apple with a voiceover narrating the following words:
This is an apple. Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana. They might scream, ‘Banana, banana, banana’ over and over again. They might put banana in all caps. You might even start to believe it’s a banana, but it’s not. This is an apple.
The attempt by CNN and others to reinstate the definition of truth as a function of objective reality is praiseworthy. But the ‘facts first’ strategy, while admirable, does not address the origins of the campaign against facts and reason, which started, not with the inauguration of Donald Trump, but with an intellectual movement that began in Europe long before Donald Trump’s grandfather Frederick Trump was operating brothels in British Columbia.
Make America Think Again
Every nation was created by either an accident of war, tribal assertions, or arbitrary geographic lines drawn by colonial powers. The only exception to this is the United States of America.
The United States was built around a range of ideas with ‘reason’ as its primary source of authority. It was the first nation-state to give form to the enlightenment ideals of liberty, constitutional government, natural law, and separation of church and state.
Objectivity became the standard of appraisal and armed with an ‘impartial’ and predictable form of justice, America prospered both economically and socially. The system ‘worked’ because it was grounded in a definition of truth and reality that existed independently of human perception.
But of course, men are not objective and nature must be mitigated by compassionate policy. ‘Survival of the fittest’ only works if your standard of value is strength and intellect. But what about the heart and soul?
Reason vs. Romanticism
The sterility of reason and intellect proved soul-killing and inevitably yielded to another human reflex- emotion. This led to a counter-movement known as Romanticism. Unlike reason which gave precedence to intellect and logic, Romanticism elevated man’s emotions, granting it the status of absolute truth. Perception became reality, and facts became ‘subject to interpretation.’
The Age for Irrationality
Romanticism as a philosophical movement started in Germany in the late 18th century and it emphasized emotional awareness as a pre-requisite to the betterment of society.
While the Enlightenment stressed that the universe was run by fixed laws and that reality was something we were encouraged to discover and master, the Romantics saw reality as a social construction. An apple is an apple or it can be a banana if we all collectively decide that, it is ‘in fact’ -a banana.
The universe according to the philosophy of the romantics is a single interconnected whole (we are all one). Reason and rationality, the Romantics might argue caters to a highly specialized psychological profile (the rugged individualist) and encourages the disintegration of social units. It is sterile and objective and devoid of compassion.
Romanticism, on the other hand, with its emphasis on emotion, was actually very romantic. It was a view of existence that was more interested in the reality that transcended time and space. Romanticism was mysticism without the institution of religion. It appealed to our spiritual impulses in a way that the age of reason did not.
But in the realm of politics, Romanticism was anything but romantic. It led to the slow erosion of our founding principles. Objectivity was replaced with collective subjectivity, reason with pragmatism, Individual rights with identity politics, and truth with consensus.
By rebelling against reason and rationality, Romanticism helped usher in two of the deadliest forms of political tyranny known to modern man- Nazism and Communism. Both political theories were essentially outgrowths of the philosophy of Romanticism.
Perception is not Reality
Once our understanding of truth became a subjective social construction, then whoever (as in the case of an aspiring demagogue) or whatever (as in the case of social media or the establishment), crafts the narrative can control the ‘truth’ and by extension our perceptions of reality.
Now that we have accepted the notion of truth as relative or a matter of human perception, we need not wonder how or why we got here. We need only ask, on what basis can we possibly launch a resistance against those who tell us that apples are bananas?
On what basis can we protest against the bizarre universe of alternative facts after we have disarmed ourselves of the most important weapon we have against tyranny- reason.
Without a clear definition of truth and reality, objective laws and individual rights cannot be preserved. When reason no longer rules and the rules are no longer guided by sacred principles we are left with only one of two ways to move forward; either through political pull or push: Otherwise known as pressure group politics or brute force.
And that’s the truth.
Or is it?