Friday, November 18, 2016

Post-Truth America

Denise McAllister at The Federalist puts her finger on one of the tragedies of our post modern age - the loss of belief in objective truth.

The present age, she points out, has come to be labelled the post-truth era and to the extent the designation is accurate it has been calamitous in numerous ways.

McAllister writes:
Oxford Dictionaries has picked “post-truth” as its word of the year, citing that “a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse” was the driving force that increased the word’s use by 2,000 percent.

It defines post-truth as “relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This word, publishers say, has “become ‘overwhelmingly’ associated with politics.”

.... What I find particularly fascinating regarding Oxford Dictionaries’ announcement is the reaction from liberals. Suddenly, people who hold to philosophies that actually undermine and reject objective truth are deeply concerned about emotions dictating facts.
This last sentence is important. Several generations of students have been taught by liberal post modern professors to be skeptical of any and all truth claims. Now, with Trump's ascendancy and the evidence that his lies didn't mean much to his supporters, some of these same people who were so eager to abandon the notion of objective truth in their academic work are now wringing their hands over the apparent fact that truth no longer matters to a large segment of our population.

McAllister drives home the irony of this crucial epistemological development:
I’d like to cut through the fog and focus on a foundational issue that is driving this chaos.

I have to ask [all those] fretting about fake news and post-truth in this election season: Where have you been all these years as America has abandoned truth for relativism especially in higher learning (and now in all levels of education)? Haven’t you been paying attention as we have put emotion over facts in just about every sphere of society? Our nation has been abandoning objective truth for more than a century! What did you think would result?

This sudden outcry against post-truth reminds me of the vapors so many had when they heard the [obscene Trump] tape. Suddenly, people who had been telling us there’s no right and wrong—no objective values or morality by which we can judge others—switched gears and became Puritans in a flash. This is the phenomenon I find truly amazing, and it’s just more evidence of the subjectivism that has been consuming our country for decades like cancer, eating away every part of civil society.

My response to those to those now worried about this “post-truth society” is “You reap what you sow.” This abandonment of objective facts for emotion is the inevitable result of our culture’s unrelenting commitment to moral relativism. This is the chaos that comes as a result. Look at it, soak it in, and maybe you’ll learn something.

Post-truth is not the fault of social media or of current politics. These are symptoms, not the disease. The disease is an American society that has closed its mind to objective truth and is now being forced to live with the conflict and chaos that ensues.

Relativism, subjectivism, and materialism are all bankrupt philosophies. Yet these are what drive our culture and politics. When objective truth and values are abandoned, there are no unifying principles of truth or morality that bind together the vast number of disparate individuals and groups that inhabit our nation.

Reason, objective morality, and principles of equal justice, truth, love, freedom for the individual, and limited government (to name a few)—these are objective realities. But we turned our backs on objective truth and embraced subjectivism, pluralism, and relativism, hiding them under the cloak of tolerance. We abandoned our principles. Now all we have is the many, with nothing to make us “one.” America’s greatness stems from its commitment to e pluribus unum—out of the many, one. Out of the many states, one nation. Out of the many races, religions, and backgrounds, one people. To achieve that—to bind together all these subjective entities into a functioning and civil whole—we need objective principles to which we are all committed.
Of course, our abandonment of objective truth has a cause - secularism. There can only be objective values if those values are rooted in the transcendent. Eliminate all reference to transcendence and society's left with nothing in which to anchor its moral, political and aesthetic values. They simply float like untethered balloons drifting along on the breezes of social fashion.

McAllister goes on:
The fact is when everyone defines truth for himself, there are no ties that bind. If I decide something is true for me, based on how I feel, then it is true. This is all I have if I have rejected objective truth. All I have are my subjective experience, feelings, and natural impulses. These become truth for me, just as your subjective feelings become truth for each of you. In the end, we are ruled, not by a common commitment to truths to which we all are bound or a commitment to exercise reason as we pursue truth, but by our own individual feelings.

The result is chaos and conflict, because there is no real common ground. For there to be common ground, you would have to be committed to something objective, a truth outside of yourself that is the same for everyone. This conflict can’t be avoided if society rejects objective truth and reason.

What is truly frightening is that human beings can’t remain in a state of chaos, so they look to a savior for peace, unity, and security. In a world that has abandoned a common commitment to objective truth, the only savior, the only path to unity, is an individual or group of individuals with enough power to control everyone else. The motivation of their will to power, just as with all who abandon truth, is to satisfy their own feelings and feed their own natural appetites. Principles and truth play no role. “The object of power is power,” George Orwell wrote in “1984.”

“Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [objective truths and values],” C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Abolition of Man,” “or else we are mere nature [creatures ruled by emotions and natural impulses] to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.”
There's much else of value in McAllister's essay, and I urge you to read it all. She concludes with this thought:
If we truly want to make America great again, if we really want peace and prosperity, we must return to the foundational principles and truths that made our nation great in the first place. If we want unity—e pluribus unum—we have to abandon subjectivism and once again embrace objective truth and morality. If we don’t, America will be transformed into a brave new world where truth is defined by the powerful.
Her words are, if you'll pardon the pun, objectively true, and they're certainly worth reflecting upon.