A Post-Truth World?

A Post-Truth World?

Oscar Wilde once wrote that politicians aren't great liars: "They never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation.... How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind! After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence." 
 
We can easily imagine how Oscar Wilde might respond to the preposterous late-night fabrications and rally falsehoods that characterize the discourse of the current occupant of America's center of government. What we should ask instead is this: how will a sitting president's indifference to the truth affect America's political, social, and even existential future? Is there, in other words, light at the end of the post-truth tunnel?
There is an abundance of reasons to doubt it. Remember that the candidacy of the president was grounded in "birtherism," the outlandish argument that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., was ineligible to assume the presidency, and was in fact a Muslim plant. Keep in mind that the alleged conspiracy would have been hatched long before Obama was born. But birtherism offers a critical clue to the truth-twisting of the far-right in America and around the world. 
 
The movement's most essential tropes are all denialist in nature. That is, they deliberately misrepresent reality, reject scientific or historical consensus, or create demonstrably false or misleading "evidence" to support insupportable positions. Denialism seems almost always to emerge as a strategy for fending off psychologically uncomfortable truth. Among the most egregious denials concern the Holocaust, the AIDS pandemic, and global climate change. Other manifestations of sociopathology systematically deny the reality of misogyny, social injustice, and racial discrimination. And recently we've witnessed the specter of the democracy-denying "Deep State" conspiracy theories
 
So, is truth dead forever? Is realism now optional? Many thoughtful cultural evolutionists insist that all is far from lost. Let me introduce just one of them, Steven Pinker (whose newest book, Enlightenment Now will be the subject of my Tuesday a.m. workshop, May 22-June 19.)
 
Professor Pinker, a renowned evolutionary psychologist at Harvard University, sees the current president as merely the latest example of the "anti-enlightenment movement," an antirational rejection of natural law and the rights of human beings. He puts it simply:
 
"Trumpism is of course part of a larger phenomenon of authoritarian populism. This is a backlash against the values responsible for the progress that we've enjoyed. Trumpism promotes a kind of counter-enlightenment ideology. That is,, instead of universal human wellbeing, it focuses on the glory of the nation, assuming that nations are in zero-sum competition against each other as opposed to cooperating globally."
 
You'll find us at CG as enthusiastic as ever for the power of reason, the value of informed discussion, and the reality of progressive cultural evolution.
 
Jim Kenney, Executive Director