Back in the day when I knew everything, which is another way of saying I knew nothing, Truth was one of those words I thought I owned. At age 17 a boy is in pursuit of girls, perfecting his jump shot and figuring out what’s to become of himself…if anything. In other words finding his manhood, his personhood. What’s it all about and where do I fit in?
Proportional to one’s uncertainty is the hunger for answers. The prescription I wrote for myself was a philosophy with absolutes, a kind of secular religion. One that seemed applicable to just about every issue of the day. I took up Dialectical Materialism, aka Marxism. Don’t ask me to explain it now. As I recall it got me nowhere with girls and has mostly evaporated in the steam of maturation.
What remains is the notion of Objective Reality. Yes, the tree does make a sound in the forest whether or not anyone is there to record it. It cannot be both raining and not raining at the same time. There is historical Truth. Slavery and genocide did occur. Voting suppression, labor struggles and racism still do.
In opposition to this idea is the philosophy of Pragmatism. The argument was that a powerful nation has a way of justifying its acts as expediencies. Whatever works is right. It can be good today and wrong tomorrow if it suits the decision-maker.
One’s insistence on Truth loses its grip upon exposure to nuance and a variety of experiences. Rigidity gives way. Absolutes lose their appeal. I have come to embrace ambiguity of characters in literature, the inexplicable, the mystery at the heart of human existence. Compromise becomes a stronger reality with inclusion of other voices. Over time one makes a truce. Today we seem to honor the candidate who is pragmatic yet principled. We denounce the ideologue for his intransigence. Certain abstractions such as War or Intervention might demand context while others such as Torture do not.
Along comes Donald Trump. I can hear my old Marxist theoreticians railing against what was termed, Subjective Idealism, a moral relativism that distorts reality to serve only one’s self-interest. With his wanton disregard for fact-based evidence he threatens the planet with junk-science. He has devalued Truth, itself, with a stream of fabrications posing as alternative facts as if they deserve equal consideration. He wouldn't know a lie if it tweeted in his ear.
I seem to be back where I started with Objective Reality. Or maybe it has never fully left me. No, Virginia, there really isn’t a Santa or Tooth Fairy. Those are called metaphors. They have their place. I never met one I wish I didn’t think of first. I feast on them but metaphors don’t answer mail. The wish may be father to the thought but it does not make things so.
Obama was not born in Kenya even though Donald wishes he were nor are we now under siege from hordes of barbarians about to invade our frozen yogurt shops as they rape, pillage and plunder our heartland.