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Understanding Everything, Knowing Nothing


The current President seems to have a flexible relationship with truth. And in that statement, I display a kinship with his philosophy.

The word at the crux is “seem”. I have made it a habit to qualify many of my perceptions with words like “seem” or “appear”. This habit was cultivated, in part, to recognize that as only one mind, I cannot embrace all that is true. I can only know what I know, which is not necessarily all that exists.

But I diverge from the President in my conclusion that there is an absolute truth. What seems true to me, or to him, or to anyone, is rooted in fixed concepts. Barry denies (appears to deny?) there is any fixed truth underlying each person’s perception. Everything is relative.

And nothing is real without someone to perceive it, and put that perception into linguistic terms. There are no absolutes. This is what is called “post-modernism”:

[T]he chief characteristic of postmodern thinking is the notion of relativism and the primacy of language over reality. What we signify and brand as “real,” in essence, is no more valid than another’s “truth,” even if we retreat to specious claims of “evidence”— especially if our aim is to perpetuate the nation state, or the primacy of the white male capitalist Westerner who long ago manufactured norms in his own interests.

“Alternate” realities instead reflect those without power speaking a “truth,” one just as valid as the so-called empirical tradition that hinged on inherited privilege.

The quote is from Victor Davis Hanson, who explores examples Barry’s post-modern Presidency:

So if Obama says “typical white person,” or entitles his book from the sloganeering of a racist preacher he courted for 20 years, or stereotypes rural Pennsylvanians, or dubs police as acting “stupidly” in matters of supposed racial confrontation, or has an attorney general who damns the country as “cowards” on race, or appoints a Supreme Court judge who thinks a “wise Latina” by virtue of race and gender has superior wisdom, or recruits a Van Jones who characterizes everyone from polluters to mass murderers by race (I could go on), well, all this is not at all racial stereotyping with an intent to deprecate.

Why? Because constructs of language, expression, and reality hinge on status and class. Obama is seeking to dethrone traditional nexuses of power. So when he, from time to time, muses on real racial inequality, reactionaries retreat to “objective” “standards” of reciprocity to thwart his proposed changes.

Hanson lists several more.

The difficulty with such a wordlview is that if every truth is equal, there is no cause for action beyond how one feels. Without grounding in some sort of absolute, there is no logic, no reason.

There is certainly merit in understanding each person’s perspective. Any of us cannot know all. But some perspectives are flawed. And some people are wrong.

Gandhi called his life “experiments with truth”. He aimed to understand experience as a means to know truth. In post-modernism, there is no standard against which experience can be tested.