In thinking about the post-modernism of the New Right, consider the Washington State football coach who sent out on social media an altered video of an Obama speech. Many quickly pointed out that the speech as presented never occurred. The coach responded again and again with the challenge, “Prove it.” While this response may seem to indicate a belief that things can be true or false, the speaker took the stance that even though he was asserting something, it was not his responsibility to assure its truth. By commanding others to prove that his assertion was false, he was saying what he said should stand until then. In other words, he had no responsibility for the truth of his assertions. Instead, others did. But then the coach shifted his responses and asked, “What is a fact?” Of course, if he does not know what a fact is, then he will never accept that his assertion has been disproved. His proposition should live on until disproved, he indicated, but at the same time, he will not necessarily accept the disproof. This intellectually dishonest position abandons all responsibility for the truth.
Conservatives have another twist on postmodernism: multiple versions of the truth. There is truth and there are facts, but they rapidly change. The President makes assertions and relays information, but often he gives us conflicting facts and assertions within days or even hours. Truth may not be subjective, but it is changeable. (His assertions of shifting truths and facts have led to cries that the President lies. In a previous post, I discussed On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfort and concluded that “liar” is not the correct term for Trump; “bullshitter” is. A liar is concerned about the truth; a bullshitter is not. It is fair to say that the President does not feel a responsibility for the truth of his pronouncements.)
That is dangerous enough, but the danger increases when others also don’t take a responsibility for facts and truth. Consider the ongoing disputes about the separation of families at the border. The Attorney General announces that the family separations are part of a policy to deter illegal immigration. Others later say that this is not a policy choice; instead, the law (adopted by Democrats) requires it. What is the true reason? The second speaker gave no indication of having talked with the AG to inquire about his earlier-asserted motives for the family separations. A person, of course, who felt responsible for speaking the truth would have done that.
Both the old leftist postmodernists and present conservatives are alike in absolving themselves of the responsibility of the often hard job of finding facts, of ascertaining the truth. It is enough to say that it could be true, it might be true, it has not been disproved to my personal satisfaction. The old leftists and the present conservatives are united in agreeing that they do not have to abide by the standards of good historical, scientific, sociological, anthropological inquiry. They don’t have to grapple with the strengths and weaknesses of sets of data. Well, yes. Life is a lot easier without that hard work. Others can foolishly spend their time looking for facts and truth, but we don’t need to. The truth is what we want it to be. And this prevents them from having to change their views. They never have to confront what T.H. Huxley said about science: “The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” Leisure increases and life is simpler without a responsibility for discerning or establishing facts.
On the other hand, the present conservatives separate themselves from the old leftists; at least they don’t try to justify their irresponsibility about facts by referring to incomprehensible writers. I thank them for that.