Three Tragic Consequences of America’s Post-Truth Culture
In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionaries identified "post-truth" as the word of the year. Unlike post-modernism, "post-truth" does not deny the existence of absolute truth, but merely elevates personal preferences and opinion over objective facts.
"We realize that facts and truth exist, but we subordinate them," Abdu Murray, a former Muslim, Christian evangelist, and author of "Saving Truth: Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World," told PJ Media in an interview Thursday. "If our preferences don't line up with the facts, they can be ignored or out-and-out lied about."
This definition helped explain the increasing "alternative facts" on both sides of the political divide — Republicans and Democrats often select their facts to fit the "narrative." Murray argued that the post-truth culture boils down to an overemphasis on individual autonomy.
"What autonomy means is I am a law unto myself. If my preferences conflict with your preferences, and that's all that matters — truth is secondary at best — who is going to determine who's right and who's wrong? It won't be the truth," the author explained.
"What will determine right and wrong will be power, not truth," he chillingly added.
This tendency to elevate autonomy and power over truth supercharges identity politics. When a student in South Africa rejected science because it discriminates against African "black magic," when a "feminist" study rejected objective truth and the scientific method as "sexist," and when Yale University students protested against the mandatory Major English Poets class in the English major, activists pushed for identity politics over truth, arguing that skin color or sex or sexual orientation matters more than the ideas of "old, dead, whit men."
Politics has unfortunately mimicked this trend, especially on the Left, as religious minorities, sexual minorities, and racial minorities ally to oppose the "oppression" responsible for modern freedom and prosperity. This coalition rejects the Judeo-Christian heritage at the heart of American freedom, fighting against the very roots of the American idea.
"The civil public square now becomes the Roman Coliseum," Murray explained. "We no longer have senators and judges, we have gladiators. How dare someone disagree with me?! I have to label them a bigot or a hater. We seek autonomy and preferences, not the common good."
The former Muslim author laid out three "very serious negative consequences" to the post-truth culture of unfettered autonomy:
1. Losing reason.
"We lose our ability to reason because preferences matter more than truth," Murray explained. Rather than engaging in debate with those who disagree, conservatives and liberals dismiss one another as hateful bigots, not being able to consider the arguments of the other side.
"I call it the Hitlerization of social commentary," the author said, referring to supercharged identity politics. "If you disagree with me, then you're automatically Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. My preferences are my preferences, and you have to bow down to my preferences."
The inability to consider other points of view prevents someone from understanding why others might disagree, and therefore prevents him or her from crafting good arguments against opposing viewpoints.
This leads to a situation with "a lot of heat and no light," and the breakdown of social cooperation.
Part of this loss of reason stems from the teachings of deconstructionists like Michel Foucault, who argued that even language is merely an attempt to assert power over people. Every single person's ideas must be deconstructed under the assumption that rather than attempting to discover the truth or convey it, the speaker or writer is merely attempting to manipulate others.
While it is true that some people occasionally use language in this way, most people most of the time use language to discover and express truth. The toxic deconstruction narrative is not only a vast overstatement, but it also renders all language meaningless and replaces reason with suspicion.
2. Losing ultimate moral standards.
If autonomy and preferences matter more than truth, ultimate moral standards become up for debate, opening the floodgates for vast social change.
"We lose all sense of accountability because if I'm completely autonomous, then who should I be accountable to?" Murray said. Ultimately, morality depends on an understanding of objective truth (and a lawgiving God — mentioned four times in the Declaration of Independence) and the humility to acknowledge standards above yourself.
Without a shared concept of an ultimate morality upon which everyone can agree, it becomes impossible to condemn even the vile actions of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as truly evil. If everything comes down to preferences, all anyone can say is, "I don't like what Hitler did, but I can't condemn it as wrong."
Undermining morality also undermines freedom, the author argued. The post-truth culture of autonomy makes people forget what it really means "to have freedom, especially as it's expressed in the scriptures and implemented in Western democracies."
"We have freedom from restraint and freedom for the common good," he explained. "It's not just freedom to do what you want but to do what you should." This does not mean government should force people to live completely upright lives, but it does mean that autonomy is less than freedom.
3. Losing human dignity.
Finally and most damningly, "we lose our sense of human value," Murray argued. "If I'm autonomous and a human baby or an elderly person gets in the way, I can run over them."
Abortion activists deny the humanity of an unborn baby, pushing against any restriction on abortion by comparing it to "The Handmaid's Tale." The British government ruled that the young boys Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans must be "allowed to die," despite the urgent pleas of their parents.
On the flip side, Murray insisted that conservative Christians need to be careful in addressing LGBT issues. Too often, Christians come off as judgmental and sanctimonious, obscuring the fundamental dignity of LGBT people.
"We are all people made in God's image for whom Christ died and came to set us free," Murray explained. While the Bible does call same-sex sexual activity sinful, Christians are never to adopt a "position of moral superiority." Christians are sinners, too.
This kind of humility — acknowledging our own blindness and restraining ourselves from quick judgment — is the best antidote to the post-truth culture short of a Christian revival, Murray argued.
"Before I can get the post-truth speck out of my brother's eye, I have to get the post-truth log out of my own," the author said. He recalled his 9-year spiritual journey from Islam to Christianity, "when the facts about the credibility of the Christian faith clashed with my identity as a Muslim." He said the journey was "long for me — not because the answers were hard to find but because the answers were hard to accept."
Placing the truth above personal preferences can be extremely difficult, but it is essential if America is to overcome the petty polarization that so tragically pervades public discourse. Until people on the Left and the Right can listen to one another and trust that the other person isn't trying to manipulate them, discovering a common good will become more and more difficult.