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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Smith: The hard truth

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The phrase “my truth” really irritates me. It always has. Most of those who use it don’t know that it is a byproduct of the sophistry that is known as postmodernism. Postmodernism posits that there is no such thing as objective, immutable truth. As a Christian, I understand that God is the ultimate, objective, immutable truth.

Authors Bob Hostetler and Josh McDowell define postmodernism as follows: “A worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered. … (Truth is) created by the specific culture and exists only in that culture. Therefore, any system or statement that tries to communicate truth is a power play, an effort to dominate other cultures.” Sadly, their characterization is spot on.

When people use the phrase “my truth,” they’re saying that their life and experiences are personal, unique and core to their being. I understand that sentiment. I can have my opinion. I can have my perspective. I can have my experiences. But I cannot have my truth. Truth transcends any individual. Thus, if something is genuinely true, it is true for everyone. If it isn’t true for everyone, it isn’t truth — even though it may be a fact for an individual. To deny this is to deny objective reality (which, of course, many people are willing to do).

My point is not to fight with those who embrace postmodernism — at least in this forum. My point is that postmodernist thinking can have dire implications when it isn’t confined to the halls of academia. Indeed, we see its negative effects in today’s highly charged geopolitical context. What was merely a boutique, “Nieman Marcus” ideology for the left has become a mass market, “Walmart” ideology for the right. Postmodernism has metastasized from being a fringe ideology into a fully embraced practical strategy — and not just in America. It is the reason that the U.S. and Europe are on the brink of war with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an alternate reality in which the U.S. and Europe are the aggressors in the standoff with Ukraine — a state of affairs that he caused. In short, Putin’s truth is that Europe is threatening Russia. Ironically, of course, his actions are bringing about the very reality about which he is most concerned: Eastern European countries, including those on or close to the Russian border, are forging closer ties with the West. In literary terms, this global drama is the marriage of George Orwell and Michael Crichton.

I will not opine as to whether Vladimir Putin actually believes the nonsense that he’s peddling. (Either he does, or he wants the world to think that he does.) But I will assert that Putin is a narcissistic, megalomaniacal, homicidal wannabe dictator. The former KGB officer who came of age during the post-war zenith of Russian power is desperately trying to reconstitute the former USSR’s imperial grandeur. For a multiplicity of reasons, his eventual failure is inevitable. Yet, in the meantime, he can (and undoubtedly will) continue to cause varying levels of mischief wherever and whenever his heart desires.

Many of those who intentionally distort facts — which are our best proxy for understanding objective reality — don’t care that doing so exacts a very high cost to society. (Political leaders in one of our two major political parties are largely the reason that we are experiencing such political and social chaos in the United States, but that’s a story for another day.) When finding, or acknowledging, the truth is not the goal, the negative consequences are as unpredictable as they are certain. Plato, in his “Republic,” argues in favor of “the noble lie” that — allegedly — is important for maintaining cohesion in society. He is wrong; creating myths, even with good intent, inexorably achieves the opposite.

That’s my truth anyway.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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