Transparency and truth are the fuels that run sophisticated civilizations. Without
them, the state grinds to a halt. Lack of trust — not barbarians on the frontier, global warming or cooling, or even epidemics — doomed civilizations of the past, from imperial Rome to the former Soviet Union.
The United States can withstand the untruth of a particular presidential administration if the permanent government itself is honest. Dwight Eisenhower lied about the downed U-2 spy plane inside the Soviet Union. Almost nothing Richard Nixon said about Watergate was true. Intelligence reports of vast stockpiles of WMD in Iraq proved as accurate as Bill Clinton’s assertion that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
Presidents fib. The nation gets outraged. The independent media dig out the truth. And so the system of trust repairs itself.
All presidents at one time have fudged on the truth. Most politicians pad their resumes and airbrush away their sins. But what is new about political lying is the present notion that lies are not necessarily lies anymore — a reflection of the relativism that infects our entire culture.
Postmodernism (the cultural fad “after modernism”) went well beyond questioning norms and rules. It attacked the very idea of having any rules at all. Postmodernist relativists claimed that things like “truth” were mere fictions to preserve elite privilege. Unfortunately, bad ideas like that have a habit of poisoning an entire society — and now they have.
Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was recently caught fabricating her own autobiography. She exaggerated her earlier ordeals, lied about the age at which she divorced and was untruthful about how she paid for her Harvard Law School education. Continue reading “The Poison of Postmodern Lying”→
What is the common denominator of the Obama administration’s serial scandals — the Justice Department’s spying on AP, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the NSA surveillance, the lies about Benghazi and the ACA — and much of the White House damage-control rhetoric? In a word: the advancement of postmodern notions of justice at the expense of traditional truth.
By the 1980s, in law schools, university social-science departments, and the humanities in general, the old relativist idea of Plato’s noble lies was given a new French facelift. Traditional morality and ethics were dismissed as arbitrary constructs, predicated on privileged notions of race, class, and gender. The new moral architecture did not rely on archaic abidance by the niceties of “truth,” which simply reinforced traditional oppressive hierarchies.
Instead, social justice by definition transcended the sham of traditional ideas of truth and falsity. The true became the advocacy of fairness, while the real lie was the reactionary adherence to a set of oppressive norms. All this was faculty-lounge fluff, but soon it filtered out into the larger culture.
In this regard, it was understandable that the New York Times characterized the president’s not telling the truth on over 20 occasions as cases of “misspeaking.” Continue reading “Obama’s Noble Lies”→
Of all the many changes that the Obama administration has enacted over the last five years, the least remarked upon are the strange changes in our vocabulary. To fathom the shifting meaning of words, here is a guide to the new Obama lexicon.