The Age of Dissimulation

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In a recent Jerusalem Post article, columnist Caroline Glick labels our time the “Age of Dissimulation,” since “[t]oday our leading minds devote their energies and cognitive powers to figuring out new ways to hide reality from themselves and the general public.” One of these ways, adopted by the postmodern elite of academics, politicians, media mavens and many public intellectuals, is to reduce what was once called “truth” to mere interpretation. In the casual hermeneutics of the day, there is no such thing as “truth,” there is only advocacy, assumption, perspective, or what is now designated as “narrative.” (Even newscasters are fond of the word “story” to introduce a news item.) To use the current jargon, truth has been “problematized” and standards of objective reference have been superseded by a climate of epistemological relativism.

The joke is that many of our revisionist “thinkers” know very well what truth is, otherwise they would be logically disqualified from establishing the argument for interpretation—that is, for the contingent or constructed nature of all truth claims—as a self-evident truth. They want to have their latte and sip it too. And of course, when they are not contorting themselves in the coils of theory, our “leading minds,” who cluster on the left of the social and political continuum, do in fact subliminally recognize that there exist certain truths which they find threatening to their worldview. As Glick points out, they will therefore strive to suppress or spin these unwelcome truths in order to deceive the public, or to engage in spasms of self-deception so as not to have to confront them.

This is what “political correctness” is all about. It is a socially effective avoidance mechanism activated to disguise what is demonstrably there, the quintessence of “in denialism.” The idea is that what you don’t say doesn’t exist or, alternately, what you redescribe as something else miraculously leaps into being. Political correctness is a species of magical thinking. Regrettably, our “leading minds” and those whom they influence are subject to the temptation of a mythic discourse in their multiple campaign against the truth.

“True,” what we call cultural life has always been problematic and no particular age has a monopoly on virtue or intelligence. But the signal difference is that we live in a time of comparative prosperity and widespread educational opportunity, in which access to sources of information is like the daily bread. Newspapers, affordable books, pamphlets and monographs, public conferences and lectures, radio and television, and the Internet have opened an informatic world in whose ether we are intimately saturated.

Obviously, many of these sources are tainted and differ little from outright propaganda. At the same time, the enormous array of choice and the freedom to compare, contrast and factor out what seems veridical and persuasive from the fishy and apocryphal provide us with a means to extract a reasonable facsimile of what is likely the case. Moreover, the Net allows us to ferret out original documentation to serve as a check on hyperbole and falsification. Consequently, there is no longer any excuse for wilful ignorance, fantasy thinking or blind prejudice, at least not in an advanced Western democracy where government censorship and a subsistence economy no longer play a significant role. We do not live in North Korea or the Middle Ages. And most of us are not enrolled in Middle East Studies departments.

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  • Bob Murphy

    Nice close to a good article!

  • Chezwick_Mac

    Great article.

    My liberal brother once postulated to me in an email that "there are many truths…yours may not be mine."

    I wrote back:

    "There may be "many truths" in interpreting art, but in interpreting sociological or historical data, there is in fact only one truth. The trick is finding it."

    The "many truths" school of thought is comforting, because it allows us to hold on to our fantasies and misconceptions….and when truth is UGLY enough, (for example, that our national debt is probably too massive to ever be effectively paired down…or that Islam is incompatible with human freedom) we can postpone the day of reckoning by embracing the pretty lie. The only problem is that the truth won't just go away…and the repercussions it generates when ignored will only grow more acute with the passage of time.

  • http://apcnational.wordpress.com/ Mike in VA

    Reading David's excellent article, I would submit that one of the features of this "Age of Dissimulation" is the perversion of language. As George Orwell observed, "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought". Today, we are inundated with euphemisms that obliterate, obscure, confuse and distort the meaning of things and terms to make them more palatable to the public. One example that immediately comes to mind is the term "Multiculturalism", which is merely a pretty euphemism for Tribalism. The misuse of the term "liberal", which has been discussed at length in the pages of FPM, would be another common example of the corruption of language that we frequently encounter in this day and age.

  • ROBERT HARKINS

    THE FLOWER CHILDREN

    By

    ROBERT HARKINS

    Dear Sir, I could not resist publishing here an column I posted just yesterday on Jeffcrank.com as we resonate to the same theme. Your column is truly an excellent expression of literary artistry and intelligence. Thank you.

    Every so often my wife Hyosuk and I go out on date—in our living room. It is evening. The stereo is playing something beautiful. Aspen logs are burning in the fireplace. Hyosuk pours ordinary wine into Waterford crystal goblets that have been in my family for fifty years. Suddenly the wine is excellent, and as we sip, and think, reminisce, rest on melodies, and trade stories of the day, memories come to mind of the family that I love, living and dead, who once raised these antique goblets to their lips.

    As I look upon the fine workmanship of the Waterford crystal goblet, I see always and again my wife, family, country and the men and women who have created America and preserved our freedoms with their honor, life and blood. I think of the crystal goblet as proof and symbol of our grand human legacy: A civilization that is the pinnacle of poetry and philosophy, science and genius, faith, martial excellence and indomitable courage.

    Once, I asked Hyosuk,

    “What if I decided that I must create a crystal goblet equal in beauty to the one from which we sip? What skills must I learn? How shall I call forth fine glass from the sand and forge? By what incantation will I transform it into the purest crystal? How shall I build and work the forge will birth it into being? What are the sacred songs that I must sing, and what prayers say?

    And where will I find the artistry to work from molten crystal a goblet whose curved, translucent light delights the heart and mind as it transforms ordinary wines into ancient vintages; that celebrates our marriage, as it recalls and binds us to histories which by fate, rife with joy and pain, has fused us into one.

    As rational people we realize that, shorn of the legacy of Western Civilization, we lack the time, skill, intelligence and genius to create again its countless inventions. But, even so, there is a quirk of character that invests in man the pretense that in affairs of the mind—divorced from the empirical demands of science, man’s passion for liberty, and the laws of cause and effect—one may conceive utopias out of the stuff of myopic dreams and predatory ambition; that utopia may be invented just as easily as one might conjure a crystal gobbet from the sand and forge and shape by hand its transcendent symmetry.

    Too many in the Sixties generation hit the sheets believing that they were born self-realized, that ancient wisdom heretofore a myth became with them new and real as they opened their eyes, took their mothers’ breast and contemplated the world in passing as if already it were their ordinary birthright—a thing to be taken for granted, a legacy granted to them alone of all the peoples of the earth.

    A Sixties Flower Child places a daisy in the barrel of a young soldier’s gun, and is filled with that impenetrable moral superiority that comes with the easy condemnation of war—as if all governments, however vile, might be brought gently to the joys of flowery peace by singing Kum By Yar.

    The Sixties minority embraced an anti-establishment drug culture, let their hair grow long, did not wash much, built communes upon the ruin of communes built and abandoned by the exhausted flower children of a lost generation, indulged in free, feckless and unprotected love, declared history irrelevant, knowledge subjective, all cultures absolutely equal and philosophy repealed. They may have accomplished all this without reading a single book.

  • ROBERT HARKINS

    The Sixties peace generation asked pretentiously: “Ah, but what if there were a war and nobody came? Sadly, to this silly question the answer is that war will come to thee. Still the Sixties generation claimed a mystical and transcendental wisdom that ordinary unenlightened people, those, for example, who did not hang out at coffee houses because they worked for a living and paid taxes—could not possibly comprehend.

    Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind wrote of the obdurate ignorance and the demagoguery of a cult of spoiled children: They surrendered their right to learn and think critically, to know the philosophy and history of Athens and Rome, the discoveries of a Renaissance, Enlightenment and the heroes of their own country.

    These were the young men and women who claimed the power to conjure from empty, closed and undisciplined minds—minds they had willingly unmoored from reason— utopias as elegant as the crystal goblet master craftsmen learned to work from the sand and fiery forge.

    In the ascendance of a sixties movement better described as a species of cultural and nihilistic fascism, those who protested its egotism were condemned and ostracized—even as they are today. Indeed, the works of Plato, Aristotle, the Greek and Roman stoics and playwrights were regarded as the extinct musings of dead white men.

    For the Sixties generation the drug culture was the gold standard of coolness. The consumption of LSD and peyote were not simply drugs; they were holy sacraments. The Flower Children passed ownership of this same drug culture to unspeakably murderous predators who for a half century have scourged mercilessly American children, grown men and women, with addiction, sickness and despair, with prostitution, crime and death. Let the stones of Rome rise up in mutiny!

    Classical education, as Allan Bloom feared, has been degraded. It is now possible to acquire an American college degree without taking classes in philosophy or history; and college professors, many of whom are the spiritual blood brothers of Sixties radicals substitute socialist credos for critical thought, emotiveness for reason, licentiousness for virtue and post modern nihilism—there is no truth or virtue— for knowledge.

    Still, for all their arrogance, they have not and cannot repeal the empirical demands of science, man’s passion for liberty, and the laws of cause and effect.

    And there is not a one of them can work a crystal goblet from sand and the forge.

    Robert Harkins’ new book will be published January 2010. You may find it at Amazon in e-book or hard cover, and at all major bookstores. Its title:
    America, Sweet Land of Liberty. Of Thee I Sing.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      Good stuff, Robert.

      • Robert

        Thank you Mac. Robert

  • nightspore

    I would have called it the Age of Evasion.

  • reflecting 1a

    The truth is, if you ignore the facts of political, social or physical forces, you end up with ignorance.
    "What if we gave a war and nobody came. The war will come to thee." Brilliant !

  • Guest

    The Left had to invent Postmodernism to deny the hard edges of Reality and create an environment wherein its fantasy world could be advanced. It's the same as playing a game in which the rules are changed to favor one team as the game progresses.

    • ReconRambo

      "A game in which the rules are changed to favor one team as the game progresses".

      Really sounds like the Democrat Party's Politicians and the Liberal news media to me.

      The "Truth" to these types is the old communist adage, if you tell something forcefully enough and often enough, then eventually all will believe it to be the gospel truth.

  • 080

    And don't forget. All the "modern" thought is done in the name of science. In their view they are proceeding "scientifically". So George Soros prates in the name of Karl Popper. He is apparently unaware that the Popper-Lakatos-Kuhn-Feyerabend fiasco has disappeared up the "anything goes" chimney. The ancients took the language for granted and tried to find something true about reality. The moderns take reality for granted and try to find something out about language. Obama says that science will be restored to its rightful place. What he means is "social science". Yes. They think they're scientists. You are the material that they work with.

  • USMCSniper

    After some 50 years of pragmatism making its way through American culture, America was broken intellectually in the mid-20th century. Broken, dysfunctional, directionless, proudly anti-philosophical (philosophy having been dispensed with as an impractical failure). Ayn Rand was proclaiming this fact like it should have been as obvious to everyone in her day as it was to her. But just keep in mind: in a pragmatist mindset, someone making the sweeping and absolutist and idealistic (and unacceptably mind-blowing) proclamations that Ayn Rand made is not to be trusted. Rand simply was way far ahead ("out of place") of her time, thrown into a world of anti-philosophical intellectual disintegration. But taking a long-run view of these things, all that Rand was doing was initiating an intellectual revolution, in the midst of a sea of pragmatism, to get America back to its roots. In short, the pragmatist movement was a diversion from America's (and the world's) true course, an intellectual stumbling block borne of a lack of Aristotle. Aristotle alone whacks Pragmatism upside the head; Rand puts Pragmatism to shame; historical experience will be the ultimate proof of its anti-practical failings.

    • Martha

      Interesting that you mentioned Rand. I went to my first Tea Party in April 09 carrying my copy of Atlas Shrugged. Lots of people there "got it"
      Rand got me to the Tea Parties.

  • guest

    This argument might have some weight if conservatives did not consistently try and create false truths for political purposes. Just recently we've had the $200 million a day Obama Asia trip, Glenn Beck's new truths about Woodrow Wilson and American history more generally, conservative "textbooks" claiming thousands of blacks fought for the confederacy (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/local-opinions/2010/10/the_myth_of_the_black_confeder.html), etc. What is more relativistic and anti-truth than this?

    Soloway's lament about ideologically driven college professors (to take but one example) feels a bit disingenuous in the face of these recent maneuvers and the long list of others.

    Finally, he is fighting ghosts here. The post modernism he complains about was never dominant on college campuses, and is certainly not so today. It was one intellectual trend among many in which the relationship between power and knowledge was questioned. Conservatives ask similar questions. No big scandal here. Yes, you can pick out some juicy (in some cases truly nutty) quotes, but to try and pass that off as representative of what is/was happening at universities is exactly the kind of dishonesty he is moaning about. Sorry David, grind your axe somewhere else.

  • dragonfly

    Hello Mr. Solway,
    I can only say that dissimulation is as old as Adam and Eve. Dissimulation has always served people, nations, to live through ages… what is actually misplaced, is that in our advance era, dissimulation has a predominanting aspect – all the treasures you mentionned can arm any one of us toward more precise revelations which can destroy dissimulation… but instead, it has expanded to a level that we are dumbfounded facing the huge amount of lied we are fed with.
    Anyway, someone was inspired by your texte and translated it in French… http://therese-zrihen-dvir.over-blog.com/article-

    Dragonfly

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  • Deendid

    Today, we are inundated with euphemisms that obliterate, obscure, confuse and distort the meaning of things and terms to make them more palatable to the public. One example that immediately comes to mind is the term "Multiculturalism", which is merely a pretty euphemism for Tribalism. The misuse of the term "liberal", which has been discussed at length in the pages of FPM, would be another common example of the corruption of language that we frequently encounter in this day and age.Portable Signs

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