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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 To use the current jargon, truth has been “problematized” and standards of objective reference have been superseded by a climate of epistemological relativism.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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