The Age of Dissimulation

The postmodern elite and its war against the truth.

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 To use the current jargon, truth has been “problematized” and standards of objective reference have been superseded by a climate of epistemological relativism.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

And yet, despite the distinct advantages and technological marvels with which we are blessed, we have sunk so deeply into a morass of ignorance, caprice, nihilism, self-reference and moral relativism that we have come to resemble poet Seamus Heaney’s bog people, perfectly preserved, humanly recognizable—and mentally inert. Which is only another way of saying that we have become, or at any rate, far too many of us have become, useful (as well as useless) idiots, fossilized in a viscous parti pris and proficient in nothing so much as the propagation and reception of utter nonsense.

The sag and collapse is to be seen everywhere we turn our gaze—in the partisan and unprincipled media, our defective political institutions, the entitlement industry, electoral superficiality visible in the excrescences we too often tend to put into power, the proliferation of social “movements” lobbying for ethnic prerogatives at the expense of the common weal, the debased and obsolete feminist sorority, the increasingly compromised university and, to top it off, the Global Warming scam, perhaps the greatest hoax of the modern era to delude a gullible public—the list goes on.

The state of ignorance and self-deception from which the West now suffers may lead, in short historical order, to its terminal subsidence. In the volatile and explosive world we live in today, our lack of scrupulous attention and dearth of wisdomly awareness promises a sinister eschatology. While we fiddle in our broken universities, regard our so-called “leading minds” with misplaced respect and get our knowledge of current events from venal journalists and shallow late-show comedians, a determined, Hydra-headed enemy, whether in the form of a secular autocracy or a theological imperium, advances a tyrannical agenda. And we are letting it happen.

Fortunately, there is a small but growing class of genuine thinkers and scholars, chiefly of a conservative bent, who have signposted the way forward. Acknowledging where we have arrived and the predicament we have gotten ourselves into is a first step, but we cannot stop there. Following the example of our intellectual cicerones, we need rather desperately to apply ourselves regardless of the constraints of everyday life, to re-learn patience and to invest time, to stop lying to ourselves, to familiarize ourselves with our history rather than to spuriously narrativize it, and to study works that have been honestly and amply researched and whose findings, with a little persistence, we can verify for ourselves. For we have the instruments of confirmation at our disposal.

Chameleons, trimmers, ideologues, dogmatists, schemers, cowards, scamps, bloviators, nitwits and nincompoops are par for the course in the Age of Dissimulation. They swarm in unprecedented numbers. This is so conspicuously the case that it remains a wonder how we manage to pretend otherwise. But sooner rather than later, we must learn to see the camarilla of “progressive” editors, pundits, politicians, clerics, humanities profs and university bred “experts” as the buffoons so many of them are. Indeed, they are rather like the exhibit of Rhodesian Man we meet in Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park, “trying to concentrate without a forehead.” This is not a nice thing to say but that doesn’t make it any less true.

The truth is that there is such a thing as truth. And, unpalatable as it may sometimes appear to us, we must find the courage to recognize it, honor it, and ultimately to tell it.