Sunday, July 17, 2005

Truth is political, truth is relative

Well, it's provocative, but, hey, why not provoke? In his latest column in the Times, Paul Krugman takes on what he calls "Karl Rove's America," "a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth" and where "the facts [are] irrelevant". To the extent that relativism of this kind has taken hold on the right, I certainly agree. Relativism is no longer just some dangerous intellectual phenomenon of the left, its political and cultural shockwaves emanating from an epicenter of university seminars on Heidegger and postwar French philosophy. Partisan politics in a divided red-blue America has much to do with its recent surge, with both right and left often clinging to faith, or political belief, at the expense of reason, both claiming to speak the truth even as the political culture comes increasingly to resemble Babel.

I'll leave my commentary at that. What do all of you think?

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  • The relativism on the Right isn't so much a deficit of thought (as is can be on the Left) but a reflection of partisanship free if all meaningful restraint. With a legion of partisan talking heads willing to repeat any talking point, no matter how ludicrous, and a mainstream media that no longer feels that it's role is to police political discourse, there is simply no accountability. Right-wing partisanship no longer has any meaningful contraints. Right-wing politicians and pundits will privately tell you that they think Karl Rove may have done something wrong, but publicly, they have no reason to deviate from the party line. Krugman is absolutely right. There are simply no meaningful limits to what a right-winger can get away with anymore.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:53 PM  

  • The right and the left have both adopted mirror image approaches to each other in which they project evil intent into anything the other side says or does. In this context, truth becomes relative in the same way that propaganda is used during a war. The ends justify the means because the opponent is evil. Any concession to the other side is seen as weakness. In the case of conservatives, they have convinced themselves that the world is out to get them and that they must protect against other.

    Without defending what the right has done, I blame the left for this state of affairs. Conservatives are reacting, in part at least, a reaction to what the left did during the sixties and seventies in which radical relativism was in vogue and truth was simply a cover for power. It was the left (and by that, I mean primarily the academic and radical left)that originally politicized truth and made it fair game for partisanship. Conservatives have adopted this tact and taken it to a new level. But the unwillingness of the left to accept its own responsibility for this disturbs me. For example, when we talk about Supreme Court nominees, liberals are quick to condemn conservatives for creating a "litmus" test on particular issues. But liberals have and still do the same thing. Liberals now like judicial restraint, but that wasn't the case when they had liberal justices. And the fact is, liberals don't give a damn--any more than Thurgood Marshall did--about a nominee's legal analysis. They only care about the result.

    I realize that I am digressing from the subject a bit, but I think this relates to the current political culture in America. What has always appalled me is the left's blatant disregard for intellectual honesty. I grew up with the idea that liberalism involved keeping an open mind to new ideas, tolerating ideas that differed from yours, treating people as individuals, not as stereotypes. Yet, I see very little of this from my liberal friends. I know and am friends with. It amazes me how willing liberals are to stereotype conservatives or southerners or anyone, such as white men, that isn't one of the accepted categories of aggrieved minorities. And an unwillingness to seriously engage with conservative ideas as opposed to simply dismissing them as "racist, sexist, homophobic, elitist, etc."

    I certainly do not consider myself a conservative and I totally agree that conservatives have gone off the deepend. But liberals gave them a push and are now paying the price for it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:22 AM  

  • "What has always appalled me is the left's blatant diregard for intellectual honesty."

    Respectfully, what's your empirical basis for this believe? A quick survey of left-wing publications, for example, shows a far greater willingness to praise conservatives when they're right. How many times has the New Republic chastised Democrats and praised Bush? Many times on many issues. Can you even find one example of the Weekly Standard or National Review praising Clinton during his entire 8 years in office?
    Each side of the political divide will always have it's share of partisan hacks, but as a whole, the left is far more intellectually honest. Many on the left are totally misguided, but they are true-believers. The right, in contrast, is populated by a large number of cynical propogandists, who don't even believe what they are saying. Discourse for these types is simply a means to an end, a way of achieving and entrenching power. Their goal is to mislead, not to inform. The looneys on the left want you to believe the crazy stuff that they themselves believe. The looneys on the right want you to believe what they're telling you so that you'll support their agenda. These are generalizations, of course. There are exceptions on both sides. But I think it's a bit strange to blame the tactics employed by the right on the intellectual relativism of the left. Your conflating beliefs and tactics.

    By Blogger A.L., at 4:36 PM  

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