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Old 09-21-2019, 05:09 PM
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Old 09-22-2019, 06:28 AM
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Arrow Can truth survive this president? An honest investigation.

Can truth survive this president? An honest investigation.
By: The Washington Post

Back in the summer of 2002, long before “fake news” or “post-truth” infected the vernacular, one of President George W. Bush’s top advisers mocked a journalist for being part of the “reality-based community.” Seeking answers in reality was for suckers, the unnamed adviser explained. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This was the hubris and idealism of a post-Cold War, pre-Iraq War superpower: If you exert enough pressure, events will bend to your will.

Reality-based thinking is again under assault in America, but the deceit emanating from the White House today is lazier, more cynical. It is not born of grand strategy or ideology; it is impulsive and self-serving. It is not arrogant, but shameless.

Bush wanted to remake the world. President Trump, by contrast, just wants to make it up as he goes along.

The disregard for honesty in the Trump era, with its ever-changing menu of “alternative facts,” is eliciting new research and polemics from philosophers, literary critics, political analysts and social scientists. (In the publishing world circa summer 2018, the death-of-truth brigade is rivaled only by the death-of-democracy crew.) Through all their debates over who is to blame for imperiling truth (whether Trump, postmodernism, social media or Fox News), as well as the consequences (invariably dire) and the solutions (usually vague), a few conclusions materialize, should you choose to believe them.

Truth is not dead, but it is degraded, and its cheapening political value predates current management. There is a pattern and logic behind the dishonesty of Trump and his surrogates; however, it’s less multidimensional chess than the simple subordination of reality to political and personal ambition. And ironically, at a time when the president’s supporters mock liberal sensitivities, Trump’s untruth sells best precisely when feelings and instincts overpower facts, when America becomes a safe space for fabrication.

Post-truth politics has been around for a while, enduring and evolving. When Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he came to bear witness to the truth, the Roman prefect asked, “What is truth?” (Some theologians think Pilate was kidding, but maybe he was worried about fake good news?) A couple of millennia later, Rand Corp. scholars Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich point to the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties and the rise of television in the mid-20th century as recent periods of what they call “Truth Decay” — marked by growing disagreement over facts and interpretation of data; a blurring of lines between opinion, fact and personal experience; and diminishing trust in once-respected sources of information.

In eras of truth decay, “competing narratives emerge, tribalism within the U.S. electorate increases, and political paralysis and dysfunction grow,” the authors write — and conditions today only make things worse. Once you add the silos of social media as well as deeply polarized politics and deteriorating civic education, it becomes “nearly impossible to have the types of meaningful policy debates that form the foundation of democracy.” True to their calling, the social scientists don’t provide much in the way of actionable solutions, but they do serve up 114 possible question topics meriting further research, divided into four broad categories and 22 sub-groups. So Rand-y.

In her slim, impassioned book “The Death of Truth,” former New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani is less circumspect, aiming a fusillade of literary allusions and personal insults at the president. Trump is an “over-the-top avatar of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, prejudice, boorishness, demagoguery, and tyrannical impulses (not to mention someone who consumes as many as a dozen Diet Cokes a day) . . . some manic cartoon artist’s mashup of Ubu Roi, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and a character discarded by Molière,” she writes. To interpret our era’s debasement of language, Kakutani reflects perceptively on the World War II-era works of Victor Klemperer, who showed how the Nazis used “words as ‘tiny doses of arsenic’ to poison and subvert the German culture,” and of Stefan Zweig, whose memoir “The World of Yesterday” highlights how ordinary Germans failed to grasp the sudden erosion of their freedoms. Not exactly subtle.

At times Kakutani feels a bit scattershot in her cultural references. Turns out America today, in its sense of randomness and meaninglessness and indifference to consequences, is like “The Great Gatsby.” And like “Fight Club.” It’s also like “No Country for Old Men.” It’s even like “True Detective,” though we don’t learn why. But she is more focused when exploring the left-wing pedigree of post-truth culture. Even though she laments that objectivity has declined ever since “a solar system of right-wing news sites orbiting around Fox News and Breitbart News consolidated its gravitational hold over the Republican base,” Kakutani calls out lefty academics who for decades preached postmodernism and social constructivism, which argued that truth is not universal but a reflection of relative power, structural forces and personal vantage points. In the early culture wars, centered on literary studies, postmodernists rejected Enlightenment ideals as “vestiges of old patriarchal and imperialist thinking,” Kakutani writes, paving the way for today’s violence against fact in politics and science.

“It’s safe to say that Trump has never plowed through the works of Derrida, Baudrillard, or Lyotard (if he’s even heard of them),” Kakutani sniffs. But while she argues that “postmodernists are hardly to blame for all the free-floating nihilism abroad in the land,” she concedes that “dumbed-down corollaries” of postmodernist thought have been hijacked by Trump’s defenders, who use them to explain away his lies, inconsistencies and broken promises.

In “Post-Truth,” Boston University philosophy professor Lee McIntyre has no problem affixing blame. “At some level all ideologies are an enemy of the process by which truth is discovered,” he writes. But he convincingly tracks how intelligent-design proponents and later climate deniers drew from postmodernism to undermine public perceptions of evolution and climate change. “Even if right-wing politicians and other science deniers were not reading Derrida and Foucault, the germ of the idea made its way to them: science does not have a monopoly on the truth,” he writes.

McIntyre quotes at length from mea culpas by postmodernist and social constructivist writers agonizing over what their theories have wrought, shocked that conservatives would use them for nefarious purposes. And he notes, for example, that pro-Trump troll and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, who helped popularize the “Pizzagate” lie, has forthrightly cited his unlikely influences. “Look, I read postmodernist theory in college,” Cernovich told the New Yorker in 2016. “If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative. I don’t seem like a guy who reads [Jacques] Lacan, do I?”

When truth becomes malleable and contestable regardless of evidence, a mere tussle of manufactured narratives, it becomes less about conveying facts than about picking sides, particularly in politics. “The goal of propaganda is not to convince someone that you are right, but to demonstrate that you have authority over the truth itself,” McIntyre writes. “When a political leader is really powerful, he or she can defy reality.”

The Washington Post counted 3,251 false or misleading claims by the president from his first day in office through this May, while former White House press secretary Sean Spicer will forever be remembered for the most bizarre falsehood of Trump’s inaugural weekend, when he declared from the lectern of the press room that the new president had enjoyed “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.” But it was White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, defending Spicer the next day, who captured this presidency’s postmodernist project, suggesting that her colleague had merely offered “alternative facts” about the inauguration.

Spicer’s lie was conventional, an effort to have us believe something specific that is not true. Conway’s framing went further, granting us permission to believe whatever alternative we prefer — and therefore to believe nothing at all.

Trump’s falsehoods can seem arbitrary at times, emerging in early-morning tweets cribbed from cable news or in digressions spewed at some endless rally. Yet there is a method to the mendacity, which conservative political commentator Amanda Carpenter unpacks neatly in her book “Gaslighting America.”

If you track some of Trump’s most notorious lies, you’ll recognize the steps, Carpenter explains. Step 1: “Stake a claim” on a fringe issue that few people want to touch. Step 2: “Advance and deny” — that is, put the falsehood into circulation, but don’t own it. (This is Trump’s “people are saying” phase.) Third, “create suspense” by promising new evidence or revelations, even if they never appear. Fourth, “discredit the opponent” with attacks on motive or character. And fifth, just win — “Trump declares victory, no matter the circumstances.” McIntyre provides one more step: Suggest that the press cannot be trusted to deliver the truth on the matter, thus redefining the lie as “controversial” and empowering people to privilege beliefs that fit their personal biases.

Trump’s birtherism, for instance, checked all the boxes. Even when he admitted in late 2016 that Barack Obama was born in the United States — contradicting the lie that had propelled his political rise — Trump still congratulated himself for putting the matter to rest and blamed his Democratic presidential rival for the whole thing. Similarly, his flirtation with white-nationalist forces is “one of the biggest cons he’s pulled,” Carpenter argues. “For years, he advanced messages that were happily received and endorsed among that crowd, while coyly denying any association with them.”

Trump commits to his story “like a method actor,” Carpenter writes, even if the script always changes. “He will pick up and drop different fables with ease until he forces his opponents into a defensive posture.” And it’s not just Trump. Carpenter, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, picks apart the incentives and tactics of Trump’s best-known television supporters. They were the misfits, she argues, operatives and mouthpieces who could not win favor with more professional GOP campaigns. “They didn’t have anything to lose in supporting Trump and neither did Trump in accepting their support.” The higher the candidate rose in the GOP primary polls, the more marketable and sycophantic they grew. Think Jeffrey Lord, Katrina Pierson and the rest of the gang.

In particular, Carpenter relishes going after Adriana Cohen, a columnist and reliable Trump supporter who suggested to Carpenter — live on CNN — that Carpenter had carried on an affair with Cruz. (Cohen did so in fine Trumpian fashion, too, not accusing Carpenter outright but citing a National Enquirer story and asking her to confirm or deny.) “Associating herself with the slimy narrative posed no risk to her reputation because she had barely any recognition to begin with,” Carpenter writes, noting that Trump apologists “never let their personal dignity get in the way of flacking for their man.”

If the erosion of accepted facts is a process, so is their creation. In “On Truth,” Cambridge University philosopher Simon Blackburn writes that truth is attainable, if at all, “only at the vanishing end points of enquiry,” adding that, “instead of ‘facts first’ we may do better if we think of ‘enquiry first,’ with the notion of fact modestly waiting to be invited to the feast afterward.” He is concerned, but not overwhelmingly so, about the survival of truth under Trump. “Outside the fevered world of politics, truth has a secure enough foothold,” Blackburn writes. “Perjury is still a serious crime, and we still hope that our pilots and surgeons know their way about.” Kavanaugh and Rich offer similar consolation: “Facts and data have become more important in most other fields, with political and civil discourse being striking exceptions. Thus, it is hard to argue that the world is truly ‘post-fact.’ ”

Sure, it may be that we are no more post-truth under Trump than we were post-racial under Obama. But McIntyre argues persuasively that our methods of ascertaining truth — not just the facts themselves — are under attack, too, and that this assault is especially dangerous. Ideologues don’t just disregard facts they disagree with, he explains, but willingly embrace any information, however dubious, that fits their agenda. “This is not the abandonment of facts, but a corruption of the process by which facts are credibly gathered and reliably used to shape one’s beliefs about reality. Indeed, the rejection of this undermines the idea that some things are true irrespective of how we feel about them.”

Ah, feelings! It is a right-wing trope that liberals — especially all those entitled brats at elite colleges — take offense at any slight, lacking, as they do, the common sense and steely resilience ingrained in the conservative mind. The problem with this story is that Trump defenders routinely rely on feelings over facts to justify the president’s falsehoods. Speaking to CNN about Trump’s constant references to supposedly soaring rates of violent crime across the United States, Newt Gingrich dismissed FBI statistics showing decreasing violence as “theoretically” accurate, “but it’s not where human beings are.” When the interviewer emphasized the facts of the matter, Gingrich replied, “I’ll go with how people feel, and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians.”

Of course, feelings and facts are not necessarily at odds. “It is hardly a depressing new phenomenon that people’s beliefs are capable of being moved by their hopes, grievances and fears,” Blackburn writes. “In order to move people, objective facts must become personal beliefs.” But it can’t work — or shouldn’t work — in reverse. Personal feelings, untethered from facts, can morph into flat-out false statements on, say, the size of a tax cut or the political leanings of a special counsel. More than fearing a post-truth world, Blackburn is concerned by a “post-shame environment,” in which politicians easily brush off their open disregard for truth.

Trump, for one, has little compunction running with false claims convenient to him and his supporters. When ABC News asked him last year whether it was irresponsible to suggest that millions of undocumented immigrants had voted in the presidential election without presenting any evidence to that effect, he responded, “No, not at all . . . because many people feel the same way that I do.”

Many people. They feel. And when those feelings clash with facts and truth, it is human nature to rationalize away the dissonance. “Why get upset by his lies, when all politicians lie?” Kakutani asks, distilling the mind-set. “Why get upset by his venality, when the law of the jungle rules?”

So any opposition is deemed a witch hunt, or fake news, rigged or just so unfair. Trump is not killing the truth. But he is vandalizing it, constantly and indiscriminately, diminishing its prestige and appeal, coaxing us to look away from it.

Post-truth. Death of truth. Gaslighting. Truth decay. Whatever you call it, the devaluing of truth — and, by extension, of expertise and the pursuit of knowledge — should pose enough of a concern on its own without worrying about the collateral damage. Except, these authors argue, the collateral damage includes the American experiment.

Kavanagh and Rich list the risks: that our democracy is fundamentally weakened, that political institutions become paralyzed and irrelevant, that the electorate is permanently divided, and that new generations become alienated from civic life. Trump heightens the concerns, of course, but they are not really about him.

Alas, the proposed remedies in these volumes don’t seem up to the challenge the writers lay out. Kakutani calls for citizens to defy cynicism and resignation, as well as uphold and strengthen our three branches of government, the free press and our educational institutions. Well, yes, but little in her book gives hope for that. Carpenter encourages us to consider the underlying goals and coded messages of Trump’s falsehoods, but also to let some of his storylines just fade away: “Let go of the outrage already . . . be vigilant but don’t flip out.” Sound advice, though limited. Kavanagh and Rich consider how truth decay died out in past eras — through a revival of investigative journalism and the emergence of large-scale political scandals that “underscored the value of fact-based information.” That’s tough, however, when the credibility of news organizations and of major political investigations is itself a target of the relentless assault on truth. “We want to think [Trump’s] crazy lies are his greatest weakness when they are, in fact, the source of his strength,” Carpenter reminds us.

McIntyre, whose book is perhaps the most thoughtful of the post-truth set, also urges us to root out untruth before it festers. But he calls for introspection, even humility, in this battle. “One of the most important ways to fight back against post-truth is to fight it within ourselves,” he writes, whatever our particular politics may be. “It is easy to identify a truth that someone else does not want to see. But how many of us are prepared to do this with our own beliefs? To doubt something that we want to believe, even though a little piece of us whispers that we do not have all the facts?”

It’s annoying advice, for sure. It takes the focus off Trump and his acolytes. It casts the gaze inward, toward discomforting self-reflection, at a moment when engagement and argument seem like all that matter.

But that doesn’t make it untrue.


Personal note: However, whereas skeptics go on to doubt all notions of truth, relativists replace absolute truth with a positive theory of many equally valid relative truths. For the relativist, there is no more to truth than the right context, or the right personal or cultural belief, so there is a lot of truth in the world.

Simply stated, universality of human rights means that human rights must be the same everywhere and for everyone. By virtue of being human, every individual is entitled to inalienable rights and freedoms. ... But the text of the UDHR is written in universal terms.

Definition of servitude. 1 : a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life. 2 : a right by which something (such as a piece of land) owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment by another.

A servitude is a qualified beneficial interest severed or fragmented from the ownership of an inferior property (servient estate) and attached to a superior property (dominant estate) or to some person (personal beneficiary) other than the owner.

Moral Absolutism is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act.


O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Old 09-22-2019, 06:30 AM
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Arrow Is there such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth?

Is there such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth? (from the Bible)

Question: "Is there such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth?"

Answer: In order to understand absolute or universal truth, we must begin by defining truth. Truth, according to the dictionary, is “conformity to fact or actuality; a statement proven to be or accepted as true.” Some people would say that there is no true reality, only perceptions and opinions. Others would argue that there must be some absolute reality or truth.

One view says that there are no absolutes that define reality. Those who hold this view believe everything is relative to something else, and thus there can be no actual reality. Because of that, there are ultimately no moral absolutes, no authority for deciding if an action is positive or negative, right or wrong. This view leads to “situational ethics,” the belief that what is right or wrong is relative to the situation. There is no right or wrong; therefore, whatever feels or seems right at the time and in that situation is right. Of course, situational ethics leads to a subjective, “whatever feels good” mentality and lifestyle, which has a devastating effect on society and individuals. This is postmodernism, creating a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid.

The other view holds that there are indeed absolute realities and standards that define what is true and what is not. Therefore, actions can be determined to be either right or wrong by how they measure up to those absolute standards. If there are no absolutes, no reality, chaos ensues. Take the law of gravity, for instance. If it were not an absolute, we could not be certain we could stand or sit in one place until we decided to move. Or if two plus two did not always equal four, the effects on civilization would be disastrous. Laws of science and physics would be irrelevant, and commerce would be impossible. What a mess that would be! Thankfully, two plus two does equal four. There is absolute truth, and it can be found and understood.

To make the statement that there is no absolute truth is illogical. Yet, today, many people are embracing a cultural relativism that denies any type of absolute truth. A good question to ask people who say, “There is no absolute truth” is this: “Are you absolutely sure of that?” If they say “yes,” they have made an absolute statement—which itself implies the existence of absolutes. They are saying that the very fact there is no absolute truth is the one and only absolute truth.

Beside the problem of self-contradiction, there are several other logical problems one must overcome to believe that there are no absolute or universal truths. One is that all humans have limited knowledge and finite minds and, therefore, cannot logically make absolute negative statements. A person cannot logically say, “There is no God” (even though many do so), because, in order to make such a statement, he would need to have absolute knowledge of the entire universe from beginning to end. Since that is impossible, the most anyone can logically say is “With the limited knowledge I have, I do not believe there is a God.”

Another problem with the denial of absolute truth/universal truth is that it fails to live up to what we know to be true in our own consciences, our own experiences, and what we see in the real world. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there is nothing ultimately right or wrong about anything. What might be “right” for you does not mean it is “right” for me. While on the surface this type of relativism seems to be appealing, what it means is that everybody sets his own rules to live by and does what he thinks is right. Inevitably, one person’s sense of right will soon clash with another’s. What happens if it is “right” for me to ignore traffic lights, even when they are red? I put many lives at risk. Or I might think it is right to steal from you, and you might think it is not right. Clearly, our standards of right and wrong are in conflict. If there is no absolute truth, no standard of right and wrong that we are all accountable to, then we can never be sure of anything. People would be free to do whatever they want—murder, rape, steal, lie, cheat, etc., and no one could say those things would be wrong. There could be no government, no laws, and no justice, because one could not even say that the majority of the people have the right to make and enforce standards upon the minority. A world without absolutes would be the most horrible world imaginable.

From a spiritual standpoint, this type of relativism results in religious confusion, with no one true religion and no way of having a right relationship with God. All religions would therefore be false because they all make absolute claims regarding the afterlife. It is not uncommon today for people to believe that two diametrically opposed religions could both be equally “true,” even though both religions claim to have the only way to heaven or teach two totally opposite “truths.” People who do not believe in absolute truth ignore these claims and embrace a more tolerant universalism that teaches all religions are equal and all roads lead to heaven. People who embrace this worldview vehemently oppose evangelical Christians who believe the Bible when it says that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that He is the ultimate manifestation of truth and the only way one can get to heaven (John 14:6).

Tolerance has become the one cardinal virtue of the postmodern society, the one absolute, and, therefore, intolerance is the only evil. Any dogmatic belief—especially a belief in absolute truth—is viewed as intolerance, the ultimate sin. Those who deny absolute truth will often say that it is all right to believe what you want, as long as you do not try to impose your beliefs on others. But this view itself is a belief about what is right and wrong, and those who hold this view most definitely do try to impose it on others. They set up a standard of behavior which they insist others follow, thereby violating the very thing they claim to uphold—another self-contradicting position. Those who hold such a belief simply do not want to be accountable for their actions. If there is absolute truth, then there are absolute standards of right and wrong, and we are accountable to those standards. This accountability is what people are really rejecting when they reject absolute truth.

The denial of absolute truth/universal truth and the cultural relativism that comes with it are the logical result of a society that has embraced the theory of evolution as the explanation for life. If naturalistic evolution is true, then life has no meaning, we have no purpose, and there cannot be any absolute right or wrong. Man is then free to live as he pleases and is accountable to no one for his actions. Yet no matter how much sinful men deny the existence of God and absolute truth, they still will someday stand before Him in judgment. The Bible declares that “…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:19-22).

Is there any evidence for the existence of absolute truth? Yes. First, there is the human conscience, that certain “something” within us that tells us the world should be a certain way, that some things are right and some are wrong. Our conscience convinces us there is something wrong with suffering, starvation, rape, pain, and evil, and it makes us aware that love, generosity, compassion, and peace are positive things for which we should strive. This is universally true in all cultures in all times. The Bible describes the role of the human conscience in Romans 2:14-16: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

The second evidence for the existence of absolute truth is science. Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge, the study of what we know and the quest to know more. Therefore, all scientific study must by necessity be founded upon the belief that there are objective realities existing in the world and these realities can be discovered and proven. Without absolutes, what would there be to study? How could one know that the findings of science are real? In fact, the very laws of science are founded on the existence of absolute truth.

The third evidence for the existence of absolute truth/universal truth is religion. All the religions of the world attempt to give meaning and definition to life. They are born out of mankind’s desire for something more than simple existence. Through religion, humans seek God, hope for the future, forgiveness of sins, peace in the midst of struggle, and answers to our deepest questions. Religion is really evidence that mankind is more than just a highly evolved animal. It is evidence of a higher purpose and of the existence of a personal and purposeful Creator who implanted in man the desire to know Him. And if there is indeed a Creator, then He becomes the standard for absolute truth, and it is His authority that establishes that truth.

Fortunately, there is such a Creator, and He has revealed His truth to us through His Word, the Bible. Knowing absolute truth/universal truth is only possible through a personal relationship with the One who claims to be the Truth—Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be the only way, the only truth, the only life and the only path to God (John 14:6). The fact that absolute truth does exist points us to the truth that there is a sovereign God who created the heavens and the earth and who has revealed Himself to us in order that we might know Him personally through His Son Jesus Christ. That is the absolute truth.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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