There is a very well respected (maybe not famous) book by the philosopher, John Rawls, called “A Theory of Justice.” It is now considered a classic, originally published in 1971.
He makes the statement, right from the start, that “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” In other words, for a social contract to exist between people or a society, we must come to some agreement on what justice means (he argues “fairness”) and that we have to pursue and honor truth to be able to converse and make good decisions.
We have lost the ability as a nation to converse about both what is just and unjust, and to investigate reasons to support our view. More tragically, we have lost even our notion of objective truth as something we can discover based upon evidence, so in the post-modern world, whatever a person claims as truth, without objective data, is somehow true for them, and beyond questioning. If we give up on truth, then we have no common value, no common system of thought, and no common ground for discussion. The so-called “birther” controversy is an example, but in the recent election season, there was non-stop lying to a nation that apparently stopped caring about what is true. If objective documentation from several sources is available but ignored or denied, there is no common notion of truth, and no basis for rational discussion. This is the case for the role of human activity in climate change and global warming. The consensus of experts (and I mean thousands of scientists) is that humans play a significant role. Only one political party in one western nation denies this conclusion.
That is where I see all of these discussions coming off the rails. We all have to acknowledge that some things are true, and the truth of those things can be established through thoughtful research and weighing of the evidence, seeking expert opinion, weighing probability. However, if the existence of truth is denied from the outset, and all sources of objective information are denigrated as somehow dishonest or biased, there is nowhere to go. If we can’t agree that objective truth even exists, there can be no system of thought, no discussion, no exchange of substantiated points of information.
For me, the three big questions in this election cycle are 1) the failure of the press as guardians of truth, 2) the influence of the internet in serving up outright lies that are put on Facebook and other social media as truth to sell advertising, and 3) the public release of stolen documents by a foreign government to influence our political processes.
We can and should speak out. We can and should seek the truth and promote justice. However, I believe we’ll have to wait until a majority of folks realize that they’ve been had. Some will never come to that conclusion, but others will see that they bet on a flim-flam artist who will never be able to deliver the goods. It will be painful, and much damage will be done before that becomes undeniably true.
A sad, sad time in America.