Donald Trump is in the process of ridiculing the enlightenment, seemingly immune to the charges of “prove it.”
For most of us, the scientific method was our mother’s milk. What had begun with Isaac Newton and his contemporaries had come to imbue much of our national fabric until “prove it” was the standard issue across America’s playgrounds. Or, similarly, until many of us got treated to some version of my college philosophy professor, pallid with those black strands of hair across his forehead, standing in the pit of the amphitheater before the bored, the conscientious and a smattering of the ardent, insisting on the great benefit to mankind of well-reasoned hypotheses and their proof through demonstrable experimentation. “Benefit,” as illustrated by the witches’ plight in Salem or the Scopes trial in Tennessee.
But some of us in that room knew that truth was more slippery than that. Joseph Campbell had educated us on myth as truth, and Carlos Castaneda had entranced a whole wing of the counterculture toward mystical and magical.
So, empirical truth, the bedrock for my professor, was more bewildering for many of his students. His respect for natural law and the human ambition to decipher it was being buffeted by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.
And then, as we hit the millennium, we got “virtual reality” — the wizards of technology brought an alternative universe to the burgeoning community of netizens.
Donald Trump Scales the “Assault on Truth”
All of which brings me to my point: In my generation, “truth,” as my professor knew it, has always been manhandled (Gulf of Tonkin or weapons of mass destruction) and always assailed by other ambitions from mescaline to high tech. But, for the most part, what Newton wrought has weathered those storms. Until now, I fear.
When control of the planet’s most powerful nation can be ceded to a pretender who feels empowered to say absolutely anything he cares to, distribute it via regular info-storms and then have it recognized by millions around the world as factual, actionable and unverifiable data, then perhaps we have a new and historic sense of “disruption.” Donald Trump is in the process of ridiculing the enlightenment, seemingly immune to the charges of “prove it.” He may be more of a “change agent” than any of us imagined. “Truth,” now defined as one man in his bubble and his nightly emissions.
Quite aside from the confusion surrounding truth, there are critical and potentially dangerous management challenges involved when a consensus position based on demonstrable proof becomes elusive to the extent that national policy becomes a “free-for-all” and dialogue becomes babel. In a current and practical sense, how do the purveyors of policy at, say, the US State Department speak to allies and enemies alike in a clear and consistent manner when “their president” is tweeting n’importe quoi?
It is hard to imagine any cabinet member in the Trump administration tolerating this for long. Unless, that is, they are also willing to turn their back on truth as we know it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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