I got as far as reading the intro and chapter 1 of Farhad Manjoo’s TRUE ENOUGH: LEARNING TO LIVE IN A POST-FACT SOCIETY and was already troubled enough to make a comment. Manjoo claims “the very idea of objective reality is under attack.” His comment might seem like just another warning about Postmodernism; his claims though indicate the inability for people to perceive the same reality is being driven by ideology, and aided by the way in which the Internet enables people to pay attention only to those who express ideas they agree with. This in turn creates the environment in which those who manipulate the media “can dissemble, distort, exaggerate, fake—essentially they can lie—to more people, more effectively, than ever before.”
In the first couple of pages he sites examples of organized groups of people ignoring scientific evidence about health because of their personal distrust of government with the consequence of one person’s child dying from a completely treatable disease. He offers evidence of how effectively the Swift Boat Veterans distorted John Kerry’s military record (he says he has plenty of examples of liberals doing the same thing, but that comes later and I’ve only read the first 26 pages of the book) because of their dislike of his politics. The story of John Kerry’s military record immediately caught my interest for several reasons, among them:
1) Though the military had no evidence to contradict that John Kerry served bravely and honorably during the Vietnam War, the ability of some to manipulate information to put his record in doubt, for me means the military record and decorations of all veterans become suspect. Don’t believe a decorated war hero, his promotion may have been political not real, that’s the ultimate message of the Swift Boat Veterans’ efforts on me – they cast an effective doubt on all honors the military may hand out. According to Manjoo they had no basis for calling into question Kerry’s military service, but they did it in such an effective way as to cause some to doubt Kerry’s military experience.
2) To me the bigger issue of being so easily able to re-write history is that what Manjoo is describing is the 21st Century American version of ANIMAL FARM or 1984 in which history is constantly being revised to meet the current need of the party ideology. It is exactly what happened in Stalinist Russia. Truth is nothing more than what serves the party’s need at any given moment. There is no such thing even as personal truth or “what is true for me” for all ideas of truth must be submitted to the immediately purposes of party ideology. The partisanship which Manjoo describes as causing different experiences of reality is based in party ideology and all “facts” must be submitted to the ideologues for them to use as the party ideology demands. In this sense, I think any ideologue is dangerous to the rest of humankind – even a Christian ideologue. Ideologists are always willing to sacrifice others and the facts to maintain and reinforce their ideology. For ideologists all people and all information exists to serve the ends of the party ideology, and all must be made subservient to that ideology. To me this is where the great ideological political divide in America will take us unless we come to recognize the extreme comments of the ideologues for what they are: perversions of the truth.
Absolute lies might be recognizable, so it is far more ffective to offer distortions of the truth because they will sound so “true-ish” – so close to what I believe must be true about my opponents. As Stephen Colbert would say it has a “truthiness” about it which tends to be in Manjoo’s phrase “true enough” for many people to justify their own beliefs.
In politics, we Americans need to resist the ideological desire to compel facts and truth to conform to our ideological bent. Otherwise we will find ourselves headed back to the future of 1984.
Manjoo pointed out that there was plenty of ammunition against Kerry based on the things he did during and after the Vietnam War. What his opponents discovered and embraced was that they could distort the past (even lie) in such a way as to bring about a visceral anti-Kerry reaction. In doing so, they adopted a “the means-justifies-the –end” approach a methodology embraced by ideologues, dictators and tyrants. The means by which we attain our ends matter because it shapes who we are and what wrongs (sins, crimes, distortions, abuse) we are willing to tolerate to achieve what we believe in.
See also my blog Is “The Bomb” America’s True or Only Strength?