A mantra of the new right, first propagated by Donald Trump, then repeated by all the ‘good germans’ of the right, is the phrase: “There is no objective truth”. The divided partisan sides of our country have held different beliefs on the state of the world for a long time. According to a 2006 study on political belief, people only reconsider their basic political beliefs once or twice in their life, and the rest of the time is spent rationalizing gut reactions they’ve already had into choices which fit with their ideological preconceptions of the world (Achen 1). In short, yes, there’s this bandying about of the new idea of ‘no objective reality’, but this has always been true. It’s only in recent years (the rise of ‘Banonism’, the populist political ideology first installed in America by Steve Banon (the ‘Karl Rove’ of donald trump, I.E.; the machiavellian genius behind the scenes who positioned yet another moron (see: George Bush II) into the White House while pulling the wool over the eyes of tens of millions of American voters.
In order to understand this attack on truth, we need to understand the theoretical underpinnings of truth, and where we can disprove Banonism and Trumpism’s attack on Truth (that’s ‘capital T’ truth: the notion that there can even be such a thing as ‘truth’). Even within the logic of the postmodernist philosophers and intellectuals who first posited the idea that there is ‘no objective truth’, Banonism and Trumpism’s oversimplification of the postmodern concept is such a bastardization that it’s objectively wrong, even in the context of the deconstructionists bulletproof logic.
In 1915 french linguist Ferdinand De Saussure posited that signs are composed of two elements he identified as ‘the signifier’ and ‘the signified’. By ‘Signs’ I don’t mean road signs or something trivial like that. No, I’m talking about specific things which point to objects in the world, such as a word (spoken aloud or written down), a pictogram (like a picture on the wall of an egyptian cave), or even a picture of a specific, living person. These are all signs. They represent the thing they indicate, but they aren’t the thing itself. Saussure’s formula goes as follows:
Signifier (the word, image, or other form of representation) +
Signified (the concept of what we’re trying to represent, NOT the thing itself, just the Idea)
= Sign (Meaning, or ‘a meaningful representation’) basically.
Postmodernist philosopher Jacques Derrida used this formula (or Saussure’s understanding of meaning, at least) to argue that there can be no objective truth because we construct our reality based in a strict 1:1 correlation between meaning and reality. Derrida’s reasoning picked up where Saussure left off. Derrida concluded that because language doesn’t have an exact correlation between the thing it’s trying to represent and meaning, then no symbolic representation of any outside situation is really possible. Some people today (Jordan Peterson is a big one) disagree with the postmodernists ideas of meaning, and an absence of objective truth, and even the postmodernists themselves didn’t formulate these ideas then take it to the extreme levels of Banonism or Trumpism. What they were advocating for was taking your own ‘truth’ with a grain of salt, arguing that for whatever you believed, other people might have a totally different outlook on life and considering where they stood, be just as right to hold their opinions and beliefs as you are.
There is no objective truth. We can only see things through the eyes of our current situation. Historians call this application of modern perspective and cultural standards on historical views and events ‘presentism’. This is just one of the many reasons why we will always be somewhat ill equipped of understanding History and how the people of a given time came to understand their contemporaries: we can’t really know what it was like to break through the religiously indoctrinated thinking patterns of the middle ages and enter the ‘enlightenment’, we can only gain a historical understanding from reading the primary texts of history and the history books written henceforth.
So, without getting too long winded in this whole thing: Yes, there’s an objective truth (sort of, but not really, but you’re probably not schooled enough in the whole idea of it if you rattle it off like a Fox News talking point, so shut the fuck up already), No, there is no unifying story which connects us all: we are all each in our own existential conundrum, and the point of life is to find a way forward from that chaos and confusion. Thirdly, and finally: Fuck Jordan Peterson. He and many right wingers of his ilk (I’m looking at you Ben Shapiro) are constantly blaming postmodernists, colleges, and other liberal thinkers, and really at their core, these pseudointelletuals (Peterson, Shapiro, ect.) wouldn’t know actual ‘Philosophy’ from the back of a cereal box. They’re all what the ancient Greeks called ‘Sophists’: people who are great orators, but not even decent thinkers: people who can make it look like they’ve formed a great argument, but people are much more susceptible to emotional manipulation than they are to facts and information. There are two types of argument in the Greek line of logic: those that appeal to pathos (appeal to emotion), and Logos: appealing to someone with facts, information, and logic. The Greeks included ‘Ethos’, those arguments which appeal to morality, but in the ideological landscape of the 21st century, ‘morality’ can get pretty swiftly caught up in emotion, and even the left, with their identity politics and culture of outrage, and the right, which basically has the same thing if you think about it: the way they’re always trying to identify with a ‘lost nation of white men’ and the way they constantly take the ‘moral high ground’, only their morality is hopelessly outdated from the perspective of most liberals. I think when we talk about ‘objective truth’ our real problem is that we’re finally starting to get a decent understanding of how hopelessly far apart our basis for our moralities are created on the left and the right.