Arguably the factor that militates against the sound and reasonable examination of issues on a global scale is a postmodern view that truth does not exist. In an age of internet exchanges opinions are as true as facts. Here is the efflorescence of John Paul Sartre’s view that intention is all that counts. If you think you are right, nothing else counts. Facts be damned.
Media ecology has converted illusions into a form of reality that houses the self-appointed arbiters of truth. If intellectual freedom encourages everyone to believe anything he wishes, limits based on objectivity and empirical data are unneeded. The new norm is no norm.
The 9/11 attacks were conducted by the CIA; vaccines lead to autism; extraterrestrials landed in the Nevada desert. These are merely a few of the bizarre claims in the anything goes universe. Two-thirds of Americans believe angels and demons are active in the world. Fifteen percent think the media or government add secret mind-controlling technology to broadcast signals. A quarter of Americans believe in witches.
Moreover, much of this fantasy has been promoted by institutions that once held the keys to objective thought: institutions of higher education; newspapers; television news. In fact, their embrace of the postmodern view has allowed the irrational to become respectable with courses on campus like “mysticism and magic.”
For most of American and European history a balance had been struck between credulity and skepticism. But now we are living with the great unravelling: Do your own thing means do whatever you want to do. With instant internet communication opinions can float around the globe before I have tied my shoe laces, making any manner of fantasy seem real.
If there are antecedents for the current trend they can be found in the sixties, a decade that reordered American society. Psychology and philosophy were turned on their heads leading to hot tub therapy, sexual experimentation, shamanism, Chinese medicine, and a host of narcissistic therapeutic approaches. Even “madness” was not mad according to the therapists who argued mental illness doesn’t exist.
But despite the sixties’ assault on rationalism, the peaceful utopia with hearts and minds converted didn’t quite pan out. It turns out reality is more than a social construct. Nonetheless, the cultural upheaval has influenced the present. Fantasyland is not only found in Disney World. Relativism is entrenched in the Academy. The distinction between fact and fiction is crumbling. Everyone seated before a computer can create his own reality for himself and others.
In our culture, there is a Gresham’s Law in which the bad drives the good out of circulation. Fantasy is on the rise as reality has tipped into decline. An admixture of opinion and an occasional dose of fact and wisdom do not invoke great hope for the future. This crisis goes to the essence of meaning, of how we conduct our lives and raise our children. Postmodernists are winning these battles, which leads me to wonder if the few realists left in society can hold back the tide of truth deniers.