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  • Richard Farr

R.I.P Todd Gitlin

I fear that something he wrote back in 1995 is all the truer now than when it was written:

“While the right has been busy taking the White House, the left has been marching on the English department.” (The Twilight of Common Dreams.)

I lifted this quotation from the obituary in The Nation by Eric Alterman. Worth reading.

Back in 1995 you could see strong hints, only, of what is so clear now - what pass for conservatives and what pass for liberals-and-or-leftists in the United States have each, in their own ways, fractured into epistemologically distinct camps. On one side of the right, and one side of the left, there are people who still believe in the dull old idea that liberal values are necessary because there is an objective world out there and we will always have areas of agreement and areas of disagreement about both how that world works and what we should do about it. On the other, there are people who don't believe in the existence of an objective world; they insist that words like 'true' and 'real' are nothing but a conspiracy by people they despise, and prefer the game of pure rhetoric, pure volume, pure power. In that game, 'my truth' wins because I have a bigger stick to wave and/or a more feel-good story with which to inflate your amour propre. This, alas, is the message of too many flabby-minded chancers on both sides. The only solution really is to keep stating the obvious: that we cannot make any sense of the idea that we disagree without implicitly agreeing that there is something about which we disagree; that claiming we should seek the objective truth is the opposite of claiming we are in possession of it; that facts can at least sometimes be established, and matter; and that grand unified Theories purporting to explain all (supposed) facts are easy to invent, powerfully seductive, and prone to failure.

The odd thing is only this: those on the right who have shown the most contempt for objective truth have done very nicely out of it; those on the left have done their political chances nothing but damage. Why?

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