INSPIRATION FOR HANNAH ARENDT THINKING COMPETITION08-19-2011
WHO CAN TELL THE TRUTH?
We face today a crisis of fact that is rotting the core of American politics. It is hard not to be struck by the ascendant stupidities that lately emerge under the umbrella of free speech: that global warming is a myth; that childhood vaccines cause Autism; that President Obama is a Marxist; that some members of Congress are sure he isn’t an American; that a cabal of American Jews collaborated with the U.S. government to carry out the attacks on 9/11; that many law-abiding liberals seem to have forgotten that illegal immigrants are here, as yet, illegally; and on. Even before the technologists have made good on their promises to provide virtual realities, we today have created multiple, insular, and conflicting manmade realities with nothing more than the internet, cable news, and human nature.
Writing in The New Yorker in 1967, Hannah Arendt noticed that unwelcome facts are tolerated only to the extent that they are consciously or unconsciously transformed into opinions. This tendency to transform fact into opinion, to blur the dividing line between them, has led to the now widely observed de-factualization of our world. In her essay “Truth and Politics,” Arendt suggests that our de-factualized politics demands a pre-political discourse of truth-telling. What politics needs, in Arendtian terms, are institutions and persons dedicated to truth outside the scramble for power.
However, who today stands outside politics and can tell the truth? How can we establish facts at a time when all facts are suspect as opinions? And how can we elevate our democratic argument?
Arendt expresses her challenge succinctly to her friend Mary McCarthy:"What a risky business to tell the truth on a factual level without theoretical and scholarly embroidery."