Today’s revelation that Mike Flynn resigned from his post as National Security Advisor is another strong sign that the struggle between Truth and Politics is not a foregone conclusion. Indeed, we ought to actually celebrate the fact that when Flynn lied about speaking with the Russian ambassador, and the lie was made public, he was forced to resign. This victory notwithstanding, we still must be extremely vigilant against the Trump administration’s attack on Truth. For the administration apparently knew that he lied some time ago, and it was only with increased public scrutiny that Flynn submitted his resignation. Had that not come to light, the administration appears to have no compunction about employing liars.
In what follows, I will briefly argue that Hannah Arendt’s insights into Truth and Politics, as well as her understanding of power, authority, violence and persuasion are all key to helping us resist Trump and his acolytes. We are in a fragile time where the balance between freedom, reason, and truth may be overrun by domination, nonsense, and lies. We are on the precipice of what Arendt calls “organized lying,” where the community, or at least the governance structures and a portion of the community, seek to systematically erode any claims to factual or rational truths, and with that to unmoor the very foundations of our state.
I remember laughing about an article in The Medium about a TV Sitcom that triggered the downfall of Western Civilization. In case you were wondering, it’s Friends with its “tragic hero” Ross Geller. The author lamented the awful mistreatment of the most cerebral character on the show that signified the harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America in the early 2000s. For instance, most of Ross’s academic stories were cut off by his bored friends and audience laughter. Why? Maybe some people would like to know more about sediment flow rate?!
In the age of an amazing accessibility of knowledge, America was conned by a man who disregards the value of science and whose surrogates do not see the difference between facts and feelings. Richard Hofstadter warned about the tendency for anti-intellectualism in the US back in the 60-s, but things seem to have gotten much worse. These days, there is a whole field and a term for deliberate politics of ignorance – agnotology. It was already obvious on presidential campaign trail: Hillary Clinton was made fun of because she was preparing for debates instead of “winging” them. Academics and professional journalists were scolded (says who?) and college students were derided as snowflakes out of touch with real America. Gagging of scientists and professionals has followed: yes, lock them up in their ivory towers. Agnotology has even born its long-awaited fruit — the by now infamous “alternative facts” euphemism (or is it “euphenism”?). As one of American bookstores has put it: