Truth Matters

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It matters that James Frey fabricated stories in his memoirs. I blogged about Frey last week and today I direct your attention to today’s thoughtful column by Michiko Kakutani in the NYT.

Kakutani outlines the myriad of reasons this story matters with the most succinct being this: “It is a case about how much value contemporary culture places on the very idea of truth.”

Among the points he makes:

¢â‚¬¢ Truth is not an issue of percentages: Frey famously quipped that maybe only 5% is fabricated, as if 5% lying can be offset by 95% truth.

¢â‚¬¢ Truth in memoirs is about “remembering,” the seriousness of which is underscored by Elie Wiesel in “Night” the classic story of his survival of the Holocaust. (Is Oprah’s inclusion of the book a cynical offset to the Frey scandal?)

¢â‚¬¢ Truth suffers in a relativistic age: ” We live in a relativistic culture where television “reality shows” are staged or stage-managed, where spin sessions and spin doctors are an accepted part of politics, where academics argue that history depends on who is writing the history, where an aide to President Bush, dismissing reporters who live in the “reality-based community,” can assert that “we’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Phrases like “virtual reality” and “creative nonfiction” have become part of our language. Hype and hyperbole are an accepted part of marketing and public relations. And reinvention and repositioning are regarded as useful career moves in the worlds of entertainment and politics. The conspiracy-minded, fact-warping movies of Oliver Stone are regarded by those who don’t know better as genuine history, as are the most sensationalistic of television docudramas.”

¢â‚¬¢ In a subjective age “I” becomes the center of the universe and promotion is the name of the game. ” With our culture’s enshrinement of subjectivity – “moi” (sic) is a modus operandi for processing the world. Cable news is now peopled with commentators who serve up opinion and interpretation instead of news, just as the Internet is awash in bloggers who trade in gossip and speculation instead of fact. For many of these people, it’s not about being accurate or fair. It’s about being entertaining, snarky or provocative – something that’s decidedly easier and less time-consuming to do than old-fashioned investigative reporting or hard-nosed research.

” The book sold more than two million copies because it was endorsed by Ms. Winfrey, and because it rode the crest of two waves that gained steam in the 1990’s: the memoir craze, which reflects our obsession with navel gazing and the first person singular; and the popularity of recovery-movement reminiscences, which grew out of television-talk-show confessions (presided over by Ms. Winfrey, among others) and Alcoholics Anonymous testimonials.””

¢â‚¬¢ Philosophically deconstructionists have “derailed meaning and truth.”
” By focusing on the “indeterminacy” of texts and the crucial role of the critic in imputing meaning, deconstructionists were purveying a fashionably nihilistic view of the world, suggesting that all meaning is relative, all truth elusive.”

The dangers of such relativistic theories are profound. As Deborah Lipstadt, the author of “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” has argued, the suggestion that no event or fact has a fixed meaning leads to the premise that “any truth can be retold.” And when people assert that there is no ultimate historical reality, an environment is created in which the testimony of a witness to the Holocaust – like Mr. Wiesel, the author of “Night” – can actually be questioned.

Ideas have consequences. The intellectual tomfoolery of the academy eventually trickles down to the unsuspecting masses. Today’s relativistic culture is mirrored by a “pop Christianity” every bit as centered on the “angst and the first person moi.”

Loving the truth, clinging tenaciously to it–these will be marks of the remnant of true believers in a superficial age.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in January 17, 2006 by | No Comments »

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