Editor’s Note: This article was originally intended for publication in the Observer; however, it was reportedly rejected due to concerns about attacking the identity of transgender individuals. The author has requested that the Rover publish it instead.
At this year’s Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey said that “speaking your truth” is the most important tool at the disposal of victims of sexual abuse. Oprah uttered this phrase in a speech she dedicated to the #MeToo Movement after being awarded the Cecille B. DeMille Award. She gave a powerful speech and her demonstration of support for victims of abuse was desperately needed in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. However, the simple phrase “speaking your truth” did not sit well with me. After all, how can one possess truth? What happens when one person’s “truth” contradicts another’s? It seems obvious that this conception of truth is fundamentally flawed. There simply cannot be competing “truths.” Instead, there must be a singular, objective truth.
The point of this is not to pick apart the phraseology of Oprah’s Golden Globes speech. Rather, the important takeaway is that broadly speaking, American culture embraces this flawed understanding of truth highlighted in Oprah’s speech. In various contexts, I have heard people encourage others to speak their respective “truths.” People of all different political persuasions, from so-called “social justice warriors” to President Trump, have decided to utilize personalized versions of truth. This phenomenon is frightening and wholly antithetical to a rational and functioning society.
The divergence from absolute truth to relative truth takes many forms in modern America. One example from the American left is the insistence on the part of progressives that matters previously thought to be determined by biology can actually be determined by personal feelings. Are you a man or a woman? Throughout all of human history, this question was answered by one’s chromosomal makeup and sexual organs. Now, progressives insist that the answer to this question is determined by however an individual feels. If you feel like a man, you are a man. If you feel like a woman, you are a woman. If you don’t feel like you fit into either category, you can forgo the binary options and claim to be an entirely different gender—or no gender at all.
On the American right, I believe Trumpism has embraced the idea of relative truth. To Donald Trump and many of his supporters, facts do not matter. The Trump administration coined the phrase “alternative facts,” which I believe to be a contradiction in words. Either something is a fact or it is not. There are not alternative versions of the facts, just as there are no alternative versions of the truth. Labeling anything that is politically troublesome for you as “fake news,” regardless of the truthful merit of the reporting is entirely emblematic of the abandonment of absolute truth occurring in America.
The rejection of absolute truth raises serious pragmatic concerns. If we cannot recognize what is fundamentally true, how can we ever aspire for our lawmakers to engage in effective legislating? Even more basically, how can we ever aspire to come to agreements at an individual level? Any hope for a functional society lies largely on the ability for people to understand that truth is not something that can simply be fabricated and personalized.
The United States was founded upon ideals thought to be absolute. The Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution champion fundamental human rights and political principles which were asserted as universal across individuals and time. If this nation is to move successfully forward, we must do all we can to return to acknowledging and abiding by that idea of absolute truth. Some things are right. Some things are wrong. Some things are true. Some things are false. If we do not return to recognizing this reality, we put ourselves in danger of falling into an inescapable abyss of relativity, where virtue is impossible to attain and meaning impossible to discern.
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