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Making Sense of a Post-truth World April 12, 2017 by Richard Nelson

Wheaties was a staple breakfast food in my childhood and between spoonfuls of the stuff that was supposed to make me strong I remember the box staring back at me of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner ready to spring the javelin. It was the breakfast of champions and of course what eight-year boy old didn't aspire to be a world champion athlete?

Jenner, now goes by Caitlyn Jenner and revealed in his upcoming memoir that his latest sex reassignment surgery was a “success.” How times of changed.
The message to young boys in the 21st century is a littler broader than the message I remember growing up in the late 1970's. Today's children can be champion athletes. But they can also be the opposite gender if they so desire. The 67-year-old Jenner writes "The surgery was a success, and I feel not only wonderful but liberated.” To which one must ask, liberated from what? Once unquestioned biological and sociological realities?

Jenner was born fully male, with xy chromosomes. He was married (three times) which once made him a husband. He is still the biological father of six children. No surgery can ever free him from these truths no matter how liberated he may feel.

Such self-defined liberation is only possible in a post-truth context. In November, the Oxford Dictionary announced the 2016 international Word of the Year is "post-truth." Use of the word has exponentially increased in the past two years and absent truth, corresponding reality becomes silly-putty in the hands of users.

Words matter. But when interpretations enter the domain of the subjective, they lose their meaning and we lose the ability to understand and communicate.  Am I supposed to call Caitlyn "he" or "her?" If I call Jenner "her," am I being forced to participate in some kind of fiction? Is their room for my conscience in this post-truth world?

In our post-truth culture, personal feeling has displaced objective facts. It has been said that we think with our hearts and feel with our minds. When the idea of truth is widely rejected we are left to make sense of news bordering on the bizarre.

Humpty Dumpty had the same problem as he told Alice "when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less." Of course, in another story Humpty Dumpty fell and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put Humpty together again any more than all the pundits and talking heads can fully turn a male into a female. Outward appearances notwithstanding, truly changing gender is beyond the power of mere mortals.

In a post-truth political world, one may cherry-picking data, pull facts out of context and polish a revelation with spin that may lead to desired conclusions. Nonetheless, all the window-dressing in the world cannot change the given reality.

Words have fixed meaning. When we fail to agree on their meaning we end up in a world of "alternative facts." When fixed biological and sociological categories end up on the proverbial chopping block, human beings are given the green light to enter surgical centers to undergo disfigurement procedures that we are all supposed to believe is human health and wholeness. Any disagreement will likely garner a response of "that's your truth."

In late January, sales of George Orwell's book 1984 spiked after Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway spoke of "alternative facts." Books sales might as well have spiked after a 2016 federal ruling which mysteriously found transgender rights protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Who knew?

 



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