This past week, Barack Obama delivered a speech where he said, “unfortunately too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth … People just make stuff up … We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie, and they just double down.”
First, let me thank our former president. I am glad he cares. In a world where more than 60 percent of the populace says they don’t believe in any absolute standards of right and wrong, it is a relief to learn he is now a critic of moral relativism and a champion of objective truth.
In a country that, under his presidency, decided to disregard the 2000-year-old meaning of marriage and replace it with a contrived and court-imposed subjective construct never before conceived of in a free society, I am delighted he now stands against “making stuff up.”
In a culture that routinely decides a child who is three quarters of the way out of the birth canal can be terminated because his heart, lungs, legs, and arms are arbitrarily defined as a “blob of tissue” rather than the body parts of a human being, I am grateful for his new-found convictions.
At a time when we no longer seem to understand the biological facts of what it means to be a male or a female, I am grateful Mr. Obama wants to stop “doubling down” on lies. I applaud you, Mr. President. Thank you for being so concerned about the veracity of certain ideas and being willing to call out the lies that plague our country and our culture. But with such gratitude noted, Mr. President, I would like to ask you a question.
What standard do you plan to use for evaluating truth?
Before you answer, we should first acknowledge the negative. I’m sure you learned (as I’m confident your official college transcripts would confirm) there are certain methods of debate we should avoid if we want to pursue what is true and avoid getting “caught in a lie.”
I am certain you had a class or two on logic when you attended Occidental College that taught you to beware of arguments that shoot the messenger and, thus, obfuscate the message. It’s that age-old fallacy of diversion going back to the days of Socrates. It’s the argumentum ad hominem — the diversion of attacking your opponent rather addressing his ideas.
When you see someone branding and labeling people in a pejoratively way, it’s always a dead giveaway. An example would be dismissing a group of folks simply because they “cling to the guns and their Bibles.” Beware of these tactics, Mr. President. They rarely lead to your new-found goal of deciphering fact from fiction.
Another lesson I am sure you were taught during your time at Columbia University and Harvard Law School was that you should always beware of the fallacy of assumption. When a person says something is true you can’t assume it is so. This is a non sequitur — which means the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the argument.
It is perhaps the most common of all logical faux pas. For example, a pastor makes a claim that America is evil and deserves to be damned and we accept it as fact; or a professor suggests that capitalism should be dismantled and be replaced by socialism and we assume he is telling the truth. Or here’s another one: A politician tells us, “If you like your doctor you can keep him,” or that the attack on Benghazi took place because “we do know that the protests that arose were the result of the outrage over a video.”
We know from experience that such claims do not make things true. Simply saying something doesn’t make it so, does it? In order to trust, we must first verify. We can’t just assume for we all know what they say about those who do.
So, with these logical fallacies and pitfalls noted, what are we to do? How can we have confidence in the “objective truth” you now bemoan as being lost in the political arena?
Mr. President, the truth you are looking for is found in humility as opposed to hubris; in believing in what is self-evident rather than believing in yourself. Maybe the first step in determining what is true and what is false is admitting that there is a measuring rod outside of those things being measured and it’s not you.
Perhaps, President Obama, if you want to see our culture return to the standards of “objective truth” that you now champion, it might be wise to admit that you are not “the one we’ve been waiting for” and you are not “the change we seek” and that anyone who says that “implicit in the idea of ordered liberty [is] a rejection of absolute truth ” — Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope” — is not the one to now be lecturing the rest of us about truthfulness and honesty.
• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).