The theme of this issue, “Reality and Its Alternatives,” puts us in mind of a popular piece of graffiti from the late Sixties: “Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.” Today, one can’t help imagining what might have been a fitting companion graffito: “Reality is for people who can’t handle postmodernism.”
Postmodernism might logically have given rise to a restive, possibly revolutionary cohort. Varieties of poststructuralist and deconstructionist thought in the humanities and social sciences, many of French provenance, were by then casting deep suspicion on all systems, traditions, canons, ideologies, and “grand narratives” claiming privileged access to truth and reality, which themselves were rendered suspect, along with objectivity and facts. Nietzsche’s declaration that “there are no facts, only interpretations” had become dogma, as had the corollary that truth is only what the powerful deem it to be.
But the late Boomers, Gen-Xers, and early Millennials who imbibed postmodernism in the university turned out to be, on the whole, a remarkably placid elite, taking their places in the financial, corporate, entertainment, education, and media worlds with astonishing docility. If they had acquired anything lasting from their exposure to postmodernism, it was a suspicion of all forms of authority, a suspicion that could easily lead to cynicism, distrust, and even resignation. If truth is merely truthiness and nothing more than an instrument of power, well, what can you do about…anything?
Such helplessness need not be our fate.The many expressions of the human quest to understand reality and live by truth are rich and diverse, and far more sustaining than postmodernist take-downs made them seem. Taking reality seriously won’t be the instant panacea for current social and political ills. But without a concern for reality and truth, the prospects for addressing those threats seem doubtful indeed. Exploring how and why reality and truth became vulnerable, and whether a new concern with realism might be staging a comeback, is our aim in this issue.
Our lead essay, “Truth and Consequences” by Sophia Rosenfeld, is up in full for subscribers and non-subscribers alike to read. “Why,” asks Rosenfeld, “has assent on even basic factual claims (beyond logically demonstrable ones, like 2 + 2 = 4) become so hard to achieve?” Read the rest of her essay here. In addition, you can read Nathan Goldman on the pleasures of drone music and Rita Koganzon’s review of Helena Rosenblatt’s The Lost History of Liberalism.
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