A handful of elephant

I wrote this today after I saw this article from Kenan Malik, which Jason Goroncy had posted.

After Trump was elected I had been chatting with my friend Travis about how the conservative have embraced postmodernity. Trump was among those who claimed Barak Obama was not born in the United States and was a ‘secret Muslim’. Now that Trump and his supporters are in power we’ve been gifted the term ‘alternative facts’.

The left have for a long time promoted the idea that everyone has their own truth.
I think that the idea that everyone has their own truth actually means that everyone can see the truth from a different perspective. This means that the way we each see the truth is determined by our geographical and social location.

In the past people have explained this idea by describing a number of different people in a dark room with an elephant. They’re all interested in finding out what elephants are, so they all reach out to touch it. One touches the trunk, one touches the ear, one touches the tusk and… we might just leave it at that. They all come out of the room with a different idea of what an elephant is. Really, each one of them has a piece of the picture. They’ll get the most accurate idea of what an elephant is is they all listen to each other.

In this illustration we’d say that each person in the room had some relative truth. None of them has an objective truth of what an elephant is. But each of them has some truth, which is shaped by where they were standing relative to the elephant. If they listen also to the other people who were in the room with them but gave different reports they might be able to get a broader understanding of what an elephant is. If each person considers where they stood relative to the other people describing what they felt they might be able to get an idea of how all the parts fit together. I think this is one way of talking about relative, or relational, truth – truth that we work towards in relationship with each other.

To a large extent the left has thrown out this idea and fixated on the part of the elephant it has held. Some of us have taken on fundamental truths, such as the belief that white people can’t experience racial discrimination or that violence against police is always justified. While I get where these fundamentals have come from I don’t think it’s great to grab onto our part of the elephant and try to separate. I think the right is now doing the same thing. Chunks of elephant aren’t very useful. I still think we’ll get closer to the truth is we listen to each other’s testimonies.

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