Angry college students are nothing new. There’s a certain ambiguous rite of passage for young, liberal-minded academic adventurers exploring new perspectives and incorporating them into their own: what does one do with new knowledge? Answering this question often leads to heightened emotion and action – anxiety and anger; protest; opposition to established methods; the razing of traditions.
None of this – in and by itself – should be disparaged; in fact, it should be encouraged. When traditionalists insist on maintaining tradition for the sake of tradition only, they demonstrate nothing more than self-indulgent pride and recalcitrance.
But students in my home state of California at Pomona College have really jumped the shark this time. According to these students, objective truth is a myth, and the belief in such a myth is the cause and progenitor of every modern evil known to humanity, including “white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America.”
The screed was in response to Pomona College president David Oxtoby’s email to students reminding them the College’s mission “is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.” This email was in itself in response to student protestors shutting down a guest lecture by Heather Mac Donald on the issue of policing and Black Lives Matter.
In this letter – which can only be described as literary cacophony – one thing stands out: these students are absolutely sure of the truth of the statement that truth is a myth.
This is post-modern existentialism at its finest, and adherents to this system of epistemology regurgitate the same brand of relativism that has existed since the garden serpent, Mahavira, Democritus, Protagoras, and a host of other thinkers (including many in the Enlightenment, which these students absurdly identify as the fountainhead of Objectivity) – but these adherents express in a manner that denies the possibility of the transcendent, in this case an ontological Truth.
The only way to make this argument make sense is to change the definition of Truth, which existentialists have been trying to do for decades. By definition, truth is reality and reality is truth; students like those in Pomona would have you believe instead that perception is reality.
No. It. Is. Not.
Perception is not reality. Perception is the perception of reality. This cannot be stressed enough. To claim anything else is to change fundamentally the meaning of reality. Reality is not, and cannot be, dependent on perception; neither can truth. The truth and reality of the statement, “I exist,” cannot be altered even if I begin to doubt my own existence.
Besides the irony of insisting on the objective truth of the statement that truth is subjective, these existentialists also ironically appeal to the transcendent to justify universally their predicament. They say truth is subjective, but they appeal to the ontology of logic: “The idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining … hate speech is illogical.”
Hear that? Truth is fluid, but, goshdarnit, Logic – the system by which we establish truth-values – is ROCK SOLID!
I’ve got no problem with these students advocating their cause, but as soon as they start protesting Truth, they are making a truth claim of their own: “We don’t know anything and can’t be taken seriously.”