One popular thinking premise allows to think that on January 13 there was “friendly fire” and in 1940 what happened was not the occupation of Lithuania, but a voluntary entry into the USSR and that the post-war partisans were not freedom fighters, but bandits. In philosophy it is called relativism, while in common “knowledge” it manifests in the memory that there is no one truth and that everyone has their own truth, Vladimiras Laučius writes on LRT.lt.
“In history it is the variety of opinions, interpretations and emerging values that are most important, not facts, historian Alvydas Nikžentaitis tells LRT Radio. According to him it is unlikely a single historical truth exists because no single researcher of it can avoid human subjectivity. To cite A. Nikžentaitis – “It is hard to claim that out there, there is a single truth.”
This is a typical example of the aforementioned relativism and common “knowledge” which declares that there is no single truth and everyone has their own. I respect A. Nikžentaitis as an excellent individual and historian, but I cannot respect the repercussions which often flow out of the relativistic premises he is expressing. And I do not think that we should agree with the premise itself. The fundamental problem which spans science, philosophy, morals, law and the so-called value discourse, as well as the question of information reliability, various stereotypes and propaganda, lies within the premise itself.
The science of history is no exception in this regard. A. Nikžentaitis tells us the following:
“It is hard to claim that out there, there is a single truth. Every historian is an individual from a specific society. They have their own views, thus historical evaluations are noted for subjectivity.”
It turns out that the science of history is built on the epistemological basis of the non-presence of objective truth, on personal views and membership in some society. How rich.
If there is no single objective truth that is being methodologically pursued, then what, dammit, are the social sciences and philosophy seeking? Some sort of subjectively selected and freely interpreted values, which can be discovered through the scientist’s creativity, life experiences, ancestor rural rumours, neighbours and childhood memories about difficult relations with one’s mother? But this would no longer be science or philosophy, but something more like art, fantasy or talking to one’s psychotherapist, lying in a couch, staring at the ceiling.
If there is no single objective truth, then what are, say journalists, seeking to find out? What is their mission and the purpose of their work? Should the journalist not seek the truth because one truth is simply an illusion and instead there are many truths and he himself is simply one of truth of many?
What is public information about then? Simply about personal experiences? Well yes, there are such genres, but we are not talking of them. How can we trust the news if they are presented without being grounded in the acknowledgement of objective truth? We are told that, you know, impartiality would be great, but you can’t do anything – information will always be subjective, based on personal “views” and “values”, no matter how hard the journalist seeks to remain impartial.
This supposed inevitability of journalistic subjectivity is attempted to be counterbalanced with the so-called “listening to both sides” rule. However this rule, while sometimes having tangible value, is inherently controversial and thus cannot be applied universally or broadly, until the likelihood of a single truth is conceded.
From an intellectual perspective it does not stand up to criticism because it does not answer the simple question – should we listen to the astronomer or the astrologist when talking about celestial bodies and they disagree? Is a mad biologist who earnestly claims that a person’s political views are 50% decided by genetics equally relevant as any normal political scientist, sociologist or idea historian?
Answering “yes” would mean that in selecting commenters from “both sides”, their competence does not matter and the news media can confidently continue the futile discussion. If answering no, it would mean that the commenters would be subject to the criteria of competence, which breaks the “listening to both sides” rule and returns to the classical premise of a single truth (one know better than the other; to know better means to be closer to the truth, rather than knowing a different truth).
From a moral perspective such a rule of “listening to both sides” also fails in the face of criticism. What should a journalist writing about the Holocaust and going to a concentration camp to talk to prisoners and staff operate based on? Perhaps the rule of listening to both sides, giving exactly half his article, with no antipathy to the Nazis or sympathy to the victims, dedicating that part to Heinrich Himmler’s position? Or perhaps the premise of objective moral truth which would demand to call the executioners their true names?
The refusal to concede the existence of a single truth, hence objective understanding and evaluation standards, in social sciences, political philosophy and journalism leads to moral relativism which rejects the objective difference between good and evil. Since we have already spoken of the Nazis, Lewis Mumford accurately describes the situation when talking about pre-war liberals (fits the current ones as well) and their thinking:
“They do not differentiate civilisation from barbarism <…> It is an intersection at which pragmatic liberals come face to face with the fascists. And however he may despise the latter, there is a body of proof that <…> the liberal simply does not find the words to condemn him. This inability to describe evil as evil fatally belated the world’s reaction against barbarism (L. Mumford, Faith for Living, 1940).
The relativism of A. Nikžentaitis which turns history, journalism, politics and morals into the tools of a subjective value play also has a philosophical equivalent called historicism. A philosophy which at all times, as per Plato’s allegory of the cave, embodies exiting the cave with its falseness and subjective shadows into the light, the light of truth, is understood cardinally differently by current historians, according to Leo Strauss, as inevitably being in the cave , the historical context, culture Weltanschauung, in A. Nikžentaitis’ words – “in a specific society”.
Objective truth is no longer the most important goal, nor the most important measure. Everything here depends on belonging to the same cave – “culture”, “specific society”, “principles of progress”. In other words the normative of truth and universality are transferred from across the cave and the light of day, back to the cave – to the abode of subjective interpretations where truth becomes “individuals for each” and interpreted based on the requirements of the cave’s “culture”, “specific society” or “historical process.” (L. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 1953).
What would it mean for us to return today to that cave of masses of competing “truths” and historical interpretations? I will mention at least two obvious things. Firstly – conceding that Russian propaganda and aggression against Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine is simply a matter of historical interpretation. In other words, Russia’s actions and the propaganda that justifies them is simply “another truth” and “a different interpretation of history”, based on the subjectivity of others and another “specific society” with its values and politicians, jurists, historians and journalists who simply think otherwise, rather than lying.
Secondly it would mean that history, political philosophy and journalism overall have no academic or professional purpose because upon accepting the relativistic premise, they become a unique type of art, where the goal is no longer the truth, but a subjective interpretation, even if it submits to certain academic or journalistic ritual rules. They become simply a matter of taste and specialised aesthetic. As Alvydas Jokubaitis says “postmodernists only see aesthetics everywhere” (A. Jokubaitis, Trys politikos aspektai: praktika, teorija, menas, 2005) [A. Jokubaitis, Three aspects of politics: practice, theory, art]. And unfortunately we can see that the number of postmodernists is on the rise everywhere.