Shame the Devil
Truth-Telling at the End of the Age of Obama
By Dr. Walter Greason
There is little profit in the truth. When Woodrow Wilson enlisted George Creel to persuade the American people to support involvement in“The Great War,” he imagined the stakes of his lies would outweigh the value of the truth. So, Creel organized the first national, coordinated advertising campaign, reshaping public opinion through the Committee on Public Information from 1917 to 1919. In the century since this pioneering effort, advertising has bombarded the American public with so many shades of partial truth that the very project of lying has become mythological. Fictional films like “Thank You for Smoking”, numerous documentaries like “Store Wars”, and the never-ending digital vomit of the Internet has nearly abolished any sense of veracity. If the sixteenth century sermon holds any insight, the Devil is proud, indeed, in 2015.
One of the worst casualties of a world without truth is the death of relevant public policy. Since the Reagan administration, Congress has increasingly lost its ability to govern in any coherent fashion. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich heralded the early stages of this transformation under the Contract with America from 1994 to 2006. The dissonance settled slightly between 2006 and 2010 as outrage surrounding the Second Iraq War mounted. However, the last six years of incoherent leadership in the legislatures at both the state and federal levels have revealed a deeper fissure. A majority of public officials have developed a rhetoric that rejects science, scholarship, and empirical evidence. There is no basis for truth. Claims to expertise become suspicious, if not outright criminal.
Charlatans and hucksters have become the celebrities of the day. It is more valuable to look like an expert on television and social media than it is to craft and enrich actual expertise. Dr. Phil wants to be Judge Judy, while she wants to be Donald Trump, while he wants to be Kim Kardashian. It is a giant carnival or circus. There is no barker or emcee to organize all of flashy, shiny diversions the liars have created to consume their audiences. These deceitful relationships derive from the mythological fantasies of the medieval world and modern interpreters ranging from Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley to H.P. Lovecraft and Quentin Tarantino. The seductive lie has long been more compelling than the unvarnished truth. It is time to pull back Frank Baum’s curtain on the worst purveyors of systemic deceit – academics.
None of the fraud and misrepresentation described above would be possible without the false truths promoted as knowledge across much of the twentieth century. At the roots of nearly every field of knowledge are fundamental deceptions about African Americans, women, immigrants, and the poor. Yet most of the people teaching these subjects in the twenty-first century have little sense about the arrogant falsity underlying religion, law, philosophy, history, biology, anthropology, sociology, chemistry, and, especially, pre-professional fields like education, engineering, business, and nursing. Each area consistently and constantly adapted itself to maintain slavery, colonialism, segregation, patriarchy, heterosexism, and xenophobia between 1850 and 1970. In many ways, the legacy of these intellectual fallacies still shape the elite standards of academic achievement from the first days of college enrollment through the final laureates of endowed emeritus status. The entire academic infrastructure of higher education must be rethought and redesigned to prevent racial and sexual conceits from continuing to evolve in the maintenance of oppression and privilege around the world. STEM initiatives are the most recent efforts to silence women, immigrants, African Americans, and indigenous people in higher education. Nearly every institution of higher education that has served to challenge academic elitism over the last fifty years faces elimination in the next decade. Unless the founders of interdisciplinary and intersectional study dedicate every penny they have earned and the current generations of academic leaders build global cooperatives to withstand and overcome the assault, the Devil’s lies will be the only truth in university life and in public affairs.
Elite institutions like Exeter, Deerfield, Lawrenceville, and the Ranney School preserved a sense of truth at the core of their academic identities in the twentieth century. Human character hinged on a strong sense of liberal arts skills, stretching back to Benjamin Franklin’s vision for the University of Pennsylvania. Without a variety of skills and knowledge, a person would fail in whatever profession they chose. Institutions like Villanova University and Temple University followed these examples by looking back to the legacy of St. Augustine who reimagined learning as a divine community or to the spirit of Russell Conwell who saw fields of diamonds where others rejected immigrants and people of color. Even more recent rising stars in the academic world – Drexel University and Rowan University – have kept the core value of the humanities and social sciences as a priority for the competitive success of their students and faculty. Without exception, though, none of these distinguished educational institutions has undertaken a careful scrutiny of the ways their policies and commitments maintained inequality over the last two centuries. The traditions are there. Celebrate pioneering leaders like Raissa Villanueva, Shaddy Younan, Zyad Younan, Ed Collymore, Nnenna Lynch, Isis Misdary, Bunmi Samuel, Peniel Joseph, Greg Carr, Kali Gross, William Carrigan, and Chanelle Rose. Their stories reveal a full and inclusive truth, transcending smaller motives of profit,employment, and expedience. Their voices shame the Devil and restore truth in public life.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (email@example.com).