Your Reality or Mine?
By Lawrence Davidson
December 12, 2010 "WMC" -- There is a postmodern position that states "reality is a social construct." In other words, individuals and groups have their own realities and, according to the postmodernists, one reality is as true as another. Certainly there is more than one way to interpret things. It is because individuals see the world differently and, at least in the American cultural milieu, have such trouble reconciling those views, that U.S. divorce rates run at about 50%. Then there is the inescapable fact that nation states and rival ethnic communities periodically slaughter each other in an effort to disprove the postmodernist assertion that all realities are equal. Thus we see the competition among groups to assert the reality of the powerful as triumphantly more real than all rivals.
It is hard to argue with the notion that there are many social, cultural and political "constructs," each a product of its place and time. However, the notion that all realities are equal can quickly take us into a kind of theater of the absurd. If you want to see what this looks like just take a close look at present day American politics.
How about the world of John Barton, a House member from Texas who has it in his head that carbon dioxide emissions are not impacting the climate? If someday this gas does have an effect on the environment, Barton tells us not to worry. We will find a way to live with it. After all, according to Barton, man is able to adapt to just about any environment. Again, what is the worth of Barton’s "reality"? Is it equal to the one posited by those scientists keeping track of greenhouse gases? Finally, there is Darrell Issa, a Republican House member from California who soon will be the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa’s obsession is climate data which, he is sure, has been manipulated by environmentalists seeking the ruin of capitalism. And, he is determined to use his committee’s subpoena power to foil this plot. Representative Issa has his own "reality." But, beyond his own head, just how real is it?
Then there are all those U.S. politicians whose "reality" includes Iran’s drive for an atomic bomb, and the reality of all U.S. intelligence agency experts who say Iran is doing no such thing. Are they equal?
Americans are not the only ones subject to impaired or wholly false "realities." A recent report prepared for NATO by The International Council on Security and Development revealed that most Afghans in two hotly contested provinces, Helmand and Kandahar, "are completely unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States and don’t know they precipitated the foreign intervention now in its 10th year." The report concludes, "the lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward NATO military operations...."
These particular Afghan citizens live in a remote and technologically poor region of the world. This remoteness makes their outlook more understandable than that of all those "modern" Americans cited above. But what about the world inside the heads of the people who prepared the NATO report? If we assume that their conclusions are an accurate picture of how they see reality in this case, we can only conclude that they too, like the Afghans, are suffering from an impaired worldview. It would seem that somehow they have forgotten, or suppressed, the fact that when, after September 11, 2001, "President George W. Bush demanded that Mullah Omar...turn over Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants or face the full brunt of U.S. military might, Mullah Omar asked to negotiate, and Bush refused.
Instead, the United States invaded Afghanistan...." The Taliban leader had asked the Bush administration for proof of bin Laden’s involvement in the 9/11 attack and those in the White House, aided by the Pakistanis, could have probably supplied it. However, America’s leaders did not bother. This also is part of the picture that should be given the remote peoples of Afghanistan so as to make their notion of what is real more complete. Thus, the reality of the Afghans of Halmand and Kandahar is different than that of the NATO commanders and their consultants. Are they equal? And, are either truly real?
Dr. Davidson has done extensive research and published in the areas of American perceptions of the Middle East, and Islamic Fundamentalism. His two latest publications are Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 1998) and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001). He has published thirteen articles on various aspects of American perceptions of the Middle East. Dr. Davidson holds a BA from Rutgers, an MA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Alberta.