From nothing only nothing may come. So said Parimenedes, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and founder of ontology when he argued against the notion that nothing is eternal and that all things are subject to obsolescence and replacement. ‘Ex nihilo nihil fit’ or ‘nothing comes from nothing’ can also be taken to mean that creation is complete and can neither be added to nor subtracted from, only transmuted—like the clay that is shaped and fired so that it can become a bowl. This echoes Kohelet [Ecclesiastes] 1:9, which reads ‘what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.’ It should go without saying that this doesn’t rule out the appearance of new forms, but those new forms would not come from nothing, but would instead be products of nature’s ability to convert matter into things that may appear new, but that are, at the sub-atomic level, ancient. 

Which brings us to the subject of ‘eternal truth.’ If nothing comes from nothing, then truth, like matter, must be constant. The pursuit of these constant or unchanging truths is, or should be, the shared cause of philosophy and science as it relates to the physical world. This was the belief of modernists and liberals alike. Yes, modernists and liberals took a non-classical approach to understanding phenomena, but they never confused the objective with the subjective or said that a thing could be called ‘true’ absent evaluation or demonstration. Had modernists and liberals believed otherwise, then much of the progress that we now take for granted would not have come to pass. And it may be that certain people have rejected eternal truth in order to embrace post-truth politics, which is to say, the elevation of narrative above what can be called objectively true, because these people live in an age in which it has become easy to take the modern world and everything that made it possible for granted. By way of illustration, the anti-vaxx movement, which overlaps with, but shouldn’t be conflated with widespread opposition to vaccine mandates, is enabled by a society that no longer fears the ravages of polio, smallpox, and tuberculosis and that shrugged its shoulders when a smallpox outbreak was traced to an affluent LA suburb wherein vaccine refusal had become fashionable. 

If nothing comes from nothing, then truth, like matter, must be constant.

The ideological extremes that play too large a role in American political discourse are likewise the result of social amnesia. That amnesia, which has caused many of us to forget that revolutions decimate society and rarely result in the keeping of revolutionary promises, has turned too many of us into what can be neatly referred to as ‘nihilistic idealists’ and ‘cultist nationalists.’

The ideological extremes that play too large a role in American political discourse are likewise the result of social amnesia.

The nihilistic idealist is one who believes that something can come from nothing, or that it is possible to construct reality using a set of beliefs that are ‘true’ not because they rise to the level of objective truth, but because they have been declared true by persons who possess the ‘virtuousness’ of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the underrepresented. Never mind that the Hutus were just that before they carried out their genocide against the Tutsis and that the Third Reich was born of working-class grievances. Just as might does not make right, neither is one right simply because one is in the minority or a member of the opposition. 

On to the cultist nationalist. Know the cultist nationalist by his or her tendency to see conspiracy everywhere and to view himself or herself as the savior of the state and its democratic institutions in the same way that the nihilistic idealist views himself or herself as the savior of all of who are tyrannized by the ‘capitalist patriarchy.’ For the cultist nationalist, right-wing politics is truth and anyone who questions that truth is an enemy of the state. This belief bastardizes Aristotle’s politics, which did not treat politics as a prescriptive or descriptive, but rather as a practical science and discipline, the purpose of which is to generate noble action and thereby increase the happiness of the populi. When a politics generates too much contempt (both within the ranks of persons who subscribe to that politics and in those who subscribe to a different politics) it has failed to live up to the Aristotelian ideal and can be called cultist.  

Just as might does not make right, neither is one right simply because one is in the minority or a member of the opposition.

But, with corporate media trumpeting this or that half of the binary of American political extremes as loudly and as incessantly as it does, is it still possible for American society as a whole to remember that the truth has not changed and that it is very much on the side of persons who, in spite of it all, have remained humble and free enough to avoid and even challenge that binary? The answer is “yes” and that answer can only be given in the form of divestment from and challenges issued to a political culture whose “truths” are so fragile that they cannot withstand the kind of discourse that eternal truth thrives on. And just as discourse can be used to separate truths of convenience from what is objectively true, it can also be used to bring people together so long as that discourse is civil. 

For the cultist nationalist, right-wing politics is truth and anyone who questions that truth is an enemy of the state.

Because who doesn’t respect a person who respects others as a matter of course and who would never pick up a sword when language and composure are enough?