Reflections of a Rookie/Veteran Syndicated Columnist, No. 1: The Pursuit of Truth
I am both a rookie and a veteran columnist. Rookie because I began writing regular columns only recently, in February 2019 for The Globe Post. Then, a little over a year ago and much to my surprise, Creators Syndicate invited me to join its roster. I am fortunate to be in the good company of columnists like Jeff Robbins, Susan Estrich, Dennis Prager and Mark Shields.
The veteran part comes from three and a half decades of sporadic column writing, which I started doing at age 26, fresh out of the graduate history program of the University of Puerto Rico. I was emulating those professors who, besides writing history books, penned opinion columns for San Juan's dailies.
This column is the first in a series of pieces I plan to write over the next few months in which I reflect on the craft of op-ed writing and how it intersects with my primary field of history.
When I reinvented myself as a columnist at the age of 59, I set for myself a series of do's and don'ts, many of which I have followed over my three-decade career as a historian and academic book author. Some of these principles, I say with some nostalgia, are becoming increasingly rare in the historical profession, which explains, to some extent, why I have repurposed my pen and passion to op-ed writing.
IN PURSUIT OF TRUTH
One of those principles is the pursuit and expression of truth. Historians are supposed to do just that: find historical evidence in support of a truthful representation of past events and realities. But we live in a post-truth world -- actually, my first column for The Globe Post was a defense of historical truth in light of "alternative facts," "the truth isn't the truth" and other Trumpian ideas.
In all fairness, disdain for the truth is also increasingly common on the Left and what passes for the Left. Long before former President Donald Trump became a household name and long before Fox News elevated dispensing fake news to an art form, postmodern scholars were chipping away at the very concept of truth, rejecting objectivity, the grand narratives of the Age of Reason and even rationality itself. Fashionista historians the world over embraced postmodernism, even when it meant discarding two pillars of the historical discipline: the systematic use of historical evidence (i.e., documents) and the dissemination of our findings in clear language that makes them accessible to a generally educated readership.
While postmodernism in the historical profession has come and gone, aspects of its nihilism and some of its terminology (discourse, pastiche, decentering, etc.) still permeate much of historical writing. Moreover, much of what is published, particularly by "cool" academic presses and journals, is heavily ideologized and obsessed with identity politics. Scroll through the latest online catalogue of New York University Press and you will see what I mean.
It is one thing to say that realities can be seen and interpreted from different perspectives; I cannot disagree with that. It is another to accept the postmodernist idea that texts have meaning only in the eyes of their beholders and that all readings and interpretations are equally valid.
While all writers are potentially biased, rather than accept that anything goes, historians (and to some extent, columnists too) owe it to their readers to recognize their biases and try to keep them under control. Intellectual honesty should be at the heart of every historical endeavor, be it a book, a documentary or a museum exhibit.
Unfortunately, advocacy, career expediency and political correctness (and the desire to fit in and be popular) often get in the way of intellectual honesty, pushing too many to conduct shoddy research and omit and manipulate evidence to produce unabashedly politicized narratives and interpretations.
Public historians like myself must be honest and fair even when we advocate certain causes and launch criticisms. I hope that even in my most scathing denunciations of Trump, TV host Tucker Carlson and those who attacked our Capitol on Jan. 6, I have been honest and fair.
At the risk of coming across as too politicized, I will close by quoting Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci. "To say the truth," he wrote, "is always revolutionary."
Luis Martinez-Fernandez is a Writing Fellow at Heterodox Academy.
Luis Martinez-Fernandez is author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History." Readers can reach him at LMF_Column@yahoo.com. To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www. creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.