Searches for Truth in the Age of Lies

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Hight, Gordon
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University of the South , School of Letters , School of Letters Thesis 2019 , Standing Rock Indian Reservation , Feminine Beauty , Truth
As rapidly as technology has spurred the creation, assimilation, and distribution of information, so too have Americans grown more polarized, more apt to choose ideology over facts, and more resistant to constructive dialogue. The speed and volume of our consumption have accelerated as well, with our preference of food, entertainment, and news all at our algorithmic beck and call. With this transactional mindset, we’ve begun to commoditize the ways we learn, interact, and relate to others. More and more we express value in dollar terms, instead of appreciating factuality, historical significance, or beauty. The more I considered and grew frustrated by these social patterns, the more I thought about the underlying problem—the irrational avoidance of truth. Anything that conflicts with our preferences we’ve come to call “fake.” Painful realities nonetheless exist. Sometimes we don’t win, sometimes others get what we want, sometimes our self interest negatively impacts others. But we don’t want to accept anything that conflicts with how we want the world to be, so we disregard the truth, or assault it altogether, en route to solidifying misguided opinions. What’s worse, we act on that misinformation by voting with our ballots and our dollars in ways that often run counter to our own best interest. It’s easy to see and criticize this flawed behavior in others, and the more I found myself doing exactly that, the more I saw those very faults in myself. The three essays that follow grew from my need to respond to this revelation. The Lies We Call the Truth is the personal story of my trip to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in December of 2016. The essay describes the internal struggles I went through as much as it details the history of the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict itself. I came face-to-face with my own whiteness and cowered at the glimpses of what my life would be like without privilege. Grasping for my bubble of safety, I allowed those fears to cut my time at Standing Rock short, leaving after just one night, mere hours from the water protectors’ victory, when the Obama Administration blocked construction, though the stay was ultimately temporary. While the trip was brief, my awareness about how I see and interact with the world has grown much clearer, my sense of humanity more humble and inclusive, and my mind more open. A Study of Feminine Beauty explores the constrictive definition of what the modern world considers beautiful about women and how I grapple with that limited notion as a male fashion and portrait photographer. From the history of standardizing women’s clothing sizes to the catastrophic impacts the fashion industry’s commercialism had on the health and happiness of models and the women who wanted to look like them, the essay explains how such a narrow definition of feminine beauty took root and where there are signs of positive change. The Dark Side of Whiteness uncovers the truth about the history of the Confederacy and its white supremacist underpinnings that sill drive racism today, most notably seen in the August 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. My study included my own family’s culpability in the slave-owning South as well as the broader political motivations that created and sustained the Lost Cause mythology—misbegotten tenets that have repeatedly prevented social healing in America and continue to drive the wedge ever deeper. Through historical research, interviews with University of Virginia professors, and a personal homecoming to my alma mater in Charlottesville, this essay untangles the debate over the fate of Confederate monuments in America by analyzing the conditions under which they were raised in the first place.