Our Duty to the Truth

Is it time to think?
Is it time to think?

“I was watching the tv news this week. People just don’t care about facts any more.” ~Friend at a baseball game last year

“I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” ~Richard Feynman

“We must teach children how to think, not what to think.” ~Margaret Mead

“As true as a pile of mirrors.” ~M7

“As children, we sometimes pretend to be blind, often without closing our eyes. As adults, we pretend we can see, often without opening our eyes.” ~One of my journals

I hold as one of my highest convictions the idea that nothing is more important than the truth. I hope my readers feel the same way. Truth is more important than comfort or bliss or reassurance because those things are meaningless if they are not true.

One way to get me to “unfriend” you on social media, and to think less of you in real life, is to assert something that is demonstrably untrue.

If you want to challenge me, do it with facts. Don’t trot out some newsyouwant.com story that says exactly what you want to hear. Don’t try to argue your point with “when I was growing up, I was told…” When I was growing up, I was told about Santa Claus.

At one point a couple of years ago, I posted to a social media site that I wasn’t going to put up with anyone who posted things that were demonstrably untrue. A long-ago friend posted, “Goodbye,” and unfriended me within seconds. It was quite an epiphany of sycophancy: If there is any chance at all we’ll disagree, he will unfriend you. And the real reason for this unfriendage almost certainly hinges on the idea that said friend was in the opposite camp of political thought that I was, and planned to lie. I didn’t, after all, promise to unfriend anyone with whom I disagreed. I promised to unfriend anyone who lied.

Also, blaming the media for telling your the truth is like blaming the doctor who tells you you have diabetes. Even worse is to claim that the media is lying just because you disagree with its conclusion.

But, if all you care about is yourself and your money, lying about the nature of reality is really the only way you can live with yourself.

In the end, though, I wonder: why would you want to? Why would you want to lie, even if it worked, even if no one knew? Why would you want to continue to get richer and richer after your needs have been met and you are financially secure (how many yachts can you water ski behind?)? Why would you want to drive away all opposing views? Why do you want to believe your politician is perfect?

As flimsy as the answers to questions like this can be, nothing tops the religious and their knee-jerk reaction to the truth. They run from the truth like a rabbit runs from a forest fire. They literally object to the expression of anyone else’s truth. They will literally put their fingers in their ears.

Is this all about human psychology? It’s certainly possible that my friends believe in these things out of fear, not from reason. But deeper than that, darker than that. Imagine a society of adults who think clearly understand, finally, grudgingly, that the planets circle the sun, that medicine cures diseases, that DNA makes us who we are. But most of us aren’t those people. Most of us are children. Most of us are animals. And it is the animal within us who hoards, who grovels, who collectively kills, who follows. In the end, that’s all you can really say about Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot. These people weren’t monsters and they weren’t evil. They were the apex predator, the most vicious animal, the buck with the biggest rack. They weren’t discovering penicillin. They weren’t measuring the elements in the universe. They were killing, and burying the dead.

Confused about how you should behave? Simply image how it would be if someone behaved that way to you?
Confused about how you should behave? Simply image how it would be if someone behaved that way to you?

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