The Menace of Mendacity
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.
— Albert Einstein
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
Truth is not a trivial thing. Words matter.
Being accurate requires curiosity, diligence, and rigor.
I know that everyone has a different idea about what is truth. Much of the debate started when Jesus asked Pontius Pilate that very question. I’m not sure we ever heard a definitive answer. In this post, I’m not arguing for absolute agreement on what truth is, I’m asking,
“What is the process we engage in that enables us to find our own truth?”
Truth is defined as what is true in accordance with fact or reality. It is the representation of what actually happened.
Relativists say, all truth is relative and there is no such thing as absolute truth.
Skeptics simply doubt all truth.
Postmodernists affirm no particular truth. Nietzsche, for example, said, “truths are illusions.”
Pluralism suggests that all truth claims are equally valid.
I’m less interested in the philosophy of truth than the process of deciding what is true and what is not.
The scientific method is a good example of a diligent process for getting to the bottom of things, i.e understanding causes and effects.
The reason I like science is because its goal to provide us with accurate and reliable explanations. Scientists test hypotheses to establish levels of confidence for a given theory. It doesn’t pretend to know the absolute truth about anything. Scientists simply strive to build knowledge about the natural world that corresponds to the way the world really works through rigorous research and mindful methodologies. In general, scientists do not attempt to discover the truth about spiritual or cultural beliefs. That’s an entirely different subject I have addressed in previous posts.
Here’s the truth about how people voted (or not) in the last election give or take 1 percentage point:
Didn’t vote: 49%
Most rational people are willing to agree on the facts above — it simply represents what actually happened. The conversation gets dicey, however, when we try to agree on the causes and effects of those results. People on the left believe the truth is that Trump won because of racism, sexism, abortion, immigration, and white supremacy/nationalism. People on the right believe that Trump won because he was a better candidate and Washington needed shaking up. People on the left think the results are disastrous and dangerous. People on the right believe he is doing exactly what they wanted. White, right, uneducated evangelicals remain fiercely supportive.
It is tempting to blame the 27% who voted for Trump for the chaos we are experiencing now, but the truth is there are always foolish people who believe empty lies whether the purveyor is a snake oil salesman, a zealous missionary, or a pandering politician.
The real question is, why did 42% of eligible voters not vote and what needs to be done to get them to vote. Count me guilty. I’m a Michigan resident who did nothing to get out that vote.
But let me get to the point. From my perspective, the truth is that we not only need to expose Trump as a slimy creep and get him out of office before he rains fire and fury on the world and creates civil war in America, but we also need an antidote that prevents “Trumps” from happening. Preventing another blathering, blustering, bravado bully from entering the White House will require a transformation from the menace of mendacity to a vigilance for veracity.
Yes, lies are a menace and we are hearing way too many from politicians in particular. And we have not been vigilant enough about the truth of what people are proposing, preaching, and pandering.
NEWS BULLETIN. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, Charlottesville happened.
What a timely and tragic example of the essence of this post. Let me be clear. The alt right is a menace because it pretends it is protecting history by protesting the removal of Confederate monuments when it is, in truth, defending and promoting hatred and supremacy. Permit me to share my perspective here.
I was born in February, 1945, the year the world declared victory against the hateful policies of Adolf Hitler who committed suicide on April 30 of that year after killing 6 million Jews.
One of his infamous quotes is:
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
I grew up in an all-white community in a rural Michigan town where there was little interest in the lives of people who had different experiences from our own. I went to college from 1963 to 1967 when the civil rights movement was heating up. I was so lost in my world that the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 barely got my attention. I never owned my unearned privilege and power of being born a straight, white male with good looks to boot. And I never thought about how much easier my life was as a middle-class Christian in a community in which I experienced only positive prejudice and equal protection while suffering no poverty or discrimination.
I had just started basic training in the Army when the Detroit riots exploded in 1967.
I was in Vietnam when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
When I marched in Washington in uniform in 1969 — an offense that could have led to a court martial — I finally had reached an awareness that things were really screwed up. I finally opened up to the truth about America: we killed Native Americans and stole their land, we enslaved African Americans and declared them property, we incarcerated Japanese Americans because they happened to be of Japanese dissent during World War II, and we continue to exercise institutional racism against non-white citizens. Those facts don’t deny the truth about the things that have made America great: freedom, opportunity, and democracy.
Charlottesville is a stark reminder that truth matters.
Pretending we are exceptional and have moral authority is a bankrupt proposition. To me, the truth is that Robert E. Lee and the Confederate leaders fought for white supremacy and slavery. There is no justifiable reason to honor them with monuments. The monuments are simply symbols of hatred.
Charlottesville is very personal to me. I have a Jewish daughter and two lovely Jewish grand-children whom I absolutely adore. I have a Korean daughter and an African-American/Japanese member of the family. To think that in the span of my 72 years, I have experienced the end of Nazism to the re-emergence of Nazism is beyond belief.
The biggest lie ever told is that we are not only separate and different, but also that some of us are superior. That lie is the ultimate menace.
When I first heard the term Black Lives Matter, I reacted negatively — not because I didn’t think it was legitimate or important, but because I thought it was too tepid and pleading. If I were an African American in this country, I would be so enraged I would implode. What’s amazing is how the black community has exercised such restraint.
Einstein implored us to be careful about small matters so that we are more likely to be trusted with important matters.
The size on an inauguration crowd may be a small matter, but the use of nuclear weapons is an extremely important matter and a clear rebuttal of racists is a moral imperative.
Buddha suggested that the two greatest challenges on the road to truth are getting started and staying the course.
Consulting more than one source of news may be a good place to get started. Thinking deeply and conducting thorough research are required to get all the way to the truth. I’m trusting that Robert Mueller will do exactly that. I hope he is able to lead us to the truth and to the tumbling of Trump — a monumental travesty.
Oh, Buddha and Einstein, where are you when we need you?
In recent articles in the New York Times, David Brooks and Paul Krugman suggested that one is unlikely to find the truth in mob mentality or rigid ideology. Brooks discussed this phenomenon as it played out in the Google memo on gender differences. Krugman talked about the denial of climate science by people who refuse to look at the facts.
Truth needs the light of day to shine forth. One is more likely to find it at the end of a long road of active inquiry and deep dialogue than in the midst of a litany of uninformed opinions.
The menace of mendacity threatens more than our political life.
It is also a threat to our personal, work, family, and spiritual lives. As Nietzsche implied, our truths can be illusions. Destroying those illusions requires a high level of self-awareness and continuous effort. The road to the truth is long. Unfortunately, our laziness undermines our vigilance. How often do we lie to ourselves about how many steps we took in a day and how many calories we consumed in a day? How often do corporations lie about their values or misrepresent their products? Think Wells Fargo, VW, etc. etc. How often do we lie to our families about our intentions, feelings, thoughts, and actions? How often do we lie to ourselves about our energy, equanimity, and evolution?
How entangled are we in our own “stuff” and how enlightened are we about what is possible in this precious life we have?
How closely are we observing our own behaviors? How deeply are we thinking about the possibilities for consciousness? In short, how open are we to finding the truth?
To me, those are the questions that require real vigilance. The truth is that lies are a menace and laziness limits our vigilance.
Let me end, for a time, with a quote from Martin Luther King:
“May I stress the need for courageous, intelligent, and dedicated leadership…leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.”
Oh, Martin Luther King, we need you now more than ever.
It seems to me that the solution to our current crisis is a return to science, spirituality, and non-violent protest — the very principles that Einstein, Buddha, and Martin Luther King embodied. May it be so.
Originally published at Perspectives & Possibilities.