What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)
Señor Tao (April 17, 1948 -)
Truth And Lies
Truth is not an absolute. This is the only truth I know to be true about truth. All other truths are in doubt as to their truthfulness.
For Socrates (c. 470–399 BC) truth was not something to be known as simple facts but something to be lived by asking the next question and then the next. Truth was an endless search in the living of one’s life. A succession of layers. The continued placement of one foot in front of the other. Truth was akin to the pealing of an onion. Each layer is a truth or contains part of the truth. One can keep pealing an onion down to its last layer until their is no more onion. So is truth like the onion? You peal away the various layers until you reach nothing or something? Is what you finally reach, the truth?
In this regard truth is similar to belief. How many times in real life have we experienced various people witnessing the same event, each with a different interpretation, each believing what they witnessed is the truth of the event, each willing to swear to their belief of what they saw as the truth. The perpetrator was a middle aged male. The perpetrator was a young man. He was Black. He was white with red hair. He wore a baseball cap. He had on a hood. Each of these individuals saw the same event. Each believe what they viewed is the truth.
Years ago I watched a television show of a law professor delivering a lecture to his advanced students concerning eyewitness reports in criminal cases. In the middle of the lecture a gunman came into the room, yelled a political statement and shot the professor in front of thirty witnesses and exited the room. Of course this was all staged but the students did no know it was fake. Before the class could panic, the professor stood up and asked the class to immediately write down what they just witnessed. How tall was the gunman? How was he dressed? How many shots were fired? What did the gunman say before firing his gun. What doors did he enter and exit from? He received thirty different reports. All contained some factual elements of the event but not one record all events of the crime correctly. Not one of the thirty students recorded the truth.
We see truth reframed every day. Only a few days ago a holding cell for captured Ukrainian troops was bombed. The Ukrainian government blamed the Russian government for the blast. The Russian government blamed the Ukrainian government for bombing their own troops. The Russian government even went so far as to name the type of US rocket that was used further compounding the truth or the possibility of finding it. The more elements add to a simple truth complicates the finding of the truth. Some conspiracy theorists added to the confusion of truth by writing it was a failed rescue attempt which caused the explosion. In time perhaps the truth will be known but most likely it will be buried only to resurface many years from now.
In 1955 Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was a young 14 year old Black teenager accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant a married 21 year old white woman. Carolyn testified in count under oath that Emmett had placed his arm around her waist and had spoken derogatorily toward her. A truth later recanted by Mrs Bryant but it also points out even when told under oath, the truth may not be true.
Bryant’s husband and half brother abducted Till from his great uncle’s home, tortured, beat, mutilated, then shot him in the head and dumped his body in the river. This part of the story we know is true because after being found not guilty and free from facing another trial because of double jeopardy laws the two men sold their story to Look magazine. They admitted doing the horrendous acts mentioned above.
The part of the story we do not know the truth about concerns the interaction between Emmett and Carolyn Bryant. Over the course of time, sixty seven years, the truth as told by Mrs Bryant has changed a number of times. She has recanted the truth she spoke in 1955 out of guilt feelings because of what happened to Emmett. She said: “nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” Time can do that with truth because time changes ones perception and memory. We will never know Emmet’s truth.
We lie rather than tell the truth because we think we can get away with it and sometimes we do. The Washington Post Fact Checker counted a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims made by Donald Trump during his White House tenure. The problem with lies occurs first in the telling, then in the sustaining of the lie with the number of times it is repeated until it becomes believable and then is accepted as the truth. A lie gains strength when more people begin to believe it. Joseph Goebbels was a speech writer for Adolph Hitler and later, after Hitler’s suicide, succeeded him as Chancellor of Germany. He held the post for one day before he and his wife committed suicide after poisoning their six children with cyanide. He said:
Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.
Unfortunately his words speak the truth. Even before the 2020 election Donald Trump was sowing the seeds of election mistrust. He was preparing his followers for his potential loss. He was preparing them to believe the lie that if he loss the election, the election was rigged. His corruption, lying and ego set democracy back on January 6th, 2021 when after inciting his followers, they stormed the capital as he watched the torrid acts unfold on television in his private dinning hall.
For each person the truth is what you believe and witness for yourself. I learned over the span of my life that it is futile to argue with someone about their belief, their truth. If your believe in god, then god is your truth. If you believe Donald Trump won the election, that is your belief, your truth. Facts may but usually do not change ones beliefs. Joe Biden won the election. Trump lost the election. That is fact. Your belief, what is true for you, however, may be different.
In his defense, Donald Trump did tell one truth as President when he said, “I am not a doctor,” while advising people to inject bleach as a cure for the CoVid-19 virus.
I see more and more the absence of truth in our everyday lives. Advertising, politics, businesses are all perpetuating what they want you to believe about their products, their cause and their services. Truth has fallen off its pedestal if it ever had one to stand upon. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi). Portrayed by Alec Guinness.
… From a certain point of view you’re going to find many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.