Supreme Crap of the United States
OR: A Cumulative Review of Some Major Events of the Last Few Weeks (Because I’ve been too busy and/or lazy to update my site recently.)
Section II: The Truth About The Truth (With Jokes)
Al Franken just released a new book, The Truth (With Jokes). I’m not going to get into the content or give a review or anything; I’d like to discuss just the title alone–one of the “jokes” it references–and what I’ve seen of the conservative response. Some of these have been in the form of reviews at Amazon.com. (I know, one can’t really take Amazon user reviews at all seriously, but the people who write them, in this case, are expressing their political viewpoints, so it counts.)
One of the reviews I noticed said something to the effect of, “What it should be called is My Opinion (With Jokes).” Now, moving beyond the superficial “missing the joke of the title entirely” thing that happened, there’s an important flaw in the reviewer’s presumption (and the presumptions of many others) that the truth somehow isn’t opinion.
The “truth”, for human purposes, is usually that which is generally agreed upon to be true. It’s impossible for us to know real truth, just as it’s impossible for us to be truly objective–it’s a limitation on our consciousness and perspective. Even with things as simple as gravity: We haven’t documented every body in the universe, so the best we can do is agree that, to the best of our knowledge, gravity is “true”. Because we can’t know the real truth, we have to settle for “that which is, based on the evidence with which we are presented, agreed to be closer to likely”.
It’s evident even in our courts: Say a woman was raped–or claimed to have been–and reported it. The police arrested the man she claimed was responsible, and he denied the accusation. What is the truth? Well, you collect evidence. Maybe there was a surveillance video of the parking lot where she claims it happened. Maybe biological evidence like semen or hair, or skin under her fingernails. (Which, I suppose, could have all been planted there by God to trick everyone. More on this in a later section.) Anyway, one way or the other, one report of the event will coincide more with the evidence than the other. Does that mean it’s the absolute truth? Of course not. It’s impossible to know the absolute truth. All we can do is get close enough to it.
To put it in Platonic terms of Forms and Ideas, one report of the event–let’s say, in this case, the woman’s–is merely participating more in the Form of truth than the other report or reports–in this case, the man’s.
History books are a great place to look for a more widespread trend regarding “truth”. Reports are given of events that happened, but nobody can know exactly what happened, because not all of us were able to experience it personally. (And no, video documentation isn’t necessarily the arbiter of truth, either.) Even then, it’d be filtered through our own emotions, and recorded to our defective meat memories. (There was a study I read about several years ago describing a situation in a classroom: A professor walked into class, set his briefcase on the counter, and started discussion. After a few minutes, someone rushed into the classroom, grabbed the briefcase, and darted back outside. When the students were asked about the event, only very few of them got even half the details right. For instance, when asked if the man had a gun, there were many who reported that they “saw it”. The man was actually carrying a banana.) Again, what is the truth? History books are prone to nationalist perspectives on events. How will they record, say, the war in Iraq? I’m sure the world history textbooks in the U.S. will differ greatly from those in, for instance, Canada or Sweden. Which version is true?
The major problem with this–with the nature of the truth–is that many are taking advantage, especially in the media, of its relativity. (It’s not merely that the truth is relative–which it is–it’s that truth is unknowable. I guess the only real truth is that we can’t fully know truth.) The method is simple: either deny any opposing evidence; pretend it doesn’t exist; or fabricate evidence to suit your cause.
One of the best contemporary examples is the “Swift Boat Veterans ‘for’ ‘Truth’” fiasco. In fact, they even used the word “truth” in their name, in an attempt to somehow imply that any report but theirs was somehow not “true”. But all evidence–eyewitness accounts (none of the Swift Boat Veterans ‘for’ ‘Truth’ were actually there with Kerry), military documents, even some of the reports and praise from the Swift Boat Veterans themselves–favored Kerry’s report of the events. Using logic, one can deduce, then, that Kerry’s version of the truth was participating more in the Form of truth than the version offered by the Swift Boat Veterans.
How did they manage to convince so many people? Well, to put it simply, most of the people in this country (and world, for that matter) don’t know what “truth” is. I don’t mean they can’t tell the difference between what’s true and what isn’t, though there are many who have trouble with that as well. What I mean is that they’re fuzzy on the meaning of the term, and the nature of the concept. Most importantly, they don’t know the difference between “truth” and “report”. Anyone can claim anything. That doesn’t somehow automatically make it true. If a woman accuses a man of raping her, and all evidence indicates that the man was in a different state at the time and the woman is still, in fact, a virgin, then nobody can justifiably claim that he raped her. Both reports of the “truth” of the event are merely opinions, and supporting evidence decides which of the opinions is valid, or closer to the Form of truth.
In short, one should approach and judge all information in a fashion similar to how a jury judges guilt or innocence in a trial. Put both (or more) sides of an issue–each individual report or opinion–in its own separate trial, in which each is innocent of the crime of truth until proven guilty. If there isn’t enough evidence to believe one thing closer to truth than the other, don’t ‘convict’ or ‘acquit’ any of the reports.
Continued tomorrow in Section III: Rove, Rove, Rove Your Boat… Gently Up Shit Creek