107. Respecting The Truth

The day before the election, I posted the long entry about optimism. I believe in it now as much as when I wrote it, but I am most discouraged by the election to the Presidency of a business man who has no interest in, nor respect for, the truth, facts, nor the written word. In this context, much of the American electorate seems equally unappreciative. Much as in Roman times, the populace wants entertainment and distraction.

We are, alas, all entering a new era of mass communication on the internet with such social media sites as Twitter and Facebook where celebrity is of the essence and wealth greedily clothes ignorance. The lack of values is most evident in the way truth is distorted. Facebook distributed “fake news” such as the falsified presidential endorsement of Trump by Pope Francis. Twitter, encouraged by Trump’s addiction, became a focus of disinformation. As a consequence, ever-increasing doubt was sown about how the media processed information.

What the masses in our time have lost is respect for truth, for facts, and for journalism. A blog like mine is typically viewed as a minor eccentricity. (Most fortunately, we still have exceptional newspapers like the New York Times and The Guardian as well as excellent magazines like The New Yorker and the Atlantic.) But this election has shown that what the best have written directly and with brilliance, ultimately had little impact on the majority when it came to the ballot box. The people obviously did not read, follow, nor understand the printed word. Never in history has any political contender for power faced such a focused rejection by the printed media as Donald Trump. And yet he emerged triumphant.

Journalism, as well as politics, have been unable to keep up to the speed with which change is altering the world. Technology has advanced this phenomenon through the internet, computers and cell phones. Thus far, it has developed without any social responsibility. I have tried my best to keep my blog factual (even using outdated footnotes) which has suggested ways to overcome the shock which has overwhelmed all those who respect such values as truth and integrity.

Yes, as a child I experienced the repetition of lies by Hitler and Goebbels whose Wagnerian preference for death over justice, freedom, or the truth climaxed in their own violent ends. Seventy years later, Trump paraded the repetition of lies most effectively, winning by any means at his disposal. Then, victorious, he shifted his position on matters of state without recognition of any discrepancy.

Philosophers, writers, thinkers and politicians have struggled over many centuries to define “the truth.” I have selected some quotations which I feel might re-enlighten those who deplore the descent of truth over the past year. Alas, Donald Trump is one of those rare, exceptional figures who seem unable to differentiate between truth and lying. The speed with which he has shifted positions, combined with his lack of experience, has evidenced his lack of interest in and understanding of “the truth.” Perhaps the circulation of my listing below could suggest to those around the President-elect that the truth is ultimately fundamental to his survival in office.

ON TRUTH

Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but a stab at the health of human society.

— Ralph W Emerson, Prudence, 1841

 

We arrive at the truth, not by the reason only, but also by the heart.

— Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1670

 

The exact contrary of what is generally believed is often the truth.

— Jean de La Bruyere, Caracteres, 1688

 

To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.

— John-Locke, Letter to Anthony Collins, Oct 29, 1703

 

There are certain times when most people are in disposition of being informed, and ’tis incredible what a vast good little truth might do, spoken in such seasons.

— Alexander Pope, Letter to William Wycherley,
June 23, 1705

 

When fiction rises pleasing to the eye,

men will believe, because they love the lie;

but the truth herself, if clouded with a frown,

must have some solemn proof to pass her down.

— Charles Churchill, Epistle to William Hogarth, 1763

 

If we would only stop lying, if we would only testify the truth as we see it, it would turn out that once that there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of men just as we are, who see the truth as we do, are afraid as we are of

seeming to be singular by confessing it, and are only waiting, again as we are, for someone to proclaim it.

— Leo N. Tolstoy: The Kingdom of God is within you, 1893

 

If one tells he truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

— Oscar Wilde, Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, 1894

 

The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get it accepted in the competition of the market.

— Justice O W Holmes, Dissenting opinion in the Abrams vs. United States, 1919

 

If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.

— Larry Speakes, White House Press Secretary,
December 16, 1983

 

In this crazy political business, at least in our times, a lie unanswered becomes truth within twenty-four hours.

— Willie Brown, quoted in the New York Times,
October 31, 1988

 

Each man has in him the potential to realize the truth through his own will and endeavour and to help others to realize it.

— Aung San Suu Kyi , In Quest of Democracy, 1991

 

In a free society, there comes a time when the truth — however hard it may be to hear, however impolitic it may seem to say — must be told.

— Al Gore, fundraising letter, May 2006

 

He who has the truth is in the majority, even though he be one.

— Arab Proverb

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