Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why We Can't Handle The Truth

Mark Twain is commonly credited in modern times as the author of the quote, "If you don't read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you read them, you're misinformed." Truer words are not often spoken, but either way those particular ones were never articulated by Mark Twain. Of all misattributed quotes, this one has to be the mother of all ironies. 

Let's just say that Twain, one of my favorite observers of humanity's insanity, was a contributor to that great quote. One that could have just as well been written for today's fake news-gate headlines. Take a look for a moment at the quote's evolution: as far as we can tell the quote's roots can be traced to Thomas Fuller in the 1600's, picked up by Thomas Jefferson in the 1700s, and enhanced by Twain's signature sting in the 1800s. The first known instance of the quote as we know it today was delivered in 1955 by Orville Hubbard, mayor of Dearborn (Michigan) at the time.

So why subject a simple quote to such a brutal dissection? And why does it matter where the truth comes from? Because a great truth, one that took three hundred years to be eloquently delivered, is still not understood by the average citizen today. This is a worrisome telltale sign of a mass learning disability. 

Yes, it matters where the truth comes from. It matters who it came through. It matters how long it took to be discovered. It matters how many people suffered and died needlessly because we did not understand it. It matters because we still don’t understand it. When it comes to the truth, everything matters.

For a generation that was raised on the urgency of "just do it" we sure take our time when it comes to our evolutionary hunger for the truth. If truth be actual food we would all be extinct by now. "Uh, Andromeda, this is HGS Beagle II... that's a negatory on minimal intelligence aboard that blue rock. Quite fascinating though, the place looks like a resort. Pity, what a waste of a habitable zone." 

Therein lies our tragic flaw: we still don't comprehend our evolutionary prime directive to seek the truth. Not the convenient truths, those are the few and easy ones.  It's the difficult ones that scare us. The ones that require we get out of our comfort zone. Oh but we sure pay lip service to hard truths. We fight wars in their name and we build monuments to them. We worship them in our churches, theistic or atheistic ones. Like any form of worship, fear is part of the equation. When fear reaches irrational levels, we give up our quest for the truth to someone else. Chiefly our priests and politicians.  

One way people neutralize fear is by submitting to a larger group. We're buying the protection they're selling in exchange for one warm body, one soul, one vote. Political parties are the closest mass behavior we have today to the pack mentality from our animal ancestry. Packs are much less interested in the truth than they are in the success of the pack. 

Should you find yourself drawn to a political pack, do as you will. Consider, nevertheless, the following lesson from the universe: the pack approach to life is a zero-sum game. For every pack organized, an equal but opposite pack will always find its way to the kill.

We can't handle the truth because we favor self-fulfilling prophecies over accountability. We can't handle it because we have a love-fear relationship with it. Like all dysfunctional relationships, we are wired for a painful long haul, even in light of overwhelming evidence: it is the difficult truths that will always set us free. Not our priests, and most definitely not our presidents.


"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? 

I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. 

You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. 

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. 

Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."

- Col. Jessup, "A Few Good Men"

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