Truth

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford–as Indiana Jones–tells his class that archaeology is the search for fact. He recommends the philosophy class for those who are seeking truth.

John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Truth, like beauty, is subject to interpretation; facts are not.

For example, when it comes to religious beliefs, people rely on faith to find their truth. Their god or gods cannot be proven, yet many view their beliefs as the one true religion. This is no criticism of truth or faith–after all, it would be a fairly pathetic god who could be factually proven to exist or not exist. A leap of faith, which is probably unique to human beings (at least on this planet), is often appropriate and, indeed, justified. My God expects me to walk by faith, not by light.

Facts, on the other hand, must meet more stringent criteria. Ideally, they can be tested and proven with the results subject to verification by others. That’s how science works. Facts are used to this, which is why many scientific and mathematical “facts” are properly referred to as theorems (or, for the popular press, theories). Many  are challenged regularly, perhaps in every high school chemistry class around the world, year after year.

Today, truth, facts, news, fake news, tweets, social media, etc. should all be held suspect instead of being accepted as absolute, irrevocably proven. They must be challenged. There are many things presented as “truth” that are not facts, that are not substantiated by evidence, and cannot be proven.

Maybe you belive I am stuck on this particular subject, which is likely so. However, it was I who carried a lit lamp during the day, searching for an honest man. In fact, I was not searching for an honest person, I was trying to emphasize this very point.

 

Logic Is Hard

It is very easy to limit one’s views to those that one already believes. It is hard to entertain ideas that are in contrast to one’s own. It is an unfortunate–and uncomfortable–fact that all progress for humankind is obstructed by the status quo, but instead dependent upon the ability to entertain ideas that are radically different from one’s accepted notions.

If our preconceived notions were perfect, limiting our viewpoint would be fine. On the other hand we–as humans–are not capable of perfection, so our preconceived notions are, therefore, invariably flawed.

Unless we make an intentionally conscious effort to try to be open to other viewpoints, we remain stuck in one spot–intellectually, culturally, and spiritually.

Our self-imposed intellectual limitations are embarrassing. If an advanced alien species were to view our interaction, they would be well within their rights to either isolate us from the rest of the universe, destroy this planet, or at least remove the human infestation for the benefit of all.

I, Diogenes, died many centuries ago, so I am not at risk. How about you?

The Ways of Kings

Kings and other high personages have different ways of dealing with their station in life.

Legend has it that Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of  a tumultuous parade, riding in a triumphal chariot with dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning–that he was mortal and all glory is fleeting.

On the other hand, my study of history seems to tell me that most rulers or victors surround themselves with sycophants who whisper how wonderful, brave, and wise they are.

Respect for One’s Elders

Diogenes was known for his (alleged) dedication to honesty. It might have actually been hype, but it succeeded in putting him into the history books that survived until the 21st Century.

In certain cultures there is a respect for elders–for the knowledge and wisdom that they absorbed over their lifetime. After all, experience is the most expensive, yet most effective teacher, and one cannot experience much in twenty, thirty, or perhaps even forty years-even though we all believe that, before we are twenty, we have all the answers.

I watch people. I observe how they interact with one another–as families, as tribes/communities, or as part of structured organizations. I’ve seen the same things pass by at least twice; in some cases, more than twice. So, what wisdom have I distilled?

  • Seeing the same thing over and over is less than fulfilling. Have we learned nothing?
  • Each new boss/leader/commander/premier/grand imperial poobah begins with “Cast aside the old norms! Think outside the box! We’re going to embrace a new way  to be agile, more efficient, and more effective.” Words that are meant to stir the heart.
  • The new boss/leader/commander/premier/grand imperial poobah meets with the high level mucky-mucks (or whatever term you prefer) who applaud his or her every idea. He or she believes that the mucky-mucks will infuse the people on their teams with such enthusiasm.
  • Instead, mucky-mucks pull the wagons into a circle, dig in their heels, and knowing that the new boss/leader/commander/premier/grand imperial poobah will be gone in three to five years, they nod and tell him or her how wonderful the ideas are.
  • In a few years, the next contestant–I mean the next boss/leader/commander/premier/grand imperial poobah will appear and displace the current boss/leader/blah-blah-blah/etc.

And at each juncture, our hopes are dashed and we’re surprised that nothing changes.

I shudder when I realize that I will see the same things I’ve seen before at least one more time, or possibly more before I leave this world. Do/Will we ever learn? I suspect not.

When I was young, I believed that I–and my generation–would change the world. It was the Sixties, after all, and anything was possible. Now, I’m in my sixties, and I’ve resigned myself to things being the same way they were in the days of Ptolemy, Charlemagne, Robespierre, and–well, you fill in the blanks.

As always, it’s the Golden Rule–Them With the Gold–Rule.

It would be wonderful if Gen X, Gen Y, the Millenials, Gen Z, or whoever could actually make some changes before I leave this world for the next. I have always hoped to see this world better after me than it was before; I couldn’t do it, so I hope somebody else can.

I–and my contemporaries–are ready, willing, and able to share what we’ve learned, if anyone is interested.

Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

When the Press Became the Media

In Colonial times, and the early days of the United States of America, there was nothing that even resembled true journalism. Port cities would glean what news they could from passengers and crew of arriving ships and print it. There was no independent verification, no one would even think of having two sources. The Port City Herald (or whatever) would print the gossip that had come ashore. The next city over, once they got a copy of the Herald would reprint the story; like a stack of dominoes, the story would fall into place in other newspapers. It might be weeks or months-old when the Gazette first printed it, and it might not age well as it trickled through the countryside. No matter–it was something to read.

Most newspapers were primarily political in nature, printing articles that promoted the owners’ views shamelessly. Since everybody knew this was the norm, nobody got upset and few took the news at face value. Ben Franklin, after learning the business from his brother, bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, for which he wrote many articles under various pseudonyms; after all, there was more credibility in multiple authors sharing a viewpoint than in a single person’s opinion. However, it’s probable that most who read the Pennsylvania Gazette knew that it leaned away from King George III and toward independency.

Things changed, probably because of the invention of the telegraph, so that current events could be printed in newspapers. There was still–and always will be–bias, but for many people a single newspaper was not their only source of information. People were interested in the outcome of battles during the Civil War, but then, as now the newspapers promoting the Union reported the same story quite differently than those favoring the Confederacy.

Eventually, there was at least a modicum of journalistic ethos, if for no other reason than newspapers did not want to be sued or be defenseless against opposing political forces. Perhaps the late twentieth century is a good example, if for no other reason than the reporting on the Watergate break in.

Today, newspapers are being killed by social media. It is difficult to compete with the 24 hour news cycle on the internet in which anyone with a smartphone (which is pretty much anyone over the age of three) can record an incident, present it from his or her own perspective and post it to social media without any vetting, editing, or oversight and without identifying the source of the author. Comments in response are unconstrained as well. There’s no way (or interest) in checking sources, determining facts, or balancing biases.

When Twitter becomes the communication channel of choice for the President of the United States, you can see what I mean.

Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

For much of my life I have viewed this as an admonition to not be afraid–that we can and should resist fear.

Fear is normal and triggers a number of physiological and psychological changes, which is good. Fear compels us to leave a burning building or to choose between fight or flight when faced with a threat. Some fears are totally and logically justified. How we deal with fear is what defines us. Heroes–and I’ve met a few–are just as afraid as everyone else, but they decide to act on what is right. I can tell you, there are far more heroes among us than we admit because most of them do not see themselves as heroes and want no attention. They not only know that what they did was right, but they believe that anyone else who found themselves in the same position would have acted as they did.

Sadly that is not always true. Let’s go back to Roosevelt’s quote. FDR’s advice actually goes deep–probably deeper than Roosevelt himself realized. Fear is such a powerful force that the unscrupulous can use it to bend others to their will. It’s difficult to get people to organize and work together for something ; it’s easy to whip a mob into a frenzy to work against something.

– The Spanish Inquisition
– The Salem witch hunts
– Kristallnacht
– McCarthyism

Today, too many people are either using fear or succumbing to fear, and it bodes ill for all of us. People are afraid of those who don’t match their skin color. People are afraid of those who speak a different language. People are afraid of those who practice a particular religion. We fear those who are not at least 75 percent like us, so in “self-defense” we use deadly force based on a persons appearance rather than their actions. Throughout Europe and the United States, there are many who want to reject anyone from another country who wants to enter their country.

On the other hand, is it a crime to flee your home when it is being bombed? When narcotics gangs rule the streets? When your spouse and children could be senselessly slaughtered.

Unfortunately, there are some who pounce on the opportunity to use these situations to their advantage; to further their own agendas; to gain more power; to bend people to their will. They’re easy to spot–their the ones who stoke the fear in people, but many people prefer not to see, but to be blind.

If more of us were brave, we’d still feel fears–justified, unjustified, real, or imagined–and still make decisions based on what is right rather than out of fear. If more of us had a solid moral compass, we could do this. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to not be brave and not worry about what is truly right or wrong but to choose what’s best for ourselves at a particular moment.

If you don’t study history, you may not know the whole story, but there once was a brilliant American general who based his decisions on what was best for him in the moment. You may not know the entire story of how he took Richmond–but you probably know the name–General Benedict Arnold. The troops he led were British, fighting against the Americans.