Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Reality And Truth
It seems to me that we're living in a society that's based upon fundamental dishonesty.
Heck of a statement, isn't it? - but I think it's true. Let me explain.
In many areas of our lives we've become accustomed to living a lie ourselves and expecting others to live a lie as well. We no longer adhere to the fundamental principle of truth, of reality, as a yardstick against which to measure ourselves and our society. We no longer call ourselves or others to account when that principle is breached. A few examples from the past year:
1. General David Petraeus came back to Washington from Iraq to deliver his progress report. What he had to say was demonstrably, factually accurate - anyone could have gone to the places he mentioned and investigated it for themselves. Subsequent events have more than proven his points. However, his reception was bitter, negative and contentious, from politicians who were opposed to the President's policies in Iraq to news media and pressure groups who feared that his truth might undermine the lies they had been spreading. The New York Times, Moveon.org and their ilk were particularly contemptible in this regard. The 'Petraeus - Betray Us?' advertisement was a new low in character assassination on their part. They tried to destroy a man who has spent his life in the faithful service of his country, solely because they disagreed with his mission and were afraid of his success. Have they been called to account for their lies? Have they suffered any penalty? Not that I can see.
Another example: CNN's handling of the recent debate for Republican presidential candidates. They carefully screened hundreds of 'reader-submitted' questions . . . and ended up with six questioners who ALL happened to be members or representatives of the Democratic party. When called on this CNN's response was indignation that their 'impartiality' could be questioned. Oh, come on! If you believe that this was an accident or a coincidence, and that CNN, the NYT and their ilk are 'impartial', then there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills. (The same thing can be said of news organizations on the Right, of course. The problem isn't one-sided.)
2. President Bush and members of his Administration have spoken at great length about the danger of terrorism and the need for increased security measures (laws, regulations, surveillance, the use of questionable interrogation techniques, etc.) to combat it. Yet, at the same time, they've ignored the reality that many of the measures they advocate and have signed into law are pointless and fruitless. The Transportation Safety Administration is a wonderful example. We all know which religious, racial and ethnic groups pose the main threat to our aircraft - yet the TSA is forbidden from 'profiling' (on racial or other grounds) and therefore cannot target the most likely threats because of the risk of lawsuits. The result is the ridiculous spectacle of elderly ladies being given extra screening 'for security reasons' whilst multiple passengers in likely 'threat groups' are waved through with minimal scrutiny. Even their security measures are laughable. They take great pains to prevent passengers boarding with anything that might remotely resemble a weapon - but illegal aliens are working on the ground staff at many of our airports with unfettered access to the planes (see here, here and here for a few examples). If I were a terrorist I'd arrange for my comrades to get jobs like that and place weapons, explosives and other necessities on the aircraft for me whilst I and my team went through the TSA checkpoint 'clean'. It wouldn't be difficult to arrange.
3. That brings up the security of our borders. Our politicians on both the Left and the Right seem impervious to the reality of the situation. This year they tried - repeatedly - to ram through amnesty for illegal aliens despite a very clear majority of the American people being opposed to this. They really think they know better than we, the people, do and that we'll meekly toe the line they draw. For so long as our borders are not secured against illegal entry, for just so long our hospitals will be overrun and driven to near-bankruptcy by those who have no health insurance and rely on the emergency room to provide what they can't otherwise afford; for so long our prisons will be filling up with criminal illegal aliens; and for so long our social infrastructure - schools, housing, transport - will be overburdened by those who have no right to it. I'm an immigrant myself - a legal one! - and I obviously support legal immigration, but the powers that be seem perfectly happy to impose the enormous cost burden of illegal immigration on American taxpayers for the sake of their big-business friends. They lie about this in grandiose terms, referring to 'compassion' and 'the American way', but in reality they're being bought and paid for by lobbyists and pressure groups. As a side benefit to terrorists, they don't have to worry about how to get into the USA - they can cross the borders almost with impunity.
4. We cloud the debate over fundamental issues by creating new words and then couching the debate in those terms. For example, 'abortion' has become a matter of 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life', neither of which is an appropriate term for the reality. We're talking about the deliberate killing of a human being, folks. Even that reality is challenged by those who claim that a foetus isn't a human being at all, or is not 'viable'. Oh, come on! If you leave a foetus alone for its natural term, out pops a human baby. You can't tell me that at some point something in the womb changes so that what was not human suddenly becomes human. It's human, or it isn't - one or the other. As for 'viability', that's another straw man. How many infants are 'viable' without constant adult care and support? None. How many elderly people are 'viable' without the care and attention they receive from family members or other care providers? Does this 'lack' of 'viability' mean that they are less than fully human? Of course not! No, the debate is really very simple in its fundamental reality. It's all about the deliberate killing of human beings. If we deny that, or try to camouflage it by using weaselly terms to avoid or evade the issue, we're basically living a lie. We can, of course, have different opinions about the value of human life - that's another story - but let's at least agree to speak the truth.
5. The same point can be made about many problems in society. The so-called 'gun control debate' isn't about guns at all. There's no such thing as 'gun crime' - after all, what gun has ever committed a crime without someone to pull the trigger? You can't blame the instrument for the crime, otherwise we'd be blaming cars for drunk driving and speeding! Also, without exception, the jurisdictions that impose the most swingeing controls over firearms are also the most crime-ridden and violent in the USA. You'd think that would be a wake-up call . . . but no. Those who are opposed to private ownership of firearms aren't really worried about the firearms at all. They simply want people to be dependent on the State rather than on themselves. It's precisely the same reaction visible in those opposed to home schooling or school vouchers. They want to control what your child learns and absorbs, and anything threatening that control is dangerous in their eyes. The same can be seen in many calls to stop the abuse of alcohol and drugs. You can pass all the laws you like - remember Prohibition? - but the reality is that individuals will make good or bad choices. All the laws in the world won't prevent them from doing so. The so-called 'War On Drugs' has landed hundreds of thousands of our citizens in prison and absorbed billions upon billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Has it worked? Has it stopped the 'drug menace'? Like hell it has! There's an old definition that fits here: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. By that standard many of our laws - and the politicians and pressure groups that work to impose, expand and enforce them - are insane.
6. Precisely the same problem occurs in many relationships. I've been a pastor for many years and I've lost count of the number of problem marriages I've had to counsel. Time after time after time the real problems were actively denied by those involved, to such an extent that they literally refused to face reality. For example, in situations of domestic violence I've heard many women say, "But I love him, and he needs me, so I can't leave him." Bull! The only thing he loved about them was their easy availability as a target! Some of those situations have ended tragically . . . all because the victim refused to acknowledge the truth and act upon it. In similar fashion I've told many prospective couples during marriage preparation classes that a marriage can't be built solely upon lust or physical attraction. Inevitably, sooner or later that's going to die down as the 'chemistry' wears off. At that point you've got to have something more in common than sexual frenzy or your relationship won't last. Invariably I've found that many of the relationships that became sexually active early on, before a deep foundation of friendship and mutual respect could be formed, have ended up in the divorce courts.
All of the above points can be traced back to the appalling lack of education in how to think. In the old days people were expected to think for themselves. Schools and universities taught one to analyze, criticize, assess and compare points. Debating societies were widespread. People thought about issues. Nowadays the mantra is not 'What do you think about this?' but 'What do you feel about this?' Feelings have replaced facts as the yardstick for assessment of a problem, and that's had a disastrous effect. Feelings are irrelevant to truth. I may 'feel' that I have the right to go walking through grizzly bear territory telling the bears how much I love and respect them, as the late Mr. Treadwell did . . . but when the bears 'feel' only hunger in response, and kill and eat me, it's my problem and my fault. Treadwell chose to ignore the facts about grizzly bears, and that choice killed him and his girlfriend. I've spoken to many people who claim the 'right' to dress as they wish, walk through dangerous neighborhoods whenever they please, and so on, but scream to high heaven when they're robbed or raped for doing so. Sorry, but they asked for it. It's not right, it's not fair, but life doesn't give a damn about what's right or fair. If you fall off a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, try telling the sea about your right to life. It doesn't care. You'll drown in it anyway. Much better to take precautions and not fall in at all, or avoid walking through dangerous neighborhoods, or dress sensibly rather than provocatively so that rapists and sex offenders won't target you. That's reality. Live with it.
I could go on for hours in similar vein, but there's really no point in doing so. Fundamentally all of the problems I've mentioned above boil down to a simple common factor. We've chosen to turn away from the stark, black-and-white reality of the truth and cloud these and other issues in vagueness, uncertainty, 'feelings' and a host of irrelevancies. For so long as we choose to do so as individuals, for just so long our society as a whole - which is, after all, no more than an agglomeration of individuals - will do the same. For so long as we as individuals allow others to do our thinking for us: for so long as we as individuals fail to stand up and speak the truth: for just so long others will remain trapped in the fog of unreality in which our society moves at present and for just so long that society will be manipulated and distorted by those who deal in untruths and chimeras.
Truth begins with us, folks. There's no-one else.