What is truth? – asked Pontius Pilate.
From when I was a small boy, I vividly remember my father coming into my bedroom asking me whether I had been reading after lights-out time. I lied and said “no”. My father proceeded to touch the bulb of my bedside light and found it to be hot – proof that I had lied. I was not so much punished for breaking my lights-out rule but for lying. My father’s principle was that lying and stealing had to be dealt with severely, and I believe he was right.
I was thus taught to love the truth and honesty, even if it would be to our disadvantage. It was the same at school, and this sense has been powerful in me with what has turned out to be Aspergers syndrome, a totally different view of the world and society. What has really offended me has been to hear easily refutable lies from those who should be the most honest: businessmen, politicians and priests.
Recently, I have been reading about terms like post-truth and fake news. They “become viral” and spread. Most people I discuss this with tell me that they know we are being lied to and treated like dirt. I have never liked President Trump, but I thought his electoral patter was more convincing than that of Hillary Clinton. I have been reading articles in the alternative media as well as the mainstream. Nothing seems to add up. Trump ordered his military to launch sophisticated high-tech missiles costing millions of dollars in reprisal for what he called a chemical attack with sarin gas on a village. Why on earth would Assad do such a thing when he was winning against ISIS / Daesh and willing to step aside once the civil war is over in Syria? It didn’t add up. For some pundits, Trump was flip-flopping and betraying his voters in America. For others, this was a part of a Machiavellian scheme that none of us understands.
Here in France, we are being subjected to the same bullshit from the “empty suit” Macron, and I am quite shocked with some of the things said by Mme Le Pen in the debate this week between the two finalist candidates for the Presidency. In such a duel, both persons would have been under considerable stress, which makes objective reasoning difficult. They were shouting each other down rather than obeying a moderator and taking turns in expressing their theses and antitheses – following the civilised rules of debate. It was the law of the jungle! I tend to think that we would be better off with Le Pen so that the system can be routed out and “rebooted”. It could be bloody and very unpleasant as we descend into civil war – but civil war now might be less unpleasant than when the “religion of peace” arms itself better and has more fighters and terrorists. On the other hand, as with Brexit, leaving the European Union with the European Union still intact is dangerous, as we Brits are finding out in our own run-up to a general election.
How have we come to this. The term post-truth has been in my mind for a while, so I looked it up in Google. There’s a fellow called Ralph Keyes who seems to have studied the question and has written an accessible introduction – The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life
The way I am, I have always been out of my depth with euphemisms and means of “bending” the notion of truth and honesty. We are manipulated all the time by other people in society, especially when they want our money without equivalent value in exchange. One sign of this scourge is the use of langue de bois, a special kind of language that does not inform the intellect but excites emotions. I sometimes have to translate it, and do not always find it easy to satisfy the client!
Usually, people don’t lie overtly, because lying removes a person’s general credibility. Falsus in uno falsus in omnibus – Something is wrong in one small matter and the whole is rotten to the core. Isn’t it amazing how Latin is such an economical language and doesn’t waste one’s breath! Usually, it is a matter of blurring the borders, introducing ambiguity and removing the exact meaning from language and words. The intention of deceiving by mental reservation or ambiguity becomes a habit. This brings us to a very uncomfortable situation where we can no longer trust someone giving us a job, selling us something or whatever.
I have sometimes been tempted to “doctor up” a curriculum vitae, but I am always afraid of selling out my own soul – and being discovered as a liar, like when my father touched the light bulb and went by empirical evidence. Like the boy who cried “Wolf!” three times as a false alarm, no one would believe him when the wolf came and ate the sheep he was looking after. That is my simple Yorkshire morality, but all that is going out of the window, and we face Orwell’s dystopian Ministry of Truth, truth which changes with the tyrant’s pragmatic needs.
In the ecclesiastical world, I have come across independent bishops who for the most part had their own snake oil to sell. One such whom I met in France produced forged false documents as evidence that he had been consecrated by a Roman Catholic bishop, and therefore that he had the “most valid” episcopate. Episcopate of what? The more I saw of this man, the falser he proved himself until such time as I could not believe him at all. There are others who will tell you that they have secret relations with Rome and that it is only a matter of time before they would be formally recognised and be given complete credibility. I won’t mention any names.
It is becoming fashionable to fabulate one’s own legend, falsely claiming qualifications or awards one doesn’t have, a bogus life history. How does this come about? We hear that disdain for “truth” is a part of post-modernism, the thing of the future. We are taught to be non-judgemental and not to condemn something that is clearly wrong. There is also the question of pathological personality issues like narcissism, perhaps itself a euphemism for evil or moral weakness. Psychiatry is a very inexact science with little to go on.
If truth is out of the window, then what happens to trust, being favourable to a person until that person betrays that trust? We now have to assume someone to be “guilty until proven innocent” or bad until proven to be good. What is reality? What is truth? These were also big questions in ancient times between Platonists and Sceptics. Quantum theory has eroded the materialistic notion of reality, and we have to see things in terms of consciousness and energy, which are perhaps more stringent about truth than materialism. We are humans, and the notion of truth and trust is the only basis of society and a social contract.
On the eve of the French election, we are living in great danger as with nearly all other self-interested politicians since General De Gaulle. All this stuff exhausts me, but writing about it does some good in these hours of anxiety.
I’ve been watching Mr. Trump since long before his political career, and I have difficulty remembering any assertion he has made that turns out to be true. I don’t see him as ever asking Pilate’s question, but rather as ‘knowing’ that truth is whatever he says it is at the particular moment. His record as a businessman is not an honest one, and he is, as I’d expected, showing the same lack of character as Presodent. Now, I hear someone saying, “But Hillary …” That is the way such statement are always ‘answered’. I’m not talking about Mrs. Clinton. Yes, I voted for her, holding my nose, in spite of her own flawed integrity and some of her positions (such as her unstinting support for abortion), as the lesser evil. She wants continuance of the status quo (corrupt as it is), a flawed representative government, while Mr. Trump makes it obvious that he prefers a one-man rule, and a destruction of much that this country relies upon. When she speaks untruth, she knows it, while he seems to have no regard for the concept whatever. These are indeed evil times.
Le Figaro today has a long list of ‘who will be prime minister’ in a Macron administration: after all, government is not the function of president alone, whether in France or the USA. Listed were a goodly selection from the Socialists (Valls) to several ‘Les Republicains’ (NK?) and others, notably ‘MoDem’…. There is always hope that this too shall pass…..no doubt this has occurred to Mrs. May and Mr. Corbyn???
There will be the Legislative elections and the “deep state” to moderate whatever Macron or Le Pen wants to do as they did with Trump. A president in a democracy has to follow procedure and respect democracy, even if he sails close to the wind. We are all being confused by conflicting versions of news or “fake news”, and we don’t know which is more objective. In the old days, the press used to be free, now it expresses the prevailing interests of the powerful.
Here in France, we will know in about 7 hours when the polls close and the results start coming in. The reprisals will start next week – not a good time to be in Paris!