James Dryburgh Second of a two-part series by Hobart writer James Dryburgh. Earlier: Story of fundamental truth
IT IS often said that ‘truth is the first casualty of war.’ Today we live in perpetual war from the ‘war on terror’ to the ‘war on drugs’. Could this mean we have now been, as Plato may have put it, “evicted from our lawful property, the truth?” To some extent I think we have.
However, it would appear to be more a question of which doors we open when seeking truth, as opposed to no longer having keys to any of them. Perhaps we have become accustomed to searching for truth in the wrong places.
Why have we become more inclined to look for truth within mediums with clear vested interests in hiding it from us? For media that depends on advertising and profit, politicians who depend on votes, the truth will always be the story that best suits their interests. However, in our ‘stranger than fiction’ reality, revealing, rather than obscuring truths is of greater interest to most writers and artists.
“Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use them to conceal it”.
As children we lived by stories. There were the common stories like that of Santa Claus, babies originating from cabbage patches and that fish don’t feel fishing hooks. In addition, we all had our own, more unique stories such as if you unscrew your belly button your bum falls off.
As we got older our relatively harmless childhood stories were displaced by equally fictional, yet more sinister stories. Such stories as:
– being entitled to vote every few years is proof of democracy
– the way we live is sustainable
– the free market and the free press will keep us well stocked and well informed
– politicians are driven by a desire to make the world a better place
– money is only a tool, not our God
– one famous person dying is more tragic than hundreds of deaths in a poor country
– we are not paranoid, everyone really is out to get us (funny how children have imaginary friends and adults have imaginary enemies).
As we grew we eventually learned the truth about the stories, through intellectual analysis or awakening to the reasons behind their creation, reasons such as not wanting to feel sad about dying fish, or parents not wanting their child playing with their belly button.
When we were children we had an investigative and inquisitive nature. We wanted to know the answers, not merely to be comfortable. We stayed up all night to discover the truth about Santa Claus. We questioned everything, and for every answer we received we produced another question.
Now we are adults, where has our intellectual self-defense gone?
This self defense allows us to search for the truth behind the story, to uncover the reason for the story, or who benefits by people believing in it. Why does this weaken or even disappear as we mature?
Do we not want to know the answers? Are we too preoccupied with other things to care? Have we just become too lazy to look? Are our new stories so convincing we believe them to be true? The answer is probably a combination of several factors.
But this is more than just dispelling myths. It is our democratic responsibility to be armed with truths. Even beyond democracy, it is our responsibility as members of a community or a society, to look behind the stories we live by, to seek the truth.
As responsible adults we must learn to be more childish.