The Sun, the Moon, and the Truth
IN THE COLLEGES where I learned and taught, students were required to write papers and reports to demonstrate their understanding of topics or concepts. The emphasis was always to support a premise or an argument using credible sources: facts and authorities, proven theories or accepted logic, studies, and experiments. The strength of a paper or report relied upon the foundation of existing knowledge–of Truth. Almost all we can point to as human progress is a result of the process of establishing what is True and then building on it.
The structure of human advancement is a citadel atop a mountain of Truth.
Certainly the leaps in sciences could not have occurred if we had designed our cars and boats and planes based on how we wanted the laws of physics to behave. Certainly the gains in biology and medicine and environmental sciences required the acceptance of facts and realities that, however unpleasant or inconvenient at times, described the very complex and connected world we inhabit—much of which we cannot even see.
The Truth is so powerful that, as the saying goes, it sets us free. But does the converse hold? Does the absence of Truth–does falsehood–imprison us? Probably. Yes.
The Truth IS powerful. For that very reason, those who would seek power first endeavor to counterfeit the Truth. They use this false currency to purchase the hearts and minds of others who so desire to follow a rogue version of Truth that they are willing to live in two incompatible worlds and embrace conflicting versions of reality at the same time
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha said: “There are three things that cannot remain long hidden: the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth”
The Truth IS powerful. For that very reason, those who would seek power first endeavor to counterfeit the Truth. They use this false currency to purchase the hearts and minds of others who so desire to follow a rogue version of Truth that they are willing to live in two incompatible worlds and embrace conflicting versions of reality at the same time.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, as with most Twelve-Step Programs, the first of the steps is to overcome denial and delusion and admit the Truth about the addiction. With help and persistence, what follows is the very liberating process of embracing reality and–as the literature reveals–being honest with others, but more importantly being honest with yourself.
In Orwell’s dystopian 1984, a ruling Party led by Autocrat “Big Brother,” has a goal of total control over the masses. One core premise of The Party is “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.” The cruel logic is that without a frame of reference, what citizen can say that life if bad, or that they are free or oppressed? The protagonist, Winston Smith, worked at the “Ministry of Truth” where he and others constantly revised past news items to conform to the latest desired reality. The terrible irony that accompanies a counterfeit Truth is starkly evident in the three slogans of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.
And so the search for Truth is–and will continue to be–a quest sublime. Yet while the Truths of science make us more capable and more powerful, we must seek social Truths as well. Religion and philosophy–which both seek to convey Truth–have offered “laws” and rules for society. Some of those are embedded in constitutions and common law. But what is the Truth about harmful and hateful propaganda: is it a right of free speech or does it impinge on other rights and freedoms? Why is pollution of the waters and the air subject to severe penalty while the pollution of the flow of information is allowed to poison hearts and minds without intervention?
In wartime (including the Cold War), the U.S. had legislation that protected us from harmful enemy propaganda. Eventually, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required that media offer equal time both sides to controversial issues of interest. This was called The Fairness Doctrine. It served to mitigate the negative effects of biased viewpoints upon our sources of socio-political news for decades. The FCC began weakening the legislation in 1987–in part due to the evolution of private media broadcasting (e.g. cable)–and by 2011, the Fairness Doctrine was completely repealed. [This is reminiscent of the repeal of the Glass Steagal Act which had regulated bank participation in the stock market. Glass Steagal was repealed about ten years before the Financial Crisis]
Clearly, foreign actors have had a hand in some of the disinformation campaigns and the generation of discontent and division in the US. But recently, derangement of the Truth has been domestic and, sadly, often emanated from the highest offices in the land. The specter of civil war looms around us now. It is time to apply our best minds to the problem of conflicting freedoms and rights: how can we have freedom of speech and of the press and at the same time the right to consume facts and the Truth?