October 22, 2008


The truth will out.
If the truth be told ...
Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I am the way, the truth and the life.

Before trying to write about "truth," I want to dedicate this piece to my youngest daughter, whose birthday is today.  It's true.  I have a daughter and today is her birthday.  I want, and in fact do, dedicate this piece to her.  She knows who she is.  Good thing, these birthdays.  It's true.  Birthdays are a good thing.

But is it true that birthdays are a good thing?  If it is true "that birthdays are a good thing," then is that true in the same sense that "today is my daughter's birthday" is true?  I think the reader will fairly readily see that these are two different kinds of "truths."  One is an observed fact.  The other is a value-based proposition.

A witness on the stand, who testifies that she was present during my daughter's birth, and testifies that today is the same calendar day as that glorious day, has pretty well established that today is my daughter's birthday.  A fancy pants lawyer can cross-examine this witness and pretty quickly extract from the witness that my daughter was not actually born today.  If he does that, the jury will look at him like he is nuts, since we all know that by "birthday" we mean to include the calendar month and day, not year, on which a person was born.  In other words, by "birthday" we actually mean the anniversaries of the original day of birth.  So, clarifying the meaning of all key words in a dispute, or a debate, is important.

But the same witness on the stand, who precedes to testify, without laying out a significant basis, that "birthdays are a good thing," has not really established anything more than her personal opinion that the actual day of a person's birth, or the subsequent anniversaries of that date, are somehow "good things."  She has advanced an unsupported assertion, rather than a credible factual observation.  The fancy pants lawyer has a lot of room to cross-examine this witness as to the emotional, psychological, philosophical or religious foundation, or lack thereof, for this witness' opinion that birthdays are good things.  Unlike the first situation, this time the fancy pants lawyer has a pretty good chance of making the witness look foolish, if that is the lawyer's goal, and if the witness cannot articulate a solid philosophical or religious foundation for her proposition.  He might even be able to get the witness to break down into tears and admit that she doesn't really know if birthdays are a good thing.  Trust me, I've seen it done.  Not about birthdays, but about other issues.

So why have I turned something fairly simple and fun into something so complex?  The simple answer is that logic demands it.  We all need to distinguish carefully between factual, political, philosophical and religious "truths," and the various ways in which they can be factually verified, logically supported or logically disputed. 

The more complex answer is that I believe, in the heart of my heart, that humans are quite possibly on the verge of making some truly horrendous errors in sorting out, analyzing and correctly dealing with the "truth" of a variety of different matters, some of which are factual or political, while others are philosophical or religious, in their basis.  And no, I don't mean whether the democratic or republican party wins the White House in a couple of weeks.  I mean, instead, whether we, as the human species, can figure out how to successfully deal with global warming, world economic stability, resource depletion and population growth fast enough to reduce the hardships we are most likely presently and persistently creating for successive generations.  We may be facing decisions the consequences of which simply cannot be reversed.  We cannot solve these problems effectively by ignoring factual truths and employing patently false logic in analyzing political and philosophical truths.

I suggest, as a first step towards solving these planetary problems, that we all commit to the following two principles:

     (1)   Always tell the truth.
     (2)   Always present an honest front.

And for those of us who think more negatively, these principles can be stated in the negative as follows:

      (1')  Never lie.
      (2')  Never put on a false front.

Neither of these principles requires conformity to a specific religious or political point of view.  Nor am I aware, at this point in world history, of any major religious, philosophical or political tenet that advocates lieing and putting on false fronts.  As a result, I can see nothing that stands in the way of a potential universal endorsement to simply tell the truth and stop putting on false fronts.  I mean this to apply not just to political campaigns, but also to all other human endeavors.  If we implement these two principles, we can move forward to fairly debate the facts and the underlying logic of the hard choices we face.  A difficult problem indeed.

As best as I can tell, the dinosaurs lacked the capacity to safeguard their own survival.  That cannot be said about we humans.  If we do not survive, or survive badly, then we will have brought that condition largely upon ourselves.   And that's the truth.

 * * *

Credits -
          The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
          American Witness Oath
          The Bible, John 14:6



  1. Truth. The problem with Truth is it is such a perceptual thing. A rather squishy elusive beast. I do view facts as "stubborn Things" that tend to persist without regard for the viewers perception. A guy holding a full house is still holding a full house even though I perceived him to be holding two pair. I guess I qualify as a negative type. I never lie (poker excepted) and in keeping with my gaelic heritage I certainly don't let facts get in the way of a good story. I will say I never put on a false front....knowingly. I say this because when I was very young, I posed a question about a classmate whose accent had changed dramatically in one summer. Fifty years later that classmate still has the accent. The question I asked was, At what point does an affectation cease to be an affectation and simply a natural part of the person? I bring this question up because I doubt people even know they are lying, we lie to ourselves so often truth becomes foggy. I completely agree that unless RATIONAL dialog dealing with facts becomes possible, the human race cannot maintain its current level of living. I think the gulf between you and I is perceptual. You appear to feel that the deflation of human kind is a bad thing, while I feel it is, in fact, a necessary, even desirable thing. I would like my children and grandchild to have an easier, better world. I am certain that will not be. I am also certain that the ultimate outcome will be for the better. I hope we will learn, to paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare, that the fault lies not out there, but within ourselves. That will take facing up to many Truths, both individually and collectively.

  2. Like LostWolf I'm not sure what you include in "truth" but fi everybody always told the truth wouldn't we have a big mess? I really don't like some of myh neighbors. Should I tell em that?

  3. Truth...a short word with endless meaning!
    It is this word that drives mankind.
    Interesting in the bible ref. Following scripture John 14 / 7-11 parallels your point.


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