Humanity’s most vital need

February 5, 2008 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

Truthfulness and global



THE source of most human misery is falsehood. Rogues, tyrants and would-be-saviors feed on the inability of most people to recognize falsehood when it is glibly camouflaged by promises of material reward, national glory or spiritual redemption.

The ability to recognize the lie or the half-truth would have stopped many a demagogue from sewing the seeds of racial discrimination, exploitation, poverty and war. For example, if more Germans had recognized the half-truths and specious blandishments in Hitler’s rantings about German claims against their European neighbors and the Jews, he probably wouldn’t have risen to power and plunged the world into a dreadful war which caused the devastation of much of Europe and his own people.

Life is full of similar examples, where because of human foibles, falsehood is accepted – either as naive belief or because it’s expedient – while the truth is rejected, leading to tragic consequences. The current issues of pollution, global warming, inter-racial hatred, religious fundamentalism and wars in various parts of the world, offer clear examples.

Till now the spread of falsehood and its complementary side, gullibility have merely led to devastation and misery. But because of the intensity of pollution and the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by tyrants and religious fanatics, the consequences could mean the end of life on this planet as we know it within the near future – either through nuclear radiation or at a later date through the irrevocable destruction of the earth’s ecostructure as a result of industrial and vehicular pollution.


So, the dire need of the moment is to heighten our ability to recognize falsehood promoted for political, ideological, religious and commercial interests and oppose it. Granted, this is a very complex expectation. We must learn the difference between really knowing the truth about something and just believing it; we must understand the pernicious comfort lurking in wishful thinking; we must learn to recognize demagoguery and glib propaganda, and to withstand the charm of smooth speakers and pay attention, not only to their appearance and style, but to their actual words; what is really being said, what is omitted, what is inconsistent with previous statements, what is unsubstantiated, what is illogical, what appeals to our sense of wishful thinking? Above all, we must be critically honest with ourselves.

The oft-repeated phrase that everyone has his own truth is one of the biggest cop-outs for serious challenge to time-honored, but questionable beliefs. What everyone has, is his or her own notion of truth, which usually lacks pertinent facts and includes half-truths and manifestations of wishful thinking. Nevertheless, every single thing has its own set of truths, based on reality and facts. A table, for example, is incontrovertibly and truly a table. It possesses certain clearly and easily assessed truths such as size, weight and function.

However, the truth about subjects such as religion, politics, history cannot be ascertained in the same practical and objective way as a table. Indeed, there are many questions which defy ascertainment of the truth.

For example, the Bible says that Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, out of which came the voice of God. Now, I can believe this statement – even with deep emotion, and base my life upon this and all the other statements in the Bible. But in all honesty, the only thing about this statement that I can acknowledge as the truth is that: “the Bible says that Moses saw a burning bush … out of which came the voice of God.” I can only believe that the Bible is the word of God, and in all honesty, all I can really know about God is what other people have written. I might have powerful feelings on the subject, but feelings don’t necessarily reflect the truth. Believing Christians have a powerful feeling that the salvation of one’s soul is only for those who accept Jesus as the Messiah, while two billion believing Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, etc in Asia have never even heard of Jesus. Are all these good souls doomed for perdition (assuming that there is such a thing as a soul and perdition)?

In September 2001 nineteen educated young men had certain powerful beliefs about the Satanic nature of America and hijacked four packed airliners and deliberately crashed them into three strategic buildings, killing thousands of people along with themselves. Imagine the power of their belief! Was it the truth that prompted their actions? Or were they acting as the result of a set of notions based on lies and half-truths which were rationalized into unfathomable dedication which they misinterpreted as the truth? 

It has taken humanity a long time to rid itself of ridiculous old beliefs, although, in the process, thousands of innocent people have suffered discrimination, torture or death. Six hundred years ago most people still believed that the earth was flat. But following the enlightenment that the earth was a sphere, people could still find themselves in serious trouble if they questioned whether the earth rotated around the sun. A mere hundred and fifty years ago the microscope and the stethoscope were considered unnecessary by some of the most eminent physicians, who stubbornly blocked the truth, thus postponing the introduction of more effective medical procedures.

Until the beginning of the last century, many people in Europe still believed that Jews killed little Gentile boys to use their blood in matza-making. Today, sadly, this belief, among many other medieval lies about Jews, has moved to the Middle East. All these lies were propagated by people in authority – politicians, members of the royal courts, church leaders – and verbalized in convincing terms to people, who in many cases, wanted to hear these canards. The results invariably led to widespread calamity. 


How can I be sure that something is true, or merely an assumption? I can know the truth about my height, for instance. In the same way that I can ascertain the truths regarding the table, as mentioned beforehand, I can readily ascertain my height through measurements which are universally recognized. But I can only believe that Napolean was routed by the Russian winter during his military campaigns in Europe. I can only base my notions on Napoleon by what has been written in the history books. I cannot recognize these writings as absolute truths. The most I can conclude is that the history books quite possibly reflect more or less what happened. It’s not something that’s going to change my life in any way.

But to relate to something that probably does affect my life – I don’t eat certain foodstuffs which are said to be harmful to one’s health. My attitude to this is not based on really knowing my anatomy or understanding much about chemical and biological reactions, but rather based on what I have read or heard from people whom I believe to have a solid understanding of diet and anatomy, but whose knowledge is probably based on assumption.

We cannot limit our actions and opinions only to those which are based on incontrovertible, fully proven truths. Otherwise we would spend our lives doing very little. Our lives are really based on empirically-ascertained probabilities. If I start my car at twenty past seven, I will get to work at five minutes to eight, which means that I will be at my desk exactly on time. This is a probability because I have done this hundreds of times.


Our opinions are also affected by wishful thinking. This is something that most people indulge in. For instance, we use transport that runs on fuel, which causes tremendous air pollution. We maintain a comfortable lifestyle by consuming huge amounts of electricity, which in most parts of the world is generated by coal. Scientists have warned that the greenhouse effect resulting from this, has become a critical issue. I cannot know if this is really true. I believe that it is, and therefore I don’t accept reasurances by commercially or politically involved people.) But, through wishful thinking that things won’t be so bad after all, most people continue their lifestyles unchanged, which might eventually lead to universal disaster in the not-so-distant future. So, the folly continues and the colossal pollution continues unabated, crazily erratic weather patterns and melting, country-sized ice packs notwithstanding.


Coming to grips with the meaning of the word “truth” becomes trickier when inter-personal, inter-communal and international issues are debated. It

becomes an even more difficult issue when religion is considered. Religion, and indeed every framework that purports to deal in truth and morality, must be formulated through an absolutely honest approach. Otherwise it is guilty of hypocrisy, by its very claim to deal in the truth. This demands the candor to recognize that belief, no matter how strongly felt, is not the same as really knowing something. Belief is really the same as assumption; it’s merely a possibility, which means that you can’t really know whether or not you have the truth about life’s eternal mysteries.

Many people believe in a certain religious system, not necessarily because they’ve thought about its validity, but because there just has to be a God up there who is looking after us and who will grant us eternal life in the hereafter if we believe in Him.

The pitfalls of belief without the balancing realization that it is merely belief, are evident when people kill other people of a different faith or ideology or opinion. Islamic suicide bombers illustrate this particular pitfall all too vividly. An especially grim, relevant example of the destructive influence of falsehood and its acceptance is illustrated all to clearly in the Israel-Arab conflict.

Two or three generations of Arabs  have been told by their leaders that the Jews stole their land in 1948; that the Jews created the refugee problem; that the Jews have compounded these heinous crimes by expanding their usurpation of Arab lands in 1967. These teachings are clearly shown to be untrue in countless documented sources that are neutral to the Israel-Arab conflict, as well as Arab and Jewish sources, available in every decent library, and testifying that the Arabs tried to destroy the Jewish state at its very inception in 1948.


The Arab refugee problem could have been prevented had the Arabs not began their war against Israel. But the refugee problem, having been created, could have been solved within a short time, using the methods employed in rehabilitating over 60 million refugees in the world since the Second World War (including over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands). The Israeli occupation of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) was the result of a second Pan-Arab attempt to destroy Israel in 1967. The international community chides Israel that there could be peace between her and the Arab world if only Israel ended its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. What few people in the international community care to remember is that most of the areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza had already been returned to Arab jurisdiction following the Oslo Accords in 1993. But still the terrorist and military attacks on Israel have continued almost unabated since then. When Israel retaliates in order to defend itself, the Arab leaders accuse Israel of killing innocent Arabs, never relating to the rocket attacks on Israel, launched from Arab residential areas and even schools. These are half-truths. They are as bad as lies.

By accepting the Arab accusations without relating to Arab aggression against Israel, the international community, led by the United Nations Organization and biased media coverage (possibly in the interests of political correctness), is actually encouraging the Arab leaders to continue lying to their own people and to the world. The international community is actually a responsible party in this Orwellian situation. Ironically, it is the Arab people who continue to be the main victims of their canards. Furthermore, every organization that promotes the Arab quest to demonize Israel should realize that they are in fact harming the Arab dream of Palestine statehood.

Had the Arab people been exposed to the truth by a free press and democratic governments (which they don’t have) they might have made peace with the idea of a Jewish state after the first war in 1948. And had the international community related with appropriate indignation to the Arab quest to destroy a fellow-state, instead of blaming Israel for defending itself, the big lie about Israel probably wouldn’t have been perpetuated and the Middle East would have been a happier place for all.   



It seems that in this conflict Israel has employed less deceit and lie than the Arabs. Indeed, many Israelis have demonstrated an amazing capacity to try to understand and even sympathize with the other side. Many Israeli journalists and historians have related to recent history with uniquely harsh self-criticism. Some of them probably in the interests of pure scholarship. But many Israeli journalists and academics seem unduly bound by the constraints of political correctness, emphasizing Arab suffering, while seldom if ever mentioning that it was brought on by themselves – from the very inception of the conflict. There was a time when such an attitude was called disloyalty or betrayal. Unforgivably, much of it is also based on falsehood.  


On a personal, domestic level, dealing with internal issues, Israel cannot be complacent about its prevailing standard of truthfulness. Most of Israel’s problems – communal, political, commercial and inter-personal – are caused or aggravated by falsehood (like everywhere else in the world). Government decisions are seldom taken on the basis of what’s good for the country, but rather for political or financial expediency.

Politicians and other public figures frequently say one thing and are then caught out when it becomes clear that they meant something else. Religious political leaders employ half-truths or simply ignore salient facts (which is also a factor in creating falsehood) in order to increase their political influence or garner more monies for their electorate’s interests, while seeming to care little about practical human and financial resources of this beleagured country.

Israel’s law courts are full of cases that were conceived through deceit and lie. The low premium on truth and an understanding that it is all right to lie (if you can get away with it) makes one wonder about the Jewish notion of chosenness. Many believe that it has to do with the role they play in human evolvement – the role that places them as history’s perennial scapegoat and object of other people’s lies. To overcome their present nightmarish predicament an ethos of unconditional integrity will be needed.

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Entry filed under: In order to survive.

The consequences of a weakened Israel Jewish survival

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