HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

April 23, 2011 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

Our most precious commodity

By RALPH DOBRIN

Author of “How to Avoid Armageddon”

To order the book click: www.amazon.com    type: how to avoid Armageddon

The ability to recognize the lie or the half-truth would have stopped many a demagogue from sowing 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 neighboring countries and the Jews, he probably wouldn’t have risen to power and plunged the world into a dreadful war which caused the devastation of 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 actively and passionately. 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. It is imperative 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 use. 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.

Of course we cannot limit our actions and opinions only to those which are based on incontrovertible truths. Otherwise we would spend our lives doing very little. Our lives are really based on 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 true. I believe that it is, and therefore I cannot rely on reasurances by commercially or politically involved people.) But, through wishful thinking that humanity will eventually cope with these issues, we continue our participation in what might be a disastrous folly. And mad as it seems, the colossal pollution continues unabated.

Most people also have a strong tendency to stick with their opinions throughout their entire lives. New revelations, trends or proofs have little or no bearing on their attitudes. “I have always thought that blacks (or whites, Hispanics, Irish, Jews, Italians, French, Arabs, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists … and whoever) are lazy, stupid, untrustworthy … or cowardly, frigid, over-sexed and whatever), and I will never change my mind.” Even though these are nonsensical, baseless impressions. “I will always vote for the Republicans” (or Democrats). I will never trust any lawyer … or dentist, automobile mechanic, plumber, policeman or whatever.” I’ve never trusted anyone who worked in such and such an occupation and I never will.” It’s a classical example of lying to oneself. 

Coming to grips with the meaning of the word “truth” becomes trickier when inter-personal, inter-communal and international issues are debated. Truth becomes an even more difficult issue when religion is considered.

Religion, and indeed every framework that purports to deal in truth and morality, must aim at truthfulness. Otherwise it is guilty of hypocrisy, by its very claim to deal in the truth. And this demands the honesty 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. Religious belief can be a wonderful thing if it makes us feel close to the unfathomable – call it divine if you will – essence of existence, and if it promotes morality and ethical behavior. But when not bound by a strong tendency towards truthfulness and respect for others with different perceptions, it can become very far removed from righteousness.

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.

Belief is not something limited only to religion. Many people believe in a political or ideological stand about something. Such belief can determine the course of history. Charismatic leaders, using all the tools of guile can sway entire societies into embracing ruinous economic and social paradigms and even thrust them into war. Today, the need for alertness in the face of such leadership has never been more pressing. This alertness is necessary also in the face of unknowing or unscrupulous journalists. We need to recognize also when instead of charisma, our leaders function as mere automatons or dullards.

And we need to question the wisdom of prevailing government systems. Do they enable the election and selection of the most suitable people; do they enable prompt, wise decision-making and execution, while having in place the checks and balances to prevent abuse of positions of power? If not, we need the integrity to do whatever we can on an individual basis, to work for the necessary changes.

The key to all this is personal truthfulness. Clearly it is humanity’s most important value. It’s what will redeem us all.

To order “How to avoid Armageddon” click: www.amazon.com   type: how to avoid Armageddon

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Blogroll, dangeous lies and halftruths, How to avoid Armageddon, In order to survive, Religion and belief, Things not mentioned in the press. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Things that people say about Jews – Part 3 Prospects for peace

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Categories


%d bloggers like this: