The Truth About Truth

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737)

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy, by Francois Lemoyne (1737); in retrospect, perhaps it’s a bit of political irony that the day after completing this piece, the artist tragically committed suicide

Last night, while channel surfing, I happened upon a documentary about the flooding of Venice, Italy. According to one city official interviewed on the program, about 100 times a year the tide rises higher than normal and floods the city. The waters of Venice are beautiful when they stay in their canals, but troublesome when they visit themselves upon homes, businesses, and historic cathedrals. Never mind that the Venetians have had problems with their lagoon for centuries or that their city rests atop wood pilings. The producers of this video claimed to know the cause and they proclaimed it passionately. Venice is undoubtedly flooding, they said, because of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. It’s worse than that, however. In their own words, “the world is sinking.”

I sympathize with the good people of Venice. But they’ll find an answer to their water problems as they always have. Their history is loaded with past examples of flooding (and taxation to pay for its remedy). In great part this is because its underwater foundation slips a bit lower every year. Even those who believe in human-caused global warming have to admit that “the greatest threat to the city” for most of its history has been “earth subsidence.” In other words, its wooden foundation is slipping deeper and deeper into the mud below.

As a popular science-fiction program once reminded us with the start of every episode, “the truth is out there.” Yes, it certainly is. But to get to it there are a few things you need to understand about the truth. In other words, there is some truth about truth that you need to know–truly!

First, let’s realize that we humans are “wired” to find explanations for things. That, along with our advanced brains, has given us a biological advantage over the other species on the planet. They may be bigger and stronger, but we’re smarter. We’re driven to find answers.

Before you become too proud of your genetic superiority, remember a second important point. We humans are also, in a sense, sociological herd animals. We move in psychological “packs.” Rather than doing the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we often accept what others believe. This can happen for any number of reasons (affection, political preference, religious belief, admiration, physical attraction, etc.). I confess to having a strong distaste for this tendency. As a child, when I did stupid things, my father wisely challenged me. His challenges stuck with me. When I see a parade of others following a “Pied Piper” of any sort, I shy away to watch … and to learn.

A third truth about truth that we must recognize is that money changes everything. Even truth–or what is presented as truth. There are plenty of people who would sell their souls for money. There are even more who would manipulate data for money or accept funding with “strings” attached. When billions and billions in government funding is involved, there simply is no way to know how deeply the influence and corruption have drilled themselves into a search for truth. Big money can come from big government or big corporations. Sometimes both.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves that there is no such thing as pure objectivity. Perhaps Leonard Nemoy’s Mister Spock came close, but even he was half human. We humans are motivated by all sorts of things, and not all of them are bad. Please don’t interpret my words to suggest that I’m a pessimist or misanthrope (a people hater). I’m not. But I am a realist. Call it sin, or imperfection, or simply human reality–but let’s face it. We humans aren’t perfect. Sometimes we respond to our base instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes we’re selfish or greedy. Other times we act with real generosity. Quite often we are a mix of “good” and “bad” at the same time. (As an aside, it strikes me as odd that when government starts doling out money to those “in need,” our human failings are no longer suitable for discussion.)

Lack of objectivity isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very human thing. The problem isn’t that objectivity is lacking. The problem is that we’re not honest about its absence. Wouldn’t it be nice if people claimed their biases so that when they speak of their greatest beliefs and philosophical commitments we can understand where they’re coming from?

Imagine a Fox News broadcast beginning like this:  “Good evening. We here at Fox believe that Barack Obama is the devil. Now on with the news.” Or imagine that CNN begins its nightly programs in this way: “In the interest of honesty, the broadcasters of CNN wish to remind you that we believe that conservatives, Republicans, and Tea-Party people are selfish bastards who want to screw Mexican immigrants and the poor. Here are this evening’s highlights.”

I always find such honesty to be quite refreshing, actually. It’s one of the reasons I named this blog “The Liberty Professor.” If you’re looking for absolute objectivity, you won’t find it here. The truth is that you won’t find it anywhere. But I’m honest about that. Get it?

With all of these caveats in mind, here are a few of the so-called “truths” that I have rejected. I speak only for myself, but I do so after reasoned reflection and research. Each of the issues described is what Patricia King and Karen Kitchener refer to as an “ill-defined problem.” If you’re a teacher or have a philosophical bent, you might enjoy their book entitled Developing Reflective Judgment. In it they argue that an ill-defined problem has more than one possible outcome (as opposed to a well-defined problem with an easy solution).

Let there be fanfare and the blast of trumpet … here are some “truths” that I robustly reject!

1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was intended by its creators to lower healthcare costs and “fix” what’s wrong with America’s healthcare system. Nope. Not even close. It was designed to move us toward a single-payer healthcare system in which the federal government is financier and supervisor. Promises were made about how much it would cost and how much freedom would be granted to those who already have health insurance. Guesses, estimates, and even lies were offered to us for our mental consumption. The most recent estimate I heard is that it will cost three times as much as promised in the first ten years. In addition, its thousands and thousands of pages of regulations are going to cause premiums to go up for nearly everybody, especially young men. Remember the promise of Barack Obama about your own health insurance? “If you like it, you can keep it,” he insisted. Maybe. If you can afford it. Most of us won’t be able to. We–along with our employers–will be forced to drop private coverage to move into the single-payer (federal) system. The entire law was designed with this in mind. As they say, “out with the old and in with the new.” Don’t forget the words of Barack Obama to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June of 2003: “I happen to be a proponent of the single-payer, universal healthcare program.”

2. Federal gun-control initiatives are being designed to reduce crime and protect our children from violent criminals. Even I have to say that this sounds nice. It’s a feel-good proposal if ever there was one. But that’s not the primary factor for the unconstitutional gun grab taking place before our very eyes. (It has hit some temporary road blocks, but as with Obamacare, its proponents won’t stop until they get what they want.) The real goal is to have a nation in which guns are in the hands only of government officials and to outlaw them for everyone else. When that happens the government will have little to fear from dissenters, and only outlaws will be armed. Everyone with a weapon, whether it’s used in a crime or not, will be subject to arrest and punishment. In addition to maneuvers in Washington, international pressure is being put upon Mr. Obama to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty. That treaty, like all treaties, will require Senate approval. We can look for one heck of a mud slide when that battle comes. Obama is widely expected to sign the treaty since it moves us one more step toward his goal, and since it provides cover for the confiscation of many types of civilian-owned weapons as well as a UN-supervised, international gun registry. That’s right. According to the president of Iowa Gun Owners, if allowed to keep my .38-caliber pistol I’ll have my name on a UN list as well as a US list.

3. IRS officials did nothing wrong when they targeted conservative groups,Tea-Party organizations, and groups favoring Israel for special scrutiny. Oh, really? That must be why IRS division director Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth-Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to answer questions before Congress. That’s a constitutional perversion of the highest order. Here’s why: She is a government employee called before the people to answer for her actions. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was enacted to protect the people from the government, not the other way around. She and her minions at the IRS have the power to pry, to search, to seize, to confiscate, and to order the arrest and imprisonment of citizens. They carry guns. When we, the people, call her to an accounting she suddenly wants to invoke her constitutional rights. She needs to be held in contempt of Congress and the investigation into the matter must continue. Without a doubt, the trail will end in the Oval Office. White House visitors’ logs already demonstrate this.

4. Global warming is a rising disaster caused by human industrial and economic activity. Look, I reject this proposition. But I don’t reject the idea that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. Another of Dad’s witty and wise sayings recognizable to many fellow Southerners is that one should never put fecal material on the handle of the water pump! But the global-warming hype isn’t being controlled by reasonable people who care for the environment. It’s being directed from the upper echelon of government for the sake of raking in more tax money, penalties, and fees to fund bigger government. The “science” behind human-generated global warming is tainted with government money. As some very bright but mistaken academics have argued, the scientific consensus is that human-caused global warming threatens the planet (not just Venice). They insist we need severe limits on economic activity, travel, and energy production; we need more taxes and government-controlled carbon credits. My own research brings me to the conviction that global warming is entirely natural and that the recent warming trend is tapering off. We are probably entering a new period of global cooling. It wouldn’t be the first time, as historians recognize from recent history. Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be subjected to overblown predictions of a new Ice Age!

5. The solution to our economic problems and social injustices is to be found in more government activism. So said Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and a veritable host of central planners. But when central planning fails it fails big. Guns are needed to keep people in line. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern? American constitutionalists do not reject all centralized government activity. The Constitution makes provision for the activities of the federal government. But once it’s engaged, the power at the top tends to be centripetal. In other words, it exerts a pull toward itself. Power exercised at the top tends to increase and multiply toward the top, or toward the center of power. The founders of the United States recognized this fact. They had overwhelming historical precedent for it. That’s precisely why power was invested primarily in citizens organized by states, not in the federal government. It’s also why they chose a federated system and not a national government (there is a difference). Only a small number of powers were granted to the federal government. Was it a perfect system? No. It didn’t recognize the rights of slaves, for instance. But its inspiration (that everyone is “created equal” in rights, not abilities) would eventually blossom to repair this immorality as well as other defects.

6. Fatty foods are making us fat and high blood cholesterol is putting us at risk for heart attack. So says an official US government blog and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC). There is even a new government push to monitor the cholesterol of children and to put them on statin drugs if necessary. Research is moving us rapidly away from this thesis. Fat isn’t making us fat. Carbohydrates and sugar are making us fat. They increase inflammation and cause heart disease. Among the scientists and medical doctors now arguing for a new approach to the matter can be counted Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Check out their excellent and well-researched book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. According to them, the “four horsemen” of the cardiac apocalypse are inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress. Dangerous statin drugs, they insist, should be used only by those who already have heart disease. They show strong evidence that statins are useful only because of their anti-inflammatory properties and that lowering cholesterol isn’t the proper approach for stopping heart disease. In their opinion statins should never be given to children. To get the updated research full disseminated, the tie between big pharmaceutical companies and big government must be broken. And doctors who treat patients should never be paid advocates for particular companies or brands. The ties between these entities amount to a contemporary medical mercantilism or corporatocracy–similar to the military-industrial complex that guides so much of our foreign policy.

7. If you love someone you’ll never hurt their feelings. Well, you might not hurt their feelings intentionally–but that’s a whole different matter. Love isn’t a feeling. As Jesuit theologian William O’Malley has pointed out, love is a conscious and active commitment to the well-being of someone. I bring up this point because too many people these days, when arguing politics, seem to be guided less by intellectual consideration and more by emotion. They decide what’s right based upon how their proposals make them feel. The Christian virtue of love is shared by many religions. One doesn’t have to foist one’s Christianity on others to love them, but love nonetheless is a terrific guide for making political decisions. Too often our political debate is framed as if it’s a choice between the people who care for others (the “liberals”) and those who don’t (the “conservatives”). That’s just downright stupid. There are people on both sides of that divide who genuinely care to increase the well-being of others. My complaint is that we can’t decide what’s best based upon how it makes us feel. We need to think and think hard.

So there they are. Seven “truths” that I reject because I don’t think they are true at all. There are others, such as immigration reform (the real reason for which is to secure votes). Each of these is an ill-defined problem with adherents who passionately argue that I’m wrong. So be it. As Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” But my stance isn’t based upon any attempt to be hard-headed or belligerent. It’s based upon my appropriation of the best information I can find. Don’t take my word on any of it. Do your own research. If I found the information, you can find it as well. I make my own choices and live with the consequences. You must do likewise. Gosh, we don’t hear that too often, do we?

In the final analysis, remember one thing, please. Only in a free society can divergence exist when it comes to values, beliefs, and ideologies. Wherever you stand on the issues, I beg you to be consistent and to be honest with yourself. Don’t give a pass to politicians or government bureaucrats just because they share your preferred political agenda–especially not if they have the privilege of carrying government-issued sidearms.

Avoid schadenfreude. That German word describes the human tendency to take pleasure in the suffering of someone else. If it pleased you to see certain groups targeted by the IRS, remember that it may one day be a group you admire. It could even be you. Political winds blow where they will.

Tyranny hurts us all. Even when it’s applied to our political adversaries.

4 comments on “The Truth About Truth

  1. Jerry says:

    The truths you reject are all so absolute, John. They leave no room for dialogue. It’s kind of sad.

  2. You insights are very astute and well thought our and researched,i love it. I challenge my children also,if they make a statement, They know they will have to research and back it up. My problem is they challenge their teachers,oh well

  3. Keith Wagner says:

    Dear Dr. Switzer, I read with great interest your essay “the Truth About Truth” and it resonated with two recent meditations by Fr.Richard Rohr which seem to be to be addressing the same issues. I am pasting them here for you and your readers because Fr Rohr’s writings greatly substantiate your own and vice versa. Thanks again for making me think! Here are the two meditations:

    The World, The Flesh, and The Devil
    Meditation 21 of 52

    Traditional Catholic moral teaching said there were three sources of evil—“the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Dom Helder Camara, who was the holy and wise archbishop of Recife, Brazil, taught this in terms of “a spiral of violence” spiraling from the bottom up. “The world” (systemic evil) is the lie at the root of most cultures about power, prestige, and possessions; in the middle is “the flesh” (the personal evil and bad choices of individuals); and at the top is “the devil” (evil disguised as “good power” to enforce the first two), which is usually the unquestionable institutions like war, the “laws” of the market economy, most penal systems and many police forces, unjust legal systems and tax systems, etc. They are rightly called “diabolical” because, starting with the snake in Genesis, high-level evil always disguises itself as good, charming, on your side, and even virtuous. Satan must present himself as too big or too needed to ever be wrong.

    Up to now in human history most people’s moral thinking has been overwhelmingly oriented around the personal evils of “the flesh.” There was not too much knowledge of the foundations of evil in cultural assumptions themselves, nor hardly any critique of major social institutions on a broad level, until the 1960s! This is really quite amazing. The individual person got all the blame and punishment for evil, while the supportive worldviews and violent institutions were never called into account or “punishment,” as Jesus did when he critiqued the temple system itself.

    The biblical prophets of Judaism were the unique and inspired group who exposed all three sources of evil, and it’s also why they have been largely ignored, as was Jesus, the greatest of the Jewish prophets. They didn’t concentrate on the flesh, but largely on “the world” and what I just described as “the devil,” which very often passes as good and necessary “evil.” You see what we are up against, and why evil continues to control so much of the human situation.

    The Real Devil
    Meditation 24 of 52

    When the first level of the spiral of violence, “the world” (group selfishness), is not exposed for what it is, and the second level, “the flesh,” generates out of control (murder, stealing, rape, lying, adultery, greed, etc.), then a third level of fully justified and even idealized evil usually emerges. These are systems like oppressive governments, penal systems, legal systems, military systems, economic systems, and all the other systems we create to control disorder and violence. They ordinarily have a complete life of their own. These can, of course, be good too; but when you worship them, when you let them have total power, when you refuse to critique these systems, they can wreak the greatest havoc in history—and they consistently have. Any system that says “bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9) is always diabolical, whether it be church, state, the military, or “the market.”

    The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause, like “making the world safe for democracy” or “keeping the bad people off the streets.” Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue. Evil must disguise itself as good, says St. Thomas Aquinas, and until Christians start understanding that, their capacity for “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) remains very minimal. They are easily duped and always misled by such devils.

    • John Switzer says:

      Wow, thank you, Mr. Wagner. I appreciate your taking the time to post these. Perhaps at times I am too positive about the world and about freedom. If this is so, it’s only because my very catholic worldview is one in which we are obliged to look out for each other, however imperfectly we are able to do it. Thus, when I argue for “free markets,” it’s because I believe people doing for one another freely is the optimum model for human advancement (even moral advancement).

      On the other hand, if I argue against large, powerful, police-backed authorities, it’s not because I think no good can come from them, but that their necessarily coercive ability is too often a vehicle for abuse, destruction, and manipulation of the average person.

      No doubt, the ultimate problem is human frailty. That is true in every case, my own included. (I must admit that I’m not as comfortable with Rohr’s use of the image as Satan. Too many people understand it not as a metaphor for genuine evil, but as a name for a personal entity. That is a notion I reject.)

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