TRUTH AND POLITICS
By Thomas Carter
Our country is in the midst of a presidential election, one that both sides describe as the most consequential election of our generation. Both sides in this monumental choice are exerting their best efforts to convince the voters that they hold the right philosophy and the best plan for moving America forward to prosperity and happiness. Both sides are telling a story that they want the voters to accept and to believe.
Each side in this great controversy is trying to convince the voters that they hold the truth in the debate. That is the basis for their pitch to the nation. The question for America is: Who holds the truth, and which philosophy conforms to the truth? Who can we believe? Truth is the fundamental question.
In this age of unprecedented ease of communication and technological access to information, one would think that the truth of any particular controversy would be easy to find. On the contrary, the technology of our world today enables distractions, rationalizations, false representations, and demagoguery to distract from the truth, making it harder than ever to distinguish truth from propaganda. Any question can be, and is, argued and debated, often until the truth is utterly confused in a cacophony of argument of self-interest and discord.
Is it any wonder, then, that the public becomes confused and individuals become cynical and resort to personal prejudice, self-interest, or raw emotion, rather than a rigorous examination of the truth, in casting their vote in favor of any particular party? Indeed, some will even argue that there is no truth in the matter, or that the truth is relative to the interests of each individual. €Your truth is right for you, but my truth is right for me, and both are equally valid.€ This is a cunning and dangerous proposition, for it cuts one off from any standard of truth, and leaves him adrift in a sea of whim, blown by the winds of emotion, bias, and egotism.
What is truth?
A philosophical discussion of the definition of truth is beyond the reach or purpose of this essay. I will stipulate that truth is an absolute, and that there is only one truth to any given question. Without this stipulation, any argument of truth or right or what is best will be meaningless, for all argument is based on the fundamental standard of truth. This is different, however, from opinion, which is not necessarily truth. Reasonable persons may have different opinions on any given subject, but this should not be construed as truth.
Why do people believe as they do?
In the current political landscape, an enduring question is: €Why do people believe what they do?€ Why do half of the people believe one thing, and one half believe another? Why are there seemingly good and rational adults supporting opposite points of view? There has to be an answer to this question. We must answer this question if we are ever to become a united people.
Belief is a choice. People believe what they want to believe. The art of a politician is to give people a reason to believe what he wants them to believe or in what they already want to believe. These assertions explain what is going on in America today.
There are many reasons why people believe what they do. Their belief may be a result of tradition, culture, or personal interest. Often, people will believe simply based on emotion. Sometimes, a person will conform his beliefs to be consistent with his preferred behavior. People may have a strong reason for what they believe, but that does not necessarily mean that what they believe is true. Some people do not know why or what they believe, merely ascribing to the popular sentiments of the environment they find themselves in. Some people are confused in their beliefs simply because they have not made the effort to become informed.
To illustrate this, I will use a quote from Thomas Carlyle’s classic work: Heroes, and Hero Worship, as he discusses in 1905 the antiquated beliefs in Paganism:
€Surely it seems a very strange-looking thing this Paganism; almost inconceivable to us in these days. A bewildering, inextricable jungle of delusions, confusions, falsehoods and absurdities, covering the whole field of Life! A thing which fills us with astonishment, almost, if it were possible, with incredulity, — for truly it is not easy to understand that sane men could ever calmly, with their eyes open, believe and live by such a set of doctrines. That men should have worshipped their poor fellow-man as a God, and not him only, but stocks and stones, and all manner of animate and inanimate objects; and fashioned for themselves such a distracted chaos of hallucinations by way of Theory of the Universe: all this looks like an incredible fable. Nevertheless it is a clear fact that they did it. Such hideous inextricable jungle of misworships, misbeliefs, men, made as we are, did actually hold by, and live at home in. This is strange. Yes, we may pause in sorrow and silence over the depths of darkness that are in man; if we rejoice in the heights of purer vision he has attained to. Such things were and are in man; in us too.€
–Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship
Careful reflection upon the world around us will convince us that man is still capable of believing falsehood and error. It will perhaps dismay us that we, also, may be capable of believing that which is not true, and which, when the light of truth is cast upon our awareness, will be shown as deception and absurdity.
€€¦We shall begin to have a chance of understanding Paganism when we first admit that to its followers it was, at one time, earnestly true. Let us consider it very certain that men did believe in Paganism; men with open eyes, sound senses, men made altogether like ourselves; that we, had we been there, should have believed in it€¦.€
— Thomas Carlyle
If so many, in so many eras, in all times and in all places, have been victims of falsehood and deception, how then, is one to find the truth NOW?
We must first recognize, then, that man is subject to error and deception, that alone, he is fallible. Each of us is fallible.
We must also be honest with ourselves: Much of our belief may be what is easy or natural for us to believe (tradition, culture, environment, how we grew up), and some of our beliefs may also be what we want to believe based on our emotions, behavior, or self-interest. Every man and woman has a solemn responsibility and duty to carefully examine his/her beliefs and the reasons he believes as he does. If he is to arrive at an understanding of the truth, he must be willing to give up his pre-conceived notions, prejudices, self-interests, and any particular or personal agenda. He must put aside his emotions that may be distracting him from clearly viewing the truth. He must become intelligently informed. This is the price he must pay to find the truth.
Believe what is true
If a man can believe what is false, he can also believe what is true. He can choose to believe the truth. To believe the truth is a choice and a supreme challenge for each person. A mark of true manhood is to find, choose and commit oneself to believe, as much as is possible, the truth.
The truth can be found. Truth shines pervasively and independently, and prevails over error and deception. However, truth is often obscured or confused by distractions, rationalizations, false representations and philosophies, and demagoguery, promoted by those with their own agenda or self-interest. This is obvious to any sincere seeker of truth. In this climate, one must search diligently for the truth. He must pay the price to find the truth.
The standard for truth
The truth will always be consistent with the facts. Truth will always be based upon and consistent with fundamental and sound, time-tested principles. Truth will always be consistent with God-given moral values. History and sad experience has shown u