Sects, Lies, and Forwarded Emails
Americans detest all lies except lies spoken in public or printed lies.
Edgar W. Howe
AS I WRITE THIS, I AM SITTING in a coffee shop in Northridge, looking out the window at the mountains in the distance.
My cell phone is on the table, next to my computer.
I mention this because, sitting here, I just had an epiphany.
It occurred to me that there is a direct connection between
- My claim that my cell phone is sitting on the table in front of me,
- Newt Gingrich's recent appearance on The Daily Show,
- The propaganda emails I've been writing about most recently,
- Obama's "lipstick on a pig" comment during his presidential campaign,
- Pictures of a Muslim child having his arm run over by car, and
- An April, 2009, post I made about the values of the emerging spirituality.
I'll begin with numbers one and six, and weave the others in as I go along.
The post was titled "Eight Values of the Emerging Spirituality".
The main point was the difference between a spirituality that emerges naturally from human nature, and a spirituality imposed on human nature by ritual, tradition, and authoritarianism.
One of the values I mentioned there was "truth", which is valued by a natural, human spirituality, as opposed to "Truth" (with a capital T), which is valued by an authoritarian spirituality.
Capital T truth is whatever the accepted party line is—it changes from culture to culture, from religion to religion, and from party to party. To "believe" it is simply to be loyal to your group.
Small t truth is much more modest, but also much more certain.
My cell phone is on the table in front of me—if you were here now you could check, and the fact that you aren't here now to check doesn't change the fact that it is on the table.
All of modern science, the fact that this computer works, that your computer works, that you car runs and the heater in your home keeps you warm is based on small t truth.
Nevertheless, small t truth is under attack these days, from various groups.
The most obvious, and probably the least threatening, are people who don't like it when small t truth contradicts their old-fashioned capital T Truth—creationists, for example, who would like science classes to please stop being honest with their kids about evolution.
Less obvious are some academics.
During the last presidential campaign, you may remember all the commotion over a comment Obama made about "lipstick on a pig".
I won't rehearse the complete story. (If you want to read it all, click here.)
Suffice it to say that the McCain Campaign tried to make the comment a big issue, claiming that he was insulting Sarah Palin.
I wrote a piece at the time, pointing out that all one had to do was watch what he actually said, in context, to know that there wasn't the slightest way it could have been intended as an insult to Palin.
An academic friend of mine responded to my remarks by saying that I didn't understand that "truth is constructed".
Well, in fact, a good part of my own doctoral dissertation was exactly on how truth gets constructed, and I won't bore you with a theoretical argument here, except to say that, yes, truth is constructed, and no, that doesn't mean either that Obama was talking about Palin or that my phone is not sitting on the table in front of me—or that either claim is up for grabs.
I only mention my academic friend's confusion, in fact, because I think such talk subtly contributes to a third line of attack on small t truth, this one from the media.
It's very common for a reporter or commentator these days to say, about a matter of simple fact, that it "probably depends on who you ask".
Well, yes. The answer you get may well depend on who you ask, but the fact, if it's a matter of small t truth, doesn't.
And it's the reporter's job, not only to say so, but to actually put some effort into finding out what the small f fact is.
But all of this confusion, religious, academic, and in the media, is merely background static which makes possible something that is far more dangerous.
I'll explain that next time...