Truth: An impossible request

Dear Santa Clause,  For Christmas this year I ask you to give all the people around the world a sense of truthfulness to themselves and all others including young children.

There are two problems in this request: People believe in different versions of the truth and many people have an interest in distorting the truth.

There are many things about ourselves and this world that we do not and can not know from rational observation.  A lot of people fill in the gaps with differing religious knowledge but it is difficult for an observer to say which version is the truth.  A person who claims to speak or write only the truth is playing god with his/her religion and values.  Who is to say there is no Santa Clause?  A philosopher could define Santa Clause as a concept and maybe make the case that he is real.

Deliberate distortions of the truth go back to the dawn of civilisation.  I have read that ancient story tellers quickly learned to make their stories show their patrons in favourable lights.

There are a lot of distortions of the truth in our own civilization including war reporting, the courts and most politically correct issues.

Distortions of the truth in war reporting were documented in 1975 by Phillip Knightly in his book The First Casualty.  War correspondents are called upon to distort the truth for the sake of their part in their country’s war effort. The first casualty of war is he truth

I would suggest this happens where ever there is conflict.

Courts put some emphasis on  “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.  But how much injustice has resulted from prosecutors with holding  evidence which shows a person to be innocent.  The adversarial process is a strong incentive to avoid the truth.

There are also distortions in most politically correct issues.  Feminists are mistresses of the ancient art of sophistry, North American natives are a conquered people and police do not care about the color of the people they shoot.

Politicians and business people often have a vested interest in hiding the truth.  Political leaders who say the economy is on a long-term down trend are unlikely to get many votes, or at least they think that.  Every banker in the world would lie to avoid a run on his bank.

Donald Trump challenged the media with his untruths and won.  As a former journalist I was very happy not to be working the election.  If the press had not reported his distortions he probably would not even have got the nomination.  Mostly I worked on small town newspapers where most of the politicians were basically honest.

News people like good stories and when famous people say stupid or ridiculous things, it is usually a good story.   I once quoted a school trustee because I wanted to show how stupid he was.  The next day some lady phoned the local radio talk show and said,  “Did you see what Dr. P….. said at school board.  Wasn’t that great?”

What about the responsibility of the media to report the truth?  Publishers have the right to decide what goes into their publication and some specialize in fiction. There are ethical issues in claiming fiction as fact.  It is also hard for a reporter or editor to ignore a statement because he knows it is not true. Most reporters, editors and publishers do not want to upset their friends.  In general advertisers to not much  care about the editorial content so long as their advertising brings in customers.

How do we as consumers of news know if something is true?  We have to evaluate if an item makes sense and that depends upon our values, religion and knowledge base.

As I have worked on this post I have wondered a little if untruthfulness is an essential part of surviving human relationships.  That might be best left for another reincarnation.

 

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