by LJ Frank
“No man is good enough to be another man’s master.” George Bernard Shaw. Major Barbara, Act iii (1905)
“What is it that men cannot be made to believe!” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to R.H. Lee (1786)
Belief is not dependent on facts. Rather it’s an assumption of what might be true at least in the believer’s mind. Belief is not true because it is useful. The just in case scenario of belief appears to have a substantial following regardless the object of one’s belief or desire, as the great religions of the world show along with the numberless people in the position of power can attest.
Where does one seek truth? To find truth one perhaps needs to practice it. I prefer the quiet of an empty cathedral or temple rather than hearing the singing of praises to an invisible God for eternity. Truth is illusive even among the filled pews.
Truth has been illusive since the beginning of the written human record. I occasionally wonder what it was like to be a primitive man roaming the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago and asking the question where can truth be found, without being laughed at. Truth is not gentle and often times results in danger and disavowal when revealed.
In the caves where men and women huddled together one finds graves with dried flowers and various bones and fossils indicating there was a trust in something beyond their struggle to survive. Are belief and truth innate in a person at birth, but they learn through experience that something is amiss? We know from reading history that one man’s truth can be another’s blasphemy. Or do all great truths, as George Bernard Shaw suggests, begin with a blasphemy?
The source of belief whether invisible or physical – corporate, religious, government, etcetera – the leaders depend on followers or believers. During the “current modern age,” products are produced as an expression of belief and facts. Money is to be made off the believers. The profit margin guides the nature and “expressions” of the product. Voting suppression, disinformation about pandemics and climate change amid interminable wars and competition for pieces of the mythical pie retain a vanity and misdirection – follow the money and the quest for power. How much is achieved for the sake of humanity itself? The cynic is fed.
Much of the time money can be made off small lies but big lies capture the human imagination for even greater amounts. Belief is useful even if untrue. At times when lies are big enough they are more believable, e.g., the 2016 presidential election was clearly lost by the Republican (based on the evidence), by several million votes. The autocrat says he won. Autocrats and dictators call foul play when they don’t win. Simple answers are called for under such circumstances, when the complexities feel too overwhelming to maneuver.
The essence of big lies regardless of the source is to simplify the complex for relatability. Once the distortion tales place to change one’s opinion would be cataclysmic for the believer.
The bigger the lie the more complex the belief becomes. The USA version of democracy has essentially fallen or gone by the wayside and wealth is accumulated from those unable to afford the lies they want to believe in. The cynic is fed.
God’s grace is vague theology that doesn’t hold up to the face of poverty, disability and the myriad of illnesses confronting humans daily, though words with seeming honest intent – ethics and morality are redefined. The loopholes in offshore financial accounts are encoded and are not seen as unethical in a capitalistic environment based on human greed. Does sin beg the issue?
Much of history as we know is written and revised with increased knowledge, unless the revisions are devised in order to obliterate the facts. Revisions based on facts is one thing while revisions based on lies to justify the grab for power and ultimately greater wealth is another.
We live in an age of growing cynicism. Cynicism is fertile ground for big lies that offer new ways to trust in something that tries to make sense of the vagaries of life. The question is why bother, who stands to gain the most and to what end? The answer would seem to be self-evident.
Life is brutal for most people. Poverty is violence to the human mind and body. Today’s accumulation of wealth depends on competition where people are viewed as winners and losers by those in positions of power. That way of looking at life filters down to the un and under-employed.
Do we lie to our self and journey through life under false beliefs as a form of self-protection? For whose sake? What does a person gain by lying to them self?
An Arabic saying suggests if you shoot an arrow of truth, first dip it into honey.
I suppose, wisdom in and of itself possesses neither certainty nor clarity. It exists on a deeper level of complexity and with a more textured ambiguity. And as we know, ambiguity makes for an interesting life, if nothing else.
The inevitable questions in this exploration are – where and how will belief, truth and wisdom be revealed as man and machine become indiscernible from one and another? Have we not already taken the initial steps?