In June I’ll be giving a series of lectures titled “Truth, Yours or Mine.” My audience will predominately be retired PhD scientists, engineers and educators. I expect it to be a rollicking good time as I attempt to explain, in practical terms, the differences between Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard while not referring to any of them because, if you do, you immediately lose your audience and their eyes roll up into the backs of their heads. To be honest so did mine until I learned how to translate the concepts into applied actions vice nebulous abstractions.
So, “You will know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” says John in his eight chapter. But then you immediately ask, what is truth and what is freedom? These are particularly words of great consequence in today’s fractious world and especially so in regard to the conflict in Ukraine. Is the truth what we see and hear? Not so, for each side is engaged in a war of words as intense or perhaps even more intense than the conflict of arms. Claim and counterclaim, pictures that look horrible but which some claim are photoshopped and Russia claims is actually a group of actors writing and acting out scenes to portray the Russians as something other than the liberating force they claim to be. Then there’s inflation and gas prices and elections and pretty much everything else.
It is a question of objective versus subjective truth. But how can that be? you ask. The truth is the truth and the truth is absolute. But it isn’t, ascertaining the truth isn’t that easy, for each person arrives at their own truth depending upon a variety of factors, the most important of which is the outcome they believe they want. Even verifiable facts in evidence cannot sway the true believer from their concept of the truth of an issue. Reaching a state of mind where you not only seek demonstrable proof but are willing to accept that proof even though it is unpleasant is the freedom referred to by John. The greatest enemy of the truth is rationalization and, unfortunately, rationalization is the greatest defense the human psyche has against the distresses of the world. When others rationalize for you it is referred to as lying. Politicians do a lot of rationalizing by telling you things you want to believe but when subjected to scrutiny are found to be either a manipulation of statistics or a creation from whole cloth. While it makes you feel better, it enslaves you even further. By believing, you fall even deeper in thrall to the person and they have more power over you. Being in thrall is much like being addicted to a drug. The more you take, the more you need, and the more you need the more they’ll give you. Breaking free takes an independent will and the struggle is like trying to pass down a street where every corner has a pusher offering free samples.
I have a rather large ring I picked up somewhere in my travels, probably Turkey, and in Arabic calligraphy on the top is inscribed, “Doubt is the only truth.” That is a wise motto and a good demarcation point from which to begin your quest for the truth, but it, in and of itself, will not set you free. To be free you must be able to discern the truth from that which claims to be the truth and those who claim to tell it. You must not only question what people tell you but ask why they would be telling you. If you start with doubt and look to refute while considering the source of the information you’ll be in a good starting place. Oh, that’s from the spokesman at the White House, they aren’t allowed to lie to us, or are they? That’s from my friend in the barbershop he wouldn’t lie to me on purpose, but would he pass on another’s rationalization? And so forth…
Question the statement and question the source and you’ll be moving towards achieving John’s freedom, for in today’s world everything can be manipulated. Perhaps the hardest part of finding the truth is when it isn’t the “truth” you wanted. But freedom isn’t free, there is always a price. Can you handle it?
Next: Why we should look to Otto Von Bismarck for some historical guidance.