“Seven at one blow!” said the little man with great pride. “Such a brave deed ought to be known all over the town, and it won’t be my fault if folks fail to hear of it.”
“I don’t know if Joe Biden would make a good President,” said a friend. “He seems like he might be one of those creepy uncles – never been married; no life of his own. I was reading about him in…”
Suddenly, my mind felt a wad of hair slip down and clog my drain/brain. My thoughts ran slowly, gurgling, slightly murky. “But he’s been married twice,” I offered tentatively. “His first wife and baby died in a car accident, I think,” suddenly unsure of my memory. “He’s married now. Her name is Jill.”
My friend looked at me, momentarily gob smacked. “Biden’s married. I knew that,” she stammered. “But what… what was I reading???”
Is Biden married or is he not? It’s such a simple question with a straightforward answer and of no great importance, one way or the other. What point is there in lying about something so easily confirmed? How could a simple fact be so easily undone? How could one who knows the truth – we were thinking about ourselves here – abandon it so blithely?
Everyone’s writing about our Post-truth era. Even me. See me write? How can we not? It’s everything. It’s the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year.
Jonathan Freedland, in his opinion piece, Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies, writes about the how sixteen years ago he sat in a courtroom listening to David Irving, a pro-Nazi polemicist, deny the Holocaust ever happened by refusing to believe corroborated evidence, including the voices of the survivors. Freedland speaks about the queasy sensation he felt and about how the ground seemed to heave.
Peter Bradshaw writes in, My word of the year is normalization – as applied to Trump, in which he talks about the two ways we might envision Truth in the future: 1) “Trying to kid yourself that President Trump will forget his bigoted views and accept he must govern more or less normally” or 2) “Trying to kid other people into forgetting President Trump’s views and into accepting bigotry in government as more or less normal.” I quake at the suggestion that we might allow ourselves to be rocked to sleep by the drone of a constant debasement of humanity. But it wouldn’t be a new concept. George Orwell, who died in 1950, spoke in terms of political language “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
And then Francine Prose enters the discussion with Truth is Evaporating before our eyes.
If we look for the reasons why Orwell’s dire presentiments threaten to become our everyday reality, we might consider the idea that Trump and his cohorts are reaping the benefits of the gradual (and, I would suggest, intentional) undermining and dismantling of our increasingly overcrowded and understaffed public education system.
In school, we learn to distinguish truth from speculation, to value facts, to assess evidence, to evaluate information, to identify propaganda – to think. If what worried Orwell was widespread skepticism about our chances of writing history with any resemblance to the truth, how would he feel about a populace and a leadership that no longer values history at all, that has no respect for science, that believes the only subject worth pursuing is the how-to of uncontrolled capitalism?
And Trump has said he believes he was elected to make better deals. Not to govern but to deal.
The Grimm Brothers tell of the tailor who boasts of killing seven flies with one blow but, when the villagers jump to conclude that he is speaking of giants instead of flies, he lets the misapprehension lie. The tailor soon learns that unTruths demand recompense. Without just payment for lying, the future of our species is, indeed, grim.
But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them, says Ray Bradbury.
Apparently our intellectuals understand the cost of lying and have been warning us for decades; even longer. Can’t we hear? Don’t we read? Have we become so anti-intellectual that we’d rather die at the hands of one another than hear the truth? Are we everlastingly lazy and satisfied in our stupidity? Are we permanently gob smacked? Will we wake up only when the world blows up around us?