You can’t handle the truth
I was watching a video of the Oakland City Council and, unexpectedly, Francis Bacon came to mind.
Oakland has the third highest violent crime rate in California, with 1,500 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents. It also has a large and growing homelessness problem, accounting for half of the entire homeless population in Alameda County.
Bacon, on the other hand, was Lord Chancellor in the court of King James I in the early 17th century, the father of modern empiricism and the scientific method. He was also quite well-known as an essayist, until dead white men were excised from the curriculum. “Of Truth,” one of his more famous essays, suggests that deception and prevarication occur naturally in humans, because, beyond the corrupt advantages it offers in certain social and business situations, we “love the lie itself.”
Now, I trust, you see the connection.
The Oakland City Council was considering a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East. Because Oakland has solved its own problems so effectively, it is only proper for it to share its experience and expertise with the world. At issue was a motion by a Jewish Councilman to include in the resolution a sentence condemning Hamas for starting the war by violating a ceasefire in the most brutal, savage way imaginable.
The majority of speakers argued, and ultimately the Council decided, against any negative comment about Hamas.
The testimony adduced in opposition to the motion was nothing less than riveting, especially for an adherent of Bacon. Barely a single truthful word was uttered. Many of the participants read from their handheld devices, stumbling over words that had obviously been written for them by some propaganda apparatchik. A cavalcade of speakers you might well cross the street to avoid. A horror show. Many of them wrapped in keffiyehs or wearing t-shirts with leftist slogans, proclaiming their intersectionality from the river to the sea.
The speakers were diverse, but their diversity yielded homogeneity. They all said basically the same thing – we support the murder of Jews, the kidnapping and holding for ransom of their children, the rape of their women. Hamas is a group of noble resistance fighters. Israel is to blame. For everything.
For an American Jew, raised to love, honor, and cherish truth, freedom and the American way, it is a visceral shock to hear such mendacious and fraudulent hatred directed at Jews and Zionists in a public forum. Even if experience and intellect have prepared you for what to expect (it is, after all, Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco and Berkeley), the emotion is still engaged and outraged.
But, you splutter, they are lying!
A brief sampling: “To hear them [and, dear reader, you know who ‘them’ is] complain about Hamas is like listening to a wife-beater complain when his wife finally starts to fight back.” “There have been no beheadings of babies or rapings [sic]. Israel murdered their [sic] own people.” “The notion that there was a massacre of Jews is a fabricated narrative. Many of those killed on October 7, including children, were killed by the IDF.” “Apartheid.” “Genocide.” “Fascist.” “Colonial.”
As to the infinitesimal minority of proponents of the measure to condemn Hamas, each time they mentioned the rapes that were perpetrated, there was loud booing, as if it were in bad taste to state the truth. And indeed, as the audience was advised, in highly moralistic tones, referring to Hamas as a terrorist group was – wait for it –”racist,” a vicious attack against all Arabs. Hamas was actually a “resistance organization” fighting for the liberation of the Palestinian people. Finally (and there were dozens more speakers spouting the same dishonest calumnies), the Jewish gentleman who introduced the resolution condemning Hamas was – what else? – a “white supremacist.”
The stomach churns. The mind rebels. Surely they have seen the videos made by the terrorists themselves. Surely they are aware that Hamas itself does not deny – indeed, recorded for its own glory – the brutal slaughter of civilians. Do they not know that the savagery of the actions have been celebrated and hailed by the perpetrators and their sponsors and their supporters in Gaza and the West Bank (not to mention Harvard and Cornell)? And now those actions never happened? Or someone else perpetrated them?
Don’t they know that we know that they are lying? Don’t they care?
And that is why the Bacon essay, a relic of my misspent liberal education in the best that has been thought or written, comes to mind. The Bacon essay in question, “Of Truth,” opens as follows: “‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, And would not wait for an answer.”
The reference is to Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea, who served under Tiberius and is best known for being the official who presided over the trial of Jesus. As the story goes, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, who queries him as to the treason charge against him – does he really claim to be a king? Jesus is ambiguous about his claim to monarchy, but adds that he came into the world to “bear witness unto the truth.” Pilate says, “What is truth?” and proceeds to tell the Jews that he finds in Jesus no fault at all.
Nietzsche, cynical nihilist and iconoclast that he was, believed that Pilate was the only worthwhile character in the New Testament. “. . . [I]n the entire New Testament there is only one solitary figure one is obliged to respect. Pilate, the Roman governor: To take a Jewish affair seriously – he cannot persuade himself to do that. One Jew more or less – what does it matter? The noble scorn of a Roman before whom an impudent misuse of the word ‘truth’ was carried on has enriched the New Testament with the only expression that possesses value–which is its criticism, its annihilation even. What is truth? . . .”
Indeed. If you reject the ability to recognize truth, you reject objectivity, you reject order, you reject values, and you reject reason. And, just like Pilate, the speakers in Oakland and the marchers in New York and London ask “What is truth?” What do we care about truth? What has truth to do with us? We have our narrative, and we have a total commitment to it. Do not sully the pristine ignorance of our worldview with your facts. One Jew more or less, one Jewish baby more or less, what does it matter when we are standing up for the environment, for black lives, for gay rights, for the subjugated Palestinian people?
And if you point out, with all the evidence in the world, that it is all rubbish, plain and simple, easily and logically disproven, well – that only makes them believe it more, for you have challenged the entire foundation upon which their world exists, and they simply can not allow that to penetrate their mental fog. So don’t talk to them of kidnapped babies or rape or war crimes, because they will deny them, or rationalize them, or justify them. What is truth? And why should we, true believers all, care about it?
Lincoln said that truth is generally the best vindication against slander and Mark Twain endorsed honesty on the half-humorous grounds that if you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. But these rioters in London and New York and Philadelphia, railing against colonialism and genocide and falafel restaurants, or appearing before the Oakland City Council, have their own brand of wisdom, and it rejects truth. Lincoln notwithstanding, slander is highly effective if you are impervious to and utterly dismiss the value or absolute nature of truth; and if all you need to remember are mindless slogans about fascism, apartheid, colonialism, and intersectionality, then a contrary statement of actual truth serves no purpose.
These people never go off-script. They have their own mindless brand of Tik-Tok Truth.
There is a well-known psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance. It refers to the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. You want to be healthy and you want that pastrami sandwich; you feel guilty. You believe all women, but you think all accused people should be treated fairly; you err on the side of feminism, with some misgivings about justice. You know that you should attend services but you are s-o-o-o tired; you rationalize and stay in bed.
The Oakland City Commission meeting was a showcase for cognitive dissonance. Surely all those speakers, like all those marchers, and, perhaps, even like the barbaric murderers themselves, know what actually happened and, as human beings, cannot help but experience a sense of revulsion at the barbaric inhuman behavior involved. But the conflicting belief is stronger, having been implanted into what little substance is left of their hearts and minds. They can’t get past the deeply held anti-Semitism, the brainwashing from birth that Jews are subhuman, the doctrine that oppressors, especially white oppressors, cannot be victims (you can’t be racist to a white person, and similar nonsense), the indoctrination in the spurious views that Gaza is occupied and all of Israel is illegally held. So long as that set of beliefs holds sway, their cognitive dissonance compels them to deny the ugly reality, or try to transform it into something else, or justify it.
What is truth? To these people, truth is nothing. Even worse, truth is offensive. Show them a picture of a kidnapped, innocent Israeli child, and they will angrily tear it down. They are deeply conflicted by the fact that they are on the side of the kidnappers and rapists, so they reject the fact in the most absolute terms. It never happened. Or it was justified. Or someone else did it. Don’t try to persuade them with facts. Facts enrage them. What, indeed, is truth to them? They have their belief, their narrative, their credo. Competing facts must be dismissed as irrelevant or evil.
If confronting them with the facts only makes it worse, what is to be done? Confrontation provokes them. Emotional exchanges do not avail. Discussions are met with empty repeated slogans (“Rape? What about the children in Gaza?”). Respectful discourse is greeted with contempt and violence.
What is to be done? Can truth ever achieve the place of honor it once held? Not with these people. Depending on their degree of complicity in the terrorist activity, they must be eliminated, marginalized, or shunned. But, for the future, if we are prepared to exercise the will and the resources to dismantle the current educational system and deal honestly with the Islamist propaganda apparatus, there is hope that truth can once again prevail. This piece is long and that is the topic for another discussion in a future blog, but recall that the Jesuits (borrowing the idea from Aristotle) used to say “give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.”
A pervasive, immersive education, or indoctrination, is highly effective. The children of Gaza and the useful idiots in our universities have been miseducated since kindergarten. The people who inflicted the miseducation dominate the education system, but they do not yet totally control the education system.
So here is what must happen: In Gaza, the UNWRA system must be replaced with an enlightened post-war educational and welfare framework. In the US, there are elected school boards. There are Boards of Trustees. There are Regents. There are State Legislatures. PTAs. Donors. We need to support and establish institutions of higher learning in which loathsome DEI programs and critical race theory and intersectionality and anti-Semitism and the 1619 Project can be removed from the curriculum and the mainstream just as they were forcibly inserted. That must be the battleground for taking back control of the curriculum and rooting out the haters. A total overhaul is necessary.
We must be able to recognize truth and teach others to recognize it. Until then, truth doesn’t have a chance.