***Disclaimer: I’m about to tell you that everything that you believe to be the truth is patently wrong!***
Today I am thinking about the Truth. Humankind has been fascinated by the truth for a very long time. From Plato and Socrates, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Locke and Kant, da Vinci, Einstein and Hawking, the great minds of every era have been obsessed with the meaning of life.
Now I know what you’re thinking, (said in my best Thomas Magnum voiceover). What does the Meaning Of Life have to do with the Truth? And what can a self-obsessed mofo like brother terry tell you about that you don’t already know? If you’re still on board we might as well find out. Let’s start with a challenge. Think about the one thing that you believe to be the truth. Do you have it fixed in your mind? Got it? Okay, here are a few for starters:
1. The sun will rise tomorrow morning.
2. The only sure things are death and taxes.
3. All of the earth’s creatures evolved from a primitive life form.
4. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
5. The only way to pay of the national debt is by raising taxes.
6. Raising taxes will cause a depression.
7. Governor Kasich is the man to turn Ohio around.
8. Governor Kasich is trying to destroy the middle class.
9. Jim Tressel would never cheat.
10. All college football teams cheat.
11. She really loves me.
12. He really hates me.
I could go on and on but you get the picture. For every possibility there is a perfectly rational alternative. No matter how much you study on a subject you can never be absolutely sure that you find the right answer. Most times there are many more than two choices. The best mathematicians and physicists in the world cannot be sure between Relativity, Quantum Physics and Super String Theory.
Let’s get back to that challenge that I opined for you. What is your ultimate truth? Fix it in your mind again. Think back to when you first decided that it was your ultimate truth. Where did you first hear about it? Did it come to you in a dream? Did you read it in a book? Did you see it on Fox News or CNN? Did you mother tell you about it in a bedtime story? Did it come from your third grade teacher? Did your favorite college professor lecture on it? Did your pastor write it in a sermon? Was your source unimpeachable?
There is no such thing as real news anymore. In this age of instant information, often the insta-story is completely off-base. Here’s a hypothetical for you: Let’s say the national guard is having maneuvers in the Wayne National Forest. Joe Citizen in Dayton sees a convoy on I-675 and tweets that troops are on the move. A few minutes later, Jane Taxpayer sees a similar convoy rolling down Route 23 and sends a Facebook update. Joe and Jane both happen to be “friends” with Johnny Fever, a local radio personality. You know Johnny. He’s the smartass who likes to get a rise out of his listeners, so he hypes it on his broadcast as an emergency. Another outlet picks it up and soon it is widely reported. Parents start leaving work and racing to pick up children. I -270 turns into a demolition derby. The next thing you know, Joe, Jane and Johnny are all facing charges for inciting a riot.
Preposterous, you say. Not so. There are two journalists serving thirty years in prison in Southern Mexico for tweeting the same sort of idiocy. A lot of people, myself included, are getting their news off of Twitter these days. It’s a recipe for mass hysteria waiting to happen. You see it everywhere. Over the last three years we have seen hundreds of stories about President Obama that would have been libelous, seditious or even treasonous just twenty years ago. You see elected officials saying the most outrageous things about each other that are taken at face value by their constituents. Hell, all you have to do is witness Rick Perry backpedaling from a book that he released less than a year ago. We are governed by the politics of fear and disinformation. It is win at all costs and damn the consequences.
And then you have our “news” networks. These days you have to choose between the Right Network and the Left Network. You will be hard-pressed to find a news story that is not colored by ulterior motives and ideology. And try to find a newspaper that doesn’t lean to one side or the other. A lot of people don’t even bother to read American papers. That is why they are dropping like flies. But I’m thinking that even foreign sources have their own editorial views of what we silly Americans are up to.
So maybe you read about your ultimate truth in a history book. They say that history is written by the victors. The greatest example of this is The Holy Bible. One has only to look at the books that were purged to see the conundrum of taking it literally. You either have to choose a version or translation and then decipher the poetry for meaning. It is maddening. Even the alternative history books and commentary by people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky are colored by their ideology and disenchantment with the status quo. Every commentator wants to be taken at face value, but every commentary seems contradictory.
So who can you trust? You can certainly trust your parents, right? But what happens if your father and your mother have different beliefs or interpretations of every single thing. Your father might see red and silver where your mother sees scarlet and grey. Your father might prefer white rice and your mother brown. Snoopy or Scooby Doo. Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy. Football or figure skating. NBC or CBS. You get the picture.
I’m not here to tell you that your beliefs are wrong. But I am here to tell you that they might be. My beliefs are.. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that nothing I know is without doubt. I have no unimpeachable sources. I am skeptical of everything that I am told in print, video, audio or dreams. I read hundreds of books but am forced to doubt every word because I don’t know the motives of the author. Even the most esteemed of non-fiction books is really no more than entertainment. Does Plato’s REPUBLIC accurately depict a philosopher named Socrates, or is it a clever work of philosophical fiction? Can Walter Isaacson’s EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE be taken word for word at face value? A biographer can never really know 100% of the story. Same with the historian, the physicist or the anthropologist. Even the teacher in the classroom is handcuffed by the textbooks selected by the school board. The best we can hope for is a version of the truth. Not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
There are no Ultimate Truths. You can believe whatever you want, but chances are you will never know if you are right or you are wrong. The best we can do is commit ourselves to a value-based existence. Determine the values that are closest to your heart and be true to them. Only you can be sure you are living a good life and no other opinion matters.
So what is the meaning of life? If God were to whisper the meaning of life in my ear right now, I’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the voices in my head, I’d contemplate it for the rest of my days and die confused and wondering. Does this sound like purgatory to you? To me it sounds like bliss.
Live well, my friends. Until next time, your brother terry.