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Truth, Justice & The American Way

November 19, 2016

trashmouthTruth is an elusive quality, more concept than form. It cannot be held, only embraced.  It supports justice but cannot guarantee it. It is widely believed to be one of the cornerstones of the “American Way” as millions of baby-Boomers who happily watched the Superman TV show of the 1950’s were indoctrinated to believe, but truth is neither uniquely American nor the exclusive commodity of any nation.

Not everyone knows that Diogenes was a real person, instead of some Greek myth. For that matter, you may not even know who Diogenes was.  He roamed Athens at the time of Socrates and Plato in search of an honest man and the truth. Failing to find even one, he originated the philosophical concepts of both cynicism and stoicism. Today, as the relationship of truth, justice and the “American Way” shift in the Age of Trump, we are offered little comfort except perhaps the philosophical practices of Diogenes, neither of which is a solution but a faint panacea. Drugs offer a more certain release from misery and depression, as the record numbers of heroin overdoses attests to.  Yes, the American Way has shifted.

When we think of the American Way we rightly reflect on democracy. When we export democracy around the world, we are exporting the American Way.  The American Way is based on freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights and justice for all.  This is what we represent to the world, or so we think.  In the many foreign lands where hate rises against us, the spawning grounds for terrorism, the American Way means something quite other, yet we do not seem to understand.  In order to represent it fairly, we must always speak the truth and live the truth—walk the walk. Justice cannot exist without the truth. A just outcome can occur by accident but that is not justice at work.  Justice is less an outcome than a process. To misrepresent truth is to alter the American Way, to give it new meaning.  It short circuits freedom, equality and justice. Today, the American Way is under siege, its meaning shifted to a new reality defined by Trump to reflect the failed practices of the most egregious previous administrations but with a much darker tone, reframed as “Make America Great Again” and which will have nothing but sinister consequences for the American Way.

Lest we have any doubt about the direction the Trump administration will take in shifting the American Way, here’s the most recent quote from Steve Bannon, Chief White house administration strategist for Trump, the man who is his most influential advisor: “Darkness is good.  Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan, that’s power.”

Trump has become the new master of “reality.”  He redefined it as a Reality TV star and now spills its meaning over into the real world of politics with a ready-made and waiting audience. Nothing is true in Reality TV and as fact-checkers have demonstrated about 78% of what is spoken by Trump and his surrogates is easily proved to be false. Should this come as a surprise? In shifting the meaning of “reality” he has shifted the American Way, changing our ability to see the truth.  It’s an old magicians trick—direct your attention to a distraction and then fool you into believing that you just witnessed something quite impossible.  By now we should realize that nothing about this election has been impossible, just magic.

So we must begin by asking “what is truth?” before we can go looking for it.

Facts are to truth as falsehoods are to lies.  One is not necessarily the other, although it can be.  A falsehood is not a lie without  the element of intent. Facts can be spoken without speaking the truth.  A lie can be entirely factual and yet still be a deception.  All this is very confusing and makes it almost impossible to find the truth.  The best liars know that.

Zen is a spiritual concept that is little understood or practiced in our culture. Zen is not linear.  It is indirect.  It is synesthetic not anesthetic. It is not logical in the American way of perception and linear reasoning.  It is a way to understand without pursuing a conclusion based on a linear progression of thought.  It is open to the natural flow of life, becoming a part of all things in the spiritual sense, one with the universe. It does not yield proof, but understanding and I ask you, “which is more important?”  Zen is one way to know the truth, but there are many others. A lie detector is not one of them.

The greatest impediment to knowledge is a belief system.  Like knowledge, truth does not conform to the beliefs of any single group or organization or system. It is universal and exists on its own terms.

It is the mistake of conventional news outlets like CNN to assume that pursuing a policy of “fair and balanced’ coverage produces a more secure democracy.  Not necessarily.  It might in the world of the idealist but in the pragmatic world it gives a solid platform to the pestilent voices of ill will.  It displays and reinforces ideologies that are a sickness infecting the American Way. It normalizes the aberrant and abnormal, establishing falsehood as one of two acceptable equal outcomes. This has to change.

In past times, the voices of dissent took form in popular entertainment.  Authors like DIckens, Swift and Caroll sought to express their ideas through fiction and in that way reveal a truth. In more recent times Hunter Thompson, the master-liar journalist of the twentieth century, elevated lying to an art form by developing a unique style of fake news called Gonzo Journalism. Through the most extreme lies he made the truth easily understood.

However,  the idea of fake news may have sprung from a TV show called “That Was The Week That Was”  and developed into a regular staple of our culture through “Saturday Night Live.”  It clearly evolved from there into shows like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” and became for Colin Powell and a nation tired of “fair and balanced news” a real source of important information, often otherwise neglected coverage, and invariably through admitted comedic falsehoods, the undeniable truth.

The arts have always played an important role in revealing the truth, at times like Zen in an indirect way.  They are the safety valve of our culture.  In poetry and song, artists like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon and scores of others, in songs like “If 6 was 9” or “ I am the Walrus”  or “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” the lyrics of which follow, they have opened our minds to universal truths in the most mysterious ways.

“Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it

Sometimes it gets so hard, you see

I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet

With all these promises you left for me

But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, I waited for you when I was half sick

Yes, I waited for you when you hated me

Well, I waited for you inside of the frozen traffic

When you knew I had some other place to be

Now, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously

But then, now again, not too many can be like you, fortunately

Well, six white horses that you did promise

Were fin’lly delivered down to the penitentiary

But to live outside the law, you must be honest

I know you always say that you agree

But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Well, I don’t know how it happened

But the riverboat captain, he knows my fate

But ev’rybody else, even yourself

They’re just gonna have to wait

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets

The Persian drunkard, he follows me

Yes, I can take him to your house but I can’t unlock it

You see, you forgot to leave me with the key

Oh, where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

Now, I been in jail when all my mail showed

That a man can’t give his address out to bad company

And now I stand here lookin’ at your yellow railroad

In the ruins of your balcony

Wond’ring where you are tonight, sweet Marie”

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