My last post was over 3 months ago! The truth is that I could pull any number of reasons out of the atmosphere and any explanation would suit as well as the next! The fact is that this admission brings me to what has inspired this post over the week-end between the Republican and the Democratic conventions (which, full disclosure, I am observing part-time by way of MSNBC). What has dominated the media – even the mainstream media – are claims of truth and lies spoken from the GOP stage, and lots of punditry around this issue and how the Democrats need to respond.
But before I go further with the politics, a bit of background related to my perspective on “truth.” The notion of truth has always puzzled me. Perhaps this comes from my early years in Hilo, Hawaii, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household that proclaimed to hold “the truth” about just about any subject, situated in a community that was predominantly Buddhist. What came through to me as a young child from folks in in my community outside of my family was the possibility of many truths, and the honor in seeking what is true in everything. As I came of age and started grappling with matters of truth it was this message from my childhood community that seemed much more interesting, engaging, and authentic than the prescribed proclamations of a particular religion. This theme remained constant for me in my early academic career, when Maeona Jacobs Kramer and I wrote our book focusing on the development of nursing knowledge. Our thinking from the start held that scientific truth is not static — that the purpose of science is to fundamentally challenge what is thought to be true and refine the scientific evidence over and over again until, at some point, theoretical explanations of the world evolve to reveal fuller and deeper understanding, perhaps eventually establishing certain facts. Establishing political and historical “facts” requires a different, but essentially equivalent path – facts are established by reliable public accounts events, strengthened to the extent that each bit of evidence can be corroborated by other accounts of the same event. Still, I remain always alert to the possibility that some essence of “truth” can be found even in seemingly contradictory accounts of the same thing.
So the fall-out from the GOP convention is quite fascinating to me, and I was thrilled to find Ezra Klein’s brilliant essay on the matter of truth posted on August 30. Unlike most of what we hear and read from political pundits, Ezra reveals his very honest struggle to come to terms with what is true and what is not true in what we are hearing from the key players in the political drama before us. He speaks of his discomfort with sweeping generalizations that many in the liberal media have used to characterize, in particular, Paul Ryan’s convention speech — nothing but lies. So Ezra went back and took a look at the speech more than a couple of times, examining each of the claims against documented evidence. In the middle of telling us what he found, he reveals what I think is the essence of integrity – he says:
I want to stop here and say that even the definition of “true” that we’re using is loose. “Legitimate” might be a better word. The search wasn’t for arguments that were ironclad. It was just for arguments — for claims about Obama’s record — that were based on a reasonable reading of the facts, and that weren’t missing obviously key context.
Ezra outlines what he found in his search for evidence that the Ryan speech was not a one-dimensional series of lies. His conclusion: there is hardly anything in what either Romney or Ryan are saying that can be validated with the evidence. This is a conclusion that leaves Ezra, and many of us, very disturbed. Yes, it is disturbing to confront this blatant abuse of public trust. But it is also disturbing that those of us who honestly attempt to understand their viewpoints and treat their perspectives fairly come to a conclusion that must seem so one-sided and biased. In Ezra’s words speaking of his conclusion that the Romney and Ryan messages hold little, if any veracity:
I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame. I’d personally feel better if our coverage didn’t look so lopsided. But first the campaigns have to be relatively equal. So far in this campaign, you can look fair, or you can be fair, but you can’t be both.
The 1979 commemorative “Americana” postage stamp on the left says: “America’s light fueled by truth and reason.” As Ezra’s essay points out, perhaps we are better served to seek that which is legitimate rather than what is “true” – and of course that requires a hefty dose of reason. And to me this adds up to integrity. Let’s call for a show of integrity. If we do not see it, let’s challenge those speaking. At the very least we should expect our politicians to own up to their “spin” and give us a legitimate explanation of the reasoning behind their claims. Of course, this is complicated. But I believe that real integrity can shine through very clearly, and this is what we need for our nation’s light at this moment in history.
peggy – so clear as always – I do wish thoughtful commentary was more evident in what is being proclaimed by all politicians of all stripes! I resist the culture of fear that the US (and maybe even the world) has become and et, what may be true is that “you get what you resist”. I am deeply afraid of a republican presidency – and feeling increasingly helpless about what is touted as “truth”. Ah well, we shall see. A friend said to me “we survived ‘shrub’, we can survive Romney, but I’m not sure that’s true. Our generation of women takes for granted the right to vote, and seldom think about the women who fought and suffered and died for that right. This generation of women takes for granted the right to control their bodies, as if that right could never be taken away. I’m almost ready to dust off those old signs – DOWN WITH PATRIARCHY!!!!!!!! Now, more than ever.
So, thanks for sending along the post and for all that you are and all that you do. J
Peggy: thanks for adding light rather than heat to this topic. I had much the same response to my Pentecostal upbringing and am always skeptical of truth-claims and those who make them. It’s when rhetoric passes as truth, and critical thought is suspended to avoid muddying the waters, that human behavior can become reactionary and dangerous — particularly for those who refuse to conform.