Truth is … a breath

Our current misbegotten Lords of Misrule, like all ignorant, absolutist omphalopsychites, hold the view that empirical facts are evanescent but Truth, as it occurs to them, is immutable, such that all values, ideals, ethics and laws can be derived from it. The Father character in Six Characters in Search of an Author (whose lust for his daughter-in-law makes him uncomfortably topical), agrees with this point of view: “But a fact is like a sack which won’t stand up when it is empty. In order that it may stand up, one has to put into it the reason and sentiment which have caused it to exist.” And that is what our current Truth-Handlers are managing for us by contextualizing “facts” and even inventing alternate ones..

By contrast, our greatest Realist, Stephen Crane, one who could see the grim details of objective reality despite official Gilded Age wishful thinking, believed the converse.

“Truth,” said a traveller

from The Black Riders and Other Lines (No. XXVIII)
(Boston: Copeland & Day, 1895)

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a rock, a mighty fortress;
Often have I been to it,
Even to its highest tower,
From whence the world looks black.”

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom;
Long have I pursued it,
But never have I touched
The hem of its garment.”

And I believed the second traveller;
For truth was to me
A breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom,
And never had I touched
The hem of its garment.

The Champions of Absolute Truth, as we are seeing, connive at conformity, intellectual apathy, benightedness and intolerance—all of which, sooner or later, have to be enforced by an iron grip and eventually violence of one sort or another. (I suspect the brutal deportation regime we are seeing is merely a foreshadowing of wider and more frequent resort to brutality. But perhaps it is just the instinct of this sort of people.) The view that Truth is not the providence of one person or sect, however, is conducive to tolerance, mutual respect, social justice, and, ultimately, democracy in its truest essence. None of these attributes can live in the former described regime, and that is why they are being systematically swept from our public life.

Most of us  probably deep down knew all of this before these perilous times. What I have learned over the last year is darker than this: It is, that those who supported the Absolutists knew what they were destroying. Indeed, the destruction of tolerance, mutual respect, social justice and democracy was probably why they supported the Absolutists and their vision, not the other way around. They seek the certain social cohesion in enforced conformity, not the bonds of liberal give-and-take.

Watching this band follow their leader reminds me of the lines of Whitman from the poem called “Thought” when it first became part of The Leaves of Grass in the 1867 edition.

Of obedience, faith, adhesiveness;
As I stand aloof and look there is to me something profoundly
affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those
who do not believe in men.

Apolitical optimist that he was, Whitman chose the ambiguous “affecting” to describe his “thoughts” on this view. We who have seen in History’s panorama the post-Reconstruction South, the anti-union violence of the North, the Red-Baiting which not only broke people’s careers and others’ hope but also led us into countless wars where we killed and were killed can be less equivocal. The right reaction should be “profoundly disturbing,” as it is right now.

  1. This post brought tears to my eyes.

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