Fans of Johnny Cash will recognize “And the lonely voice of truth…” as a repeated line from one of his many songs. (It is worth listening to, as the general theme of the song is as relevant today as it was in 1970.) In the song he makes the point that time brings inevitable changes. The ‘old’ is modified or discarded altogether and replaced by new perspectives on ‘truth’, or ‘reality’ - and that the ‘truth’ is often not recognized simply because of a bias towards the presenter. But shouldn’t ‘truth’ be always the same, never changing, and above all else easily recognizable? If it were only that simple.
It should come as no surprise that it is usually young people that drive change. The older generations (and institutions) are ‘set in their ways’ and that is a ‘truth’ of both societies and biology. As problematic as the communist system was in the Soviet Union, a large percentage of the population resisted the transition to a more democratic society. ‘Free’ societies are messy, often chaotic, require a great deal of individual self-control, and are generally in a constant state of ‘flux’. As proof of this one only has to look at the thousands of new laws enacted each year. If our democratic system were a ‘truth’, it wouldn’t need constant tweaking. It is, therefore, more like a work in progress, adapting to changing times and conditions. Free societies are progressive in that the system allows for continuing change, as opposed to the oppressive control in deeply conservative countries and institutions.
Communism, despite its flaws, was dependability conservative and predictable for many of its adherents, and was what a large segment of the population in the USSR was used to. So it is no wonder the older citizens had difficulty acclimating to the new order. And it is because of the longing for those more stable times, at least in part, that Russia has drifted back to a more totalitarian government. If you accept a system where someone else makes most of your decisions for you, you can avoid a lot of the responsibility and uncertainty that comes with thinking for yourself.
As far as ‘truth’ goes, there are no easy definitions, except that for something to be true, it should reflect what is factual. But what is factual? Those postulates that we agree are true! Thus we have come back to where we started, i.e. circular reasoning. If you are a religious person, you will accept the precepts of your beliefs as ‘truth’. But there are hundreds of different belief systems. Which one is the real truth? All of them, some of them, one of them, none of them? We are conditioned from an early age to accept that which we have been taught, or that belief system that is dominant in our society, as ‘truth’. To be objective about adopting a belief system or culture as our own (if objective thought even applies here), we should take the time to study all major belief systems, which we could call religions or philosophies but not necessarily so, and then, using our powers of deduction, select the one that best fits our sense of what, truth? And here we go again.
What would a highly intelligent, fair minded, compassionate alien with no prior knowledge of human societies or beliefs conclude as an objective observer of earthlings? What would he or she (or maybe it has no gender) use as criteria for classifying human beings? What ‘truths’ might he note? He could describe us physically, and identify all the elements and molecules we are made of. That would be an undeniable ‘truth’. He could note how our bodies work. He could digest all the information on the various countries, cultures, and belief systems and view our scientific achievements. He might find interesting the current ‘perfect storm’ of change on the human landscape, and know that change is a fact, i.e. a truth of the Universe. But the only way he can judge our ‘worthiness’ to be part of the cosmic order is to view our history. It cannot be changed and our true nature, both positive and negative traits, will be forever etched in the fabric of time. Despite our protestations and denials and deceptions and promises to be ‘better’, history is our ‘truth’, which is replete with ‘man’s inhumanity to man and nature’, and this ‘human nature’ is true across all cultural and religious institutions. He would note that humans have great potential but struggle yet to find their way forward, as time constantly reminds them of their mortality and vulnerability.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.