FACT VS. TRUTH, or Manipulating Things that Happen to Suit Your Vision
Please join me in welcoming to the stage the newest weapon of the morally corrupt: the Alternative Fact. This magical unicorn of an informational device, the illegitimate hybrid of falsehood and real occurrence, was introduced by Trump aide Kellyanne Conway. Conway unveiled her new creation while trying to excuse away the newly inaugurated POTUS deliberately lying to the intelligence community about the easily verified size of the crowd at his swearing-in ceremony, and the new White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, criticizing the press for reporting a different number than the one Trump shared with the intelligence community.
The problem with this bastardization of reality is that it combines two things that are diametrically opposed: facts and everything else.
Now, this is nothing new. The same has been happening ever since Trump began his campaign, as the man who would eventually be the Republican presidential candidate and (God, it hurts to say) president continuously spouted venomous untruths that would eventually push him into the highest office in the land. Trump never saw a problem with this, as it served the truth he sees in his mind, which is that he deserves to get anything that serves his own interest.
This brings us to the debate of the day: that of fact versus truth.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Professor Jones stands before his archaeology class and explains that archaeology is “a search for FACT, not TRUTH.” That if his students are in search of truth, another professor is teaching a philosophy class down the hall that might suit their needs.
Here’s the critical difference between the two: FACTS are the concrete, physical pieces of information that build up knowledge, such as the earth’s roundness and that water is made of 2 parts of hydrogen to 1 part of oxygen. TRUTH is an individual’s (or a community’s) interpretation of the world around them, and how that belief contributes to society’s makeup. Some examples include Gandhi’s truth that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,”; or Queen Mary Tudor’s truth that being Catholic was the only way to determine England’s salvation; or my truth that men, women, and non-binary people should be societally equal in every way but aren’t yet; or Brock Turner’s truth that alcohol was at fault when he committed his sexual assault, and that he is the wronged party. Simply put, truth is open to interpretation, and facts are not.
Indy’s students have never been the only ones to confuse the two ideas. Hell, numerous religions have murdered millions of people based purely on that misunderstanding. I didn’t truly understand it until my third year of college, when the anthropology professor of my “Introduction of Myth and Narrative” class explained myth thusly:
“Myth is a sacred truth. Now, that doesn’t mean that it actually happened, because how literally could people actually take the idea that a spider wove a web so thick that it blocked the sunlight from the earth to punish humankind? Or that after death, a deity murdered by his jealous brother stands waiting with scales in order to weigh our hearts against a feather to gauge our morality? Myths provide allegorical stories to ethically guide our lives.”
My brilliant professor went on to state that, unsavory as some in the class might find it, Judeo-Christian ethos falls into the category of mythology: there is no factual evidence for the case of a male-bodied, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity creating the earth alone in 6 days. After all, just try explaining such a concept to the people of ancient Athens, who (despite being a part of one of the most sexist societies to have ever existed) had a goddess as their patron deity, and held to the idea that the earth is personified as a mother, as the female gender is the one with the ability to create new life from their very bodies.
Talk about a mind-blowing concept. Though I have never been a creationist (at least not since I learned I learned about evolution) I never thought of my religion as a myth while casually reading stories that have, at least at one point or another, been as sacred to some as my faith is to me.
Growing up in the family and country that I have, I’ve always believed that being part of a wide variety of cultures, religions, and genders is a strength and a benefit. That’s my TRUTH, but I grew up in a large city, surrounded by millions of people who have backgrounds different from mine. Given that, many around me have different truths that they hold close.This is not necessarily a problem, and it would never be as long as we always have the facts straight.
Though many have confused fact and truth in the past, our society has never quite been in danger of falling prey to the danger of misinterpreting reality quite as it is now, demonstrated clearly by Conway’s pathetic attempt at explaining a thin-skinned administration’s blatant lies as “alternative facts.”
For anyone confused about what a society with mutable facts publicized by the government might look like, I would encourage them to read George Orwell’s 1984. In the book, none of Oceania’s citizens could say for sure whether their superstate was at war with Eurasia or Eastasia, as the government continuously changed the information they shared with their citizens. That’s all well and good for fiction, but I’ve never really thought that Oceania sounded like a fun place to live.
It’s one thing to tell lies, and plenty of politicians have done so in the past. I’d even venture to say all have(feel free to fact check this). But it’s one thing to tell lies, and it’s another thing entirely to try to bully and blackmail the press into suppressing facts about something as small as crowd size, and then attempt to rebrand these lies as simply another way to look at reality.
The Trump administration won the election on the basis of one simple myth: Trump. Trump is the sacred truth that they were touting from the beginning, a man who bankrupted numerous casinos, who doesn’t have the business acumen to sell booze or steak, who holds up his daughter as a sex-symbol, who won the endorsement of the KKK, who was accused numerous times of raping twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, whose recording of bragging about sexual assault was publicized. Given all of this, the only thing the Trump campaign could do was sell the shit out of a figurehead whose only merit was that he was able to tell people what they already knew: “THINGS ARE BAD.” He expanded on that as creatively as he could, giving people believable scapegoats with an ease Hitler would’ve envied. The unshakeable core belief of Trump supporters is as steadfast as the faith of any extremist, elevating their potential leader to the level of a godhead. Though this might seem like an exaggeration, it’s clear in their refusal to even acknowledge the clear contradictions he spouted (and continues to spout) from one sentence to another.
Merriam-Webster defines fact thusly: something that has actual existence. On the other hand, this is the definition it provides for truth: the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality. In other words, fact can exist without truth, but truth cannot exist independent of fact.
The art of straddling this fine line is something that lawyers have been practicing as long as there have been lawyers, often to an extent that could be considered freaking artistic, particularly where such criminals as OJ Simpson and Donald Trump are concerned.
Although much of this piece has been about the messy border between truth and fact, there is another dichotomy that has a far clearer line: that of lie and mistake. It’s one thing to state something as truth when you believe you are in possession of the facts, and another thing entirely to attempt to manipulate the views of those watching you by deliberately spreading falsehood. The crazy thing is that the Trump campaign (and now administration) never even had the decency to pretend that the lies were mistakes. The fairytale of the Emperor’s New Clothes has never seemed more pertinent than it does now, when our vainglorious leader is clothed in only layers of easily shredded falsehoods.
I leave you simply with a request: I beseech all who might read this (and all who don’t) to carefully monitor the facts that are presented to them, as it’s never been more important. I implore the press to hold their principles closer than they ever have, and report the facts more objectively than ever before. I beg everyone around me to examine their truths, how they influence their actions, and how they affect the freedoms of their neighbors and countrymen. Think of what’s most sacred to you, and carefully examine the sacred truths of the free countries you live in, and think of all of the people who don’t enjoy such freedoms.
Now, I’ve had five shots of espresso today, which was altogether too much coffee. But you tell me: which part of that sentence was the fact, and which was the truth?