Trust & Trojan Horses

The problem of what and whom to trust or distrust is far older (though my niece and nephews might be shocked to hear it) than I am, but it remains a puzzle to me, too. In some ways, I suppose, the difficulty only increases with the passing of time, both personal and historical. As I get older and, theoretically at least, more mature and educated, I should have a greater base of knowledge and experience and sharpened observational powers and discernment. As history flows forward and the world grows smaller through the connections of increased mobility and communications, there are exponentially more points of view, levels of experience and learning, and sources of information to be sorted. Yet each generation, each individual, is generally born with no more innate wisdom and perception of fact-vs.-fiction than the ones who’ve gone before. We—individually and corporately—have had the opportunity to not only be taught by previous generations and their experience and learning, but also an unprecedented ability to go places, do things, and otherwise see with our own eyes what is possible on this earth. Yet there remains no shortage of people who mistake their opinions or values for facts, and demonstrable fact for somebody else’s ill-informed opinion if it doesn’t suit them.

When our classical predecessors told about the defeat of Troy by canny Greeks who tricked the Trojans into hauling a massive equine sculpture into the city as a victory trophy when it was actually full of Greek operatives who emerged by night, opened the city gates, and let their fellow soldiers in to attack [the standard modern interpretation of the tale], they tapped this universal theme. Whether it was clever subterfuge or a foreseeable pattern in war tactics didn’t matter so much, perhaps, to the ordinary Trojan citizen waking up to the sight of a Greek sword overhead, but any survivor of the battle must surely have considered whether he might have realized the ‘gift horse’ of left behind treasure was such an improbability as to be highly suspicious. A number of citizens did, apparently (as told in other parts of the Trojan Horse story) come to this conclusion, but such is our nature: there’s always someone making a counter-claim, asking the opposing question, and coming to an equally fervent yet incompatible Truth.

It’s on this ambiguity of our understanding and interpretation that American politicians and their supporters, no matter what the Issue or which side of it, thrive. That’s not merely an aside, but a fairly typical example of our quotidian practices. How easily we attach to our ideas, and how hard it is to persuade ourselves, let alone anyone else, that those ideas might merit frequent reexamination.

Digital illo: Truth or Consequences?

Truth or consequences? Can I trust that the drawbridge will stay up as I sail under it, down as I ride over it? Or will some villain throw the counterweight in gear against my safe passage? Do I rely on its long history as a sturdy and reliable bridge, or do I need to worry that all this rust means it hasn’t been properly inspected and maintained? Will it hold a horse? Will it hold a horse full of spies and soldiers?

Ultimately, I tend to think there are relatively few absolutes beyond being Alive or Dead in this realm of ours. The marvels of the world, as little as we know of it, are compelling and astonishing enough to seem beyond pat answers and fixed realities. But I also think that if our existence has any cosmic purpose, then chances are pretty decent that we’ve been set to a few basic tasks and given a few tools with which to attempt their accomplishment. Task: question; wonder. Tools: observation, cogitation, research, testing, conversation, reasoning, challenging, and returning repeatedly to the questions and wonderment. All of these, in endlessly rearranged repetitions, fill our tool and skill inventories.

What was considered self-evident Truth might prove to have some wiggle room for better understanding or a new reality in the long run: a human does not, as once believed, have to sprout feathers in order to achieve flight more extensive and less potentially final than that made by falling off a cliff. What was impossible may become possible. Complications remain. Humans disagree on what is or isn’t incontrovertible. No universally recognized and accepted magic surtitles appear, blazoned on the sky, that define fact, fiction, falsehood and firm truth for all people, for all time. We interpret and surmise. The very ability for the human brain to entertain two opposing potentials simultaneously enough to formulate and ask a question assures me that, answer or not, we will always find ample possibilities for disagreement. And also that we can keep moving forward. Even under or across a drawbridge. Even on—or in—a horse.

Fixity

“Why?” is a beautiful question, even though it terrifies most of us. A wise soul once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude. When we grow too attached to a belief and its perfect correctness, we disallow not only our own reexamination of that belief, which if it’s so perfectly correct should pose no threat to us and if it’s not, should allow us to become wiser and more faithful to our convictions; we also fail to show respect for the belief itself, if we are so fearful of its being exposed as wrong.

Standing fixed in a position of faith is only impressive if that belief can be defended in a calm, intelligent, reasonable conversation with someone who doesn’t yet share the same convictions. A shouting match or the refusal to discuss respectfully is as likely to convince and convert an unbeliever as punching someone in the nose is to prove that you’re smarter than she is if anyone’s questioned it. It’s more useful to ask, whenever any disagreement arises, whether one is genuinely defending one’s belief or just feels personally threatened. Egos so often get in the way of rational, logical conversation when we reflexively mistake the call for proof or persuasion of our beliefs for personal insults. It might be useful to remember that when someone asks for evidence of something we cherish as fact, we could give them the benefit of believing that they really want to know why we accept it as truth. A genuine discussion might actually lead to common ground.

It might also, if we let it, lead to greater insight on our own part. The dispassionate process of a logician is aimed not at debunking everything in sight but stripping away falsehoods and irrelevancies and fallacies to expose the facts in the matter. Truth can withstand all questioning. It trumps politics, rants, bullying, diversionary tactics, disinformation and pure human foolishness, if we dare to examine all of the input carefully and patiently and with respect for those who may have so far missed the mark. A reasoned and quietly stated truth will finally have more power than all of the smoke and mirrors that deniers propagate and cling to, or we will have to admit we’ve lost more than our own convictions.Digital illustration from photos + text: Zoanthrope

Otherworldly Thinking and Elliptical Meanings

digital illustrationGoing back to look at what I’ve said at many much-too-late to stay up hours when electrons were bashing at the confines of my cranium, I discover I have been in the possession of other intelligences than those of Earth. Some future cryptophile will have to decode my meanings—if indeed there are some meanings there. Come to think of it, the hieroglyphic state of my conscious mind is not substantially clearer at its best than what my soliloquies indicated back in my speechifying moments when I was or should have been restricted to the uncharted regions of sleep.photo

Please Vote Responsibly

You know how much I hate politics. I almost titled this post ‘Friends don’t Let Friends Drink & Vote’, since it seems like a whole lot of people prefer to find a specific agenda that appeals to them on a visceral level and shape all of their votes around it willy-nilly, without either differentiating between candidates that do or don’t have any power to guide said agenda wisely or, worse, without first thoroughly checking their own facts regarding that particular point item of passion. Mostly, I hate that what I see and hear of politics is the brainless ranting of people who hang out at the various extremes, and very little of civil discourse and logical, reasoned thinking. Nothing would please me more than to believe that every person with the privilege of voting would not only do so, but do so after serious thought and careful consideration and with a certain amount of faith that the other voters and their points of view matter, too. But to be quite honest, I think we (at least in America where I’ve observed it in person, but I gather this is so in many other places as well) are mighty far from this my ideal.

So I tend to shy away from all things political as much, as long and as often as I can.

Yet I can’t help but wish, and sometimes a little peep of this pained wishful thinking leaks out visibly or audibly. Especially around election times. At least, given my particular bent, I’ll keep trying to publicly disguise my whines and rants in slightly more lighthearted forms when I get my own political itch.

poem [typeset text]

graphite drawing