There Are No “Simple” Truths

By labeling what was essentially an opinion as a “truth” I’ve fallen into a hole I try to skirt as much as I can. Better to have said, “I agree” that knowledge is better than ignorance, leaving truth out of it.

My mother was fond of pointing out that Thomas Gray didn’t write “Ignorance is bliss.” He wrote “Where ignorance is bliss, / ‘Tis folly to be wise.” There’s a rider attached to the proposition. I would get no joy from knowing when I’m going to die, for example. On the other hand, where government is concerned, knowledge trumps ignorance in the sense that the fewer secrets kept in high places for no good reason the better. Again, an opinion.

Gun fans compare firearms to pencils: Guns don’t *kill* any more than pencils *misspell*. I question the logic, but maybe it’s apt for knowledge, too: Nuclear physics didn’t build the atomic bomb then drop it on Japan, people did. A verb cropping up in opinion pieces is “weaponize.” It’s used as best I can see to describe the act of turning something that’s neutral or benign, intrinsically not a weapon, into one. This is where the guns-to-pencils analogy gives me pause: A gun, whether used for sport or homicide, is closer to being a weapon than a pencil is. More guns than pencils have been used in combat. However, a pencil, like a hatpin or passenger liner, can literally be “weaponized.”

So can the Internet. Seeking knowledge on the Internet is like supping with the devil — best done with a long spoon. The binary backbone of cyberspace supports much true-false, yes-no, good-bad, we-they, black-white dichotomizing. Seeker beware. Still, I can refresh my grasp of Manichaeism with a quick Wiki-dip, and have done so because as I’ve pondered this post I’ve kept thinking that somehow an allusion to Manichaeism is apposite. Wiki-erudition can be a mile wide and an inch deep, but I wouldn’t want Wikipedia to go away.

The same with Google. It lets a teacher unmask a student’s cannibalized essay text by merely typing a few words from it. That’s a powerful sleuth-tool, though it’s no less vexing that the same tool also facilitates the smash-and-grab plagiarism that teachers have to cope with in the first place.

It feels odd in a way, but also timely, to ask oneself: When does what’s “factual” overlap, if ever, with what’s “true?” Are fact and truth ever synonymous? I suppose the answer depends on whether you ask a scientist, a lawyer, a theologian, or the Internet.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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3 Responses to There Are No “Simple” Truths

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    “Nuclear physics didn’t build the atomic bomb then drop it on Japan, people did.” I recall the physicists, or at least one of them, feeling really guilty about it. Assuming they knew what the technology was going to be used for, there’s responsibility in providing it to the “people” who would deploy it.

    The “guns don’t kill people, people do” argument is ridiculous. Howe about dirty bombs don’t kill people… or biological weapons don’t kill people… As you say, we need to look at how deadly a thing itself is. Another counter is that while guns don’t kill people, people can’t be trusted to not kill people with guns all the time

    Can the Internet be “weaponized”? I guess so. Yes, there are a lot of cases of people using it to condemn others. It’s definitely a dangerous place, and right now one that I’m finding “toxic” (I put this word in quotes because it is so often abused). I only came on the Internet this morning to catch up on a couple blogs, one of which is yours.

    I’ve been taking days off of the Internet because I find it so negative. And those are good days.

    • JMN says:

      Always good to hear from you. I have catching up to do with fellow bloggers’ activity myself. It’s such a wide world of people writing and creating interesting things out there. I hope to see more pictures from you. I try to understate my feelings about how dangerous we are to each other with our blase lethality. Otherwise I’d feel like I was shrieking all the time. I read an article the other day about the “ten most dangerous animals” for humans. It was passingly instructive to see the “kissing bug” among them with the mention of Chaga’s disease. I lost a pet to that affliction, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it referenced in a news story. Anyway, surprise of surprises, the number one most dangerous animal cited in the article is other humans. The mortality man inflicts on itself eclipses that wrought by other creatures. I wonder if there’s any analog in nature of a species that preys on its own to the extent that men do?

      • Eric Wayne says:

        I find it’s hard to say much of anything without contributing to the problem. Pretending to ameliorate the problem is transparently posturing. There is always the siding with or against people or ideas.

        I suppose, yes, online human interaction is generally reduced to text, and text is no substitute for the scope of reality. It has inherent problems, such as that no textual model of the universe can hope to be accurate, in which case every model is insufficient and in some cases wrong. The result is a contest of necessarily insufficient models.

        There is the syndrome of people behind the wheel, and we are meaner in our cars because we are more removed. It’s harder, I have found so many times, to be upset at someone in person, than from afar. The Internet eliminates the physical presence, which is also the present (grudges are holding on to the past), and reduced humans to something live video game avatars that can be dispatched and dispensed with.

        Meanwhile, I should have a new work done in the next few days. I’m continuing my SFAU series, and here I might add that I regretfully think the insulting attacks I received on my blog in relation to that work may have temporarily derailed it. But of course I am coming back stronger.

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