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Can we handle the truth?

  • Published at 05:47 pm May 6th, 2020
truth lies

This is the age of disinformation and misinformation

What is truth, said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer.” 

The provocative first line of Thomas Bacon’s essay “On truth” was as potent a question then as it is now. Through the ages, man’s search for the truth, indeed the limits of human knowledge has continued, with lesser mortals left to ruminate over the sayings of those who had established themselves in societies for the profundity of their statements. 

According to Bacon, truth is a belief that affixes the mind and hinders free will in thinking and acting. This itself casts limitations on truthPontius Pilate, whom Bacon referred to, was the Roman governor who presided over the trial of Christ and ordered his crucifixion. He then washed his hands in a symbolic gesture and said his decision was due to political pressure and not out of any belief. 

It is from there that the famous saying “washing one’s hands of the matter” originated. 

Truth and justice don’t necessarily go hand in glove, evident from the countless persons convicted of criminality that turned out to be wrong decades later. Then again, the reverse is also true. The contradiction of justice is manifest in the symbol -- that of a lady with a sword in her hand, symbolizing the power of justice and the scales, symbolizing weighing the facts. 

Crucially, there has been no clarity behind the incidence of the lady being blindfolded, as seen in most of Europe and without a blindfold elsewhere. Justice is supposed to be blind to all factors than the facts, dispensed with either tenets of the law of the land or convention. 

Ironically enough, both are man-made and hence, limited by the bounds of human knowledge. 

That laws have shortcomings is well known and accepted by judges everywhere. Time and again, literature, films, and persons of reverence have pointed out as such. Justice is supposed to pursue the truth but as in the case of human beings, is in chains everywhere. 

Essentially, truth is much sought. And again, truth is sought to be avoided to suit individual and collective choices. These “choices” are often camouflaged as being in the “public good” by governments, authorities, religious leaders, and social leaders. 

Two rights do not correct a wrong, and such camouflage leads to downright falsehood and cover-ups that at times fall in line with the law but are dastardly all the same. And so, the story behind the poisoning of the Russian spy that turned -- Sergei Skripal -- will probably not be known for many years, if at all. It now seems likely the Sagor-Rumi murders will also not see an identification of those responsible. 

Before the technology revolution of the internet, mobile telephony, and such, it was much easier to keep matters of the state “secret.” Invasive media, social media, and an inherent curiosity among the people have led to situations whereby political leaders and governments have had little option but to disclose much more than ever before. 

It has been this intense scrutiny and response to it that has exposed the appalling shortcomings of authorities in facing up to the corona pandemic. Also exposed has been the fragility of the world economy and all the triumphant claims of steady employment and standard of life improvements. Some have admitted to their failures, given the societies they govern. Others have persisted in trying to create smokescreens not just between different sections of society with confusing messages going out, but even with information for top-decision makers. 

There are others that, in spite of the information, choose to be in an agreeable (for them) state of denial. 

The age now is of disinformation and misinformation for the “collective good” and it is being peddled by both the authorities and society. Those wanting the truth must now face up to the fact that someone, somewhere has decided we “can’t handle the truth.” 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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