Its forty-seven miles by bicycle from the Wisconsin border to my doorstep on the North side of Chicago. There’s a stunning bike path for a good stretch, more or less from the Great Lakes naval Air Station almost to Winnetka. It was a brisk Autumn day today. The leaves were just changing and a steady wind was coming off Lake Michigan, The wind and cool temperatures no doubt conspired to chase off the summer and fair-weather riders, leaving only hardcore adventurists.
On the trail near Fort Sheridan in Northern Illinois
That near solitude, the smell of wet leaves from the previous day’s rain and a mottled sky with patches of rich blue between fat grayish-white clouds lent itself perfectly to odd musings. Passing through North Chicago, a struggling town just outside the Naval Air Station, where unemployment is as problematic as the crime level, a town like so many others around the nation, in which the “American Dream” is fast becoming at best an illusion and at worst a hypocrisy, I had a thought.
It had to do with the truths and lies we tell ourselves, that the media fills the culture with and which our leaders recite almost mechanically and certainly in an obligatory reflex. The difficulty is in separating truth from lies and fact from fiction. That task, and responsibility as an American citizen and voter, becomes harder every day, more so as agenda driven information and propaganda makes it more difficult than ever to tell the difference. And that is very much by design.
This culture uses words like lies and facts and truth with careless disregard. But the truth is, lies and truths have something in common. They both rely upon facts. Both include and exclude facts to define their character. But while facts are bricks, a pile of bricks does not make a house. A set of facts may create some truth, but they may also reinforce a lie. By purposeful omission, or rearrangement facts become a lie. Indeed, a truth may also be a lie, as in a partial truth, or say, FOX News; the News part becoming at the very least a supreme exaggeration.
What each of us is seeking(or seeking to obscure) are ultimate truths. That is truths that are well beyond mere facts, and absolutely not a lie.For example, there is an ultimate truth to whether or not God exists. For now, that ultimate truth is unknowable and untestable. since facts alone fail us here, we bridge that immense gap with faith-the polar opposite of fact.
It may be said that faith is the acceptance in at least one possibility of an ultimate truth. But faith is not a fact, and faith alone is a choice. Reason dictates that our faith is potentially the belief in a falsehood. One who has faith has a responsibility to understand that alternate faiths are then equally valid.
In the end could it be that there may be no real truth, but only lies and shades of the truth, and faith? So where does that leave us? If truths and ultimate truths fail us, what is left?
The media is more and more under the control of corporations. More and more it plays a game between satiating its consumer audience, while steering the nation and government towards corporate governance and control. The Occupy Wall street protests, now catching on in cities around the nation are illustrative here. When they began two weeks ago, I had to look to news organizations outside the country for information. There was not a single story in MSNBC-owned by GE, a major weapons contractor, or FOX-News Corp and CNN-owned by Time Warner, who contributed the maximum allowable amount to George Bush in 2005.
The media, with so-called Liberal bias like MSNBC and Right-wing bias like FOX, dominate and steer the discourse on topics of grave national interest through carefully channelled and scripted arguments, and in very much the same direction.
Take the Iraq invasion. In the weeks and months leading up there was ample evidence that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Evidence was forged, critics of the invasion were pilloried and discredited for daring to point out that even the most credible reports had come from highly unreliable and even corrupt sources. Chris Matthews, castigated by the Right, and held up on the Left for his insight never once debated before the invasion what should have been obvious questions to the rest of us. He finally did, several years, many thousands of lives and a trillion Dollars later. The media’s truth was a self-serving truth, but it revealed a truth beyond even ultimate truth.
It contributed to and created real human pain and suffering. Human pain might well prove the profoundest truth, and the only truth impervious to lies, distortions, facts and faith. For each of us, our own pain becomes the ultimate truth. At the end of all lies is human pain, which arises from the individual as a wall. Where your pain meets the pain of another becomes, in the absence of real truth, the point of negotiation. From each person’s perspective the other’s pain is hardly equal to their own, but there is ultimate equality in their opposing pain. It was, after all the true basis for the civil rights movement, and indeed all assertions of minorities for their rights. It is even at the heart of those sadly mislead and exploited folks that believe the Tea Party isn’t merely a populist front for predatory corporate greed.
So, at the end of all truth, when truths are distorted or framed artfully to be just this side of a lie we are left to negotiate one another’s pain. It transcends media and propaganda and politics. It becomes the point in which each of us draws a line in the sand and forces us to face other human beings as equals. I think Jesus said it best…do onto others…
And, oh, by the way. Just in case you were wondering, with a couple scenic detours, the ride from Wisconsin back to the city takes about 3 hours. Lots of time to chase errant thoughts.