Too Much Truth can be dangerous!

Truth, a thing that actually happened, or a process that is really taking place, is often excluded from a conversation.  This is done to benefit the side that the truth would be harmful to.   Someone coined a good term for it “an inconvenient truth”. This is a large, explanatory truth that allows us to fully understand something otherwise unknowable.  

Few problems can be solved unless this often troubling truth is set on the table, since without it the clues to the more difficult underlying part of the problem have been made to disappear.  The suppression of this kind of truth is necessary if your intent is to hoodwink people, or to continue an unfair system.   When an important underlying truth, or even a key fact or two, is excluded from a conversation about problems, it’s impossible to arrive at a reasonable solution.  All that remains is the anodyne explanation, a partial story that puts everything in its best light and leaves out anything troubling, upsetting or controversial.

I have a personal tic about the importance of a truthful laying out of facts, of “transparency”.  I grew up in a home where most discussions immediately became adversarial and key points that needed to be addressed were swept off the table.   My poor father’s main technique in conducting these impromptu adversarial proceedings was constantly reframing what we were actually talking about.   This reframing served to remove certain topics from the discussion entirely and to constantly shift the “burden of proof” onto a set of moving cross-accusations.

Whenever you got close to making a point, the conversation would be redirected to your anger, your intractability, whatever unrelated point was necessary to derail your train of thought and make you eventually back off in frustration.  Luckily for me (he said, spreading irony like butter), decades later, as my father was dying he admitted with regret that he’d done my sister and me a grave disservice by turning everything into an unfair zero-sum fight to the death.  I say that with a touch of snideness, though it was a piece of great good fortune, to have my father confirm that for me before he went.

I can see things from another side more now than I could as a young man.  I can easily see now that an upset eight year-old asking his father to tell him about the dozens of family members killed by the Nazis only thirteen years before he was born would be very upsetting to a father.   My father, admittedly, did not respond well, but I can now fully understand the painfully difficult position my question put him in.   His regrettable reaction was to turn the inquiry into a conversation about “mere abstractions” (the people who died) and, more importantly, about why, at eight years of age, with all my so-called maturity, I still couldn’t simply act like a man.   My whimpering, defensive responses only confirmed the sorry image of my unmanliness.   The People rest.

“Nothing to see here!”, following a quick hiding of an inconvenient truth, is so common a refrain today that it’s hard for me to refrain from barking it out regularly.  Shame concealeth itself, only a sucker admits anything!  We live in a competitive culture where any admission of guilt, wrong-doing, shame, is seen as the mark of a loser.  Look at Al Franken [1].  Loser!   The winner, we all know, will always deny everything and make them prove every aspect of the case against him, and if it takes ten years, and a mountain of money for lawyers, so much the better.   The loser will question himself when accused, guiltily slink away, even if he hasn’t really done anything that bad.

I was thinking about this concealing damaging truth business in connection with the National Rifle Association’s wildly successful effort to have the number of Americans who shoot themselves to death daily with a gun (about 55 a day, more than two an hour) excluded from all discussions of gun violence in the United States.   It’s a standard ploy, take a harmful piece of verifiable information, claim it’s irrelevant — for any reason pulled out of your ass–  and bury it as deep as possible.

Here’s a recent personal example, you be the judge if the larger truth changes anything about the story.

An old friend recently refused to do me a relatively simple favor.  When I asked why he told me he didn’t need to explain anything to me, that I was a pushy bastard to ask, that I don’t know how to take no for an answer.  He eventually gave me a flimsy rationale, and later, when things began turning tense, admitted he wasn’t doing me the favor because of his anger and resentment toward me, which finally made sense, although it was not reassuring.

Do the facts really matter?   They don’t really, in terms of our friendship, though they help me see there was probably nothing I could have done to avoid his hidden anger.   Looking at the only solid facts we have, our recent emails and texts, and reading his original offer to do me the favor, before changing his mind later and getting angry when I asked why, it was hard to see this sudden rage as anything I could have seen coming.  Or anything I might have been able to avoid.  It was clear, in hindsight, that he’d been looking for a damned good reason to explode, my pushy query was the fucking last fucking straw!   

Feelings are often this way.  We feel a certain way and then marshal whatever facts we need to support the utter reasonableness of our feelings.   You can’t argue with feelings, they’re as real as our breathing, as the awful prospect of our inevitable deaths.   I can’t help thinking that the things that actually happened, or are currently taking place,  matter and should be part of our consideration, part of any real conversation.   A raw feeling, like rage, should not have the final say in a conversation or friendship (though, sadly, it often does).

This concealing of “harmful facts” is at the root of virtually every vexing and hard to resolve situation we face, as individuals, as a society.   The tobacco industry knew very well that it was pumping up the addictiveness of its deadly product, but nobody needed to know this.  They denied it for years and spent millions defending their denial against a giant class of addicted plaintiffs, before finally agreeing to make a huge payout to a fund for their past, present and future victims.   

The oil industry hired scientists, decades ago, whose studies laid out the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels, the relation of this massive burning to the accumulation of greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet.  They had the answer they didn’t want, so they decided to hire another army of experts to deny the science and create public skepticism and “debate”.   Hard to blame these industries, these “job creators,”  if you truly believe that maximum monetary profit is society’s most important product.

Has our current president monetized the presidency in a way that offends norms, laws, the constitution itself?   Too bad you can’t see his financials, he has an army of lawyers to fight that to the very end and beyond.   In fairness to him, those documents could reveal business connections to wealthy international criminals and even his own criminal money laundering.  The president would be a fool to let these fall into the hands of his enemies, whatever the law might say about it. 

Did former White House Counsel Don McGahn commit perjury, as Trump claimed, when McGahn told Mueller’s investigators, under oath, that Trump called him twice on a Saturday to pressure him to fire Mueller and then asked him write a memo saying they’d never had any conversation about it?   Too bad it will take months, if not years, for the courts to decide on the facially absurd blanket immunity defense the president is asserting as he blocks all subpoenas and document requests of any kind.  Etc…

I heard a great discussion of an issue deeply related to this whole truth vs. half-truth spin business on the July 31, 2019 broadcast of  WNYC’s On the Media.   The show is about an alternative to punitive incarceration and the hopeless cycle of violence caused by our carceral state.   The conversation centered on Restorative Justice, a community-based process of truth and reconciliation where perpetrators acknowledge the harms their actions have caused and seek the forgiveness of their victims.  Bob Garfield’s guest,  Danielle Sered, a pioneer in the Restorative Justice movement and executive director of an organization called Common Justice, makes a strikingly succinct and deep point well worth pondering:  

The four core drivers of violence are shame, isolation, exposure to violence and an inability to meet one’s economic needs.    The four key features of prison are shame, isolation, exposure to violence and an inability to meet one’s economic needs.

These are also, coincidentally, four key features of poverty: shame, isolation, exposure to violence and an inability to meet one’s economic needs.    It is a terrifying and demoralizing constellation of features that all but guarantees a terrible outcome, including a high likelihood of being locked up.   Those four factors form a terrible truth that explains a lot about the failings of our prosecutorial law enforcement culture and our enormous prison population.   We have a bumper crop of hardened, violent criminals that no amount of humiliating punishment seems to be curing them of.  Same goes for drug addicts.

If we were truly intent on creating a safer, better society, we would take this hard truth into consideration.   We need to seriously consider it in any discussion of creating a safer, more just society  that protects all of its citizens and maximizes their chances for a peaceful life largely free of shame and violence.   Like in a discussion of the crisis of opioid addiction and overdose, if we addressed the causes of this desperation instead of criminalizing and punishing the addicts…  If… we… were… truly… intent… (don’t forget, there is a very lucrative private prison system here, and a more profitable than ever private immigration detention center industry here, and a super profitable opioid production and sales industry… don’t forget).   

Or we can leave that awful truth about shame and violence and hopeless poverty out of it entirely.  Here’s an idea.  We could simply, honestly say that people born to the unspeakable shame and violence of poverty are just fucked.  Sad but true.  You know, in a way, they kind of made their choice to be born poor.  Had they been of better stock and born wealthy, they’d have every right to live peacefully and happily in the most exceptionally free and luxurious society the world has ever known.  Too bad those young children of the poor are already weak, dirty, morally compromised, lazy, other-blaming parasites.   

I leave the “race” and ethnicity of these doomed children for you to imagine.  Keep in mind, many millions of them are as white as the president’s family, as his mother’s nine pale, dirty-faced siblings in Scotland [2].  As Martin Luther King said often in the last years of his life, the color of poor people has little to do with it.  Poor children of every color in America are growing up in a country that has no use for them, except as cash cows for the privatized prison barons.   Racism, militarism and poverty are three faces of the same vicious, insatiable monster.   But that will have to be a hard truth for another day.

 

[1]  Former Senator Franken was accused, by a conservative media provocateur (and former nude model), of making her feel sexually abused on a USO tour years earlier.   It was not a super-credible accusation, not supported by a single witness, and it was made public before Franken was given any chance to comment, then was quickly followed by a handful of women who came forward to claim Franken had put his hand creepily low on their waists, or otherwise touched them inappropriately during photo ops.   

Franken responded to these charges by calling for an ethics investigation of himself (during which he’d be able to hear the full accusations, call witnesses and defend himself against the charges).   Hopped up members of Franken’s unthinkingly politically correct party, led by the ambitious Kirsten Gillebrand, formed a kind of lynch mob and angrily, publicly demanded that their colleague immediately resign instead.  Another reason to shake your head about elected Democrats and their high-minded circular firing squads.  Franken resigned, something he regrets every day, something I regret whenever I think of it.   

Read this excellent investigative piece by Jane Mayer and you’ll see what I mean about the poisonous effect of throttling the truth, and a lawful inquiry into the truth.   Do the actual facts of the case matter?   They fucking should.

[2]   Trump’s mother’s ancestry:

Mary Anne MacLeod (Trump) was born in a pebbledashcroft house owned by her father since 1895 in Tong on the Isle of Lewis.[2]Local historians and genealogists have described properties in this community at the time as “indescribably filthy” and characterized by “human wretchedness”.[5][6] The outbreak ofWorld War I weakened its economy and male population.[2]

Raised in a Scottish Gaelic-speaking household, Mary was the youngest of ten children born to Malcolm (1866–1954) and Mary MacLeod (née Smith; 1867–1963).[7] Her father was a crofter,fisherman and compulsory officer at Mary’s school.[2][3][8][9]English was her second language, which she learned at the school she attended until secondary school.[2]

 

As one account has put it, she “started life in America as a dirt-poor servant escaping the even worse poverty of her native land.”[8] Having obtained a U.S. Re-entry Permit—only granted to immigrants intending to stay and gain citizenship[8][9]—she returned to Scotland on the SS Cameronia on September 12, 1934.[13] She was recorded as living in New York by April 1935 in the 1940 U.S. Census.[13]

Though the 1940 census form filed by Mary Anne and her husband Fred Trumpstated that she was a naturalized citizen, she did not actually become one until March 10, 1942.[3][8][9]

FredTrump1950-02.png

 

Check out the mustache on Fred Christ Trump, in 1950, for fuck’s sake, five years after Hitler’s defeat in World War Two..  Talk about yer Nazi bastards….

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