Truth or Falsehood?


Posted by in April's Magazine

Liars and lying are now the norm in public discourse. In this world of routine mendacity Colin Montgomery asks “what price absolute truth?”

There’s a town in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences. No, seriously. I kid you not. That’s a bona fide truth. Unless the maps are wrong, or all atlases have been planted by liberals to disorientate us. That must be it, or not, one of the two.  

Presumably Donald Trump’s never been to Truth or Consequences, as he recognises neither. Also, being in New Mexico it’s a bit close to the US border…sorry…too close to the hordes of feral illegals eager to rape, pillage and plunder the innocent white masses of the Yoounited States. Only one of part of that last sentence is true. To any sane person it’s obvious which. Regrettably, Trump doesn’t do sanity. And to think, it could all have been so different for the yanks from the very get-go…

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Riverbend Hot Springs, a prime, if suitably false looking attraction in the town of Truth and Consequence

Remember the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree? Where, as a nipper, George chopped down said tree and when quizzed by his pop fessed up with the famous mea culpa: “I cannot tell a lie, pa, twas me,” or words to that effect. Except, irony of ironies, even this edifying narrative extolling the virtues of truth is itself a lie. They call it ‘myth’, but that’s just a lie in its Sunday best. 

Yet the truth is, the proliferation of lies is now discrediting the necessity of the lie when deployed as a tactical falsehood. So swamped are we by brazen lies and liars – politics being the filthiest nest of them right now – that we are coming perilously close to returning to the prospect of the absolute truth. Worse still, we could see Kant’s categorical imperative making a comeback, and that is a right old bastard to deal with.

Philosophy majors look away now, as I’m about to shamelessly butcher the Kant module. In short, the categorical imperative is predicated on the idea of an absolute, unconditional requirement that is assumed to be universal in scope and thus must be obeyed accordingly. But when it comes to lying, remaining true to this code becomes problematic, as best demonstrated during Kant’s lifetime by a fellow chin-stroker, French philosopher Benjamin Constant, who decided to road test Kant’s theory with his Lying to a Murderer challenge. 

It goes like this: you’re sitting down to watch the late-night movie with a mug of cocoa and there’s a rap at the door. You open it to see a raging guy wielding an axe, asking of the whereabouts of your partner as they would like to turn them into Spam. According to Kant’s rule you wouldn’t be able to lie to save your dearly beloved as this would sanction lying in its totality. So, you could keep schtum. However bullshitting the bloodthirsty would-be murderer your partner was away for a loaf and to come back later would be verboten

Pish eh? Better to keep the lie alive as an occasional option to be used with a degree of tact/nuance than succumb to that moral straitjacket. Yet sadly, I fear we are – as posited above – throwing the good lie out with the bad one. Social media has a lot to answer for. It’s a hole of conspiracy-fuelled codswallopery, rank racist distortion and puerile poisonous slanderers. 

Of course, while t’internet is depressingly effective at channelling this assault on the actualité, it’s no solo gig. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage …British politics. It’s funny really. For years, politicians were cast as liars in a jocular context; it was the sort of thing that provided throwaway quips for Ronnie Corbett during his amusing monologue in The Two Ronnies. Now we have the likes of Johnson, Fox, Davis, Rees-Mogg, Raab, to name but a few, openly distorting, denying and dissembling – indulging in truly industrial scale perfidy – and people are happy to suck it up provided it fits their tribal narrative. 

Social media has a lot to answer for, conspiracy-fuelled codswallopery, rank racist distortion and puerile poisonous slanderers 

Is that different from shrugging at injury-feigning footballers to gawking at the gossip rags to strategically filtering our selfies? Well, I guess not, to paraphrase the great Alan Partridge and acknowledge the works of Immanuel Kant (always wanted to get those two together) a lie is definitively a lie. However, as already described, you can’t go full-on Presbyterian on this; lying in some contexts is acceptable. What’s not is accepting lies wholesale because you’re too lazy to engage with the reality. 

Which leaves us where we are now. Unicorn guts strewn across the street as the angry, ignorant and deluded tramp through it; kidults furious that democracy has just pulled off the worst Santa’s Grotto ever: somebody in a cheap suit, pretending they’ll give you whatever you want – only to pat you on the head and send you off with some cheap tat that’s breaks as soon as it collides with reality. More fool all of us, irrespective of political proclivities, for believing in such foul lies. Maybe the uncomfortable truth is, as a species, we were never able to handle hard truths. And with that, I’ll let it lie…

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