Saturday, December 6, 2014

"What is truth"

The only truth coming out of what happened in Ferguson on that August day and every day since is that not one of us will ever know the truth. Perhaps Americans would just as soon live with that as have their views altered by the truth.

Out of this tragedy, the only possible good comes if Americans, at long last, look into the mirror and admit that we like a perception-based world more than we want a truth-based existence.

As ferociously as many of us argued our opinions about the matter, that is all we had. Not one of us knows what happened that day when Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown’s paths crossed. Maybe, as some say, Brown attacked Wilson tried to take away his gun. Maybe Brown intended to harm or even kill the officer.

Perhaps, the officer initiated the conflict. He admits asking himself, curiously, whether it would be “legal” to kill the kid. Maybe he asked himself that question before it became necessary or relevant. Please don’t believe the truth can be found anywhere near the prosecutor’s office.

The prosecutor designed a process giving some a basis to claim they knew the facts. The Grand Jury proceeding was anything but a search for truth. It was tainted by a biased prosecutor who got what he wanted. His office even advised jurors to apply a law allowing officers to shoot fleeing suspects.  That statute was declared unconstitutional years earlier.

Defense lawyers who studied the Grand Jury transcripts concluded prosecutors asked Wilson the same questions a good defense lawyer would have asked in an effort to get him off.

Likewise, Brown’s family and attorneys worked to impose their “truth.” We were left to reconcile the boy they described with the one we saw on video, strong-arm-robbing a store clerk. That “boy” was not likeable, even violent, though muscling a store clerk differs in kind from the allegations that he did the same to an armed policeman minutes later.

Everyone with access to the truth had a stake in it not being revealed. We’ve been there too often, from the assassinations of the 60s, to Viet Nam and Watergate, Iran-gate, and Iraq. Those who know the truth are always the gatekeepers. We learn only what they want us to know.

At this moment, gatekeepers in at least two of the three branches of government sit on a report about whether the United States engaged in systematic torture following 9/11. It’s not difficult to understand why many of them would want the truth to remain in a locked file drawer. So much for the old civics class notion of “check and balances.”

But, what about us? Why have run-of-the-mill citizens not demanded to know?

As with Ferguson and all the other opportunities we’ve had to demand the truth, I suspect we don’t really want to know. The truth would heartily interfere with our perception-based worlds. We sound like Jack Nicholson, Col. Jessep, in “A Few Good Men.”

Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can't handle the truth!

How can people who can’t handle the truth sustain a democracy? Can a free nation survive voters who cling to ideological forces that support their notions rather than seeking the truth? That is not to say it’s easy to get the truth. It’s hidden and often confused in a 24/7 news cycle filled with noise.

Think about the “water-cooler conversation you have. Where would we be if it were not for CNN, FOX, and MSNBC telling us what to think? What would happen if we listened to the president speak and there was no talking-head following up to tell us what to think? Where would we come up with the words to express our opinions?

One of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible is the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate when Jesus is asked by the Roman, “What is truth?”

Don’t you wish Jesus had answered the question? Maybe Jesus IS the answer.

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