Do you remember the climactic and contentious exchange between Lt. Daniel Kaffe (Tom Cruise) and Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in the 1992 film, “A Few Good Men”? I’m beginning to think he was on to something.
Jessep: You want answers?!
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!
Truth can be that tough, ugly, inconvenient thing that exposes our ignorance or sets us free. More often than not, it ends up being the former, not the latter. Truth is rigid and painfully black and white. It is incongruent with relativity, no matter what the free-thinking intellectual says. Relativity in truth presents nothing more than an oxymoron. We have become very good at ways to avoid the truth, find ways to mitigate it, and even thumb our noses at it. Facing it head-on has become very tough for our society. What’s even tougher is connecting the dots that form after truths are exposed.
And so it happens in every election season when opposing points of view are being debated that the candidates and their surrogates already know the electorate has given them license to stretch the facts because, like Col Nathan Jessep, they seem to think you can’t handle the truth. In any polemic that truly seeks understanding and solutions, there is very little room for finger-pointing, assigning blame to personalities, or seeking justification in moral equivalents.
This deficiency is not germane to one side or the other. Regrettably, it is within the nature of humans. Simply put, we have an aversion to the truth. If you think this is an unfair indictment of the human condition, consider the fact that nobody has to teach a toddler how to ‘not’ tell the truth; and as adults, we avoid truth at all costs if we suspect knowing it will make us uncomfortable.
The list below presents just a few of the truths of which I write. All of them exist at the foundation of conversations that occur daily as they relate to pressing issues in our society:
1. We are flat-out broke, our credit card is tapped out, there’s no more money in the bank. We can’t afford the products and services we’re constitutionally mandated to provide right now, let alone what we have promised for our citizens in the future. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) lists 44 states and the District of Columbia that are projecting budget shortfalls for FY’12.
2. There is genuine evil in the world that transcends anything that the American mind can fathom. This type of pathology must be addressed in perpetuity on a worldwide scale because it represents both indirect and direct assaults on our freedom and security as a nation.
3. If America does not retain its position as the preeminent world power, we will be replaced. A short list of eager replacements would include Russia, China, a nuclear Iran, or an Islamic Caliphate. (Which of these countries or groups of people would you want acting as the world policeman, referee, food bank, distributor of aid, and protector of the weak?)
4. We are not the cause of Middle East geo-political issues, European economic problems, genocide in Africa, or the violent behavior of Islamic extremists. The United States has its faults but remains the most generous, compassionate, open, and resilient society in our world today.
5. Our domestic entitlement culture is crippling us not only from a fiscal perspective but from a devolving American ethos that increasingly does not look to reward and encourage work, accomplishment, success, and personal achievement.
6. At 73,600+ pages it doesn’t matter if your part of the 99%, 1%, or the 47%; the federal tax code is dysfunctional, convoluted, and unfair. Unless someone has the courage to change it substantially, any type of class warfare is meaningless, counterproductive, and disruptive to our common good.
7. Politicians and politics seldom provide long-term solutions to problems. Washington DC is awash with narcissists, power players, and economic illiterates posing as the wise, all-knowing, deferential adults in the room. Regrettably, they look out primarily for the security of their future, not ours.
Nothing profound here, right? So why make this effort? My many conversations with people whom I enjoy associating with socially and respect intellectually reflect the need. I relish their diversity of opinion as it enables me to examine their thought process and where it leads as compared to mine. What often surfaces, however, is evidence that many basic truths such as the few previously listed do not inform their perspectives. That presents a problem.
While their thoughts are typically packed full of sensitivity, generosity, and idealism – logic does not occupy equal footing. This is possibly because of resistance to deal with the foundation of all logic – truth and reality. Acknowledging and assimilating them are foundational to forming opinions about other things salient to our society.
Was Col. Jessep right? Can we handle the truth? It’s tough to say. A little intellectual humility and emotional discomfort would be a small price to pay for being able to handle some of the hard realities of our time. Doing so would present an opportunity to curb the partisan rhetoric and nonfactual bickering while presenting a giant step toward fixing some of the things that are broken.
Photo credit: rot ist die farbe der hoffnung (Creative Commons)
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