. . .so gradually I am using the Wayback machine to bring up my old essays there, when the need arises to link them in some discussion or other; posting a version here gives me a link that can work without said magic machine. Today it was a conversation at Radical Unschooling about whether to “lie” to children by telling them about Santa . . .
Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed — but truth disbelieved?
Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief Junior – the Home Game
Blogging with Lorraine about truth and lies, and whether we have the wisdom to know the difference, I commented that moms understand how children construct meaning that is both truth and lie, or to be more accurate, meaning for which the labels “truth” or “lie” have little or no meaning!
. . .just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.
Then this morning, I came across a book review of “Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life” in which Susan L. Engel apparently pleads with us to be at least as interested in the ways that children think, their thought processing if you will, as we are in their outcomes or achievements.
(And JJ pleads with citizens everywhere to reject the lie that society’s Job One is to label the natural thinking processes of children as some unnatural problem or other, the better to impose years of professional intervention in the name of national security and all that is holy.)
Engel argues that children’s play
and storytelling provide clear evidence that children’s thinking is not a simplified version of adult thinking, but rather reflects a qualitatively different way of interacting with the world — a way of interacting in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable.
To which a liberally educated British dad now living here and homeschooling his own, added a snatch of T.S. Eliot — “humankind cannot bear very much reality” — and some pithy comments:
I think that anybody looking around after 9/11 has to agree that “the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable” for all of us. To give other examples, there’s the drive to impose Intelligent Design and the Strict Construction[ist] approach to the Constitution — two attempts to deny change and progress by imposing an arbitrary barrier.
So I’m beginning to think this could be the cultural conversation of our times.
Although speaking just for my own truth, before I could muster much scholarly attention for the Constitution today, I was as usual seduced by a powerful whiff of story, wafting my way from Eliot’s own “highly permeable boundaries between fantasy and reality.”
Was he American poet or British poet, I mused. Off to check.
Aha, both are factual but neither is true alone — these facts are dependent on each other for their truth, either is misleading stated as absolute and isolated fact. Was he a poet? Yes, BUT also schoolmaster and professor as much as brilliant artist — what does that inconvenient complexity do to the falsely dichotomous “truth” that
those who can, do;
those who can’t teach;
those who can’t teach, teach teachers?
[More snarling, never mind me – I come from a long line of professors, teachers and omnivorous intellectuals with extremely porous boundaries between fantasy and reality, not to mention between thinking and breathing.]
Summing up the power of story in today’s lesson, then, it seems likely to be true of Eliot that we don’t know much of what’s true about Eliot, not even supposedly simple facts of the type with which we love to fill reference books and test mental mechanics in schools everywhere.
“Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry.”
So like a child’s mental constructs, lots of what we’re unsure we understand about Eliot is because he didn’t plant it in neatly labeled little standard rows of true-false and multiple choice, controlled to the nth degree by social common denominators and heavy pesticide applications.
Time Magazine in 1988 said Eliot “produced a body of work — poetry, criticism, plays — that permanently rearranged the cultural landscapes of his native and adopted lands. Exactly how he created himself and his era remains something of a mystery, the topic of continuing debate.”
And it is certainly true (but will you believe me? You’ll have to take my word for all this, unless Smoking Gun is having a VERY slow day) that I laughed aloud upon reading this puzzled yet gamely authoritative declaration, explaining what we know about what we don’t know:
It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had on American and English literature. However, it can be explained that since Eliot was a very private man and also forbade in his will an official biography, the dearth of information on Eliot is justifiable.
Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed but truth disbelieved?
That essay was called “Junior” because I’d written an adult version about truth and lies a few days before, as had fellow blogger Lorraine as referenced in the first paragraph. Here’s that adult essay, introduced by the fuller comment I’d made to Lorraine and quoted above, which I guess we can now consider all part and parcel:
As moms, we know children construct meaning from events as they go along, in ways that depend on who they are talking to – just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.
Men — well, husbands at least — are like this. They quite truly believe we’d rather have a lie we can believe, than a truth we (and they) would all prefer to downplay. (Ah, there’s a thread for more thought – downplaying and playing up truth.) Our girlfriends are like this too. They temper their truths and calibrate their lies with astonishing sensitivity and responsiveness to their surroundings and relationships. I have been told lies with far more true love and uplifting beauty in them than the clearest, most factual honesty for my own good — haven’t you?
Which gets me thinking: whenever some purist or literalist rejects the relevance of interdependent environments, circumstance, backstory and relationships, how much actual meaning can any “truth” they muster possibly claim, and where would it come from?
Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief – Truth, Lies and Videoscape
Talk about Power of Story! Literally *and* figuratively.
This week the news includes a provocative book about true believers versus doubtful thinkers, confessions and confrontations, legalized academic cheating, even a new lawsuit about God-given truth as fraud. Who is manipulating innocent masses, and with what lies? Can cheating and conspiracy to defraud ever serve the larger cause of truth?
With James Frey versus Oprah as only the latest public chapter in this powerful story, we’re being forced on every front to face our ambivalence about truth and lies and how we confuse them to our own detriment — is my blogging either, neither or both? I feel a headache coming on, and that’s both truth and lie — so maybe it’s not surprising that now the Bible itself is legally challenged as fraudulent memoir rather than historical fact and redemptive truth, thereby duping those desperate to believe.
A righteously indignant Maureen Dowd labels Oprah the saint, Frey the sinner, his bestselling book “bunk” and our President no better than Frey, that he too defrauded us and the wages of his sin are death, not redemption.
She does this with a straight, Pulitzer-Prize winning face, omitting equally true facts of her lying news colleague Jayson Blair, and her venerable publication’s contradictory roles in the Wilson-Plame-Miller circle of cynicism — fact-stacking for dramatic effect, self-interested stonewalling and hype, and general manipulation of its public powers — which together left us with no one to believe about any of it.
Note to the New York Times, and to public and private eyes and spies everywhere: whatever competitive lying that whole mess turns out to have been about, don’t expect us to “believe” that any of YOU believed in our right to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Sadly, even the guy on the white horse of truth, whom I liked and admired, apparently had rules and codes he believed in more than unexpurgated, unspun facts and truth.)
So our belief in academic and intellectual accountability is manipulated everywhere, in public and private acts big and small. Prominent historians such as Stephen Ambrose come under fire for fraud. Scientists defraud research journals. Teachers cheat with standardized testing, pandering to our need to believe they represent facts and truth and critical thinking. Charities cheat with money entrusted to them for making the world a better place, child protection employees falsify reports with tragic results, ad nauseum.
Thus we’re all too familiar with belief issues when it comes to public stories from textbooks to memoirs, politics and news. The new twist is religious issues as fraud.
Intelligent Design versus evolution. Catholic Church child abuse scandals, with institutional lying for generations to cover it all up.
(Isn’t Maureen Dowd a good Catholic girl? Hmm . . . she is right in the
middle of ALL of this, isn’t she? I may need to learn more about her,
connections keep popping up . . .didn’t she just publish her own somewhat dubious nonfiction memoirs?)
We lie to our friends and lovers, and whether we get caught or not, maybe personal lies aren’t different when it comes to the larger harm — Excalibur’s Merlin darkly warns his brash and ethically challenged warrior-disciple that “when a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”
Oscar Wilde said our supposedly harmless lie about telling the truth, the one we teach our kids about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, reflects how truth-worshipping our lying culture is, a point reiterated this week by Jerry Stahl:
” . . .The anecdote, Wilde noted, perfectly exemplifies the American psyche: all about honesty, and completely contrived.
Now, as then, we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artificial flavor . . .”
We scream for a little (head)chopping in the name of truth now and again, ho-hum, makes great fiction for the news and publishing industries, but all we can come up with
as society-wide solution — seriously?? — is re-labeling the other guy’s truth? And alternately defending and confessing our own lies while continuing to teach them to our kids? What good is that?
No wonder public schools are dysfunctional and public education an oxymoron. There IS no truth we can
agree on objectively, to teach kids. And the truth is we know it and won’t fix it.
. . . tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based upon memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability . . . Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.
Catholic leaders claim The Da Vinci Code is
manipulation of belief, fraud for profit, harmful lies we must warn the world to reject.
Now comes the titillating and, one supposes, quite predictable reverse play, the
crowning glory of the news and belief cycle (whoops, not to be redundant!) — historical Christianity itself challenged as fraud, with the courts as the objective Standard of Truth.
It’s being called “abuse of popular belief” by the plaintiff.
Can we even call these stories about the stories actual news — or is it closer to sensationalized fiction in service of larger redemptive “truth?” Words seldom fail me, let’s see, where’s the connected Power of Story in all this . . . yeah, “ abuse of popular belief” is a keeper.
I think it’s time we add it to our mandatory graduation standards — if we can find anyone qualified to teach the course.