The Nature of Truth
Truth is a slippery concept. The only thing slipperier I can think of, at this exceedingly late hour, is contested memory fought over to define truth.
It’s funny the things that stick in your mind. Think of something incredibly meaningful to you as a small child, then ask a parent about it. Odds are they may not even remember it at all… or they remembered it wildly differently. If that moment was personally defining for you, though, is your version false simply because there are differing memories of that moment? If the answer is yes, then doesn’t that relegate all religious experience (which cannot be seen, heard, or felt by bystanders) to the dungheap of falsity as well?
I firmly believe most parents are trying their best with their kids. Where discrepancies crop up in memories of the shared past between parents and their offspring (or in any other situation as well, now I think about it), I suspect we’re simply going to have to either agree to disagree, or realize no one has absolute perfect recall of the Truth with a capital T.
I realize the possibility of multiple shifting shades of truth terrifies those who want clearcut definitions of right and wrong, and an easily grasped reality — or so I was once reliably informed by an extremely upset conservative who didn’t want to argue with me any more — but I don’t think I believe in that simple a world any more. Completely aside from human experience (a mind-boggling complexity all on its own), life is simply too wondrously complex — from mitochondria to galaxies, and even further — to be that… that easily quantifiable.
Which all goes to explain why I’m sitting here in the dark, typing out my personal confusions. I was asked to write a short one page paper on my first encounter with feminism; you can read it below. It relates a conversation I had with my mother when I was much younger. Did that conversation ever really happen? I remember it so, but I can’t help but wonder if my mom would remember it, if I asked her.
It was a revelatory, personally shocking moment for me, but if it was just the way things were for her, would she now wonder where the heck I get these stories from? Would she read it and be angry or hurt that I portrayed her so? Or would she read it as I remember it and feel it and mean it: that her passing comment was one of the first moments of intellectual awakening for me, that she was the perhaps unwitting initiator of my love for critical thinking? Would she be proud if she realized I owe it all to her?
I’d like to hope so.
First Encounter With Feminism
My first conscious encounter with feminism was long before I knew the meaning of the word. To me, what I saw was more a sudden realization of the sheer unfairness of things. I was with several women — all elegant, clever, and beautiful to my child’s eye — and I’d been listening to them talk about the men in their life. They were sort of wistful, a bit rueful as they discussed some of the problems they were having with the church, the government, & the individual men. I was far too shy at the time to butt in with questions, but I remember thinking even then that I wasn’t sure why the solutions they had to the problems facing them were by definition inadequate — simply because the suggestions were made by women!
I found that tacit acceptance of the status quo disturbing and alarming, but figured it had to be something to do with being in another culture — I’d ask my mom later, and she’d surely assure me things were different back home in America! I just somehow knew things had to be better there. That was home, after all — of course everything was more wonderful there.
I was further confused, however, when my mother later smiled ruefully and informed me women had a few more rights in the US, but on the whole they still had to do what their husbands told them to do. I confusedly asked why this was so? My mother told me that it was because women promised to love, honor, and obey their husbands. I thought about that, then asked why that was so bad? After all, if men and women were both promising to love, honor, and obey each other, surely that would make them more thoughtful and sensitive to each other, right? So what had gone wrong for the Spanish women I’d overheard?
My mother laughed, and even at that age I remember feeling deeply uneasy at the tone of that laugh — it was the kind of laugh that told me I wasn’t going to like the answer. She told me that men didn’t make that promise to their wives — all men had to say was that they would love, honor, and cherish.
After a moment of thinking about this, I was deeply shaken — that was not fair! Even at that age I’d already experienced the then-frightening cognitive dissonance of the difference between stated love — and actual, apparently unloving action. Even more confusedly I asked: why then would anyone want to be married? Mom’s resignedly amused reply was that that was just how things were — I’d understand when I was older.
I’m older now, and I’m still fighting the double standards I see. I’m also still not married — and Mom, I still don’t get it… but now I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want to ever just accept unfairness.
Amongst my many bizarre experiences were a few ‘experiments’ with hallucinogens. One particularly potent, and quintessentially trippy evening, a Halloween party actually, I had the experience I had been searching for. Every bit of my visual and auditory perceptions were skewed, bent, twisted, and altered. And not in a ‘gosh, things are kinda blurry but if I squint hard enough it goes away’ way. No, this was a ‘holy crap, those Palmetto bushes have demon faces in them’ sort of experience. I saw some really weird things that night, and while at no time did I for a minute believe they were real, my brain continued to assure me that they were. I came away from that night with a profound understanding of how easily our perceptions can be altered, either by a few micrograms of LSD, or by the effects of poorly understood memory encoding. Truth, with a capital T, is ultimately a very personal thing, and I sometimes marvel that we humans ever agree on anything.
Oh, and just for the record, my wife wrote our vows, and the word ‘obey’ was nowhere to be found. :-)
I remember you writing about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. That was such a volatile situation that the people who formed the commission knew that a veneer of ‘true enough’ over the events of apartheid would be the only thing that kept the country from slipping into more racial violence.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to accept a value of ‘true enough’ else violence will explode around us. But is there a line between ‘accepting’ a ‘true enough’ answer and being irritated, annoyed, or outright angry about it?
I actually had the opposite experience regarding things my parents remembered. (What else is new?) They, my mom in particular, remembered things that I didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t. It was seriously disconcerting!
About the only other thing I can think of is to say that ‘What I told you was true… from a certain point of view,’ should nominally result in an explosion of on-screen violence and a revocation of the writer’s license to write anything at all. =)