To Live Freely: Part Ten

The Unnamed Delusion)

In my last post I spoke about how many of us believe that the right and proper way to live is in accordance with the truth, yet at the same time we lie to everyone, including ourselves, about all the wrongs that we do. We are each a person divided, feeling the truth in our heart, transgressing it in our bodies, and refusing to acknowledge the gap in our minds.

Quite frankly, we avoid the hard truths on such a regular basis that we typically don’t even notice that we do it. The fabrications we soothe ourselves with are so practiced and so regular that they don’t even register. Thus, we might examine the general state of our life and admit that something feels off, that it seems we must be living under some self-delusion, but genuinely have no idea what that delusion even is. How can we make a change if we cannot name what the change that we need to make is?

This idea of knowing the name of our hidden, inner truths has its roots in many ancient cultures. There has long been a notion that if you know the true name of an entity, then you could gain power over it. I have seen for myself that there really is something to this. Sometimes the entire battle has been simply to correctly label the problem that I’m struggling with. Other times, it is only the first battle in the war of a lifetime. In either case, it is always the first step towards overcoming that part of my self.

So how do we identify the real, sometimes unpleasant truths lurking inside?

In many cases we we are so close to the issues that we can’t see them clearly, and we need to be shown them from an outside perspective. That might mean having a deeply earnest conversation with a trusted family member or friend. It might mean soliciting the professional insights of a qualified therapist. Certainly it means getting on our knees and asking our Maker to reveal ourselves to us.

The Great Physician)

Let us never forget that this is one of Christ’s essential roles. During his sojourn on Earth he demonstrated his ability to diagnose the state of a person’s soul. He was able to reveal people to themselves, to cut straight to the heart and show them the truth plainly. Let us consider one example of this, the story of Christ and the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:17-22)

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

At first Jesus gives the man a general answer, listing out all the basic things that everyone is instructed to do. But the man is sincere and earnest and he wants more than this. He does all of these things already, he always has, still he questions what he must do to inherit eternal life.

We aren’t told explicitly the young man’s inner thoughts, but I cannot help but wonder if he was much like the sort of person I described above: knowing that something was off, but not knowing what. Perhaps he could tell in his heart that there was something lacking within him, some difficult truth about himself that he had not identified, and he needed the help of the Master to know what it was.

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Jesus respects the man’s earnestness by finally giving him the real answer. The young man was indeed obedient and faithful, but Jesus reveals to him the fundamental flaw still at his core was his love of wealth. That dependency on the worldly things was what still stood between him and God. Clearly it was an accurate diagnosis, too, for the man made no attempt to dispute the matter, nor to correct his attitude. He had been seen–really seen–what was inside and he was distressed by what was revealed.

I do believe that one of the reasons we conceal our hard truths from ourselves is because we know that we won’t deal with the problem if we open the door to it. Part of us has decided that it is better to be forever agitated by “something” feeling off inside, but not knowing what it is, than to know what the problem is and be crushed by our inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.

The secret-keeper inside of us says, “Yes, you are a slave. But you’re not ready to risk everything for a rebellion, so why should I show you who your master is? Better that you just go home and try to forget everything about this.”

To Live Freely: Part Nine

Turning Inward)

I have spent the past while examining the principle of truthfulness in broad strokes. I have explored why it is a moral ideal, and why it is beneficial to society as a whole. But people are brought into alignment with truth on an individual basis, and one of the first truths that we must resolve ourselves to is the truth of who we are. Given that, I am going to shift gears with the rest of this series to examine truth within the self.

And the fact is, probably very few readers had any disagreement with my thesis at the beginning of this series. You probably agreed that only a life founded on truth is truly free. This is the sort of statement that we hear and nod along to without a second thought. Something inside of us just intuitively knows that this is the case.

And yet…if we get truly honest, none of us live in accordance with this principle perfectly, and few of us even try. We say that embracing the hard truths is essential for a stable and thriving life, but then we shirk those hard truths at every turn. We preach principles that we do not abide by and renounce the very behaviors that we do. Lying, cheating, and stealing, though we aver it is wrong to lie, cheat, and steal. We try to hide these shameful behaviors from the world. We try to hide them from ourselves, looking for a distraction any time our conscience tries to show us what we are doing. And then, when a light does manage to shine upon our wrongs we make excuses, brushing them off as inconsequential or permitted due to our circumstance. In short, we are hypocrites all!

The Part That Resonates)

So why do we so readily agree with the statement that we should all live in truth?! Why do we have such an immediate agreement to something in principle, but then a reluctance to agree with it in our practice? I see this phenomenon as the clearest evidence that people are divided beings. Every individual has two parts hidden within, and though they belong to the same person, those parts don’t agree with one another at all.

I feel this dual nature is what Paul was speaking to when he famously wrote “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7:15). There is a very real part of us that recognizes and responds to truth. That part is most manifest when we hear a nugget of pure wisdom and we intuitively know that it is right, not even requiring any sort of proof. That part of us just knows what is true and it wants to live in harmony with that truth.

But then there is another part that doesn’t fully believe in this concept. Part of us believes that even if truth is the fundamental foundation of the world as a whole, that it can still cheat that system. It thinks that it can fool the world into giving us what we want.

Of course, these two sides are at complete odds to one another. On the one hand we believe that adherence to the truth is the principle by which we obtain all that we desire, on the other hand we also think we can get what we want by trespassing that very same principle.

Getting Curious)

The part of you that thinks you can prosper by denying your conscience doesn’t like to be examined. When asked why we do the things that we know are wrong, why we advocate for behaviors but then don’t follow them, we tend to squirm beneath the light and try to wriggle away.

But if you are ever to overcome these baser instincts, you’ve got to start taking them head-on. An excellent first step would be to acknowledge that you do exactly the hypocritical sort of behavior that we’ve been examining, and then meditate as to why you do it. Without judgment, ask yourself “why do I think truth is fundamental to happiness, but still shirk from the truth in these certain areas of my life?” At some point we must all contemplate why we do the things that we do. At some point we have got to own up to our inconsistencies. For simply acknowledging our own untruthfulness is the first step towards becoming truthful.

To Live Freely: Part Eight

I am concluding the section of this study where I examine the ways that we set others upon false foundations and all the negative consequences that follow. I’ve considered individual cases thus far, but now I want to turn my scope broader. After all, one way to prove the invalidity of a proposition is to apply it on a universal scale and then see if it maintains its original appeal. With today’s post I will hold the philosophy of the “helpful lie” to this universally-applied metric and see what the result of it is.

Applied in Reverse)

Suppose a religion were to have as one of its tenets that all other religious persuasions ought to be suppressed or destroyed. Clearly things would not work out so well for the members of that same religion if everyone else adopted the same principle towards them! It is a self-destructive policy, because it cannot be applied in reverse without destroying the originator. On the other hand, a religion having a fundamental tenet that there should be religious freedom for all others would be itself benefited and protected if the same principle were applied back to it again.

So I say to the person that believes in using beneficial lies to protect other people, you would do well to consider how you would feel if this same principle was applied back towards yourself, and also universally to all other people. You might say that you are comfortable with people telling you the same sort of lies that you tell to others, but that isn’t a fair comparison. Your idea of what is okay to lie about is your own personal opinion, so to be consistent you would have to be accepting of other people using their own judgment as to what is appropriate to lie to you about. Also, you might feel you could trust the decisions of those who are equal to you in intelligence and morality, but that also isn’t a fair comparison. You are less intelligent and moral than some of those that you lie to, so you must consider how you would feel being at the mercy of those who are less intelligent and moral than you.

Does that sound like a comfortable proposition, being subjected to the false realities concocted by the basest and meanest of society, entirely according to their own opinion and judgment? I’m certain it does not!

When one supports themself in telling a “white lie,” they give all other people permission to do the same, and that’s really not a trend that ought to be being perpetuated. On the other hand, when one firmly decides to tell the truth, they revoke the right of all others to lie. If enough of us were to insist on truth-telling for ourselves, and renounce lying on the part of others, we would likely start to see a ripple of truthfulness throughout our society. Convictions, once held by enough people, influence even those who have not become totally committed to them. And even if we don’t reach the point of mass adoption, at least those who perpetuate honesty will be living in a accordance with a principle that is constructive, not destructive.

Lies Upon Lies)

But let us go back to this notion of lies being told at all levels of our society. I have already discussed in a previous post how a lie, by its definition, separates everyone that stands upon it from the ground level of life as it really is. Everyone who believes in the lie is now out on a ledge which might break under its own weight, particularly as more and more people take residence upon it.

And now, extend that with the realization that many people who are already founded upon a lie are also telling additional lies upon it. People are exponentially multiplying the confusion, carving out more and more from the true foundation, extending ledges out upon ledges, building their deceitful worlds without any knowledge of where the center of balance even is. At some point, we will have the straw that breaks society’s back, and all will crumble in violence and chaos.

And I’m not merely saying that from a theoretical perspective, I believe the notion is borne out by a simple examination of history. I feel that these compounded lies are the only way to explain such collective insanity as was seen at Auschwitz and the Gulag. The deceit might have seemed “harmless” enough at first, a simple mischaracterization of national pride or social inequity. But then that deluded premise was compounded with faulty reasoning for how to address the issue and aggressively expanded by the masses taking hold of the idea, until an entirely untenable reality was force upon millions, killing countless of innocents and eventually collapsing the entire experiment under its own weight.

The only system which is sure to be equal and fair to everyone, the only one that is sure to be founded on solid bedrock, is the one that stands firmly on the ground of the truth. That truth may be unpleasant, and without any simple solutions, but dealing with it directly is the only possible way to make genuine progress. All other strategies are temporary structures, at times very pretty, but all of them doomed to fall.

To Live Freely: Part Seven

I’ve spent several days discussing why we should not deceive others, even when we say we are doing it for their own good. After yesterday’s post I thought I was finished with the matter, but some more thoughts have occurred to me that I would like to get down. Today I want to call out how improbable it is that our lies can be harmless in the long run, and tomorrow I will look at the matter from a more global scale.

The Arrogance of a Lie)

When we lie, we concoct a world that is in some way different from the real one. Most of us think we will get away with a “little, white lie” because we think we are concocting a world that is virtually indistinguishable from the real one. We believe that the person we deceive will still continue along the general path of reality, just with an imperceptible tint slightly coloring their view.

But that is a supremely arrogant assumption. If telling such a lie were even possible, it could only be done by having a perfect understanding of our subject and their context in life. We would have to know what they already know and believe so that our lie would not have any unintended side effects. For example, if our lie was about another person, we would want to know what our subject already thought and felt about that person in great detail, so that our deceit wouldn’t warp the relationship in any way.

We would also require a comprehensive view of our subject’s situation in life to know if our lie, seemingly harmless by itself, might unravel in terrible ways when combined with other factors. Not only this, but we would also need to be prophetic, anticipating all future states that our subject would be in, so that our lie would not become harmful in future situations.

And finally, if this is to be at all moral, we must also know that our subject, if made aware of this intended deception, would willingly choose to have it administered to them. Obviously we cannot ask them that, but we have to somehow know for certain that this is what they would choose. For even if you did believe that it was genuinely good for this person to be deceived, everyone should still have the right to embrace hard truths if that is what they choose.

Of course, none of us know all of these things when we set out to deceive another. As such, we are not at all sure whether telling them this lie is good for them or not. If we could be honest about our deceit, we would admit that it really isn’t about doing what is best for them at all. It is about what is doing what is best for ourselves. We are trying to moderate and manage another person’s experiences in a way that is more pleasant for us to deal with. It is, put simply, entirely selfish.

Gambling)

When we tell another person a lie, what we are really doing is gambling with their safety and their happiness. We are putting their heart on the line, rolling the dice, and hoping for our desired outcome. We hope that we won’t hurt the other person, we tell ourselves that that won’t happen, but we create the very real possibility that it might happen. That is our exposure, that is what is on the table to lose, and we are deliberately making a decision to accept that. And what’s more, with every lie we are stacking the odds higher and higher against the person’s happiness, but most of us still continue rolling the dice for as long as we possibly can.

Gambling with just money is morally questionable enough, certainly there can never be any justification for doing so with another person’s heart. No matter what sort of justification you might have for your lie, it should be abundantly clear that it is still immoral. Even if the odds of success were far in our favor, it would still be fundamentally immoral.

As I’ve explained above, we have nowhere near the perspective or the intelligence for even half decent odds of success. It’s impossible to know what the chances really are, but in my experience, virtually every lie gets undone eventually. The house always wins sooner or later, but we’re stupid and arrogant enough to think that we’re the ones in charge. We are totally, unjustifiably confident, and so much so that we’re betting with the most valuable commodity that we can. Is there any more obvious a recipe for failure?

To Live Freely: Part Six

Summary)

I have been discussing two examples of how we try to make someone’s life better by convincing them of a fundamental lie. I have attempted to refute both examples, and to illustrate how each ultimately causes further harm to the individual.

The first issue I have presented with “helpful” lies is that they disconnect the victim from reality, and if the person ever falls back to that reality by discovering the truth of the matter it causes them great pain. They have the pain of the truth now compounded with the fact that they were deceived and left to act in a way that was against their own wellbeing.

The second issue I presented is that someone lying to protect others from disagreeable notions is ironically reinforcing those same hated notions. If one has to lie to cover something unpleasant, it generates suspicion that the unpleasant thing is, in fact, the truth. Think of a suspect of a crime, giving an alibi that is proven to be false. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he committed the crime, but it definitely fosters suspicion that he has. A “protecting” lie only undermines itself in the long term.

The Human Desire)

In both of these cases there is a strong sense of lies getting in the way of the person being deceived. Let’s explore that a little bit.

When all is said and done, everyone is trying to live their lives and accomplish good things along the way. We all want to secure basic comforts, we want to belong to something greater than ourselves, and we want to achieve things that we can be proud of. And while these are simple criteria to list out, they are by no means simple or easy to accomplish! Life is genuinely difficult, and there are all manner of frustrations that naturally arise and must be overcome if we are to ever realize our deepest desires. In fact, we all need help if we’re to meet these ideals, and if someone isn’t able to help, then we at least expect them to stay out of the way!

Every distraction or confusion is an unnecessary hurdle, adding to the already difficult work of life, and a lie is certainly both distracting and confusing. By definition, a lie warps, obfuscates, or completely masks the truth. It makes the path ahead more difficult and sometimes impossible to perceive, thus increasing the chances of us stumbling along our way.

Consider that all of the offenses that we might commit against another person are, at their fundamental level, a frustration of the other person’s ability to achieve these core life desires. To kill, to steal, to abuse, to insult, to lie; all of these get in the way of life, comfort, belonging, and/or purpose. This is why these behaviors are considered antisocial. They are wrong to do because they unjustly take what matters most. Lying is often the most subtle of these aggravators, which is why we sometimes disregard it, but it still remains just as fundamentally wrong as all the other types of harm.

Self-Delusion)

In these most recent posts I have been arguing why it is wrong to set another person on a deceitful precipice, but it is also just as wrong to do it to ourselves. My core contention in this series is that we must recognize and overcome our tendencies towards self-delusion and self-minimizing.

There are hard truths that we don’t want to face, realities that we would rather pretend away, lies that we would prefer to live. And because we are the ones doing these things to ourselves, we somehow feel that it is okay. But as we’ve just discussed, living under this delusion frustrates our core desires, even when they are self-imposed. It’s never okay to stand in the way of our own dreams.

The thing about self-delusion is that only the self can choose to come out of it. Someone else can call you out on your folly, they can even stage an intervention, but none of that makes the real difference. You can hear everything that they say, you can even admit that they are right, but still go right on living detached from it all. Only you hold yourself prisoner, so only you can set yourself free.

To Live Freely: Part Five

Review)

In my last post I started considering whether it was a viable strategy to help someone live a richer, happier life by causing them to believe a falsehood. The idea was that if we can discredit this approach, then what remains is to live a life founded on the truth.

We discussed the example of a husband concealing an affair from his wife, in order to spare her the pain of it. The conclusion was that this sets her up to do things that actively work against her, undermining her own stability in life as she extends her dependence on a tenuous marriage. A key takeaway was that this foundation of a lie leaves the wife in a reality that is increasingly detached from the truth, resulting in horrible pain when, and if, she suddenly falls back to the real world.

Today I wanted to consider a new example, though, one where the parents of an adopted child lead him to believe that he is their biological son. The issue of a painful return to reality certainly applies to this case as well, we have all heard the stories of a child who only learns in their adulthood that they were adopted, and how that revelation was a terrible shock to them.

But this particular example also brings to mind another inherent danger in setting another person on a foundation of mistruth, one that must not go overlooked.

Covering a Lie With a Lie)

What is the reason why the parents wants their child to be believe he is their biological son? In virtually every case it is genuinely meant as a kindness. They want their child to feel that he is no less than any other, that he is just as valid and real a part of their family as he possibly could be. In their hearts he is the same as a biological son, so they want him to live as if that were the case.

But why does the child need to feel that he is a biological son to feel equal to one? What harm is there if he knows that he is adopted? It is because the parents know that there are those in the world that view adopted children as lesser. They know that some people would hold that fact against him and make him feel shamed for it. They want to protect him from such unkindness.

But here is the moment where the twisting of the truth turns back to bite those who would wrest it. The parents are actually perpetuating the very stigma that they refute. There is a cycle here where parents hide the adoption from the child because the world would use it against them, but one of the chief reasons why the world thinks there is something wrong with being adopted is because it is treated so secretively by parents. If the child does uncover the fact that he is adopted at some point, what does his parents’ concealing of that fact suggest to him? It implies that his adoption really was shameful, that it was a nasty, secret thing that had to be hidden. If his origin really was just as valid any other, then why was there a need to conceal it? There is nothing that marks something as an object of shame more than trying to hide it.

I do realize that parents may not want to fight that battle against society with their own child. Let someone else challenge that stigma and pave the way for accepting all children as equal. But the fact still remains that by not challenging the problem directly, they are only making it worse. So yes, the parents were entirely well-meaning, but as I have mentioned before, well-meaning intentions do not necessarily equate to moral behavior.

If the parents really feel that there is no difference between a biological child and an adopted one, then they ought to be able to openly talk about the truth of the situation and reinforce in their child that there is no need to feel ashamed about that truth. And if parents secretly do feel that there is a difference, but they don’t want to admit to that, then once again they are trying to extract happiness and meaningfulness out of a lie. They need to consider what is real and what is true, or at least what their best understanding of it is, and then they should live in accordance with it.

To Live Freely: Part Four

Living a Lie)

Thus far I have shown an example of those who live in the full light of the truth and are more fulfilled as a result, I have also demonstrated how building our science and technology on physical truths resulted in far greater accomplishments than could be achieved in any other way, and I have also illustrated the chaos that arises by accepting untruth. I have presented each of these as demonstrations of how being founded upon truth brings about greater growth and fulfillment and knowledge than any other course.

There is another way that we can strengthen the argument for living a life founded on truth, and that is by refuting its alternative. Let us consider an opposite philosophy, such as “sometimes a person will flourish more if they believe a lie.” If we can provide evidence that this is false, then that leaves as the only other option that we should live in the truth.

And this philosophy we will seek to discredit is no mere imagined thing. There really is an idea in our society that people will be happier if they don’t have to deal with certain unpleasant realities. It isn’t only suggested that they are better of living in ignorance of a truth, but that they should actively believe something that is opposite to that truth. One example is that a husband shouldn’t tell his wife about an affair, and another is that a child should be led to believe that his parents are biological, when in reality he is adopted.

We will examine both of these, and point out the damage, not comfort, that is inherent in each. Today we will cover the first example, that of whether infidelity should be concealed from a spouse.

The Fall)

The reason typically given for hiding a betrayal of marriage is that it only causes the innocent spouse to feel pain and anguish that she doesn’t deserve, better to let her remain happy with her home and family life. It is the burden of the unfaithful spouse to carry his transgression himself, not hurting those that did nothing wrong themselves. This is his penance.

There is much that is initially appealing in this line of reasoning, but it is extremely condescending to the faithful spouse, and also it sets her upon a treacherous trajectory. By the husband doing one thing, and then allowing his wife to believe that he didn’t, he has rotated her alignment away from reality, and worse, done so without her consent. Falsely aligned, the wife is now put in the awkward position where she might now be the instrument of her own continuing harm. She might willingly take on debt with her husband for a large purchase, such as a new home, only to be hurt financially when he announces his intention to divorce, and the property must be divided. She might unknowingly abet her own betrayal by encouraging a friendly relationship with the very person her husband is sleeping with, or even just by staying at home and watching the children while he goes out for another liaison. She might burn bridges with people that cast aspersions against her husband, even though they are the ones genuinely acting in her favor. She will continue to invest care and warmth in a man who can only offer shallow counterfeits in return, which means wasting more and more of her time and energy. She will lose years that might have been spent with a more faithful partner.

There are numerous ways that a deceived wife is likely to dig the foundation out from under herself, totally oblivious until the ledge she is standing upon suddenly breaks and she falls and hurts herself. When one is first told a lie there is a separation between their reality and true reality. As time continues that gap can only expand. Breaking the ledge and falling from perspective to reality is a painful experience. The higher the drop, the more injury incurred.

Even in the case that the wife never does catch on to the truth, it is still morally wrong to leave someone in danger of that fall, especially when the distance of that potential fall is growing greater with every passing day. Yes, she would be hurt by the truth, but then the wound could heal and there would be no threat of continuing harm. To instead leave the spouse in a place of constant and increasing danger is an act of criminal negligence.

Of course, most of us know that a spouse who decides to shield the other from the truth is almost certainly doing it more out of self-preservation, no matter what noble motivations they might pretend to. Yet even if we were to find a case where the intent really and truly was only to spare the heart of the betrayed spouse, good intentions alone do not make an action moral. One of the key things that makes an action moral is whether it creates good, or at least the potential for good in the life of the other. One of the key things that makes an action immoral is whether it creates evil, or even just the potential for it in the life of the other. In the long term, deception can only foster evil, not good, and so it is immoral.

To Live Freely: Part Three

Propositions and Predicates)

I have explained the necessity of adhering to physical truths in the field of aviation. In order to overcome the forces of gravity and air resistance, great minds had to search out the realities of the physical world and build machines that would act in accordance with them. Today I’d like to consider another example of this in the world of logic. This time we won’t just consider the usefulness of truth, though, but also the chaos of untruth.

There is a concept in mathematics called propositional and predicate logic. In this system, propositions are statements of truth, such as George is Abe’s father, Steven is George’s father, and Marcus is not Abe’s brother. These are simple facts that contain a single piece of valid information. Then there are predicates, which are rules for how these propositions can be combined to reveal entirely new truths. For example, we might have a predicate that if A is the father of B, and B is the father of C, then A is the grandfather of C. Given our initial propositions, we can derive that George is Abe’s Grandfather, a fact that wasn’t in the original set of information.

This might not seem that useful, but once we expand our set of propositions and predicates to thousands of items there are literally millions of implied facts that a computer can derive from, something that our brains simply don’t have the capacity to process. Our modern-day databases are built upon this system of logic, allowing a large dataset to have its parts combined in a multitude of ways, revealing hidden patterns and trends, secrets and truths that were hiding in plain sight.

Let’s build expand on our example of a family tree to see this process more clearly. Suppose we have the following propositions and predicates (feel free to skim over these):

Propositions:
#1 George is Abe's Father
#2 Susan is George's wife
#3 Penny is Susan's daughter
#4 Penny is Abe's sibling
#5 Helen is George's sister
#6 Gabe is Marcus's father
#7 Steven is Marcus's maternal grandfather
#8 Agnes is Helen's mother
#9 Steven is Agnes's husband
#10 Howard is Susan's father
#11 Jill is Susan's mother

Predicates:
#1 If A is the father/mother of B, and B is the father of C, A is the grandfather of C
#2 If A is the father/mother of B, and B is the mother of C, A is the grandmother of C
#3 If B is a parent of A, and C is the husband/wife of B, then C is also a parent of A
#4 If A is the father/mother of B, and C is the other parent of B, then A is the mother/father
#5 If A is the father of B, and C is the mother of C, then A is B's husband and B is A's wife
#6 If A is the child of B, and C is the child of B, then A and C are siblings
#7 If A is the maternal grandfather of B, and B's mother is C, then A is the father of B
#8 If A is the sister of B, and B is the parent of C, A is the aunt of C
#9 If A is the child of B, and B is the aunt/uncle of C, A is C's cousin
#10 A cousin is not a sibling
#11 A mother is not a father

Given this setup, we could piece together the following family tree:

This tree is a visual representation of all the separate facts we get by combining all of our initial information. We can ask our system any number of questions, even ones that go beyond the scope of the original data set, and it can derive answers for them. It will answer yes, no, or uncertain, and so long as our propositions and predicates are all correct, then we can know that any derived answer is also correct. This data is a source of truth because it is based on logically sound principles.

A Twist)

But what if all of our propositions and predicates are all correct…except one? What if among all the truth facts and rules we include just one falsehood? It might occur to you that this would tarnish our confidence in the system, because there would always be a possibility that the answer it gave to us was that one lie. But actually, the effect is far, far worse. It has been proven that introducing just one logical falsehood into a system such as this will make any possible lie seem true. It won’t just be one lie that comes out of the system, it will be all lies. That might seem improbable, but allow me to illustrate.

To the system up above I will introduce one logical falsehood. Given the previously established rules, it is impossible for this to be the case, but I am going to enter it as a fact even so:

Susan is Abe's father

This statement is completely contrary to the logic of Predicate #11, but we add it to our system regardless. This creates a logical contradiction, and now let us look at all the new falsehoods we are able to infer from it. By Predicate #4 we can infer that since since Susan is Abe’s father, then Abe’s other parent, George, must be his mother.

Of course, we previously had derived that Steven and Agnes were Abe’s paternal grandparents, because they are George’s parents. But now that we know that George is Abe’s mother, then they must also be his maternal grandparents. By the same token, Howard and Jill are now no longer only Abe’s maternal grandparents but also his paternal.

Of course, now that we know that Howard is Abe’s paternal grandfather we can combine that with the already-known fact that Agnes is his paternal grandmother, and we can now infer that they are married together, something we never knew before! And by the same token, Steven and Jill are now also married together. Thus all the grandparents are intermarried in some sort of free-love commune! This does have the unfortunate effect of making George and Susan, Abe’s parents, siblings to one another in addition to still being husband and wife! Furthermore, since Abe’s parents are also siblings, then his sister Penny is also his cousin because her mother is the sister of Abe’s father (and her father is the brother of Abe’s mother).

But we aren’t even really going yet! We still haven’t invoked the powers of NOT and ELIMINATION. First let’s consider the NOT. Predicate #10 stated that a cousin is NOT a sibling, and Predicate #11 that a mother is NOT a father. So, since we just proved that Penny is Abe’s cousin, then she is NOT his sibling. Of course, she also is his sibling, since Proposition #4 explicitly says so. Thus, she is his sibling, and she is not. These are both totally valid answers in the eyes of our data set. And Abe’s parents George is his father and Susan is his mother, but also, they are not. And his grandparents are his grandparents, but also, they are not.

And now that we’ve shown that we can prove that the exact same relationship can and cannot exist simultaneously, by ELIMATION we can also prove that every relationship can and cannot exist. So, from the initial data set we know that Abe has a sibling. But who is it? Well, we can go through each member of his family and prove that they are not that sibling. So, let’s do that for every family member except one, Steven, and now we know, by process of elimination, that Steven must be the one who is Abe’s sibling. And by the same process we can prove by process of elimination that it is Agnes, and Howard, and Gabe, and Helen, and George, and Susan, and Marcus. And by the same process they are all his father, and all his mother, and all his aunt, and all his uncle, and all his cousin, and all his grandfather, and all his grandmother.

I’m not going to try to show the family tree at this point, because it is simply all names connected to all other names in every possible way. But also…all names connected to none of the others. Every statement is true. Every statement is false.

Our data set was useful at one point. It was full of true statements, and it could be used to infer many other true statements. But now, after a single lie the entire thing has been corrupted. The only answer it has to provide are “yes, no, maybe, I don’t know…I guess it depends on how you look at it.” It has lost all confidence and isn’t useful for anything.

And sure, this is a rigorous and mathematical system, which is particularly prone to collapsing at the slightest instability. The system in our minds is far more nuanced, able to continue functioning with illogical assumptions and idiosyncrasies…but only to an extent. The same principle does apply to us to at least some degree. Adopt the wrong belief and suddenly every other concrete conviction starts to be undermined by it. People start going through logical acrobatics to try and make incompatible beliefs fit together, corrupting all that was once good and losing the certainty they once had. We cannot accept a lie without somewhat losing our grip on all truth.

To Live Freely: Part Two

Built on Truth)

Yesterday I shared how twelve-step programs teach their followers embrace a fully truthful view of themselves. The ever-feared Step 4 requires its members to conduct “a fearless moral inventory,” classifying their every flaw and weakness, though also their abilities and strengths. I pointed out that the people that take such steps with sincerity are the most fulfilled individuals that I know, living a higher form of life than any other. I gave this as evidence that only a life founded on truth is truly free.

Today I’d like to consider another example that illustrates how holding unapologetically to the truth will always result in the fastest and best development of a system. This example arises from the world of physics and technology, but in my estimation it translates seamlessly to the humanities.

Taking Flight)

Let us consider the advances mankind has seen in the aviation and space exploration fields, the ways that we ventured higher and with greater control into our own atmosphere. For untold thousands of years, humanity was entirely unable to suspend themselves in the air. The only way to elevate oneself was to climb a tree, or a mountain, or build a tower. All of these required the tall object to be firmly rooted to the ground, therefore being nothing more than an extension of that ground.

It wasn’t until 1783 that the Montgolfier brothers invented the first hot air balloon. They had observed that a pocket of hot air, contained within a canvas, became more buoyant and would rise. Many of their initial theories were actually quite incorrect. They originally believed that smoke itself was the buoyant entity, and they certainly had no understanding of air molecules being excited by the increase of temperature. Nonetheless, even if they did not fully understand the physical truths at the molecular level, they had found a way to act in accordance with them, and so for the first time in millennia, man was able to ascend untethered to the heavens.

The Wright brothers surpassed these relatively simple principles of buoyancy when they honed in on the truths of aerodynamics, invented the first airplane, and conducted the first powered flight in 1903. To their credit, they seem to have been quite cognizant of their own ignorance. They knew that they did not know all the forces that were at play, or the exact mathematical expressions to describe them. This was why they built the wind tunnel, so that they could learn by trial-and-error the correct size and shape to maximize the lift of their ailerons. They progressively brought their designs into harmony with the truths of aerodynamics by a systematic process, even while not understanding why those truths were what they were, and the result lifted mankind even farther.

Of course, following the Wright brothers, this scientific and systematic approach to understanding the laws of nature would revolutionize the world at an accelerated rate. Gone were the days of attributing unexpected and inclement weather to the whims of emotionally unstable gods. It had become the common consensus that the universe was operating according to a consistent system, one which could be measured, modeled, and predicted. Thus, great minds were no longer limited to approximating the truth by trial-and-error anymore, they could actually capture it within mathematical algorithms.

This completely changed how man and his machinery related to the world. Invention began taking place primarily on the math sheet and the computer simulation, and only when mastered there translated to the real world with working results. Real-world practice led to more variables in the algorithm, more work with the algorithms led to better practice. Years of this cycle led to, in1969, humanity crowning all its aviation and propulsion accomplishments with the first landing on the moon. Here was mankind’s final and decisive victory over the atmosphere! We had such a mastery of understanding and such a power of invention that we could suspend ourselves within our airspace, traverse to any other point within it, and even break out of its confines entirely.

Increasing Truth)

Lifting off of the ground in a balloon came about by an accidental alignment with some of the physical truths. Powered flight required more deliberate and systematic experimentation to generally stub out the shape and bounds of that truth. Voyage to the moon, however had demanded a perfect and continuous model of the truth. As man increased his knowledge of the truth and synchronized his efforts with it, his reach literally extended to the heavens.

It is interesting to note how each successive milestone increased in difficulty at an exponential rate, yet they were each achieved in exponentially shorter timespans. As already mentioned, it was thousands of years before the Montgolfier brothers built their gravity-defying balloon, but only an additional 120 years until the Wright brothers conducted their first flight, and then only 66 more years before the moon landing took place. Truth is a vein that reveals more and more precious ore the longer you keep digging at it.

These examples also illustrate that truth is accumulative. Each of these inventors was able to expand and build upon what had been done before, established on the tower of knowledge already erected by the great minds of the past generations. This idea was famously captured by Newton, who stated, “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It is poetic that Newton uttered this, for he predated all of the others mentioned thus far. More than 100 years before the Montgolfier brothers and their balloon, he discovered the truth of gravity, which was the first foundational truth that needed to be understood if anything was ever to rise above it. He became one of those same giants he spoke about, and all the other men I have mentioned were perched upon his shoulder. The first giant, though, the bedrock at the bottom of this stack of innovation, is Truth itself.

Before man discovered the physical truths of the world, he was able to muddle about and survive in some regions of the world and go extinct in others. He could prosper in some of his endeavors and be frustrated in others. Life and death, success and failure, these all seemed to be according to the random whims of unknown forces. But when man started to recognize the physical truths that defined his world and lay his foundation upon them, he thrived and flourished. Living in truth means living in harmony with the once-mysterious forces. This is demonstrably true for the physical world, and it is just as true for the spiritual.

To Live Freely: Part One

Axiomatic Truth)

There is a concept that has come up a few times in my previous series, including the last one. I have spoken to the matter in brief here and there, but now I want to consider it more fully. The concept is that living in the truth is the foundation for a full and happy life. Said another way, facing the facts as they really are is the only way to be truly free. Said a third way, only those who are willing to face the truth unflinchingly are ever truly alive.

This is a principle that is basic and fundamental to life. It is so foundational that sometimes it is difficult to really get a grasp on it. Axiomatic truths are, by definition, self-evident in their truthfulness, requiring no argument to prove them. That’s all well and good, but it means that if you then try to explain why an axiom is true you’re going to have a very hard time of it! Explanations tend to lead to circular logic, such as “living in truth is the foundation for a full life because…it just is!”

One way to come to full appreciation of these fundamental truths is to look at them in reverse. Fundamental truths are prerequisites for many other things in life, and by examining those things that are built upon foundational truth we obtain evidence that the underlying axiom really is true, for if it were not the things that we have observed could not be. We find that the fundamental truth is necessarily true, because it is necessary for it to be true for other observable things to be so.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. -Matthew 7:17-18, 20

Jesus describes the same idea in these verses where he teaches that we may recognize that which was good by whether it brought about good or not. So if we want to know whether “a life founded upon the truth is joyful and free” is a true statement or not, then we merely have to look at those who live in harmony with this belief and see what sort of life they possess. I will begin my series today by doing exactly this. I will look at an example of people who are built upon this axiom, living their lives with the assumption that it is absolutely true. We may observe the reality of their lives, and infer whether they built upon a solid foundation or not.

The Happiest of People)

I have mentioned before how the addiction-recovery groups I have attended are singularly focused on living in harmony with truth. Any addict working a twelve-step program can tell you that one of its most fundamental tenets is that we take a fearless inventory of our lives, facing all of the unpleasant and difficult truths in our character. Where most people attempt to cherry-pick their best qualities and define themselves by those, addicts in recovery open the door to all of their qualities. We do not care if the description of us is pleasant, only that it is true.

And what comes about by this strict adherence to seeing things as they really are? For an answer, let me offer an anecdote that occurred to me personally. I was speaking with an ecclesiastical leader about my efforts to overcome my addictions, and my time spent in my recovery group. As soon as he heard that I was part of a twelve-step program he said to me, “you know, I’ve never been a part of such a program, but I have been a witness to its meetings and its members, and those are the most humble, most sincere people I have ever met.”

The reason why the twelve-step program has grown at such incredible rates since its inception is entirely due to the quality of the men and women one meets when they walk through the door. People see men and women who have not only gained freedom from the most terrible of vices, but who also live with a clearness and a joyfulness that simply isn’t to be found anywhere else. Furthermore, the fact that that light has remained consistent throughout the decades and continues to burn brightly in every new generation of members is a testament to the fact that the happy way of life was not due to some pre-existing condition in the first AA members, but is cultured in its members from the principles that they live by. If people had not seen throughout the years that these people had uncovered a superior way of life by their principles, then no one would have stayed and joined the crew, and it would have been a long-extinct experiment.

It was the evidence of this joyful peace that also drew me into the ranks of the twelve step program. It might seem a counter-intuitive thing to say, but I quickly recognized that I had never seen a happier, more satisfied, and more productive people, than these addicts who sincerely identified their miseries and their flaws. One would have thought that bringing out those heavy truths would have crushed them, but so far as I could see those weights, once surrendered, were being taken away, so that they could live free and unfettered. They attested that one had to truly see their shackles before they could receive the key to undo them. Though I was not then converted to the notion of living my life strictly in harmony with the truth, I was persuaded enough by what I saw to give it a try. My result has been much the same as theirs.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Even if you don’t consider yourself an addict, go and visit a few of the local meetings in your area. See for yourself what manner of men and women these are, and what sort of lives they lead. Granted, every group has its own culture and its own level of sincerity about the work, but attend a few different ones and you will quickly see that there is a clear correlation between those that genuinely face the hard truths and those that live joyful and free.