Truth for our own sake
January 17, of 2006 will be Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday. Judging from what has been going on in our world it is too bad the old fellow isn't still with us.
As the weeks go by we will see more and more stories about Franklin's numerous accomplishments in the fields of science, diplomacy, revolution, publishing, philosophy, and so many individual accomplishments to numerous to mention here. He may in fact be the single most accomplished human being in American history.
For the moment let's focus on just one very small area of Ben's expertise and that is thinking. Ben called it "right thinking" and its basic premise was that in all cases what you think on any issue comes as a result of input from your own little world; and therefore any conclusions you might reach would undoubtedly be wrong. Franklin's opinion was that, given the amount of information in the world, a man was far more likely to be ignorant of, rather than have a great deal of knowledge or wisdom about any issue. With this in mind it was paramount that he assemble facts before he drew any conclusions on any issue in his life.
If nothing else, the pursuit of truth is what permeates every aspect of the monumental achievements in Franklin's life. We need such people now more than ever.
This commitment to truth is evident in one of his conditions for entering his 'Junto.' The Junto was a group of his contemporaries who met regularly to philosophize and to contemplate the issues of their day. The primary question he asked of the would--be participants was this
"Do you love truth for truth's sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others?"
One can only assume that against this back--drop of critical thinking skills, Franklin would be horrified by what has been going on at every level of contemporary thought regarding the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Not only have the people of Louisiana and Mississippi been victimized by this enormous natural disaster, but so to has truth been victimized in any attempt by newspapers, television and politicians to seek the truth for truth's sake.
For those of us who are far removed from the disaster itself it appears that during the first 8 or 9 days of the event, not one word that was uttered by media, self appointed luminaries or public officials was clear unvarnished truth other than that Katrina was a hurricane. Every report or commentary seemed to be first jaded by the deliverer's self--interest.
The news media, the opposing political parties, the race baiters, local government versus national government, global warmers, anti war activists and Jihadists all expressed opinions that exploited the disaster in a way that would somehow seem to mesh with their particular agenda. Some of the opinion bordered on absurd. One critic, activist Randall Robinson, had black victims of the disaster resorting to cannibalism. A comment repeated nationally and worldwide, with not a single shred of credible evidence.
Others said 25,000 would be dead, the national government was slow to respond, the local government was incompetent, President Bush hates black people, only black people were looters, New Orleans cops deserted from their duties. The list seems to go on and on.
There are truths that we can extract from some of these things. When reporters report they might have a Pulitzer Prize in the back of their minds; when television reports they might be mindful of their ratings. When a politician speaks he may first think how it will position him in the quest for his next big campaign. When Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton show up you can be sure they won't be bringing any help but will be exploiting the situation based on a racially motivated charges. President Bush does not hate black people but you can be sure that the New York Times hates him.
If Ben were here and had an opportunity to assess the facts and consider the geographical enormity of this disaster he might conclude that the truth is that there were some extreme victim trauma and displacement and failures galore of public institutions.
He might also conclude that the truth is that the degree in which things did work resulted in the saving of a great many lives and averted a human disaster of biblical proportions. He would however be disgusted with people, in whom we have trust, have so little regard for the truth.
Phillip A. Gallagher is a financial consultant in Massachusetts.