Myths and the Malleability of Truth

There were no WMD in Iraq. A cabal of Halliburton, CIA, and Cheney dynamited WTC-7 to increase the death toll on 911. Your government cares about our veterans. Our government cares about you. Bush-43 started a war without the express written consent of Congress and the UN.

These are enduring lies that have become Myth. For arguably too many people myths are like assumptions during a planning cycle – myth serves as truth until replaced by fact. The exception is planners list assumptions, and list facts and know which is which. In America, there are neither such lists nor the desire to know the differences. The strength of a myth may lie in humanity’s peculiar desire to believe that those folks who’ve achieved more are the most dishonorable curs of all history. That desire places blinders over one’s eyes and makes spotting the difference impossible.

Consider Hercules: great hero or wife-murderer? Consider Robert E. Lee: epitome of Southern aristocracy, the acme of military skill, or bloody butcher whose efforts changed warfare from retail to wholesale and extended the killing by three years? Consider as an example Ty Cobb. Ty Cobb was a racist. Everyone said so since shortly before his death. That ‘everyone said so’ is in a couple of books. So it must be true.

The truth of Cobb’s racism had gone unchallenged since his death. Cobb was in the process of disputing the allegations when he died, and since he was, to be kind, a jerk, the charge of racism stuck.

Was Cobb a racist? You’ll have to read the books and examine what is fact and what isn’t. You may run into a problem in this historical endeavor. Facts are tricky – they have an expiration date. Daniel Enger at fivethirtyeight blog writes:

In 2012, network scientist and data theorist Samuel Arbesman published a disturbing thesis: What we think of as established knowledge decays over time. According to his book “The Half-Life of Facts,” certain kinds of propositions that may seem bulletproof today will be forgotten by next Tuesday; one’s reality can end up out of date.

“Bulletproof” and “forgotten” are ways of describing the impression of fact onto the human mind as ‘truth.’ The mechanism for explaining how facts have an expiration date is provided by Samuel Arbesman writing at Boston.com:

When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.

But in between there is a third kind: facts that change slowly. These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime… These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale.

Likewise, myths are enduring lies – but they are meso-lies – they change slowly over time. You may hear this as an ‘evolving truth’ or a ‘narrative.’ Unlike objective, rock solid facts, myths and lies always change. Spotting the difference is a learned skill. If only Marlowe had lived to receive his due credit. Or, as Hamlet declaimed over the grave of Horatio, “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well.”

 

About DaveO

Retired soldier, micro-farmer, raconteur and pet owner from the great state of Oklahoma. Wandered in as a frequent commenter and have been enjoying blogging ever since.
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