what is truth?
Every now and again in our grand world history, magnetic personalities have had insights so stirring they just had to try to share. These sharings sometimes resonated broadly and created movements based on the master’s teachings, as they understood, or misunderstood, them. The truth shall make you free, for example. MLK said it, not sure where he got it, Jesus? Dunno. This example so begs elaboration that all kinds of factions can get behind it.
The truth for some is Jesus… or Yaweh, or Mohammad, Buddha and on through all the variations, usually blossoming out of some monumentally charismatic guy (few women… why’s that?). His bad days may have produced grumpy proverbs and his disciples, not perhaps as enlightened, took literally what the poet meant as metaphor, maybe even making a few edits here and there to express some prejudice that they were sure the master must have overlooked.
The obvious question regarding this insight is, what is truth, what did all the prophets mean by that? And how will it make you free? Was Dale Carnegie onto the answer with his self-hypnotic hyper confidence? How to win friends and influence people… that strategy represents the material answer. The uses of friends and influence is in how much stuff it allows you to accumulate… and keep, so you can be “happy,” free of want, envied, fixed for life.
The interpretation that makes sense to me, since we all know by now, except perhaps the Koch brothers, the Walmart family and their minions (in the millions, hell, maybe billions), materialism beyond a point becomes meaningless. The “truth” in this view would be the eternal interconnection beneath the transient, passing illusion, out of which it manifests. Once one feels that interconnection, that truth (the point of meditation), one is free of the terror created by the illusion of separation. This is the insight the great mystics have tried to pass on.
I’ve been looking at some insights of another sort, writers that impress me with their analytic and literate skills, applying them to that area within the illusion called justice. The above view would claim that peace and justice comes out of enlightenment. When we are enlightened our behavior is consequently just, fair, compassionate. We don’t need a check list. The writers I’m thinking of here, Parenti, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, see that desired state as not so automatic but something one must work at, overcoming dysfunctional received wisdom, educating others and organizing mass action.
Michael Parenti’s Blackshirts & Reds takes a look at fascism and communism. He challenges the reader to rise above orthodoxy and examine the significant differences between the nouns in his title. Fascism he would argue, serves the existing elite, distracting the populace with patriotic fanfare, the cult of the great leader, light entertainment and, for those who don’t buy in, who insist on another vision involving more sharing, why there are prisons, torture, execution and war. The intent is to serve the wealthy (and for the leadership to join them of course).
The intent of communism is (was) to create an egalitarian society where poverty, class and exploitation are non-existent, where food, clothing, shelter, education, health care are available for all. In actually existing or late communism (Parenti is writing in 1997) there is much to criticize and capitalism has spent a lot of energy doing just that. This effort been very successful at equating the word with the gulag and further attempting to associate their demonized version also with socialism. The word is so loaded that Donald Trump hurls it, socialist/communist! at Bernie Sanders to discredit the presidential candidate. There’ll be more to come no doubt. Greed does not like limits. Those most successful in the greed game are anxious to stomp out all notions of fairness and sharing. This, at root, is their objection to communism and socialism but of course they can’t say this out loud so they focus on issues such as secret police brutality and long bread lines, all the while doing what they can to force feed these attributes, like the arms race – remember the Reaganites boasting about “winning the cold war” by spending the USSR into bankruptcy? After the Russian revolution the U.S. and Britain sent troops to support those opposing the so-called Bolsheviks. This might produce a little paranoia. Similarly the monarchies around France rallied to defeat the French Revolution, fearing as always the falling dominoes.
Parenti argues that capitalist criticism has been dishonest, inflating numbers of purged, murdered and imprisoned citizens and burying the positive aspects. He isn’t an apologist for he offers a scathing critique of the many problems of that experiment, laying out numerous instances of why it didn’t work, not least outside meddling. He also adds that Soviet citizens took for granted what they had, thinking they were going to move into a U.S. style consumer paradise with the fall of communism. Many, very many, came to yearn for the days when they had guaranteed jobs, housing, medical care and education. Parenti claims 20% of the Russian population were “desperate for food and shelter in the new gangster-ridden capitalist paradise.” Even when communists have been elected in the aftermath of the ruthless theft of state property, power now resided with the oligarchy in control of the police, army and resources of the country. It reminds me of the U.S. union workers who supported the government against those who were questioning its values, as expressed in Vietnam and elsewhere, only to be systematically betrayed later, once the ground work had been laid for the counter revolution. The U.S. oligarchy nursed its grievances over the Roosevelt New Deal, biding its time until finally hiring Ronald Reagan to begin the serious business of roll-back. They will not easily give up what they have gained, neither in Russia and its former satellites, nor here.
- Image: the illustration is by the author, Tom Ferguson.