I recently spoke with a friend about the nature of Truth. She is a self-proclaimed relativist practicing the popular “hermeneutic of humility.” Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the data we read or hear. When used in conjunction with “humility,” the phrase simply means that any interpretation one makes must fall short of declaring a definitive, exclusive conclusion. In other words, I am (or at least seem) humble because I will not assert anything with confidence–subjective experience consistently trumps objective, authoritative Truth.
I thought about our conversation, and the many logical breakdowns and inconsistencies that happen when we build our house on the sand of relativistic reasoning. I realized that, my friend, like each of us, functionally believes in truth, even though she denies it vigorously. After all, to deny is, by definition, to declare a stance in opposition, and to declare any stance is to maintain a belief in some unwavering premise, in some “truth.”
So, I thought I would attempt to put some of my thoughts on the nature of Truth into a poetic framework. I may have bitten off more than I can chew–and certainly, I have only scratched the surface of this branch of philosophy, perhaps even awkwardly so. But it was a fun and entertaining puzzle to try to piece together, and that’s what The Occasional Caesura is all about!
The rhyme scheme here is ABAB on each stanza; the meter, trochaic heptameter: /x/x/x/x/x/x/.
Truth Against the Tide
“Only fools are positive.” “You sure about that?” “I’m positive.”
–The Three Stooges
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” when Jesus stood on trial,
Bearing witness of the Truth to all who heard His voice.
Though philosophy rejected it, stood in denial,
Still, the Way, the Truth, the Life allowed mankind its choice.
“What is truth?” though, sounds urbane, superior to law.
Hermeneutics of humility smooths out the field.
I seem more sophisticated, cultured, not bourgeois,
If it’s all a mystery, still hidden, unrevealed.
So I claim, “There are no absolutes; it’s relative,”
Disregarding that my statement’s antithetical.
My assertion controverts itself (though tentative),
By proclaiming proclamations “theoretical.”
Next I try, “Who really knows what truth is, after all?”
All my friends agree with me; they wisely nod, concur.
Confident in doubt, with inconsistency banal,
Logic cast aside, to diametrics they demur.
How about “There is no right or wrong; it’s in your head!”
Satisfying concept until I’m the one abused.
Then my default is to judge the wrongdoer instead,
Never asking, “Why impose my ‘truth’ on the accused?”
“Well,” I claim, “I make my own reality; it’s true.”
If you counter me on that, I’ll argue all the way.
Think about it, though, because just how can I undo
True belief with skepticism; how will doubt have sway ?
Really, if I don’t have Truth, I don’t have anything.
Two plus two must equal four, or all the rest is void.
If we have no premise to employ linguistic string,
Then our discourse has no point; we’re barely humanoid.
Truth’s the binding to our book, the glue that holds secure
Logic, Reason, plain Consistency, our common ground,
Making possible each conversation to be sure,
Infrastructure of our culture, verity profound.
Then . . .
Let the relativist hush, he has no argument.
Making absolutist claims without the Truth is mad.
Only schizophrenics would attempt to circumvent
Rationale with their subjective unbelieving fad.
Maybe Truth’s “behind the times,” unstylish, square, uncool,
Maybe if I cling to it they’ll call me “Simpleton.”
All I know is Truth, derided, under ridicule
Still is True, and I’ll be its “minority of one.”
Yes, I’ll make that choice to speak the Truth against the tide.
Orwell’s “revolutionary act,” though I’m alone,
Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” and history replied, . . . that
Truth, though spurned, remains Civilization’s Cornerstone.