Posts Tagged ‘1984’

UNTRUTHS VS. LIES

Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to present strategies for speaking to people with different opinions. What he didn’t say also offers much to think about.

Promoting his new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Brooks advised, “When you’re talking to somebody else, you’re not positioned to say that that person is a pathological liar. What you know, or what you believe, is that person is saying something untrue—and that’s what you should take on.”

In forsaking personal attacks, Brooks cited NYU’s Jonathan Haidt on two values that might draw us closer together: compassion and fairness.“We don’t define those things in the same way,” Brooks warned, “but we care about those things.” Brooks also acknowledged that conservatives and liberals have different moral foundations. His endgame regarding discussing—and arguing: Listen to the other person then let compassion and fairness perhaps lead to common ground.

It’s important to listen to those with whom we disagree and acknowledge what they’re saying. Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But it can reduce some of the pent-up rage in the other person, who may see you as foolish, unpatriotic, maybe evil. Letting someone else get their words out—even vitriolic words—can be like releasing air from a balloon inflated to the point of bursting. Also, the active listener becomes better informed about the opposing position. You can’t advance your own position without a clear sense of what another believes and on what values they draw their position.

So you listen. You acknowledge. But still, things often get sticky. What happens when the other guy distorts or ignores provable facts, or proposes non-facts? Can you use the “L” word? 

Granted, your opponent may simply be misinformed and utter an untruth. That’s easy enough to do. How many times has any of us mentioned a movie with an actor who never appeared in it or a sports statistic we didn’t get right? Some people—some—will acknowledge an untruth when it’s pointed out. Facts often can easily be arrived at. A smart phone makes a great starting point.

But your opponent—or someone she supports—may, yes, lie. The difference? An untruth represents a lack of knowledge through error or ignorance. No harm may be intended. A lie involves deliberation, falsifying fact and truth, usually to seek some advantage. 

Liars, knowing they haven’t an objective leg to stand on, often fall back on a murky right to their own alternate reality. The crowd at your inauguration was the largest ever or the Mueller Report completely exonerated you as long as you believe it. Fact loses any relationship to demonstrable reality. George Orwell presented an authoritarian government’s concept of fact and truth in his classic novel 1984: Black is white and white is black.

Re Brooks, can you really love your enemies when they scorn reality and objective truth? Of course, using enemy to describe those with whom we disagree creates a toxic political climate preventing reasonable solutions. At the same time, enemy may be an apt term for those who deny facts. We can love them only if we’re hellbent on committing physical or national suicide.

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BIRTHER 102

I’m thinking about running for President in 2020, but two factors give me pause. One is my age. I’ll be 76 then. Of course, a President Trump would be 74 prior to re-election, or a President Clinton 72. It’s the second factor that worries me.

I may have to prove I’m an American-born citizen. Obviously, President Trump wouldn’t make a fuss. As Trump informed the nation last week, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.” But how about Mrs. Clinton? Will she target me for Birther 102?

Like President Obama, I’m a member of a minority religion. Yes, a Jew, Joe Lieberman, ran for vice president on the ticket with Al Gore in 2004. And Bernie Sanders gave Hillary a run for her money in the Democratic primaries. Still, I imagine that the same people who fear a Muslim in the White House breathed sighs of relief. Although I don’t think they’re Hillary supporters.

Also like President Obama, I have a foreign-born father. My dad was 2-1/2 when he came to the United States—an immigrant! My mother was born in Manhattan—she claimed. I’m under the impression I was born in the Bronx, but doubts could arise. Red flag: my parents were living in Queens at the time.

My alibi? My folks previously lived in the Bronx where my sister was born. My mother wanted to keep her obstetrician. Given lighter traffic then, my father could quickly drive my mother to the birthing hospital.

Question: Does that story sound shaky?

Another question: How much insanity can Americans take? Hillary Clinton didn’t start the birther movement. Worse, Trump railed on for years then, after conceding, never owned up or apologized. So yes, I’m more than skeptical when the Donald claims credit for clearing up the question of Mr. Obama’s birth and promises to “make America great again.”

Yet I suspect that Trump sees himself as a hero. I imagine he’ll feel slighted if President Obama fails to host him at a White House dinner and award him a gold (has to be gold) medal. After all, if the New York Mets or the New York Yankees win the World Series—or even the pennant—Trump probably will take credit. (Otherwise they’re losers.)

In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, Big Brother declares that “black is white” and “war is peace.” Language functions as a key tool for government oppression because truth becomes whatever the forces in power say it is. As the Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Truth doesn’t fare well in politics, either. With Trump, it’s no mere casualty. It’s a fatality.

As to my 2020 presidential run, I remain on the fence. Sure, I’d love to fly around the world on Air Force One, as I explained in a previous post “My (Maybe) Run for the White House” (5-16-14). I might upsize the national chanukiah. But to date, only my parents along with clerks in the Bronx (New York) and Bexar County (Texas) court houses, the U.S. Army and the State Department (my passport says I was born in the Bronx) plus my wife have seen my birth certificate. I prefer to keep it that way.

Or am I hiding something even I don’t know about?

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And give a little thought to how much truth the nation is willing to sacrifice because lies make frustrated people feel better.

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BLACK IS WHITE—AND BLACK

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, the symbol of tyranny, declares that “Black is white, and white is black.” This marks just one example of “doublethink,” which twists truth and falsehood. But doublespeak is more than fiction, as we learned in Gaza last week.

On Saturday, Palestinians celebrated Hamas’ twenty-fifth anniversary marked by the first-ever visit to Gaza by Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal. Doublespeak was the order of the day. Yet Meshaal also spoke quite plainly with no attempt at deceit.

Let’s go first with the blatant lie. Hamas claimed victory over Israel in their recent hostilities. Following the declaration of a truce, Gazans celebrated their triumph. How obvious was Hamas’ victory? As obvious as their unguided rockets killing six Israelis and doing some property damage. I’m not sure that any other nation or group has won a war by inflicting so few casualties—although every life lost is precious—and so little damage.

The fact that 170 and perhaps more Gazans were killed—and the civilian lives among them also are precious—in no way seemed to diminish Hamas’ triumph. Why would it? Those casualties represent martyrs sent directly to heaven by Israeli missiles, which were guided with considerable precision towards military targets, often located in civilian areas of densely populated Gaza. The upshot? Being on the high end of a 28–1 kill ratio with considerably more damage to infrastructure—victory photos show many Gaza buildings in ruins—defines winning.

But black also can be black. Meshaal made no attempt at subterfuge when he told an adoring crowd he would never recognize Israel and vowed to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch.” Perhaps some in Europe and in other regions of the world took that as a statement devoted to peace and brotherhood (other than the Islamic kind). But Meshaal left little room for doubt. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he said. And, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

All this leaves the future a bit murky. Critics expect Israel to negotiate peace with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. I’d like that, too. But while Abbas says he wants a peaceful solution and vows no violence, he seeks unity with Hamas. And he never disavowed Meshaal’s remarks. On Monday, Meshaal repeated his own desire for Palestinian unity. Again Abbas, that seeker of peace, made no response.

So do me a favor. If you know how a united Palestinian people can negotiate a peaceful two-state solution while also seeking the destruction of Israel, let me know. For now, I can only conclude that in the Middle East—and among those in the West who would rather engage in fantasy than reality—black and white can be one and the same. Which leaves everything at least fifty shades of gray.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.