Saturday, August 01, 2009

Delighting in serenity

Another gem from Letter III of Tom Paine's Letters to the Citizens of the United States, in which the great freedom advocate sounded the alarm about those who wanted to convert the US of A into an Old World monarchy/dictatorship in 1802-03 (and later, some might say, succeeded beyond their wildest dreams):
There is a general and striking difference between the genuine effects of truth itself, and the effects of falsehood believed to be truth. Truth is naturally benign; but false-hood believed to be truth is always furious. The former delights in serenity, is mild and persuasive, and seeks not the auxiliary aid of invention. The latter sticks at nothing.

It has naturally no morals. Every lie is welcome that suits its purpose. It is the innate character of the thing to act in this manner, and the criterion by which it may be known, whether in politics or religion. When any thing is attempted to be supported by lying, it is presumptive evidence that the thing so supported is a lie also. The stock on which a lie can be grafted must be of the same species as the graft.
What's especially striking about Paine's letters is that, although the specific circumstances are different, the tactics of those who would assault individual freedoms haven't changed a whit. This is another example.

It seems to me that when you've touched on the basic truth of a thing, you experience the serenity Paine mentions. Any anxiety you might feel is more like an excitement of wanting or needing to share the truth. Truth does indeed have a "mild and persuasive" nature to it.

"Falsehood believed to be truth" is a different beast altogether. An intensity and even rage accompanies the demeanor of those who know they're right but maintain a sliver (or even a plank or two) of doubt. In its extreme, this is the anger of "We gotta round up them illegals and ship 'em back to Mexico before they finish ruinin' our country" or "That smoker over there in the corner is poisoning my air" and "The fight against climate change requires you to submit to the state, and how can you even doubt?"

Self-evident truth settles into the heart and takes up residence. Falsehood believed to be truth is the proverbial resounding gong or clanging cymbal. Again, it's Malcolm Reynolds and "I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way."

The holder of truth knows that at some point, the truth will become self-evident even to the hardest to convince. The holder of the falsehood-believed-to-be-truth needs to convince, because maybe if he can find enough other people to believe the falsehood it really will be true. But a falsehood believed to be true by a vast majority is still false; that's the underlying frustration and the root of the fervor.

The truth "delights in serenity." What a wonderful phrase!

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