Lenin famously said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth." An old adage states, "History is written by the victors." For some unknown reason, as I looked back on events of this past year for my annual "12 Days of Christmas" New Year's satire column, the question of what really is the truth popped into my head.
I'm sure you remember Brian Williams' fall from grace for his "remembrances" of his experiences in combat zones while reporting the news.
Drew and I saw the movie "Truth" last month, which has Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford characterizing the events, which led to the resignation of the news anchor icon Dan Rather at CBS. Based on a book by Mary Mapes, Blanchett's character, I was very aware as the story unfolded on the big screen that it was one person's view of the "truth." That title's a bit pretentious, don't you agree?
But this whole "What is the truth?" thing does not just afflict media personalities.
Much is being made of Donald Trump's "memory" of late. Did he really see Muslims dancing in the streets in New Jersey after 9/11? Fact checkers have yet to find the video he reportedly saw on network TV. But he believes it, definitively.
Dr. Ben Carson's veracity has been called into question for many definitive statements he has made, such as him being a violent slum kid who actually tried to stab another kid, even though no one who knew him then recalls that characterization of his nature. And, of course, there's Hillary Clinton. She, too, had a questionable memory about a war-time experience — and do we really think she tried to enlist for military service or that using her personal email server was really for the sake of convenience?
Let's be honest, haven't we all absolutely known what happened at some point, some event in our lives long ago? Something we have told the story of over and over again in complete confidence that we were speaking the truth? And then, lo and behold, we have a reunion with someone else who was there. As we start to convivially recall the memory together, realization hits. They have a very different take on the events of which we were so sure we knew.
Commonly, we know we know what happened, but the thing is they know they know what happened as well.
There are many memory experts claiming that the important point is that those remembering something actually believes it as the truth. They report that repeating a false or skewed memory enough times or thinking about it enough times makes it absolutely true in our memory.
UCLA and Stanford University educated cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Luftus is an expert on the malleability of human memory. She states that eyewitnesses to crimes who identify the wrong person while swearing to their guilt are not liars; they genuinely believe in the truth of their testimony. It's a horrifying idea that we think we know, what we believe with all of our hearts, is not necessarily the truth.
Is the truth merely what we make of it?
Yikes. What is one to believe?