Thursday, December 15, 2016

One Truth in a Post-Truth Society

I first heard this trend/term of "post-truth/fact society" a few weeks ago and I was appalled. Almost the same day, I watched a movie called Septembers of Shiraz which opens with a beautiful quote by the mystic poet Rumi:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." 

I almost shared it on Facebook because it so swept me up in its imagery, but I suddenly realized it was more or less the same idea that I've choked on in the news this month. I do not want to visit any fields beyond what is right. I recognize that much of the space we live in falls along the wayside of right and wrong, and I believe that much of life is up for discussion, but being post-truth is nothing to be proud of. 

Believe me, from a scientific perspective, I realize that Truth is very hard to come by. If I wasn't there in person, my belief in any news story is putting my faith in journalists and corporations, who often make mistakes and sometimes outright lie. With the way that the human brain and memory works, we know that even witnessing an event in person does not guarantee that we will remember it accurately. 

I don't pretend to know very many things unequivocally. Perhaps disregard for even a veneer of Truth-seeking has never been so blatant in our country during my lifetime as it is under the influence and example of Trump, and that is a crying shame, but the murkiness of facts at least highlights the several things I know without a doubt that do not rely on fact. 

In light of what's happening in Aleppo, I've been wrestling with this burning, twisting question of what is the "right" thing to do. In our pain and our confusion and our helplessness, we (and news sources) blame each other, wailing "how could you? how could we? why is this happening?" The idea that "we let this happen" or we simply "turned our faces away" assumes many things erroneously, even if there is (and there is) some legitimate blame to be cast on the US as well as other players. 

It's not blindness or lack of care that we're suffering from. At least, that is not true for many of us. We, and the Syrian people, are suffering from lack of any good options. It's not that there was a good option that wasn't taken due to anyone's negligence. I am frustrated by the ideas of helping boiling down to giving money or protesting. Those things are not bad, nor do I discourage them in any way, but I do not believe that they will sponge out the hurt or the wrongs. 

It feels gross to talk about political strategies while cities and bodies burn. But I find myself baffled at what it is that we could or should have done to help prevent the destruction of Aleppo. I can and do blame the United States government and many of its citizens for debating whether to aid Syrian refugees over the past several years, before so many were trapped and unable to escape the violence. But I also realize that many Syrians can't or didn't want to leave their homeland. 

The "fault" of the situation in Aleppo is wrapped up in so many issues, perpetuated by so many people, namely the country's own president, Bashar al-Assad. I do not see what could have prevented bloodshed in light of the aims of ISIS, Assad, Russia, and Iran (the main players/backers in the war). The US has become slightly more careful about dropping bombs on bad guys willy nilly, partly because it often kills as many civilians as anyone else, but they have targeted ISIS with drones (sometimes with tragic consequences). The US also negotiated with Russia over Russian behavior in Syria, to no avail. Even the media, which is often criticized for covering one thing and not another, has been covering Syria for several years now. 

I could write at length about the misery-inducing results of the US having taken out dictators in other countries prior to the Syrian war, or the possible affects of "forcing" Russia to withdraw from Syria, or about the tragedy that is our immigration system. I devote a great deal of time to studying these things and am always willing to discuss it further. But in the interest of honest news stories and truth seeking in a post-fact society, I do not believe that Americans simply didn't care enough to keep Aleppo from turning into a bloodbath. It is numbing and it is heartwrending, but I don't know what else can be done but to sit with these people in their hour of devastation, even if we're half a world away. 

I feel very uncertain of what is factual, and that is a bitter pill to swallow because this is a mire that we have lusted after with our love of entertainment and our encouragement of open questioning of every idea that comes our way. In many ways, I count those American traits as virtues. The more I learn, the less I'm sure of, and there is a kind of bravery in being aware that you may not always be right. But at the same time, dispensing with all certainty turns out to be that quicksand we feared in our childhoods. For me, the bottom line is that treating people with humanity doesn't depend on my knowledge or interpretation of facts. Even if I was wrong about every single thing I've ever said about Muslims or immigrants, would that exclude them from being worthy of love and care? No. No it would not. 

I'm saddened by my perception that taking an interest in the lives and livelihood of Muslims is somehow a progressive stance, or even a political one at all. Every time I try and bring awareness to the attitude of our general culture toward Muslims, I feel like a main concern of people reading is to disprove me. Why do you, oh Christian, insist on fighting me on this? It's almost like you don't want them to hear about Jesus, at least from my lips or yours, and you should be ashamed of standing in the way of that. 

I realize that this will mean nothing to those who do not share my faith, but I think more and more people will be searching for Truth as we're told it no longer exists. Today, my Truth is this, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

What do I know that is true? To care for one another, to care for widows and orphans. Even Muslim ones. How can you argue against my paltry efforts to do that? How is that anything but hindering the hands and feet of Christ, if I may be so bold as to call my efforts that? Go stick your self righteousness and need to be right somewhere else. Do I have to write an academic thesis on my knowledge of the history and culture of the Middle East every time I want to care for someone? I hope your high horse kicks you in the ass. 

I'm not under the illusions that caring and being vocal on these issues is easy or comfortable. I am swift to anger, slow to humility, and the things I care about quickly incite the most remarkably ignorant and hateful remarks, and it never fails to hurt me. I call my sister and monologue to my husband and then get on with it. Because someone else died so that I could experience life, and the least I can do is put up with some trolls, irl and on the interwebs, in order to extend that opportunity to others. 

{artwork by Judith Mehr}

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