Standing up for truth
My heart hurts for the innocent this evening. But if I’m honest, what I think I really feel is fear. Anxiety based upon a bursting of assumption. Assumption that tragedy of war only befalls distant shores.
I’m in awe of the bravery of the peoples of Ukraine tonight. And those in Russia prepared to stand up and break a silence upon what now unfolds.
As World War Two was becoming history, Karl Jaspers wrote his classic book “The origin and goal of history”. Publish in 1953. A monumental piece of philosophical discourse. He asserts that the human project only has 6,000 years of history, because to have history requires means to remember. He writes, “only with history did man become truly human” (Jaspers 1953, pp57). He is making the case that with history comes potentiality as well as substance; our transitory nature becomes a conscious reality and with it an ever-present awareness of our time and mortality; calling the individual to action amidst a historical perspective; this dependently acquired set of beliefs.
I read this book over Christmas, thinking how powerful his insights. Coming as they did, so soon after the Second World War. I also read his work thinking he was writing in a very different age. This week, we seem to be dragged back a little closer to that time again.
Karl Jaspers was a Swiss-German. He was a psychotherapist, turned scholar of philosophy. Brilliant, but without a philosophical position of his own, his name is less well known than other Germans of this time. Most notably Martin Heidegger, who infamously took to Nazism. Jaspers, married to a Jew, and generally regarded as the better human being than Heidegger became, is inevitably less well remembered.
In this same era – the era of propaganda and mass communication owing to the availability of radio – another psychological perspective was published in 1953. This was Carl Hovland and Yale University who explained persuasion inspired by the effectiveness of messaging in World War Two. The Hovland/Yale model, remains the prominent means to explain the critical importance of “who says what to whom”. It explains our susceptibility to propaganda. This model became the foundation stone of sales, marketing, and what we know to be the power of persuasion.
These insights came from moments of heightened uncertainty. Where a disdain to historic reality had prevailed. By those seeking to own truth, rather than speak it.
Today this same owned truth, is heard once more, in its insidious glory. Abroad. But also at home. What must prevail is the demand that we judge leadership that takes care for truth. And through that lens we must call out all who dare lead by weaponising truth. For it is they few alone, who are dealing out this new despair. In the name of owned truth.