By Focusing Us On How Things Should Be, “Truth” Blinds Us To How They Are

If humans are rational beings, why do we proclaim so many opposing versions of truth? Our problem is, rational thinking leads to all truths. Rational thinking is so simple that to not think rationally is virtually impossible. Even animals are rational. A hungry animal, I presume, thinks about where to find food, not where to find shelter from a nonexistent storm—that would be irrational. The reason various humans proclaim so many different truths isn’t because we are not rational, but because our thinking is based on different precepts of reality. For instance, to a capitalist, freedom means being free from the impositions of the state. To a communist, on the other hand, freedom means to be free from impositions of the marketplace. They arrive at different truths about how governments should be constituted, not because either’s thinking is irrational, but because their reasoning is based on different concepts of freedom.  

The issue, it seems to me, isn’t which conclusion is true, but whether truth exists at all. Socrates, for instance, took pleasure in demonstrating that it doesn’t. Proclaim any truth and, by having the subject answer a series of questions, he would lead them to an answer that asserted the opposite of their original proposition. Consider the will to live, for instance. Is that a truth? Well, it’s true that the will to live exists. But the real question is: Is it true that the will to live should exist? For the first billion years of the earth’s existence, life, and thus also the will to live, did not exist on this planet. So, if the will to live does not represent a timeless universal truth, where did it come from?

The will to live, like all instincts, is an expression of life that evolved because the desire to live is essential to a species’ survival. A species is manifested by both, a physical and emotional nature. Its emotional nature inspires the behavior required for the species to survive. We want to live for the same reason we want to eat, sleep, have sex, or take care of our young. We desire these things, not because they represent the truth in some absolute sense, but because our emotional natures possess us with the desire to do the things necessary for our species to survive. 

Our emotional natures governed all human activities before monetary and legal systems existed, everything from love to conflict, and it also governed the formation of natural extended families. There were no legal truths regarding who or how long you should love someone, whom to engage in conflict with and when, or what constitutes a human family. When romantically involved, for instance, we were free to take pleasure in the romance until it was over, at which time we returned to our normal activities within our extended families. We never had to endure the pain of denying a romance, or pretending we were still romantically involved when the romance was over. Extended families were established, ordered, and sustained the same way that any other social species’ family is realized, by each individual doing what feels right, and not doing what feels wrong.

Before there was money and law, the key to an individual’s survival was social acceptance, not wealth and privilege—wealth and privilege did not exist. For instance, if the member of an extended family behaved so antisocially that the disturbance he was causing could no longer be tolerated, he would be shunned from his extended family. Our emotional natures, not truth, inspired the shunning, simply to find relief from the offensive behavior. By doing so, we not only realized a peaceful family life, but also prevented the genetic defect that was inspiring the offensive behavior from contributing to the future gene pool of our species. And a mother loves her child, not because of some God ordained truth that says she should, but because, only by mothers taking care of their young, can a species survive. In other words, a mother loves her child, not because she should, but because, by the authority of her emotional nature, that’s just how things are.

Though mothers remain free to love their children—one of the few natural freedoms that remain in an institutionalized world—human behavior is now governed largely by instituted law—that is, by how we think things should be, instead of by how they are. One legal truth is, if you can’t pay your taxes, you will be removed from your land and home. But, like all truths, be they religiously, politically, scientifically, or ideologically inspired, this truth is not an expression of our emotional nature. Consequently, it not only results in undue anxiety and pain, but does not support life.

If religious, political, ideological, or scientific truths are not expressions of life, where did they come from? When subject to legal truth, instead of to our emotional natures, we suffer in inordinate ways, like when having to deny a romance in order to honor a legal obligation. Also, no indigenous person ever had to suffer the indignity of being personally removed from his homelands because he couldn’t pay taxes. These are among the countless special kinds of suffering unique to modern humans. How do we manage the suffering? Instead of doing something, like shunning, to find relief from emotional pain, we create religious, legal, scientific, and other truths through which we hope to eventually find relief. One such truth is, by advances in science and technology, human kind will someday inhabit the universe. Another is, by accepting Jesus as our personal savior, we will find the emotional fulfillment for which we long, in an eternal hereafter. 

So, while “how things are” goes unattended regarding satisfying both, our very own emotional needs, and the needs of a deteriorating environment, we continue attending to how things should be by arguing over pointless issues of truth regarding right and wrong, and good and evil. Life, including human life, flourished long before such truths ever existed. Presuming we desire to be rational, what more evidence do we need that life can, and does, flourish without truth. (From life’s perspective, it doesn’t matter whether truth exists or not.) Now, after only around six thousand years of one species having subjugated itself to how things should be as specified by legal truth, usually authorized in the name of God, the environment that sustains all life on this planet is being placed at risk, and the people placing it at risk are increasingly unhappy. 

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