We all want justice, and we all want people to flourish. But there seem to be more than one idea for how to bring that about. And it seems that only the destructive, revolutionary ideas are making it to the front in society. So why are the ones with the most to lose also the ones who are keeping their mouths shut about it?
“In matters of truth, the fact that you don’t want to publish something is, nine times out of ten, a proof that you ought to publish it.” – G.K. Chesterson
Society needs to be challenged. It needs to hear the cold, hard truth. This means people need to speak up. And we’re all waiting impatiently for someone to take a stand. Someone else, that is.
Someone who doesn’t have a job or a business to lose. We wouldn’t have to challenge ourselves or risk our business and those brave people could stand up for all of our rights and absorb all of the hate and punishment for us.
Wouldn’t that be great? And yet, we look around and nobody’s standing. We’re looking for that person who’s well-spoken, brave and with the backbone to be able to handle and absorb the criticism.
But if nobody’s standing up, we have to consider whether that means we need to tighten things up ourselves and maybe we’re the ones who need to be standing.
Let’s talk about things that make it hard to challenge society.
Have Confidence Truth Exists
These days, if you speak an unpopular opinion, you’re not just wrong, you’re “evil.” So if you lack a firm foundation, it’s easy to keep your mouth shut. But if you’re convinced that there’s a truth, you can build an argument.
The problem is when we fail to define a self-evident truth and, therefore, deny our own argument any standing in truth. After all, if there’s no self-evident truth, your guess is as good as mine.
To be an effective leader, you have to believe there’s truth. If you don’t, then you’re at the mercy of anyone with a stronger, more passionate opinion than you. If you have no ontological foundation — that thing that’s self-evident, from which you measure everyone else — you’re at the mercy of those with strong feelings (even if they only have a vague sense of truth).
Example: You get angry to see violent riots in the streets, the harm it does to people, and the destruction it causes, but you don’t really know why it’s wrong. Because if you can’t give a “why,” then you have nothing.
But what if you believe that human value is a self-evident truth? And that humans making the most of themselves and creating order, learning to deny themselves for the benefit of others — that all these things are self-evidently good — then you have a basis for your anger.
If you have no foundational truth, you know for a fact that you can’t know for a fact. It’s just your feelings and wants versus theirs. And if they’ve already defined you as racist or just hateful, then you’ve already lost.
But if you hold to a truth — especially one that’s hard for them to deny — you now have a foundation toward which to argue. Now, human flourishing means people have to go through hard things and grow. It means that people are punished when they destroy the property of others because we know it’s wrong to steal, damage or destroy something that someone else has worked for. Because chaos undercuts order, peace and flourishing, and order supports it.
Why Believe in Truth
Truth and reason hold us accountable to reality. And ideas that work — rather than ideas that don’t work — are the ones that set society up for order and flourishing in a way that incomplete thoughts and emotional wishes can’t. And wishful thinking doesn’t feed the hungry.
Have Confidence in Your Perception
“I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills!”
Do you ever think you’re seeing something obvious, but everyone else seems to see it another way? It seems clear to you that it’s one way, and nobody can really tell you why it’s not, but they believe it anyway? This can make you feel like you’re taking crazy pills.
When you write off your own ability to understand and assess a situation because you start to lose trust in your thinking, you can lose your faith in your ability to know truth.
This matters because it makes you a hypocrite in that you know the truth, but aren’t brave enough to act on it. You know what’s right, but abdicate your judgment to others.
There’s a name for people who have their own “truth,” apart from reality: hypocrite.
If there’s a well-reasoned argument against what you want to believe, and you hold fast to your desired belief anyway, you’re a hypocrite. We all have hypocrisy in us — that inconsistency of reasoning that we just haven’t realized or addressed yet. But it’s sad when we are so unaccountable that our hypocrisy becomes so big that others can see it so easily.
Society can be carried away with hypocrisy too, with everyone seeming to believe one truth, but without very much evidence or in spite of much evidence to the contrary. This clearly happened in the Third Reich, and it happens everywhere.
Make Society Answer the Question
This sounds good in theory. But what if you’re arguing with a social justice warrior who’s pointing out injustices and claiming you’re a racist if you disagree? This is a tough situation, and many of us don’t want this kind of fight. It’s messy. But it requires someone who cares more about the truth than what people think of him/her.
If the truth is important to you, and you’d rather people respect you for standing for the truth than keep your mouth shut, you’ll push back. And you’ll do it based on your best argument, and with logic that traces itself all the way back to a self-evident truth.
And don’t be afraid to ask “why” they believe what they believe. Ask them why tearing down the system is the best path to order? Ask them what’s next? After the revolution, who’s in charge? How will it be better than the current system of laws we have? Is there a better system that will ensure fairness, or will it be a system that puts one ideology at the top? Because oftentimes, the “how” exposes hypocrisy in thinking.
Have Confidence in Reason Over Emotion
We face intimidation when we’re convinced someone else’s suffering gives them authority to tell us what truth is.
In other words, when a member of a minority group tells us we can’t know what it’s like to be them and that their status gives them special knowledge that we don’t have. Sometimes called “viewpoint epistemology” (a way of finding truth by privileging a subjective point of view, rather than reason), it assumes that the point of view of a minority brings with it special information that a majority opinion can’t match.
For example: “Since I’m a minority skin color, I’ve seen a side of society that you haven’t. So between the two of us, my suffering makes me see more than you can about life.”
There’s some truth to this. Their experience gives them a point of view, maybe because they’re a minority, raised in a poor neighborhood, that you don’t have. And with that upbringing comes an understanding of suffering.
But suffering is no guarantee of righteousness or clarity.
Also, this argument forgets that you also have experience. It’s not just the suffering minorities who have experiences. You might come from a broken family and have gone through pain and suffering of your own making and through the acts of others, but you made better decisions and got the right help, and now you’re successful.
While their experience makes them hopeless, yours might make people hopeful. Their experience might have jaded them against the truth, and yours could have helped you to see the truth.
Don’t let others tell you that your understanding of reality isn’t accurate, simply because you didn’t have to deal with their particular set of circumstances or their severity of circumstances. None of that necessarily makes someone more rational than someone else.
More Clarity. Less Emotion.
Don’t take anyone’s word for it that they’ve suffered more than you. And if they did, don’t assume they have a higher level of knowledge or understanding about the world in general than you do because of it. The rich and the poor can both be cynical and jaded. They can both be generous and rational. Virtue is not a function of their experiences or the emotions they bring to an argument that arises from them.
Bonus: Accusations that Mean Nothing.
If someone doesn’t like you, they don’t need a good reason to call you names. This is especially true if they’ve been taught to weaponize words. They know most people will backtrack or try to get out of the conversation if you call them certain names.
They’ll call you selfish, racist, sexist, mean, hateful, unnecessarily difficult, etc. But only you know your true motives. So no matter what names people call you, your commitment to reason and truth — not the opinions of others — should be your guide.
We all want that savior to come along and speak truth, calling out the hypocrisy and bringing a structure and order to civic life that supports human flourishing. Maybe the right person hasn’t come along yet. Maybe it’s not the right time.
Or maybe I’m the one who should stand up.
For that matter, maybe we’re all supposed to stand up. Maybe we need to earn our country and earn our citizenship, investing in our country and building and strengthening our own backbone and convictions at the same time.
In fact, maybe it’s the trial that will challenge us to show ourselves worthy of citizenship. Jefferson reminds us that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.”
In these days, when truth is under attack, you need to keep your own ideas of what and how you’ll share and why. If you have your own standard that’s based on reason and truth, you’ll be able to lead people. You’ll piss some people off, but you’ll also help some others. And let’s face it, wouldn’t it be better to live in a country with people who see your example of bravery in truth, can think for themselves and can handle it when you do the same?