Af­ter a long ill­ness, truth is fi­nally dead. May it rest in peace

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - OPINION - ELIZ­A­BETH RENZETTI

ISadly, you were un­pre­pared for the rise of dem­a­gogues who dis­puted your ex­is­tence al­to­gether

n place of this week’s col­umn, we have an im­por­tant obit­u­ary to run: Truth, the es­sen­tial unit of so­cial co­he­sion whose mer­its were de­bated from an­cient Athens to mod­ern Twit­ter, has been found dead. While no cause of death has yet been an­nounced, Truth is be­lieved to have died of ne­glect.

Many of Truth’s friends knew that the pri­mary build­ing block of hu­man so­ci­ety had strug­gled in re­cent years, but few of them had gone round to check on its health. “I’ve been su­per busy putting out fires of my own,” Rea­son said. “I just didn’t re­al­ize how bad things were.”

Truth was found at the bot­tom of a set of sub­way steps, be­ing dragged away by a rat that mis­took it for a slice of pizza. Po­lice are try­ing to de­ter­mine when it was last seen in pub­lic.

The qual­ity of agree­ing on a set of known facts was at least as old as hu­man lan­guage, and had been as­sumed at one time to be im­mor­tal. Truth achieved its first celebrity as a sub­ject of de­bate among Greek philoso­phers, and per­haps its proud­est mo­ment as a fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment of the U.S. Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. It was even said to keep a framed copy of the Dec­la­ra­tion on its wall, with the phrase “We hold th­ese truths to be self-ev­i­dent” sur­rounded by ex­cla­ma­tion marks.

For a few cen­turies, Truth en­joyed the kind of good brand­ing that can only be pro­vided by po­ets who searched for the elu­sive qual­ity while tramp­ing on moors and boat­ing on Lake Geneva. Dur­ing this pe­riod, Truth was mar­ried to Beauty, a match that lasted nearly three cen­turies but could not sur­vive philo­soph­i­cal de­bates about whether ei­ther ac­tu­ally ex­isted. “Truth wanted to be the cen­tre of ev­ery ar­gu­ment,” Beauty is re­ported to have said. “But we both knew it was me peo­ple came to see.”

It was in the 20th cen­tury that Truth be­gan to suf­fer, as re­al­ity was twisted in its name. Truth re­ally be­came in­censed when it learned that Soviet pro­pa­gan­dists had bor­rowed its name for their new news­pa­per, Pravda. “If that’s Truth,” the golden ideal of demo­cratic so­ci­eties said, “then I’m a ba­nana.”

Ob­servers and close friends be­came wor­ried as Truth watched its es­sen­tial na­ture called into doubt by aca­demics and philoso­phers. It was re­ported to have put its foot through a tele­vi­sion when it heard U.S. pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton say, “It de­pends upon what the mean­ing of the word ‘is’ is.”

Still, Truth held out hope when it read the works of Han­nah Arendt and Ge­orge Or­well. Some­times, when Rea­son and Tol­er­ance dropped by with a bot­tle of bour­bon, Truth would be­gin to read from Arendt’s Ori­gins of To­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism: “Mass pro­pa­ganda dis­cov­ered that its au­di­ence was ready at all times to be­lieve the worst, no mat­ter how ab­surd, and did not par­tic­u­larly ob­ject to be­ing de­ceived be­cause it held ev­ery state­ment to be a lie any­how.” At that point, Truth would col­lapse in tears while its friends took off its socks and put it to bed.

The great blos­som­ing of tech­nol­ogy in the early 21st cen­tury seemed, at first, to be Truth’s sal­va­tion. Aca­demics spread knowl­edge, op­pressed peo­ples found each other and joined forces. Truth risked tak­ing a break for five min­utes to watch a video about an ot­ter eat­ing clams. When it looked up its op­ti­mism was crushed, for there on Twit­ter was an as­tro­physi­cist try­ing to con­vince a user named Lib­tard99 that cli­mate change was real.

Truth’s malaise grew worse in the past few years, as coun­tries around the world elected lead­ers who spewed lies as a way of prov­ing their power. Ac­cus­tomed to politi­cians who at least paid lip ser­vice to it, and sent a nice fruit bas­ket at Christ­mas, Truth was un­pre­pared for the rise of dem­a­gogues who dis­puted its ex­is­tence al­to­gether. Even worse for its morale were the peo­ple who fol­lowed them, and con­structed jerry-built ver­sions of their own truths. Briefly, Truth con­sid­ered su­ing for copy­right in­fringe­ment, but re­al­ized it no longer had the en­ergy.

In the last years of its life, Truth tried to counter mis­in­for­ma­tion, whether rid­ing cross-coun­try buses hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with strangers or ap­pear­ing at Goop con­fer­ences car­ry­ing a sign that said, “keep your jade eggs where I can see them.” When a mag­a­zine in­ter­viewer asked how it man­aged to per­se­vere dur­ing such dif­fi­cult times, Truth an­swered that it “was re­ally good at self­care,” in­clud­ing log­ging off the in­ter­net and reg­u­larly watch­ing Jeop­ardy!

Truth was a life­long devo­tee of Pi­lates, say­ing the con­di­tion­ing was use­ful “when you’re al­ways be­ing stretched.” In­deed, Truth had taken up Pi­lates af­ter its nim­ble­ness was ques­tioned; it was par­tic­u­larly ran­kled at the sug­ges­tion that it couldn’t put on its pants in the time it took False­hood to run around the world.

By the time that schol­ars, jour­nal­ists and con­cerned cit­i­zens no­ticed that Truth was ready for hos­pice care, it was al­ready too late. Writer Michiko Kaku­tani even wrote a book called The Death of Truth, although, like the death an­nounce­ments of Mark Twain and Bob Hope be­fore, it proved pre­ma­ture.

While ail­ing at the time of Ms. Kaku­tani’s book, Truth was still oc­ca­sion­ally seen at pub­lic events, pulling an oxy­gen tank and sur­rounded by a pro­tec­tive cir­cle of fact-check­ers. Friends said that Truth had be­come es­pe­cially dis­cour­aged, though, and wan­dered away from fact-check­ers who were dis­tracted by an ar­gu­ment about min­i­mum wage. There is spec­u­la­tion that Truth un­hooked its own oxy­gen tank rather than spend an­other hol­i­day sea­son lis­ten­ing to fam­ily mem­bers ar­gue over memes they’d shared on Face­book.

De­spite at­tempts to buoy its own spir­its, the uni­ver­sal hu­man good was also re­cently over­heard fret­ting about its legacy, and won­der­ing if its time on Earth would be re­mem­bered at all. Know­ing the end was near, Truth had asked friends if they might erect some small me­mo­rial in its mem­ory, per­haps a park bench over­look­ing a play­ground.

Truth leaves its for­mer part­ner Beauty, and two chil­dren from whom it was es­tranged, What­ever and LOL.

Ob­servers and close friends be­came wor­ried as Truth watched its es­sen­tial na­ture called into doubt by aca­demics and philoso­phers.

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