What is Truth, Said Jesting Pilate

So perhaps it does matter after all, what the truth is, who is telling the truth and who is lying, who has it right and who is deceived, what pictures are authentic and what are fake. Is that possible? It looks that way. It looks as if in fact we do care whether on the one hand soldiers of a certain regiment did abuse Iraqi prisoners, or whether on the other hand someone faked up some pictures that purported to show that but in fact (being faked) did not, and gave said pictures to a large newspaper. You can see where it would make a difference. We can all think of other pictures that matter – pictures that we would be shocked, outraged, disoriented to discover had been faked. Pictures of famine victims, massacres, mass graves, rivers full of bodies; pictures from wars, genocides, prisons, crime scenes, riots. Pictures of perpetrators and victims, just as in the Daily Mirror pictures. We don’t want to be deceived about such pictures. We don’t want to get outraged and demand that something be done about a war crime or a violation of the Geneva Convention or an act of stupid brutality, if it didn’t happen. Do we. No. Nor do we want to fail to get outraged and demand something be done if war crimes or acts of brutality did happen and we are deceived about that. We don’t want a tour of Theresienstadt or a Potemkin village, thank you. We don’t want either one of those. We want the truth.

We don’t want a situated truth or a perspectival truth. We don’t want a community’s truth. We don’t want US truth and UK truth and Iraqi truth. We don’t want my truth and your truth and their truth. We want the truth, period. We don’t want the truth the army is happy with, and the one the government is happy with, and the one the newspapers are happy with, and the one the prisoners of war are happy with, and the one the voters are happy with. Do we? I don’t think so. I think we want just the one. The single, general, universal, global, true-for-everyone truth about what did happen and what did not. That truth may or may not be available; that’s a separate issue. But we don’t look placidly at faked pictures and say ‘Well that was true for the people who made the pictures, no doubt, so that’s good enough.’ We don’t conclude that the pictures made something to talk about for a few days and that’s good enough. Sometimes playful irony about the truth just doesn’t butter any parsnips.

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