True Or False?

I begin with a rather lengthy quote from Wikipedia regarding one of the greatest atrocities ever committed by one group of human beings against another. I refer, of course, to the Holocaust.

The Holocaust, also referred to as the Shoah, was a genocide during World War II in which Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe, between 1941 and 1945. Jews were targeted for extermination as part of a larger event involving the persecution and murder of other groups, including in particular the Roma and “incurably sick”, as well as ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, Soviet prisoners of war, political opponents, gay men and Jehovah’s Witnesses, resulting in up to 17 million deaths overall.

Germany implemented the persecution in stages. Following Adolf Hitler‘s rise to power in 1933, the government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. Starting in 1933, the Nazis built a network of concentration camps in Germany for political opponents and people deemed “undesirable”. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the regime set up ghettos to segregate Jews. Over 42,000 camps, ghettos, and other detention sites were established.

The deportation of Jews to the ghettos culminated in the policy of extermination the Nazis called the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question“, discussed by senior Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. As German forces captured territories in the East, all anti-Jewish measures were radicalized. Under the coordination of the SS, with directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, killings were committed within Germany itself, throughout German-occupied Europe, and across all territories controlled by the Axis powers. Paramilitary death squads called Einsatzgruppen in cooperation with Wehrmacht police battalions and local collaborators murdered around 1.3 million Jews in mass shootings between 1941 and 1945. By mid-1942, victims were being deported from the ghettos in sealed freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were killed in gas chambers. The killing continued until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.

There are those among us who would insist that we cannot judge the Nazis because we haven’t walked in their boots. Seriously. There are also those among us who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, who insist that it is a fiction. These people also believe, many of them at any rate, that the moon landing was staged and never happened. I suspect these people also believe the earth is flat and that the sitting President of the United States is an exemplary human being.

What we need to think about when it comes to truth and falsity — which are being conflated these days in order to carry forth hidden agendas by those in power, I strongly suspect — is that the truth need not be pleasant. It need not fit in with our preconceptions and predilections. It can even be a bit ugly — like the truth about the Holocaust. The sheer numbers in the above quote beggar belief. And since the quote is from Wikipedia there are many who would question the truth of those claims. But there is a considerable body of evidence — available to anyone who wants to examine it — that those figures are accurate. Indeed, this is the nature of truth and how we can separate it from the falsehoods that parade as true because we (or someone out there) wants to (us) believe them. The truth can be corroborated by anyone at any time and in any place. Falsehoods cannot: they dissolve in the face of evidence, criticism, and sound argumentation. More than ever before, perhaps, it is imperative that we insist upon the difference between the two.

The way one goes about proving a statement, as we know from the hard sciences, is to seek to disprove the statement. If we cannot do so, we must accept it as true, like it or not. This was once known as the “Socratic method,” the method Socrates used in pleasant conversations with young men in Athens to test the claims that were floating about in the air — seeing if he could prove them to be mere “wind-eggs.” So much of what we hear today is in that category and we, as responsible adults, should dismiss them out of hand and insist that we be told the truth.

There is much to learn from history and we ignore it to our peril. We must test all claims, including those of historians — and if they are any good they would insist that we do so. But if those claims can stand the test of criticism and review then we must accept them, like it or not. That’s the nature of truth.

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11 thoughts on “True Or False?

  1. Yes, a lot of “wind-eggs” floating around these days, and your remarks on truth, and historical understanding, reflect your 41 or so years teaching logic. I’m anxious to read your follow-up to this essay, which will concern egoism. Or, how so many people today can insist on subscribing to falsehoods – and unequivocally support “wind-eggs” – in the face of their being dissolved by evidence and sound criticism.

    I’ll cut the B.S. Last I heard, 88 percent of Republican voters still support Trump.

  2. Ah, true or false… truth or consequences. What is truth? Sometimes we can “know” something, i.e., “I own a car”. Proof? It’s in the driveway and I have documentation to prove ownership. Often though, there is no real proof, and much of what is claimed, particularly by powerful institutions, is simply advertising, hence, lies. Lies? Why? Simple, and in walks discernment: if I am being offered information with the intent to mislead me, even if the information was absolutely correct, it becomes a lie. Hence why our civilization is based on lie after lie and is imploding in corruption. Intent: that is why the wise person looks for/into when confronted with a claim to truth.

    In my world, there is no truth whatsoever unless it is “my” truth and as long as I make no attempt to foist it on anyone else. For example, I’ve argued that there never were any moon landings, just to get others’ dander up. Then I ask, why would you defend the claims to moon landings, or claim to the contrary? What possible difference does it make to you, or to the world? Is the world definitely better because billions were spent in (supposedly) sending men to the moon? The key element is: are we a better people and is our world better because of it? And that becomes a personal matter.

    Truth: the Nazi holocaust. Did it happen as claimed? I believe, based on what I’ve heard, that it did and it was beyond horror show as per my parents who experienced that era first hand. But would I argue with someone who claims it did not happen? Why? None of that is the point since we have essentially completely forgotten the “lesson” of that time and we’re plunging headlong into a similar, or much worse, fate.

    Truth: someone claims the grass is pink. Another, that it’s orange, another, green. In actual fact they are all correct since it makes no difference to the grass, nor to those who make use of it. To insist that it is but one colour is to enter into pointless argument in this case: believe all things, believe in nothing.

    I think “truth” is a chimera, a side show. It is subjective due to the make up of individual (and sheeple collective) minds and if we are to change, something much more realistic must be used to gauge and judge our performance and that of our species. Since the topic is “truth” I will not introduce here my thoughts on what would constitute a better way to approach our collective confusion and madness.

    • Is it true that “there is no truth whatever”?? With all due respect (and I do respect you as you usually make good sense) yours is an indefensible position.

      • There was a TV show several years ago called “Thirty Something.” They did an hour episode where two couples were having dinner and one of the couples argued. What was fascinating about this episode, they showed each person’s version of what happened, including the two participants. It was a fascinating look at how each person’s bias filtered the truth.

        Yet, there are overarching truths even in this example. The two argued and it was very awkward for each person in the room. Feelings were hurt which was also true. But, each observer had a lens that the other three did not regarding who was more at fault or ruder to the other.

        So, did the holocaust happen – absolutely. Were people gassed and tormented – absolutely. But, if you spoke to different people, the story would vary some based on bias. The sympathetic Nazi would have a different view than the sadistic one. The Jew that lived who saw his or her family taken away would have another. Their truths would vary, but the overarching truth would be clear.

        I think a collective goal is to confirm given truths and then go from there to reconcile differences. More data to support an argument helps.

      • There is no question whatever but we all look at the world through different lenses. But we do look at the same world, after all. And despite the disagreements (and arguments) about whose lenses are the correct ones, those different points of view can be reconciled if those who differ keep open minds! That, of course, is a HUGE (excuse me, UGE) “if.”

  3. Hugh, in a good table discussion with historians and pundits last Friday on “Real time with Bill Maher,” the issue of Q-anon came up. One pundit pointed out we have always had throughout history folks who want to drive some unbelievable conspiracy theory. They cited the holocaust deniers, the moon landing deniers, Sandy Hook deniers, etc. as kindred spirits with Q-anon. They mentioned several that predated the 1900s as well.

    To me, each of the above are some elaborate hoaxes, that would require too many folks to keep a secret, which runs counter to human nature. A lot of people died in the holocaust and a lot of people died trying to prevent the Nazis, Italians and Japanese from taking over the world. Plus, many folks have memories of people who died.

    We spend so much time on these sensational conspiracies, that we don’t believe ones that are right in front of our face. The most obvious is why would someone believe Q-anon, yet have such a hard time believing that a man who six biographical authors said has a hard time with the truth, whose businesses went bankrupt six times so that he borrowed money from Russian oligarchy and oligarchy banks when US banks stopped lending him money, who continues to change his story about his relationships with Russia, and so on, has colluded with Russia? Whether the story is true, it is indeed quite plausible rather than the Dems run a deep state child porn ring?

    Keith

    It is a puzzle to me. Keith

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