To some, truth is something that is absolute and unchanging. To others, truth is volatile and inconstant. In the 16th and 17th century, the foundations of civilization itself had been shaken. Many of the ideas which were thought to be absolutely true had been plunged into the depths of uncertainty. The cosmological, geographical, and religious revolutions called into question the nature of truth itself. It is no wonder, then, that some of the great writers at the time included within their works a treatise on the ways in which truth is constructed. Because of the major ideological revolutions that shaped their world, Montaigne and other authors all used characters and theatrical devices to create their own ideas on the construction of truth.
Montaigne believes that truth, like the ideas of all humans, is in a constant state of change. Through education, or through merely hearing the ideas of others, an individual’s conception of truth may be altered. Montaigne goes one step further, alluding to the notion that opinions can change without cause, in saying, “My ideas and my judgement merely grope their way forward, faltering, tripping, and stumbling; and when I have advanced as far as I can, I am still not at all satisfied. I can see more country ahead, but with so disturbed and clouded a vision that I can distinguish nothing” (Montaigne 50). The opinions of individuals are rarely totally clear on any given matter. It is education that has the power to transform the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of them. Without knowledge, we have nothing upon which to base our ideas. Therefore, in order to find truth, we should educate ourselves as much as possible, w…
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…to be left behind by the rest of history. The revolution of thought that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries forced Montaigne, and other authors to change the foundations of their own thought. They were all willing to present to us their own ideology of truth so that we may benefit from their knowledge. Everyone faces these crises in life, the crisis of one’s own opinions being shattered by reality. We may hold on to our opinions, disregarding fact or twisting the facts to fit our theories. But in order for progress to occur, we must at times shed our previous beliefs in favor of ones newly created. We must endeavor to find a version of the truth that is based in knowledge, and one that satisfies our desires. We may never find a version of truth that is satisfactory for everyone. But our search cannot cease. The truth, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Kathleen Norris’ Dakota
Kathleen Norris’ Dakota
Kathleen Norris uses small town society to illustrate a much larger phenomenon that occurs in America: The obstruction of truth in the name of progress and patriotism. Norris makes an example of a small Dakota town, the old families ingrained in local society who act as somewhat of a censorship committee, silently fixing the past’s blunders and bad dreams so not to discourage themselves or the younger generation:
A good story is one that isn’t demanding, that proceeds from A to B, and above all doesn’t remind us of the bad times, the cardboard patches we used to wear in our shoes, the failed farms, the way people you love just up and die. It tells us instead that hard work and perseverance can overcome all obstacles; it tells lie after lie, and the happy ending is the happiest lie of all. (85)
Norris mentions the “progress model” and “linear narrative” used in the telling of history. People in Dakota don’t want to hear about the countless generations before them who also failed at farming, the once thriving town that are now abandoned completely. They don’t want to hear about anybody who failed, or anything bad that happened at all unless things turned out OK in the end. People have a need to hear fixed history to give them a false sense of hope. Even though many of them know it’s false, they’re willing to accept the fable as truth before facing a painful past.
The larger repercussions of this form of history, is that it misses out on the larger purpose of history. The most important part of history to be told truthfully is the bad part. Imagine our history glazing over Hitler as a crazy guy who acted alone, and forced everybody in Germany to go along with his plan. We need to hear the story that regular people were pulled into his mentality, that random Joe’s were converted into Jew-hating murderers.
Unfortunately, American history does have a habit of covering up its history for the sake of offering its younger generations a progress model. In a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen shows how the progress model mode of history telling has covered up many important events in American history to the point that children in public education are graduating high school with extremely warped views of history.