CSotD: Trademarking Truth

Rick McKee starts off the discussion with a simple, time-tested fact, which is that people believe what — but mostly who — they want to believe.

Some of it is trivial. Most kids become suspicious about Santa Claus early on, and figure it out for themselves, sometimes with a friend bursting a bubble that was already under some stress. Some kids are bitter about the deception, though I think only if their parents have gone to great lengths to turn a gentle fiction into an absolute lie.

At the moment, the issue of the afterlife has sprung up in editorial cartooning, with some readers objecting to depictions of RBG at the Golden Gates or floating around on clouds, because that’s not part of Jewish cosmology.

Matt Bors memorably addressed that sort of thing in 2011 when Steve Jobs died, managing to get a swipe in at both cheesy cartoons and Apple’s labor practices.

An awful lot of Pearly Gates imagery comes from a similar place as attributed to Trump’s disciples, who are said to take him seriously but not literally. I suspect there are few who draw recently dead celebrities at the gates, or walking around on clouds carrying harps, who actually believe that’s how it works.

Still, there are people who take the folkloric explanations of the Bible both seriously and literally because people they trust have told them it is absolute truth, even if it requires them to maintain a dual, strictly compartmentalized view of the world: One in which Joshua was able to stop the Sun in its path around the Earth, and another in which the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than vice-versa.

And there’s a strong school of thought holding that the Church’s objections to Galileo were not that they thought he was wrong but that publicizing his theory would cause people to lose faith.

As they learned, their attempt to hold back the march of knowledge was a matter of bailing water with a pitchfork, but Galileo did well to only be silenced for his views: Others got burned, hanged or otherwise dispatched.


The end of the Inquisition was hardly the end of shaping belief to reflect dogma, and Matt Davies notes that enforcing groupthink is only one part of a wider plan at containing and controlling independent thought.

If the only thing Dear Leader’s “Patriotic Education” initiative were intended to do were to reinforce Parson Weem’s happy tales of cherry trees and dollars-across-the-Potomac, it would be silly but harmless.

But it’s part of a wider goal, provoking this

Juxtaposition of the Day

(Darrin Bell)


(Jeff Stahler)

The interplay between these two cartoons involves the mistaken notion that editorial cartoons should be funny.

Bell goes for the kill-shot, grimly comparing the plan to the efforts of Nazi Germany, while Stahler’s approach appears more whimsical. But their intentions are linked and, while Stahler may cause a smile, he’s not offering humor.

Their interplay is similar to that between Orwell’s “1984” and his earlier classic, “Animal Farm.” 1984 is more often quoted these days, and people like its grim, direct, theoretical discussion of authoritarian distortions and mind control.

But, while that book lays out the mechanics of an established dictatorship, the allegorical story in Animal Farm better outlines how such a dystopia can be imposed on a free people in the first place.

Which brings us to

Juxtaposition of the Day #2

(Pat Bagley)


(Gary Varvel)

Both cartoonists bring up a critical issue: If you intend to reform our teaching, how do you propose to do it and who will be your experts?

There are any number of presidents with a grasp of history that might provide leadership. But, while we would, I hope, reject Woodrow Wilson’s white supremacist background, it is wisdom indeed compared to the bizarre chaos of Dear Leader’s world, and Bagley didn’t even mention the airports seized by George Washington’s army.

Trump makes Parson Weems and Washington Irving look like Arthur Schlesinger and Barbara Tuchman. He believes in a third-grade level of history that is intended more to inspire patriotism than to teach what happened.

Patriotism, that is, which Dr. Johnson growled was the last refuge of a scoundrel, by which he did not mean love of country but rather manipulation of truth in service of politics:

Our supple tribes repress their patriot throats,
And ask no question but the price of votes;

Meanwhile, Varvel echoes rightwing views of Critical Race Theory, and while their fears are as overblown as their conflation of socialism and Communism, they aren’t entirely baseless.

The 1619 Project, for example, was a brilliant argument against our current curricular approach, but it was hardly a neutral history suitable for use as a basic textbook.

Substituting one flawed approach for another is hardly a cure, and, while Varvel’s warning label overstates matters, the potential pitfall of corrective attempts indeed is blame and bitterness in place of both enlightenment and a path forward.

In “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” James Loewen castigates history curriculum for cherry-picking facts to build a morality tale, for instance promoting sweet little Helen Keller’s triumph over disability without mentioning her fierce advocacy, as an adult, for human rights and her membership in the IWW.

But the problem is in his title: The term “Lie” implies knowing intent, and too many of these corrective histories assume, ironically, the superiority of upper class Europeans, given that they at least suggest, and sometimes state, that white people knowingly, intentionally imposed their values, rather than having them flow as part of the imperfect culture of the time and place.

History, properly written, should neither attempt to prop up the regime nor to tear it down, but, rather to lay out facts, and open dialogue.

As an (inclusive) example, in 1881, Tuscaroran historian Elias Johnson used a bit of whataboutism  to defend Indians against charges of brutality, not so much to accuse Europeans of atrocities as to point out that it was an element of the times in both New and Old Worlds.

I’d accept textbooks written with that sort of insight, but I’m afraid neither side would find their own subjective truth there.


7 thoughts on “CSotD: Trademarking Truth

  1. I’m passing on the pearly gates cartoon this time around. It would be pretty stale by the time my syndicate released it, anyway.

    But as far as respecting non-Christian afterlife beliefs how DOES one draw a deceased Jewish celebrity “in the bosom of Abraham”? Drawing the dearly departed arriving in Sto’Vo’Kor sounds more pleasant.

  2. Wow, two days gone by and no responses to my tasteless joke? You know, I scraped the bottom of the barrel pretty hard for it!

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