Truth is Essential
The search for truth is at the center of the world's great moral and intellectual traditions. Science is a search for truth, systematizing processes intended to minimize bias to arrive at conclusions driven by the data rather than agenda and preconception. Philosophy, through different methods, seeks enlightenment by probing for truth and defining its boundaries.
Jesus taught that his faithful disciples "will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32 NIV). In Islam, the statement that “a person can never find the true taste of faith until he abandons lying” is attributed to Imam Ali. Judaism equates truth with the divine: "The Lord God is truth” (Jeremiah 10:10) and “Thy Torah is truth” (Psalms 119:142). Buddhism teaches four "Noble Truths" and three "Universal Truths." Hinduism sees truth as Brahman, the essential spiritual reality. Other faiths impute importance to truth. Atheists and agnostics, too, widely cite their worldviews being based in their understanding of truth, as well as awareness of knowledge's limitations.
Figures across the political spectrum also cite the importance of truth. The late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) stated: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) stated, “Truth is critical for people to live free...People are not able to make wise decisions when their worldviews are shaped by lies...”
Lies and Violence Are Inextricably Intertwined
Russian moralist and Nobel laureate Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, who survived for years in Russian prison camps, observed that lies and violence are inextricably intertwined. He stated in his Nobel speech:
"But let us not forget that violence does not and cannot exist by itself: It is invariably intertwined with the lie. They are linked in the most intimate, most organic and profound fashion: Violence cannot conceal itself behind anything except lies, and lies have nothing to maintain them save violence. Anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle.
"At birth, violence acts openly and even takes pride in itself. But as soon as it gains strength and becomes firmly established, it begins to sense the air around it growing thinner; it can no longer exist without veiling itself in a mist of lies, without concealing itself behind the sugary words of falsehood.
"No longer does violence always and necessarily lunge straight for your throat; more often than not it demands of its subjects only that they pledge allegiance to lies, that they participate in falsehood.
"The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me."
Because violence and oppression can only be concealed by lies, and lies can be enforced only by violence, authoritarians worldwide seek to suppress free flow of information in speech and press. Author Tom Clancy observed that “The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information is knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”
Early in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the intentionally bombing of maternity hospital killing both women and children was spun by Russia as an attack on a militia base. Russia admitted to intentionally bombing the hospital but denied that there were any patients there, claiming it was a militia base and further claiming that injured pregnant women in photos and videos of the scene were paid actors. Neither the testimony of local residents and the city's mayor and emergency personnel, photos and video from the site, or confirmation by international humanitarian organizations could convince many Russians that there were pregnant women.
Many Ukrainians have found that their Russian friends and family members are so steeped in Russian propaganda that they did not believe that a war was even occurring in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians have described the bizarre situation of Russian relatives instead trying to tell them what is happening in Ukraine on the basis of official propaganda. Social media accounts are awash with such examples. This has also been documented in stories by multiple independent news outlets including the New York Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Guardian (UK), People Magazine, and others.
A New York Times piece entitled "Russia, Where All the News is Fake" observed that Russia "has become a dystopian paragon of corrupted information." The situation in contemporary Russia is arguably worse than under the Soviet Union, as many individuals in Soviet times were open to outside information but did not have access. Today, many have been sufficiently indoctrinated that they systematically disregard outside information and evidence, writing it off a priori as the work of conspiratorial Western actors.
These lies are consequential as they kill, or enable killing - just as Solzhenitsyn observed more than fifty years ago.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksander. Nobel Speech, 1970.
Schafer, Sarah. "Vonnegut and Clancy on Technology." Inc. Magazine, December 15, 1995. https://www.inc.com/magazine/19951215/2653.html
Orru, Mauro. "Russia Says Struck Hospital Was Militia Base; Ukraine Issues Strong Denial." Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news-2022-03-09/card/russia-says-hospital-hit-by-air-strike-was-militia-base-ZVKUAyTh4kfMPvpqBIz6
Hopkins, Valerie. "Ukrainians Find That Relatives in Russia Don’t Believe It’s a War." New York Times, March 6, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/06/world/europe/ukraine-russia-families.html
Korenyuk, Maria and Jack Goodman. "Ukraine war: 'My city's being shelled, but mum won’t believe me.'" BBC News, March 4, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60600487
Tondo, Lorenzo and Mark Rice-Oxley. "‘They don’t believe it’s real’: how war has split Ukrainian-Russian families." The Guardian (UK), March 18, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/18/ukraine-russia-families-divided-over-war
Chamlee, Virginia. "They're Trying to Survive the Invasion — and Convince Loved Ones in Russia There's Even a Full-Scale War." People.com, March 8, 2022. https://people.com/politics/ukrainians-whose-russian-families-dont-believe-there-is-a-war/
Bruni, Frank. "Russia, Where All the News is Fake." New York Times, March 10, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/10/opinion/russia-ukraine-fake-news.html