"A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an image rather than to an idea, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments, to prestige rather than to competence." ~ Jean-Francois Revel
Truth and Happiness
Truth and happiness are two of the highest ideals among people. Ideals are those intangible principles that we seek with passion. Some people hold no ideals, but they are barely alive, as they have no passion. These men and women do not seek truth or happiness and therefore rarely find either. However, conflicts will arise when people are passionate about different ideals and prioritize those ideals differently. When truth and happiness collide, people typically freak out, and for good reason. Discerning between history and a fictional story is a skill that children must acquire in order to mature into rational adults. Santa Claus can tell us a lot about how we learn to choose and compromise these ideals.
People can seek and hold many different ideals at once. I believe that the real truth and real happiness do not collide, but inevitably there will be situations where different perceived ideals conflict and rationalizing compromises result. Absolute truth and absolute happiness are ever elusive, so individuals must then choose what their primary ideals are. Adults must choose what their core principles are in order to seek what is most important to them. What if a lie can bring happiness to someone? Does that make it a good lie? So then what if the truth can bring unhappiness? Does that make it a "bad" truth? Finally, are the dynamics of the relationship between truth and happiness different for children and adults?
Santa Claus is a great story. Most kids and a lot of adults love a great story. Adults should know the difference between a story and the truth, however. When people have a vested interest in believing something, then they will typically cling to the possibility of that belief being true even though evidence surmounts to the contrary. Kids will not want to let their parents know that they don't believe in Santa Clause any longer because they are afraid that the presents may not keep coming in the same quantities. Since the parents have created what is essentially a lie to promote their happiness most kids feel no compunction milking it for all its worth.
Parents who wish for their children to continue embracing their happy childhood fantasies as long as possible will refrain from directly addressing the facts. Thus the story of Santa Claus morphs into the Spirit of Giving and the lines between healthy fantasies, fictional stories and elaborate lies get compromised. Raising children is full of emotional pitfalls. Growing up is not easy either.
When some children realize that they have been duped, they respond with indignation and feelings of betrayal that their parents would go along with such an elaborate scam, while most others respond with disappointment that the scam can't continue. When the presents keep coming from mom and dad, then all is well with the disappointed while the disenchanted get a bit of a chip on their shoulders about being lied too. Most have mixed feelings with one being more dominant than the other.
The recent pulling back of the curtain to reveal our elected leaders telling fictional stories and perpetuating myths that led us into the current theater of the never-ending war story have left many in the same emotional quandary. Adults who are duped react with indignation or sadness at the loss of their fantasy of Captain America punishing the wicked and saving the good all over the world. It amazes me how many people prefer to be lied to so that they can continue living in a child's world of illusion because it "feels" better. I have even heard many put a happy face on torture as long as "we" are the ones doing it.
Children are first able to recognize the truth when their friends start pointing out facts that don't jibe with the official story. This causes reflection, and those seeking the truth will compromise their happiness for that ideal. Those who care not for the truth will ride their happiness for all that it's worth, ignoring the truth. At first the true believers look at these fact pointers as traitors and the establishment chastises them for revealing the truth. The fantasy must be maintained for the good of all, they say.
The clear message from the establishment is that happiness is more important than truth. So shut up and everything will be OK. This lesson remains with too many people far too long into adulthood. Some carry it to their grave in the most militant fashion. Still the light of shining truth must be put on a table for all to see. Those who wish to remain in darkness must be awoken.
The surprising story of the year was not that Bush and Company told so many lies that led us into an immoral war, but that so many people fell for it, again. I know people who still cling to the official line that the WMDs were snuck away to Syria or Iran, that saying you know that something exists when it does not is not really telling a lie as long as you believe what is not true, and everything is really getting better in Iraq if only the press would report it. I just want to tell them: There is no Santa Claus and there is no benevolent group of mommies and daddies protecting them from the real world so they can go on living in a perpetual childhood of warm, fuzzy thoughts. Sorry, but there it is.
Truth seekers are at a disadvantage when the truth conflicts with happiness. Those who are skillful at telling lies and perpetuating myths have the willingness of people wanting to be happy working for them. And who doesn't want to be happy? Revealing the lies of the state and its professional liars (bureaucrats and politicians) is as difficult for those seeking the truth as it is to tell a 12 year-old that there is no Santa Claus. Someone has to do it or they will never grow up.