What is truth?
Truth is subjective. You can never find the end of the rainbow, because where it appears to be depends on where the observer is. And, what my friend thinks of me is important to me, but something she said might have assumed great importance to me, something else might have gone over my head, and what she thinks might vary according to her mood.
And Truth is objective. There is a real world where things happen whether or not someone observes them. (My philosopher friend only once tried to talk of philosophy with me, ascertained I knew nothing of Hegel, and gave up.) We perceive nothing exactly as it objectively is, but care and respect may bring us closer to objective truth, and prejudice or carelessness drive us away.
On Radio 4, Charmaine Yoest of “American Values” said Evangelicals should not have “voted for Hillary Clinton, a woman who stood on the stage during the debate and very aggressively defended something as barbaric as partial birth abortion. Donald Trump was very unusual on the Republican side on being willing to dig in and very forcefully come back and say that it would be not okay with him for you to be able to abort a baby up to the very last moment of birth.” Here’s the link: the time is 36.50.
That was not my recollection of the debate, so I went back to it. Here is a transcript, here a video. On the Supreme Court, Mrs Clinton said it was important “that we not reverse Roe v Wade”. Mr Trump responded aggressively that “the second amendment is under absolute siege”. On abortion, he would put pro-life justices on the court who would overturn Roe v Wade.
Mr Wallace, the moderator: You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial birth abortions. Why?
Mrs Clinton: there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account.
Mr Trump: Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby…based on what she’s saying, and based on where she’s going, and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day. And that’s not acceptable.
The segment starts at 11.40. I considered it again. Mrs Clinton is measured, and defends late abortions. Mr Trump’s phrase “rip the baby out of the womb” is an appalling way of describing the abortion of a foetus whose birth defect prevents it from living outside the womb, or where the mother’s life is in danger.
Mmm. Truth. For Charmaine Yoest, the health of the mother is not a consideration when considering late, perhaps any, abortions; and “rip the baby out of the womb” is merely telling it as it is, though to me “baby” is not an accurate description of a foetus with anencephaly, or other extreme defects.
My memory was of Mr Trump being aggressive, Mrs Clinton reasonable, and so when I heard Charmaine Yoest say Mrs Clinton was “aggressive” I was angry. How dare she so misrepresent reality? Your subjectivity may be closer to or further from the truth. Getting closer matters. So I went to consider the evidence, and still find her inaccurate- though not much more inaccurate than my recollection.
I find Mrs Clinton far more persuasive. While a woman might choose to save her baby even at the cost of her own life, it seems monstrous to me to force her to do so. And, for Ms Yoest, all abortion is wrong, so she might still find most Republicans backsliders on this issue. When I heard her, I was angry with her lying; I still find her biased, yet not properly characterised as “inaccurate”. Oh dear.
Next example. We were discussing men’s refuges for male victims of domestic violence, and a woman was holding forth on how necessary these were and how there was far too little funding. Now, whether that is true or not does not depend on whether or not there is enough funding for female victims, any more than for, say, adoption services; yet I felt some reservations. It seemed to me that the woman holding forth wanted to convince us, or to be articulating a common understanding- it is so reassuring to be with people who think just as we do; and that the other woman listening had reservations, but was not stating them. And these are my impressions, which may simply be false.
OK, next go. The Daily Express front page today. EU EXIT: THE PATH IS CLEAR. Massive boost as Labour say they won’t stand in the way. I saw this in the coffee shop, and felt ill. I don’t know whether Labour would whip MPs to vote for Brexit, or just not whip them to vote against; but I think Brexit is a calamity, and the Express disagrees.
I was surprised to find my friend has no opinion on climate change. She has not looked into it, there are views on both sides. I lamented denialists in power in America, and she was unfazed. I feel my understanding of the scientific consensus is accurate enough, and that carbon emissions are changing the climate, potentially disastrously; and it matters what politicians do. She says Mr Trump is not that much worse than what has gone before- how can you trust any politicians after they invaded Iraq?
Based on these recent experiences, perhaps I can never be sure of what is truth. I still believe in objective truth, just I am not certain of its knowability. You may think I give in too easily. There will be more on this tomorrow.