Wanting Truth

I think truth is important, so do many others. Some see truth in ways that doesn’t line up with my views.

Sometimes I can respect how they reached their conclusions. But I still think I’m right. Closer to what’s true, at any rate.

That doesn’t make me one of humanity’s paragons of candor and acceptance. Just someone who wants truth and takes Matthew 7:1 seriously. Also Catechism pf the Catholic Church, 839848, and that’s another topic for another post.

I like to think that most folks at least try to be truthful. Many may think they succeed.

Quite a few say truth is in very short supply today, at least in American politics.

I see their point.

It’s small comfort that America’s politicos aren’t the only ones having trouble keeping up a plausible public image.

This month’s show of outraged decency over a movie mogul’s professional and personal issues at least reflects a truth.

Maybe everyone who is expressing outrage at the latest scandal really believes that mistreating underlings is a bad idea.

That would be nice. But I’ve seen scandal exposed and outrage expressed before. I could assume the worst, and say so: loudly.

At least this time around I’m hearing precious few echoes of the old ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. I think we do learn. Slowly.

Expressing angst might help me seem like a serious thinker, or someone who cares. I figured writing this post makes more sense.

Nostalgia and Decadence

Accepting a view of truth that matches local conventions may have been easier in ‘simpler’ times.

Dying during a famine before disease did the job was easier, too.

Science and technology won’t solve every problem. But neither will misplaced nostalgia. I don’t miss ‘simpler’ times. (August 11, 2017; July 21, 2017)

Change happened during the ‘good old days.’ New kings took over when disease, war, or assassination removed a regional boss.

Upper-crust clothing styles changed, of course; fairly often over the last millennia at least. Languages and customs changed too, but not usually as fast.

But change was pretty much more of the same thing, over and over. When we weren’t fighting in a war and/or dying from disease or famine, we had time to discuss how we viewed reality. With our closest neighbors, anyway.

We had lots more time to deal with each bit of new information.

Western civilization hasn’t always had kings. We tried emperors, pharaohs, and tyrants on our way to kings and now presidents. “Tyrant” was a respectable title for a few centuries, and that’s yet another topic.

The pace picked up a bit around five centuries back. Technology helped.

I don’t think movable type caused the Thirty Years War or the Enlightenment. But it helped more folks get more information, faster. I don’t see that as a bad thing. We don’t always use information prudently, but that’s on us: not our technology.

The word “dēcadentia,” Medieval Latin for “a falling away,” showed up in the mid-1500s. My language changed it to “decadence,” with pretty much the same meaning.

Fast-forward to the 18th century. Quite a few serious thinkers had been thinking seriously about events of the last few millennia. The Enlightenment was in progress, and “decadence” got it’s current meaning.

A fair number of Europe’s philosophically-inclined folks noticed an empire-collapse-rebuild cycle that went back to Sargon of Akkad.

They figured a decaying in standards, morals, dignity, religious faith, or leadership — “decadence,” new style — triggered the empire-collapse transition.

Some creative types got fed up with the Romantic movement in the late 19th century. I can’t say that I blame them. They called themselves Decadents. We got the Gothic novel and Edgar Allen Poe’s work from that.

I’m not a huge fan of Gothic novels, but I like quite a bit of Poe. I don’t see either as signs of impending doom, partly because I know a little history.

Fashionable Melancholy

Gloominess has been fashionable, off and on, for a very long time. About a century back, a Dutch historian called the artistic and intellectual version fashionable melancholy.

I like the term, but not the attitude.

I thought displaying a fashionable sense of suffering didn’t make sense when it came back, somewhere around 1970.

I still don’t.

As usual, the new attitudes weren’t really new. I mentioned the empire-collapse-rebuild cycle and “decadence” before.

Starting at least by the late 19th century, quite a few folks thought Western civilization was close to the “collapse” part of that cycle.

Some came up with ideas they thought made sense. I think trying to make this world a better place is a good idea. Basically.

But I also think Marxism and Hitler’s take on national socialism weren’t reasonable alternatives to the status quo, and that’s yet again another topic. Topics.

Serious serious thinkers had a point, though. Social and political structures were seriously overdue for an overhaul. They still are. And that’s nothing new.

The Church hit a really bad patch about a thousand years back. The Y1K debacle included one of our worst papal role models. A little later we got Saint Francis of Assisi. Then, about five centuries back, we hit another rough patch.


I think Europe’s civic leaders helped turn a reform into an upheaval. Propaganda and the Thirty Year’s war arguably made the Enlightenment possible.

It’s a mess we’re still cleaning up, and probably will be for centuries.

Another upheaval, much less catastrophic, started about a half-century ago.

Catholic scholars and clergy had been discussing theological and pastoral issues. Nothing new there.

Many thought that what had worked pretty well in 1870 might not be an ideal fit with the world of the 1950s. That seems reasonable to me.

More to the point, Pope John XXIII thought that talking about changes since 1870 made sense. In 1959 he announced his plan to start formal discussions.

Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962 and died the next year. The Council closed in 1965, John XXIII was canonized in 2014, and some Catholics are still having conniptions. I’m not one of them.

That’s partly because I think our Lord was telling the truth, and — like I said — partly because I know a little history.

Cuneiform and Integrated Circuits

Change is one of the few things in this universe that don’t change. Or is that doesn’t change? Never mind.

Change can be good. Some new ideas, like the law codes of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi, were arguably an improvement on earlier traditions.

That was about four millennia back.

We’re less certain about exactly when Abraham lived. That’s led some scholars to think he’s basically fictional.

I don’t agree, but I don’t think absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It’s not proof, anyway. (March 12, 2017)

I’ve speculated about what we might know about today’s America, around the year 5600 AD: three millennia from now.

Also what scholars brimming with (over-) confidence might assume about my branch of Western civilization. (March 30, 2017)

How fast change happens varies considerably. Some ‘simpler times’ enjoyed pretty much the same routine of famines, plagues, and wars for generations.

Maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the right word.

Then there was the Late Bronze Age Collapse, about three millennia back.

We’ve started piecing together what happened, and when. Almost every city around the eastern Mediterranean was destroyed in the first half-century. Maybe less.

Some people fled burning cities. Some didn’t, or couldn’t. Unburied corpses littering the ruins suggest that survivors had to get out in a hurry. Or that there were no survivors.

Some abandoned cities are still unoccupied.

We rebuilt, eventually.

There hasn’t been anything like it since. Not on that scale, not as swiftly devastating.

We didn’t lose everything, though. Folks preserved bits of knowledge and wisdom over the centuries following the Collapse. Some remembered what Abraham had learned.

I don’t think we’ve gotten a whole lot smarter since Hammurabi’s day, or Abraham’s. We have, however, learned quite a bit. Just as important, we’ve gotten a lot better at recording and using knowledge.

I don’t see cuneiform, movable type, or integrated circuits as threats. They’re tools.

Information tech, old and new, helps individuals find and share more information, faster. That helps us learn what others think, and discuss what what we’re finding.

I think that makes sense. It certainly seems better than some attitudes I’ve seen.

Making Sense

Again, I think truth is important.

Truth, all truth, points toward God. (Catechism, 27, 3135, 41, 74, 2500)

I think what the Church has been saying for two millennia is true, and hasn’t changed. How we have been sharing these truths keeps changing.

That makes sense to me, since languages and cultures keep changing.

Yearning for an imagined Golden Age, or imagining that we should try to live in a rose-tinted memory of an earlier era? That doesn’t make sense. Not to me.

I’ve said most of this before:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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4 Responses to Wanting Truth

  1. Manny says:

    I had never heard of Sargon of Akkad but it was enlightening to look him up. I’m one of those who thinks Western Civilization is crumbling, but you make a good point. It always seems like it’s been crumbling. Brian, you are such an engaging writer! I really enjoyed this.

  2. Autumn Cote says:

    Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and thought this was insightful. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as t8he author. If “OK” please let me know via email.


Thanks for taking time to comment!