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Cucumber is green
We are developing a schizophrenic approach to truth

By Ali Kazemi
June 26, 2001
The Iranian

Recently I noticed "Nothing is sacred" as your site's motto. I am very disappointed that you have chosen that as your mission statement. Your site is excellent in many ways, but words matter and mottoes matter specially. You are establishing the purpose and goal of your enterprise. Bad mottoes have a way of clouding the judgment when a clear one is needed.

My concern was raised further when I read the last sentence of your editorial policy "There are no absolute truths here". My first question was, Is that absolutely true? It took some time until I extracted my confused mind from the contradictory circular logic. This phrase might sound benign. It even appears to project humility. You are not, however, saying that you may not know all the truth or that knowing the truth is a difficult undertaking. You are making a much broader and more problematic statement.

When you state "There are no absolute truths here" the word "here" is superfluous since I am sure you are not making a conscious effort to filter out any absolute truths from the submissions you receive. Therefore one should conclude that there are no absolute truths. This is a widespread if not dominant concept in the academic circles and intelligentsia. Many of the 20th century's intellectual and artistic movements such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Deconstructionism and Postmodernism support it. This is far too short a piece to discuss the possible reasons for these movements' popularity. I will just try to point out the destructiveness of this school of thought if it is carried to its logical conclusion.

The statement "Pure water boils at 100 degrees Celsius" can not be ruled true or untrue. It is merely vague since it does not mention other relevant factors such the air pressure and gravitational forces. There are also other statements, which their truth can not be verified due to a lack of sufficient evidence. However, the statement of "cucumber is green", is true, absolutely true -- even if Khomeini says it. Truth is by definition absolute. There are no semi-truths as there are no semi-pregnancies. One could not live practically in the physical world without belief in certain truths and I know the publisher of iranian.com and others who believe similarly, are not going to doubt basic scientific principals and physical facts in their daily lives. But the danger lies elsewhere.

Knowing the facts, even in contemporary history is very difficult. Do we actually know how many Iranians were killed in war with Iraq? We don't even know it within a hundred thousand and that is supposed to be a somewhat neutral fact. When it comes to politically charged facts such as the number of people killed in the revolution or political prisoners killed under the current regime, the estimates vary by an order of magnitude. That is a common occurrence and not unique to us as Iranians. We do not know how many people Stalin killed. The estimates have ranged from a few thousand to 20 million souls. Now with the collapse of Soviet Union, a substantial amount of evidence is coming out in support of the 20 million estimate. The concept that in our century, unbeknownst to most of us, 20 million people were killed shows the challenge and importance of knowing the truth.

The danger is that we are developing a schizophrenic approach to truth. We believe in it in physical and scientific matters, but doubt its existence in historical and humanitarian matters. Without an objective truth outside of ourselves, why shouldn't we just follow our feelings and prejudices? Why should we not surrender to hedonism? When this happens, we give up a great part of our potential as human beings. Not believing in the existence of any truth gives us a pass to act cowardly and spinelessly when moral courage and force of character are most needed. This creates unnecessary fuzziness and vagueness. That is why these days we have "I feel" replacing "I think". Imagine writing the United States Declaration of Independence this way. The words. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" in our contemporary parlance become "We would like to share with you our feelings that men should be equal". Would there even have been a revolution if they had used our version?

In this context we can better understand the significance of the phrase "Nothing is sacred". The word "sacred" has two meanings. One is in connection with deity and means holly. This is not the intended meaning here since you had mentioned "This is a secular site". That leaves us with the other meaning of "sacred" that of "entitled to reverence and respect, highly valued and important". A sort of defiant answer to the rhetorical question "Is nothing sacred?" When nothing is sacred then nothing can be profane. There is no high and low value and everything is equal. That is why we now have the obsession about being "non-judgmental". Once everything is equal then there is no good or bad. There can not be wisdom or folly. Ignorance and knowledge are equated and Nihilism is the only rational outcome. There is no opposing tyranny if human dignity is not sacred. In a world where nothing is sacred how could any writing be profane? In this state of affairs, why shouldn't an editor publish a number of vulgar stories? After all they cause controversy and letter writings. It becomes right to publish them if we have a right to publish them.

In George Orwell's novel "1984" after long and horrifying tortures, the protagonist Winston Smith believes "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE". His metaphysical person is killed through the destruction of truth. The saddest part is that we may be willing to give up truth voluntarily.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ali Kazemi


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