Speak Truth to Power

Our last blog focused on the strength of the “weaker” sex – passion’s power to trick truth from a muddled man.

A Delilah or Mata Hari may inveigle even the stoic to expose what should be hidden (though I should hasten to add that in our modern age seduction is not an art always practiced by the female gender:  even a “cabana boy” may seduce an otherwise strong woman into dangerous indiscretions).

Dear reader, with a smile I’m sure you understand this is not the idea behind the aphorism: “Speak truth to power.”

Ah, you may be asking:  where did this advice come from?  No less than the peace-loving Quakers coined the phrase in the 1950s:  “Speak truth to power.”  This was their answer to evil dictators, like Stalin.  Indeed, they believed – and practiced – that the pen is mightier than the sword.

And please, don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that women are evil dictators.  No, men have power issues, too.  For starters, there is the whole problem of not putting down toilet seats – not to mention much more.  

But let’s get serious.  Maybe Bob Woodward said it best.  Remember Bob?  He and Carl Bernstein were the Washington Post journalists who exposed Watergate in 1972.
Bob said, “All good work is done in defiance of management.”


When someone tries to “manage” the truth (whether journalism or science or whatever – and it doesn’t matter whether that “management” is friend or foe), this attempt to exercise power creates a tension between the actual naked truth and the reporting of that truth to the rest of the world.  Will the words reflect the facts?  Or will they reflect what someone wants to hear (and wants others to hear?).  

And the more layers of “management,” the less truth will be told.

Consider the following dialog from The First Days of August between our hero Steve August and his boss, the villain George MacGregor:  
“MacGregor’s smile vanished. His tone turned flat. ‘There’s no difference between freedom and power. Power is the freedom to do what you want.’

“Steve shrugged, ‘You also might call them opposites. Power is the capacity to bend others to one’s own will, while freedom is the capacity to act independently. One man’s power equals another man’s slavery.’

“‘That’s politics – not relevant for science.’

"‘But wasn’t that the point of the Enlightenment?’ asked Steve, striving to be pleasant, but not wanting to give up.  He continued, ‘I think knowledge doesn’t derive from divine edict or imperial decree, not from the imposition of our wills upon others or upon reality. Knowledge requires freedom – to test ideas, question assumptions, explore alternatives. Isn’t that what research is all about?’”

Indeed, isn’t that what research is about?  Isn’t that what all science is about?  Isn’t that what all truth-telling is about – whether it’s science, or journalism, or legal counsel, or medical advice, or financial management?

Knowledge, true knowledge, requires freedom.

Dear reader, every day we witness, and we practice, and we are subject to, the tensions between power and truth.

As you read The First Days of August, and as you move through the victories and challenges of daily life, please keep this tension in mind.   The really good news, my friend, is that the Quakers were right.  Truly, the pen is mightier than the sword.  

There are two Latin phrases featured in this novel.  And now you may see their contrast more clearly.

To put it simply, veritas wins out over ad hominem.  Truth wins out over power.  Always.  Sometimes, you’ve just got to wait a while.

You’ll see.  Meanwhile, read the book.  And keep the faith.


Read 1099 times Last modified on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 14:32
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