Illustration by Hanna Barczyk
In place of this week’s column, we have an important obituary to run:
Truth, the essential unit of social cohesion whose merits were debated from ancient Athens to modern Twitter, has been found dead. While no cause of death has yet been announced, Truth is believed to have died of neglect.
Many of Truth’s friends knew that the primary building block of human society had struggled in recent years, but few of them had gone round to check on its health. “I’ve been super busy putting out fires of my own,” Reason said. “I just didn’t realize how bad things were.”
Truth was found at the bottom of a set of subway steps, being dragged away by a rat that mistook it for a slice of pizza. Police are trying to determine when it was last seen in public.
The quality of agreeing on a set of known facts was at least as old as human language, and had been assumed at one time to be immortal. Truth achieved its first celebrity as a subject of debate among Greek philosophers, and perhaps its proudest moment as a fundamental element of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It was even said to keep a framed copy of the Declaration on its wall, with the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident” surrounded by exclamation marks.
For a few centuries, Truth enjoyed the kind of good branding that can only be provided by poets who searched for the elusive quality while tramping on moors and boating on Lake Geneva. During this period, Truth was married to Beauty, a match that lasted nearly three centuries but could not survive philosophical debates about whether either actually existed. “Truth wanted to be the centre of every argument,” Beauty is reported to have said. “But we both knew it was me people came to see.”
It was in the 20th century that Truth began to suffer, as reality was twisted in its name. Truth really became incensed when it learned that Soviet propagandists had borrowed its name for their new newspaper, Pravda. “If that’s Truth,” the golden ideal of democratic societies said, “then I’m a banana.”
Observers and close friends became worried as Truth watched its essential nature called into doubt by academics and philosophers. It was reported to have put its foot through a television when it heard U.S. president Bill Clinton say, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Still, Truth held out hope when it read the works of Hannah Arendt and George Orwell. Sometimes, when Reason and Tolerance dropped by with a bottle of bourbon, Truth would begin to read from Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.” At that point, Truth would collapse in tears while its friends took off its socks and put it to bed.
The great blossoming of technology in the early 21st century seemed, at first, to be Truth’s salvation. Academics spread knowledge, oppressed peoples found each other and joined forces. Truth risked taking a break for five minutes to watch a video about an otter eating clams. When it looked up its optimism was crushed, for there on Twitter was an astrophysicist trying to convince a user named Libtard99 that climate change was real.
Truth’s malaise grew worse in the past few years, as countries around the world elected leaders who spewed lies as a way of proving their power. Accustomed to politicians who at least paid lip service to it, and sent a nice fruit basket at Christmas, Truth was unprepared for the rise of demagogues who disputed its existence altogether. Even worse for its morale were the people who followed them, and constructed jerry-built versions of their own truths. Briefly, Truth considered suing for copyright infringement, but realized it no longer had the energy.
In the last years of its life, Truth tried to counter misinformation, whether riding cross-country buses having conversations with strangers or appearing at Goop conferences carrying a sign that said, “keep your jade eggs where I can see them.” When a magazine interviewer asked how it managed to persevere during such difficult times, Truth answered that it “was really good at self-care,” including logging off the internet and regularly watching Jeopardy!
Truth was a lifelong devotee of Pilates, saying the conditioning was useful “when you’re always being stretched.” Indeed, Truth had taken up Pilates after its nimbleness was questioned; it was particularly rankled at the suggestion that it couldn’t put on its pants in the time it took Falsehood to run around the world.
By the time that scholars, journalists and concerned citizens noticed that Truth was ready for hospice care, it was already too late. Writer Michiko Kakutani even wrote a book called The Death of Truth, although, like the death announcements of Mark Twain and Bob Hope before, it proved premature.
While ailing at the time of Ms. Kakutani’s book, Truth was still occasionally seen at public events, pulling an oxygen tank and surrounded by a protective circle of fact-checkers. Friends said that Truth had become especially discouraged, though, and wandered away from fact-checkers who were distracted by an argument about minimum wage. There is speculation that Truth unhooked its own oxygen tank rather than spend another holiday season listening to family members argue over memes they’d shared on Facebook.
Despite attempts to buoy its own spirits, the universal human good was also recently overheard fretting about its legacy, and wondering if its time on earth would be remembered at all. Knowing the end was near, Truth had asked friends if they might erect some small memorial in its memory, perhaps a park bench overlooking a playground.
Truth leaves its former partner Beauty, and two children from whom it was estranged, Whatever and LOL.