“Veritas” contemporary figurative painting
In the seal of Harvard College, the Latin word for truth “veritas” is spelled out in pieces over the pages of three open books. That image is a profound comment on the nature of the body of knowledge and the dissemination of information: to have the full truth, it was necessary to read more than one book. Only then does the whole picture come into focus.
This disciplined approach to truth is the exact opposite of the method favored by human nature. Most people are too lazy or too busy to dig beneath the surface, so they find one book that tells them what they think they already know, and they are done. There is also a tendency to stick to sources of information that offer simple explanations and avoid details that are inconvenient or inconclusive.
I was educated in a conservative private school in Mississippi. In our history class, the American War of Independence was taught more like a drama or a religious passion play than an event, and most of the complexity of the conflict was simply left out. For example, our textbook did not mention irrelevant details like the fact that many American colonists moved to Canada following the war because they remained loyal English subjects. Neither did our textbook spend much time discussing the financial motivations and ambitions of people like Alexander Hamilton.
These details are irrelevant because they do not contribute to the story. The story is that American independence was achieved by divine guidance because America is a chosen nation. It does not matter that we have the diaries and letters of George Washington and the other founding fathers or that their own writing reveals them to be human, fallible, confused, divided, etc. If we can leave these irrelevant details out, we can have the story of America as a chosen nation.
The idea of America as a chosen nation is incredibly powerful because there is quite a bit in the Old Testament about God’s chosen nation rising victorious over all the godless people of the world.
The problem is that there is also a lot in the Old Testament about the greed and arrogance of Babylon and how God would destroy it and all the other oppressive kingdoms of the earth.
At the end of World War II, France and England were destroyed financially, and European colonialism came to an end rather abruptly. Suddenly there was a huge power vacuum in the world economy. Who would control all the vast resources of all the former colonies in Africa, Southeast Asia, India, etc?
Corporations based largely in the US grew to fill this void. For decades, corporations have been exploiting people around the world in our name while under the protection of our flag. Communism may have been a very real threat in the 20th century, but that does not change the fact that we grew a little too comfortable fighting on the side of large corporate interests.
We always claimed to be spreading democracy, but the simple truth is that we suppressed populist movements in developing nations around the globe. In Asia, in South and Central America, in Africa and in the Middle East, it was always the same. We supported fascist regimes to “ensure stability and protect our interests.”
Now we wonder why the world hates us. The typical American has no real idea why. The typical American does not travel to developing nations. The typical American does not read books. Thus the president can say nonsense like “they hate us for our freedoms” with a straight face and be believed by millions of consumers out there in TV land.
Is America more like a chosen nation, or is it more like Babylon the Great?
America is only a tiny percentage of the world’s population, but it consumes the lion’s share of world resources. You don’t have to read too much or travel too far to get a picture that is radically different from what the corporations want you to believe.