As the lengthening of the days following upon the winter solstice presages the coming of spring, so have we evidence of the nearness of the new time. Not least among such collective testimony is the spirit of inquiry among men as to the why and wherefore of things. There is also in this connexion a readiness, a willingness, if not an actual desire on the part of increasing numbers, to be shown. This is but natural, when we consider our appalling dearth of certitude about so many things. Call this attitude the higher criticism, or call it a robust scepticism if you will. It is that which has given birth to such popular phrases as: "Show me! I'm from Missouri!" etc., etc. One might take this more or less universal circumstance as the mental keynote of our day. People are clamoring for a modicum of certitude. They want to know. Herein is the reason for the appreciation of certain noteworthy achievements in that particular field of endeavor which has come to be known as debunking. It is one of the signs of health rather than of disease.
This lusty, iconoclastic infant, born of the exigencies of our time, holds great promise for the relatively immediate future. Moreover it threatens the very life of a tremendous amount of organized time-honored humbug. Intensive investigation and research among historical, archaeological and other records is beginning to bear fruit. History of the past — his story of the past, whoever he or she as chronicler may have been at the time — is being scrutinized and subjected to critical analysis as never before. His or her contemporary stories likewise, whether journalistic or brought to one's ears over the radio. There is something portentous, something irrevocable and juggernaut-like about this debunking of the spoken, written or printed word.
To get at the unbiased, impersonal truth in respect to this, that, or the other matter is the thing. It may involve more than one angle of approach, and so may not be the same avenue for everyone. Some may grasp the essential truth concerned in any matter by means of intuition or insight; others by a process of reflexion, turning it over in the mind; others again by a purely logical habit of thought. Yet another approach, and not least among them, is by weeding out the non-essentials in any given case, the irrelevant in short, with which so many issues are decked out for presentation. Thus stripped of their trappings, the bare facts are more easily brought to light.
This is a way of approach that is within the scope of anyone and everyone. By seeing the unvarnished facts through the hole of discrimination, which each has to bore for himself, there results the essential, the impersonal view, the value of which may not be overestimated. If one is ever to achieve even a modicum of the impersonal some such attainment must be reached, some such implement used. It may often mean an abandonment of one's prejudices or preconceived ideas, but what of that? They will soon be seen for what they really are: impediments, preventives, in the way of the mind's being kept fluid, receptive, open and unbiased. It is through the accumulation of such mental and emotional rubbish that we find ourselves so destitute of vision today, so unresponsive to the teachings of events, the most impersonal teachers known, and the least appreciated, be it added.
Nearly everyone is interested in the news of the day, but inasmuch as the daily reports, false or true are, to the man in the street, so inextricably interwoven with propaganda, little credence is given to them. It is an old truism that falsehood goes down grade apace, while truth has to laboriously climb up hill. The reason is that in our present state of society the majority are inclined to believe the lie rather than the truth, particularly if it be presented in terms with an emotional meaning, which would naturally appeal to one's personal prejudices. And yet, speaking of propaganda, it cannot be denied that the most effective component in it is truth, although truth is usually called propaganda by the other side — the side against which this truth may be directed. But we are not in the slightest degree concerned with world politics, nor with local politics. All these will some day be recognised to be the ineffectual, futile things they are. The day will arrive when they will be lined up and made to walk the plank, together with other major institutions still serving as separative barriers between man and man. This event, however, will not be until a far greater measure of impersonality becomes operative in the affairs of men.
Inasmuch as words are of such importance in life, let us see if they cannot be made to serve more impersonally, less colorfully, perhaps, less emotionally, certainly, wherever and whenever facts are at issue and certitude threatens to become obscured. We might profit by checking up on current words and phrases which reach us through conversation, or in our daily course of reading: books, magazines, newspapers or what not.
As might be expected under existing circumstances, the thoughts of uncounted millions are today completely dominated by emotion. Instead of using the head they have turned the job over to that much over-worked organ the liver, and we have what we have in consequence — "Insanity Fair" — Personality gone to seed. One may find evidence of this emotionalism in the foreign news, as reported in some of the daily papers, by noting the usual number of words suggesting disapproval, opprobrium, condemnation, or moral turpitude. But by replacing such emotion-evoking terms with neutral words which have a purely objective meaning we have an entirely different picture. Try this on the next political speech you hear.
There is something in the adage about giving a dog a bad name. Suppose for instance that some particular dog were of mixed ancestry, as a good many dogs are. He is regarded by his owner as a valuable and faithful companion. But to a complaining neighbor who may have heard him barking during the night he is a mongrel, a cur, plus a nuisance. This is to depart from the word dog which has a purely objective and neutral meaning. To refer to him as a dog of mixed breed would still preserve the objective meaning attached to the word dog. But to call him a mongrel implies a measure of disapproval in connexion with that particular dog, while to call him a cur suggests downright worthlessness or even ugliness.
Words with emotional or colorful meanings have their place, their legitimate use in any language. And they need not be confined to poetry either, although poetry may furnish as good an illustration of such usage as any. Suppose we were describing a bit of mountain scenery in early summer and said:
The little lake in borrowed blue
Mirrors the mountain sheen,
Faithful to nearby alpine firs
New-tipped in timid green.
This would be more or less of a picture, one quite in keeping with the characteristic environment at such a time and place. A suggestion of consciousness, fidelity, and action is implied throughout, plus a picture. To say that the lake reflected the blue sky and the towering mountain a mile away, and that it included in its reflexion fir trees showing new growth would be to rob the lines of any poetry they might possess, particularly the endowment of such qualities as quietude, consciousness, and fidelity. Yet in so doing we should be using strictly neutral or objective words, but at some sacrifice of beauty.
Let us try to get away from the emotional language of local and other rival politicians and keep our mental furniture in order. It behooves all educators and thinking people generally not only to be on guard against any possible influences upon themselves which present-day emotion-arousing terminology might have, but to do their utmost to further the day when we shall be able to consider national and international problems, yes, and personal problems also, in the same dispassionate manner that the chemist adopts in the laboratory or the mathematician with the properties of numbers. For until we can do that it is to be feared that things may remain pretty much as they are.
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