Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Truth vs. Interpretation

Cicero: Credit, Liam Clarkson-Holborn
For a decade, I have been doing research for my manuscript about the Populist Movement of the late 1800s.  I was fascinated to learn that such a significant event that began with the Farmer's Alliance in Texas and reached its peak with the People's Party in Kansas, (spreading to other states primarily in the South and the Central states), was so quickly forgotten.  The People's Party is the most successful 3rd Party movement in our nation's history; yet, many...perhaps most Americans (except those of you who have followed this blog) are not aware of its importance. Nor, are many Americans aware that their ancestors were participants in this movement.

My focus on a political movement from our past has made me especially aware of how people can receive the same information and interpret it differently.  That makes reasonable political discord challenging.  As satirist  Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wrote in Gulliver's Travels, it might do a politician some good to "...have half his brain swapped with half the brain of a member of the opposing party."

The Populist Movement and the creation of the People's Party arose very quickly, and it fractured and faded just as quickly, less the result of opposition tactics of the Republicans and Democrats but more from divisions and disagreements within the People's Party itself.  The two old parties succeeded in a sense by implementing some of the Populist ideas, so that the need for a third party to get those things done disappeared.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I collect quotes I find particularly thought provoking.  Too often, I jot these quotes down on scraps of paper or whatever writing surface is at hand when I discover the quotes.  Eventually, I copy them into a file on my laptop.  Sometimes, before I get them copied into that file, I end up with quotes from unrelated authors and eras that give particular reason for reflection.  When I found the three that I am sharing today in the back of my desk drawer, they challenged me in exactly that way.

Friedrich Nietzsche - 1861
Two of my great grandfathers were friends of Isaac Werner, whose journal has inspired my manuscript over the past decade.  (A third great grandfather was also an acquaintance but lived outside Isaac's immediate community.)  One of those neighboring great grandfathers was a Union Soldier in the Civil War, and like so many of those soldiers, he came to Kansas and staked his claim with the advantage of crediting his 3 years of military service to reduce the 5 years otherwise required to mature a homestead claim, resulting in only 2 years needed for him.  And, like most Union Soldiers, he voted Republican, the party of Lincoln.  My other great grandfather in Isaac's neighborhood emigrated from England, and at that time had only his wife and two young daughters, the youngest being my grandmother.  A son and another daughter were later added to the family.  He became active in the Populist Movement and supported the People's Party.  One a staunch Republican and the other an active Populist, these two men brought differing political perspectives to their voting during the Populist Movement.  Did those differing perspectives impact their political decisions, and how might they have aligned themselves with the two quotes that follow?  

"What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage.  The mere fact of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious."  Marcus Tullius Cicero, (106-43 BCE)

"All things are subject to interpretation, whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."  Friedrich Nietzsche.  

As the quotes of Swift, Cicero, and Nietzsche have shown,--men whose lives span several centuries,--the distinction between how we define "Truth" and "Morality" has been and always will be complex when mixed with politics.

No comments: