A bit more than ten years ago I was an observer (and participant) in a debate that centered around a series of false accusations that were made that swayed a certain group of people to act in a certain way. One of the aspects of this that I found most telling was the way that even when it was obvious that the accusations made were false, that there was almost no reconsideration of whether the action taken on those false premises was to be reconsidered. If someone does x because they believe y happened or will happen, and y does not happen and did not happen, then if someone’s main focus is dealing with and addressing reality, then their views ought to change. Yet that is not what we find, by and large. Such evidence as we use to justify what we are doing or how we think or treat others is often mere pretext, because when an argument point ends up not being so, our views and behavior are not changed in consequence. Perhaps we no longer feel it necessary to find a pretext for what which we have said and done, or have moved on to dozens of other equally fallacious pretexts.
Why does this matter? If our behavior and belief system is motivated by a concern for truth, it is of the utmost importance that we build on a sure foundation. If a given fact is supporting our behavior, any change in the truth value of such a fact–if it is indeed found to be fiction, slander, or anything of the kind–affects the edifice we have build on top of it. If we have claimed, to use an example not at random, that we have been assaulted in a racist attack by a white conservative lynch mob when instead we have hired two Nigerians to fake the lynch mob so that we could slander and libel tens of millions of innocent people as hateful racists with the active support of reprehensible elements of self-professed journalists with certain supposed ethical standards in their writing, and that supposed fact is used as a key piece of evidence that America is as racist as a society as it was sixty years ago or so, the truth status of that claim ought to matter. If we have made a false assumption, the falsity of that claim ought to bring into our question our negative beliefs about others. If we were concerned about truth, we might even say that the need to manufacture racist hoaxes demonstrates that America is a less racist society against blacks than is the case in the minds of those who seek to find racism under every rock and in every math textbook.
Yet again, we do not find this to be the case. Those who made false claims, who justified acts of looting and violence and hatred against others on the basis of false information, have not apologized for those actions. They have not repented of their lies and slanders, not changed their negative beliefs that were supported by what ended up being no facts or evidence at all. It is hard to humble when in our minds we have moral superiority over others and are unwilling to accept that we do not have the moral high ground because the foundation we build upon was a lie. It is hard to admit that we have been self-deceived, willing and even eager to believe lies about others because it suited us to think less of others and leap to conclusions rather than awaiting a verdict on whether those things were indeed so. To admit that it was our desire to think badly of others and to treat others badly that motivated us to view as truth something that was a lie, but a convenient lie, is to admit something evil about ourselves, and it is hard for us to do that. It may be necessary for our salvation for us to own up to those darker aspects of ourselves that fall short of the righteousness of God’s ways, but that does not make it any easier for us to do as flawed human beings with a nearly limitless taste for self-justification.
To the extent that we know ourselves to be people who are tenacious in holding to our positions, ferocious in defending ourselves and our beliefs, unwilling to bend or move, resistant to change, and stubborn in holding onto our own sense of personal honor and integrity, it behooves us to make sure that we plant our flag on solid ground that we can defend to the death, if necessary. If we are not prone to giving others a second chance, then we must be very diligent in ensuring that others have received a genuine first chance, lest we be unjust. If we are people who are not prone to change our opinions or judgments once they are set in hard plastic, then we need to make sure that we do not rush to judgment or conclusions in too hasty of a manner, and that we give others a fair hearing, lest we become hardened in the wrong opinions and beliefs and base our behavior on that which is not so and is therefore contrary to reality. To fail to meet this basic standard of decency and equity is to concede that we are not in fact just people and that we therefore have no credibility to rail against the injustice of those around us who merely act as we do in mirror image to ourselves. It is, after all, suicidal for anyone other than the just to seek justice, for the word of the Eternal is a two-edged sword that strikes against our own injustice as much as those we consider to be our enemies. And to the extent that we seek flimsy and fallacious pretexts to justify our own injustice and wickedness towards others, we may find that we are less just than those whose statues we remove and those whose reputations we drag through the mud in our libelous scribbling. In such a case, it is far better to repent when only our pride is at stake, as bitter a pill as it is to swallow to admit that we were wrong and that the ungracious people we wished to look down on were in fact right all along.