The Denial of Truth
If, over the last few weeks, you have paid attention to the mainstream media, you are likely under the impression that the United States is beset by an epidemic of school shootings. “Average of One Shooting per Day!” scream the headlines. “Kids aren’t safe at schools!” “Guns must be controlled!” Or Banned! Or something….
The biggest problem with these claims is that they’re patently false. Part of the dishonesty is intentional. The statistics cited by gun control advocates include any shooting that happened at or near a school, the overwhelming majority of which were suicides. In truth, mass shootings at schools are exceedingly rare. Moreover, school shootings have been DECREASING over time. Researchers from Northeastern University have, in fact, just published research showing that FOUR TIMES as many kids were killed in schools in the early 1990s than are today. The “narrative” is not only deceptive, it’s the precise opposite of reality.
But guns are not the only matter on which such falsehoods pass for truth in American today. Indeed, whenever conservatives gather, one subject is inevitably raised: “How is that liberals believe so many things that cannot be supported with either facts or common sense?”
The explanation for all of this can be found in the works of an Italian political theorist named Georg Sorel, the author of the 1908 political classic Reflections sur la Violence. Sorel was a successful engineer, who turned to political philosophy as an avocation. At one time, he was an admirer of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, but he was never able to find an intellectual home within any of contemporary leftist schools of thought. As a long-time admirer of the “father of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, he was an anarchist at heart. In fact, he was a fan of violence and welcomed the bloody labor strikes that were occurring throughout Italy.
His complaint, however, was that these strikes were leading to concessions by the industrialists, which he feared would lead to a peace between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. His plan was to create the “myth” of a “general strike,” in which all workers would quit their jobs at once. Of course, he would have welcomed such a strike, but he didn’t actually care if it happened. Its purpose was to act as a mythical goal that would inspire workers and instill fear in capitalists.
Sorel argued that myths are much more persuasive than truth, reason, economic theories, and obtuse philosophical discussions. Workers grasp myths intuitively. Myths stand their ground against all skeptics. So important is the myth over reality that Sorel would not discuss the details of the proposed “general strike.” He put it this way:
I thus put myself in a position to refuse any discussion whatever with the people who wish to submit the idea of a general strike to a detailed criticism, and who accumulate objections against its practical impossibility . . . The intellectualist philosophy finds itself unable to explain phenomena like the following -- the sacrifice of his life which the soldier of Napoleon made in order to have had the honour of taking part in " immortal deeds ' and of living in the glory of France, knowing all the time that " he would always be “poor man;” then, again, the extraordinary virtues shown by the Romans who resigned themselves to a frightful inequality and who suffered so much to conquer the world.
Finally, Sorel noted that myths were behind all of the great movements and events in history. He used Christianity as an example. To wit:
Catholics have never been discouraged by even the hardest trials because they have always pictured the history of the Church as a series of battles between Satan and the hierarchy supported by Christ; every new difficulty which arises is only an episode in a war which must finally end in the victory of Catholicism. . . . If Catholicism is in danger at the present time, it is to a great extent owing to the fact that the myth of the Church militant tends to disappear. . . . to these educated Catholics the myth of the struggle with Satan then appears dangerous, and they point out it ridiculous aspects; but they do not in the least understand its historical bearing. . . The intellectualist philosophy would have vainly endeavoured to convince the ardent Catholics, who for so long struggled successfully against the revolutionary traditions, that the myth of the Church militant was not in harmony with the scientific theories formulated by the most learned authors according to the best rules of criticism; it would never have succeeded in persuading them. It would not have been possible to shake the faith that these men had in the promises made to the Church by any argument; and so long as this faith remained, the myth was, in their eyes, incontestable.
Plato, of course stated millennia ago “from opinion comes persuasion and not from truth.” But Sorel pieced together his formula from numerous contemporary sources. One of these was the French historian Ernest Renan, who said this in The English Christian: “People die for opinions and not for certitudes because they believe and not because they know . . . whenever beliefs are in question and the greatest testimony and the most efficacious demonstration is to die for them.” Then there was the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who, among many other things, introduced Sorel to the idea of “intuition,” which, when integrated with the science and reason produced a higher understand of men’s motivates. Sorel put it this way: “Bergson has taught us that it is not only religion which occupies the profounder region of our mental life; revolutionary myths have their place there equally with religion.”
Are mass shootings a terrible and horrifying thing? Of course. Do we as a nation want to reduce the bloodshed at schools as much as possible? Of course. But the myth of the epidemic of mass shootings is what has taken hold in our culture, and that, we’re afraid, is proving far more powerful than the truth.