Recently I’ve been reading a lot of Mark Twain. Specifically, I just finished reading his essay/story What is Man? which is a conversation between a young man and an old man. Based upon the description on Goodreads, apparently this was Twain’s prized essay. His own bible of sorts that he kept hidden away for some time. I can only imagine he did this because of the things about which he wrote, touching upon how a person’s mind functions. Ideas such as free will and religion. Things that people, especially during that time, were likely to take as an insult, or as a mockery of people’s way of life.
As I read this, I began highlighting (on my Kindle, of course) some excellent quotes within What is Man? and I thought it might be fun to explore these quotes and perhaps see how much they relate to contemporary society. I’m planning for this to be a weekly piece as I continue to explore more of Twain’s writing.
The quote I’d like to take a look at comes from the section where the Old Man and the Young Man are discussing “Truth-Seekers.” The Old Man says:
“I told you that there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch it and caulk it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on him.”
This concept couldn’t be any more relevant to contemporary culture. The idea that there is no such thing as a permanent Truth-Seeker is absolutely true. In my experiences I’ve found that we spend our time searching for what we believe to be the truth, and when we find that answer–an answer we believe to be absolutely, 100% fault proof–we stop searching. We store that answer as confirmation that the truth has been located, and continue to use our time to find ways to solidify the truth we discovered. We search for ways to shut out contradictions and prove them wrong.
This can be seen in significant force on social media. Social media allows us to completely submerge ourselves in our own points of view. We’re able to see what we want from whatever viewpoint we want, and we have the power to make anything we want to be true, or at least seem that way. We can create graphics and upload them without having to provide source material or defend our way of thinking. We can add to any argument without validating our points of view, and it can be assumed that others take it at face value and then find truth themselves, using that particular graphic or comment as their defense for the truth.
Take, for example, the issue of gun control in America. Those who believe that there should be no restrictions on guns believe that to be the truth and therefor use such things as the second amendment to make that truth, as Twain said, “weather-proof.” They no longer continue searching to see if restrictions on gun control are needed in America. They’ve searched for their truth, found it, and now are set on finding evidence to back up that truth.
The same can be said for the opposite side of the argument. Those who believe that there should be restrictions on guns have found their truth. They’ve completed what research was required to come to the belief that guns should be regulated, and now they’re searching for ways to make their argument stronger.
Both groups have gone through their temporary stage of truth seeking and have moved on to backing up their truth. Twain has, essentially, redefined “truth” within this context. The former definition: “The quality or state of being true” has been altered to a state of “what the individual believes to be true.” In terms of religion, people believe it as truth that he or she will go to Heaven when they die while others believe that he or she may be reincarnated, or some believe it as truth that no one actually knows what will happen when we die.
I believe it to be true that Twain is absolutely correct in this theory. I have no need to further investigate this because I’ve done my searching–my research by examining cultural examples–and have confirmed that I believe it to be something that I am “thoroughly convinced is the Truth.”
What do you think? Do you think there is such a thing as a “permanent Truth-Seeker?” Is there anything you absolutely believe to be true and now search for ways to strengthen your argument for that particular idea?