Polls: We never know the truth
Published on February 23, 2008, 12:00 am
By Gilbert Muyumbu
It is said truth is a big casualty in any conflict. It is also said that there are three ways to look at truth. The first is a person’s own perspective. The other is what other people think. Then there is the indifferent plank of truth. When there are opposing arguments, each side holds what they think as the truth.
This is the scenario since the disputed presidential poll results were announced. Both PNU and ODM have their versions of truth. ODM insists the election was stolen. PNU insists it won the election fairly. Each side has provided arguments they deem as the truth. In all the confusion, it is hard to tell the truth.
We have, until a few weeks ago, been bombarded with media advertisements by both sides.
Could these advertisements have been the means through which the two sides were attempting to portray their versions of ‘the truth’? How successful are such attempts in getting the truth on either side? Can truth be pulled from one side to the other or can it remain indifferent to such attempts?
I learnt at the university that ‘truth can change’ if there is reason to compel it to do so. For instance, before the discovery of the telescope, the biblical contention that the earth was flat and was the centre of the universe was the truth. But with the telescope, this ‘truth’ changed to conform with the new evidence based on research.
Another example of recasting the truth is that of European explorers to Africa in the 19th century. We are told the explorers ‘discovered’ snow caps on Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro. Initially, nobody in Europe believed this ‘discovery’ because it contradicted with the geographic truth of the time, that the tropics were too hot for snow. But with more research, this geographic truth had to change based on the evidence of the snow. This led to a new truth, that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes, whether in the tropics or not.
Need for research
Thus research is all about investigating deeply to determine existing truth. Research/investigation is only complete if it urges us towards some new attitude about existing truth, whether to recast or retain it the way it is. The evidence adduced by research or investigation determines the changeability of truth.
In light of evidence, for instance, truth is either retained the way it has been or recast in line with the evidence. Many thinkers and philosophers have not been blind to the changeability of truth. I read somewhere that truth is like an onion, from which one peels a layer only to encounter a new, cleaner one underneath.
In a play, The Road, Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka depicts truth as the froth on top of a glass of beer, which as many beer takers know, changes once it settles in the glass. This illustration shows truth is changeable, especially in the face of evidence.
Nevertheless, we need to guard against falling for the fetish of evidence as the means of determining the truth. For evidence could be another name for propaganda or lies.
Before accepting any proffered evidence, there is need to question its credibility. Such credibility is what distinguishes evidence from propaganda.
It is crucial therefore that before evidence is used to recast or strengthen the truth. Its credibility should be beyond reproach. For example, if a policeman is caught on camera shooting a civilian in cold blood, can such footage be said to be a credible source of evidence over the shooting? Or can such evidence be dismissed as ‘camera tricks’ that need further investigation? In most instances, it is the argument over evidence that actually blurs the truth and makes it even more remote. Dismissing and trivialising irrefutable evidence could be a means of blurring the truth and controverting it, especially when one is guilty.