A joke attributed to Yervant Odian on the nature of truth goes
“Why is the truth always being raped?
Because it is naked and beautiful.”
Everyone would admit that the truth by nature is naked, but is it really beautiful? How many men have been persecuted for nothing other than displaying it in public? I mean the truth, not their nakedness. Although, in the case of both, the reaction is the same: “Cover that up, you maniac! There are children around!”
Beauty is a force like gravity: it pulls all things to itself. Even in everyday speech we say that something beautiful is attractive. But truth has the opposite effect: it pushes all things away from itself. So we should admit it and say that the truth is repulsive.
Often when I alienate an acquaintance or a woman and someone asks what went wrong, my answer is always, “I made a big mistake: I was being myself.”
So here’s my version of Odian’s joke:
Why are people repulsed by the truth?
Because it is naked…and old.
I’ll explain. Because the truth doesn’t come into being or pass away, it has existed since the beginning of time and so is very old. If love is represented in myth as Cupid, a blind winged baby flinging arrows at random, then the god of truth would be called Veritas, a hunched over, doddering, geriatric nudist who has seen and knows everything, but has no power to do anything, nor can get any passersby to stop and listen to him explain at length how things really are.
A person’s first experience with the truth is usually like their first experience at a nude beach. When you first hear about it, it’s exciting. You picture something beautiful in your mind, but when you get there you invariably see a gray-haired old man with loose, leathery, liver-spotted skin…Veritas in the flesh! The shock and letdown of seeing the truth for the first time, naked and disgusting as it is, leaves such a bad taste in most people’s mouths that they never ask for or seek it out again.
This is why when the truth is presented to mankind, they are more than happy to be distracted by more cheerful things, like opinions, lies, and half-truths. Because they are born every day, lies are always younger, more attractive, and more pleasant than the truth. Lies are like flies: they move quickly, make a loud buzz relative to their insignificant weight, and are born and pass away every twenty four hours.
There are always new lies, but there are no new truths.
The truth is, the truth is disfigured, fragile, helpless, and in need of the constant watchfulness of a strong and conscientious guardian. It is neither beautiful nor powerful, which explains why no one has ever been protected by taking refuge behind it. How many have defended themselves with the words, “But it’s true!” only to hear what the Roman satirist Persius was told by his friend: “But why grate delicate ears with biting truths like these? Make sure the doors of your powerful friends are not closed to you after this. Don’t you hear a snarling dog already?” (Satire I, page 326, lines 107-110) Or to Aristophanes after speaking the truth against the democratic war-mongers fueling the civil war against Sparta:
By Poseidon! he speaks the truth; he has not lied in a single detail.
But though it be true, need he say it? But you’ll have no great cause to be proud of your insolence! (113)
If you are going to take refuge behind the truth, make sure the truth in turn is taking refuge behind a brick wall.
Aristophanes, The Acharnanians. Translated by Anonymous, under the title The Eleven Comedies. Liveright, 192?
Persius, Satires. Translated by G. G. Ramsay. G. P. Putnam’s Son, 1918.