Truth or facts?

Truth does not exist: facts exist.

Perhaps you already heard this title’s sentence: it is the favorite statements by one of the Italian journalists I most appreciate and for whom I have great respect: Pino Scaccia. It is a beautiful sentence. I cannot say anyway that it encloses a great truth because I would risk to generate an oxymoron, but it is certainly quite interesting.

Despite this, it always gave me to think about and I have difficulty recognizing me in that statement. Maybe it is because I have the bad habit of always asking myself too many questions that I have often difficulty in answering; indeed in general I have always too few answers and each one ends up generating more questions. A bit masochistic, perhaps, but it is my nature and I think that in the end, if they were to erect a headstone on my grave, it is likely that you will find written there yet another unanswered question: «Now what?»

Anyway, going back to the citation in the title of this article, I can not help but asking me some question… Right now I’m in a hotel room in Madrid and I’m writing. A pen I had next to the laptop is fallen to the ground. I pick it up. Is it a fact? Yes, of course, it is. However, there is no one else in the room. For me it is certainly a fact, but is it for all the others? For you, whom I’m telling, what is that? Obviously, it is a “truth”, or better, it is a “truth of mine”, because what it is for me a fact becomes a truth when I tell it and it’s up to the listener to decide whether to believe it or not.

Suppose now that there was someone else in the room. Yes, I know what some friends of mine is thinking now — I have a couple of them who are really mischievous, unfortunately — but for the purposes of this argument it is not necessary that it be a beautiful girl; said that, please avoid other jokes. Let’s say there is a maid who is cleaning the room. She sees that I dropped the pen, so for her it is a fact and I could quote her as a witness, but even so for you it would be only a “truth”, this time for two people, but always something that you indirectly know.

It is clear that we can go on like this indefinitely: a car accident can be a fact for twenty people who witnessed, but only a reported event for all others. Even an event that happened in front of a million people is a fact just for them: everyone else has to decide whether to believe or not. Am I exaggerating? Do you think that a fact for a million people it must be necessarily a fact for everyone? Think about what is happening in Syria, or something that is going on right now in Africa or China. Think about the information you receive, conflicting, probably manipulated, altered, invented. Yet those “facts” are involving millions of people, so how is it possible that we are discussing here whether they are true or not, whether they are exactly as they have been told us or not?

There are those who question the Holocaust, and even there we are talking about tens of millions of people. Oh, sure, the victims were six, seven million, but there were the executioners, soldiers, cooks, truck drivers and train conductors, the civilian population who lived near the camp… That event was a fact that involved many more people than just the victims: families, not deported relatives, neighbors, because not all people was really unaware of what was happening.

For decades, other events, such as Foibe, were kept under silence and still people is reporting conflicting stories, often politicized or manipulated, depending on the part that tells them. Are they also facts? And what are the facts? Do you think it is a futile debate? We are talking about events occurred few generations ago — many people who have experienced them in the first person are still alive — but what happens when time passes, when feuds, political struggles, the various parts disappear into oblivion, when no one is interested anymore in narrating this or that story?

This is when the facts become tales and we are no longer able to say which is the truth. What is the truth about the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar? Do you think this is just some boring history to study at school? For us, maybe, but for those people who saw their families and children massacred, for those legionnaires who died, far away from home, for the promise of a piece of land after years of service, it was not just history: they were facts, raw, hard, facts that leave your mouth dry and your eyes wet.

For us, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin are monsters, but we sing the praises of Napoleon and Julius Caesar as great strategists. We have no memory of those events, of what the Romans and the French did in the villages their armies passed through, of which decisions those “great men”, so admired, who caused millions of deaths, took. When the facts become “truth” then the judgment changes, becomes an act of faith, sometimes even a source of pride. The Great Rome of which we Italians are proud of, it was really great, but what was the price? Was it so different from the Third Reich? Of course in some ways it was, but let us think also of the times like the one under Caligula, just to make a name. He was surely not like Octavian or Augustus, and they were no saints too.

Facts… How does a fact last? Are facts the public rallies about which nobody can ever state the true number of participants? What about the trials that generate so much paper that would take a lifetime just to study them? What are the facts related to the various massacres that we had in Italy, the so-called “accident” of Ustica, the killing of Calipari, the sinking of the Costa Concordia?

But there are videos, witnesses… those are facts, you may say. True, they are facts, but no more or less as it is a fact that I dropped the pen. If even in the case of direct witnesses of a fact, everyone ends up having often only a partial view of what happened, think how it may be limited a video taken with a camera, especially if the cameraman decides to give you a specific interpretation of that fact. Just take a rally at the beginning or towards the end, maybe from a certain point of view, to give the impression that the square is empty or nearly so. Or take the lower part of the stands of a stadium, for example where is the terrace of the die-hard fans, to give the impression that an almost empty stadium is really full of people. Then raising or lowering the volume of the audio, you can accentuate the desired effect. Even when there is no bad faith, a video can give a distorted view of the facts.

We also know how easy it is to make people to believe something they already believe. Social networks like Facebook are full of hoaxes of this kind. Don’t you love that politician? Maybe it’s already been convicted? Great: you have just to accuse him of something similar, just say that he did it again, and after five minutes the message will be shared by so many people that even members of his own party will believe it. By the way, if so many people say that, it should be true, shouldn’t it? The web is an amplifier: it amplifies both truth and hoaxes, and if an impressive image is provided with the hoax — who knows when really taken, maybe modified with a good photo editing software — not only many will be fooled, but anyone who tries to raise doubts is branded as an accomplice, a reactionary or even worse.

The point is that we are accustomed to trust friends and often we extend this trust to those whom we met online and that, perhaps in good faith, ends up becoming a Trojan horse for the more narrow-minded misinformation. In other words, if such a good person said that… if such a dear friend said it… and so on. Furthermore, when news builds on our deepest feelings, involves children, speaks of sob stories, and asks to be shared to support this or that, to click is so simple that no one bothers to do at least a search on the web to verify it, assumed that that story did not get so diffused that even Google cannot be considered reliable at that point. Even in Wikipedia it happens that some stories be censored or accepted just because traditional media did the same too.

But Wikipedia is a secondary source, you may say, that is, it is based on other sources then should be reliable. True, and usually it is, but who decides how reliable is a source? In Wikipedia national newspapers are considered reliable because there is a managing director who ensures the quality of the news, whereas there is not for a blog. But is it really so? We have seen in recent years how plausible certain newspapers are, especially when politics is involved, while there are blogs of the highest quality that are however often ignored, unless the writer is not already famous for other reasons.

What is a fact then, if we live in an indirect way most of what happens in the world, through stories, pictures, movies, news on traditional media or the web? What is a fact if I cannot trust friends too, not because of bad faith but because, perhaps, less experienced of the web, deceived by a thousand tricks of digital misinformation. A misinformation that is often generated as a game or vandalism, not to hide global conspiracies of more or less secret sects or alien interference.

«Truth does not exist. There are only facts.» Yes, it is true, there are only facts: those you witnessed, you experienced in the first person, that you fully experienced, in which you have been deeply involved. All the other events that happen around you and brush you by can be considered just half-facts, or perhaps half-truths, because supplemented by what you believe, by what you think happened, on by what you wish to think that happened.

«Truth does not exist. There are only facts.» And the truth? Does not really exist? Or maybe it’s simply a result of the confidence that you give to others, the principles you believe in, the hopes that you have? In reality, the truth exists, only that it is not only one, but one for each of us. In this sense does not exist, but for each of us it is absolutely real, so real that for certain truths there is someone who decided to give his/her life, to sacrifice everything he/she had. How can you say to these people who have done all that for something, that such a truth does not exist? I honestly do not know.

Ah, for the record … I did not drop any pen on the floor this morning.

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