Truth and Her Twin, Part 2: Mendacium Writ Large

February 24, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

We looked in Part 1 at the mythological origins of Truth (Veritas) and Lies (Mendacium). We established that they were like twins: sometimes very difficult to distinguish between one and the other. And we made the point, too, that Mendacium, because she was footless, was immobile and also unbalanced. If we think through what this imagery means—keeping in mind that the myths tell us deep psychological or even spiritual truths—we realize that being footless, being immobile, means that we are not free. The essence of being free is that we are free to move, wherever and whenever we want. If at any point in our lives we cannot move, we cannot truly be said to be free.

Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare
While truth and lies can look the same, they are like identical twins, who can be very different indeed, as the painting “The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare” (1876), by John Everett Millais, suggests. Kate (L) holds a riding crop and her demure sister, a hat. The Fitzwilliam Museum. (PD-US)

At a religious level, for example, Christ said that in knowing the truth, the truth would set us free, and this idea was matched by his healing of the physically infirm—some of whom could not even move. By healing, not just curing their bodies, he set them free. Truth has this remarkable quality: It frees us.

Pieter_van_Lint_-_Christ_healing_the_lame_at_the_pool_of_Bethesda
In healing the lame, Jesus made manifest the dictum that the truth sets one free. “Christ Healing the Lame at the Pool of Bethesda,” 1640s, by Pieter van Lint. Oil on panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum. (Public Domain)

But not just at a spiritual level—this is also true at a political one. If we cannot move, for example, as during a lockdown, a curfew, an embargo, and so on, then we are not free politically. Not to be misunderstood: There may be good reasons for curtailing freedom in a lockdown—such as public health, but nevertheless, the restriction denies one’s freedom.

This issue, then, is really important. In a way, what I am saying is that the acceptance of Mendacium—Lies or Error—is the precursor to loss of freedom. It is neither necessarily nor immediately apparent that we lose our freedom, but if enough people collectively subscribe to Mendacium, then as sure as night follows day, our freedoms are eroded and we become enslaved by false and lying ideologies.

Mendacium Rules

Today we are assaulted on all sides by just such a lying ideology, Mendacium threatening to undermine all our freedoms. In terms of identifying it, English writer Theodore Dalrymple perhaps caught its very essence when he wrote: “He [Stefan Zweig] would have viewed with horror the cacophony of monomanias—sexual, racial, social, egalitarian—that marks the intellectual life of our societies, each monomaniac demanding legislative restriction on the freedom of others in the name of a supposed greater, collective good.”

Notice the strength of feeling in that statement: not people, but monomaniacs demanding what? Our freedom for some “supposed greater, collective good.”

And lest we think that the danger can only come from self-evident monomaniacs (and self-confessed communists)—as visible as some of them are, aggressively protesting on our streets—yet the danger of Mendacium can be much subtler. It can be a lie generated by an internal contradiction that is difficult to spot.

Camille Paglia comments, in her book “Sexual Personae,” on modern liberalism and its connection to feminism: “Modern liberalism suffers unresolved contradictions. It exalts individualism and freedom and, on its radical wing, condemns social orders as oppressive. On the other hand, it expects government to provide materially for all, a feat manageable only by an expansion of authority and a swollen bureaucracy … In other words, liberalism defines government as tyrant father but demands that it behaves as nurturant mother … Feminism has exceeded its proper mission of seeking political equality for women and has ended by rejecting contingency, that is, human limitation by nature or fate.”

Scholar Camille Paglia in 2015
Scholar Camille Paglia in 2015. (Fronteiras do Pensamento/CC-SA BY 2.0)

Isn’t this the essence of Mendacium? It’s so close to Veritas. Surely, we can all agree that it is right that women should be treated equally with men, but along the way, this “truth” has morphed—via modern liberalism—into a lie. It’s a lie that denies “human limitation,” which is the actual difference between men and women, or their nature.

Modern feminism has also denied fate. We may wish to use another word for this—destiny, providence, the Tao. But whatever word we use, we’d realize if we understood it, that outcomes in life never have been, never will be, equal. The striving for equality of outcomes is utopian, futile, and ultimately anti-freedom.

For what does it mean to be free? It means we take self-responsibility, and as a consequence, we each achieve different results for ourselves. On an individual level this is obviously true, but we have seen in history plenty of collective efforts to reverse this situation. As Jordan B. Peterson put it, “If there was any excuse to be a Marxist in 1917, there is absolutely and finally no excuse now.”

The encroachment of Mendacium onto the domain of Veritas often seems to start with small things. In the UK, for example, politician and military historian Robert Oulds, in his book “Moralitis,” comments on student unions which “ensure freedom from speech through ‘no-platforming’ and ‘safe spaces.’” Notice the rather witty, “freedom from speech,” not “of speech.” It almost seems funny until one reflects that we are talking about the young university generation whom we once thought went to college—like we once did—to broaden and expand their minds.

Escaping_the_dome
While utopias promise paradise founded on earthly equality, they deliver dystopian hells. “Escaping the Dome,” 2014, photomontage of images by Eric Perrone and yumikrum. (Yumikrum/CC SA-BY 2.0)

Weren’t universities places that had famous debating chambers? No more it seems. Most students today cannot abide an idea that contradicts their uninformed prejudices. Worse, this intolerance is like an insidious cancer, which spreads so that soon the whole body is riddled with it.

Quoting Dalrymple again, we end up with “a society of ‘emasculated liars’ who are very easy to control.”

Our Way Back to Truth

How do we resist this insidious undermining of all that we hold dear? Clearly, there is no easy answer, for if there were, we wouldn’t have the problem. But I make two suggestions that seem relevant.

One is honest journalism of the type that The Epoch Times espouses. There has to be resistance to the fake news and social media control that currently now appertains. In a way, this is immediate and frontline stuff.

But the deeper, longer-term stuff is related to the kind of culture we live in and the values it espouses, or claims to espouse, for frequently actions belie espoused values. In particular, I feel that our arts are of primary importance in this battle for the hearts and souls of the people, especially the younger generation. Why is this? Because it is the arts—literature, drama, music, and visual art—that most affect our emotions. In the absence of any pervasive spiritual or religious tradition, our sense of the creative can only derive from these sources.

Statue of Veritas (Truth), by Walter Seymour Allward, outside Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Statue of Veritas (Truth), by Walter Seymour Allward. Outside the Supreme Court of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (D. Gordon E. Robertson/CC BY SA 3.0)

The trouble is, so much of “art” today is either entirely nihilistic or not art at all! John Habgood (former Archbishop of York) some while ago observed: “The fact that not much art these days seems to be inspired by explicitly religious themes may, however, be a reflection of the trivialization and disorientation of art itself.”

ntation of art itself.” “Praying Hands,” circa 1508, by Albrecht Dürer
Art inspired by the divine, as it was in the past, can affect us in profound ways. John Habgood, the former Archbishop of York, believed that the fact that much of art today is divorced from religion might reflect the “trivialization and disorientation of art itself.” “Praying Hands,” circa 1508, by Albrecht Dürer. Albertina art museum in Vienna, Austria. (PD-US)

The problem is that people no longer believe in anything, including something as basic as form itself. In poetry, we now have “free verse,” meaning, usually, poetry with no structure at all. And without form, very little beauty—or truth. What is true of today’s poetry is also true of the other art forms. We all know this about the arts but, as with the emperor’s new clothes, like to pretend otherwise.

Thus, we need to press for art that rediscovers the myths of old, but for a contemporary generation. The great critic Northrop Frye said: “A myth is designed not to describe a specific situation but to contain it in a way that does not restrict its significance to that one situation. Its truth is inside its structure, not outside.”

This is the real twin, Veritas, which compels assent because her truth is inside, is internal, and is the only one that can really stand.

Part 1 of “Truth and Her Twin” explains the myth of Veritas and Mendacium.

James Sale has had over 50 books published, most recently, “Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams” (Routledge, 2021). He won first prize in The Society of Classical Poets 2017 annual competition, performing in New York in 2019. His most recent poetry collection is “HellWard.” For more information about the author, and about his Dante project, visit TheWiderCircle.webs.com