In the disposition of our character, we are either moving closer to truth or we are moving away from it. The mind holds no static relationship to the verities. Men are either pulling closer to the eternal, good, true and beautiful or they are flying deeper into absurdity, like planets wandering out of orbit into a void.
This is why truth matters: not because misunderstanding of truth may now and then result in some horrible error. Error is worked out by acknowledging the incoherence that arises from it. Rather, in a very insidious way, every falsehood is a displaced truth and wherever there is a void in our understanding, or a distortion in our perception of truth, there remains a blind spot in our knowledge and reason that remains susceptible to being filled by a falsehood. The danger of not knowing the truth is not just the possibility of mistake; it is our vulnerability to falsehood. But the greatest danger of all is in our fallen disposition to force true things to conform to false things.
Not knowing the truth means we treat the visiting liar with the same credibility and honor that we bestow upon the truth that lives among us. We make the household and habits of the truth conform to the dishonorable manners of the liar. We become confused and more susceptible to deception. We become more likely to treat the lie like a truth. Or for the sake of courtesy, we blind ourselves to the obvious telltales that truth uncovers. For in honoring the falsehood, we marginalize and confuse the truths that dwell in our lives. And in so doing we give ourselves over to the propensity to reject the familiar truths that will and must follow truth, while opening our doors to all the familiar lies that must visit a falsehood who has made his home in us.
Even so, the things we hold to be true may not always seem to be of equal importance. If we err in small things, does it matter as much as erring in large things? I do not think so, with a caveat. If we err in our understanding of butterflies, the net effect is slight. From day to day, what we do and what we think about butterflies probably matters very little. But it is important to remember that small things grow into large things. Small truths grow into large truths.
And so do falsehoods.
Imagine a man who does not understand the effects of gravity on the operations of objects in motion. His misunderstanding may result inconveniently in a poor grade on a physics test, but if he should aspire to become a taxi driver the possibilities quickly becomes dangerous. And more, what if he sets his goal to becoming a bus driver? The potential tragedy grows exponentially. Imagine now that he desires to design aircraft? The potential for disaster grows further. And now suppose that he aspires to work for NASA and launch weather or military satellites or dreams to put the first American on Mars. The larger the ambition, the more catastrophic the result.
Despite our modern laissez faire attitude about worldview, errors in personal understanding spread far beyond our personal lives, radiating invisibly and always proportionally outward to the edges of our influence. Our ideas and our thoughts have consequences that distort like gravity and centrifugal energy, the course of communities and the lives on nations. Where a steadfast error in fundamental understanding touches men and things, the result can be catastrophic.
To hold to things, therefore, that are not true and to operate under their power, is to suffer a kind of madness. To be sure, all men suffer from certain errors of understanding, but to the degree to which illusions affect our thoughts, as our thought effect the thoughts of others, delusion breeds delusion. Every delusion contains the germ of a monstrous failure of discernment. And every failure of discernment fuels the fires of possible catastrophe. No matter how small, the delusion that is not perceived, even in the flutter of a butterflies wing, has the power to grow by imputation into something that consumes every contrary fact and idea, until it is utterly and absolutely triumphant over every other thing in Heaven and earth. Falsehood must grow until it is checked on the march or is overcome at Waterloo. For every falsehood is at war with every truth, and every truth, even peaceably held, is an affront and an intolerable challenge to the absolute imperial dominion of falsehood.
Until falsehood yields, until that moment when he genuflects willingly before the imperial throne of fact and coherence, until he yields like a courtier to the sovereign authority of Truth, confesses and becomes contrite, every falsehood gathers on the marches in preparation for war against all things good, true and beautiful. It assembles and gathers like a Mongol army at dawn against every challenging veracity that stands in it way or questions it. Falsehood must grow to world hegemony or perish. It must consume everything or die.
Delusions touch all men. Yet some men are more inclined to delusion than others. It is not a mere curiosity that men who perceive the conflicts of the world as operations of will, (which is to say matters of force rather than assent), are inclined to fall by the very power of their delusion.
When Robert E. Lee, otherwise a man of admirable sobriety, treated with condescension the Army of the Potomac, when he imagined that the superiority of his cause made his army superior in the field, he annihilated in the stretch of a few thousand yards the last gasping hope of the Confederacy. Lee’s acceptance of the falsehood of class superiority made him vulnerable to the obvious facts of equality, not only of race but also of armies, and in this complexion of mind, so remote to the matters of generalship, his falsehood colored his discernment and left the flower of his army scythed down on the fields of Gettysburg.
Napoleon’s certitude of the power of his personality, as if he held sway over nature itself, imagined his legions to be indestructible before the mere power of nations and nature. Yet in one single winter, his Grand Armee of 600,000, melted away in the frozen wastes of Russia as an eternal reminder that men who err in the judgment of apparently unrelated things, carry their infatuation with falsehood unto to destruction of everything they have power over.
Truth matters; it matters a lot.
False things may sometimes adhere incoherently to truth because false things will adhere to anything for a while out of it own perniciously adulterous nature. Falsehood, consciously or unconsciously, will hang with anybody, promise anything, pretend to be anything, so long as that relation is convenient. He will enter into matrimony and profess eternal union, only to unencumber himself from those troublesome relations once there is something else that falsehood wants. But true things, by definition, as a nature of its being a priori, is coherent, steadfast, eternal and good. These are some of the identifying markers of truth. Indeed, this is what makes truth, true.
True men, like true ideas, correspond with things that are true.