What can you know for sure when the truth is suffocating under a pile of 💩? That’s the question the Raven Foundation asked at our workshop, “Hard Times for Truth”. We invited experts (yes, experts are real and they know more stuff than we do) from different disciplines to make presentations on the question of truth. Below is my video introduction to the event, quick summaries of the talks by our guest speakers, along with their videos.
When we are seeking the truth, it makes sense to begin with the facts. Yet, facts and truth are not the same thing. This is not news: Charles Dickens knew it over 150 years ago. In his novel, Hard Times, Dickens explored the muddle we get in when we confuse facts and truth. In this conversation, we invited two experts on Dickens’ novel to discuss lies, self-deceptions and the complexity of the human spirit which cannot be reduced to a set of facts. They are Andrew McKenna, professor emeritus at Loyola University and Heidi Stillman, Lookingglass ensemble member whose brilliant adaption of the novel, Hard Times for These Times, was playing at Lookingglass in Chicago. The conversation was facilitated by Grace Stevens, Ph.D. candidate at Loyola University.
Dr. Vanessa Avery, Denison University, analyzed what happens in the workplace when one person gets wrongly blamed for tension in the company. Employees can feel pressure from feared downsizing, intense competition within or between departments, or reorganizations which put jobs at risk. Often a target is chosen and falsely blamed, gossiped about and hounded out of the company. It may relive tension, but the truth is sacrificed in the process. The one person who could set the record straight is the one whose viewpoint is discounted and voice silenced. In her presentation, Dr. Avery made an important distinction between bullying and scapegoating – you won’t want to miss it.
Dr. Stephen McKenna, The Catholic University of America, began his presentation with an overview of mimetic theory and escalating rivalry. He went on to diagnose rhetoric in politics and the news media, focusing on President Trump’s use, or rather, misuse of language and total disregard for the truth. Dr. McKenna ended his presentation on a disconcerting note with a discussion of the President’s habit of labeling unflattering media coverage as fake news. What if President Trump is right? Dr. McKenna argued that “the vast majority of commercial media is mythic… Scandal is their game.” Which presents us with two choices: We can either become scandalized and get drawn into the game as if the media – or President Trump – is giving us access to the truth. Or we can do the truly scandalous thing, and refuse to participate in the game.
The Truth is Out There
According to Dr. Stephen McKenna, President Trump is no liar. Liars have enough respect for the truth to try to conceal it. But President Trump’s communication style is more accurately described as 💩. The truth is simply irrelevant. As with scandal and scapegoating, the object of name calling, blaming, scapegoating and lies is to suppress the truth so effectively that it is irretrievable. The good news about all this is that the truth exists. If it doesn’t, why try so hard to deny it? What the truth requires of us is that we turn our 💩 detectors to maximum strength and refuse to be scandalized. Easier said than done, I know! My hope is that you will make the Raven ReView your go to site for non-scandalous, anti-scapegoating commentary and join a community doing our best dig out from the 💩 in these hard times for truth.
Photos by Gerard Jamroz of Jamroz Photography and Adam Ericksen.
Dr. Andrew J. McKenna, emeritus professor of French language and literature at Loyola University in Chicago, earned a Ph.D. in Romance Languages [French & Spanish] from Johns Hopkins University after receiving his B.A. in French from Holy Cross College. In addition to acting as the host of the French club, he taught courses in French Literature of 17th, 19th, 20th centuries, Stylistics, French culture and civilization, and Masterpieces of European Literature and Comparative Literature (in translation). He now teaches inmates currently incarcerated in the Illinois prison system literature and theology.
For the decade between 1996 and 2006, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, 1996-2006. Andrew is the author of Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction.
Playwright, actress, Jeff Award winning director (Hard Times) and founding ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago. The current Artistic Director, Heidi served previously as Artistic Director of New Work at Lookingglass and won the Raven Award for her adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. She has both written and directed at Lookingglass: Cascabel (with Tony Hernandez and Rick Bayless,) The North China Lover, Hephaestus (with Tony Hernandez), The Brothers Karamazov (2009 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment), Hard Times (five Jeff Awards; also produced at Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia), and The Master and Margarita (Jeff Nominated). Directing work with Lookingglass includes: Death Tax, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Trust, The Wooden Breeks, and Hillbilly Antigone. Additional writing credits with Lookingglass include: The Last Act of Lilka Kadison with Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips and Andrew White, The Old Curiosity Shop with Laura Eason and Raymond Fox (Jeff Award for New Adaptation), and The Baron in the Trees with Lawrence E. DiStasi (Jeff Nominated).
Vanessa Avery holds her PhD from the University of Exeter, Masters degrees from Yale Divinity School and King’s College London, and a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University. Her academic focus has been religious studies with specializations in Hebrew Bible, interfaith dialogue, and non-violence. Her academics are married to her consulting work with academic and healthcare organizations with whom she partners to create inclusive, diverse, and thriving cultures. Vanessa is currently the Interfaith Resident at Denison University where she is designing the Sacred Spaces initiative to build education and awareness of religious diversity around campus and across the Greater Columbus area.
Stephen McKenna is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Media & Communication Studies and a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. He is the author of the book Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety and co-editor of World’s Greatest Speeches. Dr. McKenna has published articles on topics such as Adam Smith, the rhetoric of advertising, and the U.S. presidential rhetoric. He is the local organizer of the next annual meeting of The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, to be held in Washington, DC, July 11-14, 2018.