The Trickiness of Truth Telling
Glass Onion, Andrew Tate, Ben Shapiro and saying it like it is
Welcome to This Is The Way, a Substack by Stephen Kent on finding wisdom for everyday life in film, TV, and great books. You can find my book on the worthwhile virtues of Star Wars for a broken political culture, How The Force Can Fix The World anywhere books are sold. Happy New Year, thanks for reading and let’s get to it.
“I’m a truth-teller. Some people can’t handle it,” says Birdie, a fashionista and self-obsessed influencer played by Kate Hudson in the newest Knives Out film, Glass Onion (Netflix). Daniel Craig’s rather iconic new-age sleuth, Detective Benoit Blanc, responds dryly in what has been described as a “Kentucky Fried Foghorn Leghorn Drawl” of an accent…..
“It's a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”
This is one of those moments, the moments where you can detect that the characters on screen are speaking beyond the soundstage and toward the audience at home. You feel it. Truth is very much in question these days. You’ve heard all the endless chatter about “relativism”, “disinformation", “misinformation” and “cancel culture”….
Birdie is obnoxious, stupid, shallow, and thoughtless. She lets verbal scheiße fly. This has made her famous online, built her following, made her rich, and also gotten her “canceled” once or twice. Let’s qualify two things….
First, it is true that there exists a censorious, vindictive, and mob-fueled online culture of personal (and professional) destruction for those who step outside the bounds of elite speech or opinion [cancel culture]. It is also true that cancelation has a way of making the victim more powerful than they were before. This is more true for public figures with followers and less true for everyday people caught up in the ivory tower’s witch hunt for new-age sinners and reprobates. Example: Dr. Jordan Peterson has very much been canceled by the online mob and elite power structure of his profession many times for the crime of dissenting with progressive scriptures — and it has only made him a more towering force in the culture.
I’m a truth-teller, some people can’t handle it. Sounds like Andrew Tate, honestly.
Ben Shapiro did a pretty thoughtful monologue this week (recommend listening to the whole thing) on his show about the twisted popularity of Andrew Tate. In the wake of the influencer’s arrest in Romania following a weird online spat with Greta Thunberg, some of us have had to catch up on who this guy even is. I had no idea. Apparently, he is this former kickboxing champion who has found a massive audience among young men online for his rants about the status of women in society today.
Tate claims proudly the mantle of “misogynist” and goes into public forums to make the case for why women can be thought of as property to their husbands, why promiscuity is more acceptable for men than for women, and that depression “isn’t real.” He has said, “I am simply saying things that many men think, believe, and feel.”
For the record, men (like all human beings) feel things that aren’t A) Real or B) Good.
But real or good isn’t what’s at issue these days, is it? What Ben Shapiro laid out about Tate is that his popularity is fueled by the blurring of “truth-telling” and perceptions of “courage” by young people in our culture.
With social sanctions raised so high in modern culture, the most direct and potentially rewarding way to push back against them is to speak loudly and without shame. For someone like yours truly, it is not pleasurable to stand out on a rhetorical cliff and say things you haven’t taken time to think about.
Like Birdie in Glass Onion, Tate is someone you can almost mistake for being brave. They both say big and wild things. They don’t care what people think of them (something we literally teach to almost all children as a positive quality). They don’t shrink in the face of opposition, instead, they just stand up taller.
Brave people do stuff like this. As do idiots. Not that they’re the same thing, they just share the capacity for being bold.
We’re at this moment in history where everyday people believe there to be a deep restriction on the scope of opinion and discourse, and they believe (rightly so) that speech is being policed by some kind of malevolent force beyond the strictures of mere “manners” or “norms.” There are real consequences emerging for speech the elites don’t like.
When Detective Blanc says it’s a “dangerous thing to confuse speaking without thought to speaking the truth”, we should be attentive. It’s a good start.
Can you balance the dogged pursuit of eternal truths with the willingness to speak up quickly and with confidence? Can you both be thoughtful and be swift in your rejection of lies?
Self-deception can easily pass itself off as deliberation. This is a tough thing to get right.
You’re going to need courage if you want to live out literally any other virtue. C.S. Lewis correctly tells us, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”
I’ll wrap this up. Don’t accept the transgressive line about “saying what everyone is really thinking” or “telling it like it is.” It’s a trap. It’s ego.
“So, Stephen what are you saying we do?”
Try. Just try to get the balance right. Have control over your tongue.
Aim higher and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hit the right mark.
This is the way.
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