“We Don’t Want Facts, We Want the Truth”: Temptations Online Justice Seekers Face

Listening to Terry Gross (NPR: Fresh Air) interview Ava DuVernay (director of the new movie Selma), I heard Ava attribute this to Faulkner,

We don’t want facts, we want the truth.

Not being aware of the context of this line (see the bottom of this post for more on Faulkner’s actual words), I immediately latched on to this as being exactly the sentiment most of us have when we want injustice both acknowledged and corrected.

Don’t give me facts, tell me what I already know is true!

When we experience injustice, it is natural and right to want wrongs to be made right. The first step of righting wrongs is to admit the wrong has taken place. God seeks out Adam after his command “Do not eat of that tree” is violated. But instead of admission, God gets “facts” from Adam: “I was naked…that woman you put here gave me.” All real facts…but not the truth.

Today, we can find similar problems between facts and truth. Whether Michael Brown sought to harm Officer Wilson, African American males know the truth–they are all-too-frequently profiled as dangerous and discriminated against. Defenders of Michael Brown know that Black males do not receive equal treatment and are overly represented in prison populations. This is the truth–whether the facts of the Brown/Wilson tragedy bear out these truths in a clear way.

Or consider this vignette: a Christian institution that has ignored or suppressed voices of those abused within community in order to maintain the appearance of purity. Imagine that in this community a report of possible abuse happens. Instead of seeking transparent investigation, the leaders of the institution investigate privately and determine that no abuse took place. If you were previously victimized at this or a similar institution, you would recognize that something was not right, no matter the facts of the most recent case. The truth is this organization has not (a) acknowledged past failings nor (b) changed behaviors indicating that want to rebuild trust. You might rightly say, “don’t tell me the facts, tell me the truth!” Tell me that you see you aren’t ready to be in the driver’s seat to determine whether abuse took place in this current case.

Temptations of the Internet Prosecution

Prosecutors (Justice seekers?) know an injustice has taken place but have to put facts together to prove their case. The defense uses facts to get an acquittal or a reduction in penalty. If truly guilty, the defense works to shift blame and hide the truth. Given this common dance, prosecutors face the temptation to neglect facts that might lead to an acquittal. That dirty copy, that coerced confession, ignore it. Assume guilt, only look at what proves your point. Read ambiguous data in the way that makes your case.

In the world of the Internet prosecutions, we see similar challenges. If you know an institution or person is guilty of injustices, you know the truth and you might demand that they admit it. This is good! But often we expand our prosecutorial role when the offender confession is lacking or missing altogether. While understandable, we may commit the following sins (impact in parenthesis)

  • Always assuming guilt (notice the damage done when a petty criminal is falsely accused of capital murder)
  • Failing to recognize differences between naïve and intentional offenders (present all offenses as capital offenses deserving our worst punishments)
  • Dismissing substandard apologies rather than encouraging an ongoing and growing apology (tempting the offender to give up)

The bottom line is we justice seekers, knowing how rampant deception exists, can turn to pessimism and use it to assume (judge) all suspected offenders. I don’t know about XYZ person or institution but because they are like ABC then they must be guilty. Let me just pass on this post with a snarky comment.  This pessimism does terrible damage in two ways.

  1. It harms our defense of victims because others no longer hear us as truth tellers
  2. It acts as thorns choking out tender growth in the very institutions we wish to see change.

Let us endeavor to speak the hard truths to friends and enemies in love.

**Faulkner quote:

“The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.
Faulkner, William. The Town. Random House. 1957. Paperback, Language English, 348 pages, ISBN: 0394701844.

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