Truth does not comprise facts, for the most part. Truth comprises what we attend to. Consider Bill Cosby and the #MeToo movement, for instance. As an observer commented at the time, no one wants to live in a country where Bill Cosby, America’s Dad, is a rapist. That explains why people ignored his crimes for so long. Yet who would want to live in a country where America’s Dad is a rapist, and gets away with it? He gets away with it because his victims try to speak up, but cannot. Why? Because no one pays attention to them. We prefer ignorance to disbelief.
To turn a blind eye describes more forms of social and political dishonesty than we might care to think. When the state’s national security apparatus assassinates a president, then conceals its crime for decades, where exactly does motivation or responsibility to discover the truth lie? Not with the guilty. The state will not yield what it has taken such care to conceal. Yet who wants to live in a country where such crimes go unpunished?
To reinforce deep aversion for activities that undermine fundamental beliefs about our legal and political institutions, we have implicit social agreements that point the same way. We let these acts go unpunished because we, as individuals and as a group, do not want to attend to that type of dirty work. The rifle crack and lethal shot from close range that snapped Kennedy’s head back to his left lives vividly in memory. How and why the bullet travelled that trajectory does not. The bullet’s path from conception and plot to cranial explosion lives only as a family secret.
We cannot tell what would happen if we acknowledge these secrets exist. We anticipate shame. The longer disgraceful stories lie hidden, the more cathartic and painful their escape into sunlight. We know only what happens when we keep truth – and desire to know truth – hidden in our memory’s buried cache. Then we have only pain without relief.