Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Don’t Believe The Truth

Most people in the UK could, with a bit of a push, tell you the story of William Webb Ellis.

Whilst many people through history make contributions that go unremembered some, lucky few, will always be remembered and Webb Ellis is doing pretty well so far.

The story goes that WWE was at Private school (In other words he was posh and rich) in Rugby when, during a game of football (or soccer as it’s known in the USA), he decided to pick up the ball and run with it.

Had this been a public school Webb Ellis would have suffered many years of bullying, beatings and endless detention from his teachers and fellow students. However, as this was Private school the teachers, apparently, patted him on the back and said “Well done Webb Ellis, great new sport you’ve invented there”

The only problem with the story of the invention of Rugby is that, very probably, it’s apocryphal. In fact the game is thought to have been already being played when Webb Ellis was at the school – and the story was only invented to give Rugby a claim to the sport over another rival area.

The funny thing is – how easily a lie becomes the truth (They say that a lie can go around the world in the time it takes the truth to put it shoes on)

Take the humble Kangaroo. There it was, bouncing around the Australian outback like a giant rat in clown shoes for 1000s of years and all of a sudden it’s the centre of one of the biggest urban myths of our times.

Check on any website or server that you care to mention and you will find that when colonialists went to Australia they pointed to the Kangaroo and asked what it was called. The Aborigines, having never bothered to name it, shrugged and said “Kangaroo”, meaning “I don’t know”. Again, the sad truth is that the word Kangaroo simply means Kangaroo and has no translation – yet many of us believe the “I don’t know” story to be true.

It’s easy to see how conspiracy theories start when the truth depends so much on witnesses who all tell their own version of the truth (and who can say which version is the true truth?) – Especially when our natural tendency is to add to the story and mythologize. Take Lady Godiva.

Upshot of the story – Godiva lived in Medieval Coventry and was married to the Leofric, the Earl of Mercia (a very powerful man). She objected to her husband’s unfair taxes and rode butt-naked through the streets of the city. All the locals, who had been pre-warned, turned their faces away in deference apart from Peeping Tom – who looked, went blind and forever lent his name to dirty old men with binoculars.

However Peeping Tom, much like Lady Marian in the Robin Hood stories, is a much later addition to the myth and, therefore, probably little more than a story. There are those who even doubt the authenticity of the original naked protest – but that’s another story.
The favourite myths of our times are, of course, that aliens are abducting people and that our governments are covering things up which – when you look at how effectively Bill Clinton covered up the whole Monica Lewinski thing – does look a little far fetched.

Whether these abductions are real or not has ceased to be important: like Webb Ellis, Godiva, Kangaroos and The Osmonds (come on, does anyone believe they were real? Surely no family can have that many teeth? (JOKE)) before them they have entered into popular culture and myth and no amount of evidence will ever persuade people that events were otherwise.

They say that the winners write history to suit themselves – but aren’t we all the tiniest bit guilty of doing the same?


Anonymous said...

This is quite the interesting post. I guess with some things, we'll never know.

The kangaroo thing I'm easy to believe; that sounds quite logical given the context.

I don't know about the Peeping Tom one though. I mean, so he was the one man that looked at her naked body. If everyone was turned away, who seen him look? And what did he go blind from? Surely the Earl of Mercia has seen her naked, was he blind too?

It is quite difficult to tell the difference between myth and truth. I guess you just have to be rational and, if you really want to find out, do some research. Although I have to disagree with you about one thing: I'm positive the government covering things up hasn't always been just theory.

Jenny said...

Good point. :)
Sometimes it actually feels like we should question everything we know. We can't just accept everything as we are told that it is. As you point out, who can say which version is the true truth? So how will we ever know anything for sure? It's so tricky to know.

Now I'm thinking of they who deny that the annihilation during the W.W II, has ever existed. I would say that they are wrong and that is because I have seen pictures and heard people's stories from this time. We have to be rational of course, and in this case, there are a lot of evidence showing us what is the truth. But even so, there are still people questioning this... (Apparently they who deny it, have a reason to question it though, and not because they really believe that it has never happened).

What I want to say is that we have to think rational. :) As Samurai says about Peeping Tom. The story just sounds illogical, cause there are so many loopholes.

Also when it comes to rational thinking, we may think that we think with common senses, but it could be so that we are influenced by our beliefs and preferences. So it's indeed really tricky knowing what we should believe is true, cause our own apprehension could be wrong as well...

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samuri - i agree. The government wouldn't last very long if they told us the truth the whole time. But most conspiracy theories just don't hold water when you really examine them closely. A possible line of thought for a future blog?

Honour said...

Oh we're extremely guilty of those things ... in the macro sense (history) and in the micro sense (blogging). to the point, that we being to believe our own "history" of things .. whether it's through journals, old photos, cards, mementos ... i like jenny's last thought. even when we bring rationality into the picture -- it doesn't really clear things up. it isn't rational for the french, germans and english to stop fighting for a couple of days during christmas in WWII, but yet ... records show ....

the answer? to accept multiple truths :) ( ha ha - at least it is on a late thursday night)