Bob Dylan sang in his nasal but effective tone, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”
The teacher absently gazed out the glass sliding-door window while wondering why no one was grasping the significance of the facts that Obama did not win a single state that requires photo ID to vote, and that there was soft tissue in dinosaur bones.
He knew, though. It made him sad. Hence the merlot on the table.
To come to grips with those facts, one would have to change their weltanshauung. And that would entail evaluating the core values that provided the base to their pyramid. Few did that.
Most were simply sheep, easily led astray.
“What’s up with you?” the student interrupted. “Our society is moving toward fulfillment with the rise of liberalism. Why can’t you be happy?”
The teacher recalled the Fabian Society.
“You mean like Detroit?” he asked. “Those people are happy. Right on the verge of fulfillment. Do what I taught you to do.”
The student dutifully pulled out his computer and began poking keys. A few minutes later, his mouth dropped open of its own accord.
“Read it to me,” the teacher commanded, knowing already what the student had found.
“Well, I’ll just hit the highlights. In 1960, Detroit had the highest per-capita income in the nation. In 1950 there were 296,000 manufacturing jobs. Now there are less than 27,000. Forty-seven percent of the residents are functionally illiterate. Violent crime is five times the national average. How on earth did that happen?”
“Hit some more keys. Describe their policies and the party affiliation of their government since their heyday.”
The student did, but didn’t say anything.
“A sheep, I mean liberal mayor since 1962, I think, along with all the sheep policies. Correct?” asked the teacher.
The student decided to switch topics. Better to subtly shift to some of the teacher’s favorite personalities. “What would Aristotle say about that?”
Oh, why not? the teacher decided. He felt bad about shutting the student down, though what he had said was true. The truth was a sharp blade. It could heal or maim.
He recognized, of course, the student’s attempt at misdirection. Instead of redirecting, he decided to dig even deeper, though the student wouldn’t realize it until later.
Suddenly, people appeared around the table: Aristotle, Shirley Jackson, Twain, Groucho Marx, Karl Marx, G. K. Chesterton, the founding fathers, a Roman, Richard Rorty and Jasmine Rand.
There was also one empty chair that no one dared to sit in.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the founding fathers chorused.
“There is no such thing as truth,” Rorty stated, “so they can’t be self-evident.” The pre-eminent American philosopher had been saying this for years and the sheep had eaten up his words like grass.
Jasmine Rand nodded.
The Roman noticed Jasmine’s nod and edged his chair closer to hers. Partly he could tell he liked her and partly it got him farther from the empty chair.
Karl Marx asked, “Who’s buying?” He never paid for his own drinks. He’d never had a real job in his life.
“I’m concerned,” the teacher took control of the conversation. “Our nation is crumbling. The concept of truth is no longer a building block of our society. In fact, it’s a conversation ender. It can’t even be discussed. And once truth is removed as an anchor, all sorts of destructive policies are enacted in search of a utopia that will not be achieved by purely human means.”
“But that’s what the very purpose of society is,” Aristotle said, surprised. “We are always to be engaging one another and deliberating the question of how we ought to order our life together.”
“Yeah,” Jasmine pounded the table, “whoever you are. And I’ve got important ideas on that.”
“How’s buying?” Karl, Jasmine’s friend, asked again.
“If you remove truth as a building block for a nation, then power will take its place,” the teacher stated. “When truth is gone, you get things like Benghazi or Detroit, or you get things like the IRS denying political access to conservatives and then pleading the Fifth. You get things like the DOJ paying people to protest in Florida.”
The sheep in the bar raised their heads, wondering what was going on.
Chesterton took up the torch: “Well, one can see why society flees from truth. Truth is ultimately a theological issue. Your society has removed God. Thus they have removed truth. And the problem with people who don’t believe in God is not that they will end up believing in nothing. The problem is they’ll end up believing in anything.”
The sheep stopped eating altogether now.
“I’ve got ideas,” declared Jasmine, elbows clearing out space around her.
“Who’s buying?” Karl persisted.
“I’ve got this country figured out,” Twain announced. “In America, the secret of success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Obama was on the TV, reading from a teleprompter.
“Hey,” Groucho scowled, “these are my principles. And if you don’t like them, I’ve got others.”
Shirley Jackson wanted to make a point: “People used to be appalled at my story, ‘The Lottery.’ Truly appalled. They no longer are. They barely bat an eye.”
The idea of horrendous sacrifice made the teacher glance at the empty chair. So did the Roman.
“Aren’t you an attorney?” the student asked Jasmine.
“No, I’m a social engineer,” wailed the attorney for the Martin family. I’m going to fill that chair with people who think like me, ‘cause I’ll make ’em think like me.”
All the sheep in the room nodded.
“I don’t think so,” the teacher corrected gently. “This seat is already taken. And you’ve done enough social engineering, like in Detroit.”
There was a note left on the chair. The teacher reached for it. The Roman pushed his chair back in fear.
The teacher read the note, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. For this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. The truth shall set you free.”
Whoop! There it is, the student realized, his eyes opening.
Suddenly, only the teacher and the student sat at the table again. The teacher felt better.
“Who was that Roman?” the student asked.
“I call him PeePee.”
“What?” the student scrunched up his face in ignorance.
Belatedly, a patron approached the teacher. “I’m offended by you calling me a sheep.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Vote like a man and I won’t call you a sheep anymore.”
“Lightning crashes, a new mother cries,” sang Live, eerily.
Bob Branden is host of the podcast www.twomenandabible.podomatic.com/.
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