A Fairy Tale in Black and White
Fact or fiction
Photo by Betül Kara on Pexels
Once upon a time, there was a girl who believed that black was black and white was white. As she grew up, in a strange piece of alchemy, the world got greyer; the wolf was no longer wholly nefarious, the prince was a little less charming, and the princess had to beat off creepy old men and never found a frog worth kissing.
Her parents had taught her that there was right and wrong, good and bad, and that somewhere, sometime, there existed a reckoning that would punish the evildoers and reward those that tried to live an upright life.
Bedtime stories are indeed a cautionary tale in the importance of developing critical thinking.
In this world of indeterminate shades, and the lightning-fast dissemination of misinformation, disinformation and falsehood, the girl floundered. People told her there are two sides to every story, that forgiveness is key, and that morality is a continuum. Facts are relative, and truth is a question of perspective.
But she remembered a time when the multiplication table was factual, the Holocaust was a documented nightmare from which the world had yet to recover, and lying was considered reprehensible by the elders who had taught her generation and the ones before her. Where was the outrage she wondered then, when old men with badly-dyed hair and obscenely inflated ideas of their own importance, could only persuade others of their worth if they lied? Mired in mendacity, these inspired con artists, twisted words into a poisoned apple compelling sweetness, convincing the credulous that in the face of all evidence to the contrary, what stood incontrovertibly in front of their eyes was, in fact, fake news.
As she grew older, the quicksand grew ever more treacherous. Ogres, goblins and wicked wizards abounded. Now that she was an elder, how could she ensure that her children and the generations following would understand the precepts she had been taught? Would they instead swim in a murky grey swamp of dull exhausted acceptance and bewilderment? Around her, the corrupt, the disingenuous, and the power-hungry were using media, social media and Chatbot minions to expertly transform words and photographs into distorted fables.
The woman asked herself a nonsensical question—if a store in her neighbourhood kept an On-Sale sign in its window every day, every week, every month, all year, was it in fact on sale? If facts were just an Etch-A-Sketch away from being erased, then in the morass of uncertainty that ensued, how would people know what to believe and what was worth fighting for? Was an “illiberal democracy” a democracy? If that oxymoron was not a poor attempt at humour, then could the word freedom be so traduced that instead, it was equated with autocracy?
She remembered in her now far-off youth, how the words of the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko had resonated and begged to be written in her journal, (that now awkward witness of adolescent angst and self-indulgent introspection that she cringed to remember). Even then, she had known that one day she would need a written reminder that black can indeed be black and white be white.
“They tell me: man, you’re bold! But that is not true,” the poet said. “Courage was never my strong point. I simply considered it beneath my dignity to fall to the level of my colleagues’ cowardice…one day, posterity will remember this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage.”*
And the woman wondered—would anyone, anymore live happily ever after?