Witness the true face of...

Has anyone ever shown you the “true face” of a celebrity, or an organisation, or a government, or a political party? Have you noticed something peculiar about such “true” faces?

They’re always horrific, aren’t they? Like really bad realities or damning facts or an unpleasant truth. Every single time. The “true face” of something is never anything pleasant. Nobody says “look at the true face of” something and you are blown away by the niceness of it. It’s almost always something bad.

I am not saying that things that are bad need to be considered good. I am wondering why we refer to bad things as true. Or rather, why is truth considered bad? Or rather, where does this association — that the truth of something is always negative — come from?

I think it comes from a place we have all been to — the awareness of death. We all know we are going to die and that no matter how much beauty we create or accumulate, it is all going to end up meaning nothing in the end. And this awareness bothers us in a very real way. It keeps us from acknowledging beauty even when it’s staring us in the face. It makes us suspect kindness and question loyalty. Death stands at every corner and behind every bush we walk past, poisoning our view of life.

So what might a poison-free view of life look like? Unfortunately, there is no such thing because death is an inescapable reality. The only way to deny death is by redefining life itself.

An individual dies, an organism perishes. However, life itself — the continuity of species and civilisations can be considered a kind of immortality. One life may be happy or tragic and no matter how we look at it, we will find things to justify our view that the “true face of” it is sad and bad. But when we look at the lifetime of an entire culture, we find happiness and hope.

Because the totality of culture does not die. And single cultures live really long. Even dead cultures are remembered with fondness. And even if a culture you belong to is (according to you) on the threshold of doom, its existence is celebrated with hope. There is talk of revival and rejuvenation and glorious tomorrows.

Of course, in the long run, even civilisations end. But because their lifespans are long enough to be confused with agelessness, their “true face” always manages to be something less than horrible.