George Will has an interesting article today at Townhall.com entitled A Picture Can Lie
, that takes a look at a photo taken in during the Spanish Civil War. The photo in question was taken by famed photojournalist Robert Capa, and appeared in the September 23, 1936 issue of the French publication "Vu
," entitled "Falling Soldier."
The photo purports to show an anti-fascist soldier at the moment he was struck down by a shot from a Franco soldier in fighting near Cerro Muriano. But controversy has raged for decades as to whether the photo is indeed genuine, or was staged at some later time. Certainly at the time, the photo stirred up much anti-fascist sentiment in Europe. But let Will tell it:
It supposedly shows a single figure, a loyalist -- that is, anti-fascist -- soldier, at the instant of death from a bullet fired by one of Franco's soldiers. The soldier is falling backward on a hillside, arms outstretched, his rifle being flung from his right hand. This was, surely, stunning testimony to photography's consciousness-raising and history-shaping truth-telling, the camera's indisputable accuracy, its irreducibly factual rendering of reality, its refutation of epistemological pessimism about achieving certainty based on what our eyes tell us.
Probably not. A dispute that has flared intermittently for more than 30 years has been fueled afresh, and perhaps settled, by a Spanish professor who has established that the photo could not have been taken when and where it reportedly was -- Sept. 5, 1936, near Cerro Muriano.
The photo was taken about 35 miles from there. The precise place has been determined by identifying the mountain range in the photo's background. The professor says there was no fighting near there at that time, and concludes that Capa staged the photo.
But, of course, there are people who say that even if the photo was faked, the story it tells is still true.
Capa was a man of the left and "Falling Soldier" helped to alarm the world about fascism rampant. But noble purposes do not validate misrepresentations. Richard Whelan, Capa's biographer, calls it "trivializing" to insist on knowing whether this photo actually shows a soldier mortally wounded. Whelan says "the picture's greatness actually lies in its symbolic implications, not in its literal accuracy."
There it is. The old narrative vs. facts argument. The thing that got Dan Rather into trouble was believing the narrative to be true, the facts be damned. The whole Left vs. Right, Gun Control vs. Gun Rights, Goofball Wormening vs. those who do not believe it controversy can be boiled down to this one thing: Do you believe the narrative or are do you use facts to inform your narrative.
Those of us on the Right often use facts in our arguments to the Left, and are just as often rebuffed by people who don't want to hear facts. Their minds appear to be made up, and no facts will be allowed to shatter the narrative already woven in their heads. I have read literally hundreds of debates on gun control in which the gun rights advocates cite statistics and facts, only to be rebuffed by the gun grabbers. They simply feel that the solution to crime is to take away all the guns. The experience in England and Australia with gun grabbing seems to have no effect. The obvious fact that if they magically achieved their goals, that knives, baseball bats, or as recently seen in Chicago, a handy piece of 2x4 make excellent weapons, also fall on deaf ears. Citing the massive statistical analysis done by John Lott in "More Guns, Less Crime
" is dismissed out of hand. Their minds are made up, and so the debate soon runs its course, nobody involved in the debate has a "eureka" moment, and the whole debate slides to another board or blog where it is taken up again. It is very unsatisfying.
More curious still is the way that many on the Left live their personal lives very conservatively, yet publicly espouse Leftist views at odds with how they live. I can't tell you how many global warming fanatics I have encountered who drive SUVs or pickup trucks. When confronted, they give excuses like they need the extra protection because they have a family, or they drive a pickup because they haul stuff all the time. So I ask them "Don't you think other families have the same needs?" or "Don't you think others make similar decisions for the same purposes?" But they usually do not have a good answer to these questions. So what explains the disconnect?
I think it is the narrative. Leftists have been taught a certain narrative, often at an early age, and they have believed it. Subsequently, everything they see that seems to fit the narrative, confirms it, while everything they see that seems to defy the narrative is dismissed. By the time I encounter them in debates, the belief in the narrative is so hardened, they are unlikely to change it. Indeed, unless something powerfully personal happens in their lives, they are likely to carry the narrative to the grave.
Those on the right believe that the narrative you carry in your head derives from facts, and it is changeable over time as new facts come to light. There is an old saying the photographs don't lie, but they also don't tell the whole truth either. One must always be open to new facts, and going with the evidence, wherever it leads.