This essay first appeared in the April 11, 2022 Epoch Times.
Just below the masthead of The Epoch Times is the motto: “Truth and Tradition.” What does it mean? I don’t speak for the paper, but I can offer my own thoughts.
Truth as Accuracy
“Truth” is, of course, the noun form of the adjective “true.” One meaning of “true” is “accurate.”
In every generation, there are fashionable types who insist there is no such thing as truth. (Compare John 18:38.) They always have excuses for their claims. For Pontius Pilate, it may have been the skeptical ramblings of a Greek philosopher. Two modern excuses are relativity theory and quantum mechanics: If “everything is relative,” there is no truth. If everything is uncertain at the subatomic level, then there is no certainty.
But explanations and observations useful on one plane can be misleading on another. During the 19th century, some writers were so enthusiastic about the biological theory of evolution that they applied it to human society. They speculated that “survival of the fitness” among humans required a tooth-and-nail combat pitting every individual against every other. This was the atheistic and atomistic ideology known as Social Darwinism.
We understand today that Social Darwinism is not a standard for successful human flourishing. Human flourishing requires competition, to be sure; but it also requires cooperation, faith, and benevolence.
Similarly, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics are statements about reality in vast and minuscule spaces. They are not statements about human reality. The fact that speeds are relative does not mean that morality is. The fact that everything is squishy at the quantum level does not mean that everything is squishy at the human level. You can test the latter proposition yourself by running headlong into a tree.
If you perform that experiment and still retain your cognitive faculties, you may appreciate that the word “true” is linked to the word “tree.” To the Indo-Europeans, whose language was the origin of most Western tongues, trees were exemplars of hardness and firmness—certainly compared to, say, grass.
It may be correct that even at the human level there is no such thing as absolute truth. But that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as truth any more than the absence of a perfect circles proves that there is no such thing as circularity. We all can distinguish different degrees of approach to perfection, just as we can distinguish a human-made circle from a triangle.
Truth as Faithfulness
A more dynamic definition of truthfulness is to be true. This means to be faithful, trustworthy, and honest. A “true” person honors promises and is loyal to friends. Like accuracy, this form of truth is also a journalistic virtue—if the “friends” the journalist serves are readers and the public rather than the political and social elites to whom many media outlets cater.
Thus, in addition to being accurate, a news medium should be true in the sense of conducting itself faithfully. I’ve noticed that the more reputable outlets in the mainstream media usually endeavor to be accurate, but they are not “true” in the latter sense. They break faith by what they choose to report and how they structure their reports.
Some readers may think that this is a modern phenomenon. But mainstream media bias goes back many years. As a teenager in the 1960s, I noticed that the NBC, ABC, and CBS news shows frequently interviewed liberal Democrat senators and very liberal Republican senators. But it was rare for them to interview a conservative senator, unless he was Barry Goldwater of Arizona—in which case the discussion was a barrage of journalistic attacks from beginning to end.
Similarly, I noticed that the mainstream media focused more on events of importance to liberals than to events of importance to conservatives. A liberal event would receive respectful coverage, but a conservative event was not considered newsworthy unless a participant said something stupid or wore a racist T-shirt. In that case, the media would run stories focusing on the stupidity or the T-shirt.
I personally witnessed this media bias as a law student, when I organized peaceful counter-protests against a communist-led seizure of a university building. The New York Times gave considerable coverage to the building take-over. But I remember the disappointment on the NY Times reporter’s face when I told him that we counter-demonstrators were not fascists—that we represented a wide range of views, from conservative to democratic socialist. Of course, we didn’t get much coverage.
So even when the mainstream media products are “true” in the sense of being technically accurate, they often are not “true” in the sense of presenting readers with a faithful representation of political views and options.
In its news coverage, The Epoch Times seeks to be “true” both in accuracy and faithfulness. Admittedly, it sometimes seems as if the paper has more coverage of issues of importance to conservatives than to liberals. However, I think there are two good reasons for that: First, as many stories report, calls to liberal sources often go unanswered by press time, in accordance with the political “wisdom” of avoiding contact with non-compliant media. Second, the mainstream media saturate us with events and viewpoints important to the left, so The Epoch Times knows we’ll hear of them even if it does not report them. But if The Epoch Times fails to report on events and viewpoints important to conservatives, we may never hear about them at all.
The Epoch Times is fixated on accuracy even in the opinion section of the paper. If I submit an essay with a statement of questionable accuracy, the editors either consult me about it or make the change themselves. If there is doubt, they insist that I substantiate or correct my statement before publication.
Tradition: The ‘Static’ Meaning
Tradition, like truth, has both a static and a dynamic definition. The static definition refers to presently existing customs and practices inherited from earlier times—the “wisdom of the ages.” A snap-shot of the English language at a given point in time exemplifies this “static” meaning. So does the fading tradition of a man tipping his hat to a woman as a gesture of respect.
The Epoch Times has stated editorially that it “recognizes the wisdom and beauty in the traditions of the world’s great civilizations”—in other words, the traditions that exist today. This explains the paper’s sponsorship of the Eastern tradition of Shen Yun’s classical Chinese dance and its coverage of Western tradition, such as art and culture. Support for existing traditions is one reason (of many) for the paper’s opposition to communism: Communism is, by definition, hostile to tradition.
If you concentrate only on the static meaning—a practice existing at any one time—you might think that truth and tradition can contradict each other, because some existing traditions are at war with truth. In Renaissance Italy, the geocentric tradition of the Catholic Church contradicted the more nearly true heliocentric model of the solar system. The conflict between truth and existing tradition landed Galileo Galilei in a great deal of trouble.
However, the fact that existing tradition can contradict truth doesn’t mean it usually does. For one thing, some traditions have nothing to do with accurate statements of fact: Fine art usually carries its own value, irrespective of the accuracy of statements made. The power of German legends as adapted by Richard Wagner in his “Ring Cycle” has nothing to do with whether there was a historical Siegfried.
Additionally, some traditions are mere symbols that stand for truths most people would recognize as universal. One of those universal truths is that men should respect women. Tipping one’s hat symbolizes the larger truth, and, not surprisingly, that truth was more honored when hat-tipping was more common. Charles Dickens reported that in 19th century America,
any lady may travel alone, from one end of the United States to the other, and be certain of the courteous and considerable treatment everywhere. … Nor did I ever once, on any occasion, anywhere, during my rambles in America, see a woman exposed to the slightest act of rudeness, incivility, or even inattention.
How much have we have lost with the simple tip of a hat!
Admittedly, some existing traditions do reflect errors of fact. The tradition Galileo transgressed was one instance. Another was the former tradition of partly excluding women from civic life by denying them the right to vote. (Obviously, this was not a necessary concomitant to the respect Dickens observed.) Fortunately, in a dynamic society, traditions based on clear falsehoods compose only a small minority of our usages and customs, and they usually do not survive for very long. America could not have thrived otherwise.
The Dynamic Meaning of Tradition
An alternative meaning of “tradition” is much closer to the origins of the word. “Tradition” derives from the Latin noun traditio, a handing across or handing over. The corresponding Latin verb is tradere, to hand across. This sense of tradition is a process: It is the process by which each mature generation hands over what it has learned to those in the rising generation. It is closely akin to education.
We all have a responsibility for this form of tradition. Parents, for example, are responsible for passing along knowledge to their children. Educators also have important responsibilities in this regard.
Regretfully, we are now experiencing our own version of “La Trahison des Clercs”—the treason of the intellectuals. To a great extent, our schools and universities not only neglect the wisdom of the ages, but also actively try to subvert it. Parents, adrift in an ocean of toxic popular “culture,” often have been mis-educated themselves and may be unequipped to undertake this form of tradition without outside assistance.
The Epoch Times provides needed assistance. The paper contains a vast amount of educational material for adults and children, and for home school parents. You can find this material in news reports, op-eds, videos, and features on history, architecture, art, and other topics—throughout the print and Internet versions of The Epoch Times.