Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Internet as the Great Truth-seeking Machine

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rashomon Rashomon

After I watched the movie Argo, I had a one of those Rashomon moments, a realization that there is more to the story than was related to you. You may recall Rashomon (1950) introduced the master movie director Akira Kurosawa to the wider world. Set in medieval Japan, it is the story of the rape of a woman and subsequent mutually inconsistent accounts told about the incident by various eye-witnesses. According to Kurosawa, there are no particular truths, no definitive version of what actually happened at a particular time and place. What is recalled and later told depends on the observer and the particular vantage point.

Argo

The movie Argo, which won the Best Picture award in the 85th Academy Awards, is the story of how half a dozen members of the American diplomatic staff, hiding from Iranians who had captured the American embassy in Teheran in 1979, were rescued. It is thriller in which the ending has you clutching the edge of your seat, even though you know that the movie has to end with the diplomatic staff getting saved by the hero in the end.

Watching Argo was thrilling, as one would expect of an award-winning thriller. The hero of the story (depicted by actor-director Ben Affleck) is Tony Mendez, a CIA operative. Apparently, he single-handedly and at great personal risk saves the lives of those six Americans – with only a little bit of assistance from the Canadian embassy in Teheran.

The movie left me with admiration and wonder at the heroic efforts of the CIA. As the credits rolled by, I noted that the script was based on a book and a 2007 article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran” in Wired magazine. Curious, I clicked over to the article, and that’s where in the comments I came across a reference to a Canadian documentary about the rescue. It is made by CTV W5, a popular current affairs and documentary channel.

The Reel Story

The movie Argo made it appear as if the Canadians were at best minor actors in the whole drama. The Canadian ambassador, Kenneth Taylor, was portrayed in the movie but only as a minor character who, although involved, did not really advance the plot in any significant way. The Canadian documentary, “The Reel Story – CTV W5”, however, painted an altogether different picture. Ken Taylor risked his life and helped in hiding the Americans for nearly three months. The CIA operative was in Canada for all of one and a half days. In short, the story Argo tells is significantly inaccurate if you consider the Canadian documentary’s point of view.

As I said, it was a Rashomon moment for me. First I was convinced that the rescue was all due to the CIA operative. Then when I checked out the Canadian documentary, I realized that the real story is probably not as told in the movie.

The fact is that rarely do we get to be first-hand witnesses to events that interest or concern us. We only know what is revealed in the sources we happen to have stumbled upon. In most cases, we are not aware of the biases of those who tell the stories. Americans will tell a story that glorifies them, just as any other people. Giving a hearing to different versions of the story may help us understand what may have actually happened. But at the very least it helps us keep in mind that there’s more to any event than simply what’s recounted by one interested party.

History Lessons

We learn history in school. What we learn only later is that history is what the government wants us to know. The more important the event, the more it is likely that those who are in control would like us to know their version of what happened and why. We should be rationally sceptical of what we are told by those in power.

Most of what I learned about Indian history during my school years came from sources that had a definite bias. That history was what the government wanted Indians to believe. Some figures were exaggerated in importance to suit the governments’ agenda. Gandhi was the “Father of the Nation” and he got “independence” for India using his satyagraha. Nehru was the avuncular dear leader — Cha-cha Nehru — who was wise beyond belief. He was a great historian, a great economic planner, the builder of modern India.

I was quite aware that I knew very little history. Partly that was because I did not really have a deep interest in it and partly because it was taught only briefly and too poorly. What came as a surprise (and it should not have if I had bothered to think about it a bit) was that what little I had been taught was actually inaccurate. Not only did I not know history, but what I did know was in all probability wrong. In my naivete I had assumed that people would not generally lie about history. Now I am older and wiser. I know now that distortions, exaggerations, half-truths, outright lies and pure fabrications pack the history text books in Indian schools. They are written by the leftists and support the government agenda, the dominant narrative revolving around the great Mughals and their descendants such as Gandhi & Nehru.

Fortunately for some of us, them internets is helping us see through those lies. The story told by Argo was made less distorted by the documentary on YouTube. We need to continue to look for other points of view to correct the distortions that the government approved history has introduced into our collective psyche. No wonder the Nehru-Gandhi-Maino UPA would like to censor the internet. The internet will reveal the truths that the government does not want people to know.

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Post Script: July 23rd 7 AM.

“The man said that them internets helps in figuring out distortions, did he?”

“Yes, he did. He also made the point that there are many sides to stories. I believe he dragged in something about Rashomon. Perhaps he was trying to make a point that one should not be too gullible. Consult many sources, suspect the motives of those who are an interested party in the matter.”

“Yeah, I got that impression too on reading the blog. Them internets help in giving different viewpoints. But did the man say that them internets has only the truth and nothing but the truth? Did he say that?”

“Ummmmmmm. No, I didn’t get that impression. Should I re-read the post? Just to make sure that he did not make the claim that them internets is a TRUTH MACHINE. I don’t see where the man claimed that one should not exercise judgement or not be skeptical when surfing them nets.”

“I read the post carefully. It says, TRUTH-SEEKING machine. It’s there in the last line and in the title as well. Perhaps he was hinting at the fact that it helps you seek the truth.”

“Yeah. It does not tell you the truth. It helps you seek truth. Besides, them internets is not the only thing that helps you seek out the truth. The man does not make that claim.”

“So tell me, why are there a couple of comments that appear retarded in the context of this post?”

“Don’t know. Perhaps people read what they want to read instead of reading what is written, perhaps.”

  • Sambaran Mitra

    Well, ‘them internets’ is not a fountainhead of truth either. ‘them internets’ merely starts us on the quest of historical truth by clarifying that the history books are not to be believed lock, stock and barrel.

    On a slightly different note, I started my day with an irritating article by Ramchandra Guha in The Hindu editorial-middle. He has a bias for sure. I like to believe what he wrote is true. However, he only tells one side of the story. So in spite of the truth, it becomes an ‘ashwatthama hata, iti gajah’. That is another interesting type of lie, which one can peddle by revealing half-truths.

    Truth/Lie is a very complicated business indeed.

  • Suresh

    “Read it on the internet? Must be true” Said no one ever and no one ever will. That is the nature of the internet. Can’t believe I actually have to spell it out.

    • Atanu_Dey

      Read the post script to the post above.

  • http://oshantomon.blogspot.com/ Sambaran Mitra

    Aahh… it hurts.

    Trying to force a plastic smile on my face till I can retire in solitude and howl due to the public humiliation.

    I am trying my level best not to drown in sorrow.