January 22nd, 2021

Spinning the facts

By Submitted Article on May 30, 2020.


First of three parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

A popular form of deception is spinning facts in such a way that either a bad situation looks better, or an innocent situation looks terrible.

When a notorious train robber and horse thief was hanged in the 19th century, his obituary read, “John Doe was known for his keen interest in railways and horse breeding. He helped authorities make these enterprises much safer. While he addressed a crowd on these matters, the platform on which he stood gave way, and in the fall, he broke his neck. Nobody is perfect, and everybody has a little faith. May he, and all of us, now rest in peace.”

One would make an innocent person look guilty if one depicts Jesus as a pedophile when he said, “Let the little children come to me.”

It is not only governments and opposition who try to make themselves look good and their opponents bad; husbands and wives, parents and children, liberals and conservatives, and those who are pro- or anti-development – all use fact-spinning to promote themselves and undermine opponents.

In time of war and election, truth is the first casualty. The propaganda and anti-propaganda systems conceal, distort, spin, and deny facts and dish up versions of the truth that are all but the full truth.

The war against COVID-19 and its successors will not escape spin. Every country will have its own version, downplaying failures and exaggerating successes. Explaining the high fatality rates of some countries in contrast with the low rates of other countries will give birth to many theories and fact-spinning.

Rationalizing (giving excuses for failure) and projection (putting the blame on others) are favourite defences when people feel cornered. Since Adam and Eve, every human being has tried these escape routes. Police and judges hear these defences often.

Although the Egyptians of Moses’ time did not try to rationalize away the 10 plagues, unbelievers of later times did.

Some said that when the Nile turned as red as blood, it could have been caused by a volcanic eruption upstream, spewing red mud into the river. As a result, frogs fled from the river to dry land. Gnats and flies fed on the dead frogs, becoming plagues themselves. The insects attacked livestock and humans, causing sores and boils.

Massive swarms of locusts appear periodically in Africa; one of these destroyed the crops, followed by severe hailstorms over the Nile valley.

Gigantic volcanic eruptions in the Mediterranean could have caused huge south-moving ash-clouds, enveloping Egypt in darkness for three days.

The death of firstborn man and beast, and the protection of Israel by the blood of the Passover lambs, cannot be ascribed to natural causes. Spin often strands on the rocks of facts.

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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