After seeing the movie Lincoln a few days ago I felt an enormous surge of gratitude for artists, especially those who produce great art that exalts Truth.
I believe the movie to be a must see for every American, if not every citizen of the world. The facts about how our nation struggled through the obscenity of slavery and a war that killed at least 750,000 human beings explains a lot about the psychological and emotional development of the country.
The psychological question it addresses is still gravely pertinent: Why are human beings so quick to go to war and kill? The answer is demoralizing: Because we believe what we want to believe and will commit murder to protect our beliefs. This is a universal fact.
The states of the Confederacy believed in the necessity of slavery to maintain their economy. They justified enslaving other human beings by seeing them as not human. Their Christian faith didn't stop them from killing slaves at will and going to war to maintain their “right” to do so.
The movie Lincoln brilliantly illustrates these chilling facts about our far-from-innocent history. And to think that it took another hundred years before we enacted the Civil Rights Law in 1964!
On a deeper level, the film implicitly asks: why do people so readily distort facts and deny obvious truths?
The answer is simple: It's scary to confront the fallacies behind a cherished belief. We risk losing a precious benefit or personal status. We risk admitting to our faults and weaknesses.
Even scarier is the possibility of being blamed, punished or humiliated by those who defend their beliefs.
So it's part of our self-protective instinct to distort truth if the distortion protects us.
Enter the Artists. Steven Spielberg, the director of Lincoln and Tony Kushner, its screenwriter, are true artists. They put us into the House of Representatives as the debate rages over passing the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery. They take us into the mind of Lincoln himself and his allies as they bend (flout?) ethics in the service of the Greater Good. We listen to the amendment's opponents express the fear that giving "Negroes" equal legal rights would result in chaos. Where would it lead? Would we next consider women as equal! Those representatives sincerely believed that openly recognizing the slaves as human beings would destroy our nation.
Sadly, within our current reality we still forcefully ignore facts and cling to destructive beliefs despite any amount of evidence.. . and readily vilify, or even kill, to defend them.
Fortunately, great artists save us from falling into the utter dissolution of social dishonesty. Indeed, nations that censor art quickly devolve into fascism and failure.
Great artists always pursue truth because truth is beauty and beauty is truth. And because the great artist -- whether working with words, marble, music or paint, focuses on the truth of their world as expressed through their personality and vision – in all epochs of history, it's the artists that we most vividly remember.
Great art, in short, always points us toward freedom, which will always be humankind's most noble accomplishment.