Flexible truths


I’m reading “Shaw’s Music” (i.e. George Bernard Shaw’s music criticism) at the moment (three volumes, each of nearly 1000 pages), and came across a comment he made in 1891 that he could easily have written yesterday.

“There is nothing that we do in this country more thoroughly and artistically than our authorized denials of statements which everybody knows to be true. From the honourable gentleman in the House of Commons who asks a question about some notorious job, down to the poorest wretch who protests against being worked for seventeen hours a day, we all receive the same crushing denial, the same dignified rebuke for giving currency to silly and vulgar gossip, the same pledges of the highest credit and the best authority that the statement made is absolutely without foundation. And within three weeks everyone concerned, including the unimpeachably respectable deniers, openly admit that the statement was perfectly true, and that they knew it to be perfectly true all along, and, in fact, denied it on that account.”

And not only in this country, although perhaps the ‘artistic’ bit applies more to us.

A “job”, by the way, in this sense means “a transaction in which duty or the public interest is sacrificed for the sake of personal gain or political advantage” (OED sense 3a)

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