More Rashomoning: Considering truth in political communication

After our recent posts on teaching Trump, and on problematising interpretations of phenomena for students, I now find myself sensitised to such matters.

Walking through town at the weekend, I found a leaflet thrust in my hand. As you can see from the photo, this is obviously an individual with something that they feel strongly about: my very first impression was that the paper was irregularly cut, which means they have cut it by hand – no small effort.

And then you read it.

By itself, it’s an excellent piece for a group of students to discuss in class. The argument is there, but jumbled up and obscured: I’m still not sure the proverb makes any real sense (plus, it seems like a very long, and specific proverb).

But the bit that pulls one up is the arrest. How can promoting veganism get you put in jail?

The joys of Google quickly provides an answer, as well as confirming that the person who thrust the paper into my hand was indeed Ms Lilley herself. the news reports provide a very different interpretation; again, something that you could get students to consider in a classroom discussion.

As to which is the ‘right’ interpretation, I demur from providing an answer, because I know it’s not how these things work. As Matt LeRiche noted in correspondence with me following my post last week, this is all about Rashomon effects: multiple interpretations, each providing their own version of the truth. We might agreed Ms Lilley went to jail, but not on why.

All of this is to highlight the subjectivity of our discipline, something that both students and colleagues sometimes seem to forget. Taking a small, localised example like this can be a great gateway to tackling the big questions that face us, as a society as much as a group of scholars.

The final irony in this piece is that the next day after getting this, I was in another town, when I got a leaflet thrust into my hand again. Same leaflet, same woman. I said that I’d got one the day before and she smiled and said ‘oh, alright then’. She seemed nice enough, and not the sort to be in jail. If that’s not another classroom discussion, then nothing is.