Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

Caring for Words, X: Tell the Truth

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018


I once was in a group discussion on social justice (is there a justice that’s not social?) at which one the discussants, whom I’ll call Kevin, chose to lecture the rest of us on the nonexistence of truth. “When someone talks about ‘truth,’” he said, “what they mean is what’s true for them. Your truth isn’t necessarily my truth, but they’re both true. Yours is no better than mine. We should stop talking about the truth because there’s no such thing.”

Kevin continued in that postmodern vein for what seemed to me a very long time. I wriggled in my seat, ready to voice disagreement, but when he finally stopped explaining the way things really are, the group leader quickly steered the conversation in another direction. It was later that night (in what the Germans call a Treppenwitz, the perfect witty retort you only think of while heading upstairs to bed) that I arrived at the appropriate response: “But Kevin, is that true?”

No one this side of the grave can claim certain access to “The Truth” in its entirety. Not even “Science” (with a capital “S”) can pull that off. Yet if my truth has precisely the same validity as Adolf Hitler’s or Charlie Manson’s, what’s the point of discussing anything, social or otherwise, each of us forever stranded on the reef of solipsism?

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Caring for Words, III: Worse than a Lie?

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

To call contemporary political discourse “a culture of lies” may be giving politicians, promoters, and pundits too much credit. When words, whether by choice or convention, are detached from shared experience or verifiable reality, speech devolves into amusing games and struggles for power. Wisdom yields to sophistry, knowledge to opinion, arguments prefer ad hominem to evidence. In this environment, to knowingly lie becomes, in a strange, inverted way, a moral achievement.

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

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