Hi all! :-)
I’m working on this at one of my jobs and my friend Efren put this song literally in my ears with headphones, and I thought it went with the topic of discussion for today.
Okay, here we are. I’ve been thinking a lot about truth and lying lately—trying to wrap my head around who we are versus what we say. Is speech relational to action? Can we be honest in places like twitter where there is not enough (and way too much) space to say what we want to say? Huhm.
At any rate, my friend on twitter told me that he is struggling with the issue of truth, and that he has yet to confess some sort of he lie has made to someone in his life. I felt deeply for him and his struggle, knowing that we all will be in this situation if we have been there not already. I also know what it feels to lie and be lied to.
As we search for ourselves within our world, sometimes the line between truth and lies is fine, if not invisible.
The reason for this comes down to an analysis of philosophy. Philosophers have struggled with the notion/proof of truth since they began thinking; it is age-old. Once postmodernism hit us, we are starting to realize that there is no one truth in the world; that everywhere is made up of little truths all smashing, crashing, and pushing on each other to help us confuse reality into understanding. Boeyhaoihdgoaihgeoa! Yea, exactly.
So I’m going to do what the philosophers do and start talking about truth. I shall look at it with my biased eyes, and my biased heart. My goal, to be self-referentially subversive, is two-fold: I want my friend to find ease in his walking of the fine line; I also want the lie I am living at the moment to come forth and reveal itself as truth to me.
The power of judgment in general is the faculty of thinking of the particular as contained under the universal. If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, then the power of judgment, which subsumes the particular under it (even when, as a transcendental power of judgment, it provides the conditions a priori in accordance with which alone anything can be subsumed under that universal), it is determining. If, however, only the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found, then the power of judgment is merely reflecting. (from ‘Critique of the Power of Judgment’)
Like I said, philosophers have been dealing with the concept of truth since the beginning. I could have quoted anyone. The reason I decided to use Kant is because I never agreed with that dude. I felt he was lying, always. That doesn’t mean I can’t look at his words and find use for them; it means I’m going to subvert them to my own means—a form of lie, too. (hahaha, it is all a lie) Kant is working under the positional frame that we can know truth, that the “universal” is ever-present and dominant. He does problematize this a bit when he says “If the universal is given.” The dependent clause here denotes that truth, or the universal, is a state of interpretation, or judgment. He uses two gerunds (verb forms ending in –ing) to show that there are two acts of judgment: determining and reflecting. These are worth considering. Damn, I may have to agree with Kant. Continuing (ha, gerund)…
The goal here is always in whether we judge truth as a “given” universal or a “particular” universal. According to Kant, it can only be one or the other. He stipulates that depending on which one we choose, we are participating in an act of making truth. Determining truth under the presence of the universal mandates that any judgment can be “subsumed” under the universal truth—that there is only one way to know something, and that our perception of what we judge is a line to the ultimate truth. How often does that occur? We may find ourselves looking at a particular issue, experience, or situation as a piece of something larger that we will understand fully once we put the pieces together. Humans at our logical best, eh? While this could happen, it is equally possible that this judgment is completely false, and that we often find ourselves more lost from what is because of a judgment we made that has no relation to how things are.
When this happens, we can attend to Kant’s other enacting position: reflecting. To look back upon an issue, experience, or situation is hindsight. And hindsight is useful. Once time passes and we’ve gained additional pieces of truth, they can shed light on what that moment was in ways we couldn’t have foreseen until we lived a bit further. However, this does not mean that truth has been acquired. Quite the contrary. (t)ruth is still out there waiting to be found.
Or is it?
Is it time for Nietzsche? We could definitely use a whole lotta nothing here and now. Because we’ve been arrogant; we think we know what truth is. Us silly, insignificant humans. Alas:
Rather, the intellect is human, and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved…The arrogance inherent in cognition and feeling casts a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of human beings, and because it contains within itself the most flattering evaluation of cognition it deceives them about the value of existence. Its most general effect is deception—but each of its separate effects also has something of the same character. (From ‘Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’)
Nietzsche reminds us of our flaws as humans: we are wholly engrossed in ourselves (as
individuals, and in our human condition). We believe that the world revolves around us and the constructions of reality that we have made. Look around at our buildings, our art, our established languages all telling us how these things are. They are, certainly. And they are not. We are merely looking at our world and each other through our pathos—our feelings. Our feelings are perhaps our most necessary tool to realizing our world. It is through them that we see what we see; it is through them that we form our thoughts, that they control our cognition. This means that we will forever be subsumed by this truth: that we are feeling participants first, before thinking actors. Whilst we think we are important, and we very well may be to the people who love us, we are still feel-thinking our way through life from the stance of self. You see where I’m going with this?
I’m saying, along with Nietzsche, that we can never fully know truth—not in the determining or reflecting sense—because of our inability to put ourselves outside of our selves. Of course I am aware that most of you are knowledgeable about Nietzsche’s polemic. But I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, something that Nietzsche hints at here.
Nietzsche wants us to disagree with him. Nietzsche knows he is wrong too—that his text is no more near the truth than the lie that is truth is truth. What?! Yes. In his last sentence, we see that Nietzsche understands the inherent identity of deception; everything we know is a deviation of the truth as seen through flawed human eyes. But Nietzsche attempts to renounce his own arrogance here that he may be giving us a truth in this statement by allowing us to not even take his word for it. We are not supposed to see truth in Nietzsche’s words.
Uhhh, now what do we do? We go to Derrida, naturally ;-)
Before we do that, I am happily going to point you to two funs. These links will send you to two texts that I used last fall when I taught both Nietzsche and Derrida in an advanced English undergraduate course. Here you go, look if you want:
Death Cab: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T822kIkbFu0
Ron Howard’s docu In the Shadow of the Moon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNeOv6mHtO0
I used these to highlight two significant points of praxis in our attempts at truth. One, the Howard documentary reminds us how the lunar landing completely altered our understanding of who we are in the universe as people inhabiting Earth. The shots taken on the Apollo missions forced us to see the pale blue dot (Hey Sagan, how are ya?). We were made painfully, sublimely aware that we are isolated on this beautiful surface. We were made aware of how fragile life is. Two, the Death Cab song emphasizes the limits of our language. Not only do we all term things differently across languages and countries, but even words hold different meanings for each of us. How can truth even be truth if we have no consensus of what truth means? Ah…
Derrida makes four large moves in his text The Gift of Death that I won’t necessarily go into, but merely mention here. In his first chapter, “Secrets of European Responsibility,” Derrida establishes his epistemological analysis of Patoĉka’s lean on mysterium tremendum, the terrifying mystery, as a way to see the duality implicit in every move we act upon, and the responsibility—the care—taken with each. Of the way we interact with one another in a theme of gazing, he says,
The inadequacy of this thematization comes to rest on the threshold of responsibility. It doesn’t thematize what a responsible person is, that is, what he must be, namely this exposing of the soul to the gaze of another person, of a person as transcendent other, as an other who looks at me, but who looks without the subject-who-says-I being able to reach that other, see her, hold her within the reach of my gaze. And let us not forget that an inadequate thematization of what responsibility is or must be is also an irresponsible thematization: not knowing, having neither a sufficient knowledge or consciousness of what being responsible means, is of itself a lack of responsibility. In order to be responsible it is necessary to respond to or answer to what being responsible means. For if it is true that the concept of responsibility has, in the most reliable continuity of its history, always implied involvement in action, doing, a praxis, a decision that exceeds simple conscience or simple theoretical understanding, it is also true that the same concept requires a decision or responsible action to answer for itself consciously, that is, with knowledge of thematics of what is done, of what action signifies, its causes, ends, etc.
This is lengthy and dense, and I apologize. Truthfully, this first chapter took me a month to read the first time. I can dissect it for you now. What Derrida is emphasizing is that truth is not necessarily what matters. What does matter is how much we are conscious of the acts that we do in light of who they affect. (t)ruth is irrelevant because no one can speak for another what being responsible means; responsibility is always irresponsible. Thus, it is up to each one of us to take into consideration how each move of action, doing, praxis, and decision has direct relational and causal effect on another. To be conscious of this is to be as responsible as we can be.
I hope that this sheds light on what lying and cheating means to the larger concept of truth-making. If we take Derrida at his words here (and I immeasurably do), it is imperative that we recognize the ethics implied in every single thing that makes us human. For we are always in contact and interaction with one another; therefore we must recognize who we are in each other we encounter. Did I just mention the phrase? Hinted, more like. We will get there, but first…
Derrida takes on a largely political and religious moral dilemma in the Bible: the story of Abraham. Are you all familiar with this? The story concerns itself with how Abraham is told by God that he must sacrifice his son, but he is also required not to speak of this action. Silence. I will save all the delicious analytical moves that Derrida makes in the text because you should definitely read it. The lesson to be learned is thus:
I can respond only to the one (or to the One), that is, to the other, by sacrificing the other to that one. I am responsible to any one (that is to say any other) only by failing in my responsibilities to all the others, to the ethical or political generality. And I can never justify this sacrifice, I must always hold my peace about it. Whether I want to or not, I can never justify the fact that I prefer or sacrifice any one (any other) to the other. I will always be secretive, held to secrecy in respect of this, for I have nothing to say about it.
So much here, my goodness, so much. Did I mention that I adore this man? You know this already. But I digress…Derrida makes a point that blew my mind the first time I read it. We are constantly preferring and sacrificing people when we decide to do anything. If I choose to pay attention to my son, I sacrifice my attention to the world. If I submit all my consciousness to another, I sacrifice my consciousness of my son and the world. Regardless of anything, we are sacrificing in making a preference. This can subsume us. It can make us crumble in the realization that we hurt another no matter what we do. But it can also be uplifting and powerful.
By making a choice of who gets our attention and consciousness, we are gifting ourselves to the other that has our preference. We have the power to decide who gets that gift—who deserves the gift of us. When Abraham chose to stay in silence, chose not to warn his son that he was going to kill him, he kept his secret with God. He gifted God his consciousness, and conscience. But he did this to sacrifice himself too. Knowing he would have to kill his son was killing him on the inside. How could it not?! And what happened in return? God granted the gift back upon Abraham; he did not have to kill his son after all. Derrida goes into great detail of the ethics involved here. Do read it if you are interested. Here it is easier to note that even our silence can be attention, even our sacrifice is a preference, even our treachery is a gift.
You are asking me how. You are also probably tired of reading. I know this is long, but we are getting there. Thank you for being patient. I am having trouble deciding how to detail the last chapter of this text, tout autre est tout autre (translated: all others are all others, a tautology of epic proportions!). It is intense. I am thinking I should post my lecture notes on this book, to follow when I am home.
Derrida gets on Kant:
According to Kant the unconditionality of moral law dictates the violence that is exercised in self-restraint (Selbstzwang) and against one’s own desires, interests, affections, or drives. But one is driven to sacrifice by a sort of practical drive, by a form of motivation that is also instinctive, but an instinct that is pure and practical, respect for moral law being its sensible manifestation.
Derrida challenges Kant because Kant missed something important: the duality of sacrifice. Like I said earlier, choice cannot be limited to two gerunds of action. There is something bigger than us (our mere arrogant selves) at play. That is each other. If we are irresponsible/responsible humans conscious of the sacrifice and preference in everything that we do, we are respecting the moral law that manifests (no longer latently) in our every action. Praxis becomes activated when this occurs. What do I mean? Well, I am saying that to be aware of the cost of every gift of ourselves, we are embracing our feeble attempts at being morally sound, ethical humans. There is little more important than that, I believe.
One last one:
We should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, way up there, transcendent, and what is more—into the bargain, precisely—capable, more than any satellite orbiting in space, of seeing into the most secret of the most interior places.
O, Derrida, you delightful man! (oops, I digressed again) You want to know what to do with this, do you? For starters, this is a mythic tradition that dates back to the origin of origins, Homer and hospitality. Derrida plays on the belief that we should treat anyone we interact with as a god in beggar’s clothes, for we may never know how deeply they can touch or crush us. Better to take caution than to not. There is more. Derrida also draws on the notion of economy with the word “bargain”, explaining my adoration in this paragraph. He’s a tricky linguist, and I like it. The economy implied is the cost of our choice, like mentioned earlier. But the end, doesn’t the end leave you touched within the nothing? I hope so. Derrida is urging us to realize that no matter how secretive we are, how deceptive, how utterly immoral (amoral) we may be, our secret is in a place that can be seen.
That answer is yours and yours alone. Derrida and I call this the light. He says, “This is the moment where the light or sun of the Good, as invisible source of intelligible visibility, but which is not itself an eye, goes beyond philosophy to become, in the Christian faith, a gaze. A personal gaze, that is, a face, a figure, and not a sun.” And I agree. I have often referenced the light, given the light, taken the light. The light is a metaphor (plus de metaphor) for all, and nothing, and everything. We are often under the assumption that our lies and secrets are invisible, unseeable, to others. But they are not. They are actually reflected in our actions. Just as Derrida and I discuss above, all that we do—our praxis—exposes our ethics. It is inseparable from us. And those who are best able to see the light within us are those who we hold in a gaze. Consider that a moral question, then, when you go forth in the world truth-ing, lying, determining, reflecting, and being. The most ethical and truthful acts may, essentially, come down to courage.
Courage to face another and be who we are.