Saturday, August 28, 2021

I've been thinking about this post and free speech and democracy, and necessity.

There's a conflict that I take for granted. I refer to it obliquely but don't articulate it.

What's needed is an argument in defense of the need for citizens in a democratic state to be able to be all kinds of wrong, all kinds of confused, creepy, conflicted, desirous, weepy or hate-filled, so that they may be able to learn to understand and outgrow their childishness. The choice is between a community of adults with a minority of the inveterately childish and criminal or a community of children ruled by moralists and crime lords.

Palestinian and Lebanese officials repeatedly insisted that the FLLF was merely a fiction intended to hide the hand of Israel and its Christian rightist allies. Israeli officials rejected such accusations, insisting rather that the bombings were part of an internecine war amongst rival Arab factions. 

"No one" meaning no one acceptable to polite discourse, believed the Palestinians. They still don't. That's why the authors of the Harper's letter make Palestinians the exception to their rule.

Fauci lied about masks. Whitman lied about air quality after 9-11. Their reasons—justifications, to themselves—were practical and political. Science communication, global warming and "cultural cognition", etc.

Best to say my hatred of ideological liberals is their unwillingness to accept their own authoritarianism. When it was necessary, my parents broke the law, and I'm sure they got a kick out of Trudeau. Politics is a practice. Theory is for pedants. 

Another way to put it is to say that truth is private, and politics is public, and liberals with their "politics of truth", square the circle in defense of their own self-image and self-interest. Their lies begin as lies to themselves.

Arendt, Truth and Politics

Although the politically most relevant truths are factual, the conflict between truth and politics was first discovered and articulated with respect to rational truth. The opposite of a rationally true statement is either error and ignorance, as in the sciences, or illusion and opinion, as in philosophy. Deliberate falsehood, the plain lie, plays its role only in the domain of factual statements, and it seems significant, and rather odd, that in the long debate about this antagonism of truth and politics, from Plato to Hobbes, no one, apparently, ever believed that organized lying, as we know it today, could be an adequate weapon against truth. In Plato, the truthteller is in danger of his life, and in Hobbes, where he has become an author, he is threatened with the burning of his books; mere mendacity is not an issue. It is the sophist and the ignoramus rather than the liar who occupy Plato’s thought, and where he distinguishes between error and lie – that is, between “involuntary and voluntary ψευδς”– he is, characteristically, much harsher on people “wallowing in swinish ignorance” than on liars. Is this because organized lying, dominating the public realm, as distinguished from the private liar who tries his luck on his own hook, was still unknown? Or has this something to do with the striking fact that, except for Zoroastrianism, none of the major religions included lying as such, as distinguished from  “bearing false witness,” in their catalogues of grave sins? Only with the rise of Puritan morality, coinciding with the rise of organized science, whose progress had to be assured on the firm ground of the absolute veracity and reliability of every scientist, were lies considered serious offenses.

The modern age, which believes that truth is neither given to nor disclosed to but produced by the human mind, has assigned, since Leibniz, mathematicaL scientific, and philosophical truths to the common species of rational truth as distinguished from factual truth. I shall use this distinction for the sake of convenience without discussing its intrinsic legitimacy. Wanting to find out what injury political power is capable of inflicting upon truth, we look into these matters for political rather than philosophical reasons, and hence can afford to disregard the question of what truth is, and be content to take the word in the sense in which men commonly understand it. And if we now think of factual truths—of such modest verities as the role during the Russian Revolution of a man by the name of Trotsky, who appears in none of the Soviet Russian history books—we at once become aware of how much more vulnerable they are than all the kinds of rational truth taken together. Moreover, since facts and events—the invariable outcome of men living and acting together—constitute the very texture of the political realm, it is, of course, factual truth that we are most concerned with here. Dominion (to speak Hobbes' language) when it attacks rational truth oversteps, as it were, its domain, while it gives battle on its own ground when it falsifies or lies away facts. The chances of factual truth surviving the onslaught of power are very slim indeed; it is always in danger of being maneuvered out of the world not only for a time but, potentially, forever. Facts and events are infinitely more fragile things than axioms, discoveries, theories—even the most wildly speculative ones—produced by the human mind; they occur in the field of the ever-changing affairs of men, in whose flux there is nothing more permanent than the admittedly relative permanence of the human mind's structure. Once they are lost, no rational effort will ever bring them back. Perhaps the chances that Euclidean mathematics or Einstein's theory of relativity—let alone Plato's philosophy—would have been reproduced in time if their authors had been prevented from handing them down to posterity are not very good either, yet they are infinitely better than the chances that a fact of importance, forgotten or, more likely, lied away, will one day be rediscovered. 

Arendt is always torn between thought and philosophy. "Truthtellers" are merely those who remain loyal to their beliefs and honest in their loyalty. They may well be full of shit, but the loyalty itself serves a purpose. 

The fixation on the distance between truth and politics—the unwillingness of people to weigh the issues themselves–the need to be given certainty—is the source and symptom of our reactionary politics.


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