I’ll begin with a quote from a nineteenth century novelist:
“There is no truth. There is only perception.” ~ Gustave Flaubert
The truth Flaubert expresses here is universal (yet partial—perhaps even a bit misleading). It also represents some very sturdy wisdom, we’ll see why in just a moment. However, adding what we considered last week—the extreme-postmodernist performative contradiction and naïve Green’s flattening (relativizing) of reality—to Flaubert, then the extreme-postmodern overreach here is in the naïve expression, “There is no Truth!”…except the Truth that there is no Truth. Oops, again!
Why? What value is there in making this overreach? Simply, it’s a naïve, immature, partial understanding of justice that results in the conflation of any/all truth with a power-grab. Naïve conflation further compounds the difficulty in another way. The capitalized “T” indicates that the truth claim in question works for warrants on both relative and universal truth. So, the ‘no-truth’ problem also stems from the conflation of relative and universal truth.
Without nuance, the “no Truth” idea/meme is a direct dismissal of any universal truth. All kids hear is, “There is no truth!” Sadly, there is no more fertile ground for a narcissistic relativism; in our case a (flat) relativism of (surfaces) objects that can only devolve rapidly into nihilism.
Of course, the essential, practical, common-sense response here is:
“A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.” ~ Roger Scruton
A single perspective…
‘There is only perception,’ and perception is limited by perspective.
Strolling out of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Prince William was likely joyfully exuberant with the birth of his third child, Prince Louis. As William greeted and told the press he and Kate would now have three times the stress, he gestured with his right hand using pinky, ring, and middle fingers.
…sometimes betrays truth!
My meager little blog here has no budget to cover the use rights for the Getty image by Ben Stansall (here) that brings light to what would appear to all the world as an expression of darkness and indecency by Prince William (pictured above). The Stansall image clearly shows three fingers being presented. An intersection in time captured by two different photographers looking on from two different perspectives.
Let’s not rush and miss an important point here. The problematic image above that bends the truth to falsehood (and darkness) is widely available, and free to use. The Getty image I link above, the image that keeps truth in some correspondence to objective facts (keeps us in check with regard to reality), would cost me $450 to properly reproduce here in this space.
If words matter to any degree at all, then the four words, “There is no Truth,” are as devastating as they come. Any redeeming quality in this no-truth topic at all?
“There are no whole truths: All truths are half truths.” ~ Alfred N. Whitehead
“There are many kinds of eyes. Even the sphinx has eyes – and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths,’ and consequently there is no truth” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“There is no truth. Only points of view.” ~ Edith Sitwell
“I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else’s. But behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.” ~ Flannery O’Connor
The biblical text of the sage, Qohelet (cf. Ecclesiastes), offers a picture of reality that supports these stark claims—an image that, on my reading, is spherical. Qohelet gives the sense that the whole of truth is the entire sphere. However, any individual standing on the sphere only has a limited view of the whole from their particular perspective. True things far beyond imagination may well be happening just over the horizon. This spherical, human life-condition forms what may be the best evidence that human reality is triune (relational). Aye, but that’s a theological/anthropological story for another blog.
“Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
All these wonderful quotations identify relative truth as a feature of reality. Relative truth is perspectival, and, therefore, partial, as Whitehead rightly claims. Let’s be clear, to say one perspective does not necessarily constitute ‘truth’ for all others (or even any other) is not to discount or deny (properly relational) universal truth, it simply affirms (perspectival) relative truth.
‘No-Truth’ meme is “ubiquitous?” How?
While winding down now, for forty years the ‘no truth’ meme has seeped into the culture through major human formation systems, e.g., higher education, entertainment, media, etc. Kids are inculcated to this by friends, the entertainment and media they consume, and they intuitively understand it’s the soup in which we swim. The internet is ‘flatland‘ on steroids and thus no source of authority for what’s good, true, or beautiful. Small town life organically counters any overt expression of the no-truth meme but the potency of that inoculation is often eroded when families send their kids off to college. When they come back home they’re emboldened and empowered to openly express the ubiquitous no-truth norm. Do we really wonder why many home-folks have grown very resentful with regard to progressive, leading edge values?
The practical dimensions of how this dynamic plays out in the Heartland (Univ. of Nebraska) is well illustrated in a recent story from This American Life entitled: “My Effing First Amendment.” Well worth a listen.
‘Relative truth’ is secure because from each of our own interior perspectives, we trust our immediate access to our own relative truth. We are very confident with respect to our own subjective truth, and we tend to have a high degree of trust in our own experience (perspective). This individualized, relativized, ‘no hierarchies’-infused, ‘no truth’-infused perspective helps constitute what Ken Wilber has called “aperspectival madness,” and serves to form naïve Green’s unholy duo. The overreaching memes of the naïve Green [FS] values set have helped create a cultural zeitgeist of narcissism and nihilism that has proven very difficult to influence and lead effectively.
Leading edge reflection
Before 2017, naïve Green’s ‘no truth’ fruit and the cultural zeitgeist it produced was responsible for a good bit of anxiety in U.S. society. However, it had yet to create sufficient tension necessary to generate the self-reflection (and self-awareness) the leading edge has long needed in order to become more healthy. Self awareness is required on all levels to produce the urgency and empowerment needed to confront our constant conflation and reduction; our shadows and projections; our myriad ‘ism’ demons—and to form commitments to reconciliation. A renewed, healthy Green [FS] values set will be needed for the true healing of the destruction that has been wrought.
Ironically, it was President Donald J. Trump—a person who has no discernibly coherent relationship with truth, facts, or what is true,—who created the life conditions that are calling the errant “no truth” meme to the dock. Our collective experience of Trump’s cynical, indecently-dishonest behavior playing out on the U.S./world stage has done more to turn back the toxic tide of naïve Green’s “no-truth” cultural meme than 40 years of superior philosophy had been able to do up until now. Rich irony that Donald Trump is for truth/Truth what Fred Phelps was for LGBT+ rights.
“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” ~ Augustine of Hippo
I appreciate Saint Augustine very much, while remembering the image I would have needed to properly keep the truth in serviceable shape with respect to Prince William and this blog post is copyrighted and it’s editorial use is priced at $450.00 USD.
Next week: Shadows and self awareness [publishing 8/5]. Please continue the conversation this week, and stay tuned.
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?