[OPE] The Dog Days of August?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Mon Aug 18 2008 - 15:44:27 EDT


I am no expert in this topic and I have no proof about who the hijackers were yet, all I can do is read between the lines. As anyone knows, the art of lying is to mix truth and falsity in such a way that it is difficult or even impossible to tell the difference, or that the "abberation" will not be noticed. It's remarkable how you can fool or be fooled, and in this sense, Karl Marx said that the vice he excused most was human gullibility. A researcher starts out from the idea that in order to tell the story at all, some bits must be true in some way, which provides a clue for the unknowns, and then tries to assess the probability that statements are true or false, and in what sense (what context) they might be meaningfully true or false.

The problem with lying is that a policy based on lying cannot provide a consistent orientation for behaviour; it corrupts decision-making processes and choice-making processes, and therefore ultimately impedes the behavioural flexibility and freedom of the organism to the point of self-destruction. That is one reason why they say "the truth will set you free". The absence of truth is a restriction, a constraint. In fact it could be hell, felt as pain, guilt, shame, indignity or whatever. Intellectuals tear out their lives over it.

Lying may not matter so much in certain contexts (for example, a positively intended seduction), but in other contexts lying or truthtelling becomes a matter of survival, or even life and death. It may be possible to "live a lie" but in that case you will not achieve a great deal, or you sacrifice something. If there is a remarkable degree of honesty in society, despite the fact that people have plenty opportunity to lie or misrepresent things, the reason is that a policy of lying becoming disorienting and confusing, the contradictions become unmanageable in some way. Trotsky remarked something like, "the more social contradictions, the more lying" - in other words, the more people are caught up in highly conflictual, competitive social situations, the more prone they are to lie. If you have to cooperate, lies are of little use (unless they are shared, but then you know that the lie is a lie, a sort of customary convention). In this sense, you could say that truth is a material necessity.

I didn't study Thomas Keane's report in detail because I thought at the time well, there's no way under the circumstances that you are going to get any objective report stating the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth here anyway. I thought Thomas Keane's Commission was really in no shape to provide it, under the circumstances, even though a lot of effort went into it. But really I should have taken the trouble, even given the low level of energy I had after work. There's people that really do know probably, like CIA guys, people in the intelligence community, but I don't frequent those circles, as spying is not my line of work. I am interested in research.

I think that if 9/11 was the pretext for a war that costs the US, Europe and other "allies" trillions of dollars and a lot of human lives, then the world's citizens have the right to know what really happened, if only to be able to learn what they should from it. Of course, a scientist is concerned about truth as such, as a value in its own right, but for civilization, honesty is important - honesty being defined as truth which takes the Other into consideration (this is also how religions define or relativise its essence, the arbiter being that you cannot lie in the face of God anyway, the awe of God transcends everything). 

Suppose here on earth you have a wife. I never had one, but suppose. You learn a lot of intimate details about your wife, and therefore you can confront your wife with all sorts of "truths" about herself, and those truths could hurt a lot. She could reply by doing the same to you. It's not very loving, although sometimes it's necessary to do it, because you cannot go on otherwise. And thus there is a certain way to go about telling the truth, it's a matter of form as well as of content, because you have to consider the means-ends relationship in an ethical way. There's a time and a place to say things, you can do it right, and you can do it wrong.

Mutatis mutandis, the same applies in politics, which of course creates plenty scope for intellectual fraud and forgery, by accentuating one nuance against another. If you have worked in statistical research, and I have, then you know that for any data set you have, you could tell many different stories about that data set, all true. The story you will tell about the data set can therefore never be completely divorced from means-ends considerations - a value or moral dimension in the classical sense - i.e. you do not state truths about the data set willy-nilly, but for a (communicative or scientific) purpose. But for a principled politician, and certainly a radical politician, it is better to err in the sense of revealing the truth, than to err by hiding it. The fear of truth is itself a killer. Yet, jurisprudentially or politically, you do have to know where to draw the line as well, and this can be quite difficult. You have to know when to start, when to pause, and when to stop, all within the frame of time. In the long run, of course, we're all dead.

The reason is again behavioural, in the sense that shooting an enormous pack of truths at somebody can also be severely disorienting or even damaging. A lot of modern cultural controversy turns precisely on this point: how much truth can anyone take? How much truth is damaging? What can I say, what can't I say? There are plenty of silly or unjustified exaggerations there, either way, without proof, but also experiments which do real damage. Attitudes differ in different countries. The more profound question however is, "how do we get a more honest culture?". There's all kinds of fashions, fads, and developmental phases in this. I think Research in Political Economy has made a good contribution to the ongoing debate with its issue on 9/1, though like I say I didn't read the stuff. My training was that conspiracy theories are relevant only if you are actually a conspirator. But if you live by conspiracies, you become paranoid, insofar as there is no trust.

Metaphysicians of course often try to find a principle in this controversy that can guide or relativise everything. You could argue for example that we truly are, what we have never giving up being. Then again, you could argue that we truly are, what we have always given up being. Holding on, or letting go.

In this regard, Wilfrid Desan for example concludes in his intelligent book "The Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre" (Doubleday, 1965), "Although his defense of the individual man as a free being deserves praise, it has gathered the defect of its virtue as well, for in blowing up the subject beyond measure, it has killed the status of the group and the intersubjective. This is, I believe, the flaw in his brilliant argument. One is not what one wants to be, but merely what one has never given up being." (p. 308-309). That's a "holding on" theory.

He comments further that:

"A lonely Cogito on a bare planet would forever hang between dream and reality. Only the acceptance of the Other can make that which is between us something real. The current emphasis upon my world, which the penetrating analyses of Heidegger and of Merleau-Ponty have brought to the foreground, implies the existence of your world, since the distribution of worlds among individuals presumes the existence of a World, immense and gigantic, wherein my portion fits, juxtaposed to yours. (...) If Sartre does not fit smoothly into the framework of Marxist semantics, it is because of his persistent intention to place subjectivity at the start of the revolution. No influence whatsoever made Sartre deviate from his fundamental assertion: The Self is Sovereign. Sadly this is not the way which Marxism has been lived in the countries that have practised its tenets, for there at least, few subjects have been "sovereign" and only the dictators have been free. The irony of Sartre's situation is that while dreaming of a free and powerful Self that is variously created and to whom is given the charge of the world, its organization and departmentalization, its grouping and its institutionalization, Sartre has in fact created an entity too isolated in a hostile world to be ever successfully committed to a group or to anything." (p. 304, 308).  

More tersely, William Ash reminds us: "The question of how we can know the world around us is not entirely unlike the question of how it is that the food our environment provides happens to agree with out stomachs. Either can become a mystery if we forget that minds, like stomachs, originated and have been conditioned by a pre-existent natural order." (Marxism and moral concepts, p. 4-5).

Leaving you with that thought, I have to prepare my dinner.


Ive been feeling so much older
Frame me and hang me on the wall
Ive seen you fall into the same trap
This thing is happening to us all
Something so strong
Could carry us away
Something so strong
Could carry us today

-Split Enz, "Something So Strong"


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