Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

A party leader and the politics of truth

In her red dress, tight-lipped and gimlet-eyed, the speaker looked up from her notes, and declared that if you believed you were elephant, that was true.


Nigel Pocock


Well—not quite. If you believed, and self-defined, as whatever gender or non-gender you were, that was true for you. And must be accepted by everyone else. Not merely ‘tolerated’. Or else.

Perhaps Pilate was right to be cynical about ‘truzth’ when he enquired of the One whom the Party wanted to relativise, not just culturally, but as regards truth itself?

An elephant? That might be a step too far under the Mental Health Act—not ‘appropriate behaviour’. But who is to define this? Adolf Eichmann believed in social control—his and the Party’s definition—and so was a model of good mental health. Sparkling mental health, in fact. The Party said so. Thus was ‘truth’ defined.

So, what is ‘truth’? For the absolutist—“There is nothing you can tell me!”—and likewise, surprisingly and paradoxically—those who relativise truth itself. For what is true for me, is equally true for you, even if they are opposites. Unless the Party says so. Why is this?

Plato himself pointed out that this was self-contradictory nonsense (quite literally), since it sought to affirm a statement, at the same time as denying it.

To say that all truth is relative, at the same time as saying that this is true, clearly cannot make sense. Yet, this is exactly the cake that some political leaders want us to eat!

Nothing new there, you may say! Quite so. Except that this isn’t merely abstract philosophising, but has profound social implications. How can a society that claims to be both democratic and open, carry on being so with this (Vinoth Ramachandra) view of truth? Or is this something that merely suits the Party, as long as it brings votes? And thus, power?

Commentators (Ian Jarvie) have noted that both absolutists and relativists inhibit the growth of new knowledge. Neither can be refuted, or falsified. Others (Jeffrey Satinover) have noted the practical effect in academia, in the closing down of research programmes that do not fit with the prevailing ideology of the Party.

Thus  also existential definitions of the biological self. The practical effect of this is to close down critique, and thus enhance totalitarianism. Not so far from Putin, Xi Jimping, and all of their ilk, after all?

The leader resigned. The truth that relativism and absolutism could both be promoted as credible, at the same time, was just too incredible. Except where it suited some. Claiming to ‘tolerate’ all beliefs, they cannot tolerate those who do not share their view of ‘tolerance’.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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