Of Self-Sufficient Truth

"You must remember that truth and facts are two different things." 

- David Ulrich, photographer

Despite or because of this era of fake news, facts and knowing have become deified for the apparent certainty they bundle. Whether the certainty is justified or not, we take comfort in having our beliefs confirmed. Whatever it takes to confirm our principles or our conspiracy theories, we consistently stop at the stories or sources that most capably please us and look not further.

Meanwhile, it seems, wondering, questioning, and reflecting have been cast aside -- not so much because of the time these tasks require, but the complexities they present us in lieu of comfort.   

The appeal of factoids and the security of data and hot takes, whether informed by fact or are merely a comforting buoy of opinion, has increased.  Coincidentally or not, dialogue has become increasingly fraught with rhetorical or emotional challenges.  We still preach to the choir, untested and unchallenged.  Again, we discover and bask in comfort of reality confirmed.  Regardless of the topic, people are more inclined to take a tangential interpretation rather than immersing themselves and coming out the other side with a grasp of the big picture. 

Even if a tangent happens to lance fact or even truth, there is still a complacent acceptance and little interest in the work required to uncover a whole story, or discern the context that would make the topic more complex. Despite this complexity providing a more detailed and accurate picture of a topic of debate and, with it, insight toward achieving an understanding of this topic and conceivably others, we have a established preference for facts and truths in isolation, without the taint of context.

The attraction to discrete facts, essentially in isolation from the world we are taking them from, renders a world that is synergistic or symbiotic in its complexity and nuance and breaks it down into modules that are detached from the variability and possibility that are evident not only in the subjects we could be talking about but the conversations that could take place if they were entered whole-heartedly, with an earnest commitment to building understanding rather than winning an argument by any means available. 

In the attraction to isolated points (whether actual facts or utter bull shit) is a prevailing assumption that impurity is a threat and, even more irrationally, that absolute purity (whether of water, perspective, or motive) is attainable and ideal as well.  In the face of that assumption, we must acknowledge the distant whisper about the risks of a sanitized childhood undermining immunity.  The same is true of mindscapes where certitude is insisted upon and clarity and simplicity of that are the ultimate aspiration.  We end up isolated and unable to inoculate ourselves against the toxins of pathological single-mindedness.  Demonize foreign powers as you wish, but mindsets were primed for this epidemic long before our lexicons, suburbs, and discourses turned as remote and timidly narrow as they have.

As the gulf grows between the political left and right, as the challenge of addressing global warming is discussed and fake news has found the substantial toehold it enjoys, one thing that remains overlooked is our collective regard of facts as modular, isolated and distinct.  It is this isolation and modularity that has allowed the weaponized rhetoric and the "yer either with'us or agin'us" binary to prevail. The chiaroscuro of perspectives being weighed and interpreted for clarity and greater understanding is lost on us and we surround ourselves with broad Crayola black strokes, bereft of interpretation and laden with menace or the possibility of self-destruction. The emergence of this binary is like the ionization of salt in water. The ions, unbonded from one another, are moving about freely and it remains a challenge to recombine them and limit the impact of the negative ions. 

We not merely regard facts and truths as self-evident but we also attribute an assumption of self-sufficiency to truth as well. We assume that truths can stand alone, inert, irrefutable and unchallenged.  A suggestion to the contrary would likely prompt a rearing up in and a knee-jerk accusation that degrees of relativism are being introduced and a truth's sacrosanct status is being compromised.  This is not the case. By testing or exploring the extent of a truth, I suggest that there is a better opportunity to see where a truth can, at least metaphorically, apply. Think of the extent to which the laws of gravity might be applied to relationships. Apart from the metaphorical opportunity that exploring truth can allow, there is the opportunity to ensure that our understanding of these truths is not undermined by large numbers of people taking them for granted.  Flat earthers gaining bandwidth, airtime and support at this time because we are likely living in the Disinformation Age. We need to attend to and maintain our understanding of the things we regard as true and, as we are seeing more and more, act as custodians rather than beneficiaries of a largesse that need only inherit rather than pass down.

We have become too enchanted and distracted by what passes for information today.  The inundation of data that has hit us has been cacophonous, granular, profane and numbing. It hit us at a time when we are unprepared to knit it or weave it together into a coherent, holistic whole. Instead, we gather from the deluge that which best comforts us with the inane oxytocin hits we get from the streams that best serve us, whether it is a hit of info that relates to our respective manias for shopping, fantasy basketball, stock tips, celebrity, gossip, gun defence, or the particular isms that drive our heart rates.

A truth, or Truth, for all we might think of it, should not stand alone as a rampart that need not be breached or challenged.  By challenging or interacting with the truths we might otherwise regard as immutable we will start to find a way to piece together meaning from the onslaught of bytes and pixels we gaze at.  The ideal and perhaps hardest place to start is by looking at a single issue or fascination for the complexity and the meta at the heart of it.  In the course of that we need to prepare ourselves for the challenge that ambiguity and paradox pose and start, somehow, become familiar and comfortable with that. The paradox there is that there is probably greater simplicity and understanding in holding both side of an apparent contradiction in balance rather than building a house of cards that attributes ulterior motives or flimsy counterarguments to deny the parts of reality that trouble or challenge us.

The time to reflect, the time to be honest with ourselves and others about the opinions we hold or the actions we take proceeds not only toward truth but also maximizing our potential individually and collectively.  Despite the disheartening types of confrontation that are occurring today, what is perhaps more significant is the quiet collusion to not actually engage with one another in a way that excavates the truths that exist.  Much of the division and dissension that we witness today is driven by what comes to us from the virtual realm of the internet.  The quest for truth best occurs off-line, in the real world, in nature, in the knee-to-knee interaction between individuals whether friends, enemies or lovers.  Further to that we must, as Leonard Koren indicates in Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, focus on the intrinsic rather than the material and, I would humbly add, strive for the holistic rather than the specific.

I suppose that in light of that, I ought to print this off and go tack it gently to a tree.

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