Truth, lies and freedom

Image: Zeeshaan Shabbir


Being lonely allows us to become solidary with those who are less free. The coercion that wants to prevent freedom seeks to prevent people from thinking the truth.

Having a clearer notion of what truth might be is central not only to science, not only to philosophy, but also to art. There is a long philosophical tradition that says, with Thomas Aquinas, that beauty is the radiance of truth or, with Hegel, that beauty is the sensible apparition of the idea. For German idealism, the idea had to be true, otherwise it would just be an unfortunate guess. Since the truth makes it possible to distinguish what is fair and correct, what is worth and what is worthless, it is also central to people's lives, to the big decisions they have to make and to the structuring of their day-to-day lives.

There are castes who believe that truth is proportional to the epaulettes on the uniform, the knots on the cord or the colors of the cassock. What you have there are hierarchies of command, not truths. A priest or pastor who is giving a sermon is never interrupted by the faithful. When an order of the day is read in a barracks, what is ordered and said is not under discussion, profiles are not invited to debate. What comes from above can be wrong, just as what is decided by the majority can be wrong and false. One alone and marginalized can be closer to the truth than the empowered.

At University, it has become customary for students to interrupt what the professor is saying and ask something or suggest another interpretation. It is the opposite of what happens in the pulpits, in the orders of the day and in the voices of command. Decisions at the Brazilian University after 1988 tended to be taken in collegiate bodies, usually by consensus. In recent semesters, however, when students were asked to speak out, they all fell silent. They didn't argue, they didn't question. They were trained to repeat and memorize. In the tests, only the minority showed that they were able to follow the material. Thinking is not easy, it seems not for everyone.

Truth is not what you believe. Nor what is said solemnly. In fact, it is not believed. One only believes when one does not have access to the true. Belief is a wager, a projection of desire that loses its sense of self. The believer thinks that what he believes is true, but the only truth there is that he is believing. Every believer is a denialist, no matter what religion he opts for. It is, above all, the abdication of reason.

The Cartesian thesis of truth as clear and distinct notions seems to have had the catechism as a model, which reduces complex questions – such as the origin of the universe, the structure of the divine and the nature of the human being – to simplistic answers that cannot be sustained. What seems clear to some is not so clear to others. The most transparent is usually not seen. The denialist denies the obvious and wants to impose his lack of vision as a light. Too much light dazzles. The believer has simple explanations that are simplistic, clarity that hide obscurities, distinctions that are often erroneous or do not perceive others that should be made, leading to new conclusions.

Truth is also not what scholasticism said, that is, eternal truths in the divine mind, something immutable, absolute. No one has ever gotten there, nor would they ever get there. Aquinas' God himself underwent changes: (1) solitary; (2) with purely spiritual ideas; (3) giving materiality to ideas; (4) parting lands and seas: (5) making man; (6) interfering with the story, etc. Holy books are not access to this supreme mind, but products of writing, human creation, literature. They should be studied in Letters as fiction, but they are not.

The conceptualization of truth as "the adequacy of reality and understanding”, by Thomas Aquinas, is false, because what the thing is and what is in the mind are not the same, ad-aequum, are not the same nor are they a coincidence. What is in the mind is never the same as things are. The X = Y model permeates Western thought, but equalizes the unequal and seeks to reduce the real to the quantitative. There, what is merely similar is equalized, difference is set aside. Knowing if ideas are copied in things or if things are represented in ideas, that is, the option between idealism and materialism, is under the same scheme: X = Y. There is a deep structure that needs to be unveiled and unveiled.

Writers know that there are no synonyms, that the same word in different positions in the text is not identical. In irony, what is said is not identical with the meaning of what is said. Therefore, not only does one not have X =Y, but also X is not = X.

Nor is truth just an internal formal adequacy of the mind, detached from things. In this process, only what is contained and hidden in the premises is found as a result. One pretends to think, in order not to really think.

Nor is the truth simply what an authority rants about. It is not reduced to speech. The reference to reality cannot be lost. Authoritarians want the truth to be what they claim, but their vision is limited, they exercise the fallacy of synecdoche, when they take their partiality as a whole, without seeing the rest.

Hegel proposed that the truth would be the capture of the object in its multiple determinations. It would therefore be changeable, as both the captured vectors and their interpretation change. Sometimes new data completely changes the evaluation framework. It is never possible, however, to capture the totality of determinations. Truth becomes a utopian quest, accessible only to an omniscient god. Christmas changes as much as the self changes. You don't step into the same river twice, but there are many people who, year after year, enter the same way in a river that changes all the time, said Nietzsche.

Truths emerge with the unveiling of the thing, but at the same time it covers up dimensions not shown or makes everything seen from a certain angle as if it were the right angle. Pointing out something serves to divert attention from other aspects. Show is a mode of hiding. Truth is revelation, in the double sense of unveiling and veiling again, but it is not the revelation made by a deity to the believer, as the ancient Greeks intended with the Aletheia, for this was rather the projection of a fantasy.

When many repeat the same belief, collective coercion is generated and herd spirit prevails over reason. Joseph Goebbels suggested that the many times repeated lie would end up generating something that lasts. What remains and continues to be repeated is not, however, true or correct for that reason alone, although it endures and has collective support. Reason is not a simple tool that can be used to reach the truth. A tool is something external that you can use or not use. Reason, on the contrary, is something internal, which will differentiate the human being. A lot of reason, however, leads to a lot of loneliness.

The oft-repeated lie may seem like the truth, but it isn't. This occurs in dictatorships, but also in dogmas of belief seen as truths of faith. These are sacralized theses that become unquestionable taboos. Lies can be imposed by force, with public punishments, as did the Inquisition, which claimed to be holy because it was not very Christian and very authoritarian. The repressed ends up returning: the more the less you want it.

Words bring out truths, but they also serve to lie and deceive. Words cannot be trusted. There are politicians who think they can declare anything to have it taken for granted: it is repeated by blind followers, but that doesn't mean it's true.

We live immersed in lies. Fake news are old practices. Hagiographies, sacred histories, official historiographies and many literary works are full of them.

No, Joseph Goebbels wasn't right, but that's easy to say here as he was both a German and a Nazi. Prejudice is reinforced. If he said that, with repeated propaganda, something would end up staying, he was not proposing an examination of the metaphysical tradition, of the founding structure of thinking. He didn't even intend to think that.

It is difficult to admit the untruth in the founding structures of our thought, our culture, our celebrations, our values. Fanatics keep repeating untruths as if they were absolute words. Worse blind is the one who doesn't want to let see. Religious teaching did indoctrination, it did not train the ability to argue.

Kant thought that freedom would be the idea that characterizes the human being. He spoke of a holy ideational trinity: God, homeland and freedom. He was a Lutheran who didn't want to go beyond theology. If freedom is demanded as a human differential, most people would be excluded from humanity. They are attached to what they were indoctrinated in the family, at school, in the church, in the State. Including Kant. They don't think for themselves, they don't question fundamentals.

Kant was analytical: he did not show in the three Critics that freedom exists as the antithesis of coercion. He touched on this, however, in a late, short essay entitled What is Enlightenment?. I quote because it translates Enlightenment for clarification, which is not wrong, except that it leads to the assumption that any explanation is already Enlightenment, although it can itself be part of the discourse of power. could be translated by What is Enlightenment?, but it should be noted that it is not just about the French Enlightenment movement (the Enlightenment). The question would be: “What is thinking for yourself?”

Kant was referring to the need for us to take a deep dive into ourselves, to overcome what we have been indoctrinated with and thus achieve autonomy in thought.

Hence, the subject starts to give himself norms. They can, however, be wrong and not be the same throughout life. This questions the categorical imperative, which cannot be so categorical, since it does not always apply equally to the same subject. The categorical imperative wants to be based on the idea of ​​freedom, but it interferes in the freedom of others in its name. It is, therefore, a form of subjective arrogance.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte showed that the thetic judgment is only constituted as thetic when the antithetic emerges, but the antithetic judgment can only manifest itself when there is the possibility of going beyond this opposition, opening up space for some form of dialectical overcoming. Freedom becomes fundamental for evolution and progress, for thinking. If we only focus on the dispute between thesis and antithesis or on the negation of the negation, there is no room to overcome the structure that dictated them.

Freedom is the essence of truth. Both in the sense that the subject is open to multiple determinations of the object and in the sense that the object can show its multiplicity, even those that the subject would like not to have to see. Oedipus tried to escape the determinations of destiny prophesied by the Pythoness, but he did not face the fundamentals that were religious, because, as a member of the aristocracy, he could not question the existence of the gods, who legitimized the dominion of his class, since each noble family claimed to have a deity in his blood origins.

He was not, then, just a hero of freedom, as Solger wanted, in the sense of seeking the self-determination of his history, but also a victim of his inability to disbelieve. If he didn't believe in the gods, he wouldn't have left the kingdom he was in, he wouldn't have run into his father or mother. Sophocles wanted people to believe in the gods because what they prophesied came to pass. She is a fallacy, coming from a priest. The Theban trilogy can be read by deciphering the riddle: the writer went further than the ideologue.

Freedom is the fight against constraints, the search for expanding horizons, victory against tyranny. Reason is a factory of rationalizations, but it is also the instance in which one can decipher their raison d'être. It takes courage to think, rethink fundamentals. Most just repeat the brainwashing they suffered at school, in the family, in the media.

To be free is to become lonely. Being lonely allows us to become solidary with those who are less free. The coercion that wants to prevent freedom seeks to prevent people from thinking the truth.

* Flavio R. Kothe is professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasilia. Author, among other books, of Culture semiotics essays (Ed. UnB).


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