One of my sweet nieces said the darndest thing to her Dad the other day. Having finished her special kiddie-sized bowl of ice cream she blithely asked for some ice cream. Not more ice cream—just ice cream. As if the first bowl had never happened. Her Dad replied with a no and explained that she’d just had her ice cream and that that was the truth. The wee tot’s rejoinder? “That’s not my truth!”
You could have heard a pin drop in the jaw-dropping silence that followed. Every pause begats explicative opportunity, however.
The Soft-Serve Truth About Truth
Truth. To have and to hold, an idea from which never to part, the notion of truth is part of our mental wiring. Being human includes a lived desire for truth. It’s held dear almost as an incantation: the truth, we presume, is out there. This hope reveals that we want what we don’t quite have; that is, absolution from ambiguity. Essentially, truth divides people because we each inhabit a unique cranial space from which we ourselves see and experience the Other. Truth inexorably relates us through power relations, it twists its bent trunk around our being. To ask of reality that it be straight and narrow and true is indeed to apply a saw-women’s crafty touch or the machine appendage of a lathe or the industrial monolith of a mill. Indeed, we make reality out of what we find and, pausing to survey our tools and wares, find our handiwork fine or coarse, true or false, depending upon our preset objectives. We seek that we may find and when truth is concerned it’s the shearing away of what we define as superficial dross that allows us to discover what we are looking for.
My little niece had not had enough ice cream to meet her truth standards of having had ice cream; to have ice cream to her meant to have enough, to be satiated as such. We begin with the goal of truth and we go forth to find it. Disagreements thus begin in quantifying truth. Child-rearing depends upon truths centred around core beliefs and intended outcomes, the avoidance of Type 2 diabetes from too much sugary ice cream for instance. In this same manner we tend to our academic spirit at AU; we have to manage our time and our goals in a way that meets our expectations. The truth is, we are mostly alone in our journey and that’s an opportunity to tailor our truths to meet our needs.
Post-Truth Can Mean My Truth
Post-truth society is a buzzword unlikely to fly away home in the 20’s. Literally, post-truth means “relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.” Believable enough, where desert is concerned, but truth becomes murkier in the depths of our consciousness. Examples abound where truths slip away from the grasp of consistency. Is it racist to favour Indigenous people when hiring workers? Is it militarist to favour Veterans when granting contracts at federal institutions such as my local Agriculture Research Centre? Instinctively and emotionally, thanks to our socialization, most of us feel that nothing is wrong with either of these practices. We have to level the playing field, right, by correcting past injustices and rewarding untold sacrifices for the common good. Yet, the truth of our belief in a society of equals (and the philosophers who espouse assorted forms of liberal democracy from John Locke and John Stuart Mill all the way down to, say, Paul Kennedy or Michael Ignatieff) rests on having no presumptions of difference prior to assessment of talent, aptitude and, well, willingness to work for our reward and bust for our bacon (or meatless substitute). Even our truest truths founder a bit on emotional involvement in the controversies over the truth of our times which, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet so eloquently reminds us, tend to be a little out of joint when compared to our preconceptions.
The concept of post-truth suggests an original, more truthful, state of society. Such preconceptions are embedded, like a sliver of wood or a sliver of truth (no pun intended) so deeply in our society that they may be invisible. There’s Biblical precedent in there too, like it or not, and that’s because our cultural inheritance of words and discourse is inseparable from the creation of knowledge and the promulgation of truths (yes, plural). John 1:1 states that in the Word (Logos, which translates as Word or Discourse) resides God and the two march forth together as one. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.” Revelation 22:13 states that “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End”; thus, the first and final letters of the Greek alphabet come to symbolize the self-enclosure of Truth as a creation that unfolds rather than exists as an immobile unity.
So, words aren’t separate from the creation of truth; the two are linked. Consider these words by Louis Hjelmslev in regard to language and in reaction to the notable co-founder of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. After comparing monetary units, currency akin to social capital invested by those whose hierarchies decide what’s true, what counts, and, above all, what’s popular and what sells, Hjelmslev makes this deceptively simple observation to show how discourse is not a currency with a common, objective, baseline in the way that the popular imagination hopes and dreams it to be: “In linguistics, on the other hand, there is nothing that corresponds to a standard. That is why the game of chess and not economic fact remains for Saussure the most faithful image of a grammar. The scheme of language is in the last analysis a game and nothing more.” (Hjelmslev in Derridda, 62). Discourse and truth are thus a process rather than a fact; what’s true today isn’t true for all time, at least where human interactions are concerned. One day my niece will make her own ice cream decisions, for instance.
The question thus becomes whose words do we believe and whose truths do we value most? At AU it’s key that we adopt a study regime to match our wants and needs and truths we can live by. There’s no sense forcing a round peg into a square hole; after all, we’re adults now and our education has to match our learned experience of what works best for us, in truth. In the end, the proof is in the pudding. Like dough proofing on a counter our academic success rises when we match out inner truth with our outer circumstances. And, truth be told, bread dough rose during its period of proofing prior to folks knowing the truth about yeast as after. Truth is external to context; what matters most, in truth, is what works for us.
Hjelmslev, L. (2016). In Derrida, J (1967, Trans. 2016 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) ). ‘Of Grammatology’. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.