The first Bad Words article was written in mild jest and annoyance, something of pure randomness, and that will probably pop up from time to time when I overhear a word that drives me crazy. For the rest of the series, I am hoping for it to have an overarching theme of exploring ideas in words that we think are universal, and focus on the importance and centrality of narrative and bias when people use words while pretending to know their meaning – i.e. words that have driven me crazy for an extended period of time. Most of this material should make it to a book I am writing, whenever that is completed.
There is no better place to start than the big T word. Truth is a perspective. I have held this thought for a long time since my first introductions to Foucault and perhaps even earlier, but it was only until I read Margaret Wertheim’s Pythagoras’ Trousers that I was able to put that view into clear words. In her thesis, Wertheim talks about an ancient secret society ran by Pythagoras outside Ancient Greece, where Pythagoreans worshipped Math instead of the Pantheon of gods as their centre of the universe. This society eventually died out because it had neither the economic nor military prowess to sustain and spread their views on ‘Truth’. As Christianity began to dominate, within the old world the gods became one God; and in glory but more importantly in affirmation that their ‘Truth’ is better than the truths of others, seas were crossed, lands were ‘discovered’, blood was shed and half-demon-children were enslaved, re-educated and cultivated. Then with the arrival of the Enlightenment, Science and Math became humanity’s new (old if you are a surviving Pythagorean of course) core, new centre, new truth, and that leads to where we are today.
We all know that story. And in some form of another, we understand that truth has always been a changing, evolving, shifting, revolting, random and chaotic idea in our history. Yet if you speak to a person raised in secular schools and has gone through scientific education, they postulate science and math not as the truth that we adopt currently, but a truth that is the one Truth in all space-time, and is something we have recently (re-)discovered in the past centuries. What troubles me is that humanity, with gods or God or Math, had been proven wrong over and over again in our past; yet we somehow continue to assume that humanity’s knowledge is at its peak, our highest point of civilisation at every single moment in history. Modern gender theory differs from the gender theory adopted in the last century, yet both in their own space-time claims to be derived from proper scientific methods and refuses to call themselves theories that are work-in-progress. I have always told people I believe there exists in the future where humanity somehow ‘realises’ and ‘proves scientifically’ that pedophilia and beastiality are not ‘wrong and immoral’ and ‘mental disorders’, reflecting society’s with homosexuality and transgenderality a few decades back to now, and we will still be thinking like this – that we are, in that point of time in the future, believe we are most connected to the one Truth, on a path written by Mathematics, and cannot be wrong. Consider history, and think of the future, and perhaps you will find there are countless examples where this thought experiment is reasonable.
A more superficial, nonsensical and fluff 17-years-old me considered the one Truth to be paradoxical. I still do not fully understand what I meant by that, but for me 8 years into the future I prefer the word ‘narrative’. Most of this will be discussed in future articles so I will not delve too much into them, but when we speak of our culture, our morals, our values – how much of that is a result of cultivation by our parents and the community, the world we live in, the media, the education system, and hence indoctrinated into our neurons and bloodstreams? Using the word ‘paradoxical’ to describe truth perhaps means that if one side of an issue can be truth, then the polar-opposite our presumed truth must also be equally true. A question we asked a lot as young kids in ‘history’ classes is ‘what if,’ – which itself is a taboo sentence starter in those false history classes that had their bias in nation building – ‘what if the Axis powers won the war?’ I have argued time and again that the only thing Hitler did wrong was that he lost the war. If the Axis won the war and we are living in the Wolfenstein world after 60 years of German or Japanese-based education, and the inculcation of an alternate (compared to ours) history as truth, and with differing ideals and morals as guidelines, I will still be asking the same questions here. And if you stand in our world and look into that world, you will point at me and say, this guy is right. In which case, you may still be wrong, because if you base the truthfulness of one narrative on the single narrative you follow and worship, you can also be equally mistaken about what the Truth is… assuming the one Truth even exists.
And therefore, at this point of time at least, the only truth that can exist is the truth that is called narrative. The Greco-Roman Pantheon, the Lord and Saviour Jesus, Gravity and Darwinism and Newton’s laws – these are all narratives. Maybe one of them is right, and I am a crazy person. But to focus on any single narrative and lose sight of truth, that is what I consider to be missing the point entirely.