Sunday, September 16, 2018

Truth & Character In Politics

Image result for trump mussolini image

- I've got something to say about what you told me yesterday.
- What did I tell you?
- About how Saturday afternoon you were sitting outside the closed University cafe, you look up and see eight heavily armed University police with pistols and rifles drawn and pointed in your direction. Did you see anything, the nearest policeman asks? You haven't. An alarm went off, the policeman explains. Would you mind leaving the table? You wouldn't, and you walk away a distance where a graduate student is watching developments. The student asks, What's going on? You two get to talking, while the police, satisfied with their menacing of the empty cafe, make their retreat. You express your opinion that the near daily observable increased in police activity at the university and the city has come with the new presidency. The graduate student expresses surprise at both the observation and attributed cause; it turns out he is a student of philosophy and to have voted for this president, though, he confides, he can't without risk to his career or of insult admit to other students or faculty this fact.
- Ok, I remember. What interests you now?
- The connection between the increased authoritarianism of this presidency represented by among many other things increased police activity, and the strange failure of study of philosophy to develop sensitivity to human character. The student can't safely admit to his vote because the president's obvious racism goes against the political correctness that dominates politics at the university. But I think most of the president's support came not from fellow racists but from people who thought he would send more money their way, would improve the economy, as this student says was true in his case. Didn't he care though about the astonishing number and obviousness of his lies, you asked? No, all politicians lie, more or less is not an issue, he explained. What, you ask, about the president's contempt for the poor and weak and his violence against women? Who knows what the truth is about these things, he replies, everyone in politics is lying about everything.
- He said he didn't impossibly try to determine the truth about the president's racism or violence against women and chose to vote for him simply because of his background in direct money making rather than his opponent's more devious money making through the intermediary of politics.
- And strangely, that same day, also a UCLA politics faculty member began a conversation with you at the research library, and he also admitted to supporting the president with the identical explanations that all politicians lie, it's impossible to discern the truth about them, and his expectation from him of a better economy.
- Yes, these conversations took place.
- Well, you gave out as your opinion that this president could only be supported by people who were lacking in character. What, you asked, did they have to say to that? And they both answered that, again, it's impossible to know the truth about how much his opponent lies, bad character in politicians is a constant.
- And?
- And that is where you left it, or they left you and the conversations.
- And now you'd like to continue. Proceed.
- Proceed I will! Violence, a product of fear and anger, produces forgetting. Violence, regularly repeated, becomes ritual: establishes a relation of power between two classes, those powerful like you and those against whom you use power; forgotten is actual relations between individuals and your weakness at the beginning of ritual practice. When the argument is made that we can never establish the truth, that everything is relative and expresses one bias or another, we are assuming a world in which forgetting is integral.
- Why?
- Because ordinarily, and we see rigorously practiced in the sciences, we remember our past experiences, and reach conclusion about new experience according to how well they fit in with past experiences. The more experiences that can be held consistent with how we understand present experience, the more we can rely on that understanding. The practice of violence in personal life leads to institutionalized violence in public life: to someone who always is forgetting himself, who does not seek coherence in personal life - which is a way of saying, someone who does not wish to improve his character - there is also no more or less coherent view of public life, all in the world is equally doubtful. This, while private life, the province of power relations established by repeated ritualized violence against an arbitrarily chosen enemy, is filled with certainty the result of all else being forgotten in the process. Personal violence makes for forgetting, which produces a public world entirely doubtful and therefore unreliable and therefore threatening, which leads to public violence in rituals meant to re-establish secure, certainty producing power relations. Leads, in one word, to fascism.
- You think, then, a professor of politics, and even more a student of philosophy, should have been able to see through the claim that all politicians are equally liars and been able to distinguish the president's lying in the service or violence, from lying that is in the furtherance of simple personal ambition.
- If the study of philosophy in particular, and science in general, can't be done otherwise, entails attempting as much as possible to be consistent, to hold together the world. A student of science and especially philosophy should be able to read in incipient fascism a different and much worse kind of lying and bad character than is demonstrated by the liar merely for personal gain.
- Which personal gain lying can be done calmly, deliberately? Without entailing a belief in a world entirely relative and always doubtful truths, or willingness to have recourse to violence?
- Yes. What do you think?
- If I don't express an opinion will you accuse me of lacking character and believing in a world with no fixed truth?
- I will.
- Then I will exercise my memory and paraphrase Plato: 'Something like you say must be the truth.'

Further Reading:
Believe It Or Not
Compassion & The Story
You Have To Have A Story