Monday, 25 March 2013

First posted on Backbencher 24th Mar


Truth turns out to be slippery. We’re all pretty sure it’s there but we’ve learnt that it’s different for different people. Palestinian truth is different from Israeli truth, Democrat from Republican, Protestant from Catholic and so on. Most of us at some point turn to science for a resolution – surely the objective standards of science with its disinterested concern with testing, evidence and experiment provides us an arbiter of the final reality?

Not so it appears, and not due merely to the arguments from relativist social scientists but to science’s own discoveries of indeterminacy, quantum mechanics and complexity at all levels. Whether your dealing with sub-atomic particles, meteorological patterns or neural firing in the brain, the truth, if it exists at all, depends on how you look at it. The net result - the Enlightenment dream is left in tatters and if we ever manage to put our feet down it is infrequently and for short periods.

Shifting horizons, constant technological revolution and the end days of the post-war settlement leave us scratching our heads.  What now? What next? How will my kids buy a house when there are so few jobs and change is upon us so fast that once we are settled in one pattern the grounds of reality shift to a new configuration?

We look for hand holds and there are some on offer.  Darwin’s theory of evolution might be first in the line up. Robust, applicable in lots of domains and carrying the certainty we lust evolution offers the potential to be a ubiquitous and all powerful truth. But how does it help us live our lives? In what way does the awareness of the pressure of natural selection on mutant genes help us resolve the problem of getting on with each other or telling us how to live? Hardly at all and in the hands of ideologues, the ‘is’ of Darwinism can quickly become the heinous ‘ought’ driving racial hatred.

Another possibility is the constant, if ironical, truth that life is essentially mysterious and the only final facts are that things will change and we won’t understand them. There is some strength in this and the realization of the essential mystery seems to me to hold the good bits of religion and religious language which struggles with the knowledge that we just don’t know. To this extent religious language carries the integrity of honesty – it tackles the human condition honestly and with good will. Sadly though the recognition of mystery also provokes the bad side of religion with all its dogmas and abuses.  As a potential solution, knowledge of the essential mystery leaves the field open for any and all the crackpot solutions and dream weaving deliriums peddled by the weak, desperate and downright malicious would-be spiritual leaders who do their best to justify their positions and confound our situation yet further by talking complete bull.

There is one global constant though that does at least seem to structure our world and qualifies as some kind of constant truth. The market. The brutal, constantly adapting, profit driven, growth model built, market. But even this won’t really do. It might be the market that delimits and supports our material life, but it is the space beyond the market that generates meaning. Love, insight, friendship, art, the fleeting moments of being at peace exist beyond the market.

With bank balance reality on one hand and mystery on the other. Truth does not seem to yield. Maybe we should look somewhere else?


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