Part 1 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for social reformers and activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call ‘liberal’, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions. Undoubtedly a bit of political agnosticism is required for digesting this series. Already now, the final recommendation can be teased. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity then we require an economy championed under the banner of prefigurativism.
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Orgasmic. Sensual. Ecstatic.
This is the experience of truth. And for our ancestors, the phenomena which produced this sensual experience was appreciated. Ultimately our progenitors felt indebted to their phenomena. In reflection they flattered them — they called them by the name, ‘the beautiful’, ‘the good’, and ‘the just’. The experiences which accompanied these phenomena was so sublime that they could hardly be felt as a creation of the human soul. And in these times the meditations of kings led to expressions of sublime humility. In reading these meditations today, we transport ourselves by way of a silent profundity — we listen to the words as a deaf man who experiences the power of the trumpet’s blast,
“Beautiful things are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous.”
“Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? No more than justice does — or truth, or kindness, or humility. Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt?”
“Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires it?”
These passages come to us by way of a translation of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ diarylike meditations by Martin Hammond.
But let us stop-up for just a moment. With all fairness to yourself and for Aurelius’ work, try asking yourself — how uncanny did these reflections strike you? In all honesty, wasn’t a certain degree of disassociation required for appreciating their profundity? I mean, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to express the sentiments of the Roman Emperor as your own, today? Imagine if a friend was standing right in front of you. Right now. How do you anticipate this friend’s reaction? Would you not expect laughter? Would you not be taken as speaking of absurdity? “…beautiful things are beautiful in themselves…” — seriously?
Today, the king along with the philosopher is understood as harboring a self-absorbed naivety toward the world. There is nothing novel in admitting that long ago we lost the privilege to express such praise for the world. Aesthetic judgement, it is said, is the least likely thing that could be called universal. Today, we are of such a maturity that we admit suspicion toward flattering such experiences. Each of us are kings — or if you prefer it, none of us. And actually, neither an elevation or a degradation of our position matters; the consequence is the same. The experience which calls us to proclaim ‘the beautiful’, ‘the good’, and ‘the just’ have fallen to doubt. Today, we feel that the Roman emperor’s primordial experience wants to burst forth from us — we want to say that which is beautiful to me is beautiful in itself, but our wits prevent us from expressing it — at least outside of art museum ‘safe spaces’. No doubt, we are all too wise. After all, who today could comfort themselves with the thought of having possession of something like ‘my truths’. The very expression feels like a contradiction. Either my experience is true for everyone, or it is nothing even to myself.
Looking within the story of modernization, we find that this project required the establishment of forums — institutions where the truth of matters could be decided. Beyond the courtroom this project demanded that the decision be given over to investigators — the physicians and journalists. In as much, the judgement over the truth was industrialized. We were pursuing a compendium of knowledge for the sake of human liberation — and only those objects which facilitated this industrialization project enjoyed our praise as ‘the good’. With these institutions in place free men and women could employ truth in service to liberty and justice.
Now, admittedly, the prescriptions which will be delivered in this series — those which, if followed, will encourage the disclosure of truth throughout your day-to-day encounters — those prescriptions, they are possible only on account of an exhausted spirit. We understand this spirit as evident. After all, the identification of this spirit is only possible on account of the emergence of a popular testimony. And within this testimony we read of a common experience — a feeling that both human affectivity and the relationships between one another had become obscured within industrialized economy. Of course, this testimony is nothing particularly novel. At least since the time of the Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka we have encountered testimony disclosing the alienation of industrialized work. And looking further back into our history Scottish economist Adam Smith had already recognized alienation as a product of the division of labor. Of course, today we are tempted to judge this conclusion as myopic. Today, in looking backward to this period of later modernization, we surmise that our alienation mustn’t have been merely an illness for those employed on the assembly line. Instead, this symptom must have been conditioned by something much more pervasive. Taking up a higher vantage, we understand industrialization as referring to specialization and compartmentalization of operations, generally. If we consider the ‘operation’ of an individual’s perpetual interpretation of phenomena then the very digestion of the world had undergone an alienating industrialization. In looking backward to this period, no doubt the world was disclosed through the scientific journal and the news report. It should be no surprise that we found this as cause for dissonance. Consider the thousands of years of conditioning which the human animal must have adjusted for during the polytheistic agricultural times — a time we imagine characterized by a harmonious feedback loop between labor and the very phenomena of our experience. No doubt, this romanticize picture of the ancients still resonates with us today. The very product of modernization — the super-sized modern empire — had marginalized not only the indigenous cultures, but also the majority individual. This was likely most explicit in the democratic conversation. If we read the work of American social critic Walter Lippmann as testimony from this period, that which has been said to introduce the world to ‘modern journalism’, we don’t find despise for the democratic ideal, but rather a forfeit attitude—a feeling that anyone’s contribution had simply become ineffective. Today we assume that human affectivity had been handed over to algorithm some time ago. We should not be surprised of the apathy which followed.
Of course, this alienation and apathy do not exhaust the consequences of an industrialized economy. From the vantage which we are afforded today, it is undeniable that industrialization had discouraged sincere and meaningful encounters between ‘our people’. Within the writing of both Lippmann and the contemporaneous American philosopher John Dewey we find contentions with a de-personalized ‘public’—an object which voiced a compendium of specialized industries. This public was a ‘you’ and a ‘me’, yet, at the same time it was a ‘no one’. And what should not be contested is the consequence of such an abstracted object — a coddled people. It seems that ‘the liberated’ had become, quite perversely, sheltered from one another. Of course, there is no sense in blaming any particular individual or government administration. After all, throughout industrialization we had simply failed to offer a forum for sincere and meaningful encounters. Truth had been stripped from the human mouth. The legislative state was a nation without a campfire, so-to-speak. And if we consider the effect of this void—if we are truly honest with ourselves — then we must admit that the state had encouraged a harmful appeal to the distances and differences between its people—a ‘pathos of distance’ (Friedrich Nietzsche). Undoubtedly, ‘the liberated’ had come to enjoy the fiction of the misguided stranger—that individual who is responsible for electing the corrupted politicians and the self-defeating legislation. However, today we are too mature for such a characterization. Instead, we must admit that any failure of democracy can only be an indication of an unhealthy human economy—an indication of an unhealthy ‘democracy of strangers’. This estrangement becomes strikingly evident in reflection on the very objects of our treatise here—both truth and authenticity. If we look back toward the virtue which we had made of privacy, for example, not only did we feel a general lack of accountability to truth within industrial economy, but quite perversely, we encouraged concealment. Privacy was so self-evidently ‘healthy’ that we had likely forgotten that it was a symptom — one which was encouraged as ‘good’ from within a commodification of information which exploited the personal.
Of course, we should also admit that even outside of the ‘business of information’ a healthy hesitation arises and a supposition presents itself. After all, the virtue of privacy must be due to the faults of human nature — right? Yet, the answer to this question is likely ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — depending on the approach into the question. And therefore, a better question might not be answerable in simple black-or-white. Instead, we should consider the possible answers to questions such as, “which conditions in our material infrastructure restrict authenticity?” Or, “which of the encounters in our day-to-day economy encourage an encounter with the truth?” Here we find answers that are worth entertaining. It is only from this long-told dissatisfaction toward the industrialization project that we find the confidence to raise doubts to the function which truth had come to serve within our inherited infrastructure.
On account of our position — one which is ready to make real prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity — and for going beyond the illnesses of industrial economy — this work acknowledges that today we are living in a “time between worlds” — a phrase which has become popular through American education philosopher Zak Stein. Of course, it is yet to be known whether the liminal ‘today’ and ‘now’ referenced throughout this work will span decades or centuries. However, and despite this uncertainty, there is one thought which should inspire confidence in our future. Consider that you are already here with this work. Together, we are actively seeking a vision which can align our activity. In as much, we are already building something of a coalition — as we press ahead with fresh wide-eyes into the next world-defining project of human history.
“If we look at truth and authenticity as something of a seed — then their future is alone in our hands. If we wish to nurture them, then we must provide the conditions for them to grow — such that one day we can enjoy their blossom.”
This multipart series titled, How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity, can be categorized into two halves. The first seeks to disclose the historical economy of truth. This is in order to discover the cause in a deprivation of the phenomenal experience of truth. In recounting this narrative backward through the western historical continuum we will lay bare an understanding of the Ancient Greek αληθεια (alētheia, ‘truth’) and the appropriation which overcame αληθεια through Latinization (into verum). In doing so, we anticipate the discovery of a moment of pronounced expediency in the project of modernization. This work will make clear the wholesale expediency of modernization by way of the esteem of Latin ratio (reason). This narrative will also provide us with the language for thematizing a specific human comportment which made use of that expedient.
In order that we may operate with this comportment as an object, this work will name this comportment in a word — ‘episteme’. The identification of episteme will itself allow for an understanding of the reification of the metaphysical object ‘power’. The identification of these twofold complimentary objects will allow this work to frame the utility which truth assumed in the project of later modernization, in service to an economy of imperium (Latin, ‘I command’). This utility will make bare the deprivation of truth in later modernization. This deprivation will then affirm the necessity of a work concerning itself with truth and authenticity.
While this work has been constructed under the presumption that enlightenment values will continue to guide every human project in our futural continuum, this work will also diagnose a perversion of those values — namely that approach to governance which has gone by the name ‘liberalism’. For those who are acquainted with the metamodern discussion, the historical narrative will conclude by deflating concern for what has been called ‘the problematizing of critique’ from within the metamodern paradigm. In deflating this concern, our prescriptions will have addressed the challenges of later modernization — namely, alienation, estrangement, and civic apathy. Of course, it should be innately intuitive that a nation which is attuned to a liberation of authenticity is one which is actively nurturing the conditions for healthy democratic participation. We understand that a liberation of authenticity can only be achieved by way of intimacy and listening, safety and security, sympathy and understanding. In as much, the prescriptions herein offer better solutions for liberty than what liberalism can offer to us today.
Of course, it should be said, already here at the outset of this work, the prescriptions herein do not constitute anything resembling ‘self-help’. After all, nurturing honesty in any particular ‘you’ or ‘me’ would be disadvantageous for anyone whose environment did not mutually support such disclosure. In as much, any prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity can only be healthy for ‘you’ if they are for ‘us’. Therefore, this work must deliver something of a social-organizational proposal. In the second half of this work, the reader should expect the delineation of a more robust understanding of truth. This delineation will be accomplished by way of a metaphysical architectonic. This architectonic will be used for identifying the economic conditions for the phenomenological encounter with truth—that which is itself, the condition for the disclosure of truth. These prescriptions are promoted for the emergence of an economy which provides for a more robust disclosure of the world, including (and yet going beyond) the quantitative thinking which the industrialization of later modernization demanded.
Given the magnitude of the topics of this work, you, as the reader, should anticipate prescriptions for a social-organizational structure which is perhaps quite incomparable to that which we have inherited. Be prepared that some dramatic programs for action toward realizing those structures will be championed in this work. Therefore, already now, perhaps it might be well worth the time to prepare by way of a few questions,
How relevant do you consider enlightenment values today?
How sacred do you hold the separation of church and state, for example?
How strong is your loyalty to the state-federal structure?
Of course, the hope is that these are both peculiar and provoking questions — questions which require that we revisit that word ‘church’, for example. What constitutes that object exactly? And what function does it serve, such that we would want to keep it separate from ‘state’? No doubt, the hope is that these questions ruffle some feathers. After all, it must be confessed, wholesale prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity requires a bit of political agnosticism. In as much, this work is something of an Excalibur. It can only be wielded by those who have felt an overwhelming interest in returning to the phenomenal encounter with the truth. Despite these dramatic claims, it should be remarked that this work does not harbor the spirit of revolutionary destruction. Of course, philosophers and social commentators are often criticized for wanting to start over—for wanting to scrap the perverted infrastructure which we have inherited and begin afresh. After all, without the baggage it is easy to visualize a utopia. However, this is likely a misconception. Certainly, this work would be fooling its reader if it entertained such social and material devastation. And anyway, there is no need for the identification of any crisis here, such that the divination of an apocalypse is necessary. No need for distasteful fear mongering either. The clarity and confidence of our position already makes a claim to what follows—that no creation of a savior will be necessary.
Note on design and appearance
Despite how it may seem, this article series is intended to be read by a general audience. Therefore, it should be understood that I have intended a certain obstruction into the design of this work — in the form of words from foreign languages. Be warned. Some words appearing throughout the historical economy of truth are not only foreign, but also from long deceased languages. This seeming unnecessary difficulty affords me, as the author of this work, one security. That my reader may be unburdened by any modern prejudices which could undermined the intended experience of this work.
Of course, a translation of the Anglo-Saxon ꞅōþ (sooth) or Ancient Greek αληθεια into the modern English ‘truth’ would expedite the digestion of the text. However, this expediency carries with it the potential to cloud the exercise of interpretation. And, in this case, the foreign word will do better. My reader should acknowledge, as I do, that the ancient texts which appear through the historical narrative are taken up for one purpose — clearing a space for philosophical reflection. Perhaps it is all-too easy to overlook the genuine philosophizing which occurs in translation of the exotic. Consider the exercise of importing even a ‘living’ object such as the Korean ‘han’ into the American world. In as much, it should be obvious that any ‘dead’ object from ancient texts is material for rich reflection. Of course, I would be deceiving you if I promised to transport your way of thinking over to the ancients altogether. However, I have already forfeit myself to the understanding that the human economy in which those objects originated is long deceased. Therefore, I understand that the thought surrounding those objects is likewise impossible to reach. And, in any case, there is no benchmark which could decide, once and for all, a successful attempt here. In as much as the value of this exercise falls outside the domain of falsifiability, I am not concerned if later evidence surfaces which disproves the content of the history.
On this account, I can prepare you for one task already now. Expect that throughout the historical narrative of the economy of truth, you will be required to relearn words may seem overly familiar. Therefore, it must be said, despite my seeming disregard for your time and energy, I hope that you can enjoy, as I do, an estrangement from the overly familiar. Of course, it is undoubtable, today we favor works of art which are easily digestible. There is an expectation that all products conform to the standard demanded of the American commodities economy. However, if anyone does not find themselves in a position which favors the digestion of this work, then I maintain that it is not the work which is to be critiqued. Instead, I proceed with this work on the presumption that it is our condition which should fall to interrogation. No doubt, an animation of ‘the global’ exacerbates our anxieties for both readymade answers and action — certainly within the field of political activism and social reform. However, this anxiety is exactly what will come into question throughout this article series. In as much, I can only hope that this work finds its way into the hands of those who can appreciate the reward which follows difficulty. This work will undoubtedly resonate with those who understand that discovery is not only reserved to frontier exploration — and that elucidation is often more fertile ground than that of conquering the unknown.
However, this intended difficulty does raise one considerable alarm. I expect the tempo of this work to depend entirely on the understanding which you, the reader, bring into this work. And so, unlike the nightclub DJ or stand-up comedian who can respond to his audience’s mood with appropriate changes in tempo, I have forfeit such artistic control. I can only hope that digestion comes at an enjoyable pace.
One last note. I have been careful not to say too much from out of those fields of research which I am not an expert. While I fashion myself as something of a metaphysician (having found myself invested in the discipline for over ten years now) the novelty of this work remains within what we know as aesthetics. In announcing this, I make no presumption to the originality of this work’s etymological datum or metaphysical foundations. To this, I am in debt to the rich enlightenment from thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bonnitta Roy, and Michael Michailidis. Let this enumeration satisfy the gratitude which I owe to those thinkers. Instead, this work should be read as a work of aesthetics — its primary object is the metamodern aesthetic — which manifests through all activities of life — and climaxes most jarringly within the political realm.
—Justin Carmien, March 23rd, 2020