Truth in a Time Between Worlds

Part 1 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity. This article series is for economic reformers and political 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 — inasmuch, 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 democratic nationalism.
 
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Orgasmic. Sensual. Ecstatic. This is the experience of truth. For our ancestors, the phenomena which produced such sensual experience was appreciated. Ultimately, our progenitors felt indebted, and in reflection, they revered the sensual experience — they drew temporal and spatial definition, capturing it in name: the beautiful, the good, and the just. The human soul could hardly be felt as responsible for such creation, and in these times the meditations of kings led to expressions of 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 Marcus Aurelius’ diarylike meditations by Martin Hammond.
 
But let us stop for just a moment. With all fairness to yourself and the Roman emperor, try asking yourself this — how uncanny did these reflections strike you? In all honesty, wasn’t a certain degree of dissociation required for appreciating their profundity? I mean, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to express the sentiments of the 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 accused of speaking absurdities? “…beautiful things are beautiful in themselves…” — seriously?
 
Today, the poets and kings, along with the ancient philosophers, are 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. Such sensual experience, it is said, is the least likely thing that could be called ‘objective’. Today, we are of such a maturity that we admit suspicion toward flattering these experiences. Each one of us are kings — or perhaps if you prefer, none of us. And actually, neither the elevation nor degradation of our position matters; the consequence here is the same. The experience which calls us to proclaim the beautiful, the good, and the just have fallen into doubt. Today, we feel that the Roman emperor’s sensual experience wants to burst forth from inside us  —we want to say that that which is beautiful to me is also beautiful in itself, but our conscience prevents us from expressing it, outside of art museum ‘safe spaces’, at least. No doubt, we are all too wise. After all, who today could comfort themselves with the thought of possessing 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 back within history, we can theme a narrative of our socio-material inheritance — a project which we have called modernization. Within this story, we find a demand for 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. Inasmuch, the judgement to discern truth was industrialized. We had undertaken a compendium of knowledge for the sake of human liberation — and only those procedures which facilitated this industrial-liberation project enjoyed our praise as the good.
 
And yet, for those of you who hold this work before you, one thing must be certain — that you have felt an unsatisfactory commitment toward truth. Only on account of this dissatisfaction can a work which is titled How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity spark any interest. Therefore, this work assumes an atomic dissonance. A feeling that, in some way, we have not done a satisfactory job of nurturing the disclosure of truth within this economy. Of course, our dissonance is founded upon real examples. Yet, we cannot surmise here those cases which you, the reader, bring to this work. Despite this, we can say that during the period of later modernization we seem to have harbored an almost universal suspicion toward government officials and those lobbying on behalf of capital interests. This distrust is apparent in the appeal which populist rhetoric entertained on both sides of the political spectrum; both Left and Right. However, we should not be too quick to point fingers. After all, an example can also be made of our equally pervasive encouragement of self-concealment. Insofar as truth not only contains industrial information (factual data) but also reports on our subjective states (for example, pain, hoping, or grieving) and those of aesthetic description (beautiful, good, just, exotic, uncanny) we can say that we have encouraged something of a reservation towards disclosure in general. Undoubtedly, we have all heard the disclaimer, we don’t talk politics or religion at the dinner table. Of course, when looking at family economy during this period of later modernization, we can understand this disclaimer as necessary. However, we assume this necessity as mere evidence of an unsatisfactory interpersonal commerce. After all, wouldn’t any professional psychologist warn against such reservation? Such lonesome suffering with your truth? It shouldn’t be any surprise that many had found utility in the solace of the internet echo-chamber. Alternative infrastructure manifested to cope with symptoms resulting from the existing democratic platforms.
 
No doubt, pronounced for us today is the understanding that the democratic ideal is not merely satisfied by the vote, but by the larger civic commerce which precludes the vote — whether that be engagement at the family dinner table or the publicness of the internet news journal. Of course, it goes without saying that the disclosure of the good, the just, and the true are of primary importance to satisfying this ideal. Therefore, we conclude, it is that we harbor the democratic ideal, today, that we suffer from dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth.
 
Now, while the family dinner table may be a very relatable example, it is perhaps our virtue of privacy which best exemplifies the encouragement of self-concealment. After all, while privacy is self-evidently ‘healthy’, we must also admit that it is a symptom — one which is highly encouraged within a commodification of information. Yet, while this may be true, all the same, raising such a self-evident virtue into question provokes suspicion of our agenda — or at the very least, what conclusions a project concerning itself with nurturing truth and authenticity might reach. We want to ask, what exactly are we committing ourselves to in interrogating our dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth? This is a question not to be shunned aside. It is required of us already now, here at the outset of this article series.
 
Evidently, the first hesitation which presents itself might be called death from exposure. After all, if we were to act upon our dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth, and thereby nurture conditions for more disclosure, we might end up on the edge of a slippery slope. What if we find ourselves butt-naked, exposed and without even leaves to cover ourselves back up? Of course, here we should also remind ourselves that conditions do exist in which something like a ‘healthy lie’ has value. No doubt, we must remember that there are times in which concealment is appropriate. Therefore, if we chose to investigate our dissatisfaction, and thereby advance toward prescriptions for nurturing the disclosure of truth, we should not fear that we are likewise interested in depriving the individual of their right to discretion in their day-to-day encounters. On the contrary, if we choose to investigate our dissatisfaction further, then it is only for the sake of a liberation for disclosure.
 
Secondly, we can be sure that any prescriptions for nurturing the disclosure of truth could not take the form of self-help. Obviously, nurturing a readiness for disclosure in any particular you or me would surely be disadvantageous for anyone whose environment did not mutually support such disclosure. And neither can anything interesting come in faulting any individual for the discouragement of disclosure, anyway. Consider that there is nothing particularly novel in critiquing capitalism on the basis of greed or selfishness. Likewise, nothing interesting can come from looking at dissimulation, deception, and concealment as deviations from normal behavior from within our inherited infrastructure. Inasmuch, we understand that any deception, dissimulation, or concealment of the truth has only surfaced as a by-product of our economy. We should beware of becoming preoccupied with policing deviant cases and domesticating the human animal.
 
Of course, both shame and virtue signaling have been employed in appeals to the modern ideal of society. The persistence of woke narrative throughout the early third millennium indicates the popularity of the armchair sociologist. And today, offerings are still made to appease this god, Society ( — such that it demands a capital ‘S’!) Yet, if we wish to take up a project interested in nurturing the disclosure of truth, we must admit that nothing interesting can come from such a domestication of the human animal. Nurturing the disclosure of truth means precisely the opposite — a liberation for disclosure. Furthermore, “domestication” can only derail us from the more fruitful tasks which come from understanding that our infrastructure is currently providing for operations well in accordance with its principles. In other words, we understand that truth is doing what it should be doing. Therefore, we understand the form which any conclusion must take. We are not interested in self-help, nor are we interested in social conditioning, but rather in economic reform.
 
Should we be convinced, then, that these preliminary precautions have prepared us for initiating an investigation into our dissatisfaction of the disclosure of truth? Hardly. We can also admit to a third hesitation. After all, there is a serious question concerning practicality. Obviously, we have a limited number of resources at hand at any given moment, and pursuing economic reform of this type may mean sacrificing other projects. Therefore, a requirement for such a project is the estimation of its value. Of course, understanding its value means understanding firstly the challenge, but also the outcome. Therefore, as we think about such an estimation, we must ask ourselves in all honesty, why do we harbor such dissatisfaction towards the disclosure of truth? Is our dissatisfaction a mere symptom? The answer to that is most likely going to be ‘yes’. If so, are we aiming at an outcome other than simply more truth?
 
We have already identified the ideal of democracy as the source of our dissatisfaction, and we have already admitted that democracy, for us today, cannot merely maintain through the institutions of value measurement. And in a perfect democracy, no vote would be necessary anyway — we would simply follow our government’s administrators, who would, after all, be each and every one of us. Democracy, as a rule of the people, is the form of governance which is produced from the national ideal. However, insofar as we are far from this democracy, we do assume each mark on the ballot as a token of truth; yet, we also acknowledge that democracy is maintained by the larger civic commerce which precludes such value measurement. The word democracy refers us to that which produces a sense of the truth, such that only subsequently, value can be measured and maintained by way of democratic institutions. However, in animating “that which produces a sense of truth”, we are not thereby also interested in the mob rule of social domestication; we have already made this much clear. Therefore, when investigating our dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth, as an obstacle to the ideal of democracy, then the conditions for authenticity are that which draw forward as our fundamental aim. Those conditions announce themselves negatively, in moments when authenticity has been barred. We find testament to such barring by looking into the history of later modernization.
 
Looking through the story of industrial-liberation, we find reference to what has been called alienation. This is apparent going at least as far back as the Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka. But looking even further back, the Scottish economist Adam Smith had already recognized an alienation of the worker from his labor in the division of labor. Of course, today we are tempted to judge this conclusion as myopic. Today, looking backward to this period of later modernization, we can surmise that our alienation must not have been merely an illness for those employed on the assembly line. Instead, this symptom must have been conditioned by something much more pervasive — a condition which points towards our dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth.
 
From a higher vantage, we can understand industrialization as referring to specialization and compartmentalization of operations, generally. If we consider the ‘operation’ of an individual’s perpetual interpretation of the sensual experience, then the very digestion of the world had undergone an alienating industrialization. It should be no surprise then 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 period — a time we imagine as characterized by a harmonious feedback loop between labor and the very phenomena of our experience. Undoubtedly, this romanticized 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 individuals comprising majority demographics. This seems most evident in the democratic conversation. Once again, we can call to the testimony. If we read the work of American social critic Walter Lippmann as testimony from this period (that which has been said to have introduced the world to modern journalism), we don’t find vitriol for the democratic ideal, but rather a forfeit attitude — a feeling that anyone’s contribution had simply become ineffective. Today, we might say that human affectivity had been handed over to algorithm some time ago. We should not be surprised by any apathy which followed — it is certainly pronounced in that cool-aloof or sarcastic-cynicism of twentieth century popular culture.
 
Of course, alienation and apathy do not exhaust the consequences of an industrialized economy — yet they do get us closer to understanding the obstruction of authenticity, as it manifests today. From the vantage which we are afforded, it is undeniable that industrialization had discouraged sincere and meaningful encounters between ‘our people’. Within the writings of both Lippmann and the contemporaneous American philosopher John Dewey, we find contentions with an impersonal 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 impersonal identity — a coddled people. It seems that the liberated had become, quite perversely, sheltered from one another. Without forums 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 to be 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 economy — an indication of an unhealthy democracy of strangers.
 
It is only from these long-told stories that we understand the direness of our dissatisfaction with the disclosure of truth. No doubt, the want for authenticity proves itself in the failure of the democratic institution of independent news media — when “post-truth!” announces itself. Perhaps the want for authenticity proves itself less explicitly in the “utilitarian state” (Étienne Balibar) subjected to market demands — but even so, it proves itself once again, more pronounced, in the mob contagion of social justice which produces content for abuse by marketeers. This is no light matter. After all, we can ask ourselves, how can any one of us retain genuine authenticity when the socio-material condition calls for unprecedented unity? Estrangement is pronounced in the revenge of the post-colonial narratives and political activity; it is equally pronounced in the reactionary masculinist movements (Jack Donovan, et al) and the calls for the foundation of ethno-states. We are pitted against each other — neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, and relative against relative. Can there be any doubt that such a state of affairs obscures the possibility for genuine authenticity?
 
But what signals that today we have a position adequate for going beyond these long-told symptoms? Why this article series? Why exactly today? No doubt, alienation, estrangement, and apathy are nothing new to industrial economy. So, what is it that we have now which previous economists lacked? Authenticity was, after all, championed during the twentieth century in the works of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and psychologist Karl Jaspers. The search for authenticity has been attributed to what has been called the existentialist period of Western philosophy. And yet, that body of work fell to critique by way of Theodor Adorno, who argued that the material economy of the human animal precludes “the divine right of the soul”. That is, the material condition of the human body is that which conditions the movements of the human soul. Material first. Soul second. Therefore, Adorno suggests, we must prioritize the material condition.
 
Inasmuch, it seems that our task is this, are we able to do today what was not possible in the post-war liberal witch-hunt? — during the time of the Frankfurt School’s critical theory. Can we bring authenticity to meet economic reform? Of course in order to do this, it appears that we must make a decision about what is more foundational — the soul of man, or the body. Adorno is clear: the “states of affairs” is that which “precludes the divine rights of the soul”. But, in making such a decision about Adorno’s “man”, we must remember that when Marx stood Hegel on his head in order to announce dialectical materialism, we were delivered over to a certain truth — but this was not that the movement of the human soul is conditioned by a material substrate. Instead, the human soul is moved by an appeal to our material conditioning; soul first material second. Let us remember even Marx’s own primordial movement of the soul: the pains of alienation and the divorce of man from nature.
 
Inasmuch, we return to Marx’s soul, not his words. But in doing so, we realize that a starting point in material economies is exactly that which has prevented an overcoming of alienation, estrangement, and apathy. Certainly, economics as a dialectic — that is, between classes, races, genders, or whatever other identities have followed from material dialectics — is narrow. What an investigation into our dissatisfaction requires is a new position from which to view economics. Let us make this much clear — this article series, if it is to be satisfactory, cannot deliver a mere material economic proposal, but rather something which renders an appeal to material economics possible. We must operate within the sphere of a more ‘primordial economics’ — one which operates parallel to Aristotle’s metaphysics, τα περι της πρωτης φιλοσοφιας (that is, ‘the [writings] concerning first philosophy’). The French philosopher Rene Descartes offers a more English-friendly term for this realm of thought; prima philosophia. And so, following the Latinized expression, we might say that we are here doing prima economics; prime economics. However, for ease of translation into English, let us simply name the realm in which this article series operates; first economics.
 
On account of our position, ready to make real prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity as well as for going beyond the illnesses of industrial economy, we also acknowledge 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 here 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 activities. Thus, we are already building something of a coalition — as we press ahead wide-eyed into the next world-defining project. If we look at both 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.
 
Justin Carmien, March 23rd, 2020
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