Truth as Value- Soli Shin09-30-2011
Is it “truer,” is it more valuable because one struggles to conceal it? – Roland Barthes, Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure
In 1978, Roland Barthes gave a lecture about the synthesis of the reader and the protagonist, focusing on the ways in which subjective identification is crucial in the reading process. Barthes discusses his “mission” that would allow him to discover within Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, “the representation of an affective order.” Yet, this order was allusive. As if Proust himself had intended the concealment to elevate the satisfaction in which this Truth (here, I make a distinction between truth, the concept, and the Truth, our moral currency where the concept has been burdened with value) would bestow upon the finder. When we regard things as “true,” this is a judgment call based on the objective, factual validity of the event or topic. This validity is an ideal with which we may superimpose something to see to what degree it can match complete authenticity. For example, two friends at a café sitting across from each other can see if the other one accidently takes a sip of coffee from the other’s mug. The offended friend may say “you took a sip out of my cup” and this would be true statement since it was seen and if the cup was in fact his. But most of the time, truth as a political issue or even in more colloquial interpersonal scenarios, the Truth arises as a moral treasure that has been buried and upon the discovery one may say this is the Truth (wherein no other truthful concepts which contradict this first discovered Truth may exist) simply because it has gone through the process of being concealed. I argue that when the truthfulness is debated among individuals or nations, it ceases to become about objective content but the ways in which we obtain and perpetuate (or choose not to perpetuate) the Truth necessitates the addition of value to an otherwise, neutral concept.
Truth, depending on the way it was deprived from any party gains an elevation of importance that we might have never given to it if it were not hidden in the first place. In these cases, whatever Truth we encounter first becomes singular and whole, enough to trump and invalidate any other pieces of information that might mend the shock of being distanced from the found Truth. In 2010, Julian Assange released diplomatic cables on his whistle-blower site, WikiLeaks, some of which were deemed classified by the U.S. government. Once they were in cyberspace, The New York Times also released some of the more scandalous cables in an article series that also tracked their impact on our foreign relations. These cables included statements about one Libyan leader who was rarely seen without “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” It is not my primary concern to debate the validity of this statement since the cable was clearly written by someone who had enough proximity to the politician but it is my concern to develop what I see as the manipulation of truth within the significant amount of the public who were shocked. Julian Assange was not to blame for the media frenzy that arose from the cables’ release; it was the mindset, which we are all guilty of having at one point or another. When we receive information that someone had previously hidden from us, we believe that they had done this because if we had known, they would have been judged negatively in some way. In other words, we assume that it had to be hidden because it was deplorable or could have incited anger, hatred, resentment, etc. Our interpretation then of their motions to try and keep this information from us also being part of their moral composition. On top of doing something we would disapprove of, they have multiplied their guilt by lying about it. The turn where the concept of truth becomes the singular Truth is vested in this act of “covering up” which may or maybe not consist of telling lies but in it of itself, “untruthful.” Not telling the truth, which may have been a passive action, becomes equal to the active action of purposefully telling untrue statements.
To take another example, two lovers have been in a committed relationship. Lover A has given some reasons for Lover B to suspect him of infidelity. One day, A was meeting a female friend to try and plan a surprise party for B but B happened to have come to the same restaurant where they were meeting. Now, at this moment, B has had a few true events that have led up to her suspicion (A bailed on their date the other night, A has been acting strangely quiet, A has been seen talking on the phone in a low voice then hanging up abruptly when B enters the room, etc.). All of A’s secrecy has led B to assume the worst because in her mind, there would be no other reason to hide something if it weren’t something she would reprimand A for. Thus, the instant this female friend has materialized, her suspicions become the Truth. Eventually in these scenarios, A will be forgiven and they will both laugh but the bigger question remains for B: what if A really was cheating and threw her a party just as a cover-up?
If the Truth can be a moral currency for individuals, then trust is fundamental for fluidity to exist in those exchanges. Consider how uneasy you would feel to have an account in the bank that is constantly being robbed. Truth when it has been given value is something that then must be safeguarded. Once it has been compromised, the relationship of how one deals with the “liar” in question becomes extremely tenuous. With that in mind, we must change our own attitudes. Our paranoia and suspicions cannot use the concept of truth to merely cement our own patterns of thinking which will never really have the full picture with all the facts. The aftermath of suspicion is constant insecurity, which weakens the fact that the truth will always exist even if it’s contrary to the Truth.