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Truth. Beauty. Computer Problems.

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I’m back on the computer that was giving me problems the other day, so I have my fingers crossed.  I’ll do the best I can, and then after the sixth reboot I’ll give up and post what I’ve managed to get.

In the meantime:  I’m with  Cheryl, in that I think that there are things that are True–not just “true for” somebody, but true.

On one level, none of us ever denies this.   If you fall out of a fortieth story window and hit the ground, you’ll almost surely die.  Barack Obama is the fort-fourth President of the United States.  The earth has one moon and we’ve sent men to play golf there.

All these things are True, and even though we respect the rights of other people to be idiotic and deny them, those denials do not make those things any  less true.

Simply because something is “controversial” doesn’t make it untrue.  Evolution is controversial, and I’ll guarantte that it’s true.  There was a time when the majority of the people on the planet thought it was flat, but this did not make the roundness of the earth a matter of opinion.  It just meant that a lot of people were wrong.

Where most people resist the idea of Truth is in relation to human nature, human affairs, and human life, and  I think they do this for two reasons, both wrongheaded.

The first is a belief that by insisting that “everything is an opinion,” it will protect them from a world where some people will try to force their ideas about truth down the throats of other people who do not agree.

This is, in itself, a massive refusal to accept what is True–note the capital–about human nature.  I don’t know who said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, but that is what this is.

When you believe in freedom of speech and the press, rights for women and gay people, and the separation of church and state and you declare that morality is subjective and everybody has his own truth, you don’t disarm your opponents, you give them ammunition.

Haven’t you just said that all your principles are mere subjective opinion?  Your opponents are onvinced that their prinicples are facts, and your temporizing convinces them that they’re right.  Obviously,even you know that they’re right, since you know that your pretend-principles are just opinions.

The other thing I think is going on here is the internal conviction that if there are some things that are True about human nature and morality, then those things must be the most conservative and reactionary principles around.  If we ever accept the fact (and it is a fact) that there is a sngle  Truth that can be discovered by all of us about human life and human nature, then it will surely mean that women will be sent back to the kitchen, gays will be sent back to the closet, and big piles of books by Joyce and Nabakov will be burned on the library lawn. 

I have no idea why anybody thinks this would be so.  It is certainly not born out by our common experience, in which the most prosperous, creative, and scientifically successful countries that tend to recognize the rights of individual citizens to pursue happiness in their own way.  It’s not Iran that’s winning the majority of Nobel prizes in medicine, chemistry and physics. 

As for Keats and whether or not truth is beauty, the important thing is not to take that line out of the context of the poem, or of Keats’s life.  

Keats was young, talented, handsome, without particuarly strong religious convictions–and dying young in a horrid and ugly way. 

Faced with two facts about the world nd the human condition–the great beauty of life and youth and the great ugliness of death and end–he denied neither, but he chose youth and beauty as what it all really meant.

Other people, of course–try Louis Frederick Celine–have chosen the ugliness, death and end, seeing the meaning of life in the pain and suffering and seeing beauty as only an illusion.

If I had to pick one side over the other, I’d go with Keats.

But I really think they’re both just half right.

Written by janeh

November 21st, 2009 at 8:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Truth. Beauty. Computer Problems.'

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  1. I keep finding some variant of “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” attributed to Edmund Burke, but never with a citation. What I can find is from Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” It would pass, I think, as a paraphrase, and no one else claims the quote.

    As for Truth, I am (mostly) with you on this. There are facts, and stubborn things they are. But I grow a little stubborn myself when I believe matters of taste have been passed off as Truth. It’s not an uncommon thing in the arts, but being widely done does not make a thing right, any more than being widely believed makes it true.

    robert_piepenbrink

    21 Nov 09 at 9:42 am

  2. “If you fall out of a fortieth story window and hit the ground, you’ll almost surely die. Barack Obama is the fort-fourth President of the United States. The earth has one moon and we’ve sent men to play golf there.All these things are True, and even though we respect the rights of other people to be idiotic and deny them, those denials do not make those things any less true.”

    I agree with this.

    It was not my intention to indicate that actions like disputing those above and denying the Holocaust or that men actually walked on the moon weren’t true.

    What I wrote was:”Does looking life in the face mean the same thing for everyone? Or is it still a question of how you perceive it?” I don’t think that accepting witnessed events as truth is quite the same thing as looking life in the face. What I do think it consists of is looking at a morally or ethically questionable situation such as: a woman being savagely beaten by her lover or husband gets hold of a knife and kills him. Is this murder or justifiable homicide or self defense? Would one person view it as murder because the woman could have defended herself without killing the man? Would another see it as self defense. What is the truth in this situation?

    “When you believe in freedom of speech and the press, rights for women and gay people, and the separation of church and state and you declare that morality is subjective and everybody has his own truth, you don’t disarm your opponents, you give them ammunition.”

    I would never say that morality is a factor here or that everybody has his own truth subjective or not, The above rights and freedoms are a part of the constitution and gay rights are law in some states.

    If I actually knew who makes the decision (who says, “I am the decider,and I decide what is best,” to quote our former president) that truth of human experience is best recognized by “A truly observant and wise person or one with a lot of relevant experience sees more of the truth, and sees it more clearly than someone, however well-meaning, with less insight or less knowledge and experience,” then I might accept that what is true of the human experience is the same for everyone.

    Not convinced.

    jem

    21 Nov 09 at 10:53 am

  3. If your moral code is decided by law, as in your freedom of speech and gay rights example, the moral situation of the battered woman is also decided by law. In my jurisdiction, no one can claim self-defence after killing another human being unless there was no way to escape with his or her own life without killing. Your jurisdiction may differ, but that issue is generally covered by law.

    And you know who makes the moral judgements in the cases above – your elected representatives, the ones who make the laws. Personally, I prefer a legal system in which the laws are instituted because they are needed for a well-ordered society rather than to make a moral point, but it’s almost impossible to entirely separate morality and public order. Sure, some things are and arguably should be illegal without being immoral, and some things are immoral but shouldn’t be illegal, but there’s a lot of overlap.

    I think there’s a far more profound basis for morality than whatever a legislature takes it into its mind to pass, and as for who gets to make the decision – why, that’s a game we all play. A very serious game, of course, and we don’t get to cry foul when our we get slammed because we break the law. And we always live with the possibility that we’ve gotten it wrong.

    Cheryl

    21 Nov 09 at 7:04 pm

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