Truth and How to Avoid it
Not necessarily. With psychoanalysis, Freud articulated an entire system of thought that essentially comes down to a means for investigating the many ways in which human beings lie to themselves. Thus, in a sense, these lies "work" -- i.e., they have a function -- or they wouldn't have been erected in the first place.
For example, one routinely sees adults who were abused or neglected as children by their parents. This is the truth. But this truth doesn't "work" for an infant, because it would make living intolerably painful -- impossible, really. Therefore, in order to go on living, the child erects the lie, "my parents love me. There is something wrong with me." Interestingly, on some level, one must know the truth in order to erect the lie. Psychoanalytic therapy, in its broadest sense, is simply a search for truth, or what Bion called O.
What is really going on between two people, beneath all the words we use to conceal things? One of Bion's maxims was for the analyst to "suspend memory, desire, and understanding" before each therapy session, in order to try to let the truth emerge of its own accord.
I remember once reading that Bion didn't even want to know if a patient was married or not, for this is something he would determine for himself. For many couples are "married," but not really. This word, "marriage" -- imagine the extraordinary range of situations it covers! My parents were married. I am married. But certain outward formalities aside, there is little commonality between the situations. In other words, to a certain extent, the word conceals more than it reveals. For example, in the case of my parents, to say that they had a longstanding and committed detente would probably be closer to the truth. Or at least not as misleading. In fact, another purpose of psychoanalytic therapy would be to help such people actually become capable of marriage, as opposed to remaining faithful -- 'til death do they part -- to their mind parasites.
Is truth something we are moving toward, or something we possess? Science operates by way of hypothesis and experimentation. It is never complete, so in a sense, it can only regard total truth as a distant possibility, something we hail from afar (nevertheless, a fascinating presumption rich with unarticulated metaphysical implications that converge upon religion).
Religion is the opposite. It presents us with Truth that is said to be a priori, including symbolized metaphysical truths that simply cannot not be. These perennial truths may be inferred from (or more properly "seen" in) the structure of Being itself, at least by some.
And yet, each of these situations may be turned on its head, both in principle and in practice. For science actually begins with certain immutable principles -- its own version of "revelation" -- such as the assumptions that the world is intelligible, that it obeys underlying laws that apply to all of creation, and that all of reality may be reduced to material processes.
For its part, religion has its own version of truth-seeking (as opposed to truth-possessing). It does not proceed along the lines of hypothesis and experimentation, but of purification, illumination, assimilation or interiorization, and union. Whereas the truth-seeking of science is more of a mechanical enterprise (at least superficial "worker bee" type science), religion is more of an organismic, or living process of metabolism and growth.
In religion, truth is increasingly understood and metabolized, which has the practical effect of widening and deepening our being. Thus, to say that this or that person is "religious" is about as useful as saying that they are married. "Religious," like "married," embraces so many diverse states and stations that it is almost futile to use the word. Bin Laden is religious. George Bush is religious. To certain unsophisticates for whom the world of religious truth is a closed book, this amounts to the same thing. It is a lie, but not really -- more a simultaneous confession and confirmation of utter ignorance. For irreligious people to pronounce on religion is exactly analogous to pre-scientific people pronouncing on the structure of subatomic reality.
In an interesting article entitled Two Strategies for Avoiding Truth, Arnold King notes that people typically "highlight information and arguments that support their prior beliefs. When they encounter contrary evidence, they engage in 'motivated skepticism,' seeking to undermine the credibility or minimize the significance of the adverse information." Findings that confirm a hypothesis "are accepted more or less at face value," while those that don't are scrutinized and picked apart.
With regard to politics, King writes that "the great mass of people form their beliefs with little regard for facts or logic.... Most voters lack elementary knowledge of our political system, they hold views that are ideologically jumbled and logically inconsistent, and their opinions change over time in ways that suggest almost random behavior." This is most certainly true, but it simply mirrors the jumbled grab-bag of notions, hunches, ruling ideas, temperamental inclinations, rumors, prejudices, biases, and truth-avoiding mechanisms that constitute the riven mind of the typical person. Truth is not a high priority for most people, much less consistency.
To the contrary: for most people, it is fair to say that lying -- primarily to oneself -- is a matter of the utmost urgency. And one of the best ways to prevent truth from "coalescing" is to remain in a fractured, "two-dimensional" state. In other words, if you think of truth as something that emerges in a third dimension of the mind by coherently bringing together a mass of information, one way to prevent that from occurring is to simply stay down in the world of incoherent particulars, and then convince oneself that that is the real world. For such a person, you can point out their inconsistencies all day long, but it will have no effect.
This is something that all seasoned therapists realize. The truth is there staring you in the face, but it is of no use to the patient, because they don't yet have the mental space where it can be "entertained." It is analogous to watching a color film on a black and white TV. You can broadcast in color, but the set will simply transform it to black and white.
King notes something that leftist intellectuals do not wish to understand, which is that "markets process information more effectively than does the political process." He quotes the economist Tim Harford, who goes so far as to suggest that the market is the "world of truth." For example, King suspects that "it is easier for market forces to drive a bad firm out of business than it is for political forces to extinguish a policy that fails to meet the objectives that purportedly drive its enactment."
Why would that be? Because markets are simply what happens. They are a result of what people actually desire and what they are willing to do to fulfill that desire. There is not much room for a lie to enter the equation -- although that's not quite right, for it is fair to say that most human desires are inextricably linked to the avoidance of some vital truth; most of what people want is a pale substitute for what they actually want. But who am I to force people to want something other than what they want? That is the difference between a leftist and a classical liberal.
At the very least, the market represents the truth about what free individuals choose for themselves, which is certainly preferable to leftist economics, which is a lie about the unvarnished truth of what people actually want, for whatever reason, high or low. In other words, it is foolish to think that you can radically intervene in the market from the top down, in order to try to alter human nature, which is what it is -- at least when when it isn't being even less than that. But that is what politicians end up doing, both Democrats and Republicans, resulting in a "competition to promise the undeliverable," which in turn inevitably tends toward a "greater accretion of government power, giving the elites more to fight over."
Given the the profound need for humans to lie to themselves, there is simply no way to eradicate leftism at this time -- perhaps ever. For it is an inevitable reflection of the human state, at least at this point in our evolution. This is why the Republicans, when given power, behave almost as badly as Democrats. After all, both parties must market themselves to the identical human needs, which include the need for illusions. Have you ever thought about the fact that there is almost always a more or less 1:1 relationship between Democrats and Republicans? How can this be? Because both parties are constantly adjusting and adapting their message to the shifting emotional needs of the citizenry at any given time -- needs which are not rooted in reality, to say the least.
It is sometimes said that two persons "do not understand each other" or "are too different to be able to understand each other." Now such a thing does not exist when the two persons involved are normal, good, and think in accordance with the truth.
If two persons "do not understand each other," that means: that one of them is stupid; or that one of them has bad character, or in any case an inferior character; or that one of them is mentally abnormal. Or again, that both persons are in error, but in different ways; or that both of them are stupid or bad, or abnormal; or inferior in some respect....
Temperaments may be as different as can be, but intelligent, virtuous, and mentally sound men will always be able to understand each other; this possibility is in the very nature of man, who by definition is capable of thought since he has the gift of objectivity. --F. Schuon