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Deception January 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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I recently re-discovered an old journal of mine that I thought I had misplaced. In fact, I think I misplace this journal every couple of years or so, because every time I find it I think to put it some place safe, and then forget where that place is. I wasn’t looking for it, specifically, this time. This time, I was just putting away some paperwork, and there it was.

journalAlso, recently, I’ve started writing in a new journal. It was an idea that I came up with in the context of recent therapy sessions, and it has been helpful to have a safe space to write about things that are too personal, even for me. As readers know, I have not been shy about writing about some personal issues here, and that will not stop, but there are some issues I will not write about publicly.

I’ve also started re-reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. In the early chapters, I ran into the idea that all warfare is based in deception. The next line said “if able, appear unable.” In other words, make yourself appear weaker than you are. Or, at very least, do not present yourself as you are, so that your enemy cannot properly size you up.

This, immediately, reminded me of a quote that I ran into many years ago, one which has stuck with me over the years. I remembered it as having been written by Baruch Spinoza, who is among my favorites to read. The truth is that the quote is from Soren Kierkegaard, who I was reading around the same time, many years ago, so the quote was copied in my journal around a bunch of Spinoza quotes. The quote is as follows:

One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.

The context of this quote, according to this source, is about why Kierkegaard sometimes wrote as if not a religious person (supposedly to lead people to Christ, as Kierkegaard was a Christian Existentialist). But I think it has some significance outside of this parochial context, and I think it can tell us something about human behavior which is worth some consideration.

I don’t want to dig deeply into that at the moment, but I think the most interesting thought embedded in there is the nature of illusion; is not illusion relative? Is not one who is in error prone to see the truth as an illusion? How human is it to be caught in a narrative which is quite delusional, but because one is within that web it appears sensible? Cults, religions, and even some cliques operate in just this way, and sometimes the only way through the miasma might be some creativity with perspective.

The mind is crafty and agile. The mind that wants to believe will, and it will move not only the goalposts, the ball, and the kicker but it will often shift the field upon which it plays in order to keep the illusion of coherence.

It’s harder to hit a moving target. It’s hard to hit what you can’t see. Stealth, in other words, is an advantage in war.

War?

Is that analogy apt? Are we at war? And who are “we”? Civilization? liberals and conservatives? Exes? Family?

For many years, I have advocated transparency. I’ve been open about my flaws, mistakes, and struggles as a person who very much wants personal growth and improvement. And this strategy has been a mixed bag. It has led to some intimacy with people I’m close to, but it has also been taken advantage of by people who like to control people and narratives. And by a person who is especially good at, or at least has a strong desire to utilize, such control and who is also especially good as deception, open war would be fruitless and possibly unwise.

Perhaps.

I don’t really have anything more to say on the subject right now, but I’ll end with a few thoughts about where I’m headed. I’ve been very quiet recently. Last year was a very traumatic and stressful one for me. But do not be deceived; I am not going away nor am I defeated. This year is a new one, and I am feeling better all the time. I’m gaining strength that I did not previously have. I do not fear anyone, or anything, because I have no reason to hide. My pain has only made me stronger.

Deception may be an art of war, but I have yet to decide whether I want to wage war or simply stride along my path impervious and uninterested in the distractions off to the side. So long as the distractions stay to the side, and do not land in my path forward, I will not focus on them. My path, however, is wide and it includes friends, organizations, and some parts of the polyamorous, atheist, and skeptical communities.

The debris which previous warfare has left behind me is not forgotten, however. This is not a washing of the hands, forgiveness, or anything of that nature. Far from it.  This is a desire to move forward unmolested, if that’s possible.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

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Honestly…what is with your truth? October 24, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I have been spending some time recently thinking about truth.

No, that’s not quite right.  I haven’t necessarily been thinking about truth, but I have been thinking about the subject of truth.

That’s not quite right either.  I guess I’ve been thinking about thinking about truth.  Meta-truth, if you will.  And as I did so, I started to get that semi-relativistic head-throbbing that comes when trying to work out the paradoxes of epistemology.  So I took a step back, took a deep breath, and eventually I realized something.  It’s nothing hugely profound, or even novel.  But I think it’s important, nonetheless.

Perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on ‘truth.’  Perhaps this is the wrong primary approach.  This word ‘truth’ is, after all, deceptive.  Because we are not often very certain of it’s parameters or its contents, we are often left with jumbles pieces and we know not how to assemble them.  We end up being circus clowns of truthiness, juggling and dancing to keep up while endeavoring to keep a straight, serious, face.  Truth is serious stuff, after all, and not for clowns.

This reminded me of something that good old Soren Kierkegaard said:

One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’  One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth.  Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in error.

Yeah! Take that all you people in error.  I’m gonna kick the truth into you…or something….  You’re gonna wish you ain’t done been wrong in all that error-having you have had….  Sorry, lost it there for a second.  Kierkegaard has that kind of affect on me, it seems.

(BTW, this is not license for people to keep lying for Jesus)

I will not comment on the quote itself, but will prefer to allow it to speak for itself.  I have always liked it though, and am glad to pass it on.

What is the truth? Is there (or is there not) a god? I don’t know.  How to evaluate something that is often so nebulous and slippery as the concept ‘god’ which makes belief in often impossible for the mere fact that we don’t know what the term is supposed to indicate. How can I say it does not exist when I don’t know what it is?  How can I believe in it for the same reason?

(And how do so many people keep claiming that atheism is the claim that there is no god in light of this impossibility?)

But at least we can ask people to be truthful, to tell the truth as best they can, in order to have an honest discussion. But something is not quite right about that phrase.  For some time I could not quite put my finger on what it was, but then it occurred to me; I’m not so much advocating truth as I am advocating honesty.

The simple, brute, fact is that we can’t always know that we have the “truth” in order to give it to others.  If someone asks me to give them the truth, I often have little choice but to cock my head and follow-up with some question.  I need clarification.  And even if I receive the ideal level of clarification, I won’t necessarily be able to give the TruthTM.

But I can be honest.  I can even give good reasons that support the opinion I am being honest about.  But do I dare call it truth?

It seems that such a step is often considered arrogant.  How do I know it’s true? What if I’m wrong?

What I think is going on here is that the term ‘honesty’ has a flavor to it which is often soft and bland.  It has no zing to merely be honest.  People want the truth, right?  Being honest is merely stating an opinion.  But giving the truth…well that’s just sexy!

There is a responsibility behind claiming to give the truth which may not seem as naturally wedded to being honest; and perhaps for good reason.  But I feel that in presenting our beliefs, we have a responsibility to make sure that those belief have gone through some thought, fact-checking, and other considerations.  They, perhaps, have not gone through peer-review, but that is what saying them is for.

And to think those ideas to be true? Well, at some point the ideas we hold, especially if they survive our vetting and the conversational battle-field, we will believe with the force of ‘truth’ (whatever that is) whether it is objectively true (whatever THAT is…) or not.

But recently I’m preferring the concept of honesty, responsible honesty, to truth.

And honesty, in light of politics (both governmental and interpersonal), is an idea perhaps more fundamental and important.  The simple fact is that I don’t often believe that many people are truly…honestly…being honest with themselves or with other people.

I think that would be a good place to start for many people I’ve known in my life.

But they might not even know I’m talking about them.  While they may see the truth in what I say, they may not see the dishonesty in which they live.