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Truth neutrality, character masks, heartache

Malaise continues. (Malaises continue?) I thought I'd write something just to write something. A friend recently said that many businesses and employers are “truth neutral” meaning that they’ll say what’s true or what’s false depending on what they think benefits them. I think part of saying false things effectively is taking apparently pro-social steps to promote the likelihood of being believed. I also suspect that people who end up saying false things for their jobs are often uncomfortable as they’re not globally truth neutral - they’re rarely sociopaths, I think - so much as they’re committed to truth like other people are, in a basic sense of honest human interaction, but they have to violate or suspend that commitment regularly in one area of their life. I bet that’s unpleasant and ultimately damaging to people in the long term: people tend to become what they do. As Utah Phillips once put it, “the profit system follows the path of least resistance and following the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked.” So my guess is that the paid voice of the truth neutral institution - the wearer of that charactermask, so to speak - simultaneously takes steps to construct and to erode social fabric, or exists in a division of labor with others who do the constructing that offsets the erosion. That reweaving of social fabric is important for maintaining the conditions of believability of what the truth-neutral speaker says. I also guess that the discomfort of the truth-neutral speaker (because they’re at least somewhat pro-social but act antisocial for their job) sometimes gives a greater degree of sincerity to their actions of social fabric/believability maintenance. That is, lying distances people, and they really want to undo or mitigate that distancing sometimes. They also need to undo or mitigate that distancing so that the next time they lie (or tell the truth, for that matter) it will be believed.

I suspect that this is all very taxing to live out and I am to some limited extent sympathetic. I also suspect that being on the receiving end of this is also very taxing. It has been in my own experience anyway. It’s just a lot of mental work to either have to scrutinize if something is true and said in good faith or not, or to take things as true and in good faith and later discover betrayals. I don’t know which of those is better. Pick your poison, I suppose!

Walter Benjamin somewhere writes something to the effect that it’s a mistake to wonder ‘how is something like this still possible?’ That shocked wondering is predicated on thinking society has progressed beyond brutality, when generally speaking what gets called progress is more like a re-organization of brutality rather than genuine emancipation. I think that outraged wonder also rests though, at least some of the time, on a kind of presuming the best of people that overestimates them. To put it negatively, it means being suckered, duped, over and over again. “I can’t believe they would do that!” “How can they say that, how do they live with themselves?” More positively, maybe, I think it involves an assumption that people aren’t just, or at least have the capacity to be more than, charactermasks. The truth neutral mouthpiece is still a person who could, potentially, stop being a charactermask, if the social context changed. I think there’s something like a spark of hope in that naive expectation that people will be truthful. I think in this society that spark mostly promotes getting small burns that compound the pain of [waves arms wildly] everything else. To paraphrase Fredric Jameson, humanity is what hurts. There is a potential for us to be more than we are allowed to be in this society - there is a potential for an us that includes them, so to speak - but for now that potential is regularly foreshortened and some of that occurs through people who get paid to lie, and that I think what makes that lying hurt is also tied to why that potential exists. In a sense, one’s better humanity is in the short term in this society a liability. If we don’t think from a position situated within our better humanity then it seems like it would be better, for now, to be numb and think less, to not have or dwell in that better humanity, in terms of interests as immediately constructed. If do think in terms of our better humanity then we have a conviction that a different construction of interests could exist and our better humanity could be more than something that mostly aches. I think that construction will have to draw as much or more on the anger over humanity's denial and it might not always look like an expression of better humanity. Brecht says something like 'even anger at injustice contorts the features' and it's a warning and lament at what it can do to a person to wear anger too much for too long, however righteous the anger. His point is not to spend less time angry, though, so much as to say we should treat people who struggle for justice with empathy and be aware that the struggle, however good, has costs they have to bear. That aside, I think it's important to note that features contorted with anger may not immediately seem to be expressions of better humanity but often are. Truth neutral opponents of better humanity will point to the contorted features and anger's unseemliness to distract from their opposition to, and righteous anger's service of and origins within, better humanity. That misleading pointing is another cost that the righteously angry will likely have to bear, at least some of the time, because pro-sociality and commitment to truth involves at least some measure of openness to others. I have a hunch that this also means that while an emancipatory politics in practice might end up looking a lot like what Carl Schmitt called a friend/enemy distinction, it doesn't fully embrace coding the opponent as enemy. I think that's also part of why popular rebellions are in important respect often notable for their restraint, given the atrocities they oppose.

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