THE IMPORTANCE OF GADFLIES (Part II)

BBD 11-21-16

In his book entitled The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, Ralph Keyes describes the characteristics of this post-truth era. Before this post-truth era, we had only truth and lies. Today’s era, we have post-truth. He describes it as statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false.

Our ethos is characterized by “post-truth,” word of the year 2016, which means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. We are economical with the truth.

Keyes further observes that there is an abundance of embellished prevarications and euphemisms of equivocation. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. We peddle fantasy and emotion as facts. As the volume of strangers and acquaintances in our lives rises, so do opportunities to improve on the truth. The result is a widespread sense that much of what we’re told can’t be trusted.

Keyes examined the impetus that influences casual dishonesty that’s become pandemic and found out that trends ranging from the postmodern disdain for “truth” to therapeutic non-judgment encourage deception. There is much incentive and little penalty for improving the “narrative” of one’s life. The increasing influence of therapists, entertainers, politicians, academics, and lawyers, with their flexible code of ethics, contribute to the post-truth era. So do ethical relativism, Boomer narcissism, the decline of community, and rise of the Internet.

Ultimately Keyes foretells that post-truthfulness will create a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It will erode the foundation of trust that characterizes any healthy civilization.

In this era, critical thinkers and philosophers are vital actors in shooting and directing this present social scene. Philosophers, those who have deep seated affection and devotion to wisdom and truth. They are de rigueur tailors shaping a seamless intellectual outfit adorned with ornaments made up precious rational gems and nuggets of wisdoms.

This era needs social gadflies that will bite and sting the water buffalo (carabao) that has become epistemologically indolent. Biblical account provides an analogous picture. “Egypt is a pretty heifer, but a horsefly is coming from the north– it is coming! (Jer. 46:20, NASB). These gadflies are easy to be swatted. But silencing these social gadflies are costly to the community. Their sting is for the service of truth so that the community who has been “tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you.” (Plato, The Dialogues of Plato translated into English with Analyses and Introductions by B. Jowett)

Their appeal is more on the gnosis and not on sentimentalism. They attack sophistry. Their mental horizon is boundless and their thoughts do not serve policy maker’s thinking only, their thinking is beyond the bureaucracies. They see beyond the embellished prevarications and euphemisms of equivocation. They have escaped the cave of subjectivism, relativism and sentimentalism and have come to understand that what the prisoners perceive are mere shadows and echoes on their tabula rasa walls that do not make up the objective reality. The prisoners mistake appearance of reality from reality itself for they are prejudiced by their preoccupation to their senses.

In his The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche wrote that there is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus… When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: “Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.”

The remedy for this desirable death or nonexistence which is premised on suffering, a suffering that is meaningless in empty cosmos, is the medicine of knowledge of truth. And the best who can give this medical prescription is the physician of ignorance, the gadfly.

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