Oct 28, 2020 Letters
As I await Vincent Alexander’s promised response to my “substantive” positions on our Ethnic Security Dilemmas, I will examine his contention on the liberating potential of “truth” in his letter: “Let the discourse of the committed continue”. (KN 10-26-20). Now as Vincent would know, this thing called “truth” has become a very slippery concept in the last half century or so, especially in the context of politics. Apart from the philosophical ambiguities, my working assumption has always been that truth and politics are strangers to each other.
The political philosopher Hannah Arendt, however, argued that the problematic of politics and truth were central to politics in particular and life in general. She advised in “Truth and Politics” that we should take care to specify exactly what kind of truth we have in mind when we invoke the term: historical truth, empirical truth, trivial truth, some truth, psychological truth, paradoxical truth, real truth, philosophical truth, hidden truth, old truth, self-evident truth, relevant truth, rational truth, impotent truth, indifferent truth, mathematical truth, half-truth, absolute truth, and factual truth. There is no such thing as “the truth”; only truth in reference to something particular.
Let us take the presumably simplistic type of truth, empirical truth, which is addressed by the “correspondence theory of truth”: a statement is “true” if it corresponds to an empirical fact we can verify. Like if I assert that “Vincent has a beard”, this is “true” – unless he shaves it off. But even empirical truths become problematical when politics enters the picture. As when the empirical truth that “33 is the majority of 65” – once we are considering discrete objects like Members of Parliament or cricket balls – was disputed by one political party.
Vincent concluded his letter with the exhortation, “Let the discourse of the committed continue. Acceptance of, and coming to terms with, the truth shall set us free.” But this is where “truth” becomes really tricky. In discourses, we share our understanding of our common reality and quickly discover that it is more accurate to speak of “understandings”. Arendt called these “factual truth”, which as I said earlier, sediment into narratives that often conflict because so much of our “truths” are subjective.
One of these invoked, conflicting “truths” in Guyana, for instance, is which group “suffered more”. One way to resolve this particular conundrum is to acknowledge, as I said when I delivered my eulogy to Ronald Waddell, “all of us have been dragged to this Babylon, and we all have reason to weep as we remember our Zions.”
What I am suggesting is that notwithstanding our several ethnic orientations and truths, we have to craft a common narrative that infuses a Civic Guyanese nationalism to deliver justice and equity through its institutions to all Guyanese.
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