The Drive for Knowledge

In the late 19th century a peculiar tendency began to see the light of day.  One may call it the critique of truth.  It is summarized in One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s early essays, “On Truth and Lies in an Extramoral sense”: “Considered as an unconditional duty, truth stands in a hostile and destructive relationship to the world.”  To assert that such a statement is provocative would be the understatement of the century.    It cuts to the very core of the modern Western enterprise.  It asks a very deep question indeed:  What is the significance of the quest for truth?  One could argue that this quest can only give birth to a culture that is characterized by a fundamental disunity, in that no distinction is made between the great and the small, what is better and what is worse, what is conducive to integration that is based in human values and what is not.  As such the scientific drive for truth aims at utter nihilism.  Such is the conundrum:  Either pluralism reigns with its tendency for cultural disunity or the intrinsic hierarchies are allowed to coalesce and hard authoritarianism is the likely outcome, at least without some insight into what could constitute some alternative to our mechanistic concepts of the necessity of coercion, as embodied in the concept of Human Law. In liberal democracy, many people aspire to become something more than an expresion of the values of mass culture.  But the ultimate authority granted to those ideas which have the highest number of adherents without regard for the coherence or nobility of these ideas, thus becoming complicit with the scientific truth drive in its disregard to the difference between great and small.  One example of how this truth drive fragments our integrity is the electronic, internet-connected baby monitors that have come on the market recently.  Mother uses her smartphone to remotely monitor her baby at home.  This is a seemingly helpful and benign aid to mother’s peace of mind at first look but many firsthand accounts of how this tool actually works reveal a far different reality.  Alerts come to the mother’s attention with the slightest change in breathing, a bit of fussing that 99% of the time is normal baby behavior, etc.  Companies are in fact exploiting irrational insecurites of the parents to generate data for profit.  Is one really better off with this sharper picture of the baby’s behavior?  This, in addition to aiding and abetting the incessant culture of tracking in general with its implications of the erosion of human autonomy and privacy.  I now return to the potential distinction between the small and the great that the will to absolute truth undercuts.  The quandary deepens every day:  We have no recourse to human values in a system that elevates the motley to the ultimate position of authority.  Where the distinction between small and great is not recognized, no culture can survive.  And so it becomes the signal goal of the exit from the nightmare of history to determine what is great in the soul, a people, a culture.  This necessitates a willingness to forego the attainment of certain kinds of truth, in my example, the “truth” of constantly knowing what is happening in the baby’s crib when more intermittent monitoring would actually yield a more realistic evaluation of baby’s needs.  Illusion trumps truth in creating a better spiritual state of being for all concerned.  Of course, this principle extends to all tracking, entrainment, enmeshment in mechanistic cultural entities, the Internet of Things perhaps being the ultimate expression thereof.  One will know all things happening at all times.  Is this conducive to human flourishing?  The scary thing is that this entity can become the unifying element of culture at the level of the motley.  What is great is defined as the incoherent.  This is institutionalized madness.

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