Truth and narrative

“True story” is an oxymoron.

I phoned the Tax Credits helpline for advisers, and got nowhere. “You’re being very condensating,” said the man I was referred to, and after half an hour my brain was so cabbaged that I knew he meant something else, but did not know the word for it. Thank you, you don’t need to say it now, I worked it out for myself later.

In the nineties I knew a man, still the most boring man I have ever met. I can’t remember his name, but it ended in an í sound, a contemptuous diminutive, Nicky or Ricky or Donny or something- anyway, he got very drunk on whisky, and ever thereafter could not drink it. He found a sip nauseating. Dismissively contemptuous, Neil said he probably had had no head for it anyway, he got drunk on a couple of glasses.

I associated those stories. “Condensating” was the moment I got nowhere with the benefits authorities, that I could not take any more. I cannot bear it. I could not bear another such conversation, it nauseates me.

Another myth. Margaret saw me as Clare for the first time, and said, “It’s as if you are acting when you’re Stephen, just you when you’re Clare”. Aha, I am a woman really, I am right to transition. The story becomes my conclusive evidence that I am right, the judgment of another person which I cling to, and take out for reassurance from time to time. It is my self-image: I know who I am, and “you’re just you when you’re Clare” is part of it.

Then about a year ago, I took off my wig and put on my cycle helmet, appearing androgynous, but continued talking, and H said “You have this lovely male energy”. Her beliefs, her politics, or her individual judgment of me need have no bearing on me, but have had. I could if I wanted call that comment on Wednesday 2 March 2016 the decisive moment

where my lies came apart
where my truth was undermined

Several times I have picked on particular dates where all changed, changed utterly for me. H has changed my view of the world. I am not sure if I have ever been entirely sure that I am a woman- I joked “I don’t know, and neither does my psychiatrist”, and said “I’m both and neither and in between”. Her word “lovely” just makes the blade sharper.

Either it is liberating- yes, I am a man, I need no longer assert a falsehood that I am a woman- or terrifying and destructuring, and I try to piece together the shards of my framework, world map, understanding which lets me navigate the world. “I am a man, but transition was the best I could do,” I say. “Bad things happen to good people.”

Or I create a new narrative. “I am a trans woman”. I have the right to be this way.

Brexit and Trump, and possibly this year Fillon and AfD, change my comforting narrative, one which is probably yours too. It is a debased Whig version of history: just as the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was a decisive moment of progress, which changed the way of doing politics in England from battles to individual murders, a clear improvement, so Obergefell v Hodges was a step into the light, which could not be reversed. A Tory version of history, that there are random events with no broader significance, is reasserted, so that Trump’s Muslim ban is not a pathetic attempt by the failing forces of reaction, but a random event of quite as much significance as Obergefell.

We need to change our stories. Since 2016, our stories have not been the Truth, but a comforting lie to help us get through the day without collapsing on the floor, screaming. The words “male energy” are a stake through their heart, as is the Muslim ban. “Do your duty, Republicans,” says the New York Times. “Prosecute him!” Trump meanwhile promises a new Muslim ban which will be less vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.

I have been reading of stories. Here’s Rachel Cusk in the NYT:

In psychoanalysis, events are reconstructed in the knowledge of their outcome: The therapeutic properties of narrative lie in its capacity to ascribe meaning to sufferings that at the time seemed to have no purpose. The liberal elite are in shock; they fall upon the notion of the victors’ regret as a palliative for their mental distress, but because the referendum result is irreversible, this narrative must adopt the form of tragedy.

And, writing of her mother

She didn’t care what she said, or rather, she exacted from words the licentious pleasures of misuse; in so doing, she took my weapon and broke it before my eyes. She made fun of me for the words I used, and I couldn’t respond by threatening her with death. I couldn’t say “I could kill you” because it wasn’t true, and in language I had staked everything on telling the truth. I have had that experience debating Creationists: I try to persuade, using truth, they simply assert their Beliefs. “It cannot be so, because of Genesis.” It was bad enough debating a blogger on the other side of the world- how much more terrifying, to face your own mother’s assertions?

Thus saith the LORD.

There is no answer to that. Tim built an impenetrable wall of language to shield him from- the truth? Or just, my understanding of the World? The defeated liberal is abashed, so less confidently assertive.

Anna Blundy, in a completely different essay- a short column not a hefty work like Rachel Cusk’s- also addressed making sense of truth with words. Language distances us from our real thoughts and feelings in an almost defensive way (the fact that it makes us feel better to have named something, perhaps is even indicative of that)… we’re trying to repackage something into a digestible form that will make the symptom of the sufferer more bearable.

Surely it is better to face the unvarnished truth? This essay says that news broadcasts and advertising alike end up telling stories… the mastery of danger, the satisfaction of desires and the ultimate restoration of morality. But here, an effort is made to lead people to believe that the story accurately depicts people and events. As a result, all end up profoundly falsifying what they portray, once again mixing faithful and manipulated images, and fact and fiction in seamless ways so that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The attack is mitigated by the fact that the essay itself has a similarly comforting structure, where the restoration of morality is us all becoming more sceptical about the media.

It is not at all reassuring to say that I can’t bear another phone conversation with the benefits authorities. I could say, well I had hundreds before, many of them successful, or simply that I should eschew predictions of the future, which may just be paranoia, and concentrate on the actual task. I know what the task involves. Fear of what bad things will happen and how I will respond when I fail just get in the way.

This is my two thousandth post, on a blog about me, truth, trans, the world, and everything that interests me. I do it to be read, and achieve less of that than I would like. Joanna wrote a short post recommending one of mine, and I am grateful for the recommendation, because my post got more than three times the views from it, than 75% of my posts get from all sources. This is my least worthwhile goal, to see that I have had more views. Writing of Donald Trump stretches my writing, but gets fewer views, as most of my readers come from a Trans site, so I restrict my choice of subjects to get more views. Posting daily gets more views. I get a tiny dopamine hit when I see my page-view numbers have increased- nearly 198,000 views in five and a half years.

I might be better to write longer essays. I could develop an ability to analyse an idea in greater depth. This is not that: I have quoted undigested screeds from three essays and some of my own thoughts on truth, rather than explained the essays, created a satisfying narrative argument in my own words, and polished it. Writing around 500 words a day is good practice, but I want to edit and structure something more satisfying than these short pieces. I have published just one 2000 word article. I love Rachel Cusk’s essay- how I would love to write something like that!

I blog to tease out my understanding, as well. It is psychoanalysis for me, repackaging reality into that digestible form. So I have written how transition or surgery was the best thing I could have done, and the worst, in separate pieces, and wonder how to unite them.

St Clare

Trans and Truth

I had my world-view blown apart. I knew what manliness was, how I should be, what was right and wrong, how the world worked or ought to work. A friend said in her teens she was looking at everything, trying to work out how it fitted, but I was quite sure. And there was this shameful thing which did not fit, so I rejected it. I cross-dressed, but that was not me, or involved in how I understood anything. But it would not go away. It was the loose thread, which I kept pulling, and it turned my world inside out.

The rejection of everything I valued was traumatic. I am lying on the floor weeping, repeating “I am not a man”. There is something I know to be true, even though it contradicts everything which makes me feel safe, even though it terrifies me. “I am not a man”. Then I devoted all my energies to making transition happen.

I find it hard to claim any good quality, but I am learning. I am intelligent. I am expressive. I am good with words. People tell me these things repeatedly, I find lots of supportive evidence, I have come to believe them. One person said, in delighted admiration, “You have fantastic emotional intelligence” and that has stuck with me, and also seems backed up with the evidence. I have emotional intelligence. I would not have believed it, when trying to make a man of myself.

I have difficulty asserting “I am a woman”. I would say, “I am not a man”, “I want to transition”, even “I am transsexual”. “I am Clare”. Possibly I don’t need to say that I am a woman, or believe it, just this is the way I express myself. I fear contradiction.

It was the thread I pulled, and expressing female seems like real me underneath the stifling convention, all that learned behaviour, learned understanding, useless concepts of manhood and virtue. But I have not created an alternative world view, just partial, contingent understandings. And especially while transitioning but also since I have sometimes had the feeling of being completely at sea, having no understanding-

the fact that I sense or believe something is no evidence for or against its truth or falsehood

of knowing nothing at all. It is disorienting, terrifying, nauseating.

In a world where Mr Trump is busy destroying the shared values and understanding of truth, this may be an advantage. These people believe the opposite of me- well, that has always been the case. I know how disorienting it can be to lose Truth as an anchor. Possibilities remain, and you have to be satisfied with that.

And Truth has mattered to me. It is true- transition is right for me. I am trans. I worried away at it- could it just be a fantasy or perversion, but it is not just that. Yet- it is important to me not to need anything to be true- I am a woman!- because it could be snatched from me at any time.


Alternative facts

Does President Trump gaslight everyone? Alone with Ivanka, does he say, “My crowds on the mall were bigger than Obama’s”? As Melania sleeps does he lie awake, thinking “I won the popular vote, but for the fraudulent ones”?

I have known fantasists. You have, too. No, that pool attendant was never in the SAS. After dropping out of her law degree, F did not start an Open University degree- and if she did, she was not expected to get a First. And S, a trans woman, did not have XX chromosomes but an “SRY inclusion factor” which made her develop apparently male.

I have known other fantasists, I am sure, who were less extreme, less noticeable. People get away with it if they are careful. We preferred to call ourselves “Lifeguards” rather than “pool attendants”, because it seemed more important, effectual, worthwhile.

When Trump says the goodwill attached to his brand is worth billions, does he believe it?

Does anyone challenge him? Would Ivanka say to him, well, there are these photographs, but people seem to be accepting what we say? Does Mr Spicer believe his alternative facts? Do the Trump voters who assert there were millions of fraudulent votes believe it, or simply know that is what they have to say? Jesus was born of a virgin, the world was created six thousand-odd years ago, and Trump won the popular vote?

Some fantasists alter reality for others. Anna controlled her world in part by believing that her neighbours were snooping on her and that she could hear their dismissive comments through her wall. She turned her loudspeakers towards the party wall so that they could not hear her, but still said they managed. She insisted on this so unrelentingly that we stopped challenging her, even suggesting to her that she might be mistaken. “You hear that?” she would say. No, I didn’t. Even when she wasn’t there, I said how dreadful her neighbours were, and then met another’s disbelieving gaze, shamefaced. Yet he would not have challenged her to her face.

There are no common facts, known to both sides of the aisle, but alternative facts which justify Republican gerrymandering. Some facts are plausible. I believed Gerry Mander was the man who ensured there were no Catholic members of the Stormont parliament. Then I read the word comes from somewhere else.

Trump does not get it right, but escapes unscathed. His casinos went bankrupt and he transferred the losses onto others.

I like to believe in an enveloping Truth, consistent and coherent, but it is not possible. It is disputed whether you can prove 2+2=4. Theories of gravity do not fit the standard model: the equations divide by zero and produce infinity. It is unnecessary to know that James III died at the battle of Sauchieburn, or how my phone’s map finds directions- it just does. Possibly Trump knows all he needs to know, so need never read a book- his entitlement is limitless, all who oppose him are losers, there will always be a way out. Or his supporters have their enveloping Truth- abortion is murder, global warming is refuted by winter, Trump never lies to them- which gives them strength to get through the day. Very little truth actually matters in the moment. Imagination might be worth more: these things are possible.

Hannah Arendt wrote, the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed… The experience of a trembling wobbling motion of everything we rely on for our sense of direction and reality is among the most common and most vivid experiences of men under totalitarian rule.

I want a US president to believe certain things. Climate change matters, and may be mitigated. Some things are best done by the whole society, working together, such as health care. Supporting the poor benefits everyone. All these assertions are disputed.


Truthfulness II

I am a truthful person. I value my truthfulness. But it is not a bulwark against the vicissitudes of life.

When I was considering transition, I interrogated myself- is this fantasy? Is this sexual perversion? If it was true that I was transsexual, then it was right for me to transition. On balance, it was, but I wanted more than that, I wanted to be clear that life would be bearable afterwards. Then I had lots of insults in the street in the days after, and broke down in tears.

It is a pain being trans. Not transitioning can be ghastly. Transitioning can be ghastly too, though not always: some of us are extremely strong and resilient. I saw one on the telly last night, being asked about her academic expertise with no need to allude to the fact that she is trans. Her face and voice are good too, but there is something about her figure and her hairline that meant I read her, so I went to look her up: she had been outed by the gutter press.

What is the truth of a situation? After a certain amount of effort to understand, further effort does not produce proportionate gains. I had the feeling of trying to remain upright in a storm at sea, with the deck bucking and twisting beneath me- holding myself tense is exhausting, relaxing and going with the movement, riding it, might be easier.

And, I keep the truth of my current situation below consciousness, much of the time. I do not like it, but do not see how I can improve it. Though I take action to improve it when I can. This might be common: Quiet desperation is the English way sang Pink Floyd. Ah, it’s from Walden: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

I love my truthfulness, and fear that it was important to me in part because it was part of my self-image as a Good Person. I need to be a Good Person so I will be Safe- but that does not matter either, bad things happen to good people. And- integrity matters. Insofar as I lie to others, I lie to myself, which makes me less able to respond to the world as it is. My reputation matters to me.

And- I go back on my word, and I lie. I let people down. Well, I am not perfect. No-one is. I do my best.

Anger, truth and politics

Why would anyone create pizzagate memes, anyway? How can we respond?

I had not heard of John Podesta before the RussiLeaks email dump. Some of his emails concerned domestic trivia like getting pizza. Pizza was seen as a code for child sex, and the links between them endlessly elaborated on 4Chan. Why?

Message boards members like attention. Creativity, originality, clever expression and even playfulness bring Attention. Members flock with like minds in echo chambers and hugboxes. Manosphere people, white nationalists and others who hate Mrs Clinton, congregate. If you do not feel you get sufficient respect yourself, you may resent moral injunctions to respect others. Unsuccessful millennial males resent being told to check their privilege.

The hatred and anger is enough. Accusations of child abuse and child murder express that anger- they are proportionate to the levels of anger felt. If no expression of anger is acceptable, then any may erupt. It does not need to be true. So Michael Flynn junior tweets, Until pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. Well, Birtherism, never credible, rumbles on. Pizzagate expresses rage against the “liberal elite”, who the 4Chanists think are so horrible to them (for ignoring or lecturing them): it is as bad as if they were child-sex-cannibals.

Michael Flynn senior tweeted U decide- NYPD blows whistle on new Hillary emails- money laundering, sex crimes w children etc, though that tweet was about false stories connecting Mrs Clinton to Jeffrey Epstein, not “Pizzagate”. The general is a disastrous choice for National Security Adviser, a prolific source of conspiracy theories known as “Flynn facts”, but not a 4chan addict.

The President-Elect expresses such anger. He claims stories of Russia working to influence the election in his favour are valueless, the product of Democrat sore losers: These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That derision is music to the ears of the 4Chanists. Derision is the opposite of respect. Feeling derided, they deride back.

If we feel we have something in common, then we will show respect and listen to the other side. Trump can whip up his own side, with derision and anger, accentuating the divides in society. He is not a fool. He uses it as a weapon to build political support. Lies are his tools to build resentment, rage, and derision, so he may destroy as he wishes, and profit from it.

It is tempting to use anger in response. Certainly, anger can give energy. Charles M. Blow writes, Angry yet? Yes. Good!…This is the reason I write, to remind people of honor and courage; to tell them that their cause isn’t lost, that their destiny is victory. Maybe I am confined by my craft, pumping out polemics that, it is my great hope, help to stiffen the spines and lift the spirits of those determined to stare down the threat. However, I fear that such angry confrontation may make the gulf between us worse.

Can we use truth to overcome Trump’s weapons?

I am a critical realist. I believe there is a “Real world” where we interact and where there is objective truth- but it is too complex for human beings to grasp. It is worth the attempt. The closer we get to understanding truth, the better we respond- but perhaps (thinking it through now) there is an optimum level of truth, for each individual. After a certain approximation, greater effort to be more certain of the truth will not yield proportionate returns. If the truth seems to be that you have no hope, denial and lies may be comforting.

People see things differently. Nietzsche did not say, And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music, though he came close. For Nietzsche, accusations of sickness go both ways:

Even in the German Middle Ages, under the same power of Dionysus, constantly growing hordes thronged from place to place, singing and dancing…. There are people who, from a lack of experience or out of apathy, turn mockingly or pityingly away from such phenomena as from a “sickness of the people,” with a sense of their own health. These poor people naturally do not have any sense of how deathly and ghost-like this very “health” of theirs sounds, when the glowing life of the Dionysian throng roars past them.

And, he wrote, ‘You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist’. That is called “Perspectivism”.

I was fascinated by Jack Maden’s To Be Frank magazine article on the quote, aimed at Millennials. It addresses a complex philosophical question in a simple way. It starts by asking its readers to digest and unpack the meaning of the quote, fearful that they will merely see it, declare it deep, and move on to click-bait, forgetting it; because their attention spans are hurling some real angry, sustained abuse my way: ‘BORED. THIS IS BORING’. Maden summarises Nietzsche: there is a multitude of differing perspectives that are subject to cultural, societal and biological limitations. It is only through combining these different views that we can begin to appreciate a broader understanding of the universe we live in. Against that, he pits scientific investigators, patiently accumulating data and mathematical theorising to create objective explanations. (My answer there- Newton was a genius, explaining the observations through his theory of gravity, and Newton was wrong. 19th century observations demonstrated that.) All human observations are subjective, and have different meanings for each of us. Metaphor dances beyond objectivity.

How do the denizens of 4Chan or Reddit view truth? Their attention spans might not be long enough to consider evidence, preferring the quick hit of a witty allusion- These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It mocks The Enemy, and encourages Our Own Side. Your resentment and anger are Right! You are the Good People! Let me smite your enemies- those who tell you what to do, the Liberal Metropolitan Elites- for you!

They follow the leaders of the Right. No-one says that voter suppression is necessary because they don’t want people of colour to vote, they say it is necessary because of fraudulent voting. Disregard for truth did not start with Trump, it has been happening all this century.

I am glad when people speak up for truth. I hope that people can be taught to value truth, and to see that seeking the truth is worth the effort- but that is not an easy lesson for people in despair, who enjoy the buzz they get from anger. What good will truth do them? Why should they listen to you?

The antidote to derision is respect. The antidote to anger is Love. Love can still be derided, called patronising, and portrayed as weakness, but it is the only way. In the world of Trump and Farage, where centre-right Conservatism bows to the Nationalists, we have a long way to go.

The Charles M Blow article is illustrated with a protestor holding up a banner- THE FUTURE IS NASTY. Women have adopted Trump’s arrogant dismissal of Mrs Clinton as a “Nasty woman”- no more deference! Self-respect is necessary; but the energy of anger must not give rise to an angry reaction, but a loving response.

From Common Prayer- a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice.  …  A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.

Enemies of Reality

That Donald Trump tweet.

As I write, 52,786 retweets. What are we to say? My first view was, ignore it. He has no evidence for it, and it is an allegation which, if serious, would show that the electoral system in the US is undermined. However, he does not care that it is untrue. It pops into his head, he tweets it, knowing that it will make his supporters angry and self-righteous, and his opponents angry and demoralised. He does not need to act in the interest of a great number of his supporters, only to keep them angry. If they are angry and hopeless enough, he can even act against their interests and they will still vote for him.

Ignore it, I will not allow it to miserify me. The NYT refuted it, expressing cold judgment of the liar and groper. I am clear, the lie is harmful- yet I cannot let it hurt me. Accept the things you cannot change. I am glad the NYT is concerned.

The lie is harmful because it is the basis of voter suppression laws, making people of colour queue longer at polling stations, requiring photo ID which poorer people are less likely to have, etc. Our defence against it is Fact, but for that you need a lot of time to accumulate them, and trusted sources.

Mr McCrory continues to dispute the gubernatorial election in North Carolina. His opponent won a slim but sufficient victory, and he quibbles about votes. Slate tells me that if the race is undecided long enough, it will be referred to the Republican controlled state legislature, which could appoint him Governor though he lost. I don’t find other sources alleging that is his aim. Would they? How far might partisan manipulation of the State constitution go? I hope they would have the integrity to consider the vote clear.

With Mr Trump’s lies and distortions, I cannot be sure. My trust in the system wanes. Though Republican-controlled electoral boards have stood up to Mr McCrory.

Here’s Truth Awakening, on facebook. “Awakening” is the metaphor I would use for getting closer to truth, and the description is inspiring- The truth is available if you want to wake up. Stand up and fight for your civilisation– but I don’t like that word “fight”, and a little digging finds them suspect. They have a meme- “Hi, I’m Jacob Rothschild… we were behind 9/11 and the resulting wars…” Another: “PizzaGate”, a criminal cabal in the shadows of government were “sodomising”, killing and eating children. Oh, God! How could I react to that? I still hope it is untrue, and that enough people would bring it to light if it were true; and powerful men abuse children. I am aware Sir James Savile operated with impunity to his honoured death, before his crimes came out. Paedophilia seems the major interest of “Truth Awakening”.

It could be a tactic- share as much as you can about paedophilia, in the hope of giving your false allegation credibility.

My fbfnd is a member of Veterans for Peace. He was in the British Army in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and now has made several trips there to talk to former IRA members, for reconciliation. I find this beautiful. He shared a post from Truth Awakening, from the Daily Express, We can’t prove sex with children does them harm, says Labour-linked NCCL. The headline is a lie: the article describes the position of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty, in 1976, not now, and it was not “sex with children” but “sex between children”- NCCL proposed that where partners between 10 and 16 had less than two years’ age difference, sex should not be an offence. Whether it should raise the suspicions of social workers is a different question, and it was an old story.

I know the Daily Express is a propaganda sheet for the far-right UK Independence Party, whose new leader Paul Nuttall, of North of England working class stock, wants to attract Northern working-class votes, much on the tactic of Trump- keep them angry and hopeless enough and you can take their votes even as you harm their interests. Truth Awakening might think it part of the “Main Stream Media”. It still operates a printed daily paper.

My residual trust in the system stops me believing in “PizzaGate”. My fbfnd does not have the trust in the system, which sent him to point guns at Irish folk, and thought Mrs Clinton a greater warmonger than Mr Trump. So he shares this story. If I said, Come on, it’s Liberty! It’s the Labour Party! They’re the good guys! he might be unmoved, not believing in any good guys.

The Express article is not fake news, but distortion, pretending something is more important than it is. Truth Awakening shares it for its own purposes, my fbfnd shares it on, his other friends express disgust at paedophiles. I feel distress and powerlessness: once enough people are happy to spread misinformation, you can’t trust anything.

I was born into a society! I thought we had common interests, and flourished by working together! Now I find my country atomised.

The Truth!!

It has always been important to me that I am a truthful person. When I was considering transition, it appeared there were a group of people then called “transsexuals”- if I was one, transition was the right thing to do. If I was not, it was not. I should therefore diagnose myself- not trusting the doctors to do so. This was a truth about who I was. I was looking for The Truth, some objective justification, but could not find it, so eventually I had to go with what I wanted, more than anything in the world. And even if I was too frightened to assert it, I knew, really: had the doctors said I was not trans I would not have believed them.

I knew I was not a man. Now I feel trans is not some innate state, but a decision: some people with particular characteristics choose to transition, and some you might think were further along the spectrum do not. It is not the same as sexual attraction: it is about how free you feel to express yourself, and how you might become more free, so it is cultural as well as genetic.

Knowing the truth is part of being in control so being able to make reasonable prognostications and recognise what might influence events.

Among my most terrifying and disorienting experiences are times when I feel I do not know the truth, and cannot trust my own perceptions. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you perceive a fact which contradicts settled beliefs: do you deny that fact? It is uncomfortable, depending on how attached you are to belief; or, you could decide you had been wrong, and joyfully embrace your greater understanding; but I felt the bottom had dropped out of my world, I could not rely on myself or ever be safe, and did not know anything at all. These typically last a day or so, and while in that state I feel it will never end.

Possibly I am now in a state of creative distress, where my discomfort will impel me to useful change. I hope so.

Those disorienting experiences may go back to early childhood. With a counsellor I named my fear: “The Monster will get me”. This is childish talk. The world will end, I will die. That could be my mother, angry, for no reason I could discern, so I could not trust myself to keep myself safe from her. Losing trust in my perceptions was an existential threat.

And- we see through a glass darkly. Knowledge is partial, and inaccurate. Eventually the effort required to improve accuracy is greater than the value of the increase of accuracy. And mistakes have to be OK. It’s feedback. That did not work, refine it or try something else. No need to be terrified, I am intelligent enough, perceptive enough. A refusal to admit when you are beaten might keep you fighting, to succeed against all expectation- how wonderful!- or keep you expending effort to no end. These things are rarely existential.

I can’t merely consider sensible thoughts about truth and give up all my superstition or mysticism about it. Yet I might do myself some good, somehow- and deliberately not express it in some clever phrase to end this post.

The Truth?

What is truth?

Truth is subjective. You can never find the end of the rainbow, because where it appears to be depends on where the observer is. And, what my friend thinks of me is important to me, but something she said might have assumed great importance to me, something else might have gone over my head, and what she thinks might vary according to her mood.

And Truth is objective. There is a real world where things happen whether or not someone observes them. (My philosopher friend only once tried to talk of philosophy with me, ascertained I knew nothing of Hegel, and gave up.) We perceive nothing exactly as it objectively is, but care and respect may bring us closer to objective truth, and prejudice or carelessness drive us away.

On Radio 4, Charmaine Yoest of “American Values” said Evangelicals should not have “voted for Hillary Clinton, a woman who stood on the stage during the debate and very aggressively defended something as barbaric as partial birth abortion. Donald Trump was very unusual on the Republican side on being willing to dig in and very forcefully come back and say that it would be not okay with him for you to be able to abort a baby up to the very last moment of birth.” Here’s the link: the time is 36.50.

That was not my recollection of the debate, so I went back to it. Here is a transcript, here a video. On the Supreme Court, Mrs Clinton said it was important “that we not reverse Roe v Wade”. Mr Trump responded aggressively that “the second amendment is under absolute siege”. On abortion, he would put pro-life justices on the court who would overturn Roe v Wade.

Mr Wallace, the moderator: You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial birth abortions. Why?

Mrs Clinton: there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account.

Mr Trump: Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby…based on what she’s saying, and based on where she’s going, and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day. And that’s not acceptable.

The segment starts at 11.40. I considered it again. Mrs Clinton is measured, and defends late abortions. Mr Trump’s phrase “rip the baby out of the womb” is an appalling way of describing the abortion of a foetus whose birth defect prevents it from living outside the womb, or where the mother’s life is in danger.

Mmm. Truth. For Charmaine Yoest, the health of the mother is not a consideration when considering late, perhaps any, abortions; and “rip the baby out of the womb” is merely telling it as it is, though to me “baby” is not an accurate description of a foetus with anencephaly, or other extreme defects.

My memory was of Mr Trump being aggressive, Mrs Clinton reasonable, and so when I heard Charmaine Yoest say Mrs Clinton was “aggressive” I was angry. How dare she so misrepresent reality? Your subjectivity may be closer to or further from the truth. Getting closer matters. So I went to consider the evidence, and still find her inaccurate- though not much more inaccurate than my recollection.

I find Mrs Clinton far more persuasive. While a woman might choose to save her baby even at the cost of her own life, it seems monstrous to me to force her to do so. And, for Ms Yoest, all abortion is wrong, so she might still find most Republicans backsliders on this issue. When I heard her, I was angry with her lying; I still find her biased, yet not properly characterised as “inaccurate”. Oh dear.

Next example. We were discussing men’s refuges for male victims of domestic violence, and a woman was holding forth on how necessary these were and how there was far too little funding. Now, whether that is true or not does not depend on whether or not there is enough funding for female victims, any more than for, say, adoption services; yet I felt some reservations. It seemed to me that the woman holding forth wanted to convince us, or to be articulating a common understanding- it is so reassuring to be with people who think just as we do; and that the other woman listening had reservations, but was not stating them. And these are my impressions, which may simply be false.

OK, next go. The Daily Express front page today. EU EXIT: THE PATH IS CLEAR. Massive boost as Labour say they won’t stand in the way. I saw this in the coffee shop, and felt ill. I don’t know whether Labour would whip MPs to vote for Brexit, or just not whip them to vote against; but I think Brexit is a calamity, and the Express disagrees.

I was surprised to find my friend has no opinion on climate change. She has not looked into it, there are views on both sides. I lamented denialists in power in America, and she was unfazed. I feel my understanding of the scientific consensus is accurate enough, and that carbon emissions are changing the climate, potentially disastrously; and it matters what politicians do. She says Mr Trump is not that much worse than what has gone before- how can you trust any politicians after they invaded Iraq?

Based on these recent experiences, perhaps I can never be sure of what is truth. I still believe in objective truth, just I am not certain of its knowability. You may think I give in too easily. There will be more on this tomorrow.

Culture, myth, reality

We only understand anything through language. We distinguish one thing from another through the words we use: Structuralism says that language is a system, one thing, and words relate to each other rather than to discrete things out there. Post-structuralism says I am born into a world of language, which defines what I might do or think. Orwell imagined Newspeak preventing anyone ever thinking an unorthodox thought: perhaps English does, too. Deconstructionism asserts that meanings are not fixed, but must always be ideological constructs, which attempt to make that which is the product of a particular culture or thought system seem natural, inevitable and objectively true. To destroy slavery, including slavery to concepts of masculinity, we need new language.

Back to that later, perhaps. Language comes before reality in the Bible: In the beginning was the Word; the Earth was a formless void until God speaks, and calls our world into existence. Yet in Christianity, God made revealed Truth. Human beings simply have to tune into revelation of this ready made divine order of things, and fit themselves into it. 

Yet I believe in continuing revelation, human beings working things out, seeing things anew.

I have just been watching a television drama, Thirteen, in which a girl was kidnapped and imprisoned for thirteen years before she escaped. I don’t believe her post-traumatic responses, necessarily, it is a drama of events more than ideas, and one for the quotidian rather than extreme- couples split and reform, people choose between spouses and lovers; so as well as the threat of the Murderer- will he kill the ten year old he has kidnapped now?- I am offered a vision of what it means to be in a couple.

I have a choice of many such stories, in fifty-year soap operas or novellas, millions of versions, from four millennia of civilisation. They are hot, with strong threat and emotion, or cool and contemplative. There are great Myths, and English-speaking peoples are shaped by the King James Bible and Shakespeare. We have no sure way of relating the Jewish teacher, Y’shua, to the Jesus of the Gospels, but we have those stories, of being born of a virgin, changing water into wine, dying and rising again.

There are continual new interpretations of these stories. Humans use them for our own purposes. They do not trap us into one understanding but free us for greater understanding as we continually explore. Stories enable us to share glimpses of truth, as well as the clear detailed descriptions of truth in scientific papers; and to feel our way into empathy as well as thinking into understanding.

Different languages give different understandings of the world, divide it up in different ways.

I am not saying any philosopher considering language has a lesser view than this, but for me, language is a good enough tool to explore my world, and the cage is porous enough for humanity to stretch it: it is not a cage, but scaffolding, for us to create greater understanding. The stories can free us.

I started on this because I have been reading Derek Guiton who apparently fears that David Boulton will drive belief in God out of the Religious Society of Friends. Possibly no-one reading this has my precise interests, yet I hope you get something from it. Here I have looked at Boulton’s explanation of stories in The Trouble with God and found it compatible with belief in God as well as useful in understanding my world.

Bronzino, fresco from the chapel of the old palace in Florence, 2

Knowing and partly knowing

I will vote according to prejudice, but this is not entirely my fault.

Andrew this morning was incredulous and sardonic: “The Government say the economy has grown, but what is the value in that when we are all worse off?” He tells me that the GDP growth since 2010 has been smaller than the population growth.

There you have it. A factoid, which I have from Andrew, whom I trust because he is a retired accountant so should understand these things, and a Quaker so should attempt truthfulness.

Conclusion: more Tory lies.

Then my prejudice kicks in: that is before we consider that the benefit of economic growth has gone to the richest- my impression from various sources, which I can’t remember reading or hearing in exactly those terms but believe; and that GDP includes consumer spending, so our economy “grows” if we spend more on imports.

What do I make of this? The UK had either the biggest debt in the world or the lowest debt in the G7, says HuffPo. I had heard of Public Sector Borrowing Requirement- oh gosh, back in the 80s, it may not even be a thing anymore- but not PSNB which is Public Sector Net Borrowing. I look at that word “Net” which I understand, and wonder what the whole phrase might mean. “Total borrowings” says HuffPo, which is different from the budget deficit: 11% rather than 7.7%.

The debt in 1997, when Labour replaced the Tories, was 42% of GDP, and now it is- oops, the article does not say. In 2008 the debt was 35%. The deficit in 1997 was 3.9% of GDP, and 2.1% in 2008.

You know the difference between the debt and the deficit, of course, you have been paying attention over the last seven years.

I am happy to conclude, more Tory lies.

I hear that 25% of the “new jobs” the Tories claim are Zero-hour contracts. What is to stop an employer needing a steady 350 hours’ work a week employing 35 people and giving hours to the ones who give it least trouble? Who cares about the workers? Not the Tories who want to increase benefit sanctions to destroy the safety net and so drive workers into jobs which do not provide a living wage…

That last paragraph is me emoting, but there are facts to be rational about, somewhere, here.

dismal science