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Truth in part is a pernicious lie

16 December 2021 12:17 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Around 25 years ago, while working as a cashier in the University of Southern California bookstore, I had to ring up for a few items for a customer. The books included one by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. I can’t remember the title. It was a slow day at the counter and there was enough time for chit-chat in the course of which he said, ‘I really like [Richard] Rorty because he kicks truth in the butt.’ We laughed, he paid, I put his books in a bag, gave him the receipt and probably said ‘good day.’

 Rorty, also a philosopher, did not believe in certainty or absolute truth. Although he vehemently objected to charges of relativism, critics argue that his view ultimately leads to relativist or subjectivist conclusions. The debate essentially tends towards arguments over pragmatism. What’s important to understand is that ‘truth’ comes percolated through structures of power. So, one might ask, is ‘truth, then, inevitably partial as in it comes as slice and loaded with political or ideological preferences, and if so, is it always a lie, pernicious or otherwise?’
   Politics is about choices. Choices can be clothed in righteousness but in the end morality is framed by understanding of what is and projections of what ought to be. That said, we can still talk of degrees of clarity, degrees of truth (for example by citing substantiation or lack thereof) and degrees of blemish. History, for example, some would argue, is a version. This contention is largely true but on the other hand gives license to one and all narratives. We can, however, say that the Ruwanweliseya is not a Catholic church.

"Politics is about choices Choices can be clothed in righteousness but in the end morality is framed by understanding of what is and projections of what ought to be"

  Back to truth. It’s a political term, especially in the context of post-conflict narratives of what happened, what’s happening and what should unfold and how. Justice and reconciliation, spoken in the same breath typically, are similarly political. The search for truth, if we are to take at face value the grave tones in which such endeavours are articulated and not ask ourselves if tone is appropriate makeup diligently smeared over text, cannot be selective. It should not involve inclusion of the convenient and discarding of the uncomfortable. The truth (!) Is that most truth-seekers will never officially admit political project, they will not acknowledge that they are preferred-narrative seekers.


  Now we have dozens of truth-seekers. Some of them were so gung-ho about truth that they didn’t bother to check the reliability of those who they (conveniently) called ‘witnesses.’ Some were so zealous that they not only wanted to unearth truths they liked but didn’t hesitate to inflate in order to give ‘truth’ greater visibility. And of course (and inevitably one might add) we got lies agreed upon, celebrated as unadulterated and beyond-shadow-of-doubt truth.


  It’s not over. We have diplomats wandering all over the island, comfortably clothed in immunity offered by diplomatic niceties, making ‘polite inquiries’ even while the entire population was partially sequestered. We have the UNHRC regularly regurgitating a narrative so hastily crafted that it is full of holes that are imagined to be nonexistent.
 If and when the existence of horrendous misrepresentation is pointed out, it is either ignored or footnoted in the smallest font size available. Query and questioner are summarily white-out (to use an ‘American’ term for ‘Tipp-ex’) or vilified.

"Now we have dozens of truth-seekers. Some of them were so gung-ho about truth that they didn’t bother to check the reliability of those who they (conveniently) called ‘witnesses.’ Some were so zealous that they not only wanted to unearth truths they liked but didn’t hesitate to inflate in order to give ‘truth’ greater visibility"

  None of this is surprising. Wars aren’t easily ‘done.’ I’ve often quoted Trishantha Nanayakkara who said that wars are fought and won/lost in battlefields and are typically re-fought in the alleyways of memory. Some fight to retain celebratory rights and some to alleviate loss-grief. Both types are made of bodies ready and willing to be infected by embellishment.
  Just the other day, it was alleged that a group was engaged in collecting ‘information’ about disappearances. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Sure, the outfit is by admission separatist but that’s an ideology. And it is good to know everything we can about everyone who is claimed to have been ‘disappeared’. All good. Here’s the rub though. The group had sent a few people to offer information about individuals ‘disappeared’ by the LTTE. Apparently they were told that the process had been stopped. Alright. That’s legit too. However, they had then sent another set of people to make representations about those ‘disappeared’ by the Sri Lankan security forces. Voila! A process allegedly ‘closed’ was suddenly reopened. Statements were recorded. Information duly filed.


 The ‘frame’ of the outfit is easily obtained. Again, much regurgitation of ‘truths’ many times re-told albeit without a shred of serious substantiation and with absolutely nothing by way of critical assessment of sources. Par for the course for those whose preferred political outcomes didn’t materialize. Par for the course of those who saw the LTTE as saviour and refused to ‘critically assail’ (yes, that’s one of the outfit’s promises) the long and horrific track record of the ‘saviour.’
  And yet, there will be approvers galore. The diplomats making surreptitious forays into the North and East looking for material that could be appropriately formatted for the ready consumption of dodgy agencies, countries and multilateral organizations included) would be thrilled, no doubt. For reasons of efficacy, the LTTE is ‘past-tense’ and their crimes conveniently dead and buried. That’s part-truth being disposed of, folks. That’s a lie being constructed. Pernicious.


  What does it do, though? It taints all truths including those atrocities committed by security forces, the IPKF and non-LTTE Tamil military organizations since 1975. Rubbishing one makes any and all claims rubbish!
  Think you can obtain reconciliation thereby? Did someone say ‘think again!’? There’s virtue in kicking such ‘truth’ in the butt, the unknown customer who was reading Foucault and Rorty might agree.

malindasenevi@gmail.com


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