SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Liar, Liar, The Entire World is on Fire
You're wanted in the philosopher's office.
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I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
We teach our kids not to lie. When they draw on the wall and tell us “it wasn’t me,” we turn it into a lesson about honesty. We teach them that to say what one knows is not true is to lie. How, though, can we warn against a second form of lying — to say what is not true so often that one comes to believes it is true.
When we watch the news twist and omit facts that present a certain narrative, the dishonesty is palpable, but to accuse them of outright lying feels conspiratorial, like grandpa cursing the TV for “lying” about the rain that never came. The dishonesty is obvious, though not outright. This is the difference between a lie you can catch and one you can’t — conscious dishonesty versus unconscious dishonesty.
Our Weird & Güd patron saint, Nietzsche, made a distinction between the lying preschoolers do and the lying pundits do. Unlike the preschooler, whose lies can be caught and brought to light, adults weave a much more intricate web that only the spider itself can choose to unwind.
By Ana Godis
Nietzsche believed the concept of true versus untrue was invented along with society. At the same moment people agreed not to kill each other for their mocassins, they also agreed to use language in a way that best reflected reality, a complicated philosophical way of saying “don’t lie.” If I’m the only one that calls a tree a flower, my directions to “turn left at the flower” are useless. If I sell you a field “full of flowers” to harvest when there are only 5 pathetic daisies, my words are not only useless, but my lie now harms you.
We make a societal agreement to speak as accurately as possible because it avoids the madness that untruths create. Just like the Tower of Babel, when our language isn’t clear, neither is the path forward.
Honesty and the pursuit of truth is how we know the world. To pursue anything but truth, no matter how uncomfortable, is to move farther away from the real world and into a fantasy world. While a fantasy world is more enjoyable in its customized perfection, the choice of fantasy over reality comes at the price of progression.
You cannot solve what you cannot see. The truths we refuse to see fester like infected wounds, only to burst open twice as big.
Most people have little interest in the truth. What’s true is not always what’s pleasant or convenient. Worse yet, humans aren’t even that good at finding the truth even when they actually want to. Nietzsche believed humans were prisoners of their own limits, unable to use even our best tool for truth, language, in a way that brings us closer to understanding.
We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities.
— Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense
It’s not enough that we’re stupid animals who barely know how our own bodies work and stumble to fit words to the world around us. Some humans are so beholden to their pursuit of anything but the truth that their lies become the hallucinations of a schizophrenic — real enough to kill for.
By Kristina Collantes
Those unconscious lies that differentiate the preschooler from the pundit are those that the liar themself believes. The person possessed by ideology, belief, or whatever other -ism that can be damaged by inconvenient truths tells a different kind of lie, one that starts with themselves. Nietzsche believed that these liars weren’t sociopaths hiding in alleys, but otherwise good, upstanding members of society who pursue an aim they’ve placed above truth.
Yet, where does truth belong on the hierarchy of pursuits? It’s not an obvious answer. Is it noble to pursue the truth that the bowl your friend made in her ceramics class is hideous? Let’s weigh it.
Truth: Hideous bowl.
Cost: Your friend’s happiness or your pursuit of truth. Not admitting the bowl is hideous requires you to lie and momentarily move farther from the truth. Yet, telling the truth about the hideous bowl might be inconsequential to the world, though not to your friend.
The Complicated Math-y Bit: Is your friend pursuing ceramics as a profession or did she pick up a hobby to infuse a dot of joy into her miserable existence after losing a parent? Is your friend arrogantly using the bowl to shame the same efforts of others or does she humbly appreciate her creation for the effort it required and not its artistic merit?
This dance with truth is one we perform almost every day, whether by having small talk with a stranger we’d rather be left alone by or staying quiet when our friend asks if we like her new dress. Nietzsche knew there was a middle ground that must be found in pursuing truth that allowed for social cohesion like friends that don’t hate you for dissing their ceramics project and the obtaining of new information that helps us understand the world.
The total denial of truth and the puritanical pursuit of truth above all else are both vices.
Pursuing truth is an action and a constant balancing act. We don’t obtain the truth like treasure after a journey; it is, (eye-roll), the journey itself.
Truth is a constantly renewing choice to seek what you don’t know over guarding what you do.
Being the change-averse animals we are, truth is often a threat. Many of us become those good people who prefer their fantasy to reality. These people cannot be “caught” in their lie with mere facts — to face a contradiction is to face yourself, a fear Nietzsche believed motived those good, dishonest people to disown truth.
A thinker is now that being in whom the impulse for truth and those life-preserving errors now clash for their first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to be also a life-preserving power.
—Nietzsche, The Gay Science
The path towards truth is one that never ends, but is constantly reevaluated and recharted as new lands appear. Remembering you’re in a constant struggle between truth and comfort can help you avoid becoming one of those truth-apathetic people Nietzsche gently called “ruined and botched to all eternity as far as honesty is concerned.”
Mária Chilf Ovodások
You’ve probably heard it invoked by your parents or watered down by religious rhetoric you weren’t looking for. It seems like the most boring, simplistic, and even superficial concept to exist in a world brimming with chaos, cruelty, and tragedy. It’s the kind of rule you can see celebrated in ancient art on museum walls or crocheted into a 5-dollar picture frame above a small-town diner’s cash register.
That’s right, it’s the only rule known simply by its color — the Golden Rule.
The concept has popped up in ancient India, ancient Egypt, and ancient Rome. It’s found in all major religions. It’s become such an intuitive idea that I’ve yet to quote it and you probably already know what it is.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Even with that ominous old-timey language, the concept now feels cliche. Didn’t all those ancient people realize society is full of power structures that make our social standings complex and unfair? They certainly did, considering slavery and peasantry were big back then, but that knowledge doesn’t remove the kitschy dust from this concept.
How could an idea so ancient and universal now read like the hollow, anonymous words of a pre-written Hallmark card?
The golden rule was no trite feel-good-ism in its day. At the start of its biblical origins, it was probably meant only for your in-group. Treating your tribe members fairly isn’t much of a challenge and has obvious benefits, though.
What took the golden rule to the level of ethical philosophy was the Christian development to extend this rule beyond your in-group. The golden rule is the core from which all that “god’s children” rhetoric stems. The idea that any person, not just your group members, should be treated as you want to be treated, in other words, as your equal, laid the foundation for extending equality to people outside your group.
The golden rule isn’t just some charitable notion for people to chide their children with — it’s the very bedrock upon which equitable societies are built.
Suzy Gonzalez - What the World Needs Now, 2019
Treating others as you wish to be treated might sound like a utopian ideal that crumbles in the real world, but the value of reciprocity is the real world. At its most crude, the golden rule was used by our hunter-gatherer ancestors who found that cooperation yielded higher chances at survival. Fast forward to society-building, the philosophy of utilitarianism expands on the golden rule by aiming for whatever does the most good for the most people.
This ancient concept has been reminding us throughout the centuries — cooperation is survival. We’ve escaped the cruel indifference of nature and lived our whole lives within the safe walls built upon the foundation of reciprocity. We are the trust fund babies of principles that took a bloodsoaked earth to build.
The equality we value today was borne of the old ideas we now scoff at.
Yet, the golden rule has a silver shadow — “do nothing to others you would not have done to you.” This mirror maxim is just as ancient and maybe more so; before we can consider the suffering of others, we must be free of suffering ourselves.
The golden rule can be reversed to expose its magic; at its core, the rule is focused on you, not the others you’ll treat. The reversal of this rule tells you to conduct yourself in a way that will please others. The idea that you should treat others as you want to be treated is a mechanism to make you more likable, a quality that every social animal depends on for survival. Misinterpreting the golden rule as some quaint quote to inspire charity is a dangerous mistake that puts you up against millennia showing the best way to make progress is to make that progress benefit everyone, not just your in-group.
Eschew wisdom that predates you and society itself at your own risk.
Cynicism and tribalism are the enemies of the golden rule. These mindsets uphold the opposite of crossing barriers, instead drawing limits on the care humans should extend to each other. The golden rule might seem like a long-expired platitude, but when we take the foundation our house is built upon for granted, we soon see how quickly the walls we treasure crumble without their unseen support.
Consider taking the risk of treating others well instead of the risk of challenging ancient wisdom.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.