objective truth--can you stand it

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 29 Apr 1996 15:52:56 CDT

of recorded (including fabricated) history, there prevailed, for the very
longest time, a seemingly permanent condition of long odds against it.
Start with history itself. Herodotos bought tickets on tourist buses all
over the Near East, wrote down tour guides' tall tales, and returned with
the resulting glop to become the Father Of History. It was so easy to
improve on Herodotus that to this day, Serious ancient historians strongly
incline to credit anything Thucydides said; with what risks as to distortions
and propaganda I am of course unqualified to tell you. At the other end of
the world, the learned Chinese of the same period were forging the doings,
sayings, and court rituals of the Ancient Kings to serve didactic moral and
political purposes perhaps not entirely understood today, and not necessarily
consistent. A terse court chronicle of the state of Lu, the Spring and Autumn
Annals, covering the period 722-481 BC, is more reliable than the contempora-
rily-written Historical Books of the Old Testament because the anonymous
chronicler (it's most unlikely that Confucius himself wrote it, no matter
how many times this was reiterated) had no incentive to render the past
tidier-looking than it was while the events in question were occurring.
For many centuries, the text was inseparable, for moral and edificational
purposes, from Zo's Commentary (*Tso chuan*) and lesser glosses, without
which the text looked incomprehensible, which probably would have been
superior as a starting point. Today, historical sociologists extract
useful, for them, knowledge of ancient feudal lords' and princes' marriage
customs (eg, Melvin P. Thatcher, "Marriages of the Ruling Elite," Watson &
Ebrey (Eds.), Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society, 1991), gift
exchanges, coutly warfare, &c.

Back to the previous end of the world, with regard to the aforementioned
historical books of the Old Testament. Which are themselves, of course,
continuations of the stories of the Creation, the Patriarchs, the Exodus,
the Revelation of the Law, the Wanderings in the Desert; these are
presupposed in the history of Israel in Scripture. Suppose, now, it came
to be regarded as *objective truth* by Ancient Historians and Archeologists
(and it is today impossible to write the history of the Ancient Near East
without exhaustive familiarity with the archeological record) that the
stories of the Egyptian Bondage, Exodus, Conquest of Canaan, and much
else are, for Serious history, a damned nuisance. *Everyone* out there,
all of you, know enough archeology to teach a smidgeon about it to
entering freshpersons. So, I told you what is Known about Ancient
Israel with utter certainty by those Authorities who were not at Prayer
when they wrote their books and articles: That the Israelites, having
been mentioned in Egyptian records antedating the suppositious date of
the alleged Exodus as having been where they were later found, it would
have been the height of superfluity on the part of the Israelites to have
gone to Egypt thereafter for the purpose of making any Exodus therefrom.

Well-established Paranoid Theory holds that, if I tell you this, it's
patently crackpot nonsense. This is an epistemological principle anent
which the late, great Stephanie J. Nelson resoundingly declared, "You
theorized it, so now live it." Here is a citation taken from the Foremost
Authority, Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times,
Princeton, 1992, pp 260-1:

Scholars expended substantial effort on questions that they had failed
to prove were valid questions at all. Under what dynasty did Joseph
rise to power? Who was the Pharaoh of the Oppression? Of the Exodus?
Can we identify the princess who drew Moses out of the river? Where
did the Israelites make their exit from Egypt: via the Wady Tumilat
or by a more northerly point? One can appreciate the pointlessness of
these questions if one poses similar questions of the Arthurian stories,
without first submitting the text to a critical evaluation. Who were
the consuls of Rome when Arthur drew the sword from the stone? Where
was Merlin born? Where is Avalon to be located? Can one seriously
envisage a classical historian pondering whether it was Iarbas or
Aeneas that was responsible for Dido's suicide, where exactly did
Remus leap over the wall, what really happened to Romulus in the
thunderstorm, and so forth? In all these imagined cases none of
the material initially prompting the questions has undergone a
prior evaluation as to how historical it is.

Here, the objective truth is Known. It remains to be seen, as I suggested
in an earlier post, whether this suffices to render the objectively true
version *emotionally compelling*. By which, as I said in another post, I
mean almost the same thing as whether what is merely objectively true may
permissibly coexist in your mind (wherever in your mind that is) with the
*implicit* or *covert* ideology, which you *take for granted* or take for
*Reality*, you absorbed with your Mother's, excuse me, *the socialization
I am betting on the ideology. Why? Because, according to massive adverti-
sing and mublicity, which even a media isolate like myself cannot entirely
miss, there's showing on TNT (Turner Network Television) a lavish production
in several parts purporting to be about the life of Moses, presumably showing
him as a Real Person (meaning, he has sex in a decorous manner appropriate
for kiddie viewing, and he gets into fights like a Real Man, where the latter
is actually in Holy Scripture). Some of you will watch Moses on TV; a maximum
of one of you besides myself, now given the choice, will read Redford's book,
and the remainder, given your well-deserved reputation for civility and
moderation, will do neither.
Please believe me, implausible as it looks, this isn't meant to be
insulting (though you will, given my track record, get insulted anyway).
It's merely descriptive of the social consequences of typical specimens
of Objective Truth in the Humanities and the Easy Sciences.

All proto-anthropologies originated as Barbarologies. Aristotle's
Barbarology is familiar. His younger contemporary, Xunzi (Hsun Tzu), in
the state of Qi in North China, went further, inventing Cultural Relativism.
Civilized people button their coats down the left side; Barbarians button
theirs down the right. This makes as much sense to the Barbarians as the
Civilized practice does to us, he said. Which, of course, did not make it

Suppose all the Civilizations fought it out, and all the losers became
Barbarians to the one and only remaining winner at the end. This still does
not guarantee objective truth; it may even prove irrelevant to it. What
guarantees objective truth is sheer weight of numbers. It is a known
property of Civilizations that they demonstrate their Civilized character
by means of demonstrating, for all Eternity, their lavish patronage of the
arts, learning, education, and science. (Curiously, it has been in their
notions of what Science is that all Civilizations have proved screwiest.
Consider thermonuclear weapons, for instance.) For weight of numbers, it
was first necessary to invent the PhD, which was first granted by the order
of the illiterate general Yang Jian, founder of the Sui dynasty, in 589.
Under the Song dynasty, during the eleventh century, holders of the PhD
became a privileged elite. When truly enormous numbers of PhDs are generated,
such that they outrun the food supply, it becomes possible to institutionalize
an employment-security-maintenance mechanism entailing a cycle of research
grants, publications, further grants, etc ad inf. Such that, in parody of
Karl Marx, the formula for the General Law of the Accumulation of Knowledge
becomes: M -> J - M', where M is money and J is Journal and M' is expanded
money. Sheer weight of numbers guarantees the improbability of overlooking,
omitting, or screwing up objective truth.

So don't worry about it. There is a probability of 0.99 that objective
truth will out; and almost the same odds that it if it does get out, it
won't get around.

Daniel A. Foss