The Joys of Being Wrong


Originally published on Through Europe, September 2013


To some eyes this may read as a disclaimer, an attempt to remove all responsibility from that which is written or said, an abscondment from intellectual and ethical accountability; and perhaps to some extent, and from certain perspectives, it is.  Disclaimers are certainly popular in contemporary conditions, where various courthouses and bureaucracies of rationality and reason continually threaten to impose their legislation upon those who would transgress the limits of acceptability and correctness.  It is more or less an expectation that the personas of certain digital social spaces should explicitly state from where our statements and views come, lest the wrong body should be held to account by one of the many legislative frameworks which define the limits of what may and may not be said and by whom. In a situation where language becomes inscribed in an open and potentially continual space, we are consistently forced to find means of making ourselves imperceptible, of seeking anonymity, of becoming secrets. And all too often this becoming-secret flees into the dominant modes of representation and logic, those of brands, of capital, of identity, of Occupy and Anonymous. Tiqqun too flees into the territory of becoming-brand, of falling to the spectacle.

This in itself is a tragedy, first that such anonymity is necessary to attempt to escape the dominant modes of representation and pervasive logics of identity, to foster social change without rank individualism and the corrupt desire for domination taking hold; but secondly that such attempts so often fall into the logics and modes of representation that they sought to flee, are subsumed under the very power relations from which they sought escape. The alternate, perhaps more common, result however, of the fear of being wrong, of being punished by the bureaucratic-legislative rationalities, of being incorrect, is far more disturbing, sinister and saddening. This alternate result, amounts to a hollowing out of thought, of experience, of language, existence, human subjectivities, debate and discourse.  It is articulated through the inane chatter that fills and swarms through digital space, by the mundanity of the press and media, by the normality and insignificance of intellectualism and academia, by the totalising contraction of what is permissible thought, experience and opinion, by the reduction of humour and comedy from a powerful ontological expression and transformative force to a means of belittling existence and distraction from ethical dilemmas and duration in the world.

But we shall return to this shortly. For now we must return to our opening comment – that this may appear as a disclaimer. It is certainly not our intention to here write a disclaimer, indeed we hope to at least attempt to escape those paths of thought which would construct courthouses of reason and rationality, those that would judge the limits of acceptability and correctness, which would make it necessary to disclaim. To disclaim is to protect oneself from being incorrect and as we hope to make clear, we cherish the opportunity to be shown to be wrong, for if we may be certain of one thing it is that we are not right. Indeed we do not even seek to define the limits of right and wrong in the sense of knowledge or of morality for we know that we are not right and that our position in the world, the duration of our experience, can never be universal.

The obsession with being right, with being correct, with truth, which is now taken to such insincere, individualistic and selfish heights, is apparent, like so many things, in the thought of the Greeks. Undoubtedly Greece was not the point of genesis for this fetishism of correctness, and indeed the location of origin in Greece is itself a intellectual obsession, but the search for origin is fruitless and Greek essentialism clearly demonstrates the notion of the single truth, the pure, correct form. Tied however to this notion of essentialism is also the impossibility of its realisation, they were as sure of their incorrectness as we are now sure of our own individualised, delimited correctness. The realisation of absolute truth whilst desired was not a conceivable possibility. It was sophistry, in the truly Greek sense, which brought forth truth speaking as something possible, and individualised it, tying it to the self, to the persona. So it was that Socrates was put to death, for challenging the possibility of this truth speaking, not as we may think for attempting truth speaking himself. Contrary to how our correctness ridden perspective may wish to gaze upon his death, Socrates was on the side of ignorance, of not knowing, of being wrong, and his executioners were on the side of right, of valiant and divine truth.

We do not seek to trace the archaeology of how we have become so obsessed with truth and being correct, but we can see that since the death of Socrates, and indeed before it, there have been various claims to truth, claims to correctness, efforts to become absolutely right. Certainly since the New Testament divine truth speaking was given a place of great prominence, the prophets of God became mouthpieces through which the right could be articulated. And indeed these prophets further tied, as with the Greek academies, truth speaking to the individual. But this is not common of all spiritual and religious practice and texts. Indeed to make such generalisation would be to fall into the trap of truth speaking ourselves.

The bodhisattvas and the path to enlightenment, whilst read and understood from our self-centred, truth obsessed perspective may appear as those who have found the truth, who are right or correct, can equally be understood as those who have given up on such moral goals and instead commit themselves only to ethical ones. They are concerned with improving bodies’ power to act and think, they are not concerned with absolute judgements. Likewise the notion of mip’nei tikkun ha-olam (for the sake of the fixing/rectification/healing of the world), tells us that action should not be taken due to the fact that the mouthpieces of pure correctness ordain it so, but for the sake of the world, of the bodies around us, for ethical not moral reasons. Like Socrates, these notions, these approaches to existence, to affection and to interaction, acknowledge the infeasibility of the realisation of truth, of absolute fact, and work through an objective relativism. They seek to increase our power to act and think, not determine it and constrict it. The univocity of being requires that all act towards the ethical good, which is partial and relative.

The rupture in the dominant episteme that was brought about through Kantian critique shifted truth from belonging from divine or absolute essentialism to a faculty of ourselves, and our interaction with the world around us. The divine essentialism of scripture and of Greek rationality now belongs to the senses and the faculties of comprehension. Kant himself knew this was not absolute and in spite of his self-admitted verbosity he made efforts to make this clear, although perhaps Schopenhauer achieved this to a greater extent. The enlightened thought that followed however has not acknowledged this, and the absolute supremacy of empirical knowledge, of discovering truth from a dormant and static nature has forgotten the impossibility of total correctness. Both critique since Kant, and empiricism have operated on the basis of absolute truth knowing, critique through the construction of meta-languages which are of greater truth than the text critiqued, and empiricism through the discovery of truth by the knowing subject, both ignoring the humble and forever uncertain foundations on which they rest.

The faculties of the mind and senses are henceforth granted the power to uncover truth, to make each of us, through the correct application of a priori principles and transcendental reason, a vessel through which the realisation of absolute knowledge may be achieved. Truth speaking is tied to the individual subject in a more powerful way than the techniques of self. Now, the self, the individualised subject, can realise and uncover truth merely through their being in the world; through the duration of their experience they may uncover absolute certainty. Anyone may now be a prophet. Truth is no longer a gift of divinity or essence, it rests, awaiting discovery, in a darkened realm which the enlightened subject may bring to light.

Our current situation is an extreme expression of the consequences of the dogmatic acceptance and assertion of this truth speaking individual. Science, the correct application of reason, is now more or less the only commonly accepted knowledge. Empiricism tells all and subjectivity, creativity, expressionism is marginalised. The active role of the faculties is entirely obliterated and instead passive discovery of a realm of scientific fact is the true order of knowledge. The dogmatic assertion and expression of this doctrine of the truth-seeking scientist assumes the role of the prophet of God, but it is not an evolution, the prophet remains within the scientist, coiled, hidden and the very centre of vulgar empirical sovereignty, masked by layers of logical critique and epistemological assertions.

Where the Socratic Method sought to undo certainty, to unpick held truths, the dogmatic scientist asserts absolute truth and defends it. Where the prophetic truth speakers expressed gifted knowledge from divine origin, the scientist has discovered if for themselves and hold it up as their individual achievement and a demonstration of their rationality and superiority. But it is not only science which has gifted utter authority to the rational truth speaking individual. Post-Kantian critique too has assumed a position of total correctness, and so too in affection has our language and modes of expression become infested with a will to truth, a channelling of desire and becoming towards the goal of self-discovered correctness and truth – the truthful subject following the demise of thought, the judgement of god after the death of god.

Nietzsche put it to us that the philosopher’s greatest fear is being understood. And for all the riddles that people find in his writing, Nietzsche was among the most honest of the philosophers. The riddles come not from his writing or expression, but from our demands for truth. He wrote no truth. He sought no truth. He sought only his refrain within an eternal flux, his Gay Science, his Joyful Wisdom. It is those eyes which do not account for those of the sphinx that find absolute truth. And so, the greatest fear of the philosopher is twofold: for those of the enlightened order, and those of the essentialist analytics, that they are wrong; for those on the side of error on the side of expression, who see also with the eyes of the sphinx, that they are right. The latter, fear forever that they are to be held up as paragons of knowledge, that their voice may be heard issuing from a mouthpiece of truth speaking. And the former’s arrogance born of fear now infects the dominant flows of thought.

So many of the common expressions of science today, and perhaps we mean royal science, have forgotten what made it so powerful; those humble foundations of not-knowing that granted its epistemological superiority have been forgotten. There remain those scientists who avoid truth speaking, there remain those who rejoice in expression, in the refrain, in the acceptance of chaos and ignorance, but mass science, the science which dominates our subjective shared spaces, is insistent in its absolute correctness, to the extent that to speak without truth has become a punishable offence. Waiting in the wings, in the shadows, in the infected Oedipal-ridden and individualised unconscious, the bureaucratic-legislative arms of truth threaten to strike down those who speak without its authority, who would use language in such unproductive, anti-progressive ways.

Science took its power from falsifiability, what made it great was its continual questioning, its insistence that it was incorrect, the eternal return to hypotheses, the endless twilight of the idols. It appears that, in the popular imagination, this status has been lost. Of course there remain scientists entirely aware of their incorrectness, and who continue to relish in it, as too do we. But the affect of the dominant episteme, that of the truth-speaking subject, on the articulation and expression of experience extends far beyond the realms of theoretical physics and the laboratory. Those with no claim to scientific endeavour appropriate the authority of correctness, there is no more room for falsehood to emerge, only for subjects to make their point and defend it until death, least they be wrong; or to shift the original locus of their articulation beyond the space of their responsibility – a truth disclaim.

What the popular imagination has forgotten is the creation of reality, not its discovery, in which science partakes, the uncovering of new questions, not their resolution, the part we all play in the shaping of our world. Perhaps then, we must make a distinction between at least two forms of science, although the applicability of such a clumsy separation is of course not free of doubt. To some extent, we may refer to nomad science and royal science, the rhizomic scientist and the state scientist, the humble and the dogmatic scientist, but all these distinctions appear too grand for our purpose. What we speak of, at it must be clear by now that we speak of science in a broad sense, is the distinction between moral Science and ethical science. We have on the one hand that Science which provides absolute judgement, constitutes itself as courthouse, jury and judge, that science which asserts itself as ultimate morale order. One can barely ask for a more perfect example of such Science than Richard Dawkins, his fellow horsemen and their cult of new atheists. For the other form of science, which we have clumsily pulled apart from the dogmatic assertions of moral Science, the example of theoretical physics, with its vivid imagination and endless reinterpretation and creation of reality, comes to mind. This latter form is of an ethical nature, for it does not assert its absolute correctness, it does not promote intolerance, it does not constitute itself as court house, but concerns the power of acting and the intensity of experience.

And this is a critical point. It is the being proven wrong, the act of establishing incorrectness, falsifiability, which is able to increase our power to act and intensity of experience. It is establishing were our error lay, not in our claim to truthfulness, which increases our affection, and further allows us to perfect our refrain. To assert truth and stick with it, in spite of its impossibility, to defend it endlessly, to the point that its refutation is not even heard, can only stratify and statify; it can only stabilise and hold still a phantasmagorical image of being which prevents the experience of eternal duration, the extension of affection and the becoming of refrains. It is through repetition of error that joy is realised as the extension of the power of action and the expansion of our capacity to affect.

As Johannes de Silentio tells us, that powerful force that is faith is knowing that something is impossible and still believing in it, but moral Science is now absolute belief without faith – the utter happiness that comes of faith and error is lost and thought, language, experience is left a hollow and vulgar carcass. The excessively individualised, truth speaking subject does not hold faith for it does not see the impossibility of its correctness but nevertheless believes in it; it is the subject that believes that they do not believe. And it is this ignorance of belief that makes their discourse so blunt, so painful, so stifling. Their connection may never be extended, for their disposition acts to continually sever links, to further individualise and delimit themselves as correct and in complete control, free from the idiocy of belief, faith and error.

If, with Spinoza, we consider that which increases our power to act and experience good and joyful, and that which decreases it bad and saddening, it is clear that being wrong will bring us the greatest joy. It is only by being wrong that subjectivity can truly be engaged, and progress towards anything resembling an autonomous, self-serving, general intellect, but never by being right. Being right, being correct, leaves nothing unchanged, nothing is altered, and nothing is learnt – we are simply right, whether one agrees or not. Our inadequate ideas are held up as perfectly formed facts, eternal truths when the only truth is that they are inadequate. It is only by showing them to be wrong that inadequate ideas may be readdressed and subjectivity may unite, engage, participate, and interact. The hurling of facts between individualised subjects shall never achieve this; it can only be achieved by a humbleness that knows nothing of its own correctness, of truth.

The dominant episteme, however, remains obsessed with correctness, with its absolute morality, with divine truth. We are left in a situation where we either assert our knowledge absolutely and destroy all open and honest debate, flee to the state of not knowing – the state of inane meaningless chatter, or to becoming anonymous in order to protect ourselves from the powerful hands of reason. Digital space is full of the squabbling of individualised truth-speaking subjects who know not the joy of being wrong, and intellectual and academic discourse is barely any different. Columnists and journalists across the media weigh in on, and make light of, topics on which they had never thought until the deadline approached, the editor called, or their competitors commented; and yet they know they are correct, they do not believe but know. The economic and the political debates which swarm through the media, forgetting that they always speak of people’s lives, people’s experience, are never concerned with readdressing the inadequacy of thought and ideas, but only with individualised claims to truth, with obsessively bourgeois-suburbanite ownership of truth, with reinforcing the arrogance of their epistemology.

Each way we turn, the declarations of utter correctness surround us and everywhere people speak but never listen; never do they take the time to consider that which is said in a context other than their own, in a framework other than their own; never do they consider the inadequacy of their thought, and sadness prevails over joy.

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