There are several other such theories of truth, for example the pragmatic theory of truth, which assesses truth in the light of what supposedly true statements do, or by their consequences for action (ancient Greek 'pragma': 'thing done'; 'act'; 'deed').
Truth-telling, or in ancient Greek, parrhesia, is something different. It is what one does when you tell or speak the truth exactly as you experience or perceive it, with no punches pulled. You don't have to call the proverbial spade a shovel (unless this is what it takes to get through to your interlocutor), but you have to speak truthfully without holding back. This is particularly relevant for speaking (or writing) in public, where you run the risk of exposing yourself to harsh criticism.
It is also what you do when you feel constrained to tell a friend the barefaced truth about something that she or he has done, or is doing, and which falls short of the standards of honesty, or decency, or friendship, and because you care for your friend and value your friendship, you risk it by saying what has to be done to rescue it. It is not this kind of friend-to-friend parrhesia which concerns me here, in the first place, but rather the kind that sometimes, albeit seldom, occurs in the public domain. Here is Michel Foucault, in a justly famous philosophy seminar, talking about it:
This should sound very familiar to us today. Not because we are familiar with such truth-speaking, but precisely because we are not - at least not in the public domain, in the vast majority of cases. On the contrary, today one is mostly witness to the deliberate distortion of truth, and not even through the sophisticated use of rhetoric. It is usually straightforward, blatant lying.In parrhesia, the speaker is supposed to give a complete and exact account of what he has in mind so that the audience is able to comprehend exactly what the speaker thinks. The word 'parrhesia' then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician's own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people's mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.
Foucault is careful to add that there are two types of parrhesia - sometimes the word is used to denote the genuine thing and sometimes it is employed pejoratively, to indicate that someone is just "chattering", as Foucault calls it. Heidegger calls this "idle talk". In both instances it means that someone says virtually anything that comes to mind, without exercising any discerning judgement about the sense or implications of what they say, or simply because it is the fashionable thing to say.
However, according to Foucault, most of the time when the term is encountered in classical Greco-Roman texts, it is in the affirmative sense of truth-speaking. Needless to point out, it is not a practice explicitly familiar to us today, in the specific sense with which it was endowed in antiquity. Nonetheless, it would not be difficult to find counterparts to parrhesia in contemporary society, particularly because there is an exigency for it in the present time. Why is that? In the text cited earlier, Foucault reminds one that:
If there is a kind of 'proof' of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes — is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes....the commitment involved in parrhesia is linked to a certain social situation, to a difference of status between the speaker and his audience, to the fact that the parrhesiastes says something which is dangerous to himself and thus involves a risk, and so on...
To appreciate this, one should remind oneself that not every instance of speaking the truth can be considered as being parrhesia. Foucault explains:
Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the 'game' of life or death.Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as a parrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him or her in telling the truth. For instance, from the ancient Greek perspective, a grammar teacher may tell the truth to the children that he teaches, and indeed may have no doubt that what he teaches is true. But in spite of this coincidence between belief and truth, he is not a parrhesiastes. However, when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant, and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice, then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and, more than that, also takes a risk (since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him)...
The well-known saying, 'to speak truth to power', is obviously related to this, and probably derives from Foucault's (and also Edward Said's) work. And have we not witnessed exemplary instances of this today, in the face of what is arguably the largest attempt at a (global) coup d'etat in the history of humanity!
We all owe those brave souls who have risked their reputations, their incomes, and sometimes their lives, by acting as parrhesiastes in the face of almost incomprehensible institutional, technological and media power, a huge debt of gratitude for setting an example for the rest of us. There are too many to list here, but among the names that come readily to mind are those of Dr Naomi Wolf, Robert F. Kennedy, Dr Joseph Mercola, Dr Robert Malone, Dr Peter McCullough, Alex Berenson, Dr Meryl Nass, Dr Denis Rancourt, and Todd Callender, among many others who have suffered and even died.
As Foucault said, parrhesia is dangerous and risky. But what choice does one have, if not merely your income, reputation and your life, but also - more importantly - your moral integrity as a human being is at stake? It takes courage to be a parrhesiastes. This is why Foucault observes that:
When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself: you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself.
Here's the thing: presumably all those people who contribute to, and most of those who read Brownstone articles, know what evil power is behind the attempts to cause the collapse of the world economy and decimate the world's human population. I use the word 'evil' advisedly, for there is no way of saying more clearly and accurately what animates the actions of those agents in the service of the Leviathan in question, which has several fronts, among them most prominently the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Moreover, one cannot expect any parrhesia from them. On the contrary, as Foucault points out, "It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing".
Nothing prevents us from practicing this ancient mode of address when we confront the tyrannical monstrosity in question, however, which is why I want to say to them that, contrary to what they believe, drunk with their own vaunted importance and supposed power, they should not be too sure of not risking their necks. The disgusting Klaus Schwab of the WEF himself talks about people being very "angry," which is probably an understatement, judging by the opinions expressed by many people I know.
So, Klaus Schwab, Bill Gates and your ilk - including the bankers who are hiding in the shadows - I cannot encourage you to examine your collective and individual conscience, because you evidently don't have one. It is, after all, a telling characteristic of psychopaths to be devoid of a conscience, and therefore of the capacity to feel guilt or remorse.
But evidently you can feel fear, otherwise you would not have been sufficiently paranoid to surround yourselves with 5000 heavily armed troops at your exclusive boys' club meeting at Davos in January. And you should be afraid, very afraid, because when this is over, you will be called to account.
Signs are abounding that increasing numbers of people are realising that you and your empty 'promise' of 'building back better' are the engineers of the increasing economic hardships they face, and are showing in no uncertain terms that they will not allow that to continue indefinitely.
Hence, don't start celebrating too soon about your desired success in getting the better of the putative 'useless eaters'. Except, of course, that you don't know how to celebrate; only truly human people know how to do that - people who know the joy of togetherness at a birthday celebration, or a wedding, or when you go dancing - something the love of my life and I do regularly, when our favourite bands perform live at a joint we frequent in the city. To quote the late, inimitable Leonard Cohen:
So you can stick your little needles in that voodoo doll;
I'm very sorry baby, doesn't look like me at all
I'm standin' by the window where the light is strong...
Now, you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure:
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty Judgement comin'...
You see, I hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song...
Therefore, you empty vessels, here is a concluding bit of parrhesia: on those cold winter nights (as Dolly famously sang to Horace Vandergelder) you can snuggle up to your AI robots, while we humans cuddle up for mutual warmth. You would be envious if you could imagine it, but I know you have no imagination. If you did, you would use all your money and technology to make the world a better place for all people; not just the few quasi-robots in your coterie, masquerading as people. But I can assure you that we shall make the world a better place - without you.
Bert Olivier works at the Department of Philosophy, University of the Free State. Bert does research in Psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, ecological philosophy and the philosophy of technology, Literature, cinema, architecture and Aesthetics. His current project is 'Understanding the subject in relation to the hegemony of neoliberalism.'