Truth has died; so, we decided to have a funeral.
Across cultures and throughout history, humans have always engaged in practices to mark the death of those they care about. While the form of funeral practice varies across space and time, the core purpose remains: to allow those affected to mourn, grieve and express sadness at their loss, while also celebrating and remembering the life lived.
Drawing the dark solemnity of the Roman Catholic Requiem mass, and the life-affirming celebration of the New Orleans Jazz funeral – with roots in West African-inspired Haitian Voodoo – we wish to do the same for truth: to mourn its loss, while celebrating its life.
Up to now, our engagement with the post-truth narrative has largely taken place in fragmented discussions in a virtual world. Defined by ephemerality and flux, public conversations online rarely resolve before we get distracted by the next thing. Coming together in a real physical place through music, ritual and ceremony can offer more than just another rational analysis.
There is something unsettling about attempting to deal with the death of truth within the very space where it was murdered. Disengaging from the incessant headlines, articles, tweets, clicks and shares, and gathering together to pause and reflect on the nature of truth might offer consolation to those of us feeling overwhelmed by the attention-seeking sensationalism of the media.
Point of Transition
In addition to this very human desire to console and support, there is often a metaphysical aspect to the funeral tradition: for many cultures – including the Irish Catholic and the New Orleans – death is not the end, rather, it is a point of transition from one form to another. The funeral ceremony then becomes not just about mourning, but also about preparing the body for the next stage of existence. This brings with it celebration of the fact that it will be reborn, or resurrected in another life or another world, whether through reincarnation or ascension to eternal peace in heaven.
Perhaps then, what died last year was merely the outer form of truth: its earthly body. This is the superficial conception of truth that can be reduced to a list of facts and statements to be checked for accuracy. On this view of truth, it’s hard to deny that something changed in political culture last year: flagrant and unapologetic lies were rewarded, and no amount of fact-checking by the rational and the reasonable in the New York Times or The Guardian could do anything about it.
But while fact-checking has its place, it can also lead to a narrowing of the discussion to obsessive debate about inanities: crowd sizes, where someone was born, how much money someone has, or how many times someone appeared on the cover of a magazine. It allows the agenda of public conversations to be shaped by those willing to say outrageous and dishonest things. Meanwhile, meaningful discussions about more important issues must wait in the wings until we get our facts straight.
Resurrection of a Deeper Truth
Perhaps then, out of this loss, a new conception of truth will be resurrected or reborn: a view of truth more complex and subtle than something that can be reduced to a list of statements and killed off by the petty lies of the powerful. This is the kind of timeless, eternal truth that we search for in art, literature, music, science, and philosophy.
Obsessing over the superficial truths can dull our sensibility to this deeper search for truth. In a very real sense, politics is more art than science. Not only in its obvious performative nature, but in how it is a place where we can imagine things that do not exist and might seem impossible, and make them real and true: an end to all poverty and homelessness, free healthcare and education for all, the cancellation of national debt. We look to politics and political leadership for vision, hope and imagination so we can literally create new realities, not just to check the factual accuracy of the existing one.
Let’s bury the earthly body of truth, mourn its loss, celebrate its life, and witness the rebirth and resurrection of a conception of truth less susceptible to the manipulative whims of the powerful.
Dr. Robert Grant is Tutor of Philosophy in Trinity College Dublin, and member of Stomptown Brass who, along with Collapsing Horse, present Requiem for the Truth as part of Dublin Fringe Festival in St. Werburgh's Church on the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th of September. Limited tickets still available: click here. Twitter: @RobGrant77